So you can read my books

Monday, January 31, 2011

PAY IT FORWARD entry for Shelli Johannes's contest

Shelli Johannes at Market My Words is holding an AMAZING contest.

Shelli is agented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group and is offering a personal recommendation to her agent to the winner.

Hop over to her blog.

Become a follower of both her blog and twitter and then enter your maximum four sentence pitch on a completed M/G or Y/A novel.

Follow the rules of the contest and you're in.

1. Post a "Pay it Forward" post on your blog or FB notes if you don't have a blog. You must pay tribute to a person who has helped you in your writing or your personal life. (This can be any day this week during the contest).

2. Put your entry in the COMMENTS (Shout Out link at bottom of her post). In your entry, you MUST provide the following information:

first, last name
email address

genre (only for MG or YA)

pitch (no more than 4 sentences)
the link to your "Pay it forward" post (either on FB or blog)

your twitter id (if you have one)
Dates Jan. 31st through February 4th, 2011.


YA urban fantasy


Thirteen year old Victor Standish is repeatedly abandoned and picked up by his unpredictable mother. A mysterious French Quarter Jazz club owner takes him in. Victor learns the Jazz club is actually the Crossroads of Worlds, and the owner has the blood of Death in his veins. They both find love and adventure as Hurricane Katrina approaches.


There are so many people who were and are beacons in my life. But one stands out like a lighthouse on a desolate, storm-tossed shore ... my best friend, Sandra Thrasher.

We all find ourselves in the dreaded Valley of the Shadow at some point in our lives.

I lived there for a short time. It only felt like an eternity.

My mother was dying in the hospital. My book store was dying, too. I had walking pneumonia. Three times someone poured sugar in my gas tank in the Mall parking lot.

Three cars gone. I was reduced to walking to my home, the hospital, and to my Mall store on foot in the worst December in Louisiana memory.

My mother died one lonely night as I sat coughing by her bedside.

I had no money to bury her. No insurance company would cover Mother in her last years with her bad heart.

Poetically, an ice storm shut down the entire city the next day. I sat in a frozen world in my dark, powerless home, shivering and coughing and crying.

I felt as alone as if I were prisoner in a frozen Hell.

There was a knock on my door. Sandra Thrasher. My best friend and fellow Mall store owner was on the porch. Think Bette Midler with pepper and salt hair. She walked in, hugged me, and whispered,

"You're not alone."

From that moment on, I wasn't.

Hurting financially herself, she still used her last untouched credit card to take care of my mother's arrangements. She dragged me to the doctor and got the medicine I could not afford. She gave me a used car.

And though it took long months, she taught me to laugh again.

She led me through the Valley of the Shadow. I shall forever be in the debt of Sandra Thrasher, my best friend, who showed me what wonders one caring heart can accomplish in the life of another person.

She was the wind beneath my bruised wings :


"All you have to do is write one true sentence.
Write the truest sentence you know."
- Ernest Hemingway

But how to do that?

Hemingway always worked until he had something done, and he always stopped when he knew what was going to happen next. That way he could be sure of going on the next day.

But how to write that true sentence?

A "true" sentence, according to Frank Barone:
shows instead of tells
uses sense words
uses active verbs
does not use the following forms of the verb "to be": is; are; was; were; has, have, had been.

But, of course, there is more :

"How little we know of what there is to know. I wish that I were going to live a long time instead of going to die today because I have learned much about life in these four days; more, I think than in all other time.

I'd like to be an old man to really know. I wonder if you keep on learning or if there is only a certain amount each man can understand. I thought I knew so many things that I know nothing of. I wish there was more time."
— Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls)

More time.

But that is just it. None of us know how much time we have. How best to use what little we have.

What do we know? Is it true? How do we know for sure?

Evocative prose is no one's mother tongue. It has to be won through the trials of life and pen. And that takes the most precious of commodities : time.

Steve Job, who birthed APPLE, said this :

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.

Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Live your dream with everything you have. Submit that novel without fear. If it is rejected, you are no worse off than before. You have grown through the experience.

Friends write me worried that agents or editors will steal their ideas. A great writer does not have to worry, for he writes in a manner that no one can imitate. Take the plot, yes. But not the manner in which it unfolds.

Because his sentences are true sentences. They reflect his truth, his hopes, his dreams, his fears. And so the story is HIS in a way no other could write it.

If you had to write the truest sentence you know, what would it be?

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Victor Standish ...

gypsy, scamp, tormentor of bullies, natural or supernatural ...

discovers the true identity of his mother at the start of his second novel, VICTOR'S NOT JUST MY NAME.

Denise (L'Aussie) wondered at the true glimpse of Victor's mother in yesterday's post, so I thought I would draw back the curtains a bit more.

Victor and Alice have just left the bedside of their gravely wounded guardian, Samuel McCord. They have been told the Angel of Death has come for Victor. In order to save the lives of those he loves, Victor goes to meet the Angel of Death alone ...


There she stood, tall and defiant, and showing more leg in her Valkyrie outfit than was comfortable for a guy to see of his own mother. At that thought of mine, her silver eyebrow rose sharply. Jeez, my suspicions all my life were true. She could read my thoughts.

“You’re the Angel of Death?,” I gasped.

She rapped on the top of my head as if it were a door. “You didn’t read my letter?”

Her body shimmered as she became that cat-eyed old woman from my bus ride to New Orleans. She kept her Valkyrie outfit. Seeing her leg all long and scrawny was worse than seeing it all shapely.

“Hey, Mother, I read one word : Hell. That kinda took away the urge to read the rest you know. Besides you could only read that letter under moonlight.”

She rolled those cat-eyes. “To make it harder for others to read words not meant for them!”

As she returned to the face and age I always thought her, I tapped my shirt pocket. “Oh, that was the reason? Well, I kept it next to my heart.”

Mother snatched it from my pocket and slowly, deliberately tore it to shreds. “What secrets you could have learned are now gone, Victor. Remember this lesson.”

Suddenly Alice was by my side. “What lesson, coward? That Death knows no manners?”

Mother smiled that smile that always scared the hell out of me. “All living already know that lesson, Alice Wentworth.”

I stepped slightly in between Mother and her. “A-Alice, meet the Angel of Death … my mother.”

Mother cocked her eyebrow again as I moved in between her and Alice. She slowly smiled another smile. That was the one that always really scared me down to my toes … and that had been before I had known she was the Angel of Death.

Alice hushed, “Y-Your mother?”

Her neon-blue eyes went wide. “Oh, now it makes perfect sense!”

“What does?,” I frowned.

“Why she left you on the meanest, deadliest streets all these years.”

“To you maybe,” I muttered.

Alice tweaked my nose as Mother watched strangely somber and said, “Death exists all times, all wheres, simultaneously.”

“Could you say that last word again, Alice. It sounds so sexy with your British accent.”

She leaned in close and whispered, “Not in front of your mother!”

Mother gave me that “Your World Is About To End” smile of hers. “So, Victor, you approve of my choice of mates for you?”

Alice and I both sputtered, “W-What?”

Mother waved absently. “Oh, I am sure you have a much more romantic name for it. But ‘Mate for my son’ was what I thought when I made you, Alice Wentworth.”

“M-My mother made me what I am.”

“Hardly. Through her atrocious mishandling of Vodou, she tried to make a nzambi of you.”


Mother sighed, “Zombie is the incorrect term mistakenly thrown about these days.”

“I am a zombie?,” whimpered Alice.

Mother knocked on the top of Alice’s head as if it were a door. “I am sure there is a brain under all that hair. Think. Listen. I said your mother botched the job of making a nzambi of you.”

“I-I’m botched?”

Mother clenched her teeth, her now silver eyes looking as she had another B word for Alice in mind right then. I decided I had to move fast.

“So that’s when you stepped in. Right, Mother?”

She gave me that dead stare that let me know she knew what I was doing, but merely said, “Yes. Alice, I found what your mother was attempting to do … offensive.”

Her eyes went back to winter blue-gray. “Yes, there I was with you, Victor, in my arms. Just a mewing baby.”

I frowned and remembered what Alice had said about Death being everywhere at once. “You took me with you from death to death all through time, didn’t you?”

She nodded slowly. “Until you grew too old to find it anything but maddening.”

Her eyes filmed over with gold. “So there I was seeing a blind woman, throwing away what I would have given anything to keep. And I said to myself, ‘This will not be. It has gone too far to stop, but I can shape this girl for my boy so he will not be alone as I am alone.”

I took Mother’s hand gently in my right one. “Yes, it does make sense now. On the most dangerous streets, you would be with me every day.”

Mother patted my fingers once, then gently removed them. “Never by my side … but always in my heart … and in my sight.”

I rushed to her and hugged her hard. She patted between my shoulder blades once, then gently, oh, so gently pushed me away. “It is unwise to physically touch the Angel of Death, Victor.”

I smiled soft when I realized she hadn’t asked me not to do it again.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I thought I'd post an entry to the 99TH PAGE BLOGFEST, too : {Thanks, Holly}

It is from FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE when Samuel McCord is walking through the Katrina devastated landscape of Tulane with his best friend, the vampire priest, Renfield :

With the soft voice of twilight, ghost music sang in my memory. It was accompanied by the chorus of the whispers of the wind from the listening sky. I closed my eyes. New Orleans was timeless, especially to me with the blood of Death in my veins. My transformed eyes only told me the truth, and the truth was not what I wanted to see. So I closed my eyes, and for a moment the truth was what I wanted it to be.

Meilori was back in my arms, supple and vibrant, the peach velvet of her cheek nestled against mine. She pulled back to murmur "Beloved."

Slanted eyes looked up into mine, seeming like jade quarter moons waiting to rise. Her smile was a promise of wicked delights to come in the evening hours before us. And my heart quickened.

Her hand lightly squeezed my gloved one. Her head bent forward, and soft lips tickled my ear. And we were dancing, dancing as if our bodies were the wind given life. It had taken me a hundred years, mind you, but I had learned to be a damn fine dancer. The firm body in my arms had been ample incentive.

Some moments lose their way and grope their way blindly back from the past into the present.

Such a moment swept me up now. Meilori and I were dancing across this very grass. I had paid a prince's ransom to pry King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band out of Tulane's old gymnasium to play out here under the stars. In my mind, I could hear young Louis Armstrong on cornet, see the pleased faces of the other dancers stepping lightly all around us, and hear Meilori's low laughter.

Renfield rasped beside me, "Sam, are you doing this?"


I opened my eyes and went very still. The speechless shades of a long-gone night whirled and wheeled all around us. That long-ago evening was replaying itself before our eyes.

Renfield and Magda were laughing as they danced beside Meilori and me.

Renfield sighed, "I'd forgotten how your face looked happy."

I looked at my ghostly double, envying him the sheer delight in his eyes. "I'd forgotten how it felt."

The sound of my words settled an old score with truth, and the evening shades slowly faded from sight. I shivered. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Renfield look wistfully at the disappearing Magda in his own double's arms. I sighed. Some truths were best seen only by starlight.

Here is my entry for Dominic's NO FEAR BLOGFEST :

{This is from the 3rd novel in the Victor Standish series, SOMETIMES THERE'S NO VICTOR. It is a re-working of an earlier post here that I liked so much that I enlarged and added depth to it as a part of my new novel.

Those of you who liked my Zombie Playground entry for Misty Waters might be interested to know that I have used a re-working of it as the prelude to my 2nd Victor novel, VICTOR'S NOT JUST MY NAME. Becky and Glasses also turn up as characters towards the end of the book, too!}

It was All Saints Day, and my throbbing body hinted I might be close to joining those saints in their pearly clouds.

I thought about all those old Testament saints : pillars of salt, rivers of blood, skies of fire, angels of death.

I used to think those tales sounded so outlandish ... until New Orleans when my life took a sharp turn into the the Old Testament. Maybe these were the Last Days?

Or maybe the World was always more than we suspected ... until the bottom opened up beneath our startled feet.

A black mist with threads of burning silver flowed around me worriedly. I caught the perfume of apricots. I smiled despite the pain. It died a quick death.

Elu husked from the mirror beside my bed, "I need you to come and die, Standish."

Never my best bud, Elu had increasingly become meaner of late. I swung with a grimace of agony to the side of the bed. "Let me get my boots on, Elu."

He grunted, "Do not even think of calling for help."

Bending to tie my hiking boots, I said loud, "Wouldn't dream of it."

Under my breath, I whispered to the agitated mists, "Like at Ada's. Remember?"

Memory must have served correctly for the mist was suddenly gone, and my chest felt full to overflowing.

I staggered up and walked into the misty prison of Elu's mirror world. I shivered. Like him, it had grown colder of late.

The Apache shaman, Elu, studied me like a bad meal he was being forced to eat. "You can barely walk, boy."

"Yeah, well, Trick of Treat was mostly trick."

I waved absently at the billowing clouds of thick mist all around us and smiled wide,

"But it was worse for Empress Theodora and her pet bear, Strasser."

Elu looked like he was smelling something bad. Must have been his curled upper lip. "They were only Whites."

"White 'revenants,' Ton--"

A corded hand covered my mouth and squeezed hard. "Never use that name in front of me!"

I muffled, "Guut ya, Aye-lu."

He let go and waved angrily to his left, making the mists go crystal-clear. I looked and my heart sank.

"Oh, crap."

Elu's window out of his prison, the Mirror World, showed a rocky slope of a jagged desert mountain and

... a very roughed-up Abigail Adams ... surrounded by ... I counted, getting more depressed as I went ... seven Apaches.

The cloud slipped like a dropped veil from the face of the moon. Its pale light struck fire from the long, sharp canine teeth of the Apache revenants ... think vampires on crack but without the morals.

The elegantly dressed leader of all the white American revenants was tied to a stake of all things.

I sighed, "First, Theodora. Now, this. Jeez, Elu, is she trying to commit suicide?"

His dried-apricot face went sad. "Yes, I believe she is."

I went stiff. "Well, we're not letting that happen. She's gotta give Alice away when we get married."

The fullness inside me bristled, and Elu arched an eyebrow. "Have you even asked the ghoul yet?"

"Hey," I said, gesturing to my chest. "This is me we're talking about. Who could say no?"

The fullness bristled more, and I sighed, "Besides, Elu, you and I both know I'm never going to make it out of my teens."

Elu depressingly nodded. "Yes. But you need to die soon so that Dyami may live."

My heart joined the Titanic. "Captain Sam?"


I made a mental note to myself : In front of Elu lose the "Captain Sam" and keep the scalp.

"Why soon?"

"Your weakness distracts Dyami and makes his enemies think he is weak as well."

"So you want me to go rescue Abby so that I can die?"


I smiled wide. "Well, why didn't you say so? Of course, I'll go."

As he eyed me warily, I dropped the smile from my face. "And then, I'll be back to whip your ass ... Tonto."

His fingers actually bristled in flames. Jeez. What was he?

Invisible hands seized me and hurled me through the crytalized fog. I hit stony ground with a stumbling, awkward attempt to keep from falling on my face in front of seven Apache revenants.

I thrust out my arms in a flourish. "Tada! Abby, you're rescued."

Abigail's mouth dropped, "Standish, are you insane?"

"People keep asking me that."

I eyed the Apache leader, who waved his men back, and smiled at him. "Go figure."

My heart became as cold as his eyes. Jeez. I recognized him from the history books. Geronimo. Great. It kept getting better and better.

Like slates of rock scraping against one another, Geronimo asked, "Why are you here?"

I nodded, remembering what Captain Sam wrote in his journals of Apaches. They respected only strength, sneered at weakness. "Show no fear" had been his words of advice. Yeah, right.

The Apaches blurred, then re-formed feet from where they had originally stood. I was no match for them in speed. I saw the moonlight gleam wet from their bloody fangs. I was no match for their strength.

I smiled crooked. I'd just have to cheat.

I went stiff. A woman was staked on the ground. She was all but dead.

Geronimo smiled cruel at me. Bad mistake. I was Death's son. To kill someone near me was to bring Mother to my side.

I whispered low, "Mother, end her pain."

There was a movement by the poor tortured woman. I saw a flicker of Mother, tall, skeletal in tattered black robes. The moaning stopped. Mother was gone. I smiled so sad it tasted of salt. Mother was gone but so was the woman's pain.

Mother was Allwheres, AllTimes, all at once. I tapped into the power of her echo, though blood seeped from both nostrils. I appeared right in front of the coward.

I muttered to myself, 'All right, Victor, time to earn that reputation of yours.' I gave him a wolf's smile.

"Well, Elu thinks he sent me here to die."

Geonimo's eyes narrowed. "Why would he do that?"

He blurred to rip out my throat as I knew he would. I sent myself right next to Abigail. She jerked in surprise. I winked up at her.

I edged closer to Abigail and flashed a gypsy smile. "He's jealous of me."

Standing right by her stake, I gestured grandly to myself. "Can you blame him?"

Geronimo looked like he was about to speak my death sentence, and I hastily said, "Of course, he wants you dead, too."

He barked a harsh laugh. "He sends a boy to kill me. I am so afraid."

I pulled myself up as tall as I got, the fullness growing heavy inside me.

"I killed an Old One when I was twelve. I outran the Soyoko and rubbed their noses in their clumsiness this August. And Empress Theodora and Major Strasser are a little worse for wear from this Halloween."

Geonimo gave an Oscar-winning look of contempt to Abigail.

"Why do you need me and my men for your war against Empress Theodora when you have this great warrior?"

Abigail glared down at me as if I had just sunk her great scheme. Yeah, like she wasn't already tied to a stake to greet the dawn when I got here.

Stroking Abigail's arm and stopping at her wrists, I turned to Geronimo.

"Well, she doesn't want this widely known, but ever since I got a grip on her corset at Halloween, she's been sweet on me -- doesn't want me to be in harm's way and all."

(Of course that hand had been there to keep her from falling flat on her face in front of Theodora but Chief Long-In-The-Tooth didn't have to know that.)

Abigail husked, "Standish, if my hands weren't tied ...."

"Ah, no kisses in front of these guys, all right. I get embarassed easy."

The cruel smile dropped from Geronimo's thin lips. "You have been amusing. Now, you die."

I held up the cords that once held Abigail helpless (hey, Harry Houdini was my teacher.)

"You really want to dance this dance, Chief?"

He snorted, "You two can barely stand."

My own smile dropped. "You've forgotten the first rule of hunting : never get inside the cage with the wolf."

His body blurred. He stood right in front of me, his fangs becoming longer. "You are outnumbered."

Fear made a jackhammer of my heart. But I looked at the tortured corpse of the woman. He was a coward. And even if it killed me, I'd spit in his fangs.

I shook my head. "No. You are."

The heaviness flowed as mist from my chest to reform into Alice in her short gothic Lolita outfit. She smiled with her own sharp teeth.

When someone like Elu invites me to his deadly Mirror World, I just naturally think of having an ace up my sleeve or the ghostly ghoul, Alice, inside my chest.

"Oh, Victor, you sweetheart. You know how much I like Native food."

Geronimo was only a foot away. There was no way he was getting out of this alive, or as alive as the undead got, if things got ugly.

He husked, "A ...."

"Hey, that's my ghoul friend you're about to call names, Chief. Now, we can either be friends, or you can be spare ribs. Your choice."

And that is how Abigail got her Apache warriors, and Geronimo became my ... well, his place in line to take my scalp is right behind Elu's. Like I should worry. It's a long damn line.

And for those of you wondering what gothic Lolita fashions look like, here is a video (remember Alice looks thirteen like Victor, and though she is ... ah, a bit older, Victor is her first love.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Food Guy is still waging mortal combat with bronchitis ...

So I, Gypsy, warrior princess, must save the day yet again.

I have to ask you humans ... why do you do this to yourselves?

Fiction has got to be the roughest trade in prose. No textbooks. No reference. No quotes. Just your imaginations.

You have to invent something that is truer than true. Life doesn't have to make internal sense. Fiction does and still come across as life anyway.

Writing is something you can never do as well as it can be done. Always a challenge.

Jospeh Conrad suffered when he wrote. Called writing "un metier du chien" (a dog's trade)! I bristle and hump my back just writing those words. I have you know, Joe, that writing is NOT a dog's trade. And Food Guy only suffers when he does NOT write.

How about you, guys? Don't you itch and ache if you can't write? Let this feline know, all right?

Food Guy and I were just talking about the magic of short words :

I am the granddaughter of Bast, and I know that the most ancient of words are the short ones. Such words tend to be concrete and emotive :

sky, star, earth, cloud, sun, taste, food, drink, sight.

If an ancient word is a "concept" word, its concept is eternal and heart-stirring rather than abstract : life, war, love, death, peace, and friend.

The most ancient of those words have to do with us :skin, bone, blood, head, toe. The things we know best usually have a simple name.

My point?

To stir the blood and heart and mind of your reader : be simple -- use short, to the marrow words.

Short words don't war with one another in a paragraph like longer ones do. They mesh like a well-worn fighting unit.

In the beginning was the Word. And the end will mumur with one word as well.

Shakespeare could bruise your eye and mind with his arcane and showy phrases. But when he wanted to hit your heart, he used short words :

"My heart is turned to stone. I strike it, and it hurts my hand."

"As flies to cruel boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for sport."

In another incarnation, I sat beside Chief Joseph and wept as he said,

"No one knows where my People are. No food, no blankets, perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children. Maybe I can find them among the dead. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

If you would touch the heart, be simple, be short.


Food Guy's laid out in Bronchitis-Land, so it's up to me to pull up the slack.


1.) You have to look at your words as if seeing them for the first time.

What's on the page is all your readers are going to see : not what you meant to say, not the images that were in your mind while you wrote them ... just your words.

What emotions do your WRITTEN words leave you with? Yes, I ended that sentence that way on purpose. See how I did that? Don't do it.

2.) If you humans want to succeed, you must have talent like Coleridge had.

More important, you must have the discipline of Michaelangelo. Coleridge wasted his talent in drugs. Leonardo wasted his in doing party favors for princes. I tried to tell them both, but no human listens to the wisdom of knowing eyes.

3.) Leave out the boring stuff.

You know what I mean. Pick up a book in the store at random. Slip into the middle and start to read. What do you see?

Big chunky, eye-boring paragraphs. Plaster paris descriptions of places I have no wish to be. Slides of cousin Merle's trip to Idaho. (You've seen one pair of potato eyes, you've seen them all.)


The dialogue should be short, funny, something to bring up your eyes from the page and make you reflect on something that hit you like the memory of your first mistake in public.

There should be danger, love, or laughter ... on every page. Because it may be the only page the considering buyer will ever read.

4.) Like Hemingway told me : the most important gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.

No shit.

While Food Guy was droning the Mormon Tabernacle of snores, I was reading Nathan Bransford first paragraph contest for laughs.

There was this one where a woman lay in this pit of dead bodies, looking up at a ton of rock and more human corpses about to drop on her. Did she swear and get the hell out of the way?

No, she laid there like Hamlet contemplating the state of the world where such a thing could happen.

Uh, excuse me, lady?

I understand depressed. I mean, I do live with Food Guy, and all. But if tons of rock and rotting bodies are about to crush this furry princess, I scramble the hell out of the way ...

and leave the hissing at life's pissiness for when I am safely out of the way, thank you very much!

5.) Your scenes must read true ... fake we can have by listening to the State of the Union address.

You humans read to live outside of yourselves ... in adventures where life makes sense, where you find fun, acceptance, and love. Life is only life ...

when it is real ... or seems real.

When characters are flat, prose puppets, made to do what you want them to do, not what real flesh-and-blood humans would do or say ...

the story seems flat like coke left out on the table a day, no fizz, no sparkle ... no readers.

6.) Last words of wisdom from the princess :

Good writing is true writing. If a human is making up a story, it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life he has and how disciplined he is. So that when he makes something up, it is as it would truly be.

The more a human learns of life, the better he or she will be able to imagine what a set of circumstances would feel or seem. Do it well enough, and the readers will get a feeling as if what they are reading actually happened.

Last : Write for yourself. And write for a person you know, living or dead, to make that person smile or be caught up in the wonder.

*) My paws are sore. That's all the wisdom you humans can handle. Oh, goody, Food Guy just turned over. The snoring assault has ended.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


{"A man's moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream."

- William Faulkner.}

The ghost of William Faulkner here :

I have found that the greatest help in meeting any problem is to know where you yourself stand. That is, to have in words what you believe and are acting from.

But there is a terrible irony in that.

It took me dying to understand life. I thought I knew what life was as you think you know.

I was wrong, as you are wrong.

Life is ephemeral, elusive, and beyond the capacity of words to adequately convey.

Your worldview, as was mine, is as simplistic and crude as an Etch-A-Sketch rendering of the Mona Lisa.

I would say that music is the easiest means in which to express life,

but since words are my talent, I must try to express clumsily in words what the pure music would have done better.

You believe McCord is only a creature of Roland's mind.

But then, how can you explain that I can remember meeting McCord in New Orleans in the 1920's?

Is the power of the spirit, of the mind such that it can transcend time itself?

I could try to explain what my ghostly senses have seen but it would be as pointless as giving caviar to an elephant.

Instead I will write of that time when I still was alive, still saw as a human sees.

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.

And that is what I will try to do now for you.

The best job that was ever offered to me was to become a landlord in a brothel.

In my opinion it's the perfect milieu for an artist to work in. McCord offered it to me. And I took it for awhile.

I got more than money for that job, I received a way of looking at life that transformed me into the writer that I became.

McCord became my Socrates. He hardly ever spoke but guided my thoughts with a stray word or question, letting me come up with my own conclusions.

The first thing he taught me : the past is never dead. It's not even past.

The second thing he helped me see : the salvation of the world is in man's suffering. The scattered tea goes with the leaves, and every day a sunset dies.

One day during the time while McCord and I walked and talked in New Orleans – or I talked and he listened - I found him sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, laughing to himself.

I got the impression that he had been there like that for some time, just sitting alone on the bench laughing to himself.

This was not our usual meeting place. We had none.

He lived in his French Quarter night club, Meilori's. And without any special prearrangement, we would meet somewhere between his club and the Square after I had something to eat at noon.

I would walk in the direction of his club. And if I did not meet him already strolling or sitting in the Square, I would simply sit down on a bench where I could see his doorway and wait until he came out.

I can see him still –

A ramrod straight man in his early fifties, clad entirely in black : black broadcloth jacket, shirt, tie, and slacks. His boots were black, as well, and polished so that the sun struck fire from them. Even his Stetson was black.

All of which made the silver star on his jacket stand out like a campfire in the night. It was said he had once been a Texas Ranger.

He never talked to me of those days - at least not before that afternoon.

This time he was already sitting on the bench, laughing. I sat down beside him and asked what was so funny. He looked at me for a long moment.

"I am," he said.

And to me that was the great tragedy of his character, for he meant it. He knew people did not believe he was who the legends claimed. How could he be?

They thought him an actor paid to play a part.

Except when the darkness came for them, then they came running, praying he was what the tales on the street whispered : a monster who killed monsters.

He expected people nowhere near his equal in stature or accomplishment or wit or anything else, to hold him in scorn and derision ... in the daylight.

In spite of that he worked earnestly and hard at helping each wounded soul he met.

It was as if he said to himself : 'They will not hurt as I have hurt. I will show them that they matter because their pain matters to me.'

"Why do you speak of yourself like that?," I asked.

"Today marks the hundred year anniversary," he said.

"Of what?"

"Drop by my table at the club this evening, and I will tell you."

And that evening I did just that. We sat, with a bottle now, and we talked.

At first he did not mention the hundred year anniversary. It was as if he was slowly working himself up to something long avoided.

We talked of everything it seemed.

How a mule would work ten years for you willingly and patiently just for the privilege of kicking you once. How clocks kill time, that only when the clocks stop does time come to life.

And how given a choice between grief and nothing, he would choose grief.

When he had said those last words, McCord met my eyes with his own deep ones and said,

"There is something about taking a stand against the darkness, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it's the risk, the gamble. In any event it's a thing I need.

His eyes seemed to sink into his wolf's face. "But there is a price."

"What price?," I whispered.

"To understand the world, you must first understand the human heart. But none of us understand that mystery. So we make mistakes."

He closed his eyes. "And those mistakes kill those we love."

He rose from the table, walking into the shadows and speaking to me from over his shoulder.

"No battle is ever won. They are not even fought for the reasons you tell yourself. The battlefield only reveals your own folly and despair. And victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools."

The darkness swallowed him, and the night suddenly seemed to be my enemy.



{" A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere."

-Mark Twain.}

Samuel Clemens, ghost here, to help Roland out a mite.

Seems the saw-bones has told the boy he has Bronchitis, is infectious, and has to lay off work a day or two.

'Course his supervisor told the boy that he couldn't infect nobody in a car, and Roland shoulda torn up that work release a'fore he showed it to him.

Roland insists that I do not record what I said when I stood next to the man. I will just leave it to your imaginations. Though the fella couldn't hear me, my remark made Roland smile at least.

Now, let me help you pilrims out a mite, too.

My quote next to my picture seems a bit self-evident, don't it?


Both meander worse than a sluggish Mississippi at ebb tide.

But they got published you wail. I was wailing, too ... after I read them.

Sure they got published ... after a string of good writing by said authors.

But Cronin pushed his readers at a distance with page after page after page of narrative summary. Leave the lecturing for the classroom, Justin.

Naomi Novak, poor girl, just seemed to lose her fire, having no danger, no crisis breathing down the neck of her heroes. She managed the impossible : she made a book on dragons boring.

I struggled like you pilgrims to get published. I learned my craft in the newspapers at which I worked one after another clear across this nation.

And I learned a few rules :

1.) The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.

Ever hear two people tell the same joke? Both tell it differently. One always tells it better.

One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. Talk to the heart of your listener, and you will never go wrong.

2.) Told or unfold?

Histories belong in the classroom. Novels are the place for scenes.

A scene takes place before the reader's eyes. He sees the mysterious stranger being feared, not being told what a hoodoo he is. Your hero runs down the alley, ducking zinging bullets.

The reader sees it happen. He isn't told about it after the fact.

3.) What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.

I've read a good bit of what passes for novels these days. They're leaner and meaner. No more Norman Rockwell, exact details down to the slightest freckle.

Novels today are impressionistic like the paintings or a film by that Hitchcock fellow. Why, the most horrific story I ever heard centered on a monster only hinted at, never seen clear ... and the more fearsome because of that.

4.) Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

Less is more when it comes to writing. If you hit the poor reader over the head with your point, you'll blunt your point and won't do much for the reader either.

5.) The best words are actions.

What did that Anton Chekhov fellow write?

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Actions pulls your reader into the flow of the story. Preambling just shoves him back to being a distant observer, not a participant.

Give the reader the taste of the wind, the feel of the grit in the badly cooked food, and the ache of a broken heart.

For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain and the noise of the battle.

No second-hand prose. Draw the reader into the sound and feel of the actions. He will forget he is reading. He will become a part of the world you have created.

6.) The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Franklin D. Roosevelt originally wrote in his famous speech of December 8, 1941 "a date that will live in history." Later the President scratched out "history" and instead wrote "infamy."

And that line still rings down the corridors of time.

The amateur writer draws attention to himself ...

why, isn't that a beautiful description I've just pounded you over the head with for five pages?

The professional author knows that to draw the reader's attention to himself with mechanics is to draw it away from the story.

You want the reader to be so absorbed in your world that they're not even aware you, the writer, exists.

7.) Writing, I think, is not apart from living.

In fact, writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice.

Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.

Monday, January 24, 2011


HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Elizabeth Poole!

And here is my entry for her BIRTHDAY BLOGFEST :

{As you might have suspected, Victor Standish doesn't do well at birthday parties. His or anyone else's. Here is an excerpt from THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH.} :

{Victor Standish is only thirteen years old, but he swears that if his hair ever falls out, his head will look like a golf ball, it's been hit so many times.

He awakens from being hit in a crowded section of the haunted jazz club, Meilori's. He finds himself a present a monster has made to herself ...}

"Happy Birthday to me," murmured a voice like the soft touch of waves upon a beach.

It might have sent tingles along my scalp except for the thick, rough ropes bound around my wrists and feet. The throne of gold I sat in was mighty fancy ... and hard. Gold thrones are built for show not comfort.

"Ugly Deathday to you," smiled the woman looking down on me.

Nothing came between her and her snug Oriental dress slit up to the hip. And I do mean nothing. The slit showed that.

The dress was black. The dragon stitched on it was green. My wrists were red ... from tugging on the ropes binding them.

"Oh, no, young Standish, you cannot use any of Houdini's tricks to get out of those ropes. I tied them myself. No escape for you."

Those slanted eyes of hers reminded me of blue quarter moons waiting to rise. They seemed as cold and distant as moons, too. But despite their color, they were dark ... the kind of dark that eyes only get when the soul inside is forever night.

I recognized her. "Maija. You're the sister of Captain Sam's wife."

"Odd way of phrasing it, Standish."

"No. There's nothing sisterly in the way you feel towards Captain Sam. And there's nothing lawful about you."

She bent down and squeezed my chin so hard my jaw felt like it cracked. "Such a clever boy."

Maija rose, and my eyes followed her. Her throne room was dark but not dark enough. I saw the heads mounted on the walls : conquistadors, popes, knights, powder-wigged judges. I went cold. I recognized two : Jean Harlow. Abraham Lincoln.

I'd be damned if I let her see me sweat. "Who's your decorator, Stephen King?"


Damn. I was surprised my jaw was still on its hinges. That had hurt.

"Those are past birthday presents to myself, worm. The cream of this pig-sty of a planet."

I nodded, feeling the blood trinkle from the corner of my mouth. "I looked up 'Coward' in the dictionary the other day. No definition. Just your picture."


My head snapped back. The world dimmed. I blinked my eyes.

"I rest my case."

Her eyes became slits. I felt the smothery fear that rats in a trap must feel : trapped, hurting, seeing the human getting closer and closer. I understood why some animals gnawed their trapped foot off.


I was Victor Standish. I was better than this.

And then, there was always my rule #8 : Never give in to bullies. You'll get beat up, but your pride, your self-respect, and your liking yourself will still be yours. I forced my voice to work.

"How can you see like that?"


The world took a little longer to come back into focus. Maija stroked my cheek with one long, sharp forefinger nail. I saw her watching me, waiting for me to squirm. There'd be a cold front in her hot home town before that happened. She smiled like a cat teasing a mouse. She ran her soft tongue over my bleeding cheek.

She suddenly frowned. "Odd. Your blood tastes odd."

"Yeah, to you I guess it would. I'm only going to tell you once -- let me go, Maija."


I was bleeding from both sides of my mouth now. "What are you doing? Working your way up to cripples and old ladies?"

"Insolent pup!"

Her hand went back again. I just glared at her. Her hand lowered.

"I control all things fluid. I could wither you where you sit."

"Too fast. You want to drag this out, to make me beg."

"I could burst your eyes."

"No. You want me to see it coming."

Her blue eyes studied me. "You think your precious 'Captain Sam' is going to come to your rescue, don't you?"

I shook my head. "No. He told me that when you set a trap, you do it up right. I figure you've thrown all sorts of monsters at him."

"Indeed I have."

"Dead monsters."

"Yes, but he will get here too late to save you. And the look on his face when he sees your mangled body will be priceless."

It hit me then, and I went all sad inside. "This is all you're ever gonna have, Maija."

"What drivel are you spouting?"

"You'll never have Captain Sam."

"As if I would want that savage!"

"Your sister wants him, and that makes him irresistable to you."

"You are a boy. What do you know?"

"I know that you rule an empire of alien beings inferior to you -- and that empire rules this pig sty of a planet. So you rule a pig sty. Big woo. You coulda been great. You chose petty."


Ow! I felt my neck go all Rice Krispies. The stars in front of my eyes wouldn't go away. Maija was forcing me to play a card that scared the hell out of me.

Maija smiled like a shark trying to warm up to a bleeding swimmer. "You expect your precious ..."

She made the words into razor blades, "... ghoul friend, Alice, to come to your rescue, don't you?"

My heart went cold. "W-What did you to do to her?"

Slanted eyes speared me. "Nothing obscene. Nothing fatal. Nothing cruel."

She laughed like an insane little girl. "I lied about the cruel. I wrote a letter in the image of your own hand. Wrote her how you loathed the way she smelled, the way she looked, ... the way she tasted."

She clapped her hands. "Oh, you should your face. Your heart is your weakness, Standish."

I felt the blood drain from my face. "I warned you."

"Oh, a small, bound boy threatens me. I am so scared."

I played my ace-in-the-hole not caring what it did to me. I became mist and rose through the ropes. Maija stepped backwards, almost falling as this time it was her face that drained of blood.

"W-What ... you can't."

"You're right. My heart is my weakness, Maija. I worried about growing up and leaving Alice trapped in the body of a thirteen year old. So I had Lady Lovelace and Sister Magda team-up and work their hoodoo to link my spirit with Alice's. Now when I age, she'll age. We would have grown old together."

I gave her back one of her smiles. "Sister Magda said I could even take Alice's curse to myself and drain a person."

I smiled wider. "Happy Birthday to me."


I turned to the sound of Alice's voice. Her hair was all in her too-blue eyes. Her dress was ripped and slashed. There was blood all over her.

"My guards," whispered Maija.

"Were nothing. Nothing! Did you think anything could stand between me and Victor when you had him?"

"But the letter," I began, becoming solid again.

Alice gently caressed my cheek with bloody fingertips. "Had your handwriting but not your heart. I knew who wrote it. I am a ghoul, Victor. I smelled Maija all over the paper."

She turned to Maija. "Now, it is Happy Deathday for me."

"No, Alice," I said. "We promised each other never to do anything together we couldn't laugh about afterwards. Leave Dragon Lady to her empty birthday."

Maija drew herself up tall. "If it kills me, I will destroy you both here and now."

A voice like distant thunder rumbled to my right. "Don't make me spank you, Maija."

Captain Sam limped into the throne room. His Stetson was gone. His long coat was in tatters. His slacks were torn. Even his gloves were ripped.

"Captain Sam, you look terrible."

He grinned crooked. "A dozen monsters here. Two dozen there. Pretty soon you're talking real trouble."

Maija spoke low. "I will kill you first."

Captain Sam snapped, "Oh the hell with it. Time to give you that spanking."

Maija yelped in surprise as he grabbed her, sat down on her throne, threw her over his lap,and started whacking away with the flat of his right hand.

He smiled like a happy wolf. "What is it? One spank for every year?"

Alice laughed, "We'll be here all night."

"You're right," he chuckled. "One for every century."

"That'll only be half the night," I smiled wide, despite the bruises on my cheeks.

And that was how Maija Shinseen received the Birthday Present she never forgot.

And as a tip of my hat to Alex's blogfest, here is one of my favorite songs :

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Under what conditions does a person continue to be a person?

Under what conditions does he or she stop being a person?

As a young man, Hitler dreamed of being an artist.

There are private collections of his artwork kept all across the world by different individuals ...

for whatever reasons prompt such people to collect those paintings.

Do they look at those works of art, trying to picture the mind of the young man who put brush to canvas? To see if they can spot any indication of the monster he later became?

Rene Descares' maxim : I think therefore I am.

Does what we think determine the person who we are? Do our actions dictate that? Or is it a meld of the two?

A zombie. Could we call that a person? It is hunger with a mouth and two legs (usually).

Yet, haven't you met people consumed by the hunger for fame, wealth, social status to the extent that they will sacrifice their wives, their children, their health to obtain them.

Do they quality as a type of zombie, emotional hunger driven with little thought for others?

What tells you more about a person? The way his body works or how his mind works?

I would suggest that language is where our being lives. There is the language of words, but there is also the language of action.

I say "I love you" but I forget your birthday, I humiliate you in public, and slap you in private. The language of action is more persuasive than that of words.

Novels are the only medium that portray the mind well.

Only novels expose the secret life of a man's character. Do you know your hero/heroine well enough to portray his/her character with a few deft eye lifts or sighs or the finality of a signing of a divorce decree?

The best novels show a mind in conflict with itself, dark urges contesting over the feeble protests of decent ones. You, as a reader, will find the deepest connection with the character when his or her deepest thoughts are explored.

But they must resonate with truth -- the truth of what it means to be human. What are your character's deepest thoughts?

They will be about his worries, fears, and hopes.

If you can write a short , genuine-feeling paragraph of the worries, fears, and hopes of each of your characters, they will come across as real in your novel.

And those paragraphs will help give you a sense of self for each character -- and how each one of those characters interact, mesh, or strike sparks off the others in your novel.

How do you write a genuine summation of your character's worries, fears, and hopes?

Once in New York City, a rat was filmed caught in the middle of a busy street. It tried to dart from one side to the other, only to nearly be run over. Again and again, it frantically scrambled to the safety of the curb, only to miss death by millimeters.

Finally a whizzing tire caught the rat, sending it spinning and tumbling. It stayed in one spot cowering. A man with folded newspaper in hand ran from the sidewalk, scooped up the fearful rat, and tumbled it into the dark safety of the sewer grate.

The man smiled big, got on his bike, taking off. The camera crew called after him. "Why did you do that?"

He smiled embarrassed. "I've been scared like that, too."

If you can get your reader to think "I've felt like that, too," your character's worries, fears, and hopes will feel real to him and her.

Hope this helps your writing in some small way, Roland

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I'm going to give you the secret. But first ...

I should have expected it. Gypsy still hasn't forgiven me for making life hard for her Food Guy.

Ghost of Ernest Hemingway here.

If you're wondering what I'm talking about, you'll have to read GHOST OF A CHANCE here on this blog.

For now, I'm here to spell Roland. Give him time to mend from that cold of his.

For awhile there, I thought he was going to join us ghosts.

Now, back to the secret ...

The secret to writing a great novel is that it is poetry written into prose.

Period. The end. No more. No less.

Always boiling it down, rather than spreading it thin or thick.

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really had happened. And after you've finished them, you feel a bit as if they had happened to you.

How do they do that?

By leaving out all the needless trifles that sound pretty but prove pointless.

Those books will have you tasting the salt in the sea air,

smelling the fragrance of the cooking in the woman's hair as you hold her close,

and feeling the warmth of the sun as you lie bleeding in the sand by the stamping hooves of the bull.

It is the hardest thing to do in prose, putting the poetry into it -- but it is the most important.

If you do the writing well enough, the first person narration will seem real. Why?

Because you wrote as if the experiences were happening to you, housed inside the mind and body of your hero.

Those tiny things like the grit of dirt in your mouth when you were knocked down into it by that thug.

How the inside of your mouth felt like shredded wheat from the first blow to your lips.

How sweet was the sound of his grunt of pain as you butted him in the face, breaking his nose.

If you can do this, your novel will become a part of the reader's reality and a part of his experience. He will add details from his own warehouse of memories, making your novel rich with the depth of his own collective unconscious.

Do this, and your novel will become part of his life. It will live as long as he does. Do it well enough, and it will live as long as his children who hear about the novel, then read it for themselves.

Do it true and well enough, it will last as long as there are human beings.
This is NOT one of those stories Hemingway was writing about :

Friday, January 21, 2011


Gypsy's entry for D L Hammons SIGNIFICANT OTHER BLOGFEST :

Sssh! Food Guy is sleeping.

The big wuss. So he has a itty bitty cold. I thought his fever of 102 degrees made a warm pillow of his forehead for me.

He whined so much about going to work for one little day that I left a wedge of cheese for him on his pillow. And did he appreciate my joke of giving him cheese with his whine?

No, he did not.

Does he appreciate me curling up on his chest for added weight resistance as he huffs through his sit-up's?

No, he does not.

Does he appreciate my feline criticism as I paw at the keys as he types?

Of course not. My words would be magical. His just lay there like stale tuna, as pretty as road-kill and about as tasty.

And all those literary ghosts who insist on ruining our sleep? What's up with that?

Ernest Heminway. Raymond Chandler. Mark Twain, well I like him ... he knows where I like my ears scratched. But if that Frost guy shows up again, droning on about which road to pick, I'll pick one for him all right ... the one that leads to the door!

And so help me if Dr. Seuss dares to show his ghostly face, I'll barf up a furball in his green eggs and ham!

If you out there wonder where Food Guy gets all the great ideas, look no further than this gypsy princess. The lousy ones, of course, are all his.
Another mindless movie Food Guy will probably see and ... sigh ... enjoy :

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

YOU MEAN I GET A MENAGE LA TROI FOR MY BIRTHDAY?_entry for Tessa's blogfest {Starring Victor Standish}


{Six years after the zombie playground incident, Becky and Glasses have come to New Orleans, not believing Victor has taken up with a zombie.} (999 words exactly)


Mother told me that I was born the very instant the old year died, and the New Year began. I figure the Angel of Death should know.

I lay on my bed in utter agony. What part of my body that wasn't cut, was bruised, or throbbing -- or all three. My left side was aching. A broken rib?

"Happy Birthday to me," I groaned. I heard another groan from the mirror. Oh, no.

"Elu, are you all right?"

His gruff voice rumbled from the mirror, "Define 'all right'."

I swayed to the side of the bed and looked into the mirror. Ouch. His face looked like raw hamburger meat.

He did an exaggerated copy of my "Tada" move. "Don't worry, Elu. I am Victor Standish, and I always have a plan. Some plan! You nearly got us killed!"

I made a face. "We got the bad guys killed."

A snowball hit me in the face from the mirror. "There is the icing to your birthday cake, Standish."

I wiped the snow from my face, seeing the mirror had gone black. "At least, you're all rig...."

Another snowball smacked me in the face. "I am not all right! Now, go downstairs and clean up the mess you made."

I swayed to my feet. "Aw, man, there's body parts all over the place."

Elu chuckled, "You cannot say Samuel does not know how to throw a New Year's Eve party."

"Body parts are not my idea of the perfect Birthday present." The back of my head got smacked with another snowball.

I smiled bitter. Snowballs were cheap presents, but they were at least handmade.

I limped down the hallway with scattered monster parts all over the carpet. I made it to the head of the stairs. Whoa. Meilori's was a burning battle-zone below. Marshal Hickok was dosing what I considered my birthday candles on the steps.

He glared at me, and I sighed, "Don't tell me you're holding a grudg ----"

He dosed me with the fire extinguisher. "Go downstairs and start cleaning up, Birthday Boy."

I shook my head. Never, ever, had I been thrown a birthday party.

I thought Alice might --- but she had gotten mad over something I had whispered to Becky in her revealing Steam Punk outfit. So there went my party.

I started to sway on my feet. I had taken a few good hits last night. More than a few actually. The pain in my side climbed up my chest and down my left arm.

I smiled crooked. "Alice will be so mad. She missed me dropping dead like she ask ...."

Out of the growing darkness, I heard Alice scream, "No!!"

Suddenly, my head was cradled in her soft lap. My head was resting on her bare legs. Finally, a good Birthday present.

My head lolled to the left. Cute knees in silk, unmarred hose. Becky? I flicked my eyes to the front of me. Glasses in her Maid Marion outfit.

I glanced up at Alice. "Y-You mean I get a menage la troi for my birthday?"

My head was jerked and thumped off her pretty legs. "That for your present!"

I weakly raised my right hand. "Dying here. Doesn't that buy me a ---"

Alice threw my right hand to the smoldering carpet. And just like that. My chest exploded, and everything went black.

I heard Becky snap, "Oh, perfect, freak. The last thing he'll remember is your throwing his hand down."

Alice grumbled, "Or perhaps it will be your wanton knees in his face!!"

Women! I had died. And they still made it all about them.

Glasses sobbed, "He never even saw the surprise Birthday Party we had prepared."

I shook my head, and suddenly became scared that I had a head at all to shake in the darkness. There was a bright light right in front of me. I squinted and smiled.

A long marble table with the biggest Birthday cake I had ever seen. And standing by the table was Mother ... the Angel of Death.

"You remembered, Mother."

Black tears gleamed in her eyes to drift up from her lids in tiny swirls of dark snowflakes. "I always remembered, Victor."

"Now, back with you!"

"I'm not dead?"

Mother smiled coldly. "You die when I say you die, Victor. Besides, it will be so much fun to see you try to extradite yourself from the hole your brash tongue has dug for yourself."

Her black robe billowed as she gracefully gestured. Suddenly, I was back. Three pairs of pretty knees. Now, this was a Birthday present.

Alice hugged my head against the torn satin that barely covered her breasts. I hadn't died. But I was certainly in Heaven.

"Alice, you sure about that menage la troi?"

She threw my head down to the floor. "Oh, Victor! I should have known you were faking."

I staggered to my feet as the three of them looked at me like Medusa.

"Whoa. My mother WAS waiting for me. She just sent me back to say ...."

The three of them wailed and clung to me like a life saver in a rough sea.

Becky husked, "We will not let you say good-bye!"

Glasses hugged me tight. "You're Victor Standish. You can't die."

Alice embraced me with her icy arms. "You are my Victor. I will never let you say good-bye. Never!"

I made a sheepish face. "Ah, Mother just wanted me to say 'I'm sorry."

All three pairs of arms popped off me like I had been hot brass.

Alice glared at me. "So much for my special Birthday present for you!"

Becky sizzled a look at me. "And mine!"

Glasses just giggled, running off with Becky. "Only you, Victor. Only you."

Captain Sam loped up with a plate of birthday cake.

He grinned like a wolf. "Devil's Food Cake, son. Seemed to fit."

I gobbled my first slice of Birthday cake. "When you're right, Sam. You're right."
What Jesse Cook played for Victor's birthday :

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Shallee McArthur is hosting "What's Your Process?" Blogfest.

She wants to know how we approach writing, any aspect of it.

Meet my writing process : the Dali Rama

No. Not the Dalai Lama.

Not even a someone actually.

A something.

A very important something if you're a writer.


But speaking of the Dalai Lama, he did say, "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."

And couldn't the same thing be said of the novels we write?

What was that bit of dialogue between Alice and the Mad Hatter?

Alice : "I've had nothing yet. So I can't take any more."
Hatter : "You mean you can't take any less. It's very easy to take more than nothing."

And isn't that what our novels start out as? Nothing. Then along strolls a colorful character, an intriguing situation blossoms in our thoughts, or a bit of zingy dialogue crackles in our mind's ear.

But what do you do with those isolated bits?

Ah, that's where the Dali-Rama comes into play as we shift to another bit of back-and-forth in the adventures of Alice.

"Which road do I take?," asked Alice.
"Where do you want to go?," replied the Cheshire Cat.
"I don't know."
"Then," smiled the cat, "it really doesn't matter."

But it does matter when you write a novel. You have to know where you are going if you're going to take the reader there. We need a compass. More importantly, we need a map.

We need the Dali-Rama.

And its motto is a twist to one of the sayings of the artist who gave birth to it : Salvador Dali --

Intelligence without direction is a bird without wings. As authors, we paint our novels. To paint well we need a canvas. Yes, you guessed it : the Dali-Rama.

How many times have you stared at a blank page in agony? Buy some 3 X 5 index cards. Write your characters on one, your bits of dialogue on another, your large, compelling situation on a larger one.

The great thing about those index cards is that you can fit them into your purse {or me into my backpack (what Sandra, my best friend, calls my "Man-Purse")}.

And whenever an idea for dialogue, plot, scene re-do, or character development hits you, you scribble it down upon your stash of ready index cards.

Now, buy a cork board.

Me, I take construction paper and tape it over the board. I get markers in different colors. And then, I'm ready to paint myself a novel.

This is not a story board. That directors do AFTER the script is written.

We're more like detectives sleuthing a murder case. All those bits of characters, dialogue, situations, plot twists. We pin them up on the board in haphazard fashion. No rhyme, no reason but our subconscious.

Then, step back. Look at the surrealistic pattern you've made. Start arranging patterns in the chaos. Draw lines on your Dali-Rama connecting your different characters along paths of love, blood, hate, and circumstance. Scribble questions next to each one :

"What drives him to strive for perfection? What shaped her into a lusty gossip? Why would anyone do {fill in the blank.} Why a bank job and not a jewel heist?

What skills does a cat burglar have? How would one go about obtaining those skills and knowledge?

From the answers to those or other similar questions are born more scribbled index cards.

By now, your muse will be churning. You will see how one character fits into another in ways you hadn't even thought of when you started.

You see where you can flip this situation on its ear, blending it into laughter, suspense, or tears.

Like Dali himself, don't let structure bind you to convention.

Look at the overall "feel" and "look" of the Dali-Rama. Remember the soft, melting pocket watch in Dali's famous "Persistence of Memory?"

It whispered that time is not hard as we thought. In fact, time is often irrelevant. Think of the time spent in a dentist's chair during a root canal.

Time changes according to circumstance. And so should the parameters of your novel.

There is another beautiful thing about the Dali-Rama. It postpones the actual writing of the novel. And who of us has not hesitated and hesitated before a daunting new novel?

Now, you have an intelligent-sounding reason for procrastinating!

And I'm only being slightly humorous. I've had friends make actual pieces of art of their Dali-Rama's. They pasted frilled paths, colorful twists, only to phone me in wonder that suddenly as they looked at it, the novel just jelled into something fantastic and unexpected.

They couldn't wait to get started on this awesome surprise of a novel that had just occurred to them.

And because of the Dali-Rama, they knew exactly where they were going,

scene by scene, plot twist by plot-twist onto a climax to which they couldn't wait to take the reader. Trust me. If you follow the Dali-Rama, it will not fail you.

Surprise you, yes. Absorb you, yes. Fail you, no.

And to present the another side of the process, here is the master himself : Stephen King :


Monday, January 17, 2011


The undead.

They captivate us.

The appeal to vampires is obvious :

even Bram Stoker, who coined the term "undead," painted Dracula as sexy and seductive (at least in London).

Don't get me started on the "sparkly" ones.

While most vampires are etched as lovely, though deadly, predators, what is up with our fascination with zombies?

They are Id's brought to hungry life : only appetite, no morals or guidelines. And terrible table manners.

Why are we so obsessed with zombies? They are not seductive, not appealing, what with body parts missing or rotting away as you watch.

Zombies symbolize those threats like actual skin-eating diseases,

terrorist bombs,

and natural disasters like the promised California SuperStorm that will someday in the future dump ten FEET of rain over 30 days.

Zombies symbolize our fears of death that will not be reasoned or threatened away.

Does immersing ourselves in zombie movies give us an illusion of some measure of control over death, cancer, and other all-too-real threats in our modern lives?

Seeing teens surrounded in a cabin by milling, moaning zombies, we know that soon those pretty girls will be either eaten or transformed into eternally hungry zombies.

And in a sense, we, the viewer, have become with them Death in our imaginations : unstoppable, forces of nature, unthinking.

But the zombie is never at rest : like a shark, it must continually shamble in search of prey or it will die.

Then, take little Karen Cooper (please, you take her 'cuz me and Victor want nothing to do with the little munchkin), from the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD :

Newly undead, the zombie girl happily starts to feast on her father's arm, then lay waste to her mother with a trowel of all things. There is something deeply unsettling about seeing an innocent child turn to a flesh-eating monster in front of your eyes.

Which is why I chose the Zombie Playground picture in Misty's contest :

This, for me, is the worst facet of becoming a zombie : it robs you of your identity, of your sense of self.

Is our fascination with zombies an extension of 21st century Man's self-loathing? Or do we place ourselves in the roles of the survivors?

What would we do in their place? We revel in their violence against those shambling things which are already dead. We can mutilate and destroy with no regret, no remorse.

Or is it that zombies offer us the ultimate crucible : that arena which hones our characters and our souls into something better or into something infinitely worse than zombies -- a knowing evil against our brothers?

I already know what Victor Standish thinks about this. But don't be too sure you know. Remember his "ghoul friend," Alice.
What do you think?




When you're seven, you're too old for a swing. But I wasn't sitting in it for fun. No. My legs were too weak to hold me up.

Mother had left me. Me. For days, maybe weeks she said. "Survive as best you can, Victor. I must be alone with my latest conquest."

And then, she was gone with her muscled bad boy. What was I going to do?

"I don't like you," sniveled the little girl in the swing next to me.

"Take a number. It's a long line."

The black-haired girl pointed her finger past me. "I don't like them neither."

"Must be my kind of people," I grunted, turning to look.

"Or not," I gulped.

Zombies. Fricking kid-zombies. "Oh, why the hell not?"

"Oooh, you just said a no-no."

"On my best day, I'm PG-13. And Sunshine, this ain't my best day."

"My name is Becky not Sunshine!"

I got up, looking all around. Damn, we were surrounded.

"It's gonna be 'Kibbles-N-Brains' if you don't put some muscle to the hustle."

What had Chiron told me? When surrounded by enemies, get a sword, a shield, and the high ground.

Becky pulled out a wooden slingshot. "I'll stop them."

"Lots of luck with that, Nibbles."

I ran to a fallen baseball bat. Two zombies were making sure that the boy who dropped it wouldn't miss it. I darted in between them. I tumbled in a roll, snatching up the bat. One lunged at me.

I beaned him with all my might, and his rotten head burst. I laughed, "I hope your name was Homer. Cuz I always wanted to hit a homer."

To my far left, Becky screamed, "Fall down! WHY WON'T YOU FALL DOWN?"

I ran over to her, grabbed her by her pony-tail and snapped, "Cuz the fun never stops with zombies!"

"Stop!," cried Becky. "You're messing up my pigtail."

I spotted the slide/jungle-gym. High ground.

I snapped, "Those zombies will mess up more than your ...."

A kid-zombie with a half-eaten face lurched through the garbage cans lining the playground, knocking them over. A garbage can lid rolled to my feet. My shield!

I snatched it up and smacked him in the face with it. "Watch out! Low bridge."

I thumped Becky on the butt to get her moving faster to the slide/jungle-gym.

"Hey, that's my butt!," she yelled.

I jerked my head to the shambling but all-too-fast kid zombies. "It'll be theirs if you don't get a move on!"

We made it to the slide as a black kid took a mop handle and used it as a pole vault to get to the top of the metal tree-house at the top of the slide.

"Whoa," I gasped. "Way to go, LeRoy."

He laughed down at me. "Ya gotta learn free runnin' if you gonna make it on these streets, bro. And how did you know my name?"

I got uneasy. "Lucky guess." But it hadn't been. I had just known it.

I smacked Becky up the slide. The ladder was too slow as a couple of screaming kids found out the hard way. We ducked aside a girl with glasses. I shield-blocked the brick she aimed at me.

"Save it for the dead heads," I snapped, scooting by her.

The slide/jungle-gym was a big son of a gun. I skipped down the steps from the tree house to the walkway where six kid-zombies scrambled towards us, moaning, "Brains. Brains. Brains."

I winked at Becky, who was taking aim at them with her ball-bearing loaded slingshot. "They can't mean you. It's gotta be me they're after."

Becky let go with her slingshot, sending a ball bearing into the only eye of a grasping girl zombie. "Ha. Ha. Very not funny."

LeRoy pushed a boy zombie off the top of the treehouse with his mop handle. "Damn! They just too many of 'em!"

It hit me. Mother had left me to die. Die. She didn't want me anymore. She didn't love me. Had she ever loved me? Hot tears filled my eyes.

"Wrong!," I yelled. "There aren't enough of them!"

I leapt onto the walkway, swinging with my bat and shield, knocking the grabbing kid-zombies every whichway.

Zombies scuttled like cockroaches out of Hell along the top of the rungs of the jungle-gym. They dropped down on the walkway. I swung at them.

Brains, bits of skull, and rotted flesh flew as I jumped about, smacking away with all the anger I felt at Mother for just dumping me ... for not loving me any more.

"Die. Die! DIE!"

Glasses sobbed, "I-I'm outta bricks. They're going to eat us."

They kept coming. I kept blocking and smashing. Becky went for more ball bearings but came up empty. A giggling girl-zombie knocked LeRoy down. He screamed.

I raised my shield and bat to the uncaring skies and roared, "WOULD YOU JUST DIE!"


I could've sworn a pale green circle pulsed out from around me. The kid-zombies keeled over as if their electric plugs had been pulled from the wall socket. They just lay there, all limp and finally as dead as they looked.

Becky gasped, "H-How did you do that?"

"I just yelled like Mother."

LeRoy muttered, "Bro, she must be one bad mutha."

I looked down at the swing where she had dumped me. "You have no idea."

{Victor kept complaining he wasn't being given top-billing, so I put his narration up front again. Kids these days! LOL.}