So you can read my books

Saturday, November 30, 2013


{Neil Gaiman and his dog, Cabal - photo by Kyle Cassidy}

Neil Gaiman is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, The Graveyard Book (2008). 

Siv, if you haven't read ODD AND THE FROST GIANTS, you need to.  He wrote it for World Book Day.

Here is the one and only Neil Gaiman's 9 rules for writing:

1.) Write

2.) Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3.) Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4.) Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5.) Remember:

when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6.) Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7.) Laugh at your own jokes.

8.) The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like.

(That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.)

9.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Friday, November 29, 2013


In much of America, Christmas shambles along like some zombie, driven forward ever onward but with no life in its eyes.

What did Scrooge say towards the end of THE CHRISTMAS CAROL?

"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. "The Spirts of all Three shall strive within me."

But is that we and the others around us seem to be saying with our scurryings?

We yearn for tomorrow and the promise that it represents.

But yesterday was once tomorrow, and where are the ghosts of yesterday's promises?

Or we yearn for yesterday, for what was or what might have been or what we choose to remember of it.

But as we are yearning, the present is becoming the past, and the present slips through our fingers unlived.  We become hungry ghosts.

Our eyes see more than our minds can comprehend, and we go through life self-blinded to so much that lies before us.

We yearn for the simple world of childhood, but we live in the complex arena of adulthood,

and rather than open ourselves to it, we perceive the world through filters that make it less frightening. 

Is that what Christmas has become: a comfortable filter of illusion?

For many I fear the answer to that question would be 'yes.'

“The sky is deep, the sky is dark.
The light of the stars is so damn stark
When I look up, I fill with fear,
if all we have is what lies here,
this lonely world, this troubled place,
then cold dead stars and empty space...

I see no reason to persevere,
no reason to laugh or shed a tear,
no reason to sleep and none to wake.
No promises to keep and none to make.

So at night I still raise my eyes
to study the mysterious skies
that arch above us, cold as stone.
Are you there God? Are we alone?” 


The answer to Dean's question is Christmas.

For those who despair that their lives are without meaning and without purpose, for those who dwell in a loneliness so terrible that it has withered their hearts,

for those who hate because they have no awareness of the destiny they share with all humanity,

for those who would squander their lives in self-pity and in self-destruction because they have lost the saving wisdom with which they were born,

for all these and many more, hope waits in the dreams of childhood, where the sacred nature of life was lived without the toxic filters of greed, envy and endless fear.

And there is where you go in the Spirit of Christmas:

 In dream woods and fields, along misty shores of dream seas, with reawakened awareness of the joy abiding in all newborn things,

You look up into the magic night of the Nativity with its Star shining bright and what thus far you only dared to hope is true:

that although you have often felt no one loved you, there is One who always has. 


Ghost of Samuel Clemens here.

Who am I you ask?  Why you under-educated rascals, I'm the writer Mark Twain.  I shouldn't get so aggrieved I guess.

My books are like water.  Those of the great geniuses are wine. Fortunately everybody drinks water.

I shouldn't take on airs either I reckon.  I should learn from the vegetable kingdom where cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.

I am 178 years old today. 

 It is the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a lifetime and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your ghostly summit and look down and teach—unrebuked.

I achieved my seventy years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else.

The moral?  We can’t reach old age by another man’s road.

I hear much talk about the end of the world.  Children, if Ragnarok does come, you want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.

Now, I have been called a pessimist (and nearly everything else you can conjure).  The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little.

Can you believe it?  My estate still pays this danged government taxes.  You know the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.

Of course, you shouldn't get mad at the government.  The government is made of men.  And what a sorrowful creature is Man.  But then, what can you expect?  Man is but a creature made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.

Oh, so some of you would want to have a bit of writerly wisdom?  Here is something to chew on:
You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

As for how to reach the pinnacle of fine prose ... like with old age your path must be your own. 

Don't follow in anyone's footsteps.  You'll only wind up tripping over your own feet. 
Even if you "succeed," you will only be a copy.  Aim to be a first class you.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


To many Thanksgiving is a mockery.

To be told that much remains in your life when all you can see is it in ruins is worse than a mockery.

Though the struggle with grief at Thanksgiving is a private one, it is hardly a solitary event.  Millions are even tonight trying to find the will to face tomorrow, not knowing how they will do it.

Soon or late grief hits all of us in the solar plexus.  We gasp; we stagger; and we reel.

Across the nation today, millions will look hollow-eyed in the mirror.

For whatever reason, you are bleeding from a deep wound.  It will not go away quickly.  No amount of forced cheer will lessen it.

Sometimes talking to a lost loved one will help you feel connected to them if only in distant, ethereal way.  But the connection can help you move among others in an easier fashion.

Sometimes you wonder how a human mind and heart can take such a blow and go on.  It seems unfair somehow that the sun will rise and your beloved will not, that laughter will echo through homes while yours is hollow and empty.

There are others, lost souls, life having somehow gotten away from them.  They sit in a homeless shelter, waiting in line for food from strangers.

Be one of those strangers handing out food but with the added mission of not staying a stranger.  Make eye contact with those in pain, lost by the wayside.

Nursing homes are filled with warehoused elderly with no one.  Visit a nearby nursing home.  Ask for a person with no one to visit them.  And visit with what you would want in their place: smiles, support, and the continued visits during the holiday season.

But you cannot rush healing.  If you cannot see yourself among others this Thanksgiving: give yourself permission to bleed.  Healing takes time.  But the heart does heal: slowly like the minute hand of a clock -- but the heart heals.

Much talk is bandied about concerning crutches -- but if your leg is broken, you use a crutch.  Yet, you shed it when you can for a cane so that your leg grows stronger.

We who grieve are exiled in our society.
Exiled by the turning away of a face so they don’t have to witness our agony.
Exiled by the silence left as friends and family drift away.
Exiled by the lack of recognition of this universal experience.
Remember this time -- and when your heart has healed enough, be strong enough NOT to exile those who will enter your life in a similar grief.

The most insidious side of the language of grief is the lack of words that give weight to the experience. Those who choose to give us condolences seldom stop to recognize the power of the awakening we are forced into.

Instead they pity us, safely distanced from the heat of our experience. Unfortunately, few are willing to walk into the darkness before it’s their time. If we try to tell others what it’s like, we’re stuck with words that don't even come close.


Again, remember this feeling.  And when you come across it in the anguished eyes of another, be aware that an answer is not wanted -- just someone that gives a damn.


Don't ask them "How are you?"  You know how you hate that question.  Instead, simply say, "It's hard, damn hard.  It's dark now.  The light does return ... not the same but you see things in a different, wiser light."


The laughter of others sting when you hear it.  But Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh. 


You hear grief is a storm.  No.  It is the winter of the soul.  But spring does come.  It really does.


Look around you. Every face is a mask hiding loss, hiding grief.  Look for ways to help others.  In that helping, your mind will be taken from your own pain.


 1.) Volunteer


 Perhaps your local animal shelter needs help taking dogs out for walks or a senior's residence would like visitors for their guests who are also alone at Thanksgiving.

Volunteering is a great way to be thankful for what you have and realize that your situation could be worse.


2.) Get in Touch With Others Who Are Alone


 Thanksgiving does not have to be spent with family. If you know of coworkers or acquaintances who are spending the holiday alone, why not ask if they would like to spend it together?

3.) Get Outdoors


Just having a plan to spend some time outdoors can brighten your mood and make you feel less lonely.  You might even cross paths with other nature lovers who are alone on Thanksgiving.

4.) People Watch
If you can't be in the company of others, you can at least get out and be amongst people. Although most businesses will be closed on Thanksgiving day, you are likely to find restaurants and coffee shops that are open.
Choose a spot where you can sit and watch people come and go. If you feel self-conscious sitting alone, bring along a newspaper to read or a laptop to check emails or surf the Internet.
5.) Remember You Are Not Alone
Thanksgiving and Christmas witness a peculiar self-selection effect:
anyone who has anywhere to go is out and extremely visible, while folks who have nowhere to go tend to huddle inside their houses and apartments.
So while it may seem as if everyone is enjoying Thanksgiving with friends and family, there are actually a large number of (very normal) people spending the day alone, just like you.

Take in a movie that will draw you out of yourself -- whatever kind that may be for you. 

I will be out on the roads, working for my friends who have family.  May your Thanksgiving be better than you could imagine.  :-)



Mark Twain, ghost, here:
Thanksgiving Day.
Let us all give humble, hearty and sincere thanks, now.
Of course the turkeys take a somewhat dim view of the day.
Let them move to Fiji I say.

Why on the island of Fiji they do not use turkeys; they use politicians. It does not become you and me to sneer at Fiji.
Every year every person in America concentrates all his thoughts upon one thing:
the cataloguing of his reasons for being thankful to the Deity for the blessings conferred upon him
and upon the human race during the expiring 12 months.

This is well and as it should be; but it is too one-sided.

No one seems to think of the Deity’s side of it;

apparently no one concerns himself to inquire how much or how little He has to be thankful for during the same period.
Apparently no one has had good feeling enough to wish He might have a happy Thanksgiving day too.
There is nothing right about this. Do you suppose everything has gone to His satisfaction during the year?
Do you believe He is as sweepingly thankful as our nation is going to try and act on this day?
One is justified in fearing that the Deity’s Thanksgiving Day is not as rosy as ours will appear

when the Thanksgiving sentiments blossom in our greeting cards and journals.
And since all these blessings for which we are thankful come from Him,

might he not voice His displeasure by not so freely handing them out in the future?
Don’t thank me for this thought. 

It was only a little thing to do, and no trouble; and it’s the little things that smoothes people’s roads the most, down here below.
It is curious—the space-annihilating power of thought.

For just one second, all that goes to make the me in me is back in a Missourian village, on the other side of the globe,
vividly seeing again these forgotten pictures of one hundred fifty years ago, and wholly unconscious of all things but those.
And in the next second I am back in Roland’s apartment....
Back to boyhood—one hundred fifty years. Back to ghosthood again—another one hundred  fifty years.

And a flight equal to the circumference of the globe and all the whimsy of H.G. Wells—

Done in two seconds by the watch!

A man’s private thought can never be a lie; what he thinks, is to him the truth, always. 

We should take care what we tell ourselves, for we believe our fears when we should believe our dreams.

Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.

It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.

But not to worry --
The world will not stop and think—it never does, it is not its way. Its way is to generalize from a single example.

Today make your example something for which those around you are thankful.

Now, I am off for some Thanksgiving steak!  Pilgrims, you eat your Thanksgiving dinner, and I will eat mine!

So, children, what do you think of this year's Thanksgiving, and what will you do to celebrate it?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Your unconscious speaks to you all the time. Usually, the din of our present moment drowns it out.


But the unconscious is a tricky little bugger.

As I was driving tonight in the blinding rains, courtesy of the storm front punishing much of the country,

a car darted recklessly in front of me. I drive as if everyone around me is suicidal and moronic -- so there was no accident.

Through the blurred windshield, I spotted the bumper sticker on it. I thought I read:


When the windshield wipers sqeaked me a clear view, my impression wasn't even close to the true words of the sticker.

Don't ask. Just content yourself with the fact that it matched perfectly the mindset of a suicidal moron.

But it got me to thinking as I drove to Beaumont. My unconscious mind was right.

Life is a circle of seasons. No winter stays forever. No summer is endless. Trauma will end. Healing will begin. And no joy lasts forever.

My blog friends email me:

some are struggling in the middle of their novels;

some are just trying to overcome the inertia of pushing the beginning of their narrative over that first hill;

while others are brooding about revisions:

where to prune, where to further illuminate.

Whatever season you find yourself struggling in,

know that with the trials, there are also pleasures involved with each season.

Both blessings and blights have expiration dates.

Life is both less and more than you may think. It is a fragile tangle of perceptions that exist in a fleeting moment in time.

This moment.

See? It is already gone
that moment when your eyes first spied the title over my post.

And that is something my half-Lakota mother taught me as we looked out over Lake Michigan at a frosty sunset
while she spun me tales of the Twilight of the Gods, and what it meant to be courageous.

Suddenly, she turned to me and said:
"Breathe each breath, little one. No two are the same. Remember the colors that paint this sky. Remember me, little one. Remember, and this sunset ... and I ... we will never leave you. Never."

Last week I wrote of Emily Dickinson. Writing of that sunset from so long ago has reminded me of her "Blazing in Gold." Here is a snippet:

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

Another favorite comes from Christina Georgina Rossetti's "From Sunset To Star Rise":

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

We write our tales, spinning them of the silk of our imagination and perceptions. We sail the dark seas of longing and desire ... to be published?
I think we sail for a shore other than the need to be heard.
No, we sail upon the Sea of Dreams to connect to others of like spirit out in the darkness.

That is why we sail upon uncertain seas to tell our stories ... to reach another heart like ours:
hurting, hoping, and helping.
That is a star worthy of charting our course by.

What did John Masefield write?

I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship

And a star to steer by.


My arms were filled with packages for my friends.

On top of them was a small gold box for Alice,

 containing a silver garter with one word stitched in scarlet thread, "Rubicon."

The little joke would make Alice groan and Victor snicker.

But underneath it was a finely crafted broach of one single black rose,

reminding them both of the time they were reunited by an enemy ...

that something good can come from a hurtful act ...

as Easter taught us so long ago.

Each package contained both a gag gift and a meaningful one.

It was tradition with me. Samuel, Renfield, Magda, Ada, Margaret, Hicock, and Toya were all taken care of.

I stood on the corner of Royal and St. Peter, waiting for the sun to set on Christmas Eve ...

and for Cafe Royal to be transformed into the CrossRoads of Worlds,


There was a hollow moaning of ethereal music soft and eerie all about me. Ghost demons swirled from the billowing mists layering the street.

Black wings rustled angrily as a tall being with three slowly revolving faces suddenly stood by my side. The eagle face cawed at the spirits.

"Not tonight. Begone!"

They went. Very, very fast.

"T-Thanks," I managed.

The lion's face wrinkled with an emotion I couldn't read. "We did not do it for you. Enter. You are expected."

I shivered, promising myself I would add a lump of coal to Samuel's package next year.

I entered as the lamb's face winked at me. My shivers picked up goosebumps for company.

I walked through the saloon doors that once belonged to the bar owned by Hicock in Deadwood. I set my face to be prepared for anything. Like always when I did that, I got the one thing I didn't expect.

The place was empty.

Its shimmering, slowly spinning chandeliers illuminated gothic furnishings straight out of a Victorian Gentleman's club.

Scarlet wall hangings fluttered from a breeze I could not feel. Portraits of lovely ladies turned their heads in the paintings to wink at me.

"Come. Sit. Drink some of this horrid stuff."

I turned to the bar and to the sound of the deep voice. I frowned.

A short, muscular man in a plaid shirt, faded jeans, and hiking boots. His hawk nose said he was Jewish. His sparkling eyes hinted that he was friendly.

He patted the stool next to him. "Put those packages on the table next to you and sit yourself down before you fall down."

I sat down on the stool. Man, I towered over him. He had to be five foot six inches at the most.

"Five, eight," he smiled. "Jewish males when I was born were usually five, five."

His smile gleamed white in his bronzed face. "I was a giant among men then ... in some circles."

He touched the scars on the back of his hands softly. "Not so much in others."

"Joshua," I whispered.

"Right the first time," he laughed. "Only Greeks should call me that other name."

"But you don't have a beard."

His face sombered. "After the soldiers half-pulled it out, I shaved off the rest of it."

He sipped from his glass, filled with thick white liquid and grimaced, "Why do you people drink such a terrible tasting beverage in honor of my birthday?"

"White Russian?," I winked back at him, hoping to bring the light back to his eyes.

"Ha. Ha. Egg Nog. My last earthly beverage had more kick than this."

"You turned that down as I remember."

"Yes, I should have taken a sip to take the edge off this egg nog. Yuck!"

"You come here often?"

"Every Christmas Eve for one drink of egg nog with Samuel. Of course, I don't show up in this body. He must make up his own mind about me."

"Where is he?," I asked.

"Getting into fatal trouble with Victor and the others as we speak."

I started to get up when He waved me down. "Sit. I sent reinforcements."

His smile flashed like a long-awaited dawn through dense trees. "My present to you."


"Da nada," he chuckled as if at some private joke.

One eyebrow raised slowly. "No questions on your future? No requests to become the next J K Rowling?"

I shook my head. "I don't have the pretty legs for it."

He snorted, "Always a joke when you are scared, isn't it?"

"That or a White Russian."

"You dress better than the Dude, and you don't drink," he smiled softly.

"With the trouble I get into sober, can you imagine me drunk?"

He sipped his egg nog. "Yes, I can. And even being me that is scary."

I nodded to the empty tables. "Where are the other customers?"

"I made them uncomfortable. Can you imagine that?"

"Perhaps it was their pasts," I said.

His face grew sad. "Or their futures."

I had to remove that sadness somehow. "Joshua, what did the zero say to the eight?"

Joshua, being Joshua, spoke the answer with me. "What a lovely belt you have on."

He massaged his temples with his long, strong fingers, and I saw the small scars on his forehead from the last present humans had given him.

He shook his head. "That has got to be the worst joke told for the best reason I have ever heard."

He winked. "Catch you later."

And He was gone.

"Looking forward to it," I whispered.

I sipped my own egg nog and grimaced. Jeez, He was right. This stuff did taste terrible.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Price: $13.95 or FREE
with 30 day free trial.
"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul  
Where we needed to be.
How many of us are even now striving for our dreams?  Does it seem as if you are on a treadmill?
Lots of effort but ending up in the same spot, still huffing and puffing?
The people in my audiobook are all striving with their dreams, with their failures, and with their despair.
Each find themselves at a crossroads they have been heading towards all their lives without knowing it.
More often than not, where they are is for others, not for themselves. 
But in striving to ease the despair of others, they find it lifting in themselves.
Perhaps that is where you find yourself. 
Look around you.  Maybe there is someone that needs a lift, a smile, someone to stand between the blow and them.  Who knows?
You may find your purpose and a new dream.
Francene Lockett (END OF DAYS & UNDER A VOODOO MOON) delivers a riveting performance.
Don't miss it.  Try the Audible 30 day free trial and get BURNT OFFERINGS for FREE.
I guarantee it will be worth every cent you paid for it.  :-)

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Ever been enjoying a great movie mystery?  You're on the edge of your seat. 

Then -- The mystery is solved!

And ...

You go: that's it?

John Steinbeck in his travels across the U.S. with his giant blue poodle, Charlie, forever got lost.

As he stared forlornly at maps, he learned a valuable lesson that applies to novel-writing:

To find where you are going, you must first know where you are.


I. Your hero is the catalyst -

    His nature stirs the pot.  He does not sit and whine and narrate others helping him out.  He steps up to the base and swings. 

    If God walks in, rolls up His sleeves, and says, "Looks like you could use some help"  --

    It is your ending that needs the help!

II. Lessons learned come into play:

    Your hero's lifelong problem/inner demon makes a last ditch effort to derail your hero's life.

    But your hero has grown and side-steps his inner demon, using the strength he has acquired along the way.

III. The hero is new-born, forged in the crucible of the prior pages.

    The hero should demonstrate courage, creativity,
out-of-the-box thinking,

    even brilliance in setting the cogs in motion that
will resolve the story.

   This is where the protagonist earns the right to be called a hero.


Here’s the real magic of THE ENDING:

If you’ve done your job well in the first three quarters of your story,

if you’ve plotted with powerful milestones that are in context to a compelling and empathetic hero’s quest and evolving arc,

chances are you’ll intuitively know how your story needs to end when you get there.

Or, if not intuitively, then after some serious introspection and long walks in the woods with a digital recorder!


No new expositional information may enter the story once it has been triggered.

If something appears in the final act,
it must have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play.

This includes characters.


You should strategize and plot all your main story points beforehand—

even if you aren’t yet sure of your ending—

and in the process of developing the first three parts

you’ll find that the final act begins to crystallize as part of the process.

I hope this helps in some small way.