Archive for January, 2011


You know you’re too desperate to make your stiff body feel better when you do stretching exercises in front of your coworkers.

Not that I made a spectacle of myself.  And I’m good at pretending to be a normal professional.   But when I was in the open area around the photocopy machine I put my legs up on tables and cabinets and twisted my torso until it screamed at me to stop already.   Eventually I did, but not until my body felt better.

Sore thighs and a sore butt – that’s what I get for going to fencing three nights in a row.   That’s also what I get for fencing a few new people who are top rated and jump around like screaming ninjas on meth and lunge and jab their epees like they’re in some freaking martial arts movie.   A couple of my fellow fencers have been telling me that I need to be more aggressive when I fence.   Well, I sure as hell got aggressive when I was up against a particular ninja maniac who tried to turn me into a pin cushion.   It was hit her back or die trying.

Just think – these new people are now going to be coming to our club regularly.   Oh joy.

I’ve decided that this weekend I’ll concentrate only on stretching and doing some old dance/ballet exercises because they give me a solid endorphin rush.   I’ve had enough pain this week.  For the next few days I just wanna feel good.

Of course I’ll also push myself on editing The Compass Master because I’ve really fallen behind with that job.  I thought I’d be done by the end of this month, but far from it.  Drats.

So have a good weekend, y’all.  And avoid screaming ninjas.

I once had a co-worker who was a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard and whose ex-husband worked for the CIA.

She had lived with him in places like Ethiopia and Australia, which may sound glamorous, but it wasn’t.  Like most CIA employees he had a non-spying job, in his case as an analyst.  He was also diagnosed as a narcissist, which meant he was no picnic to live with, so she left him.

She couldn’t tell me much about his work.  One thing she did reveal was that “You’d be surprised who works for the CIA” in a lot of these foreign places.

I was reminded of her remark when I read an article this last weekend in the New York Times: “Former Spy With Agenda Operates a Private C.I.A.”

Imagine having your own CIA.  Hell, imagine having enough MONEY AND RESOURCES, which this guy obviously does, to run a serious “network of spies” from “poolside at his home near San Diego.”  Sounds like a sure-fire set-up for a thriller novel or movie or even an entire TV series, doesn’t it?  The kind that plebs like us ridicule as too outlandish to be real.

How little we know about the murky world of true power.

Anyway, it seems this 78-year-old ex-CIA bigwig is, among other things, fielding private operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan and had sold the info gathered to our military.  He’s a gung-ho advocate of American interventionism anywhere we please and “a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.”

You know, we novelists would have trouble making up this stuff.

On a more personal level, what stood out for me was the description of how the guy became head of the CIA’s Latin America division in 1981 and “helped to run the Reagan administration’s covert wars against Marxist guerrillas in Central America during the 1980s.”  What the article doesn’t say is that the U.S. taxpayer paid out billions of dollars in that “covert war” which was ultimately an abject failure and resulted in horrific massacres of civilians, among other crimes.

I wrote about one such massacre in The Compass Master.  In my novel, two of the bad guys had been U.S. soldiers sent to train local military monsters in El Salvador.  An important scene is a flashback to that massacre, which explains why one of the bad guys is now mentally fragile, despite his super-macho exterior – an unstable bomb about to go off around my present-day characters.

So you can see why this article about an ex-CIA privateer resonated with me.  When I wrote The Compass Master, I tried to ground my Da Vinci Code type story (religious artifacts, a complex tale that goes back centuries) in some hard-core reality in order to give it more believability.  Besides, I reasoned, why invent fictional details when reality can be a fantastic source?

I had no idea how right I was.  Still, for all my fact-gathering, even I couldn’t come up with the storyline of My Own Private CIA is Messing with the War in Afghanistan.

Maybe one of you would like to tackle it.  Good luck if you do.  Won’t be easy, but it could be a hell of a novel.

Master Unlock

on January 18, 2011 in Misc 4 Comments »

I’m finally mastering padlocks!  Mastering as in picking open, that is.

You know the type I mean — those chunky, heavy squares of metal people use to secure everything from lockers to storage doors to whatever.   When I first started teaching myself to pick locks, I tried opening a couple heavy old padlocks of mine but couldn’t get them to budge.  Worse, I bent out of shape one of my best torques just trying.

My problem was that I was trying to rake open the pins because force seemed the best way to make those chunky locks open.  Au contraire, I discovered.  Instead, using a more delicate basic rake for a pick instead of my sharp toothy one and quietly FEELING the subtle movement of each pin against that pick made all the difference.  Last night, after working away for an hour with only a couple successes, I began to pop open repeatedly an old lock with an average picking time of three to four minutes.

I feel like such hot stuff.

It’s silly, but  every time I learn a new action hero-type skill or expand on the few I have, I start to feel, like,  SO HOT.  And definitely more confident and a little proud.

And on the topic of cool action people and stories…

This last weekend I saw THE TOURIST and enjoyed it — it was a much lighter and even funnier thriller than I was expecting.  There were also a couple scenes in it that involved lock picking handcuffs, and I found myself thinking, Hey, I could probably do that.   Pick myself out of handcuffs and go save the day and get all that money, to say nothing of Johnny Depp.

In my dreams.

Okay, so last time I told you about the best and worst and  the most extreme experiences I had in the first year of action hero plan.

Now here’s quick review of pretty much the rest of the stuff I worked on.

LOCK PICKING — I’m proficient with the basics, but I’m still not so hot at opening most deadbolts.  So besides getting better at the tougher locks, I now want to take my picking skills to the next level by really feeling the pins in the lock moving above my pick.  When you can sense with your fingertips the most subtle movements within a lock, then you’re getting to be a master.

LANGUAGES –I made some progress in French and Arabic but not much because most days I just didn’t have time to study.  But this year, once The Compass Master is published, I’ll have some evenings and maybe days where I’ll try immersing myself.  Also, Ketutar (KetutarWriting) told me about a great language website,  www.fluentin3months.com.  I’ll be taking its advice too.

FENCING — I’m definitely better, but if I don’t learn to achieve a Zen-like calm during tournaments I’ll never get rated.  In 2010 I only went to tournaments but I medaled in both with a bronze.

AERIAL DANCING — I kn0w, I know, soaring on bungee cords ain’t exactly a super skill.  But Angelina Jolie does it in Tomb Raider and it REALLY looks like fun.  I was about to learn the ropes when I got injured in aikido.  Around April I’ll have the chance to go for it again  (the rig is outside and not used until warm weather).

I ALSO DIDN’T GET TO DO — Scuba diving ’cause I didn’t have the money to go far enough away from Colorado to get certified.  Like I’ve said, I had lessons years ago but only scuba dived once in Cambodia where they don’t check for certification.  This year I hope to make it real and go diving like a water-crazed mermaid.

MY GRADE:  Overall, I’d say my middling skills are fair, but this year they’ve got to become EXCELLENT.

On the plus side, I’m definitely in better and stronger physical shape now than I was when I was in my twenties or thirties or… oh, hell, even my forties.  And yes, people I’m past the big 50.  I’m a LOT older than I want to admit.  But hey, my body looks much younger.

And all it took was a hell of a lot of work.

As I promised, here’s the first half of my review for stage one (partial 2009 through 2010) of my Becoming Layla efforts.

Obviously, trying to be like an action hero as cool as Layla was SO NOT EASY.  It took guts.  It took brains.  It took money and a whole lot of SILLY STUFF.  In the end I did okay, but I coulda done better.

BEST SET OF CLASSES I TOOK:

Hands down, parkour.  Ten two-hour classes working out with buff young men and teenage boys pushed my middle-aged body to its limits.  After every class, I could barely walk out of the gym.  My thighs had never known such agony.  But parkour taught me to go for major jumps and tumbles and how to bounce off walls and hand-walk along pipes and other necessary action tricks.  It also made me realize that up until this point in my life I had NOT been physically pushing myself as much as I should’ve been.  Now I know better and push myself.

WORST SET OF CLASSES I TOOK:

You know the answer to this one, don’t you?  *!!@&$* Aikido.  In my beginner class a spineless, ball-less, sniveling lying coward of a black belt severely injured me and later refused to admit it.  For insurance purposes I can’t say much more at present.  But at least I got some insightful comments about Aikido from my fellow writer Robert Read, whose wife has a black belt in it.  Clearly she goes to a much better martial arts school far from the one I went to.

MOST UNEXPECTED EXPERIENCE

FREEZING during my virgin skydive.  Who knew that upon jumping out of a plane my reaction would be “HOLY SHIT IT’S SO COLD I CAN’T BREATHE!”  Next time I skydive, it’s gonna be in hot Hawaii.

MOST ANTICLIMACTIC EXPERIENCE

Paragliding.  It was peaceful.  It was smooth.  It meant floating lazily above the earth on the warm air while my instructor did most of the work.  And as I floated I realized that if I had $5,000 to spare (dream on!) I would absolutely take up the sport.  Yet another reason to become a successful writer.

Anyway, those were the physical extremes of the first stage of my Layla plan.  I’ll review the rest of my experiences next time.

Have a great weekend.

It’s official: the first year of my Layla Plan is OVER!

And the second stage of my Layla Plan begins…NOW!

(Pause here for excited cheers from the masses.)

But seriously folks…

As you know, in the past year plus a few extra months I beat myself up in body and brain to become more like Layla Daltry, the action scholar/hero of my novel The Compass Master). I spent money I really didn’t have learning how to skydive, paraglide, play pool, do parkour, navigate with a compass and map, you name it.  Later this week I’ll review my efforts – where I succeeded, where I failed, what I’ve still got to do.

For the second stage, I’m going to WAY UP my game.  As I wrote here a couple weeks ago, 2011 will be the YEAR OF ACTING OUT.  This means not so much learning how to do things as to just plain DOING them.   Sure, I plan to take a few classes once I can afford them (the holidays and everyday life are financially tough to get through, aren’t they?).  But what’s on my new agenda now includes:

1) Treasure hunting here in Colorado and maybe New Mexico.

2) Hunt for lost and ancient artifacts through the same areas.

3) Get into and out of places I don’t belong without getting caught.

4) Do urban climbing and rappel off lots of buildings and structures.

And more.

Realistically (damn, reality can hurt!), for the next couple months some of my most physical plans will be on hold because the weather is cold and sucky, and because I’m working on the final edits of The Compass Master.  I’ve GOT to finish it NOW or I’ll go crazy (crazier than I am) and send it off to be published.

I hope you all had a splendid time over the holidays and that this new year is spectacular for you.

P.S.:  One of my New Year resolutions is to FINALLY write shorter blog entries and make at least three to four a week instead of my slothful one to two.  At least this is my intention.