Friday, January 30, 2009

I So Don't Do Mysteries - A 3 Ring Review

Time to once again do a book review. If you missed my explanation on my style of 3 book review you can find it here, where I reviewed the novel, One Mississippi. I plan to do this same style of review for every book I read this year. I'm off to a slow start, but here is book #2 for 2009, Barrie Summy's, I So Don't Do Mysteries.

Most of you probably know Barrie as she is a fabulous blogger, a frequent commenter here, and a My Town Mondayer. Add talented author to that list.

I So Don't Do Mysteries by Barrie Summy

published in 2008 by Delacorte Press.

3 Reasons you might like this Book

1) Sherry Baldwin, the first person protagonist of I So Don't Do Mysteries. Sherry is a great character with a great vice. It is impossible not to like her or root her on in all of her pursuits. But she does have enough flaws to make her real. Like any teenager her view is a bit warped and the parent in me wanted to ground her a time or two but a very believable and likable character.

2) The premise. I've never been a big paranormal fan but this book might change my mind. Sherry is contacted by the ghost of her mother and urged to solve a mystery. Along the way both Sherry and her mom uncover more than clues. Some of my favorite sections were when the two of them are dealing with things originally left unsaid.

3) San Diego. As I said, Barrie is a regular My Town Monday participant and many of her post have been about San Diego. Many of the places she's blogged about make appearances in I So Don't Do Mysteries and on a personal level that made me enjoy the book more. I enjoyed the little tidbits of knowledge I had thanks to her post that enhanced the facts she doles out in the book. It added to the package and made a good read all that much better.

3 Reasons you might not like this book

1) You are a narrow-minded doofus. Okay that sounds harsh, but some will bypass this book because it is written for preteens. And even preteen boys might skip this one simply because it has a female protagonists. That is insane. A good story is a good story an if you are a preteen boy you might wanna read a few things like this to help you gain insight into the inner-workings of that girl you fancy's mind.

2) You hate to figure out the who dunnit until the last page. Okay I'll admit it I had 70% of the end pegged fairly early on, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment one iota. I am fairly astute at picking up clues and as a writer I look out for foreshadowing so this is not unusual for me.

3) Teenage angst grates on your nerve. This book captures it well and feels very realistic, but if you are annoyed by the fact that teenagers do not always prioritize well and tend to focus or worry about the wring thing then you won't like it when Sherry worries about the gravel in her aquarium matching the paint, or when complains about a blister on her foot instead of focusing on the case.

3 Lines beginning with the 3rd sentence on page 33 of the novel.

But that thought opens up a whole new future career path. I'll be a scientist that invents a pill that turns heartache into a brief bout of gas. You fart, and you're immediately better, immediately over being dumped.

Visit Barrie here, buy the book here, or at a book seller near you. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Random Socializing

I'm going to start this post with yet another thought that first occurred to me while reading the brief thoughts of others on twitter.

How come everyone is always complaining about the crack of dawn. In one day, I read tweets that said things like ... my kid woke me up at the ass crack of dawn ... I can't stop yawing because I had to clock on at the butt crack of dawn ... Why are my neighbors loudest at the crack of dawn.

Dawn's backside gets more attention a whole swarm of plumbers derrieres. Even if you throw Ol' Joe and his butt in the mix.

All I can figure is that Dawn is one of those gals whose G-string is always showing thus creating all this attention.

But what about the beer gut of noon? Or evening's shaggy beard? Not once have I ever heard someone say, It was way past midnight's receding hairline before I got to bed last night.

If you too want to have these kind of mind opening discoveries sign up to twitter and read all the little tidbits of others lives. Yeah, it may be pointless at times but it is interesting. My twitter page can be found here.

Speaking of social networking sites, if you are a Facebooker or no anything about the site you have to watch this hilarious video.

And yeah I do have a Facebook as well, so look me up there as well.

But my favorite social site has to be, Goodreads. On this site you can see what books your friends have read and what they thought of those books. I have discovered some really good novels by checking out the rating of people who have enjoyed some of the same books I have. I don't have as many friends as I do on the other sites but just today women's fiction author Jennifer Weiner befriended me. Sure she has 673 other friends but I like to think I'm special. Seriously, I love Jennifer's books (Good In Bed, In Her Shoes, Little Earthquakes) and it made me smile to see she'd added me as one of her friends.

And thanks for all the great comments on my Amazon Breakthrough Novel pitch posts. The deadline is creeping closer and I'm still tweaking but for those interested here is my current version of the 300 word pitch.

Hank Zybeck never dreamed he'd become an outlaw. Then again, he never thought he'd have to work for a scoundrel like Junior Habershaw.

Hank has yearned to visit the Caribbean for so long, he can practically taste salt in the air, but his wife, Rachel, doesn't give a damn about his lifelong obsession with the islands. Her idea of exotic is Branson, Missouri, or The Mall of America, so no way is she going to traipse off to a foreign country only to get sand in her bikini. After thirteen years of marriage, Hank hasn't given up changing her mind, but when Junior takes over the Red Dirt, Oklahoma Ford dealership where Hank works, vacation destinations become the least of his worries. Junior is a skilled salesman himself, but he'd rather use his talents talking women into the backseat. And the woman he wants most just happens to be Hank's wife.

Junior hatches a plan to steal Hank's wife, job, and friends. Disregarding his foe, Junior even ridicules Hank for his lifelong pirate obsession. Anne Bonney, the Caribbeans most infamous female buccaneer spoke these final words to her condemned lover, “ ... if you'd fought like a man, you needn't be hang'd like a dog.In this tale of misadventure, Hank sets out to prove that he's no dog, but even he doesn't know how far he'll go for the sake of love and the chance to live out his Caribbean dreams.

Plundered Booty is a comedic mainstream novel that blends the first person narrative style of a Kinky Friedman novel, with the laid back vibe of a Jimmy Buffet song. It goes well with either a cigar or a margarita, but don't lose that shaker of salt. You may need a few grains.

And I challenge you to come up with a new time of day/body part analogy. But creating one is the easy part what I really want to see is you use one of these phrases and then report back how it was received once you tossed it out for public consumption.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'm Alive

I've never been much of a Kenny Chesney fan. That whole, She Thinks My Tractors is Sexy song turned me off from him in the very beginning, but then he started doing duets with Uncle Kracker, Kid Rock, Jimmy Buffet, and Willie Nelson. He also began writing more of his own material and incorporating an honest laid back island vibe to his music, so I slowly came back around to at least respecting him as an artist. Even though mainstream country music rubs me the wrong way on the whole.

Then the other day I heard a song of Chesney's in which Dave Mathews joins him. The lyrics struck a chord with me for obvious reason. Especially the second verse.

So damn easy to say that life’s so hard
Everybody’s got their share of battle scars
As for me I’d like to think my lucky stars that
I’m alive, and well

It’d be easy to add up all the pain
And all the dreams you set and watch go up in flames
Dwell on the wreckage as it smolders in the rain
But not me, I’m alive

And today you know that’s good enough for me
Breathing in and out is a blessing can’t you see
Today is the first day of the rest of my life
And I’m alive, and well
I’m alive, and well

Stars are dancin’ on the water here tonight
It’s good for the soul, and there’s not a sole in sight
But this motors caught it wind and brought me back to life
Now I’m alive, and well

And today you know that’s good enough for me
Breathing in and out is a blessing can’t you see
Today is the first day of the rest of my life
Now I’m alive, and well
Yeah I’m alive, and well

Good songs are like good books. They reach inside a person and affect them. This is why one person can love a book and the next person will hate the same book. I'm as guilty as anyone of discounting a musician or an author simply because their song or story failed to resonate with me, but sometimes your perspective changes and suddenly you are viewing the world from a different angle.

I am alive, and I am well, and I am going to keep writing until I find that one agent or editor that connects to my writing in a way that prevents them from saying no. Might be tomorrow or ten years from now, but that will be good enough for me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Show Me -- A My Town Monday Post

This will not be the most detailed of My Town Monday posts, but hopefully in the coming weeks I'll have more time to research and get back in the groove. For this week I'm going to give MTM a more personal slant and take y'all for a trip down my memory lane.

This past weekend the Potter County Junior Livestock show was held at the Amarillo Tri-State fairgrounds. This is a yearly event where 4H and FFA kids bring the animals they've raised for the sake of competition. Steers, Swine, Sheep, Goats, and Rabbits.

Once upon a time I was one of those kids, and as I walked around the stock show this weekend the memories were plentiful.

I remembered how the rough texture of a griddle brick left my fingers tips raw and sore as I used it to groom my pig.

I remembered being so tired from all that work involved that I didn't think twice about climbing inside my hog's pen and using him for a pillow when I wanted to catch a quick nap before showtime. (For the record the pig had been bathed using this oh so fragrant hand soap called Fast Orange so there was no smell.)

I remembered the friendship and camaraderie before and after entering the show ring.

I remembered the competitive tunnel vision I felt once in the ring.

I remembered the sense of pride when my animal placed high, the sense of regret for the work I should have done but didn't when it didn't place so well.

As I thought back on those days, I realized that many of the lessons I learned back, still apply today. Raising and showing animals is about responsibility, dedication, hard work, and just rewards.

Then I remembered how mad I used to get when one of my fellow competitors back-doored their way into success. Some of their parents did all the work while the kid did nothing. Some times a particular judge would have a blindside for the cute little girls with ribbons in their hair, or the cute high school girls with tight fitting Rockies. Some parents spent a fortune buying animals for their offspring and bought success for their kids.

My family never had the funds for that and my mom was too busy trying to earn a living as a single parent to get up at six in the morning and bust ice out of my animals water trough. I never looked good in either a hair bow or a pair of tight fitting Rockies, so yeah, I hated to see others find success through those methods. But guess what, that too taught me a few things about the nature of the world. Life isn't rarely fair but all you can do is plug along and do your thing.

And I was fortunate to do okay. I've blogged in the past about my success showing pigs. I only hope that some of the kids I saw showing this weekend will find the same kind of success and look back as fondly on their show experience as I do.

And if you've never attended one of these shows, look up the dates for your area and check one out. Most parts of the country have some sort of FFA or 4H program and the kids that put the work in for months on end deserve accolades.

Here's a shot of SPOT, the recipient of my most recent tattooing efforts.

And for those of that missed my post back in 2007 about my pig showing experiences, here is a picture of yours truly as a rosy-cheeked high school senior, circa 1991.

Chris and Junosmom have done a stupendous job of keeping My Town Monday alive in my absence and I really appreciate their efforts and if they so choose, I want them to continue listing the links as well. Way I figure, the broader exposure for everyone who participates the better, but please drop me an email or a comment if you post so I can get your link up. And Chris and Junosmom, I understand that a good deal of work goes into keeping up with the links so please don't feel obligated.


Jenn Jilks --Flaps her wings in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.
Cloudia -- Shows us a few great things about Hawaii.
Barrie Summy -- Does a bit of BUMming around in San Diego, California.
Mary Nix -- Takes us through the woods at Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
Debra -- Warms things up with a look at the Village of Peninsula, Ohio.
Junosmom -- Is chugging along about her Kentucky town's hidden secrets.
Chris -- Rings in the Chinese New Year from ... you guessed it Hong Kong, China.
Kristina -- Posts from the wrong side of the tracks in Kentucky.
Barbara Martin -- Is quacking this week about Toronto, Canada.
David Cranmer -- Freely admits he's the second most famous person from Freeville, New York.
Chuck -- Takes us between the lanes in his Kentucky town.
Terrie Farley Moran -- Settles in at North Fort Myers, Florida.
Patti Abbott -- Rings the bell of truth about a movie set in her town, Detroit, Michigan.
J Winter -- From the comfort of his Cincinnati, Ohio home J tells us what he won't do for My Town Monday.
D -- Jumps aboard the My Town Monday train with an introduction to Cloquet, Minnesota
Passage Of Woman -- Does her part to preserve a bit of Kingston, Tennessee.
Lauren -- Offers up a look at Chicago, Illinois wild side -- The Lincoln Park Zoo.
Wendy Pinkston Cebula -- Dishes up a post on Springfield, Missouri

Friday, January 23, 2009

Strike Two

I like this one better, but I'm still three words over. And thanks for all the great advice. I've incorporated what I knew how.

And if you have no idea what I'm rambling on about Please read my previous post before you read this one.

Plundered Booty Pitch Version 2.1

Hank Zybeck never dreamed he'd become an outlaw. Then again he never planned to work for Junior Habershaw.

Junior could convince water to run uphill. A good trait to possess when you inherit a Ford dealership, except Junior considers selling cars a waste of time. He'd rather use his talent coercing women into the back seat. And the woman Junior wants most -- just happens to be Hank's wife.

Hank has been married to Rachel, his high school sweetheart for thirteen years. He bested Junior to win her affection once, but things are different now. Junior is bold, reckless, and loaded, thanks to his inheritance. Matter of fact , Junior is exactly like the pirates Hank is always reading about. For the last decade, Hank has satisfied his need for adventure with tales of Caribbean piracy and the history of the islands. He's longed to bask beneath the tropical sun and sip rum-filled drinks, but Rachel isn't about to traipse off to a foreign land and get sand in her bikini. Not when she could stay right her in this country and visit exotic locales like The Mall of American or Branson, Missouri.

Hank's hometown of Red Dirt Oklahoma is far cry from the white sands of the islands, but when Junior pillages his life, Hank is forced to fight for his dreams. That, or walk the plank. Anne Bonney, history's most infamous female pirate, once said to a lover headed for the gallows, “ ... if you had fought like a man, you needn't be hang'd like a dog.” Discovering there is more than one kind of plundered booty, Hank sets out to prove that he's no dog, but even he doesn't know how far over the edge he will go for the sake of love and the chance to live out his Caribbean dreams.

And of course, any and all comment and critique are appreciated.

Wild Pitch

I'm sure most of you have heard about Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest. If not check it out, but the deadline is February 2nd and along with the manuscript you have to send a 300 word pitch. I've struggled to get mine right. Giving enough of an idea what Plundered Booty is about, while capturing the comedic style of the novel, and making it all intriguing has been difficult. Here is what I think is my bet version so far, but I feel it still has problems So read and tell me what you think. And please be truthful, because I'm not afraid of some good honest tough love.

Plundered Booty Pitch

Hank Zybeck is no risk-taker. In all of his thirty-seven years, he's loved but one woman, -- Rachel, his high school sweetheart and wife of thirteen years. Worked at one job – selling cars for Habershaw Ford Lincoln and Mercury. And dreamed of one thing – to visit the Caribbean. But Rachel refuses to strike out for a foreign land only to get sand in her bikini. The Mall of America, Branson, Missouri, that's her idea of exotic, and Hank isn't about to rock the boat by going without her. For him, eating out and ordering anything but chicken fried steak is a daring move.

Yet, his free time is spent reading about the legendary pirates that once prowled the Caribbean, Bartholomew Roberts, Stede Bonnet, Blackbeard. Hank knows them all in great detail, but he never dreamed that he too would become an outlaw. Not until Junior Habershaw inherited the dealership and forced Hank to shift gears on his Sunday-drive of a life.

Junior is the kind of guy that can convince water into running uphill. A natural born salesman, he considers talking people into buying cars a waste of time. He'd much rather use his talents talking women into the backseat and the woman Junior wants most, just happens to be Hank's wife.

Under siege from Junior, Hank remembers history's most infamous female pirate, Anne Bonney and the last words she spoke to her lover, “Calico” Jack Rackham “ ... if you had fought like a man, you needn't be hang'd like a dog.” In this tale of a man pushed to fight back, or walk the plank, Hank sets out to prove that he's no dog, but even he doesn't how far over the edge he will go for the sake of love and the chance to live out his Caribbean dreams.

By the way I'm two or three words over so cut where you can.

And don't hesitate to comment even if you are not a writer. All help is appreciated and sometimes a readers eye will catch things those of us who write do not see.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ink Spot

Prison tattoos are a long way from the fancy artwork you see on Miami Ink. Shy on color these inside jobs are usually pretty basic, a teardrop near the eye, words scrawled across the knuckles. Sure there are some more elaborate crosses and things but given the limited resources and the fact they artist has to do his work in concealment prison tattoos are rarely as well done or fancy as their parlor counterparts.

Yesterday I gave the redneck equivalent of a prison tattoo. No, not to a person, (though I've done that before as well) but to a rabbit.


My old high school Agriculture sciences teacher (FFA) called me up and said he had a student who had a show rabbit and wanted to enter it in the local stock show but she didn't really know all the particulars. once upon a time I raised and showed rabbits by the hundreds so I went and checked out the long eared hopper. And one of the things it needed was a tattoo. Show rabbits have to have some permanent identification inside their left ear.

So I ground a metal rod down to a point, grabbed some India Ink and went to work. Making a series of small holes in the rabbits ear, I spelled out SPOT and then rubbed the ink in and now the rabbit is marked for life. I resisted the urge to ad a teardrop to the bunnies eye, but he looked like a killer to me so it just might end up with one yet.

Back when I raised rabbits I had a fancy tattoo set and in high school I gave more than one idiot friend a tattoo on his arm. I could only do letters and numbers so these tattoos were always some girls name. Sadly the ink lasted far longer than any of the relationships.

This post is not really going anywhere but being back at my old high school yesterday and doing a bit of inking conjured old memories.

And in true Cliff Claven style, here is a bit of worthless trivia. Did you know prison tattoos started in Australia. Most people know that the land down under was once a British Penal colony, but did you know England used to tattoo the convicted to further their shame. Such as a D for a deserter, or BC for Bad Character. The prisoners would then tattoo themselves to disguise or cover up the letters.

I have to tattoos myself, but I've always said I'll get one once I sell my first novel. Whatever novel that may be the ink will in someway represent the novel. As I've said before, Should get interesting if Plundered Booty becomes my first novel.

So tell me about your ink.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What I've Learned

This will be the last post I devote solely to the fire and it is going to be rather random since there are several things I want to share and say. To give the post some kind of cohesiveness, I'm going to do it list style and call it ... Things I Learned When The Smoke Cleared.

1) Don't jack with green shag carpet. I wrote in an earlier post about finding lots of the green shag still intact. her is the pictorial proof. And yes, my computer room was in serious need of a remodel. But then again, that green shack did feel nice to curl my toes around as I typed away.

2) It is important to update your home owners insurance on a regular basis. matter of fact, you should follow Acorns voting advice of early and often and apply that principle to you insurance updates.

3) It's okay to smile. One of the things I struggled with immediately after the fir was my mood. I was stunned, shocked, dumbfounded, overwhelmed, tired, scared, and short of breath. Sure I was sad, but I refused then as I do now to dwell on that. I believe in laughter, counting your blessings, and finding the silver lining. But for nearly a week after the fire i felt guilty if I so much as smiled. It didn't seem proper or right, but despite everything, there are something that are just funny. Like when I inadvertently told a friend, "I'd love to do that, but I can't commit right now because I already have too many irons in the fire. " Or like yesterday when another well-meaning friend asked if I'd lost all of my CDs. When I answered yes, he said, "I'd be glad to burn you some." The look of horror on his face was priceless when I feigned hurt and asked, "What's that supposed to mean? Don't you think I've had enough things burn?"

4) Avoidance is a good coping technique. Since my family is all safe, the majority of things we lost can be classified as stuff. Sure there is some irreplaceable stuff such as videos and pictures of the boys when they were small, but dwelling on the fact they are gone will change nothing. So whenever things of that nature pop in my head I think about that cracked window I will never have to replace, or the ugly green tub that no longer needs updating. matter of fact there were a million honey-dos that my lazy side put off doing.

5) Shiner Bock makes good sturdy bottles.

6) This one comes from my wife. There is no reason to stow that good china, or keep you grandmother's silver silverware locked away in a chest. Use it. Why? Because you can. (By the way we did find most of that silverware in the rubble. Tarnished, but usable.)

7) Smoke alarms work and they are your friend. We had the kind that actually speaks and sometimes when it is dark and quiet I can still hear her voice say, Fire!,Fire! Fire! My wife says she does too, but nevertheless I will buy the exact same kind when we get our new house. Experts say kids respond better to a voice than a shrill warning. Ours also doubled as a carbon monoxide tester.

8) We all know how dangerous the stock market is these days. And trust me when I say Keeping cash under the mattress isn't a good idea because those suckers leave nothing but springs behind when they burn. So if you don't have a fireproof safe or a safe-deposit box my advice is to take you money and buy Chuck E. Cheese tokens. They seem to do just fine in a hot blaze.

9) We've already established that it is a good idea to go with wall-to-wall shag carpet, but what should you build the house out of ....

Lincoln Logs of course.

I found a bunch of them. Charred, blackened, but mostly intact.

Who knew?

10) And most importantly I discovered just how many friends I have. I'm still in the process of thanking each of you individually and I certainly hope I do not miss anybody, but it might take me a month or so to make it through the lengthy list of those who have gone above and beyond to help in one way or another. Also to express my gratitude, I'm going to be giving away the remainder of my supply of Writer's Calenders. I am going to do this in a variety of ways. Two copies, in a random drawing of those who contributed on the site Erica and Stephen started. Two copies in a drawing among those who have taken the time and effort to send packages, cards, and well wishes via postal mail and email. And one from a random drawing of those who have signed on to follow my blog. I wish I could give each and every one of you a copy, but that is beyond my means.

Thank you all again, and I promise to at least try and get back to my normal style of blogging soon.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


And here is the newspaper link. I have one correction to make, the boys were not home when the fire started.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Tomorrow the local newspaper here in Amarillo is supposed to run a story about the fire and the way you guys have all rallied to help my family. I'm more than a little nervous about the piece even though I can't really put my finger on why.

I'll post a link to the article as soon as it comes out.

I wanted to put up some great witty post today, since the article is bound to drive some new traffic here but I'm simply not feeling creative at the moment,so for any newcomers and all of you repeat readers I'm sorry but this is another retread post from the past.

This one originally was posted on April 30th, 2007 and was titled ...

The Other White Meat

What makes a writer?

Once, at a writer's conference, I heard a literary agent say, "Anyone under the age of thirty-five should attempt to write fiction. " Now this was a reputable agent with a good many projects sold to big publishing houses. But I still say the idea you have to be a certain age to write is utter nonsense.

Everyone is a writer in some sense. Don't think so? I'll wager a dozen T-Bone steaks to a head of lettuce that there's not a single person in this world who hasn't already wrote a conflict scene or two in their head. We all do it. Get in to some type of argument and then later think ... oh I should have said this. And then you plan out how the other person would have responded with blah, blah, blah. And then you could have really got them with ...

Come on admit it. You've done this.

The trick is to put that kind of stuff down on paper, mix in some inner emotional turmoil, or middle-eastern terrorists, or a dead body or whatever fits for your genre. All the while adding in the bits and pieces of everyday life that all of us see first hand. Which brings me to life experience. You can have it at ten in some extreme case and you can be a hundred and still not have much.

Now I personally still have about eight months until I hit that magic age of thirty-five (I've since zoomed past that mark) and if I suddenly get my break the day after my birthday, (nope) well then that particular agent can look me up and say , "I told you so."

But in the meanwhile I've lived a pretty varied and eclectic life that I continually go to for material. Here is the short list.

Paying Gigs- grocery sacker, wood sander, feed store worker, postal worker, football referee, Santa Clause, Easter Bunny, gigilo - Okay I'm kidding about that last one, but if the price was right you never know what I might do. (Especially for a book deal.) All of these have had their moments but the time I spent at Rose's Feed and Garden gave me more material than ten authors could ever use in a lifetime. Now of course I twist around my experiences, enhance them and give the reader a more entertaining twist than the actual reality, but still I've seen some interesting stuff, like the time a well-meaning mom of a small child groped me while I was in the Easter Bunny costume, but that is a whole other story.

Critters- Once upon a time I wanted to be a vet. I love animals, especially the tasty ones. But over the years I've raised a variety of animals for both fun and profit. Okay, only the pigs were what you could call real profitable, but still it was interesting. Rabbits, at one time I had almost two hundred. Dogs- I've had good one, bad ones, and some that weren't worth shooting, Cats- Blame my wife for this. Pigs- I earned more my senior year of high school showing hogs than I did in the two years after graduation. Nothing goes together like FFA, stock shows, and smuggled Everclear consumed straight from empty shampoo bottles, again a story for another day. Lambs, Goats, Chickens, Turkeys, Hedgehogs, Tropical fish, and Guinea Pigs, which don't taste anything like actual pork. Or so I'm told.

Sports-Football, Hockey, Softball, Frisbee Golf, Miniature Golf, Real golf, Video game golf, Okay I'll stop now that I sound like Bubba Gump.

On top of these things. I read like a fiend, I talk way too much, which leads to meeting some interesting people, like to travel, enjoy a variety of music, but mostly Texas Country which is a whole lot different from the stuff Nashville cranks out for the uninitiated.

Guess what I'm trying to say is it ain't the years behind ya that puts experience in your tank, its the miles.

Of course you can even get by that if you have a heck of an imagination and a strong tendency to make up lies.

Friday, January 16, 2009

One Mississippi

I've said before that I don't like to critique published novels fro two reasons. One, I have failed thus far to get any of my novels published and to therefore criticize someone who is farther along in the game seems crazy. Two, tastes are subjective and just because something did not strike a chord with me doesn't me it won't for you and the last thing I want is to discourage anyone from reading.

But having said that, I do want to start talking about books I've read a bit more . So I've decided to take a certain formulaic look at each and every book I read and post them here.

I'm going to tell you three reasons why you should read each particular book. And three reasons not to. And I'm going to do my best to not spoil any of the plots.

One Mississippi by Mark Childress

published in 2006 by Back Bay Books.

3 Reasons you might like this Book

1) Great characters. The story is told through the eyes of Daniel Musgrove, a teenage boy that is force to move to Mississippi for his last few years of high school. The voice an characterization is dead on as is the portrayal of the secondary characters.

2) Time and setting. The author took me there. He made me feel like I was hanging out in the deep south during the 1970s.

3) The writing. The pace, the flow, the story-telling are all very well done. The scenes build upon each other and layered facets of the novel make this complex story come to life.

3 Reasons you might not like this book

1) Mark Childress is best known for Crazy in Alabama. This book i darker and heavier. The humour is more subtle. Stephen King blurbs on the cover that One Mississippi is the funniest novel he's read in ten years. Sure there are funny moments but trust me when I say Stephen King doesn't read much humor because One Mississippi isn't anywhere near the top of the funny list in things I've read the past decade.

2) Once upon a time I read books purely for entertainment, but since becoming a writer myself I tend to break books down and really study how they are crafted and how the plot is developed. Because of that I often figure out the plot twists and turns earlier than expected. This novel was no exception. I was not surprised by the dark turn towards the end.

3) The book comes across as homophobic, as I'm sure Mississippi in the 70's was, and the big climactic scene at the end felt more in touch with today's headlines than the my notion of the 70s. that is not to say it couldn't have happened then but it still felt felt like too much of a contrast with the rest of the novel.

3 Lines beginning with the 3rd sentence on page 33 of the novel.

It was all wildly expensive, all the money our parents had given us and some of our own, but we paid it and got out of there as fast as we could.

On prom day when we collected our tuxedos, they were a good deal lighter blue than we expected. We distinctly remembered asking for the Royal blue, whereas these tuxedos were ... Sky Blue is what they were.

Normally I'm going to stop there, but this particular novel had an interview with the author at the back and I want to share one quote I gleamed from his answers.

Mark Childress ~ But the best writers -- the ones I'd like to be like -- gather elements from their own lives and filter it through their imagination and all their experience. The aim is to come up with a story that comes closer to the truth than nonfiction, which you can only do by getting inside a character's head.

I love that quote.

So have you read One Mississippi? Or another novel by Mark Childress? Do you agree with him on that quote? Let's talk about something other than fire for at least one post.

And for more book discussion with a variety of authors please visit the BookRoast blog.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ten Days

Ten days.

A week and a half.

Not much time in the grand scheme of life but let me tell you what these last ten days have meant for me and my family.

We've gone for devastation, mind-numbing despair, and doubt that life would ever be the same to optimistic hope, humbled - overflowing hearts, and steadfast faith in both our friends and future.

We can breath again.

I'm going to use a puzzle as an analogy.

Take a beautiful a picture. One of serenity and contentment. Maybe for you it is a majestic snow capped mountain range reflected in a pristine lake. Or a herd of muscular thoroughbreds nibbling on a field of wildflowers. For me it was my life, my home my family.

The fire ripped that apart like a jig saw and as I watched it burn and stared at the charred aftermath, I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to put the pieces back together.

Now, and greatly thanks to all of my friends, both local and located around the globe and blogosphere I know that I will. There may be a few of the original pieces that will be gone forever but somehow we will fit new things into those gaps and the resulting print will be just as beautiful. For that I want to say thank you to all of you. These ten days have shown me just how much a person can do with the support of friends.

In ten days and with y'alls support the burn site has gone from this ...

... to this.

And while my insurance does cover the cleanup. I felt compelled to do it myself. When I say myself I don't mean by myself which in the end should give me more money to put towards a new home. My brother-in-law, Bill,

has done the work of three men in helping as has some of my coworkers. And complete strangers (friends of friends and firemen that Bill recruited) have shown up with to help bringing much needed equipment to complete the job.

In ten days we've gone from being homeless (but not without a place to stay thanks to lots of offers and the graciousness of Jennifer's parents who put aside their kitchen remodel and made room for us) to having a rent house and a place to call our own. Again that is due to the kindness of friends who have made sacrifices on our behalf. Thanks Dan and Nicole.

My son's have PLENTY of Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars, and books. I'll post pictures later to prove it, but trust me when I say they have PLENTY. The Disney shirts have been covered as well.

In ten days we have learned just how many friends we have and despite the loss of our home we know know just how blessed we are as a family. Thank you to all of you for your different roles in making that happen.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Here are a few shots that were taken towards the end.

Note the icicles hanging off the charred wood. You might have to click on the photo to enlarge it to see them, but it was mighty cold that morning.

And when it was all said and done ...

Not much left.


I don't want to blog about the fire. Not today. It seems that my every thought has been consumed with that every thing and I simply do not want to delve into any of that deep enough to write an articulate post today. yet I feel compelled to post something. So I decided to go back exactly one year and see what I posted then. Here is that post with a bit of tweaking from me since the post was sorely in need of some editing.

Wait Until You're my Age

Thanks for all the great comments to my last post. I really thought most people would think my idea for a biggest liar show was too weird, especially given that I didn't do a very good job of explaining the idea. And no, I have no real plans to pursue the idea. I was simply spouting off. For one, I'd have no clue how to go about such a thing, and for another, all my free time is geared towards developing a writing career.

Matter of fact, as I write this post I am sitting in a coffee shop waiting on two fellow writers to show up so we can pick apart each others work and talk about the craft of fiction. I will be reading the first bit of Plundered Booty for them and I'm eager to get their thoughts. I think this a project that people will either love and buy into, or absolutely hate. Lets hope I can find an agent and eventually an editor that falls into the former.

And yes, for those who asked, that Elvis line in my last post came right out of my thick noggin. I actually used a very similar line in my second novel.

Here's a random thought I had this week.

Wait until you're my age.

There are no crueler words in the English language than those. Here's why ...

First off, you never believe them at the time they are spoken. You're young, dumb, and absolutely certain you'll never fall into the trap of using your age as an excuse. You hold fast to the belief that whether you're twenty, thirty, or forty -- you'll still be able to stay out all night drinking Jagar Meister and make it to work the next morning -- You'll still be able to play tackle football and walk without a limp the day after -- You'll still care more about whose going to win next weeks playoff game than next weeks presidential primary.

Least that is what you tell yourself.

But years later the truth hits you harder than a NFL linebacker.

Then you start to think about all the other times people have told you ...Wait Until you're my age ... and you realize ... Damn, They're probably right about everything else as well.

Now you've got a whole new list of stuff to worry about. Your kids becoming teenagers and driving, getting up to pee every other hour at night, the possibility of little blue pills somewhere in your future, joint pain, you're wife hitting menopause, aching knees every morning, social security woes, regrets that the nightly news doesn't come on at eight so you can be in bed at night.

I'm thirty five. Not old by any stretch, but old enough to reevaluate things. Old enough to realize you can't fight off old age by plucking the occasional stray gray hair from your goatee. Old enough to know better ... but still young enough to do it anyway.

Probably not my best post, but better than anything I could have come up with today. Thanks again for everything all of y'all have done to make things better for me and my family. I'll try to get another update posted within a few days.

Thursday, January 8, 2009



That is all I can say at this point. I am humbled by the outpouring of generosity. From the Amazon gift cards to the donation over on the Habitat for Travis site, to the caring heartfelt emails. I say thank you. It has meant a lot and eventually I will personally thank each and every one of you directly rather than via an impersonal post, but for now I'll say it again. Thank you.

For the last few days I have been concentrating on digging through the debris and cleaning up the mess left behind. Of course there have been moments of tears, but also little discoveries of joy. Such as both boys birth certificates. Sure they are singed on the edges, but the little ink footprints are still visible. We also found my wife's rosary, my class ring, a few pieces of Jennifer's Department 56 Halloween village, and a handful of Chuck E Cheese tokens. Many thanks to my nephew who along with help from his football buddies made most of those discoveries by digging through the watery black muck.

There have also been some oddities. The fire got hot enough to actually melt our refrigerator down to nearly half it's original size, yet a bottle of ketchup inside didn't so much as warp. And along with cockroaches add green shag carpet to the list of things that could survive a nuclear attack. Yes, sadly I really did have green shag carpet in my house, in the very room where the fir started and large sections of that carpet survived and are just as ugly now as they were before the blaze.

Friends help me load all of the metal that was once our household appliances and what not onto a trailer. We took the load to the local scrap yard where a man paid me a thirty five dollars for what once was a our fridge, freezer, washer and dryer and other assorted metals. One of the toughest moments for me was watching the giant magnet lift my world goods and deposit them atop a huge pile of rusting metal. I'll admit it, I shed a few tears as I stared at my blackened things settle in among the refuge of others. Some how it felt final, like dropping a handful of dirt into an open grave. Though, I'm afraid there are still more such moments to come.

But thanks to the compassion of so many of you, I know that both me and my family will get through them. For that I am grateful and again, I say thank you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Today, I feel human again.

That is a good thing because for the two days prior I felt like something less than human. A robot devoid of emotion, feeling, or any other brain activity. The inspectors finally finished and turned over the house to us. We started poking through the debris looking for any thing that might have survived. Tomorrow the cleanup begins in earnest and I am glad to have something to do, a goal to accomplish.

Lots of you have asked me for details about both the fire and things my family now needs. I'm going to start at the beginning and try to answer a few of those questions.

Sunday 7:30 ish in the morning -- I woke up due to an angry and complaining bladder. I shuffled off to the bathroom and at some point realized I smelled a plasticy hot aroma of the sort I normally detect when my wife leaves her curling iron on. I check the curling iron but it is turned off and cool to the touch. I also check the clothes iron in our bedroom but see that it is unplugged. I walk out of our room to the kitchen but no longer notice smell. Back in bed I wake Jennifer and ask her if she smells anything. She tells me no and asks if I checked the curling iron.

I lay back down and close my eyes but less than a minute later the smoke alarm at the opposite end of the house goes off. I rush back through the kitchen and down the hall only to see smoking seeping from above and below the door of my computer room. Jennifer is right behind me and when I push open the door smoke billows out and a flash of flame flares. I tell Jennifer to grab our dog, which is still inside the small kennel he sleeps in, and get out. Our boys had spent the night with my mom as they do lots of Saturday nights. And that is perhaps the biggest blessing in all of this as their bedroom was right next to the room where the fire broke out.

I grabbed a fire extinguisher from the kitchen and ran back to the room but when I pulled the pin and squeezed the trigger only a small poof of air and white foam came out and then nothing. It didn't even dent the growing flame. Jennifer ran to the neighbors and then came back to grab our other dog which was out back in her kennel which butted up to the backside of our house.

Meanwhile I made several trips in and out of our house in an idiotic attempt to save something. The first few trips in were not so bad but apparently my mind was already putty because I grabbed things like a giant Christmas platter and left my wallet which was right next to it. I grabbed my wife's contacts, but not her purse. A truck of the boys artwork and keepsakes, but not Jennifer's huge box of pictures and scrapbooking stuff. Much to the chagrin of my buddies it never occurred to me to grab my 50 inch high def big screen.

The last few trips were scary. The house was full of acrid black smoke and stuff was flying around and cracking and I failed to get so much as one thing before being forced out for a breath of air. When the windows blew out in very dramatic, action-movie style I gave up on going back in.

The timeline is fuzzy, but only a sort time later, my house lay in smoky ruins. The first firetruck did not arrive for nearly thirty minutes due to my remote location. By that time the house was completely engulfed.

I am told that neighbors have pics and when I get a chance I'll get copies and post a few.

The house and all of it's contents were a total loss, but I am proud to say it could have been worse.

As I said my boys were not home and did not have to taste the fear or experience the trauma of seeing the flames destroy every last thing they owned.

No one got hurt, expect the boys turtle named Captain Jack. We told the boys that we let him go in the nearby creek, but in reality Captain Jack went down with the ship.

The night before we'd gone to a friends to show them pictures from our trip so both our camera and my laptop were still in the back of Jennifer's car. I lost only a few very old snippets of my writing and truthfully they were probably not very good, and a few chapters of my most recent work which was on a flash drive.

I do have insurance. Not nearly enough to cover everything, but after all the expenses are paid there will be a bit left to start the rebuilding process. I never realized just how much crap we owned until we started trying to itemize. I have learned the importance of updating your insurance often though I must say it is the costliest lesson I've learned thus far in my life.

The fire inspectors are speculating maybe an electrical problem in the wall, but there was far too much damage for them to make more than a guess. For my own peace of mind I wish that we could know for certain but I guess in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter since knowing will not change anything.

And the best thing I've learned is that I have more friends that care about me and my family than I ever dreamed. I thank you for all of your well-wishes and offers of help. Accepting help has been hard even though I realize that we need it and there are some things you can not simply man up and get through.

As for what we need, I'm not exactly sure.

A very generous friend with a rent house is getting it prepared for us to move into sometime in the next week, until then we are staying with Jennifer's parents. We have had many offers of furniture and bedding and accessories but at this moment we have no place to put any of them. People have brought clothes for all of us. The boys especially now have a decent supply. The Red Cross was amazing as they showed up before the fire was even out and have provided some financial assistance as well as moral support.

The boys are coping, well though my youngest is starting to realize the impact. he had a minor meltdown over hot wheels tonight when his 2 year old cousin wanted to play with one. My son cried and said he only had five left and he didn't want any lost.

I am a bit worried about Jennifer. Every so often she seems to drift away and simply stare into space and my heart breaks that I can't give her the peace of mind she needs right now.

Lots of you have asked how you can help, so swallowing my pride I'm going to list the few things that come to mind concerning my boys.

Children's books. My boys are 6 and 8 and they both love to read and I know at some point they are going to feel the loss of their books.

Hot wheel cars for my youngest. They sell for about a buck and I imagine they would cost only a bit more than that to mail. I know it would bring a smile to his face to find one in the mailbox.

Also if any of you live in the Orlando area or are visiting Disneyworld soon I'd love to replace t- shirts they boys picked out while we were there. My oldest is a size 10 or I think a child's large and he had a shirt with Mickey Mouse's body that said I'm the big cheese. His younger brother wears a 6 or a small and his ad a picture of Mickey and Goofy dressed as pirates along with a treasure map and it said How to Be a Pirate. It is very silly I know, but they spent a week agonizing over what shirt to pick and then they were gone before they ever got to wear them at home. I would gladly repay anyone who can find those shirts for them.

And many thanks to both Erica Orloff and Stephen Parrish, who I believe are the kindly parties responsible for starting a blog and fundraiser on my family's behalf.

My mailing address is 522 Casino Amarillo, TX 79118 and it comes to a cluster box not the house so it doesn't matter that the house is gone. I will still receive mail addressed to there.

But I understand that he economy is tight and that many of you have hardships of your own, so prayers, kind thoughts, and well-wishes mean just as much. I truly am blessed to have so many wonderful friends, both here in Amarillo and scattered around the world. Thank you all. Just knowing there so many who care about me and my family has been a great relief.

I'll post again when I can.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


This was supposed to be the day I recommenced the My Town Monday posts.
This was supposed to be my last day off before returning to work tomorrow.
This was not supposed to be a terrible day that I will never forget.

My house burned to the ground early this morning. I have no fancy words or clever metaphors to make this anything but a short post. My mind is shot.

We are all safe and for that I am thankful but for now I'm homeless, overwhelmed, and distraught. The writer in me wants to say that I know have another life experience to draw from, but for now my mind cannot is too busy struggling with the reality of my world to even contemplate making up stories.

I'll be back at some point and maybe I'll be able to better articulate my thoughts at that time, but right now I'm not sure when. And I'm sorry for dropping such a depressing and short post, but I count all of y'all as my friends and I thought you'd want to know.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Wild Blue Yonder

I'm back home. Tired, beat, and bedraggled. My blisters have blisters and It's a Small World After All is still stuck in my head, but we had a great time. Before I blog about our Disney experience I thought I'd discuss the tribulations of my airport travels as they relate to books and writing.

First let me say whoever said, "Getting there is half the fun," either was going to one miserable place or they managed to avoid airports in their travels. The hurry up and wait dynamic of air travel churns my innards more than Space Mountain on a full stomach. I'd much rather drive, regardless of distance, but time doesn't always permit that. There is however one silver lining to airplanes. This may shock all of y'all, but I'm a people person. I like to talk. Chat up strangers. Study people and their mannerisms. Therefore, I love the character study being crammed together with hordes of strangers provides. I am that guy who likes to strike up a conversation with my seatmates regardless of age, sex or nationality. Yes, I know this annoys some people, but I can't help myself.

The row of seats on Southwest all have three seats and my wife and I split up each taking a child so on 4 of my 5 legs of air travel I found myself sitting by a stranger. These are my general observations.

Leg 1--Amarillo to Denver - Yeah I know Denver is the wrong direction from Orlando, but direct flights from Amarillo are few and far between. Young woman in her mid to late forties took the seat next to me. She had on a long, full-length white coat. My first thought was who the hell would wear a white coat to ride on an airplane where God knows what has happened on the seats. She was nice and cordial, but opened up a book and started reading almost at once. I don't like to bother anyone who is reading so I stayed quiet as she read Marley and Me. About twenty minutes in she started crying and didn't stop for the next half hour. I smiled to myself, almost proud on behalf of the author that he'd hooked her that deeply. She apologized for being a basket case (her description, not mine) as she sniffed into a Kleenex. As we descended into Denver he closed the book and told me she too had a yellow Labrador and that no way could she go see that movie.

Leg 2 -- Denver to Orlando - A man with a shave head in his late forties took the seat beside me. He immediately opened a paperback Iris Johansen novel and began reading. But he finished reading the novel and then commenced to talking to me. His family was headed home from Orlando after vacationing at copper Mountain in Colorado. He was a police supervisor of the K9 unit in Orlando and we chatted about bombs, police procedure, narcotics and other useful things any write should know about that kind of stuff. He said he'd always wanted tow rite but never had made the time to do so. He gave me his finished copy of Quicksand he'd been reading and we chatted all they way to Florida while my son played his Nintendo DS.

Leg 3 -- Orlando to New Orleans - A young boy of about nine or ten sat by me and while I tried to talk to him I quickly gathered that his parents had entrenched the "Don't talk to strangers" mantra in his psyche so I began reading so as not to give him nightmares about the big hairy guy who wouldn't shut up. I started reading a novel I got for Christmas called, One Mississippi by Mark Childress.

Leg 4 -- New Orleans to Dallas - My fourth and final seatmate was by far the most intriguing. Don't get me wrong the K9 cop was a great guy and somebody I could hang out with I'm sure, but seatmate 4 was the kind of stuff I could build a character out of. She was tall, nearly as tall as me so that would put her six foot three or so. Pretty, though not nearly as beautiful as she thought herself. Slender of build but curvaceous enough to garner a man's attention. She had knee high riding boots on over denim jeans and a polo shirt, but a haughty air about her made it plain she had money, or at least wanted you to think she did. She had villainess written all over her. She was reluctant to take the seat beside me but the plane was full she she had no choice. A mousy little guy followed behind her and was forced to sit few rows up.

I asked little Miss Up-turned-nose if she'd like me to put the arm rest down which she responded with a very stiff and formal, "I am fine, thank you." Then she pulled out a set of Bose headphones which she plugged into an iphone. Next came a velvet facial mask which she placed over her eyes as if to say, Not only do I not want to hear you speak but I do not even want to look at your big hairy face for the next hour and a half. She had an August copy of Vogue Magazine on her lap but she never cracked it open. Way I figured, if the woman was all she thought she was then she'd at least have the latest issue of her fashion magazine. I thought about tapping her on the shoulder and saying, "Guess what, I'm a writer and I recently finished a book titled Plundered Booty," just to get her reaction, but I was too tired to be ornery so I read some more.

When we reached altitude and the captain turned off the seat belt sign her lackey, err I mean boyfriend (she wasn't wearing a wedding ring so I'll assume he wasn't her hubby got up and brought her a bottle of Evian water. He pressed it into her hand and cooed in her ear, "Is there anything else I can get you baby?"All the while, he massaged her back in small little circles.

She answered with a barely perceptible shake of her head, not even bothering to remove her mask. He returned to his seat and she sat ramrod straight in her seat right up until the exact moment to plane stopped. At which point she stood and sashayed down the aisle. Someday, I will need a bitchy character and I will have her to draw on for inspiration.

The last leg from Dallas to Amarillo was uneventful as me and my son had a row to ourselves. One good thing is that for all the dire news about books and the publishing world I saw tons of people reading while I was away . On planes, in airports, even standing in lines at Disney World.

Hope all of y'all had as much fun over the holidays and I look forward to catching up on y'alls blogs over the next few weeks. Right now I'm too scared to even open my google reader and see the number of unread posts.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ring It In

Happy New Year to all of you. May your 2009 be everything you want it to be.