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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ROLAND'S 8 SIMPLE RULES


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Several of my regular readers have wanted to direct their friends to the post where I wrote of the eight simple rules by which I live and how I came by them. But they had forgotten the title to the posting. So here is the post with a new video at the bottom.
******
I just read an article entitled "Rules That Warren Buffet Lives By." No, not the guy who sings "Margaritaville." Though I suspect Jimmy has more fun than Warren despite Warren being one of the wealthiest men in the world.

There was obvious merit to them. He didn't get the wealth he has by chasing the wind. But the phrase "lives by" bothered me. As King Solomon wrote : "Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter. The advantage to wisdom is that it also remains when all else is gone."

And in thinking about that quote, the time came to mind when my home had burned to the ground. My dog, my cat, my possessions {the most dear being the Bible my mother had given me with her thoughts, doubts, and funny one-liners scribbled in the margins} were gone. My savings had been wiped out by trying to pay my mother's medical bills from her fatal struggle with cancer. My face and hands were badly burned from crawling back into my house in a vain effort to save my cat. I was living in the back of a massage school, courtesy of a good friend.

I remember sitting on the corner of the bed, after having talked to my best friend, Sandra Thrasher. She and I had our stores next to one another for years in the Mall. After she had moved out of the Mall, we remained close friends. She helped save my sanity in that black time. And another thing saved it : remembering something Viktor Frankl had learned in a Nazi concentration camp :

"Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

I also remembered reading in that day's newspaper that the TV show EIGHT SIMPLE RULES had just gone into pre-production. And it puzzled me what I would say were my EIGHT SIMPLE RULES to live by. I took out the only scrap of paper I had to my name, a Hallmark store envelope from the "Thank You" card I had bought for Sandra. And I thought for a good bit, then I wrote them down.

Upon reading the Warren Buffet article, I searched through my apartment until I found the carefully folded envelope, kept safe in a drawer. I sat down and re-read them. I felt like a butterfly reading notes written by the caterpiller it once had been. But the words were true. And I still live by them. I thought you might be interested in what they were. So here they are.

Roland's EIGHT SIMPLE RULES :

1) Since everyone is having a harder time than they appear, be as kind as you can to each person you meet. You'd feel really lousy if you had made a bad day worse for someone who had been through the wringer, wouldn't you?


2) When faced with two paths, the more uncomfortable one is usually the right one to take. And try not to hurry so down whatever path you take. If you're heading in the wrong direction, going faster won't get you where you want to go any sooner.

3) When faced with a major decision, take overnight to decide. If pressed by someone to make an immediate one, always say "No." If they don't want you to have time to think it over, guess to whose benefit that is?

4) No battle goes as planned. Especially the Battle called Life. Expect things to go wrong. That way if they go right, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Commit yourself to staying flexible. Bouncing is better than breaking. And as no battle goes as fast as you'd want, learn to be patient or you'll become one.

5) If you treat people as extensions of yourself, you will always be lonely, for you will become the way you look at life -- alone in the sandbox of life with unfeeling toys called people.

6) Don't get mad at the sun for being hot. People will always be true to their natures. It's not their fault you mistook their iron for steel. So don't get mad at the rust in the lives of others. Don't blame the rain for being wet. Just get an umbrella and get on with it already.

7) Always keep your walk in sync with your talk. Divorce your ways from from your words, and the alimony payments will be bitter indeed.

8) Always stand up to a bully. Always deny him what he demands. Yes, you will get beat up more times than you want. But physical bruises heal. Some emotional ones never do. If you let them, bullies steal that which is difficult to replace : self-respect, pride, affection for yourself {and in turn, for others - one stems from the other}, and inner peace.

*) What did Susan Sontag say? Oh, yes. "I envy paranoids. They actually feel people are paying attention to them." Hope someone is paying attention to this list and gets some use out of it. If only to laugh.
*) I have just entered GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENT's fourth "Dear Lucky Agent Contest." Wish me luck. They are listed in my blog roll.

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Right now, I'm listening to "When The Coyote Comes" by one of my favorite artists, Fernando Ortega. In Lakota myth, Coyote was also called "The Trickster," often bringing death and heartache with him. Yesterday, he visited Angela, a new friend of mine. I pray that The Father grant her strength and light enough for the next step on her path. Oh, and Epi and Louie were Fernando's beloved cats. And here is this oh, so cool song :

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

THIS IS THE MOMENT


This is the moment.

What moment? The only one we have. And it speeds by so quickly it is gone before we can reach out and grasp it.

See? It is already gone : that moment when your eyes first spied that sunset over Corsica.

And that is why my half-Lakota mother murmured to me as we looked out over Lake Michigan and that frosty sunset of so long ago : "Breathe each breath, little one. No two are the same. Remember the colors that paint this sky. Remember me, little one. Remember, and we will never leave you. Never."

On this day in 1864, Emily Dickinson's "Blazing in Gold" was first published. Here is a snippet :

"Blazing in gold and quenching in purple,
Leaping like leopards to the sky,
Then at the feet of the old horizon
Laying her spotted face to die…."

And from Christina Georgina Rossetti comes this bit from "From Sunset To Star Rise" :

"I live alone, I look to die alone:
Yet sometimes, when a wind sighs through the sedge,
Ghosts of my buried years and friends come back,
My heart goes sighing after swallows flown
On sometime summer's unreturning track."

My mother once told me that I could do no better than to live the prayer of St. Francis. And thanks to a new friend, Angela, I have this beautiful video to share with all of you :










Monday, March 29, 2010

NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS!


The odds are against us. Worse. Look at the headlines of suicide bombers. 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 chosen 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} :

Thursday, March 25, 2010

LAST EXIT TO EDEN

For an unusual third time in a month, I was called to deliver blood to the only hospital servicing Cameron Parish. And so once again I set out on the Creole Nature Trail, one of the last surviving wildernesses in America. I call it "the Last Exit to Eden."

Before I left the outskirts of Man's domain, I got gas at a station appropriately named FOUR CORNERS. My half-Lakota mother would have smiled at the name. In Lakota myth there is a spiritual power in the crossroads spinning off to the four directions. She often told me that the four directions have to be in balance for all to be well with the world. From today's headlines, I would have to say they are at a kilter.

Often in Lakota myth, the directions are represented by animals. And on this trip, I met my share. I felt much like my own character, Hibbs the cub with no clue.

A lone dog stood sentinal in the front yard of a nearby home as I pulled away. He stood so still that for a second I thought him a bronze sculpture. But he turned his happy, tongue-lolling muzzle towards me as if to say, "I wish I were going with you." I waved a happy hello and good-bye in one gesture and went on my way.

I passed a majestic ranch, bordered by long, white rails. A small lake was just a few feet away. A bass jumped up in search of an elusive fly. A peace grew within me. The four directions of my spirit were in balance at least.

For a brief moment, I found myself at the end of a long convoy of parish vechicles off to some construction site. And I felt a wave of resentment much like the mountain men of old must have felt upon seeing pioneer families moving into "their" wilderness. I laughed at myself. How could the mountain men or I own the wilderness which existed long before we were born and would go on long after Man was only a radioactive memory?

Just before the long, winding S curve I love to drive, I spotted a single horse grazing in a blaze of marigolds. He looked up as I passed as if to snort, "Do you mind? I'm trying to have lunch here." Then, he went back to grazing.

As I pulled under the canopy of Cypress trees onto the straightaway, my old friends were waiting for me : the small herd of horses who love to pace my van in a friendly race through the clover and marigolds. They happily took up the game once again. This time they had company : a lone great Egret who soared above them on silent, mighty currents of wind. It swooped down and around in long, slow, graceful motions of its huge wings. I put down my window and drank in the sound of the gusting wind, the pounding of the hooves, and the haunting cry of far-off hawks.

I sadly parted from my equine friends as I started up the high, lonely bridge that arched and twisted up into the clouds like the feathered serpent of Aztec myth. At its peak, I looked out across a landscape that seemed devoid of Man. It didn't seemed to mind. As I hit the bottom of the bridge, I looked for my alligator acquaintance from the last trip. But he was off in search of more accessible meals than a human in a speeding van.

But I did spot a distant cousin : a huge tortoise slowly making its way across the road far ahead of me. I looked in my rearview mirror. Another car would be here before my shelled friend would make it across. I pulled over to the shoulder of the road, and I got out and lifted him all the way to the other side. As I walked away from him, he twisted his head my way as if to say, "You're a decent sort ... for a human."

As I continued on my lonely way, the quiet was broken by a huge flock of great Egrets playing tag with one another. They spread across the vast blue sky from horizon to horizon. And without warning, the flock enveloped me in its midst as the graceful, white birds darted down, welcoming me to their game. But, alas, I was rooted to the ground, and so they left me to waddle along the road.

And it seemed as if I heard the ghostly voice of The Turquoise Woman from Lakota myth and my mother's bedside tales : "You Two-Leggeds are so foolish. Solitude? Here? I am ablaze with life all around you. You are never alone, never unwatched."

A scary gust of wind shuddered my van just as I was traveling down the most narrow section of the trail, rippling waters from both edges of the road lapping up just inches from the side of my vehicle. I tugged on my wheel, and I felt a pressure on my van, steering me away from the grasp of the waters back to the center of the road.

I seemed to hear ghostly laughter, "Not your time just yet, little Lakota. You still make me laugh. And you save my turtles."

I nodded to the endless depths of the blue sky and whispered, "Thank you."

Just then, a red-winged hawk swooped across the road far ahead of me. I took it to be The Turquoise Woman saying, "You're welcome."

One of the tunes I was listening to on my trip was WHISPERS IN THE MOONLIGHT. And if you've been paying attention, you know who is whispering.






Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING?


The jaundiced take on that question is that if you don't know where you are going, you will never know when you arrive.

But for a writer it is different. 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. 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.

THE DEVIL’S WIND

“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 a normal man. Hell, I wasn’t even a man. I was a monster.

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?”

“Texican.”

“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
you.

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 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.”
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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.




Monday, March 22, 2010

EACH CITY CRIES IN ITS OWN VOICE


Each city cries in its own voice. Your city. My city. You know streets that whisper to stay away at night. You know what scandal has stained some avenue beyond repair. You know what person's name is spoken in hushed tones long after he or she has died and been buried in your city.

Each city has its own personality. Like a human's, it changes with trauma, years of abuse, and moments of historic impact. Lifting the veil from the distinctive features of the setting of your novel makes your whole narrative come alive for your reader.

And yes, several of my readers have asked again for me to give hints on how to give a locale its own unmistakable voice. All of them have settings outside the U.S. in their novels, and they ask how to make a foreign setting focus into a breathing, living image.

Details. Some obvious to tourists. Some that you have to ferret out by research in the library, on the internet, or by listening to a local visitor to your setting.

Feelings. How does your hero/heroine feel about those details? How have they affected the protagonist and those important to him or her? Weave those details and emotions into a rich tapestry of irony and longing. What shadowed corner of your setting is especially dangerous or emotion-laden to your central characters? Why? Paint a passage where that tapestry flutters in the shadows, not quite completely seen but more evocative because of that.

Time. What era is it in your setting? Has your protagonist lived through more than one era of time in it? How has the passing seasons shaped his/her mind, opinions, and outlook for the present? For the future? How does your protagonist view his and the setting's past?

I enjoyed the TV show ALIAS, and how the storyline hopscotched from one exotic locale to another seamlessly and totally captivatingly. I wondered if I could do it. And so I tried it in a short story centering on my undead Texas Ranger, Captain Samuel McCord. In THE WEAK HAVE ONE WEAPON, a young prostitute has been murdered by Sam's jazz club. He hunts down and kills the soulless young man who did it. But he finds there is something larger in scope than he realized. He uses the young man's plane ticket and hotel reservation to follow his only clue to Amsterdam :


Amsterdam. I’d never much cared for it. There was rot underneath its old world orderliness. Maybe I might have liked it at its beginning when it was just a huddle of fishing huts on the Amsel River with folks just content to hide away from the madness of kings and Popes.

It was a strange city, where coffeshop meant a place where you could buy pot. But that they were found in the Red Light District was a real clue that coffee wasn’t the only thing sold there. And what wasn’t sold in Amsterdam? Honor, dignity, pride, sex -- all was sold on the open market.


For the thing that I had become, Amsterdam was a wild mix of scents and sounds : the tolling church bells that played snatches of hymns or Beethovan to mark the dying of the hour; the smell of vanilla drifting off the stack of waffles as I walked by the cafes; barrel organs pumping happily off in the distance; hearing a gaggle of laughing girls singing around a piano as I strolled by a bordello; watching a lone professor on a park bench, closing his eyes, as he listened to the music of Sweelinck on a 17th century organ in the Oude Kerk.


But the lawman in me found other more disturbing sensations : the wave of cloyingly sweet cannabis that hit me as soon as I stepped off the train into the station; the mewing of the drug addicts who had stumbled my way, begging for the price of just one more fix; the fine smell of aged vomit rising from off the cobblestones as I had made my way along desperate prostitutes, past their prime, but with no other way to make a living on the street of Stormsteeg; the silent hollow-eyed girls staring at me from the windows on Molensteeg, awkwardly bumping and grinding in an attempt to lure me in and keep their pimps from beating the hell out of them for poor sales. After all, waterfront property cost to keep.


The young man’s reservation was for the InterContinental Amstel Hotel, the best hotel in the city. Hell, why not? Only the very best for the very worst. It was where you could find movie stars, popstars, and other famous and infamous celebreties -- and me. His suite was paid up for the month. His wallet’s money made fine dining affordable, not that I could still taste with the withered thing that passed for a tongue. But as long as I didn’t stick it out at folks, I still looked human.

The night following my arrival found me sitting in the hotel’s best restaurant, La Rive. It had a beautiful panorama of the Amstel River. The dead boy’s money bought me a prime table with the best view. I would have felt guilty if I had been enjoying it. But all I could see were the addicts and prostitutes that clawed for a living somewhere beyond the dark beauty.

“They are cattle, nothing more,” said a velvet voice above me.

I looked up and cursed myself. I had let my musings leave me deaf and blind. I was a pitiful excuse for a Texas Ranger. Hell, I was a pitiful excuse for a human while you were at it. But I still tried to pass for both.

She was tall -- and pretty -- if you were into human sharks. Her smile had all the warmth of one. Too much killing will do that to you. I tried to settle an image of the shivering little girl I had carried out of that death camp, whose name I never could pronounce, much less spell. Her outfit was tight and leather. I tried to ignore the length of legs that the short black skirt revealed. I wanted to keep the image of that long dead little girl alive in my heart. Without asking, she sat down. But then, like I said, she and I went way back.

“Still work for the Mossad, Eve?”

Her eyes softened. “Still fighting losing battles, Samuel?”

“They might be losing battles, Eve. But I’m still not convinced they’re the wrong ones.”

Her winter blue eyes seemed to get deeper. “You are the only one who still calls me Eve.”

“Talk to Shabtai lately?”

Her face hardened. “Not since you helped him leak the information that Israel was dumping nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea.”

“Had to be done.”

“As does --”

She pulled the automatic from her waistbelt but stiffened. While we had been talking, I had slipped my hands under the table, removing the glove off my right hand. She stopped speaking when I placed my right palm on the exposed flesh of her knee. Not that she was still a schoolgirl about things like that. It was just that my right hand was no longer human. You see, I fed with my hands. As I was feeding right then, leeching the lifeforce from her.

“Sorry, Eve. I don’t know how they forced you into trying to kill me. But if it means anything to you, I’ll make them pay.”

I looked into her glazed eyes that no longer saw, as her ears no longer heard. I went cold inside. I was a monster. In all the ways that counted, I was a monster. I stood up. Time to share.

I was out of the restarant before the waitress started to scream. I was out of the hotel before the first human ran into the lobby. I was on board a plane to Israel before the police started to look for an old man registered under the name of a dead boy.

This had become personal. I'd still find out the why of the prostitute's murder. But first I would find Eve's adopted daughter. Probably the Mossad had used her to blackmail Eve into trying to kill me. Then, I would visit Reuven Yatom, head of the Metsada, Special Operations Division. He damn well better have his affairs in order. Because Mossad or no Mossad, Hell was coming his way. And he'd not be alive to see it leave.
*********************************
And no film brings alive a locale as well as THE THIRD MAN does, so here is a video of a short moment of it : {Ignore the Spanish subtitles on this mystery of a dead friend found to be unsettlingly alive set in post-WWII Vienna.}





Sunday, March 21, 2010

I WANT THE SAME THING ... BUT DIFFERENT


Schumel Gelbfisz was born in Warsaw, Poland. As a very young man, he left that city on foot and penniless. After an epic journey, he made his way to Birmingham, England where he stayed for a few hard years, using the Vonnegut-like name Samuel Goldfish. In 1898, he emigrated to the U.S {in steerage.} But fearing refusal of entry due to his quick-silver identity changes, he got off the boat in Nova Scotia, Canada.

He finally made it to New York where he soared in success as a salesman in the garment industry. He was a Jewish Ulysses, living by his wits. He became a naturalized citizen in 1902. Scanning the landscape for financial opportunities, Gelbfisz found one in his beloved past-time, going to the movies. He went into the movie business with a vaudeville performer and a theater owner, using an unknown director, Cecil B. DeMille. As it usually does, business got nasty. And he left ... the company not the dream. He partnered with the Broadway producers, the brothers Selwyn. They named their studio in a meld of their names : the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. Wily as ever, Gelbfisz changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn.

He got forced out of the business, never becoming part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. But he never gave up on his dream. He created the Samuel Goldwyn Studio and for 35 years made classics that people like me still enjoy : WUTHERING HEIGHTS, THE LITTLE FOXES, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, GUYS & DOLLS, PORKY & BESS, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, THE WESTERNER {Gary Cooper}, and the fascinating but utterly silly, THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO {Gary Cooper.} Samuel Goldwyn was a dreamer that refused to quit.

And sadly, most of what he is remembered for is his misuse of the language that was not his first. How many of us who laugh at his words know a second language? And his sharp wit was what enabled him to survive a trek clear across Europe, a journey over the seas, and battles in the shark-infested waters of Hollywood. Often his wit is mistaken for a verbal flub as in : "I don't think anybody should write their autobiography until after they're dead. A hospital is no place to be sick. {And if you've ever been ill in the hospital, you know that statement is oddly true.}

I was thinking of two of his "Goldwynism's" : "What we need are some new, fresh cliches." and "I want the same thing ... only different."

I was thinking of them as I was contemplating my uphill struggle to get agents to consider THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS. On one hand, they universally complain of being submitted the same kind of "handsome vampire/angst-ridden teenage girl" fantasy or the young wizard in today's world fantasy. But then, they reply to my Native American/Celtic fantasy that publishers only want teenage vampire love or wizardry novels.

Before TWILIGHT, the vampire novel was considered old-hat. Before HARRY POTTER, mixing magic with young, impressionable children was considered taboo. THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS is a bit of "The Wind In The Willows," a bit "Lord of the Rings," a bit of "The Last Unicorn, and a bit of "Where The Mountain Meets The Moon."

My fantasy is not the same old "cookie-cutter" fantasy that blurs from one title to another. THE BEAR WITH 2 SHADOWS has a unique magical allure all its own. Like Schumel Gelbfisz, I will not give up on my dream. Don't give up on yours.

And when I think of never giving up in life, I see the image of an eagle flying high in the sky, being lifted by the currents of the winds, invisible but powerful ... as our dreams are invisible yet capable of lifting us further than we believed possible :



WHERE HAVE I BEEN?


Where have I been? A few of my regular readers have emailed me that question. Behind the 8 ball is one answer. I have just come off 12 days straight at the blood center for which I work, and many of those days had nights interrrupted with calls for blood runs to hospitals. No straight-through hours of sleep for me.

And my landlord chose this my first day off to replace the huge front windows to my apartment. So all in all, I feel like a chew toy for a shark. No, not even that good. So no writing on my novels or my blog yesterday or today. Whew!

But I have been plotting on my sequel to FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. And mulling over my irritation at all the pretty boy vampires and werewolves in recent books and movies. I mean, I fully expect to walk down a bookstore aisle and read the title, WHY IS MY VAMPIRE BOYFRIEND PRETTIER THAN ME? Another irritation is how most female protagonists are sought after by every good-looking character, natural and supernatural, in the book.

Yes, most genre novels are wish-fulfillments for the readers. But I, for one, lose belief in the character who doesn't have a blemish or two and who longs for one particular guy/girl to call who never does. There has to be a connection for me with the hero or heroine if I am to enjoy the tale. For me, James Bond became more interesting with CASINO ROYALE where all his edges weren't so polished, and he made mistakes. Pointer for all of you writers out there : make your hero someone the reader pulls for.

Of course there is the question : does the premise come first or the lead character? A killer premise is great for a one-shot. But if you want to write a series, then the character must come first. One of the things that killed TV's first NIGHT STALKER was taking it from a one shot movie to a series. You could buy a nosy reporter stumbling into one supernatural story. But week after week? The viewers didn't buy it. And they stopped watching. Except for me. I loved Darrin McGavin and Kolchek. You see, character.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to appeal to the fanboys out there as in this new summer movie :



Friday, March 19, 2010

CAN YOU HEAR THE CITY'S LAMENT?


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. 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 lived 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.

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. As in the beginning of chapter five :


CHAPTER FIVE

THEY MOVE IN THE SHADOWS


“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.
***
Another route to making the locale a character in itself is to bring into sharp focus the essence of the particular times when you are bringing the reader to walk among your characters in their struggles.

Hurricane Rita scattered my friends and I all over the southern United States. A good friend, Debbie {her last name I will leave a mystery to protect any potential fallout from this story,} was in a church-run Katrina/Rita shelter. As a teacher, it fell to her to teach an English class of displaced urban high schoolers. The one book that the church shelter had multiple copies of was THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKEBERRY FINN. Many of her students were outraged at the portrayal and seeming acceptance of racism in the novel.

In an emailed plea, Debbie asked that while I was driving rare blood over Southern Louisiana, if I could write a short story that would help her paint the times of the novel in such a way that her students would better grasp the mindset of that period -- and that for such a time, Samuel Clemens was actually a liberal humanitarian. And if I could make it a horror story that would be great. And if I could make it a horror story that wouldn't outrage the church leaders that would be even better.

"Was that all?," I emailed back. "You're sure that you don't want me to establish world peace while I'm at it?" She assured me that she had faith in me. That made one of us.

But I gave it my best shot.

I tried for a rural horror story that would present the actual timbre of the 1840's in a way that was acceptable to urban highschoolers. Irony is a great way to hook a reader. So I tapped my epic undead Texas Ranger, Samuel McCord, for the Mission Impossible. His scholar's mind, philosopher's spirit, and poet's soul made him an uneasy fit for the Texas Rangers. A man whose belief in the worth of any human, no matter the skin color, made him perfect to espouse values readily accepted in today's culture but made him a pariah in his own. And for good measure, I threw in a 12 year old Samuel Clemens and a monster whose natural habitat was the dreamscape of humans. And to top off the irony, I focused on the painful problem of how did a lawman who despised slavery keep true to his vow to uphold the law when slavery was legal.

Debbie emailed me that my story held her students captive and led to a week-long discussion of what the times must have like, what Manifest Destiny was, and how difficult it must have been to live honorably in times when compassion to minorities was a crime. Debbie assured me it was my story that made her teaching HUCKLEBERRY FINN possible.

To show you how I used detail plus a character's emotions and thoughts to make a locale a character in its own right, here is a small excerpt from the short story, DARK WATERS :

Mrs. Clemens gave me a hard look, then nodded and called out, “Jennie!”


A black woman, her lined face a sad map of the harsh life she’d led, came hesitantly into the room. “Yes, Miss Jane.”


“Please show Capt. McCord to the guest bedroom.”


She flicked uneasy eyes to me, seeming to prefer being alone with a rattler than with me. “Will do, Missy.”


As we walked down the spacious hallway, she edged closer to me. Her whole body quivered as if she wanted nothing so much as to run as far away from me as possible. I didn’t blame her. Fact was I felt much the same way, but I was stuck with me. She stopped suddenly.


She swallowed hard once, then managed to get out her words, “Mister, there’s monstrous mean haunts in this world. And then there be some who are damn fool enough to try and do good, only they ends up making things terrible bad for everyone around them.”


She forced herself to look me in the eyes. “Which one is you?”


“The damn fool kind.”


She almost smiled. “Leastways you be a truth-telling haunt.”


“It’s a failing.”


“That kind of thinking is what makes you a haunt.”


She was wrong. But there was a lot of that going around. Why tilt her cart if I didn’t have to?


I noticed as we walked that the walls showed clean squares where ornate frames had once hung, depressions in the wood floor where heavy furniture had once long stood. I said nothing. But my straying eyes had betrayed me to the slave, whose life I wagered had often counted on her being able to read the expression of the whites around her.


“Miss Jane has gone through terrible, sad times. Mr. Marshal he done tried, but he ain’t got a lick of business sense. Me, I’m the last thing they own of any value. And if’n I hadn’t helped birth little Sammy and saved him from drowning that time in Bear Creek, I’d be gone like everythin’ else.”


I felt sick. Thing. She had called herself a thing. What kind of world was it when one race made another think of themselves that way?

I shook my head. “They don’t own you anymore.”

Her dusky face went as sick pale as it could get. “M-Mr. Marshall done sold me to dat devil Beebe!”

I reached inside my buckskin jacket and pulled out the hastily written bill of sale. “He was going to. But ... things didn't turn out like he planned. So he was forced to sell you to a stranger ... to me.”

I gave her the paper. She took it with trembling fingers. She stared at it hollow-eyed as if it were the parchment selling her soul to the devil.

“I - I can’t read, mister.”

“Get Sammy to teach you.”

She glared at me. “You is evil!”

“Turn it over, Jennie.”

“I done told you I can’t read!”

“But Sammy can. Show it to him. He’ll tell you that I’ve given ownership of you to --”

Jennie’s face became all eyes. “T-To little Sammy? Oh, bless --”

I shook my head. “No, Jennie.”

She took a step backwards, her voice becoming a soft wail. “Not back to Mr. Marshall? He’ll just be selling me again.”

I reached out with my gloved right hand that must never touch bare, innocent flesh and softly squeezed her upper right arm. “No, I gave ownership of you to --- you.”

“I’m -- I’m free?”

“Well, the judge said you were priceless.”

“Oh, you is one of the good haunts!”

She rushed and hugged me, stiffening as she felt how cold my whole body was. She edged back a step. I met her suddenly hollow eyes.

I smiled sad. “But still a haunt.”

We were silent all the way to the guest bedroom. She opened the door then her mouth. No words came out. But she did give me back my sad smile. I watched her walk away staring at the bill of sales as if it were holy writ. It was something. More than a haunt like me had the right to expect. Maybe my pillow would be the softer for it.
******
Later on in the story, McCord is inside the nightmare of 12 year old Samuel Clemens :

I slipped up far behind the boy. I stayed in the shadows to get the lay of the land. With his slight, shuffling gait, Sammy was making his way to a row of tiny log cabins. I smelled sweat and weariness. But I heard muffled, happy singing inspite of it. My guts went cold. Slave quarters.


Sometimes I was glad I wasn’t human.


It was on the far side of an apple orchard. I drew in the smell of the fruit. It might have been winter in the waking world, but I had a hunch it was always spring about these parts for Sammy. I realized then that I was standing at the edge of a thicket of hickory and walnut trees. Their scent caught me up with my own memories of a lost childhood. I forced them back. Memory Lane was a dead end street. Leastways for such as me.


From the nearest cabin a figure appeared in the black, open doorway. Tall, muscular, his dark face strong and wise and kind. Only with the farthest stretch of language could you call the sorrowful accumulation of rags and patches which he wore clothes. I hung my head. How could I call myself a lawman and let this evil go on around me?


Elu kept on telling me that what the white man called legal wasn’t necessarily right just because of the name he slapped on it. I could see his dried apricot face in my mind as I heard him sighing. "There is a difference in the white man’s world between justice and his rules. And that difference is as wide as the Mississippi you head to, as sharp as day is from night, and as simple as greed."


Because I believed Elu was right and lived accordingly, I was an outcast among civilized folks, hell, even among the Rangers, for I made no allowance for the standing, class, or race of any man I dealt with. I felt my face go tighter. All I cared to know was that a man was a human being -- that was enough for me. He couldn’t get any worse than that. Except for me. I had become much, much worse.


******
And to make the locale of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE more real, here is a music video :




Wednesday, March 17, 2010

HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY FROM HIBBS THE BEAR WITH 2 SHADOWS


Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. Maewyn Succat was the real name of St. Patrick, who died this day back in a time where myth and history eerily blend. It is said he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, the Three who are One. He was either Scottish or Welsh, or some even say French. Being a Lakota, Irish, British blend myself, I can relate.

Some legends state that he drove the snakes out of Ireland and contested with the very Sidhe themselves, but readers of my THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS know the truth :

{Hibbs, the bear with two shadows, and the first hawk of all creation, Little Brother, are wandering the always dangerous dreamscape of the mystic bear's slumber.}


CHAPTER FIVE

WALKING THE PATH OF SHADOWS

As a young cub, Hibbs had often sat under the Twisted Oak, staring up into the endless depths of night. Long, long hours he had eagerly listened to GrandMother’s voice on the breeze which had so tickled his ears. She called him her little Wakan Witkotkoka then and had ruffled the hair atop his small head as she spun tales of the reality that darted out from behind the rocks and trees which he so foolishly called the world.

“See how you sit, arms hugged about your knees? The grass is soft is it not? Like the lap of one who loves you. For, indeed, it is the lap of one who loves you -- as it is my lap. From me, you -- and all living things come -- you are my children. But you are my most beloved, for you love me back.”

Hibbs remembered how the cool, yet strangely loving, breeze had ruffled through the soft hair of his cheek as GrandMother had kept on, “But be not blind to your brothers and sisters. No, learn from them. Read them as now you read from those scrolls I have brought you. Each brook, each stone, the very sky above you, is there for you to learn from.”

Hibbs had felt his furry nose tweaked then. “Bright days, dark nights, both are but reflections of me. Nowhere will you walk that your foot will not be touching me.”
GrandMother’s voice had grown hushed, “Except the path through Dreams. There the ground is what you make it. But even there, my love will be at your side. And the Great Mystery, of course.”

More GrandMother would not say, for the Great Mystery had come by his name honestly. But rather than be frightened by her silence, Hibbs had been bolstered somehow. How powerful and endless must the Great Mystery be if he could not be contained by mere words. But GrandMother had hinted that she had come from him. And if he had created her so terrible in her power, yet so endless in her love, how wonderful he must be.

And now as Hibbs walked slowly through the utter darkness, he whispered, “How wonderful he must be.”

Little Brother snorted, “Wonderful would be to give us a torch.”

Hibbs smiled dry. Death might just be within arm’s reach, yet the lessons he had learned on GrandMother’s lap made this moment rich and deep, and in a very strange sense -- healing. Thanks to Estanatlehi, Hibbs truly lived each beat of his heart. His grin soured. That heart might not have many more beats left to it, if the smell on the air was any indication. Jasmine, wrapped in fresh-shed blood.

“Begin I do to think that there is no way to win in this dream of yours.”

Hibbs smiled sad. “Perhaps there is a way to lose more slowly.”

Little Brother pecked the top of his friend’s massive head. “Like a winter chill do your words warm.”

The hawk pecked again at Hibb’s head. “So many scrolls you read and still you cannot light our way!”

Hibbs frowned. What had Plato said in that other scroll? That the eye was the prison of the mind. Two-Leggeds saw what they expected to see. The young bear sucked in a deep breath. What was he expecting to see?

Light, of course. But if you thought about it, you didn’t actually see light. It was too fast. You only saw slower things by it. So for Two-Leggeds, light was on the edge, so to speak, the last thing you almost saw before things got too fast for you. He nodded his great head. Like Plato often said in his other scrolls : for the mind to stumble was to fall into darkness.

Little Brother humphed, “It is said the body of the Sidhe is made of movement swift as light. For them, like water is light, something to be touched, bathed in --”
The hawk stiffened, “ -- to drown intruders in.”

Hibbs smiled grim. “Thank you, Little Brother. Now, though blind, I begin to see. And like I said before : my vision, my rules.”

The Sidhe’s reality was a two-edged sword. Now, the legends of fallen angels began to make some sense. If light was to them something slower to reach out and use, then what Two-Leggeds called solid -- flesh and earth -- must of a necessity be seen to them as thinner, harder to make out. Two-Leggeds must seem as clouds. And for Two-Leggeds, the Sidhe seemed misty, half-real. No wonder that the Sidhe seemed to be able to walk through walls and rocks, for to them, they were as clouds. Hibbs grinned like a wolf. Like he had breathed the wood into being earlier, he would breathe Little Brother and himself into the swifter realm of the Sidhe.

And since this was the kingdom of dream, with the thought came the reality.
Little Brother dug his talons deep into the young bear’s wide shoulder. “Is anyone ever happy you to see?”

The world had blinked into view as if the Great Mystery himself had drawn back the black curtains in a sudden sweep of his invisible arm. Hibbs stiffened. He and Little Brother found themselves surrounded.

By Sidhe.

Angry, outraged muttering buzzed through the milling Sidhe. Hibbs shivered. Not at the sight of so many otherworld beings, but at the sight of the strange chamber he and Little Brother found themselves in.

The very air was black fire, swirling in eye-aching patterns in the living twilight of the ballroom. Electric white mists slowly snaked up from the black and scarlet marble floor. And the elaborately dressed Sidhe seemed to float upon the surface of those mists. The Sidhe were so elegant, so regal, so beautiful -- and oh, so deadly.
They were easily as tall, if not taller, than Leandra, dressed in intricate patterns of colors that seemed to burst from the silken fabrics that flowed from their slender bodies. All the colors Hibbs had ever seen, and some he had never before seen, burned in silent fire along their flowing clothing.

Long gowns of sparkling silk cascaded in the wake of these nightfall creatures with the ethereal bodies and the predator eyes. They had been dancing some complex, intricate dance when Hibbs and Little Brother had suddenly appeared in their midst as if from nowhere.

From the looks in those flat eyes, Hibbs dryly noted that it would seem that he and his brother were as welcome as a muscle cramp. The males, much fewer in number than the females, began going for the hilts of their swords. Their spring-loaded bodies made Hibbs feel clumsy and without an ounce of grace. Until he looked at the females, who put their male counterparts to shame.

The doe-eyed faes, in their sheer satin gowns, flowed effortlessly across the sea of mists. As they neared, Hibbs caught their perfume. They smelled of jasmine and fresh-shed blood. Some of that blood still glistened on their wet lips.

Movement snared Hibbs’ eyes. Up high from the dance floor sat three diamond thrones. Two on one level. The third, in the middle and on the next level higher. Three faerie queens stared at him as if at a bug scuttling from their soup bowls. The Queen of raven hair, whose movement had caught Hibbs’ attention, took a delicate sip from her goblet of -- Hibbs sniffed to confirm the sad tale told by his eyes -- blood. Sidhe blood. The young bear snorted. It would seem that the Sidhe ate their own. They must be very civilized indeed.

She looked as if she disapproved of the world in general and Hibbs in particular. She raised an eyebrow at the male Sidhe. As one, they drew their swords.

Little Brother snorted in contempt, “Bold are they against an unarmed guest.”

The second Faerie Queen, whose hair was a hot sunset, sneered, “Guest? We sent out no invitations to savages.”

Hibbs ignored the males, whose eyes were only a little less sharp than their swords, and instead looked at the highest Queen, whose hair was living lightning and whose piercing eyes were of winter frost. There was something odd about that hair -- as if it were but an illusion somehow. No matter. Let her keep her secrets. He had enough of his own. He smiled sad. Savages? Perhaps. But he was young enough to wish to tweak up-turned noses and so decided to quote one of his favorite tale-spinners, Aeschylus.

“And even in our sleep, pain, that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon our hearts. And in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of The Great Mystery.”

The High Queen, of Caesar jaw and Cleopatra eyes, jerked as if stung, and in words, like a rippling brook given life, said, “Why are you here?”

Of course, as usual, Hibbs hadn’t a sure answer. Now, his guess might have been excellent, or it might have been full of worms. But Estanatlehi hadn’t raised a grandson idiot enough to make guesses in front of a roomful of enemies. So he decided to be as vague as Estanatlehi herself. And in trying to be wise and mysterious, he, of course, hit the truth dead-on. So much for the wisdom of young bears.

“I find myself where I am needed.”

The High Queen again jerked as if bee stung. “There are layers of truth to what you say, bearling. Were you wise just now or were you most foolish?”

Little Brother snorted, “If guess I had, mine would be foolish.”

The High Queen gave a smile of pain. “More true than you meant, First One.”

The hawk shook its head. “That would be of the bear you speak.”

The Raven Queen sneered, “You wish.”

“Wish I do that your roosters put down their toothpicks.”

The High Queen gestured, and a long sword of sharp diamond rose from the mists. “Bearling, take this if you would and disarm them yourself.”

The male Sidhe bristled like thorns. Hibbs sighed. He breathed upon the sparkling sword. It blurred and broke apart in a cloud of flying butterflies. Now, it was the High Queen’s turn to bristle.

Hibbs bowed his massive head slightly. “No offense meant, your Majesty. But I do not like swords. The moment you pick one up, you become like it, an instrument of death. And I am a healer.”

The Queen of Fire leaned forward and hushed, “Then, who are you here to heal, bearling?”

Hibbs smiled, “Say that fast three times.”

Hair of living flame whipped over her forehead as the Queen sat back stiff. “I find you not amusing at all.”

Hibbs sighed, “You are not the first to make that discovery."

The Raven Queen pulled herself up tall and deadly. "Why are you here?"

Hibbs was beginning to wonder that himself. And that fact made him irritable. He fought it. And he lost. Then, it suddenly occurred to him who the High Queen was. And suddenly he knew why he was there. Promises to keep.

He sighed, "If I did not tell The Morrigan's mother, why do you think I would tell you?"

Hibbs turned to the High Queen. "By the way, Queen Ogygia, the Morrigan says she remembers ... everything."

The queen's eyes of winter frost became slits as they first stabbed into the young bear, then flicked over to the males. "You have swords. Kill him."

The hawk slapped the bear aside the head with one wing. "Once. Just once, think before you speak!"

From the floor, out of the slowly weaving mists, thrust a long, rune-carved staff. The male Sidhe flinched as they read the ancient language, long forgotten except by those who fell. And drifting upon a strangely warm breeze, from a fresh-hewn crypt, came the voice of a heart that refused to surrender.

"Brave and true bear, you kept your word, gave my message. Now, I give you a weapon within a weapon that even one such as you may wield."

Hibbs took it within his great paws. It trembled in his fingers as if alive and happy to be held once again. By the Great Mystery, what a staff. It felt sturdy, yet light, but also mystical. There was more to this weapon than met the eye. The sudden fear in the male Sidhes alone told him that.

He spun it in a fluid figure eight pattern as GrandMother had taught him long ago. He smiled. Yes, even a healer like he might defend himself with a weapon like this.
But not unless he had to. Hibbs looked this way and that, hoping to find some path of escape that didn't involve the breaking of heads. Perhaps it was this seeking of his that opened his ears. Or perhaps the power of Surt was such that it could penetrate the young bear's dream when Leandra's could not. Whatever the reason, Hibbs heard the not-so-gentle rumble of Surt, the Father of All Fires, high above him in the darkness.

"Hibbs, you dolt of a bear! Sleep on your own time. We have a situation here."

Eyeing grimly the steadily approaching Sidhe, Hibbs snorted, "Oh, really? And you think I'm having fun?"

"I do not care if you are having cake and tea with the High Queen herself. You are needed here!"

Hibbs began twirling the staff faster as the Sidhe motioned to one another for a flanking advance. "So, Surt, it seems like years since I was awake. How have you been?"

"Like dung. Now, that we have caught up, would you get your sorry pelt to the Waking World?"

"Spit on my foot."

"What?"

"Give me an anchor to hold onto, brother."

"Oh, gladly."

And with a stab of hot agony, Hibbs was awake. All but one of the howls belonged to the three Faerie Queens. But Hibbs' was louder.
*******************************************************
In keeping with the Celtic motif of this blog, here's a video that hopefully will appeal to all of you :






Monday, March 15, 2010

THE TEACHING TALES OF HIBBS THE CUB WITH NO CLUE




Once again I drove through one of America's last wildernesses, the Creole Nature Trail. I had to bring two units of rare blood to the only hospital in Cameron Parish. Dozens of species of birds sang their serenade to the half-dozing sun as it slumbered in the mid-morning spring sky. They seemed to follow me as I meandered along the long, winding S curve. Moss-hung cypress trees towered over me as I pulled out onto a long straight stretch. Horses, running free, joyously paced my van as they raced amidst bright groves of marigolds. They veered off with other games to play.

I smiled at the sight of their shrinking forms. My van climbed up a high, lonely bridge. From its apex, it offered a civilization-free vista stretching from horizon to horizon. I could almost hear the Turquoise Woman, from my mother's long-ago tales, whisper that soon Man would destroy himself, and the whole world would look like this. "Soon" is different to the Turquoise Woman, to whom the Ice Ages were but inconvenient winters. And judging from the headlines, I did not doubt that Mankind might very well do himself in.

As I reached the bottom of the bridge onto the straightaway, I flicked my eyes from the canal to my right to the swamp to my left. The green head of an alligator rose above the still waters. Reptillian eyes met mine. Twin alien, amber worlds gazed back at me. Slit eyes studied me in a moment frozen in time. They revealed the narrowing infinity between half-closed windows to a time when Man was not even a murmur on the winds. The alligator's eyes looked through me, far past me down distant vistas when reptilian giants walked this swamp. Its eyes seemed to wander down the ages, dwelling on secrets lost to science. Did it see colors of life beyond my comprehension, feel impulses alien to human reason? It slid back under the green waters as it realized I was not going to crash and give it a change in diet.

The Cooltrane Quartet was playing "Should I stay or should I go?" I decided that "go" seemed a wise decision to make. I drove on as the birds above me swept down as if to gaze at this invader into their realm of peace and beauty. "Don't fish this spot," I advised them. A scarlet Vermillion Flycather gave a high-pitched reply as if to assure me its kind had fished here long before I was born.

Seeing this wilderness on either side of me, I thought of the wilderness in my novel, HIBBS THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS, 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 that terrible winter. 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.

"Yes."

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.'"

"Truly?"

"Truly."

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."

"Wh-What?"

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."
*************************************************
I hope you like my tale. Here's the tune I hummed along the Creole Nature Trail. Have a great week.





Sunday, March 14, 2010

MYSTERIES OF NEW ORLEANS


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.
Despite my ghost stories, I hope all of you have a healing Sunday. The following song is the one most often requested by Samuel McCord when Diana Krall performs at Meilori's.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

HOLLYWOOD HAS FORGOTTEN HOW TO TELL A STORY


Take the new STAR TREK. The beginning made me root for and like Kirk's father. He cared about his crew, loved his wife, and died so that she and his son could live. I wanted to watch a movie about him. What happens? We get a scene of kid-Kirk being a jerk and nearly getting killed. We get another of punk-Kirk getting rightly trashed by cadets in a bar. I didn't like Kirk. And that's how you tell a bad story, making the hero one you don't like.

They wanted Kirk with authority issues and attitude from being fatherless. Fine. Kid-Kirk sees his younger half-brother being roughed up by his step-father for touching his antique car. Kirk steps in for the boy, gets slapped, makes a smart remark {"What? You working your way up to old ladies and cripples?"} Step-Dad leaves. Kid-Kirk cocks an eyebrow at his brother and goes, "You want to go for a spin?" Now, you have the attitude, neurosis, plus a kid who you care about and like. And the neat car chase.

Punk-Kirk in bar. Hits on Uhura. She fluffs him off. "Your loss, babe," he shrugs. Up struts an oaf of a cadet who paws Uhura. She protests. Oaf grabs her arm. Uhura winces in pain, just about to hand the guy his head on her own. But Kirk steps in and says, "The lady said no, bruno." Fights insues. Kirk gets lecture that turns his life around. But now you care about Kirk and like him. You want him to win, not just because you know his legend, but because of who he is at the moment, flaws and all. That's good story-telling -- making the audience care and root for your hero right at the start.

Hollywood has confused "cool" with character.

You care about Neo from the start of THE MATRIX. Any daydreaming shift worker identifies with Arnold right from the start of TOTAL RECALL. Inside most Sci-Fi men you will find a Walter Mitty or a Chuck from the TV series of the same name.

Hollywood loves its pre-sold franchises. Sometimes they work. Most times they don't. I shudder to think what the movie A-TEAM will be on the screen. But the studio executives know that people reading their computer headlines will know the answer to that most important question : "What is it about?"

Franchises gives the reader of the movie ad a clear mental image of what the movie promises. If the story is lousy or the film veers too far off the historical image. Low traffic. Sink hole where ticket sales should be.

Domestic ticket sales used to account for 60% of a movie's overall profits. Now, it's down to 40%. Worldwide ticket sales are now the make or break aspect of a movie. The movie must be readily understood universally. Franchises are ideal for that. Also killer titles : Legally Blonde, Crazies, 4 Christmases, and FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE {the title for my book -- hey, I can dream, can't I?}

Hollywood is not about art or about quality. It is about profits. showBUSINESS it is called for a reason. Hollywood has its beloved "4-quadrant" pictures {in essence both sexes under & over 25 are drawn to watch the film.} If on top of that it is medium-budget, filmed entirely in one location, and you are the screen writer, you may have to run out of the exec's office to keep him from giving you a wet kiss.

Well, that's it for my thoughts on Hollywood's deficiencies. It's easier than looking at my own! And for all of us dreamers out there who refuse to quit, here's Diana Krall :



WHAT IS MORE REAL THAN REAL?


How does a writer make science fiction {or fantasy for that matter} real? This does not preclude movies or TV, for without the script all you would have are good-looking actors gazing at one another -- or into mirrors. More likely the last.

Well, for one thing, you have to make the science plausible. And let's face it, some writers are better sellers of the impossible than others. It's why we have gotten the presidents we have in the past. Let's nail those dastardly speech-writers with rotten tomatoes, shall we?

But all joking aside, the science in the tales has to be internally consistent, not change from page to page. Still more importantly, life must be seen taking its toll. Heads must rock back by the thrust of the rockets. Nausea must make stomachs feel like high-tide in zero gravity spins.

Life must hurt. It does for all of us. It must for the characters we watch or we will not believe in them.

We will not buy a story where there is cause without effect. That is why STAR WARS seems more real {despite its space opera elements} than STAR TREK. The blast doors have scorch marks. The Millenium Falcon has dings and dents. Solo must whallop the door facing of the cockpit to jar the tangled wiring loose enough to fire up the engines. The good guys lose, die, and the survivors feel it in their guts. A father cuts off the right hand of his son. Children, a whole school of them, are cut down by one evil man with a light saber. The evil emperor wipes out the Jedi and rules the galaxy for a generation of terror and oppression.

In life, the bad guys sometimes win. If science fiction or fantasy is to be experienced as "real," then night must fall as it does in the day of each of us. Isn't the true thrill of the dawn based on the depth of darkness to the night preceeding it?

That is why, in a strange way, science fiction can be more "real" than literary fiction. Gene Roddenberry tackled subjects like prejudice, duplicity in war with its betrayed trust of innocents, pacifism in the face of threat, and religious intolerance at a time in the sixties that no other TV show could have done. And because Gene tackled those subjects that were all too real to his audience, the crew of the Enterprise became real to the viewers as well.

VOYAGER lost sight of that fact. One episode whole shuttles would be destroyed, the ship itself broadsided by raking lasers. And the next week, the ship would be spotless and a new shuttle would be gleaming in the bay. BATTLESTAR GALATICA showed us wires hanging from the ceiling of the battered starship episode after episode. Mistakes of crewmen would hound them from show to show. Just like our own mistakes follow at our heels for years. Even more, it showed Mankind's arrogance and callousness coming back in the form of his children, the Cylons, to teach humanity that payback is a terrible thing to waste.

Each of us are heading to that last great Exit. Some of us are closer than we realize. As we walk, are we awake or asleep? THE MATRIX and TOTAL RECALL, to mention two Sci-Fi movies, ask that question of us. It is a question that only we can answer. Good science fiction can broaden our perspective to answer it more truthfully.

Again, I am musing in preparation for my two talks at the CON DU LAC Sci-Fi convention here in Lake Charles in June. Come check out its website, will you? http://www.condulac.net/.

And there was one excellent fantasy movie that connected to viewers because it paid attention to the details of life : its losses, its loves, and its enduring hope that the next dawn would be brighter if only you would not give up.





And readers, never give up. Never. Your dream may be waiting for you just around the corner if you will only take those next few steps. Keep walking. Keep trying. I'll be pulling for you that your dream clasps your hand in the darkness, pulling you into the light, Roland