Monday, November 17, 2014

A New Series! Libby the Psychic Dog's Christmas Story

Announcing the debut of a new series! Libby the Psychic Dog is the star of my new series and she has a special talent. 

In this first book in the series called My First Christmas, Lord Percival Plep died in the war to end all wars and one day, he awakens to find that he has been reincarnated as a dog. He is now a terrier mix and horror of horrors - a female! When he is adopted by an elderly woman, "Mama," he is christened "Libby," and gains the reputation of being "psychic" with Mama's friends when the scrappy little dog finds their lost eyeglasses and keys. With a lust for treats and droll take on life, this little rotund dog's Christmas story will win your heart. Available now on Amazon.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What Scares Me this Halloween

Caretakers abusing an Alzheimer's patient, a baby monitor hijacked by a hacker so they could scare the baby - just two things I saw posted on Facebook within the last 24 hours. And forget about those SPCA commercials. Cruelty has been with us since the dawn of time. We salivate when, watching a movie, a man gets an evil look on his face as he plans some dastardly deed to create misery in the life of the hero. Sometimes we laugh, and I find humor is necessary as a way to reduce the stress brought on by something that affects me negatively, but are we losing our humanity? Have we grown numb to the suffering of others because we see it so often that our subconscious minds, unable to make sense of it all, are simply shielding us from the uncomfortable reality of life? Or, as a society, do we just suck?

Today, my husband, Hans, and I went grocery shopping. He needs a motorized cart so when we entered the store, there was only one left. A boy of about sixteen was sitting on it. I asked him if he was using it and he mumbled. I said my husband needed it and he mumbled again but didn't move. It was obvious he wasn't going to and unless I could somehow get his bony ass on the ground and sit on him, I wouldn't be able to do much about the situation. Someone I know once said that the trouble with the world today is a lack of love. This boy's attitude reminded me of that pronouncement. His lack of consideration for my husband's disability is really a lack of love toward his fellow man. I asked the manager to help and she got the kid off the cart. 

Now, I know I'm expecting a lot from a teenager as we all know they are very self-centered, but twenty years ago he would have gotten up. He may have made a face or mumbled an expletive, but he would have gotten up. As the years have gone by, we as a society have decided it doesn't matter that someone else is in pain. We just plain don't care.

True, there are those who will risk their lives trying to help the Ebola suffers. There are also those who are born to care for others, like the young boys who feel so touched by the plight of the homeless that they organize drives to collect blankets for them.  These people do exist, but they are dwindling. It's getting harder to be kind toward others.

More often than not, I find myself ranting as I drive because someone goes through a red light or a stop sign as though they are different and can do whatever they want to while you and I have to obey. I also don't understand people who stop in the middle of a grocery aisle while you wait for them. Pull your damn cart over. Really, is it that hard to be nice? Am I missing something?

Hans is always tempted to run his motorized cart into someone's ass. While I find the idea amusing, I warn him not to because that is assault with a deadly weapon. Really. In the state of Florida, it is. So he doesn't, but not because he cares about injuring them. He cares about being arrested. He no longer drives, so I don't have to worry about that, but for everything else, I act his moral conscience. I keep him out of trouble. But I think his love for mankind has faded away. I tell him to be kind, that karma is a bitch, but he's tired. I tell him we have to be nice to the young because we are going to need them one day and he says f it. I've lost the battle. But this is one of my greatest fears as I grow older - are the young going to take care of us? Are we all so pissed off that we just don't care about anything anymore, even karma? 

My mother used to say that each child is born for a reason. She never specified what the reason was, and I can say unequivocally that one of my sons was born to refine my patience, but I do agree that having family is a necessity. You never know when you will need a kidney. These are the people who care about you. It's just the way it is. It's some kind of thing inside of us that makes us care and won't let go. Your family understands where you came from and even if you don't like them very much, you will help them because they are family. Don't burn your familial bridges. These are the people who will be there, who will make sure you aren't forgotten. I'm lucky. I like my family. Yeah, I said it. I went there. 

I love my sons. I wish I had known how to be a mother when they were young, but they grew up despite me. I think they like me. I don't think they will abandon me. I know they won't abandon Hans. They always liked him best. My brother lives nearby. We help him and he does what he can for us. He's the one truly loving person I've ever known. He would give you the shirt off his back and feed you. He was born that way. He doesn't have children. He has us, poor thing. Take care of your family. Put them first, even if you can't stand them. Remember what I said about needing a kidney.

While it may be pleasurable to imagine we are islands unto ourselves, we are not. We all need a man or woman Friday to be there if we fall down a flight of stairs or get hit by one of those idiots running a red light. That boy who wouldn't give up that cart will be old one day. He'll walk into the space grocery store and an alien will be sitting on the hover cart. He'll tell the alien he needs the cart to shop and the alien will give him the finger, a nice little gesture he learned from Earthlings. That old man won't remember my husband, but karma will laugh.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Writing and the Human Psyche

Getting into someone’s head isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As a writer, I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out what motivates people. It’s a thankless journey filled with potholes but necessary if I want to create characters people can relate to. Unfortunately, my drunken muse, Fred, likes to throw a monkey wrench at me ever so often and I end up with a character like the woman in my latest book, Circumstantial Evidence. She is the victim of abuse. I’ve never been the victim of the type of abuse Donna Bronson has been subjected to, so I had to put myself in her place and try to walk in her shoes. What would I have done if this had happened to me? I know it’s not the same thing but it’s all I had to go one, that and many episodes of Law & Order: SUV.

Donna is kidnapped by the antagonist when she is fourteen. Without going into too much detail (I do want you to read my book after all), she suffers at the hands of a monster whose main tool is fear, layered on year after year, until she is more machine than human. She functions within the confines of a small life and when the terrible details of what has been happening in her own back yard come to light, people, particularly men, cannot fathom why she didn’t leave. I wrestled with this question myself and created reasons that would make it more believable, but was it necessary? 

For those of us who haven’t grown up under the threat of constant abuse, yes, because we think we would have left a long time ago. That is why when we hear a news story in which a mother kills all her children we are horrified, as we should be, and we struggle to understand why she didn’t just kill herself and leave her children alone. Or the man who does kill himself after killing his wife and children. Why doesn’t he just off himself and do us all a favor, leaving his family intact?

I have a dog. She is a sweet girl who is very obedient, but she does not come when she’s called. Instead, she runs in the opposite direction and hides. I got her at the local SPCA where the only history they had was she was given up because the people had to leave their home due to foreclosure. My dog, Trixie, had a friend who had been adopted, leaving her alone. I fell for her and brought her home, and for three weeks she would not leave my husband’s lap. She spent day and night snuggled in his arm.

After a while, she grew brave and eventually began to interact with me, but to this day, four years or so later, she will not come when I call her and when I get up in the morning, she runs to her “room” and goes under the end table. I see her there and say, “Good morning.” She wags her tail, and if I go into the room, she makes to leave it immediately. I have never raised a hand to her though I do occasionally raise my voice, but only because she won’t let Hans go to the bathroom alone.

Trixie also won’t eat in the kitchen if someone is there. She stands by the door looking in, waiting until the coast is clear, then walks inside and eats. No - she takes her food to the living room and eats. Odd behavior she can never explain. Lest you think she’s a total basket case, she does play with me, she tolerates a bath well, and loves the kids when they come over. I’m not sure what happened to her in her other life, but I’d like to beat someone myself for what they did to make her this way. Her anxiety rules her and without the help of the Dog Whisperer, I don’t think I will ever get her to come to me willingly.

Perhaps I had Trixie in mind when I wrote Donna. I imagine her cowering at the sight of her abuser, running away if she can so she doesn’t have to be in the same room, trying to find a way to protect the one she loves while it seems she doing the opposite. Motivation is the hardest thing to explain because unless you’ve experienced exactly what the other person has experienced and your genetic inheritance is identical, how can you truly walk in their shoes? You can’t, but it’s my job to present a reasonable facsimile of the truth, and if I do my job well, you will understand why Donna couldn’t leave.

Have you created a character you can’t explain or read one that perplexed you? Take heart. We all have, and if all goes well, we will again.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Collecting Character Data

When I was young, my paternal grandmother took me to a room on the second floor of her house and showed me a stack of gifts she’d received over the years. They were still in their original packaging and she offered me one of them. I declined her offer as the gift she wanted to give me didn’t suit me. Now I understand that like her, I had no need for it and had I taken it home, I would have shoved it under my bed and forgotten about it. My siblings often teased me saying I looked like her. This wasn’t flattering. Not that she was a gargoyle or anything, she just didn’t tend to her appearance. She rarely did more than comb her hair. Her hairstyle resembled a steel gray helmet. When asked what my sister remembers about her, she will reply that Grandma wore heavy, black orthopedic shoes and her mashed potatoes had lumps - but she made a great ham. When she died, I looked at her in the coffin and thought how great she looked. They had done her hair and makeup. She was stunning.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was collecting character data. Like one of the seven dwarfs gathering diamonds from caves, I gathered personality traits. I would sometimes try them on for size, not knowing that I had my own. I didn’t know I was a writer. I just thought I was weird.
Character data is something all writers collect. We store it in a big filing cabinet somewhere in the back of our minds and while we write, we summon our muse to extract this one or that, mixing and matching them as suits the person we’re inventing. That’s the nice thing about writing - I can give people better memories of Grandma than that she wore big shoes and made lumpy mashed potatoes. In my stories, she has a chance to do something far more exciting than cook the Sunday ham.
My siblings will recognize my relatives in my books. I often use those who have passed away since they can’t be offended by my perceptions of them. Now that I am older, I see them differently, too. Their motivations are clearer. Their thwarted dreams and missed opportunities can be realized.
The interesting thing about character data is that you never stop collecting it. Some years after my grandmother died, my mother told my sister that Grandma had been great friends with her aunt. This may not be an earth shattering revelation to some, but to us, it was amazing. They had gone to the movies on Saturday nights. They had been together one evening when a family friend was shot right down the block from where they were walking. My sister and I were ecstatic. This added a whole new layer to Grandma. She hadn’t been locked away in that old house in Plainfield all her life. She’d gone out on Saturday nights and had a brush with an act of violence that took someone’s life. It made her a whole lot more interesting, let me tell you.

I regret that I was too young to ask her about that time. She died when I was fourteen. I was more interested in The Monkees than my father’s aged mother. I wonder what she could have told me about her life. I think I am more like her than I ever wanted to be when my siblings teased me about looking like her. Perhaps if she’d been born now, she would have been a writer, too. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Lately, it has come to my attention that, in this country, we love to offer a reward to people for doing something they have to do anyway. I never noticed it, or at least didn't equate it with a reward purse, until this morning as I dressed to go to the radiologist for an ultrasound. I didn't want to go, but then again, I never want to go anywhere. But I had to, and I remembered they always have a nice bowl of candy sitting near the checkout desk. Without being aware of the reward system, I automatically thought of the test, then the bowl of candy. Coincidence? I think not.

I began to think of all the places I'd seen a bowl of candy. My doctor has one, and the veterinarian does, too. His is the best – miniature Kit Kat bars, Snickers, and Milky Ways, and dogs are not supposed to have chocolate, so who do you think those are for? The candy softens the blow when they tell you how much you owe. The only place I haven't seen candy is the dentist's office. He offers miniature toothbrushes in his rest room. If I needed chocolate anywhere, it would be when I have to see the dentist.

This train of thought, the reward for doing things I don't like doing train, led me to recall all the things I don't like doing. I hate going to the post office. Not that it's that terrible, and it didn't bother me years ago, but now I'm old and can't stand that long. Okay, I'm out of shape and you have no sympathy, but it's the truth. I lean on that wooden thing they installed so you could rest your packages on it and think of ways I can push my way to the front. It's filled with old people who don't use the Internet to print postage, so it would be easy to knock them over. But that would be considered an assault, and the beds in jail are hard – too hard for my back. The post office doesn't offer bowls of candy, another reason to hate them, for it they did, I would have something to occupy my time while I wait. The least they could do is beam a red dot on the wall for me to follow, but no, they just expect me to wait there patiently.

Buying gas is another thing I hate doing. I usually get someone else to do it for me, but today I had to do it myself. It does offer rewards, but you have to pay for them. I always go inside to pay because the dregs of society have made everything that is good evil by putting fake credit card number retrieving devices on gas pumps. As I pass the freezer, the Dove bars beckon, and I take one without thinking or realizing I am using it to make the necessary errand tolerable. It is my reward, but I had never seen it that way until today. The revelation is mind boggling. All I have to do to make all these awful things I have to do tolerable is eat a Dove Bar!

Everyone deserves a kiss!

The first time I gave birth, I had no idea what to expect, except pain, but I was philosophical about it. Until it happened. Then I threw up on my husband. But that's another story. After I gave birth to my son, Andrew, I enlisted one of my minions to bring me a bag of Hershey Kisses, which I consumed over the next four days. Yes, I got to stay in the hospital for four days. There was nothing wrong with me, it's just the way it was in the good old days. Now I see that it was my reward for going through nine months of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth. With my second, I ate in anticipation, rewarding myself in advance. When Tom was born, it was pretty awful, and I needed a bigger bag of kisses. I didn't do childbirth well.

Judging from my current size, there must be a hell of a lot of things I hate to do. I didn't always hate doing them, but I do know. I just hadn't realized how much. The Internet has been a boon to me as now I do most of my shopping online. I never did like to shop, so this really has eliminated a dreaded chore and one reason to reward myself. But I still have to go to the doctor, dentist, vet, etc. I can't phone in a visit. Don't tell me to take a bath, or go to a movie, or find some other way to reward myself because I've tried and nothing else works so well and costs so little. It's immediate, and I don't have to get naked to earn it. Well, not unless I'm having a mammogram, and then it's only the upper half. They offer rewards when you have a mammogram, too. Usually nice cookies and coffee. Or tea. I'm having one in a couple of months, so it's on my mind. Will I take a chocolate chip or a sugar cookie?

Now that I know about the reward system, and as that revelation simmers in my mind, I might be able to pass that candy bowl right on by. Or not. I won't know until my next doctor visit, after he tells me to watch my sugar. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Grim Tidings by Amanda M. Lee, A Book Review

Amanda M. Lee is a good contemporary writer. She understands how people talk and how families interact. It makes reading her books a pleasure – well, if you love real life, and snarky, sarcastic dialog. I do. I grew up in a household where we always put each other down. In the nicest way, of course. If you didn't have a sense of humor about yourself, you were out of luck.

Her latest book is called Grim Tidings, An Aisling Grimlock Mystery. Aisling Grimlock is a young woman who has entered the family business. She has tried working for other people, it didn't work out, so now she works for her father, Cormack Grimlock, a gruff, single dad who has raised his brood of fours sons and Aisling, his only daughter, since his wife died in the line of duty. What duty, you say? Why, she was a Grim Reaper. That's right, she collected souls to be sent onto whatever reward had been deemed appropriate, and her death has cast a pall over the family ever since.

Aisling lives with Jerry, a childhood friend who is in on the family secret and loves Aisling like a brother. He is supportive, funny, and infatuated with Aisling's brother, Aidan. The feelings are mutual, and their budding relationship irks Aisling, who feels Jerry is her friend.

Aisling's other brothers, Cillian, Redmond, and Braden, are all very protective of their little sister, much to her chagrin. She is well over twenty and feels she can take care of herself. She can, and in fact has shown on more than one occasion, that she is not above using her fists to prove it. But the boys still watch over her, and when she and Aidan are caught by a cop standing over a dead body, the family stands together. They have to keep the cops out of their business. But this cop won't leave them alone, especially Aisling, whose purple eyes and black hair streaked with white he finds strangely attractive. The body, it seems, has been murdered, and as the detective, Griffin Taylor, investigates it, his visits to Aisling's home begin to work on her, too. Well, he is hot, after all.

During a routine pickup at a nursing home, Aisling and Aidan are confronted by a large, cloaked being who steals the soul of the elderly person they have come to collect, and as Aisling gets thrown through a window, sustaining several injuries, this encounter is the first clue that something bad is going on in the city of Detroit. They soon discover that the being is a wraith, a soul-sucking demon. They then discover there are more than one, and must find who is controlling them and why they are Detroit.

Ms. Lee always populates her towns with colorful characters and this series is no exception. Madame Maxine, a “self-taught witch and part-time clairvoyant...,” Angelina, former girlfriend of Cillian and classmate of Aisling who tangles with Aisling on a barroom floor, and the various people whose souls must be collected as they argue their case, trying to prevent the inevitable are just a few. There are rules that must be followed, and the reapers have a vast knowledge of religions and rituals associated with death. It's a world I hadn't encountered before and won't mind visiting again. I look forward to the next Aisling Grimlock Mystery.

Grim Tidings is a paranormal mystery, new adult. I give it four stars based on Amazon's rating system.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Authors, Are You Teachable?

I read a book recently with the intention of doing a review. I believe in karma and I need reviews, so I picked out a book by an author who, in his own words, had been “unfairly” reviewed. He didn't have many reviews so it seemed like a nice idea, do unto others and all. I downloaded his book with Kindle Unlimited and began to read.

I read everything on Kindle now because 1) books have become hard for me to hold and 2) I can increase the text size to a comfortable level for me. I miss books, using a bookmark to mark my progress, etc., but I'll get over it. I like my Kindle. Reading on a Kindle, however, does offer something a physical book didn't, at least not before the days of self-publishing. I have become acutely aware of errors, both formatting and grammatical. I don't know why, but they stand out in an ebook. Something I might miss in print I'll see on that Kindle. As I plunged into the book, I began to notice things that might cause a reader, someone who doesn't care about the author's feelings or his need for reviews, to give up, but I soldiered on.

Halfway through, though, I surrendered. The author, it seems, had an agenda, and his main focus was something anyone would be loathe to criticize lest they be thought of as callus or mean. He reiterated over and over how awfully people treated the protagonist, who was the victim of a disease, to the point where I said out loud, “All right, already, I get it, his life sucks, now let's get on with the story.” The author, in his determination to bring this poor man's plight to light, had alienated me. This is something a beta reader might have told him.

The story, which also told of the man's rejection by his mother, just didn't ring true. Not that there are no mothers who reject their children, but his reasoning didn't make sense, his arguments were whiny and ridiculous, and the author had no empathy toward the mother. The book annoyed me. I don't read to be annoyed. I read to be entertained, or perhaps enlightened, but not annoyed. I can go to the supermarket for that.

Rather than write an honest review, which would only serve to incite him further, I thought I might write him an email and tell him what I thought, but I'm a coward. I never tell people the truth, unless I can take them in a wrestling match. I'm no good at verbal arguments, so I keep my mouth shut and smile a lot. Having read his flaming rhetoric regarding his reviews, I had the feeling he wouldn't listen anyway. He was too in love with his own words.

When we first go to school, we are eager to be taught because, despite the fact that we probably already know our ABC's from preschool, etc., we still have an empty head. As we grow older, it's harder for our teachers to keep our attention because we get bored so easily, and when we enter our teens, we know so much we can't believe how stupid the rest of the world is. I was fortunate that computers didn't begin to take over the business world until I was in my forties for when I had to learn how to use one, I knew nothing. I was attentive and eager to understand how it worked. I learned. I was teachable.

Three years ago, I started writing. I was teachable then, too, because while I knew how to enter words into a computer, I had no idea how to structure a story. My good friend, Loraine, who is a grammar and punctuation savant, helped me a great deal. That was the first book. By the third, I wasn't so teachable and got angry and hurt when someone left a bad review. In truth, I still do, but I look at it differently now, too. I get over the anger quicker, and look at what was said, trying to see what they saw. If their criticism has merit, I try to learn something from it. If it's just a crank who is annoyed because Amazon sent them an email asking them to leave a review when they hate writing book reports, then I let it go. Maybe they just didn't like it. In the end, most book reviews are about someone's opinion, and we all like different things. This guy's book, however, was not good, but salvageable, if he would willingly listen to some advice.

Years ago I worked for Starbucks. At that time, managers were taught how to tell the truth with love, or something like that. It was about development, not tearing someone down. Yes, it was a bit touchy feely for me, the old curmudgeon that I am, but it kept things civil. A girl came to work for us and I thought she was dumber than a bag of rocks but I did my job, which at that time was training people on the bar. I was good at it. It came easily to me. It didn't come easily to her, but she tried, she tried hard and she learned. She became a great barista, and her confidence rose exponentially. I was surprised and proud. If I had given her a review the first week she was there, I would have given her one star.

Unfortunately, once they're published, books can't get any better. They aren't given time to grow to their full potential once they are listed for sale. This guy, the wunderauthor, needed a proofreader and a beta reader, someone who would tell him the truth in love, but if he wasn't teachable, nothing they said would matter. They'd be wrong, period. He'd say, look at all the people who love me, and point to the five star reviews he'd gotten in exchange for giving others five star reviews.

The growth period for a book is before you hit the publish button on Amazon, or Smashwords, or whatever venue you are using, not after. That one star opus needed more time in the womb. It just wasn't ready.

I never told this man what I really thought. He didn't know I was looking to review, so in the end, I left it alone. As I said, I'm a coward and proud of it. Maybe I didn't do him any favors. Frankly, I'm a little concerned about retaliation. In this day of trolls, we all must be. It's a shame. We are a community of writers and as such should support and uplift each other, but as I wrote last week, meanness is king and we all pay the price. End of rant.

If you find yourself always hearing how great you are, yet your reviews tell a different story, ask yourself if you are teachable. Writing is a gift and a skill. We are born with one but must acquire the other. Strip away your pride and admit you don't know how to use were and was. We've all been there. 

Ask for help from someone who does know the difference. I've been helping some fellow writers with proofreading because they can't afford to hire someone. So far, the experience has been a positive one. Post a request in a group. See if you can find two or three people to beta read. Just be ready to hear that that passage you think is the best thing you've ever written just doesn't belong in that book. Cut it and save it. You never know when it will come in handy. But most of all, be teachable. It will save you a world of hurt from one star reviews.