Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

First I want to mention that today is the last day of the big sale from the BackList Books authors. 25% off already low-priced e-books from over 40 authors in a wide variety of genres. My book, One Small Victory, is one of the books offered. These books were all originally published by traditional publishers and the rights reverted back to the authors. Here is a LINK to the sale page.

Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? The eternal question. I started wondering about that the other day when reading the news, and I just don't know. Consider this:

From Fiction: A line from Father Flip in the play "The Altos, Like the Sopranos only Lower" : "I was lost, but found my way behind bars."

From Real Life: A pastor of a small church in Dallas after being arrested for breaking into a woman's house, defending her checkered past: "I've turned by life around. Since 1988, I have walked the straight and narrow path."

Hmmmmmm? I doubt the pastor ever read The Altos script or saw the show, but it is a scary coincidence that the words are so close.

I read this recently in The Dallas Morning News. "Because Dallas city processes for removing graffiti is so lengthy, the city is contracting with a lawyer who has been painting over the graffiti for several years, even though what he is doing is against the law.

So, instead of streamlining the process so city workers could do the work, the city would rather pay more money to a contractor? But, hey, why not change the law so people in the community could paint over the graffiti for free and not be breaking the law?

Oh, but that would be too simple of a solution for a bureaucracy.

And finally, Happy New Year.   Click on the link for a holiday wish from me to you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Too Many Laws

In a recent column in The Dallas Morning News, Philip Howard put forth a unique idea, have federal and state laws expire after ten or fifteen years. He proposed that laws be repealed so they could be revisited instead of piling up like "sediment in a harbor."

Just think of how streamlined some aspects of government could be if laws determining how agencies are administrated were culled. IRS, anyone? That agency is so top-heavy with laws I wonder how it can even stand anymore.

Howard wrote, "Our political class assumes that, after a law is formed in the crucible of democracy, it should be honored as if it is one of the Ten Commandments, except it is more like one of 10 million."

Ten million laws. Whew. Who can even keep track of so many? Are some so obscure they haven't been read in decades? Where are they all stored?  Do new laws contradict old laws? Do we even know?

I like Howard's idea. He believes that "A healthy democracy must make fresh choices." Society changes and evolves, it doesn't remain in one place forever, but our laws do. Sometimes it is amusing to look at old laws that are still on the books in some states. We laugh at a law that prohibits spitting on the sidewalk, but nobody says, "Gee, maybe we don't need that law anymore."

And I'm guessing that at least half of those 10 million laws that govern us are as antiquated as that one.

The title of Howard's op-ed piece was "One nation under too many laws", and I agree. How about you?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sale on E-Books

There is a terrific sale on the Backlist E-Books site on a wide variety of books from romance to mystery. The sale starts today, Dec 26th and runs  through Dec 31st.

The  books offered were once out in either hardback or paperback by traditional publishers, including my One Small Victory, and the authors retained the electronic rights to the stories. 

If you received a Kindle, Nook, or i-Pad for Christmas, this is a perfect time to load up on a few books. All 84 titles are offered at 25% off, so there are some good deals to be had over the next few days.

Here is a link to the Backlist E-Books site with all the information and coupon codes to get the 25% discount as you check out.

Happy shopping.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Little Holiday Fun

Tis the day before Christmas and all is not done,
Things on the “to do” list number a million and one.
There are cookies to cut while the oven is hot,
And a gift for Aunt Mildred. Egad! I forgot.

There are presents to measure, to balance and wrap,
If the stacks are not even the kids will know in a snap.
The turkey is snug in the freezer so cold,
Will anyone notice if I put dinner on hold?

Tis the day to test stamina, courage, and brawn,
The survivors are heroes at next morning’s dawn.
Just when I thought I was running out of time
A stranger appeared with a smile so sublime.

He was dressed all in silver from his head to his toe.
And I blinked my eyes twice to see if he would go.
He patted my shoulder and gave me a latte,
“Your’re almost there,” he said. “The rest will be easy.

“Don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t get in a frazzle,
Together we’ll do it with narry a hassle.
I’ll hang the tinsel and check all the lights,
You bathe the children and kiss them goodnight.”

The kids were all tucked in their beds nice and warm.
(A threat to their presents always works like a charm.)
I’d finally decided, of course. It’s a dream.
That’s a mirage on my sofa eating toffee ice cream.

I was amazed at the picture that greeted my eyes,
My living room looked like Currier and Ives.
The stockings were stuffed, and so was the bird,
What magic he used was beyond any word.

He smacked his lips, gave a sly little wink,
“It’s time I was off to help other, I think.”
He twirled around once, then three time and more,
And in a twinkling was headed out my front door.

There’s no doubt about it; it was love at first sight,
For that stranger who saved me on Christmas Eve night.
No matter his name, he was really such a dear.
I wonder, will he return again in another year?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, Good Cheer!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Where I am today....

I'm over at the All Day, All Night blog written by a group of us all named Maryann - with various spellings of course. The title of the blog comes from the old song, "All day, all night, Maryann. Down by the seashore sipping sand....." Most of the authors there are romance writers, but they allowed me to be part of the group because I do have one romance novel, even though my main genre is mystery.

Today is my day to post, so I put up one about Christmas lists my kids did one year. Hop on over if you have a minute. That might bring back some memories of your own....

HERE IS THE LINK

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review- One Small Victory

I just received this wonderful review for my book and wanted to share it.

"One Small Victory will draw you into one mother’s desire to fight back and make a difference. With guts and determination, Jenny heads into dangerous drug trafficking territory. Though she puts herself into a situation that gets her in way over her head, I still had to admire her courage. The whole situation could have heaped a lot more grief on top of her family, yet she still went ahead with it.
With heart and soul and plenty of suspense, One Small Victory careens toward an outcome that could end in disaster—or it could result in one small victory against the war on drugs. Nothing is certain, and you won’t breathe easy until the story’s conclusion.
One Small Victory is a rare jewel among e-book reads, so I suggest that you download it now—right this minute. Go, go, go!" Margaret Marr for Nights and Weekends.com
That is just part of her review. If you would like to read the whole thing, click HERE  I am so thrilled and humbled.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

E-Books Have Come a Long Way

It has been exciting to see the surge in e-book sales with the advent of the Kindle and the Nook and the iPad, as well as other reading devices. A lot of authors, including myself, are taking advantage of the interest in e-books by publishing new book straight to electronic formats, as well as putting up our back lists. In fact, there is a site now dedicated to BackList E-Books.  There you can find authors from the well-known like Paul Levine to, well, me.

The criteria for being listed on this site is that your books had to first come out in paper from a traditional publisher, so in a way the work is vetted for the reader.

Another exciting development for e-books is a recent announcement that The New York Times will start reviewing e-books on a regular basis. Wow, talk about validation.

While all of that is great news, what prompted me to write this post was a message I received in my inbox this morning:

We are collecting nominations for 2010 eBook of the Year. Please, nominate your favorite ebook here:
 Winners will be announced in The Huffington Post and will be alerted to over 2000 literary agents as well.
Sponsored byHow to Write a Query Letter.com
  To qualify for the award, the book nominated must have originated as an e-book, and I have two that qualify. Play It Again, Sam and Friends Forever.  A romance and a young adult novel. If you have a book that qualifies, head on over and nominate it for the award. If you don't, well, maybe you would consider nominating one of mine?

Thanks.....

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whats Wrong With This Picture?

A friend sent this message the other day and it really resonated with me.  I have edited the letter some to hide identities and for space constraints.
I'm so angry with the government in this country.  Not newly angered just still, and for more reasons.  My good friends and neighbors have both been unemployed for months now.  Both have lots of experience in retail, warehousing, etc, but so do thousands of others in the same boat.  What worries me is that I'm slowly watching them lose everything, and I know my friend is despondent, depressed and frightened.  She told me yesterday that she dreams of suicide. She's so not that person. She's me...the kind who sees the glass half-full and finds humor in everything...but something has stolen that person and left behind an empty shell.
Her biggest fear is becoming homeless. Her husband just received his last 1/2 of unemployment, which in itself creates a struggle, but now he's done.  There is no way they can live on $268 a week when they have a $575 rental, car payment and utilities...not to mention food. They haven't paid their rent this month, which incurs a $50 late fee as additional punishment when they are already down and out.
Two days ago, they stood in a long line at the senior citizen center to get free food.  I've been giving them what I can, have paid their electric bill once, and also we've bought things from them.  But that's sad too... I've watched their recliners be taken back, their washer and dryer disappear, and I know their Internet, which has become a priority because of all the resumes they send out daily, is eventually going to go.
Then I watch the news and hear about 6000 + earmarks  (6,714 earmarks worth $8.3 billion) ....ridiculous expenditures for a Nikita Khrushchev hiking trail, billions to study idiotic crap that can wait until America is healed, and I want to vomit.
I don't know where to turn to help my friends.  They are both depressed, have given up, and I fear for them both.
It's Christmas.  Isn't this supposed to be about family, love and celebrating goodness?  I fear it's lost on some of us this year. How can we celebrate when our friends are slowing drowning and Congress is more interested in waging their own little wars against the opposite party.
 Unfortunately this scenario is probably playing out across the country, and to solve the budget deficits local, state, and federal governments are trying to cut from the bottom instead of cutting from the top. Why is is always the little guy that has to suffer the most?

If you are interested Here is a link to more information about the earmarks and what they are costing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another Holiday Gift for Readers

Continuing my suggestions of good books to buy for Holiday gifts, I want to recommend books by Raymond Atkins. I read The Front Porch Prophet two years ago, and last year read Sorrow Wood Both excellent books.


The Front Porch Prophet  by Raymond L. Atkins
ISBN: 978-1933836386
Publisher: Medallion Press
Date of publish: July 1, 2008
Pages: 400
S.R.P.: $25.95

 (Now available on Kindle)

While The Front Porch Prophet is described as a humorous work of Southern fiction about two young men who come of age in North Georgia, it is at times as serious as a rattlesnake. In those moments, the author does not hold back when it comes to the tough issues of broken relationships, death and dying, divorce and a myriad of other not so pleasant moments along life’s journey.

A.J. Longstreet and his friend Eugene Purdue have been through a lot since their carefree childhood days spent playing football, pulling pranks, and trying to be the first to lose his virginity. The most recent being a dispute over Eugene’s ex-wife that left the friends estranged for several years. Yet, the toughest days are ahead.

One day Eugene asks A.J to come to his cabin – no easy feat as A.J. has to get past Rufus to get there. Rufus is described as a “cross between a Great Dane and a bear” and he guards the mountain that is home to Eugene’s cabin. A.J. does not even attempt the climb without his Louisville slugger.

The point of the visit becomes painfully clear when Eugene tells A.J. the latest news from the doctor. “I have cancer. I’m rotten with it. It’s terminal.”  After that pronouncement, there is a long silence described this way, “His words hung over the clearing like a gas attack over the Argonne. A gentle breeze blew through the branches, but the words would not disappear.”

There is much to enjoy in this wonderful book, and the use of language that is so precise and so evocative is just one aspect. The dialogue is some of the best ever written. It is natural, true to each character, and so funny in places readers will be hard pressed to stifle their laughter when finishing the book at work because they couldn’t bear to leave the story at home.

On the flip side of the humor is the very serious matter of death and dying and the fact that Eugene wants A. J. to put him out of his misery at the end. “You must be crazy. If you want to shoot yourself or blow yourself up, go ahead. But leave me out of it.” A.J. felt like he was breathing mud. “I know ten or fifteen people who would be happy to accommodate you. Hell, Diane’s daddy would pay you to let him do it.”

“I’d do it for you.”

For nearly six months, A.J wrestles with that request, and during that time the two men visit weekly and sift through the experiences of their lives and try to make sense of it all.

The remembering is as poignant for the reader as it is for the characters.

~~~~~~~

Today I am a guest on the Roses of Houston blog, where a whole series of posts have focused on the Holidays and different traditions and recipes.  Hop on on over if you have a minute to spare.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Gifts

Today I am over at Terry O'Dells blog Terry's Place where I am sharing a bit about  what it means to give and receive a gift. If you have a minute, stop by and let us know what gifts mean to you.

I learned a lesson one year that has stayed with me for a long time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Gifts for Readers

 Last year, my wish list for the holidays included several book and I thought I would share them here on the blog for people who might want a suggestion for a book to get for someone in their family.

On the top of my list was The Dark Horse, by Craig Johnson, now out in paperback. My husband said I only wanted the book because it had "horse" in the title, but that is not true. I had read a review of the book in The Dallas Morning News and was intrigued by the reference to the book being "a literary mystery."

I was not disappointed. This is a wonderful book, with narrative so vivid and rhythmic I found myself pausing to savor a phrase or a sentence. The character of Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire stands counter to stereotype, and his wit elicited many a chuckle.

This is the fifth mystery to feature Walt Longmire (after 2008's Another Man's Moccasins). He is a man who is more interested in the truth than the letter of the law, and he has his doubts about Mary Barsad's guilt when she confesses to shooting her husband, Wade, after Wade allegedly burned down their barn with all Mary's horses inside. Even though the crime is out of his jurisdiction in a neighboring county, Walt can't shake the feeling that there's more to Mary's story. He isn't above a little trickery as he poses as an insurance agent to do some off-the-record investigating.

The story takes place in the small town of Absalom, whose main attraction are the fights at the local bar. There Walt meets an illegal immigrant bartender with a knack for crime solving, the Barsads' loyal cowhand and some ranchers who may have had their own reasons for wanting Wade dead. 

I highly recommend this book for mystery lovers, horse lovers, and readers who like a lot of  layers to a story and the characters.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am a guest at Margaret West's blog today, sharing an unusual Christmas tradition at the Miller household. Look for the glass of mulled wine on the site and you will find the POST

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FTC Disclaimer:  This book was purchased and given to me as a gift. Other than having such an enjoyable book to read, I have not benefited in any way from this review.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review -Ringside 1925: Views From The Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant

Ringside 1925: Views From The Scopes Trial
Jen Bryant
ISBN: 978-0375940477
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Date of publish: Feb 12, 2008
Pages: 240 - S.R.P.: $18.99


In the summer of 1925, the residents of Dayton, Tennessee had a first-hand look at a controversial trial that centered on the debate between evolution and creationism. The community of less than 2,000 citizens was primarily an agricultural region, with most folks believing in the latter, especially the hard-core Baptists like Betty Barker.

The trial is the famous Scopes “Monkey” trial, named for the teacher, J.T. Scopes, who introduced the concept of evolution to the science class one day. The state of Tennessee has just passed the “Butler Act” that prohibited the teaching of evolution, and the Civil Liberties Union decided to challenge that law by taking the issue to trial.

For ten days, the town of Dayton bustles with activity and visitors who come great distances to see the trial. Reporters from across the nation come to cover the trial that is pitting Clarence Darrow against the famous orator, William Jennings Bryan. It is a boon for the owner of the boardinghouse, Tillie Stackhouse, who is one of the nine narrators of the story, which is written in a poetic, free-verse style.

The influx of visitors also puts extra money in the pockets of Willy Amos and his pa, who know all too well that “colored” folks get paid a lot less than white folks. But they are enterprising and find ways to capitalize on this opportunity. They set up extra seating in the courthouse for all the visitors and sell the monkey-face flyers that people buy to put in the windows of their businesses and their homes.

There are also other, more subtle, effects of the trial on a number of people in the town. Marybeth Dodd gets the courage to apply for college, despite her fear that her father will not allow it. Willy Amos meets the famous Clarence Darrow and dreams of being the first “colored” lawyer in that area. And several young teens open their minds to possibilities outside of the rigid parameters of small-town thinking and Sunday school.

Even though the book is written for readers 12 and up, it can be enjoyed by adults as well. Each narrator has a distinctive voice that is presented through variances in the rhythm of the verse.  For example, the reporter’s verse is written in a literary style, while those of the young boys are written in a simple style that reflects their lack of world view and education.

Readers will be charmed and captivated by this wonderful book and come to cherish each of the narrators as their personal stories unfold. It is a perfect choice for readers on your holiday gift list, and it invites people to think about the science vs. religion debate that is still going on these many years later.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Contest continuing....

L. J. and I are going to continue the contest for the free books for a few more hours. The drawing will be later this afternoon and announced tomorrow.

Good luck everyone....

And the winner of L.J.'s book is Sabrina Ogden. Congrats, Sabrina.

The winner of my book from the folks who left comments on L.J.s blog for me is Dani Greer. I threw all the names in a hat and had my husband pick one, so Dani did not win just because she said she had never read one of my books. I'm sure none of the other responders had either. LOL

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Trading Places

L.J. Sellers is my guest today. We decided to do something fun and trade places for a day, so I am guesting on her BLOG today. I hope you enjoy what she has to say today, and please do check out her books. She writes some terrific mystery/suspense.

What Makes Me Keep Reading
I recently posted on my own blog about what makes me put down a novel, so to be fair, I thought I’d post about what makes me keep reading.

1. A great opening in which something unusual, unexpected, contradictory, or violent happens. For example, in Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski, the third sentence caught my attention. “..but a couple of kids organized an impromptu club with a mandate to experiment on her corpse.”

2. Intriguing characters who are unusual, unexpected, contradictory, complex, or compelling. From the first page of the same story: “Then again, what do I know? I was a dead man impersonating an FBI agent.”

3. Characters who don’t fit the current clich├ęs. I like cops who aren’t cynical, FBI agents who aren’t workaholics that can’t handle relationships, private investigators who aren’t alcoholic loners, and women who are soft on the outside and tough on the inside.

4. Complexity! I like parallel plots, interwoven stories, and multiple points of view. And if it all comes together in a way that surprises me and makes perfect sense, I pick up the next book by that author.

5. Passion about a subject. I like politics, religion, and social issues in novels as long as it works for the story and doesn’t overwhelm it.

6. Multiple plot points and plots twists that leave me thinking: Wow! Stunning, but believable.

7. Moderate levels of crime and violence written with sensitivity to the subject, the victim, and the reader.

8. Just enough detail (setting and character) to make the story real. I like Elmore Leonard’s approach: Only write the parts that people will read.

9. Believable relationships of any and all kinds.

10. Fast-paced narrative with a great balance of dialogue and action, in which the surprises just keep coming.

Of course, these are the kind of stories Maryann and I write. (smile)  What makes you keep reading a novel?

~~~~~~~~~

L.J. will give one lucky person an electronic copy of Passions Of the Dead. Leave your e-mail address in the comment box and we will draw the winner at the end of the week.
~~~~~~~~

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series. The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, and Thrilled to Death have been highly praised by Mystery Scene and Spinetingler magazines. Her fourth Jackson story, Passions of the Dead, has just been released. All four novels are on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

About Passions of the Dead -- A working-class family is brutally attacked in their home and only one survives. Detective Jackson is assigned to investigate and soon uncovers a blackmail scheme. But the forensic evidence is confusing, and the girl who survives has no memory of the horrific event.
When another home invasion occurs, Jackson is confident they’ve nailed the perpetrators. Yet the case grows even more entangled. When the survivor disappears, Jackson fears for her life—but can he find her in time to save her?


Read an excerpt  HERE  http://ljsellers.com/wordpress/jackson/passions-of-the-dead

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Where to Find Me Today

Well, one place is here in my office, except when I go to the art center this afternoon to put the set back together for "Scrooge."

The other place is at Louise Wise's blog "Wise Words." This is a terrific site for authors to share a bit about themselves and their books, and she was kind enough to do an interview with me that is posted today.

Louise also interviews publishers and is involved in other promotional endeavors. Her latest is: Authors On Show (AOS) is a website for writers and readers - anyone with a love of books. It promotes writers and offers advice: book reviews, author features and interviews.

The new site is also fun for readers who can come and meet new authors and promote blogs about books. One of the things I have always enjoyed about being interviewed on blogs such as "Wise Words" is that I get to meet people who love books as much as I do. And I have found new authors to read.

So, without further ado, here is the link to my interview   Stop by for a visit if you get a chance.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Trying to get Back on Schedule

Honest I am.

I thought when I cut back to posting only three or four days a week I could keep up with the blog, but it always seems that other things demand more and more of my time.

Scheduling is always hard when you have two or three major things going on at the same time. But this year I have a lot things that all need my attention right now. My new mystery, Open Season, is being released this month, so I am busy trying to promote that just a bit. As all authors know, it it imperative that we really work at promoting, especially when the book first comes out.

Open Season is heavily marketed to libraries first, so I did a mailing of postcards to a number of libraries. Now I need to plan a launch party and virtual book tour for January when it will be available to the public. Not to mention make some time to work on the second book in the series.

My young adult novel, Friends Forever, is being re-released by a new publisher this week, so I should probably be doing some publicity for that.

On top of that, are my responsibilities to "Scrooge". It takes six weeks to prepare for a show and the work seems endless. The upside of putting in endless hours for a show is the fun along the way and the end result. If you would like to meet some of the wonderful cast I have been working with, here is a link to a story I did for WinnsboroToday.com

My position as Managing Editor for the online magazine is another challenge to my time. Each month it seems harder and harder to keep up with all that job entails, as well as fit in some other freelance editing.

Throw the Holidays into the mix, and I am really feeling a time pressure. I have to remind myself to stop and take a breath now and then. I also am trying to make daily to-do lists and prioritize the items so I take care of the must-haves before doing anything else. That is a challenge for me, as I am not a list kind of person. Nor am I very organized. Just ask my husband. Plus, I always seem to run out of the day before I run out of the list. Some items go on tomorrow's to-do list.

When you start feeling overwhelmed with tasks, what do you do to find balance and ease the stress? Have you made tough choices to give up some activities to have more time for work?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Book Review-The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies by Kathleen Hills

The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
by Kathleen Hills
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2008
hard cover,316 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59058-476-7


The author of this novel has a strong background in rural America, particularly in the Upper Midwest. It shows in many of the nuances that affect the progress of this story. The novel is replete with icons of small towns, some of which are isolated from the mainstream.

The book is set in the tiny Upper Peninsula Michigan town of St. Adele where once again we ride along with one of the most reluctant and phlegmatic lawmen we are likely ever to encounter. His name is John McIntyre and he is the town constable. He didn't want the job in the first place and he can think of a hundred things he'd rather be doing and places he'd rather be than the sun-blasted hay field of former conscientious objector, Ruben Hofer.

Hofer has been murdered, that's plain to see. His head was blasted open by a rifle shot while he sat on his tractor raking hay. It is almost immediately clear that the man's family is one likely source of murderous
intent. Hofer was not a nice man. He drove his two teen-aged sons in cruel and oppressive ways; and his eleven-year-old daughter, Claire, has already been pushed to warped and dangerous attitudes about life.  is wife is morbidly over-weight and only the youngster, Joey, constantly playing with his make-believe farm in the yard outside the kitchen of the school-house-turned-family-home, seems almost normal.

Author Hills continues to invest her stories with an array of intriguing characters although I got a little tired of the sheriff's on-again-off-again almost incompetent investigation. Moreover, the two teen-agers do not
become distinct characters in this book until very late, which I found to be a weakness.

Nevertheless, the story is informed by very real human emotions and conflicts and the author's handling of the religious, political and historical elements of the book tell us she has done careful research. The book is, as is true of all her books, well-written.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Community Theatre Productions

Some of you astute readers may have noted that I have been off the normal schedule of posts this week. So kind of you not to point that out. LOL

So today I thought I would share with you the reason my "best laid plans" have gone awry. Every year for the past four years, I have been involved in mounting the production of "Scrooge" at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts. I adapted the script from an old radio show from the 1930s that starred Orson Welles and  have directed the show for three years. Last year I was in the production as the Narrator, and John Milligan, Scrooge, took the reins as director. BTW, what an incredible actor he is. He is pictured here with Maddy Nittmo, a high school student, who is also very talented. The dark ghost in the next picture is Ashland Tipton, who is also in high school. She is a dancer and it is wonderful to see her glide across the stage "like a mist coming out of the darkness."
Scrooge and The Ghost of Christmas Past at Rehearsal
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come - The Scariest Ghost of Them All

In addition to six weeks of rehearsals, there are so many little details that have to be taken care of to get a show to opening night, and I envy professional companies that have production  and tech staff. We have our troupe of actors, a few people at the Art Center who can help, and me, so needless to say I have been very busy this month.

Every year as I get into the last two weeks of pressure to get the set finished, the props, the playbill, advertising, costumes, posters, and pictures, I wonder why I do this year after year. Then I get my answer on opening night when the magic happens. Anyone who has been involved in performing, professionally or as an amateur, knows what it feels like when the curtain goes up and the show begins. We are transported into another world for a little while and there is nothing quite like being on stage.

We open tomorrow, Friday, so most of the pressure is over. Still I won't be posting my usual Friday's Odds and Ends. There are always some last minute details, like maybe working on my lines. LOL

I want to publicly thank my cast and crew for all their hard work and dedication. It has been a real pleasure to work with everyone.
 


Ebeneezer Scrooge, We have come for You

There is also magic when a professional photographer gets an amazing shot. I love this picture taken by a local photographer, Jim Dyson, of Mr. Jim's Studios.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas - Bah, Humbug

The Christmas season is officially upon us. We've had Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the lead story on many newscasts is about retail shopping. How much is being spent. Are the numbers better than last year. What does this mean for the recession.

Listening to the news after I came home from our rehearsal of "Scrooge" at the local community theatre last night, I realized that just like that old Ebeneezer Scrooge, we have our priorities all wrong. Maybe we need to be visited by some ghosts to point us back in the right direction.

I think this timeless story of redemption continues to be popular because it touches us deep inside where we know the true spirit of this season is about so much more than money and presents and keeping retail stores alive.

That is true, not just for Christmas and Christians , but for every religion, and even for people who don't believe in God. This time of winter solstice is a time to reflect on what is important in life. Perhaps reconnect with family that we have been estranged from. Make decisions to live a better life. Be kinder to our neighbors and our enemies.

There are many holidays and religious observances throughout December: Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Las Posadas, Winter Solstice, Ramadan (Nov or Dec) and the Hopi Soyaluna Ceremony. There may be more, but this is what my Internet search turned up. The main thing all these observances have in common is that they celebrate family, promote helping others, and encourage self-improvement. The giving and receiving of presents isn't even mentioned in all of them, and those that do include that tradition base it on the fact that presents are tokens of love and good wishes. The actual value of the gift means nothing.

So maybe we should all take a lesson from Scrooge as he pleads with the third spirit, "Tell me that I can change these dreadful shadows you've shown me by an altered life! I'll honor Christmas in my heart! I'll - I'll try to keep it all the year. I'll live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. And I'll not shut out the lessons that they teach..."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review - Fly by Wire by Ward Larsen

 Thanks once more to Carl Brookins for sharing another review with us here.


Fly By Wire
by Ward Larsen
ISBN: 978-1-933515-86-1
Hard Cover, 301 pgs.,
Published by Oceanview Press, 2010

An unusual and fresh plot device blends world finance, international espionage, religious zealotry and cutting edge aviation technology in a fine and mostly fast-paced thriller. It is clear that the author knows intimately the setting of his story, aviation accident investigation.

 A new design, a flying wing cargo plane, has crashed in France and a former Air Force pilot, now working as an accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, is sent to the crash site as liaison. His name is Jammer Davis and he's something of a hot-shot loose cannon. Think the macho pilots in the movie "Top Gun," and you get the idea.

Davis's life is complicated by the presence of his teen-aged daughter-and her dating difficulties-Davis is a widower. It's a nice touch, and while Davis is in France struggling to figure out a series of odd circumstances around the plane crash, his daughter occasionally calls him on his cell, disturbing and altering the rhythm of the plot. The story line is also interrupted from time to time by the machinations of the evil cabal behind the plot, which serves to ramp up the tension.

The author is careful to dole out intriguing information in tantalizing dollops which maintains reader interest. That's a good thing, because there are several sections of fairly technical information which are necessary to explain the plot, but occasionally are too long for my taste.

The major flaw in the novel is the somewhat old fashioned macho attitude expressed by the narrative in several places. There is, at times, a sense we are living once again in a simpler time when there was a perception that men and women had their defined roles with lines between those roles to be crossed at considerable personal risk. It was also a time when enemies of the nation were always summarily dealt with. Moral ambiguities and our system of legal niceties were almost as much obstacles to getting the right thing done, as protection of the rights of everyone.

With these caveats, I found "Fly By Wire,: to be a rousing patriotic story that moves along at a decent pace to an eminently satisfying conclusion.  I particularly like the domestic surprise at the end.



Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, November 26, 2010

No Black Friday For Me

I remember a time when shopping the day after Thanksgiving was fun. A lot of people were doing the same thing, but there was no pushing, no shouting, no mad rush to get the latest must-have toy, and nobody grabbing it out of your hands once you had it.

For the most part, everyone was relaxed and in a Holiday mood. Smiles were exchanged and clerks and cashiers wished everyone a Happy Holiday. It always made me think of the wonderful Christmas song, "Silver Bells", and I could imagine we'd entered some magical place where people passed "meeting smile after smile. And on every street corner you'll hear..."

It was also a time when stores opened at a normal time, and people came and went, then more people came and went. Stores did not open at some ungodly hour in the AM, so shoppers had to set alarms to get there on time. Folks also didn't camp out in parking lots and on sidewalks for days to be the first ones in. And they   didn't stampede into a store and injure other people in their desperation need to make sure they got the best deals offered.

For most of this past week, we were bombarded with reminders of this all important retail day. The media made a big deal out of Black Friday, airing what I'm sure they thought were cute human-interest stories about what people were doing to prepare. Plus there were all the ads from department stores, and it seemed like they were competing to see who could open the earliest. Some were even open on Thanksgiving and just stayed open all night and into today.

Watching this all unfold, I realized that Thanksgiving is getting lost. Think of all the retail personnel who were not able to truly celebrate the day because they had to get ready for The Big Day. And what about all the people who opted out of getting together with family at all because they preferred to be the first in line at Best Buy. One local man was interviewed on television and said, "Sorry, Grandma, we're not coming for Thanksgiving."

He laughed. The news anchors laughed. But I wanted to call up Grandma and tell her how sorry I was that her family preferred the X-Box over her.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

When our children were young,  it was hard for me to face the formidable task of creating Thanksgiving Days that would live in glory for our children. Would they ever match the standard set by my memories?

By the time our children were old enough to appreciate the holiday, we were living in Texas, so mountains and snow were out of the question, and my singing never could quite match my father's. I didn't possess even a tenth of the culinary skills of my grandmother and my aunts, so the meal would probably be lacking. And we were more than a thousand miles away from cousins to help distract my children from their impatience.

Despite those limits, however, we managed to muddle through in those early years of family. I was able to prepare a passable dinner, and my husband actually raved about the German dressing. The pies were a major hit, all ten of them, and everyone was willing to eat the broccoli for the promise of a second piece of pie.

After cheering the Dallas Cowboys to another victory, most years, we would all tumble outside for a family game of touch-football. Not the same as rolling down a snow-covered hill, but good enough.

Now, in sifting through all these random recollections, I realize that the memory itself is not what is important. What is important is the fact that we have memories and they don't happen by accident. No matter what we do to'mark these important occasions, it is vital that we do mark them. Even if our process doesn't live up to a Martha Stewart image or our own fond remembrances of childhood.

This year, we are doing something totally out of tradition. The kids and grandkids are scattered and not all are able to come home for Thanksgiving, so the ones who are left are going out to dinner. Never thought that would happen as long as I was alive and able to haul out the old roaster, but everyone agreed to a hassle-free Thanksgiving. And except for the fact that there will be no leftover turkey and dressing for dinner on Friday, I really like this idea.


What about you? How will you be spending Thanksgiving? Hope you have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving - Part One

In honor of the holiday most Americans are celebrating this week, I thought I'd share some thoughts about Thanksgiving from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Part 2 will appear tomorrow for the one or two folks in America who might be on the Internet at some point in the day.

There’s an old traditional Thanksgiving song that starts out, "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go….”

When I was a child, my Dad would break into that song as we crossed the Pennsylvania border into West Virginia on our annual pilgrimage from Michigan to celebrate the holiday with his family. "The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifting snow..."

The closer we got to his childhood home, the heavier his foot rested on the gas pedal as our Chevy station wagon climbed the hills on twisting roads and flew on the downside. His rich baritone voice belted the song, and in my imagination we were on that sleigh behind dapple grays in their rhythmic trot. I could hear the clump of their hooves and feel the blowing snow bite my cheeks as we were carried along.

It was magic, pure and simple. A magic that continued for the few days that we stayed in that otherworld.

Today as those memories float pleasantly through my mind, I can almost smell the wonderful aromas of sage dressing, pumpkin pie, and mulled cider that permeated my grandmother's house. And I can hear the bustle of activity accompanied by short bursts of conversation among the women in the kitchen. The front bedroom is where the men gathered and brought out guitars and harmonicas. Their music became another soundtrack.

My brothers, sisters, and I would join other cousins in the back bedroom in between our numerous trips outside. Our biggest challenge was to see who could roll down the hill and retain the most amount of snow, turning ourselves into living snow people.

The second biggest challenge came at dinner when we vied to have the honor of receiving one of the drumsticks. They were dolled out on a 'merit' system based loosely on which of us waited the most patiently for the great announcement, "Dinner's Ready."




Today, almost all of the people who were part of those celebrations are gone, even my dad. What I wouldn't give for one more opportunity to sing that song with him again, but I am ever so thankful for the memories.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Excerpt From A New Mystery - Open Season

Here is another excerpt from my mystery to be released in December. If you are tired of reading the excerpts, just tell me and I will post something else. Honest. I won't mind. I might cry for a little while, but I'll get over it. LOL

The tight lines of tension she saw on Sarah’s face wiped any trace of doubt Angel had of where her new partner had gone. There was also no doubt that the effort had been fruitless. Why was that such a surprise?

Yesterday McGregor had told Angel that her promotion hadn’t been moved up to satisfy any public relations effort to placate the black community. As much as Angel wanted to believe that—as much as she needed to
believe it—she knew the official city reaction to any incident. Throw a bone to the angry dogs in the street.
The teeth marks were starting to hurt.

Should she just end it right here? Refuse to partner with this woman who so obviously didn’t want it any more than she did?

No. They had a job to do, and, by God, she’d do it. She’d worked too hard to make detective to throw it all away.

“You drive,” Angel said, walking around to the passenger side of the plain, vanilla Buick. “That way people won’t think I’m the chauffeur.”

Sarah slipped into the driver’s seat, snapped her seatbelt in place and pulled out of the motor pool. After driving several blocks in thundering silence, she sighed. “It’ll be easier to work together if we at least speak now and then.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Angel glanced out the side window. “I figure this partnership’s short-term anyway.”
“How’s that?” Sarah eased the car into a break in the traffic on the expressway.

“I’ll make my own visit to the Lieutenant. He’s bound to listen to one of us.” Angel turned to face Sarah, and her expression left nothing to doubt.

“It wasn’t personal,” Sarah said.
“Right.”

“What does that mean?”

“Whatever you want it to.”

 Sarah transferred the surge of anger to the gas pedal, and the car lurched around a slow Cadillac with a screech of rubber. Her eyes went quickly to Angel who appeared to be once again enthralled with the scenery.

Swinging over to grab the next exit, Sarah dodged through the heavy traffic, feeling like she was in the middle of an amusement park ride. Finally, she pulled up behind the patrol cars at the east entrance of Northwood Mall.

It stood like a relic compared to newer, glitzier malls, but it still clung to a certain level of classiness, sort of like a dowager queen who merits respect by means of association. It didn’t hurt to associate with Neiman Marcus.

Sarah got out and slammed the door, looking over the roof of the car to Angel. “Can we do this?”

The other woman held her gaze for a long moment, then nodded.

“Good.” Sarah pushed off, and covered the distance to the entrance in quick strides, the soles of her shoes slapping the concrete.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review - The Bone Chamber by Robin Burcell

Thanks to Carl Brookins for sharing another review.....



The Bone Chamber
By Robin Burcell
ISBN 9781590583753
HC from Poisoned Pen Press
2009, 378 pages

Feisty independent-minded FBI forensic artist Sydney Fitzpatrick is off on another case. This time she bouncing between Washington, DC, San Francisco and various Italian locations, and all the while she and her cohorts dodge international hit men. Burcell is a good writer and her varied law enforcement background gives her writing a level of authority lacking in some crime fiction.

The novel is a wide-ranging tale of intrigue, sanctioned and unsanctioned black ops, involving the CIA the FBI, and several other sometimes questionable agencies.  Here are active old and new world mafia figures, the Knights Templar, and several world governments. The story dredges up long-standing rumors, beliefs based on very sketchy and tenuous evidence, ancient legends and involves some vast and secretive organizations such as the Vatican, Freemasonry and maybe some left-over bits of the Tri-Lateral Commission.

Conspiracies within governments, especially those involving questionable banking institutions and practices are fruitful and always interesting. That is especially the case when the venal actions of important institutions from the distant past are held up to the unblinking gaze of modern research.

This novel, now available in paperback, has 'em all.  And that's part of the attraction of the book.

Burcell has linked in an essentially fanciful way, an incredible chain of real events that reach back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and possible implications in the modern era.  The novel proves that murder, corruption and cynical manipulation with the goal of great power and wealth are not the province of our times.

If the novel has flaws it is the multiplicity of threads that wind through the book, sometimes creating a Gordian's Knot of complexities. Nevertheless, "Bone Chamber" never completely loses its foundation in the
real world of plausible outcomes.  A tense and intriguing ride from start to finish.

------
FTC Disclaimer: I have not profited in any way from this review, unless you count the fact that I didn't have to write anything but this disclaimer. As for Carl, you will have to check with him.
-----

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

Fiscal Responsibility:
Texas Gov Perry is asking state agencies to cut their budgets in  the face of a growing deficit. Why doesn't he cut his expenses, starting with the $10,000 a month spent on the home he is renting while the governor's mansion is repaired and renovated?

Not to be Believed:
In Texas,  a father who was driving drunk, slammed into a utility pole, then fled the scene. That was bad enough, but he left his critically injured children.  His daughter lay bleeding in the street and a son was wedged in the car.

Shame on him.

After a 3-year-old Boston girl complained that her foot hurt, her preschool teacher took off her sneaker and found 17 small plastic bags containing crack cocaine. The teachers told police the girl said her mother had put "candy" inside her sneaker.

Turns out the crack belonged to the mother's boyfriend, but still, could Mom not find another hiding place for her "candy?"

A Florida woman was arrested on charges of child neglect after her 4-year-old son called 911 to report that his mother had left him home alone. Jocelyn Villot, 25, of Deltona, Fla., was arrested after her son spoke to a 911 operator last Sunday, wondering where his mother was.

When I read that story I couldn't help but think of this line: "I know that boy. Oh. I was so lonely. Poor boy." Scrooge from Dicken's A Christmas Carol.


 A Bit of Nonsense:
I received a piece of mail that had this disclaimer on the outside of the envelope: This is an advertisement. How considerate. I didn't even have waste time opening it to know I would probably just throw it away.
But wait. What if it is advertising something I might want? I should probably open it….

What a waste of time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Got to Love Froma Harrop

Okay, maybe you don't. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about columnists, but Froma Harrop is one of the best voices out there calling for the application of  a little common sense in the business of government.

One of her recent columns dealt with government subsidies, and she took aim  at Dairy Management, a marketing company that is partly funded by the Agriculture Department.  Her research revealed that the former CEO of  Domino's received over $4 million in compensation last year for his efforts to help the dairy market by using more cheese on the pizzas.  

On the other side of the Agriculture Department coin is the current effort to fight obesity. Froma found it ironic that "one arm of the Agriculture Department is promoting sales of cheese as another urges the public to eat less of it for health reasons. Your tax dollars at work fighting other tax dollars."

She points out, as have many other columnists, that the problem of obesity is not so much connected to what we eat as it is to the fact that we don't get enough exercise.

While Dairy Management does get most of its revenue from fees paid by the industry, the taxpayers still put millions into the enterprise. Froma suggests that the dairy businesses run their own trade association and pay for it. Take it out from under the auspices of the government.

Hear, hear. And what about getting rid of subsidies altogether? Folks in Washington say they want to cut the deficit this year. Ending this feeding  out of the government pantry would be a good beginning.

What do you think? Should we end subsidies?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Excerpt From A New Mystery Novel - Open Season

I hope you've been enjoying the excerpts of my new book I've been posting. This one introduces Sarah's new partner, Angel. 

 -------
God, it feels good to be back. Sarah thrust her hands deep in the pockets of her jeans and surveyed the large room housing the Crimes Against Person’s division. It was an ugly, old place supported with cinder-block exterior walls that were only slightly drabber than the gray interior walls. Early-Salvation Army desks and chairs did little to brighten the place up but, hey, it was home. The jangle of phones and the buzz of voices were as comforting as long-ago memories of family picnics. Back when she had a family.

Grabbing a cup of coffee, she descended the few steps into the Homicide area, relieved that her fellow officers held to tradition. No one made a big deal out of her return, and no one mentioned John’s name. His desk, cleared of all papers and personal effects, stood in sharp contrast to the clutter on nearby desks. Seeing it brought an ache to Sarah’s heart she didn’t want to feel.

Walking past the desk, Sarah pushed the pain away and headed toward the briefing room. She opened the door and glanced around, finally spotting an empty seat at a table halfway into the room. She pulled out a chair and sat down, nodding to the woman in a smart, tailored suit across the aisle from her.

Must be fresh out of the uniform, Sarah thought, remembering her first week in civvies six years ago. The professional image had seemed important then, but quickly bowed to practicality. Socks lasted longer than nylons. Reeboks were easier to run in than heels. And there wasn’t a perp alive who cared diddly about whether you wore jeans or a skirt.

The woman turned to give Sarah the briefest of nods, and she recognized the mass of tight curls haloing a creamy mocha complexion as belonging to a former patrol officer. Angel?

Couldn’t recall her last name, but the woman had been at a couple of crime scenes with Sarah. Other than being a little too eager to prove herself, Sarah remembered her as more than capable. It wasn’t surprising that she’d made detective.

Sarah’s attention was drawn to the front of the room as Sergeant Murphy hitched his belt over his ample stomach and started outlining the on-going cases. “Simms and Burtweiler, you’re still on the Highland Park B&E case.” Murphy pulled another paper from the podium. “Frankfurt and Aikins, you pulled a cush one. Crime-watch meeting over at SMU”

“Can I go, too, Sarge?” Another officer called out. “My date book’s getting a little thin.”

A wave of laughter swept the room, and Murphy waited it out without even breaking a smile. When the last chuckle subsided, he continued, “Kingsly and Johnson, you’ve got the big one today. Homicide over at Northwood Mall. Call just came in from patrol.”

Sarah turned sharply to look at Angel, and the elusive last name clicked. Something else clicked, too. An attitude that Angel wielded like a sword, heralding the proclamation, “Don’t think that the only reason I’m here is because I’m a woman and I’m black.”

Sarah hated attitudes, especially ones that might be honed to a new sharpness by recent events. She held the other woman’s gaze, trying to get a read. It wasn’t friendly. She expected judgments from people like the Reverend Billie Norton and the crowds he managed to assemble for public outcry. He didn’t have a clue what it was like on the streets. But Angel knew. Everyone who ever wore a badge knew. So where were her loyalties going to fall?

Murphy’s voice cut into her thoughts. “You two might want to hustle your butts over to the crime scene before the corpse decomposes.”

Sarah stood and led the way to the door as another thought fell into place. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that she was partnered with a black woman. The longer she considered it, the more she was convinced. She stopped halfway down the hall.

“Go out and grab us a car,” she said to Angel. “I’ve got something to take care of.”

Without giving the other woman time to respond, Sarah strode in the opposite direction. She pushed through the door to McGregor’s office with so much force it rattled the window. She leaned against the front of his desk. “Since when did you start listening to Price?”

McGregor pushed his chair back and made a steeple with his fingers. He rested his chin on the tips and regarded her with a level gaze.

“Come on! This new partnership reeks of good press.”

“You know me better than that.”

“I thought I did.”

McGregor sighed. “Nothing changed while you were gone. I still make decisions for the same reasons I did before.”

“Oh, really? And the public outcry over a poor, innocent, black child being shot by a big, bad, white police officer didn’t enter into it at all?”

“I don’t give a good goddam what the public says.”

“That’s not the way—”

“We’re not having a debate here.” McGregor cut in. “You’ve got a job to do. Either you’re ready for it, or you take a permanent leave.”

“How the hell can I do my job when you’ve set us up to be hounded by the press?”

“I’m going to pretend there was no insubordination happening here.” McGregor’s voice was soft, but his deep brown eyes flashed a harsh warning.

Sarah reined in her anger, turned and walked stiffly out of the room.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Review - Too Many Clients by David Walker

 Thanks again to Carl Brookins for providing another review. If the FTC is watching this blog, my disclaimer is that I have not received this book, or read this book, or had any monetary gain from posting this review. I might read the book, as it does sound interesting. If so, I will purchase it legitimately. How does one purchase illegitimately? Oh, wait. I know.....

Too Many Clients
By David Walker
ISBN: 9780727869302
Published by Severn House,
2010, 214 pgs.

Another sparkling crime novel in the Wild Onion series. It’s always a pleasure to open a book knowing you are in the hands of an experienced storyteller. Author David Walker has been around the block a few times and he has the accolades to show for it. His latest does not disappoint.

Here we have a pair of wise and witty practitioners who are married to each other. In less sure hands, the marriage of two characters often lets a lot of steam out of a relationship and sends readers searching for other diversions.

Not this time. Private investigator Kirsten, married to uber-relaxed lawyer Dugan, takes on her husband as a client, after a corrupt cop is found murdered.  Dugan, never a careful person, has blundered into the thing in such a way he becomes a suspect. And while Dugan can act odd at times, almost the antithesis of the hard-driving lawyer of many crime novels, he is far from the only odd-ball character. There’s Larry. Larry Candle is a partner in Dugan’s office. He just doesn’t come off as someone whom you’d want to represent you in court for anything more serious than a parking ticket. Yet Larry manages to get the job done, all the while irritating nearly everyone around him.

Dugan and Kirsten continue to collect new clients who all want them to locate the killer of this bad cop. To Kirsten and Dugan’s collective thinking these new clients don’t seem to be entirely above suspicion, either. Meanwhile the cops continue to zero in on Dugan.

Gradually, as Kirsten digs deeper into the people who knew or knew about the dead cop, the story takes on wider and wider implications, tangling mob figures with international activities, a prominent churchman and….well, you get the idea. Twists on top of fascinating complications.The novel is well-paced, complicated, and a truly fun read. I look for more cheeky stories in Walker’s Wild Onion series.

Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's Odds and Ends

High on the Yuck Factor:  According to a report in a French newspaper, Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq attempted to unleash terror in the skies by deploying a pair of kamikaze canines on a U.S.-bound airplane. The plot failed because the bombs were so poorly stitched inside the dogs that they died.  

Is there no depth too low for people to sink to?

Announced this week: U.S. News and World Report will no longer be a regular print publication. It is switching to an Online version, with only periodic special editions in print.

Sad. I remember using that publication as a main source for research when I was in high school and college. I even used it a lot when I was researching my early nonfiction books. What a wonderful resource it has always been, and I hope the Online version is as good as the print one.

Big Brother taking care of us: No more Happy Meals in San Francisco. A new ordinance there requires meals to meet certain nutritional guidelines if restaurants want to include toys with them.

Tell me why: For the second straight year there will be no increase in Social Security payments. The reason cited is that there has been no increase in the cost of living. So why do my grocery bills continue to climb? And the cost of health care? And......?

Picking on Politicians:  Rick Perry was just re-elected governor of Texas - maybe that designation should be changed to Czar of Texas, he's been in the top spot so long. So what is he doing? He's on a tour to promote his book: Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington that he wrote with Newt Gingrich.

I know how important book promotion is, but, gosh, don't you think he could have spent a few weeks taking care of business for the state before taking care of personal/political business. 

What did you find of interest in the news this week?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Talented Young Singer

If you have not heard of Rhema Marvanne yet, you will, and my advice is to hold on to your socks. This  talented young singer is only seven years old and already sings like a seasoned pro. She has incredible breath and voice control for one so young, and I look forward to hearing what she can do in another few years.

Rhema, who lives in a suburb of Dallas, inherited her talent from her mother, Wendy, who died in 2008 from ovarian cancer. Wendy loved to sing and often sang to Rhema, so now Rhema feels a connection to her mother through the music. 

Her music of choice is gospel, one of my favorites, and she puts her whole heart and soul into the songs. Her fans praise her for her talent and her spiritual strength. On her Web site, her father has this to say, "The best way to describe Rhema is that she has a beautiful heart and soul. She is sweet, kind, caring and most importantly pure in heart. Most people who have dealt with or are currently dealing with cancer, disease, challenges, etc…..see hope and inspiration in Rhema. The little girl who should have been scared or harmed by seeing her mother suffer and gone, is strong and perfect.

"I see Rhema as a cancer survivor. She gives me hope for goodness in mankind. God gave her a beautiful heart and the voice of an angel. Most people that hear her sing can not deny that God does speak through a child. Her voice touches people’s hearts." 

 That is so true, and I don't think you have to believe in the same God that she does, or I do, to appreciate that there is something special here that transcends mere humanity.

Here is a link to one of her videos on YouTube where she sings "Amazing Grace"

Here is a link to another video of her singing "O Holy Night"

Monday, November 08, 2010

Excerpt From A New Mystery - Open Season

Here is more from my upcoming release, Open Season. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about Sarah, one of the central characters....

Sarah stirred her drink with the plastic straw, the ice clinking against the glass. She tried to remember if it was her fourth or fifth Rob Roy. Not being sure was maybe a good sign that she should stop. Wouldn’t do for one of Dallas’s finest to be stopped for a DWI.

“Shit,” she muttered, taking a big swallow of her drink. “Doesn’t matter anyway. If SIU doesn’t get me, the Review Board will.”

Normally, Sarah shied away from going to bars alone, especially in the late hours before night turned into day. She hated the mating ritual that was often triggered by a woman walking in alone. It created a veritable frenzy of anticipation, playing out in postures and expressions that said, “Maybe I’ll get lucky tonight.”

She wasn’t a virgin, or a prude, but she couldn’t reduce sex to the same level as buying a lottery ticket.
Tonight, however, was not a normal situation. The second week of her enforced exile had driven her to the point of near madness. Lieutenant McGregor had told her she needed the time away from the job for herself. Time to deal with losing John. Get her head on straight about the kid. But she also suspected that he wanted her away from the controversy. If she wasn’t accessible to the protesters lined up outside the Municipal Building, they couldn’t lynch her.

The waitress, who wore a tight, leather mini-skirt that restricted her movements to short, bouncy steps, paused by Sarah’s table and set a fresh drink on the scarred wooden surface. Sarah looked at the petite brunette, puzzled.

“From the guy at the bar.” The waitress nodded a mass of curls toward a man who raised his glass in salute when Sarah caught his eye. Ford truck ads with rugged cowboys flooded her mind, tempting her to rethink her position on the lottery.

Ignoring her usual caution, Sarah accepted the drink and waited, trying not to be too obvious about watching him.

Finally, he pulled his lanky frame off the stool and walked toward her table. Two things caught her attention. Well, actually, three. A dimple at the corner of his crooked smile, wisps of curly black hair escaping from the neck of his red cowboy shirt and tight blue jeans defining well-muscled thighs and . . .

“May I join you?” His voice was as smooth as rich leather.

Sarah blinked, wondering if he was just a drunken illusion. But he didn’t disappear. He didn’t sit down either.
He shifted his weight to his outside foot, and she realized he was waiting for permission. Maybe he really was a cowboy. The gallantry was a nice endearment.

Before she could respond to the man’s question, a large, beefy figure loomed behind him, and the voice of Lieutenant McGregor broke into the moment. “You’re a hard woman to track down, Kingsly.”

The sight of the men eyeing each other like junkyard dogs brought the first smile to her face in a long time. She offered an explanation before one of them drew blood. “This is my boss.”

After a moment’s hesitation the other man extended his hand to the Lieutenant, “Paul Barnett.”

“Thomas McGregor.” He accepted the handshake. “We just need to talk here a minute.”

Paul turned to Sarah and the depth of his eyes, the color of a midnight sky, held her. Then she gave a slight nod. He fished a card out of his shirt pocket and pushed it across the table to her. “In case you ever need help with your taxes.”

McGregor slid his considerable bulk onto the bench across from Sarah. “A casual bar pick-up? You?”

“Never had a chance to find out,” she mused, watching Paul stride back to the bar.

“Disappointed?”

“I’m not sure.” Sarah dropped the card into her jacket pocket, then turned her attention back to McGregor.

“How’d you find me, anyway?”

“Simple deductive reasoning.” He motioned for the waitress. “After a couple of weeks of waiting to hear if I had a job or not, I’d try to ease the tension with a few belts. And I’d do it close enough to home that I could walk if I needed to. So I did a little legwork that paid off.”

“You come just to commiserate?”

McGregor paused to order a Johnny Walker Red, straight up. “No. I heard from SIU this afternoon.”

Nerves sent her heart on a wild drumbeat. “And . . . ?”

“They ruled it a clean shoot.”

Her sigh of relief came out in a loud whoosh. The Special Investigative Unit, what some still referred to as Internal Affairs, could have stripped her of her badge forever. “What about the Review Board?”

“They don’t run things at the station. They just like to think they do.”

“What if they decide the shoot was racially motivated?”

“Was it?”

The question slammed into Sarah like a freight train. “I thought you knew the answer to that.”

“I do.” McGregor leveled deep brown eyes at her. “I just want to make sure you do.”

The waitress stepped up and set a glass down in front of McGregor. Sarah lifted her own and took a quick swallow. “When do I get to come back?”

McGregor eyed her over the edge of his glass. “What does Doc Murray have to say?”

“I thought you made the decisions.”

“I do.” He paused and drained half of his drink. “Just gotta make sure I don’t have any loose cannons around.”

Sarah twirled her glass on the table, concentrating on the intricate design of wet circles. “Murray said I’m coping.”

“And what do you say?”

She raised her eyes to his, gauging how much he wanted her to say. Did he want to hear about the nightmares that plagued her restless sleep, or the nauseating, heavy feeling in her stomach each time she saw that kid’s face in her mind?

No, she finally decided. McGregor had two shoots on his record. He already knew.

“I can do the job.”

“Okay.” He tossed the rest of his drink down, then set the glass on the table with a satisfied sigh. “I’ll put you on the schedule tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Lieu.”

McGregor stood and dropped a ten on the table. “I never doubted you for a moment.”
Sarah savored his reassurance. Maybe if she focused on that, it would help keep the demons at bay. Despite what the shrink had said, she wasn’t always so sure about the coping business. Her grief and her guilt hovered in separate corners of her consciousness, coming out and facing off like boxers responding to the bell.

Only she never knew when it was going to clang.

In desperate attempts to avoid the bout, Sarah had given in to silly impulses, including falling victim to the plight of a stray kitten. When the pathetic little thing had scooted through her open apartment door, she hadn’t been heartless enough to throw him out on an empty stomach. But that was all she’d planned to do. One meal, then he’d be history. She’d never wanted anything to depend on her for life. Not even a houseplant. But the feel of prominent ribs poking out of a ragged orange coat had touched some soft spot in her that she usually kept well-protected.

Now, she was actually contemplating letting the cat grow up before she gave him the boot.

Boy, wouldn’t John laugh himself silly over that.

The thought stopped her rambling mind cold. She hated having to remind herself that John wouldn’t laugh anymore.

Searching for a distraction, Sarah let her gaze travel back to the now empty barstool. Had the guy been real or just a player in some wide-awake dream? Dropping her hand into her pocket, she fingered the edge of his very real business card. She pulled it out, recognizing Bordowsky, Smithers & Payne as one of the largest accounting firms in Dallas, but her eyes faltered over the title neatly embossed under Paul’s name.

No.

It couldn’t be.

No CPA ever looked like that.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Book Review - Set the Night on Fire by Libby Fischer Hellmann

 Thanks again to Carl Brookins for introducing another good read....


Set The Night On Fire
By Libby Fischer Hellmann
ISBN: 978-0-98406-5-7
Trade Paperback from
Allium Press, Chicago, 2010
346 pages.

Every so often a novel comes along that connects with the reader in such a visceral way that it is like a punch in the stomach. This is such a story. If you lived through the nineteen-sixties and your memory is reasonably intact, or you learned even a small amount about those turbulent times, you will connect with this story.

On one level this is the story of Lila Hilliard. Forty-some years after a particular series of spectacular and dangerous events in Chicago that revolved around a nasty far-off war and a political convention, a mysterious fire has robbed her of the only family she has ever known. At about the same time, a man named Dar Gantner, just released from prison, returns to Chicago from prison to reconnect with a few of his former companions from the same era. One, a woman named Rain, tells Dar that another of their mutual friends has just met with an odd fatal accident. It is clear in their conversation that Rain doesn’t entirely believe that it was an accident.

From that moment on it becomes apparent that dark and unknown forces are at work. But why? Who are these people we meet at the beginning of the book, who targets them and why? Through a series of small and then progressively longer flashbacks we are transported to a time when young people believed the rhetoric, that they could indeed change the outcomes of momentous happenings, that they could affect the course of the most powerful nation in the world. Some of those players, whatever they believed, moved on to build calm and substantial lives of commerce, and politics, and contemplative existences. They don’t want to relive any part of that time.

Most readers alive today will have memories of the Chicago convention of 1968, or of the riots, and will begin again to remember the emotions of the time. And even if not, the measured, artful, portioning out of connections, of information, will bring those emotions to the surface. On another level, this is the telling of the great events of the late sixties, the crimes and the abuses and the trails that descended from them, not from the newspaper headlines or the televised reports, but through the eyes and hearts of some of the young people at the center of the conflicts. But this is no polemic, nor is it an attempt to change the record.

What the author has done is produce a cracking good thriller that grips a reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final pages. One after another the revelations keep coming, and as the central characters struggle to stay alive long enough to solve their mysteries, the author maintains our interest in the love story, the history and the dynamics of the times. It doesn’t matter your political beliefs, then, or now; the characters and their trials will reach off the pages of this fine novel and touch you in ways that are basic to our existence as human beings. This is a fine, fine novel that well deserves the accolades it will surely receive.


Carl Brookins
www.carlbrookins.com, www.agora2.blogspot.com
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!