Monday, June 29, 2015

What If There Was A Monkey In My Swimming Pool?



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What If There Was A Monkey In My Swimming Pool?


Skeptic. So as you can see I've started my monthly Blog with a very serious word. Mega serious. Titanium (which is more precious, hence more valuable than platinum, which a few years ago was one leg up on gold), serious. Picture me, mouth pointed down, brows furrowed, teeth nattering, eyes pinpricks of squinty fire, that's how serious that word is.
            Okay, done, back to my usual mad as a thimble-full-of-olive-oil look. Man, that first paragraph is a killer. You're probably skeptical of me, but I'll stick to serious in my novels from now on.
            So one of the best books on writing I ever read was titled, 'There's A Monkey In My Swimming Pool'. The opening page simply read, 'What If?' In big letters.
            My mind was racing on ten different tangents. I wanted to grab a pencil and start jotting down what was ricocheting around in my subconscious.  Not to mention that I had just eaten my Frank's 'He puts that hot &$@*' stuff on everything meaner-than-junkyard-dog-fed-a-cordon-bleu-chicken-burger taco wrap. So needless to say, there were a few other things wanting to blast out of me as well. But that is a tale of gastric malodorous woes for another day.
            The next page simply read, 'Is your mind racing?'.
            It was. I was hooked and bought the book.
            Next page read, 'Congrats, you are a born writer'. Which when I got home I was beginning to think, I got ripped off for buying a book for $15.95 and getting three words a page, why didn't I think of it?
            Next page, 'Now write, damn it, write'.
            And I did, filling twelve pages with some silly story that didn't win me a Pulitzer Prize (and for those that know me, know I'm a very serious chap). See beginning paragraph if you don't believe me.
            Well I'm serious at least on the 9th and 14th of the month, between the hours of 3:14-4:48 AM. Which thankfully I'm usually asleep dreaming of being on the planet from the movie 'Amazon Lust Slaves From Hell' and my job is to service the kitchen dishwasher, while the other denizens of the planet (all female of course), run around naked.  Well I did say, 'From Hell'. If the movie was titled 'From Heaven', I'd be the only serviceable male and I'd be raking in the dough unplugging all of the toilets.
So some are probably thinking what is the point of this blog by now. Give me a moment to think of something....
Got it.
            When something unusual catches your eye, you hear a great story or are stuck with writers block, as a writer ask 'What If'. 
            I had writers block once. Think it was the letter F, could have been K, but sure it was the letter F.
            So if stuck in a dilemma on a plot outcome, just ask 'What If' or if not a writer than simply call in the SPCA, throw a dozen bananas in the swimming pool for the chimpanzee and watch the fun begin.
            As for the monkey see END NOTE below.
END NOTE: No monkeys or other animals were hurt, tested on, read to or compromised in any way during the usage of this blog. This blog has been approved by the WWF and Lovers of Furry Critters In New Zealand Society.





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THE MAN ON THE TEN DOLLAR BILL


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I used to occasionally ask the clerk, when I handed them a ten, if they knew whose picture that was. Mostly, the answer was “some president.”  If there was no one waiting, I’d give a short history lesson by saying, “No, this is Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the Treasury. If he hadn’t done his job, by figuring out how to pay off the Revolutionary War debt and balance the budget, there wouldn’t be a United States today.” While this is a gloss of all his myriad accomplishments during the few short years he held the Secretary’s office, I’d hope it would make an impression. Now, because Hamilton is about to be removed from the $10 by a less illustrious successor at Treasury, the people who know their American History—and their Hamilton--are surprised and saddened


Timothy Geithner as well as other veterans and current occupants of high office have come to Hamilton’s defense. Ben Bernanke said of Hamilton "…without doubt, the best and most foresighted economic policymaker in U.S. history." Editorial writers for the New York Times, US Today, WSJ, and noted historians, like Ron Chernow, whose biography of Hamilton is now considered the definitive work on his high-powered subject, have also registered their thoughts upon the matter.

But I’m a mere fiction writer, and to me there’s always been more to Hamilton than sterling service to his adopted country. Wanting to connect fully with his personal life, I discovered a wealth of primary source in the form of letters.  Fortunately, Elizabeth, his devoted wife, pursued and collected these in her long years of life after her husband's death. In these private communications, I was allowed a glimpse of the man behind the myth, his masks, his follies, instances of teasing and tenderness. Letters allow us, all these years later, to form an idea of what he was like. 

 I’ll start my examples with a political slur—on Hamilton and the American army—which was published in Rivington’s Tory Gazette in 1779, when he was George Washington’s most effective aide de camp. It evokes a picture of a bold, cheeky young man:

“Mrs. Washington has a mottled orange tom cat (which she calls in a complimentary way, ‘Hamilton’) with thirteen stripes around the tail and its flaunting suggested to congress the thirteen stripes for the flag.”

In his youth, among his male friends, Hamilton plays the worldly rake. Here are excerpts from a letter sent to a fellow ADC and dear friend, John Laurens, during the Revolution, a joking discussion of his requirements for a wife:  

“She must be young, handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape), sensible ( a little learning will do)…of some good nature…as to religion, a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better…though I run no risk of going to purgatory for my avarice, yet as money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world…it must needs be that my wife, if I get one, bring at least sufficency to administer to her own extravagancies…You will hear of many competitors for most of the qualifications required who will be glad to become candidates for such a prize as I am…(and) mind you do justice to the length of my nose…”

Daily life was far different before the advent of phones and rapid travel. Letters illuminate the hardships and stresses that might devolve upon an 18th Century family. Hamilton was often away from home, either riding the circuit as a lawyer, or while serving in some distant public body. Sometimes, his wife and children were in Albany with her Schuyler parents to escape the oppressive, fever-ridden city summers of Philadelphia and New York. Often, as a result of his indefatigable public life, (in the example below, during a term in the Continental Congress,) the family was separated. Here's a particularly anxious letter from a young husband to his wife:

“…I have borne your absence with patience ‘till about a week since, but the period we fixed for our reunion being come I can no longer reconcile myself. Every hour in the day I feel a severe pang on this account and half my nights are sleepless. Come my charmer and relieve me. Bring my darling boy to my bosom. Adieu Heaven bless you and speedily restore you to your fond husband…”

“I wrote to you my beloved Betsy by the last post…I count upon setting out to see you in four days; but I shall not be without apprehensions of being detained ‘till I have begun my journey…at this time, (attendance in) the House is thin…I give you joy my angel of the happy conclusion of the important work in which your country has been engaged. Now in a very short time I hope we shall be happily settled in New York.”

Many letters show concern about the ill health of their children. Originally, Hamilton had come to America to study medicine, and a continuing interest in the subject is evident throughout his life.

“The Secretary of the Treasury presents his respects to the president. The state of health of his little son and the situation of Mrs. Hamilton in consequence of it oblige him to request the present to excuse him from attending the interview with the Indians today and also to ask the President’s permission to make an excursion into the country for a few days to try the effect of exercise and change of air upon the child…”  To George Washington, July 11, 1794

Here, Hamilton, recently returned to the Capitol, writes to Elizabeth, absent in Albany with her younger children, one seriously ill, on Aug. 17, 1794:

“My Beloved Eliza… I am happy to inform you that the precious little ones we left behind are well… My heart trembles whenever I open a letter from you.” (Their youngest, John Church, had several strange "cures” tried upon his little body that summer, some suggested by his anxious father and others by attending physicians.) “The experiment of the pink root alarms, but I continue to place my hope in heaven…Alas, my beloved Johnny--what shall I hear of you! This question makes my heart sink….” 

“…If his fever should appear likely to prove obstinate, urge the Physician to consider well the propriety of trying the cold bath…”

And this last, a recollection by this same "Johnny," written down many years later: 

"...In the morning, early, he awakened me. Taking my hands in his palms, all four hands extended , he told me to repeat the Lord's Prayer. Seventy years have passed over my head, and I have forgotten many things, but not that tender expression when he stood looking at me...nor the prayer we made together the morning just before the duel..."

Whatever his other failings, Hamilton was a man who loved his family. As a writer particularly interested in the "little domestic world," as experienced in the past, this made him particularly fascinating to me.



~Juliet Waldron

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Horse in Your Western Novel – Horses are not Zebras or Misguided Unicorns By Connie Vines

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Ten Pet Peeves, or Horse-Related Mistakes to Avoid in your Novel

1)   Misusing the specialized and precise vocabulary of horsemanship, especially the size, color, age and sex of the horse.

2)    Defying the laws of nature. AKA: Creating the ‘superhorse’.

3)   Horses trained or controlled by either ‘mastery’ or ‘magic,’ ignoring the real behavior of horses.

4)   Mixing up Western and English terms and styles.

5)   The stallion!  (Not the mount of choice).

6)   The self-conscious or uncomfortable expert rider.  An expert is an expert—no need to hang on for ‘dear life’.

7)   Good riders are relaxed in the saddle.  No kicking, kneeing, or flapping of elbows are needed.

8)   Forgetting that horses are animals and need to be fed and watered.  Even in modern times, your transportation requires gas, oil, and water.

9)   Talking horses—horses who neigh and, heaven forbid, scream on a regular basis.  Horses are generally rather silent beasts, though they will whinny if parted from their stable mates, or nicker softly in greeting at feeding times.

10) Tada! My personal favorite, and, unfortunately, too often seen in print and on television—the mare who takes all night to foal while the hero and heroine sort out conflict.  (Nature ensures that healthy mares foal fast.  A long labor requires someone calling for the vet—not working out ‘conflicts’.)

The Facts, please:
Since horses are flesh and blood creatures, the faster the horse goes the shorter the distance he can maintain that speed without harm. If the ride involves difficult terrain, jumping, or carrying extra weight, both speed and endurance will suffer.

Modern Endurance Rides: take 11-15 hours to cover 100 miles (part of this time the rider spends running beside his mount).

1860s: The Pony Express averaged nine mph over 25 mile stages.

For additional information, check the records from modern Thoroughbred Racing.

The Terms:

Mare: a female horse.

Stallion: a male horse that is not castrated.  Also called ‘entire’ in England and in the West, a ‘stud’ horse.

Gelding: a castrated male horse.

Foal: a young horse from birth to January 1 the next year. The female is a ‘filly foal,’ the male is a ‘colt’ foal  this may change per region).

Filly: a young female horse, up to 3 years old.

Colt: a young male horse, up to 3 years old.

Yearling: in the year after the birth year.  A yearling is too young to ride!  Most saddle horses aren’t worked hard until they are at least 4 years old.

Height: horses are measured from the ground to the top of the withers in ‘hands’. One hand is four inches. The average horse is 15 to 16 hands.  17 hands is very tall and only unusual specimens reach 18 hands.  Ponies are usually less than 14 hands.

Gaites (‘Paces’ in England): walk, trot, canter, gallop—also ‘pacing,’ ‘ambling,’ ‘running walk’ –describe precise and different ways in which a horse moves its legs. 

Rainbow Colors?  Certainly Not:

The English horsemen use fewer and simpler terms than Western horsemen, partly because English breeding has selected for fewer colors. Essentially two colors are taken into considering when describing horses. The main body color and the ‘points.’ The ‘points’ in this context are the ear tips, the mane and tail, and the lower part of the legs.

Black body, black points: A Black horse—may be smoky black, jet black, coal black, raven black.

Brown body, brown points: A Brown horse—may be seal brown, or standard brown.
Red-brown body, black points: A Bay horse—may be dark bay, mahogany bay, sandy bay.  Every Bay horse always has black points.

Reddish body, self-colored (non-black) points: A Chestnut/Sorrell horse—in the West, reds of All colors. Western horsemen use ‘sorrell’ to describe all red horses.  Light sorrel draft horses are known as ‘blonde.’

Yelllowish body, (generally) black points: Buckskin is the term used in the West.
Other colors and terms (you may wish to conduct additional research) include: A Grey, a Roan, a Palomino, a Isabella, a Paint or a Pinto, White horses and Albino, Piebald, and Skewbald.  There is also, the closest thing to a ‘horse of a different color’, the Appalossa.

Information online:


For fantasy (naming your unicorn):

Caring for your horse:

The dollars and cents factor of horse ownership:

A horse is the projection of peoples' dreams about themselves - strong, powerful, beautiful - and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence. ~ Pam Brown
Happy Riding,

Connie

Two of my loves: Tulsa and Midnight
(during my rural life in Ramona, CA)


Saturday, June 27, 2015

GOT TO LOVE THOSE VILLAINS - by Vijaya Schartz

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Reviewers always notice my villains, and this is no accident. I do like my villains as much as my heroes and heroines. I enjoy developing and refining my bad guys. I make them believable, strongly motivated, and intelligent. I believe the stronger the villain, the more heroic the hero or heroine will have to be, in order to defeat him (or her).

Debbie at ck2skwips&Kritiques said about the Ancient Enemy series:
"...the evil Captain Kavak certainly ranks as one of the worst villains ever encountered!"

Captain Kavak is a woman and a general. Her ancestors were once human, Anasazi taken to the stars by the Star People eight hundred years ago (according to Native American legends). The Anasazi were feared warriors, their name means "ancient enemy," according to my Native American sources, and after many modifications in the Pleiades system, they still are a bloodthirsty lot. But now they are part flesh part machine, and they call themselves Anaz-voohri. After slaughtering their captors and stealing their technology, they are coming to reclaim the planet of their ancestors... Earth.

In science fiction, the possibilities are endless. In this series, Captain Kavak is ruthless, part human and part alien cyborg. To enforce her authority, she sacrifices her opponents from the top of a pyramid. She hates the inferior humans. She wants to make Earth the Anaz-voohri home base, from which to build a fleet and launch her conquest of the entire galaxy. Unfortunately for her, her people and her fleet have been decimated in too many bloody battles, and she needs human breeders to birth her new army. She is more threatening due to the fact that she is desperate. Her motivations are all too understandable since her people face extinction.

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In PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE and PAGAN QUEEN my villain also shines.

"Schartz is an accomplished writer, whose pacing, conflicts, and goals are always complex and whose good characters are always likeable, and whose villains are evil incarnate. You have to like her villains as much as the good guys! Mattacks is a magnificent example of this!" - 5 stars - Manic Readers

In BELOVED CRUSADER, I have two immortal villains. One is the Great Goddess herself, who turns against the heroine for disobeying and questioning her faith. The other villain is a Naga shape shifter, half serpent half man, an instrument of the Goddess, and possibly the Prince of Darkness himself. This is the first of my villains to be irredeemably dark.

But my villains also have their vulnerabilities. In the Archangel series, I have the reptilian devil himself being harassed and belittled by his nagging wife. It was fun to write. I also have a villain in book 1 who is so seductive and handsome, women hate themselves for liking him.

My secret to writing a great villain is  to make him, or her as three-dimensional, threatening, and interesting as possible, without out-staging the hero or the heroine. No matter what we are, we all have deep motivations, and I make sure theirs are clear and easy to understand for the reader. We can all relate to the thirst for power, the lure of riches, pride, revenge... In his mind, my villain is the hero of his own story.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Blasters, Romance with a Kick


Friday, June 26, 2015

I'm not a hoarder--or am I? Tricia McGill

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A friend of mine lost her mother last year and it took this friend and her family months to work their way through the years of junk collected by this person over her lifetime. Some of the disposable objects like scraps of paper with useless messages on them dated back to the year dot. Instances like this make me more determined than ever not to collect things. There’s my thirty or more elephants of all shapes and sizes, I know, but that’s another matter. Someone somewhere will cherish them after I’m gone, as I have.


As we get older we spend a moment or two now and then to ponder on the fragility of life. Another friend has just lost a family member who was an active member of society, yet was alive one day and gone the next. So now here I am once again lying in bed at night worrying who is going to sort through my junk once I am gone. 

I decided a while back that anything I hadn’t worn for over a year would go to the charity shop, yet on searching for something the other day I found a sweater my husband gave me not long after our wedding day and that was a long, long time ago. It must go to the charity shop soon, but how do we part with such mementos? There’s that mantra, voiced by the man of the house who has a million different sizes of screws etc. in his work shed—you never know when you might need them. My brother in law went mad when my sister threw out his various strips of timber that she considered to be rubbish but to him were treasures that might possibly come in handy one day. Oh, and there was that trailer that was going rusty lying out in all weathers that I decided to sell cheaply to someone as I was sick of telling my hubby I didn’t want to see the rusty heap in my garden a moment longer. It took a while for him to forgive me for that one. To be truthful I don’t think he ever did get over it.


On this latest clearing out tack I decided to work my way through my study. I’ve been doing something similar probably once a year for some time now, and considered I had thrown out most unwanted stuff. But yesterday I spent about 4 hours going through my piled up research notes. After all, who needs print outs these days when with a click of the mouse we have all the information we need at our fingertips. I forced myself to refrain from reading notes before they ended up in the recyclable bin, but there are a few that have to be kept back. After this 4 hours or so I would say I have made the tiniest inroad into the reams of paperwork. I just hope I don’t die before I get through it all.


This brought on another thought. Periodically I check online for updates etc. on Amazon or elsewhere, and came across a new review that had been added.


This one earned 1 and a half stars and when I went over to the reviewers’ site it seems this person has nothing better to do than go through the internet and insult or admire other people’s work.

“I would not recommend this book. I tried to finish this novel ,hoping it would improve. After reading over half i skipped to the end. The H& H were lifeless and the dialogue was redundant. The ending was predictable. If you love time travel novel pass over this one. Thank you for reading my review. Happpy Reading but not this book.”

I’ve left in their great spelling and other mistakes and was left to wonder just why this person took the time out to insult my work and then had the idiocy to thank the reader for reading the review.


Now this next one is for one of my best sellers on Amazon that has garnered a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews.

“So woman gets raped, finds a lover that takes advantage of her at every opportunity. What an awful love story.”


You may ask what this has to do with hoarding. Well, nothing really. It’s just that I was then forced to consider if these nasty people, who seem to enjoy insulting other folk’s endeavors, ever stop and think how many hours of painstaking research and work went into creating their stories. When I began to write in the late 90s I used the local library to take notes, hence the piles of printouts. I didn’t possess a computer back then. Ah, life is so easier these days (or is it?) We still have to take the time to verify facts, especially when writing historicals.


It doesn’t bother me that they don’t like my books, but what does bother me is just why people have to take time to insult the work of others without putting a moment’s thought into how hurtful it might be. I honestly don’t care if they hated my books—I’m grateful that many people have taken the time to tell me how they love them. It’s all a matter of opinion. I’ve read many books (or started them and not finished them) over the years that didn’t appeal to me, yet would not dream of going online and telling the world I hated them. I’ve said it before, if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.

So, to those people who spend five minutes of their time writing scathing reviews I say, please take into account the hours of research, writing, editing etc. that goes into creating a book, and next time try to refrain from telling them you hated it and just say, “ This one was not for me.”


Anyway, back to the de-hoarding, while sorting through cupboards and shelves I came across this newspaper dated May 8th 1945. I have no idea where I acquired it or why I kept it, but have a feeling it will not be thrown out anytime soon. Someone, someday, might find it of interest. I guess it comes from the days when I was researching for my novel, Remnants of Dreams. I see the paper cost 2 pence.
This article caught my eye. I found it interesting as my eldest sister left England to settle in Australia with her husband in 1949, soon after this was printed.


Let’s face it, hoarding is really only a matter of saving remnants of the past, be it our own or our country’s. We all love museums, don’t we? As they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.


You can find details of all my books here at Books We Love.
Or here on my website

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