What They Are Saying...

"This book was a fast easy read, and a fun romp. All in all, the book charmed me."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Word From Winki

Saffron Jolly and I took advantage of the unusually warm December day by sitting on the front porch swing. I gently pushed a foot against the wooden floor, providing a shallow sway for the two of us. She gave a small sigh as the soft breeze tossed her hair. Mine was tied back in a loose braid. I kept my eyes closed so I could focus on the fragrance of jasmine and the breeze on my skin. The hush of leaves from the grand oak branches vied for my attention over the occasional “weeeeeee” sung by tiny voices.

The latter came from three spiders. The trio hung just over the banister opposite us, dangling on their threads, expressing their glee as the gentle gusts lifted them into the air.

One of the benefits of my talented house included the ability to hear and understand the spiders. They were our security system, watching us from their web perches, while thousands more hid in the attic should anything unwanted enter our home.

Saffron laughed. “They're so cute,” she giggled.

“You realize,” I said, without looking, “that you just called a spider 'cute.'”

“Hey!” one of them protested. “We're adorable.” Annabelle, the leader of the spiders, feigned her insult with another giggle. “Weeeeeee!”

Beneath them, on the railing, sat a large cockroach. His antennae twitched to and fro, but otherwise, he exuded his grumpiness. Don't ask me how. It's roach thing.

“Hercule,” Saffron finally asked him, “what's wrong?”

Oh, yeah, we could understand the cockroach, too.

I sighed at the question. “You had to ask.”

When the gardon--that's what he preferred to be called--failed to answer, I elaborated. “He's mad because I won't take him to see the new Star Wars flick.”

“Oh? Why not?” Saffron asked.

“Really? That's not obvious? He's a cockroach. People frown on bringing bugs into the theater. Go figure.”

“I hide in your pocket,” Hercule huffed in his French accent.

“Until you need to see the movie. Then you crawl all over me trying to find the best vantage, all the while I'm trying to make sure no one else sees you.” To Saffron I added, “Eventually, he decides the problem is I've chosen the wrong seat. When I'm not looking, he ups and leaves.”

“Uh, oh,” she nodded, clearly seeing where this story would go.

“You got it,” I nodded. “I get engrossed in the movie until I hear someone screaming nearby, then pandemonium ensues, and it's all I can to do get the little guy out of there before he gets smashed. All while trying not to look like some freak for talking to, picking up, and protecting a cockroach.” I folded my arms, pushing us a little faster with my foot from the aggravation. “Fact is, I'm not really welcomed in any of the theaters anymore.”

“So, this has happened more than once?” Saffron asked.

“Yes,” Hercule and I said at the same time.


“You could wear a disguise,” the roach said. “If you dressed up as Princess Leia, no one would recognize you.”

“No,” I said, flatly.


“No. You'll wait, just like me, for the DVD to come out. Then we'll watch it together.”

The gardon let out a long, disgusted sigh as Saffron laughed and the spiders swung.

So. No spoilers, please. Not that I care, but the cockroach? He gets very upset.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Christmas Carol – I watch it every year. Which one? ALL of them!

** Repost from Dec 2, 2014... it still rings true! **

Every year, my husband and I make a point of watching every version of A Christmas Carol we can lay our hands and eyes on. I'm confident that makes me an expert in the tale. “That's crazy,” I hear you say. “Once you've seen the story why see other versions?” Interestingly, they are all different.

Take, for example, the two earliest versions, the ones you've seen while flipping through the channels trying to find the game. One features Reginald Owens as the miser Scrooge and the other, Alistair Sims. The Owens version was created in 1938, yet the film is clearer and the special affects are better than the Sims version, done in 1951. Of the two, the Owens version misses in a couple of marks. Firstly, Cratchit is fired (not in the Dickens tale) and, secondly, Scrooge is a bit “too happy” with the ghost of Christmas Present, making you wonder why the third haunting was at all necessary.

When it comes to sticking to the story as Dickens wrote it, no version is better than the one featuring Patrick Stewart. Stewart already had an advantage as he used to do a one-man performance of A Christmas Carol, portraying all forty characters himself. The movie is almost scene for scene and word for word to the novella. My favorite part is after the ordeal Scrooge learns how to laugh again – brilliantly done, and makes me laugh every time I see it.

In A Muppet Christmas Carol, Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit. After the loss of Tiny Tim (hey, that's pretty heavy for children, who are very likely to watch this version!) he gives a very moving, yet child-acceptable, speech before his Christmas dinner:

It's all right, children. Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it. I am sure that we shall never forget Tiny Tim, or this first parting that there was among us.

The only version that got “the message” right is the Kelsey Grammer version. Sure, you can't beat the big dance numbers and awesome costumes, but it genuinely exposes the reason for the change in Scrooge. When Scrooge sees his headstone, in an unloved and unvisited grave, he freaks out. “Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!” We are led to believe Scrooge doesn't want to die. But that wasn't Dickens's point. Scrooge wants it to change, not disappear. This version gets it right: 

At last I understand. Here lies Ebenezar Scrooge, the miser who died scorned and unmourned, having done no good, given no joy, kept no friends nor family on this earth.

Honorable mentions go to:

  • Scrooged, with Bill Murray – certainly the funniest
  • Karroll's Christmas, with Wallace Shawn as the miser (not called Scrooge) and done from a completely different point-of-view, but fun. You can find it on Youtube.
  • A Christmas Carol with Ross Kemp, a British version you'll never see here in America, but an awesome combination of the Dickens story with a little bit of Groundhog Day. Also, find it on Youtube.

Why A Christmas Carol? Interestingly, it's not about Christmas at all. It's a story of enlightenment. Consider, here's a miserable, angry, hateful man who gets a really lousy night's sleep and wakes up enlightened. He's happy. He's changed. He understands that he doesn't understand (Alistair Sims leaps around the room saying “I don't know anything!”). 

Each and every time I witness that transformation, be it Muppet or man, real or cartoon, I cry with joy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Turkey Day Truth

Ah, the yesterdays of Thanksgiving.

When I was a kid, every year we celebrated the end of the year trifecta. You know, after the drudgery and woe of school beginning, we looked forward to Halloween, Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and each of those holidays included house-wide decorations, everything from store bought items to things we kids made ourselves in school. Do you remember the turkeys made from your hand print? The construction paper pilgrim hats? The colorful corn cobs that hung on the door?

So… it was just me, then.

Thanksgiving was a great holiday. However, as the popularity of Halloween and Christmas grew, it squeezed down Thanksgiving to “that day where we're forced to go to Auntie's house – but, hey, it's only once a year.”

Here's why Thanksgiving's gone away: We do such big shows with Halloween and Christmas (lights and animatronics and trees and sound and parties and on and on) that, frankly, we're too tired to be bothered with that third one, the one that's crammed in the middle. Face it. Due to our absolute exhaustion, Thanksgiving got reduced to a day of football, big eats, and coupon clipping for tomorrow's big sales.

There are those who claim we should get rid of Thanksgiving; that it's just a way to make ourselves feel good about the colonization of America so we can forget the subsequent annihilation of the Native American population. Hard to argue that.

However, we aren't the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving. Canada also has a holiday where they take a break, gather the family, and give thanks for all they have – no “Indians” involved in their bit of history. In fact, six other countries, Germany, Japan, Grenada, Liberia, The Netherlands, and Norfolk Island, have some kind of Thanksgiving festivity. Sometime in the fall, after the harvest, they gather with friends and family and food, all to be grateful for what they have.

It's time to restore this poor holiday, or at very least, celebrate it for what it was intended to be. Thanksgiving. I'm sure, if most of us look at our lives, our families, and our friends, we consider ourselves more than just lucky. We're crazy advantaged, crazy blessed, and crazy fortuitous. That deserves more that one day, or one meal. It deserves a bit of time for planning and preparation. It deserves a little decorum and decoration. It deserves some thoughtfulness and introspection. Be that at home, or at your job, or in all the malls across America.
Take a little time to remember why we're celebrating it at all. No, I don't mean the pilgrims. I mean you. Your achievements. Your abilities. Your life.

That's the best reason to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Mindless Rant of a Bug

In case you haven't been paying attention, there's a whole new me. Well, not a new me, just a construct of the Great Hercule. The monkey who owns this blog finally paid a real artist to catch my best side, instead of that insipid line drawing she made.

Just because I look nicer does not, in any way, mean I am nicer. No. I am still a cranky cockroach with a, how do you say…? A chip on my shoulder!

I have my own blog I call In A Bug's Mind. I find some of the most inane, insane, and outrageously things you people do, then expose them—you—to your peers. This bring me great joy. There are a number of articles, however, I have not shared due to some kind of circumstance. Movies or video clips, for example, are taxing to my tiny laptop. Or a webpage so full of pictures and stories that I simply cannot select a single one to expose—THEY MUST ALL BE EXPOSED.

So I'm usurping this blog to share with you some articles that did not make my blog.

I have said, many times, how astounded I am that you all rule the world. First, you have to survive your idiotic childhoods to get far enough along to even vote. And I have proof this is tricky for you. I give you exhibit A. Moron children. <-- CLICK THE LINK, YOU FOOL!

I am also astounded at the level of helplessness that is prevalent among you.

Yes. She called the police to open... a jar. Not like the cops have any real work to do.

"The resident was quoted, 'I had no idea that's how I got mail. I thought it was magic.'" Idiot.

Or this story about the man who had a heart attack while mowing his lawn

After saving his life the paramedics proceed to do his yard work. On second thought, that's actually a "feel good" kind of story. I hate feel good stories.

Which brings me to what you chimpanzees do on your free time.

In case this is not clear to you, a man, using his GPS, took a six-month trek about Japan to proposed to his beloved. You know what she said? "No. You could have spent that time earning us a nest egg so we could move out of your parent's basement and rent us a real apartment!" Um. Okay, truth be told, that is what would have said.

The following video disgusts me. I love that. I can't help but watch it repeatedly, over and over. In fact, I chase Winki around the house while singing it. (LANGUAGE ALERT…. F-bomb at :07! You've been warned.)

Not all I see irritates and annoys me. I have to say about about ten percent of the muck out there brings a smile to this woeful, little bug. I give my “shout out” to the following:

This lovely galleryof mushrooms (what can I say? I love the world of the small. It is what I see everyday.)

Awkward yeti, which exposes the humorous conflicts between the heart and the mind (I love the heart… who knew?).

Bloom county 2015, (a Facebook page) however, I worry about what they'll do next year…

Now. Add my blog to your RSS feed. You banana-eating, nocturnal-drooling, bi-pedal bozo.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Hullabaloo of Halloween

When I was a kid, we celebrated Halloween. The gist, of course, was to get candy, and little else. Yes, we carved pumpkins. Yes, we did some decorating. Yes, we dressed up in costumes that ranged in complexity, from makeshift items thrown together to pass as our favorite superheroes, to chintzy store bought apparel that fell apart within hours, to creative things our mothers sewed together over that last week. But, mostly, it was about candy.

Seems like these days everyone is getting into the Halloween spirit. Costumes aren’t limited to people anymore, even your pet can be a part of the act.

Bags of candy? Bah! Food stuffs of all kinds can be bought or made this time of year. From cookies, to cupcakes, from potato chips to pears (by the way, tons of pears... go figure!). One only has to google your favorite food and add the word Halloween so see the vast amounts of ideas out there.

Toothbrushes! Or should that be tooooooooothbrushes. (imagine a scary voice moaning that, makes it better.)

Pumpkin carving has moved out of the children’s circle of getting your fingers gooey and into sophisticated arts.

And the tools to carve them (yes, that's a pumpkin carving Dremel): 

Coffee mugs, cookware, you name it, or even just think it, it’s been done!

I’m not sure I can explain the phenomenon. One thought is that costuming in general has become much more than a once-a-year thing. Ask any ComicCon-ner (I'm sure that's a word). As a result, costumes have grown immensely in both popularity and complexity.

Another is money, as most things are. People want it, people buy it, so, if you want to make money, all you need to do is provide it.

But my personal explanation is, “Why not?” We spend three hundred and sixty four days a year being ourselves. We go to work. We raise our families. We pay bills. We cook, we clean. This is that one chance we all have to be something else, be someone else, and do something else. That might be gruesome, that might be funny, that might be pushing the boundaries of your own creativity, but that is the point.

Oh. And there’s candy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Taste of Things to Come

Book 2 of the Witherspoon Manion Mysteries is titled, "The Curse of the Cook." Watch this space for release announcements.


Chapter One

The silver needle twinkled fiendishly in his hand.

I tried not to watch, turning my head as the delicate sword penetrated my flesh, but my eyes always betrayed me. Each and every time. My heart raced, my breath quickened— 

Mon Dieu!” Hercule exclaimed in his heavy French accent. “This has happened, how many times now? Why still do you fret so much?”

“Yeah, Mrs. W,” Mr. Smith agreed. “You had you head cut off by a ten foot lobster, for Pete’s sake. What’s a little poke with a needle?”

They just didn’t understand. “I never liked needles,” I sighed as Mr. Wesson removed the implement of torture from my arm and gingerly applied an alcohol-soaked cotton ball. 

Safety first.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, whom I dubbed “my mad scientists,” came with the house I inherited. Not that most mansions in New Orleans have mad scientists, but who knows? Mr. Smith (and I don’t know either of their first names) was a tall man, barrel chested, with long black hair pulled harshly back into a pony tail. He painted his fingernails black as well so they matched, or so I assumed. His lab partner was a short, frail man, with crazy curly hair that looked like a combination of Harpo Marx and Albert Einstein. 

These days they had a new daily routine for me. They used to make me run obstacle courses, or spar, or practice my “time guardian” talent, which was folks called my ability to slow down time. But, after the events eight months ago—when I supposedly conjured a gun—they’ve focused solely on recreating that result. Conjuring. Unsuccessfully, I might add. Almost daily they take a little of my blood, analyze it, and try to come up with explanations for why I just can’t do it again.

I rubbed my sore arm. “What’s wrong with yesterday’s sample,” I huffed.

“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Mr. Smith explained. “We need a daily sample. We’ve explained this to you already.” Actually, only Mr. Smith explained things. Mr. Wesson never said a word. “We’re having a hard time nailing down your energy signature since it changes almost every day. So, we’re analyzing it, yes, every day, trying to understand how you’re changing. We’re making… progress,” he smiled, pointing at a monitor from over Mr. Wesson’s shoulder, but he didn’t sound so sure.

I’d heard those words many times now. I scowled my discontent.

About eight months ago, I was tricked into believing Nathan Marble, my lawyer, had killed my husband. In a rage of hatred and vengeance I conjured a gun, right out of thin air. Not my gun; I don't own one. Not a gun any of my staffers ever saw before. But there it was, in my hand, locked and loaded, ready to make Mr. Marble another New Orleans urban statistic. 

It didn't happen, I’m happy to report. I didn't pull the trigger. He confessed at that moment that he was my husband's brother. That was just enough to quell the rage. Just barely.

Avec votre permission,” Hercule Poirot said, “I will try to explain.” It took me a long while to get comfortable with his small stature, his shiny brown body… and his six legs. And talking, no less. The Great Hercule was a cockroach. He preferred the term gardon

“You are not yet complete in your manifesting. You are still growing. Still changing. When you are fully grown you will have five talents.”

Talent was what we called magic in this world. We don’t like to use the word “magic.” Apparently, it reminds everyone of the Salem witch trials.

“Yeah,” I sighed, “This I know.”

“You’ve barely achieved two so far. Intention of the science monkeys, I believe, is to monitor you daily and see how you change. Thus, the buffoons with lab coats can predict how your talents manifest and help you tap into those energies you have yet to possess.”

Mr. Smith muttered a “hey” at the buffoon reference. He seemed content, however, being called a science monkey.

“What if that’s all I get? Two talents, I mean. I’m not born talented. Maybe, because of how I got my talent, they’re limited. Or uncontrollable.” In addition to the house, I inherited my ability from my husband. It was his last act on this earth. Sort of… it’s complicated.

“Possible, yes,” the roach continued. “However, I know you are not complete because you still have no shining.”

I cocked an eyebrow as I donned my powder blue leather jacket, and flipped my stark white hair free of it. “Shining?”

“Yes. The shining. The illumination of the eyes.”

“The bug’s right,” Mr. Smith said, overhearing the conversation. “You never shine.”

“Recall, cherie, when Nathan, or the one you call Jeeves, or any of the others… when they use their talents, the eyes have a different appearance, do they not?”

They did. They faces grew gaunt, almost skull like, and their eyes shine bright green— “Ah. Shining.”

Oui. It is a sign of maturity,” Hercule said. He perched himself on the lab table, seated upright on the edge, with his back legs dangling and his topmost folded. His middle legs braced upon the metal. Count ‘em: six. “And you have no shine. Or wit, for that matter, but mostly I am interested in the shine.”

“Fine. I still have talents coming,” I told the gardon, immune to his sharp tongue. “What I don’t get is why my blood is needed. Isn’t energy, well, energy?” I waved my hands in the air in a type of demonstration. “What does my blood have to do with it?”

“Your energy is in your blood,” Mr. Smith said, “as well as your skin, your hair, and so on. This way, we can study it without you being here.” With that, he made a “shoo” motion with his fingers.

Thank goodness. Officially dismissed, I spun on my heels and headed out. 

Such was my life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Driver's Ed -- The Freeway Edition

After a long road trip that took me from New Orleans, through the states of Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, back up to Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, down through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana (wow, I’m exhausted just typing that) I’m come to a sad conclusion. Americans don’t know how to drive.

Face it. Most of us learned how to drive when we were sixteen. At that time, we studied for a written exam and had to prove our skills with an active, honest to goodness, person in the car watching, driving test. After that, nada! With the exception of a punishment “drivers ed” that you attended so points don’t show up on your record from that stop sign you ran last year, that initial schooling is all you’ve ever received. 

I’m here to tell you we all need refresher courses. Instead of the state simply sending you a new license every ten years, I think it would behoove us all to have another written at least, and a driving test at best.

In lieu of that, here are some examples of things we’ve forgotten, simple things taught us when we were but innocent youths more interested in the cute person in the front row than safe following distances behind us.

Lesson #1) Merge vs. Yield

Merge means, “match the speed of the cars so you can seamlessly get into traffic,” while Yield means, “be prepared to stop because you’re about to encounter traffic.” In other words, Merge means MOVE MOVE MOVE! You’re about to get onto a freeway, bub, so you need to be traveling at the same speed to safely become part of that. DO NOT STOP! 

Meanwhile, Yield means Yo! Slow! As in “you do not have the right of way.” 

Lesson #2) A safe following distance

Most states have laws about how close you should be to the car in front of you while cruising down a freeway at 80 miles an hour. Those are handy distances, like 1000 feet, or something. That is to say, useless. Failing that, however, you are tailgating.

So, how do you know? You can’t very well get out a measuring tape, now can you?

Watch the car in front of you and notice when it passes something stationary (a sign, a mile marker, that tire on the side of the road). Then count “Mississippi one, Mississippi two.”  If by then you’ve passed the same item, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE! You need at least 1 second to see and react to the car stopping in front of you, and 1 second for your own car to stop, hence the two-second rule. Always! This trick works regardless of speed.

Lesson #3) Moving into another lane

They are called turn signals, people! They are located on your steering wheel! I’m confident every car has them!

I know, you think, “If I put on my turn signal the car next to me speeds up to keep me out of the lane”, and true, some bozos will do just that. But that’s not a reason not to use them. There are only so many things we, in cars, can do to communicate to other drivers our intentions: Stop, Left, Right, I’m having car trouble, and I’M SO MAD AT YOU! Turn signals are information. Period. I guarantee you, no cop writing up a traffic accident report had to put down the words: the problem was way too much information; everyone knew exactly what was going on. Use them, use them, use them.

Lesson #4) A safe following distance (part 2)

Let’s say you’re passing a vehicle (on the left, of course, everyone agrees, yes?). How do you know when you can safely merge back over, keeping in mind that you want to give that driver a safe (2 second) following distance? This is so simple I’m always astounded people don’t do it.
Not a safe following distance.
Glance at your rear view (that’s the mirror in your car, by the way). Once you see not one, but two of his headlights (BOTH of them) in the mirror, you can safely merge without incident. That’s it. Just a glance, “yep I’m good to go,” and merge. No drama, no honking horns, and no panic should a deer jump out in front of you at that instant.

Lesson #5) Exiting the freeway

This seems like an easy thing. There’s my exit, put on turn signal, and off I go. Yet, most of us aren’t in the right lane when we realize “there’s my exit.” What do we do? We speed up to get in front of the car on our right, swerve into the right lane (with almost zero following distance), and take the exit at high speed.

You think I’m kidding? Have you seen yourself drive? 

I call this the Speed Racer mentality. We’re always in a hurry and we always need to get in front of that guy. Win! Why doesn’t it occur to people to use the brake in this situation. You’re about to slow down anyway. Start the process by slowing down, and getting in BEHIND the vehicle on the right, and taking the exit.

You’ve heard it before: Driving isn’t a right. It’s a privilege. Yet we get in our cars so often and with such disregard that we forget we’re about to take our lives, and the lives of those around us, into our hands. 

I, for one, am looking forward to the Google Car, when, one day, we all get into our vehicles to go to work, yet sit in the passenger side as the car moves on its own, in and out of traffic, while we read the news, or update our Facebook, or watch something on TV.

After all, that’s really where our minds are.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

About those Hugos

My writers group, Leasspell, attended this year's WorldCon (affectionately called Sasquan because it took place in Spokane, Washington). It was my first WorldCon. I came with two goals. First, moderate a couple of writer sessions, which went very well. And second, not to accumulate an array of ribbons. Sadly, I still had an array of colors dangling from my badge by the end of it all. Wonder what I could have achieved if I tried.

It was also location of the first WorldConGate (also called the Hugos in certain circles).

Quick recap for those who don't know: The Hugos were invented for Science Fiction writers, probably by Science Fiction writers who were tired of getting snubbed by every other award. Over the years, other categories crept in (like Fantasy or TV or movies or whatever). So, a bunch of sad puppies (aka Sad Puppies) decided to protest this diversity, and when it occurred to someone that they weren't protesting with enough outrage, start another competing ill-behaved group (aka Rabid Puppies). Long story short, five award categories had no winners. Or something like that. The details got lost on me.

The general murmur at the Con was as follows:

1) Neither the Sad Puppies nor the Rabid Puppies did anything wrong, according to the rules of the nominating and election process.

2) The rules need to be changed.

Bad Dog!
What the puppies don't realize is how damaging this all was to the Hugos in general. For example, my husband reads a lot. I mean, a LOT. He used to seek out Hugo nominated or winning works since he believe that meant something; that these books were deemed the best of the best by the writers and board of the awards. He used to believe they were the Academy Awards of SF/F. Now, the cat's out of the bag. The Hugo is nothing but some readers saying “I liked it” and some other readers saying “Oh, yeah, I read that. Sure. It's the best,” without having read all the other nominees, and if some other group of readers doesn't like the works selected, they can hijack the whole shebang.

Now the award means nothing to him. I don't believe he's the only one.

That said, here's this silly author's take on what can be done to make the Hugos be what they ought to be.

First, they need to remove the “no award” from the ballot. Period. If a number of works got on the ballot (and I think we all can agree that most authors work their little hearts out), someone should win.

Second, the Hugo board needs to be bigger. And only they get to vote for the winner.

Let's hope they get that all worked out in the not too distant future. Like NEW ORLEANS, 2018!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

C O N ! ! ! !

Yep, that's my best Shatner impression.

Sasquan, or WorldCon, to be exact. As I type these words from my room at the Davenport Grand Hotel, I'm attending the famous annual event. In Spokane. Which is, in and of itself, dandy, however, this past month, all of the state of Washington is burning. So we're hunkered down in the conference, and using the sky walks to get from point A to point B, not because of the cold, but so we don't breathe the brown-gray smoke that fills the skies. Some of us, to appease the gods, have sacrificed chickens while dancing under the blood red sun.. but those are mostly the costumers. Mostly.

What is WorldCon? In short, it's a celebration for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers; a chance for them to crawl out from behind their desks of their mostly solitary writer-life and mingle with other like-minded, solitary critters. Like me. Some dress up as the characters and creatures that sparked their imaginations. Others, just like dressing up.

I'm here to moderate a couple of writer sessions. Some authors come seeking advice on how to better their writing, or their sellability to publishers. They've submitted works to the Con for that purpose. This year, organizers received over 50 entries. Who says books are dead!

Those entries have been divvied up between several industry professionals in small sessions, intended for a bit of one-on-one advice. Each three-hour session has three authors who'll receive guidance from three professionals. My job? To make it all run smoothly; to ensure that each author receives equal time in the discussion, and that each professional gives useful advice. 

Then, it's off to the floor, to be dazzled by the books, the jewelry, and the costumes, both for sale and on persons. Oh, and try not to be parted from my hard-earned cash!

Why should you come? Every year it's in a new location, which adds to the uniqueness of the event. Every year it has a new theme, new authors, new Hugo nominations... did I fail to mention that? If you read sci-fi/fantasy books, then you'll know that the Hugos are the coveted award for those authors. This is where that happens. This is where the ballots get tallied, and the best of the best (voted on by the industry) get awarded. Dress up folks – it's the Academy Awards for Sci-Fi/Fantasy!

Books not your gig? “I'm more of a Star Trek fan.” Not to worry. Here, it's all about the genre. Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy; movie and TV. There are talks about it all!

If you're in the area, stop by. If you see me, say “Gimme a bug.” I'll comply.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Elemental Storytelling: The Dead Man's Deal [REPOST]

[This article first appeared on Melissa Snark's The Snarkology last month. Thank you, Melissa, for all your hard work. It's always a pleasure working with you.]

The Dead Man's Deal is an urban fantasy set in New Orleans. The following molecule contains elements that outline the character, the plot, and the enemy the heroine faces, as well as the sit-back-and-relax attitude readers should enjoy.

The molecule begins with the audience.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, MST - "Repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax." 

The reader will not find any hidden life changing advice or guidance, nor will they be required to understand how the universe works, nor will they be asked to ponder life, the universe, and everything. Just suspend disbelief, sit back, and go for a fun and exciting ride.

NEO, The Chosen One who is also the ST, Storyteller. Neo is the ultimate victim, because Destiny Says So. The Storyteller is the character that is noted for her ability to tell tales. 

Winki Witherspoon doesn't want this job! In fact, she didn't even know this world existed until her husband passed away and imbued her with magical abilities. This is her story, told in first person, in her voice.

C, Conflict. Conflict is the basic problem to overcome. 

Winki discovers that the death of her husband might not have been the accident she thought it was. After an attempt on her own life, she realized she needs to unveil the traitor before she becomes a victim. Her life devolves into nothing but conflict, from the Tournaments she's forced to participate in (bloody, physical, brutal battles for the best) to fighting the liar in her midst.

EWI, the enemy within and the final RE, Reveal. When we discover how the villain has been manipulating everyone.
"Someone isn't who they claim to be." Those are the words Winki reads in a letter written to her from her husband when he realized he'd been betrayed. Winki, thrust into this odd and perplexing world, must discover the truth and reveal the traitor before she herself is killed. Or turns evil.

The Dead Man's Deal by Jax Daniels
First of the Witherspoon Mansion Adventures
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: August 11, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781628279535

When Winki Witherspoon lost her husband she inherited his New Orleans mansion and his magical talent. Can she master it and discover his traitor before she too is destroyed?


We ate in silence. For the first time that prattling man shut up and kept quiet. Thank God. Only the settling sounds of the grandfather clock in the corner ticking away the seconds reached my ears.
I helped myself to seconds, pouring another ladle of gumbo into my bowl, and added a float of rice on top. Mr. Marble smiled. “Glad to see you eating, Mrs. Witherspoon,” he whispered.
At a whisper his voice soothed rather than grated. “First time I've felt like eating in a while. Mrs. White is a good cook.”
No,” he said, taking another mouthful. “You'll come to find she's a fantastic cook. She knows exactly what to feed you and when.” After another bite or two he continued. “She's also an herbalist. An herbal healer, for lack of a better term. You tell her what's ailing you, and she'll make you a tea guaranteed to cure it. Headaches, allergies, stomach ailments, cuts and scrapes. Hell, she took a wart off me once with a leaf and some ointment.” He looked at his thumb. “Completely painless. Never came back.”
Once I finished I sat back, my lips tingling, numb from the gumbo's heat. I considered having thirds. Reluctantly I decided against it.
To my right, stretching along the length of the room, towered windowed doors that opened onto the patio in back. Through their laced curtains I could see the backyard, and just beyond a small glass house. I assumed the herbs came from there. Despite the worn interior of the room, the yard looked immaculate. I envisioned this grand old home in its heyday, hosting spectacular parties with wealthy people dressed in costumes, ambling from the dining area out to the lamp-lit yard to dance, the happy music darkened by my despair.
Quite a place, don't you think?” Mr. Marble broke my reverie.
I wiped my mouth with my napkin and scooted my chair back to face him better. “Yes. And thank you for showing it to me, Mr. Marble. But I'd like to go home now.”
But we haven't covered the trust arrangement yet.”
I looked out the window, flooded with both questions and anger. This house? This was the big secret? This run down, dilapidated building and its quacky occupants? Why didn't Will mention this to me? Why wouldn't he have? I felt betrayed he'd kept this a secret. “Mr. Marble–,” I started.
Nathan, please. Call me Nathan–.”
“–I don't care about the trust. I don't care about this house. I don't care what my husband wanted.” He twisted his head, perplexed. “I was married to him for seventeen years. I thought I knew everything about him. I thought we shared everything. Now I find out that he had a separate trust, with separate money, and a possible separate life? I don't get it. I don't see why this had to be kept from me and now, frankly, I don't care.”
Please, let me–”
You've had your shot. You sold it well. I did everything you asked. But now I want to go home.”
You stand to inherit–”
I. Don't. Care.”
He hung his head for a moment and we sat there in silence. Mr. Marble cleared his throat.
Jeeves entered the room. “Yes, sir?”
Jeeves,” Mr. Marble said, “can you please bring me my briefcase. I left it in the foyer.”
Indeed, sir,” Jeeves bowed and left. Left me, there, with my mouth open. Jeeves? He called him Jeeves?
My utter shock read loudly. “Well, that's what you were gonna call him, isn't it? He'd best get used to it.”
But I never told you that.”
Nope. Didn't have to.” He smiled. Not the salesman smile I'd had more than my fill of already. Rather a kind and gentle smile, the smile of a man who actually cared. “It's what Will used to call him.”
I slumped in my seat and folded my arms. Another wave of anger washed over me. Dammit. Why couldn't I have been a part of this, whatever this was? It's just a house, for Minerva's sake.
I know,” he started slowly and softly, “that you're angry. I know that you're hurt and overwhelmed. I get it. But Will is dead, Mrs. Witherspoon. It's time for you to live.” I sniffed back the tears and rubbed my watery eyes. “He didn't share this with you in life, but it was his dying wish to share it with you in death.” Jeeves quietly placed the briefcase on the table. “Thank you.” He returned his gaze to me. “Please, just hear me out for a few more minutes. Then, if you want me to, I'll take you back. I promise.”
I didn't argue, which he took as a sign of agreement. He opened his briefcase, pulled out a thick three-ringed binder, and continued. “Will and I set up this trust when the two of you married and kept it current. It was last updated–”
How long?” I interrupted.
Excuse me?”
How long did you know him? Will. How long did you know my husband?”
He sighed. “Just a couple of years before he met you.”
Why did he never mention you?”
Never mentioned me? I, well...” It was back. That annoying, grating texture of his voice. I hadn't realized it had fully disappeared until now.
Don't use that tone of voice with me!”
He sat back, stunned. He slowly closed his mouth and nodded. “Alright.” He flipped through a page or two. “How we knew each other and why isn't important right now, Mrs. Witherspoon. Please, let me get through this. Just hear me out. Hear Will out.”
Fine,” I said curtly. My nervous thumb played with the table's fluted edge.
He paraphrased as he read. “The terms of the trust are simple. I, as your executor and accountant, am to provide you a monthly stipend of two thousand dollars. I'm also to maintain and pay your staff here at Gateway Manor,” he waved his hand about to indicate the mansion, “as well as any supplies needed or used by the staff, including but not limited to food, tools, medicines, appliances–”
Yeah, yeah. I get it. Move along.”
You, as the sole benefactor of the trust, must live here in Gateway Manor for a period no less than two years.”
What?” I cried out.
After that you are free to live anywhere you like and you inherit completely and without restriction the rest of the trust reserves, which is a–”
Not interested.”
But I haven't told you what you'll inherit.”
Not interested!”
Seventy-four million dollars.”
Not inter... Great Gatsby, how much?” It wasn't the money. Really. Never has been. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to Will right from the beginning was his total lack of enthusiasm to chase the almighty dollar. What shocked me was the sheer enormity of his deceit. “Where did Will get seventy-four million dollars? He was a CPA! He was good but... holy crap!”
Family money. Passed down through generations. Like this house.” I must have looked like the words made no sense to me. Probably because they didn't. “Mostly the money stays in bank accounts and conservative investments. Because, like you, Will, nor his ancestors for that matter, cared about the money. So they tucked it away. Just in case.”
Just in case?”
Yeah. Just in case. They lived mostly off interest and accumulated a little here and there. Over the years, violĂ .” He handed me a pile of papers. Savings accounts statements and government bond receipts mostly. A cover letter outlined the grand total. Seventy-four million. Give or take a few hundred thousand.
As I studied it Mr. Marble continued.
Will never cared about money. And I know he'd never marry a woman who felt differently. But I'd like to tell you what will happen, what Will had outlined in his trust to happen, if you walk away right now.”
I looked up at him, and set the paper aside.
If you leave the manor before the two year mark then the mansion is sold. The proceeds go to you. And only that. The remaining investments are to be shared amongst these charities,” he said, rustling out another piece of paper, “in the distribution outlined.”
I looked over the paper. I recognized most of the names. Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, all charities Will and I supported in the past. The list also included an art school, a halfway house, and an orphanage in the city.
You'd probably net ten or fifteen million from the mansion, so you'd still be set for life. That's what Will wanted.” He mumbled, “We argued over that point a great deal, I assure you.”
So why don't I do that?” It seemed I was missing a part of the picture here. “What's the downside of selling this dump and giving the rest to charity?”
His eyebrows shot upwards at the word “dump” and, simultaneously, the house issued a loud settling creak. The timing unnerved me a bit. He looked skyward, eyes darting about the ceiling, and yelled, “She didn't mean it!” He looked at me, and cleared his throat. “Because if you sell this,” then whispered very quietly, “dump”, then continued, “everyone here not only loses a job, but they lose their home. They don't just work here, madam. They live here. Some for all of their lives.”
I chewed on my bottom lip. I didn't want to kick anyone out of their home. But I didn't want to live in it, either.
Mr. Marble saw the spinning wheels in my head and rifled through the binder again, retrieving several old documents. As I looked through them he spoke.
The manor was built in 1823 by Thomas Tyler Witherspoon, who settled here after fighting in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. Served with Andrew Jackson. Here,” he pointed to one document. “He started with these three parcels, then purchased the next fourteen over five years. Initially it was–”
Witherspoon Plantation,” I finished, reading the description.
Slaves, cotton, the whole works.” He sat back. “Then the Civil War came.”
I take it the Witherspoons' backed the Confederates.”
He tilted his head. “Um, yes and no. The sons went to war to defend their rights to the land. But the daughters and the servants, well... There were several safe houses that started and organized passage through the Underground Railroad. This was one of them.”
He nodded. “That's originally where the name came from. Gateway Manor.” He shrugged. “It swings both ways.”
I have to admit he had piqued my interest. “If I stay here, what happens to our place in Irish Channel?”
He whipped out another document. “This gives me power of attorney to manage the sale of your current house. The proceeds will add to the reserves you'll inherit in two years.”
I scowled. “Will and I bought that place together.”
And all the memories of your marriage and your life together are there. But, Mrs. Witherspoon,” he leaned close to me and tapped the table with his index finger. “Will is here.”
I stared at the scattered documents again, the small flat representations of decades of lives and stories. Who was I to end all of that?
Mr. Marble handed me a pen. I straightened the power of attorney document. And I signed it. Winki Witherspoon.