Thursday, June 29, 2017

Aunt Shirley

I write about her sometimes. Herewith is the lady herself ... from way back when ...
 Family resemblance over time?

From a cross-country trip when I was very little

Badlands, South Dakota. Don't know who took the photo, but I remember this quite clearly. There should be more of these, but I don't know where they are. My scanner trims off the top of the photo. I don't know why.

Megan's new book

We originally considered Catilen’s closest friend (and fellow kook), Damian Cooke, the story’s main character. Until we realized the character most impacted by the book’s events, the character taking the greatest journey, was Catilen. That didn’t diminish Damian in our eyes. If anything, I think it enhanced him. It allowed him to be himself without needing to appear as some kind of hero. As Catilen is so fond of pointing out; her story doesn’t need any white knights!

Of all the characters in the Mystic Island Trilogy, Damian changed most from first draft to final, polished release. He started as a paranormal investigator with a distinctive disdain for the scientific approach. But the deeper we delved into Damian’s personality, the more we realized he was as far from spiritual as it gets. And it’s difficult to embrace a deductive approach if you poo-poo the scientific method. Yet neither my co-author nor I saw any reason why Damian couldn’t embrace both the supernatural and the scientific. And thus Damian’s philosophy of arcane science was born!

Damian starts in a unique position; he’s a fantasy character trapped in a modern, non-fantasy world. That left a lot of options for character development. How does one become a sorcerer in the modern world and still live a normal life? By keeping it a secret (of course). Much of Damian’s history was born out of his secret mastery of an ancient science, long since abandoned by humans. The key then became to make him as interesting and relevant when he suddenly stepped into a fantasy world that functioned on the principles he had so long embraced.

When Damian reaches the island, he transforms from a large fish in a small pond, to a tiny fish in a vast ocean. The thing he wants most is to catch the attention of a bigger fish, who understands the currents of that ocean, who might be willing to show him around. Far from all-powerful, Damian needs to use intelligence and cunning to turn a little into a lot. He’s an underdog with a heart of gold, which makes him far more interesting than the over-powered sorcerer trope.

Perhaps the most fun, and challenging, aspect of writing Damian was the fact that he introduced himself under an assumed name. After all, true names have power, and Damian is used to hiding his abilities from others. Though the alias is largely unnoticeable from Damian’s perspective, it threw Catilen for a loop. Whenever a third character was present in the scene, or a scene took place in a public location, she had to remind herself to use the unfamiliar name. It was often as tricky for the authors as it was for her. It took several passes to ensure that ‘David’ appeared in all the proper places.

Aside from Damian’s mastery of the arcane arts, his relationship with Catilen is central to the plot. One of the biggest problems posed by romantic subplots is how to develop a relationship in a short span of time without making it seem artificial. How many people spill their guts on their first date to someone they just met, outside of romance novels? The easiest solution was to begin with a pair of characters who are already friends. And who better to understand the plight of a secret sorcerer than a woman trying desperately to hide her own supernatural abilities?

While Damian tries his best to be a gentleman, he isn’t without his flaws (because a perfect gentleman just wouldn’t be any fun). He is the kind of person to leap before he looks. His tendency to act on whim kicks off the adventure for our heroes, but it also gets Damian into trouble on numerous occasions. It doesn’t help that he often compounds the trouble by speaking the first thing to come to mind!

Is the island paradise or does a nightmare lurk beneath the surface?

When a mysterious island appears off the coast of San Francisco, two intrepid academics risk everything to discover its secrets. Catilen Taylor has struggled all her life with the ability to sense others' emotions. Damian Cooke studies an ancient art he calls 'magic.'

The island boasts an idyllic retreat, ruled by the enigmatic Sentomoru, who invites them to share the wonders of his bathhouse. But as the travelers strive to unravel the island's secrets, Catilen senses danger stalking their steps.

Neither Catilen nor Damian know how long the island will remain on Earth. If they can't solve its riddles quickly, they may be trapped wherever it goes when it vanishes.

Megan grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania where books offered an easy escape from the mundane life of a rural highway town. In 2003 she married the love of her life and moved to Canada. Megan started writing full-time in 2011 and has since published four novels and several short stories, including the Mystical Island Trilogy. Her characters keep her up late and wake her up early, but she loves them anyway. Learn more at, or connect to Megan via Facebook and Twitter.

Coffee Cure #2

Or, when the brown fae live in your house ....

Budding Explorer and Photographer

            I’m sorta maybe answering two requests. Roberto asked for a story about my family. Amy wanted to see photos I took as a child. Let’s start with the photos.
            My dad’s mother was a saver of things. When she died that presented us with problems. Understand, she took pains to keep her house clean and organized, but there was an endless amount of stuff. Some of it was really nice ‘stuff.’ And some not. But that all happened later.
            When I was eight or nine she opened her cedar chest, a treasure chest of sorts, full of old photos and albums and her dad’s papers and her childhood dolls. I loved looking through its contents even though I’d seen it all before. In the bottom right corner was this strangish black box with a wheel to turn and lever to click and an amazing mechanism on the front: A Kodak Brownie box camera. I’m not certain how old it was. Probably it was from the 1930s. Some of the photos were taken with that camera. She gave it to me.
            Dad helped me find film for it. I’m fairly certain that finding K six-20 film is almost impossible today. But I no longer have the camera. Back in the day, it was easy to find and inexpensive. I took a bazillion photos with gram’s old camera. I have some of them still, but none of them are arty or very good at all. I was nine. Nine year olds are usually not great photographers.
            Dad took us to odd places, interesting places. I was his most faithful co-explorer, so sometimes it was just he and I. He bought a book about ghost towns. I turned the pages, fascinated by the abandoned buildings. I wanted to visit one. There aren’t many near where we lived. But there was Kiona, an unincorporated village that had nearly disappeared. We went there. There were two houses built in 1864, one lived in and one empty. I should back up and tell you that Kiona nearly disappeared in 1894 when a series of drought driven fires spread through Washington State. There were other empty houses out there too, almost all of them now gone.
            I found some of the photos I took that day. As I said, they aren’t very good. But here they are:

            The smaller house was open, and we went inside. A mound of trash and beer bottles littered the floor. There was a Playboy foldout. It was dated 1956, as I recall it. The woman displayed there on was pudgy and not at all attractive.
            Better photos of the 1864 house, the two story house, are on the internet. But this is the one I took. You cannot see it, but the foundation to the house is made from huge granite boulders. I haven’t been back in ages. I have no clue what’s there now other than vineyards.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Robin's art ...

visit her here:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

High Adventure by Guma

I don't know who this artist really is. There is a Brazilian artist with no talent who uses the same name. Obviously not the person who painted these pictures.

O. Reader on the Musical Life

             Roberto asked me to explain how my country, music, tradition and religion have influenced me.
             Those are big questions. To coin a phrase from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy - the answer is 42.
            My religion must have influenced me considerably since I’ve worked full-time for a certain group since 1961 in a bewildering variety of roles. In Rachael’s eyes that must make me VERY OLD. (In a “this is your life” convention interview I once cracked the joke that I started when I was three... Well, at least the audience laughed). And as well as “old” you could probably add “odd” since few who work full-time like this also raise a family, buy a home, run a business (with special dispensation) and do all the “normal” stuff. Many do it for a bit when they’re young and have fewer responsibilities, but then other things in life take over. I managed to balance the lot successfully, with only one mantra - if my choices made sacrifices necessary (as obviously they did at times) then if anyone went without, I did, not the family. So I look back and am pleased with the choices I made and how things worked out. And the family are pleased.
            But I can only speak for myself. One thing I learned as life trundled on is that we all have free will and I must respect the views of others. When younger, with the impertinence and impatience of youth, I maybe didn’t achieve that too well. But I learned that while I’ve a right to argue my point of view, so do they. I must be a good listener. Sadly some people don’t think things through and run away from discussion or debate, but again, I have to respect that’s their right. When writing about views that I disagree with, I still like to get the input on the other side and have often run the text past them before publishing. And when correspondents come back and say I have been “fair” then for me that becomes an important complement. But it is a balancing act, and depending on the context of the discussion, I still won’t water down beliefs that I hold dear.
             As to music? We have very eclectic tastes here. I grew up with classical music, and went through rock and roll and blues and skiffle and folk. (I may do a rambling post on the British phenomena of skiffle at some time. All those earnest young men playing three chords and trying none too successfully to whine a Leadbelly song while growing out a most unsuccessful straggling beard. The Beatnik movement sort of followed in Britain, where you didn’t even need the guitar and the dodgy singing voice... But I digress, that is maybe for another time...).
            I probably play folk music more than any other, but in my younger days concentrated on American folk rather than home-grown British. If nothing else, America has such a mixed culture in its vastness and mass immigration, there was so much variety there. However, in more recent times, I have come to appreciate the home grown variety more. But there are some songs that bring me - the original hardened cynic - to tears. There are some songs I learned to sing and then found - fortunately just in time - that I just couldn’t sing them in public. A grown man - a sort of elderly grown man - bursting into tears is a sure way to kill a folk club sing-around stone dead. Believe me - I’ve seen it happen. But so far, not to me. Not yet.
            Of course a lot of folk songs are very political. The greatest of over-simplification is that country music veers towards the right, and folk music towards the left - even when they sing the same songs. American Tom Lehrer parodied it rather well I seem to remember. But I don’t do politics so don’t have to agree with the sentiments on any side. However, I can still appreciate a neat lyric that expresses a point of view. And in folk music lyrics touch on things you just wouldn’t find in other styles of music.
            How has my country influenced me? - that’s British of course, but almost adopted Welsh now. Well, as noted above I don’t do politics, but Britain has an interesting history. As the empire shrank and disappeared, the country was forced to become multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-language - far more than my parents and grandparents generations could ever imagine. It may create problems in some areas, particularly in some parts of some cities where religion divides, but the general mix when compared with the country and the London of my youth is something I enjoy. I love having friends of many nationalities; most of whom were born here and in many cases had parents who were born here. A bit like America really if you go back far enough. And my own experiences abroad have convinced me that the British National Health Service, for all its faults and abuses of the system, is something to really be thankful for.
            And the influence of tradition? I love the British tradition for old-fashioned detective fiction. Even with characters of cardboard I love solving puzzles, but many modern authors have lifted the form into something more. I love humor in literature - and the same goes for movies. I love the British capacity for parody and self deprecation. This is not just a reaction to an empire going down the tubes, it goes back to Trollope and Austen and Dickens and the satire of Swift before. But modern British humor doesn’t always translate well. At least, mine doesn’t. So I’ve found...  But hey ho - “C’est la Vie.” Or words to that effect...
            And just to see if Rachael has read any of this with our slightly different linguistic traditions - LONG LIVE THE PASSIVE VOICE.  I’ll end on that. It’s what we call here - living dangerously...

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Nap, or God Invented Naps and Sunggles

Story challenged. No prize other than the satisfaction of writing. Tell me this story!

Friday, June 09, 2017

O. Reader on People Watching and Politics

Occasional on the British election

            As those who actually know me will attest, I don’t do politics. I remain “neutral” for specific conscientious reasons. BUT - I do enjoy watching human nature. It appears to me that in British politics (and no doubt many other places) vast numbers of people make choices on the physical appearance or characteristics of the politician. That may be very unfair, but tough - that’s the way it is. And political parties choose their leaders, not because they are seen as the overwhelming favourite, but because either no-one else wanted the job, or it was part of some hasty plot to keep somebody else out.
            When Margaret Thatcher ruled with an iron handbag, the leader of the opposition for a while was Neil Kinnock. There was one election where, according to the pundits he should have won. But Kinnock was Welsh - VERY Welsh - and though it is rather gentle and understated, there is still a residue of English snobbery about being VERY Welsh. Even more to the point he had the misfortune to fall over on a beach during a photo shoot. The camera shutters gleefully went click, click, click. That fixed him.
            A later Labour leader (I’ll spell it the UK way this time) Ed Milliband probably lost as badly as he did because he reminded people of Wallace (from the cartoon series Wallace and Gromit) and that was a cartoonist’s dream. He also had an unfortunate experience with a bacon sandwich in a photo-shoot. Add to that an election gimmick of a huge monolith with carved promises like the Ten Commandments - billed by the press as the Ed-Stone and mercilessly lampooned - and he was done for.
            The current Labour leader Jeremy Corbin didn’t want to be leader at all - his forte was very much on the back benches - but he was chosen by default. (Very much like John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher for the Conservatives to keep her rival Michael Hessletine - nicknamed Tarzan - out.) No-body thought Corbin had a hope of doing as well as he did in the present election, and now they have got him they will have trouble replacing him if he doesn’t want to go.
            And the issues? Brexit? There was an own goal if ever there was one. The Conservative’s David Cameron had a referendum to keep his party “happy” after they scraped through an election - although at least not having to rely on a coalition as before - confident he would win. And of course the people CHOSE. The Welsh chose to leave Europe - but that was overwhelming a desire to get at Cameron and his party. The vast sums of money thrown at Wales by Europe as a poor country is unlikely to be repeated by a government in London. By the time realization dawns there will of course be someone else on the horizon to blame.
            So though I don’t do politics, I do enjoy watching the TV on election night. All the weaving and diving and spinning disasters into sort of successes. The famous who lose their seats. The steely eyed politicians who have miscalculated and as was once memorably said about Judy Garland, “seized defeat from the jaws of victory...”
            It annoys my family no end. So I’ll retreat back into my genuine neutrality and see what the papers say. Especially the cartoonists.

Politics is full of surprises: