So you can read my books

Friday, April 30, 2010


Once again it is blogfest time. This time Lilah Pierce's LAST LINES blogfest.
I'm having to leave for the graveyard shift for the blood center for which I work. {No pun intended.} Anyway, I'll be out flying down the dark rural roads until late, late into the evening, so I'm going to enter the LAST LINES blogfest a bit early.

In the manner of Southwest Louisiana, I am even going to give you a bit of Lagniappe {a little extra.}

Most editors want to compare your first image to your last image to see if there is a definite change or a poetic, lyrical symmetry to them.

So I thought I would give you my first lines as lagniappe, then give you my final lines to my short story THE COLOR OF HER THOUGHTS. It concerns the last Lakota Medicine Person {shaman is a white man's term}, Sugmanitu Hota {Wolf Howl} in our present day. Here goes ...

First Lines :

{When she was thunder in the distance, I awoke. When her laughter was lightning above me, I knew fear. When both front tires to the bus blew, I saw her face in the night.

The Turquoise Woman was angry. At the White Man. Again. Lucky thing I was not a White Man. Or not so lucky.

I was on the bus.}

Last Lines :

I fought another sigh. Abby died from the Mossad's last lie : that the Turquoise Woman was a projection of my will. I shook my head sadly. I never killed the young, while they comprised the majority of GrandMother's victims. To say that she and I held different views of life was an understatement.

GrandMother sounded puzzled. "You knew the young girl was one of the Mossad team all along?"

I nodded. "The color of her thoughts was always death. Always."

From the heart of the dark woods, Bu, the Owl, cried in the voice of the recent dead.


And now, a bit of music and wisdom from the voices of Native Americans :

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I recieved another rejection this morning. A "Dear Author" impersonal rejection. Ouch. Not surprising considering the odds against me, an unknown. The odds.

The odds are against all of us. Worse. Look at the headlines of suicide bombers, murdering parents, thugs in the shadows. We are against us.

There is no director to yell "Cut!" No stunt double to take our place. And no new movie to star in when death swallows our person.

We must be our own hero. Wear our own spandex. And, if Kate Beckinsale of UNDERWORLD is to be believed, spandex pinches. And so it should. Pinches remind us that pain befalls us all, to be kinder to someone whose pinched face shows us that the spandex of his/her life is less than comfortable.

The picture of this post comes from Cassandra. She is a hero, a woman who could have surrendered to bitterness and defeat. But instead she has decided to choose life, healing others, and going forward. Though she would deny the heroism of her new life, I consider her a hero. Her trauma is hers to tell. I am just tipping my hat to her heroism.

And in a fashion, all we authors struggling to be published have to be our own heroes. The odds are against us in this harsh market. It seems that the motto of agents we approach is : "If I don't want your autograph, I don't want your manuscript."

But giving up can become an addiction, a way of life. Never surrender. Never yield to despair. Stumble, yes. Fall, of course. But gather your strength, your wits and get up. You can do it. Others have before you. Fling the blood and sweat from your eyes and smile wide. You can use those acid feelings searing your will and heart in your writing, becoming a deeper, more perceptive writer.

And more importantly : if you refuse to give in to bitter hopelessness, you will become a deeper, more compassionate human being. When you succeed, and you will succeed, you'll be able to thrust out a helping hand and word to someone, down and hurting, who needs a boost back onto the path. You'll be able to give them a pat on the back to lend strength to their steps. The pats lower leave to the agents and publishers.

And my favorite scene of all the STAR WARS films highlights my thinking {sorry about the foreign subtitles} :

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Blood Moon.

I was watching it rise as I waited for the Beaumont blood courier at the Texas gas station we couriers call the "Star Wars Cantina" -- for all the colorful folk who frequent the place.

I was actually followed into the men's room once by a woman offering financial romance, as it were. I was saddened by how her addiction drove her to such desperation. I declined as politely as I could to save what remained of her pride.

I know the blood moon was a trick of the atmosphere bending the light rays. But it was beautiful. As I watched it slowly rise, I saw it change eerily into vanilla creme then to stark skull white. The Lakota believed the full moon's face of shadows belonged to the fearsome Turquoise Woman, for whom you should have respect for she had none for you.

And I thought how we change like this blood moon as we rise from the horizon of our birth. Our spirits are bent by the atmospheres we send them through : the atmospheres of hope, dashed dreams, courage under pressure, and faith in he whom the Lakota call the Great Mystery. I sometimes call Him that as well, for what He is up to much of the time is a great mystery to me.

When I was a substance abuse counselor, a client once told me his theory about the anguished history of this haggard world : God put all the mad souls from the rest of the universe on this asylum called Earth, where life after life, the souls would have the chance to learn to be wiser, saner -- most stayed insane because it was familiar --
if not comfortable.

Seeing the scufflings and hustling at the gas station night after night, I thought how my client's theory looks more and more credible. The daily headlines help there, too. Then, again maybe I was just blood moonstruck.

What did Thomas Wolfe write?

"We are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we're in the present, but we aren't. The present we know is only a movie of the past. So, then, to every man his chance - to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity - to every man the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his soul and his vision can combine to make him."

Seeing the haunted face etched upon this blood moon, I thought of a similar moon face which belonged to the Turquoise Woman in my Native American fantasy.

HIBBS THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS is a fantasy born of the tales my mother told me as I lay shivering in my bed, growing weaker and weaker from the double pneumonia that almost killed me one terrible winter.

As I stared up at the blood moon, I remembered the teaching lessons she had told me of Hibbs when he had been a cub. Hibbs, the cub with no clue, she had called him. One in particular came to mind : when, as an exile in ancient Ireland, Hibbs remembers back to a time when he walked with the Turquoise Woman through the dread Valley of the Shadow ...


Hibbs' scalp suddenly prickled. Yet again, Hibbs' present had been swallowed up by his past. No longer was he in Eire nor even a grown bear. And instead of the wet smell of spring, the crisp chill of Autumn tickled his wrinkling nose. But he was still walking beside a long-striding Estanatlehi.

It was his first week in the Valley of the Shadow -- long before he knew it well enough to be cautious of what lay within its dark corners. And he wasn't exactly walking beside GrandMother. Rather he was bouncing all around her, filled with the energy and wonder of all young cubs.

The Turquoise Woman was frowning at him as he skipped and leapt in a circle around her. "I hate to see you so sad."

"Oh, GrandMother," giggled Hibbs. "You're so funny."

Estanatlehi smiled faint. "I do believe that you are the first to say that of me."

"Truly? Wheee! I'm the first. The very first. I bet I'm the first bear to explore this wonderful valley, too."

A thin arch of lightning rose skeptically over one turquoise eye. "Wonderful? I do believe that once again you are the first to call this valley that as well."

Hibbs did a hand-stand as he bounced around The Turquoise Woman. "What a day of firsts! It's great to be an explorer, isn't it?"

Estanatlehi sighed, "True, there is something to be said for heading into unexplored territory --- Uffff!"

Hibbs had collided into her side as he miscalculated his next hand-stand. She stopped suddenly and gestured. The young cub froze upside down in mid-air. Twin turquoise eyes narrowed as she bent and placed her face right next to the face of the frightened bear.

"But there is also something to be said for knowing where you are going."

"Wanunhecun, (mistake in Lakota)," muttered Hibbs out of a dust dry throat.

Turquoise eyes narrowed further, and Hibbs managed to get out the one word, "S-Sorry."

Snow suddenly started to swirl around the upside-down cub. "Better."

Hibbs let out a sigh of relief. Of course, he had misunderstood her as he so often did. And The Turquoise Woman reached out and sharply tweaked his nose.

"N-Not better?"

Estanatlehi murmured in words of winter, "No. Not 'sorry.' But 'better.'"

Hibbs' eyes widened. "Oh, you mean -- don't be sorry. Be better."

Long ivory fingers gestrued gracefully, and the cub landed on his head. Hard. But Hibbs merely giggled and rolled to his feet, hugging the startled Turquoise Woman.

"Got it right that time didn't I, GrandMother?"

And feeling the warmth of the young cub's trusting embrace about her legs, Estanatlehi lost all her former anger. She reached down and gently ruffled the top of Hibbs's furry head. All the tension left her voice as she spoke.


Her eyes sparkled with something that rarely touched them -- amusement. "And no."

Hibbs looked up with such nose-wrinkling puzzlement that Estanatlehi had to laugh. "How can it be both 'yes' and 'no' at the same time, GrandMother?"

This time her fingers were gentle as she tweaked his nose. "Oh, Little One, sometimes it appears that your whole life is both 'Yes' and 'No.'"



She reached down and gently tugged on his small right ear. "Come, and I will show you."

Though he felt like he would burst from just simply plodding along, Hibbs forced himself to walk beside GrandMother. His steps were so small compared to her long strides though that he happily found it was necessary to skip to keep up. Estanatlehi shook her head in wry amusement.

"This path is much different in summer than it is now in Autumn. These gentle slopes, so pleasant to walk upon in summer, turn slippery and dangerous with winter snows."

Hibbs squinted this way and that as he tried to imagine the trees and grass about him covered with the magic of first snowfall. The brittle leaves of Autumn tickled the bottom of his bare feet, and he fought a giggle. A hawk cawed high overhead, and the young cub strained to make it out. But it flew high into the clouds too quickly for him to pick it out against the utter blue of the sky.

Estanatlehi tugged a bit sharper on his ear to snare his ever-wandering attention. "Yet in winter, we could safely walk over this very spot where in summer rattlesnakes love to hide."

"Yikes!," squealed Hibbs, slamming hard into Estanatlehi's left leg as he leapt in fright from the imagined attack of slumbering rattlesnakes rudely awakened by scampering bear feet.

The Turquoise Woman sharply gestured with long ivory fingers, whose tips sizzled with sparks of black death. Yelping in fear and surprise, Hibbs was lifted bodily high in the air by the threads of Life until his eyes stared unhappily straight into eyes which had blasted the very flesh from the bones of Lakota warriors foolish enough to anger her.

"Does the air feel like summer to you?"

"I know it is Autumn, but --"

Turquoise eyes narrowed dangerously. "Autumn. Not summer. So by my very words, you know you are safe."

Hibbs swallowed hard and managed to get out, "You wouldn't say that if you were on my side of your eyes."

Estanatlehi stiffened, then laughed long and deep. "Oh, Little One, whatever did I do before you?"

As he was lowered gently to the dry leaves, Hibbs rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Probably walked without getting your feet stepped on."

Her head cocked slightly, and long, cold fingers gently ruffled the fur on the top of his head. "But I never laughed. Never. I believe a bruised toe or two is a small price for me to pay."

She tugged sharp on his right ear. "Now, what have you learned from all this?"

Hibbs looked up lovingly into her face and wanted so hard not to see it grow cold again. He thought and thought and thought. The obvious answer would only raise storm clouds again. An eyebrow of living lightning rose slowly.

Snakes in summer. Slippery tumbles in winter. The same path. His furry brow wrinkled as his tiny eyes squinted in hard thought. His eyes suddenly widened, and he smiled big.

"Different seasons make for different paths, even on the same spot."

The eyebrow of lightning kept rising, and Hibbs stuttered, "U-Uh, and -- and --- I guess that means that no one walks the same path twice even though it is the same road."

Hibbs heaved a sigh of relief as Estanatlehi's full lips slowly smiled. "I believe the end of the world must be near."


Full lips struggled to be sober and lost. "It is written : there shall be plagues, floods, and famines. Little Hibbs will actually learn a lesson. Then shall the End come."

"Oh, GrandMother, you scared me."

She gently stroked the top of his head. "It is a natural talent."

Hibbs couldn't think of anything to say to that which wouldn't end up with him becoming even more scared, so he just hugged GrandMother's legs. Icy fingers patted his cheek. Hibbs smiled wide. For once, he had chosen the right path.

And abruptly, Hibbs was back in the present. And yes, he was still smiling but it was a sad smile, nonetheless, with echoes of loss and beckoning darkness. He looked to GrandMother and saw her lips twisting up in the same smile.

"The right path," he whispered.

Estanatlehi's hair of living lightning shivered as she nodded. "So you still remember?"

"I remember each of our walks, GrandMother."

His forehead wrinkled along with his nose as he said low, "No one walks the same path twice -- even if it is the same road. Were you trying to tell me just now that even though I will walk the same unexplored territory as this other, I do not have to share his fate -- because I am different than he?"

Estanatlehi nodded even more slowly. "Yes."

May the windmills of your mind be a journey of peace and joy the rest of this week. And here is an ancient but reflective song by Noel Harrison from the equally ancient classic movie THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR


April 18, 2010

NEW YORK – The homeless man lay face down, unmoving, on the sidewalk outside an apartment building, blood from knife wounds pooling underneath his body.

One person passed by in the early morning. Then another, and another. Video footage from a surveillance camera shows at least seven people going by, some turning their heads to look, others stopping to gawk. One even lifted the homeless man's body, exposing what appeared to be blood on the sidewalk underneath him, before walking away.

It wasn't until after the 31-year-old Guatemalan immigrant had been lying there for nearly an hour that emergency workers arrived, and by then, it was too late. Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax — who police said was stabbed while intervening to help a woman being attacked — had died.

"Is anybody human anymore?" asked Raechelle Groce, visiting her grandmother at a nearby building on Monday. "What's wrong with humanity?"

What is wrong with humanity?

We are the hollow people. Science would say there are great gaps between the nucleus of an atom and the protons and neutrons whizzing around it. Squeeze all that empty space out between atoms, between molecules, and you would have very little solid matter.

But we have allowed our self-focus to squeeze so much more out of us : compassion, empathy, love, a sense of community, and a sense of awareness of those around us as anything more than the backdrop in the grand movie of our lives.

Long ago, I wrote a YA fantasy for a young girl undergoing painful medical treatment. It was before Harry Potter became a movie wonder, but he was just becoming a hot literary property. She liked the books. She had questions of why people were like they were, of why God hesitated to help.

I wrote AN ORPHAN FOR LUCIFER so as to take her mind off her pain, both physical and mental. The murder of this good samaritan brought the ending of it to mind. And here it is

{ Blake, the orphan, is being tormented by Lucifer. The boy is trying to distract him long enough to get him away from a button that, if pressed, will set off a chain reaction in the volcanic Ring of Fire that runs all through the Pacific. Solomon, his angelic mentor, is forbidden to interfere in this new Job duel.}

He stood there studying me for a long moment, a cruel light growing in his eyes. Then, he walked down two steps, growing taller, more alien with each step. He stopped on the third stair.

"The rain forests are still burning, Blake. But no one is listening to the smoke detectors. On every channel, you can watch man, the pearl of creation, tear apart his fellow man. And what do you talking monkeys do? Why, you change the channel, of course. Why deal with the backlog of misery when you can just ignore it? It’s become a cliche even. But have you ever thought it through, son of Adam? Just where is your precious Father while all of this is happening? Where is he when I do this to you?"

He flicked his fingers, and it seemed like salt was poured into all my wounds. I howled in agony. Solomon whimpered and shook with rage.

Lucifer smiled smug.

"Or has it occurred to you that maybe He just doesn’t care. You were a mild diversion for an eon or so, then He just grew bored and tossed His toys aside."

He stepped majestically down three steps, his form blurring as his business clothes became a black chestplate draped over with a glowing white toga.

"Hollywood has me all wrong. As you say, big surprise, there, since they have so much wrong. You sons of Adam seek me out. Not the other way around. As have you, filled with foolish delusions of love and of a Father who simply just doesn’t give a damn."

I sucked in the pain enough to rasp, "I have a thought for you, too, sir."

He sneered, "Oh, I wait with bated breath."

I swallowed down the fear. "God and Evil."

He flinched as if I had slapped him. "What did you say?"

"God and evil, sir. Your questions all come down to that. Either The Father can do away with it, or He can’t. Or even more puzzling, He won’t. If He can’t, then He isn’t really God, is he, sir?"

Lucifer seemed to have gotten all eyes as I continued in a wheeze, "And if He can but won’t, then, He’s pretty shitty, isn’t He?"

Lucifer nodded slowly as his frown deepened, and I kept on, "But if He can and wants to, then why do you still exist?"

He murmured soft yet strangely harsh, "And your answer?"

"Something a Queen once told me : from the One comes two; from two comes the Three; and from the Three flows everything."

His face got awful to see. "I could make your death last an eternity, boy."

I shook my head and grinned lop-sided, "Everyone has been driving me crazy with profound, obscure answers lately. Thought I try it for a change."

He clenched his fist, and my guts went on fire.

"So much for change," I groaned low. "The one : love. But there really can’t be any love, can there, sir, without the two : free will."

"That’s your answer : free will?"

I swallowed dry. "Love has to be freely given if it’s to mean anything, right? And free will is pointless without the time given you to say the three."

"Three what?," he growled.

"Three words, s-sir. Actually, three words thrice. ‘I miss you.’ ‘I love you.’ ‘Please, forgive me’."

I thought he would roar in rage, but he exploded into deep, belly-deep laughter. "Then, my reign of terror will last an eternity, boy, for I will never say those words."

I forced the words out, "Everything has a limit, sir. Even The Father’s patience."

His eyes narrowed, and his words sharpened, "And mine."

He walked down three more steps and looked wistfully like some boy deciding which wing to pull off a fly first. "But the stories about me aren’t completely true. I am not without some measure of pity."

His eyes glittered with a mocking light. "Your musings are just that : musings. Look around you, child. You’re alone, all alone. No one but you and me -- and that impotent brother of mine, bound by the maddening will of He who would let you be butchered by me -- all for dark reasons that make sense only to a god that would play with us like tossed jacks."
He tried for a mask of sympathy, but that was all it was : a mask. "Just deny the Father who has already denied and deserted you. After all, it would only be fair. He left first. And just think : all that pain will be gone like yesterday’s empty dreams and beliefs. Just one simple sentence. That’s all I ask."

Somehow I found the breath to gasp out the words of Solomon, my best friend, "That’ll - be the day."


Things as you might expect, go from bad to downright terrible for Blake. But the orphan finds a way to win the new Job duel, with pain, struggle, and hope -- but isn't that much like life for all of us?

But can we win our own private Job duel? Not if we, like those seven New Yorkers, choose our own convenience over the welfare of others in distress. The twilight is descending upon our souls. Whether the night be filled with comfort or cold aloneness depends on the choices we make. Let them be wise ones.

And now, to leave you with a bit of beauty and some stirring music, here is Leaves' End with "Twilight Sun." In my series of novels, Samuel McCord is sometimes called "Twilight's Son."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


First, I have a polite request. I've entered a short story contest. If you don't mind, would you go here : And if you like what you read, vote for my story. Now, back to the regularly scheduled post :

There are many mysteries in the French Quarter. There is even a street called Mystery but that is a 20 minute bus ride from there in an area called Mid-City. If you are feeling brave and adventurous, you may choose to stay in the French Quarter's Mystery Hotel. 4 stars even. You know you want to.

The French Quarter, also known as Vieux Carre {Old Square in French,} has long murmured a siren call to extreme personalities -- one such was the Sultan, whose famous ghost is said to haunt the halls of the 4 story house on 716 Dauphine Street. In the latter 1800's, he rented the house from the Le Prete family. A dark day for everyone involved. The Sultan, a cruel and dangerous man, was not above kidnapping women off the streets, torturing them into submission, and then adding them to his harem.

One mysterious day, the Sultan met his fate in an ironic, cruel and hideous fashion. A neighbor strolling by his house stiffened in horror. She saw tiny rivers of blood trinkling from beneath the front door.

When the authorities broke down the door, they found a scene from a nightmare. Body parts and blood were everywhere. Every member of the household had been horribly murdered. Only the Sultan was missing. Where was he?

They discovered his body in the backyard in a shallow grave. He had been buried alive. The murderers were never discovered. It remains one of the city's most haunting, intriguing mysteries.

In NEW ORLEANS ARABESQUE, the sequel to FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, Captain Samuel McCord finally solves the mystery, nearly at the cost of his own life. But it is not too surprising that McCord solved the mystery.

His own jazz club is itself a mystery. By day, the corner of Royal and St. Peter houses the Royal Cafe. At dusk, the corner transforms into Royal and Rue La Mort. And the haunted MEILORI'S beckons to all who pass. The fortunate keep on passing. Those unwise or ignorant enter its glittering doors. Some step out hours or days later. Many more do not. Does McCord possess the club, or is he possessed by it? Another unsolved mystery.

And here is the beginning of a chapter in NEW ORLEANS ARABESQUE entitled "The Deepest Thirst," in which Samuel solves the Sultan's murder and nearly dies in doing so.

I have been a lawman longer than two lifetimes of normal men. In that time I've bent more laws than I've upheld, made more widows than makes for a soft pillow, and caused more misery than any one man should be allowed to. In all the ways that count, I am a monster. Yet I keep on going. Let's hear it for plain old stubborness.

Through clawed woods and wild seas I've traveled, seeking the last ragged edges of the earth. Past shades of evils, down winding dark roads, and up jagged cliffs of ice I've gone. And all of it has only brought me back full circle, no wiser than when I started. Let's hear it for sheer thickheadedness.

Brooding and nursing my orange juice, I sat in the shadows. Meilori's, my French Quarter nightclub, was bustling despite Katrina and Rita. Relief workers needed relief, too. And the returning survivors needed someplace cool and dark to nurse their haunting memories and griefs. Me, too.

It was Samhain, summer's end. It had nearly marked New Orleans' end as well. But its people were a hardy lot.

The Celtic New Year began this nightfall. Someone with the name of McCord was supposed to know these things. So, of course, it had been told me by my Ningyo wife, Meilori. With a smirk of "you poor dense man" added for good measure.

It had stung at the time. Now, I would have given everything I owned to see that smirk again. I sighed at the memory of her leaving me.

It had been seven long years since I had last seen that exotic face, with or without the Mona Lisa smirk. A very long seven years. My old friend, Samuel Clemens, had Adam say over Eve's grave : Wheresoever she was, there was Eden. And so it had been with Meilori.

In ancient Welsh tradition, this evening was called The Three Spirit Night, when all kinds of beings could roam between realities. I smiled bitter. Maybe Meilori would choose tonight to return. I shook my head. For an old Texas Ranger, I was certainly pathetic. But my grief was something I couldn't seem to fight. It hit somewhere beyond reason and below the level of speech.

Love. I had searched for it for so long. With Meilori, it had come withing my grasp. And seven years ago, despite being right next to me, it had been lost to me forever.

Seven years. Tunes had gotten uglier, louder. The shouted whispers at my tables from man to woman had gotten filled with more profanities, but not more truth. I sighed. Their conversations were too contrived and too little aware of what really went on in the world.

But Katrina and Rita changed that. Now the eyes were shadowed by the recent brush with death, despair, and panic. People seemed frantic to shove as much passion into what had turned out to be a very unreliable life.

The real masks this Halloween were the attempts at laughter and high spirits, brittle denial of the end of all things that awaited them that final day which had proven to be much closer than they had once believed.

A cultured, not quite human, voice interrupted my brooding and spoke from the shadows to my left, "They say you help people."

I looked up. The business suit was black like mine, except instead of a western cut, it looked like those you see worn in India in the movies and nowhere else. The face made me go cold inside.

His eyes. Damn. His eyes. The slant to them was Ningyo.

Ningyo. The race from another plane of existence that had fled to ours. Most of them viewed humans as cattle, useful only for meals or amusement. I was either very close to my dream coming true. Or I was in deep shit.

The cold flatness of those eyes said deep shit.

I said, "Sometimes. And sometimes I hurt them."

{And so begins the mystery that will bring Samuel to the brink of madness and death.}

Despite my ghost stories, I hope all of you have a healing day today. And don't forget to vote for my short story if you're so inclined. The odds are against me I know. But I can hear Samuel chuckle, "That just makes the battle interesting, don't you know?"

The following song is the one most often requested by Samuel McCord when Diana Krall performs at Meilori's.

Monday, April 26, 2010



All writers I believe write in the crosshairs. If you have beta readers and have submitted to agents/editors, you know the feeling of being in the crosshairs of their evaluations. Ouch. But no pain, no gain.

But I am thinking of the imagry of the hunter. He fixes his aim at his target, looking through his scope. The image is hardly crisp at the beginning. He must adjust the lens to achieve crisp clarity and the best chance of hitting his target.

Writers are like that hunter. At first the image of our tale is blurry. We tighten the focus with revealing dialogue, vibrant characters, engaging crises, and creative descriptions. Pacing and plot tighten the image even more. Sometimes we get it with dead-on clarity. Most times we don't. No one but Shakespeare is perfect. If you don't believe me, ask Harold Bloom or any university English professor.

It is a tricky endeavor writing in the crosshairs. How do we focus quicksilver humans into concrete mental images? Take flames. They look like objects but are really processes. Humans are like that as well. No human actually is complete. He or she is in the process of becoming.

But becoming what? We answer that question with our choices.

But there is more to my title than that. We all write the movie of our lives in the crosshairs. That endeavor is more tricky. We don't get the luxury of time to reflect, muse, or ponder at leisure. Life is a harsh mistress. As we struggle, she flashes us that "beauty-queen" smile : all sharp teeth and no heart. And in her games of chance, the House ultimately wins.

Like Indiana Jones we must make it up as we go along. We plan and prepare. Life gleefully throws her monkey wrench into our preparations. We must write our lives in the crosshairs of illness, accidents, dysfunctional humans, and our own inner demons. We are all in Life's crosshairs, and none of us know when she will pull the trigger. We just know that she will.

This is what my blog is all about : how to maintain a measure of grace and peace in the crosshairs of Life. I haven't figured it out yet. Let me know what helps with you.

I am currently listening to "Mourning Tree" by Leaves' End. The romance of my haunted, undead Texas Ranger, Samuel McCord, and his immortal love, Meilori Shinseen, has echoes to it of the tragic love of Arwen and Aragorn. Here is a music video I think you may like :

Sunday, April 25, 2010


The mysterious Nazca lines. What fan of the arcane and the supernatural has not heard of them? But did you know that there were equally mysterious Nazca Lines for writers?

Bet you didn't.

But there are. And you need to know them. Imagine this scenario : you're at a writer's conference. You're waiting for the elevator doors to open and take you to listen to your favorite author. They open. He storms out. You stumble into the elevator and bump into none other than the president of HarperCollins Publishing.

The doors close, and he glares at you. "That jerk just told me I needed him. Me need him? I made him. I could make you. Hey, you tell me what your book is about in one sentence. I like it. I'll publish it. Well, just don't stare at me. Give me that sentence!"

What do you say? Besides "Oh, shit!" to yourself. And right now, as you read this, if you're writing a novel, you better have that sentence crystal clear in your mind. If you don't, you need those mysterious Nazca Lines for authors.

What is your novel about, Roland? Now is no time for ah's. "It's about a man, nearing retirement, invited to a company country retreat, only to find out it is his employers' deadly way of downsizing by 'accident' to avoid paying him his benefits."

The president's eyes roll up. "Why should I care? What's the shake-up in this retread?"

"Ah, you see, he's not human. He's ... he's an alien with gruesome dietary needs. And he's more than happy to add these company killers to his menu."

"Hey, that might work. Give me an eagle-eye view of this, kid."

Eagle-eye view. That is what the Nazca Lines for authors happens to be.

First Nazca Line - The theme in one sentence.
In an important aspect, a good novel is an argument posed by the author to the reader. As in : what is more important, love or success? What is love really? And success? How do you measure that? Your theme is your argument.

How do you get your theme seamlessly inserted into your novel? Usually thourgh the lips of a secondary character. In my THE MOON & SUN AS HIS BRIDES, Webster, the one-eyed orphanage headmaster, stalks towards my young hero as the orphange burns down around them.

He jabs at his empty eye-socket. "You want the truth? You want to understand? That costs, boy. It costs!" {As it turns out Webster is really Wotan, he who you might know as Odin -- and wisdom cost him his eye.}

Second - The Book-Ends :

The Opening Scene and Your Closing Scene.

Some publishers look at the first 10 pages and the last 10 pages. Think of them as the "Before" and "After" photos in all those advertisements. There has to be a drastic change in the main character underlinging your theme or the rubber stamp "REJECT" comes down on your manuscript. Ouch.

Third - The Set-Up Lines :

The first 50 pages or the first 3 chapters.

In those you must set-up your hero, the life-or-death stakes, the goal of the story, and all the major characters are introduced or hinted at. Think of any classic Hollywood movie. In the first 15 minutes you will see that same set-up. You don't have it in your novel? You don't have a good novel. Or least that is what the publisher will think. And he is the one we're trying to sell.

Fourth - The Flaws That Show & Those That Don't :

You should have three major time bombs in your hero's life that need fixing and three minor ones that prevent him from seeing the real problems in his life. Tick. Tick. Tick. BOOM!

Fifth : Let The Games Begin :

Fun. That's what gets readers to come back for a second and third read. It what gets them to urge friends to read. Let the hero and his circle of comrades have adventure. Let them get away with the loot. Let them thumb their noses at the howling Dark Ones. It's what would be on the poster if your novel was turned into a movie. Luke and Leia swinging on that rope. Quigley shooting his rifle over impossible distances. Iron Man streaking across the dark heavens ... to slam into the brick wall of the next Nazca Line ---

Sixth - The Twilight of The Gods :

Or that is what I call it : the hero realizes too late a harsh truth. The forces of darkness have won. He is alone. There is no hope. He comes face to face with the fool that he was. And then, kneeling in blood and ashes, he decides ...

Seventh - The Phoenix Rises/ The Catalyst Sizzles :

There is losing. Then, there's quiting. The hero decides to fight on. But fight on smarter. The bad news was really the good news. It is that moment the reader loves. The harsh realities that every reader faces is tilted on its ear by a carefully sown subplot. The person the hero thought he has lost returns. And the forces of darkness discover you never count a hero down until you see his corpse. And maybe not even then.

Eighth - The Mid-Point Line :

The stakes are raised. The hero wins. Or does he? The floor bottoms out beneath him. All is lost. The hero was a fool. He obtained his goal, only to discover he had lost the real treasure in getting a tarnished, empty vessel.
Ninth - The Wolves Close In :

What makes a hero? What ticks inside a proponent of Evil? The answers to those two questions are what turns defeat into a learning, growing stage in the hero. The hero fights for others. The antagonist fights for himself. The hero is willing to die if those he loves live. The antagonist usually finds a way for followers to die for his cause. He himself wants to live to bask in the glory of winning.

Tenth - Gethsame_Golgotha_The Empty Tomb :

Death. Someone dies. Something important dies. In every classic movie, death is the seed that is sown to bring a harvest of redemption to the hero. As the shadows close in around our defeated, dejected hero ...

Eleventh - The Sun Also Rises :

Love usually brings the believed lost partner of the hero back to his side. A moment of joy leads to a revelation of a solution. The lessons learned in the prior pages are brought to bear. The forces of darkness have learned nothing. The hero has learned a great many things. He brings them to his arsenal of weapons. One by one, he and his comrades and his love dispatch the enemy. Until it is just the hero versus his arch-foe. New surprises are thrown at our hero. He takes his hits and keeps coming. He may die, but he will not be defeated. Nor is he.

And The Lines Strikes Twelve - The "World" is changed.

Triumph isn't enough. The world must be drastically changed -- for the hero or for everyone. But changed it is.

Final Image :

It echoes the first image we got in the book. But this image has more depth, brought by the dark colors of death, pain, and revelation. You have made your point in the argument you proposed in the novel's beginning. You know your reader will close your book with a sad sigh at a great experience ended. And maybe, just maybe, if you've done your job right ... your reader will turn to page one again to read your novel with renewed delight at knowing where you are going to take him/her.
And talking of eagle-eye views, here is a music video that is a life lesson all by itself :

Friday, April 23, 2010


I'm on call tonight, and things are starting to heat up.

So I'm entering the BODY LANGUAGE BLOGFEST a little early.

And I'm truly happy to enter Harley D. Palmer 's BODY LANGUAGE BLOGFEST

{My entry comes from my urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. At this juncture of the novel, Captain Samuel McCord, owner of the haunted jazz club, Meilori's, is heading towards the New Orleans Convention Center the first evening following Hurricane Katrina. Helpless women and children are being threatened by drunken gangsters in that maze of halls. He is going to do what he can.}

As I made my way down the flooded street towards the Convention Center, I looked up at the full moon. It seemed closer than civilization or any semblance of rescue. If there was to be any help for those suffering at the center, it would have to come from me.

As I waded along into the night, the black mists curled and creamed in the humid darkness like an unspoken fear trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness. A trick of the thick air, the moon of blood leered down upon its reflection on the dark waters of the flooded street. Ripples of its long bloody image flowed from the floating dead body of a cat, looking like fingers caressing its kill. The cat’s death apparently hadn't been pretty nor was its corpse. The night became colder than it should have been. Much, much colder.

I didn’t need Rind, the Angel of Death, to tell me that the night was not my friend. Too much death had happened too recently. Spirits, lost and angry, were walking beside me. Torn clothing. Hollow eyes of shadows. Sharp, white teeth. Long, writhing fingers slowly closing and unclosing.

Because of Rind's blood in my veins, I could see them slowly circling, hear their trailing, splashing steps behind me, feel the heat of their sunken, hungry eyes upon my back.

Were they soul-echoes, mere refracted memory of a will? Or were there such things as literal ghosts? Just because I could see them didn't mean that I understood what they were.

I turned the corner and came upon the startled, fragile grace of a too-white egret standing alert in the middle of the flooded street, staring back at me. Its long sleek neck slowly cocked its sloping head at me. Then, gathering its huge wings, it launched itself into the air with its long black legs. I saw the spirits of the dead around me longingly stare after its curved flight of grace and freedom into the dark sky.

I felt a tug on my left jacket sleeve. I looked down. My chest grew cold. The dead face of a little girl was looking up at me. Or rather the face of her lost, wandering spirit, her full black eyes glistening like twin pools of oil. Her face was a wrenching mix of fear and longing. She tried to speak. Nothing came out of her moving lips. Looking like she was on the verge of tears, she tugged on my sleeve again and pointed to the end of the block. I followed her broken-nailed finger. I shivered.

She was pointing to her own corpse.

I took in a ragged breath I didn’t need to compose myself. The Convention Center would have to wait. I had sworn a long time ago that no child would ever ask my help without getting it.

A haunted singing was faint on the breeze. Somewhere the dead had found their voices. I nodded to the girl’s spirit and waded to her corpse, the force of the rushing flood waters having washed it up onto the sidewalk and against a store front where it slowly bobbed in place. I saw the girl’s spirit out of the corner of my eye, studying the shell of flesh she had once worn. Her head was turned slightly to one side. The expression to her face was sorrowful and wistful at the same time. She pointed again.

I looked where her tiny finger was gesturing. She was pointing to her corpse, then to the sidewalk at her misty feet. She did it again. I frowned. What was she trying to tell me?

I looked up at the girl’s spirit. She just stood there frowning as if in concentration. Her brow furrowed, and her jaws clenched. I could swear beads of sweat appeared on her ghostly forehead.

She was silently crying by this time. Bending down, she kneeled by her body. She pointed again, then slid her hand under the water lapping at the sidewalk. She repeated the gesture. I frowned, not understanding what she was trying to tell me.

She made as if to scoop up her body, rose, then walked to the alleyway. She bent again as if laying something down. She turned to me, her eyes intent and begging. Her hands took the position as if she were holding a baseball bat or stick.

She cocked her head, the black tears flowing freely now. She bent again and made digging motions with the stick. I growled low at myself.

I was an idiot. She wanted to be buried. She didn't want to lie out here to be eaten by dogs ... or worse. I started to talk to her, then stopped. If she couldn't speak, maybe she couldn't hear. So I nodded.

She gave me back my frown. I pointed to her body, made my own digging motion, and nodded again. She looked like she didn't quite believe her eyes.

I gently took off my Stetson so as not to spook her, allowing the moon to show her my face clear. I put my right hand over my heart in a silent pledge, and nodded firm three times.

Her face lit up brighter than the full moon overhead. She smiled wistful and sad at me. And with that, she looked up into the night. I followed her eyes. She was looking at the retreating body of the egret slowly flying into a filmy, billowing cloud. I looked back to her spirit.

She was gone.

I sighed from the sudden emptiness hollowing out my chest. I bent down, picked up her frail corpse, and headed to the garden in the back of my jazz club. I blinked back hot tears.

I had a promise to keep.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


As Rasha, the fallen angel from my short story LIES THAT LOCUST TELL, warns : names are dangerous things.

The Native American shamans will tell you that there is power in the use of names -- and death if you use the wrong ones.

Laughing Wolf, a new cyber friend, asked what Elu meant. He told me that in Estonian it means life. I hadn't known that. I did know that in several Native American languages it means "full of grace." But Elu is only half-Apache {a name meaning 'enemy'}. His mother is the Turquoise Woman, who was called Gaia by the ancient Greeks. So I was very careful in selecting the name Elu, for there is more to him than even Samuel knows. Elu in ancient Chaldean encompasses in its Semitic essence, the concept of surpassing might, immense power, and unlimited strength. There is more to Elu than what his surface would suggest.

And such it is with all the names of my major characters. Their names are portals through which you can view the essence of their natures. As with Samuel and with his one great love, Meilori Shinseen. {Shinseen being the delicate, exquisite fae controling Fate and Fortune in ancient Chinese mythology.} Nor do I hide the significance of those meanings from the reader, as in this excerpt from my Titanic fantasy, RITES OF PASSAGE :

{McCord has sensed someone in great anguish on the upper deck of the DEMETER and has gone to check if there is something he can do.}

I noticed that besides the three smoke stacks, there were two huges masts with billowing sails. The Demeter it seemed was a hybrid -- like me.

I slowed as I spotted a woman, sitting right on the wooden deck by the railing, huddled over something. I wrapped the threads of night tighter about me and stepped closer. The faint smell of jasmine tickled my nose. She was in a long, flowing scarlet and black Victorian gown.

I stiffened as the fog thinned enough for me to make out her slanted eyes, not quite Japanese, not quite Chinese, but a beautiful blend of the two. Another hybrid. Her long black hair was styled up, her eyes were cast down. She was stroking a dead seagull, its slender neck bent awkward. I guessed that it had hit the rigging in the fog and killed itself, tumbling to the deck.

The woman spoke, and it was as if her vocal chords were velvet. Her accent. It sent shivers through me. It was like human speech itself was a foreign language to her. What was I getting myself into? Her words were almost lost in the night.

"Poor little creature of air. Like last month, I came upon you too late. Too late."

She spoke as if the two words were a summing up of her whole life. She was one of those haunted-eyed women you attached your own hidden fears and silent sorrows to. Close-up her eyes weren't cold jade as they had seemed farther away. They were filled with echoes of regret. The coldness had just been a bold front to hide the fact that they'd lost their way a long time ago. Maybe mine looked the same.

There were disturbing depths of sadness in those eyes. Depths in whose darkness swam the monsters which drive us or haunt us or both. Those depths whispered of age more ancient than the Aztecs, more dangerous than even my past. They both called and warned at the same time.

She kept on stroking the dead bird. "Why ever did I listen to Inari and come to this accursed vessel in the first place? I had foresworn vengeance and death long ago. Now, look where breaking my vow has led me."

She stroked the bird's head tenderly as if afraid of waking it up. "Oh, to be able to go back to that world of wonder I had before I became wise and unhappy."

She held the limp bird up to her breast and sighed,
"Dreams drift like clouds,
I reach to touch the moon,
I grasp but empty night."

I felt like I was intruding, but I couldn't force myself to step away as she placed the bird back down to her lap and whispered in an accent even stranger than before, "Little creature of air, I came upon thee just in time to see thee die. Thou art a symbol of my life, a symbol of the futility of all my days."

I couldn’t take her pain any more and dropped the threads of night to step forward. "Not futility, ma'am."

She hushed in a breath as if to scream, stared at me for long silent seconds, then forced out, "I - I did not see you -- Westerner."

"I'm a Texas Ranger, ma'am. We don't learn to move quiet, we don't live very long. I mean you no harm."

Her face became twisted with self-loathing. "You could not harm me any more, mortal."

"You're right there, ma'am. I couldn't bring myself to muss a hair on your head - which is why I couldn't just walk away back into the night before I told you the truth."

Her lips curled bitter. "And just what is this truth?"

"That you came just in time to give that little bird a precious gift."

She sneered, "And what gift would that have been?"

"It got to die in the arms of one who cared and cried over its passing. How many of us get to die that loved?"

Her face flinched as if I had slapped it. "Not ... very ... many."

I tugged down on the brim of my Stetson. "Yes, ma'am, not very many at all. You weren't futile. You were a blessing."

I turned to go, and she called out to me. "What is your name, Ranger?"

Something told me to keep on walking, but I turned back around, my loneliness overcoming my caution. "Samuel, ma'am. Samuel McCord."

Her face grew haunted. "Samuel, from the Hebrew Shemu'el, 'God Has Heard'."

Her eyes searched mine. "Is your coming a portent that He heard me last month?"

"He always hears you, ma'am. The trick is are you listening?"

Her smile flashed briefly like the gleam of a knife slashing from out of the darkness. "And do you listen, Samuel?"

The way she said my name was like no other way it had ever been said. Her voice sent tingles along the scalp at the back of my neck. I rubbed it self-consciously.

"Me, ma'am? No, I'm too stiff-necked for that."

"Please stop calling me ma'am. It makes me feel my age."

"Well, ma-, Miss, what is your first name?"

She stiffened like I had stepped across a taboo. And most likely, I had. I cursed myself. Of course, she was a fine lady of some Oriental court or some such, and here I was just a weathered, landless lawman.

Her face closed like a fist. "Those, who are permitted, call me Meilori."

Pain flickered in her green eyes. "Meilori, Beautiful Laurel. Did you know, Samuel, that laurel leaves were used in Ancient Rome to fashion victors' garlands?"

Her full lips twisted in bitterness. "Even my name is a cruel jest on the emptiness my life has become."

"Or maybe -- Miss, it's just a promise pointing to the victory your life could become if you don't give up."

Her eyes became hot jade. "And have you never wanted to give up?"

The knife of remembered despairs tore deep into me. “Too often.”

I shrugged. "But I could never find the place where you could go to do it."


But we were talking about the meaning of Elu's name. Nor did I hide its meaning from the readers of RITES OF PASSAGE either :

{McCord has just sat down in front of the ornate mirror in his expensive suite aboard the DEMETER.}

I slowly got up and approached the dressing table with its golden, ornate mirror. I had walked to certain ambushes feeling better. If I turned around, I knew I would see the accusing ghost of my father watching me. I just didn't know what look would be on his face, compassion or satisfaction. I didn't know which would hurt more. I sat down with my eyes closed.

I opened them. The mirror showed a room fit for an emperor, nothing more. Nothing. No reflection of me at all. What had I become? I sat for long heartbeats staring at the nothing I had become. Words that I remembered Father quoting came to mind. To him they had meant something else entirely than what they now meant to me. My words sounded hollow in the empty air.

“When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

Then, as so often, a swirling of black clouds in the shape of a tall man appeared in the mirror. It slowly focused into the buckskin covered Apache who had saved my life in the Parajito Mountains of Sonora so long ago. Saved it, then twisted it, and finally ended it. His sad bear face grunted at me.

"Ever the poet. You are undoubtedly the most strange white man I have ever known, Dyami. Why do you forever quote the words of those long dead?"

Dyami. Eagle in his tongue. I felt like a vulture.

I shrugged. “Maybe cause it makes me feel closer to Father who always quoted them. Or maybe when I no longer feel human, it helps me to quote someone struggling with the pain of their own humanity.”

It looked like my words had hurt him somehow, and I tried for a smile and failed. "Hello, Elu. Long time, no see."

"And whose fault is that? You shy from mirrors like some ugly sqaw."

"I feel ugly. I murdered my father, cursed you, done --"

"Your blood cursed me. As mine cursed you. Oh, by the way, Mother sends her usual regards."

"In other words, she wants to eat my eyes and tear out my liver."

"Of course. In her view, it is your fault that I am trapped here between worlds."

"It is."

"No, it is ours. I asked you to become blood-brother with me. You accepted. I thought my heart big to accept a white man's blood. You gave the lie to my thoughts by not even pausing to let a half-breed's blood mingle with your own."

"It never occurred to me to ask what race your mother was."

"Our mother, now."

"My mother was killed by Father to spare her the torture and rape by Comanches. Yours is the living spirit of this world who --"

Elu quickly held up his right hand, all fingers up but the forefinger, which he held down with his thumb. "Hush! Estanatlehi may be listening."

"So? What is she going to do? Make my life hell?"

"You say the words, but you do not understand them. The color of her thoughts are the Northern Lights. Think long before you anger her."

"I already have, remember?"

"Your blood is now her blood, Dyami. She takes a certain mother's pride in your hunts. Up until this one."

My changed blood went cold. "Why this one?"

Elu's eyes flicked from mine uneasily. "You know The Turquoise Woman. She is ever close-lipped."

I angrily tapped the mirror with my right forefinger. "Elu, in your tongue, full of grace. Right now, you're full of something else, which explains why your eyes are so brown. 'Fess up. What is going on?"

His eyes met mine, no longer evasive but pleading. "Give up this hunt, brother. It will lead to no good. There are more enemies than one this time. And one enemy that will destroy you if you seek him out."

"All the more reason for me to do it."

"I know your foolish hunger to end yourself. But you will not end, only be worse than ended."

"Could you be any more vague?"

He smiled crooked. "I do not know. Let me try."

"Spare me."

"That is what I am trying to do, Dyami."
Whew! All this from one simple question. Einstein wrote : The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Thanks, Laughing Wolf for the question.

You as writers don't have to do this with your names, of course. I did it so that if any cared to look deeper into my novel, they would find layers of meaning and enjoyment that lay hidden just under the surface. It was the old teacher and mentor in me.

And now for a bit of beauty and haunting Native American music :

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The jaundiced take on that question is that if you don't know where you are going, you will never know when you arrive. And for those 2012 doom sayers that pronounce that year's solar flares will do us in, the following link is enough to give even the most objective pause :

But for a writer, the question has different implications. It is good to know where your tale is going so that you can interweave plot threads and foreshadowings. Still there is a danger to that knowing. If you know, then a long-time reader might possibly second-guess the destination correctly. And that is the kiss of death to a novel.

For me as a reader, the fun of a novel is that the tale takes me by surprise. I think the tale is headed one place, and it spins around to another destination entirely. The antagonist is even worse than I imagined or one that I empathize with more than is comfortable. The protagonist has more facets than it appeared at the start.

How does an author take the reader by surprise? If only I had a sure-fire answer to that question, I would make a mint from the likes of Stephen King or Dean Koontz who have to surprise readers who are well-versed in all their tricks. But I have a hunch. And sometimes a hunch is all we have in life. That and hope.

The hunch is that you can entertain readers with ironic twists and a protagonist who is a fish out of water in a well-known genre. The poet/scholar thrust into a profession that demands violent action. The individualist who is drafted into a militia that demands thoughtless obediance. The monster who finds himself having to fight monsters, in essence a wolf finding himself having to defend sheep.

That hunch led to my creating the legendary undead Texas Ranger, Captain Samuel McCord. He is all of the above and more. He is also the answer to the question of some of my blogger friends who have asked how to write of a foreign locale in the past.

Part of the answer is that you find a modern parallel in today's headlines to the times of which you write. In the short story, THE DEVIL'S WIND, I used the parallel of our current struggle with Moslem extremists to link to the time of British Colonial India where Moslem extremists in the British Army killed thousands. At the beginning of my story, the uprising is just starting and McCord finds himself alone in a jail cell of a British outpost where every British citizen, civilian and soldier, is being murdered.


“You will die, American. Slowly. Die as you starve to death in this cage.”

Your average man would have been scared. But I wasn’t your average man. Hell, I wasn’t even a man. I was a monster. More the pity for the murderers in front of my jail cell.

I noticed the fluid movement within the reflections in the polished tiles beneath the Sepoy’s boots. Then, I got scared. Elu was hungry.

Elu? He was my Apache blood-brother. And his spirit was tied to mine. It had followed me all the way from Sonora to British-held India. His soul was held captive somehow by the ritual of our bonding by blood. I could see him sometimes in mirrors. And when he got hungry enough, he could reach out of them to feed on the spirits of others. One day I knew he would feed on mine.

Was this the day?

I tried not to hear the screams of the dying outside the window of my jail cell and glared at the threatening Sepoy. “Debjit, you took an oath to honor that British uniform you’re wearing.”

Sneering at me from the other side of the iron bars, he turned to the other three Sepoys in the same Bengal Army uniform and spat on the gleaming tile floor. “An oath to infidels means nothing. Nothing!”

My fingers aching to wrap around his damn scrawny neck, I took off my Stetson and laid it gentle on the cot I was sitting on. “Your word either means something, no matter who you give it to, or you are nothing.”

“You dare lecture me, American?”


“Fool is the better word. You are the one behind bars not me. I told you how the Colonel would reward you for rescuing his granddaughter from the Thuggees. And he did exactly what I said. He threw you into this prison for both England and China to fight over.”

“A man does what he thinks best -- or he’s not a man.”

His eyes became like a snake’s but without as much warmth. “Last month you saved my life. For Allah’s sake, I will not kill you. But neither will I free you.”

I nodded to his uniform. “Honor The Great Mystery by either not making promises or by performing them once you have.”

His face screwed up. “It is the British Army that lies. They would have us defile ourselves by tasting the grease of pigs when we use their bullets.”

I jerked my head to the shooting and dying screams outside my cell’s window. “I notice you boys don’t mind all that much now when you can kill helpless white women and children with those bullets.”

The youngest Sepoy jerked his rifle up. “You will die for that!”

“Hakesh, no! He wants to die quick.”

Debjit turned back to me and smiled wide. “Rather we will bring the great Colonel’s granddaughter here and kill her slow in front of this pig.”

I saw the dried-apricot face of my blood-brother within the reflections glimmering within the polished floor tiles under his boots, and I said softly, “Those are mighty sad last words.”

Debjit spat on those shiny tiles. “I laugh to hear a dead man make --”

A blackness, thick and cold, swept up from the polished stone. Debjit stiffened. Then, like a thing alive, the blackness swirled around him and his three companions. The living cloak of black mists tightened around the space where they stood. Screams, husky and muffled, fought to escape the darkness that boiled and rolled across the chamber.

I sighed. Although I couldn’t see inside the shadows, I knew what was going on. Knew all too well. I had seen clear too many times what was happening right then.

The screaming became wetter, shriller. I heard whimpered pleas for mercy. There was thrashing, groaning, mewing as if from animals being skinned alive. Then, silence. Long, haunting moments of accusing silence. I looked at the darkness slowly flicker away like the light from dying embers.

The once polished floor was empty. Not one trace of the men who had been so full of comtempt and life just seconds before -- except for the steaming blood smeared across the tiles. There was the stench of burnt flesh. I forced the bile back down my throat. I smiled bitter. I would bet that the British obsession with spit and polish had never killed before.

From somewhere left of Hell, and seemingly from everywhere and nowhere in particular, came a hollow chuckle. I shivered. There had been a time when I thought I knew my blood-brother. That time had long since passed. Along with a lot of other things -- like peace of mind and untroubled sleep.

I sighed, “You boys really shouldn’t have threatened Lucy, but that’s the sorry nature of human nature. It always goes one step too far. Elu will happily let me rot here in this cell. But he’s taken a fancy to the little princess.”

A touseled head of unruly black hair popped out from under my cot. “Elu? Captain Sam, who’s Elu?”

I jumped to my feet. “Lucy? How the .... How did you get under my cot?”

A dirt-smeared pixie scrambled to her booted feet in front of me. She was six, though she looked seven, and dressed in a tiny copy of a Bengal Lancer uniform. She slapped a canvas helmet on her head.

“No times for questions, Captain Sam. I got to get you to Grandpapa.”

I kneeled and looked underneath my cot. Son of a bitch. An opening into musty shadows. A hidden passage. Was this the reason the Colonel had been so insistent that I be put into this particular cell and no other? I caught faint echoes of shooting from down the tunnel. Fighting for time to think things through, I smiled up at Lucy.

Poor thing. She had been raised among rough men, been kidnapped by even rougher ones. She had heard things that no small child should. But I could use that to distract her and give me time to get a handle on my thoughts.

“What’s that thing on your head?”

She frowned. “I have you know this is the finest pith helmet ever made, came straight from London. A birthday present from Grandpapa.”

I smiled crooked. “A what?”

“A pith helmet. You know, pith.”

I pretended a frown.

She rolled her eyes. “Pith!”

“Why in tarnation would you want to slap it on your head after you did that into it?”

She stamped her right foot. “Not that! Pith!”

She spelled it slowly, “P-I-T-H!”

I fought a smile. “Oh, that.”

She snatched it off her long, wild hair and glared at it. “I do not think I shall ever wear this in quite the same way ever again.”

This time I did smile. “Do tell?”

She looked up and stiffened, sucking in a sharp breath of outrage. “Oh, Captain Sam, you and your bad jokes!”

Alarm widened her china blue eyes. “Oh, my! Grandpapa wanted me to give you this this the moment I came here.”

She hurriedly reached inside her tunic. She pulled out a folded piece of paper. She handed it to me. I sucked in a slow breath and took it. Standing a bit to the right so Elu could read it from inside the mirror over my shoulder, I looked down on the hastily written note.

Lucy peered outside my cell. “Ah, wherever are those Sepoy soldiers I heard from the tunnel?”

My face felt like it flinched. “They were -- invited to dinner.”

Lucy glared at me. “That’s another of your terrible jokes, is it not?”

There weren’t enough words in the dictionary to answer that right, so I just said nothing and read the Colonel’s note.

Captain McCord :
It would seem that the ill-conceived orders I was forced to obey have resulted in even worse consequences than I feared. It is a full
Mutiny. For hundreds of miles there are nothing but fanatical
Hindu and Moslem former soldiers of Her Majesty, armed with the
best weapons that the British Army has to offer.

My Lucy is doomed unless ....

There are strange and terrible tales told of you, sir. I can scarse
believe many of them. I know that in China you sank the British
flagship, Nemesis, and laid waste to the city of Ningbo to save a
British woman, Ann Noble, from being crucified by the Chinese.
Your own savages, Apaches I believe they are called, fear to step on
your shadow. Even your fellow Texas Rangers both fear and hate

I do not know what to make of such tales. I only know that you
placed yourself in jeopardy to save my beloved granddaughter from
those Thuggee fanatics. My reason tells me that alone and unarmed,
you haven’t a prayer of saving yourself, much less Lucy. Yet, my
soul tells me that you are her one hope.

Please, Captain McCord, save my Lucy.

And ask her forgiveness for my telling her that I would follow her. I
go now to join the ranks of my fathers, in whose presence I will not
feel shamed if you but get my Lucy to safety.

Colonel Lionel Wentworth.

I looked up, stared into my past, and whispered, “You got my word, Colonel.”
And no movie did the "Westerner Fish-Out-Of-Water" better than QUIGLY DOWN UNDER. And if I could pick anyone to play Sam McCord, it would be Tom Selleck.

And if you are curious what Elu might look like, here is John Two-Hawks along with Tarja of NIGHTWISH in the haunting, evocative "Creek Mary's Blood."


Several readers have emailed me asking how to make the locale a character in their novels. I am hardly an authority, having published no novels. I did teach a class in creative writing when I was a high school teacher.

Still, if I were wise, why am I still not published, right? But what I do know I am more than willing to share. And what I know might just be so.

Just take what seems reasonable to you and leave the rest to the winds.

As for FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, I worked on the streets of New Orleans for a time so the images, smells, and despair were fresh in my mind. Which was a help and a hindrance. What one written detail brought into focus for me would not be in the memories of most of my readers.

I had to enter the blank slate of the reader's mind. Evoke in him/her an archetypal detail of touch, taste, and sight that would paint a landscape of the mind. Every reading experience is a collaboration between reader and author in that way. No two readers will take away the same mental images from the same author's words because each reader has his own distinct treasure-trove of memories and beliefs.

Still every author must bring his readers into the "now" of the novel's locale. Not just by sight but by smell and by touch -- and even more important by the emotions evoked by each of those details. Go from the universal to the specific with words. Meld detail with the characters' emotions.

As I wrote yesterday, in FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE I used actual quotes of politicians at the time of Katrina to ground the reader in the reality of the hurricane's aftermath, slowly melding the fantasy aspects so that the fantastic became more acceptable. And at the same time, I used specific sensory details, blending them in with the main character's emotions to give the locale a personality of its own. I showed you a bit of chapter four yesterday. Today, I will highlight how I tried to make New Orleans come alive by showing you a bit of chapter five :



“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans.
We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
- Rep. Richard Baker to lobbyists.
{as quoted in The Wall Street Journal
September 9, 2005.}

An odd feeling came over me as I looked at the crowd in front of the Convention Center. For a fleeting moment, I saw the overgrown square of trees and brush it once had been. I remembered when I had been young, when every moment had been crisp and fresh, where happiness and heartache had quickly changed positions, and life was full of hope and promise. Now, things were crowded, ugly, and the only hope was for a good death.

What had Elu once told me? "When you were born, you cried and those around you rejoiced. Live your life, Dyami, so that when you die, those around you will cry, and you will rejoice."

I put my Ranger face on. The one that told onlookers that their deaths would make my life easier. And judging from some of the sullen, angry faces in front of me, sadly, that was probably true. It was a harsh look, but if it saved me from killing then it was a pretense I was willing to fake.

Most of those sitting, standing, and laying in front of the center were just scared and filled with uncertainty and dread. But those things quickly turned crowds into mobs. The water was only ankle-deep by the time I got to the front walk. But the shit I was about to walk into was much deeper.

I looked into their hollow eyes. Like most folks in this day and age, they had gone about their lives, quietly trying to swallow the fear that their lives had somehow gotten out of control and things were falling apart. Now, their worst nightmare had come to life before their eyes. Their predictable world had crumbled before their eyes. Their next meal was no longer certain, much less their safety. What did Al Einstein tell me during that last chess game?

"The true tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he still lives."

Then, I heard the squalling.

I made a face. As I have stated before, I am not a nice man. For one thing, I hate screaming babies. The more of them I hear, the more I want to lash out and hit something. Maybe it was because I never had one of my own. Maybe it was my sensitive hearing. Or maybe it came from me being a man. Men just naturally want to fix whatever they see that is broken. And I couldn’t do that with a squalling baby. Most folks get downright cranky when you snatch their howling baby to see what is broken with the damn thing.

And there were a lot of babies crying as I stepped onto the water-covered sidewalk. I frowned, and those closest to me cringed. I have that effect on a lot of folks. Go figure.

My better self urged compassion. I found it odd that there was a me that I couldn't see, that walked beside me and commented on my thoughts, urging kindness when I would be cruel. I snorted. I was too old to go crazy. Hell, at my age I should already be there.


Hope I helped a bit. Writing is an adventure. How do you make a mystery new when people have read so many whodunit's? How do you make the heart of the reader quicken at your romance when she has read so many of them? The same for fantasy. How do you conjure up that childlike sense of wonder and awe the reader had when he/she read their first fantasy?

As with locale, you make the tale your own. No one else has your take on life and wonder and death and darkness. Only you. Don't play it safe. Dare to be different, to be non-marketable. Vampire tales were old hat before Stephanie Myers tilted the vampire story on its ear with TWILIGHT. Believe in your story. Believe in your heart that murmured that this was a tale to haunt the night.

And talking about haunting the night, here is the music video I promised Donna from NIGHTWISH with scenes from LORD OF THE RINGS. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard and saw it, Roland

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


"May it be when darkness falls,
Your heart will be true."

Darkness falls in all manner of ways. Disaster. Death. Disease. They play no favorites. Is any shoulder strong enough when the clouds cry?

I blend historic fact in with supernatural shivers, focusing on a battered man trying hard not to buckle under the darkness in FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE.

Each chapter begins with a true quotation of the times, then blends in with Samuel McCord's struggles with questions of honor and enemies in the shadows.



"The looting is out of control. The French Quarter is
under attack."
- New Orleans councilwoman, Jackie Carlson
{August 30, 2005 }

-- As Councilwoman Carlson spoke, President Bush was playing
guitar with country singer Mark Willis in San Diego. Bush
would return to Crawford, Texas for one more night of taking
it easy before cutting his vacation short.


As I made my way down the flooded street towards the Convention Center, I looked up at the full moon. It seemed closer than civilization or any semblance of rescue. If there was to be any help for those suffering at the center, it would have to come from me.

As I waded along into the night, the black mists curled and creamed in the humid darkness like an unspoken fear trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness. A trick of the thick air, the moon of blood leered down upon its reflection on the dark waters of the flooded street. Ripples of its long bloody image flowed from the floating dead body of a cat, looking like fingers caressing its kill. The cat’s death apparently hadn't been pretty nor was its corpse. The night became colder than it should have been. Much, much colder.

Rind, the Angelus of Death whose blood had mingled with mine ,whispered in words only I could hear. “At night the dead come back to drink from the living.”

I didn’t need Rind to tell me that the night was not my friend. Too much death had happened too recently. Spirits, lost and angry, were walking beside me. Torn clothing. Hollow eyes of shadows. Sharp, white teeth. Long, writhing fingers slowly closing and unclosing.

Because of Rind's blood in my veins, I could see them slowly circling, hear their trailing, splashing steps behind me, feel the heat of their sunken, hungry eyes upon my back.

Were they soul-echoes, mere refracted memory of a will? Or were there such things as literal ghosts? Just because I could see them didn't mean that I understood what they were.

I turned the corner and came upon the startled, fragile grace of a too-white egret standing alert in the middle of the flooded street, staring back at me. Its long sleek neck slowly cocked its sloping head at me. Then, gathering its huge wings, it launched itself into the air with its long black legs. I saw the spirits of the dead around me longingly stare after its curved flight of grace and freedom into the dark sky. I watched with them.

I felt a tug on my left jacket sleeve. I looked down. My chest grew cold. The dead face of a little girl was looking up at me. Or rather the face of her lost, wandering spirit, her full black eyes glistening like twin pools of oil. Her face was a wrenching mix of fear and longing. She tried to speak. Nothing came out of her moving lips. Looking like she was on the verge of tears, she tugged on my sleeve again and pointed to the end of the block. I followed her broken-nailed finger. I shivered.

She was pointing to her own corpse.

I took in a ragged breath I didn’t need to compose myself. The Convention Center would have to wait. I had sworn a long time ago that no child would ever ask my help without getting it.

A haunted singing was faint on the breeze. Somewhere the dead had found their voices. I nodded to the girl’s spirit and waded to her corpse, the force of the rushing flood waters having washed it up onto the sidewalk and against a store front where it slowly bobbed in place. I saw the girl’s spirit out of the corner of my eye, studying the shell of flesh she had once worn. Her head was turned slightly to one side. The expression to her face was sorrowful and wistful at the same time. She pointed again.

I followed the broken-nailed finger. A rosary all wrapped up in the balled fingers of her left hand. She gestured sharply, then looked at me with eyes echoing things I did not want to see. I nodded again and kneeled down beside the girl’s swollen corpse. I pried the rosary loose, wrapping it around the fingers of my own gloved left hand.

I looked up at the girl’s spirit. She just stood there frowning as if in concentration. Her brow furrowed, and her jaws clenched. I could swear beads of sweat appeared on her ghostly forehead.

I jerked as suddenly guttural words were forced from the long-dead throat of the corpse at my boots. “T-Tell M-Mama ... peaceful now.”

And with that, she looked up into the night. I followed her eyes. She was looking at the retreating body of the egret slowly flying into a filmy, billowing cloud. I looked back to her spirit.

She was gone.

“I promise,” I said to the empty night.

Where had she gone? Had her spirit held itself together just long enough to pass on those words of good-bye to her Mama? Was her soul flying alongside that oblivious egret slowly evaporating within the filaments of that cloud? Or was she finding out the truth about the Great Mystery that haunted me still?

I had no answers. Only more questions. Questions in the dark.


I am listening to SLEEPING SUN by Nightwish, an evocative Goth metal tune. In NEW ORLEANS ARABESQUE, Tarja sings this tune in Samuel's club at a time when his heart is breaking. Hope you enjoy this video :

Monday, April 19, 2010



Anais Nin, the enigmatic French author famous for her journals spanning 60 fascinating years, wrote : "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world dawns."

It would be hard to say whether King Solomon was made more alone by his many wives or by the prison of his throne. Nonetheless, King Solomon wrote : "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up."

Friendship. It is what is so very lacking in today's cyber-society where everyone is twittering, but no one is listening. Or giving a damn. They are hunched over their blackberries, waiting impatiently for the message to end so they can jump in with, what is essentially, a "Listen to me!"

Because so few of us have it, friendship and its portrayal are what will bring us back to a novel over and over again. I know that it is the case for me. And for the friends I talk to.

Frodo and Sam. Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Spencer and Hawk (from the always entertaining Robert B. Parker series.) Elvis Cole and Joe Pike (from the Robert Crais fascinating detective series.) Bill and Ted. Calvin and Hobbes.

Family is a crap shoot. Love cools. But friendship endures.

Friendship is one of the cornerstones of my surreal Noir, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. Two friends : Samuel McCord, agnostic undead Texas Ranger. Renfield, haunted revenant priest. They have known one another since Istanbul was Constantinople and honor still had meaning.

Both love mysterious, beautiful, deadly women. McCord would say all beautiful women are both mysterious and deadly. His love is Meilori, a being from another plane of existence. "Born of stardust and the sea" as she once told him.

And Father Renfield loves Sister Magda, the nun who serves with him in his church. Of course, there is a unique back story there. But I'll let Sam tell it :

{At this point in the novel, Sam is helping Renfield clean up his church after Katrina, musing on his past relations with the Vatican} :

I'd had a pretty good relationship with the last Pope. I'd fought Nazi's with him back when he was studying in that underground seminary in Poland. I smiled thinking of how he posed as a priest while only a seminarian. And how he gave false baptismal records to fleeing Jews in the underground. He called it his elective course in the humanities. I sighed as my chest grew heavy. He was gone. Another friend was gone. It seemed just when I started liking somebody, they left me.

A shout of dismay brought me out of my musings. One of the statues in the main sanctuary was toppling over. And a nun was directly underneath it. Cursing under my breath despite the surroundings, I raced as fast as my bad right knee would let me. But I made it in time. Barely.

I grunted as I caught the marble statue of Jesus struggling under the cross with a bit of a struggle myself. But I managed. Being careful not to crack it, I shoved it back into its ornate niche.

Now, I was kind of unsure if he was who he said he was. And on top of that, it was only a representation of him, mind you. Still I knew my strange luck. If I handled the statue carelessly, it would turn out he was the real deal. And I was kind of uncertain how He would feel about some of the trails I had blundered down in my life. Best to err on the side of respectful caution. I looked down at the nun.

"Magda, you've got to be more careful."

Sister Romani looked up at me with deep eyes of summer seas from out of the kind of face that had saints embezzeling from orphanages and pacifists starting wars. Her thick, silky black hair cascaded through the modern habit that had been brushed back on her head by my shoving her out of harm's way. There was a single one inch wide streak of moon-silver along the right side close by her temple -- a gift of sorts from Estanatlehi, whom the ancient Greeks had named Gaia and whom I now called 'Mother.'

Magda tapped the worn leather pouch of nails hanging from her rope belt. "He would never have harm coming to me from His statue."

I arched an eyebrow. "You stole those nails from that centurion over two thousand years ago. You think He has that long a memory?"

"Of course."

"That's what I was afraid of," I muttered.

I studied her intently. She'd been there. I felt a weight ease off my chest. I could ask her.

"Magda, did you see --"

Her face grew sad. "Him emerge from the tomb? No, Samuel, I was on the run from the Romans at the time and for some time afterwards. I just take it that He truly did rise since I am still alive some two thousands years later."

I bit back the words from my tongue and kept from telling her that her still living came from Estanatlehi. In love with language as much as she was, she had been fascinated with the parables of Jesus. And she took Magda's theft kindly and had rewarded her. I sighed. Still no answers. It was getting to be a frustrating tradition with me.

"Magda!," panted Renfield as he rushed up to her, out of breath more from fear than running, especially since he didn't breathe anymore.

He took both of her hands in his. "You must be more careful."

"You men, oh, foo on the two of you," she laughed, squeezing his hands lightly and not letting go.

"'Fu' is Mandarin for 'Good Luck' you know," I smiled at the two of them.

She made a face at me. "And you with that musty Jesuit education of yours."

"Well, they weren't exactly Jesuits."

She snorted, "Nor would I guess that you were exactly the best of students either."

"Reckon you got me there."

But she wasn't looking at me anymore. She and Renfield only had eyes for one another. Their fingers were still entwined as were their hearts. Long before they had become priest and nun, they had been man and wife. Each had entered the Vatican's service in response to my worst enemy's first demand to end their son's misery and curse. His second demand was for Renfield to assume that curse -- to become the vampire he still was.

DayStar, my worst enemy, being what he was, had still found a way to take their son from them anyway. But both Magda and Renfield were as good as their word. They remained true to both of their vows that they had taken -- though it took some doing to reconcile the two into a working system. But the pair had found a way, filled with hunger and hope, mind you. But isn't that much like life for the rest of us? The street people in the church were still and silent. They knew the story. And me? I felt hot tears blur my vision. I had failed my best friend.

I should have been smarter, should have figured out some way to defeat DayStar, found some method to save my friend's son, and to end the curse which tormented him hourly. He deserved a better friend than me. And me? I didn't deserve for him to call me 'friend.' I deserved to be called the monster I was. And you know what they did to monsters.


I'll let Mark Twain have the last word on friendship : "Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with."

At the moment, I am listening to "Into the Dark" by Jesse Cook. He is a Toronto-based Nuevo Flamenco guitarist, born in Paris to Canadian parents. It spins the mind. He was raised in the region in southern France known as the Camargue, growing up with the sounds and influences of Gypsy music {probably why my cat loves his music.} Check out his site on myspace : I especially like the second youtube video on Jesse's page. Hey, c'mon, check it out. You don't want a gypsy curse, do you?