Friday, December 30, 2016

Florida Book News: Book Launch for Murder on the Mullet Express by Gw...

Florida Book News: Book Launch for Murder on the Mullet Express by Gw...: On January 16th, Books at Park Place in St Petersburg is hosting the book launch for MURDER ON THE MULLET EXPRESS. Gwen Mayo and Sarah Gl...

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Donald Firesmith: Research for Writing Fiction

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For the last three years, I have been writing a series of modern paranormal fantasy, apocalyptic science fiction, action and adventure novels. Specifically, I have completed Hell Holes: What Lurks Below and Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton, and I am currently writing Hell Holes: To Hell and Back. Now you might think that research is only needed for writing non-fiction, and that it is not necessary for writing fantasy and science fiction where we have the freedom to “make things up out of whole cloth”. After all, these genres often involve the development of completely imaginary worlds, such as vaguely medieval for fantasy or the far future for science fiction.
However, I find that performing a significant amount of research brings three major benefits:
  1. When writing speculative fiction, keeping the mundane (i.e., real) aspects of the book highly realistic makes the fantastic (i.e., unreal) parts, which requires the reader to suspend disbelief, more believable.
  2. Ensuring that the real aspects of the book have high fidelity to reality means that readers familiar with those topics will not be jarred out of their reading enjoyment by inconsistencies between the book and their personal experience.
  3. Finally, I often find that understanding some topic mentioned in the book suggests interesting additions and changes to the plot and the characters’ actions.
Thus, I find myself constantly performing research while writing my books. For example, my Hell Holes series takes place in northern and central Alaska. The first book is set in Alaska’s North Slope with its barren tundra and ground frozen with permafrost. Given the book’s plot, I needed to know what it was like to camp out on the tundra and how long the days are that far north in the middle of August when the book takes place. The last third of the book takes place in Pump Station 2, a dormant oil pumping station along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, so I needed to know what it was like. As the name implies, the second book takes place along the Dalton Highway between Fairbanks and Deadhorse and at Eielson Air Force Base. That meant that I needed to research the Dalton Highway including what it is like to drive on and what the major places are along its length that might affect the story. Finally, the military is a significant part of the second book, which meant learning about the relevant military vehicles and the locations at the Air Force base where parts of the book take place.

Luckily, we live in a time in which research is remarkably easy, especially when compared to when I first started writing some fifty years ago. Back then, I was largely restricted to relying on the local library and looking up things in books using the card catalog to find things. Today, the first and primary tool of choice is Google. I use basic Google to learn textual facts, Google Images to learn what things look like, Google Videos to see how tasks are performed and hear what things sound like, and Google Maps to see where things are, and Google Maps Street View to see what places look like. For example, when I was writing Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton, I used Google Maps Street View to drive the same parts of the Dalton Highway as the characters in the book.

My second main source of information were my subject matter experts. This included a geology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and two former members of the military including a former pilot of the type of helicopter used in the book and a former Marine Corp Lieutenant Colonel. The base historian at Eielson AFB was also extremely helpful. These experts saved me from several serious mistakes. They also made several suggestions that made the military parts of the book more interesting as well as more accurate.

While the first Hell Holes book was written from the first person point of view of a male character, the second book was written from the point of view of a strong female character. To prepare for this change, I spent about nine months reading nothing but paranormal fantasy books having strong female lead characters and written by female authors. This led me to several observations. Female authors typically spend considerably more time describing characters including what they look like and what they wear. They also tend to spend more time addressing how their lead character feels rather than just what they think. By keeping these and other observations in mind, I was able to write a second book that one of the reviewers noted: “it’s amazing that a book written by the same author (Donald Firesmith) can fool one into thinking that it’s written by a completely different person. Such is the strength of the writing that the new “author” (Dr. Menendez) shines through and her personality and writing style is quite different to that of the other journal’s surrogate author, her fictional husband.” Rather than skill, I primarily credit this positive review to the research I performed into the difference between paranormal fantasy books written by male and female authors.

Finally, nothing quite equals personal experience. Last summer, I traveled to Alaska to see several places in the book series first hand. I spent an entire day at Eielson Air Force Base touring all of the major locations in books two and three. I also rented a car and spent another day driving up the Dalton Highway to the Yukon River, which included the site of one of the major scenes in book 2. I also toured the University of Alaska, where book 1 begins. Finally, I took a tour of a pair of U.S. Army managed tunnels into the permafrost, where I learned several interesting things I would not have discover otherwise: (1) that permafrost smells remarkably like dirty gym socks and (2) that when the ice sublimes, it leaves behind a superfine layer of brownish dust that will float in the air when disturbed.

In conclusion, I find that research can be a critically important part of writing modern, paranormal, science fiction and fantasy. In addition to making your writing more realistic, it makes your book’s fantastic events and your character’s strange abilities more believable. It can be a source of story ideas, and it can also be both very interesting and fun. Currently, I am researching small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and variable-yield, thermonuclear weapons for Hell Holes: To Hell and Back. I can hardly wait to learn what the next topic I will be researching.

About Hell Holes: When hundreds of huge holes mysteriously appear overnight in the frozen tundra north of the Arctic Circle, they threaten financial and environmental catastrophe should any more open up under the Trans-Alaska Pipeline or any of the many oil wells and smaller pipelines that feed it. An oil company sends a scientific team to investigate. But when the geologist, his climatologist wife, two of their graduate students, a local newspaper reporter, an oil company representative, and a field biologist arrive at one of the holes, they discover a far worse danger lurks below, one that threatens to destroy all of humanity when it emerges, forcing the survivors to flee south towards Fairbanks.

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Hosted by: Ultimate Fantasy Book Tours
Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Hell-Holes-What-Lurks-Below-ebook/dp/B012IUE14U
Itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hell-holes-what-lurks-below/id1076804292
Booklife: http://booklife.com/project/hell-holes-what-lurks-below-12402
Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/hell-holes-what-lurks-below/9781310431210-item.html
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/608355
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Author Bio: A geek by day, Donald Firesmith works as a system and software engineer helping the US Government acquire large, complex software-intensive systems. In this guise, he has authored seven technical books, written numerous software- and system-related articles and papers, and spoken at more conferences than he can possibly remember. He's also proud to have been named a Distinguished Engineer by the Association of Computing Machinery, although his pride is tempered somewhat by his fear that the term "distinguished" makes him sound like a graybeard academic rather than an active engineer whose beard is still slightly more red than gray. By night and on weekends, his alter ego writes modern paranormal fantasy, apocalyptic science fiction, action and adventure novels and relaxes by handcrafting magic wands from various magical woods and mystical gemstones. His first foray into fiction is the book Magical Wands: A Cornucopia of Wand Lore written under the pen name Wolfrick Ignatius Feuerschmied. He lives in Crafton, Pennsylvania with his wife Becky, and his son Dane, and varying numbers of dogs, cats, and birds. His magical wands and autographed copies of his books are available from the Firesmith’s Wand Shoppe at: http://magicalwandshoppe.com.

Visit him at: amazonfacebooktwitter

Website: http://donaldfiresmith.com

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Life Imitating Art

Most of my mental energy this year has been spent trying not to be outsourced finishing my first novel with Gwen Mayo. It's an amusing little story about two retired WWI nurses trying to keep their elderly uncle out of prison - or, worse, a coffin.

Cucumber gimlet at the Vinoy.
The novel takes place in Florida during the 1920's, so Prohibition is a major issue for one of the nurses. Teddy Lawless was caught in the trenches during a poison gas attack, and her lungs were damaged. Since then, she's taken daily doses of liquor for her cough. Medicinal alcohol is perfectly legal; she has a prescription from her physician. But Teddy really likes her medicine, and the allotted daily dose just isn't enough. She likes a good party, too, so she's met some very interesting people in her pursuit of good health.

Which puts me in an interesting position: I don't drink, but I'm writing a lush tippler. Once this book gets out there, and everyone discovers how good it is, readers will make assumptions about me based on Teddy. Gabriel Iglesias, also known as "Fluffy", talks about chocolate cake, so people bring him chocolate cake. I'm picturing myself surrounded by bottles (to be honest, I'd rather have the cake).

Secret exit not shown.

So, I've been trying various cocktails, trying to find one I can tolerate. I can deal with pina coladas (well, weak ones), but they weren't invented yet.So, I've been trying drinks that come closer to the recipes of the 1920s.

Experiment 1: We visited the Jungle Prada Tavern, better known in the 1920s as The Gangplank, a nightclub supposedly owned by Al Capone.

The pub food was great, but the drink I tried was far too strong for my dainty palate (the same one I eat Cheetos with). This was one of the milder rum drinks, plus I told the waitress to only put in half the booze they would normally use. I'm sure they did, but I felt my tastebuds shrink from the shock. Better luck next time, I told myself.

Experiment 2: We visited the Vinoy, which is a grand hotel in the old style. It also existed in 1926 St. Petersburg. This time, I experimented with gin. It was a common ingredient in the cocktails of that time. I tried the cucumber gimlet, which included Hendrick's Gin. The cucumber slice garnish was nice, but the drink tasted like medicine. Some research on the Hendrick's web site told me why: while the main flavors are supposed to be cucumber and rose petals (!), there were several infused botanicals I recognized from my days of imbibing herbal medicines. None of them tasted good.

I haven't decided what to try for Experiment 3. Maybe I'll just tell people I'm in recovery, and hope they'll take me at my word.

Available January 16th!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cindy Koepp: Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology: Prosthetics

One of my favorite TV shows is The Six Million Dollar Man.
(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071054 )

Yep. Vintage, but fun.

In The Six Million Dollar Man, Steve has prosthetic limbs (and an eye) after a crash that left him nearly dead. These nuclear-powered prosthetics look and feel like his original biologic limbs, but they’re much stronger.

https://www.amazon.com/Remnant-Stars-Cindy-Koepp-ebook/dp/B008LIRDEE In Remnant in the Stars, Major Kirsten Abbott ends up with a prosthetic forearm after she ejected from her crippled Pulsar light fighter and was hit by debris when it blew up. Unlike the 1974 TV show, Kirsten’s arm doesn’t cooperate with her, and it doesn’t feel like her own arm. Had it worked properly, it would have been a reasonable replacement, allowing her to move and act as if she hadn’t lost her forearm in the battle.

Our current prosthetics aren’t nearly as advanced as Kirsten’s arm, let alone The Six Million Dollar Man, but they’ve advanced beyond three-prong pincers and the like.

One recent innovation is ReWalk. This is similar to some of the powered armor suits being developed by the military, but it’s in no danger of turning someone into Iron Man. The ReWalk exoskeleton helps people with hip, knee, and spinal injuries to walk, climb stairs, and stand. It’s intended to help people with spinal cord injuries walk again.

Unfortunately, ReWalk is heavy, roughly 50 pounds. People using ReWalk need a walker or crutches to keep stable, so users need to have reasonable upper body strength.

Here, check this out to see how it works:



Another similar product is Ekso Bionics’ eLEGs (Exoskeleton Lower Extremity Gait System). It also weighs in at about 45 pounds and requires crutches for stability.

Here it is in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyOVYHoPopM

There is a military version called HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier). It does not require crutches to keep the person steady, but then it’s intended, not for paraplegics, but for soldiers to help them carry greater loads in adverse conditions.

Watch this for more details:


Other companies are focusing on prosthetic arms and hands, some of which are very well-articulated.

Advanced Arm Dynamics is one of those companies. They have developed hands that can pick up small things like coins and dice. The one demonstrated in this video can be programmed using a smart phone.

Steeper has BeBionic, an articulated hand that has 14 grip patterns. Me? I didn’t realize there were 14 ways I could grip something, but the video on the page shows all 14 of them. One I wouldn’t have thought of was the Mouse Grip.

Here’s a video of a gent showing a prosthetic BeBionic forearm.



When I originally wrote Remnant in the Stars, the advances shown in these videos didn’t exist yet. Although the technology available today isn’t nearly what Kirsten has in the tale, I don’t doubt that our science will catch up long before the timeline of the story in few hundred years.

https://www.facebook.com/KoeppCOriginally from Michigan, Cindy Koepp has a degree in Wildlife Sciences and teaching certification in Elementary Education from rival universities. After teaching for fourteen years, she pursued a master’s degree in Adult Learning with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. Cindy has five published science fiction and fantasy novels, a serial published online, short stories in five anthologies, and a few self-published teacher resource books. When she isn’t reading or writing, Cindy spends time whistling with a crazy African Grey. Cindy is currently working as an optician in Iowa and as an editor with PDMI Publishing and Barking Rain Press.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: Penpal

Penpal Penpal by Dathan Auerbach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I'd heard several of the stories on CreepsMcPasta, and they stood out from the other creepypasta I'd listened to. The stories were disturbing and didn't rely on gore to generate fear. They relied on the listener's imagination.
In this collection, the author has expanded on his original narratives and added some more material to bring the overall story arc to a conclusion. Expanding the previous stories wasn't a good idea; it consisted of adding meaningless text that turned a group of slightly rambling childhood tales into ones that wandered too far afield. Execution can be learned with practice, though; I still wanted to see where the author took things.
The emotional impact these stories have stem from reading the child's view of the incidents that happen to him, his friends, and his pet, but filtering them through an adult perspective. The childhood the unnamed character has the sort of details you would see in any child's life, at least one of an earlier generation. Today's parents wouldn't let their children wander as far afield as our young hero, but I remember having those freedoms myself... perhaps that's why this story worked for me. The kid could have easily been a child of the 1970s or 80s, which the use of Polaroids seemed to imply. The type of phones he and his friends used as teenagers, though, would be a little ahead of their time in that case.
So, we have a collection of stalkerish memories, presented in nonchronological order, with important details left out. Very much like memories in real life. Even with the big reveal at the end, there are still questions the reader, and the character, have. But it works; the reader is left with disturbing emotions. Perhaps it works because the details are missing, and, once again, it is up to the reader's imagination to fill them in.


View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: End of Watch

End of Watch End of Watch by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finders Keepers, the second book in King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, was nominally the sequel to Mr. Mercedes. Certainly it is the sequel in the Bill Hodges timeline. End of Watch, however, is the true sequel to Mr. Mercedes, and the ending of Bill’s story.

End of Watch reunites the Mr. Mercedes team – Bill Hodges, retired cop, Holly Gibney, computer whiz with OCD, and Jerome Robinson, high school student now attending college – against Brady Hartsfield, the man who brought them together. The first book of the series was a straight-up thriller; this book travels firmly into the author’s home territory. Our pal Brady received brain damage at the end of the first novel that should have put him in nursing care for life, but a neurologist decides that he wants to try an experimental treatment on the hush-hush with the crippled spree killer. Now Brady’s body is still a wreck, but he has new psychic abilities. They let him drive people to suicide, and he relishes it.

Bill and Holly are still running their "not-a-detective-agency" detective agency, and Bill is called to consult on one of the suicide cases because of its ties to the Mr. Mercedes case. He quickly scents Brady's involvement, because he has always believed that Brady was faking mental incapacity. He pursues his suspicion aggressively, but Bill has a problem: he's dying of cancer. During his pursuit, he uses increasingly ineffective pain pills to keep going, and he lies to Holly about his health. Naturally, she is too smart and learns the truth, but she can either help him stop Brady or walk away. Jerome joins them when his sister nearly dies by Brady's mental pushing. The trio are pushed to their limits as they chase a man who can kill without touching, and flee from body to body.

King handles the action with his usual skill, but his gift has always been in characterization. His heroes read like real people, from their frailties to their taste in food, and they age and face new issues as King does. He's also begun to add new viewpoints from characters who are not like himself. In the first novel, Holly Gibney starts as a meek and neurotic woman still under her mother's thumb. She becomes integral in solving the Mr. Mercedes case and is the one who physically brings Brady down. In End of Watch, she still has her nervous tics, but she has pushed through them to run a successful business with Bill. She is a full partner in the investigation, and King tells the story sometimes from her viewpoint. At the end of the third novel, we see that with or without Bill, Holly is strong enough to make her way.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Under the Radar

This has been a very quiet year for us in terms of announcements about the books we've published or stories we've written. We've been dealing with home repairs (free air conditioning should be a constitutional right in Florida), getting involved with our new Sisters in Crime chapter, and facing our first official hurricane in the Sunshine State. You can assume from this post that we survived Hermine. It was odd, though, to get time off for bad weather in the summer.

Oh, and we had a vacation. A real vacation, the first in several years that was longer than a three-day weekend. Gwen cooked many lovely things, we swam daily, and we also got to read for pleasure, something that we don't get to do as often as we'd like.
During this quiet summer, though, after the release of Strangely Funny III, Gwen and I were very busy, but not so you'd notice on our business page. We were finishing our first novel together. You're probably wondering how we accomplished that: she's a plotter who writes very serious, often dark, mysteries set in the 1870s; I'm a snarker with a short attention span, and most of my stories are set in the present day. I think you'll like our compromise: a mystery set during the 1920s Florida land boom. It has poison, car chases, mobsters, and some serious hangovers. Oh, and one Gertrude Stein book.

Murder on the Mullet Express will be coming out in early 2017.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Guest Post: L Andrew Cooper - Jane Austen, Revulsion, and Revolution

Chances are, you won’t look at the intestines on the cover of my new collection of horror stories, Peritoneum, and think, “This guy has read every Jane Austen novel at least twice!” While I suppose Northanger Abbey should be my favorite, on some days it’s Sense and Sensibility. Austen was doing a lot of her best writing in the 1790s, which was when some of the most important early horror novels were written. Austen’s marriageable women characters seem to be in mortal danger, but their danger is murky. Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe, Austen’s contemporary, like Austen’s phenomenally successful “domestic novelist” predecessor Samuel Richardson, made the danger much clearer: women of certain classes who lacked the protection of men were under constant threat of rape. In such an unbalanced society, even the most trivial-seeming social interactions had extreme stakes. A simple tea could make your heart jump out of your chest.
Ladies dreamt of Pemberley, and meanwhile, the French mounted heads on spikes. The 1700s were not tame or polite. Google the paintings of William Hogarth, or read the Marquis de Sade. It was a time of revolutionary extremes.
For the Peritoneum epigraph, I chose a quote from 1700s-superstar Jonathan Swift. A line from Swift: “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.” A classic Swiftian bit of ironic understatement, it’s also a really gory joke. Swift uses the joke to thoughtful ends, and one of his points is this: probing beneath the surface of things, for reasons and truths, might produce ugliness instead of answers. That’s a bracing bit of wisdom from a time known as “The Age of Reason.” But when the alternative to Pemberley might be rape, women might very well feel unsafe in their skin. Austen kept the skin on, but she showed its vulnerability. Our reasons for feeling unsafe in our skin in the 2000s are different. Sexual violence remains real enough, but we have a different brand of social unbalance. We’re scared of terrorists and mass shootings and viruses and politicians and scientists, but the ugliness is still in our guts, ready to alter our persons for the worse. Ours is a time of revolutionary extremes.
Nowadays Jane Austen gets marketed with zombies and sea monsters. We don’t seem to be in a subtle, skin-on mood, which is fine with me (cf my book cover, which I adore), although I have to admit I prefer my Austen the old way. I’m not advocating for a return to Austen’s indirect manner of suggesting the horrors beneath the skin during her high-stakes ballroom soirees, nor do I think we ought to flay all the people all the time to accommodate twenty-first-century extremism. I’m saying that the 1700s, in Austen’s politeness and Swift’s abattoirs, gave us what we need for our times: both skin-on and skin-off techniques for exploring revolutionary ugliness. Austen and Swift didn’t take anything for granted. She kept the skin on because she wrote about society’s surfaces, their fragility, commenting on how she maneuvered her little brush on two little inches of delicate ivory. While Austen’s writing is as controlled as her heroines must be to survive the gauntlet of courtship, Swift’s is wild and digressive, as chaotic as a flaying, as his satirical work is itself a flaying of society to expose the guts unsusceptible to control. To explore their worlds’ revolting undersides, Austen and Swift wrote in revolutionary ways. Understated or uproarious, dancing or flayed, the characters writers suspend before readers contain glorious imperfections, the exposure of which can tantalize and horrify. The 1700s gave us blueprints for exposure. It’s time we followed them to destinations fit for modern revolt.



L. Andrew Cooper scribbles horror: novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as anthologies of experimental shorts Leaping at Thorns (2014 /2016) and Peritoneum (2016). He also co-edited the anthology Imagination Reimagined (2014). His book Dario Argento (2012) examines the maestro’s movies from the 70s to the present. Cooper’s other works on horror include his non-fiction study Gothic Realities (2010), a co-edited textbook, Monsters (2012), and recent essays that discuss 2012’s Cabin in the Woods (2014) and 2010’s A Serbian Film (2015). His B.A. is from Harvard, Ph.D. from Princeton. Louisville locals might recognize him from his year-long stint as WDRB-TV’s “movie guy.” Find him at amazon.com/author/landrewcooper, facebook.com/landrewcooper, and landrewcooper.com.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Love those Libraries!

We were treated very well by the people at Gulf Gate. They had the rooms set up with chairs and tables, plus they had fruit and bottled water available in a nearby room. The Friends of the Library provided us with lunch, which was generous and much appreciated.


Adult Services Coordinator Ellen India was in charge of the event, and she introduced us as the newest Sisters in Crime chapter in Florida.

Ellen wore the Headdress of Power, which was subsequently passed on to me.



I did a short talk about using dialogue as a tool in writing - how it could provide useful information in a "showing" rather than a "telling" way (which sounds counterintuitive), but could also be used to reveal character.

Naturally, I gave examples. I chose from the best: Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Len Deighton, Robert B. Parker, and Sarasota's favorite son John D. MacDonald.

I fear my serious manner may have suffered slightly while I wore The Headdress of Power.

Louise Titchener followed up with a writing workshop on the practical aspects of dialogue - tags, surrounding narrative, adding action, etc. The fun part was the 'pencils on' section.

First, we read a passage of dialogue that was turgid with excess narration and adverbs. We were invited to edit the passage and present the new (and improved) version to the group.

Then, we took a passage from John D. MacDonald that had been stripped down to only what was spoken, and asked to fill in the blank spaces between the lines. After we'd finished, Titchener read what MacDonald had written.


The Suncoast News Network was there to interview Ellen India about the Sisters in Crime program, and we were later especially gratified to see Gwen's book covers featured in the footage.






Naturally, Gwen Mayo and I had a table set up in the authors' room. We had some sales, and I got to try out Square on the new phone.

I'm afraid we were out of copies of History and Mystery, Oh My!, which contained the stories that were finalists for the Agatha Awards. Time to reorder!

In the afternoon, we had a panel discussion on unraveling the mysteries of publishing. The panelists were Gwen, representing Mystery and Horror, LLC, Brenda Spaulding, who had started by self-publishing, and Janet Heijens, a traditionally published author. The moderator was Yours Truly, who probably gave too many asides.

The panel was followed by a Q and A session that was pleasingly active.

Unfortunately, everyone who shared pictures with me was on the panel. So, I will end here with another pic of me wearing The Headdress.





Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sarasota, June 18: Sisters Sizzle in Sarasota

http://flgcsinc.com/Gwen Mayo and I will be at the Gulf Gate Library in Sarasota this coming Saturday as part of a double event - one held at the Barnes & Noble in Sarasota, the other at the library. Please, please come to see us if you're in the Sarasota area.

Address for the library:
7112 Curtiss Ave
Sarasota FL 34231

Itinerary:
Author Signings from 10:30am until 4:00pm

10:30am – 11:30am
Workshop: Dazzling Dialogue – Creating Voice
Instructors; Sarah Glenn and Louise Titchner
11:30am – 11:45am Q&A

1:15pm – 2:15pm
Panel Discussion: Solving the Mysteries of Publishing
Moderator: Sarah Glenn
Panelists: Janet Heijens, Gwen Mayo, Brenda Spalding
2:15pm – 2:30pm Q&A

I hope you can come!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Nothing for Money


From Mobile Commerce Daily. Click to read article.
Conservatives are crowing victory at Wendy's latest response to the increase in minimum wages. Instead of employing cashiers, they're laying them off in favor of automated kiosks. They say this is a matter of survival in this soft economy. Other companies, whose labor cannot yet be replaced by automation or computers, continue to send jobs offshore. In some cases, I'm sure it is a matter of survival for the businesses in question. In many cases, they're having to compete with a McDonald's or a Wal-Mart. 

In other cases, the development of new technology has changed how products are delivered, and the market has changed accordingly. E-books have driven many bookstores into bankruptcy, for example, but no author or publisher can cut Amazon out of the equation without losing money. It has a near-monopoly on book sales.
 
Then, there's the matter of employee benefits. Many companies hire temp workers or only employ workers part-time to avoid the cost of employee benefits. I've even heard people argue that it provides an opportunity to 'monetize free time' and allows workers to travel to where the jobs are with an On The Road sort of virtue. That's fine for young, healthy, childless people or couples. It doesn't really work for older people or for people with kids. 

Children have weaker immune systems and used to die before medical care became accessible to everyone. When you get past forty, perhaps fifty if you're in good shape, the warranties start to expire on your body parts and things will start going to hell. Plus, when you get past fifty, your parents will be in their seventies and they're going to need your help. That nomadic lifestyle will end with children or with age.

There will come a point when many people in the United States can afford to buy basic products, whether it be $15 or $3, because there are not enough service jobs to go around. People like to talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back; those have already been offshored and automated out of existence. The service jobs are the new victims, and many people will not be able to find new employment. Unless a job requires the presence of a human being in person, or it requires special talents and skills, it's going somewhere else. Not everyone is a rocket scientist, though, and Wendy's doesn't need rocket scientists. 
 
I have a harsh message for American workers, with a follow-up for businesses who operate in the United States: the workers here are never going to be able to beat people in India who will work for a few rupees a day (never mind how I know this), or automated kiosks... unless the price of everything sold in the USA, including the products businesses require, drops to the price people pay in poorer countries. You know how ex-pats used to talk about living like kings in Mexico with a few bucks? Yeah, that's coming here or there's going to be food riots. We're going to have 'extra people' that are a 'burden on the economy', and it's not because they're lazy.

Will everything be on the dollar menu? Will the government have to increase taxes further on companies and citizens, to subsidize basic necessities for all the 'extra people' our country won't employ? Or will we have another price and wage freeze, like the one Nixon imposed?

I don't really have a great answer here; the truth is, many smaller companies are struggling to survive, and if they go belly up there will be no jobs. I get that. I do know, though, that I won't be eating at Wendy's any time soon... especially since my first job was as a Wendy's cashier.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Strangely Funny III: D J Tyrer Interview

DJ Tyrer, who is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, was short-listed for the 2015 Carillon 'Let's Be Absurd' Fiction Competition, and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA and elsewhere, such as Warlords of the Asteroid Belt (Rogue Planet Press), Strangely Funny II (Mystery & Horror LLC), Destroy All Robots (Dynatox Ministries), Steam Chronicles (Zimbell House) and Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), and Irrational Fears (FTB Press), as well as issues of Sirens Call and Tigershark ezines, and also has a novella available on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).

What would you like people to know about you?
As little as possible! Perhaps, that I edit the Atlantean Publishing small press, which is currently working with the press Carrion Blue 555 on a King in Yellow anthology titled A Terrible Thing which is planned for release in paperback towards the end of 2016.

When did you begin writing?

Well, I've been writing ever since I could hold a pen, but in a published sense, around twenty years, for the first decade within the British small presses, but internationally and with greater visibility in recent years.

How did you get the idea for your story in Strangely Funny III, "Attack of the Rad-Zombies"?
Bad B-movies!

Is there a genre you haven't written in, but would like to?
I've tried most genres (whether successfully or not is another question!) as I enjoy the challenge of tackling the unfamiliar, but the ones I would like to do more of and have success with are crime and thrillers (without a supernatural element). I'd also like to have the time to tackle my ideas for novels!

Who are your current favorite authors? What do you enjoy about them?
I frequently reread HP Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and RW Chambers, while I enjoy James Patterson and Clive Cussler for relaxation with a fun adventure. Naturally, I read a lot of fiction and poetry submissions and review material for Atlantean Publishing and I always look forward to work by writers such as Neal Wilgus, Steve Sneyd and Cardinal Cox in particular.

Strangely Funny IIIWhat are you working on next?
Other than the usual round of short stories and poetry for submission to various anthologies and magazines, I've got three novellas in various states of progress, as well as a couple of collections that I would like to progress to the publication stage.

What is your favorite writing snack food/drink?
I seldom snack when writing, but I do drink a lot of Pepsi Max (although I've been cutting back in favour of water recently).

Thanks for your virtual visit!

To read "Attack of the Rad-Zombies" and a bunch of other hilarious stories, check out Strangely Funny III, now available at Amazon in print and Kindle formats.


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Friday, April 22, 2016

Should Have Played Poker: Debra H. Goldstein


Today, I'm pleased to introduce you to Judge Debra H. Goldstein. She's the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star Publishing – April 2016) and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Mardi Gras Murder and The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem. Debra serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Joel, whose blood runs crimson.

When did you first decide to become an author, and why did you shift your focus from publishing to law?
As far back as my first memories, I wanted to tell stories – of course, they were usually tales aimed at getting one of my cousins in trouble.  As time passed, I wrote short stories and plays for school and my neighborhood friends, but I thought, when I went to college, I probably would end up being a journalist who occasionally wrote creatively on the side. Two days after graduating early from the University of Michigan, I went to New York seeking a job in publishing and an opportunity to get on Jeopardy.  In case things didn’t work out, I spent evenings of the days I was job-hunting typing up law school applications for the following fall.  I was lucky enough to meet my goals, but realized I wanted to attend law school. Once I did that, my author career was put on a back burner, except for briefs, decisions, and social writings, for most of the years that I was a litigator and judge. In 2010, I became interested in creative writing again. After my 2012 IPPY winning book, Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, was published, I became so involved in the publishing world that I decided being an author rather than a judge was the career I wanted to pursue.

You were on Jeopardy!  How did they choose you? What was it like?
I became hooked on Jeopardy when I was in elementary school.  It became a dream to become a contestant.  When I was graduating from college, I sent in an application and was assigned an interview time. This was when they still did in person interviews in New York and occasionally other cities, fifty to sixty people at a time, rather than the computer application process. We were brought into a large room where Polaroid pictures of us were taken and attached to a written application we filled out.  Once the applications were collected, the moderator threw out an answer and went around the room seeking questions from us, not changing until we ran out of possibilities.  Because I followed the advice I received to sit in the front row and be eager, I was lucky to receive the answer “blue,” so I could pose the question “What color is the sky?” After we played this oral game, we all were handed answer sheets and together responded to fifty “answers” flashed in front of us on all possible topics.  The answer sheets were then collected and we waited while our tests were ostensibly graded. As this was not scan sheet grading, there was no way our papers could have been graded during the period the Jeopardy staff left the room.  Rather, I believe our behavior was being observed.  A few minutes later, the staff returned, thanked and dismissed everyone except four people whose applications allegedly had a problem. I was one of the four.  When the room cleared, and we leaned forward to find out what was wrong with our applications, we discovered we were the only four selected from the group to be contestants. Although I lost to a five day champion, the experience was a blast.

Do you have a writing routine and/or special writing space?
I only wish I had a writing routine!  I envy those who do, but as structured as I was throughout my legal career, my present juggling of family, writing, volunteer work and friends, is predicated on flexibility and fun.  The result of my non-routine is that I write short stories and novels in spurts, often to the pace of show music playing in the background.
My favorite place to write is anywhere I can see water, but I don’t get much opportunity to get to the beach.  Consequently, I have created different places in the house that I write depending upon the task.  Drafts are written in a chair in my bedroom or one in the living room while first draft revisions are done in the living room and final revisions are done in the room I dedicated to being my office.

Have you read anything good lately? 
I’m an avid reader whose taste includes bestsellers, books by brand new authors, and biographies.  Unlike some, I usually read the entire book, whether I like it or not.  Recent literary ones I enjoyed are My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  I’ll plead the fifth respecting mystery choices.

Tell us a little bit about Should Have Played Poker.
In Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery, Carrie Martin's precarious balancing of her corporate law job and visiting her father at the Sunshine Village retirement home is upset when her mother appears, out of the blue, in Carrie's office twenty-six years after abandoning her family. Her mother leaves her with a sealed envelope and the confession she once considered killing Carrie’s father.  Confused, Carrie seeks answers about her past from her father prior to opening the envelope, but before she can reach his room, she finds her mother murdered.
Instructed to leave the sleuthing to the police, Carrie's continued efforts to discover why someone murdered her mother quickly puts her at odds with her former lover--the detective assigned to her mother's case. As Carrie and her co-sleuths, the Sunshine Village Mah jongg players, attempt to unravel Wahoo, Alabama's past secrets in this fast paced cozy mystery, their efforts put Carrie in danger and show her that truth and integrity aren't always what she was taught to believe.

Since this book is described as “A Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery”, will there be future stories featuring Carrie Martin?

I like these characters and hope they will reappear in many of my writings.  Although this is Carrie’s first public outing, the Mah Jongg Players and the son of the group’s ringleader appeared in my first published short story, "Legal Magic". When I came up with this plot involving Carrie, I needed a comic balance and realized the Legal Magic characters would be a perfect foil for her.

Tell us about the donations that go to YWCA and CARES.
Thank you for asking about the fact that all royalties I earn from any hardcover or e-book sales from the pre-order point through May 30, 2016 are being donated evenly between the YWCA of Central Alabama’s domestic violence and the CJFS CARES dementia relief programs.  I serve on the boards of both of these organizations and know the impact these programs have.  I’ve been so fortunate to have a successful legal career and be at the beginning of a really wonderful second opportunity that I believe it important to give back.  Hopefully, my writing will provide fun and enjoyment for readers and accomplish some good.

Thank you for stopping by!

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Interview: Strangely Funny Contributor, Sylvia Son

http://www.amazon.com/Strangely-Funny-III-D-J-Tyrer-ebook/dp/B01DPQ4AAGSylvia Son is an author who lives in Mississauga. She has a degree in English from York University. Her novella, The Guest of Honour, made the shortlist in the 2014 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest for Quattro Books. She likes horror movies, improv, and board games, but not at the same time - although she has played Ultimate Werewolf, which she views as sort of the same thing. She's also a contributor to the latest anthology I've edited, Strangely Funny III.

What would you like people to know about you?
I like comedy and nonsequiturs; like growing up, I watched Kids in the Hall on TV and when I was two, I was hit by a car. Both of them are true.

When did you begin writing?
Since grade ten of high school. I wrote comedy skits for my high school productions with my sister.

How did you get the idea for "Patience My Unspeakable Nightmare", your story in Strangely Funny III?
I had finished a series of stories based on cats, and I was in that mentality of pet-based stories. Then one day I was watching a really horror film with my sister and we made fun of it and I came up with a phrase to match the cheezey dialogue which eventually became the title of this story. Then I began to think, what kind of person would say it to and would that be a pet that was called a nightmare and would that be a pleasant or unpleasant experience. And that was it.

Is there a genre you haven't written in, but would like to?

YA fantasy.

Who are your current favorite authors? What do you enjoy about them?
Neil Gaiman for his ability to create a complex story universe, and manga artist/writer Fumi Yoshinaga for her story and characters.

What are you working on next?
Other than finishing up my novel on ghost towns that inhabited by sci-fi and fantastical events, I'm working on two stories that work the same trope of a haunted house. One where a house is constructed with the hibernating remains of a monster from another dimension by monster worshipers who brought it here prematurely, and a city hall employer whose job is to make sure it remains asleep while trying to keep the public out. The other is a young woman is looking for her dead parents' spirits that now reside in a house that functions as a sanctuary for the dead, and the only way to communicate is by tapping Morse Code on the walls.

What is your favorite writing snack food/drink?
Popcorn chips. They're too addictive.

Thank you for your time!

If you'd like to read "Patience My Unspeakable Nightmare" and other amusing stories, check out Strangely Funny III, now available on Amazon.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Short Story on Kindle: Red Beans and Ricin

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DIK0OKE


If you read "New Age Old Story" in Fish Tales: the Guppy Anthology, this is the follow-up. When partygoers become ill at a Mardi Gras potluck, Lana Fisher's red beans and rice are blamed. Bad enough, but when the hostess dies, the consequences could be far worse.

Red Beans and Ricin is free for Kindle Unlimited users, and only 99 cents otherwise. This story first appeared in Mardi Gras Murder.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

My family and I loved the original film; my father often said that it bore a strong resemblance to his courtship of my mother, sans the religious conversion to Greek Orthodox. Of course I wanted to see the sequel. Toula's family was wacky, lovable, annoying, and over-the-top Greek.

I was not disappointed. In a feat comparable to the recent X-Files miniseries, the cast reunited to play the same characters as before, but 10-15 years down the road. Due to the economic downturn, Toula is working in the family restaurant again, and has become a central support to her family, volunteering for committees, taking her father to physical therapy, and being the person the family turns to when things go wrong (as, of course, they do). Ian has become a high school principal. Their daughter, Paris, is graduating and desperately wants to get away from her overwhelming extended family. She is considering going to New York for college; her parents want her to stay in Chicago.

Did I mention that things went wrong? Well, they did. Gus, Toula's father, ardently wants to prove that he is descended from Alexander the Great. I think this is rather amusing, since the Greeks of Alexander's time considered him Macedonian and thus a xenos. While filling out his documentation for the genealogy website, he discovers that his wedding certificate (issued in Greece) hasn't been signed or stamped with the seal of the Church. He and Maria have been living in sin all these years.

Okay, so easy fix, right? They can get married in the church they go to. Not so fast, though: Maria wants Gus to propose properly. Apparently, his first proposal consisted of "I'm going to America; you can come with me, or stay here." Gus, being a stubborn ass, refuses to humor her. This is the first of several hurdles Toula must help the family cross before they get Gus and Maria to the altar. You didn't think this film was going to end with anything but a wedding, did you?

Oh, yeah, Paris makes her decision. Unlike the major plotline of the film, it was less predictable. Plus, we do get to see Toula and Ian realize that the majority of their interactions concern their child and the family, and wonder if there's any 'them' beyond that.

Part of the buzz going on about the film is the revelation that cousin Angelo is gay. They refer to it as cousin Angelo coming out, but it really was less of him coming out and more the family asking him if his business partner is something more than that (they are nosy, after all). Lo and behold, another xenos in the family, life goes on. I thought it was handled nicely.

I enjoyed the film greatly, but it doesn't really work as a standalone film. If you loved the characters in the original film, it's a good catchup. Otherwise, stick with the original.




Thursday, March 10, 2016

Review: 11/22/63

11/22/63 11/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I grew up with the public fascination of the Kennedy assassination. It's spawned many articles, TV plots, etc. written with the notion of "What if..?" I wasn't interested in hearing another story about conspiracy theories or time travelers hoping to save JFK.

It was a while before I would give this book a tumble. I'm glad I did.

The core of King's talent doesn't center around his penchant for horror or his flights of fantasy; it's his ability to create good characters that the reader can truly get involved with. Jake Epping is a teacher who cares a great deal for the people around him. In the opening of the novel, we find him gripped with the story of Harry Dunning, a janitor seeking his GED. Harry's father killed everyone in the family but Harry when he was young.

When Al the diner owner shows Jake the portal to the past, Jake resolves to save Harry's family. After several attempts, he succeeds. The feeling of power, the ability to change bad to good, helps suck him into Al's dream: saving JFK to create a better world. This requires that Jake travel back to the Fifties (the portal only leads to one point in time, every time) and take up residence, trailing Lee Harvey Oswald's path until the Big Day (hence the book title). He accepts the mission.

Along his path in the past, Jake makes new friends, touches the lives of students, and falls in love with Sadie, a beautiful but straight-laced teacher. He also gets harsh reminders of how very different things were in the Fifties: people smoked like chimneys, racism was the norm, and singing Rolling Stone lyrics could nearly end a relationship. The story of Jake's new life is interwoven with his pursuit of Oswald. Sadie unbends and becomes part of his quest, helping him in the final confrontation.

King's talent at character creation, combined with his command of pop culture, immersed me in the story and the time period. Overall, 11/22/63 was a book that exceeded the concept it started with.

Spoiler below (highlight to read):

I would have given this novel five stars, but the ending disappointed me. When Jake returns to 'modern time', the world has gone to hell. Earthquakes, thunder, the works. He also encounters cosmic authorities who urge him to essentially undo his entire mission in order to save the present. By changing so many events in the past, he's warped the universe. While cosmic authorities worked well in Ur, I don't think they're as necessary here. King described enough events following JFK's survival to screw the world up without threatening the space-time continuum. The final echo of the love he and Sadie shared, though, was very sweet.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Short stories

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005D7VCUW/My short story, Caldera of Trouble, is now available on Kindle Unlimited.

You may have read about this story in my interview with Gwendolyn Kiste. "Caldera" went up on Amazon before Kindle Unlimited came into being; I thought adding it to KU might be a more cost-effective way for people to download and enjoy it.

Some of my other stories will be appearing as singles as Gwen uploads them. I'll try to keep you posted.


Friday, January 01, 2016

A Warm Exchange

I've had a few days off, so I soon found myself in one of my favorite time-sinks: Twitter. One of the trending hashtags was #NewYearsResolutionIn5Words. Most of them were the usual: exercise more, eat healthy, write more, etc. One was a PSA, though:



Well, I couldn't resist. I replied:

The response:


My comeback:


Their suggestion:


Which goes to...



Made me laugh, so I shared it.


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