Thursday, December 30, 2010


New laptop is here and it's gorgeous! However I am at the "I hate you I hate you" stage. Two hours to find out how to turn on the backlit keyboard- yes the info is there, but it's listed under a different model only, and you have to know that first without being told.

Why the #*!! can't manufacturers write simple, down to nitty gritty manuals anymore? Is it because men don't read manuals and they don't write manuals for women???

Now re-installing software and data. Photoshop is up- the brand new CS5 Extended, and I am salivating, just thinking about it, But must get back to my story which is nearly done. But I have to have the software installed first.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Computer Failure! New One Coming

My NEW Dell Vostro 3500
in Lucerne RED!!!
Well, my trusty old Dell Vostro laptop finally gave out after four years. I could replace the motherboard, but the cost is about $175-$200 for the motherboard, assuming free labor. I've got my Baby, the MSI Wind U230 to tide me over, but while it's great for its intended purpose, coffee shop writing, it's hard on my  eyes for other things. So it's time to move up.

Only Dell offers the anti-glare screen I must have in a wide variety of models. I also really want a backlit keyboard for durability and the visibility- important for my screwball eyes. But finding my right combo at a good price was hard. I'm having to downgrade on hard drive size, but I work off back-up drives a lot anyway. I could replace it with my new 500 gb drive from the defunct machine, but there's that pesky warranty problem. And, silly thing that I am sometimes, I am actually paying extra for RED. But  you know how I love color.

If anyone I actually know who is close by wants a free motherboardless laptop, it's theirs. I loved this little workhorse and put a lot of money into upgrading and otherwise spoiling it so I'd love to see it get a new home. Possibly even talk son into doing an install for the nice person who will buy the motherboard. And no I will not guarantee anything. Not labor, not parts, not even whether this will continue to operate. It might not even be the motherboard that's at fault- could be the CPU or something else, even though it's most likely that. I'm simply not taking that responsibility.

I'll keep the new 500 gb hard drive as a backup drive, and re-install the original 120 gb, which had relatively little use. There's 4 gb of DDR2 memory, two batteries- a 9 cell in good shape and a 6 cell almost new. A new AC power cord and adapter, even a new keyboard and touchpad because I'm so hard on those. An anti-glare screen, of course. And Windows 7, recently installed, but I won't need. No Word, WordPerfect, Photoshop or that kind of stuff.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


In the spirit of Black Friday, the authors listed below agreed to participate by giving YOU, their fans, a great book to read for the Holiday Season. So act fast, this is a ONE DAY EVENT!!! Nov. 26, 2010
(HINT: Three of my four books are already available for 99 cents, and one should be soon. They will be at this price through the weekend, and longer if it looks like a good idea.)

Not all books have direct links to the books. Try the author website or Face Book page.

Participating authors:

Ashlynn Monroe
Blood and Bondage
Dark Miracle
Love Factory
Or visit her website at
Facebook Page

Barbara Ellen Brink
Or visit her Blogspot
Facebook Page!/profile.php?id=1441230489

Delle Jacobs
Fire Dance
His Majesty, the Prince of Toads
Loki's Daughters
The Mudlark
Or visit her website
Facebook Page!/dellejacobs?v=wall

Elizabeth Reyes
Forever Mine (The Moreno Brothers)
Or visit her Blogspot
Facebook Page!/profile.php?id=1810909588

Jamie Debree
Or visit her website at or
Face Book Fan Page

Jax Cassidy
Devil's Heart
Or visit her website
Facebook Page!/jaxcassidy

Jenna Anderson
Healing Touch
Facebook Page!/JennaScribbles?v=info

Jodi Langston
Nature of the Beast
Facebook Page!/profile.php?id=100000163137938

Valerie Maarten
Second Chances
The Gift of Joy
Or visit her website
Facebook Page!/profile.php?id=100001589959287

Also available on and (Nook) and

Now let's go fill up that Kindle and other ereaders....HAPPY READING

Monday, November 22, 2010

MOCK COVER MONDAY! : The Wrong Mistress

It's Mock Cover Monday again! This week: The Wrong Mistress.

Our beloved mythical author Alisse Davy has graciously agreed to do a Regency story, thus giving me opportunity to re-make Ruby With Chocolates (I'm still thinking of delicious stories to go with that one.)

Although a Regency heroine would never actually wear her hair down for a formal occasion, I didn't change it. That would involve re-painting her back as well as her hair, and although I could do that, I just didn't want to.

It got me to thinking, what woman would be wearing her hair down while in a formal evening dress, and still have a shawl draped over her shoulders? Perhaps a mistress? Have the pins just been pulled from her hair? There is no setting, so it could be in a house, an inn, even a private room of a ballroom. Perhaps on the terrace. How did she get there? What is going on between her and the unseen man?
I loved the authentic shawl which I stole from an 1815 fashion plate, by the way.
You might not like my title and have a better one you'd use. I see this as a Regency, but maybe you have other ideas. Play off what others have said, or write your own idea from scratch. Just invent a plot idea to go with this cover.

Monday, November 15, 2010

MOCK COVER MONDAY! Ruby With Chocolates

It's Mock Cover Monday! Today's mock cover is Ruby With Chocolates. It's not a real book, just a fairly generic cover design that's sort of suggestive of different directions. How do you think the story ought to go? Is Ruby a person? Is a genuine ruby involved? What's with the chocolate? Okay, so we know what's with chocolate, but how would you make it part of the story?

Or would you re-title it and write a completely different story?

The only other thing for sure is, it's a romance.

Go for it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo and Me

I'll probably finish this story
Na = National
No = Novel
Wri= Writing
Mo = Month

It happens every November. Multi-thousands of writers, pseudo-writers, hobby writers and never-before writers commit to concentrated effort to produce a 50,000 word novel entirely within the month. That's an average of 1,666.67words per day, or if you figure by page count at 250 words per page, 6.67 pages a day. Doesn't seem like much on the surface, but after the first few pages or week, your brain starts bogging down and it gets just plain hard. A pretty fair number of them succeed.

And whats the reward? You completed a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. You get a funny looking icon you can put on your website. And if you didn't resort to too much gibberish or pasting all your emails into the document, you do have something you might, with great effort be able to revise into a real novel.

In other words, bragging rights. And words on paper/screen.
Or maybe this one

The odd thing about it is, that's just exactly what most writers need now and then. It's kind of a crazy anonymous push in the behind that we pretend is real that gets us motivated. There's a whole world of people out there who thing writers just sit down and type and stories flow from them like water over Niagara Falls. They think we have it easy. We just sit there and type out our fantasies. In fact, somebody collected statistics once that showed 82% of the American adult population thinks they want to write a novel. And they believe they could do it better than most of the professional novelists out there. They just haven't had time yet.

Well, they can't. Unless they actually sit down and do what it takes. Those same stats show that of that 82%, less than 2% actually sit down and start a novel, in their entire lives. And of those, less than 1% complete it. Just imagine, then, how few of those go on to make writing novels a part-time or full-time career. Because writing a novel isn't a breeze. It's exceptionally hard work. And writing a good, sellable novel is even harder.

Most people do have great day dreams and fantasies. But those rarely make good novels because they lack dynamism. They're like strings of still photos, not the forward motion of action leading to consequence, evaluation leading to new action, etc. And the writing itself is something new writers think they can do, but often the clarity of their ideas doesn't make it from their brain to the paper. They see what's missing but the reader doesn't. These new writers are the apprentices, the interns, in a field where the journeymen and masters are still learning their craft, still exploring new challenges, still experience failure of their experiments throughout their careers. The process never stops.
This one's ready to start

What does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? NaNo is really set up for the amateur writer, so why would very experienced writers try to shoe-horn themselves into it? Well, like I said, it's hard, and often very discouraging. As one agent said, "In this field, rejection is the norm". An editor once told me she has piles of manuscripts sitting on her desk at any given time (now those piles are likely to be in her computer, but there are more of them), and she feels lucky if she finds even one manuscript with potential. She estimated she buys 1 in 600 that come across her desk. Those are really bad odds for writers. Often the stories we love the most are the ones we can't sell. We have winning streaks, then suddenly can't sell anything for years. Publishers stop buying exactly what we've just finished and mailed off to them the day it hits their desk. We have to be tough, and we are not. We're not supposed to take it all personally, but what is merely a paper manuscript to a publisher is our soul imprinted on paper. We're reduced to numbers, genres, and it's hard on us.

And follow with this one
But in November, beginning on the first day of the month, we shed some of that discouragement and aim for something different. Last year I started a story that I don't expect ever to sell. It's a story I want to write, that I don't think any editor will want to buy because it doesn't fit well anywhere. It's for me. Me alone. And taking the time to write it lifted my sagging spirits, as does aiming away from the publishing industry. Writing fast with not much care about quality can be very freeing. Write fast, clean up later. For me, that would be a bad habit if I did it regularly. But for NaNo, it perks me up, gets me excited again about creative writing.

Too bad there's no time for this one
Now, the truth: I break the rules. I don't start with a fresh new story on November 1. I'm often very deep into a story, possibly one that got stuck for some reason. I might work on more than one story, especially if I'm writing novellas which are only about 25,000 words long. Or, like last year, I might start, knowing I won't be able to finish for other reasons. And I don't write quite as freely because I don't like cleaning up messes. So I can't go as fast as some writers. But I figure what I'm doing is for me, so I see no reason why I can't make up my own rules. And if I reach the 50,000 words written fresh and new, I figure I won. And whatever I reach, I feel like a distance runner, exhausted but elated. And that's a whole different feeling that can carry me a long way through the next year when I have to face the tougher parts of this strange career.

So this year, in just a few more days, I will begin my own NaNoWriMo, doing it my way. I still haven't decided which book to finish- I could choose from two. Or I could pick one or two of my novellas that I have plotted out and pitch myself in that direction. And I will do my best to make my own goal of 1700-2000 words every day. I'll have dirty hair, unmade beds, lunch of cheese and crackers-- whatever it takes. I'll still feed the cats and kiss hubby, and get birthday presents off to all the November grandkids,all that stuff, sure. But mostly, I'll be a writing demon for 30 days of the year.

Part of me thinks it's too bad there's not more than one November in a year. The other part thinks, "Who are you kidding?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Most Unusual Man: Benoit Mandelbrot

Fantasy cover using a fractal dragon
A most unusual man has died.  Benoit Mandelbrot, age 85, a Polish immigrant who escaped Hitler's persecution, passed away of pancreatic cancer. You probably haven't heard of him unless you are very interested in advanced mathematics or geometry in nature. I wouldn't have known, myself, except that I had been wanting to post a blog about my fascination with fractals as art, and did a Google search to find a good definition. And there I saw the post that the man who had developed the concept had just died.
Fractal design from Czintos Odon
(umlauts on both O's in last name)

Mandelbrot did something that crossed the boundaries between art and science, bringing art to science and science to art. He discovered and explored the principle of fractals.

I don't begin to claim any more than a basic understanding of his concepts. I'm like most people who have a preliminary grasp of repeatable patterns in nature and art. That's all. But I have admired the concept, and seen it flourish in popular imagination and art. I've used the (royalty free) designs of others in my own designs because I find the symmetry fascinating. It's like snowflakes, or fern leaves. It's a new kind of geometry that can be used to analyze or portray complex shapes that were previously thought to be unmeasurable, or too complex to be described by Euclidian, or what most of us know as high school Geometry. As near as I can figure, that means finding regularity in shapes that appear to be random.

Czintos Ödön

A butterfly designed from fractal
segments, artist unknown
Mandelbrot is said to have began working on his concept when he studied the Coastline of England, which, the more closely you measure it, the more it grows in length. Now, that, I understand. How can a coastline be measured, anyway? At what time of day do you go to make your measurements? High tide? Low Tide? And how high would high tide have to be? The more detailed you make your measurements, in and out of crevices and crannies, the longer the distance will become. Even if you only measured a portion for one hour, that distance would have changed during that hour.And you can't go back the next day at the same time to continue your work because the tides change every day.
fractal spiral design, artist unknown
True fractals are built of tinier fractals, so that if you magnify them, you can see even the lines are made up of the same repeated form. Magnify even 2,000 times, and you'll see them, theoretically in infinite magnification.

That's too much for me. It's all  an interesting conundrum, but I'd just as soon leave it as unexplainable, unmeasurable, for I'm not a mathematician. What I find fascinating is the effect this idea has had on computer-generated art.  Fractal-building software can now take a complex shape and repeat it, repeatedly, in varying sizes, to make a whole that has the same shape. Or in patterns to make other shapes. Or even more variations, perhaps combining different fractal patterns. In my artwork, I have kind of cheated, because I use Photoshop warping to turn the image into what I want it to be, and the repeated shapes are no longer identical except for size. I put them with other pictures, I paint on them. I make them different. But they still fascinate me even when I alter them. They fit wonderfully with my kind of fantasy.

So Thank you, Benoit Mandelbrot. Perhaps in my simplicity I mis-understand your deep concepts, but thank you anyway, for being a scientist/mathematician who had an artistic vision that has enriched my life.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Turner: The Man Who Tried to Paint It All

Today in the Pacific Northwest is one of those inexplicable days when the weather seems totally out of sync with the rest of the world. After a long, cool and wet "Green Tomato Summer" when the rest of the nation was broiling, today we have brilliant sunshine and bright skies, with an expected temperature of 70 degrees.

Indirectly, weather like this always makes me think if an extraordinary man of the 19th Century, a small man of great stature in my mind Joseph Mallord Wiliam Turner, known most to the world as J.M.W.Turner. I think of the strange,baffling weather experienced by Northern Europe and North America in the year 1816 which we now know was caused by the giant volcanic eruption of Mt. Tambora in the Indonesian area. Although the average temperatures lowered only 3 degrees, this was enough to create massive problems. Crops failed, snow fell in July, and even Niagara Falls froze over. And the skies around the world exhibited glorious sunsets. Nobody knew then what had caused the sudden changes, and they didn't seem to make any connection between the unusual skies and the weather changes.

While other people worried about more mundane and immediate problems, one man in particular saw the magnificent glory in the skies and set about to capture it all. Turner was already a promising artist in 1816, but he had not yet reached the peak of his fame. Like most artists of his day, he was concerned with recording the visual details of life and nature, for there really was no other way to pass them on but through art. And like most painters, he strove for exacting detail. He learned the techniques of the great masters. He hung his paintings in galleries, eagerly hoping for the adoration of the masses.

But the sunsets over Europe that year began a change in him that would send his career into new directions. He became enamored with the magnificent colors and patterns in the skies, and perhaps afraid they would not continue forever, he rushed to paint the sunsets all over Europe. He probably had ADHD, for he was an excitable, fast-paced, forever busy man, always sketching when he could not be painting, always wanting to capture everything he saw on canvas. And now he wanted most of all to capture the sunsets.

But how do you capture an ever-changing sunset? Clouds shift and colors change from blue to yellow, to gold, orange, red, purple and every shade in between, minute by minute. Even a rapid painter like Turner could not succeed. I think when I look at sunsets how I can simply pull out my point-and-shoot digital camera and record the memory with a click. No one in his era could do that. Turner couldn't stand that. He wanted to make that glorious moment stand still and be his forever.

For the next few years, while sunsets remained glorious, Turner streamlined his techniques and caught wonderful skies over castles, over oceans, over mountains and fields. And today we have an impressive array of his wonderful paintings.

If you follow the link above, you'll see a gallery of his many paintings on several pages, each one with a link. You might notice, too, that his style changes from the early carefully detailed Classical style, leaning toward the color splashes of the later Impressionists. And even though the brilliant sunsets faded, Turner did not forget them. The brilliant splash of light infected him for the rest of his painting life. He became more fascinated by the play of light than the detail of objects. His style became more diffuse, sometimes making the viewer wonder if his sight was fading. It was infectious. Other painters, suffering from the same malady of needing to make a moment in time stand still long enough to capture it on canvas, took up his techniques, painting faster and faster, letting their brushes stroke out the impression of the scene instead of its details. Impressionism, with its study of light play and form,was being born. And you can see its beginnings in the paintings of Turner's lifetime.

Turner was extraordinary in many ways. And I'll tell you someday how he was one of the first to use his own form of mass media to promote his work and sell it when other artists stuck to the old tried and true ways and starved. But most of all when I think of him, I think of the sunsets he saved for us, and how he tried to paint them all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


What a thrill yesterday to see my book FIRE DANCE at the very top of Amazon Best Selling Romances, and at #6 on All Genres of Amazon Books. THE MUDLARK, with very similar download numbers, was right behind it. Wow, a double!

Then MUDLARK vanished. I could  from my reports that its numbers were still right up there, but where was it? After some digging around, I found it, back on the Free Reads list, except that it wasn't free!!?? And on its book page, it had no ranking numbers. Wah! A Best Seller and it's now not on ANY list? Well, I probably should have called someone right then, but I couldn't figure out who. This morning it was still broken. FD is still at the top, so I quickly printed the page in case I have to prove I'm not delusional or the world's biggest liar. But my poor, not free Mudlark had dropped to #18 on the Free Reads.

So I did a chat with an Amazon fixit-person. He tried but had to refer it to Kindle. No workee there. You have to either have  problem with a Kindle or a problem with an order. There's no category for Lost In Space Best Sellers.

Then up pops an email from Amazon asking if the chat helped. Well, no.... but the guy was really super. So they asked to call me, and in exactly the specified five minutes, I got a call. Explained problem, and he empathized with my feelings of panic and promised to send Kindle folk to my aid right away. Still waiting, but hey, that was only ten minutes ago.

I couldn't resist telling him how authors feel that Amazon Kindle is turning the publishing world upside down. And I have to admit, although I don't like monopolies, I sure do like the way Amazon has handled all my problems. I'l let you now when my lovely Mudlark gets to sing again.

Monday, October 4, 2010


#24 on Amazon Top 100
Best Seller Regency Romance

Amazon Best Seller. Wow, I love saying that. And it sneaked up on me from behind, and as my friend Trish Morey in Australia would say, gobsmacked me.

HIS MAJESTY, THE PRINCE OF TOADS, a re-published e-book, which I admit was very popular in its first round of publication with Awe-Struck E-Books, is suddenly on Amazon's 100 Top Regency Best Seller list.

But wait! Not just one book! THE MUDLARK and FIRE DANCE are dancing right along, with LOKI'S DAUGHTERS looming right behind them. What the heck happened? Kind of funny, really, so being one to laugh at myself frequently, I thought I'd let you laugh with me. Especially considering it's still going on, and I haven't been suddenly kicked back to the gutter.lers. That's all Regencies, not just Kindle e-books. Wow. Best Seller. Right up there with the big guys.

#1 Kindle Regency Free Read
 #2 Amazon Best Selling Romances
Historical Romance Free Read
I went off to the Emerald City Writers Conference this weekend, as usual having a wonderful time, since this is one of the best regional writers' conferences anywhere, and I know so many of the people there. But if you know me, you're probably not surprised that my stamina failed me early Friday night. Happens all the time. So I headed off to my room, and quickly reached the pj stage, where I check my stats before crashing. Pulled out my beloved MSI Wind baby laptop and pulled up my Kindle report.

First day of the month. I'm expecting single digits because my sales always seem to look better later in the month. Two look normal, if a little high. The other two look like historical dates. Come on, there's no way self-published e-books would sell 1933 and 1840 copies in one day. You know my eyes, which are complete screwballs as much as they are eyeballs. I never believe what they think they see. If I tell anybody, they'll think I'm lying. Or that I'm nuts, or maybe lost in LaLaLand. About half dressed, I rundown the hall (and am fortunate to have a room on the same floor as the main activities because running is also not something I do well anymore, and find my roommate, Sarah Rapslee. Poor Sarah almost has to carry me back.  And carrying people is not Sarah's best sport. And now the numbers look like futuristic dates. And Sarah's sitting there watching the numbers climb, cheerily announcing each incrementic jump.

#1 Amazon Best Selling Romances
#3 Kindle all genres
What we soon discovered- what my eyes actually did not spot, but friend Marianne Nicoletto Strnad did, was that Kindle had put the two books up as Free Reads. Oh, well, I figured no money in that, but free reads are great promo. That was why I'd priced them so low in the first place. And there it was. The higher the numbers went on those two, he more sales I was seeing on the other two. The Free Reads were drawing attention to my other two books, and those sales were jumping into the best seller lists for both Kindle  e-books and Amazon Books, which was throwing them into direct competition with print books.

I'm sure I was unbearable for some people. Saw a bit of eye-rolling, but most people caught on that this was not some silly e-book author (okay, so they were right on that first part) ecstatic over selling one or two books. These are Amazon Best Seller lists. That's the big time for any book. My sales numbers are right up there with the top Regency authors.

So yes, I'm still sort of sorry that yes, I'm still unbearable. For those people who still say they will never read an e-book because they aren't any good, I have to say I understand. I love my "real" books too, and I completely sympathize. With both of you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

THE SKELETON WOMAN A Dutch Folk Tale Retold by Susanna Ives

My friend Susanna Ives has just debuted at Carina Press with her release of RAKES & RADISHES, a delightful and humorous Regency romance I first experienced as a contest judge. I'm so happy to see it come out. So I thought I'd hunt up this marvelous tale Susanna re-interpreted for me after her trip to the Netherlands in 2009.

Susanna's website. and

The Skeleton Woman

I love the symbolism of water.
For a time during my childhood, I lived in my grandfather’s old, yellow, Victorian house nestled amid the pink and white lantana. A great curiosity to my young mind was the well just outside our back screen door. I don’t know the history of the well; perhaps it was dug when the old house had only two rooms. By the time I came along, a protective concrete slab covered the opening. A hole, about three inches in diameter, had been cut into the concrete. I would throw limestone rocks down the hole and waited for them to splash the water deep, deep below.
Now I as write from Maastricht, Netherlands, the Jeker River winds like a grapevine through the old stone buildings and stone fortifications, eventually disappearing under the city into the network of dark silent channels leading to the Maas River.
When Delle asked me frame to my journey to the Netherlands in terms of the hero’s journey, I immediately thought of Joseph Campbell’s work. Yet, most of Campbell’s heroes sojourn into the unknown. In my case, my journey was a return. A rebirth. My imagination kept circling back to the hero from a folktale entitled the “Skeleton Woman” recounted in Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s a myth of a fisherman hero, who finds a horrifying treasure under the waters, and a heroine reborn. So, I have adapted the tale and reset it in Maastricht. Hopefully, you will enjoy it, but be aware — it is a little weird (or “freaky” as my husband describes it). After all, we’re is the realm of myth and folklore, so one learns to expect swan princesses in the sky and tiny mermaids under the water.

A long time ago—no one remembers exactly when—a woman was thrown into the Maas River and drowned. She drifted to the river’s bottom, and over time, the fish nibbled her flesh away until she was just a skeleton. You may know this woman—day after day spent grocery shopping, folding laundry, scanning the lines of a spreadsheet, sitting before her computer pushing pixels about a screen—until one day she became this hollowed out skeleton, just as sure as the fish ate her skin. All her creativity nibbled away in everyday living. For years, she drifted about the river’s floor, a forgotten, tangled skeleton amid hundreds of years of refuse: Roman beads, medieval vessels, the rusted remains of shrapnel.
Now comes our Dutch hero, a mere fisherman, dipping his pole into the Maas for gifts from below. Food to appease his hunger. In Jungian terms, he is playing with some powerful stuff on his small boat afloat on the water, poking the surface of the subconscious. How often the romance novel begins with the hero who thinks he is perfectly content in his small, controlled world. Such heroes should know better than to fish!
Of course, his fishing line catches onto the ribs of the old skeleton. Our fisherman, thinking he has gotten something big—the mighty Hemingway of fish—excitedly reels his catch in. From the water rises an old, hideous skeleton, decorated with slimy weeds, old bicycle parts, beer bottles, and other urban debris.
He cries out, horrified at the atrocity hanging from his line. He drops his pole and slams down the boat’s throttle, desperate to flee all he has seen. But the fishing line is caught on his person, so the poor skeleton rides behind, bouncing in the rough water of the speeding boat’s wake. The fisherman drives his boat to the shore, leaps onto land, and runs away.

But the skeleton, still connected to him, is dragged along. Her bones rattle on the old cobblestone. It has been so long since she has been above water. She has forgotten the dense air scented with rain, faint diesel fumes, and flowers. Or the narrow streets lined with ateliers selling modern paintings with lush, vivid colors and flowing lines.
By the Turkish grocer, her skeleton hand reaches out and grabs a handful of the salty, mild-tasting olives from Turkey. Oh, to taste something different than the foul, polluted river waters! Further down the street, a chocolatier has put out candied orange peels covered in bitter dark chocolate. Like a greedy thief, she takes a handful of these, too.

Now, she clings to the terrified fisherman, so afraid to be thrown in the sea again. Afraid her senses will again be dulled by years of drifting, floating about in darkness and silence.
The fisherman runs to his small flat above the restaurant where the tables have been scattered onto the small square. He scrambles upstairs, then slams his door shut, thinking he has outrun the monster. But down at his feet, her bones are wrapped tight about his ankles. He kicks the skeleton to the corner and begins to pace the room, his hand pressed to his mouth. She can hear his fearful heart beats echoing against the high, white plaster walls. Finally, he tosses up his hands, mutters a curse, and walks away.
The skeleton is alone.
From her dark eye sockets, she studies the room. Flowers spill over the edges of a glass vase set on the low table before the Danish-style flat leather sofa. Beyond the thick-glassed, arched windows, she can see the roofs and chimneys of Maastricht sprouting up at odd angles, like weeds fighting for the space in the sun. Above the narrow, dormant coal fireplace, a nude female dances on a canvass of swirling splatters of red and gold paint. The skeleton once had round, fat breasts and curving hips. Clad in silk, feathers, beads, and jewels, she had danced in the street during Carnival, swinging her hips in sensual swirling motions.

The fisherman clangs about in the kitchen. Soon the high whistle of steaming hot water fills the flat. He returns, sits down on a sofa, looks at the skeleton, and runs his hand through his hair. He is tall—the Dutch are the tallest people in the world—but his dark hair curls are brushed back from his face and fall about his shoulders like the Italian men. From his teacup, steam rises. She can smell the sweet Rooibos and vanilla. The skeleton is so thirsty; she could gulp down the tea in one swallow, but she dare not move.
The fisherman studies her sad, mangled bones heaped in the corner. A compassionate light warms his eyes, the fear receding. “You are just a poor skeleton,” he whispers. He sets down his cup, crawls on his knees to the skeleton. Slowly he untangles her old bones. His hands are large, but as precise as a painter’s. He hums as he pulls her legs from where they had become tangled about her shoulders, straightens her spine, and kindly sets her head upright.
When he is done, he opens the window and fills the room with the warm, summer breeze, rich with the staccato of Dutch conversation amongst friends, the lulling rolling sounds of Massnet’s Meditation, and the fragrance of wine and flowers. He sits on his sofa and begins to read. The skeleton watches the concentration of his eyes, the crinkle in his brow, and the unthinking motion of brushing his hair from his eyes. For hours she does nothing but watch; she wonders what words light up his mind, wishing they could fill her mind too.
A little before midnight, the fisherman falls asleep on his sofa, the book falling from his fingers. The skeleton crawls forward, careful not to let her bones clank. So thirsty. She sips the last of his tea, now cold to her growing lips. The aroma of African leaves and vanilla fills the small nose forming on her face.
She looks at his creased face, troubled in his dreams. A tear slides from his eye. Still so thirsty, she drinks the tear. It fills her skeletal frame like pitchers and pitchers of pure water.
The fisherman shivers in his sleep. She carefully touches his face with her bony hand, wanting to comfort him as he had comforted her. Warm skin blossoms like opening flower petals on her fingertips, down her hand, her arm, and over her body. She feels him quiver under her fingers. Was he cold? Were there other monsters in his dreams? She slides beside him and presses herself against him until she can feel his heart beating beneath her fat breasts. His arms circle her body as if by memory, knowing the sloping concave of her waist, the tender place between her shoulder blades. His eyes, still drowsy with sleep, open and gaze at her. She sees her face reflected on the gray surface of his eyes. She is smiling. He cups her chin in his hands and brings his mouth to hers. His warm breath fills her lungs, making her alive with art, words, world, being.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Most Important Book You'll Ever Write

Then, Now and Forever-
One Book Leads to Another

I'm not going to show you my most important book. You've never heard of it. There is one editor who has, and he's actually still around as an editor, but I'm not going to name him. I'm hoping, you see, that he doesn't remember he ever saw it.

It was called A TIGER PURRING (isn't that clever? I certainly thought so at the time.) The time was 1993 and this was the first full-length novel I actually finished. I'd always given up before. I was such a lousy typist, you see, and all I had was a portable typewriter with a broken "e" key. Imagine typing even a sentence without an "e". Unfortunately even the repair guy gave up trying to fix it. And I had another life as a working single parent making barely enough money to keep us in a roof and clothes. It took so long to get even a short story typed that didn't look like a chicken had used the page for its dirty work that I just couldn't justify it.

Then in 1993, my son built me a computer. We had them at work, but shared in groups of eight people, and two guys in our unit wouldn't get out of the chair long enough to let the rest of us learn. I was fascinated with them, yet kind of terrified too. My son responded to my gratitude by saying, "This is so you'll leave mine alone." Well, all right, I was sort of getting attached to his.

So I started plotting my story. Had a great plan. The first three chapters went very smoothly. Then the plot started drifting because there were, well, a few things I hadn't thought of in the beginning, and I could already tell I was going to have to go back and change some things. I had the sense to at least make notes of those and keep on going.

About halfway through, I was convinced my mind was dissolving. I had all kinds of threads going, and my story was not all that complex. I'd lose one thread while working on another. A different one would suddenly become impossible. The tangle grew and grew, and I was close to panicking. But I couldn't quit. I kept untangling knots, re-working, and even completely re-writing some parts. And the plot shifted in a completely different direction. I researched more, found a new angle, wrote, wrote, and wrote, and my hero and heroine grew. In the middle of it all, new story ideas started popping into my head, demanding to be written. Afraid to let go of the current story, I jotted down the ideas and rushed back to find out why a Tiger would be Purring. Never mind that no tiger was ever mentioned in the book.

Finally I reached The End. And I knew it wasn't the end after all, but I was sure a second draft would take care of that. Proudly, I revised, twice even, and hey, you know, it looked pretty good. I sent it off to the unnamed editor, who I'd had the audacity to tell in my first editor interview, "I'm Delle Jacobs and I've never done anything like this before in my entire life."

Well, I found out it wasn't pretty good. Not horrible, but certainly not publishable, and the editor kindly pointed out that although it was shot through with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, he did see some real talent emerging. I re-read. He was right. And even more, I could tell the story was not salvageable as commercial fiction. It's still on my hard drive because I had the sense to convert it from my primitive word processing program to Word Perfect.

(By the way, one scene, re-written, did find a home in one of my best loved Regency Historicals, HIS MAJESTY, THE PRINCE OF TOADS, and most recently all that research I'd done on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia worked its way into my historical romantic sea fantasy SIREN, which is about to go out for submission next week.)

But I told you, this, my worst, most inexperienced, most primitive piece of fiction, is the most important book I've ever written. You must be wondering if I keep my marbles in a bag with a hole in the bottom. Maybe, but I'm right about this assertion. Here's why.

To begin with, the process of putting together something as complex and inter-woven as a full length novel re-wired my brain. I'd always been a multi-tasker, but something about going through this process gave me a new dimension. I'd learned something I might call Threading, a sort of process in which multiple linear lines can weave in and out of each other, always contributing to the whole. This was the point at which I became an author. Because my mind had become different. I thought and organized my thoughts in a wholly new way for me.

What I didn't know until later is, this is exactly what happens physiologically with drug addiction. The neurons get re-routed in the brain. No doubt, yes, I had also become addicted to the entire process. It was also true that every time I wrote a book, I went through the same physiological process a reader experiences, but on a more intense, more complex level, over a much longer time span.

That rather awful book was even more important in other ways. From its roots and the knowledge gained in writing it sprang the next book, and the next, and next. The creative process spawned more creative thought, new ideas for new books. The first book showed me how to organize a novel. Because it was imperfect, I learned the things I needed to know to make the next book perfect (so I thought). I researched for more accuracy and better writing skills. Each new book presented a new challenge, something I had to learn or overcome, or something new I didn't know if I could do.

That's all still true. The chain of books goes on. And none since the first one could have been written if I hadn't done the first one. It may dwell forever in Dust Bunny Heaven, but it will always be the most important book I'll ever write.

You can't have a best seller without first writing a book. And all best sellers began when the author sat down to write his first book.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Queen's Court

Here's something I received today from a person who is very dear to me. We were sharing with some friends our sadness over the shallowness of friendships we had mistaken for something of depth, and learning we were not alone in our loss and grief.  She sent me this comment on her own pain, and I thought it sadly beautiful, and wise.

"Sometimes I stumble through the vast twisted forest of shoulds. I should make a bridge. I should fix this fence. As if relationships are sacred. Some just aren't. While I could take full responsibility for failing to tolerate abuse and that might permit me back into the Queen's Court, I know not to expect accountability from the Queen and I know the abuse will continue.
"What I cannot do is find the right words to convince the Queen that our values are equal, that I deserve to be treated with respect, that her "Off with her head!" method of relating might just be WRONG. So I stumble out, back into the harsh light of reality.
"I know the Queen has some amazing qualities. I know she has admirable traits. I know her existence has great value to me. However, I am powerless to change how she treats me and I have two choices, be her footstool or be separate from her. So this relationship remains sacred in a new way. I wish her well. I wish her happiness. I wish her love. I wish the same for me. We are bonded forever in my heart, but that is where the relationship begins and ends."

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Double Life of a Confederate Soldier

Benjamin Martin Braxton,
Confederate or Union Soldier?
I've been dabbling a bit in genealogy lately, trying to solve some of the puzzling stories about my family history, and instead I've come up with even more puzzles. Along the way, I re-connected with my cousin Della, and then discovered another more distant cousin Della. So now the three of us dream of meeting in Southern Mississippi-Alabama to research together, with me introducing us: "Hi, I'm Delle, and this is my cousin Della, and this is my other cousin Della."

But that's just an aside. I really want to tell you about our mutual puzzling ancestor, Benjamin Braxton, a man who appears to have led two lives and gotten away with it.

Years ago I overheard a visitor-possibly a relative- tell my mom and grandmom a story about an ancestor , a Confederate Army officer with a wife and child, who had disappeared in the war and was presumed dead. Years later his son had found his father living in Florida with a wife and several children, but when confronted, the man denied  having any family in Alabama. After the "son" returned home, his mother told him to just let it go because there were children involved. I remember the visitor showing Mom and Grandmom pictures, but I was sort of on the sidelines and didn't get to see them. I do remember them debating with my aunt and grandfather about what the real truth might be. And I remember that somehow this was all related to my great-grandmother, who was deceased by this time.

Fairly recently we all came upon a rpadblock in our ancestral hunts, and it was at this time the three of us found each other. It was all over a man named Benjamin Braxton. Then I remembered the strange visitor with the photos who had come to my grandmother's house. It looked to me like the two stories might represent the same person.
Martha Lambert, Ben's "real" wife
My two cousins Delle and I all confessed confusion over this man because we had so little information on Benjamin. Was the story true, or a family myth? Did he have two wives or one? At the same time? Was there a divorce? Was one of the marriages not legal? Was my great-grandmother really his daughter, since she wasn't listed on any of the census records of his family?

Then we discovered there were stories about Ben being a Union soldier. But there were also stories about him being a  Confederate soldier. Was he both? A deserter? A traitor? And  if he was also a bigamist--what was he thinking?

Della Y came up with some pictures and information that said he was a Confederate private, along with two of his brothers, as well as the photo of Benjamin in CSA uniform. Della N found our great-grandmother's death certificate that confirmed she had gone by the maiden name Braxton (that, too, had been in question). But she had also used the last name Lambert at one time.

Then I read something about a Union fort, Fort Barrancas, near Pensacola. I hadn't realized that parts of Florida had remained strong in Union sympathies. So I checked Union Army records on the internet. Also looked up Fort Barrancas and Fort Pensacola. There I found Benjamin and his two brothers, complete with a physical description. But they had all joined the 1st Cavalry of Fort Pensacola on the same day, surprisingly late in the war, December 31, 1863.

Margaret Lambert Braxton
Norton,  my g-g-grandmother
Benjamin Braxton, at 5'8", was the middle brother, and also in between in height, between his 5' 10" older brother and 5'4" younger one. He was dark skinned, black hair and brown eyes, where the two brothers were fair skinned, one with dark hair and yes and one a blue-eyed blond. Their parents had lived in Alabama but moved to that very wild Florida Peninsula area around 1851 when they received a land grant, when Ben was around 10-11 years old. On the map, the distance is barely 15-20 miles from Geneva, Alabama, where Mary Crowder lived, so some connection with the area would be within reason. On the Florida census rolls, Ben and his wife Martha Lambert Braxton married in 1866 and didn't have children till 1867.

But supposedly he married, using the name John William Braxton, in 1861 to Mary Crowder, and a son was born within a year, before Ben went off to war. Suspicious, huh? And another question formed. Was my g-grannie, born in 1866, illegitimate, possibly raised by her maternal grandparents, the Lamberts, perhaps? She used that name too, and apparently had come from Florida, but I don't know where. Was she Martha's child, or Mary's? Or maybe some other woman's?

Mary Crowder, Ben's supposed first wife
And the instant I saw his photo, I was confronted with yet another puzzle. My instant thought was, This man is Cherokee. He just plain looked Cherokee to me. I had been looking for a Native American ancestor, but he was my great-great-great grandfather, a Choctaw named Mihatima (real spelling and White Man's Name unknown). Benjamin's parents originated in Cherokee country, not Choctaw country, so it wouldn't be surprising if he were Cherokee, and Della Y says people often comment that she looks Native American. She bears a strong resemblance to Benjamin, and also his wife Martha who has that same high cheekboned flat face. Choctaws tend to have a more rounded face, like my grandmother, who was the last member of my family to be a member of the Mississippi Choctaw Nation. So why, if the family admits to an older Choctaw connection, wouldn't there be any mention of a newer Cherokee connection? Then again, maybe he wasn't Cherokee, or Native American at all.

We will probably never have all the pieces. But we did find a piece of Florida history that is very eye-opening. It seems Ben and his brothers were Confederate deserters. But they weren't the only ones. An entire group of North Florida residents deserted around the same time. Dale Cox,
a very thorough researcher of Florida during the Civil War, presented an enlightening blog on the development of the 1st Cavalry at the Union Fort at Pensacola.

Settlement was pretty new there, and the people were quite independent, mostly subsistence farmers. In 1863 the Confederate general in charge of supply had over-reached his bounds in Florida and had stripped local farms bare, leaving families to starve. The soldiers from that area had mostly been conscripted, including Ben and his brothers. With the newly established Union Fort Barrancas at Pensacola being so close, a system developed to guide deserting Southern soldiers through the swamps to the fort. Ben and his brothers are known to have escaped, supposedly one captured, but he must have got away again because all three signed on to the fort's rosters together. The Union didn't know quite what to do with all these men, but ended up with the brand new 1st Cavalry of Pensacola, which officially was in business on the last day of 1863. A fourth brother joined them in 1864.

So Ben really was in two opposing armies. But his reason for deserting now appears much stronger. He didn't have children then, and hadn't married his official wife yet, but he had strong relationships with his family of origin. And he seemed to be in the same situation as a lot of others who lived in his area.

Ben's Pension - which wife got it?
But had he been married to an Alabama woman in the early 1860s and produced a child? We don't know. Perhaps that child was really illegitimate. He isn't on any census records we've found with the supposed first wife, Mary, and child, John William Braxton. We can't find any marriage records. And Mary claimed at one time to be widowed and another to be divorced. But that sort of thing isn't unusual in old census and other records. Further, after Ben died, she tried to claim his Union Army pension. We don't think she succeeded, but can't find that info either. Where was Ben between 1861 and 1863? Did he really use an alias of John William Braxton, as Mary claimed? Was Ben sneaky? Was Mary hornswoggled? Was Ben just a jerk? Or maligned? Or do we simply not know the real story?

But the big question still looms: What was that man thinking? If you've got any ideas, the Della-Della-Delles would sure like to know.

About Me

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I write write write. Sometimes I travel. Then I write some more. And I have a great family who understand that I write write write.