Saturday, December 16, 2017

ten of swords

Alone the next morning with her coffee and tarot cards, Anna was adrift in the ocean of sensations and emotions she’d been steeping in since the shooting and imagined that she glowed in the dark. Anyone who looked at her could see it.
She pulled one card from the deck - the ten of Swords. Her soul pinched her hard on the heart.

The dead man lay prone under a black sky, ten swords staking him to the ground, his cloak and the earth under him bloodied. She remembered the day Tam caught her trying to duck the same card back into the deck. She was eight or nine and it had frightened her. Tam pinned the card to the kitchen table with a strong finger.
No, no, little girl. There can’t be no light without darkness.”
Her aunt bent down beside her at the table and put an arm around her.
See this card? All them swords? All that blood? This is bad as it gets. Yes, that body is dead, but the spirit goes on, you know that. See his hand? Even dead, he blesses his killers, jes like Jesus. Freed him from trouble and pain, they did.”
Tam knocked hard on the table with her knuckles, like when they played poker.
A good job.Ten swords. Took a gang to bring this fellow down. And alla his blood? It’s blessing the soil. And that sunrise! I see a new day for his big spirit and a new body waiting somewhere on the horizon.”
She stood up and sat in a chair across the round, scarred table from Anna.
I see this card as a birthday. Them swords might as well be candles. Don’t try to duck death, sweetheart. Charm him. Ask him to dance. You’ll best him that way every time.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

from June 2013

 "The Killing" did not disappoint but there may just be a KILLING over the commercials!

 Yesterday I put off reading an article in the NY Times about the resurrection of the show -I didn't want to run into any spoilers and I won't print any here.  The article had tasty bits about the actual writing of the story. Much to think about for my own writing.

I've self-identified as what's called a "spontaneous" writer. A scene here, a character sketch there adding up to a whole pile of (very) loosely related fragments. Picture a cow shitting it's way across a broad pasture, wandering, circling and stepping in its old crap. It's become frustrating, pointless and messy.

I won't call it a plot but I need to make a map for myself with the things I like about a good story, well told.  A Start, a Middle and a Resolution - with plenty of wandering, woolgathering and time shifts and character exploration worked in along the way - just respecting those time-honored markers in the long run.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

revision as healing

I've been emailing back and forth with an unofficial beta-reader. Unofficial, but she's willing to read and comment and for that, I'm deeply grateful. She's a reader, not a writer. Bonus!

She was sad to report that, at the end of part one, she did not like my female main character one bit.
I was glad to hear it because that was my intention. I starting thinking back over how hard it's been for me to make her as fully faceted a character as the male MC. Then something the beta wrote about when she stopped liking Anna made me realize that, because of a very violent experience, Anna is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder which was not recognized, particularly for crime vicitms, unitl the 80's, the decade after this story takes place.

I did a little quick google and she has many of the long list of criteria found in the DSM. Although she spent a short time in a mental facility, the stay was adjudicated and she resisted what little treatment there was.

Now I have to go back and do more to show how this incident affected her and the decisions she made about her life going forward. Write about a crippling psychological disorder without using the jargon and without any notion of treatment or recovery is going to be challenging.

Bless the Betas for they shall make us better writers. If anyone is interested, please email me! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

giving it away

My FB feed is flooded with ads where authors (or maybe it's their publishers) are giving away books for free. Nada. Nothing.  After writing several books worth over the past three years, all I can think is this.


The entire "me too" thing has given me some pause about my female main character. Have I given her enough agency? Is she weak?

  I let the question sit for a few days. I'm not touching it. The story is set in the mid 70's. Nobody even knew what it meant. She's not weak, but the price is steep. I'm not writing a comic book and I'm not going to pander to any current social trends.

Friday, October 6, 2017

a good day and rescue

I spent the better part of six hours rewriting a scene that was basically legless. It finished out strong and then I did something dufuss with the laptop. When I went looking for the scene later I couldn't find it. Somehow it looked like Scrivener had eaten it whole.

I dug around and found the previous, shitty iteration and started jotting down what I could dredge from memory about the changes/improvements.

Then I started doing stupid stuff in Scrivener, like remove and then place chapter headings. Do people do that anymore. Were they too clever? Annoying to the reader?

...and there it was, the chapter I thought had evaporated. Intact, just not in the sequence I thought it had been. whew. I'm going to bed before I fuck something else up.

the slog

The wheels come off my cart with only the slightest provocation these days. I'd rather be driving my car, blasting music or fooling around with the much-neglected house and garden.

Ass in chair, fingers on the keyboard and chances are one in four that I'm spewing toxic invectives on FB about that carnival freak masquerading as our president.

I should sue him for all the anxiety he's caused me.

Then again, I've cooked up a few new inventive ways to dispose of bodies.

Revision is equal parts wading through molasses in January and opening your veins until you faint.

Friday, September 22, 2017

hold my beer

What are they going to do? Kill me?

Today I packed off the first draft of Prophet's Tango, book 1 to a couple of readers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

the Tarot of events

I've been studying the Tarot for years. I'd love to make a living being the exotically draped crone telling and making fortunes on a vine-dripping, candlelit veranda somewhere. Terrified that it will come to pass. When I have been so bold as to give a reading (something about getting paid to do this is frightening) I tell people that the cards are just a way of shining a light on possible choices. Choices we all have, moment to moment. Pointing out options that one might not have considered. Signposts...cue the twilight zone music.

It's like this.

I'm deep into revising, rewriting actually, the novel I've been working on for three years. It's really two, possibly three, books and there's been a full-time job and a lot of life along the way so I don't feel bad about the time span.

I've come to a place in the story where I have to acknowledge Anna's profound loneliness, and as the dudes say, I am unmanned. Can't get it up. Can't go there. Have no map, no plan, no words or way to feel. Looking at a brick wall. Blind. Deaf and dumb.

Ahem. A well of personal issues is open in front of me and there is no remedy if I go there now.

So, like all writers, I've found a dozen ways to avoid the whole issue. The best would be to write around it. No, instead I'm doing all the stupid shit. Configuring a new-to-me laptop (bless you sister), driving a new-to-me car (with whom I am perversely in love), deep housework that hasn't been done in too long, starting with the studio.

Somehow in all the stuff shuffling, my notebook from WUUCON with a lot of notes from the WIP has been lost. I'm pretty sure it's here somewhere. It's been accusing me, Slacker, for a month, as I move it and a stack of revision notes, from one place to the next and now it's poof. The cloth on the cover was creation I hoarded until using it this way. Gorgeous, it is.

I did find my beloved storks that Jimmy gave me years ago. They were about to slip down into the innards of a chair that will probably be put out onto the curb before too long. I've been doing a lot of fiber stuff lately too, dyeing and the like, so finding these has significance.

More avoidance activity included setting up Kindle on the laptop and "The Emotional Craft of Fiction" by Donald Maass floated by and I snapped it up thinking I selected "free sample". Instead, somehow, saints preserve us, it's whole and my credit card was charged.

The spread has been dealt. It's time for the reading and for the reader to take heed and act.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

the wet office - process.

I walk in circles for a half hour, netting up the tree trash, setting up a gentle underwater cyclone to gather the wandering loose crap into the center. I made another circle with the brush all around the insides. Think of Death with his scythe.

By now the really small stuff has gravitated to the center and I net it up and dump it over the side. The pump is ancient and does little more than create a desultory current. The cleaning is up to me.

All the while, I've been back thinking about the Problem at Hand..whatever scene or situation in the MS that I'm working on, or working hard at avoiding.

Today was the first time this year that I've gotten into the water and put this routine in motion and it paid off handsomely.

While I was staring at my toes a real, juicy motivation came to light for one of the antagonists in my book. Before now, he was just a miserable bastard. Now he's a miserable bastard with a mission.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Is like shaving off prison tattoos a square inch at a time.

Maybe. So far it works like this. I'll read the last scene that WORKED and then the new victim, the next one and the one that follows it. If it fails on enough fronts - and I've had more than half do just that, I brood over the truth of it.
The five 'whys'.

Then I start the autopsy.
Print and then redact - just like in the movies- with the broad, black marker anything that's crap. Anything that's not a jewel.

Then I brood on it some more and find a different way to set some, not all of those jewels. A setting that not only makes the scene worthwhile but nods to the one before it and sets up the next. Dominos dipped in nitro.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


I was with Charlie yesterday and my phone fell down behind a low table in his room. It's coffee table Jim built from salvaged doors a few years before he passed. Gorgeous. Heavy. Perfect toddler play table.

There was some blind groping and I recovered the phone, blew off the dust bunnies and found this accidental image.

Hiding under the back of the lower shelf was Charlie's Caddy!  It had been missing for a while and he was tickled to rediscover it.

I was beat when I got home and didn't trust myself to write anything much beyond a bit of dialogue that occurred to me on the drive so I started tinkering with this rather haunting image, adding text, mocking up a book cover. I'll spare you.

But studying the image, I had a stark revelation about the WIP. Every character - with notably few exceptions -  has a car that's associated with each of them in a way that is as incidental as saying "Ray was an old-school greaser." It should come as no surprise that this venal social climber in his late twenties covets and borrows his mother's vintage car, "...a 1955 Cadillac, black as the hole where his soul should be."

The female main character, Anna, has an equally pristine '70 Chevelle SS that she rarely drives and when she does things happen. She needed something and I gave her a car who she later trades in on the main character in a most meaningful way.

That would be Jack - one of those special characters who drove whatever rolled only because he had to, a city boy transplanted to the burbs. He had no fucks to give, as is said nowadays, but would have been so appropriate to his character I have to restrain myself from writing those words. As it stands, he has a t-shirt that says, "Do I Look Like I Give a Fuck?" that he wears to church. I digress.

Anna's uncle Murph drives an ancient Ford pickup. Gordon drives a limo that's not his. Hector, a lime-green Olds with obscene white-walled tires. Gabriel, one of two battered work trucks - the ubiquitous white pickup or van. Anna's best friend, the vivacious Gina, has a newish red MG - a convertible sports car. Even the biggest bad guy drives a new four-door BMW. gunmetal grey.
I don't go to great lengths to describe the cars, they are just conveyances, but then, as now, people tended to drive cars that reflected something of their self-image, if they could afford it. There's a little more about Anna's Chevelle - it's as special as she is and manifests in a way just as unique.

I had also been thinking that maybe I need to kill one of the main good guys and couldn't come up with a compelling story related reason for doing so. Then I realized that I have already done it. Two of the star vehicles suffer unique and spectacular deaths.

I didn't think about these things when I was writing the story. I wonder what or even if readers might make of it? It was set at the peak of the mid 70's oil crisis when there were days there was no gas to buy at any price in a culture that was born and raised on highways and high octane? We were still deep in our  American love affair with the car. Do I trust that contemporary readers know these things or should I add a fact or two here and there for "color"?

I once drove to the gas station before dawn to cue up for my meager 10-gallon limit wearing a fur coat over a nightgown. Sounds like something I should use.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

a different kind of Saturday

Colin had been working on getting the pool cleaned out after a very tough winter. Tough in that, for the first time in memory, there was no ice to worry about. The bio-diversity of the water left standing over the winter was particularly nasty. But it's filled now - (just before writing this post there was a torrential downpour, so it's probably topped off!)  Two new ducky lifeguards are hard at work dribbling chlorine here and there. Now all I need is for the water temp to get up to where I can get in and do the hand scrubbing. Maybe next weekend.

This morning I went on a little ride-a-long with Charlie and Jake to urgent care. Poor little bugger has been perking a sinus infection for a few days. Time for some pink medicine.  He'll be his usual charming self by Monday when I spend the day with him.

After a second overdye, I finally got that Vera Bradly backpack a color I can live with. It's a bit large for day to day but will be nice for when I haul the laptop and other crap to the writer's meetup.

and,  there is a surprise on my horizon!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

the habit wanes

It's very easy to let this habit of reporting slip away when nothing creatively shareable is going on. Writing is like that. Raw first drafts are hard enough to share with other writers in small groups. You are lucky if you can find crit partners who will be both straight with you and instructive. I've recently been that lucky and have been giving most of my free time over to the first draft, which is morphing into its first major revision.
my peonies have bloomed and gone!

Stitchers, imagine, if you will, a piece you've labored on, mostly in secret (shades of Quilt National!) - an epic piece, say 8 feet by 22 feet - that's right, I said FEET, not inches.  And so the powers that be have let you know that No Way will it ever see the light of day in that form and you have to make a triptych out of it. Somehow hacking it into hangable pieces.

At first, the rebel in me said, "Fuck you and your pony!" but after looking at this steaming pile of  222+k of words for a while, I think I've found a way to serve both the muse and the commercial masters, namely, publishers. Only time and a whole lot more writing and rewriting will tell.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


I've tried them all and know that this is the best seat in the house. I'll be there starting tomorrow taking an extended break from social media. I don't want to think about the time I've wasted beating my head against imaginary rocks. There are scenes waiting for attention. Tales waiting to be spun.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

messages from then

found written on a bookmark. "If you can't keep promises to yourself, who can you make them to?"

If you can’t keep promises to yourself, how can you make promises to anyone else? Someone who matters.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Crapper Confessional

I haven't posted here in a while, because, you know... writing. This is about how my experience at last year's WUUCON and the members of the Writer Unboxed community are still helping me find my way through the writing jungle.

You know you do it. Pick up a new book and take it to the bathroom with you, the intention being you'd give the book as long as whatever takes and the author would be lucky if you brought a bookmark. I have two piles on the desk outside the bathroom door and one of them is a lot tall than the other.

Now, I know that sounds disrespectful, but I've been multitasking since I was first inducted into Ma Bell's army in 1971. According to the Bell telephone company, if you weren't doing at least three things at once, they were paying you too much and sayonara! This morning the book was “Author in Progress”, edited by Therese Walsh, articles contributed by the Writer Unboxed community.

WUUCON was five months ago and I'm just now picking this book up. True, after Salem, I swore off all craft books to just get my first draft finished. Fairer still, I loaned my copy to someone before I got a chance to read it and didn’t think I'd see it again, but it's been on the TBR pile a couple of weeks.

This morning, I needed some inspiration. I'm on my first full day of staycation and deep in the heart of revision hell with the first draft of "Prophet's Tango" (There! I think I may have committed to using that apostrophe.)

I opened the book to a random page. 65 – Story First, Plot Second, by Lisa Cron. Ding! She had my full attention, still, I hot skipped to the bold headline at the bottom of the page - FIND THE START OF YOUR STORY and read,

All novels start in medias res, a nifty Latin term that means “in the middle of the thing.”
I had long thought this meant, “in the middle of something, anything happening” and it looks like I'm not alone. The next line clears those muddy waters.

Thus the first page of your novel opens with the second half of your story; the first half creates an unavoidable problem that your plot will catapult your protagonist into.”

I felt the beginning's of a slacker's high because I have just finished changing my opening scene, because, in a recent writer unboxed post, no less a star than Donald Maass very generously read my old opening lines and thought I was writing a thriller. And that problem was squarely on me.

To be fair, I'm not even sure what genre it is yet, but a thriller, no. Paranormal Romance leads the hit parade, but with nary a vampire or shape-shifter in sight, I'm afraid that crowd would be bitterly disappointed. Except for the sex. Maybe. The genre is the least of my concerns right now.

DM's reply to my post confirmed a worry that's been nagging at me. From page one, people would not know what they were getting into. Now they will - Ghosts in a bar with two drunken strangers who are destined to fall in love. It's a start that makes sense in light of everything that follows. My new opening scene was mostly written a long time ago but recently polished with the help of a couple of fellow suffering scribblers. We get together to hash over our WIPs and scare the owner of the place, who offers free coffee and snacks.

And now Lisa Cron has confirmed that I'm at least in the right forest, in not on the right path.

Thanks to everyone in the Writer Unboxed world. One foot in front of the other, one word at a time...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

the pitch

A drug dealing ladies man and part-time assassin with psychic skills meets the woman he'll mend most of his ways for. A new age con artist herself, she's got her own brand of psychic ability and a troubling history of being on hand for untimely deaths. 

When they meet, he’s on vacation from the Life and she's married to a gangster wannabe who's blackmailing her to keep her in line. Cosmic lust comes before trust, but they must learn to work together if they hope to thwart her husband's plans to sell her and her secrets to settle a deadly debt.

         “So, just how do we turn this darkness into light?" she said and shuffled the cards. The deck was old and soft and made a purring sound in her hands. He picked up her thick braid, squeezed it gently and whispered in her ear,  
         "One well-deserving motherfucker at a time.” Then he wrapped the braid around her neck, tilted her head back and kissed her between the eyes.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


        How long does this last? he wondered, spreading his broad hand across her belly. Inside his head, he heard her reply, closer than his own thoughts,
        As long as you want it to, and she looked at him with that unspoken answer in her smile.

Friday, March 17, 2017


Whack. whack.  He drops the head of the hammer on a large ant making its way across the board he's sitting on.

What are you doing?
What does it look like?
That could have been one of your relatives in another life!
Whack. Take that Uncle.
But why?

Have you ever been bitten by an ant?
No, but maybe if you stopped killing them they'd stop biting you?
Listen to yourself. Whack, whack. Those two won't bite me anytime soon.
But your ancestors!

Who the fuck wants to be an ant? I'm speeding them on to a better reincarnation. A nonbiting one. Whack!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

sound track

It was dusk by the time they set out through the backyard for the short walk into town. The Windsock was lit up like a Christmas parade even though it was the end of summer. When she was a child, she had been allowed to open one gift on the Eve. This early September evening had all the feeling of December 24th and Anna was aglow with it.
For a weekday night with no ball game on TV, there were a lot of cars in the parking lot. As they walked in the front door and there were two loud, hollow pops, Billy opening two bottles of champagne in quick succession, Goldy splashing the liquid over two round trays of shot glasses. Friends and neighbors, traveling strangers crowded the bar for their glasses. Billy passed a tequila sunrise to Anna and draft beer to Jack raised his glass dramatically and said, 
“To the power of love.” Everyone cheered and drank.
Stop, stop, don’t make me cry. God, I wish Tam and Murph were here,” Anna said. 
Jack whispered something in Goldy’s ear and she scuttled to the jukebox, plugged in coins and pushed buttons. At the sound of the hiss of the tired needle finding the groove on the worn record, he took Anna’s drink, set it on the bar and said, May I have this dance?” 
The three opening guitar chords of “I Only Have Eyes for You” by the Flamingos floated around them as they moved out onto the floor. 
Billy muttered to Goldy. “Did you pick that?” 
She leaned back against the bar watching Jack lead Anna into an intimate tango that left no room for the Holy Ghost.
Nope. He asked for it.” 
Billy refilled the shot glasses from the second bottle of champagne, knocked it back and said, I can’t decide if it’s sick or perfect.” 
Goldy watched the couple through the smoke of her cigarette. A little of both, I think.”


This, from last August.... It's important I keep my finger on this pulse as I revise. 

It's taken a while, but I've discovered the theme of my book is touch and connections.
I'm not sure how knowing theme matters when the thing is already manifested. I sure didn't think about it going in.  Themes are funny things.They sneak in over time and one day, you flip back a shutter and there it is, a sleeping bat clinging to the wall, it's eyes scrunched shut and muttering "Good. She can't see me."

Not much of a reach for a stitcher, this tactile thing. There's just no denying it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

cloth speaks

A friend recently discussing her art in and with cloth. These are thought trails that I am taking with the next book, even as I pick up the cloth myself and resume my own stitched storytelling.

".... Emotional truth. Hand stitching as expression of body and love. Ideas of protection and safety, destruction and reparation. Mending. Covering." 
- Judy Martin

Saturday, January 14, 2017

the heat is on

Hell is a picnic in a warm place. I am in Revision.

I've made a point of NOT reading any more craft books about writing. Not that I know every damn thing there is to know. I just can't let myself be derailed by any more second, third, fourth or fifth guessing.

But this great piece on revision popped up in the email the other day and I'm so glad that I couldn't resist Chuck's dirty mouth. It's a long and worthy read if you are any kind of scribbler. Know that I am only at #5 - Fermentation, which to an outsider probably looks like you've changed, skipped or bad need of medication.

To help with the "Hands Off thing", and to salve my aching political soul, I indulged in binge-watching every episode of West Wing on Netflix. Outstanding in every way, it ran from 1999 to 2006 and it's positively eerie and sad how the issues raised continue to be things that we are still dealing with today. In every episode, your heart will swell to the size of a football then shrink down to a walnut several times. Fully engaged you will be.