Investment Return

April 29, 2008

April 29, 2008

The power went out over and over again shortly after we moved here. It’s a problem, I’m told, with being close to the forest in an area where it storms. The soil is rich, but loose. And when the spring rains come, trees fall.

It is unlike Nebraska, my home, where the branches are snapped from the trunks and tossed about. Here, in Virginia, the branches hold but the tree falls…onto power lines. No power means no water…as our supply comes from an electrical pump. So last year, when the spring rains came, we bought a generator and waited for it to rain.

I believe last summer’s drought was the worst in quite awhile. Our garden died. Atlanta’s water supply threatened to dry up. And that damned generator sat…a $700 dollar investment taking up space once used for children’s bicycles.

It stormed here last night. The soil, unable to keep its grip on the enormous roots of tall trees, let go. And trees fell…on top of cars, houses, fences…and power lines.

Our generator worked on the first try. After a year of sitting in wait, it started…finally of some use. It’s back in the shed today, resting up for the next storm, no doubt.

But I can’t help thinking about that generator today as I sit down to write. I have notebooks filled with drafts I’ve tossed aside, taking up space on shelves I could use for other things. And yet, like that stupid generator, they are an investment; of time and of creativity. So I’ll let them stay where they are to remain exactly what they are…a cache of ideas and inspiration for days when my power goes out.

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Marla…in shorts

April 25, 2008

There are times when research overtakes the time I normally use to write. And sometimes, if I am completely honest, the research doesn’t necessarily pertain to my current project. Things come up…things I just have to know.

For example, this morning, as I was jogging in place, my husband mentioned Marla Maples and her exercise video. And he was looking at my chest at the time. Hmmm.

Unlike most men who were between the ages of 18 and 35 in the year 1991, I had no idea Marla Maples made an exercise video. “How,” I inquired of my husband, “in the hell did you know that?” He grinned and said, “Everyone knows that.”

Hmmm. I thought to myself, “It’s time for some research. I know exactly what I’m going to do after everyone leaves for school and work today.”

As soon as the house was quiet, I Googled Marla Maples exercise video and was shocked at the amount of hits. Joe Bob Briggs’s 1992 review of her video cassette workout was at the top of the list. Go figure.

I wonder if Joe Bob continues to review videos on a regular basis or if he just did this when he was in the 18-35 year old demographic. Oh dear, there’s another thing to research today.

Joe Bob spends a lot of time talking about how Marla works out to elevator music while she confesses that “yes, she does worry about her figure.” Great. Thanks, Joe Bob. And thank-you Marla.

You Tube came through on the hit list as well, proving beyond all doubt that Marla still appeals to that 18-35 y/o male demographic. If you want, you can catch a 32 second video panning her butt, which is snugly wrapped in orange bike shorts, while she does leg lifts. Exactly how many women ever watched this? Now, there’s a number worth researching.

It’s twenty minutes past nine on this Friday morning, as I complete this post. Research on Marla Maples has provided me with just over a half page worth of material. But I can’t say the time I spent researching her was time poorly spent. My questions have been answered. Yes, Marla Maples made an exercise video. And yes, her voice in the video was as annoying as I remembered it to be. Yes, it is obvious my husband watched the video when he was a young twenty-something lad. And yes, yes, yes, I’ve wasted an hour of my life on Marla Maples…an hour I can never retrieve.

It’s a tough lesson to learn. But for a writer with an inquisitive mind, isn’t that the way it always is? You tap a vein of ore hoping to strike gold…once in awhile you do. Marla Maples gave me orange bike shorts today, not gold. And yet I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

The Naked City, a review

April 24, 2008

The Naked City

Since I’m not a native New Yorker, I felt a little precocious about seeing the city “Naked.” But, as I also happen to be as voyeuristic as the next guy, I decided, “what the hell?” and I watched. Let me tell you…the sheer number of people milling around, getting on and off the subway, living their lives, eating their lunch…well, it’s staggering to a small town girl like me. I found myself wanting to shove my children out of the way, saying, “Move it, pal,” as I made my way to the fridge for a soda during viewing.

The Naked City was filmed on location in 1948, during the peak of the film noir era. At the time, “on location” movies were unusual (so I’ve been told) and this was fresh and new for America. For the first time, movie goers were allowed to see the city as it lived, making New York the biggest star of the film.

Other unusual features of this movie: there are no opening credits and not much of a musical score. But we aren’t allowed to feel disappointed. After all, a narrator jumps in immediately, warning us that this film is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.” And, in case we forget, he jumps in throughout the film from time to time, underscoring the amount of work it is for a department to catch a killer.

The movie was directed by Jules Dassin and produced by Mark Hellinger. Barry Fitzgerald plays the sharp Irish cop, comes with his own brogue and everything, assisted by Don Taylor as Jimmy Halloran…the leg man. Together they work to track down the killer of a blonde named Jean Dexter, found dead in her bathtub. Strangled. Chloroformed. With a big, black starred sapphire in her possession and a pair of men’s pajamas in the bedroom.

First of all, NOT film-noir. If I had to classify this movie…and I do…I’d say it’s an original docu-drama. We are taken along with the cops, none of whom have any skeletons in their closets, as they try to solve the case. They bring in suspects, one by one, throw the book at ‘em, and let ‘em go. But the list of potential murderers narrows and eventually, a crime ring is uncovered. There’s none of the self-destructive downward spiral for the main characters in this film…all of that takes place with the crooks here, so we don’t feel the angst and the devastation as the film reaches its climax.

But it’s got a halfway decent foot chase and it’s worth watching, if you get a chance. I wouldn’t run out and buy it…check your local listings.

Falling Out of Bed

April 21, 2008

Falling Out of Bed

When the house shakes at 3:00 in the morning my first thought, since I don’t live anywhere near a fault line, is “thunderstorm” or, since I live in redneck central, “the neighbors are shooting skeet in their backyard again.” I don’t believe I’ve ever thought to myself “Oh, dear. The dog has fallen out of bed.” And yet….

Sigh. And yet…it happened. The King of Our Beasts, the one hundred pounder, appropriately named Apollo, tumbled from our king sized bed, onto the floor. The house shook violently for a moment. When the aftershocks subsided, my husband sat up and said, “Did you hear something?”

Apollo was ok, too tired to do much of anything except moan a little at the disturbance before rolling over exactly where he landed and falling asleep.

“The dog fell,” I said. “And now he’s gone to sleep again.” I was leaning over the bed and looking at the great mound of black muscle spread eagled, feet up in the air, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth…snoring.

My husband smiled a little and lay down. “That is so him.”

And it is. It is so Apollo to fall out of bed in the middle of the night. But it is even more him to shrug off the interruption in his routine and make the best of the situation. If he can’t sleep in the bed, he’ll sleep on the floor…happily.

So what about me, the writer? If I can’t be a best seller, am I content for mid-list? If I can’t be mid-list, am I content with the simple honor of being published? If Arctic Wolf hadn’t signed me, would I have had the courage to self-publish?

Occasionally, I get frustrated. I feel like a failure. I want success; but in this new, unexplored territory, I don’t know how to measure it.

Today I find myself wondering how my dog measures it…I think success to him is having someplace where he can stretch out. And he stretches out no matter where he is. He is happy no matter what…even if he has fallen out of bed. The old saying, “Bloom where you are planted,” is his bumper sticker.

And so I sigh again today. It is humbling to take a lesson from a dog…especially one with no grace…and a tongue the size of Delaware. But as I look into those big, vacant, brown eyes, I can’t help but think that this creature is a good influence on me. But don’t tell anyone I said so.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank E. Bittinger, author of Into the Mirror Black, about his life as a writer. Below is the synopsis of this interview. For more information about Frank Bittinger, visit him online at www.frankebittinger.com or www.myspace.com/sacredscarab. His books are available online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

  1. Tell us about your book, Into The Mirror Black. Where did you get the idea for this? Is it something you let “stew” in your mind for awhile, or did you just wake up one morning and start writing?
    Are there any experiences in your past that influence your writing? If so, what?

    The genesis of my Hexology, my Scarabae Saga, was back in my childhood when I lived in a small town named Grantsville in Western Maryland. Across the road from the shopping plaza that housed our town’s grocery store, pharmacy, etc, was a valley and some mountains. I always thought about the facade of the mountain crashing down in a storm of shale to reveal a temple carved into the living mountain itself.
    I always told myself I would someday write a tale about the mountain and the temple inside. I always knew the story arc would comprise more than one volume because I wanted to share the stories of how different people were infected or influenced in different ways by the presence of whatever it is inside the temple in the mountain.
    Because I loved to read, I told myself I would write books. When I actually did sit down to begin writing, I began with short stories that evolved into a collection centered around a theme–the Scarabae. From there I moved onto the full-length novels: Into the Mirror Black, Angels of the Seventh Dawn, and the forthcoming Angels of the Mourning Light.
    Of course, having seen a ghost or two throughout my life, I am open to whatever you want to call it–paranormal, preternatural, supernatural–and I draw on those experiences as well as those the readers share with me.

    Does your writing ever frighten you? Does anything you work on end up seeming overly “real” to you?
    So far I haven’t scared myself with my writing. There have been times when I have sat back and said to myself, “That is really good.” But I have never frightened myself.
    I have, on the other hand, frightened the readers. I get emails and letters from readers telling me how they got a fright or a chill out of a certain passage or scene. Others will tell me about something that happened–like the lights going out when they were reading or their cat sneezing just as the cat in the first book sneezes–and they caught a fright so they had to put the book down.
    And I do get the letters and emails from readers who have to tell me how they needed to have a night light before they could close their eyes for the night after reading some of my books.
    It seems I have a way of getting under peoples’ skin.

Your imagination runs deep. Obviously. What sort of books did you read in your younger days? What sort of books do you read now? Did any of these authors influence you?
I read pretty much the same types of books now that I read when I was younger. I have over 6,000 books in my personal library, so I do enjoy reading. I read Jonathan Kellerman, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Carole Nelson Douglas, Laurell K. Hamilton, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and tons of others. I love scary stuff more than anything.
My favorite types of books are those in a series; I like to get to know the characters and read about their exploits.
Did any of these writers influence me? Yes, I would have to say I have been influenced by pretty much every author I have read–whether I wanted to write like s/he or not write like s/he. Some have influenced my own writing more than others, but all of them have helped shape my style.

Tell us about what you are working on now. Do you ever think about moving to another genre other than horror?
Currently I am working on book three in my Hexology: Angels of the Mourning Light. Although my books can actually be read as stand-alones, there is a story arc running through them that will lead you to a larger story. I like to call my Scarabae Saga my kind-of-a-series: the main character, if you will, isn’t a person but a place–Western Maryland. Something is here and it influences any- and everything in the area.
I really can’t see myself moving into a genre other than my current gothic genre, unless it would be comedy. I know that sounds rather bizarre, but I have been told there is a bit of wicked humor running through my books.

How long did it take you to write your books?
I write very slow, because I completely lack discipline of any kind. Sometimes I will go for days and weeks even without writing. I constantly think about my stories, but I can go without writing for a while. And that is the dirty secret about why it takes me a year to write a book. Well, I do work two jobs so that is somewhat of an explanation, too.

Tell us how you write. Is there a particular place you find you are more inspired? Is there a particular time of day you prefer?
I write slowly, that’s how I write.
Seriously, I write when the muse hits or when an idea pops in my head. I cannot force myself to sit and write when I don’t feel like it. To do that would completely destroy my love and fascination for the craft. I know other authors can turn out a book a month, but I can’t do that.
I like to think about what the story has to offer, what kind of people will be involved, how it will play off previous books, and what effects it will have on future books in the Hexology.
I cannot seem to write any place other than my “office.” I used to have an entire room in my house for an office, decorated stylishly, full of books, a couple windows…and it didn’t do a damned thing for me. I didn’t write a word. When I opened the closet door in my bedroom and took out all the clothes and suits and ties and shoes–and turned my former office into a big closet–I put my desk inside the little closet and that became my office. It worked wonders. No distractions; just me and maybe some music and my thoughts.
And I do have to say I can only write at night. I have been quoted as saying I can’t write about death and destruction in shiny happy daylight.
My second book Angels of the Seventh Dawn has been described as sleek, seductive, and sinful so I must be doing something right. And I have been told I am a cross between Clive Barker and Anne Rice, so that made everything worthwhile because they are two legends of the craft.

I know you have done book signings. And you are gracious enough to answer these questions via e-mail. Have you done any face to face interviews? Any radio interviews? Any plans to do so?
I answer all emails eventually; it’s difficult to get to them right away what with working two jobs, writing, trying to get my own business off the ground, as well as working to raise money for animal charity.
I have done two interviews: one was printed in a newspaper and one was supposed to be printed in a magazine but I never heard back from the editor of the magazine.
For all my accomplishments–selling internationally and making it onto Amazon. com‘s Top 100 on different occasions to name a few–I cannot get local media attention no matter what I do. I rely on the best advertising: word of mouth from loyal readers who love my books.

What do you like best about your fans? Do they ever say or do anything that gives you ideas for future writing?
I talk for hours at book signings with my readers. They tell me all kinds of stories about their experiences with the paranormal, supernatural, preternatural, whatever you want to label it. I can’t get enough; it’s a great.
It’s because of my loyal readers the world is taking notice of my work; my readers are solely responsible for my publicity and promotion. I cannot thank them enough.

What comes after your Scarabae Saga? Any plans for a new series?
What comes after the Hexology? I don’t know if there will be anything after my Scarabae Saga.
I have notes and ideas for several dozen independent noels–by which I mean not related or part of a series.


Be sure to check Frank’s sites often for news of his up and coming works.

Stench

April 15, 2008

Rolling in Dead Things

My dog got off his lead this morning. When he finally decided to stop running around and return home, he was wearing a lei comprised of grass, something resembling a dead rodent, and feces from an unknown species. Fortunately, it was all coagulated in his choke collar, so I removed that and tied him to a tree to hose him off.

What is it, I wondered, gagging on the smell, that entices dogs to roll in dead things? Growing up, I had a dog that tried to roll in the rancid grass clippings swarming with flies in the back alleyway. Another dog’s poop…she loved it. Dead possum? Oh boy!! She was a small dog and easy to manage on-lead, so we avoided much of the fur sticking goo she was desperate to coat herself in.

Nowadays, I have three dogs. And they’re quite large. Upon encountering a dead squirrel or flattened snake on the road, any of the three will drop a front leg and put rub a shoulder in it, trying to coat themselves with the stench.

No wonder cat lovers ridicule those of us with dogs. No wonder some people choose to keep their animals outdoors. I can’t do that. My dogs…all three of them…are my constant companions. I couldn’t make it through a day without them.

So before I pass judgment on my smelly friends, I guess I’ll take a look at myself. Some might look at me and wonder why I choose the write the things I write. Why would I opt to write about murder, about crime, about adultery? These aren’t things one would choose to discuss in polite society. These aren’t things we normally encounter except on daytime TV, primetime crime dramas, or on the news. Yet I delve into these topics with relish, thinking up new ways to torture, kill, poison, or maim someone. It’s my own method of “rolling in dead things,” if you will….except no one ties me to a tree and hoses me off when I’m done.

My dog is fresh and clean now. He’s inside, resting on his cushion and hating me for taking away his smelly necklace. And me…I’m fixing to roll in my own dead things today.

The Evolution of It All

April 14, 2008

My oldest child is 15, at the stage of life where much of his time is spent in his room brooding over the meaning of his existence-wondering how these strange people he calls his parents could have produced one such as him: normal.
It is with awe that I watch him change from boy to man, from child to adult-the change in interests, the difference in how he solves problems, relates to his siblings.  I am proud.
This summer, he will be left over a thousand miles from us.  We will drop him off and trust that the teachings and lectures and discipline we’ve offered over these 15 years have served their purpose.  He will be with friends in the city.
As I think about that trip-the importance of it, the reality of it, the necessity of it for a boy on the threshold of manhood; I don’t think about the trouble he could get into.  I don’t worry that he will make bad decisions.  I don’t worry that he will be homesick.  I know too well his level of responsibility, the dry wit that sees him through every situation with his own warped form of optimism.
Rather, I worry about how he will experience these friends he left behind two years ago.  I think of the things they did at ages 12 and 13 and recognize that the gap from there to here is a big one.  Friendships evolve as children evolve.  As adult features push out from childlike faces, so too do the mannerisms and points of view of the adult emerge from the personality of the child.
And I suppose this is what I worry about as my son prepares to spend weeks away from me this summer.  We talk a lot, he and I…about everything.  And as he has grown, I have grown.  And so, our relationship has evolved.   But what about these friends he has not seen for years.  Will they relate to one another in the same way?  Of course not.  Without being present in their lives, he has missed out on the evolution that has no doubt taken place within the workings of the group.  And although I know this will not be a disappointment to him, I know he will, on some level, feel the strain of it and wonder if all childhood friendships end after one moves away.  Perhaps he will mourn a little.  Perhaps they will find new ground on which to build a friendship.   Only time will tell.
As I think about my oldest child today, I think about the lessons he can teach me about my work; my writing.  As much as I hate sitting with my hands on the keyboard some days, I know it must be done.  Without the discipline, evolution in my work cannot occur.  What I write today will never improve unless I work at it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.
And so, I’d better stop all this musing and get back to work…or I’ll stay a monkey forever.

Pitcher In The Rain

April 10, 2008

Baseball

A game was played last night in the mist and rain. Spectators sat huddled under umbrellas and blankets, trying to keep dry. The players were all aged 11 or 12 and growing frustrated with the wetness of the ball, how hard it was to throw and catch. Those of us with children on the team watched from the stands, hoping they would pull it together to get through the last inning.

The pitcher was having none of it. He grew more and more frustrated as the ball slipped from his hand during his pitches. He’d throw his arms in the air, sink to his knees, moan out loud. And all the while, the parents in the stands shouted their reassurances. “It’ll be alright. You can do it. Hang in there.”

His mother wrung her hands, wondering if she should be embarrassed about his behavior. Be embarrassed why? I wondered. Because he is behaving like he is 12? So the parents, dripping and wet and miserable, reassured her too.

At last, the pitcher dropped to his knees with an “ankle injury.” And, truth be told, it was the most mysterious ankle injury I’d ever seen. It happened while he was merely standing there, very still, on the mound.

We were disappointed, but what could we do? He’s only 12. He was frustrated and cold and wet. And I’m sure he could smell the hot dogs and the popcorn that all of us were eating. That had to add to the frustration. One can’t exactly eat a hot dog out on the pitcher’s mound.

So the coaches put the player in right field, where he made an immediate and miraculous recovery. And they called my son to the mound. My son doesn’t pitch. My son, I thought at the time, can’t pitch.

But there was no worry on his face, just a wide-eyed expression and an eager grin, despite the cold rain and the late hour. He warmed up for five or six pitches, the ball sailing over the catcher’s head at one point, veering widely outside at another. But his face was all smiles. From all the way up in the stands, I could see his teeth as he grinned, oblivious to the water dripping into his eyes, the wetness of the ball, the misery of his teammates.

He walked his first batter. But everyone cheered for him anyway. I think I cheered the loudest…because he was so obviously thrilled to be throwing that ball. There were two outs…achieved by the pitcher before his “injury.” A batter stepped up to the plate. My son wound up. And pitched.

Strike one! I squealed. I actually squealed.

By the third strike, I was better composed. I stood and yelled and cheered. Just like everyone else.

My son’s team totally lost that game. Their hearts weren’t in it. But I felt pride for my boy. And I felt envy and admiration too. He was able to smile when the rest of the team was faltering for their determination and the will to go on. He slapped the catcher on the back and said he was sorry that ball was so high. He’d try to do better. He knew he wasn’t a “born pitcher.” There were others on the team better qualified for the job. But the coach chose my son. Perhaps he knew that this was the boy to turn to when everyone else was in the gutter…this was the boy who would finish the game just for the sheer joy of playing.

I’m thinking of my son today as I try to find the will to write the next scene for my book. I’m trying to smile as I throw the pitches out…watching them veer wildly in all directions. I think of his face out on that mound and look for the joy in what I do. Who would have thought that inspiration could come from a baseball game on a rainy day?

Charlton Heston, world class over-actor, is dead at age 84. The NRA will never be the same. The Planet of the Apes will have no one to throw feces at. Soylent Green will no longer be made of people. And the chariot races are history. As for the parting of The Red Sea? Forget it. Never again.

There’s a movie I remember; about a plane crash on a Kansas runway. Charlton Heston played the pilot. I never watched the movie. But I watched the “made for TV trailers” that ran on local stations during the commercials while I watched Fantasy Island or The Love Boat or something equally cool and fascinating. In the trailer, Heston looks at the camera and says in that tight-jawed, intense way of his, “Of all the places we could have landed, I thank God it was here.”

Yessirree. If I ever end up in a firey plane crash, I, too, hope it is in Kansas. Because nothing says “flammable” like acres and acres of dry wheat fields. And if you’re gonna die, burning up fast is probably preferable. That’s all I’m saying.

We watched The Ten Commandments every Easter when I was young…because there was no such thing as cable, it was all that was on, and my mom had a thing for Heston. I preferred Yule Brenner, so it all worked out. I can’t think of a single person in my family who hasn’t seen Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, or Ben Hur. I think some distant relatives, like in Kentucky or somewhere, may own rifles too, but I’d have to check on that.

I was in a commercial for Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska, once. (I lived in Nebraska for years, that’s how I know so much about Kansas.) The producer was a woman who wore sunglasses even though it was cloudy, and we were filming inside. She was pulling my hair over my shoulder to give me a sort of Lauren Bacall look-because everyone knows that sells spots at colleges- and she said, “I did this for Charlton Heston once.”

Her eyes got sort of misty back there behind her sunglasses when she mentioned his name. Ever since then, I’ve felt really sort of bonded to Heston, because he and I shared that same producer with the big sunglasses and the coffee breath. And now it’s gone. The tie is severed and I don’t even know where that producer is. I don’t even remember her name.

I like to think of her standing at the end of a runway in Kansas hoping that a 747 carrying talking apes in possession of great stone tablets pulled by a chariot will careen recklessly down the runway, coming to rest in the fields of non-flammable wheat as Heston staggers out, carrying apes and tablets and soylent snacks to safety, so she can be there to touch his hair one more time.

Good-bye, Charton Heston. I can honestly say that the world will be much less dramatic without you.

Noir Now

April 6, 2008

It started with Brick. Then came Black Dahlia, which was actually a “true” twist of an unsolved murder in Hollywood. Close on its heels was “Hollywoodland” with the pseudo-reality look at the death of Superman star, George Reeves. Of course, everyone remembers L.A. Confidential…that was a good one too.

But you gotta love that writers are getting in on the action now. I just finished Linda L. Richards book, Death Was The Other Woman…a nice read. Simple, but nice. Gas City is another new one by author Loren D. Estleman. Add to that the Hard Case Crime tales by various authors and it’s easy to see that Noir is back…and even in demand in some respects.

So what is it about these titles that tickles our fancy? Is it the crime? Nah. We can read about crime in 8 out of every 10 fiction works sold. Sex? Nope. Not that either. If one out of every two fiction books sold is romance, clearly, the sex reader could just pick something up from the romance section of the book store. But increasing numbers of people are picking up books on Noir…with their pulp-like covers sporting scantily clad femme fatales and their catchy “Up Yours” titles. Maybe it’s the marriage of sex and crime that draws us in…but if that was the case, why not just read about prostitution?

The truth? Noir is situations. Noir is character. Of course noir has plot, but plot comes AFTER the character dilemma. Flawed characters drive the plot. And that makes Noir. Maybe a happy ending. Most likely not. Crime? Of course. Murder? Hell yes. Sex? Maybe, but it isn’t necessary. A good detective is getting some someplace. We don’t need to read about it to know it.

Reading Noir is like belching through your nose after drinking straight Coca-Cola. It burns like hell but, in a strange way, it offers clarity…and it makes your eyes water.