Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aunt Vivian’s 103rd Birthday Party – You won’t believe how good she looks!

After she broke her hip last winter, we were afraid that would be it – she would rapidly deteriorate and die. But once again she has proven that you never, never, never count out Vivian Smith. True, she was a long time recovering, but after just 3 weeks of physical therapy she’s back up on her walker.

About 14 of us showed up at the seaside restaurant in Galveston to celebrate. The wait staff couldn’t resist pointing her out to other patrons. The whole place was buzzing about her.
By the time we repaired to her assisted living home for cake and ice cream, I figured she’d just want to lie down. But she remained her usual sunny self and even managed to blow out her candles. (No, there weren’t 103 of them. That would’ve burned down the house. We’re talking only three, as in 1-0-3.)

With a long history of good deeds and community activism in her native Mathis, Texas, there’s no more amazing woman in the world. I personally attribute her longevity to DNA (her mom made it to 101), her gracious and gregarious disposition, and almost total lack of meds. Yep. Only occasional pills for an infection or something, but NO maintenance meds. I want to grow up to be just like her!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What’s With BLUE?

Last year on the Gather networking site, I asked readers to tell me some of the off-the-wall zingers their kids have uttered. The responses were varied and hilarious, but the stand-out for me was a 10-year-old’s comment on Avatar: “It’s the best movie about blue people I’ve ever seen.” Hmmm. I guess that rules out the Smurfs. Or does it? Maybe the kid missed the Smurfing generation. But guess what. They’re ba-a-a-ack.  Why, I don’t know.
  What's with the fascination for blue?   We have songs about blue velvet, the blue bird of happiness, blue suede shoes, and of course blue skies.  Whatever. It’s a very popular color.
AND if it’s simply a matter of color, there’s only one thing to say: James Cameron, watch your back.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Tandem Tale Technique

It’s a powerful but seldom used writing style: past and present stories unfolding simultaneously within a novel.  I’ve only seen it twice.

One of the most profound examples is the Anasazi Mysteries, a trilogy by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. One moment you’re wholly involved with prehistoric peoples of the American Southwest, the next you’re following the lives of a modern-day team of anthropologists trying to piece together the ancient clues. Both worlds were tense and engrossing. I could hardly stand for the stories to end.
The other is the recently released The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark.  I reviewed it here In this case, the distance was only 90 years, 1857 and 1947, but the two worlds were significantly different nonetheless.

In both cases, the separate stories impacted each other in many startling ways, and the conclusions had the eerie effect of leaving you in both eras at once.

This is not a technique to take lightly. An author without the string of advanced degrees earned by the Gears, or the descriptive skills of Newmark, would be hard-pressed to pull it off. These writers are not only proven at their craft, but thoroughly immersed in their subject matter.  If you want a riveting read, you want these books!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why do We Rarely Read Our Own Genres?

It’s come up several times during my blog hopping – the fact that authors seldom seek out their own genres to indulge in what Hermione Granger would call “light reading.” Nobody’s offered any reasons so far, just the observation. So I can speak only for myself.
And it’s true. Other than those who initially inspired me: George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, J. M. Barrie, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R Tolkien, David Gemmell, and J. K. Rowling, I invariably reach way out into left field for a recreational read. Techno-thrillers, spy capers, historical novels, war epics…never fantasy.
Why is that? Maybe it’s just escape from the routine. Maybe I’m only interested in MY make-believe world, nobody else’s. Maybe I’m just jealous of my peers. Oh, come now!
Indulging in a broad range of interests has been extremely helpful to me, though. I owe as much of my battle strategies to Tom Clancy as I do to The History Channel. And my grandson’s bucket of soldiers. Ditto innovative weaponry. Robert Harris has given me insights into the daily life of advanced ancients.
So is there a point here? Not really. For whatever reason we deviate in our reading tastes, it certainly doesn’t hurt!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dogging the Walk

 My morning walk is getting earlier and earlier these days, but now even at 6:30 AM it’s close to 90°. Walking in this torrid heat is stupid enough without compounding it with one’s dog. Usually I don’t take Chico with me because his summer allergies give him expensive skin rashes. But he looked so pathetic when I opened the door and shooed him back that I figured what the heck. I then discovered his walking harness no longer fit his unexercised little body. So go without it, I said to myself. Who’s going to be out on the track this early anyway?
Everybody. Everybody and his dog. While the little guy usually stays pretty close, the sight of another dog, someone running, a moving bicycle, or any combination thereof, throws him into a frenzy. Time and again I had to stop, pick him up, and carry him until a reasonable distance from the jogger/dog-walker/cyclist was established. Obviously, I ended up carrying him most the 1.5 mile distance. Which meant I couldn’t keep up my usual brisk pace. Which meant most the shade along the trail had evaporated by the time I reached the halfway mark. Which meant both of us were sweating, panting, and tongue-lolling-out-the-mouth exhausted when we finally staggered through the door.

I believe Tennessee Ernie Ford would call it “plum tuckered out.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

The WILCO Project - a brilliantly conceived techno-thriller that gets close to home

I know, I know.  “Techno-thriller” immediately conjures up scenarios of global conspiracies and futuristic weaponry. Not this time. This time, author Daniel Springer drops it right into your hand.
College professor Steven Archer and his team are developing a new game played with cell phones, the testing of which is wildly popular with the student body...until student bodies begin turning up during the games. Horrified that players are being killed, and baffled that 911 signals lead responders away from the victims, Steven is thrown into a complex murder case.  Together with an old detective friend and a journalism student, he races against time to decode the sabotaged program before the killer can strike again.

The reader is thus drawn into the intricacies of the virtual world and its supporting technology. Yes, the jargon and descriptions sometimes went whistling over my head, but the story held me anyway. (It’s a trick I learned reading Tom Clancy. When the characters start eulogizing every detail of their gadgets, I tend to skip over everything that isn’t Need to Know.) Actually, Springer’s descriptions are easier on the layman’s mind than most. For one thing, most of us have duked it out with a router or a LAN or a game program by now anyway.

In addition to turning out a fast-paced mystery, the author has a real gift for dialog, both as speech and thought. It’s natural, familiar, and scene-setting.  Students talk like students, cops talk like cops, and that stuffed-shirt college dean we all want to shoot sounds exactly as you’d expect.

Author Daniel Springer
The one thing I found somewhat distracting was the editing. I have a feeling the publisher assigned someone from the Romance dept. Characters’ hearts race and pound - sometimes twice in one paragraph. Steven Archer is always swallowing hard or taking a deep breath, particularly during the frantic action at the end when the reader least wants to hear about it.  But, all said and done, Daniel Springer knows how to weave an exciting, intelligent and satisfying tale. The Wilco Project is well worth the read.
I met the author and his book at the Book Expo America. His publisher, Solstice, had the booth right next to VerveStar’s. And if you don’t mind this grandmother’s candid opinion, the young man is much better looking in person!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tales of the Cracker Barrel, and why you should never – or always – stop there

It started with this recent spate of commercials; steaming bowls of chicken and dumplings, long filets of locally caught fish lightly breaded in corn meal, fat sizzling links of sausage framing two sunny side ups like eyebrows, freshly baked biscuits, rolls, and muffins nesting in cloth-lined baskets, a huge, homey slab of chicken fried steak artistically slathered with peppery country cream gravy…all passing across the screen so seductively you can smell it.

After a few days of this, Husband spoke up from the depths of his lounger: “Tomorrow. 11:30. We’re going.”
Now, we’re no strangers to the Cracker Barrel. We generally pit there at least once on any given road trip. But it’s been awhile since we’ve headed anywhere. And let’s face it – with the kids gone and me spending insane amounts of time with books and blogs, the smell of home cookin’ in our kitchen is mighty rare these days.

So we went. Past the rows of rockers, the heavy double doors swung open to emit streams of tempting aromas. I sipped coffee while my wide, incredulous eyes took in the trays of fantastic meals being delivered to tables around us. With a prompt from Husband I turned back to my menus. Yes, menus – in the plural. The hostess handed us two each as we were seated at the heavy, rustic-looking log table with an oil lamp on it. And still more offerings on little stand-up cards. How could I possibly navigate my way to a decision?

Eventually, of course, I did. The side of fried apples was just like my grandma’s – drenched in cinnamon syrup. The biscuits were as light as Aunt Lillian’s. The meatloaf just like Mom’s. Aside from the sawmill gravy, which was better than anybody’s, it was pure Home.

Now I’m inspired. I want to cook again. In a fever of domesticity I combed through the grocery aisles for the forgotten items of my past: coarse ground black pepper, corn starch, baking powder…what? No leaf lard? How can I make biscuits from this imitation margarine?

You know, this might just be what Husband had in mind…

Friday, July 1, 2011

My fellow VerveStar Authors (Part 3): Franklin D. Murdock

Were you wondering if I’d ever get back on track? Truth is, I’ve been searching for more information on this venerable 90-year-old author and poet with very little success. If I’d taken notes during his talk instead of sitting there in an enthralled stupor I’d have it all. Finally (duh) it occurred to me follow his press release on Google. Since the cover of The Best is Yet to Come is still in development, and the book not available for me to review, this will be mostly bio. And believe me, it’s plenty impressive!

I tagged along to his media conference at The Hallmark of Battery Park, NYC on Thursday, May 26, after we closed up the booth at BEA. Although too blind to really see his audience, he spoke strongly and engagingly. We were all immediately involved.

Murdock was born December 15th, 1920 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the fourth of five boys and one girl. From his press release:

He volunteered his service to the U.S. Navy in 1944 and spent one year in intensive schooling studying radio and radar electronics; serving on two different surface vessels before being discharged early in 1946. Following the military, he worked with Douglas Aircraft Company as a technician in the study of radio energy propagation/development of flush mounted antennae. He was general foreman of all engineering research and development laboratories before accepting a position of design project engineer for electronics and weapons systems for the A4 SKYHAWK airplane used by the Marines, U.S. Navy and several foreign countries. He retired after 34 years; when last of the A4 SKYHAWKS had been delivered.

It was the R&D during those years that led to the HUDs (heads-up displays on fighter jet windshields), iphones and all the other gizmos of today’s life.

Murdock’s primary subject matter is inspirational and spiritual, and he continues to deliver it well. He has written four books: My Life in Poetry and The Absolute Truth, Blessing or Presumption and recently an updated edition of My Life in Poetry. He also contributes to an active blog, networks on Facebook, and still researches daily for his future books. The Best is Yet to Come and his memoir are to be released by VerveStar.

This picture was taken at the VerveStar booth at Book Expo America. With him is his great-granddaughter, Mary, who travelled with him from L.A. They were guests at an assisted living facility run by the same company as his home in California.