Wednesday, December 30, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour, Stop 5

Carlos Villanueva stood at the edge of the parking lot and looked over Manassas Battlefield Park. Lifting the binoculars to his eyes, he examined the field below one more time. Joel Perry sat in jeans and a T-shirt in the grass at the edge of the meadow, looking at the ground and not moving a muscle. Not another soul in sight. “I don’t like it, Tab. He’s all alone, no one else to meet us. Daniels said he’d be out here, too.”

Sergeant Tabitha Grubka sat in the passenger’s seat of Carlos’ coupe, tightening the laces on a combat boot. “Joel’s probably being watched from the tree line. I bet Agent Daniels simply doesn’t trust us. After what they’ve been through, I’d be pretty careful, too.” Finally satisfied with the fit of her boot, she climbed out and closed the door. “Not that I’m complaining, but I’m way out of my element here. I’m a bit-chaser, not a rifleman.”

 Carlos turned around long enough to give her a good-natured smirk. “That’s why the rest of the team have weapons, and we don’t.” He glanced at his watch. “Well, five minutes past H-Hour. I assume Joel’s waited enough. Let’s go.”

They strode out of the parking lot, past the visitor’s center, and down the hill, Tabitha occasionally rearranging portions of her battle uniform. Carlos glanced over his shoulder. He could barely see Erick at the top of the hill, watching the western side of the park. Dave Gunderson would be watching the other side. Not that Carlos felt any safer. No weapons, no radios, he said. If I’m wrong, what’ll they tell Tab’s parents when they send her home in a coffin? His stomach did a couple extra flip-flops for good measure as he stole a glance at Tab. Besides squirming in her bulky uniform, her face looked as pale as his felt. Her eyes darted constantly, looking for some undefined threat from the trees.

When they drew within a few meters, Joel raised one hand over his head. With the other, he held out a radio.

When Carlos took it, a short squawk came from the speaker, followed by a familiar voice, one he’d only heard on the phone the day before. “Sergeant Villanueva, this is Agent Daniels.”

Okay, we play it this way. Carlos keyed the handheld. “Go ahead. This is Villanueva.”

“Tell Corporal Perry he can stand up, and thank him for his cooperation. You can go now.”

Carlos scanned the tree line at the edge of the field again. The late afternoon light made it impossible to pick out any details among the greenery. “I thought we were going to meet today, Jon.”

“Maybe another time.”

Carlos cursed under his breath. He wanted answers, not more questions. “What’s NADIA?”

“Something you don’t talk about on a radio.”

“Jon, you can tell me what I need to know, or I can keep digging until I find everything out, including where you’re hiding Bunny Kalinsky. He’s facing quite a suite of federal charges, you know. What’s it going to be?”

He unkeyed the radio and motioned to Joel to go back to the lot. Not taking his eyes from the trees, he whispered, “Meet Dave up there. I have a recorder in my car. Start talking. Everything you remember.”

Daniels’ voice crackled from the handheld again. “There’s a cannon fifty meters to your left, over toward the stone bridge. Look in the muzzle. Out.”

Carlos’ heart jumped. “No, wait a minute! Daniels, where are you?” Silence was his only answer.

Tab pointed. “There’s the cannon.”

“Hang on,” said Carlos. “I’ll go check it out. If it’s a trap, get back to the car. Round up the others, and zero in on Daniels and his crew. Comb the damned woods till you find them.”

“What then?”

Handing her the radio, he said, “Make ’em spill their guts.”

He approached the cannon slowly, looking for wires or hidden antennas and mumbling to himself. His hands shook; he stilled them by force of will. “This is ridiculous, they’re on our side.”

His inner voice answered. Oh, are they? What makes you so certain they’re friendlies, Jéfé?

He carried on the conversation with himself all the way to the cannon. “Because if they were working for the bad guys, they’d have popped me and Tab for even asking about NADIA.”

Or they would have put one of their antimatter bombs in this cannon, ready to take out the whole park, right? Reach in—I dare you.

“Shut up, Carlos, they’re the good guys like us.”

How do you know?

He was at the cannon. “’Cause I’m going to find out right now.” Shining a penlight down the muzzle, he saw a tangle of litter and several pop cans. “I hope there aren’t any spiders in there.” He took a deep breath and began to withdraw the trash one item at a time.

He unwadded the fourth candy wrapper to find a series of numbers scrawled in marker on the inside. After tossing the rest of the trash in the nearest can, he returned to Tab. “GPS coordinates.”

She hugged herself and shivered in spite of the heat. “Let’s just get out of here, Carlos. I get a bad feeling—”

--from Critical Mass

* * * *
Good day, fellow Castaways! Congratulations again, Lisa Reece, our winner of the Irving's Cabin contest!

This week, Once again, you've seen the picture behind the story, and now, you get the story behind the picture! Yay, hoo-rah, and other colorful interjections of a celebratory nature.

As indicated in the scene above, this shot was taken at the Manassas Battlefield Park at Manassas, Virginia.

The entire week I was in Virginia, the weather was cool and rainy. It never actually stopped, though sometimes it let up to a light mist. It lent a kind of haunting sadness to the place where, in July of 1861, nearly 5,000 men died in the first land battle of the American Civil war.

I arrived at the Visitor's Center and climbed out into the rain and wind. I made a mad dash to get inside the center just before the rain really cut loose, and browsed around inside for a while until the weather let up.

As soon as the clouds relented, I ran outside and pranced around like a total and complete fool. I don't think the staff quite understood why I was so excited about being there. Sure there was history all around me, and I was drinking that up like a sponge. But I also had to get the best shot I could before the rains busted loose again.

I ran up and down the line of cannons behind the Visitor's Center, taking shots here and there. I took the one I posted above, with the water droplets dangling from the bottom of the barrel, and the colors struck me. In the background, you can see a farmhouse that was rebuilt, as the original was blasted to matchsticks by artillery.

I didn't get a chance to wander the whole park. The battlefield plain is pretty big, after all. But it inspired in me a sense of loss, as well as commanding a quiet reverie for the significance of the drama that unfolded so long ago.

I intend to go back to see it all. I would encourage everyone to see it.

Next week, we'll post Stop 6. Till then, stay frosty.

Monday, December 21, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour, Stop 4. The Picture Behind the Story

A narrow footpath wound through the trees, shaded and cool in the late summer heat. A rabbit said hello by way of scurrying through the underbrush to parts unknown. A squirrel overhead chirred its irritation at an invading starling. Jon breathed in the woods all the way to the far end of the path where it emerged in front of Irving’s cabin.

Jimmy DeBartolo sat on the porch in a creaking rocker, whittling. In his gnarled fingers, the body of a bird was taking shape. Jon paused to admire the work, noting how steady Jimmy’s hands were, despite the outward ravages of age that had taken so many of Jimmy’s generation already. The devil knows he’s going to have a fight on his hands when he comes for Jimmy, so he’s just putting it off until the old coot’s softened a bit. Like that’s ever going to happen. Next to the old man, against the wooden siding under the shelter of the porch, leaned a worn but sturdy Garand combat rifle. He looked up as Jon approached, and his wrinkled face split into a huge, toothy grin. “Hey, Jon.”

“Morning, Jim. Another quiet day.” Jimmy’s flint-hard eyes scanned the woods as he answered, “Thank the good Lord for that.”

 “How’s Papa today?” Jimmy grinned wider.

“’Bout ready to kill Beth, I think.”

“I think I’ll say hi before I head downstairs.”

“Okay, if you really want to. I’m gonna take a walk around.” The old man rose and picked up the rifle before stepping past Jon and onto the packed earth in front of the porch. He shifted it to an easy grip in his gnarled hands and slunk off through the woods with an easy, well-practiced stride. Seconds after he reached the tree line, he disappeared as if he were only a ghost in John’s imagination. The only evidence of his presence was the half-formed wooden sculpture on the seat of the rocking chair.

Damn, I’m glad he’s one of ours. I’d hate to be on that old man’s bad side. Jon stepped through the screen door and into Irving Ratzinger’s living room. Irving’s easy chair, threadbare and sunken, hunched in its corner, empty. The comfortable clutter that defined the man’s life was neatly arranged around it, the photo of his beloved Hilda within easy reach. Hilda’s prize smallmouth bass leered from the wall above the old TV in the opposite corner. Irving’s collection of dog-eared paperback westerns loitered on their shelves, separated from his how-to books and his Foxfire Series. Everything here made this cabin a home in every sense of the word.

Everything except one. The smell of Irving’s latest culinary masterpiece was noticeably absent in the air. Even though it had been three months since the heart attack, Jon’s nostrils remembered the scent of Irving’s apple strudel, among other delicious creations from “Papa’s” kitchen. How many glazed rolls had he washed down with German roast coffee around that table over the years? Not nearly enough, came the answer from Jon’s stomach.

A woman’s voice came from down the hall, frustration tempered by a good humor. “Lay back down, you old fart, and let me get your meds in.”

Jon chuckled, imagining the struggle taking place as he made his way to Irving’s room. When he opened the door, Papa was struggling to get out of bed. Beth Nelson was trying to wrestle him back down. She looked over her shoulder at the creak of the door hinges, a tuft of curly brown hair dangling in her eyes. In spite of the effort she was exerting against the old man in the bed, she smiled.

“Can you help me out here? I have to give him his shot.”

Irving grabbed her wrists and sat up again. His German accent was thicker when he was this tired. “I said I was all right, young lady, and I want to get up.”

Beth twisted her arms free and pressed on Papa’s chest again. He began to sweat with exertion. She was just plump enough to give her a weight advantage, especially with Irving’s weakened condition, and the strain began to show.

When Jon decided enough was enough, he stepped in and touched Beth’s shoulder. She let go of Irving and stood. “Papa,” he said, “you know the shot makes you sleepy. So take it and get some more rest. Beth can handle lunch when you wake up.”

The old man lay back, pouting. “The way she cooks? I’d rather eat my left shoe!”

Beth’s eyes popped; her mouth gaped. She snapped back in mock indignation. “I’ll have you know, sir, my meals are perfectly well-balanced examples of excellent nutrition—”

“That taste like old tires!” Despite the rough tone of Irving’s voice, the twinkle in his eye told Jon he was just being difficult for the sake of mischief.

Jon said, “We can’t all be gourmet chefs, Papa. You’ve had a rough time the last couple of months. It’s not going to kill you to let someone else take care of you for a while. Besides, Beth’s been a nurse for…” He shrugged, looking at her. “At least a month. When was it you took that correspondence course again?”

Beth threw a half-hearted punch at Jon’s midsection, easily dodged with a laugh. “Thanks a bunch, you jerk. I’ll have you know I got my RN from Stanford ten years ago.” She turned back to Irving. “Please, Papa, I have to give you this shot. Donna says a couple more weeks and you should be as good as new. Or at least as good as before your heart attack.”

Irving paused while he mulled it over. “Can I have it in my chair?”

“If Jon can move your monitor into the living room, I don’t see why not.” She gave Jon a coy smile and blinked her eyes.

“Gee, how can I say no to that,” said Jon with a grin and a wink to Irving. “Let’s go, then.”

* * * *

Okay, this one has a double-sided story. First, mine, and next, our contest winner's.

As you all know, recently I was in Virginia for a company road trip, and found some awesome settings to punctuate the most critical scenes of my award-winning series The NADIA Project. Unfortunately, I could not locate the perfect shot for Papa Irving's cabin, and so I posted a contest. I have to say, the final voting was close. It came down to the difference of one vote (Tell me your vote doesn't count!). And we have our winner, Lisa Reese of Nort udda Border, eh? Congratulations, Lisa!

Okay, so as you've seen, this week's post is a couple days late. I had to get hold of Lisa and get the story behind the photo from her. Now, granted, the shot isn't from Virginia. She covers it in her story. But if Hollywood can relocate a house for their own purposes, so can I. My apologies to Virginia. I'm sure there is a cabin somewhere in that wonderful state that would fit the bill. I just didn't have time to find it, which works out well for Lisa. So without further ado, here's Lisa's story behind the picture behind the story:

"Every year my family and I go camping with friends in Jasper Alberta. We love combining three things while we’re there: hiking, geocaching and photography. The day I took this picture was no exception.

Lac Beauvert is known for being beautiful to photograph, and there are some very iconic shots that can be taken of the mountains in behind the Jasper Park Golf Course, and my husband had just given me a brand new camera that I wanted to try out. But instead of just taking the iconic shots we followed a walking trail along the lakes edge to the left. After you get well past the main parking and tourist areas you can see this little cabin across the lake, just poking through the trees.

I don’t normally photograph buildings but I really liked this one, and it’s seemingly secluded location—I say seemingly because it is one of several cabins you can rent through the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge—despite that, it struck me as the sort of place I’d want to live if I could, so I took one photo. I remember I could only take one, and had to hope it would turn out as my family hadn’t noticed that I'd stopped and were well out of sight. This would have been fine if there wasn't a bear in the area, so we had to stick together.

Thankfully the photo turned out, and I loved that picture so when I heard about the contest for Irving's Cabin, I couldn’t think of a more welcoming little cabin than that one, nestled in the trees in Jasper."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

And The Winner Is...To Be Announced!

Greetings, fellow Castaways!

The entries have been received, and the time has come to select a winner for our Irving's Cabin contest!

I know who took the pictures, but only two of you know. Because I've weeded the entries down to the top two, and guess what: YOU, dear readers and fans, get to pick the entry who will win one signed print book from my already published selection!

Irving Ratzinger is the character we are finding a home for. He's already got a house, but I need to know which one you all see him in. He's a survivor in the truest sense, a God-loving Jew, a gourmet-trained chef, and a combat veteran, now settled down and living in the woods of the Shenandoah River Valley. His abode in the little clearing whispers comfort and peace to all who enter, and the aromas from his kitchen promise no guest will ever walk away hungry.

What I NEED all of you to do, is vote by COMMENT!!! That's right, send me a comment right here on THIS blog! Comments will not be published, so no one will know who voted for what cabin best represents "Papa" Irving's lifestyle of quiet comfort and peaceful living.

Now, I'm going to do something that looks odd, but I have a reason: First, a picture to conceal the first picture when I post it on Facebook and whatnot:

And to business!

First up, we have Cabin 2, because that's what I wanted to do:

Once again, I know which person entered this shot, but you don't. Now, look at Entry Number 1:

Both beautiful shots. Thanks to all who entered. The only way we're going to have a winner is if you vote, right here, by sending me your comment on which is the cabin that fits Papa best. The winner will be notified by me and announced on Facebook, and the next stop on the NADIA picture tour will feature that picture, plus an excerpt featuring Papa's Cabin.

Let's go, folks. And...VOTE!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour, Stop 3

"Jimmy listened on his Bluetooth while he crouched behind a car across the street, holding the combat shotgun steady on the reflective glass of the office front window. He knew exactly where to aim, to make sure he was sighted in on Jenny’s phone. He assumed from his visit that the women were held in the conference room. From where he was set up, they should be out of the way. As soon as he knew who picked up, he was going to send another message. He’d keep talking until the phone was answered. “Come on, punk. It’s time we had a chat.”

The line clicked, and a man’s voice came back through his earpiece. “You need to watch your mouth, old man—”

Jimmy squeezed the trigger and held it. Three rounds of 12-gauge buckshot splintered the window and Jenny’s desk. Bruce’s chest collapsed as a fist of lead pellets punched him like a truck, and he fell in a bloodied heap against the back wall of the office. Jimmy kept the shotgun level as the view through the storefront opened up. With the glass gone, he could see into the office area, covering the entire front of the office.

Another figure moved, diving behind the remains of Jenny’s desk, and a head popped up, looking for him. But where Jimmy was set up, he still maintained the element of surprise. He popped off the last two rounds in the shotgun and grabbed his AK-47 as the head dropped back behind Jenny’s desk. He wasn’t sure if he hit the man, but he could fix that easily enough. He sent three rounds of .30-caliber, copper-jacketed lead through the wood of the desk, saw someone jump, and heard a man’s agonized scream.

The smell of cordite in Jimmy’s nostrils, and the sight of the rifle’s barrel in his vision, brought back memories of other times and places he’d wanted to forget so badly, but they never let him go. Thirty years in the Army, including two wars and countless covert operations across the globe, would never let him forget. He could still see the blood, hear the cries of wounded and dying men. In his dreams, he still walked fields and paddies strewn with bloated corpses, mutilated and rancid in the tropical heat, or frozen solid and snow-covered. He’d taken part in that butchery, had trained others how to kill, had lain in wait for blood so long and so often, that it had made him in its own image. He was no longer the plumber’s kid from Oklahoma, no more
the retired insurance agent from Platteville, Oregon. Plain and simple, Jimmy DeBartolo was a warrior, and destined for a warrior’s fate.


* * * *

Hello, it's me...

What you're looking at this week is a photo I took in downtown Front Royal, Virginia. I saw this awesome little storefront and knew it had to be the offices of Genetek!

Front Royal is a very "Alive" little town nestled in the Shenandoah River Valley, and in the foothills of the Appalachians. In fact, I drove under a pedestrian walkway not far from this site that was labeled as part of the Appalachia Trail.

Now, back to Front Royal: It was everything I hoped it would be, and they have some awesome food there, I can tell you. Make sure you stop at the Mill Cafe and have a bite to eat, because it's rock awesome.

I was really excited to come into this town and find it was everything I wrote and then some. The setting couldn't have been more perfect if I'd visited there myself before writing the NADIA Project.

A steady drizzle tried to dampen my spirits and totally failed as I ran up and down the streets, finding corners for this scene, and stores for that scene, and before the sun went down I was totally lost, had no idea where my rental car was, and I'm pretty sure some folks probably thought I was bonkers for even being there. Okay, more than sure. Some folks I met and shared my story with, actually told me "You're bonkers for writing this town into a story like that."

But you know what? It was perfect for the location, it was perfect in the reality of the scenes and settings. It was perfect in its history (some major battles took place in the Civil War around that area, and some buildings in that town look like they could have been there then), and it was perrfect even with the weather being just a mite waterlogged.

And this is only the beginning. I have some more awesome shots to share from Front Royal.

BUT HERE IS A REMINDER: I have an active contest going on. I need the best picture of Irving Ratzinger's cabin. The finalists will be picked by yours truly based on truth to theme, composition, and appeal, and you all are going to vote for the best one, to receive a signed print copy of the winner's choice from my books (see the "my books" tab at the top of the page to peruse your choices). I still need a couple more entries to make it a good contest.

So send your submissions to me at cyrus DOT keith AT yahoo DOT com or to my page at Facebook in a private message, and put CABIN CONTEST in the subject line. You don't have to be the photographer, but I don't want any copyright conflicts. Help me find Papa Irving's Cabin, and YOU could win!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour, Stop 2

The early morning sun had not yet cleared the ridge behind the cabin, but light was
beginning to shine down into the valley, gently waking the Shenandoah River. The water
sighed as it flowed over deadfalls and rocks along the shore, and an occasional ripple
betrayed the fish beneath the surface.

Nadia sat on the edge of the wooden dock watching the sun come up. Her toes came just
short of reaching the murky river. She could see the light growing brighter with each passing
minute, and watched the mist float above the water, like a curtain waiting to be drawn,
caressing her lightly as it passed with the river. Birds struck up their songs in the trees,
awakening the morning. Behind her, a faint rustle in the undergrowth told her that a rabbit or
some other small animal was beginning its busy day. She sat and thought of nothing. Or, at
least, she tried to think of nothing.

In reality her mind raced, trying to understand what was going on around her. She felt
caught up in something malevolent, something that threatened not only her, but anyone
around her. She had no sooner met Jon Daniels than the two were running for their very
lives. To find that her mind was not her own was a confirmation that something was
seriously wrong with her. Finding out that she wasn't even human was a shock she wasn't
sure she could handle.

* * * *

You've seen the picture behind the story. Now read the story behind the picture.

In this chapter of Becoming NADIA, our intrepid Miss Velasquez sits on a small pier overlooking the Shenandoah and ponders her predicament.

To find this pier, I had to combine some luck with a little local knowledge. I was in Front Royal, enjoying a trout and a delicious Old Mill Ale at the Mill Cafe (okay, it's free promo. If you're in Front Royal, eat there. You will NOT regret it). At the next table, a couple was eating across from a young man in his med-thirties or so, who was waiting for his fiancee to join them. A minute or so after I received my meal, who should come up the stairs to the tavern portion but a young lady who could be no other than the aforementioned fiancee, accompanied by the cutest little seven-year-old girl, who just so happened to be best friends with the lady. Now, does this kind of relationship ring a bell for anyone?

So, anyway, I overheard the child talking about how she loved reading. I couldn't resist joining the conversation, and it turns out Abby is a voracious reader and a brilliant little lady of superior intelligence. Not only that, her birthday was a scarce month away. By now, she's eight. Happy Birthday, Abby!

So okay, I couldn't resist. I hauled out a copy of Becoming NADIA and signed it for Abby, and then presented it to her as an early birthday gift. You'd have thought I was some kind of rock star. Thank you for making my evening, Abby. So then the subject of course went to the reasons I was in Front Royal, Virginia, all the way from Michigan. And Jim (the young man affianced to the lady Abby came in with) gave me some ideas of places to look for suitable shots overlooking the mighty Shenandoah River.

Following his directions, I found quite a few great places for photos, more to come later. But this one stood out. The other piers were already pulled in for the season, but this one just kind of called to me as I wandered along a small road on the north bank of the Shenando'. It's a beautiful river, and a gorgeous part of our great country. Oh, and somewhere on Facebook (I think) is a picture of me an Miss Abby with her birthday present. And I hope she enjoys it immensely.

Happy Birthday again, young lady. May your future be ever brighter.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

NADIA Picture Tour: Stop 1 (The picture of the story, and the story of the picture)

Hearing: “Nadia? Nadia, I need you to open your eyes for me, please.” The gentle male
voice sounded alien to her ears, as if from a great distance. Who's Nadia?

Comprehension: She understood someone was talking to someone named...Nadia.

Sensation: A gentle touch registered on her arm as the voice spoke again. “Nadia? Open
your eyes, dear.”

Identity: She was Nadia. There was something in her mind, a nagging feeling that it
wasn't right, couldn't be right. But the man insisted. “Open your eyes, Nadia.”


 Nadia complied, though with some effort. The lids were stiff, unresponsive at first. She
had to think about moving them, and finally she forced them open. After a few more
experimental blinks, a small but intense white light pierced into her eyes...

---Becoming NADIA, Chapter One

Ah, welcome, fellow castaways on the third rock from the sun, adrift through the darkness of space. Starting this week, I'm going to take you on a journey through my Thriller series The NADIA Project. We'll go in roughly chronological order, but only loosely. The idea is to show you, up close and personal, the locations of certain scenes in my series.

The idea came to me when I was offered a chance to see the area firsthand as part of my day job, and I am pleased to say I found all the locations I needed, to give you, my readers and fans, an awesome visual of the story arc.

Now, mainly, the pictures are all centered around the Washington, DC area, because that's where most of the stories take place. Of course, the stories actually spread out all over the world, from Oregon to Nevada to Tahiti and the Czech Republic.

So these posts are going to comprise two parts: The picture of the story, and the story of the picture.

This first "picture of the story" is Dr. Petr Hamund, bringing his creation to life in her first moments as the light shines in.

The "story of the picture" is simple: It was an accident.

I was taking pictures of data tags on equipment I was in the process of testing for certification, and my thumb accidentally slid across the little button on the screen of my phone that flips the camera from forward-facing to rear-facing, and then snapped its own little picture.

I was going to delete it, but then I noticed the awesome pattern of the glare spots, and it jumped out at me that I was unwittingly one of my own characters.

So enjoy.

Next up, we take another trip.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

How to have a successful Signing Event

Greetings, Fellow Castaways!

I can only apologize for having been absent this past couple of months. Life stuff jumps up and gets in the way, and to tell the truth, my old enemy Depression crept in too, for a while. But these are truly no excuses. I once again apologize for being absent, and ask for your forgiveness.

I have been blessed and honored to be received at several events recently for signing events, enough for me to have a grasp on what makes a successful event. This is for my writer buds, and also for any bookworm who walks into a Barnes & Noble and sees the author table right by the front door to the store with the hopeful face seated behind it.

I do claim some authority on the subject, having seen with my own eyes as well as discussing techniques and results with store managers.

So, for readers, here it is: Writing is mind-wringing, hard work, and that author at the table is really putting themselves out there for their craft. So please do us a solid. Approach that table and at least look at the product. That does a whole lot of good for the self-image of person behind the table, and you may find your next brain-treasure! And that's the simple, one-step reader's method of a successful book signing.

Now, you writers, listen up:

1.) Show up. You're coming to work. Dress like it. Business casual works well. Look like you're educated and professional. Bring promotional material as well. There are exceptions, I'll grant you. If you're at a Farmer's Market or Flea Market, jeans would be okay. But they need to have no holes, and you should be in a button-down shirt or golf shirt in any case. I have signs from Vista Print, yard-sale sized, with my book covers on them, and a collapsible easel from Staples. Cost for a sign and easel, less than fifty dollars. The store might provide you with a table and the books, but you need something to draw attention to yourself besides that little dinky table-top sign the store provides. Bring business cards, bookmarks, and any other swag you want to give away. More on give-aways later.

2.) Sink into your persona. Look, I know most writers are an introverted, shy lot. It comes with the territory of the way our brains work. Almost every single writer I know or have ever met, struggles with social situations. So we need to have barriers in place to be able to interact with the public at large, and at a signing event, baby, you are at large and in charge. So you have a couple of "safeties" to use, to provide a degree of separation between you and .....(gasp) people (gasp) ..... First is your Author persona. Whether you use a pen name or your own name, your "Author" persona is the face you want your fans to see. The Author is out-going, friendly, and engaged. If this is not you normally, then you get to pretend you're someone else for a while. Make your Author self a character. You did it for people who don't even exist. Just extend the same thing to someone who does, at least to the public eye. Use that character. BE that character. You can do it.

3.) Use your other barrier. The other barrier is the table. You're on  one side, your fans are on the other side. Don't make that silly snorting sound and tell me you don't have fans. YOU. HAVE. FANS. People are reading your book, and if they aren't yet, they will be. If you do everything I'm laying out here, you will have made at least one fan before the end of your event. I promise you this. But you need to act like everyone in the store id your fan, whether they know it yet or not. But that table is there to keep you safe, too. It's a symbolic barrier, but it helps to keep you from panicking and running out, if you're of that sort of mind. It gives you room to be the Author, just like a stage gives an actor room to be the Character. It's your stage. Use it like one.

4.) Speaking of give-aways, don't give books. Might as well get that out of the way. You're there to sell books, not give them away.  Post a give-away, and people won't buy your book, but they'll sure as all get out sign up for your give-away. Because people like stuff that's free, and they'll pick free over something they have to pay for, every single time.If you're going to have a contest, make sure it isn't for the book you're currently promoting. Give away your swag bags. Give away bookmarks. Give away little stones with your name on them. Give away your car, for crying out loud. But don't give away your book.

5.) You're at work. Be at work. I've spoken with store managers who say most of their guest authors sit at the table writing, or texting, or Facebooking, or reading. If you do that stuff at your day job, you get fired. Do that at a signing event, and your fans "fire" you by not even approaching the table. Remember what you're there for. Writing is a business, and you need to treat it that way. By all means, have fun. But don't lose track of where you are, and what you're doing. You are there to sell books. You are there as a merchant, as a vendor, as a representative of your art, your craft. You didn't pour all that blood, sweat and tears into your book to let it languish on the shelves and servers of your vendors. You have an awesome gift to give the world, and here is where you have a chance to let the world know how they can come and live in your world for a little while. So, back straight, hands on the table, head up, eyes forward (except unless advancing on to the next step). You're there. BE there.

6.) Engage your fans. This is the next step after "Be at work." People are going to be walking around, browsing other shelves, other tables, doing "customer stuff." Be ready to talk to them. This is the hard part for me. But it's easy once I've assumed my Persona, parked at the table, and set myself for work. The first time is the hardest. Believe it or not, it's good to have some words ready. Have some different things to say, depending on the situation.

Watch people as they pass by. LOOK at them. When they look back, say hello and ask how they're doing. Probably one in four of them will come to the table and ask about your book. Greet EVERYONE who walks by within normal bookstore-voice range. Make sure they know you're there. Most folks aren't even aware of anything around them until they're well past your table. Saying hello is being polite.Asking about their well-being invites a response. In any case, and most importantly, invite a response.

When folks pick up a book at the next table, tell them, "I have your next read right here." Make sure you smile when you say that. Yes, it sounds pushy. But they are looking for a read, and you have one right there. Might as well call a Diamond a Diamond, right?

7.) Be ready for conversation. Luckily enough, folks that want to talk, will want to talk about your writing. And that, my friend, is what you're always ready to talk about. You were excited enough to write the book. Be excited about people getting excited about reading it.

I say, "Be ready," because you're going to get them all. The ones who end up buying, the ones who don't buy but you wish them well anyway, the ones who just want to talk with an author, and the ones who you really don't want to talk to. You know the type. The faux intellectuals who throw ten-thousand dollar words around for the express purpose of impressing you with their vocabulary. Just smile and nod, let them get it off their chest, and eventually they'll move on.

8.) Have fun with it. I know this is Point 8, but it should be noted that this is your Number One Priority. Seriously. If people see you having fun with the event, they will want to have fun with you. Smile a bunch, be energetic, and have fun. Did I mention "Have Fun?" Make it fun, and they will come. And don't worry about numbers. Don't stress about how many you sell, or don't sell. I have it on good authority that most local authors sell six to ten copies at a two-hour signing. I usually do ten to fifteen sales per event.

9.)Check in with the manager before you leave. Build a relationship with the manager and staff, and you won't go wrong. They'll be glad to have you back.

10.) Send the store manager a thank-you email. This is just common courtesy. Within one week after your event, send that email, and mean it. Tell them what an awesome time you had, and leave room for a future return.

There you have it, folks. There are a lot of folks who spout "the rules" and such, and not all of them know a hoot of what they're talking. But I'm telling you, if you follow these ten steps, you'll not only have a great time at your signing, you'll make sales as well as fans, and fans are a writer's best friends.

And we could all use some more friends, right?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Heroes! Part 2

Greetings, fellow castaways.

This week, let's look at more heroes, examining the Hero Type.

I've said before that heroes are no more than ordinary people, placed in extraordinary circumstances, that simply decide that those circumstances are not going to be the end of them.

But I've come to know that defining "Hero" is a whole lot more complicated than that. I've seen heroes who are born to the role. When I see a two-year-old place himself between his sister and danger, there's more to that "hero" thing than ordinary people. I don't know of too many toddlers who would face down who he sees as a giant wielding a knife against his sister, even if I was only showing her that a knife means "owie," and to stay away from owies.

We see heroes in our warriors, who wouldn't normally do what we're asking them to do, in that they volunteer to be subjected to unimaginable fear and violence, to place themselves between evil and the innocent.

We see them in police and firefighters, who go to work every day with no guarantee they'll make it home for supper that night.

But heroes aren't always those action stars of our world. We also see heroes in those who take stands politically or socially. Little old ladies who sit on buses. People who challenge the norms of our very society, who make us rethink our own paradigms. Teachers who inspire greatness in their students. My high school physiology teacher remains to this day one of my greatest heroes, because he not only made complex systems simple to understand, but he excited us all with the minute workings of the human body. My junior high school speech teacher was 4-foot-6, but she drove us to tackle ogres and giants of stage fright and performance fears.

I write about heroes who charge through flames, fight the bad guys, storm the mountain fortress, rescue the princess, and even heroes who cook fabulous dinners, research the answer, pull cures for diseases out of their hats, and lead investigations. But these are only a small portion of the true heroes of our world.

I believe, now that I think of it, that a better definition of "hero" is "One who inspires greatness in others, through thought or through deed." That opens up a whole lot of room for heroes.

Who's yours?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Heroes! Part 1

Greetings, fellow Castaways.

First off, if you haven't signed up to follow the blog, feel free to join up! I'll try not to bore you too much.

This week, the concept for discussion is one that comes up once in a while when a reader asks me about my series, and that is the question of what makes a hero. It's a good question, because, after all, every good story has a hero, and they come in all shapes and sizes, from J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbits to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver, to Robert A. Heinlein's Friday, to the Brave Little Toaster and the Beaudelaire Orphans.

So let's look at how we define the term, with a few examples, and why we see them as heroes, from the strictly obvious point of view of the kid who should have paid more attention in English Class. If anyone of you have any Creative Writing background in College or what have you, feel free to jump into the discussion (plenty of room for comments at the end).

The first and most obvious Hero Type is the Warrior.

Here we have a classic example. St. George, our knight in shining armor, rides in to rescue the virgin from the horrible, fire-breathing dragon. Today, our warriors are still seen as heroes, and rightly so.

These photo shows another take on the warrior image of heroism. Though no less heroes than the previous example, these men's faces show the horrible cost incurred on the title. They were Marines on Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest and hard-fought battles of World War II. But even among this type, there are several sub-types of Hero, from those who signed up willingly, to the draftee just trying to stay alive long enough to get back home. But the significance of the title of Hero is not diminished by circumstances.

I've said once that Heroes are not born as extraordinary people; rather they are ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, just doing what needs to be done. And I could still say that, to an extent, that holds true.

I was fifteen years old, a member of my local Sheriff's cadet post. The court pulled some strings to get me in, even though I was technically too young. It seems the judge thought I just needed something to keep me busy, something more constructive than the "hobbies" that had me standing in front of him. So take it from me, I was no hero at fifteen. But my story continues:

Part of my involvement was a 40-hour First Aid course that was the most thorough training I'd ever seen, and that included my instructor training in Battlefield Aid in the Air Force (I was my squadron's instructor for three years, but that's a different story).

I was at a family party with my father and brother, standing in the back yard of one of Dad's friends, when a crash and scream came from the house. Out the back door came the young son of the host, running and screaming, holding one arm out in front of him. That arm was a shredded wreck of flesh streaming blood across his lawn (he'd put it through a plate glass window, with predictable results). That first aid training kicked in automatically, and I grabbed him. I was terrified when I saw the damage to his arm, but the part of me that knew what to do overrode the fear. I dragged him back into the house, grabbed a wet dish rag, and clamped it onto the worst of the gashes. Then I raised his arm and with my other hand, I found the artery feeding his arm, pressing it against his bone to shut off the blood flow to the arm.

I saw Mike again several years later, and he showed me the scars. They were worse than I ever imagined. But he thanked me for saving his life. At the time, I swear, that was not on my mind. I was just doing what needed to be done.

That kind of instinct defines the warrior type. They are essentially people of action. And I call it an instinct, even though training is a critical part of the response as well. My younger son is a hero, and I can see it in the way he runs to the crisis.

He was eight years old when the local Homecoming Festival closed at the end of the weekend (they still have the festival, by the way. It wasn't closing, like for good), the owner of the local alligator sanctuary was packing his inventory away for the trip back to the shop. Among the "little friends" Dave had brought with him was a five-foot American Alligator, who was a huge hit with the kids. No, he didn't take anyone's arm off, in fact he was quite docile the whole weekend. Until closing time, when Dave and his assistant tried to stuff that 'gator into a military-style duffle bag for transport.

That 'gator swung his tail around on Dave's assistant's bare back with a smack!  that I swear was heard around the world. The welt rose immediately, like he'd just taken a flogging from a foot-wide bullwhip. My boy, that eight-year-old wonder, ran ten steps to that table before I could stop him, and Dave barely had time to get one hand loose and wave him off with a panicked "NO!!!"

Shannon just can't help it. Someone screams, and he runs to the trouble. I hope he never joins the military, because he's going to find his way to the hottest part of whatever trouble is going on, and that would make a nervous dad. Yes, he's first aid trained. I can feel good with that. But he has a hero's instinct, even from the first days he could walk.

The Warrior heroes in my series are Jon Daniels and Jenna Paine. I count Jenna, because even though she's technically not a "good guy," she still counts a s hero of the Warrior Type, in that she's a person of radical action, from instinct and training.

I think I'm going to continue this discussion in future posts, because to be honest, we're getting into other territory that will take more space than just a quick blog read.

But the Warrior Hero Type is the One Who Comes To The Rescue. Whee-ha.

Talk to you next week when we take on the next type. I may even have a term for him/her.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jenna Lives

Greetings and welcome, to all who have seen and wonder what those words mean. Consider yourselves at home, and welcome. Drag up a comfy chair while I explain. And for those already familiar with Jenna and her exploits, this is (almost) a spoiler.

Jenna Lives.

It's a good thing for Jenna, and a bad thing for anyone who's ever been on her bad side. And to let you in on a secret: She's not done yet.

When we first met her, Jenna was a promising young physical therapist, companion and rehab aide to Nadia Velasquez. So what went wrong? I mean, besides being embroiled in a deadly secret that could mean the death of millions of people. Well, oh-so-awesome readers, the answers are in my first, EPIC-Award-winning novel, Becoming NADIA (Click on the picture to see more):

Becoming NADIA

"Whoa there," you say. "What do you mean, Jenna's one of the bad guys? She's such a nice person, so sweet and kind, and"

...oh, forget it. She damn near killed Jon, and at the end of this one, she totally destroys---

*wags finger* Ah, ah, ah. You almost made me tell.

Okay, she's one of the bad guys.  But she's really not a bad person. Or is she? In my second novel, Unalive, Jenna comes head to head with the agenda behind her bosses' stated goals, and learns a secret about herself as well that could mean the difference between life or death. In the process, she manages to not destroy Las Vegas or half the Eastern Seaboard as she puts two and two together in a way doesn't quite add up to five.

"Okay," you ask, "so she's really not one of the bad guys?"

Well, no, not really.

"Then she's a good guy?"

Well, no, not really. As a matter of fact, by now, you're either going to love Jenna or hate her. And we're just getting started. I mean, if you were betrayed like she was, you'd be royally pissed, right? And where vengeance is concerned, "good" and "bad" are off the table. the only thing that matters is simple, final and bloody retribution. This time, all the stops are pulled, no measure is spared, and Jenna is willing to give everything including her own life to make sure The Pinnacle never again pose a threat to her or anyone under her protection. She just might, at that.

Critical Mass

"So," you ask, "How does one get started in the awesome, ass-kicking, super-agent business, anyway?"

Sherman, set the Way-Back Machine about twenty years before the events in Becoming NADIA. Let's check in on Jenna when she was just a little...girl? Okay, let's call a spade a spade. To some, she's a girl. To others, she's nothing more than Project 14-257. What's the price for a life? What's the price for peace? When it's measured in blood, is there still room to turn around and walk out? Not according to some. Check out this one, folks:

Lies and Paine

So now you've been introduced. It's my hope that Jenna becomes as real to you as she's become to me, that she finds a place in your heart and mind, and that truly:

Want a sticker of your own? Email me at cyrus dot keith at yahoo dot com and ask. We'll get one to you. If you feel like buying my books, I certainly won't stand in your way. My work is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and a good dozen or so other retailers.

Thank you for stopping by. I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

D-Day: A Rememberance.

Good morning, fellow Castaways.

I promise I won't do this too often, but it is something that needs to be said today. Today is the 71st anniversary of the D-Day Invasions, and to me is a day of introspection and remembrance because of the significance in so many ways of the operation.

It was the largest amphibious invasion in history. More than 5,000 ships landed 156,000 soldiers on the beaches, beginning at 6:30AM. 24,000 men were inserted just after midnight, dropped by parachute or landed using assault gliders. So as I write this, the echoes of one of the largest struggles of man against man still ring through endless time. Of that number, 4,414 were confirmed dead by the end of the day, with more than three time that missing or wounded. German casualties were over 1,000 killed, and over 3,000 civilians lost their lives as well.

It was the beginning of the end of the Third Reich , the initiation of the liberation of Europe from Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. The landings took place in June of 1944. By the end of August of 1944, France was once again a free republic. Germany fell by May of 1945. The United States, Britain, Canada, and Free France joined together to make it all happen beginning on that very day 71 years ago.

In no way should we glorify war. The beaches were a meat grinder of cataclysmic proportions as men fought and died by the thousand. Forget the "good guys, bad guys" thinking. Just leave it behind. On one side, we have the Allied forces and their desire to remove Hitler from Europe. On the other side, we have German men and boys who were defending a threat to their homeland. It was a perfect picture of Hell itself, and no man or woman should have to go through it again, ever.

But as long as evil exists in this world, we will have men and women who will stand up with their very last breath and say, "No, you will not conquer. No, you will not enslave. No, you will not oppress." We as  free people must remain ready to stand between evil and the innocent, to protect with our lives the liberties given us by our Creator, and ensured by good and strong leaders.

We have to remember the horrible cost paid by those who came before, as an example for us to follow: not to die, but to fight with our very lives for freedom.

You wonder why I look with such disdain at our Big Brother culture, why I value personal liberty so highly? I look no further than my own father in law, who went ashore at the Anzio Beachhead in Italy, in the Third Wave.

The liberty they fought and shed blood for was the level little understood by many people today, who see nothing wrong with laying down their freedom for security. Folks wonder why we crotchety old farts shy away from "the new order" of things.  Today is a prime example why.

God Bless the USA.

Monday, May 11, 2015

You're Doing It Wrong!

The following story is entirely made up. Nothing actually happened. The point is the point, and that, my friends, is the point.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was practicing piano one day when a guest strolled into the parlor. He listened to Mozart roll through scales and arpeggios for a couple minutes, and then ten seconds after the master began playing his latest piece, the stranger cleared his throat.

"Excuse me, sir, you're doing it wrong."

Mozart stopped, hands frozen above the keyboard. "I'm sorry?"

"You're doing it wrong, sir. Your left hand is playing all these weird notes on the bottom of the keyboard, and your right hand is way to high. There's too much distance between them."

"Is that right?" said Mozart. "Can you tell me how you knew this?"

A smug grin spread across the intruder's face as he continued to explain that he'd read a book once about how to play piano, and though he hated piano music, he knew all he needed to about how to play piano. "And," he concluded, "that is why I know you're doing it wrong."

"So you've never taken any lessons?" asked the master.

"No, I despise the sound of a piano, myself."

"But you've read a book about piano music?"

"Yes, sir." The grin disappeared, replaced by a wimpish pout. "In addition, if you really want people to enjoy your music, you're just going to have to play on a more elementary level. All these fancy notes and runs and things just make less talented people feel bad that they can't keep up with you. We have to make it fair for others. You're just not inclusive enough." And with that, he produced a pair of handcuffs and slapped them across Mozart's wrists.

Mozart stared at his hands. Who was this man anyway? He hated piano music, but he had the gall to come into Mozart's own study and tell him how to play. Mozart reflected back on his years as a musician, learning the mechanics of sound, chord structure, music theory, all the hours and years he'd spent perfecting his craft, living his love for music out loud in every piece he wrote. And to top it off, he restricted the master's ability to play the way he best knew how!

 But, as he looked again at his hands, Mozart decided to take on this challenge, to defy this upstart and prove him wrong once and for all. He started to play again, and true to form, he worked around the restraints placed on his ability. Even though he couldn't spread his hands to play the full length of the keyboard, he used the range he had to play a beautiful, sad concerto in G minor.

He no sooner played the last notes when once again the stranger stepped in. Hauling a wire cutter from his pocket, he then proceeded to snip and remove every third string from the sound board of the baby grand. As he cut and pulled, he said through gritted teeth, "You're doing it wrong. You can't play those notes again. I'm afraid we'll have to step in and make sure you play the right way."

"What's with this 'we'," asked Mozart in frustration. "Do you have a mouse in your pocket? I don't see a 'we' anywhere in here!"

The intruder wheeled and waved his handful of wires under Mozart's nose. "We are those who know best, Mr. Mizzart. We have to show you, you don't have a monopoly on the right way to play music." Tossing the collection of strings into a corner wastebasket, he added. "We've arranged for you to take oboe lessons, by the way. If you don't understand other instruments, you'll never be a musician worthy of performing."

Then he walked out.

We spend way too much time telling others that we know better than they do about how to live their lives, how to conduct their faith, how to run their businesses, how to raise their children, even how to write their own stories, that we have no idea how much a hypocrite we're proving ourselves.

My bible tells me every man (and woman) must work out their own salvation between them and God. Yes, there are certain things that are laid out as basic. As a Christian, I profess faith in Jesus Christ as my God and Savior. Jews have their own faith system, Muslims their own. Even atheists have a faith system, though getting one to admit it is like pulling teeth.

So why is it that people who have no faith spend so much time lecturing people of faith how they need to conduct that faith? So you're going to tell me who I can worship, how I'm supposed to worship Him, what worship standards are acceptable to YOU? I don't go into a Baptist church and start prophesying in tongues. I don't march into a synagogue and demand everyone bend their knee to Jesus. Don't tell me you've read a bible and then tell me what Christianity is, when you have no concept of the Spirit of God working miracle after miracle in your life, when you have no appreciation or idea of the life that I find in these words and promises from a Being beyond  all our comprehension.

And then I see people screaming at each other on Facebook these hate-filled, ignorant memes, heaving vitriol at each other across the aisle.

Whatever happened to civil discourse?

Maybe it's just me, but our world has grown less kind in the last thirty or so years. What do we do to fix it?

I'm open to suggestions.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Man Up!

Greetings, fellow castaways on the distant shores of the mind. This week, I want to take a look at a lost art, a form our modern culture has told you is "old-fashioned," "out of style," "archaic," or out of line with this modern, "enlightened" culture. It's art of being a man. More specifically, a gentleman.

Gentlemen are labeled these days a male chauvinists. Groups like Promise Keepers are dragged through mud, nit-picked to death, bullied and scorned. The going image is one of knuckle-dragging brutes, dominating and overlording their spouses and children, perpetuating male domination to the detriment of everyone else.

Well, I've been to a Promise Keepers function, and I can tell you it's nothing like that. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. It's a holding accountable of every man to a high standard of conduct honoring and cherishing his partner and children. Paul's letter to Ephesus lays it down in no uncertain terms: Ephesians 5:25 says this: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Loving my wife in  that context means laying down my entire life to protect and honor her. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Being a gentleman is NOT outdated. It's more important than ever that every man learn what it means to be a man. Androgyny may be the fashion, but it's not conducive to a functional society. There are rules for courtesy for a reason. They keep a society from falling apart and devouring itself like a suicidal cannibal. And if there is going to be a United States, or any other country, left in fifty years, we need to reestablish rules of courtesy by which we can get along. And we all need to get along.  Look at Facebook if you don't believe me.

Change has to start somewhere, folks. It can be a little thing in the beginning, and it can grow. So, to quote Michael Jackson, I'm starting with the Man in the Mirror. That means I'm defining to myself what it means to be a gentleman. I'll let you see why in a moment.

1.) A gentleman knows when to hold his tongue. That means clamping my mouth shut rather than respond to the latest hate-post from Bernie Sanders. As much as I growl and seethe, Sometimes I just have to clench and look away. Especially if saying something would be the same thing as throwing a diamond to a gorilla. Some people will not be convinced, no matter what I say or how many times I repeat it. So I'm just going to shut up and walk on. Some fights just are not worth the headache and backlash you're going to generate by jumping in. If everyone on Facebook would just shut the hell up one extra time per day, the internet will be a safer and more civil place by at least 1%.

2.) A gentleman honors and protects a woman's dignity. Period. Not that a woman can't defend her own honor.  It's a respect thing.  And while we're talking respect, how about I respect other men as well? Everyone is worthy of honor and respect, until they prove themselves to be otherwise. That means no name-calling, period. Terms like "stupid," "wacko," "nut-job," and "clown" will not cross my lips, as much as I want to launch out.

3.) A gentleman won't take the first punch, unless his life or safety is in direct jeopardy. If he does have to take that punch, he makes it count. A gentleman is not a wimp. He knows when to walk away, which is always. If he's cornered, he takes every option necessary to win his way out of it, for his own safety and anyone else with him. He fights to get out of the situation, and knows rules of engagement are out the window when lives are on the line. He will always place himself between evil and the innocent.

4.) A gentleman places others before himself. He lays his own life down for the sake of his wife and children. He provides for them, protects them, and makes himself accountable to them.

5.) A gentleman allows room for disagreement without condemnation. He does not judge people on what they do or don't believe, on their appearance including skin color, or on their actions. He allows room for the Ultimate Judge to render judgment. He does not compromise his own beliefs or faith, but he does not appoint himself as the Last Prophet, standing on the hilltop and pointing fingers. Because he himself is no better a person than anyone else.

The bottom line is this: I'm talking to that man in the mirror. I'm holding him accountable to a higher standard of behavior, one that makes peace with those with whom he deals, on all fronts. It might mean he has to be a little less opinionated, a little more restrained. But if I'm going to make this Civility thing work, I have to start somewhere.

Who's with me? 

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Yam What I Yam

I'm tired, folks.

I'm tired of being labeled. I'm tired of trolls coming out of the woodwork to level accusation against people they don't know from Adam, whom they have never met and about whom they know nothing, aside from a single statement with which they disagree, and so they heap derision and vitriol instead of bringing value to create a civil discourse.

So here's the deal, folks:

1.) I am an American, and I refuse to apologize for it.

The United States went from a ragged collection of subservient colonies, to the world's greatest superpower, in less than 200 years. No, I'm not proud of the way certain people groups were treated throughout our history. Remember, I was around when they were using fire-hoses and German Shepherds against people for just being black. But I didn't wield those hoses, nor release those dogs, and I refuse to be held accountable for it. Nor do I have any ancestors who forced the Algonquin to march the Trail of Tears. I live in a village who has been at peace with our tribe for nearly 200 years. So don't even go there, bucko.

This country is exceptional: First to mass manufacture. First in Flight. First to the Moon. First to harness the Atom. This nation leads the world in cleaning our air and water, preserving our natural resources. We feed the world. We played major parts in settling two world wars. The last thing I need is to hear our own president (or anyone else) trying to tear down the great accomplishments of our citizens, our entrepreneurs, our inventors, our doctors and heroes of all trades. Americans have done great things for the world. Yes, wonderful things happened in other countries as well. But America is exceptional for an abundance of reasons, and I will debate anyone who thinks otherwise.

2.) I am a man, and I refuse to apologize for it.

I'm not just a male of the species Homo Sapiens. I'm a man, which means more. I believe in keeping my word to the best of my ability. I don't haggle; make me your offer, and make it a good one. Don't waste my time. And don't even think you can dishonor my family or friends with impunity. I love my family, and I lay my life down to provide for and protect them. I believe in a man's right to take care of his own problems within the bounds of the law, and I believe in a law structure that allows a man the freedom to do so, as necessary to address the situation.

Now, if someone differs with me on those platforms, you're free to do so. Yay you. But if you come after me in a way that attacks me as a person, or pours vitriol into a conversation without making a sound point, I will call you on it. I'll stay civil, but I'm going to start calling trolls out for who they are.

Now, let's actually have some discussions.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Better Me, A Better You

Those of you who have known me through the years have seen a lot of changes. Forty years ago began the darkest times of my life, a period that would last ten years. For you math whizzes, I was fourteen then, beginning the most awkward part of the most awkward part of any kid's life.

I found shelter from the world in drinking, and smoking cigarettes and dope. Yep, started early, I did. About the same time, I discovered hard rock. The big acts then were Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Queen, Pink Floyd, Nazareth, and others. I'd get home from school, go to my room, get stoned and listen to the rock station from Chicago while I did my homework. And then I'd spend the rest of the night reading science fiction and fantasy, or drawing in pencil, hidden from the world. I just couldn't see myself fitting in with what anyone else was doing, saying, wearing, or being.

Always a day late and a dollar short, I just couldn't keep up with my peers. I didn't play sports, didn't belong to any clubs, and had no interests that meshed with theirs. When I had to join in conversations, as in group discussions in class, anything I said was met with blank stares, as if I'd just announced I was from Mars and had come to vaporize the town. Later, I realized that very few of my audience understood what I was saying because of my advanced vocabulary.

Later, in my last two years in high school, I found a circle of friends with whom I did share an interest, and that was theater. We were the classes that put together the plays and musicals, provided tech support. Even then, I felt I was on the fringe, outside the group as a whole.

I was in my mid-twenties when I figured out that the only way to stop feeling so miserable, so marginalized, was to simply be myself and stop apologizing for the way I spoke, the way I dressed, or the way I believed. By then I was able to quit smoking, I fought to victory over my addictions and found a better way to live.

What this week's post is about is getting along, with yourself and others, by ceasing to apologize for being you. I haven't walked in your shoes, and you haven't walked in mine. I can't ask you to understand what operates in my mind when I'm around certain types of people, because you don't have the same experiences I have. Scars remain, and though these particular individuals may mean me no harm, they may dress like, or have the same mannerisms or appearance, or the personality types of those who have done me grievous harm on the past. I may even have the same effect on you. And as humans, we tend to carry those scars in such a way that it effects our ability to interact with anyone who brings fresh light to those wounds from the past.

But we can't let scars dictate our peace. We can't let past hurts forbid us to be civil and courteous with others, no matter who they are. I may never be your friend. But I can sit at the same table and share a meal with you. I may not like you as a person. But that is no excuse for not treating you with respect and kindness. You don't have to prove yourself to me any more than I have to prove myself to you.

The key point is, I don't have to change myself for you, and you don't have to change yourself for me. But what we do owe each other is simple courtesy. And if you can't say something to my face, don't say it to my Facebook. You'll notice by my own Facebook posts that I live by my words. I don't post Bernie Sanders memes, and I don't launch attacks on anyone's beliefs. That's not just because I want to sell books (I do, but that's beside the point), but because the web is a hostile enough environment, and I'm just trying to be a little more peaceable in my corner of it. It doesn't mean I don't involve myself in discussions. But it does mean I will refuse to behave like a troll, and I think I'm right in expecting like behavior from those with whom I interact.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. But the key is to be yourself, and respect others being themselves.

Turn on the Light.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Now in Paperback: Critical Mass!

Wow, has it really been a full month since I came by? I am so sorry, folks. Truth is, there are several good reasons. Life threw us a wicked curve ball last December that we had to take care of. But the issue is good now, the outlook is awesome, and I give full and complete credit to a dedicated team of doctors who saw a red flag for what it was, and used God-given wisdom and skill to slay four horrible dragons in our household. Being as these dragons were chewing on other parties and I don't have specific permission to share, I'll remain discrete about details. But suffice to say, we've been very busy for the past several weeks, and the results are very good.

However, that's not what I came by to talk about. Many of my readers have been asking when the third installment of The NADIA Project is going to release in print form. There have been delays upon delays for which I apologize to you and lay no blame on circumstances beyond control, but now, here she is... (Drum roll... Curtain rising... Brass fanfare...Release the cheerleaders...Drop the confetti!)

Critical Mass

Jenna Paine is a super spy, genetically enhanced to be more than human. Nadia
Velasquez is a living weapon of mass destruction. When the secret organization
who built them both decides they are no longer useful, two enemies are thrown
together for the only purposes they could have in common: survival and revenge.
There's only one way out of The Pinnacle, and that's on a coroner's slab. Jenna
lives through a treacherous attack vowing to exact her vengeance on the people
who trained her to be the most deadly agent on the planet.

Wounded and on the run, she turns to the man who's sworn to make her face
charges for her involvement in The Pinnacle's nefarious schemes.

After years spent hiding from The Pinnacle, Nadia runs into the one thing she
never counted on: Shelf life. As her body breaks down, she realizes it's only a
matter of the short time she has left to redeem her existence and give her daughter
a chance to live free.

In the final showdown, the two transhumans join forces against a common
enemy, and The Pinnacle come to know the deadly significance of…
Critical Mass

And what would a rollout be without an excerpt?

A slim young nurse came in through the side door and
motioned to Jon. When he stood, she drew back, inviting him to follow. Jon looked
back at Irving, checked for the rest of the security team, and went through.

The nurse gave him a running report as he followed her down one hall after
another. “Your suspect is in recovery now. He’s waking up. The wounds were
severe, but he’s going to make it.”

Jon followed her through two sets of double doors that opened when she held a
card in front of a scanner. “In here,” she droned, “Bed 17—” She stopped dead in
the center aisle, her hands limp at her sides. Three federal officers and the staff
nurse lay sprawled on the floor in widening pools of blood. Along the wall on the
right side of the ward, a conspicuously empty spot where a bed should have been
was strewn about with the refuse of haste: blood smears on the floor and walls,
supplies spilled from their drawers and cabinets, an IV stand lying on its side.

Jon’s hand leapt to the radio microphone clipped to his collar. “Pete, Will!
Lock the hospital down, now! We have an incident.”

His shout knocked the nurse out of her shock. She sprinted to a small panel on
the wall and punched a large blue button. Before she reached the first victim, a
smooth tone sounded through the PA, followed by a female’s calm, practiced
voice: “Code Blue, Station Two.”

Kneeling down next to another of the inert bleeding forms, Jon checked the
wounds: a single, deep slash across the throat. Bright red arterial blood was still
pulsing onto the floor, though the strength of the spurts was weakening at an
alarming rate. “This one’s alive, but barely. How’s that one?”

The nurse’s voice was choked, hoarse, as if she’d been screaming inside her
own head since they’d walked into this nightmare. “He’s gone.” She looked over at
Jon. “Use your finger and thumb. Press on the arteries on either side of his
windpipe. I’ll be right there.” She stood and yanked the top drawer open on a crash
cart against the nearest wall. A second later, she was crouching next to Jon on the
floor, tearing open a suture kit. “Okay, get out of the way. Check on Susan.”

The doors burst open. In reflex, Jon rolled over. His pistol slid easily from his
shoulder rig. The group running into the ward stopped dead, their hands raised as
they saw the 9mm. Jon’s heart pounded in his throat. As he recognized the scrubs
and uniforms, he lowered his weapon, hands shaking.

Pandemonium erupted as the team flew into action. Jon stumbled over to a
wall. His left hand came up to his face to cover the tears rising in his eyes, but he
stopped when he saw the red blur. His hand was covered in Isaac Simpson’s blood.
His legs collapsed and he slid to the floor amid the voices of the crash team,
working on Isaac and the staff nurse. “O-negative over here, I need blood now!”
Another voice came from the other side of the room. “Susan? Susan, come on. Stay
with us, hon. Dammit, breathe!

The radio on his hip broke squelch. “Shots fired! Shots fired on the front lawn,
officer needs assistance!” In the background, Jon heard the bark of pistol fire.
That snapped Jon back to reality. Dammit, I’m done being helpless. Let’s get
these bastards…
He fought back to his feet. The weight of the pistol in his hand
reassured him as he walked, then ran toward the front of the hospital. Anger
spurred him on, faster and faster. His feet pounding in the halls matched his racing
pulse as he burst through the foyer and out into the front lawn.

Two agents were down, but they’d accounted for three of the enemy. Will
Houghmaster hunched behind a low brick wall, ducking down as another hail of
bullets flew from the two remaining Pinnacle attackers in hospital garb. A third
was helping a gown-garbed man into the back of an SUV.

Jon never broke stride. He dashed across the lawn, making a beeline for the
vehicle. The enemy agents turned their fire on him. He might have ducked, might
have even run away, but now, he was too mad. He ran harder, his anger turning
into a furious, heart-pounding rage. The man helping the other into the SUV was
just closing the door when Jon crashed into him. The door slammed shut on the
man’s arm. He screamed at the loud, harsh crack as the bone gave way.
Kicking back from the SUV’s side, Jon fired into the driver and ducked as
bullets whined around him.

A loud wet slap to his left caught his attention, and he turned his head to see
one of the remaining gunmen hit the ground under Will’s fire.

Jon snapped off two more shots at the lone remaining Pinnacle agent. One of
them hit home, and blood sprayed from the man’s chest as he fired back.

Something punched Jon in the thigh. A moan crawled from his throat as he
dropped to the grass. The dull pain in his thigh rose to a screeching crescendo as
his own hot blood spilled over his hands.

Footsteps hurried across the grass. More than one strike team… another attack
— Jon tried to raise his weapon, but it suddenly felt so heavy, he couldn’t lift his
arm. His vision closed to a tunnel. Hurts…

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review: The Burned Bridges Protocol, by Abigail Borders

Good evening, fellow castaways. It's not every day I get to discover a new author for whom I'm excited to see their next work, but here she is, Ms. Abigail Borders.

First off, I do need to let you know I've been acquainted with Abigail for better than a year, and we swap critiques on a pretty regular basis. That said, Abigail Borders' first published work The Burned Bridges Protocol was not one I'd seen other than a cursory glance and beta read of the first chapter. And I'm glad it was that way, so I could appreciate the final product without having already seen any of the previous rewrites or versions.

Click the image for the buy page.
 Seven hundred years ago, disaster forced humanity to abandon Earth. Life on the colony ship New Edinburgh is all sixteen-year-old Lilliane, the best programmer in her year at the Institute, has ever known. 

A week ago, Lilliane woke up in a life-pod. Its destination? Earth itself. Because it's time to rebuild. It's up to Lilliane and the four other survivors of the New Edinburgh to reclaim humanity's ancestral home.

Today, the life pod arrived at Lady Diana--the lunar holding station that was once the luxury holiday destination for Earth's super-rich. It's supposed to be a good place. A safe place.

Not anymore.

Today, Lady Di is a battlefield. Because while Lilliane and her friends thought they they were the only humans left, somebody else got to Lady Di first.

And he will stop at nothing to keep Lilliane from ever getting to Earth.

Enjoy it I did. First off, it's an easy read. And by easy, I mean the words flow so easily through my brain that it's not work to read. I finished this in just a few hours. It's a short work, too at just over 200 pages, and the print is a bit larger than many other recent works I've read. It's marketed as a novella, which is  just shy of a full novel-length work.

Which leads into my one minor criticism of the book: It could be longer. One or two scenes, in my opinion, could have been filled out just a fuzzy more. But don't let that stop you from diving in head-first and devouring it.

I promise no plot-spoilers, but it's not easy. I want to tell you all how it starts with a "What the..." and ends with an "Oh, wow," and fills the pages between with more than one "I did NOT see that one coming!"

I can guarantee your mouth will drop open when you get to the reason for the title of the book. It takes a lot to surprise me like that, but she did it. I think what I like the most is Abigail's sense of humor, a twisted, tongue-in-cheek kind of style that reminds me of a fluffy pink bunny riding a werewolf's shoulder and pointing at Elmer Fudd while screaming "There he is: Get him!"

I should have expected this from Abigail, but with an imagination as lively as hers, it's hard to know what to expect at any given time. And in this case, that's a very good thing.

Five thumbs up.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tried and True: You Are A Weapon

"Tried and true." Has anyone ever thought about the origin of that phrase? We all know what it means. It means the person in question has proven themselves to be loyal, truthful, and trustworthy.

But it has another connotation as well, and it comes from the very origin of the phrase. It comes from many sources, among which are listed as in woodworking. "Trying" a board was to work it to a straight edge which was found to be "true" when it was perfectly straight and ready to be joined. "Trying" is also used in the practice of smithy. At least, I heard my father use it (He was a machinist) in the context of testing a metal for purity by heating a sample in fire, watching for a change in the color of the metal as it melts as well as a color change in the flame around it. A metal was "tried and true" if it was pure and could be made into a straight blade. But that second definition is, I will freely admit, apocryphal at best. You can choose whether to accept it or not. But I'm going with it for the purposes of this post, and you can determine in your own mind after I've made my point whether it's suitable.

So whether you're working with wood or metal, "tried and true" has similar context: A working, a chipping away of what doesn't fit, a shaving off of substance, a burning out. A highly uncomfortable situation, worked at the hands of a master craftsman, to make something suitable for use. If you are willing to see yourself as a piece of wood or a piece of metal, see yourself in the hands of a master carpenter or a master smith. One who wants to work you into a "tried and true" condition.

Some of the finest swords ever made were found in Viking tombs or found buried at ancient battlefields where Viking warriors, among the best fighters in history, made their mark. The best of these had one thing in common: they bore an inlaid maker's mark on their blade: "+Ulfberh+t." The mysterious Ulfbehrt who made these was never identified in person, but his legacy was the mark left on the world by fearless warriors who carried these highly-sought blades into battle. They were lighter than their contemporaries, and were very flexible as well as strong. When they met strong side forces, they flexed and sprang back rather than bending or breaking. This led many to believe they had magical properties. But they were just better made than anything else in their day.

You can check out this video if you want, but I'm going to save you an hour and explain it my own way.

First off, the blacksmith had to start with the right iron. Metal used in Ulfbehrts was found to have a higher carbon content and be more pure than most other metals used in weaponry of the day. This is because the iron was smelted at a much higher temperature than other weapons. So the craftsman started with superior stock. This high-quality iron most likely came from somewhere in central Asia or the middle east, via one of the Viking trade routes. The point here is that the material is sought specifically. The steel that came from these far places was called crucible steel.

This steel was harder to work than most other types, because if the smith wasn't careful, the metal would crack and the whole slug would be worthless. It had to be heated in the forge and hammered out on an anvil over a period of hours, just to get it formed into a basic shape. We're talking about eight to twelve hours per blade.

Then the tip was formed. The Ulfbehrt was given a longer, more tapered tip, which gave it more penetrating power through mail armor. That meant more hammering, another three to four hours' work.

Then the master put his name on the work. Using a cold chisel, he carved out his trademark into the side of the blade, and then filled it by hammering iron wire into the grooves. It was then heated again to set the letters in place. After this, the fuller is hammered into the blade. This is a groove that runs the length of the blade. This lightens the blade and strengthens it, the way that an "I" beam is stronger and lighter than a straight steel beam in buildings.

The next step is to harden the blade. It's heated again until it glows a consistent orange color, and then it's plunged into a pool of oil to quench it, or quickly cool it. It actually affects the steel on an atomic level, making it even stronger. This is a critical point in the process, and the blade will either harden into a spring-steel masterpiece, or crack into a useless hunk of metal.

Then comes the polishing. It gets tempered first in another heat treatment, and then polished for several more hours. It's burnished to a bright gleam, and then the craftsman washes it with a mild acid to bring out the letters of the inlay and to seal the surface.

Then it's applied to a stone for sharpening, and fitted with a handle. The end result is a high-quality weapon for use in any battle.

Now, are you ready for my point?

You are that metal, sought after and precious to the Craftsman who forges you. You go through the ordeals of life like a crucible, the heating, the melting, the bonding and the additives in that closed, sealed place in the fire.

Then you are broken from the crucible, and the crucible itself is destroyed in making you free. But you're not done yet. All the ordeals in your life have brought you to this point, where you're ready for use. The Master puts His name in you, and the process isn't comfortable. You wonder when it's going to be over, because the fire, the heat, the stoning, turns minutes into hours, turns days into years.

But you're here now. You're here to war for others, not against flesh and blood, but war emotionally, spiritually. You have wondered why you had to go through it. But when you are there for someone else, and you can be strong for them, you know. So don't despise the trials of life. Don't hate the furnace. It's doing its job to shape you into a weapon against despair, against hatred, against the darkness in someone else's life

I know what I'm talking about. I have lost ten people, mostly family, through cancer. One brother is dead from a drug overdose. Two of my family right now struggle with life-threatening situations, and another is awaiting test results that could tell them whether they have the same type of cancer that killed my younger sister five years ago.

But I'm good. Because I know my craftsman. I trust Him to forge me, to polish and hone me into a tool, a weapon against darkness.

So I write this to encourage you, who are going through your own mill, your own crucible experience. I want you to know, you got this. Because somewhere, someone down the line, someone else is going to need your strength, your sharpness, your flexibility.

You're good. Now go get'em.