Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kitsch Salad: Utility Company Giveaways

Time to return to our regular feature "Kitsch Salad." After a couple of strange years, I have an appreciation for collecting again.

Just in case anyone was wondering what to get me for Christmas, the vintage "Gas Genie" customer giveaway will fit right in my stocking.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Therapy and Gardening . . .

As I type this, it is snowing in Kansas. My winter wasn't harder than those in the east, but, just, damn. This needs to be done with. As the white stuff swirls down, I have to laugh, because I was out working in my garden this morning.

I've been in a funk lately. I jokingly call it "ennui," but reality is that I've been showing bad signs. Sleeping too much, hard to concentrate, no ambition or desire to do anything but crush candy and avoid my responsibilities. I was a public defender long enough to recognize signs of depression and PTSD. I need to get a handle on what's going on in my head and heart. I even talked with my best friend about therapy. I have everything in the world going for me and every reason to be happy and I'm not. I know, first world problems, but my happiness is my own responsibility.

Well, at least for today, something else worked - my garden. Last summer, I bought a house built in 1950. Delightful mid-century-modern. Worn, but still the real deal. In my quarter-acre backyard there is a row of lilacs. Huge towering bushes that are a rat's nest of dead limbs, vines, small trees, leaves, weeds, and trash. I doubt it has been tended in 20 years. When I moved in they were in full bloom and nearly impenetrable. By the time the leaves were off, winter had arrived.

So, first, the right tools for the job:

Also a pair of clippers. I wasn't messing around. 
I didn't even know where to start. Still listless and in a funk, I grabbed a dead branch and clipped it off and then another and another. Grabbed some dead weeds and yanked them out by the roots. I heard old tapes playing in my head, "YOU'RE SLOW AND YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!" I told those voices to fuck off and kept clipping. Before I knew it, I had this pile in the corner of the yard.

About four feet tall and twelve feet wide.

Damn. I could also now get through the thicket of bushes and start pulling out more of the leaves clogging the roots. I found lilac bushes with 5-inch thick trunks that could well date back to when the house was built. I didn't get half the leaves, but I got this batch.

An eight-foot ridge of leaves I still have to bag.

I did it my own way. I just kept clipping off the dead parts, sometimes able to wrench a rotten limb off one of the eight separate clusters of lilac trunks. It was wonderful. When the "you can't do this, it's all wrong, just stop" voice came up in my head, I told it to shut up and clipped off another dead branch.

At the end of two hours, I had gotten through about a quarter to a third of it and still a ton of mess to bag/bundle/haul. Oh well, it didn't get that way overnight, it won't be cleaned out overnight (I checked with the Queen, she isn't dropping by any time soon.)

Someone else might have screamed that it needed chainsaws and power tools and hacked them down to the ground. But not me, I just kept clip, clip, clip. Eventually, a big cut may be what it is needed. But, for today, I enjoyed following twisted gnarled branches, the thick bark crusted with lichens, thinking I would have to cut it out, only to find it covered with new growth. It lightened my heart. I decided that any branch with new growth would stay at least until autumn.

I forgot to get a "before" pic, but this was after two hours.

I know, it doesn't look like much now, but in another month it should be covered with green and getting ready to bloom with big purple brushes of flowers. The more it leafs out and blooms, the easier it will be to identify and prune out the dead parts. I'm hoping that opening up the thicket to let in light and water will encourage the new growth erupting from the base of the plants. When I get the leaves and the petrified trash out, I'll add a layer of mulch.

There are eight separate shrubs, each up to eight feet tall (the chain link is seven feet tall.) That type of old growth garden is worth working for. This is what kept me going:

I feel much more mellow and focused. Maybe I need to attack the other things vexing me by not worrying about what others might do or how they might think about my methods. Maybe I just need to grab a dead bit and clip clip clip (However, I highly recommend that whether you are attacking your problems or your lilacs, start with the pointy stuff at eye level. Just trust me on this one.)

Maybe if there were more gardens there would be less need for therapy . . .

Me Monday Becomes Melmac Monday

I have revived my interest in vintage Melmac. Yes, Melmac. Plastic dishes. I love the design and style aesthetic of the higher end lines.

This week's addition are a pair of tumblers from the Branchell Colorflyte Royale line. This was the second series of Colorflyte and is much rarer. This is Turquoise Blue and Flame Pink. I'm thinking these need to contain cocktails on the back deck this spring (if spring ever comes, it just started to snow in Kansas.)

Designed by Kaye LaMoyne for The Branchell Company between 1954 and 1958.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Divergent - What's in Your Fear Room?

I just got back from seeing Divergent, the movie adaptation of Veronica Roth's runaway best-selling trilogy.

First, the technicals. I hope this movie makes eleventy-seven-billion bucks and shows moviemakers that you can make a blockbuster action flick by holding the damn camera still. I hate shaky-cam like fire. Divergent blew Hunger Games out of the water on cinematography alone. Sets were beautiful. Costumes were beautiful. The CGI and backdrops were beautiful.


*shake shake shake*


*swing the camera around your head on a rubber band.*


*throw everything slightly off-frame with some dumbass filter and soft focus*

I want movies to be immersive experiences. I want them to be real. When the filmmaker inserts himself into my experience with stupid camera tricks, I get stabby.

Second, the casting. I saw a lot of screaming in social media about the choices for Tris and Four. To hell with that, those kids were perfect. And Four was sex on wheels.

* * *

That out of the way, the strength of the movie is the gut-punch. The Fear Room. The Factions. My own self-examination on my 15-minute walk home from the theater.

I'm pretty damn bright. With no help or grooming from my family, I went from a trailer park on the other side of the airport to degrees in civil engineering and law. The only thing that stood between me and comfortable careers in both was a lack of desire to conform. So, on choosing day, would I have slid into the logic and comfort of Erudite?

However, you wouldn't know it by looking at my pale-skinned, lumpy, middle-aged self in cargo pants and polo shirt, that I've climbed red iron, went up the side of an oil tanker on a rope ladder, and calmly held my shit when I lost the rear end of my car on the ice, slid uphill, and came to rest sideways less than two feet from the traffic on a state highway. Not to mention a few things I was involved in that are better left unsaid until I'm positive the statute of limitations has passed.

These days I am more likely to express the Dauntless side of my nature by doing things like walking away from jobs that don't please me, from people that don't support me, and property that doesn't serve me. I find it funny that I now have the wisdom and experience to face physical and mental challenges, and can only wish I still had the knees and flexibility. If I had my half-century brain in my teen-self, I would have been the first jumper without question.

One of the main questions of Divergent is what do you fear and how do you face it. The final test for joining the Dauntless faction is the Fear Room. It is a simulation where you confront and overcome your greatest fears.

What do I truly fear?

I've certainly been afraid before. I've had a gun put in my face and a hand around my throat that was more than capable of going through with the implied threat. But in the end, the real pain wasn't physical, it was the rejection and betrayal inherent in those actions.

Death? I'm in no hurry to cross that bridge, but after a knock on the door in the middle of the night in 2009 and the four words that change everything, "There's been an accident," I understand there are things far worse than dying.

As you get older you can do one of two things. You can let the insecurities and fears of your youth grow and consume you or you can shed them.

I don't fear old age, only the loss of capacity, especially my vision and mental acuity.
I don't fear poverty, only the loss of options that comes with it.
I don't fear pain or injury, only the loss of freedom and mobility.
I don't fear being alone, only the loss of connection.
I don't fear failure, only the nagging doubt that I missed some magic window of success along the way.

I have a feeling my Fear Room would be a complicated place.

Divergent is 5-stars, two-thumbs up, with a round-the-world snap, and a bag of damn chips. Well done to all involved, from the writer, to her agent, to her editors, to those who adapted it for the screen, and the filmmakers who pointed the cameras and let the action unfold.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Deadline "Book Report" Featuring the Conway Sax Series by Steve Ulfelder

What's the fun of owning a little community newspaper if you can't have some fun with it? A new feature of The Deadline is my monthly book column. This one is from the Feb/March 2014 issue featuring the Conway Sax series by Steve Ulfelder

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Serial Novel: Burning Kansas Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of the serial novel "Burning Kansas" that is currently running in my community newspaper "The Deadline." Miss a chapter? Don't worry, just click the Burning Kansas or Serial Novel label and you'll be taken to a list of all chapters.

* * *

Burning Kansas – Chapter 3

           “Mrs. Cassett, may I ask you a question?”

            “The answer is after Osceola and please, call me Caroline.”

            His expression asked the question.

            “You were going to ask me about Mr. Cassett. He's dead. He ran off with a bunch of damn fool Jayhawkers to join up with that butcher Lane and burn the town. You know what things were like after that. Michael got himself killed on a border patrol one night when some Bushwhacker shot him out of his saddle. Emma and I buried him on Christmas Eve of ‘61. By New Year's we got our first visit from some, shall I say, border ruffians. I can’t believe it has been almost two years. Most days it feels more like ten.”

            The fire in her blue-green eyes belied the tired slump of her shoulders. Blaylock knew exactly what she was talking about. He'd been part of that miserable rout in Osceola and helped defend the escape of as many women and children as he could. More than one night’s sleep had been interrupted by dreams of the county courthouse coming apart under cannon fire. 

            That could have been me in my saddle just as easy as her husband.

             “Caroline,” her name felt strange on his lips, “I'm sorry for your loss.”

            “Don't be,” she said with a snap. Before he could react, she stirred the fire and refilled their mugs.

            “Bushwhacker, Jayhawker, Partisan Ranger, free state, slave state, I'm tired of all of it. I just wanted to raise my daughter while we earned an honest living. I'm given too much of my heart and blood to this fool fight. Michael was insufferable after the Nebraska Act came down. He spent more time in town banging on tables than he did around here. Michael is a hero in these parts. Funny though, not one of his admirers has put a hand to the plow he left rusting in the field.”

            The bitterness in her voice didn't surprise Blaylock. He'd heard variations on it from many abandoned wives, widows, and grieving parents the last couple of years.

            “So, you're here alone.”

            Caroline's gaze swept to the counter where she'd left the shotgun.

            Damn it. That's not what I meant.

            Before he could say anything, she retreated to a closed door, never taking her eyes off of Blaylock. Lifting the latch, she gave a low whistle. The answering growl turned the coffee to cold lead in his belly.

            “Caroline, Mrs. Cassett, let me explain,” he said raising his hands.

            The dog's head came to her waist. As she walked back to the table, the animal stayed by her side in perfect lockstep and sat as soon as she flicked her hand palm-down.

            “Mr. Blaylock, you can explain yourself. But know that King had better like your answers.”

The silence in the room hung heavy and was broken only by the dog’s panting.  Creighton Blaylock kept his hands in the air even though a dull ache was creeping into his shoulders.

“Caroline. By all that I hold dear, I meant no disrespect to you. I’ll admit, I’m exactly what you think I am, but since this cursed war began, I have never hurt a woman or a child, nor have I tolerated anyone who did. In fact, there’s a hole or two occupied by those who thought crossing me on that subject was a good idea. It wasn’t.”

She didn’t say anything, but a subtle hand gesture coupled with a click of her tongue and the dog ambled over to a blanket by the fire. Caroline tossed half a biscuit that King caught in mid-air and swallowed in one gulp.

“King doesn’t care much for Bushwhackers. The last batch that came through killed his brother Rex. Keep that in mind as you lower your hands and finish your coffee.”

Blaylock took the hint and kept his movements slow and deliberate. His coffee was cold, but he finished it gratefully. 

“Have you eaten?” Caroline’s voice had taken on its former friendly, yet reserved, tone.

“You don’t need to bother with that, Ma’am.”

“That wasn’t the question I asked you.” She punctuated her words by clanging a skillet on the stovetop. King growled from his corner.

This woman makes John Brown look like a schoolgirl. Think before you speak.

“My apologies, Caroline. No, I haven’t eaten since I took out this morning after Jacob.”

“I don’t have much, but would be honored to share it with you. Why don’t you see to your horse? There’s not a lot left of the barn, but it’s functional. Pump is on the south corner and there’s feed in the bin inside the door. I need to think a bit on where Emma and Jacob might have gotten off to.”

Blaylock had an itch between his shoulders as he walked down the stairs and across the yard. That would be the spot where she’d put the shotgun blast if he hadn’t convinced her to trust him. Blaylock didn’t relax until he reached his horse. It wasn’t that he was out of range, he was sure she was quite a shot. He just had a feeling that a practical woman like her wouldn’t shoot so close to a horse with no reason.

“Come on, Zeus. Let’s get you out of the line of fire in case that hellcat changes her mind.”

As he led his horse toward a half-burned, tumbledown structure that only slightly resembled a barn, Blaylock looked over the homestead with a practical eye. The paint on the house was faded and peeled, but the porch was straight and true. Weeds choked the yard in direct contrast to the spotless garden still heavy with summer vegetables. He smiled when he got to the barn and pushed the door open on quiet well-oiled hinges. It looked rickety on the outside, but was well-reinforced with sturdy latches, bars and defensive loopholes.

And the doors open inward, so visitors can’t pry off the hinges. Is this your hidey-hole, Caroline? It seems this whole farm is playing possum and hiding in plain sight.

A soft whinny interrupted his musing. Inside the dim barn, there were three immaculate stalls. A brown mare occupied the third. Zeus pricked his ears and fidgeted.

“Calm down, we don’t need your head turned by a pretty face. One of us is enough.”

 After settling his horse, Blaylock carried his saddle to the tack stand. A well-worn western saddle sat next to a side-saddle that still gleamed with polish and varnish.

Probably another gift from her mother, Caroline doesn’t seem like the dainty type.

He washed his hands and face in the trough and grabbed an armload of wood from the purposely haphazard wood pile. The smell of ham and biscuits reached his nose before he hit the stairs. Despite the gravity of the situation, he had to smile.

A beautiful woman is cooking me dinner. A beautiful woman who likely wants to kill me. All the better.

Blaylock reached for the latch, but pulled his hand back and knocked.

“It’s open.” He could hear a touch of laughter in her voice.

The door dragged on hinges nowhere near the quality of those in the barn. King didn’t even look up from the bone he was gnawing on.

“I thought you could use some wood.”

Well said, Sir Creighton. All that Shakespeare Ma made you read is sure coming in handy.

Her smile dazzled him. Pointing to the empty wood box, she said, “I thank you more than you could know. That has to be one of my least favorite chores.”

Blaylock felt hot blood rush to his cheeks at her compliment. After dumping the wood, he turned to the table. In the short time he’d been gone, she’d set it with a red-checked cloth and simple sturdy china. Real glasses, delicate footed things that matched the fancy pitcher, sat by each plate.

“Mr. Blaylock, help yourself to some lemonade. The biscuits will be out shortly.”

“Please, call me Creighton.”

“As you wish, Creighton,” she said as she put two bowls of vegetables on the table.

He sat down, both charmed and embarrassed by the homey table. Blaylock had joined the movement five years ago, right after the incident at Marais de Cygne and meals like this had been a rarity since then. Caroline put a platter of ham and scrambled eggs on the table and sat down without another word.

“Creighton, you haven’t poured. Don’t you like lemonade?”

“I like it fine Caroline, but a man like me is more used to tin cups and canteens.”

Her laughter sounded like bells as she filled the glasses. “I thought it was the least I could do after drawing down on you. I was thinking while you were in the barn and have some ideas on the kids. We might as well be friends because I do believe we are going to be spending some time together. Please, eat. It has been a long time since I’ve had a real chance to cook. Emma eats like a bird.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s how to follow an order. Could you pass those preserves?”

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Onward to the Second Book in the Series

Book one in what I project as a 3-5 book story arc is momentarily in the can and on the query-go-round.

I did my homework, created my list, checked it twice, double-checked with AW and Preditors & Editors to verify who is naughty and nice and . . .

*read submission guidelines*

(Statistically, the sub is doing as it should, with the first rejection and first full request racing each other to my inbox.)

But that isn't the point of the post. Book one on its way, it is time for book two. What's next for Jewel and Ethan?

Without indulging in spoilers, things ended bittersweet for pretty much everyone involved. Number one also did the job of an origin issue in comics, it blew her out of her tidy status quo life and sent her somewhere she never saw herself ending up. But, like the saying goes, you can run, but you can't hide.

So, I have new scenery, new characters, new problems. However, what I still have is her code - loyalty, a dislike of injustice, and a low tolerance for bullshit.

Some things don't change. She is still an attorney at heart (trust me, the reformatting  that occurs in law school does not go away, I've always suspected my DNA was re-sequenced.) Even worse, she is a criminal defense attorney with the natural cynicism and distrust of law enforcement, government, and authority.

Each book is slated to happen at the nexus of two crimes that collide and intertwine. In the first, smuggling and murder are vehicles for betrayal. In this one, with the working title "Ride the Lightning," the crimes are murder (of course) and designer drug manufacturing (on the drawing board are Nigerian lonely hearts scams, a murder based on real-life that includes a seance, and environmental/fracking crimes.)

The nexus for book two is a glitzy "gentlemen's lounge" (read strip club,) in Biloxi, Mississippi. Because I love Biloxi and the stretch from Pascagoula to Gulfport has a delightful dark and seedy underside that exists with the gleaming tourist trade.

But not just a murder. There is no doubt about the crime, the question comes with the penalty. I'll be looking at (in flamboyant dramatic, not journalistic detail) the death penalty and my own thoughts about it. While I am not opposed to the death penalty in theory (in my own limited small town practice I saw horrid things that deserved it,) I have become opposed to it in practice. I feel the current state of our society has negated the wisdom needed to impose it fairly. I blame John Grisham and Bill Kurtis. A southerner and a Kansas, scarcely bastions of liberalism. Both of these attorneys with their thoughtful research and superb communication brought me to where I am today.

And since Jewel is my extension, she will have to examine her own feelings. However, the one thing she can't stand is injustice and this one stinks from the jump. Whenever she lost a client to prison, it was because the state had done its job and its case had held up through everything she threw at it.

Now, when it comes to money and power, her ethics have been known to be more situational and she is dragging a heavy past behind her.

Book 2 opens with Jewel as the manager of the Lightning Lounge in Biloxi and hiring Maddie Carmichael. Jewel suspects she's lying to her. But, hell, everyone has a secret.

"Maddie, your first training shift is Thursday. It's slower, the crews at the factory don't get paid until Friday, and the tourists are playing slots and getting fake po-boys down on the beach. They don't wander out here until the weekend. Lose the FM heels. Trust me, you'll want something comfortable."
"Gotcha, Boss." Her wry smile told me she knew exactly what I was talking about.
"Oh, and show all the cleavage you want, but wear a bra and panties. Otherwise, it torques the dancers and I don't have time for catfights. You ever want to let the twins free, let me know and I'll book you time on a pole."

One year ago I was at the top of my game as a criminal attorney. Now I was ordering beer and setting the schedule in a titty bar. Now was better. 

But, it won't be business as usual for long . . .

In the meantime,
*refresh email*

See ya soon!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Trad Pub vs. Self Pub: Because You Can't Have Too Many Cooks in This Kitchen

So, this writer-lawyer has to make the same decision faced by every other writer.

Do I pursue traditional/legacy/evil-gatekeeper publishing or do I pursue the independent/anarchy-laden/wild west of self-publishing?

The answer is simple.

The answer is YES.

My completed WIP, titled JEWEL, is a straight-up crime drama/thriller with enough bow-chicka to flirt around with romantic suspense. It is "commercial fiction" of the sort I enjoy reading. Two large crimes collide and cars get wrecked, shit gets shot, people get hurt, and hearts get broken. Mayhem ensues.

So, what do I owe Juliana and Ethan, my two main characters after we've been together this long through several disasters in my writer life, both man-made, and of the natural-weather variety?

I owe them my best.

And, in my opinion, that means pursuing traditional publishing with both hands and everything I can give it. Juliana and Ethan pulled me through the judging of the 2013 Claymore Award and I believe I can pull them through the query process.

The guts of my query have been winnowed from 250 to 160 words and distilled to its essence. Even the synopsis works. They both led to, and resulted from, polishing the manuscript with the best I, and my betas, had to offer (including the hilarious late night FB message session with a pro writer friend.)

All of that tidying up before facing down the fearsome gatekeepers isn't useless posturing, it is molding the project into its best form before I present it to the world. I wouldn't show my house for sale with dishes in the sink (okay, that ONE time, but they surprised me.) Why then is it acceptable to say, "Oh, all the classics have typos and errors, they don't matter!" The answer is, "it's not."

If, after I have given it everything I have, I hit a wall that is business related, not quality related, I will consider self-pub for my dynamic duo. At that time I will have a project that has been forged in as brutal a cauldron as exists. But they deserve that to be a business decision, not just impatience on my part.

The benefits I see to trad pub are:

The validation. Yup, the validation.
The businessy stuff about distribution and sub-rights.
The experience. Why zipline in Belize when I can face the jungles of querying?
The chance to build an audience that could carry into other venues.
The chance of an advance. In my situation, that matters.
The challenge.
The curiosity. How can I rebel if I have never participated?


In the meantime, what about Creighton Blaylock and Caroline Cassett? A much different couple, they were born about 150 years before Juliana and Ethan and find themselves, not on the streets of Austin in a '71 Challenger, but on the border of Kansas and Missouri in the years before the onset of the Civil War. Bleeding Kansas is every bit, if not more dangerous than a meet with smugglers in the Texas boonies.

But their story is smaller, more intimate, and more linear. They are looking for their runaway children and not even Quantrill is going to stop them. Along with way, they discover that not all Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers are evil. *eyebrow waggle*

I have on my drawing board, a series of short romances, around 25K, set in this volatile and under-served historical era. There are definitely presses for this type of work, but here is where I see the value of self-publication.

The benefits I see to self-pub are:

Abundant public domain artwork exists to create good solid covers.
These are shorter works that suit the lower price point of self-pub.
The chance to create a trickle of income while I pursue commercial projects.
Shorter works = shorter turnaround time.
Not having to worry about having "the next book" accepted.

I also have a portfolio of short stories and flash fiction that have been pubbed in mags and zines with all the rights returned to me, but with little resale value. I want to do my own collection, primarily of flash fiction after I tidy them up (I'm better now than I was then.) Another perfect self-pub project. I also have some non-fic legal-related ideas suitable for short works.

I love Hugh Howey. I respect Hugh Howey. I appreciate Hugh Howey and all the work he has done to educate and explain and enlighten. It is a clarion call to action in a new world, not a demand to burn the old world down. This is a time when options abound. As I answered one thread touting how indie is going to rule the world:

"The answer is there is no either/or separated by a moat filled with alligators chomping on the bodies of agents who have thrown themselves in after deciding to end it all. 

There are choices. It is no easier to get a traditional publishing contract now that OMGINDIES have all defected in order to litter Amazon with their word-babies. Why not go after both?"

So, until someone tells me I can't have both, I am going to pursue both.