So you can read my books

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


How to get an agent to say "Yes."

No, Sandra. Not at gunpoint.

You do it by asking yourself a similar question I ask with these posts : "What would I like to read"

"What does an agent want to read in your query?"

I answered the superficial level of that question in this post :

But it's time, grasshopper, to go to a deeper level :

How do you get a "yes" from an agent?

Accept that it is what it is with its own facts of life :

The agent wants to make a good living.

If she was satisfied with minimum wage, she'd be flipping burgers. This current controversy over hourly rates and reading fees underscores this fact of life.

In retail, you make money by selling high to lots of customers.

To do that, you must have a hot product. Right now, supernatural romances are sizzling. Trends fade you say. True. But basic needs stay the same. Appeal to them, and you have the interest of your readers.

Customers (agents and readers) want the same thing ... only different.

How do you do that? Appeal to a basic need in a novel way. Think oxymoron. A comedy on death row. A drama in clown school. A ghost afraid of people forced to haunt a bustling Las Vegas casino.

Stephanie Meyers saw the basic need of teenage girls : romance with a bad boy (who usually wants sex not romance.) Her answer : a love-smitten vampire who can't get close lest he bite the love of his unlife.

Pavlov was right. Woof.

Think weary, jaded agent. If 499 out of every 500 queries she gets are garbage, guess what she'll smell when she opens yours?

It's the Pavlov effect.

Now if you get a great agent, you'll also get the blessing of the Halo effect. If every one of the agent's offerings to a particular editor has had solid sales, he'll see "winner" when he sees your name.

But back to the dreaded Pavlov effect which leads us to :

What you expect to see, you usually see.

Give an idiot a hammer, and everything begins to look like a nail. How do you fight it?

A right hook will get them every time. But how do you do that?

As with a right hook in a fist fight, it has to be fast and surprising. Which means for you : the title.

Think : SNAKES ON A PLANE. Admit it. You were tempted to see the movie just because of the title.

Think : WEREWOLF ON A PLANE. {A young werewolf girl is following the bad boy of her dreams on a plane in the dark of the moon. She's safe, right? Wrong. Unknown to her, for werewolves to be high in the sky no matter the moon phase is to turn at nightfall. Oops.}

Tagline : On this flight, first class is murder. The twist : up high in the sky, she can be killed by the one she loves and who loves her. Lump in the throat ending : mortally wounded boy kills girl-wolf, both becoming ghosts destined to fly the haunted skies forever.

Yes, this is an over-the-top example for laughs. But you see my point.

Follow through is everything in winning fights ... and in winning agents.

The tagline followed by a short O Henry flip of expectations in a paragraph summation will win or lose you the agent.

LEFT HAND OF GOD : The life of a jaded atheist depends upon him convincing a small church in war-torn China that he is a priest. {A classic Humphrey Bogart movie.}

Artists starve. Craftsmen order steak.

You have to decide if you want to be published or you want to write what you want to write. Emily Dickinson chose the later : she had three poems published in her lifetime. You know the sound of one hand clapping? That was the applause she got for them.

I have made the Emily Dickinson decision. I will probably never be published. My decision. I, however, would like to see you get your dreams fulfilled.

Write the way you know will sell. Patrick Stewart was a spear-carrier on the Shakespearian stage in his early career. After STAR TREK and the stellar (pun intended) name recognition, Mr. Stewart can play in any major Shakespearean theater company he wishes.

Robert B. Parker loved Westerns. He could't give any away. He became the new Raymond Chandler, and his Westerns were snapped up, becoming best sellers. One book was even made into a top-grossing movie. That is a miracle in today's Hollywood.

Earning your spurs isn't just for roosters.

Refer to the stories of Patrick Stewart and Robert B. Parker. You must prove your worth to the agent in getting her desired high commissions and to the publishers, wanting to garner a high return for their investment in you.

If you want to get "yes" from an agent, use these suggestions ... or Sandra's gun. My way is safer. Good luck.
Why do I choose the path of Emily Dickinson? Sandra always tells me I live life as if I were the Nature Boy of Nat King Cole's song. Perhaps so :

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born today in 1900.

You know him. He was the aviator/author who wrote THE LITTLE PRINCE. But he wrote an earlier book that spoke of the philosophy in living an awake life, WIND, SAND, AND STARS.

Published as the world slid into WWII, it was greeted as “a beautiful book, and a brave book …

a book that should be read against the confusion of this world.”

The anecdotal-autobiographical essays are inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s experiences as a pilot with the Mediterranean air mail service before World War I, through to the Spanish Civil War :

"One day, on the Madrid front, I chanced upon a school that stood on a hill surrounded by a low stone wall some five hundred yards behind the trenches.

A corporal was teaching botany that day. He was lecturing on the fragile organs of a poppy held in his hands.

Out of the surrounding mud,

and in spite of the wandering shells that dropped all about,

he had drawn like a magnet an audience of stubble-bearded soldiers who squatted tailor fashion and listened with their chins in their hands to a discourse of which they understood not a word in five.

Something within them had said: “You are but brutes fresh from your caves.

Go along!

Catch up with humanity!”

And they had hurried on their muddy clogs to overtake it.

It is only when we become conscious of our part in life, however modest, that we shall be happy…."

What does this have to do with the Zen of Writing?


And Everything.

The blank computer screen that mocks you when your muse is silent? It is not a hindrance. It is your window ... to your inner self ... to your bruised soul.

You are an artist. Words are your paints. The keys on the computer are your brushes.

Your pain is the ink that your page has been needing. Dip your brush into it. Paint what you feel, what you see ... in the minds of your characters, in the world you have created.

Speak aloud the last paragraph slowly. Hear it with the ears of a stranger. Polish the rough edges of the prose which grated upon those ears.

Lay the bones of your plot before your mind's eye like some Zen garden of stones and sand. Shift the patterns. Is the plot predictable? What would shake it up? How would your characters respond to that twist? How could you make your readers laugh about that?


The world is pain. Sometimes we feel as if we will choke on it. Your readers, too. Make them laugh in the midst of your characters' pain, and they will re-read your book over and over again.

The Zen of Writing : be the author your heart says you are.



There are truisms scattered all through your psychology training as a counselor. One of them is :

"Sometimes you get what you ask for, but not what you wanted."

As in a husband yelling at his wife during a fight, "Would you just shut up!"

She shuts up all right. But the anger, the hurt is still there simmering in her eyes. What the husband wanted was the gleam of love he first saw in her eyes in that intense rapture of dating ... to feel that HE was loved like that once more.

He got what he asked for, but not what he wanted.

Another truism was painfully brought to my mind today during my lunch with my best friend, Sandra. Like me she has a Master's degree in Psychology. She's married to a psychologist. She has an IQ of 154. She's a sharp cookie. And her truism discussed during our lunch was :

"Sometimes what you ask for is not really what you want."

I was relating my concern about several veteran agents bringing up hourly rates last week and reading fees this week.

"Sandra, that would financially devastate most struggling writers. Why would veteran businessmen ask for something that would do that to potential clients? I mean why not ask for a hike in their commissions instead?"

Her face grew sad. She cocked her head at me, mumbling low and motioning me to lean forward. I did.

She thumped me on the forehead with her forefinger.

"OW! Why did you do that for?"

"Because you've been trained to know better."

"Better than to trust a friend?"

"No, writer boy. Better than to accept words at face value."


She rolled her eyes. "You and I both took the course "The Psychology of Negotiation."

"Yeah. So?"

She sighed as if confronted with a slow-witted child. "So you remember that example they gave us :

A labor union wants Policy X. But do they ask for it. No. They ask for Policy Y which would cripple the company. The company shrieks bloody murder."

She munched a bit of her salad. "The union insists, 'We need Policy Y. What else can we do?"

She smirked, "The company goes, 'Well, how about Policy X. We could afford that. And you would still get your money.' And the Union moans, 'Oh, I guess you talked us into it.'"

"You mean the agents really wanted a hike in commissions all along?"

Sandra sighed and whispered something too low for me to make out. I leaned forward to hear better. She thumped me on the forehead again.

"Ow! Would you stop doing that? That hurts."

"I was trying to jar that brain inside there a bit. C'mon, Roland, use it."

Rubbing my throbbing forehead, I muttered, "I have. The agents say they are underpaid for all they do."

Sandra snorted, "Everyone is underpaid for what they do. It's called life."

"Well, the agents say that reading fees will winnow out the not-serious and the not-ready writers."

"Oh, give me a break, Roland. You and I deal with dreamers all day. No amount of money is going to put off someone all fired up with a dream, and you know it."

"I know how I hate form rejections, Sandra. The agents say that if they charge a reading fee, they'll be able to afford writing personalized rejections."

She motioned with her finger for me to move closer, and instinctively, I did. You guessed it. She thumped me again. Harder.

"Ow!! Would you PLEASE stop doing that!"

"Idiot boy, you know what I always say : usually people are only as good as their options. Why should I try to hawk stories if I can make a comfortable living rejecting them and giving a line of bull why?"

"Not every agent's a crook," I grumbled, rubbing my sore forehead.

Her fingers writhed like she wanted to throttle me. "I don't think any of my customers are crooks either. But I still lock up my store every night. You and I lock up our cars and homes when we leave them, too."

"Why should agents work for free?"

She motioned with her thumb and forefinger. I edged back. I learn slow. But I learn.

"They're in sales, Roland. Jeez, you were in sales when you had a bookstore. I'm in sales with my dress shop. Real Estate agents. Car salesmen. They work for commission."

She rubbed her forehead as if she'd been thumping it instead of mine. "God, Roland, those of us in sales work our butts off. Sometimes you roll seven's. Sometimes you roll snake-eyes. It's the nature of the beast."

I sighed, "I guess I'm a little naive."

She snorted, and I continued, "But I thought they were being upfront about wanting hourly rates."

"These are agents, right? Who deal with lawyers all the time? Give me a break. And I'm sure they've dealt with plumbers and electricians."

I shook my head. "I've been writing in comments in several blogs that we should increase the commission the agents are getting."

She rubbed her temples. "How come I have the headache when I've been thumping you? You're sure you have the same IQ as mine?"

"Einstein couldn't get the same color sock on both feet."

"Listening to you, Roland, and I can believe that. Want my last tomatoe wedge?"


I leaned forward to get it. And you guessed it. Thumped again.

As I rubbed my forehead and ground my teeth, she smirked, "Next time remember your psychology classes."
So what do you think, everyone? Not about how gullible I am with Sandra. What do you think about the agents raising the subjects of hourly rates and reading fees? Do you think they really want a hike in their commission rates? Despite Sandra, I like to think they are being upfront.

But I'm part Lakota, and you know us. We signed all those treaties with the Great White Father. You know the ones : "As long as the grass grows and the waters flow ...."
And it is the beginning of the end :

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Thanks to Mia I know of this flash fiction contest.

And what's so neat about that is I can enter without fearing I will win over Mia who let me in on this intriguing arena in the first place. Friends don't hurt friends.

You see, it has to be a love between two zombies. And my entry is between one zombie and one human. So I enter and still stay an old-school gentleman doing it.

Here it is {from an excerpt from my YA urban fantasy CAPTAIN OUTRAGEOUS} :

I sat with my back pressed against the tomb of Marie Laveau. Midnight was heavy in the humid air. Fingers of black fog weaved around me as if to leech the life from me.

I was not going to cry. I wasn't. I looked up at the dim stars. They blurred and bled down my cheeks. O.K. I lied. I was crying.

After years scuffling alone on the streets, I had finally found a friend. A creepy friend to be sure. But a friend. Now, I had screwed up and lost him. Sure, Captain Sam was undead. But who said friends had to be perfect?

I stiffened. Something all misty was oozing out of the tomb in front of me. It slowly took shape. I frowned. What the?

It was a girl. She looked to be my age : thirteen. But she was dressed up in a black Victorian style dress. She was kinda pretty ... if you were into undead girls.

She spoke as if her vocal chords were all rusty :

"Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold."

I jutted my right forefinger at her. "Coleridge! The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner."

She took a step towards me, and leaves crackled under her foot. Uh, oh. She wasn't a ghost. She smiled. Red-smeared sharp teeth. Oh, great. A ghoul.

I smiled. I knew some really bad men. They had much more meat to them than a scrawny street kid like me.

She brushed back a stray lock of fine-spun gold from her solid black eyes. "You're aren't afraid?"

"Oh, I'm scared shitless."

She giggled and studied me. "But you see a way out for you, do you?"

I stumbled to my feet, spreading out my hands. "Hey, I'm Victor Standish. I always have a plan."

Those eyes seemed to be suddenly seeing me as more than a meal. "I am Alice, Victor. And just what is this plan of yours?"

I winked at her. "How would you like to add drug dealers to your diet, Alice?"

She glided to me faster than I thought she could, looping her arm through my right one. "I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

I patted her cold, cold hand. "I think so, too."

I looked up at the face of shadows in the full moon. I smiled wide. I wasn't alone anymore.

Now for the rest of you who might want to enter :

*Word count: maximum 1000

* The story must be a romance between two zombies. Make it as horrific as you like.

* Stories containing animal cruelty, torture, graphic sex or violence, any form of exaltation of violence, racism or other forms of prejudice will be immediately disqualified.

* Post your entry on your own blog, with a title resembling this: Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest: Story Title

* Leave your story title and a link to the story entry post as a comment at mari's randomities:

* Copy and paste the contest logo and the guidelines at the end of your entry post.

Post Script :
Re My Post : HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE follow this link :

2nd P.S. : Help Lisa K. with a lifelong dream. Let her explain :

"My unpublished novel, Heart of the City, is one of two novels competing in the finals of Dorchester Publishing’s Fresh Blood contest and the grand prize is a publishing contract with Dorchester's Leisure Horror imprint.

This is my dream, my ambition, my life-long goal.

So I’m asking for your help…

If you could take just a moment to vote in the contest, I’d be so grateful. Voting only takes a few seconds. It’s as simple as sending a blank email to with Fresh Blood Vote - Heart of the City in the subject line.

They will accept one vote per unique email address. Voting is open until July 14th at midnight EST."

And in keeping with the theme of my own Zombie Love contest :


Musician, teacher, author, Aubrie Dionne, has written a beautiful prose composition, JESTER'S FOLLY.

Masks. We all wear them.

Scars. Some show. Some don't. We all have them.

Secrets. We all have them. Some bury them. But you cannot bury a secret for long, for you always bury a secret alive. One night it will dig its way out of the grave you made for it. And then what will you do?

Masks. Scars. Secrets. Mina has all three. A jester with a traveling circus, Mina is a woman of mystery.

This is an absorbing story of heartbreak, love, redemption, and learning the true meaning of forgiveness.

This is a great read. It sweeps you away into a world of tragedy and mystery. You'll find yourself rooting for Mina and wondering what will happen next. Read it for yourself. You won't be disappointed.
And here is Josh Groban with a song that ties into JESTER'S FOLLY :


Hell is other people.

Jean-Paul Sarte wrote it long ago. A good friend quoted it last night in an email.

Recently, she received a rejection from what is called an Uber-Agent. The agent wrote that if my friend was too stupid to know how to change the formatting of her email then she was too stupid for the agent's time.

When I first started out, I got a similar reply, and I learned how to do it. I wrote my friend how to change her format. It's a guy-thing. We hear a friend tell of a problem, we tell how to fix it.

Counselor Rule #1 : Listen beneath the words.

My friend is smart. She learned how to format all on her own, thank you very much. No. That wasn't the problem.

This same Uber-Agent was one of the players in the recent : "Maybe we should bill our clients into poverty by the hour" debate.

Counselor Rule #2 : Cruelty is never personal.

Now, when your nose has just been broken by a bully, it's hard to convince your pain of that. But it's true.

Cruelty is all about some lack, some insecurity in the instigator of it. The Uber-Agent did my friend a favor. The cutting rejection was just the tip of the iceberg.

It implied that the agent took the ability to hurt without consequence as license to do so. I certainly wouldn't want a business partnership with a sadist. I want a professional.

As for wanting the allure of charging by the hour and the opportunity for abuse it would give ... greed is never personal either. But there is a reason we lock the doors when we leave home. Not everyone is a crook. But they are out there.

Counselor Rule #3 : Would you just shut up and do Rule #1 :

My friend wrote me because she was beginning to believe that the world of agenting was harsh, greedy, and pain-inflicting.

Counselor Rule #4 : Sometimes the other person is right.

I agreed with my friend. She was right. I went further. It just wasn't the world of agenting : the whole world was that way.

Counselor Rule #5 : It is what is. What are you going to do now?

Resigning from the world is not an option. Within you there is a path out of whatever jungle you find yourself.

Sign Post #1 : See the jungle through the other person's eyes :

Mostly the world runs on self-interest. The agent is not Mother Theresa. She wants to make a good living for her efforts.

You are merely one of the means to do so. If you're not helping her put money into her pockets, then the time she is using on you is taking money out of those same pockets.

Solution : Make yourself worth her time.

Learn your craft. Strive to grow daily. Accept assholes as the price of living. Try not to become an asshole yourself. Help the people you meet along the way.

Become the change you want to see in the world.

Sign Post #2 : Remember Rule #2

It hardly ever is personal when someone hurts you. It comes from the hurt within them. Look for that hurt. Try not to step on that sore toe ever again. As long as it is honorable, dance whatever dance that takes.

Sign Post #3 : If you're heading in the wrong direction, going forward is certainly not going to get you to your desired destination.

Sometimes harsh people are right in the wrong way. Look at your work. Could it be improved? Of course it could.

Could you learn more about the busisness end of writing? Of course you could.

Reading agents' blogs is like listening to Presidential Press Agents : you are only hearing what they want you to hear. Those blogs will give you a guide on how not to irritate the agents. But the true skinny lies behind those curtains.

Sign Post #4 : Go behind those curtains.

The blogs that will help you do that :






Two Books that will help you do that :


{In April 1938 F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his editor Maxwell Perkins, "What a time you’ve had with your sons, Max—Ernest gone to Spain, me gone to Hollywood, Tom Wolfe reverting to an artistic hill-billy."

As the sole literary editor with name recognition among students of American literature, Perkins remains permanently linked to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe in literary history and literary myth.

Their relationships, lived largely by letters, play out in the 221 letters Matthew J. Bruccoli has assembled in this volume.

This collection documents the extent of the fatherly forbearance, attention, and encouragement the legendary Scribners editor gave to his authorial sons. The correspondence portrays his ability to juggle the requirements of his three geniuses.


Blake Snyder was a working, selling writer himself, so that gives the reader a true inside glimpse into what it's like, what it takes, and what to expect on the long road to screenwriting success.

Many screenwriting how-to books are written by people who have few or no real studio credits, so with this book you are getting the info direct from the source of a successful member of the Hollywood elite.

Synder starts out with a bang, describing how important a good title, pitch and concept are, and giving tons of useful advise for whipping those log lines into shape, {the best shape ever in fact, for as the author points out, many industry powerbrokers won't even look beyond a log it better be good. Very good}

He also gives an insider's look at the world of screenwriter's agents {which is not so different from the world of literary agents.}


I thought that if my friend felt as she did, then others out there in the blogverse probably did, too. I hope that today's post helped in some small way

There are some hilarious Bruce Campbell soup labels you can print out and paste on your own soup cans to amuse friends who drop over at this site

In honor of today being Bruce Campbell's birthday, here is the man himself doing a summation of my post :


A frost in the blood.

Message novels are that ... and more.

Yesterday's post might have given some the idea that I thought good novels had to say something meaningful.


As at the end, I will say again : the best novels are the ones that ignore overt messages and simply tell a very good story : one that touches the heart and haunts the soul.

You live your whole life, your face set on the course of a destiny you think you know. Then, fate smiles sadly and draws back the curtain on a reality that spins you around 180 degrees.

Life. Ever changing. Never static ... even when it appears so.

Vampires. They appear static. Never aging. Never leaving the public's fascination either. ECLIPSE is coming out this upcoming week.

As a nod of acknowledgement to the TWILIGHT phenomenon, I present McCord's first meeting with Prince Strasser, the revenant (vampire), who will hound the Ranger all his days. I find sparkly good-hearted vampires a bit hard to swallow so I made mine the predators that I thought they would naturally be.

The meeting is from RITES OF PASSAGE. McCord has just met the Sidhe wearing the face of a murdered girl. But he has found she is as much a victim as Rachel. Perhaps more so, since she is still alive to suffer.

He is awaiting Meilori for breakfast. Fallen, the Sidhe wearing Rachel's face, has joined McCord at his table. Sitting at the other tables in the ship's dining room are revenants, confident that they can easily kill a white-haired human :

Fallen whispered, "All is Tohu and Bohu, void and without form, a cry of a dying child signifying nothing."

"Thanks for sharing that with me."

She looked at me as if wanting to cry. "Must you learn life like a foreign language?"

I tried for a smile; it came out crooked. "You must be related to Elu."

Her lower lip quivered for a brief moment. "I am related to the worst person you could possibly imagine."

"Relations don't matter. What you do long enough becomes who you are."

She sat back. "Most people think from word to word. No wonder Rachel felt about you as she did. You think from word to fact. A rare gift."

I saw the aristocratic fop at the next table throw his napkin down in disgust. He rose as if a spotlight were on him. He strutted his way to our table.

He sneered, "So The Gray Man's bitch makes her entrance?"

I picked up a knife from the setting before me. "You'll not talk that way about a lady."

"Indeed?," he smirked.

With a wide showing of teeth, he said, "Mind if I sit down?"

"Would it matter if I said 'Yes'?"

"Certainly not."

"Then, go right on ahead. This way, I have the illusion of free will."

As the fop sat down, Fallen smiled her first warm smile at me. "How utterly quaint. To deceive by misplaced abstraction."

I smiled back, not knowing what the devil she meant, but glad to have taken some of the pain away from her eyes. Odd. She wore Rachel's face, and I should have hated her. Yet, somehow, I felt she was as much, if not more, a victim as Rachel.

She turned to the fop. "Strasser, --"

"Prince Strasser."

"Strasser, I have traveled the American West many times. And Captain McCord is much like the weather-beaten sign I read at the 3 R Ranch : 'Welcome, stranger. If you're peaceable, I'll take care of you. If you are not, I'll take care of you, too.'"

Prince Strasser sneered, "Is that supposed to fill me with fear?"

Fallen's smile was that of a shark's. "Only if you were intelligent."

She rose graceful as a swan and turned to me. "I had not expected to leave this table feeling for you as I do. How utterly quaint."

She spun elegantly, her full gown filling out around her. I watched her leave with sadness. Somehow, I felt our next meeting wouldn't end so well. I sighed. Sometimes, life twisted back on you like a rattler.

Fallen stopped at the bottom of the grand staircase, and with her rippling brook voice, said, "Samuel McCord, I have noticed that victory can be secured even in the darkest moment with slow decisions, gentle wisdom, and restrained passion."

And with that, she climbed the velvet stairs with a melancholy air as Strasser snorted, "Advise from a Sidhe? As false as their gold coins."

His right eyebrow arched with contempt. "By the way, McCord, do you know what the learned men of today's world say marks humans from the rest of the animals?"

"Not that I recall."

He pulled his lips wide. "The ability to recognize themselves in the mirror. What do you see when you look in the mirror, Ranger?"

He obviously couldn't find any flies to pull wings from, so he was needling me. Let him. Better men than him had gone at it.

I smiled back, "A friend."

I nodded to him. "What do you see? Oh, that's right, judging from that uneven tie of yours, I reckon you can't see much of anything, can you?"

Srasser's eyes became slits. Right then, the nervous waiter, Timmons, walked up to the table, shakily carrying a silver tray with a full pitcher of iced orange juice and an empty wine glass. He hesitantly put them down beside me. Then, he hurried away. I didn't blame him. The company at the table was certainly lacking.

The light of the rising sun from the central well above us flickered hungry fires in Strasser's eyes as he said, "You are outnumbered. You would do well to keep a civil tongue in your head lest you lose it."

I nodded. "Sounds like good advice. Were I a man that took good advice I might even take it. But I never met a Ranger yet that took advice, good or otherwise."

I poured a small amount of the orange juice in the glass. Strasser's eyes followed my hand as I brought up the goblet to my lips. For once, I did it just right : letting the juice flow for the briefest of moments across my tongue before swallowing. I sighed. It tasted wonderful. Strasser was glaring at me.

"Everything you drink tastes like pus, doesn't it? Not exactly how the dime novels tell it, is it? But then, you know all too well that being undead is all sham. The ligaments shrivel; the cartilage wears paper thin. Each move is agony. Your withered organs begin to smell so that even your over-powering cologne won't cover it up."

"Mock the fire, and it will burn you, cowboy."

Timmons came up to the table again, looking even more uncomfortable. He held a tray with a wine goblet, filled with red liquid. My nose picked up the copper scent of blood. Timmons placed it down before Strasser.

The revenant licked his lips. "Ah, my Haima. A most wonderful blend."

Timmons said, "I-It looks like blood."

Strasser smiled wide. "Indeed, it is."

He took a deep sip and smiled wider, his sharp teeth red-smeared. Timmons looked in horror, first at the revenant, then at me. He started backing up.

"Do not leave just yet, little man. Do you not want your tip?"

Timmons stopped, and Strasser chuckled, "Here it is, churl. Do not ever let me find you alone in the hallways."

Timmons nearly ran backwards from our table, as Strasser laughing, drank deep again. "Ah, an acquired taste but addictive, nonetheless. The blood of a twelve year old virgin girl. Oh, McCord, you should have heard her mewings."

I just sat there, forcing all emotion from my face. Strasser chuckled. He looked over his shoulder at his companions from the table he had left. His sneering body said it all : 'See how I have frightened the savage?'

He turned back to me, putting down the blood goblet. He smoothed his hand across the soft linen of the tablecloth, his palm flat against it. He sneered his contempt of me. Moving as fast as I could, I stabbed his right hand with the knife I still held, right beside and below his thumb. The fabled, lost 355th acupuncture point. Strasser screamed shrill ...

just like a little twelve year old girl.

It was a long wail of a scream. I twisted the knife to make it last longer. I smiled like a wolf.

I nudged it just to the right a bit. His scream cut off suddenly. Intense agony will do that to a man, rob him of the breath necessary to raw out his throat with the wail he was dying to scream but couldn't. I looked without mercy at him.

"You know, it's amazing how many people live their whole lives without paying attention."

I nodded down to his writhing hand. "Take the number five, for instance. Five fingers. Five notes in the musical scale. Five tastes for food. Five basic elements. Ever thought about that?"

I wiggled the knife a bit, and Strasser made little girl mewing sounds. "No, of course not. How many centuries have you wasted just existing, not thinking beneath the surface?"

I gave him a Fallen smile. "I'll tell how many. Too many. You talk educated, but it's all an empty show. Your lungs don't draw in oxygen. Even if they did, your heart no longer pumps blood to bring oxygen to your brain. How, then, does your brain keep on working?"

I sighed, "Do you know what animates your body that science would say is dead? Hell, do you know what even animates a living human body? No. You just accepted the fact that you existed and that you could prey on those weaker than you."

I heard low roaring in my ears. "You've preyed on little girls for so long you felt vicious and strong by comparison. You just think you're bad, Strasser. Now, me? I ... am ... bad."

I nudged the knife to give him the worst pain yet. "I could kill you right here, right now. But ... that ... would ... be ... mercy."

I tore out the knife in a splatter of thick, black blood. "And you don't deserve mercy."

He staggered up from his chair, hugging his limp hand to his chest. He looked down in horror. His right hand refused to move, hanging oddly limp at the wrist.

I shook my head. "It won't work anymore, Strasser. But if you're a good little boy all trip, I'll set it right for you. If I'm still alive, that is."

He flicked horrified eyes back to his slowly grinning companions. "Yeah, that's right. You're a maimed wolf now. And you know what the pack does to a maimed wolf, don't you?"

I almost felt sorry for him. "I think you better take up the art of learning. And the first thing I'd learn were I you would be diplomacy. Or running."

I gestured to his goblet. "Now, take your blood and get back to your ... friends."

He snatched the goblet, splattering drops of blood on the white tablecloth. "I will have my revenge for this."

I hefted the knife and caught it by the blade. "You want me to nail the other hand?"

He almost fell as he staggered backwards. I took no pleasure in the cruel grins his companions gave his back as he made his way to them. I caught their eyes and motioned to them with the knife. They stopped smiling.

**********************Word of warning to the Volturi : enter Samuel's universe at your peril. He shows mercy but seldom. Ask the Aztec dead of Meilori's. And no one plays with DayStar's toys.
{Something I read on got my attention : You can check it out at hashtag #agentpay. It started off with a simple question posed by Uber Agent Colleen Lindsay. She asked, "How would publishing change if agenting moved from commission-based payment to billable hours?" What do you think about that, guys?}

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Where do we go from here?

As a species? As a culture? As storytellers?

Where does the answer lie? In words. The words that drive us or haunt us or both.

I just finished watching the disturbing horror DVD, PONTYPOOL :

Shut up or die Shock jock, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), has been kicked-off the airwaves and now works at a small-town morning show.

Another mundane day on the job quickly turns deadly when reports pile in of people developing strange speech patterns and evoking brutal acts of violence.

Before long, Mazzy discovers that the behavior is actually a deadly virus being spread through language. Does he stay on the air in hopes of being rescued, or is he providing the virus with its ultimate leap over the airwaves and into the world?

It got me to thinking ... as all good science fiction and fantasy does.

When the last raven has taken flight from the final corpses of humanity, will the word be to blame? Short answer? Yes.

The deadly words flashing over the computer screen in dark missile silos : commence launch sequence.

The whispered words of Moslem extremists urging their volunteer warriors to expose themselves to deadly viruses and then stroll through the world's airports.

The false assurances to the United States President that the budget to scan the stars for incoming asteroids is much too high to continue.

Most likely, the words will be something entirely different ... but altogether just as lethal.

As a science fantasy writer, my view is much more provincial :

Where will my genre go next? THE PASSAGE suggests it will go in the expected direction : after the dollar.

LORD OF THE RINGS, the three that was really only one, took us back to the mythic beginnings of literature. The ghost of blind Homer probably stood at Toilken's shoulder as he wrote.

It was the time of Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft. An era of legend and dark threat from beyond the ken of Man. The wave of those tales broke upon the cold, uncompromising atomic age.

Then, with the advent of Einstein, the hard science tale took over. Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein wrote tales where the scientific idea overshadowed the narrative.

Freud, Jung, and B. F. Skinner finally had their due. And other ideas of science took prominence : psychology and sociology. Philip Jose Farmer, Clifford D. Simak, and Ray Bradbury. Mankind was no longer sure of who was heroic anymore.

The fifties brought us THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Who could we trust?

The sixties brought us Philip K. Dick who suggested we couldn't even trust ourselves or what we viewed as "reality."

Dick's famous statement overshadows that period and its darkness even reaches up through our times : "Reality is that which refuses to go away when I no longer believe in it."

And now fantasy's mist enshrouds us : TWILIGHT, HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE RINGS, HARRY DRESDEN, ANITA BLAKE. Darkness has encircled us, murmuring it was always there in the shadows of our souls.

Which leads us back to my original question : where do we go from here?

Hollywood seems to think it is the time of the adventure story, gilded with fantastic trappings. Do we do a H.G. Wells and go to an unsure near-future as in INCEPTION?

I choose to do a synthesis, involving solid storytelling with an understanding of technology's affect upon Man with psychological probing of what it means to be human in an uncertain present.

Fantasy appears real when there are firm rules, where darkness dwells in the corner of every soul, and the heroic protagonist finds the greatest battle is within.

It is opposition which sculpts the best fiction : the heart pitted against the mind, the spirit struggling against the flesh, and fragile hope outmatched by overwhelming hate.

The best stories are the ones that are concerned least with what I've been talking about. Their main goal is to touch the heart and to haunt the soul. In essence, their authors just want to tell a good story.

What do you think fiction is heading? What do you want to do with your stories? And for whom do you write? All of us reading these words would like to know.

Words. Careful. They worm their way into your consciousness like an antibody ... or a virus.
Speaking of which :


Bizarro books.

I've read them. You've read them. Sure you have. You just didn't use that term.

Bizarro was the character from the Superman universe who was a mirror opposite of the Man of Steel, doing everything backwards.

Hence my photograph of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.

He wrote backwards in them. Some say it was because he was left-handed. Others say it was because he was dyslexic {which would help explain his difficulty in completing paintings and assignments.}

Still others say it was to keep his secrets : dissecting human corpses was considered proof of witchcraft and necromancy by the Catholic Church in those days. I guess it's not smiled on by them when done by private citizens these days either.

But back to Bizarro Books :

You know the path of good writing : you create tension, you increase the dangers crowding in on your heroes, and you narrow the focus like a lab tech with a microscope. Your narrative is a spear hurled with all your creative might. And remember :

A spear has no branches.

Stephen King and Zoe C. Courtman both endorsed Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE. That was enough for me. I downloaded it onto my Kindle.

While I was being forgotten by the Beaumont blood center at the wild gas station we couriers call "the Star Wars cantina" in Orange, Texas, I had an unexpected hour and a half to read 20% of it {between politely refusing four crack addicts the opportunity for affordable romance, that is.}

Mistakes happen. The couriers at Beaumont just plain forgot about me. But if that's the worst thing that happens to me all weekend, won't I be a lucky man?

But back to THE PASSAGE. One review said "I couldn't turn the pages fast enough." And he was right. I was skimming page after page while shouting in the van, "Get on with it, already, Justin!"

There was more backstory than story.

My mother was once a chaperone to one of my first junior high dances, and she came to me after two young ladies suggested I leave the dance with them and not my original date.

After the second one, she slipped silently beside me and smiled, "That one was very pretty, Roland. It must have been hard to say "no.""

I shook my head. "I'm going to stay with the one I brought, Mother."

"Those are wise words, son. And they apply to more than just a dance."

She started to ruffle my hair but stopped when I whispered, "Not in front of everyone!"

She laughed all the way back to her corner.

But "Stay with the one you brought" is good advise for writers, too. We get tempted to stray into sideroads of different characters. No. Stay with the narrative you started.

No detours, no matter how artistic they are. If they slow down the story, roadblock them in your mind.

Critics praise THE PASSAGE. But in the words of Bizarro : "I R not critic. I R audience. I pay 10 bucks. I get Arteest writing for self not reader."

Two-thirds of Justin's backstory could have been trimmed, making the story flow smoother, faster, and more enjoyable. {Trust me. If his book is made into a movie, it will be.} He wasn't building reader tension -- he was building reader frustration.

I love the poetry of words. When I skim through pages at a gallop, something is wrong. Those are just my opinions. But they were also my ten dollars. If he had been getting closer to the danger, to the supernatural mystery, I would have felt better.

No, I got the sense he actually hated the supernatural aspect of his story. Somehow he got forced into it, and he took every chance to veer away and write artistic literary fiction. I'm all for literary fiction. But don't promise me pizza and give me oat meal. I had my mouth set for pizza, darn it!

{I've just gotten through reading THE NEW YORK TIMES review of the book. In part it reads : "As Justin Cronin clearly knows, if you’re a writer seeking to slough off highbrow pretensions — to reject your early efforts at “quiet” fiction and write something with commercial appeal, something that will, if not conquer the critics, at least pay for your kid’s college education — you’d be wise to opt for a vampire novel.

Ballantine Books bought the trilogy for over $3 million, and the film rights to the novel sold before the book was completed. If there’s a class at Iowa on exploiting publishing crazes, Cronin surely aced it." }

I bought the thriller, CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, by the New York Times bestselling team of Preston and Child. I found the same bloated side trips into backstory that slowed down the narrative. I put it down to two authors losing track of their story and each other. There were whole chapters not necessary to the flow of the story. In fact, they made the book feel bloated. The premise, as in THE PASSAGE, was intriguing. It just got lost.

I bought another in the series, STILL LIFE WITH CROWS, at the same time. It is collecting cyber-dust in my Kindle. And we're talking an albino Sherlock Holmes who works within an X-Files type department within the FBI here. And I still won't touch it.

Ever hear someone tell a joke you already know? But they were telling it so badly, you caught yourself going, "Somebody just shoot. Me or him. I don't care. One of us has got to have relief."

Now, backstory can be done well. THE KEEP is an example. Nazis getting picked off one by one by a supernatural killer their greed let loose from its ancient prison.

The book did so well that the publishers snapped up F. Paul Wilson's second book. They re-named it THE TOMB. He pleaded with them : "There's no tomb in THE TOMB!"

In true Bizarro fashion, their actual response was : "Yes, but the readers loved your book, THE KEEP, so much, they'll snatch up this one with a similar title. By the time the readers figure out there's no tomb in it, the book will be bought and enjoyed enough for good word of mouth."

Which they got in Stephen King, who became the President of The Repairman Jack Fan Cub. {THE TOMB was the first in the Repairman Jack series of urban fantasies.} If you haven't tried one of those books, please get a copy of the tombless THE TOMB.

{Repairman Jack is a fixer of situations -- situations wherein someone has gotten a raw deal and wants to set things right. He has no social security number, no credit cards, pays no taxes, and makes every attempt to avoid the spotlight whenever possible.

The Wesphalen family is living under a curse; a death curse placed a century ago in retaliation for the murderous acts committed by a greedy ancestor.

Kusim Bhakti and his sister have come to New York City to carry out the curse and wipe out the rest of the Westphalen line. To assist with this task, Kusim has brought with him the Rakoshi, perversions of the human species brought about eons ago from the Otherness. You'll discover more about the Otherness in the books that follow.}

Such is the joy, you might say of selecting my own examples. True. So how about you? Have you ever picked up a book, caught up by the premise and a sampling of the prose, only to feel it bloated as if the author were being paid by the word?

Have you ever read a book someone raved about, only to feel it took forever to get to the point? And when it did, it was hardly worth the effort. The moral, being evil hurts people, is hardly earth-shattering.

Why do you read?

Is it for information, for research? I do that too. But why do you read fiction?

Isn't it to be caught up in a sense of wonder, of rooting for a character you care about?

The abandoning mother in THE PASSAGE was dealt with in such painful, long detail, I suspected Justin of enjoying inflicting abuse and abasement on a woman.

He truly only needed a third of that detail to supply the reader with her motivations. It got me hoping he wasn't married ... for the wife's sake.

Authors who spend fingernail-pulling amounts of time on the physical and emotional torture of their characters tend to make me think some of them might have issues with the parent of the characters' sex.

Have any of you felt like the author or the publishers teased you with a false promise, delievering another horse of another breed altogether? Which titles? What authors?

Feel free to tell me I'm full of apple sauce on this. It's just my take on the present world of publishing. I'm curious. And I bet our other friends out there reading this are curious on your take on this as well.


And just because this song was playing on my computer as I was writing this here is :

Friday, June 25, 2010


Several of you have asked to see a photo of my hospital on stilts.

Sadly, like my character, Samuel McCord, I am a man of high hopes and low tech ... meaning I have no digital camera. But I do have this photo of the stilts before the hospital was placed upon them from the groundbreaking ceremony attended by former President Bush and actor George Clooney.

Fitting in with my post's title, these steel "stilts" are twice as tall as I am. Perspective is everything. Look at all the politicians we've elected, only to discover how stunted their high ideals are after the fact.

But the distorting mirror I'm referring to is fiction. Fiction is not reflective of real life. Unlike real life, fiction has to make sense. So we as authors fudge the facts of life to draw the reader in with the illusion of reality. As Stephen King said : good fiction is the truth within the lie.

What kind of literature did you first read? I mean the genre that you chose to read and not your parents? The question is important. I'll tell you why in a moment.

As a young boy recently moved to Lafayette, Louisiana from Detroit, Michigan, I was isolated because of my strange accent, my lanky height, and lack of relatives. I was the stranger, the outcast.

I found refuge in mythology.

My mother's tales of Lakota myths and Irish legends spurred me to investigate the school library on my own. I discovered Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY : awe-inspiring tales of fearsome creatures, strong half-gods, and cunning heroes. Zeus wasn't my father, but I could sharpen my wits to become Ulysses, who confounded the very gods of Olympus. And the elegant, simple drawings by Steele Savage ensnared my imagination during boring classes.

I accepted these things as a child would -- uncritically. My only measure was if I enjoyed the story. Later as I grew a bit older -- able to reflect and reason, I found Sherlock Holmes and science fiction. And in those twin genres, I discovered the value of reason -- but then Ulysses had already taught me the treasure of a keen mind.

And how I discovered the joy of reading influenced my style of writing. As you no doubt have noticed, mythology plays an important part in my writing. The lyrical poetry of Homer and the other Greek playwrights molded my sense of the dramatic and of expression.

Yet, even as my soul demands magic and poetry, my mind is not satisfied unless I put reason behind the mad sorcery of my hero's adventures. In essence, I do not write pure fantasy or pure science fiction -- but a blend of the two, mixed in with the genre of the detective -- hence the frontier detective, Samuel McCord, part poet, part philosopher, and reluctant policeman.

But what of the distorting mirror?

Inside my, and your, brain is a compact world composed of all we have seen and experienced. From that well, we draw for inspiration and stories. Yet, that compact world is not THE world. We haven't experienced everything. And the conclusions we have drawn from our experiences are as flawed as our limited grasp of the truth, colored as it is by culture, custom, and character.

Our novels are merely distorted reflections of what we have experienced. Even we will admit that more is unknown to us than what is known. Which to me is quite all right : myths spring from the unknown and our trying to fill in the blanks.

History has proven to us that what was considered science last century was merely flawed, failed conjecture. Which to me is just fine : science fiction springs from those awesome two words : what if?

So my fiction is a blend of myth and science, history and conjecture, ending into those wonderful words : what if the impossible was possible? What then?

In the calculated lies of my fiction, I leave certain questions unanswered, certain areas shadowed for the reader to fill in.

Remember the scariest movie monster you ever flinched in fright from? You never got a clear glimpse : just flashes of scales, slit eyes, and red, sharp teeth. That was enough. Your imagination filled in the rest with enough to give you shudders for sleepless nights afterward.

Besides, I do not know everything, and the artist in me craves to be honest. The mythic beginning of things is always shrouded in mist and mystery. Yet, this I do know :

In life there is dark as well as light -- and sometimes the dark wins. I try to portray the full picture of what I know in my fiction. The fanciful scientist is often the one who makes the greatest discovery.

I guess you could call my genre : science fantasy. Cold, hard facts can often lead us into the shadows where the dark unknown is waiting for us to reveal our minds' limitations and our fragile grasp on sanity and life.

So now, I re-ask you : what kind of literature did you first start to read of your own free will? Look at what you are writing now. Look at how you write it. Can you see the seeds of your style, your genre, in your first chosen books?

Let me know what you first started to read. Tell me if my theory is reflected in the genres in which you write and the manner in which you write them. Let's share secrets over the cyber-campfire, shall we? Bring your own cyber-marshmellows.
Here is Tarja singing "I Walk Alone" that has special significance to Samuel McCord's fate at the end of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. The video is done in the style of a Brothers Grimm's tale :

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Ever see a hospital on stilts?

You could have yesterday ...

if you had driven with me down what I call "the Last Exit to Eden" :

The Creole Nature Trail.

I don't often drive to the small rural hospital at the end of its winding roads. When I do, I take the opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of this last taste of wilderness that civilization affords us.

We've talked about symbolism yesterday. The first stop of my journey was laden with symbolism : the gas station situated at a lonely crossroads, appropriately named "4 Corners."

My half-Lakota mother told me often of the spiritual power in the crossroads spinning off to the four directions, of the personal impact of our individual decisions, and of the crossroads of my birth.

I was born in a hospital built at the hub of a crossroads. As a young child, I listened intently to the story Mother repeatedly told me : that for each child born at the crossroads, an angel and a demon came for possession of the child's soul.

"Mine, too, Mama?"

"Yes, little one. Yours, too."

I remember swallowing hard. "What happened?"

"They fought, fought hard. At first they used fiery swords."


"But each was as fast as the other. Then, they wrestled. But both kept slipping out of each other's holds. Finally, they began to arm wrestle, pitting the strength of their spirits one against the other."

This time I couldn't swallow. "Who won, Mama?"



"They are fighting inside you still."

"Right now?"

"Yes, right now. But soon one will win."


"The one you choose, little one."

"I choose the angel!"

"Not with words, Roland. With actions. With each dark action, the demon grows stronger, the angel weaker. With each hard choice of doing what is right, the angel grows stronger, the demon angrier."

She ruffled the hair on my head lightly. "Choose wisely, son. Choose wisely."

Sometimes in that dark night of the soul we all must face at times, I can feel them struggling still. And then, it is oh, so hard to choose wisely. But I try. I try.

But we began this post by talking about a hospital on stilts. They are more huge concrete pylons than stilts ... yet, that little boy from long ago is still alive inside me.

Hurricane Rita scoured all evidence of Man from Cameron Parish with its gouging fingers of wind, hurled debris, and tidal waves of surging water. So all the structures are now built on stilts of wood or concrete. It is so odd to pass a mobile home, towering some 20 feet in the air ... so tall it takes three tiers of stairs to reach its front door.

Not that there are many structures to be found further along these lonely roads. And down the misty stretch of concrete, there is a long, winding "S" of a curve under towering Cypress tree sentinels that I love to drive. It is beautiful beyond my meager power to describe.

After pulling out on the straightway, I looked for my old friends who seem to know when I am coming : a small herd of wild horses. And I was not disappointed. There they were, alert heads up, tails swishing in expectation.

They happily took up our old game : racing alongside my van ... which I slowed to stretch out our fun. I had a new friend for the second time in my wanderings here : a lone egret sailing gracefully above us as if curious at this odd ritual between part-Lakota and horses.

It actually swooped down in front of my van and around it in an elegant dance of grace and beauty. And as I always do, I rolled down my windows to drink in the sounds of the pounding hooves, the gusting winds, and the haunting cry of distant hunting hawks. But as with all moments of breath-stealing beauty, it was over, the horses pulling off to other games, other interests. I waved a bitter-sweet goodbye to them and drove onto the strangest bridge I have ever driven over.

It sweeps high up, twirls like an "S", then slowly descends to a road with water and isolated islands of vegetation as far as you can see. At its apex, the clouds were dark and brooding as if Estanatlehi, The Turquoise Woman of Lakota myth, was showing me her anger at Man's ugly, oily destruction of her Gulf waters.

As I reached the top, I slowed, taking in the scalp-tingling view of what the world must have appeared before Man, and I seemed to hear The Turquoise Woman murmur in my ear : "Be careful, Little Lakota. Veer not to the left nor to the right. For eight lonely miles there is no shoulder to this tiny road. Break down here, and I will show you all the mercy BP is showing me."

The second largest population of alligators in the U.S. reside here, so it was not unexpected to see one rise up from the waters beside the small road at the foot of the bridge. Our eyes met. Two species regarded each other in a moment brief yet enlongated as strange encounters sometimes are.

Its yellow-flecked slit eyes were cold windows into reptilian memories of times when Man was yet to be and scaled monsters walked the earth as savage kings. But I sped by, and the spell was shattered. The alligator slipped silently beneath the dark waters, searching for easier prey.

I finally made it to the sprawling "hospital on stilts" as the little boy inside me insists on calling it. It was eerie and quiet. I remembered the last time I'd been there.

A mother and her little girl had walked out of the hospital. I waved at the little girl and winked. Catching me by surprise, the girl giggled and ran staight to me, wrapping her tiny arms around my waist in a happy hug. The mother came up to me, shaking her head in wonder.

"It must be that you have such kind eyes," she said.

I smiled at the memory and walked into my hospital on stilts.
And here is the song I listened to over and over again on my blood run along the last exit to Eden :

And in keeping with showing movie trailers for movies that I think might be fun :

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


How many masks does your novel wear?

Each person we meet wears a mask. Beneath that mask lies several faces ... all true in different seasons. But those seasons are known only to the heart of the one wearing the mask. We have to guess.

Life is a masquerade. The dance steps are complex. And sometimes our feet get stepped on. Why should they not? Each person dances to the music they alone hear.

Sparked by K.M. Weiland's excellent post[ }, I was looking at the masks in my historical fantasy, RITES OF PASSAGE.

Of course, my use of "mask" is a facade itself. I use it in one sense to mean symbolism. Do you use symbolism in your novel? Do you use the interweaving of names, objects, and experiences to stand in for universal truths in your story?

You don't have to. I do it for me. I do it for those who would re-read my novels and discover something new with each new visit.

The names in my novel mean something : Samuel from the Hebrew 'Shemu'el' : heard of God. Those in crisis and pain cry out to God in my novel, and in stalks Samuel.

Is he the answer to their prayers? I do not say. By the time of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, Samuel has become agnostic. The irony is that he, no longer having the heart to believe in God, is still the answer to the prayers of those in pain.

Meilori means 'beautiful laurel.' The irony there is that the eternal woman feels neither beautiful nor a winner {laurels were used in Ancient Rome to fashion victors' garlands.}

Google 'DayStar and Isaiah' to find the possible scope of Samuel's enemy. Another irony when you realize Samuel's eventual disillusionment with the being he calls the Great Mystery. The irony increases with FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, when Samuel's very lifestyle becomes Renfield's, the vampire-priest, main reason for clinging to the faith his best friend no longer has.

The transatlantic steamer Samuel finds himself on is the DEMETER, the name of the Greek Corn Goddess who in myth contends with Hades. Samuel befriends a little psychic girl on the voyage whom he likens to a small Corn Goddess. And she is instrumental in fighting DayStar.

The ship's voyage in itself is a symbol for the journey all of us take on the unpredictable seas of fate. Many of the doors aboard that ship take people to places far different than they expected ... just like the doors in our own lives.

Phrases are repeated throughout the novel. I will only state one example . Twice, once in the middle and again at the ending, DayStar gestures to Samuel when he means to sacrifice him and sneers Pilate's words, "Behold the Man."

{Go to my Bad Boy blogfest post to read the first incident.}


They, too, are used as symbols in my historical fantasy : the young girl, Rachel, is murdered and her face removed to be used as a mask by the killer. Masks are worn by the passengers to hide their true motives for being on board. Some remove them. Some change masks. Others see through those of others. Still others realize that the face they thought was their own was, in fact, a mask worn to protect and conceal their fragile illusions.

At the end of the novel, Samuel has been run through with a broadsword. He is on his hands and knees, alone and dying. Elu's face appears to him in the spreading pool of his own blood. And the Apache shaman speaks to him.

{Elu’s words were cruel whips. “Where is the Dyami I remember? Or was he but a mask you wore when the battle was easy? Are you going to die like some beat dog on your knees? Or are you going to stand on your own two feet like the warrior Meilori believes you to be?”

His voice thickened. “What is it to be, Dyami? A beat dog or a warrior who bares his teeth at the approaching darkness and pulls his enemies down with him into that last night?”

I managed a crooked smile and croaked out, “Woof.”

Elu stiffened, then smiled so sad it was a pain to see as I used the butt of my rifle and lurched to my feet. Still I would have fallen if I hadn’t had the Pope’s broadsword to use as my second crutch. I swayed and almost fell. Somehow I stayed on my feet.

Taking in a ragged breath, I took one weak step. Then another.

My heart became stone as I heard Elu again. But he wasn’t speaking. He was singing. Singing my deathsong. I nodded to the growing shadows.

“Reckon so,” I said to the darkness.}

Those aren't all the symbols I used, of course. I don't want to bore you. I just wanted to ask :

Do you use symbols in your novel?

Are you aware of the underlying themes of your novel?

Those themes, those symbols are the rudders that direct the flow of your novel's story. If you are unaware of them, you are not in control of your narrative. And that's how novels run aground. Don't let yours be one of those that do.

Symbolism, themes, ironies -- they all work best when not noticed. Our major task as a writer is to tell a rousing, entertaining tale. Our main goal is to keep our reader on the edge of her/his seat, so caught up in the tension and striving that they find themselves lost in the narrative. And when they look up at the clock, they are amazed at how much time has flown by.

The symbolism, themes, and ironies mixed in artistically will add depth to their enjoyment of their reading without their ever really noticing them. They are the spices of the meal ... not the meat of it. The teacher in me adds them for my own pleasure. The artist in me strives to introduce them subtly and gently. I just wanted to ask you if you added symbolism, themes, and ironies to your novel as well.

Odd to say, zombie movies can be symbolic of modern man's fears of civilization and progress reducing him to a puppet of the system, dead to the real meaning of life. However, I don't think this movie uses that kind of symbolism :


Billy and Bobby, two children, were sitting outside a clinic. Billy happened to be crying very loudly.

"Why are you crying?" Bobby asked.

"I came here for a blood test," sobbed Billy.

"So? Are you afraid?"

"No. For the blood test, they cut my finger.

As Bobby heard this, he immediately began crying profusely.

Astonished, Billy stopped his tears and asked Bobby, "Why are you crying now?"

To which Bobby replied, "I came for a urine test!"

Besides being a terrible joke, what does that have to do with writing?


How you feel about your particular situation in the writing game is mainly perspective.

If you're a best-selling author like Stephen King, you have to knock it out of the ball park every time or critics start to murmur that you've lost it.

If you're a steadily employed author with not one best-seller, your publisher is beginning to think you will never be worth the effort he has put into you.

If you've just had your first novel published, you know unless it pulls in huge sales, the sentence from the publisher in these harsh economic times will be : one and you're done.

If you've just been taken on by an agent, you hourly log onto your inbox that never seems to have an email, saying your book has been picked up by a publisher.

If you're in the midst of sending off query after query, you seem to be knocking on the door of an exclusive club -- and you're wearing leper robes.

Lesson : Enjoy the journey.

You're alive. You're pursuing your dream. It may come true. It may not.

Grow in your craft. Appreciate the blog friends you make along the way. Hum to yourself as you write. Make your characters laugh as they face their destiny.

Have fun. Life is too short. It is fragile. Appreciate the beauty you find along the roadside of this journey of becoming published.

You won't be the same person tomorrow that you are today. The window of opportunity to grasp a cyber-shoulder of a fellow struggler may be closed tomorrow.

Take a moment to draw in a deep breath. Scan your cyber surroundings.

It is the dawn of your soul each time you lay down your worries to see what has been right in front of your eyes all the time.
Post Script :
Chuck Sambuchino, GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, has requested interested blogs to contact him at : if they would wish to review or talk about his new book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack (Sept. 2010).

Today's cartoon is again from the comic genius of Chuck Ingwersen :

And in keeping with yesterday's movie trailer, here is one for a movie that just might be fun :

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


One sentence answer :

Make the sale for her.

Before you get your hackles up, bear with me for a second.

I didn't say it was fair. It's just how to get an agent fast. You make the sale yourself.

Then why do you need agents in the first place?

Cliff Notes answer : Most publishers won't look at you without one. Agents will fight for you to get more money for a long list of rights you know nothing about, and when your editor moves on, your agent will make sure you're not shoved to the bottom of the stack (which you will be if you don't have an agent.)

All right. How do you make the sale for them?

1) Make your own market :
Conventional wisdom says start your own blog. Be unconventional. Make the "Pet Rock" of blogs. How?

You do daily posts. Don't groan. You need to build a following. Daily posts will do that for you.

You make short posts for shorter attention spans.

You make each one funny. Be the Christopher Moore of blogdom. How?

Nothing is shorter than a one panel cartoon. Create a zombie Ziggy (creation by Tom Wilson.) Call him "Nearly Dead Ned." Place him in a post-apocalyptic New York City.

First cartoon :
Ned is happily eating his own forefinger. The caption reads : "The trouble with finger sandwiches is that none are as good as homemade."

Second cartoon :
Ned is looking odd at a cobwebbed skeleton by a doorway. The skeleton is wearing sunglasses and a badge " Help the Blind." The skeleton is pressing a door buzzer under a sign which reads : "School for the Deaf."

Third cartoon :
Ned is lumbering down a street in the red light district. He has passed two bars. One advertises : "Live Nudes." The second : "Undead Nudes."
Ned is stopped in front of the third with his now classic puzzled look. Its window reads : "Don't Ask."

You do a year's worth of cartoons. Pick the ones with the largest number of favorable comments. Bind them up and submit to agents with the comments to each attached, along with the daily stats for your blog.

{Now, obviously this is just an example of an unconventional "Pet Rock" blog. You have to use your own muse to take off and run with the concept.}

2) Fan the flames of off-line and on-line interest :
Get multiple college newspaper reviews of your novel. Guest-blog on others' more popular blogs. {As Anne Gallagher has done in her insightful article on the popular GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS : }

Get a local reporter to do a review of your novel for your local newspaper. Hopscotch that into another review from the newspaper of a near-by town.

3) Make a book trailer of your novel.
Using the students from a local university, create a book trailer. Utilize public domain music and images. Splice the images with teases from your novel. Put the book trailer on your blog and on YouTube. Advertise your book trailer on the blogs of your friends, in the local newspaper, and in the local college newspaper (hawking the fact that you used students from said college.)

4) Petition your local newspaper and those free newspapers at the doors to every grocery store to do free reviews for upcoming books and movies. Keep a record of each and every article you do for different newpapers with names and dates.

5) Be sure you state all of the above quickly and tersely at the end of every query to every agent.

And there you have the five easy steps to get an agent fast. They might even work. May we all get agents faster than we believe possible.
{Cartoon by the comic genius, Chuck Ingwersen }
And a movie that succeeded due to its unconventional take on a classic subject is :

Monday, June 21, 2010



It's right down the block from Meilori's. It's where Samuel McCord goes to have lunch and to chat with the famous, the infamous, and the stray hungry orphan.

The word on the French Quarter streets is that if you're so hungry you don't mind risking your life and sanity, go to Mesmer's.

According to my friends, I don't have that much sanity to lose, and anyway, I was invited by Sam himself. And he owned the place, though he joked that the cat, Mesmer, was the actual owner.

The place was just like I imagined Hicock's bar in Deadwood might have looked. The very modern and willowy Amanda Carr was singing "Easy Street" to the jazz music of Kenny Hadley's band.

I sat across from Sam, all in black : from his wide Stetson, jacket, silk shirt, jeans, and boots. His large Spanish spurs were silver ... as was his Texas Ranger star. He smiled like a lazy wolf at me.

"So this Genie gal said you didn't ask any questions in your interview with me, did she?"

"Yes. You have to admit it was cut off kinda short."

A sleek tabby the size of a small dog jumped up in the empty seat next to him, causing the screech of wooden legs against wood floor. She leaned forward, looking nothing so much as if she were whispering to him. He smiled wider.

"Mesmer said it saved your sorry hide."

"She talks to you?"

"Yes. Won't talk to anyone else but me. And to her mother, Bast, of course."

"Bast is her m-mother?"

Mesmer whispered to Sam again. He chuckled. "She says you repeat the obvious a lot. But that her daughter, Gypsy, warned her about that."

"She's my cat's mother?"

Mesmer looked disgusted at me, then there was the sound of breaking dishes in the back. She stiffened. She leapt down with the grace of a stalking panther.

Sam shook his head sadly. "I warned the kitchen staff Mesmer hates butterfingers. They thought I was joking."

A few seconds later there were screams, sobs, and slamming back doors. He turned to me. "That sound like a joke to you, partner?"

"Sounds like I better have the price of this ice tea and not have to wash dishes back there."

"The tea's on me, Roland. The ice comes from the melted snow of Eden."

"The Eden?"

"You going to keep on repeating what I say, or ask me a straight-out interview question?"

"Ah, all right, why did you pick New Orleans as your adopted home, Sam?"

"It picked me, son. Back in 1848, Baroness Pontalba built me the place that came to be known as Meilori's. And before you ask -- she built it for me in gratitude for saving her life in Paris."

I opened my mouth, and he held up his right gloved hand. "Long story. Sad one. And she isn't here to give her side of it."

He rubbed his face wearily with that hand. "I didn't ask her. But ... but it meant a lot to me. First home I had since I was fifteen."

To change from what looked like a painful subject, I asked, "What do you think of modern New Orleans? It's grown so much since 1848."

"I don't see much of it, son. When I could still ride a horse down its streets, I ranged far and wide. Now ...."

His eyes looked past me down distant, painful horizons. "Now, I stay in the French Quarter. When I get to itching to see the high, lonely mountains ...."

"You risk your life foolishly by entering Elu's unstable mirrors."

I jerked at the touch of the words in the dark air. They were like icicles given life ... as if the cold moon had been given vocal chords. I looked up. Damn.

I had written of her. I had known sooner or later I would meet her. I had just hoped for later ... much, much later.

Eyes of living winter looked down on me. "So do all mortals, Roland."

I started to rise. A slender hand that felt as if it had been kept in the deep-freeze touched my shoulder lightly. Long hair of winter frost trembled as her head was shaken in a gesture of "no."

"None rise for Death. All fall at her touch."

Sam, in a voice of distant thunder, said, "But not today, Rind. I invited him here."

Her smile flashed like a knife from out of the shadows. "Yes, you did. I am merely here to answer questions ... just like you, Samuel."

She sat. The corners of her full lips rose. Strange shadows masked the rest of her long face. Why haven't I described her clothes?

They kept changing. Like clouds moving over the face of a brooding moon, they continually shifted. Must have been something to do with how she was Allwheres, Everywhere at each moment. Something like that would have given me a headache.

Glittering eyes of ice stabbed into mine. "It does much worse to me than the bestowing of a headache, Little Lakota."

If Sam's customers noticed the constant change in dress, they didn’t show it. Over the years, his restaurant had become notorious for being the in-place for lovers of the occult and haters of humanity.

Made for an interesting mix. Sometimes it took all the skill he had gained from a long life as a Texas Ranger to keep things civil. Sometimes even he failed. A shudder took me, and I looked into the mirror on the wall to my left.

I didn't see my face. No, only the mahogany bear face of Sam's blood-brother, Elu, stared back at me. A chill settled deep within me.

He was wearing war paint. War paint. What was going on? Something was in the wind. And it wasn’t the coming of Summer. And with that thought, Elu disappeared. I frowned. Message delievered, Elu. Whatever the heck it was.

Rind was currently wearing a black leather Roman centurion sort of outfit. Its short kilt of leather slats showed off her long legs to advantage. The smile died from the icy face regarding me.

“End of the journey, dawn of the night,” murmured Rind.

Like most things Rind said, her words would only make sense when my world lay in ruins. Her voice was like icicles dancing across a frozen lake, and her eyes were the glowing fire of winter sunset clouds.

Blackness swirled around her like a living thing. She was of the night and of eternity. In all Sam's time with her he had never caught a complete glimpse of her long face, for to look full upon Rind was to die.

She was like The Thunderbird in that respect. But her power dwarfed even that being's frightening abilities. Good thing she was Sam's friend. Of course, she was a friend that one day would literally be the death of him. But still a friend.

Hopefully, she was my friend, too.

She was no longer dressed in a short-skirted centurion outfit of black leather. Now, she was wrapped in a form fitting toga whose dark fabric seemed to hold whole solar systems glittering within it. As Renfield always said, Rind had flair to spare.

In words of December frost, Rind murmured, "Of everything, a little stays. The line of your mother's chin stayed in your own. The dry silence of your father's desertion stayed in your heart."

Sam said low, "Rind, play nice."

She feather-stroked my cheeks so lightly the frostbite would heal in only weeks. "I will answer whatever question you ask -- except for the one all mortals fear to ask me."

Sam clucked his tongue at Rind, wet his fingers in my tea, and touched my cheek. It tingled odd. And I knew two things : my cheek was healed; and the ice in my tea was truly from the melted snow of Eden.

He turned to her. “Late at night when I drift away, I can hear you calling. And it is always the voice of a friend.”

She sharply turned her head away. “Even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart. And in our own despair, against our will, comes bitter wisdom.”

Dressed suddenly in a short-skirted version of a Nazi S.S. uniform, Rind sighed, “Our race is so used to disguising ourselves from others that we end up disguising ourselves from ourselves.”

Sam shook his head. “You think I call you friend ‘cause I don’t know you. Maybe I don’t. Then again, maybe I know you better than you think.”

The blackness wrapped tighter around her. But I still saw her outfit had changed to the blood-stained, skull-adorned armor of Kali. She turned to me sharply.

"I am called elsewhere. Ask your question of me. Now."

What would you ask Death? Think of all she has seen, of all with whom she spoke, of all the mysteries she's seen revealed. Two words blundered from my lips.

"Why Sam?"

She stiffened, her nails growing long and sharp. Her eyes deepened in her face. The shadows started to part from that face. Then, they slowly masked her features again.

"The heart knows no reasons. It only feels. And you asked, not for yourself, but out of your friendship for Samuel. That is why you live."

The living shadows wrapped around her like a cloak. "Today."

And she was gone. Sam sighed like an open wound. "Son, you're gonna give me gray hairs you keep on with these questions."

"Your hair's already moon-white."

"See what you've done?"

We both laughed. But it was strained laughter. The empty chair beside Sam didn't seem to be laughing either. And it didn't feel empty at all.