What They Are Saying...

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

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!