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Is it dangerous?

Holy smokes!

This house is confusing today. There are lap dogs running around yapping, and then there are babies leading the older girls around with leashes tied to their waist. I guess they are trying to train the older ones to heel. The little ones can’t talk to give commands, but they can chatter their twin talk. All of their yelling makes it so easy to listen to TV or a playlist on the phone.

I guess I’ll have to use my superpower – focused concentration.

This is easy to do when done in toto. It becomes harder to do when I have to leave a way for my wife to talk to me. I think every woman is convinced that their man has tunnel hearing. Seems like we can hear the television or radio, but somehow we block out the important stuff they have to say. I don’t recall doing that. The wife says I have selective recall too. Hmm. Husbands have a lot of maladies.

Did I get that right? Oh, I forgot the part that they all think their man is a child at heart. Now? Okay, it’s complete. See what I mean?

Now that I’ve taken care of that, let’s talk about the unknown hazards of living in the country. Last evening there was an alert for our county. It seems there was a cougar, puma, or mountain lion in the county. Take your choice of names. They are all three noms de guerre for the same animal. Seems we had one in our county and it killed a horse.

This resulted in a hurried check to see if Shiloh our unicorn (what our youngest daughter calls the perfectly white pony) was still alive. We checked on Pepa our Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, and all of the chickens were still present and alive. Next, we checked the dogs. Okay too. So we buttoned everything up and everyone came inside. Just because we could, we did a head count for the kids too.

All of you that live in Africa. I know you have much more dangerous animals nearby, but the most dangerous animal around here are feral razorback hogs. Normally, they stay to themselves, just like the coyotes and foxes. Cougars are unexpected.

What we do have, and expect to have, are tornadoes and possible earthquakes. We get our share of nasty storms, not as many as Oklahomans but we get our share. We happen to sit on one of the most fierce fault lines in the States. The early 1800s was the last time it had a major event. During that quake the ground “rolled like the seas” and the Mississippi ran north.

I guess every place has its hazards.

Nothing that I know can compare with the imperilment of getting in the way of my children and their food, though. Let me explain. The last things my children need to worry about is where they will sleep (we own our home) and if they will get enough to eat. We serve mountains of victuals. All of them eat like they are nineteen-year-old boys that haven’t eaten for the last thirty hours, and may your Gods help you if you try to take food from them. Try it and they will act like the piranha with fresh meat just dropped into the river. I think their teeth sharpen on their own and their eyes roll back automatically.

I still haven’t figured out their strange habits during a full moon. Nobody has yet grown large quantities of hair on their bodies and all over their faces, and there hasn’t been anyone howling at the moon. But I do have one who doesn’t need any sleep while the moon is full. Amazing. Me? I’m one of those sleep-a-holics. There are very few things that will entice me to stay awake when I’m tired, and the wife controls most of those things. After dark, I will admit to enquiring into why someone is creeping around outside of the house, but that’s my job. I’m the dad, the husband, the one that served in the Army for years and an expert with a side-arm. That does not mean my wife couldn’t do it. She simply chooses not to.

The two of us divided up the chores years ago. I cook, she does the finances, she ramrods everything inside of the house, I take care of everything on the outside, including protecting it. Together we drive the herd of children from place to place. God love them all.

Now, where was I?

Oh, yeah. Life is dangerous around here. Hell, life is dangerous everywhere. I suppose it’s why we like to read thrillers from the safety of our own homes, perhaps sneak a read at the office. It reminds us in a subtle way that life is precarious, but more so for our favorite heroes.

Have you read mine, The Sigma Factor?

How about reading the Byte series, by Cat Conner? I recommend them all.

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What the hell is going on?

A comment from a reader found its way to me the other day. They did not understand the point of my blog. They enjoyed the reading, thought my delivery smooth, but they also questioned the focus. To them, it appeared too broad.

It is true that I don’t stay with one theme like most blogs.

So why write this blog? Simple really. I use my blog to talk about anything. The purpose is not in the individual subjects. If I conjure the smell of an apple orchard in the spring or the beauty of a chilled strumpet’s breast, it does not matter, as long as I pique my reader’s interest. If enough interest grows then my purpose is satisfied.

I’m building an audience. I want the people reading my blog to like my writing – how I coax new thoughts or summon long forgotten feelings like how it felt to capture fireflies during twilight on a warm summer’s eve. I want everyone curious about what I write next. Every time someone clicks on my blog I have an opportunity to show a sample of my writing. The goal is for the reader to enjoy it. The next step is for others to seek it out. If that happens, then I succeed.

I am a writer of novels, thrillers. Who it is that doesn’t like to read something fast-paced and exciting? I do.

Your heart beating a hole in your chest, pounding your neck, coursing down your arms, and sometimes even feeling it in your eyes. Thrills guided by the author’s words can be trumped only by the need to answer – who, or why or perhaps simply what the hell is all this shit?

Picking up a book that an author bled over enables you to sink into the mix. You can experience the entire story, fight like a hero, get hurt like a wild woman on a mission, and even conquer those deadly bastards while teaching them respect. A good writer pulls readers into an artificial world of the author’s fabrication. They enable readers to think fast, react quick as an angry mongoose, and survive certain death because they alone are clever enough to turn things around.

Who hasn’t had that deep satisfaction of living in the world an author built? I remember the first time I heard Tarzan’s jungle roar after defeating the lion in Tarzan of the Apes. My God after I read that, I was the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the world. I didn’t care that the cause of the feeling was Edgar Rice Burroughs words. I hadn’t just read an author’s musings; I’d lived every word. They enfolded me, molded me in such a way that I conquered that damn lion. I experienced the jungle, felt it around me, and had become the smartest, meanest, animal in it.

Even if you haven’t read that story, I’m sure you have similar experiences. There are thrills to be found in every book – the final kiss when the girl wins the boy back from the cold-hearted bitch, or maybe the rocket finally engages and they all escape the exploding planet barely evading certain inhalation. The point is, some of our most vivid memories come from books, someone else’s cue to your own imagination. Reading is a partnership.

Why is it that books are always better than the movie based on the said book? The same story inhabits both. It is because the two approaches are fundamentally different. Movies show imaginary worlds, and in truth some special effects are spectacular. But something is still lacking. You enjoy it by halfway living it. Books, on the other hand, take deep imagination to fill out their stories and inflate their worlds. As a result, you live the entire thing. It resides inside of you and achieved by a skilled author using select words and phrases to build a world worthy of your imagination.

There are thousands of books out there, both hard-page and electronic ones. Most of them have enthralled readers, but very few of them are enjoyed by a large number of readers. The reason is, readers are picky. They use reviews to get an idea of books they might like. These reviews can be simple. Something like: The book was great! Or how about, It kept my interest. Here is another one; I found it slow to start, but then it took off. Then the one that no one wants to write – I didn’t like it.

While I don’t relish the negative review, it will help. All authors know in their gut that everyone won’t like their work, but an unfavorable review needs something along with the statement of dislike. It needs to explain why the book wasn’t liked: the language was too rough, or, It was too slow. Maybe, there was too much tension. Whatever. It needs something to express why the reader found it lacking.

Remember, no author can learn without feedback.

And here is something you may never have thought about. You really aren’t harming the author. A negative review can also lend credibility. If everyone gives five-star reviews it could lay out as if the reviews come only from friends and relatives. Adding in a little constructive criticism makes everything work better.

All any author asks is a statement supporting a negative review. After all, everyone looks better with a little support. Think about that for a few minutes.

Perhaps a change of perspective is in order. When you go to a restaurant and the server does a pretty good job, you leave a gratuity. Think of the review as an author’s gratuity. Only, in this case, the cost to you is nothing but a small bit of time. That’s nothing compared to what the author has invested for your enjoyment.

Easy, right?

By the way … what would have happened if no one had recommended your favorite book to you? Would you be the same person you are now?

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A Sandwich With a Twist

How about a twist on a favorite sandwich, a BLT, a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato? The twist is this. The tomatoes are fried green tomatoes. Yum. Fried green tomatoes are a favorite in the south. Just the taste of them delights me almost as much as a southern woman with her drawl.

This recipe will make roughly two sandwiches. If you want more you will have to adjust.

The sandwich can be made on any type of bread, but I like sourdough.

INGREDIENT LISTS:

Breading:
2 – green tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick. Vary the thickness if you wish, but don’t get them too thin.
4 – slices of bacon. More if you wish. Is it possible to overdo bacon?
½ cup – cornmeal
3/4 cup – flour
1 – large egg
½ cup – milk
Creole seasoning – Use your favorite. I like Tony’s Chachere’s ®
Salt to taste
green leaf lettuce

SAUCE:
1/4 – cup mayonnaise
1 – teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 – tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 – tsp garlic salt.
1 – tbs mustard. (Again, use your favorite. I prefer Dijon or coarse ground.)
Your favorite hot sauce to taste. (May want to delete this if you don’t like things hot.)

You will need:
one skillet
4 – small bowls, or, two bowls (for liquid) and two zippered bags (for the flour and cornmeal)
1– a bottle of wine. This should be your favorite. It doesn’t matter red or white.

The first thing that should happen is to pour a good glass of wine and taste. (Note; This libation can be switched out for your favorite spirit – Scotch, Tequila, Rum, Irish, Bourbon, or whatever. It is simply there for your own enjoyment. If you do not drink alcohol, you may substitute a simple soda or lemonade.)

Now we need to make the sauce. This is simple. Mix all of the liquid ingredients together first, then stir in the garlic salt. Hold out the hot sauce. Mix that in last so you can get a sounding on the heat with which you are playing. After completing the sauce, place it in one of the bowls, cover it, and put it in the fridge to chill while the rest is in the making.

Time for another libation.
The next step is frying the bacon. There should be at least two strips of bacon for each sandwich. However, bacon is something that tastes so good you may want more per sandwich. Once the bacon is how you prefer, drain it and set it aside. Save the grease too. We will use it to fry the tomatoes.

Now it is time to slice and bread the green tomatoes. This really isn’t hard at all, but if it looks daunting see libation above, but remember – you work with sharp objects.

While slicing, you may notice how firm the green tomatoes are, more firm than ripe red ones. That’s normal.

Simply set them to the side and ready yourself for the breading. I’ve breaded enormous amounts of food, and it can make a stupendous mess. The best technique is to use one hand, or tong for the wet ingredients and another for the dry. It keeps you from wasting the dry ingredients and creating an ungodly wreck of the kitchen. I have seen some people with what looks like huge boxing gloves of gunk on their hands simply from using the same hand to dip into both dry and wet breading ingredients.
What I recommend is the one bowl, two bag technique. I will outline it below.

To prep for the breading :
Whisk the egg and milk together in the bowl.
Pour the flour into one bag. In the other mix the cornmeal and a tsp of creole seasoning.

Now lay the containers in a line in the following order, egg wash, flour, cornmeal. Put a couple of sliced tomatoes in the egg wash then pull one slice out and hold it up to drain briefly. Drop it in the flour to cover it with the powder. Press the flour onto the wet tomato, and then re-dip it in the egg wash enough to wet the flour all around. Repeat the flour breading procedure. (This is called a double bread, and it holds the breading on the tomato much better than one trip through the flour.) After the second breading in flour, then it is once more into the egg wash and on to the cornmeal, making sure you press the meal down firmly. Once you press the cornmeal into the tomato put it aside while you bread a few more.

The beauty of using the bags is you can close them and shake a good coating of powder without a cloud of the stuff going everywhere and covering the kitchen.

Reheat the skillet, along with the bacon grease, and fry the tomatoes on medium heat. They should have a golden brown color to them and be a bit crunchy.

One may need another libation about now. That’s perfect.

The bread can either be plain, toasted, or grilled on one side. I prefer my grilled. Once you have the bread/toast the way you want it, spread the sauce and layer the green lettuce, two tomatoes, and bacon on top. Put the lid on the sandwich in place and voila.

Now is the fun part. Be careful because the tomatoes may be hot.
Let me know if you like it.

By the way. I have a really good friend, Cat Conner, who writes a blog. She writes the Byte series of books. You may want to check her blog and books out. You will like her. She says what she thinks. Meet her at – http://catconner.blogspot.com/

Now it’s time for a celebratory libation. What do you think?

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Karma’s the Idea

I live in the house of shenanigans. Every kid does their share of antics; that’s part of being a child. Our house has more than a handful of the little humans, and that equates to mountains of pranks. Here, dirty tricks are a way of life.

They learn early too. The two-year-old are incredible. Their teamwork makes professional athletes look like chumps. One will chatter some kind of story, or dance, or scream while the other one retrieves the chocolate, or chips, or whatever snack happens to be within their sight. Usually they can be found later at their rendezvous point enjoying their plunder.

Our home is a Karma free joint. Most of the hi jinks do not warrant the universe creating a balance. Well, maybe it does, but in my opinion, things on this level would only require a minor adjustment.

So what am I talking about? How many out there believe in Karma? Only some? I think more believe in it than are willing to admit it.

What about that old adage, “What goes around, comes around?” Or, how about if someone cooks up an excuse for missing work using a fake funeral for their grandmother who up and passed away, when she’s enjoying herself with her new friend Raoul on a cruise? Is there a horrified inner voice warning that the story could cause grandmother to have a fatal accident?

Maybe, or not. However, most people wouldn’t take the chance.

I can’t say how your brain works, but mine picks up the idea of Karma and has a veritable party with the idea. I don’t look at it as vengeance, or even reward and punishment, although those things may be integral to it. I see Karma as a great balancing act. Why not? Scientists love symmetry, music sounds best when things resolve, and stories want a denouement. All things seek some kind of equilibrium. Even water will level out, although tsunamis appear to do anything but that. How many married folks, when faced with a spouse’s infidelity, might stew over a hair of the dog punishment and then write it off to Karma? (If the bastard hadn’t have cheated type thing.)

All I’m doing is observing and asking questions. Nothing bad can come of that? Oh yeah, that’s what Socrates did just before the hemlock.

Is there a great force that balances all things including human action? We recognize the balance of nature, but that poor bastard of a gazelle might think it unfair to end up as the lion’s meal.

Could the golden rule be a warning of Karma? If all of this is true, why do most people seem to think rules and laws are for everyone except themselves? Just check out how many people drive recklessly in rush hour. And just an aside, why are the British so excellent at standing in a queue, but try it getting into a sporting event in the States and your blood pressure will rival the water pressure of a fire fighter’s hose.

Personally, I like the idea of Karma sticking its fingers into life. I think it’s a natural law. But you know what? I don’t care if it is real or not, because just the possibility of it tends to temper people’s behavior, and you know we really need that.

Last thing. All these people that need tempering? How many are parents and in charge of their own family, teaching their little ones how to behave? Spooky, isn’t it.

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Getting to know V. Mark Covington

During this last week I have had the opportunity to become familiar with Mark Covington, another author from Rebel ePublishing (spelled V. Mark Covington on his books). He has several books on the market and has had three plays produced. I asked him several questions in an effort to discover how his mind works. I thought you might enjoy the answers.

Me: Tell me a bit about your writing process. Do you work with a narrow premise, or perhaps a major theme? Maybe you simply sit down and start writing and see what pops out.

Mark: I start with a “what if” and go from there. I was looking at vacation spots on-line once and found an Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. And I wondered, “What if the legendary lost island of Atlantis was just this resort sent back in time” and my book Bullfish was born. From the what if, I create a time line. After that I outline what I want to happen in each chapter (just a couple of sentences each) and then it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks.

Me: I’m currently reading, Homemade Sin, and the muse is a large part of that. Do you have a muse?

Mark: Absolutely! She’s invisible, but in my head, she’s a beautiful woman in a long white gown. I’ve even written poems to her. When I get blocked, I take a stroll in the park and I usually find her there on a bench, waiting for me. She knows when I need to get up and get some fresh air so she blocks me on purpose to make me come to the park.

Me: Does your own personal view of life enter into your books, or do you make the worlds in your books from scratch? If from scratch, do you build it as you work or have it completed before you start?

Mark: I put my own personal views in, but I try not to say you should think this way, rather, I invite them to check out this way of looking at things. Then it gets weird.

Me: How about your endings? Do you know your ending before you start and work toward it? Or, do you work the ending out as you go? Is it a struggle to find the absolute right ending? Personally, I find the perfect ending almost torture to find.

Mark: I do know, basically, what will happen to my characters at the end when I start, but that can change as I go along. I strive for closure for all my characters, the good guys prevail in the end and the bad guys get their comeuppance. I killed off a main good character once, toward the end of the book, but I brought him back reincarnated in the epilogue and gave him a happy ending.

Me: What is the toughest part of the writing process for you? Why?

Mark: Like I said, I do a brief outline of each chapter at the beginning, then I jump to whatever chapter my muse wants me to do. I could write chapter 22 one day, then jump back to chapter 3 the next, then chapter 16 the following day, it depends. Once I get to the end, I have to go back and do a full “write-through” to make sure the chapters are seamless, make sure that if a character has green eyes in chapter 3, she still has green eyes in chapter 30. That write- through is the toughest part.

Me: Do you use settings and places from where you have actually been, or do you depend on research?

Mark: Both. I grew up on a farm in Virginia and live in Richmond so quite a few stories take place in Richmond. But if a story needs to include, say Voodoo, I will take a trip to New Orleans and seek out a voodoo shop, or if it includes a Mayan pyramid, I will head to Mexico and visit one. (All that travel is tax deductible by the way).

Me: I see you’ve written plays too. How much does your theatre experience effect your novels?

Mark: I think writers should approach writing like a gym workout, you don’t just keep working one group of muscles over and over. You should work all of your writing muscles for balance. If you write novels, try writing a play, write poetry, write non-fiction, etc. I know play writing has helped me get better at dialogue in my novels, in a play about 95% of it is dialogue, so it has to be good. Also, working with the limited space of a stage you have to focus on subtle movements. I convey that subtlety of movement to books. Writing poetry has taught me an economy of words, poetry has to be short so you have to use the perfect words.

Me: So, give me a quick rundown of your published books. Now the big question. What’s coming next?

Mark:
Published Novels:
Heavenly Pleasure
Homemade Sin
2012 Montezuma’s Revenge
Church of the Path of Least Resistance

Produced Plays:
Shakespeare in the Trailer Park (comedy)
Writer’s Weekend (musical)
All In (psychological thriller)
“All In” is my latest work and it has been work-shopped and is ready for a full production. There are a few producers reading the script right now. Once it has had a full run, I’ll go back and tweak it as needed before I submit it for publication.

Well now, back to the blog –
That is quite a list of published and performed works outlined there. Each work translates to enormous pleasure; hours of reading and watching, experiencing plots and characters he’s woven through his stories, and everything to be absorbed by his audiences.
Good luck, Mark. Continue cranking them out. You can pick up on Amazon.com. Remember, it’s V. Mark Covington.

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That’s not the way. You damn fool!

This week I fell into a discussion about Cajun food. During my life, I spent years in Louisiana. It’s one of my favorite places to live. The food is terrific and the people are wonderful. Their culture and heritage are unique.

I realize every state is different. I do. It’s just that the Louisiana culture is recognizable by most Americans almost instantly. New Orleans is New Orleans. What can I say?

So let’s get down to one of the easiest Cajun dishes – Red Beans and Rice.

Before we go too far let me state, with no bullshit attached, I am neither chef, nor Cajun, so I have no claim to mixing the ingredients in the old, secret ways. What I will say is: I have spent my time in restaurants across Louisiana. I’ve cooked and managed while keeping my ears open, inevitably standing at the side of Cajuns who have shared some of their cooking skills with me.

The first thing for this recipe is: you will have to decide whether or not you want to go from scratch or take some shortcuts. My family is huge and I have limited time, so I normally go with the quickest and easiest. But I will give both methods so you can have an informed choice. The two methods have an end product that is a virtual tie in taste. I suppose a true connoisseur can discern the difference, but they will also tell you, “That is not true Cajun Red Beans and Rice. You damn fool!”

Let’s start with the ingredients. I cut my recipe down because I have ten kids that are terrified they will starve to death, and they are ravenous the instant they put their plate in the sink after a feast. Because of that, they get damn full at each setting. The list below is for an ending product that will feed four people. If you need more or less then go for it.

Red Beans – 1 lb (scratch), OR, 2 ea 14.5 oz cans of undrained red beans (quick).
Brown Rice – ½ to 1 one cup. (Rule of thumb it takes twice as much water as rice. Place the rice in the water and bring to boil. Drop in two tablespoons of butter, cover, and simmer at least twenty minutes or until soft and fluffy.)
Unsalted butter – 4 tbs
Sweet onion – 1 ea medium sized
Green pepper – 1 ea
Garlic Cloves – 5 ea
Bay leaves – 1 or 2 ea
Andouille sausage – 1 ½ lbs (A true Cajun receipt will have Andouille sausage. If you cannot find this, or don’t like this kind of sausage then use Kielbasa sausage or a similar product like Smoked sausage.)
Bacon grease. (This is not essential, but it does add flavor.)
Creole seasoning to taste (There are several on the market and they all range in relative heat.)
Your favorite bar-be-que rub.
Hot sauce. Your choice here.

If you want to go traditional, you can rinse and soak your beans overnight. The soaking is not altogether needed, but if you don’t your cook time will be longer. As it is, the dry beans need to boil and simmer for two or three hours, stirring every fifteen minutes or so, keeping a watchful eye on them so they don’t scorch or burn. You may have to add water to them to keep them as you go. It won’t harm the taste. You’ll know they are done when the beans are soft, and by the dark, almost gravy-like liquid throughout.

Now the fun begins!

1) Julienne both the onion and green pepper, putting them in a four-quart pot. Then chop the garlic cloves and add them to the pot. Use two tablespoons of butter and sauté the vegetables until aromatic.
2) Pour the beans into the pot. Be sure to put the bean liquid in the pan too. Bring everything to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. From here to the finished meal you need to stir the pot from the bottom up every ten to fifteen minutes. Add the bay leaves. Most people want to simply drop them onto the top of the beans like in a soup. I usually let them sit on the top for about five minutes and then gently stir them in. This will give it a more robust flavor.
3) Shake in your Creole seasoning. Put in about half of what you think you need for the finished dish.
4) Start the rice.
5) Bias cut the sausage. In a hot skillet, warm the bacon grease. The sausage should sizzle when you add it to the frying pan. Sprinkle the sausage with the bar-be-que rub. (The rub can be skipped if need be, but I find that added zing helps the entire dish.) Cook the sausage past the searing stage. The finished product should have a burned appearance. This is not the same as blackening. That is a whole different procedure. (If you want to drop the sausage into a deep fat fryer go ahead, just don’t bring it out until it is black and chewy.) This is my favorite step. The Cajun who taught me this was very explicit. Most people do not want to burn anything, but the sausage should appear burnt, but not to the, “Oh My God it’s a cinder and crunchy!” stage. It should be at the, “Well damn, that looks like burned toast,” stage. The inside should still be juicy. When it is dark like a burned hot dog from an outdoor party, dump the sausage, bacon grease and all, into the beans and stir. Keep at it until all the sausage is cooked.

Now let everything simmer. This is when you add the rest of the Creole seasoning. About the time the smokey haze leaves the kitchen and you can turn the smoke detectors back on, you need to add the rice. That is if you want to mix the rice with the beans. That is the way I do it. I have also had it served to me as a bed of rice topped with the red beans. Your choice.

Now comes the taste test. This is where you can add your hot sauce, especially if you like things hot enough to immolate yourself from the inside out. It is also the part when someone says, “That ain’t the … you damn fool!”

Simmer your beans for another ten minutes and it is time to eat. Let me know if you like it.
By the way, have you checked out http://olivesplace.com/ If not, you should? Plenty of recipes there.

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What a character!

What is the one thing you look for in a good book – a solid ending? plot twists? maybe a style of writing? I’ll be willing to bet that’s what you might say, but your inner workings really like the characters.

There are only so many kinds of stories, especially if you are drawn to a particular genre. Romance has: protagonist meets someone special, loses them, re-finds them, the end. There are a lot of variations on the theme, but it’s still the same basic storyline. Thriller: either everyone wants to kill you, or you have an undying need for revenge. Said and done.

You get the idea.

During my most basic acting class in college, the professor stressed to us that it did no good to act at anything. What had to be done was react, and done in such a way as to be believable. He didn’t want to see us on stage acting like we were petrified with fear. What he wanted was to see us react out of fear. Or hate, love, hunger, or whatever the need at the time might be.

Plot, setting, realism, etc. all have their places in a well-crafted story. They are all needed, but if one or more is weak, the story may survive. If the characters are flat and lifeless then …

So let me look at characters. The many books I’ve read on the subject always seem to have an aside comment on how to make a character unique. Something along the line of picking a trait that was not usually associated with that particular type of character. An example would be a tough guy that always likes to smell flowers. For the longest time, I thought they were saying make your characters stand out.

Now, after becoming more ingrained in the writer’s culture and indeed talking to several of them, I’ve come to believe there is definitely more. The idea is unique characters, and in that respect, the authors of the advice had it slightly skewed. I think they may have been trying to say – characters need to be offbeat. Syncopated from what the reader expects. It is that unpredictable, quirky difference that people care about, and that deviation from the norm holds true no matter the genre, even classic fiction.

Anyone can smell flowers, but it takes a real son-of-a-bitch to kill someone because that person walked on the killer’s favorite flower.

Anyone can swear. However, I once knew a first sergeant who dressed down his unit for over twenty minutes and never once used a swear word, or even alluded to a situation in which those words could have been used, not even a synonym. The ending result? The unit felt horrible after the chewing. But it was a masterpiece of art, completely different from the expected. I stood agog at the verbal spectacle, especially since the NCO was an undying master at cursing.

Conclusion? The soldier was brilliant. He was quite a character and behaved out of the ordinary, even for him. Now tell me a reader wouldn’t be motivated to pick up another book by an author that used that character.

I think readers want the unusual suspect. If readers can guess what is about to happen, it doesn’t work well, with the exception of letting them imagine they have guessed what will happen, and then yanking the rug. I believe they want that added twist of literary kismet; it’s expected, the one they cannot conjure, or in a more sophisticated way, something they can call up and summon, but desperately don’t want to live through, no matter how vicariously they experience it. Characterization is a way to produce that atmosphere, because Mary, or John, can react in strange directions, in unexpected yet ingenious ways, or they can die too soon.

Readers grow attached to characters. They love them, but a plot twist is simply a change in circumstances. They may like, even appreciate the author’s ricochet of direction, but it enthralls them to see how the king or queen roll with the changing reality. Suspense may paralyze us, but only because of the character’s involvement.

The highest classification of humor is a plot device, the lowest is the farce. Regardless of all that; humor in the situation may make you grin, but the guffaw happens when Tommy gets hit in the balls, or bitchy Sally lands on her ass after trying to kick the dog and misses. Tears of tragedy dripped not because the two star-crossed lovers took their life. That is explained in the very beginning. They soaked cheeks because desperate Juliet tried to drink any remaining poison and then, between sobs, kissed Romeo for any scraps that remained and still failed to find enough.

The lifeblood of fiction comes from the characters, literally (pun intended).

I have two friends that know what they are doing with characters:

Leah Erickson with her award-winning, The Brambles https://amzn.to/2HSSV35/

and

Lisa Towles with her book, Choke http://www.independentpressaward.com/2018distinguishedfavorite/

Please check them out. You will enjoy them, and While you are at it: if you haven’t read The Sigma Factor please do!

The last thing is every author needs feedback, so don’t forget to review everything you read. That includes my blog, my book, Leah and Lisa’s books. Everything.

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What a menagerie

Holy Cow! The living room is a living example of a cacophony. The oldest girl is plunking out the theme to Beethoven’s Ninth, while the youngest girl is practicing how to make a sound on the piano with every finger at the same time. The youngest of all (one minute younger than his sister) is quiet only because the Polar Express movie is playing so he can watch, “My train! My Train!” The next oldest girl is explaining how the brand new chicks are following the mother hen around like, well, a hen and chicks. The boy that figures everything out too quickly is sure the new rabbit cage is stupid (explained at the top of both his lungs and his speaking range.” The kit is getting used to its cage. Hope it likes noise. By the way for those that don’t know a kit is what a baby rabbit is called. Anyway, we have no idea whether it is a doe or buck yet.

The only thing I know about the little darling is it is the newest member of the household. It was a close contest. The chicks arrived yesterday too. They were incubated at school as a lesson for students, and now they are returned to us alive and, for now, well.

My God, let’s take a census here – ten kids (children not goats) four cats, three inside dogs, two outside dogs, a potbelly pig, a Juliana pig (ugly as hell, but if we hadn’t taken him, the asshole that had him before would have abused him even more). Oh yeah, back to the roll call. Two roosters, two hens, six chicks (I just found out there are more to come today) and finally one lop-eared kit.

I did forget one animal, well three actually, if you include my wife and myself. I forgot the unicorn. She’s not really a unicorn. She is a white pony that my youngest, who loves the mythical animals, calls her ‘corn. She has the one live one. She must think of it as disabled because the horn is missing. Then there are three more stuffed inside. That’s stuffed animal toys. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a monster who goes around stuffing mythical beasts. One of her ‘corns is a rocking ‘corn. Then there is a smaller version about as big as a basketball, and then finally, there is the ‘corn that has to be slept with, otherwise, every bit of the seven layers of Dante’s hell envelops the house. The shrieking alone is loud enough that the corpse of Beethoven probably hears it while he’s trying to rest in his peaceful deafness.

And people wonder why I call this house the looney bin.

Personally, I’m waiting for the day the youngest two are house trained – wait – potty trained. I have spent the last fourteen years buying diapers and/or pull-ups, or cleaning cloth diapers. Do you know at one time we had six, that’s half a dozen, six children in diapers at the same time. That was one full kitchen trash can or rubbish bin of poop catchers a day. Whew, am I glad that’s over. Well, it’s almost over. Two more to go.

I was just informed that we will have more chicks coming home to roost today sometime. No idea how many.

Say, you might want to look up Lisa Towles’s blog. She interviewed me this week and here is the link. https://digitalraconteur.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/author-spotlight-jw-bell/

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My Family

What Do I Do Now?

Welcome back!

Have any kids, grandkids? I have a large family, ten children living under my roof and two who have their own families complete with their partners who are raising my five grandchildren.

As you can imagine our house is always on the beastly side. Let me back up a bit on that; that may be an exaggeration. There are some days between three and three-thirty in the morning when there can be something resembling a hushed level, although there is one child who only needs about seven point three minutes of sleep every day.

Coincidentally he is also the one who yells at everything, rants, and claims everyone is stupid. Maybe there is a pattern there. By the way, his voice is high-pitched, and when he screams it pierces right through one of my hearing aides, bounces around like a ricocheting bullet that brandishes a bayonet, and exits out the other side.

We love him so much.

We love all of the little carpet devils, named so after the small tornado-like phenomena that rolls across the prairies and deserts, not because of their demeanor. Regardless of how the name sounds they are little angles and I would not trade them for anything. A stiff shot helps a bit though.

Our family is quite the hodgepodge and is about as extended as a family can be. There are adoptees, of which my wife is one as are more than a few children. Of course we have our bio-kids some of whom are louder and more headstrong than others. They tend to surprise me. That started about the time they got started. Genetics can be a bitch. My father-in-law lives in town, my wife’s bio family not a far piece down the road (local talk), and we keep in touch with the surrogate kids too. Those are the children my wife carried and gave birth to in order to help other couples achieve their dream of family.

The aunts and uncles of all the kids stretch out in every direction, especially if you count the half siblings, adopted siblings, and bio siblings of both of us. We have service personnel, teachers, doctors, students, business managers, and truck drivers.

All in all, we have quite the asylum.

Someone told me that in order to write I have to have come from a dysfunctional family. Well, I sprang from a functional, dysfunctional one. Pardon, you say? I know. That sentence alone sounds nonfunctional. One hell of an oxymoron isn’t it. My mind is still boggling.

Imagine living it. I do, and love it, but there may be a clue as to why I don’t have any hair left.

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What Do I Do Now?

Welcome to the first post of my blog. I think an apt name might be: What Do I Do Now?

Today’s post is an explanation of what might be expected from visiting here. It will be a multifarious adventure. I would use the word eclectic to describe it, but that is one of my least favorite of words. It sounds good. It trips off the inner-voiced tongue well enough, but I associate it with a negative air of superiority. I’ve seen it on so many websites belonging to Literary Agents just before my query gets sent back to me with a form letter that, after reducing it down to its lowest form, means hell no.

Please let me be clear here.

I’m talking about the association of a word with a bad experience. I’m not trying to debate them. I probably needed, or in fact deserved to be rejected. It takes time and a butt-load of rejections to become a writer. Hell, even J.K. Rowling was told not to quit her day job. (Disclaimer: that in no way means to imply that I am the next J. K. … etc.)

Anyway, back to the blog. There will be many wind gusts my thoughts might blow around on, and I have no idea in which direction they will travel. As I sat down to make a list of the things I might cover, I was enlightened to the proclivity of my mindless wanderings. I should have guessed though. My Great Grandfather had a wandering disposition. Why just the other day while marching my DNA back through history it looked as if I truly descended from a line of bastards. But it was a false alarm. I’m not literally a bastard, although I’ve heard several utterances justifying the name be tattooed on my buttocks. Kind of poetic isn’t it. So, call me what you will.

Oh, wandering again.

Do you see what I mean? At any given moment in time, my mind might dart off in new and unexplained direction. By the way, I will probably talk about moments in time at a later date.

I’ll stay away from politics. There are enough people out there that blog about that, some do it with intelligence, some with as much smarts and mud as the backside of a jackass might have. I see no reason to muddy that field anymore. As it is, hip waders are useless.

That brings me to my last sub-topic for this post. I spent some of my best years in the Army, and while there I earned the equivalency of an advanced degree in what President Truman termed,  cussing. I try to behave, but an occasional expletive (The transcriptions of Nixon’s tapes made that word famous) might fall out of my mouth, or fingers, whichever. If that irritates you, I apologize and ask that you simply redact it. Examples on what that is have been talked about and displayed ad nauseam in the last few months. The gist of this is, I don’t want to offend, but sometimes those words can be perfect descriptions.

To sum it all – come on back. There’s no telling what might be here.

 

What Do I Do Now?