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Friday, June 30, 2023

ARE YOU A HIDDEN PENNY?



When Annie Dillard was six growing up in Pittsburgh, 

she used to take a precious penny and hide it for someone else to find.

She would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore or 

in the hole left by a chipped out piece of sidewalk or some other hidden place.

Then, she would take a piece of chalk and draw huge arrows leading to it from either end of the block.

When she learned to write, little Annie would label the arrows: 

SURPRISE AHEAD or TREASURE.

As she would draw the arrows, 

she would be greatly excited at the thought of the look on the happy face of the lucky discoverer of her precious penny.


She would never lurk about waiting to see who it was.

It was enough just to know of the pleasure she was giving some lucky stranger.


And her imagination provided much more pleasure than the actual reality of seeing those faces I would suppose.

 Life is like that




How many lonely people do we pass 

that believe that they have drawn obvious arrows to the hidden treasure that they are?

Do they wonder why no one finds them?

Each person in our lives is a hidden penny ...

precious like Annie's penny, for they are all they possess of worth.

In a similar fashion, even our least read Indy Book

can become a needful Hidden Penny

to a browsing reader who finds surcease or solace in our hardly read book.

So, writer feeling unappreciated, take Heart:
  
Your book may prove a balm 
to a lonely soul.
 


“All great and precious things are lonely.”
- John Steinbeck

Have You Ever Been 
A Hidden Penny?



Tuesday, June 27, 2023

ROMMEL

 


Due to the blistering heat, my workload, and my heart, my novel has languished ... but in air conditioning. 

When we last left the bleeding Richard Blaine, he was being led at Luger point into the office of Field Marshal Rommel.

ROMMEL

“Meeting the enemy never goes as you think.”

 – Major Richard Blaine

 

The lieutenant, Hauptmann, barked orders to the sergeant, “ Oberscharführer Heinz, take your injured men to the infirmary.”

When Heinz hesitated, the lieutenant snapped, “Now, Heinz while you still have the rank and before the Field Marshall finds out you ignored his orders to take the prisoner directly to him.”

He went but not before he looked long and hard at the Lugar in the officer’s hand.

I winced as my cracked ribs protested when I spoke to the Lieutenant. “You can’t blame Heinz. The Field Marshall has been pushing his men hard, getting ready for the supposed invasion.”

He studied me and answered my German with English. “I do not recall asking you for your thoughts on the matter. Now, move! Mach Schnell!”

Since my left eye was swelling shut, I gave him my best “Eat worms and die” glare out of my right one. But since he was holding a loaded automatic, he bore up well under it. Or maybe it was just hard to intimidate a Nazi on the eve of Overlord.

My cracked ribs slowed me down. I regretted not shooting Heinz when I had the chance. The Lieutenant jabbed me in the ribs to get me going faster. Of course, it was right on top of one of the cracked ones.

It was a dumb move on his part. You do not physically touch an enemy with your weapon … unless the end of it ended in a bayonet. I was tempted to snatch the thing from his hand.

‘Not yet,’ chided Sentient.

‘Not ever,’ I mind-thought back to her. ‘I am getting slower by the second.’

‘My doing, Blaine. I want him to underestimate you. When the time comes, I will make sure you are fast enough.’

‘I am the one who will get shot.’

‘Gods! If I had a wedge of cheese, I would give it to you to go with your whine.’’

The Lieutenant jabbed me in the same rib again. “Ow! That rib is cracked.”

“Do I look as if I care? Now, walk. The Field Marshall will be upset at this delay.”

I was about to snap ‘Do I look as if I care?’ when I reconsidered. Another jab might fully break that rib. I decided to irritate the hell out of him another way.

“Lieutenant, your last name is Hauptmann, right? But isn’t that the term for ‘Captain’ in the Wehrmacht? Does that cause you any trouble?”

“Shut up!”

I smiled drily. “That’s what I thought.”

With that, we stood at a half-open doorway. He shoved me into the waiting room beyond. He stalked to the heavily waxed door which obviously led to the Field Marshall’s office.

I raced to the door, flinging it open, and said in my most perfect German, “Major Richard Blaine accepting your gracious invitation, Field Marshall.”

Hauptmann shoved me aside, only to have his general bark at him. “Lieutenant! What is the meaning of this? I asked for this prisoner to be brought directly to me. And you bring him to me bloody, naked, and unbound!”

“Hardly, naked, sir. I have on swimming trunks.”

He gave me a stern look. “I must commend you on your excellent German.”

“It should be excellent, sir. I taught it for a year at West Point … along with French, Italian, Russian, and Japanese.”

He flashed me a paper-cut smile. “All the languages of your enemies, then?”

“Not all, sir. I still can’t understand the language of females. And aren’t they the enemies of all us males?”

He gave a belly laugh at that, lighting up his whole face. Then, again, maybe the war hadn’t given him a lot to laugh about lately. I pulled back from my compassion. The mother of his illegitimate daughter committed suicide over his return to his fiancée.

His face became granite again. “How is my old friend, Montgomery?”

I smiled, “He named his pet spaniel dog, Rommel.”

He snorted, “Again, you make me laugh for real. I must adopt another dog and name him ‘Monty.’”

“He’d like that I believe.”

“Why do you say that? We are enemies.”

“Funny thing about enemies, sir. If you are lucky enough to have the right sort of enemy, you can grow to respect, admire him. Not his politics surely, but his character. General Montgomery considers you a chivalric opponent and the poster boy of the Clean Wehrmacht.”

His right eyebrow shot up. “I added that last part myself.”

His eyes grew shrewd. “Why did your Major Laska hate you so much that he betrayed you into my hands?”

I shrugged and winced at the pain of my two cracked ribs. “I refuse to genuflect in his presence.”

He sputtered a laugh. “There are officers like that in my Wehrmacht as well.”

He frowned. “You were not surprised at my mention of Major Laska’s betrayal, were you?”

I shook my head. “No. He was the only one to know my exact destination. So, when a U-boat appeared not only at my stern, but at my bow, it stretched coincidence beyond the limits of credulity.”

I frowned at the shafts of the dawning sun coming from the three windows behind him. “How did he let you know in the first place?”

Rommel looked like he tasted something foul. “We have recently infiltrated a local cell of the resistance. We grew to suspect we had been found out when useful intelligence dried up from that source.”

He smiled with all the warmth of a winter sun. “When, lo and behold, we received a cipher so crude a child could have deciphered it. It gave the particulars of your mission and a summation of your character so derogatory that the Gestapo just had to research you.”

Rommel patted a thick folder. “Do you really have an I.Q. of 400?”

“I think it is higher. I wasn’t trying on the test. Does it talk about my love life? If it does, it lies. My love life was just getting interesting when the draft notice showed up.”

The lieutenant snapped, “Show some respect to the Field Marshall. You stand there naked in his presence with such insolence.”

I fixed him with my best Sister Ameal stare. “My lack of clothing reflects on my captors not on me.”

Rommel said, “Just so. Just so. Hauptmann, fetch the Major his clothing.”

“Ah, in its removal, it was destroyed … by Sgt. Heinz.”

“Yes, I see. Well, private Heinz and I will discuss that later.”

Rommel massaged his forehead. “There have to be some discarded uniforms in this chateau.”

I shook my head. “I will not wear the uniform of my enemy … sir.”

He gave me a sharp look and took a deep breath. “I can respect that.”

I limped to the coat rack in the corner as Hauptmann carefully followed me with his Luger. “But I will wear your long coat, sir.”

The lieutenant husked, “You dare?”

I forced a smile. “Not just for the warmth, but for the looks on the Gestapo enforcers when they start in on me. I hear the Gestapo Book of Etiquette and Good Manners is a very slim volume.”

Rommel gave me a Sister Ameal smile. “Indeed, it is. Come, sit down. We have a few minutes before they arrive.”

He shook his head at me as I put on his coat. “Why do you fight for a country that betrayed you?”

“I don’t fight for my country, sir.”

Hauptmann and Rommel both said as one, “What?”

“I fight for the woman I love, Helen Mayfair. I would do nothing that would make her think less of me.”

I limped to his desk and reached for a pencil. The lieutenant cocked his pistol. I sighed.

“I do not have to kill the Field Marshall. The Gestapo will do it for me.”

Rommel frowned, and I whispered low, “Unternehmen Walküre.”

I said louder, “The next time that bespectacled Hans Speidel approaches you on his mad scheme, shoot him. One woman committing suicide over you is enough.”

The lieutenant’s hand holding the Lugar began to tremble. So, he was in on it, too. I sighed.

“If you are going to shoot, shoot. Better a fast death than slow torture.”

His trigger finger whitened, tightened, and Rommel snapped, “Hauptmann, no!”

He turned to me. “How do you know?”

I said, “My men ….”

“Your Spartan 3oo? But there are only 12 of them. Why 3oo?”

I smiled crooked, “If they are the right twelve, they can do the work of three hundred.”

I smiled sadder. “They call me a magician. And that is as good a thing to call me as anything else.”

The lieutenant said low, “I can think of others.”

I turned to Rommel. “Another satisfied customer. I’ll take two pencils and that blank page if you don’t mind. I’ll draw you the face always in my dreams.”

My right hand blurred as I reached for the pencils, and a folder by Rommel’s left hand disappeared. What was Sentient up to? And would it get me killed faster than my own mouth would?

As I sketched in the style of Leonardo da Vinci, Rommel cleared his throat and changed the subject, “Do you really think there is going to be an invasion? That the British will invade?”

“You’ve got them on the ropes, sir. What other choice do they have?”

“Well, if they are, this is going to be the first time that the British Army will do some fighting.”

“What do you mean?”

“They always get other people to do the fighting for them, the Australians, the Canadians, the New Zealanders, the South Africans. They are very clever people these English.”

Rommel grew serious. “Well, where do you think the invasion is coming?”

“If I knew, do you think Laska would betray me to you so that the Gestapo could torture it out of me? But if it was up to me, I wouldn’t invade by land at all.”

Once again, Rommel and Hauptmann spoke as one, “What?”

“The Allies have air superiority. They own the skies over Europe. Me? I’d save 133,000 Allied lives and bomb you all into submission.”

“You swine,” growled Hauptmann.

“That’s Major Swine to you.”

The door swung roughly open, and a squad of black uniformed Gestapo soldiers bristled into the room. “We have come for the prisoner.”

“Showtime,” I smiled, throwing up my arm to cover my face and leapt out the middle window.

Merde. It was a long way down. But what had I said? Better a fast death than slow torture.



Monday, June 26, 2023

JIHAD

 



It seems the whole world is bent 
on getting even for something, 
doesn't it?

“The only people 
who you should get even with 
are those who have helped you.”
― John Southard 

"The best revenge is to live well." 
- Oscar Wilde



 Where is the survival benefit 
in feeling the need to get even?



 Life isn't a game, 
and simply getting even 
doesn't mean
 you've won the battle;
 it just means 
you've lost your self-respect.

 "For every minute you are angry 
you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”  
~Ralph Waldo Emerson




Brooding over an injustice 
only makes the event,
which took minutes,
possess weeks 
or years 
of 
our lives.


Let it go. 

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN
THE URGE TO GET EVEN
POSSESSES YOU?



Saturday, June 24, 2023

WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

 



With pandemics, riots, 
senseless violence,  

What we can control in our lives
Seems non-existent.


What you can control as a writer 
these days 
seems to amount to very little,
 too, doesn't it?


You cannot control being knocked down,
but you can control getting up
one more time than they knock you down.


There is no secret formula 
to become a best seller
else we would all be Stephen King.


The common concept 
of Social Media Marketing
is NOT the answer


How tired are you of reading 
BUY ME! novel tweets?

How frustrated are you of FB requests 
to like a Book Page?



It is like selling a kiss.

Even if you make a sale,
there is no satisfaction to it. 

It is like kissing your sister.

So what control do we have?


We can choose to grow as a writer, 
as a human being.

Each story we write 
we strive to make better 
than the last.


We do not market an individual book.

We market ourselves.
We are the Brand that will sell.


If each blog post we write 
is evocative or funny or touching,
then, our readers 
will feel those qualities
will be in any new novel we write.


Take  
The HAUNTING of Hill House.


Based on the evocative book 
by Shirley Jackson,
the series will inspire you 
to rise above the
ordinary limits of 
whatever genre you are writing.


How do you make each new story, 
new novel better?

You start with the 
hearts of your characters.
Make them people to root for,
 to like, 
to mourn when life 
extracts its tuition from them.


Hill House is filled with decent, 
charming people
in an originally crafted 
series of dangers
whose explanation at the end 
will have you crying.


Each of your characters,
like each character in Hill House,
should have have a scene

where they come alive 
in the minds of the readers,
giving them an 
"Yes, I've been there" moment.


What do you control?  
What are your chances of success?

You are like a WWII fighter pilot.

All you can do is your best.
Fly the heart out of your dream.

You may be shot out of the sky.
But before then,
you will have flown!




Thursday, June 22, 2023

DON'T CHASE YOUR DREAMS


It's become a mantra of our generation 

and of all those seminars where "experts" charge you $89.99 to tell you:  

It starts with a dream ...
   ...add faith and it becomes a belief.

Add action ...
   ... and it becomes a way of life.

Add perseverance ...
   ... and it becomes a goal in sight.

Add patience and time ...
   ... and it becomes a dream come true.


Sadly, no.


Many who follow that course of action never achieve their dreams.

 Christopher Nolan 



shared some respectful, realistic graduation advice at Princeton's commencement ceremony on Monday morning.

It ran counter to what speeches like that say.

 "In the great tradition of these speeches, generally someone says something along the lines of  'Chase your dreams,' 

But I don't want to tell you that because I don't believe it," he told the students at Class Day. 

"I want you to chase your reality."


"I feel," he said,

"that over time, we started to view reality as the poor cousin to our dreams, in a sense. ... 

I want to make the case to you that our dreams, our virtual realities, these abstractions that we enjoy and surround ourselves with — 

they are subsets of reality."

The end of Inception where the camera cut to black just as the spinning top looked to be wobbling was Nolan's statement --

Cobb didn't care anymore.  He was with his kids ... all levels of reality are valid.

Nolan said, 

" But the question of whether that's a  dream or whether it's real is the question I've been asked most about any of the films I've made. 

It matters to people because that's the point about reality. Reality matters."

" I think our generation went out into the world believing 

that if we could connect the world, if we could allow the free exchange of ideas across geographical boundaries, economic boundaries, 

if we could all talk, these problems would go away. 

Unfortunately, I think by now, we have to acknowledge that we were wrong, 

that's not the case. Communication is not everything."


I agree with Nolan that reality matters, that if we sacrifice the bounties of the here and now 

for the grasping of that Brass Ring that may never come close to our fingers ...


We have ceased to live fully, to be entirely in the moment ...


and our fiction will be paler and less authentic than winning prose needs to be.


Hemingway's work is still valued and talked about ... for he lived life fully ...


He inhaled life and breathed out prose that pulsed with reality.


What do you think?

THE MAGIC OF WRITING WELL_ 6 tips from JOHN STEINBECK

 

 
“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself.

The writer's work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book.

The reader's recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book's truth.”
― Marcel Proust

John Steinbeck:

"If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is,

no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another.

The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader.

If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it.

You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American writer.

He is widely known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

and East of Eden (1952) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937).

Now, for John Steinbeck's 8 tips to make your writing great:

1.) Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.


2.) Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.


3.) Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.


4.) If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.


5.)Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.


6.) If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.



Wednesday, June 21, 2023

TRAPPED

 

Betrayed by Major Laska into the hands of Rommel's men, Richard Blaine finds himself brought to the headquarters of the infamous Field Marshall.

BEATEN

“If you kick me when I’m down, you best pray I don’t get up.”

 – Major Richard Blaine

 

They brought me, with a minimum of beatings (I had much worse back at St. Marok’s), to Rommel’s headquarters at La Roche-Guyon.

Very impressive architecture and location, and you don't see too many chateau’s built into the cliff face itself. La Roche was originally hollowed out of the cliff in the 12th century and was added onto over the centuries. There were a lot of stairs, so a certain level of fitness was required.

Fear does a lot for my fitness, so I jogged up them … much to the disgruntled curses from the bow-legged sailors behind me.  Hey, they should complain. I had my hands bound behind me. You try jogging up stairs like that.

 I noticed as I walked down a long hall that one of the rooms had four excellent tapestries. Helen would love to look at them I told myself. Rommel’s office was behind the three windows above the lamp post to the right of the main road.

The chateau entrance was to the right of where the road trailed off. The lower buildings to the left were the horse stalls and carriage house.

Sentient finally got over her anger at me and began speaking to me again, ‘Rommel will rush back on June 6, the night of the invasion, from his wife’s birthday party arriving late that evening. He will be returning from the battlefield south of Caen July 17 when his Horsch car is said to be strafed, and he wounded.’

It was disconcerting to hear Sentient speak so calmly and confidently of things yet to be.

‘What I am allows me to be certain. Of course, that “accident” will be but a ruse. Hitler will soon discover that Field Marshall Rommel has allowed himself to be ensnared into the plot to assassinate him. Hitler will give Rommel a choice: persecution of his family or a cyanide pill for himself.’

Just as if what she had been saying hadn’t been horrendous, Sentient bubbled on as if a tour guide, ‘The pigeonnier is quite stunning, is it not?  And the keep has the most beautiful view across the Seine. The present Château de La Roche-Guyon was built in the 12th century, controlling a river crossing of the Seine, itself one of the routes to and from Normandy.’

Sentient either did not pick up on my horror, or she flat did not care. Either frame of mind would be within her nature.

‘The Abbé Suger described its bleak aspect: "At the summit of a steep promontory, dominating the bank of the great river Seine, rises a frightful castle without title to nobility, called La Roche. Invisible on the surface, it is hollowed out of a high cliff. The able hand of the builder has established in the mountainside, digging into the rock, an ample dwelling provided with a few miserable openings. donjon (keep) on the hill behind.’

By that time, we had reached the “interrogation room.” Once there, the brown shirts stripped me naked. Then, they went to work on me. It was almost a relief, for at least, Sentient stopped speaking within my head.

 Sentient did move my chin twice or thrice to shatter the bones in one brute’s hand, numb another’s with a stab of my chin into a nerve (I reminded myself to remember that one,) and cause excruciating pain that wouldn’t stop in another bully boy.

With that, one brown shirt had had enough and pulled his luger. I sighed. At least I had drawn blood before I died. Too bad it wasn’t Laska’s.

You couldn’t have everything. I mean, where would you put it all?

I whispered, “Helen, I am sorry I couldn’t make it back to you. My last thought will be of you.”

‘Oh, please!’

The door to the stone room burst open, and an elegant officer in a neatly pressed uniform snapped in German, “Are we the Gestapo that we beat a bound, naked man?”

He turned to me and said in proper English. “And you an officer, no?

I said in proper German, “An officer, yes. A major actually. And quite clever of you this ploy to get my rank. It will do you no good. I was betrayed to you by another major with more seniority but less class.”

He laughed at that, then noting the goons holding their hands and groaning. “Obviously, they have sown to the wind and reaped the whirlwind.”

He gestured to the open door. “The Field Marshall is awaiting you, Major. Too bad you could not have postponed your visit until late May. My British wife says the weather in London is beautiful then. Alas, you will be long dead by  that time.”

“No!” cried the brute who as of yet had not holstered his Lugar. “He dies now!”

He pointed it at me.

The scent of pineapple and cherry blossoms filled my head. No copper snowflakes, but my vision blurred. Not again! Could I at least die as myself?

When Sentient controlled me, she must boost my strength. It was as good a guess as any. Sentient was hardly a blabber, ah, mind.

Not-Me snapped the thick cords around my wrists behind my back as if they had been strings. She must make me fast as Mercury, too, for I snatched the Lugar from his meaty hand faster than my fogged over eyes could follow.

And then, she did what she so often did: she left me in full control again without a single smart thing to say.

Head spinning from her coming and going, I came up with the brilliant rejoinder, “Your breath stinks.”

I ejected both the clip and the bullet in the chamber that I luckily knew how to do. Muscle memory maybe. I flipped the Lugar and handed it to the dumbfounded elegant officer.

“Tell the Field Marshall that his men don’t properly maintain their weapons.”

His face pale and drawn, he said, “I believe that was one of the few things an enemy could say that would sting him.”

I snorted, snatched my swimming trunks off the floor, and put them on with a grunt of bruised muscles. “And a hearty ‘Heil Hitler’ to you, too.”

No longer quite so cheery, he led me out the door, pointing his own Luger at me the whole way to Rommel’s office.

The stone floor was cold to the soles of my naked feet, but not as cold as the blood in my veins.

How was I going to get out of this one?