Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Civility Movement: Part One

Good evening, Castaways.

I trust your Holiday season is finding you in receipt of a thousand good things.

Myself, I have been blessed.

In starting the Civility Movement, we must realize that civility must start with us. We ourselves must 
take upon our own shoulders the burden of living at peace with our brothers and sisters.

I was once involved in a discussion with someone who was spewing some vitriol against another person with whom they disagreed. The other person wasn't even there to defend themselves, but that didn't stop this person from accusing them of all kinds of hateful; motives, calling them name after horrible name.

When I reminded them that it seemed odd for the "Party of Tolerance" to be using such inflammatory language against another, they responded with "I have no tolerance for the intolerant."

I was stymied there. This person, otherwise kind, was giving themselves a free ride to be a blatant hypocrite, hiding behind clever prose to throw their hate grenades at someone they didn't even know. Guys, get real here. We're either going to get along or we're not. If you take tolerance seriously, then apply it to everyone, not just those with whom you agree.

To paraphrase The Wise One, "If you only love those who love you, what is that worth? Even Nazis and the KKK love those who love them. Love your enemies, and bless those who wrongfully use you." (Luke 6:27-36). Do you want to really be the better man (or woman?) Do you really want to prove you're on the side of right? Love that person who is behaving like an insufferable twit. Pour peace on them. You may find yourself diffusing the situation and making a new friend.

So Part One of restoring civility is to be one who makes peace. Speak from love. No, you don't have to plant a wet smooch on everyone you meet. No, you don't have to give up your responsibility to defend yourself and your family from evil. But you do have the responsibility to give someone the benefit of the doubt if they simply disagree with you.

This country's leaders have failed miserably in their responsibility to lead by example. Shame on them all. Shame on their hypocrisy. Shame on their rhetoric. Shame on their selfish power grabs, their lies and half-truths. Shame on their bickering and petty quarrels in public forums.

Let's allow ourselves to walk different paths from theirs. The time has come for us to be the leaders we need to be, to bring our country back together, to heal the wounds of the past and forge a new, unified nation. Even if we don't agree on everything, we can at least agree to disagree, and be at peace with each other. It's the least we owe our countrymen.

Let other nations rage. Let them crumble if they must. Let us rise above worthless debates over moot points. Let us debate with thoughtful point-counterpoint the issues that try to divide, and let us overcome strife with peace.

We have to start somewhere. Let's start with recognizing that each and every one of us is a creation of a God who values no one above another. And you and I do not have the right to belittle anyone created of God. That's an insult to Him who made that other person, regardless of whether you think they're a jackwagon.

Can we all get along? I believe so.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas!

It seems fitting that we observe the coming anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ

So it's to you all I wish a Merry Christmas (And a wonderful Hanukkah  to my Jewish friends).

When Linda and I were much younger, before our youngest was a gleam in his daddy's eye, we were in the midst of a deep financial trouble. It was enough just to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads, and if we weren't already getting a deal on the rent (our landlord was Linda's brother--it helps to have connections), we very well may not have had a place to live. But by God's grace and Wayne's mercy, we at least had that.

Anyway, in this particular year, we wondered how in the world we were going to get our children a little something. Gift-giving at Christmas to some extent is somewhat shallow, I know. We weren't looking to get the kids the latest video game console, or a big-screen TV or anything. We just wanted to give them something to unwrap on Christmas morning. That's pretty important for us. As it was, our "Christmas tree" was a sprig cut from my father-in-law's pine tree in his back yard, stuck in a coffee can filled with dirt to keep it from toppling from the coffee table. As I recall, it spilled over anyway, and we spent some time vacuuming dirt from the threadbare living room carpet.

No. Material things weren't what we were about. But celebrating Christmas to us is celebrating the greatest gift God bestowed to us, and that was His very own son.

So Christmas eve came and went in our little house. Our oldest was eight, our daughters were three years and three months respectively. I don't even remember what we had bought for the kiddos, but it wasn't much. I do remember feeling like a failure as a provider for my household, in spite of the fact that Linda was working as well. It's my responsibility after all to make sure my family's needs are met. The buck stops with Dad.

The sun came up bright and clear on that snowy Christmas morn, and we prepared to head over to the in-laws to celebrate with the larger clan. I was assuaged a little by the knowledge that Grandma and Grandpa H. would be sure to have little somethings for the kidlets to open.

I opened the front door to clear the walk to the car and stopped short, bewildered. Someone had left a large black bag of garbage on our doorstep sometime in the night. I muttered a word or two about the neighborhood teens, some of whom were pretty unsavorable. It was just like them to leave us this kind of insult.

I grabbed the top of the bag to drag it out to the curb, and noticed it was lighter than I expected. Also, there were some corners that stuck out at odd angles. So instead of chucking it out, I brought it inside.

Someone (I don't know who, to this day) had decided to bless us. The bag was full (I did say "big bag," right? Like, an industrial-sized bag) to the top with gifts for our three children. The cards were all from Santa Claus. The girls got dolls, and our son got an art set, and there was more than I can recount. But rest assured, Linda and I spent some time in tears thanking whatever mysterious Santa had left for us. And it seemed like the kids knew something special had happened, because they appreciated those gifts a little more, and not because of their monetary value. The girls wore those dolls out, and every scrap of paper in that art set was covered in a joyous riot of color betraying the enthusiasm of a kid who knew what he had.

We have had others bless us in so many ways through the skinniest of our times, and we are thankful for each and every blessing we receive. But that Christmas stands out to me as one of the most blessed we've ever had.

I wish for all of you the same joy, the same wonder, the same feeling of surprise as we felt on the day.

Have a wonderful Christmas, and may your new year bring you so many blessings you have to give some away. And if you can, find a way to be a blessing to someone new.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Moment of Silence.

This week, I am declaring silence for the events in Connecticut. As you pass through, please think of the little ones who never went home. If you must comment, refrain from all political statements.

Thank you for understanding.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Announcing: Becoming NADIA now in Print!

And good evening, fellow Castaways!

Tonight, I would like to resort to some shameless self-promotion. My debut novel, Becoming NADIA, is now available in both print and eBook formats from my publisher, MuseItUp Publishing. See my "Books" tab at the top of this page for the links.

I wanted to tell a story that not only had action and romance, but one that made my readers think without being "preachy" or condescending. I hate books that tell me what I'm supposed to think. I believe good literature asks questions and allows the reader to think about the answers. So it was important that I share some truth in a way that simply asks the reader to think about something they maybe haven't before.

So anyway, I felt it appropriate to touch base with the first novel in my NADIA Project series, to announce the print release and introduce my debut work to those newcomers to my page who may not have seen her before.

With a nod to Delilah K. Stephans, my cover artist, and my capable editors Fiona Young-Brown and Greta Gunselman. Thank you, ladies. Your hard work has enabled me to win Best Thriller honors at EPICon 2012. And of course, special thanks to Lea Schizas, our editor-in-chief at MuseItUp for making this all possible for us.

“What’s one more little white lie?”

There's only one thing that pretty, popular TV reporter Nadia Velasquez is missing: her memory from before the explosion that killed everyone else in the room, including the President of Nigeria. But from the moment she meets FBI agent Jon Daniels, all hell breaks loose. Friends turn into deadly enemies overnight, and no one can be truly trusted.

When Jon and Nadia investigate further, they discover the living terror that is the truth behind Nadia's existence, a truth that could mean the death of millions.

And here's a fresh excerpt (you can see more at our buy page:

Jon was so wrapped up in his grief he never heard the approach of the helicopter echoing off the sides of the cliffs. When it zoomed over the Hummer, he jumped. He rubbed his eyes clear and looked out his windshield as it swooped up and swung around, a huge dragonfly buzzing back down the roadbed cut through the badlands. His heart slammed inside his chest like a hammer as he jerked the Hummer into gear and took off.
The helicopter zoomed over and came at him again, the rotor blades seeming to come within inches of the cliff on his right. Lower and lower it came. A burst of gunfire erupted from the right side. Jon caught the image of a man leaning out the side door with an automatic weapon as it zoomed closer. The stream of bullets from the fusillade struck the pavement in front of him as he swung the Hummer closer to the base of the cliff. He goosed the accelerator, looking for some way off the road as the chopper slipped by overhead. Glancing to his left, he saw only a drop-off to the bottom of rocky chasm. The cliff base on his right rolled up in a sheer climb of fifty feet and more. There was nowhere to go.
A movement in his rearview mirror told him the helicopter was coming back again. He could hear the roar of the rotors as it swooped down yet once more, heard the shots from the gunner in the side door as pieces of asphalt pinged off the side of his vehicle. On he raced, swerving and dodging in the narrow track of roadway.
There, on the right, an opening! The cliff wall dropped down to a low, sloping berm about five feet high. Jon stomped on the brake, swung the wheel to the right, and then back left, counter-steering to control the sideways skid. Then he goosed the pedal hard, heading up over the bank and off into the badlands. He hoped he could lose his pursuers in a canyon or draw. He took the first turn he came to and led the chase up into the hills as fast as he could drive. Nevertheless, the chopper stayed with him all the way. Bullets panged off the rock wall next to the Hummer, spraying chips against the passenger side of the vehicle. Jon stayed as close to the wall as he could, trying to limit the helicopter's avenues of approach as much as he could.
He ducked into a narrow canyon just at it flew by yet another time. The Hummer went over the rim of the canyon at over fifty miles per hour, sailing out and down the slope. It landed hard halfway down and bounced twice, nearly toppling before settling back in, driving between the stone walls of the Wyoming badlands. He had to slow down here to negotiate around the larger rocks strewn about the sandy floor.
The helicopter passed overhead again, but instead of homing directly in on him like before, it passed as a blur across the top of the canyon several hundred meters in front of him.
The stone walls closed in yet again, and the canyon became a ravine with overhanging cliffs on both sides that often overlapped over the Hummer, obscuring Jon's view of the sky.
He doubled back under one of the deeper overhangs and stopped the Hummer. His hands shook as he waited with his window rolled down, straining to hear the sound of the rotors. He heard the chopper pass over twice more, each pass farther away, and then fade off, and then it was quiet.
Jon got out and opened the back door. He reached into the back seat and pulled out his weapons, strapping on the pistol and loading magazines for the carbine. He carefully loaded and checked each, scurried farther back under cover of the rocky overhang.
The air was thin at that altitude, and his breathing was labored as he tried to calm his pounding heart. He waited several more minutes, hearing nothing but the wind blowing down the ravine, so he rose and walked out to the edge of the shadows, ears straining.
A small sound came from above and a pebble dropped into the sand under the edge of the overhang. He looked up as he approached the edge of the shadow under the overhang, and that was when he heard a small pop from his left. He snapped his head around just as the sting in his neck registered in his mind, and he saw the man holding the small rifle advance toward him.
Jon tried to bring the carbine to bear, but it was too heavy to lift. He dropped it and reached for the pistol, but his arm seemed weighed down by an immense burden. His fingers fumbled with the holster, but kept missing the clasp. Images in his vision began to dance in erratic, shifting patterns and he fell. Blackness swarmed over his mind as he heard a man talking and an answer crackled back on a radio.
* * * *
When Jon opened his eyes again he was strapped own on a gurney in a helicopter. The metallic, copper taste of adrenaline mixed with the salty warm flavor of blood in his mouth. He must have hit pretty hard when he fell. His abdomen felt like someone had worked him over with a baseball bat. He tried to move his arms but they were strapped down, too. He heard voices above the beat of the helicopter's blades and the whine of the turbine engine, but could understand nothing. He tried to speak. A needle slipped into his neck, and a warm, sluggish feeling washed over his brain. He heard someone say, "Dude, like you didn't have to zap him again, he's tied down." and the light began to fade.
Nadia, don't let them take you. The blackness closed back around him.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Author Highlight: Chrystalla Thoma

Fellow Castaways, this week I  am going to take a break from the latest fol-de-rol of outspoken me-ness and shift the focus to another fellow author. Partly, because I've spent the entire week flat on my back from flu and therefore have nothing witty or deep to say about the world at large, and partly because of the merits of a certain author's body of work.

I met her on line at our common critique site, where we proceeded to chew each other's work with enthusiastic glee, and she's helped me polish at least two of my novels to an awesome sheen. One thing that surprised me was her fluid (and fluent) command of English, it being not her first, nor even second, language. To my knowledge, she operates, reads, writes, and translates between Greek, Spanish, English, and German, with probably a couple others thrown in for good measure, and my hope is that she stops by to tell us all exactly how many languages she does command.

But the biggest and most pleasant surprise of combing through Chrys' work was the worlds she creates and in which she moves her characters. Ladies and gentlemen (you, too, Randall), I give you Chystalla Thoma, author of two novellas available through MuseItUp Publishing and several independent projects.

I will state here that this personal review is entirely unsolicited by Mrs. Thoma, who resides in Cypus with her husband. But in every one of her works that I read, she never fails to take me away to another world where no one is truly human, or where the ancient gods rise and struggle to once again claim sovereignty over humanity.

If you haven't read her Chronicles of Elei trilogy or her twin novellas Dioscuri and The Minotaur, let me just shine a little light on them.

Product DetailsRex Rising is Chrys' first independent novel, and it's definitely a "buy it NOW!" option. It's available in all formats (I buy mine from Smashwords) electronically, as well as in print, and begins the story of a young teen caught in a delicate balance between two powerful parasites, each of which could easily kill him, kept in check by the other. Elei's world is The Seven Islands, which could either be a natural chain or relics of a long-extinct, high-tech floating community. In either case, we are left to guess the origins of the world, but Chrystalla takes us on a ride through the scenery with chases, symbiotic relationships, cruel tyrranies, and one kid who can bring it all down with one shot, and I don't mean in any way you could possibly guess until just before it actually happens. That's what's so cool about this one. It's other-worldly in a way that would make Andre Norton sit up and say, "'Ay, 'oo's dis Thoma chick, anyway?" in a horrid Jersey accent.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct DetailsThe series is played out in two sequential novels and a novella/prequel. I must confess I haven't finished these yet, because I'm still working on her twin works set in an alternative future based on the ancient Greek pantheon (of which I'm sure, as a Greek Cypriot, Chrys is somewhat an expert).
 Product DetailsProduct Details Dioscuri and The Minotaur  are both available at just about any online retailer, but they originate (like my own work) through MuseItUp Publishing. I first read Dioscuri  when I was critiquing it for Chrys, and I was amazed at the way she tells the story of Castor and Pollux in such a new light. It seems the Old Gods haven't really gone away. They've just been asleep, and now that they're awake, they're less than pleased with how mankind has cast them aside. How many ways can I say these stories rock? Anyone with even an inkling of interest in the ancient stories will certainly not regret having these in their libraries.

Anyway, I'm off to let Chrys know I've posted this (I think she'll be surprised--she's one of the most humble people I know) so feel free to ask her whatever REASONABLE questions you may (behave yourselves!), and enjoy reading her stuff. She has a lot more out there than what I've highlighted here.

Be blessed this week, guys, and I'll be back next week.