Archive for March, 2011

If I were a real action hero, I wouldn’t hesitate to make a big publicity splash for The Compass Master.   You know the kind I mean – bells and whistles, free media coverage, an excited buzz in the air among readers eager to devour the literary offerings of an (unknown) writer like yours truly.

(Here I’ll pause to say that TCM will likely be published by late May, June at the latest.)

See, action heroes aren’t inhibited or shy or humble.   If the mission calls for making a lotta noise and blowing something up and getting attention, they can do it.   Hell, they enjoy doing it.

Here’s my favorite non-literary example of someone getting all the free publicity she wanted.

Anita Roddick was the founder of The Body Shop, the world-wide chain for “nature inspired, ethically produced” skincare products.   It’s worth a few hundred million dollars now.   Well, Anita was a teacher who started the business at her kitchen table while using her savings of $10,000.  For her first shop she rented the only funky little storefront she could afford and put up a sign for “THE BODY SHOP.”  There was just one twist.

THE BODY SHOP was right next door to a morgue.

And that’s when Anita got inspired.

With a fake name and pretending to be an outraged Member of the Public, she called the local media and ranted about the horrible taste this Body Shop owner had, putting up a sign like that next to a place for the dearly departed.  What’s the world coming to?

Sure enough, reporters showed up at her shop and it was lights, camera, action for Anita’s little underdog shop that was just trying to make an honest living.

You gotta love someone so gutsy and smart.

So yes, yours truly is now about to plot away for some free publicity.   I mean, I really do have to dump my inhibitions and go kinda wild.   And while I haven’t yet figured out what I can do, I at least have a novel with a couple controversial elements in it (same genre as The Da Vinci Code, a thriller with hot religious and political elements).

If any of you have any ideas or stories like Anita Roddick’s, I’d love to hear them.

Pump Action

on March 21, 2011 in Misc 2 Comments »

You know what they don’t show you in a lot of action hero movies and TV shows?   How pump action shotguns can really mess up your shoulder.  Especially when you fire that heavy sucker about twenty-five times in an hour.

I should know.  Today my upper right arm and shoulder hurt.  I mean just plain hurt, even if I move my arm only inches in any direction.  That’s how much recoil those babies have.  Once you pull the trigger, the gun slams back against your body like a battering ram and you feel your flesh bruising and muscles screaming even as you try to focus on blasting little fluorescent orange/pink clay pigeons out of the sky.  After a while, the pain becomes distracting.

And the worst part of it was I didn’t hit a single damn clay pigeon.

Yes, this was my first time handling not only a real gun but one with ammo powerful enough to take down a charging bull – hence the extra kick in the recoil.  But not one freaking clay pigeon?   I mean, I’d always wanted to do some trap shooting.  I LOVE the scene in Second Hand Lions (one of my fave rave movies) when the two super crusty old uncles decide not to shoot a traveling salesman but instead buy his trap contraption and ever after have fun shattering clay pigeons out of the sky.  Of course they’re crack shots.

So is my friend Alonzo.  I told you in a recent post that he’s in town so we’re hanging out.  Besides occasionally doing some mountain climbing, Alonzo likes trap and target shooting, which he hadn’t done in about fourteen years.  On top of that he had new shotgun he had never before fired.  So how was his aim?

He was shattering clay pigeons right and left like there was no tomorrow.

He even repeatedly blasted double pigeons, and remember this was pump action so he had to rack the gun between shots.  That meant split second aiming but he still hit them.  From what I could see, he was out-shooting everyone around us, and that meant people who acted like regulars on the range and Civil Air Defense soldiers in fatigues.

“A couple more times out here, and you’d get a lot better,” Alonzo promised me.  Trouble is, once he leaves town I won’t have the opportunity for such practice.  Even after my arm and shoulder heal.

At least I did better with his handgun.  (We were, of course, at a highly controlled, highly regulated shooting range in a state park overseen by people wouldn’t let anyone sneeze in the wrong direction).  The weapon had a hell of a recoil too (40 caliber), but I did much better.  My best shot was about three inches from dead center over about 33 feet.  But again, if I hadn’t had an extremely firm double-handed hold on that gun it would have recoiled back into my face.

This is what I mean about movies and TV shows being unrealistic (shocker!).   So often in them even powerful handguns or rifles or shotguns don’t recoil or jerk backwards or upwards.  They don’t show you how DEAFENING multiple shots from multiple guns can be (I swear every person at that shooting range who went there even a few times must have some kind of hearing damage).

When it comes to action heroes, I’ve got to say that in this category Lara Croft is the biggest offender.  Yes, she’s more of a cartoon figure than most others.  But when she pulls out two HUGE handguns from thigh holsters and fires away with single-handed action but yet no discernible recoil and spot-on aim all I can say is…

Get real.

“I can resist everything but temptation.”
– Oscar Wilde (an Irishman)

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m doing something REALLY different that I hope you like.   I’m posting the second chapter of The Compass Master.

The second chapter, you see, opens in Ireland.   In fact a a fair number of the chapters are set there, a few of the most important characters are Irish, and Layla Daltry lives in Dublin.   The thing is I’m half Irish and most of my relatives live in the good old Republic.   So when I was plotting my thriller it seemed natural to call on that part of my heritage.

Anyway, this second chapter might confuse you if I don’t give you a quickie background on the first chapter.   As the story opens, Layla Daltry, hunter of antiquities with an emphasis on ancient books, manuscripts, and other texts  written in Europe in the first sixteen centuries A.D., is in Bosnia and finishing her current mission.   She has just rescued a precious medieval illuminated manuscript and will soon return it to its rightful owner.   But her sense of triumph vanishes when she receives a message from Dr. Quentin Bryson:  his  scholar wife has passed away and he is about to attend her funeral, but Layla must not come to it because there might be danger.

Layla is devastated by the news.  Both of the elderly Dr. Brysons were her closest friends and like loving grandparents.   Yet Dr. Maeve Finnegan-Bryson had a great secret she was keeping from Layla?  And now Quentin Bryson and that secret are in danger?  Layla doesn’t understand and rushes to Ireland.

Chapter 2

The Latin words floated over the grave and into the old man’s ears.  They promised eternal life for the dead and comfort for the living, but on that November day all he could gather from them was a bitter chill.

There’s too much symmetry in this ceremony, Quentin thought.   Words for the dead spoken in a dead language.   Dead leaves crackling beneath shoes at the grave’s mouth.   Crows like black shrouds stalking worms among headstones.

Crows prefer even rancid carrion to worms, he thought, and they don’t bother with the tiny ones that devour books.   Worms that gnaw into the dust-dry pages his wife had loved so much.   Maeve had spent the larger measure of her life searching through ancient sheaves and scrolls and books scribbled over in Latin and Greek and Coptic: one dead language, one living, and one banished to obscurity in the corners of a Biblical land.

It was twenty-seven years ago this month that Maeve had rushed back to him from a trip and declared, “I found them!”   Her small body shivered with excitement, and she clutched a satchel of notes to her chest.

“You didn’t!” he gasped.

“I did indeed! I found exactly what the American man sent me to look for!   The complete records of the nun’s trial, together and untouched and unread by anyone for almost five hundred years.  But I read them, Quentin! I read them and they’re the most extraordinary evidence I’ve uncovered in all my years of searching.   There’s even a passage in them that refers to the papyrus pages!”

The papyri.   The ancient pages she had rescued before they could be burned in a place so forgotten few maps bothered to give it a village’s dot.   The five fragile pages that spoke of a secret so extraordinary Maeve herself had never betrayed it.

“…Sed libera nos a malo…” the priest intoned.  By church law he should have been saying the prayers in English, or perhaps in Irish, but Quentin had convinced him to use the language of the ancients. It was only fitting, since his wife had lived among them within her brilliant mind.

A movement nearby caught in the corner of his eye where his vision blurred at the open edge of his thick spectacles. His head swiveled toward it, but there were only wintering trees and headstones so old lichen had erased the names once inscribed on them. He wondered if someone was watching the funeral.

“Ghosts!” he mumbled.  Of course it would be ghosts that followed his wife to her grave. She had pursued for decades the shadow of something he himself once suspected may no longer exist, until her reputation as a scholar stumbled, never to rise again. She was forced to shut herself away into obscurity, and as time passed she even concealed her unfolding discoveries from him. “The truth won’t set us free,” she had insisted. “It could kill us both.”

But in the end no one killed her. He simply found Maeve sitting at her desk, her face on the broken binding of an old tome, her writing hand stilled in mid-word upon two sheets of paper. Now here he was, burying her with her secrets.

The church’s bell was chiming the half hour when he saw his suspected ghost. It was a stranger – a tall man in a black leather coat with a rectangular face paled by the cold and a dark goatee and a grey knit cap, rendering him the color of ashes and bones. In the next moment the stranger vanished behind a wall. Some snooping journalist come to witness the humble internment of the formerly great Dr. Maeve Finnegan-Bryson, Quentin thought with disgust.  To count the few mourners of a woman who had, long ago, commanded respect across the academic world. Maeve my sweetheart, how unjustly this world treated you.

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, amen.

Silence. The old man tilted as if pushed off balance. Somehow the rhythmic intonations of Latin had bound Maeve to him, while in the wordless wake that followed he could feel this last thread unravel, and she was gone. Now he was truly alone, the uncoupled living half of the whole he and his wife had been nearly all their lives.

The priest closed his prayer book and handed it to a young server.  He picked up one of the two shovels crossed over the open grave, dug into the nearby mound of earth and dropped a shovelful onto the casket below. Then he held out the shovel to him, the widower.

Quentin stared at it. He stumbled back one step, another, and turned full about. The mourners murmured, “Oh, the poor man!” and clucked their tongues. As he trudged away and out of the cemetery and up the street, the priest hurried after him while the mourners followed in a clump.

It took no more than five minutes for him to walk the distance to his house. A short man with a narrow frame, he had never been strong, and his bald head held only a fraying patch of white hair. But out of habit he walked quickly, his odd gait shifting his upper body back and forth like a bantam rooster, and although his weak eyesight had deteriorated yet more from a lifetime of too much reading, his hearing and other senses were as acute as ever. Hence he felt the mourners and priest dutifully shadowing him and heard their breaths as he unlocked the door and stepped into the foyer. The door to the reception room was open, and in his clouded mind he remembered that he had shut it. He drifted through its doorway. Stopped. A groan flew out of his mouth.

The room was a nightmare! Overturned chairs stuck their legs in the air while the sofa cushions choked out gobs of stuffing. The walls stood naked and the pictures that had crowded them littered the floor, while a Greek statue of Artemis gazed down at her broken arms.

“Holy Mother!” the priest gasped.

The old man swayed on his feet. This was impossible! Someone had broken into their home in this town where serious crimes never trespassed, and vandalized this room and perhaps stolen precious possessions…

In a jolt Quentin pivoted about.  “The study!” he cried.

The mourners gaped as he hurled his small body past them and up the stairs and into the room to the right of the landing. What he saw made him contract in pain. The destruction! God have mercy, the destruction! This study that had for so long served as a sanctuary for him and Maeve – he didn’t recognize it. The two desks angled away from their places like crooked skeletons, and their drawers did headstands in front of them. The file cabinet yawned with emptiness. Hundreds of books from the shelves piled crazily over each other on the rug, and blanketing them all was a snow of papers.

Quentin’s eyes fixed in horror on Maeve’s empty desk. The notes she had been writing when she died – where were they? He fell to his knees and raked his hands through the mess.

“Gone!” he gasped. Her precious dying words. Her final, vital notes he had not yet sent away to the hiding place, so distracted had he been in his grief. “Maeve, forgive me!” he moaned.

You were right, you were right, his mind chanted. After all these years and my private doubts, it was you who saw the truth I was blind to. All this time the American has indeed been on the same trail you were on. He never died or gave up, as I insisted he had. All the while you were hunting everywhere for the precious thing that had been hidden so long ago, he was right behind you. And now he has taken your final words, your final uncovered clues. “What is gone can lead to the obliteration of everything,” Quentin whispered. Everything Maeve had dedicated her life to saving. What is gone, and what could yet be stolen, would change history itself.

Somewhere beneath the debris, the telephone rang. He stared in the direction of the sound, barely aware of the priest hurrying into the room and pulling the thing from beneath the rubble, and saying “Bryson residence.” Then the priest repeated a name that made the old man stumble forward and grab the receiver.

“Layla!” he cried. “Is that really you?”

“Quentin, I’m so sorry!” a voice replied. “I only now got your message.”

“You must come at once!  Maeve is dead and her secret has been stolen!”

“Secret?  What do you mean, secret?”

Quentin realized that the priest was staring at him and cringed at the indiscretion he had committed. Oh, my young friend, he thought, how can I tell you the truth when my own wife hid so much of it from me for my own sake?

(The Compass Master, Copyright 2011)

By Tim Scuttlebutt for the New York Times
Published March 16, 2011

COLORADO – In what local law enforcement officials are calling “The most bizarre apparent suicide in the state’s history – and we’ve had some Jim-dandy weirdo deaths in these parts,” a woman was killed while spelunking naked in the state’s largest bat cave.

The cave, a former iron-ore mine located in the San Luis Valley, is home to more than 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats.   Due to dangerous hazards common in abandoned mines, and because it is a protected habitat for bats, civilians are not allowed to approach the cave beyond the designated viewing area.

According to witnesses, before dusk on March 15, an unidentified woman stripped off her clothes and ran from the viewing area into the cave.

“She looked normal to us,” said Marvin Muggs, 52.  “Me and the wife saw her just ahead of us, hiking up from the trailhead.  Nice figure of a woman, I thought.  Normal face.  But then when we got to the spot where everyone’s supposed to stop – well, she didn’t.”

“It’s like she went bat-shit crazy,” said Betty Muggs, 50. “Suddenly she ripped off all her clothes and started screaming, ‘I’m free!’ and ‘No more crappy job!  No more relatives from hell! I’m going to fly away!’ Course she didn’t fly, she ran.”

“Hell bent for leather straight into the cave,” Mr. Muggs added. “And she also screamed something about no more rejection letters from agents or publishers.”

Officials report that the trail guide was about to pursue the woman when the bats began flying out of the cave.

“Let me tell you,” said wildlife biologist Fred Lemur, “when a quarter of a million bats are shooting out of a dark and evil-looking hole, you stay the heck out of their way and pray one of those rabid little suckers doesn’t take a nip at you.”

The column of bats during the out-flight continued for nearly an hour.  By the time rescue volunteers were able to enter the cave, there was no sign of the woman.

“We followed her footprints in the guano,” said Costilla County Sheriff Bob Bigschott.    “Damn stuff came up to our knees.  But I’m sorry to say it led straight to a mineshaft.   At first we thought maybe she survived the fall.  We even heard what sounded like a maniacal laugh.   But then it got dead quiet.   Like she just, you know.”  He drew his finger across his throat to imply suicide.

The name of the woman has been withheld pending notification of relatives.

Maybe this has happened to you.

You sit down to write something.   Just a few paragraphs, something kinda fun.   Nothing challenging.   You turn on your computer screen to write.   Your fingers are on the keyboard.   And your brain goes…


Today is one of those days for me.  I can’t even strain my brain to find a relevant illustration.   So I’m using the one with cute little animals just because I really like it.

I mean, I really, really can’t seem to write anything witty or exciting right now.   And I really apologize for those of you who have tuned in, hoping for a moment of entertainment.

I blame lack of healthy outdoor exercise (the weather has FINALLY gotten nice after a long winter) and WAY too much copy editing.   I mean, I spent the weekend churning out 125 pages of (I hope) nigh perfectly proofed and edited pages of The Compass Master.   That’s on top of the 104 pages I did the week before.   Which means I’m just a few pages away from being half way through my manuscript.

Which by the way now seems to me as long as War and Peace.

Which just goes to show you that too much copy editing, proofing, looking up facts and punctuation can fry the brain.

On the bright side of personal news…

My friend Alonzo is in town.   I’ve mentioned him before as a mountain-climbing semi-expert.   While here he’s going to help me get more comfortable with my harness and rope.   He also announced, “I’ve got a toy for you,” and brought by his grappling hook for me to play with for a couple days.

Layla, of course, uses a grappling hook in TCM, only hers is the $200 (or more) deluxe kind that’s lightweight and can be shot from a small crossbow.   Alonzo’s is the more standard black iron collapsible type, but it certainly seems just as handy.  It also looks like it could double as a nasty weapon, convenient for fending off mountain lions in the wilderness or bad guys in a city.   Of course it’s way too heavy to shoot from anything, but I’ll try swinging it around and getting it on a building’s edge or hooked on tree limbs.   I’ll have to find an out-of-the-way place to do this because a) swinging a weapon-like grappling hook in my nice tame neighborhood could get me arrested; and b) if I screw up and damage something (preferably not me), nobody will be around to laugh and point.

Oh — and I know that somehow I’ve managed to CLOSE COMMENTS for this blog again, and I don’t know how I did it so please be patient while I try to fix the dang thing.

You know, when you’re really busy trying to get a manuscript ready for (self) publication, you don’t have time to do exciting action hero stuff.  And I really miss being more physically active.  Haven’t even done any nefarious lock picking lately.

On the other hand, this morning I did something totally new for me.  I rode in a big honkin’ tow truck.

Yes, that’s right.  My little red fart car wouldn’t start this weekend and it ain’t the battery that’s playing dead.  So off it and I went to the mechanic, who fortunately is only a few blocks away.  I haven’t yet received the engine diagnosis, but here’s hoping it comes in cheap and easy (like me).

Meanwhile, I’m driving myself crazy going through my manuscript (allegedly) ONE LAST TIME!

Yes, I know, I told you that I was finally done with the final edit of The Compass Master.  And I am.  But now I have to go through my overly large manuscript and PROOF it.  Proof as in copy edit and thus check every last comma, semicolon, dash, missing word, misspelled word, and so forth.  Certainly such fastidious attention is something every writer should pay to his/her work of art.  Then again, those writers who are lucky enough to have a traditional publisher can relax a little and know that the publishing house’s copy editor will perform this task.

Thing is, see, I couldn’t afford to hire a freelance copy editor, even the slightly cheaper CreateSpace’s editors.  But on the bright side my real life job title includes “editor” for the consulting firm where I work.  This means I copy edit reports and memos and you-name-it all the time anyway.  Sure, it’s a lot tougher to do this to your own work, especially when The Compass Master is so freaking long and has lots of Latin words, names of foreign places, and other pain-in-the-ass details.  But I have no choice – I gotta get TCM in PERFECT SHAPE.

For help I’ve turned per usual to the book pictured here — it’s the best and funniest book ever on punctuation.   Here’s a sample punctuated sentence from it:

Then he stroked my nose (I tell you, he really does love me!), and he mumbled into my cleavage, and suddenly burst into tears.

By the way, I’d like to inform you that All Souls’ Day is spelled just like that – with an apostrophe after Souls’.  This is the kind of stuff I have to look up.

Talk about becoming super anal.

Should super anal be one word or two?

Sorry for my absence the last couple days.   See, the thing is I had to put my kitty to sleep yesterday morning so I wasn’t feeling too sociable or gabby.   And not being able to get much sleep for a few nights because of a very sick kitty didn’t help.

I’ll come roaring back to life before the weekend and after I get some sleep and play catch-up.   In the meantime, it’s that time of year when I go out of my way to buy Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookies.   So I LOVED this picture below.