The Amazing Things I Get to Do

I jumped out of a helicopter today without a parachute. I used my ability to see the future to save my mother’s life, I stared down two villains at gunpoint, I orchestrated a corporate take-over and I played with penguins. It was a great afternoon.

Years ago, I loved to read fiction and I still do. However, in recent years, that same energy has gone into  my writing  instead. Writing is hard work, and stories don’t always go as well as the writer would like, but when they do, the feeling that you are doing what your characters do is even more compelling.

These people live in my head. I know far more about them than will ever appear in my book, and when they set foot in Antarctica or on a beach in Brazil, I am there with them.

Because many of my characters have superpowers, I get the added bonus of doing things I never could in real life. Today, I wrote this scene about one of my characters who can “travel”, that is, have conscious out of body experiences.

Vanida had never used her energy body to travel to someone who was on an airplane, so she was alarmed when she ordered her body of light to seek out Yuden and found herself rising thousands of feet into the air and moving westward. It took effort not to panic and snap back into her physical body which was resting quietly on the beach in Brazil.

She was glad she had persevered, though, once she sighted the tiny plane approaching, and realized why she was where she was. The skill with which her energy body matched the speed and direction of the craft amazed her, and allowed her to cross through the metal as gently as if it had been sitting on the ground.

Tonight, I will go to sleep dreaming about flying through the air, matching my speed to that of an airplane and passing gracefully through its walls. It should be a night of sweet dreams.

One Great Idea From the Misogynist Wing of the Alt Right

Like almost everything you can imagine, and a whole lot of things you can’t, it exists on the internet. The same wonderful, amazing tool that fuels my stories by letting me see locations I’ll never visit and open doors into the minds of others I will never meet, also allows me to find voices that repulse and frighten me. In fact, it allows me to find them easily.

Like most people, I avoid the dark corners of the internet, until my desire to make a character or incident more authentic drives me back to some putrid place. This time, I was trying to do something that seemed pretty safe. I was trying to learn more about Argentine women, because I was writing about one. Flipping through sites, I landed on a blog about how to get laid in Argentina. It seemed to be part of series of posts advising men about how to obtain casual, consensual and free sex in every country on earth. Crass but harmless.

The author advised me that women in Argentina were far too high maintenance and that I would be better off just heading over to neighboring Brazil. Something about the general tone started to bother me, and I filed it away for a possible future blog post of my own.

geniusBecause I’m a news junkie, over the last few days I’ve heard a lot about Trump’s new campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, who also heads up Breitbart News. I had not heard of Breitbart News before, but according to a wealth of sources it is part of an alternate reality known as the alt right, in which a wide variety of paranoid white-centric ideas are held as truths. I checked it out for myself, and found headlines like “Obama Golfs as Louisiana Floods” and “Texas Voter ID Case Compared to Area 51 Alien Conspiracy” (two actual headlines used today). Okay, I’m going to go with the talking heads.

I also went back to the how-to-get-laid-in-Argentina blog, thinking I might write about it, and lo and behold I found another post there entitled “If Trump Doesn’t Win We’re Screwed.” Hmm. Seems like this guy writes about more topics than effective pick-up lines. It didn’t take much in the way of looking around to find a post called “Ugly Minority Girls Are Winning Beauty Pageants To Satisfy The Diversity Agenda” and to find comments like (I quote the exact words and apologize in advance for any offense) “overweight and obese girls have more sexual partners on average than girls who are in shape, because the same lack of impulse control that leads them to stuff their faces with food also leads them to hoover up cocks left and right” and “homosexuals and bisexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be mentally ill: their malfunctioning sexual impulses lead to their entire personalities being dysfunctional.”

By this point I was looking for some bleach to clean out my browser. Ick. Yes, people can believe anything they want and they can also share those thoughts with others. But does this blogger seriously believe what he writes, or, like much of the alt right, does he just enjoy shocking people with outrageous statements?

I decided to look further into this. The blogger has a name, Daryush Valizadeh, and he achieved a small amount of infamy when he wrote a post in 2015 suggesting that rape be legalized on private property. His argument was that such a law would coerce women into becoming extremely careful (or paranoid), to the point of never being alone with a man with whom they did not want to have sex. Thus rape would be eliminated. After a lot of criticism, he claimed that he was being sarcastic.

sungazing5The Southern Poverty Law Center follows him due to his “specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence” and you can read their latest on him. (I am happy to provide a link to the SPLC site, but will not link to his blogs.) According to the short Wikipedia entry on him, he is against female promiscuity, which seems a rather odd stance for a man who writes books with titles like Bang Lithuania: How to Sleep with Lithuanian Women in Lithuania and Don’t Bang Denmark: How to Sleep with Danish Women in Denmark (If You Must). I  have no idea what he has against Danish women.

Another odd contradiction is that along with his clarion call for men to be sexually aggressive, he has recently begun to rally his followers to reject globalism and adhere to nationalism. It seems a strange stance for a man who is the child of two immigrants, who has lived in multiple other countries and who writes travel books. Perhaps he is trying a little too hard to merge his philosophies about sex with the politics of the alt right.

I do confess to reading one of his posts from start to finish. It was titled something like “don’t have sex with feminists” and it advised men that the feminist movement could be seriously diminished if males would simply refuse to become intimate with women who held unacceptable ideas like wanting equal pay. (I’m serious, equal pay was the horrible feminist idea that he used as an example.) His plan for stopping feminism is for every man in every bar to respond clearly and firmly to every such statement with something like “then forget it, I’m not attracted to feminists.” He thinks this would make women feel so rejected that they would rethink their silly ideas.

I almost wrote the man to say “Please get all of your followers to do this. Please. What a service this would be.”

Imagine the scene in the bar. He says “Forget it, lady, I’m not attracted to feminists.” She says “Thank you so much for telling me. I’m not attracted to assholes.”

And everyone leaves the bar happy. See, even I can find one idea from the misogyny wing of the alt right movement with which to agree.

 

 

 

The Power of Three

I joined a small writers group recently and it has added new energy to my story telling. Perhaps I should point out that the group is small in number, not short in stature, and that a lot of the energy I feel comes from the fact the others also write a sort of fantasy – science fiction- metaphysical melange like I do.

life lessons11We hold animated discussions about how telepathy works and how to write a phrase readers will want to quote and the other day we got started on ideas that are inherently powerful, even magic if you will. The best example we could find was the power of the number three.

Make three wishes. Blood, sweat and tears. ABC. The popularity of a trilogy. Star Wars’ brilliant three trilogies. Yes, I even wrote a whole fiction book called “C to the power of three.” The Huffington Post has a fun article on threes and marketing experts are happy to advise you on how to harness its power.

But no one seems to have this figured out better than those who compose country western songs. Seriously. I was not well acquainted with the musical genre before I wrote c3, but my hero Teddie was clearly a fan of it. I had made sounds tracks for the main characters in my other books and was compelled to do the same here. So I sought out CW songs that fit my story and Teddie’s personality and yet which I liked okay too. You can find all of them on the music page for this blog.

Almost every song tells a story, unlike most music in other genres. Every story is told in three parts. Always three parts. Each story is more compelling than you would expect, grabbing your heartstrings with an almost magical grip. Past, present future. The power of three.

Today I updated the music page with more details about my schmaltziest song, “Laughed Until We Cried” performed by Jason Aldean. Dammit I don’t like sappy music, but this one gets me every time. It must be that three thing that he uses so well.

Enjoy this excerpt from where the song appears in the book, and then enjoy the video at the end.  Grab a tissue. That power of three thing might get to you also.

Ariel got word from work that she had to leave a day early for a business meeting in Germany and Teddie was surprised to find herself sad at the news. The night before Ariel left, the two sisters sat together at the kitchen table, laughing and reminiscing, and Teddie realized how helpful it had been to have a relative close by as she went through this. She went to bed with a touching song about reliving family memories called “Laughed Until We Cried” playing in her head.

In spite of the soothing start to the night, she woke up a couple of hours later, filled with worry. On Lawan’s advice she had refrained from traveling in her mist body since the surgery, and she was growing more concerned about Usha by the day. She looked down and saw Usha, and she thought she was dreaming. Then as the absolute silence sunk in, she realized that she had gone traveling without meaning to.

Usha lay sleeping, fully dressed in robes that looked much like Lhatu’s. She was sleeping on a mat in someone’s kitchen. She seemed fine, but Teddie thought that there would be no harm in looking around a little more to make sure.

Teddie entered each room. Usha was in a home with two parents and three children. It was small and simple, but also clean, warm and cozy, and well decorated with children’s art. Teddie was going to go out on a limb and guess that the mat in the kitchen constituted the family’s guest room. These nice people must have taken her in for the night. Teddie felt an odd pang that for all the much-touted hospitality and generosity in her own home of Texas, no one she knew would even dream of providing lodging to a traveling stranger. And sadly, it was often wise that they did not do so.

She tried to see any detail at all that might help her figure out whose home this was. The children’s art, the handmade furniture, even the pile of shoes by the door. It was true, she knew it for a fact. If she could just bring back a picture of any one of these, it could be circulated around and somebody somewhere would recognize this place. Teddie stared hard at each scene, wishing she could memorize and redraw it. What a crying shame that she could not.

She woke up with tears of frustration in her eyes and as she rubbed the water away, she knew it. She simply knew how to do it. She crept into the den where Lawan and Awut both slept, and she shook her trainer awake. Awut took one look at her face and he could tell as well.

Videos taken at a concert can be good or downright awful, and this one of Jason Aldean performing “Laughed Until We Cried” live at Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 22, 2010 is one of the good kind. It captures the energy of the crowd and feel of the concert while still providing enough reasonable quality audio and video for the viewer to enjoy the music.

Books by an armchair traveler

It’s true.  I write books about places I’ve never been. My problem is that I want my characters to travel the world, and yet I’m limited in where I can afford to go. So I research, get help, get more help, and research some more.

c3 was my most challenging book in this regard. Most of the action in c3 takes place in Darjeeling India, in the little known nation of Bhutan, in Bangkok Thailand and along Thailand’s famous beaches. I had a fascinating time learning about each of these locales and as I wrote I fell in love with all them. In the case of c3, I was lucky enough to have four wonderful beta readers from India who helped me with accuracy and local color, and I was also able to make use of some wonderful books, the internet and well-traveled friends to fill in other gaps in my knowledge.

The internet, of course, was my most versatile tool. As I wrote about Bagdogra Airport Teddie and Michelle making their way to India, I was able to see what they might see as they arrived at the Bagdogra airport. Having these ongoing visuals made the book easier to write, and a lot more fun.
Enjoy this short excerpt about their flight.

Teddie had been to Ireland, to France and to Hawaii, so she had some idea of how miserable a long flight was on a full plane. Still. Two crying babies, one on each side? Come on. There ought to be a law.

Bagdogra Airport2Michelle, who clearly was far more excited than Teddie was about this adventure, as everyone else kept insisting on calling it, had slept through three out of the four major bouts of wailing. Now, she was wide awake and eager to explore the Frankfurt airport for a few hours before the girls boarded the second plane on to Delhi and then yet a third on to some town Teddie couldn’t even begin to pronounce. And then that would be followed by a three-hour car ride. Teddie, for her part, just wanted to sleep in a bed, preferably her own soft and cozy bed, but at this point any real bed would do…

The flight to Delhi was full too, of course, and Teddie had already been warned, many times, that from this point forward she should expect large crowds of people crammed into less space than she was used to or would like. India, only about one-third the size of the United States, had over three times as many people. It was going to be part of the cultural adjustment that was going to make “this adventure” so enriching.

 

Day is Done

george3Something about a winter sunset always makes me a little melancholy. I’ve been that way lately anyway, what with not writing and adjusting to a new place and a lot of little things I can’t quite put my finger on. Today I wasted hours trying to navigate options to renew my health insurance, and now the whole afternoon is already over.  Damn. Why do the inane things seem to always take so long?

I think the problem is that the main entertainment in my life is looking at my to do list each day and crossing out what is done. In my own defense, this is a beautiful, color coded list on which I use glitter pens and neon highlighters and doodle around the edges. It occurs to me that maybe I don’t like list making half as much as I like coloring.

I also spent some time today online looking for volunteer opportunities. If I’m going to be unemployed and not writing, I’ve decided to get myself out of my funk by at least making someone else’s life better.  It’s a good idea, but the potential assignments are pretty daunting. Most require hours of training, and most of the training is over for this year. The qualifications for one position actually said “ability to remain calm in all situations”.  Seriously? Calm is good, but in all situations? The frustrated writer in me went wild inventing scenarios that did not call for calm. Sigh ….

It’s a silly, childish funk I’m in and I know it. I need to pick up my laptop, move on to chapter 3 and stop stalling. The story is in my head. I can do this. It wouldn’t hurt to do some other things too of course. Go for walk. Fill out the volunteer form. Pick up my pens and doodle. Maybe even just enjoy the sunset.

c3: synopsis and my 6 favorite mini-excerpts

I’m talking a close look at all of my blogs, making sure that they are up to date and that they represent my novels well. I’ve placed a few of my favorite short excerpts on a page for permanent reference, and thought I would post these improvements as a blog post as well. Enjoy!

c3 is the third novel in the loosely interrelated collection known as 46. Ascending. Each novel tells the tale of an otherwise normal person coming to terms with having unusual abilities. The stories are designed to be read in any order as they overlap in time and build upon each other in all directions.

This page contains a short description of the book c3 followed by six of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel. To read more, please purchase c3 at smashwords.com, at amazon.com, or at Barnes and Noble.

Book Description:
TeddieTeddie likes her country music and her old pick-up truck and she’s not sure how she let her best friend talk her into spending a semester abroad in Darjeeling India. Once she arrives, her innocence quickly collides with an underworld in which young women are bartered and sold. As she fights to understand a depravity that she never dreamed existed, Teddie finds that her own mind develops a unique ability for locating her friends and that an ancient group is willing to train her to save others by using her innate skills for out of body experiences. It will require trust in ideas she barely believes, and more courage than has ever been expected of her. When it becomes clear that the alternative may be her friends’ deaths and the unchecked growth of an evil crime lord’s empire, Teddie accepts the challenge and shows those guilty of unspeakable crimes just how powerful a young woman can be.

Excerpt 1:
At night, Teddie took refuge from all the strangeness. The collage of colors and faces and smells that permeated her world now by day subsided into the comforting greys of darkness. She lay in her bed and thought of how much she missed boots. Western boots, on her and others. Pickup trucks and country music and bar-b-que and dead armadillos in the road. Now wasn’t that stupid? Pine trees and Tex-Mex food and front lawns and churches everywhere even though her family didn’t belong to one. It was her world, and she missed its familiarity.

Luckily she had been able to keep her MP3 player, and sometimes she thought that the music was saving her sanity. She fell asleep that night crying softly and listening to the song “Texas Kind of Way” while she smelled the musty non-flower smell of her mother’s geraniums in her head. And that was the night that she starting sleepwalking.

She didn’t remember getting out of bed, or walking down the hall or going out the front door of the school. Didn’t they keep it locked at night? She thought that they must. Maybe she had climbed out the window? Could she even do that in her sleep?

Yet there she was, walking down the street in front of the school in the middle of the night. Lights were mostly off and half a moon was high in the sky. A group of older boys stood huddled together a couple of blocks away, smoking cigarettes. If they noticed Teddie they paid her no mind.

She looked around, enjoying the chance for once just to soak up the view without people jostling her and trying to move her along. The mountains in the distance glistened with snow. The boys down the street all wore jackets, and Teddie wondered if she had thought to grab a coat as well. She glanced towards her arm, and the next thing she knew she was back in her bed, not the least bit chilled, and with no memory of how she got back there at all.

Well, sleep-walking was supposed to be an odd phenomenon, she thought. It had probably been set off by homesickness, to be honest. Luckily her subconscious seemed to have found ways to safely navigate her in and out of bed. This time. Hopefully this wasn’t something that was going to become a habit.

Excerpt 2:
Lhatu came to India often, and he had become adept at absorbing the noise and chaos without allowing it to warp his inner peace. He tried instead to gain energy from the surroundings, energy to do the bidding of those he served.

His large size made travel slightly harder on him, but he recognized that it also made him an unusually capable operative on behalf of his group’s needs. At thirty-one years old he was tall and physically strong by the standards of any race. He could see over the crowds to find others, and thanks to clearly visible muscles he was seldom a target of the pickpockets or scammers that preyed on those who traveled. The simple robes he generally wore bought him a certain amount of automatic respect from those of any faith. The deception of dressing much like a monk bothered him slightly, but he reminded himself that his costume was merely a means to an end.

Today he arrived in Bagdogra, and he had been told to take the train to Darjeeling. He liked Darjeeling. It had a certain spirit about it. There was a girl attending a school there, a young woman whom he had been asked to observe. Do not make contact. Just bring back information.

Very well. Lhatu was used to such odd assignments. He did not question the wisdom of those who directed his life.

Excerpt 3:
So when the three American girls came to her office begging for help to find their friend, Amy sighed. This had all the markings of just the sort of case that would get her in trouble with the agency. The involvement of the three American students only made it more probable that this whole thing would reach the press and ultimately the ears of Amy’s superiors back home. So many reasons to give these girls the brush off.

And only one not to.

“What did you say her name was?” Amy asked.

“Usha.” It was the girl with the East-Asian ancestry who spoke up first. “She’s really smart and so happy to be in school, and she has these beautiful big trusting eyes and you’ve got to help us find her.”

The tall confident girl with the long blond hair jumped in. “The school’s been really busy with the aftermath of the earthquake all week. Last night they finally got a hold of her mother who says she has no idea where her daughter has gone and so the school now says that she is just a runaway who couldn’t handle the advanced classes and they are washing their hands of it!”

The pretty one with the head full of black curls added, “We know better. There is no way that’s true. Usha was doing great in her classes. She is in some kind of real trouble.”

“Okay,” Amy sighed. “Start at the beginning and tell me honestly everything you know. No holding back.”

The three girls sat down eagerly and starting talking all at once. Amy smiled at their vehemence, their innocence and their concern for their friend. There was an uncle from another city, and huge debts to be paid. There was no one local to help. The girl wasn’t even from Darjeeling. Amy looked at the photo one of the girls had on her laptop. She sat for a minute in silence as she carefully studied Usha’s face.

A young hopeful human being, full of potential. Just as all young people were. Was that reason enough to get involved? Of course it was.

Excerpt 4:
“So why not kill her?’ Vasily persisted as they finished their lunch. “You don’t want her. She’s useless.” He was talking about the American girl of course, in which Pavel had no interest and who now sat bound, gagged and heavily sedated in a walk-in closet in a vacant rental home in Manali.

“Because if she is dead, we know that she is useless,” Pavel said. “If she’s alive, it remains to be seen. Get her out of here, far away from this town. In fact, get her to Southeast Asia where she looks like the other girls and won’t stand out. We have a business in Bangkok, send her there. I do not—repeat, do not—want any trouble to come from this one. Make sure that you don’t lose track of her, just in case she turns out to be any kind of bargaining chip down the road. Now go. I need some peace and quiet to drink my coffee and think about what to do next.”

“Okay,” Vasily sighed. He had been looking forward to killing the girl.

Pavel, who knew him too well, admonished him as he started to leave. “I don’t want you or any of your goons laying a hand on her either. I’ve told you before. Your guys do not know the meaning of the word restraint.”

“Plenty of others gonna lay hands on her where she’s going,” Vasily muttered.

“Yeah well most of them don’t like to do so many things that leave marks,” his boss glared back. “I mean it, Vasily. Get her to Bangkok where she can earn her keep and be out of our way. If we can use her, we’ll bring her back.”

“Yes boss.” Vasily thought sadly that power did strange things to men. There had been a time not that long ago when Pavel not only would have okayed the kill, he would happily have joined his men in the fun.

Excerpt 5:
The next time Teddie went sleepwalking, it occurred to her that she wasn’t really walking. She was floating. And she was pretty sure that she was headed towards the train station. It was the middle of the night and this was no time to catch a train. What was she doing going there? Wasn’t this the same way she had gone to check on her brother Zane, when she was only four years old?

She was moving fast now, almost like she was in a car, and certainly like she knew exactly where she was headed. How did she know where she was going?

She thought that maybe she should go back to her bed when it occurred to her that if she actually got to the station, she could take a train all the way to the airport. And if she could just get to Bagdogra where the airport was, then she could get on an airplane and fly far, far away to a place where eleven-year-old children didn’t have to be scared when their mother got a cold, and girls didn’t have to plead to get admitted to classes for men only, and high school juniors from Texas didn’t have to cough up their entire allowance just to keep a roommate from getting taken out of school by evil uncles.

Was the uncle really evil? He must be.

And then she thought that she felt the uncle grab her arm and she jumped. But it was just Usha grabbing her arm, and she was in bed.

“You were making noises in your sleep,” Usha said worriedly. “You were having a bad dream?”

“I didn’t think I was dreaming at all,” Teddie muttered as she turned over, and then she felt confused. So she wasn’t going places in her sleep? She was just having dreams about going? Why?

Excerpt 6:
I want to go to Usha and see if she is unharmed. It was a simple command and Teddie had no idea what to expect. But she began to move, not by force, but by what felt like her own choice, down the hall and out the door and down the street. Teddie had never been particularly comfortable with heights, so she was relieved that while it felt like she was flying, she was flying in just the manner that she personally would have chosen. She was skimming really, just maybe ten feet above the ground, close enough that if she fell she would be okay. She made her path down roads rather than over buildings, but she was certainly picking up speed as she went. It seemed like she was guiding herself, that a part of her that knew Usha’s location was leading the rest of her to where she wished to go.

She was headed north towards the mountains, speeding now over the major road that leads out of Darjeeling into the Himalayas. Weren’t those some of the renowned tea fields off to the left? Teddie looked closer, and the next thing she knew she was standing in the middle of the tea field, examining the beautiful green tea leaves up close and personal. Great. She’d stopped moving and she had no idea of what to do next. She was stuck in a field.

She felt herself about to snap back. No. If my body is safe then I want to go to Usha and see if she is unharmed. With that, she was back on the road and moving again. This time she concentrated on not looking around and becoming distracted, and she picked up more speed as she went. Finally she found herself slowing back down as she entered a large city. Gangtok? She made her way through streets to a far edge of the town, where she found herself standing next to a small old pick-up truck parked outside of a little roadside hotel. Usha was sleeping in the back of the truck. Oh dear. Her friend was homeless, and had stopped to sleep in the relatively soft, warm hay that lined the back of a stranger’s vehicle.

Choosy?

I’m starting to write fiction again, after a break of almost exactly one year. It is taking everything I’ve got to get the momentum back. One technique I am using is to reread short pieces I’ve written over the years that never got used anywhere.

I found this and it seemed perfect for this blog. It’s slightly fictionalized truth, and the memory on which it is based still makes me smile. I hope that it will make others smile as well.

Memory is such a strange beast. Words meant to touch your heart may evoke a small swell of emotion at the time, but often they don’t last. It’s the stupid pun, or the offensive joke or the offhand remark that stung a bit at the time that replays itself over and over. Or sometimes, it comes back to you ten years later, out of the blue.

cold mountainI am outside of a bar in Evergreen Colorado. It is biting, winter-mountain cold. Closing time has passed, the glasses have been cleared and the bar wiped down. That’s the drab part of cocktail waitressing. I grab my coat, and the late hour and brisk wind hurry me towards my little rented place across the road.

“Hey, honey.”

Loud, the voice of a big man, it carries from some distance away. Was he waiting for me, watching? Or did he just randomly look up from unlocking his car and feel like making drunken trouble.

“Why don’t you and me go home and warm each other up?”

I walk faster and I don’t look. This is my usual response to unwanted male attention. Ignore it and it will go away. It usually works.

“Hey. I’m TALKING to you.”

I walk faster. Look straight ahead harder.

“I know you hear me. ANSWER me, damnit.”

I can’t walk any faster but I do focus harder on the pavement.

Finally he yells in disgust “You didn’t have to be so choosy, bitch.” He laughs. “I wasn’t.”

With relief I hear him close his car door and start his engine. With more relief I watch him drive away.

I am still scared and embarrassed when I finally reach my own front door. The next several nights I leave the bar with friends who see me safely home.

11Ten years later, I’m walking down a windy street in Chicago. I hear him again, clear as a sound in the cold mountain night air.

“You didn’t have to be so choosy, bitch. I wasn’t.”

And I stop. I turn straight towards him, a memory shadow in the dark distance. I yell back to him. “Yeah, I don’t think your mother was particularly choosy either.”

The murky outline of his body registers surprise. I add with firm clarity “In fact, you look to me like you come from a long line of people who weren’t particularly choosy.”

I turn and walk on with unhurried confidence and he fades into memory. Go figure. I never walk down a cold dark street quite as afraid again.