Rae Harte will RETURN

Yesterday, my friend Jeannine told me she’s reading January Moon.

This is interesting because I’ve never asked her to read January Moon and she never indicated she wanted to read it either… and I’m fine with that because I need areas in my life that have nothing to do with being an author and where, in fact, it never even comes up. Jeannine is honest but she is also kind, so if she hated January Moon (or didn’t like it very much), I’m certain she’d never mention she was (or had) read it… and why would she have to mention it? She wouldn’t.

Jeannine said she’s finding January Moon “spell binding” and last night we wrote each other several back & forth emails about my spooky character, Rae Harte. Jeannine said “she is very disturbing” and then asked “shouldn’t I be disturbed?”

I said “hell yes…”

Jeannine said that Rae Harte “scares the hell” out of her… and I replied she scares the hell out of me too.

In my next post I’ll write a little bit about my research into the mind of madness and how Rae Harte’s character began to emerge and develop… and without giving away too much let me just mention that Rae is going to return…

She really is just too wickedly nuts to kill off permanently!

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Giving into the Ice

I should write a lovely Christmas post (and maybe still will) but right now on this early Christmas Eve morning it is not the charm of the holiday season that is on my mind but rather I’m contemplating the bane of my winter existence: ICE.

More specifically, road ice. Driving over icy roads is the pits and this past Sunday evening I lost control of my car. I was driving on a country back road (lesson #1: do not drive back roads in Maine in winter) when suddenly my car had a mind of its own.  Actually, it was as if some preternatural power had a mind of its own and took control of the car. 

My car slid (rather gracefully, I might add) in wide arcs over the road but, fortunately, when I hit this invisible huge stretch of black ice, I wasn’t driving fast; I’d just reduced speed to 15 mph (in a 35 mph zone) because I sensed road conditions were changing.

road ice

I knew enough to not brake and, of course, I wasn’t going to accelerate either, so it really was as if I’d surrendered control of the car to someone else…. I took my foot off the gas, did not brake, and just tried to steer the car ever so gently (rather than jerk it back to the center of the road and really get into trouble) — praying at the same time that no one was driving toward me from the opposite direction.

My very smart and sensitive dog, Shadow, was in the back of the car and eerily started emitting a long plaintive howl — more like a keening befitting a banshee — which added to the unnerving surrealism of the experience as the car sailed forth carrying both of us to God only knew where…. In Chicago terms that I understand, we slid out of control for approximately 2 city blocks (on a road going downward) before the car came to a complete stop just short of a large pine tree at the end of  someone’s drive way.

Believe me, it was harrowing.

Did I mention I hate driving on ice?

Well, I’m looking at some very challenging moments in 2014 and this morning I started thinking about how driving on ice is a metaphor for life and is also instructive about how I should handle some unavoidable difficulties going forward — not just in the upcoming year, but indeed thereafter too.

First, although sometimes I may know when road ice is in front of me, as last Sunday proved there are times when dangerous ice appears suddenly. This is the same for many troubles in life. When troubles roll out under me — as they inevitably will — I should remember that difficult times, just like a patch of dangerous ice, cannot be circumvented using the usual driving remedies: I cannot slam on the brakes,  drive around it, or hit the gas to accelerate out of there.

Dangerous ice under my car and painful life changes require staying calm and moving gently. Like a car that is out of control on ice, the most that I can reasonably hope to do when I hit a stretch of trouble is guide myself through the danger with a light hand. Difficult times, like treacherous road ice, require understanding that not all events can be controlled and they are what they are and need to play out accordingly. We need to reach deep into ourselves and find our strength to go with the flow while still applying whatever guiding principles we may live by and hold dear.

I like to say that one of my mantras is “just do the next best thing.” With trouble and with ice, the first best thing is to realize you are only minimally in control and while you are not in control of where your life (or car) may be headed when on ice or in difficult times, you still have power to guide yourself as gently as possible through the ordeal so that you come out on the other side hopefully intact.

Realizing this, my first resolution for the upcoming New Year is thus: When skidding dangerously over ice, metaphorically or not, it’s the light touch and not the heavy foot that will give me the best chance at avoiding a serious crash.

As always, thanks for reading my stuff.

Oh and please be safe out there…

Peace. ~m.

Writing About Animals

Perhaps one of the most compelling characters in my novel January Moon is the dog, Wolf.  How can I measure his success — and mine in his creation?

Well, I suppose fan mail is a good indication. He gets marriage proposals from dogs all over the globe… some of them even come with their own bass boats. Who’d a thunk?

The scene in January Moon where Jess Farrell finds Wolf half-dead on an Illinois highway was taken from several personal experiences: the first was when I rescued a cat tossed from a truck on a highway (he was in a small cat carrier), and thus his name became Hiway; the second came from when I worked (volunteered) in animal rescue and met a dog that had been tortured like Wolf and left to die.

Jess’ own death-defying walk alongside roaring expressway traffic, getting pummeled by tornadoes of dirt and stones and other debris, enduring the angry horns of over-the-road trucks and the heat of a scorching day in August was my experience as I frantically looked for the animal carrier I saw tossed from a truck window… I eventually found the carrier in a culvert alongside a vast Illinois cornfield… and inside found two kittens, one dead and one who endured and became my beloved Hiway… it’s a great story and one I’ll reserve for a full retelling another time.

The other experience that helped me craft the story about Wolf came from the other true story about a sweet dog, probably a lab mix, that was beaten, shot, stabbed and tossed out on yet another roadway in rural Illinois. That dog was left with two permanently paralyzed back legs but her spirit and heart were not broken and she went on to thrive and give love to those who loved her and cherished her and pledged to keep her forever safe.

So, the scene about Wolf’s rescue came from a mix of personal experiences but a later scene in the book where Wolfe fights to save Jess’ life was the stuff of pure invention. In that scene, Wolf and the She-Monster Rae Hart are locked in a gladiatorial fight, both willing to die if they cannot kill the other… Wolf is determined to save his beloved Jess and Rae Hart is determined to kill both Wolf and Jess.

That scene was the most difficult bit of writing I have ever done in my entire life — up to that time — but I knew I nailed it the harder I cried… and boy did I cry. I cried rivers.

I still cry rivers when I go back and read it.

But here’s where I’m at now: I’m having trouble finishing January Moon’s sequel, March Storm, and it’s because of yet another dog story… or dog stories.

OK: it’s out there — I’ve admitted it. For all of you, my dearest readers and friends, who keep asking me “Where is March Storm?” and “When can we get March Storm?” here is the truth: it’s been a very tough story for me to write because it has a very strong side story about dog fighting and animal abuse.

Researching many of issues that were embedded in the larger story in January Moon was sometimes emotionally difficult (like the FGM in particular). However, I completed my research and wrote my story and never was derailed. And even when I wrote the scene where Wolf and Rae Hart do their ballet of death and cried a river I was able to still write it and move on.

But I’m having great difficulty finishing March Storm and so I’m not sure I can deliver this time around. The dog fighting stuff is killing me.

I wonder if any other author has ever experienced this? Thinking they had a great story (and they did!) but not being strong enough emotionally to write it?

BTW: For some reason that seems still not able to be resolved, people are n0t able to leave comments here on my blog but we’re still working on finding and slaying that particular gremlin so have faith. However, please don’t let it stop you from contacting me. You can reach me on Facebook or by email at windycityauthor@gmail.com.

Meet Fred Wiley

I think it would be interesting to convene a co-ed panel of authors to talk about the characters they created whom they most loved and were drawn to sexually. Do we unconsciously (or consciously) create our ideal lovers?

Frankly, I think this is a far more interesting question than the many more numerous questions I answer about Rae Hart, the horrible she-he villain in January Moon. I suspect that I have created a character with major staying power when I created Rae because she certainly generates a great deal of curiosity. One of the most consistent (and persistent) questions I answer is “have you ever known anyone like Rae Hart?”

To which I say “Holy shit, no! And I hope to God I never do…”

It was tough enough to create Rae Hart and then have her take up residence in my mind for twelve weeks… whew… by the time I finished the story I had enough of her!

Will she return in future Del Carter stories…???? Well, maybe… but I’ll not say more about that here at this time… (hee hee).

Hands down, however, the MOST talked about character in January Moon — the one who absolutely has elicited the MOST emotional response — is Wolf. Wolf trumps Rae in all conversations about the characters in the book and I love that because I love Wolf and I am crazy insanely happy when other people love Wolf too.

I am also frequently asked if Wolf will return in any sequels to January Moon. Absolutely! Just look at the cover for March Storm and you’ll see beloved, heroic Wolf.

But now let’s return to my original statement: Do we [authors] unconsciously (or consciously) create our ideal lovers?

I love Del Carter and when I created Del I had a very distinct man in mind and I’m delighted with the outcome. However, something happened that was unexpected when I created Fred Wiley… and it was puzzling… he was so familiar to me! I’ve never known a man quite like Fred but I think he is an amalgam of all the men I’ve most desired, whether in reality or in my dreams.

Last week I had a conversation with a screen writer (quite thrilling to discuss how January Moon could be rewritten for film!) and as we pushed and prodded one another’s creative energy it came to me that Wiley was a character who could be placed anywhere around the country and that he was the quintessential cop of both our imaginations and experiences. Del is flashy, sharp, complex, and very much “Chicago.”  Wiley is everything else…

Both men are heroes, both men are wonderful, yes both men are flawed — but I tend to think, at least as I’m sitting here now, three years after I gave birth to both of these grown men, that if I had an itch I’d want Fred to scratch it… know what I mean?

Just sayin’…

As always, thanks for reading…

PS: Please don’t tell Del.

 

 

Daylight & Deja Vu: A History Book

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The title says “Book 1″ but this may change. I haven’t decided if it will be a series or if I’ll just publish in one book. To be decided!

Daylight & Deja Vu is non-fiction. It is one of my many incomplete writing projects but it will be finalized next year (2014).

Daylight & Deja Vu is a history book that attempts to correct false history by giving its readers both accurate history and a credible perspective about such history. I’ve titled it Daylight & Deja Vu because its purpose is to revisit various events in U.S. history (the Deja vu part) and cast them in a more nuanced and honest light (the Daylight part).

This book finds its genesis in two things:

First, the pain and sorrow I feel when good people believe bad history and by “bad” I mean false.  This is very common because few people actually study history in depth at the college level and people today are constantly inundated with false and misleading information via powerful propaganda machines working overtime to sell an agenda disguised as historical fact.  I understand that it is very hard to know the truth if you are not trained in history, especially if you are (and we all are!) subjected to a constant stream of misinformation and pathological political propaganda.

Second, I’ve been ASKED by hundreds of people to write such a book. These requests have been the outgrowth of my non-fiction writing (such as in my OpEd column and writing in various other places online and in print), as well as my public speeches. I can’t begin to estimate how many times people have approached me after reading something I’ve written or attending a presentation where I’ve spoken and said “Wow, I had NO idea…” and/or “How come I never heard this before?” I’ve heard many times “I always hated history but you make it so interesting!”

I’m not yet totally sure how I am going to arrange Daylight & Deja Vu but I think I’ll divide it into broad thematic topics that deal with past and current issues — as an example I might compare the Tea Party to the Know Nothings of the mid-1800s, review what socialism is and is not, discuss freedom of speech and its limitations, and also look at whether the Founding Fathers ever intended America to be a “Christian nation.” I’ll cast new understanding on the Civil Rights movement, feminism, and compare and contrast Vietnam to other wars in American history. I want to also look at the how many of the most distressing — and pressing — issues in contemporary America are not new at all — and how they all have deep tap roots in our history.

At this time in my life I’m concentrating on my fiction although research for  Daylight & Deja Vu is never ending. As you may know if you’ve read my biography, I’m a historian by training and probably also by temperament and I promise you that Daylight & Deja Vu will be a credible book backed up by accurate sources.

As time permits, I am going to create a page here on this blog dedicated to some of my previously published political and historical articles. For those of you who are interested in politics and history, please come back often and read my non-fiction.

As always, thanks for reading this.

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Those damn reviews…

I have a very ambivalent feeling about reviews; from an author’s perspective they might be best described as a “masochistic necessity.”

I am not talking about professional literary reviews but the kind of reviews that are written by the average reader — the person who orders the book at a place like Amazon.com and then posts a review at that same site.

january_moon_image Reviews serve several purposes and are very important. Allow me explain.

Ideally, they give both the author and future readers honest, relevant and respectful feedback. At worse, they are ad hominem attacks against the author or completely unhelpful rants against the book and neither of those help the author nor assist the consumer wanting information in order to help decide whether to purchase the book.

New authors tend to hover over their reviews and each critical word is like a slash from a knife that deeply wounds, while each positive word is like manna from heaven — but hopefully, as an author becomes more experienced, reviews are eventually taken with a grain of salt… if not a copious amount of Tequila too… if it’s a great review you breathe a sigh of relief rather than jump for joy and if it’s a lousy review you write it off as “you can’t please all of the people all of the time…”

This all said, however, there is this parallel reality: we need reviews (good ones, obviously) because good reviews are the advertising we simply cannot purchase otherwise. Good reviews are the coin of our realm.

I’ve been awed by the verbal and private feedback I receive about my novel January Moon and my short story Pearls for Jimmy; much of this has been sent to me via email and in private messages on Facebook.  I think it’s human nature that people will go out of their way to praise rather than to criticize. I always keep this in mind so that for every one person who takes the time to reach out to tell me what how much they loved what they read that I’m reminded there are also those who have chosen to keep their own counsel. Further, I suspect that when people KNOW you on some personal level, when you are a face they can relate to and interact with, they are kinder and more tempered in their criticism. Strangers, however, have no such emotional constraints and more easily throw a punch.

PearlsFINAL CoverBecause of this I don’t like to ask people to write reviews (basically I can only personally ask this of people I already know, right?). I feel it takes advantage of a friendship and skews the outcome; therefore, I only ask people to write a review after they have contacted me privately and lavishly praised January Moon or Pearls for Jimmy and there is something I’ve learned about this: many people do not appreciate the importance of their reviews (yes, they can impact an author’s sales and that means livelihood) and/or that their review need not be elaborate. A customer’s book review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble doesn’t have to be a literary review or a book report; it can be as simple as just clicking on a number of stars… one to five.

Now inherently I also know that there are some people who just love to slam authors and there may also be some unscrupulous authors out there who “troll” around and slam other authors just because they are the competition — but I think more times than not reviews are skewed by friends and family who want to support an author and that is fine but obviously is finite… authors soon run out of those friends and family. Ultimately, we need unbiased readers who will honestly promote what they have read.

I remember a Catholic priest at my parish church when I was a kid who often said “if you can’t boost, don’t knock.”  It’s an especially good rule when writing book reviews and one I take to heart. I refuse to write a terrible review about any work of fiction* for these reasons: (1) I think it takes chutzpah to put it out there and therefore I admire all authors for at least that; (2) I don’t think a bad review is helpful and often says more about the writer of the review than the book; (3) just because something doesn’t fuzz up my peaches doesn’t mean it won’t fuzz up yours… and most of all (4) I’m not the book police.

So then why write any review? Well, there is this: I want to encourage a good writer to keep writing and I want to suggest to others that they seriously consider reading books I like because… well, because what the hell? Why not? There is no harm done if a reader decides to read a given work and then determines it’s not their cup of tea… but it is very sad when a reader passes on a book that could just possibly make their heart sing. Who am I to know that?

If you’ve read something you really like, or if you’ve read something you even “sorta’ kinda’ like” and see the author has promise, please write a review that tells the author and the world what you think.

This promotes good writing by boosting it in a positive way. If you can’t promote it, well then as Father Hughes would say “don’t knock” it… I take the view “different strokes for different folks…” but maybe that’s wrong. If you disagree, I welcome your thoughts.

BTW: You can read reviews for January Moon both at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble and you can read reviews for Pearls for Jimmy on Amazon.com.

~~~

*Note: I will, however, write a highly critical review re: non-fiction, especially works of history. I’m a historian and so I take great umbrage at people who skew history to serve their own political agenda or when a historian fails to do credible research — but that is not the same thing as when a historian writes an analysis that may differ from mine. It is only when false statements are purported to be factual history that I am willing to roll up my sleeves and slam home a scathing review but I think this is fair and vastly different from a negative review for a work of fiction. History is not a subjective or essentially harmless undertaking like fiction. Just sayin’….

Passion in Chicago… a tasty sample of food and sex!

FondueFINAL coverIn my next short story, Fondue, Enchiladas & Love… Chicago Style, I’m spinning a realistic “look-see” into the lives of two really nice people — a man and a woman in mid-life — who met on Facebook. Yeah: Facebook!

Over a period of several years, Lynn and Rob learned a great deal about each other. Like millions of us, they use FB to connect with family and friends and share personal, national and world news. They chat, bitch, moan, groan and laugh about their worlds, their families, their political and religious beliefs, their preferences in music, movies and books, and even wine. Lynn and Rob are members of huge networks of like-minded friends that crisscross the nation and sometimes even the world.

Rob and Lynn are healthy, active, attractive people; they are in good physical shape and look half their age (or at least a decade younger). They’ve survived divorce and have grown kids, careers, homes, and Lynn even has a fiance — her comfortable, sure-bet, Carl. Neither Rob nor Lynn are looking to upend their well-ordered worlds when they have an opportunity to finally meet in Chicago. Neither expects more than a quick dinner but what they get is pure spontaneous combustion that burns all night!  

There was one thing Lynn knew for certain: “What happened in Chicago was damn well going to stay in Chicago…”

But with dawn comes the realization that something more is happening between them…  and something has to give if they are to make it work in a responsible, mature way… but what? How? 

Clearly, we cannot easily make the same decisions at 50 that we might have made at 20… life is different now… and it gets complicated fast.

This is a contemporary adult story about the unique challenges responsible adults face when trying to tack together a new life in middle age; it’s about family and the expectations adult children have about how their parents should live, as well as careers and real estate and broken promises and a ton of baggage and even the limits of parental obligations. But most of all it’s about passion! I’ve written several erotic scenes in this story and one of my favorites is the following one where, as they are dining, they begin to realize there is a very special magic between them — and that magic weaves it’s own spell over dessert and then continues after dinner:

(Note: the story is written in first person; Lynn is telling you their story.)

The dessert was an elaborate presentation of luscious, velvety melted chocolate kept warm in a small fondue pot and served with a variety of little cubes of cake (yellow, white, chocolate, lemon) and large juicy strawberries, delicate apricots, and salty pretzel sticks.

As Rob’s hand stirred the fondue I realized he was stirring me, stirring my heart, stirring my senses… and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. No: Strike that… there wasn’t a damn thing I wanted to do about it. I was enjoying the most romantic, and totally spontaneous, night of my life with a man who was quite obviously sweeping me off my feet.

What could be the harm in that?

Of course, everything…

I leaned forward so Rob could feed me little cakes dunked in warm melted chocolate and he leaned toward me so I could feed him strawberries and apricots I dipped in the fondue. Rob also dipped pretzel sticks into the melted chocolate and held them to my lips and I laughed at the sparkle in his eyes as I knowingly teased him by licking off the dripping warm chocolate with my tongue.

“You’re killing me,” he moaned.

I laughed, “Nice to know…”

I wiped strawberry juice and warm chocolate from his lips with my fingers but wanted to lick those treats off his lips with my tongue. Every time I ran one of my long painted finger nails gently over his lips Rob’s eyes told me he was wishing for the very same thing. I knew I was being preposterously seductive but I did it anyway; after capturing the sweetness from his lips, I put my finger in my mouth and sucked. His eyes were glued to me.

We were falling into the fondue pot…

Our legs were locked together, our hands fed each other fondue, and our eyes spoke volumes.

Oh my God, what is happening here?

I knew exactly what was happening and I made the deliberate decision to go with it: I wanted that man – and I wanted him badly.

And I loved that he wanted me… oh yeah: I definitely loved that he wanted me.

I want you Rob… I want you more than I have ever wanted any other man in my life.

…. and then later….

Rob opened the back door and I grabbed his shirt and pulled him into me; I kissed him passionately as we stumbled into the house. He held me firmly in his arms and never removed his lips from my hungry mouth as he balanced himself on one leg and back-kicked the door shut behind us. We slammed ourselves into the wall and pawed at each other like the animals in heat that we had become…  

He tasted like chocolate and strawberries and salty pretzels and I was hot melted chocolate begging to be stirred.

“Wow, just wow” he said as he stretched his arms over my head and pressed them against the wall. He peered down at me asked “Lynn, are you sure about this?”

We searched each other’s eyes and I whispered “Yes. Definitely.”

Gallantly he asked again, “Really? Should we be doing this?”  

“Probably not but I don’t want to stop now!”

He exhaled and said “Well, damnit, neither do I.”

I pulled his head down and opened my mouth, welcoming his tongue, and clawed at his shirt. I helped him peel off his sports jacket; he shook it off and tossed it to the floor. My hands crawled over his muscular hairy chest and he threw his head back and moaned “Oh Christ… what you do to me, Lynn….”

Then he pinned me to the wall and nibbled my neck as he unbuttoned my blouse; I gladly slipped out of it and he flung it to the floor, on top of his sports coat. Then he stepped back so he could watch me as he slowly slid his hands under my camisole and felt my flesh. His touch sent shivers down my spine.

“Oh my God…” I said as he fondled my breasts. “I love your touch…” I whispered, “I just love it!”

Stir me, stir me…stir me I begged…

Slowly as if in a dream, he slid my camisole up over my head, exposing my naked breasts in the soft filtered moonlight that crept into the house. His husky, deep voice whispered “Damn you’re a beautiful woman” as his eyes studied my body as if I was truly a priceless work of art.

I watched in fascination as he lowered his head and began to suck…  my knees buckled and I began to slide down the wall but he held me firmly; his lower body pressed mine against the wall and I moaned with pleasure. 

Rob’s mouth crawled over me… upward and over my shoulders…then back toward my neck and up toward my chin until his lips reached my mouth again. I cupped his face in my hands and whispered breathless, frenzied things like “Oh my God, oh my God, Rob…” as I soaked up his kisses and felt his strong hands explore my entire body, from my breasts to my hips, taking my full measure.

He said “Oh damn you feel good” as he fondled my ass and pulled me even more tightly into his swollen groin. Rob unzipped my skirt and it fell around my ankles; he supported me as I kicked it away and then kicked off my heels. I was shorter by almost two inches once I stepped out of my shoes.

“Whoah! Where did you go!” he laughed as he lowered himself to kiss me again. I wrapped my arms around his strong neck and clung to him on tiptoes as he slid his hands up my thighs.

His eyes popped in pleased surprise. “You’re already wet, hon…” he whispered in a very gentle voice.

“Uh huh…of course I am. This is what you do to me.”

He played with me, gently and teasingly at first, and I whispered “I want you…” 

…. and of course there is more….

This is just a tease!