Sunday, December 28, 2014

Two writing exercises

A couple of writing exercises dashed off at an El Paso Writers' League meeting.

#1. We were to use the words writer, coffee, deal, and seagull.

Imelda sat with me under the cabana as I listened nervously to the caw-caw of a seagull. She's a coffee-drinking writer who's sure to become a bestselling author some day. She wore a bathing suit that showed off her best features. God, I loved that woman, but she'd been avoiding a heart to heart chat with me all week. Finally I took out a little box and handed it to her. It held a diamond ring that set me back six months' pay.

"Marry me," I said.

"Of course not," she said. I was crestfallen. "Here's the deal. I'm having my editor's baby."

#2 We were to use the words impossible, belly, flare, joy, and square.

"This is impossible," I thought, hiding out in the belly of the beast. It had come from far-off Andromeda, millions of light years away. This monster was apparently made from silicon, each side over a mile square. It didn't seem to know or even care that I was inside it, but I felt no joy in discovering there were no exits. I wished for a light, a flare to find my way. Then there was a sudden rush sounding like a flood, and the whole inside began to fill. It was releasing its digestive enzymes, and I was about to become cosmic waste.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

chihuahua desert blues

empty west texas nowhere
creosote everbrowngrass
flatflatflat ground until its notanymore
mountains and tabletopped mesas
asphalt strips slice through ancient limestone
relentless burningsunhaze
skyblue eightymilesanhour
eighteenwheelers rvsuhauls
lonelysolitary travelers
roadside crosses plastic flowers
eastbound freighttrains
doublestacked cargo
graffiti spraypainted containers
drywashes waterless riverbeds
stopat vanhorn pilotstation
nobodys destination
gasup and drivesomemore

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Writing exercise at the El Paso Writers' League

Moderator Julia Duncan asked members to write in 15 minutes about either the best or worst moment of our lives. Here is my effort:

My office phone rang. Almost everyone in my office had left for the day or had one foot out the door. I'd had a productive, satisfying day, and a personal phone call was just the thing to top it off. Ah! My brother Steve's voice. I always enjoyed long-winded chats with him.

"How're you doing, big brother?"

"Not good. Mike died today."

My brain didn't process the blow at first. I had him repeat himself. His son wasn't even 40 yet.

"Oh my God, Steve! I'm so sorry!"

"I am too. And Peg has been crying all afternoon."

My chest heaved in sharp, shallow breaths. This wasn't happening. Not again. We had lost our brother Larry three years before, and now this.

"I haven't cried yet," Steve said. He prided himself on containing his emotions, but how--how could he not cry? My eyes welled up for my nephew. As I hung up, my boss walked by, and I stopped her. I just had to tell someone.

"Kathy." She turned and looked at me. "My nephew just died!"

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Meet Holly Michael, author of Crooked Lines

I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Crooked Lines, a novel about an American woman, an Indian man, and the crooked paths that bring them together. With its strong Christian theme, author Holly Michael's debut fits perfectly into that market. It isn't preachy, though, and mainstream readers will enjoy it.

Holly shares some of her thoughts with us:

Author Holly Michael
Why India?

For a Wisconsin farm girl born with wanderlust and big dreams (and tired of looking at black and white cows), I craved the unknown--exotic, colorful, and warm places. Although I wanted to travel the world from a young age, India stuck in my mind as the ultimate place to visit. As destiny would have it, I married a man from India who loved to travel and who had friends all over the world. My husband's background is unique. He entered into a religious community as a teenager.

After we met and married (in our late 30s), my husband and I travelled around the United States and also abroad, meeting friends from his seminary days. They shared amazing stories about coming of age and maturing in a strict religious order in the late 70s and through the 1990s. These young men worked in orphanages, in "untouchable" villages where those considered born from the foot of God could not drink from the same well as others born from a higher part of God. They met Mother Teresa, slogged through the slums of India, spent time in leper colonies. Fascinating stories! So, having visited many of the places in India where my husband and their friends lived, I began to craft Crooked Lines, creating Sagai-a teenager from South India, embracing a call from God.

Then there's Rebecca, a farm girl from Wisconsin. Though living in a completely different culture form Sagai, her experiences parallel his. The two lives are connected through a mutual friend, a priest from India who visits the United States.

Who's your prime audience, and what do you hope they'll get out of Crooked Lines?

At first I thought Crooked Lines would fit more in the mainstream fiction market because it's not typical Christian Fiction as it explores the good and not so good of religion. But it also works in the Christian fiction market because while it shines light on religious inconsistencies, ultimately it doesn't dishonor God. Though characters experience dark moments and tough issues are tackled, Crooked Lines is really an inspirational novel.

Once Rebecca and Sagai meet, what then? Are their problems over, or do you plan a sequel?

You'll have to read Crooked Lines to find out when they actually meet, but yes, there is a sequel. It will be released in January and Rebecca and Sagai will have to make big decisions about their lives and futures. I guarantee there will be drama.

Who plays them in the movie?

Allu Arjun is a Tamil Nadu actor from South India, where my husband is from. He's got a really sweet face.  And Rebecca...hmmm...maybe Emma Roberts because she has to play a younger and an a little bit older Rebecca and she also has the sweetness quality. Hollywood meets Bollywood!

What are the differences between you and Rebecca? 

I haven't yet talked about this anywhere, but first, allow me to share the first two lines in Crooked Lines. "It didn’t occur to me at the edge of the pond that I’d broken the sixth commandment, actually committed murder. I was busy working out a deal with God, swearing to Jesus I’d become a nun if He helped me breathe life back into my baby sister’s limp body."

That was me at age fifteen. It also didn't really occur to me, until years later, that maybe the death of my little sister wasn't an accident. But, I'll leave it at that. A theory of what happened to Kara comes out in the book, toward the end, and it's close to what I believed might have happened that day.

How well do Christians fit into Indian society?

Yes, let's go back to India! Although Christianity is only about 2% in India, large pockets of Christianity exist, especially in South India. St. Thomas the Apostle was martyred in India and his body is entombed in St Tomas Cathedral in Chennai. Also, my husband's hometown is a Tamil Nadu hill station that the British founded as a retreat center, full of monasteries and churches (picture). India is so diverse, and Crooked Lines offers a taste of the mix of religion and culture across India.

Read the great Amazon reviews and buy your copy of Crooked Lines.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Meet Clay Webster, P.I.

Not Clay Webster, 
Private Investigator,
but his stunt double
My cyberfriend Marian Allen invited me to her blog hop, wherein we introduce the main character in our latest novel or work in progress. So today I'm chatting with private investigator Clay Webster, who'll star in my upcoming novel Death and the Maiden.

Yo, Clay. Sup?
Sup yourself. When are you going to finish telling my story?

I thought so. You can stop procrastinating anytime you want, right? Hey, I'm kidding.

Tell me about the case you're working on, the murder in Concord.
That's an odd way to put it, since murders are state police business. My official cases are run-of-the-mill--missing persons, cheating spouses, that sort of thing.

But the murder is a puzzler. Who'd kill a woman and leave a business card, especially mine? That's an obvious setup, but it drags me into a case that should have nothing to do with me. An upper middle-class Chinese immigrant who's a recent Harvard grad and a talented violinist--she calls me--why me? Then minutes later, she dies.

Lowell, Massachusetts is your bailiwick. What's it like?
It's a gritty old mill burg with lots of character. And characters. Two rivers run through it, feeding a network of canals that once floated barges bringing cotton bales in and cloth bolts out.

You bought a winning lottery ticket, so why aren't you rich?
For her birthday I bought my girlfriend Hope a dozen roses, and a lottery ticket as an afterthought. The forty million is hers, but she knows how to show gratitude.

Describe yourself.
Former high school athlete, former cop, former husband. Six feet tall, 190 pounds--a slimmer version of you, by the way. Fifty-five years old. Not averse to good books, good music, and good women, though Hope has the last one covered. Just one true-blue male friend. Mostly tell the truth. Prefer laughing to crying, but have done both in my life.

To keep the cyberflame burning, I am tagging Lynne Hinkey and Holly Michael, two talented and recently published authors.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ye Gods! Read this book!

Please meet funny lady and gifted writer Lynne Hinkey, whose second novel, Ye Gods!, has just been published by Casperian Books. She graciously responded to a few impertinent questions.  

Given the maxim, "Write what you know," how has your life prepared you to write Ye Gods! ?

I was living in the Virgin Islands when the chupacabra first appeared in Puerto Rico in 1995, and while I've never met the chupacabra in person (at least, not that I know of), I've been a fan from the start. By the time I moved to PR in the late 90s, much of the hoopla surrounding him had died down, but his presence could still be felt, lurking in the background, waiting. I think now what he was waiting for was me to tell his story.

Is there a dog? 

Yes--so glad you asked. I love to talk about my dog! I adopted him based solely on his picture (left below) and the name the shelter staff gave him--Matt and I are huge Harry Potter geeks. He was scheduled to be killed the next day, so I wasn't going to dicker about minutia like size, sex, health, or training. When we got him, he'd been neutered and groomed and looked like a different dog (middle picture.) He turned into this amazing agility dog (left). Seeing him as three very different looking dogs gave me the idea for the chupacabra-dog-god's transformations as he gets stronger.

Chupacabra vs. Lassie: Who wins, and why?

Tough one...All dogs have magic--they soothe us when we're worried, make us smile when we're down, and on those days when we might want to crawl under the covers and ignore the world, they magically make us get out of bed to feed and walk them. Both Lassie and the chupacabra understand language, take down the bad guys, and both would sacrifice themselves for the people they love. But, the chupacabra's extra abilities (you'll have to read the book to find out what they are) make him the winner.

Imagine a glam cover shot of the Chupacabra. Time Magazine or GQ? Why?

Oh dear...I can see this go either way. The chupacabra is a pretty handsome guy with his flowing hair, waving tail, and sexy come-hither look. So, he could totally be on the cover of GQ.

But, he's a humanitarian (animalitarian? zooitarian?), too, showing mercy to those who are suffering. That could certainly land him on the cover of Time, even man of the year.

Here's a sample of both. Let's let the readers decide!

You're a marine biologist, for dog's sake. Why not write about a sea monster?

Funny you should ask--a sea monster did help me to write Ye Gods! I wasn't sure if I could make a magical chupacabra god-dog believable, so I looked to other magical realism stories to see how some of my favorite authors got the reader to suspend disbelief. Christopher Moore is a master of that and I really studied how brings magic alive in the modern world. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove is the funniest sea monster story every--I highly recommend it when you need a good belly laugh. And who knows? There could be a sea monster in one of the upcoming chupacabra books (The Chupacabra Stories will be a trilogy).

As you know, the world is going to hell in a haversack--Putin, ISIS and all that. How can you be so funny at a time like this?

If I didn't find a way to laugh, I'd cry and give up all hope. What humans do to other humans is mind-boggling, mostly because it's intentional. But what truly terrifies me and keeps me awake at night is what we're doing to the planet and to the other species--mostly without a clue what we're doing. Humor makes me look at the picture from a different angle, a fun-house mirror-image that exaggerates and distorts humanity's foibles, shows how ridiculous we look. By laughing at ourselves, maybe, hopefully, we realize that something in that image needs to change. That hope keeps me at least a little bit sane.

Ye Gods! and Marina Melee are both available in print and ebook format here, and in print from the publisher, Casperian Books.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Las Cruces Riff

The back yard

Came down in oh-six to Las Cruces, City of the Crosses in the Land of Enchantment, left New England behind forever. Drivers don’t flip you the bird down here if you cut them off. A traffic jam is six cars at a stoplight. Waiters speak English to customers, Spanish to each other. Learned about ocotillos, chollas, roadrunners, arroyos. Spring winds whip sand into skin-stinging “enchantment,” a local quip. Summer sun, triple digits, head for the mountains. Eight years, no rattlesnake sightings, but one day on El Paseo Boulevard a camel rode by in a pickup truck. In-laws don’t visit, too far, thank God. When you're out of town, you’re out of town. Sixty miles west, another town if you care to look. Forty miles east, El Paso and Juarez. Quiet here, quiet and dry. Uncommon rains fall in gray sheets slanting off billowing cumulus clouds over the Robledo Mountains, and the west winds blow the tangy scent of wet creosote into the city.
When you're out of town, you're out of town.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Flash fiction: Blind Date

Faith ate the last bite of her watercress while Tom wiped hamburger grease and ketchup from the corner of his mouth. This was her umpteenth blind date since her divorce went through last year, and she’d finally found a good man. Tom went to the gym six days a week and called his parents every Sunday. He’d talked with her about books and movies and admired Meryl Streep in Iron Lady. He’d said “It’s about darned time we had a woman president.” He’d actually said darned. The man didn’t even swear! He had a square, manly jaw and blue eyes that made Faith think of Adonis. And did she really see a ray of sunlight glint off those perfect teeth?
The waitress placed the check between them, and Faith reached into her purse for her Visa card. Dutch was fine, of course. She expected that. Warmth suffused her face. Oh, to be alone with this man.
Faith looked at her watch. “Well, I have to get back to work,” she said with a twinge of regret. “I really enjoyed your company.”
Tom smiled. God, could he smile. “Me too, Faith. It’s good to get out of the salt mines once in a while.”
She wondered if she should take the initiative or wait for this terrific guy to speak up. A bit nervously, she said, “You know, I would really like to see you again. Do you think—?”
“I would, Faith. You’re very nice, and you’re a great listener.” Tom pushed his chair back, ready to leave without glancing at the check. “But no. I don’t date fat women.”
Later in the afternoon, Faith explained these events to the detective in Central Booking, but she couldn’t explain the steak knife in Tom’s chest.


Friday, August 08, 2014

Death and the Maiden

This is a brief excerpt from my novel in progress, Death and the Maiden:

We held each other quietly for a few minutes. With my fingertips I felt the soft skin of her neck, then gravity—or a force even stronger—lowered my hand to the top button of her blouse. Against my face, her breath felt like an elixir that might forever entwine us inside Alladin’s Lamp.
Before I realized how mawkish that sounded, my cell phone rang. Beethoven’s four V for Victory notes meant it was Willis Chubb. The ringing stopped and started again, Willis’s signal that it was urgent. Hope’s left breast felt like a hot plate. We looked at each other, Hope’s eyes showing a mixture of lust and resignation. She nodded toward my phone.

I reluctantly answered it. “Hey, Willis.”

“Am I interrupting something?”

“Yes. What’s so important?”

“How’s Hope? I heard.”

“Just fine. You’re on days. How’d you know?”

“Eyes and ears, twenty-four-seven, you know me. It took the city’s finest a half hour to find the perp at Saints ER. The douchebag’s name is Chuck Roswell. He showed up with one of your friend’s fancy fingernails stuck in his eyeball, he’ll probably trade it in for a glass one.”

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Review: Mastering the Art of Quitting

This review was first published by the Internet Review of Books on July 11, 2014.

Why It Matters in Life, Love, and Work

By Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein
262 pp. Da Capo

Reviewed by Bob Sanchez

Your job isn’t what you expected. It’s not only harder, it’s unsatisfying. You’ve invested untold hours trying to become a competitive swimmer, insurance salesman, or ballet dancer.  It’s my fault, you may be thinking. If only I try harder…. Persistence pays…. I think I can, I think I can. Over and over you repeat the mantra, Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

And you may be right. Or not. Never giving up worked for Churchill, but his country’s very existence was on the line. It worked for salesman and professional optimist Zig Ziglar, and of course for countless others, depending on their goals. So when is it okay to quit and not soldier on?

In Mastering the Art of Quitting, authors Streep and Bernstein assert that there are times to see a goal through, and there are times to change direction. To quit. “American mythology doesn’t have room for quitters,” they state, but “Quitting not only frees us from the hopeless pursuit of the unattainable but permits us to commit to new and more satisfying goals.”

Don’t stick with something that’s no longer right for you, they say, just because you don’t want the “quitter” label. The authors cite the example of a competitive swimmer who injures her shoulder and decides to work through the pain—no pain, no gain, and all that. As she persists, her shoulder gets so bad she can hardly lift her arm, let alone swim. By the time she finally quits trying, she has a lifelong injury.

A problem is “our inability to assess ourselves and our talents realistically.” Most of us tend to rate ourselves as above average, and sadly, we are not our own best judges.

Another danger is the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.” We all tend to reason that we have invested so much into this job, hobby, marriage, or college education that we have to continue in the same direction. Perhaps the most tragic example:

…the logic that pervaded the thinking of America’s leadership about sending troops to Vietnam even as it acknowledged that winning, in the conventional sense, was impossible.


…how could the possibility of more people dying justify the deaths of others who came before?

And then there is another problem: What if reaching your goal will no longer make you happy? “Our belief in staying the course doesn’t take into account that who we are and what we want may change over time,” the authors write.

Psychologically, quitting can be difficult. Luckily, the book offers strategies and “skill sets” for quitting or disengaging. It certainly doesn’t mean stomping off your job, and it doesn’t mean a guarantee of future success. One of the tools the authors suggest is a “goal map” outlining what you want in life, work, relationships, and learning.

Mastering the Art of Quitting is well documented, well thought out, and easily readable. Almost everyone can benefit from its commonsense advice.