What me Worry?

Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite sci-fi writers, had a huge influence on my reading habits during my young developmental years.  Recently read a very good article discussing some of his thoughts on writing.  Worth reading, especially if you write.

A couple of the remarks he made struck home with me.

Don’t think too hard:

The intellect is a great danger to creativity . . . because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth—who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads “Don’t think!” You must never think at the typewriter—you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.

-from a 1974 interview with James Day

Writers’ block is just a warning that you’re doing the wrong thing:

What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it? Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, aren’t you? . . . You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for. . . If you have writers’ block you can cure it this evening by stopping what you’re doing and writing something else. You picked the wrong subject.

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

I, of course, go through periods where I have trouble writing, at least on in-progress novels.  So, this “what the hell are you doing” comment about writers’ block seemed very appropriate.  I like his simplicity.  If it ain’t working, try something else.  Too often when I get bogged down in a story, I consider that fault to be me, and it’s critical that I correct my block as a personal failing.  Bradbury is suggesting it just a bad story, and you should move on to something else.  I have trouble abandoning my efforts in that it feels like giving up.  A failure.  Could be his approach is better, will have to give that more thought.

The “don’t over think” remark also fits well in my world.  There are times I completely over think everything I’m doing.  My best work was when I “felt” the story in an emotional way and the words just came.  I think my best novel was The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  Once I got started on that book it just seemed to almost write itself.  Had a little trouble at first, but once it was going it was basic truth at its best.  The characters had meaning to me.  I knew them, and it was easy to tell their story.

The Bradbury book that had the most influence on me as a teenager was Fahrenheit 451.  It had been published in 1953, but it was in the 1960s that I first read it.  In many ways I did not like the book, but it had influence on how I thought about freedom and my life.   The dystopian world he saw in the future was not that relevant to my comfortable world of the 1960s, but the threat was there to consider.  The book is probably much more relevant today than when Bradbury wrote it. 

Sci-Fi was my genre of choice when I was younger.  Later in life, my favorite books are all mystery.  But as a young man the Sci-Fi writers seem to have a clear vision into human existence, even it if it was fifty years in the future. 

Like the main character in Fahrenheit 451, the human excuse of “I was just doing my job,” has been at the center of much misery.  The sad part of that reality is that the people committing atrocities because it’s their job are good people.  I think that is why we can often identify with these trapped souls.  Really evil people exist in books and real life, but they are few compared with the “good” people doing bad stuff.  That’s what scares us; we could be that person.

I’ve always been a worrier.  Even as a young man, I worried about everything.  Much of this is because I spent a great deal of time reading and thinking.  The next step after reading and thinking, is worrying.  Bradbury’s dystopian world was a great source of worry.  Who said reading was not fun?

I still worry, but at some point, it is more habit than dread.    While I greatly appreciate Bradbury’ books and short stories; I don’t think I will re-read them.  Currently the worry part of my brain is full.

Thanks for being a reader!

New Clarity

While recuperating from my fractured knee, I’ve been isolated to a couple of rooms in my house.  They are nice rooms, but still they increasingly feel smaller and smaller.  Activity outside those rooms has been limited to doctor visits.  Been having dreams about walking upstairs and venturing out onto the deck.  It seems so wonderful.

Of course, pre-fracture, walking out onto the deck was nothing; did it almost every morning with coffee in hand.  I looked at things.  Mundane boring things.  How the plants were doing, filling the bird feeder, just looking off towards the mountains.  Now, that every day, no-thought activity has become a dream.

I think much of our life is like that.  Taken for granted and just lived, as it should be.  But then something happens, and it is suddenly different.  Often that is about health, family or even money.  Something tragic happens changing our world.  With new clarity, we can see what is important.  Maybe just a sunset viewed from the backyard deck.

My books are structured around that concept.  Of course, in my books the something that happens is usually death.  They are after all, mostly murder mysteries.  There were two tragic deaths that had great impact on me while I was writing.  I’ve mentioned before how the books are almost like living the events when I’m writing.  I lay out a general premise with an outline, but the writing itself seems to take on its own life.  The characters are developed as I’m writing.  Even though I’m creating the story, sometimes the events I’m writing about have an emotional toll on me.  I know, sounds stupid, but it happens.

The first such event occurs in The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  A critical portion of this story takes place in the 1950s in dry Oklahoma and involves a bootlegger and his mistress.  Her name was Sally.  Sally was one of the best developed and complex characters I have created.  She is the heart and soul of this book.  She was young, beautiful, independent and smart, living in a mostly backward world in 1950 Oklahoma.  She was alone and totally dependent on herself for survival in an inhospitable environment.  She plotted how to survive and selected the high-flying bootlegger, Pat, as her best option.  They fell in love.  Tragic love.  Pat had a wife and son, and while he was very much in love with Sally, it was not meant to be. 

Sally left Pat because she was pregnant and knew it was never going to work out between them.  She gave birth to a daughter in Chicago and was making ends meet, using her great looks and personality, when tragedy struck.  She became ill.  In a short time, she died.  Her sister was with her and took the child.  A child Pat never knew about.

Writing this part of the story was very emotional for me.  Sally was such a great character and yet she had to die.  It was incredibly sad.  Even thought about changing the story but didn’t; she died.  This was because it was the daughter who returns to the story in the future and is a key element to the Bootlegger’s Legacy.  It was the daughter who lived with the impact of her mother’s death.

The other tragic death was in Murder So Wrong.  The main character is Tommy Jacks, a young journalist just starting out.  He gets flung into the middle of mayhem occurring all around him and discovers his skills as a journalist.  While the story is about a newspaper war between competing papers and police corruption, it is also about Tommy’s first love.  Her name was Judy.  Tommy fell head over heels in love with Judy.  But Judy had many troubling issues.  She was beautiful, but Tommy could see the trouble in her eyes, something was very wrong. 

Judy had a tragic past that was slowing driving her mad.  During the madness she had made mistakes and now was having trouble living with her past actions.  In a scene that was extremely hard to write, Judy is shot by the police because they thought she was going to kill Tommy, she wasn’t.  I shed a few tears writing the tragic end of Judy.

Judy’s death had a great impact on Tommy.  It was this tragedy that made him the character he was in the next books in the series.

I know my broken knee is not the same as death, thank goodness.  It is only a small thing, an inconvenience, but it has changed how I see the world.  I hope I will never take for granted again a crisp morning on the deck watching the birds while sipping coffee.  It is those small things that makes life whole and enjoyable.

Thanks for being a reader!

Truth or Lie?

Never thought much about my values, they just happened.  Being raised in Oklahoma in the 1950s my childhood was molded by family, school and church.  My parents were church going people but in a casual, this is what you do, way.  Those influences gave me a strong sense of right and wrong; but my independence gave me lots of questions regarding several things on the edges.

One trait that I always believed was a measure of goodness is truth.  Sure, everybody lied some; but telling the truth was especially important to my sense of being “good.”  Of course, I lied or fibbed just like any normal person, but it was always wrong to me and brought shame.  I expect people to be flawed but I also expect a sense of shame.

My books are populated with flawed people.  While a book might be interesting in the abstract about a perfect person; most readers would quickly find the goodness of such a person boring.  Bad people are much more interesting than good people.  That, of course, is in books.  In our real lives, we want truth tellers.

Now comes the problem, how do you know who is a truth teller?  After all, much of our world is clouded in opinions masquerading as truth.  I think this or that while you think some other this or that; which is true?  Over the years I always thought I could tell what was true and who to trust by just listening to them and observing.  In business this is an important skill, to be able to discern what has value and what is junk.  Yes, this is the famous bullshit meter.  And once you identify the bullshitter, you can be guaranteed he will almost always be a bullshitter.

As a writer, my favorite characters are almost always bullshitters.  I like real life bullshitters, because they are almost always entertaining; but you can never, ever trust anything they say.  So, a bullshitter can be a casual friend but not a real friend. 

My first experience in the business world was retail and food.  Most of the people I met were “good” people, just trying to get by with a focus on their families.  Next, I became an accountant.  The accounting world is populated with some very boring people who mostly seemed to be unhappy.  They were often depressing, but if you asked a question, you got facts for an answer.  Bullshitting was a sin.  Then I ventured into M&A and venture capital.  Made good money but I do believe everyone I met was a bullshitter, and at a professional level.  However, they were never boring. 

Shading the truth to get a deal done was considered normal.  It wasn’t up to you to divulge every fact, that was the other sides responsibility, and if they didn’t do it; that’s on them.  This was the “every man for himself” world of high finance in the 1990s.  Everyone did it, so it was okay.

Many of my characters come from these people.  They were not evil just a little bad.  The ability to rationalize your behavior keeps us sane but does not make us better people.  In the Muckraker series I explored the murky world of politicians and the acceptance of the ends justified the means approach to winning. 

In case you haven’t guessed I’ve been reflecting on my choices, and how I was influenced by the people around me at different junctures in my life.  This is a process I go through while writing, incorporating my experiences and the people I’ve met into those stories.  My latest work in progress is China Deep Dive.  The story is about one of the most brazen cons I think anyone ever attempted.  At the heart of this con was an amazing ability of one man to lie in such a believable way that most people knew he was a con man but couldn’t help themselves, they went along with his schemes.  They liked him and helped him.   

I was once in a meeting with this man and a group of foreign investors who had difficulty with the English language.  This man talked and talked but made absolutely no sense.  I was sure one of the group would stand up and laugh in his face for the ridiculous things he said.  They didn’t.  They shook his hand and invested a substantial sum in his latest venture.  They corned me after the meeting and asked if I could explain what he had said, I said no.  I left and never returned.  Some people are just destined to be fleeced and nobody can help them. 

Liars often succeed.  Politicians and many other “professions” have turned lying into a weapon of mass destruction.  It seems that any meeting I was in over the last years of my deal making days my bullshit meter was always going off and it never stopped.  I decided writing books (alone) was much more satisfying and with a lot less alarm noise.   

Thanks for being a reader!

News and Blog

I think we can all agree 2020 has been a difficult year.  For me, for sure.  Earlier in the year, I fell on ice and broke my arm; which, as a writer, created its own set of problems.  Monday, I fell at home and broke my leg.  There is an ugly trend here.  That is why this week’s blog is late.  Below is what I had ready to go, but was unable to send on Tuesday.  There will be a week or two of disruptions in the blogs due to my physical limitations; but no longer than that, and I will be back.  Thanks, everyone for being a reader.

One of the reasons for this post is that I can use my favorite image of Einstein.  Not sure why, but it always makes me smile.  Some scientists (I think they were scientists) have done some research into the connection of IQ and being rich.  If you have much experience, in the business world, you already know there is no connection between being smart and making money.

For many years my main occupation was assisting business owners sell their businesses.  These were mostly medium sized businesses sold to large national buyers.  In almost all cases, the owners of these businesses became very wealthy after selling their companies.  At least 99% of those owners were by no means geniuses; and most were not even very bright.

“How much is a child’s future success determined by innate intelligence? Economist James Heckman says it’s not what people think. He likes to ask educated non-scientists—especially politicians and policy makers—how much of the difference between people’s incomes can be tied to IQ. Most guess around 25 percent, even 50 percent, he says. But the data suggest a much smaller influence: about 1 or 2 percent.”  Bloomberg article

Yep, just as we suspected (all of us smart people), being smart does not make you rich.  So how do those dummies make all that money?  My experience suggests the three most obvious factors.  Inheritance.  Yes, a rich dad/mom or granddad/grandma is a big benefit.  Luck.  Of course, having a rich parent is luck, but also falling into the right business at the right time is often just luck.  The other is perseverance. 

Persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. “his perseverance with the technique illustrates his single-mindedness” Synonyms: persistence, tenacity, determination, resolve, resolution, resoluteness, staying power, purposefulness, firmness of purpose.

Now that makes sense.  Some of those rich guys I knew who sold their businesses owned propane companies and most of them had worked many, many years to build their business.  Almost all had stories about periods where they wondered if they would be able to make it.  (Most of those stories were exaggerated; but it was a rough and hard business).

Perseverance rather than smarts leads to riches.  I’m sure we all have someone in our past who gave us the sage advice; to get ahead you have to work hard.  We knew that working hard was digging ditches and nobody ever got “ahead” digging ditches.  Well, maybe they do?  Of course, it’s not really “hard” work it is sticking to whatever you’re doing.  Doing you best.  Persevering. 

I relate this to writing books.  When I’m writing and producing a book on a regular schedule, I experience success.  But writing, and writing, and writing is hard.  At a minimum it takes me months to write a book and has taken years.  Perseverance gets tired and wants to take a nap.  In my previous careers, I was known for my tenacity.  I never gave up on a deal.  To make something happen I just had to work harder.  I still have that desire, but creative work is something a little different.  I could work hard to two weeks and maybe finish that book; but it might be terrible.  Maybe this is a clue to why creative people are often not rich.  You can’t work twice as hard to produce something creative; it has to be at the right moment based on the right thought or some nutty vision.  It really isn’t digging ditches.

Box Set Update

As I promised last week the free days for the Series Starter Box Set is this weekend October 17th and 18th on Amazon.  Know anyone you think might enjoy being introduced to these books? This would be a great way to provide them a nudge.  Free is always good.  These are three award winning and highly rated mystery books all in one package.  Since you’re a reader of the blog you know that the books contain some language some people find objectionable; so if your elderly aunt is offended by certain words this might not be an appreciated recommendation; but that foul mouthed uncle might really appreciate it.

Book News and a few thoughts

Latest book offering will be a three-book series starter box set for only $5.99 on Amazon.  Hey, that’s cheap.  This is the first book in each series: Dog Gone Lives (Pacheco & Chino), Santa Fe Mojo (Vincent Malone) and Murder So Wrong (Muckraker Series).  It’s available now; but don’t tell anyone because very soon it will be free; better than cheap!  I’ll let you know the free dates in next week’s post. 

In one of those obscure on-line interviews authors give to help sales (it usually doesn’t), I was asked which series was my favorite.  I fumbled around and never really answered the question because each series means something special to me making it difficult saying one is my favorite.  Sort of like someone asking which child is your favorite.  Rather than favorite, how about what I think is the strength of each series?

Dog Gone Lies.  No question the best part of this series is the interaction between Tyee Chino and Ray Pacheco.  Entirely different people in almost all respects, they developed a caring and humor filled relationship that I believe makes the series.  Of course, the first book also focuses on the loveable and smart dog, Happy.  Dog Gone Lies is my best- selling book, and I think, it has to do with dog being in the title.  Should have featured a dog in each series even if it didn’t make any sense.

All of my books are a blend of cozy mystery and hard-boiled detective.  Mostly the hard-boiled part is language, for which I take a lot of abuse.  That language, that some find offensive, is a reflection on my take of the characters and the trauma filled existence of murder mystery genre. 

Santa Fe Mojo.  Best part is the depth of the very human character Vincent Malone.  He could easily be a cynical down-beat loser after all his bad experiences; but he is not.  He’s caring and funny besides being “tough.”  He has ended up at the end of his life working at a new B&B for two of the nicest people on the planet (if that is not cozy mystery material nothing is).  Of course, in hindsight, I can see I should have given Vincent a dog—would have helped sales and made him even more human.

Murder So Wrong.  This series is the poorest selling of the three.  Not sure why?  I think this is a great story about political corruption, the newspaper industry in the 1960s and the difficult like of a beginning newspaper man in a dangerous time.  Tommy Jacks is the main character, but this series features a long list of interesting characters.  Plus, the core of this story is true.  I was there and knew many of the people included in the books.  It is very much a fictional account of those events, but at it’s beating heart, it really happened.

This set would be a great way to recommend my books to someone you think might enjoy them. (Especially once I give you those free dates.)

True confession, my favorite book is The Bootlegger’s Legacy; it is the prequel to the Pacheco & Chino series, but an entirely different set of characters and focus.   It is my first book and maybe that is why it’s my favorite; but also, this is to me a great story.  I have reviewers say some of the back stories which go back in time are confusing.  About a third of the TBL takes place in the 1950s during the time of active bootlegging in dry Oklahoma.  That lays the groundwork for the adventure of the bootlegger’s son and his friend as they search for the hidden fortune referenced in a letter to the son after the bootlegger’s death.

My favorite part of this book is the story of the bootlegger and his mistress, Sally.  Sally is an amazing character and one of the most interesting and tragic of anyone in my books. 

About reviews.  I have written before about the bad reviews related to language.  Most of my books have stuck at the top of the reviews section a reader review that warns others about the “foul” language.  I have also begun adding to the description of the books a “beware of swearing” notice. 

The result is that most of my reviews for the last several months have all been positive (usually 5 star).  I must admit that makes me happy.  Writing books is mostly a private, self-fulfilling activity; but also most writers want to please the readers.

Speaking of free books; if for some reason you have not read any of my books, you should check out a couple. 

Ebook free on Amazon October 16th Santa Fe Mojo

Ebook free on Amazon October 20th The Bootlegger’s Legacy

I’m sure it’s best that I don’t comment on any election issues other than everyone should vote.  That is everyone who is a citizen should vote.  Or is that only a citizen who is legally qualified can vote.  I live in Colorado and one of the amendments up for a vote changes the constitution from “Every citizen of the United States who has attained the age of eighteen years, and……..are eligible to vote…..”  to “ONLY A CITIZEN of the United States…….”

A group of people went to a great deal of effort to get sufficient signatures to get this on the ballot.  Why? Not sure.  The only logical reason is that these people feared that through some mechanism non-citizens will be allowed to vote; or citizens under 18.  Wow, that is really something to worry about?  If that happened, which it wouldn’t, it would require all sorts of changes to the law and challenges in the courts.  I sure haven’t heard about this being something considered anywhere; but for some reason this bit of silliness seems important to someone. 

We’ve got more problems than you can shake a stick at, and here is a ballot amendment to fix nothing.

“Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word “dialogue”. If we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue. There is no need for me to stress the benefits of dialogue. I have only to think of what our world would be like without the patient dialogue of the many generous persons who keep families and communities together. Unlike disagreement and conflict, persistent and courageous dialogue does not make headlines, but quietly helps the world to live much better than we imagine.”   Pope Francis (3 October 2020)

Thanks for being a reader!

Power, Madness and Caring

I’ve mostly been a rule follower.  For much of my life, at least in my head, I was a rebel; even though all evidence would say I was no such thing.  Can you be a rebel and not rebel?  In most societies the rule followers make up most of the citizens.  They spend their lives dealing with the day to day chores of “getting by.”  But these rule followers can see when the rules are wrong; when society has stopped being a passive environment in which you can seek the mundane without a care.  When rule followers become rebels, the world explodes.

This, of course, has happened many times.  The trigger for this transformation is often some minor abuse by the powers that be.  Power seekers are the opposite of rule followers.  Power seekers have an inner, moral obligation to seek power and personal gain that overrides all societal considerations; and as such, they seldom see the damage they are doing.  In their eyes achieving their need for power is a greater good that everyone should want; in other words, they are some of the dumbest people on the planet—but they have power.  They usually achieve this power by a willingness to use violence against the rule followers.

The willingness of the rule followers to remain passive for long periods, while enduring vile and often deadly treatment by the power seekers, is one of those human traits that doesn’t seem to make sense.  But in the context of who the rule followers are, it is not surprising.  They focus on small circles of influence as their entire world, usually family or small communities.  What is going on in the bigger world becomes background noise; until it isn’t.  These are the people who want to be left alone to live their lives; mundane or not, it is what they want.  Seeking power, dominating other people is completely foreign to their existence.  They are slow to recognize the evil that exists.

I have thought of the power seekers as the crazy people in the world.  I know that is an amazingly simple explanation for a vast range of behavior; but to want to dominate (and harm) other people seems to mean crazy to me.  So, were the power seekers always crazy, or did they become crazy because they sought power? 

Anytime I think of madness, I can’t help myself I think of the photo of Tolstoy.  The man was obviously brilliant in the extreme, but my guess is that he was totally crazy.  His madness was directed at 500,000-word tomes, not conquering his fellow man.  Sorry about tossing Tolstoy in.

In psychiatry there is the term hypersanity.  This is not a common word in the profession but more like a theory.  Hypersane people reach that state through a path involving insanity.  Way beyond this blog but it amounts to reaching a new level of consciousness by delving into madness.  Okay, you can stop laughing now.

It is striking to me how much time and energy we spend trying to understand madness and little time at all in understanding sanity.  Sane people might be too boring?  Crazy people are interesting?

For some time, the world has seemed out-of-order.  Without order there is chaos.  With chaos everything in life becomes more difficult.  During this current period of chaos, the mundane existence of day-to-day life is more difficult with a greater level of stress.  Why?  Well, of course, we have the pandemic, we have unsettled politics, we have extreme weather, we have a society that seems split in significant ways, we have little that feels comfortable and normal.  All that places great pressure on the rule followers.  They really want to follow the rules, but what are the rules.  Can each person have their own set of rules?  Why are your rules different than mine?

Not sure if there is a trigger built in there that leads to greater chaos or not.  I hope not.  No one should want to turn the rule followers into the crazies; it’s not their nature and once it starts it is hard to stop. 

But right now, it feels like the crazy power seekers are winning.  Unfortunately, the power seekers have no goal beyond seeking power, and if they win, they will eventually just destroy everything because they know nothing else.  Power and destruction seem to go hand in hand.

During my formative years, there was a kid who sat in the back of my 5th grade class and made dinosaurs out of clay.  They were the most impressive dinosaurs anyone had ever seen.  He never said anything and had little to do with the rest of the class.  It was obvious to his classmates he was crazy.  He was mostly ignored and never asked for anything except clay.

The other dominate male in the class was almost twice the size of any other boy.  It was rumored that he was in his third attempt at 5th grade.  He only did one thing; he hurt people.  On the playground he would push people down and usually sit on them or stand on their legs.  He laughed when kids cried.  I don’t remember anyone saying he was crazy.  He was something that existed in the world, and everyone had to adapt to the menace.  The goal was to survive and make it to the 6th grade; hopefully, he would be held back another year.  The teacher was literally afraid of the man/child so there was a good chance she would promote him no matter what his grades were; after all she had her own life to worry about.

What was odd is that the bully kid was the only one who talked to the dinosaur kid.  By all accounts they were not even the same species, but they seemed to connect.  Since on many days the bully kid was barred from going out to recess due to his previous antics on the day before, he would stay with the dinosaur kid, who never went out to recess (never knew the reason?); and they would talk.  It was a strange friendship that seemed to flourish.  By the end of the school year the dinosaur boy was going out to recess with his friend the bully, and neither were bothering anyone else.

Don’t know what happened to either one of them; but I have this warm feeling that their friendship survived into adulthood.  We are all connected.  It just takes a little effort, and maybe a bit of luck.

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Yep, that some my art as a shower curtain. Cool!

“expletive this and expletive that!”

Been thinking maybe I should add a language warning to the descriptions of my books.  Some reviewers don’t like the foul language and have given me bad reviews for just my choice of words. 



    blasphemous or obscene language.

    “an outburst of profanity”

    synonyms:  oath · swear word · expletive · curse · obscenity · four-letter word · dirty word · execration · imprecation · blasphemy · swearing · foul language · bad language · cursing · cuss · cuss word

My books contain gritty language or even profanity.    Gritty is not meaningful enough and profanity is too harsh.  Maybe I mean cuss words or foul language; but it’s not blasphemy, or is it?  How about imprecation?




    a spoken curse.

    “she hurled her imprecations at anyone who might be listening”

I’m fairly sure I have never used the word imprecation in any context.  Maybe I should add a warning to my books “IMPRECATION WARNING!”  Probably not helpful?  Malediction?  Anathema?  Strong language might work, although it sounds rather like a grandmotherly warning; now, now you better watch that strong language!

Banned words would have had meaning at one time.  Banned words were usually from books; but today I’m not sure there are banned words.  TV might have been a standard for language but that also is gone.  Now it is shocking to watch a cable show and not have a few fucks tossed in. 

I had one reviewer write that I was part of the society wide problem of low morals.  As far as I could tell this had nothing to do with my morals only my language.  This person was applying the standards of past generations to today’s society.  This is a problem for all of us; social norms or standards change.  The change is usually perceived by the young as good and bad by the older members.  In many ways the bad is as much about change as it is about what has changed. 

My father swore.  His swear words were mostly “colorful.”  There was no question he was swearing but the actual meaning was not so clear.  Knucklehead was a favorite.  Bump on a log or peckerwood were used as swear words but only in the context of they were not said in “mixed company.”  My father used damn and hell, but most of his obscenities were descriptive of people.  He was from a southern rural background and racism was always close to the surface.  And yet, he was religious and considered to be a pillar of his community.  He would be shocked at the language in my books.  Sorry, dad, it just slipped out.

Language tells us a lot about ourselves, our society and where we fit in the world.  I use language in my books as a way to convey an understanding of the characters, stress they’re experiencing, energy level in the story, fear, all sorts of emotions.  Having someone scream, SHIT! tells us a lot about what is going on with that character.  Some writers would use a different way to convey the frustration or anger of the character; but I often use these “dirty words” to convey those emotions quickly and, hopefully, meaningfully.

My books tend to be an odd mixture of hard-boiled and cozy mysteries.  This is not by accident.  I liked both of those genres and made the decision that what I wanted in a book was a little bit of both.  This probably confuses some readers and makes some mad, because it is not either pure cozy or hard-boiled.  I’m going to work on better descriptions so readers are not surprised by the books and will take them at face value and have fun reading.

Conspiracy theories exist because the human brain wants to connect the dots.  The brain seeks patterns in all things to avoid danger and be more effective at finding food.  Nice, simple and close to the truth.  Patterns have been shown to control much of our brain function.  The details get a little fuzzy to me but can be found with an internet search.

Writers layout stories that allow us to connect the dots.  It’s one of the reason fictional stories have such power, they fit into one of the brains key functions of finding patterns.  When we read a mystery story (or watch a movie or TV show), it allows us to perform this key brain function without physical risk, and it gives us pleasure. 

People who readily believe conspiracy theories are prone to finding patterns in almost everything.  And based on some things I have read, it appears that it becomes a habit.  The more patterns you see, the more likely you are to see patterns.

The counter to pattern seeking and conspiracy believing is critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings.

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve problems or make decisions.”  thoughtco.com

One of the buzz words in public education for a long time was to teach critical thinking.  This is a life-long skill that can be taught and leads to inquisitive students who don’t accept truth as a given.  Public education leaders soon discovered while having critical thinking skills was an admirable goal in practice, it was a pain in the butt to implement.  There is still some lip service to this goal, but it is a lot easier to just have kids shut-up and believe what they are told.  Plus, most parents really don’t want critical thinking kids; they want their kids to believe the same conspiracy theories they do.  Without critical thinking the more the pattern seeking brain believes conspiracy theories.  It becomes a family tradition.

This whole post feels like a conspiracy; but I have no idea what the dots connect.  Maybe I can explain that next week.

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Memories and Talents

Often the past is a fond memory because our memories tend to make the past somewhat fuzzy.  I was an avid reader at a young age.  One of my favorite activities was reading the daily newspaper.  Can’t say with any accuracy when I started reading a newspaper every day, but without a doubt, I was in grade school.  One of my clearest memories of a newspaper story was about a Leopard escaping from the Oklahoma City zoo.  I can recall with detail the many pages the paper devoted to this event.  There were large diagrams showing how the tiger leaped from one perch to another then completed an amazing leap of faith to reach the top.  I spent hours probing the details.

Now the shocking part is that this occurred when I was six.  It makes no sense to me that I have such a strong memory of this story and the details that were printed in the paper; but they are there.  In Oklahoma City at that time (1951) there were two daily newspapers: a morning paper and evening.  Both owned by the same dominate, powerful man; E.K. Gaylord.  Much later, a start-up newspaper prompted an ugly newspaper war in my hometown.  That is the basis of a series of books I wrote, The Muckraker Series.  My books are fiction, but much of the conflict between the old-guard paper and the new upstart presented in the books actually happened.

I’m not sure about my memories as a six-year old reading the newspaper, but I do know that I have been a daily reader of newspapers for a long time.  Today most of what I read are on-line versions.  The days of two competing papers in a market putting out multiple editions and huge, massive Sunday papers is long gone. 

When I first moved to Denver, the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News were in an ugly competitive war.  It did not turn out well for the papers, but as a reader it was wonderful.  These were both huge newspapers and they were almost giving them away in their frenzied competitive effort to defeat one another.  The sports sections alone had more local coverage pages than the current version of the Post has in the whole newspaper.  The glory days of newspapers are over.

Over the years I’ve known several newspaper people and they all had a common trait: a dedication to the truth.  One of the characters in the Muckraker books was based on one of those acquaintances.  His book name was Taylor Albright.  The real Albright was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken man who was fearless.  He had been threaten so many times it had become a normal part of his life; but he never backed down.  His obligation to the truth was a reason for being.  He wrote about politics, corruptions, the police departments, crooked businessmen, social injustice; he was loved and hated.  He once told me that he expected to be fired every day, because he wrote about the truth and his employer was in the advertising business pushing mostly lies. 

The real Albright was fired and started putting out his own “free” paper.  That paper was what a friend of mine called a “hoot.”  Albright extended no mercy to anyone and wrote what he saw as the truth.  Of course, his truth had a known bias; his.  The free newspaper didn’t last long (even with my help) and Albright soon disappeared, like a ghost. 

The memory of him and his quest is no-doubt much like the Leopard story, fuzzy.  He left town owing a lot of people money, including me; and as best as I could tell nothing he wrote about actually changed.  But many people talked about what he was writing, they disagreed often; but they also changed their minds.  He influenced people who were able to change things.  Maybe those things did not change that week or even that year, but I think he influenced them to look at the problem and acknowledge the truth.

I will continue to read stories by people who are seeking the truth wherever I can find them.  Soon there will only be on-line newspapers which is sad; but the content can still have impact.  One of my favorite “reporters” today is Matt Taibbi who I have been following since his Rolling Stone days.  Check out his latest.  Truth seekers, like Matt, are often people you don’t agree with but always make sound arguments for their positions. 

Sold a little artwork this week.  Thanks so much.  Some of those were people from my past.  It was great to reconnect.  One, who I will call R.M., was someone I admired for his talents.  He was a great musician.  I have mentioned before how I had certain talents and have continued my entire life working on those skills, but what I wanted to be was musical.  It was magic to me to watch my friend R.M. play music.  If I could trade, I believe I would trade whatever skill I have as a writer or artist to be able to play the piano.  And before you scream at me, believe me, I have tried.  Yes, I tried and failed.  Maybe that is the definition of talent; some have it, some don’t—and if you don’t, you can’t fake it.  Oh well, maybe I will give piano lessons one more shot—if only my wrist wasn’t already hurting from writing.  How about singing—nah, not a good idea.

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Labor of Writing

Watched a great movie the other night, the new Little Women.  Louisa May Alcott, the author of the book the movie was based on, was both revolutionary and inspiring.  The story is loosely based on her life.  In the movie we see her writing in long hand under difficult circumstances.  Poor lighting, ink stains, sloppy/difficult error corrections and pulpy paper.  The dedication and effort it took to write a book is so different than today’s world. 

Maybe there is a point in the future when the latest MS Word will write your story based only on an outline—or maybe just a thought.  Type in a brief synopsis of your latest book and presto a full-length book.   Editing might consist of asking MS Word to expand the book from 60k words to 90k.  Or maybe the author is tasked with naming the characters.  The story is written by the computer with Character 1, Character 2, etc.  Oh, the hardships of writing.

On the other hand, the labor of writing (achy hands, strained eyes, blank mind?) could be an important part of the process.  If Ms. Alcott worked long hours under poor conditions to put down her story of joy, hardship, and family; it was much more her story due to that effort.  If it had been easy, it would not be the same story.  Not sure about that, but I do believe that effort in any activity is not wasted.  If you have re-written your story twenty times is it better?  Or should you have stopped after the first try?  I think the answer is yes.  It could be its best on the first try, or it could be much better after the twentieth. 

I write in a comfortable room that is well lit, sitting in a cushioned chair, using an amazing computer with a huge screen.  Maybe I’m too comfortable?

Okay at this point I’ll throw in a photo of Leo Tolstoy, regular readers will understand.  If not a regular—it has something to do with Tolstoy writing War and Peace long-hand running over 400,000 words.  Now that is pain (and you can see it on his face).

Politics is everywhere, and it is mostly ugly.  This blog is not a political blog, and I will not turn it into one.  However, I would like to refer you to an interesting group.  Unite America.  “Unite America is a movement of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to put voters first by fostering a more representative and functional government.  We invest in campaigns to enact reforms and elect candidates so that the right leaders have the right incentives to solve our country’s greatest problems.”

In the current environment this may seem Pollyannaish.  We need a better way of conducting our elections, and I believe much of what Unite America is about makes a lot of sense.  You may not agree, but I think it’s worth checking out.

One of the odd joys in sports is being able to root for a losing team.  Now, of course, as a fan you don’t want them to lose; but most sports have only a few winners and many losers, so most likely you root for one of the losers.  My favorite team is the Colorado Rockies; and yes, they lose. 

The Rockies happen to be in the same division as the LA Dodgers.  Unless the Dodgers decide to abandon their current pattern of success; the Rockies will never beat the Dodgers.  But there is always hope of second place, right?  Well, not so much.  The San Diego Padres are also in this division but had mostly been worse than the Rockies.  Not now.  Not only are they better, but they just made a ton of trades and became even better than before.  The path for the Rockies looks very rocky.

While losing is not fun, I’ve decided that rooting for a losing team builds character.  Okay, you can stop laughing.  So, my rooting for the Rockies is making me a better person; of course, if they started to win, I would gladly give up some improved character points.  Go Rockies!

A reader of the newsletter dropped out stating that it was too spammy.  I would guess this is about me trying to sell things, books and art.  More than likely this reaction was due to the new emphasis on art.  All I can say is that the newsletter is mostly about things I’m doing which happens to include books and art.  I believe the only reason people signed up to receive the newsletter was to be kept informed about my doings.  Sorry, if the sells pitch has gotten to be too much, I’ll tone it down with more emphasis on insights into writing, publishing and books in general– with a little art.

PS.  If you’re not a subscriber to the monthly newsletter, you ought to check it out.

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Truth or Fiction?

The process I use to develop a book is not very precise.  Sometimes things just come to me, and other times I spend a lot of time doing research on a key point that had triggered the idea of a book.  So, book ideas have come in a flash and have been based on more thoughtful detailed analysis. 

All my books start with something familiar.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy was based on a gossipy story I heard while drinking with a group of male companions.  They were talking about two people who were sometimes part of the group.  These were all business people meeting at bars to discuss work and various other subjects to lessen the anxiety of not being the person you wanted to be.  Much of these discussions centered around money.  The story was that these two not so bright businessmen were going to do a drug deal to pay-off their massive business-related debt.  It was an act of desperation laced with stupidity.  As it turned out, this was just bar talk and nothing ever happened.

From that tiny memory I had an idea for a book.  It was going to be a buddy adventure with lots of screw-ups by the amateur drug dealers and their encounters with Mexican criminals.  It was going to be, hopefully, funny.  I sat down to write.  After a few pages it wasn’t funny, and I had no idea how any of the plot lines would develop.  I knew nothing about Mexican drug dealers. 

While I was thinking about how to make this small idea into a book, I remembered my childhood experience with a bootlegger in my middle-class neighborhood in Oklahoma City.  I liked the idea of two friends trying to find a way to make some quick money because of their business problems so it occurred to me to have them look for money hidden by a bootlegger from the 1950s in dry Oklahoma.  One idea ended up as something entirely different: but still with some aspects of the original.

This happens over and over with my books.  Take something, an experience, a location, a profession, known characters, an encounter or just an idea and turn it into a full-length book.  This requires a lot of imagination and good deal of bullshit.  To keep me centered while I make stuff up, I rely upon familiar settings to make the scenes feel more real to me and the reader.  I’ve been there, I know that town, that place, that bar; it is comfortable to write about and it makes the characters more real—to me and hopefully, the reader.

My current project is China Deep Dive.  It is not about China.  It’s about something that happened that I was a part of.  It’s mostly about a very large con-game that was led by the most unlikely people to fleece a bank, a major US company and the China government out of millions of dollars.  It occurred, in of all places, little Las Cruces, New Mexico.  In case you are wondering, I was not part of the con.  I was very much an innocent bystander, conned as much as anyone.  But I did help provide a veneer of respectability.  The story is about how all of that blew up, left many people financially harmed or dead.  Yes, I said dead—that’s mostly the made-up part.  While there was a tragic accident in the “real” story, the fictional one has many people dying.  It adds to the drama.

So, what is real and what is fiction?  I would guess (not through with the book yet) that something like 20% is based on the true story and 80% is pure fiction.

One book that might be even more true is Murder So Wrong.  That book (and series) was based on an actual newspaper war that came about due to a defeat in a governor’s election in Oklahoma.  I was in Oklahoma City at the time and became friends with one of the major players at one of the newspapers.  In the book his character is Taylor Albright.  At the time, I had no idea I would write a book about those events (otherwise, I would have kept notes).  Many of the characters and events in that series actually happened.  Although, once again, much of the mayhem that drives the stories is fiction. 

As a bonus (I hope) for reading my blog, I’m enclosing the first chapter of China Deep Dive.  I’m working on that book right now and would anticipate a completed book in three to four months, unless I sink into another one of my black holes.  If that happens all bets are off.

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