Monday, December 31, 2012

Where did it go? Howdy, 2013

The Christmas decor is gone, done, in the attic, disappeared in the trash pick-up. It always seems to come down faster than it goes up. Phew. I love the sparkle and glitter, but I need the house to be normalized so I can get to work. The laptop has been shut down too long.

The coming NASCAR season has me mildly excited. If Bad Brad can wrangle the new Ford for Penske into another championship, I'll be one happy girl. However, my focus right now is on my concealed handgun permit. Yes, I sat through four and a half hours of testosterone fueled hell to qualify to submit my application. Not that I own any hand gun that isn't over a 150 years old. It's a quandary. Hand guns, like some hunting rifles, can be works of art. And while I've never felt the need to shoot anyone, I like knowing I'm not helpless if a situation arises. Wrestling with this dilemma is giving me fits. Power isn't bullets, but preparation. It's like plotting a novel. I need to know what's coming.

On a different note, what makes men think women are deaf when they make misogynist statements in mixed company? My tongue was bleeding by the time the handgun class came to a whimpering end. I'm coming to think only women should be allowed to possess weapons. Men who think they're hot stuff with a gun should have them taken away while they sit in time out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Sometimes I feel as if Christmas doesn't last long enough. All that shopping, wrapping, and returning a gift when you find something better, then voila! By ten a.m. on Christmas morning, all that work is just a bag of ripped paper, torn bows, and a small stack of stuff. It doesn't seem fair.

My grandmother would make a lemon meringue pie from scratch ( even squeezing real lemons) and it would take hours and hours of work. The finished product didn't last fifteen minutes. No kidding. She finally declared an end to pie making, deeming the effort not worth the ephemera of the pie. I know how she felt.

I like the idea of spreading the gift giving and merry making over a week or more. Anyone with me?

At any rate, hope everyone had a good one. And that everyone received at least one book from Santa.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Down for the count

Been out of commission with various ailments, so it's been a while. Still can't figure out what's the deal with Blogger. May just have to get going with Wordpress. Oh dear. For someone who grew up moving from country to country every few years, you'd think change was good. Working on that one.

Christmas has finally arrived at our house, despite the loss of our twenty yo cat. It has taken a while for us to realize he's left us - I keep thinking he's coming around a door corner, or I hear him calling for more food. Biff was the perfect cat, and we all adored him. Well, except for the time he broke one of a pair of Lenox candlesticks. And the time he brought me a live vole and dropped it at my feet in the kitchen. I thanked him for his love offering after I stopped screaming.

He came to us as an itty bitty kitten, really too young to be weaned. Being raised like just another one of the kids, he thought he was human, only far superior. He talked all the time - a regular chatterbox. The funny thing is, we knew exactly what he was saying ( or demanding), and would reply in kind. We often held long comversations in "cat."

I'll miss him curling up in my lap while I write, his tolerance for anything weird, and his snaggle-toothed grin.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Is Blogger getting wonky?

Or is it me? This weird format shows up on the home page now,and I can't seem to get the "real" home page without hitting "view web version."

Help? Heeellllpppp......

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Respectful silence

Posting has seemed irrelevant since last Friday. I can't be so arrogant to assume I know what it's like to lose a child to a mass shooting. I do know that the fear of losing one of our children was a topic of much deep prayer from day one. Who knew you could feel such deep, life-changing love the first time you saw that tiny face with rosebud lips?

It seemed disrespectful to insert myself into the online conversation. I have my own views, and I'll work as diligently as I can to make my elected officials hear them.

But one thing really ticked me off, and I've waited until now to calm down. Friday night Twitter was rife with pictures of Nascar Team Christmas parties. Charlie Daniels standing with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne, all grinning. Penske Racing posted pix of Karoke by their driver lineup at their Christmas party.  Evidently,  a good time was had by all.

I have never been so embarrassed by Nascar, and the elites especially. This was Friday night, for heaven's sake! So they didn't postpone their parties, but did they have to post pix of one and all making merry during a time of national horror and grief?

Shame on them. Just shame.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Writing a blurb

that will sell your books is harder than making a perfect omelet. Or winning a Sprint Cup.  I hate doing the things, because I want to spread out all the cool aspects of the story, and there ain't that much room. A small paragragh is best, and it has to hit the highlights harder than Tony Stewart stuffing a fellow driver in the wall.  I found a clear description of how to write a successful book blurb, which I am happy to pass on.

I like to give credit where due, and this article nails it.

On a more Christmasy note, must mail two parcels and find out what happened to an Amazon order that states it was delivered by the USPS. Nope, not at my address.  I've never had an Amazon order go astray before.

Keep writing, even through the craziness of this time of year....

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Too much shakin'

going on! That's an old-fashioned phrase that means I want this carousel to stop so I can jump off.  It's not the normal Christmas hoopla, because I'm pretty laid back this year. I don't know who slipped me the chill pill, but I'm okay with all the ornament boxes spread from the garage to the living room, and not a durned ball on a tree so far. It'll come together, and if it doesn't, well, as the French say, tante pis.

I miss the smaller independent bookstores this time of the year. I want to spend half my Christmas budget at places like Creatures and Crooks, which no longer occupies a physical place.  Books are a staple under our tree, and half the fun is finding a new author to share with a family member. Browsing the big box stores, with no one to give you recommendations and shelves filled with expensive toys,  is just no fun without being able to ask the clerk " Have you read this one? What do you think?"

So I did some shopping at Milkweed Press, ordering online. They always publish unusual writers with different stories. Plus, they're a small, non-profit press, so I'd rather support them than B&N.  Go forth and buy a book as a gift this year, and keep away from the standards, like Grisham. Find a new author with a small press. That's my way of getting off the carousel.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Boors, boobs, and b******s. Writing the Obnoxious.

How do you deal with difficult people? People who are just plain rude, or who see the world as they want to see it, not as it is? People who say one ugly thing after another, pretending it's funny and you should laugh with them?  People who just don't care and aren't about to go to any lengths at all to be part of the human race?

In my real life, I run as far and as fast as I can from people like this, if I can. I don't want to waste a second of my life falling into their tar pits, just on the off chance I'll never be able to pull myself back out. Sometimes, though, you're stuck. An insensitive, boorish boss. A jerk of a sales clerk who keeps mucking up your sale, and acts as if you've committed a crime when you point out they rang the items up incorrectly. A driver who goes out of the way to stay on your bumper with his high beams on.

The hard part is to write these people so they're real. They turn into caricatures so easily, but like pepper in a dish, a story needs them to add the reality factor. Pepper keeps it real. Everyone expects salt. I read a small, throwaway scene in a YA recently, where a hospital docent is not only unsympathetic to the hero's plight, but rude as well. The character never reappears, but she added to the scene's intensity like a good dose of pepper should. Her obnoxiousness was spot-on and ratcheted up the hero's anxiety to the next level. Good characters do that.

Next time you're outlining your characters, add a boor. Someone your hero doesn't want to encounter, but must. See how they interact, and above all, keep it real. Don't let the passive-aggressive character become a cartoon. I think you'll be pleased with how it helps add to the tension in your story.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Good Bye Outlander, hello really fast car...

Thanksgiving, check. Leftovers gone, check. Christmas decorations, still in attic. Christmas shopping, hopelessly behind. Why?

It's all because of Mitsubishi. The Japanese car company, not department stores. I owned one. An Outlander. Well, two actually, if you count the daughter's car. Discovered last week that the local Mitsubishi dealership, Pearson, was shutting down the operation on December 14, and service for my 60,000 mile, 5 year warranty would have to be done at a dealer located from one to two hours away. So much for my wonderful Outlander SUV, a dream car with so many cool features I hadn't even gotten to them all in the one year I've owned it. I began car shopping immediately, knowing I wouldn't take the Outlander an hour down the road for service. Took a huge hit on a trade in. At least in the end, five days of shopping brought a new car home to the garage, a car I'd never have imagined I'd drive. I'm a van/SUV kind of girl, right? I like to sit up high. Like a big car body around me. Don't want to have to crawl into the seats. HA! So much for the past twenty years of my driving life.

I have left it all behind for a BMW sports sedan. Yep, I look wicked fast in that baby, and I love it. Who says women of a certain age have to own staid cars? I'm going to have to be careful, or I'll lose my license. So if you see this woman with a big grin on her face, flying by you on the road, pedal to the metal, wave. That'll be me.

Nothing like buying yourself a Christmas present. I'll get around to the rest of the list, eventually. If I manage to hit the brakes and actually park the Beemer.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brad Keselowski Nascar Champion!

Had to share this photo once again, since my guy, Bad Brad, just took the 2012 Nascar Championship away from Jimmie Johnson. It may not have been pretty, but he got the job done. Congrats to Roger Penske for finally getting his elusive Sprint Cup!

No more Nascar for 98 days. I just may get more done on Sunday afternoons.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Writers and the Media and Kurt Busch

I'm sure the way my mind works drives my family batty. At least they're used to it. So stick with me. Hopefully, this will make sense.

I was watching the Speed channel's program "Kurt Busch: Outlaw."  For those unfortunate few  who have no idea what Nascar is, Kurt Busch is a former Winston Cup Champion (in the days before it became the Sprint Cup) and a very good driver. But he's had his problems with his temper (or as Jimmie Johnson, a five time champ himself describes it, the "red mist in the helmet"), and it's gotten him into trouble. He's probably no worse than any other driver, he's just more eloquent about his displeasure.  (And why, I ask you, wasn't Jeff Burton fined for shoving Danica Patrick into the wall last week?)

Kurt freely admits he drops his own anvil on his feet. He knows he's a marked man. Yet he still shoots his mouth off, and the media takes it and runs full force with it. Matt Clark, in a brief aside, said to KB, "you just don't know how to talk to the media," or words to that effect.

This led my pointy little head into thinking about how writers interact with media. Short interviews with print media, TV, anyone who wants to write about you and your books, we all preen like peacocks and think, GOODY!  Then, lo and behold, you get a stupid question, or at least one that makes it clear the interviewer has no idea who you are and what you write, and you really have to count to ten. Or twenty. Or a hundred. It's like, Why on earth are you here interviewing me if you don't give a rat's patooty about what I write?

Some writers have lovely stock answers that charm everyone. Some are witty enough to work around the stupid questions. And some of us open our mouths and out spills the first thing that comes to you. Yes, the latter tack isn't pretty and I don't recommend it.

My point is, figure out ahead of an interview what you want said about your books and you, and a tactful way to rephrase any question so it's a positive. Learn how to be a media darling, not a Kurt Busch.

I still like Kurt Busch's passion for his sport no matter how much of a dufus he appears to be in the media. But I don't think many writers can survive bad press.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fios, Win 8, and Bond

It's been too long between posts, and I apologize. But Fios and I had a major bump in the road of our relationship last week, and it wasn't pretty. It all started with an ever-slowing internet connection and ended up with the whole shebang crashing like a disaster scene in a post- end-of-the -world movie.  Between phone calls that lasted hours to tech support and tearing my hair out, last week was pretty much a horror show until late Sunday evening when my personal hero, Darryl, left well after dark. When he did, the Internet was back and smooth as glass.

To assuage my anxiety, I bought a new laptop and wireless printer. Because that's all there is, I ended up with Windows 8, and it's been a lesson in corporate insanity. Instead of perfecting what it had, Microsoft decided to go down the Apple path. Caveat here- I love my iPad. Apple does some stuff really well. But the MS knockoff is just annoying. Three steps to shut the laptop off? Really? All those big funky pictures cluttering the screen, brightly colored like toys for a four year old, are just silly. It's not intuitive, after the first steps, like Apple is. I know I sound like a cranky old lady, and I am. So there. Huge sigh. I hate all learning curves.

On a happier note, saw SKYFALL. Loved it. Truly one of the best Bond movies. Daniel Craig is looking a bit haggard, and the etched lines in his face match this aging Bond perfectly. And Judi Dench! I swear, she's channeling Madeline Albright. With better hair. And gorgeous Tahitian pearls.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

More from the Self Publishing Conference

As I said before, any mistakes are totally mine. My handwritten notes are pretty scratchy - writing with a pen on paper has become one of my lost arts, I fear.  To continue, I've included here a few notes from the legal section as well as Mark Coker's comments. (Smashwords)


The Copyright Permission Handbook by Lloyd Jassin.


Copyright is dead. Trademark is the new protection. You can trademark a series title for a series (like Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series). Trademark is about the brand and is earned, not acquired. Federal registration can be a name, a look, and a feel to the book. It lives forever if you use it.

Register a title and common misspellings as domain names. Protect them.

Mark Coker of Smashwords.

Secrets to ebook publishing success: free download from mark Coker.

1.      Write a great book. Have a great cover with an image that resonates with your target audience and looks as good big as it does in a thumbnail. Make it bright, not dim. Great covers make a promise to the reader. Put your name up there in BIG letters, because it says you’re a Big name author to the reader.

2.      Readers will find you by accident. The cover pulls them in because they start with a keyword search.  Publish another great book after the first one. Build trust in your readers. Put in a blurb leading readers to your other books.

3.      Give away some of your books freegoodreads guy suggests 100) if you have a deep backlist.

4.      Generate reviews at the different retailers. Use those blurbs, if good.

a.       Have your books available everywhere. Avoid exclusivity. Don’t worry about piracy and copyright protection.
b.   Trust your supply chain partner, and don’t limit yourself.


Architect for Virability – Your readers determine your success.

Understand the power of your first readers. Eliminate friction. Leverage viral catalysts, everything you do to increase virality. Enable sampling, multiple formats, social media enabled, have it in the right categories. Make sure it’s fairly priced.

Price points:

            Free books are downloaded 102% more than priced ones, and can lead new readers to find you. Price points between .99 and $1.99 underperform by 60% .  $5.99 sells the best, with 3.00-3.99 coming in second.


Practice positivity. Don’t post anything negative online. Never say anything mean.

Think globally. Markets outside the US will soon be larger than in the US. 46% of Smashwords sales thru Apple were outside the US, and Apple just added New Zealand, South and Central
American markets.

Styleguide by Mark Coker, free on smashwords for downloading. Tells you how to format for SW.

Ibook author, guide for Apple.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

New covers!

Taking what I learned at the Self Publishing Conference this past weekend to heart, I have now uploaded two new covers on Kindle. The Seekers and Murder on the Mattaponi are revamped, in one case quite a bit, and only a smidge in the other.  Hopefully, I'll get to the others soon, and well as getting the next in the Mythmaker western series up.  This doing the writing and the business part is a real job!
 As always, Thanks to Jessie Gemmer for a great job. Couldnt' do it without you, babe.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Self Publishing Conference in NYC

The Self Publishing conference Oct. 27, 2012 was great. Learned a ton, and had some things confirmed that I've kinda known, but never put into words. I thought I'd include some of my notes from the conference, and believe me, any mistakes or misquotes are totally my fault. I was scribbling as fast as I could, and my handwriting isn't the best in the world.  However, I hope I got the golden nuggets down, and if not, please accept my apologies. It's always so wonderful when the people who know what they're doing share their knowledge. Many, many thanks to all conference participants and especially to Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy for getting the show going on a strong footing.
Here are my notes from the first session:

 Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy



1. Make sure your brand name is consistent. The covers need consistency and be sure to make your name bright and big and recognizable.

2.  Brands aren’t static –change them if needed

4. Lucy Kevin is her chick lit name and it sounds like the genre. Covers match the feel of the name.

5. Nonfiction books have subtitles under the titles. Why not fiction? Look at the market and see if there’s a hole, and fill it.

6. Series power – leave your last book open-ended so you can pick it up again if readers want you to. One book will help sell the whole series. Consider making it a freebie.

7. Frequency of publication: fast. 2-4 months turnaround.

8. Expand your market – POD

     a) audio books, but remember, people have to like the narrator. The series effect works the same here, so keep your narrator consistent if she’s a success with the first book.

9. She changed her Sullivan covers to make her name 1/3 of the page, 1/3 a design, and 1/3 the title and subtitle.  Her Sullivan series just sold for into the seven figure range to Mira.


Barbara Freethy:

1.      Sell direct or use an aggregater

2.      If you do it yourself, you can change your titles, pricing, etc more easily. 

3.      An aggregater pays you directly and you have the advantage of looking at all your sales in one place.

4.      Global distribution, foreign rights usually require an agent in that country, who works with your US publisher.

5.      You can have your works translated and upload them yourself. Elance has translators and proofers in that language.

6.      Get bloggers to look at your books. Use an author page on FB.Use social media, Twitter, in your author name.

7.       Check out the Kindle boards

8.      Send out a newsletter and collect email addies.

Long Term Publishing Goals

1.      Keep writing. Content is king.

2.      Think like a publisher – find people to help you, gather a team

3.      Covers – make them consistent for the brand you want

4.      Share the selling points of your books on your blog, twitter, etc.

5.      Hire professional proofers, artists, etc.

6.      Have more than one book

7.      Set realistic expectations because it’s a slow build.

8.      Write more, promise less

9.      Don’t worry about reviews. Don’t respond to them if they’re bad.


1.      For a new book,  $4.99 to $5.99 if it’s 75,000 words or more

2.      30,000 words - $2.99

Be sure to talk about your next upcoming book on social media well in advance, and put a first chapter in the back of the current book, inviting readers to buy it when it comes out on >>>>>date.

Use as many as 5 proof readers.  Set up a website for each of your different author names.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Keep the hands on the keyboard

I was reviewing some notes I took at a conference a few years back, and to my surprise, I had written them reasonably legibly and with some clarity. This is not often the case for my conference notes, where I’m often huddling with my hands under my legs because the AC is trying to out-blast Arctic winds.

These notes came from a talk by Dennis Palumbo, a well-known speaker and writer, and all-around great help to authors.  I thought I’d share some of the nuggets he provided, because they still resonate with me.

1.      Remember you are enough. (good one!)

2.      Write about the dog. i.e., work with what you’re given.

3.      Writing begets writing. Keep your butt in the chair and the hands on the keyboard.

All of these are so simple, but so true. Love even the story that isn’t working. Remember, the party is here and now. Everything thinks someone else is having all the fun. All successful writers still struggle, but they don’t give any weight to the struggle or meaning or weight.

And best of all, a good day is when you show up at the keyboard to write and you DO IT. As you write, you’re both writer and reader, and the dialogue is between you and what you’re writing.

A lonely business, n’est-ce pas? But Palumbo calls us warriors, a title I’ll happily don. We’re all pretty confident in our own abilities, or we wouldn’t be writers.  Fragile egos need not apply.

More later . . . .it’s all good.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A very good dog

A friend, Robin Williams, wrote recently about the passing of two of her old dogs. I was moved to tears. Her tale of these “satisfactory” dogs, as her dad would have called them, reminded me of the dog I married.

I figured it was about time I told the tale of Patience. Before my Beloved and I met, he opened his car door one day to a small black mutt who promptly jumped on the parcel shelf in the back seat of his Beemer and went to sleep. She’d been hanging around where he worked for a while, and he’d taken to feeding her.  One day, he decided to give her a chance, and if she took it, she was going home with him.  Her patience paid off.

This was not a dumb dog. She knew a good thing and she took full advantage of it. Though small, she was one tough cookie with an iron stomach. One day, she got into a five pound bag of chocolate chips. Ate the whole thing. My Beloved called the vet, who said that no matter what, don’t let her drink any water. By that time, she’d consumed about a gallon, and proceeded to toss her cookies down the stairs. Yep, she knew five pounds of chocolate didn’t mix with a 25 pound body.

When my Beloved and I married, Patience was well ensconced as queen of the house. She slept beside her rescuer at night, her head on the pillow next to his. One night, she woke up barking furiously, and my Beloved was surprised to see an apparition of a woman, dressed in black, rocking in the chair in the corner of his bedroom. Patience had taken her role of lady of the house seriously, and wasn’t about to let another woman, even a ghostly one, into her domain.

Then I showed up. Banished to a doggie bed on the floor, she showed her displeasure by chewing up all my bridal lingerie in the laundry basket. I guess she was afraid I would take her food along with her man, because she started hiding doggie food under the pillows in the bedroom, beneath the sofa cushions, and anywhere else she thought was safe from me. I fed her, I walked her, I bathed her (oh my stars, what a battle), I brushed her tangled fur. Nothing I did endeared me to her. I’d taken the love of her life from her, and she wasn’t about to forgive me.

Until I had children. Then she figured I was good for something. One day, very pregnant and tired, I ran home from work for a quick nap. Just twenty minutes, I thought. Four hours later, I awoke to find Patience cuddled up beside me, keeping watch.  Thus began our d├ętente. When the children arrived, she’d lie beside the crib at night, keeping baby watch. As they learned to toddle, she followed them around, ready to catch them before they landed too hard. She licked sticky fingers and faces, and generally became their second mama.  They tugged on her fur to get to their feet, and she never once gave even the smallest sign of annoyance.

One day, when my youngest was about three or four, I was raking leaves in the back yard. I thought the children were playing in the fenced yard beside me, but somehow, the youngest had made a break for it and ended up in the front yard without my knowledge. Suddenly, I heard furious barking, something Patience never did, from the front of the house. Running out there, I saw a man near my baby, a very threatening looking man. Patience stood her ground between the man and my child, clearly aware of danger and not about to let him near her precious one.  For a small dog (we called her cockapoo-terrier-schnauser), she looked pretty fierce. I ordered the man to leave, and he wasn’t about to, until Patience decided she’d had enough. He ran.

The vet figured she was about 20 years old when the time came to say good-bye. She’d grown deaf and blind, and life wasn’t much fun anymore. We all adored her, and she’s still the standard by which we judge all other dogs.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Decision Height

Just returned from Roanoke, Virginia, where we saw a Hollins playwright's amazing Decision Height. Written by Meredith Levy, it tells the story of six young women who are accepted into the women air force service pilots program in WW II. They underwent rigorous training to fly planes across the ocean ( some ferried bombers to England) or as target practice trailing silk streamers.  They took up the slack so more pilots could see combat, and often flew in the worst equipment available. The stories of the six women in the play encompass a wide range of enlistees, from the wife and mother who volunteers so she can help end the war sooner, to the rebel rule- breaker who loves to fly and loves her brother, who is serving on a dangerous mission. One is a musician, another a farm girl with a high school education who paid for her flying lessons by giving equestrian classes to rich kids.

Though these women took the same oath to serve as their male counterparts, they were never accorded military benefits ( or military acknowledgement of their sacrifice when they died in substandard planes since their families had to pay to have their coffins shipped home). Only in 1977 did they receive recognition for their service, and many received their medals seven years after that - by mail.

The set was astounding and effective in conveying the barracks and feel of the environment in Sweetwater, Texas. Lighting was perfect, the keyboard and flute a perfect sound track, and the actors nailed it. I wish everyone could see this production. Make the trip this weekend, if you can. Ernest Zulia, who directed, wins my award for best in class this year.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I've been on a writing roll. It's as if my ennui, where I have had to slug out the pages and pray for the best, disappeared into the mist. MURDER ON THE MATTAPONI was in the desk drawer because I was afraid to tackle its rewrites. Once I became brave enough to assess the mess ( how cheesy is that?), the book took back its life and shaped itself up. I was so pleased, I tackled another 100,000 word monster I'd been avoiding. Voila! The freedom to make wholesale cuts (and boy, howdy, did I) pared it down to a lean 79,000 worder and a better story. OUT OF NOWHERE lived! The Halloween stories I've written every year for about 20 came together as SCARY STORIES FOR HALLOWEEN with some judicious editing. Eight stories were too young for the collection, so I may edit a set next year for younger readers.

This puts the current new mystery front and center. Time to quit tinkering and start hammering. I always cut the first forty pages of every new book (I think it just takes me forty pages to warm up to the people), so I don't worry about those "lost" pages anymore, I just write 'em. The first forty are done, so it's time for THE CASTOFFS to rock and roll.

I may put on Aerosmith in the background.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Deja Vue moment, Talladega, and Pots and Pans

The three aren't linked in any way I can imagine, but they've stuck with me for days now. I've been slamming through rewrites (I have to do them all at once, so I don't lose the continuity of the book), watching the Talladega race, and shopping for pots and pans. Onward and upward . . . .

About Talladega: the PTB have to do something. The race is dangerous because no one really races until the last couple of laps. A very few Big Names (Earnhardt and KyBu) ran up front (well, KK did too for a while), but everyone else hung around the back, waiting for the front of the pack to wreck so they could drive through the carnage. The problem is, this time the massacre happened on the last lap, and 25 cars went to the junk heap. I thought Tony Stewart was dead. Denny Hamlin's back row strategy worked and he ended up 11th, a good rank for him at a restrictor plate race. But sheesh, people, this isn't racing. This is bumper cars with every expensive toys and men's lives. Enough.

So, as I was walking the dogs Saturday, a sudden breeze picked up, the leaves rustled, and I had the startling feeling I'd been there, done that, in a different place and time. The neighborhood was totally quiet, and the afternoon sun was other-worldly, but I don't think anything else unusual was happening. I just felt I was in a different place and time, one familiar on another level. Ever happened to you? Weird.

Now to pots and pans. My 30 yo Revere Ware has had more than its fair share of cooking disasters. I have been known to melt them on the stove, and that takes real talent. So I decided to buy a new set of cookware, made in the U.S. of A.  Easy, I thought, I'll order more Revere Ware. Whoops, it's made in China now. So I went shopping. I found cookware made in China, Taiwan, France, and Italy. Bed Bath and Beyond failed me. Macys failed me. Everywhere I looked online, I was outta luck.

I'd given up, until I ran into a Tramontina saute pan at TJ Maxx, of all places. It was stamped "Made in USA!" Eureka, I thought, and punched the brand up on my computer. Found it, and it's a Brazilian company that manufactures here and in Brazil. But there were no links to sellers. I was about to give up, when by chance, in hunting down Halloween decor at Tuesday Morning, I found Tramontina sauce pans. Dancing to the cash register, I felt as if I'd hit the lottery.

My question is, why is it so darned hard to buy a pot made in the United States of America?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Halloween 2012

I'm posting this year's story a little early because I hope it will encourage anyone who likes weird stuff to read this time of the year to go to Amazon and buy my short story collection. Titled SCARY STORIES FOR HALLOWEEN, it should go live by Tuesday, the 2nd of October.  Through the years, I've always written a Halloween short story for my children and their friends, and I've collected enough of them to form a book (175 pages).  Some stories didn't get included, because they were for a young crowd, but the majority have been written in recent years. Hope you enjoy this one! It was inspired by a true event, believe it or not.


The Beginning of the End

© Tracy Dunham 2012



     “What the hell was that?” The fisherman, Harry, cut the line, throwing the ugly fish back into the river.  “I’ve never seen the like.”  He wiped the knife he’d used to cut the line and stuck it back into his pocket.

            The day had begun at 5 a.m. as a perfect one for fishing, a bit cool and misty, with warm water, lots of shade, and plenty of quiet. But he and his fishing buddy hadn’t caught so much as algae all morning.

     “Looked to me like a cross between a snake and a crocodile.”  His friend, Matt, frowned, leaning over the railings on the bridge to stare into the water.

     “You’ve never seen a croc, so don’t go talkin’ like an idiot.”  Reeling in the rest of the line, the fisherman stuffed his bait jar in the basket at his feet.  “I’m done. Ain’t nothin’ gonna bite now, not with that sucker down there.”

     The late morning sun had shifted and now beat down on the river, where salt water meshed with the downflowing fresh.  Both men leaned over farther and glared at the water.
     “It’s still there, swimming in circles. Maybe we should catch it again, show it to somebody.”

     “Nasty thing, I don’t think so.”  The first fisherman, Harry, pulled out his phone. “I’ll call that fish man. The one who’s down here all the time looking for whatever he’s looking for.  Fancy professor, isn’t he? Had me put his phone number in my contacts list.  That’s the guy, Winters.”  He pushed “send.”

     Josh Winters checked his cell phone.  The number wasn’t familiar, but he’d given his card to just about every fisherman from the mouth of the James River, along the Appomattox and the Mattaponi and as far north as he could get and stay within his purview. He answered, not expecting anything earthshattering.

    “Hello, Doc?  You said to call if we saw something weird in the water, and we did.”

    The fisherman laid out the macabre fish story, describing the sharp, long teeth, the scales that looked like stones, and a body at least three feet long.  “And it’s just swimming around in big circles, like it’s stuck here. Usually when I set a fish free, it skedaddles.  Something you want to see, Doc?”

    “You bet I do. Where are you?”  Winters waited while Harry gave him directions.
“I can be there in thirty minutes. Keep an eye on it, and take a picture with your cell phone, if you can.”  If the scales weren’t really scales, but scutes, or bony plates, it could be a sub-species of sturgeon. But the teeth didn’t fit. Not a bit. He got more excited.

    Josh left a note for his wife on the kitchen counter and jumped in the car. It probably wasn’t anything, but he couldn’t afford to ignore any tips.  He’d been yelling loud and clear for a year that the massive climate changes worldwide were capable of creating new species but so far, he hadn’t been able to prove it. All the signs pointed to big, big changes in evolution, but the first steps hadn’t been found, not yet. He was determined to be the scientist who discovered them, and he knew, just knew, they’d come from the water.

     Driving to the old bridge across the river, he thought about what he’d see, hoping it was a different species, something not yet discovered.  Sturgeon, it was believed, had cross-bred with other species, producing hybrids.  If this was a hybrid sturgeon and it had come from a different genera, he might have something to show for all his research. Trying to tamp down his excitement, he recited every reason why an ordinary fisherman wouldn’t have discovered proof of evolution.  No primordial soup. No special spot with the exactly correct breeding ground. No extraordinary weather over the past month or so, nothing but the suffocating heat that had become a summer constant. Finally, it seemed as if the heat had broken.

     When he got to the bridge, he found the gray-haired, grizzled men sitting on overturned buckets on the edge of the crumbling concrete span, smoking. Josh recognized them from prior conversations, and threw them a wave before he leaned in to the glove box to pull out his camera. These guys had been fishing this spot for years, he remembered.

     The men stood as he approached.  Their frowns didn’t worry him.

     “Doc, it’s still down there.  Me and Harry, we ain’t seen nothin’ like it, not in all our years fishing this bridge.  You said to call.” 

    “Matt, right? Thanks for the call, Harry.  So let’s take a look.”  He shook hands before leaning over the edge of the bridge and pulling out his binoculars.  The scientist aimed them where Harry and Matt were pointing.

     At first, all he saw were rocks and algae.  Then there was a gray flash and something moving so quickly, he almost missed it. Checking it out more closely, Josh finally got an eyeful. Letting out a long whistle, he pounded the concrete balustrade.

     “Thank you, boys. This is really cool.  Keep watching it, will you, while I get my wet gear from the car.”

     Josh could barely contain his excitement. The fish resembled a sturgeon in size, although a bit small but then again, it could be young and not reached its full growth yet, and it had teeth, which was definitely outside the box.  Besides which, sturgeon were unknown in this river.  If he could get closer, he’d collect more pictures, and then if he was really lucky, he could net it, tag it, attach a transponder, and release it, so he could follow its progress.  Throwing on his wet suit, flippers, and snorkeling gear, he waded into the river. The two old men leaned over the railing, watching him.

    The shallow water gave way quickly to pretty deep, then deeper. Swimming slowly, he aimed his waterproof camera forward, trying to keep his movements to a minimum.  The fish didn’t seem too impressed with him, much to his surprise. Its circles stayed constant, and the fish’s mouth opened as if getting ready to scoop up some krill, just like a whale or a bottom-feeding sturgeon. Only sturgeon possessed no teeth, and this one had a mouth full. Filming constantly, Josh willed another one of the unusual species to show up.  The behavior fit perfectly into a mating pattern, and this part of the river was warm enough to lay eggs. If he could collect a male and female after observing their mating, he’d do a jig on a tightrope.

     Suddenly, the fish swiveled and stared at Josh for half a second before charging at him.

            “Whoa!”  Letting the camera swing from the lanyard around his neck, Josh backpedalled as fast as he could.  He didn’t want to interfere with the fish, but those were a nasty set of teeth on that sucker.

            He splashed like crazy, expecting the fish to back off and run.

            It didn’t. Something bumped his thigh, and he felt a pinch.  Thank God for the wet suit, because he really didn’t relish getting chomped by this whatever-it-was.

            “Hey guys!”  Josh yelled up to the fisherman, leaning over and staring with the mouths wide open. “Throw some rocks, or something, from up there.  Gotta get him off me without killing him.”

            Hitting the shallows faster than he expected, Josh stumbled backwards and fell flat on his back. At that instant, the fish grabbed onto his flipper and tugged. What the hell? He thought this couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t some crazy old catfish with a death wish. This son of a bitch was one mean mother, and it clearly didn’t matter that Josh was five times his size.   Scrambling backwards, he dragged the fish, still chewing on his flipper, out of the water as the fishermen showered gravel and small stones on him and the fish.

            Undeterred, the fish clung to his flipper with his jaw locked like a vise. For the first time, Josh was less worried about hurting the creature than he was with getting away from it altogether.  He’d never seen such an ugly mother.  The scales definitely looked like concrete, and the eyes, boy howdy, those eyes were downright malevolent. And talk about being a fighter – if anyone was going to back down, it was Josh.

            Dragging his ass up the embankment, Josh expected the fish to release his death grip on the flipper, but no such luck.  It not only held on until it was no longer breathing water, but it squiggled and bucked to make sure it kept its grip on Josh. 

            “What you want us to do, Doc?”  Harry called down from the bridge as Josh cursed and tried to get the flipper off his foot, so he could throw the fish, still locked onto it, back into the water.

            “Nothing, thanks,” Josh shouted, trying to shove the loose flipper backwards, thus moving the fish into the water before it croaked.  If he killed it, he’d never forgive himself.  This new species, and he was almost sure it was one, was acting like no other fresh water fish he’d ever studied, except the snakehead.

            The snakeheads, an import from China that had destroyed eco systems before it was controlled, and not well at that, was well known by now. This sturgeon on steroids was nothing like the snakehead, of that much he was sure, except for the teeth and the aggressiveness.  There was no long dorsal fin, for one thing, and this fish had a narrow mouth, not the wide mouth of the snakehead.

            It struck him like a boulder – could a sturgeon have mated with a snakehead? Was this a new predator with the teeth of the snakehead and possibly the size and longevity of a sturgeon? This was all they needed, a stur-snake fish who lived a hundred years or more like the sturgeon with the colossal breeding capacity of a snakehead.

            He needed help, and he needed it fast.  If he could only get the damned fish back in the water, he’d call for backup. Grad students with nets, other colleagues who’d want to get a look at the monster before anyone else. He was making a list in his head of who to call when he realized that the fish hadn’t released the flipper and was on the bank of the river, in the dirt, and still moving. In fact, it was shaking the flipper like a rat terrier would a prey, even though he’d slipped his foot out of the fake fin.  Backing up, he watched with awe as the fish, a cold gray color with black eyes, wiggled its way towards him, flipper still in its mouth.

            Pausing for a second, the fish seemed to be weighing its options. Josh would swear he could see the shift in thought in its eyes as it realized the flipper wasn’t still attached to Josh, and he was getting away.  With an audible click, the stur-snake opened its jaws, shook the flipper free, and twisting like a snake, slid faster than any reptile Josh had ever seen.

            “Sheesh!” Turning, Josh ran for his car, the fish close behind. If he hadn’t known it wasn’t possible, he’d have sworn the fish was snapping at his heels. “Guys, anyone have a net?” he yelled to the fishermen still on the bridge.

            “Not big enough for that mother!” Harry shouted back. “Got me a filet knife, want me to throw it down?”

            Josh noticed the fishermen weren’t eager to join him on the riverbank.  “Sure, toss it.”  Josh turned and ran for his car, parked beside the riverside drive. 

            The thin, sharp bladed knife landed at his side, and as he paused to pick it up, he almost fell over.  The damned creature was gaining on him.  He didn’t want to kill the fish, but it was obvious he’d never get close enough, not without heavy-duty gloves, to grab it and throw it back into the water.  Surely it couldn’t breathe air, or had it inherited the snakehead’s capacity to breathe in oxygen, as well?  He didn’t want to think about the possibility.

            Surely when the fish realized it was on a suicide mission, it would retreat.  Jumping onto the hood of his Jeep, Josh jerked off his snorkeling equipment and waited for the fish to turn back.  It didn’t.

            Nothing was safe from this enraged predator, not even the Jeep’s tires.  The fish lunged, snapping at the front right tire, just under where Josh sat.

            Josh had had enough. He needed to study this specimen in detail. To hell with studying it in its new habitat. Either it was on crystal meth or something was seriously wrong in its brain, something that evolution wasn’t handling in survival mode.  Grasping the filet knife, Josh leaned over and stabbed at the back of the creature’s head, just exactly where he should have been able to kill it instantly.

            Evidently the stur-snake had an anatomy that wasn’t aware it was supposed to be vulnerable. Glancing off the shutes, the knife blade got caught in something else. Jerking back his hand, Josh watched in amazement as the fish turned its head and without another glance at Josh, tugged at the blade with its teeth, dislodging it.  That was it. Josh had had it with the sucker.

            Clambering from the hood, he edged into the jeep via the passenger side window.  Once inside, he considered what to do next.  He couldn’t leave this air-breathing monster free to attack innocent people and animals.  If there were any fish left in the old fishing hole, it would be a miracle.  The thing was a killing machine, he was sure of it.

            His only option wasn’t his first choice, but it was the only one that made sense. Starting the engine, he backed up until he could see the fish, staring at the vehicle as if he would jump on it and shake it between those killer jaws. He increased pressure on the accelerator, trying to fake out the fish.  When he thought he was close enough, he floored it.

            He never felt a tell-tale bump. How could he have missed it? Braking, he peered out the window, expecting to see squashed fish.

            Instead, the creature had turned in the road to face him and was rising up on its back fin, much like a cobra preparing to strike.  Josh couldn’t believe it.

            Grabbing his cell, he dialed 911. This called for the cavalry, and grad students with nets weren’t going to cut it.  Instead of worrying that he’d sound like a nut job, he laid out the problem to the 911 dispatcher, assuring her of his credentials and that animal control and several armed officers were the only solution to the attack fish even then wiggling towards his Jeep.

            To her credit, the dispatcher didn’t laugh or talk to him as if she were calling the men with the white jackets to pick him up.  While he waited for reinforcements, Josh picked up his underwater camera and started it up again. No one would believe him, and even if they saw the video they’d probably think he’s manufactured it, but he would know the video didn’t lie.  Filming every move the fish made as it stalked his car, he didn’t hear the fishermen from the bridge yelling and screaming.

            By the time he noticed, the two men were dangling in the air in the claws of a huge bird with a long, pointed beak and feathers a color he’d never seen before. With one man in each claw, the bird swooped low over the Jeep and released them.  Cringing, Josh began to shake as the fabric top to the Jeep ripped and both men, bloody and screaming, plunged inside.

            “What the f . . . ?”  Josh shouted as the two men howled and threw blood all over him as they thrashed about. “What was that?  Are you guys okay?”

            Josh estimated the men, together, weighed close to four hundred pounds. What kind of bird picked up two men and threw them where it wanted them to go?

            They never stopped screaming long enough to answer him.  Forcing Harry’s hands from his face, Josh saw that his eyes had been pecked out. Bloody holes wept blood and Josh almost retched right there.

            But he had to think. Had to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t possible, his over-educated brain was telling him. No way in the world.

            Fighting the men aside, Josh poked his head out of the rent canvas top and watched the bird circling like a buzzard overhead.  He wasn’t an ornithologist by a long shot, but he’d seen enough pictures of pterodactyls to know those babies were kin, if they weren’t the real thing themselves.  How could that be? He wondered. Pterodactyls were as ancient as the origins of the sturgeon and snakehead. Everything pointed to the bird being a pterodactyl, and he was just crazy enough to believe it was a close relative if it wasn’t the real thing.

            While Josh was busy recording the encircling bird, he didn’t notice the fish crawling inside his engine compartment. From there, it wound its way through a hole in the firewall, which it conveniently enlarged with its huge front teeth. While it rested in the insulation barrier, it laid about 15,000 eggs. That done, it gnawed its way inside the passenger compartment and found its prey.  The one who had annoyed it the most stood on a seat, his head and arms raised skyward, with an object held aloft.  Two other annoying objects lay on a seat, moaning and emitting the most delicious scent.


            Mouth open, the fish, which thought of itself as the master of its universe, chose the juiciest target and attacked.

            By the time the fish was satiated, there was plenty left for the bird, which perched on the Jeep’s roll bar and had a filling meal.

            Not far from the spot beside the fishing hole on the river, a lizard awoke from a nap and knew it was time.  The ground shook as it took its first steps, leafs shook free from trees, and small animals ran to ground. Even they knew they’d never be fast enough.

            The time had come to return the earth to the way it had once been.  The good old days were here again.

            This time, man wasn’t in ascendency.  Josh and the fishermen were just the first two sources of real food that would help the young ones survive.









Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mille Fois Merci

Thank you a million times over to everyone who purchased the 99 cent Kindle books during the Book Blitz. We learned a lot, including the fact that Friday looks like the best day for a big book push. Still learning about metadata and how it influences drill down lists, tags, reviews, "likes," etc. Covers are clearly important.

The Avalon Authors may try this again with holiday-themed books. It will be interesting to see if themed stories do better than a wide range of genres.  Everyone who helped deserves a big round of applause, including Mona Ingram and Barbara Morgenroth, who worked like yoemen to organize this blitz.

I'm working on my Halloween story for 2012 and will post it here when it's finished. I've also put together a collection of Halloween stories from years past, and will get it onto the Kindle platform this week, the good Lord willing and the crik don' t rise.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

More books at bargain prices!

Yesterday's books were such a hit, and sold so well, I'm going to post more links to books that will be on sale for 99 cents today, through Monday.  The specific day for each group will be at the top of the list.  If you have any questions, ask here, because this is a teriffic way to try new authors.

Saturday, September 22
Christine Bush

Warning at Eagle' Watch

Fran McNabb

Selling as author name Fran Fisher

Forever My Love

Karen McCullough

Programmed for Danger

Joan Vincent

Honour's Debt

Sunday, Sept 23

Beate Boeker


Kent Conwell

Night of the Butcher

Rebecca Boschee

Zombies for Breakfast

Monday, September 24

Tracy Dunham

Murder on the Mattaponi

Victoria M Johnson

The Substitute Bride

Mona Ingram

Gift Wrapped for Christmas