Thursday, September 11, 2014

9-11: A Day Not to be Forgotten

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Like people on December 7, 1941, you probably remember each detail of that day - if you're an American, it was day that should have finally awakened us to the realization that we do not stand above the world, but are a part of it.

On that morning, I was in a hotel in Seattle, Washington, part of a trip I was taking with other colleagues in the Senior Seminar, a former State Department program for senior foreign affairs officials. For some reason, I woke up at 5:30, and for some reason turned on the TV set, which just happened to be tuned to a local channel. The early morning news was on, and I saw an announcer standing in front of a skyscraper with smoke pouring from an upper floor. It took a while for me to recognize the World Trade Center tower, and even longer for me to realize that I wasn't looking at a promo for some new disaster movie.

I was staring dumbfound at the screen when, at 6:03 Seattle time I saw the second plane slicing toward the second tower, and watched live as it knifed through the building, sending flames and debris out the other side from the explosion. My brain refused at first to process what it had just seen - hundreds of people, including all those on board that plane, perished in an instant, and millions were watching it live and in color on their TVs.

The rest of my stay in Seattle is kind of a blur, as are the first few days back in Washington, DC as my colleagues and I wrestled with what to do next. Should we end training and return to our organizations to see if there was anything we could do to help? Or, should we continue our training and try to prepare ourselves to make a difference in the new world that was born out of those fiery explosions? We decided to stay, and for us the rest is kind of history. What I woke up remembering today, though, was just how strange that day was for me.

First, before that when I traveled, when I woke up, I never started my morning with TV, and never with the news. My usual habit was to shave, shower, brush my teeth, and then watch cartoons while I got dressed. I hate to start the day depressed, and news always does that. What made me turn on the TV before even going to the bathroom? I'll never know, but what I do know, is that day - that act - changed my life forever.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Channeling Famous Writers - Who Do You Write Like?

I was taking a break from writing today, having just finished making some serious corrections in my latest Buffalo Soldier novel, and getting a fairly good start on my next Al Pennyback mystery. I did get my word quota done, but that was mostly journaling and plotting, so I was just doing some idle reading. In doing that, I came across a blog describing an analytical program that takes samples of a person's writing and compares it to famous writers. I suppose we're all at some time or another curious, so I decided to give it a try.

Me being me, I wasn't satisfied to just do a single sample, so I took samples from nine of my novels (different genres) and three recent blog posts. Following are the results:

Deadbeat (Al Pennyback mystery) - William Gibson
Buffalo Soldier: Comanchero (western/historical) - Margaret Mitchel
Frontier Justice (western/historical) - Jack London
Dragon Slayer (international intrigue) - H.P. Lovecraft
A Good Day to Die (Al Pennyback mystery) - William Gibson
Dead Men Don't Answer (Al Pennyback mystery) - Dan Brown
Deadline (Al Pennyback mystery) - David Foster Wallace
Death in White Satin (Al Pennyback mystery) - H. P. Lovecraft
If I Should Die Before I Wake (Al Pennyback mystery) - Chuck Palahniuk
Blog post on the colorful wild west - H.P. Lovecraft
Blog post on events in Ferguson, MO - Cory Doctorow
Blog post on demise of content mills - Cory Doctorow

I write like
Cory Doctorow
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

Now, I'm not sure what any of this really means. I write according to what I feel about the subject - sometimes I'm going for a bit of humor, at other times I want to scare your pants off, or make you think about the subject. When I write, I try to see the scene I'm writing in my mind, and hear the characters as they interact, and then write it like I imagine it. I've read Lovecraft, Brown, Mitchel, and Doctorow - although, except for Brown, not in many years - so, I can't account for this analysis. It's fun to do, though, so maybe you writers out there might want to go to I Write Like and check it out.

I write like
William Gibson
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

At the end of the day, I suppose, I just write like me. This blog, though, when analyzed was determined to be in the style of H. P. Lovecraft. Is that channeling or what?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

America's Wild West Was Colorful - In More Ways Than One

Growing up in the late 40s, 50s and very early 60s, like most kids of my generation I was fascinated by westerns. First on radio, and later on TV, I was enthralled by the tales of American’s Wild West. Many days after school and on most Saturdays, you’d find me glued to the radio or TV anxiously absorbing the latest adventure of Red Ryder, the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger, and all the other daring heroes of the western plains, deserts and mountains.

I don’t think I really noticed at the time that the old west I saw on our old black and white television set was overwhelmingly white. If I did notice, I probably just thought, ‘that’s the way things were.’ It’s not like there were alternative sources of information or images to compare with. I mean, things weren’t totally white. There were the Indians – or Native Americans. But, with the exception of the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto, and the Last of the Mohicans, they were all blood thirsty and portrayed as always wanting to scalp someone. There were also Mexicans, like Red Ryder’s companion, and Cisco Kid’s pal, Pancho – but, except for their overdone Spanish accents, they were pretty white. Lest I forget, now and then a Chinese laundryman or cook, like Hop Sing on Bonanza, would put in an appearance. As for black people, I struggle to remember if there were any with other than walk-on parts as slaves or former slaves who never really did much. The cavalry that came to the rescue of the besieged settlers were all a bunch of white guys.
So, when I left my home in Texas in 1962 to join the army, those were the images I carried with me. I joined the army to see the world, and man oh man did I ever. A whole new world opened up to me – and, not just the fact that there were people in the rest of the world very unlike those I’d grown up around in a small east Texas town, but my access to historical records opened up a whole new window on the past. And, I learned that not only had the past taught to me been distorted, much of it was false by omission.

Men of K Troop, 9th Cavalry. Public
Domain Image. Wikimedia images.
The first unit to which I was assigned after basic and advanced training was the 24th Infantry Division in Germany. You can imagine my surprise when I learned shortly after arriving that the division’s lineage descended from the 24th Infantry Regiment, one of four regiments (9th and 10th Cavalry, and 25th Infantry) authorized by congress after the Civil War to be led by white officers but otherwise made up of black men. They were part of what was then known as the United States Colored Troops. These four regiments were assigned to the expanding frontier west of the Mississippi, and made up ten percent of the army stationed in the west. At one time after 1870, the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry were stationed in New Mexico Territory and Texas, so any cavalry coming to anyone’s rescue from about 1874 to nearly 1885 wouldn’t have been white. In addition, the army recruited free blacks who had been members of the Seminole tribe in Florida during the removal of that tribe to Oklahoma Territory, but had fled to Mexico to escape discrimination, to form the Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts who aided in the fight against Comanche and other hostile tribes in Texas.

Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts
Public Domain image.
Between the scouts and the Buffalo Soldiers (a name given to the black soldiers by the Native American tribes they fought), blacks were involved in many, if not most, of the battles against the various tribes. In addition, they helped local law enforcement maintain order (such as the Lincoln County War in New Mexico), carried mail and supplies, built roads, and provided security to those building the railroads. After nearly two decades in Texas and New Mexico, they were transferred to the Dakotas where they continued to fight, explore, and build. When the first national parks were established, the army provided security, and Buffalo Soldiers were among those assigned this duty. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite Park, for instance, men from the Ninth provided his guard of honor and escort.

Black homesteaders kids in
Nebraska. Public domain image.
 But, people of color were in the west in more than military uniforms. Before the Civil War, Texas had a large number of slaves, who worked the ranches, and continued to do so after being freed. Most ranches had white, black, and Hispanic hands driving cattle, mending fences, and taming horses. When the country was moving westward, black settlers made the long and arduous journey – establishing all-black towns in several places.

The outlaw, Isom Dart.
Bass Reeves
There were even black outlaws and lawmen in the Old West. Ned Huddleston was born a slave in Arkansas in 1849, and accompanied his owner to Texas during the Civil War. After when he was freed, he joined a band of rustlers and changed his name to Isom Dart. Despite wanting to live an honest life, the call of the wild kept luring him back to rustling until he was killed in 1900. One of the most famous black lawmen was Bass Reeves, also a former slave, who became one of the first black deputy US marshals west of the Mississippi. Although he’d never learned to read or write, he spoke six Native American languages, and had an amazing memory. He would have someone read fugitive warrants to him and memorize the contents. During his 30+ year career he brought in over 3,000 fugitives.

Bill Pickett
A bit of trivia about cowboys. How many of you are rodeo fans? Do you know what bulldogging is? That’s where a rodeo rider leaps from a horse going at full gallop, grabs a steer by the horns and wrestles it to the ground. It is now a main event at most rodeos, and it was invented by a black cowboy, Bill Pickett, who was born in Texas in 1870. Because of his race, he wasn’t allowed to compete against white rodeo performers, but he toured parts of the US, Canada, Mexico, England and South America performing for rapt audiences. He died in 1932 after being kicked in the head by a horse. In 1972 he was inducted in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, and in 1989 into the Pro-rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. In 1994, the US Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his memory.  

And, of course, no tale of black cowboys would be complete without mention of Nat Love, known as Deadwood Dick, born a slave in Tennessee.  After freedom and the death of his father, he moved first to Texas where he demonstrated amazing skills as a cowboy, especially breaking horses. After a few years he moved to Arizona where he became even more famous. Deadwood Dick  worked as a cowboy for 20 years before getting married and settling down. He worked a number of jobs in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada before finally settling down in California. In 1907, he published his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as “Deadwood Dick.” While few of the claims in his book could be verified, except his skill as a cowboy, the American reading public devoured his book as avidly as the ‘dime novels’ of the time.

There you have it. The Old West was colorful. And, in a literal, not just rhetorical sense.
Available to read on Wattpad for a limited time. If you like it, a review on Amazon, etc., would be appreciated.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

PnP Promotional Video

Check out my promotional video at PnP Authors Promotion site. Thanks and a tip of the hat to Parrimari Sheets Cacciolfi for a great production.

Life Is a Story: 5 Words I Wish I Could Use--and Why I Can't.

Life Is a Story: 5 Words I Wish I Could Use--and Why I Can't.: I love language. I was a lucky, blessed toddler whose parents read to her on a regular basis. I love the way words feel and move, how they...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I'm Not Lazy, This is My PT

I grew up thinking the image of a person sitting behind a desk, with feet up on that desk, represented laziness or arrogance. Recently, though, I had an experience that has caused me to re-evaluate that idea, and now see that person with feet upon desk as someone taking care of his or her health.
It goes something like this. A few days ago, my daughter and two granddaughters were visiting. I was walking around barefoot, and my daughter commented that my feet were swollen. What she said, in actuality was, “Dad, your feet look like Fred Flintstone’s.” I’d not suffered any discomfort or pain, so I really hadn’t noticed. But, after her remark, I looked down, and dammit, my feet were a bit puffy. We then noticed that the veins and bone structure I could usually see on the back of my hands was also missing – my hands were a bit swollen.
The two of us did some research, and learned that this kind of edema is caused by blood pooling in the extremities. Unless it’s a symptom of RA or heart problems, it’s not really dangerous, but can become uncomfortable if not brought under control. The recommendations we found were surprising, but simple. Decrease salt intake, increase exercise, increase intake of citric acid (from lemons and limes, which can be added to water), and elevate the swollen limbs above the heart for about 30 minutes a day. Elevating hands is easy, but if you work in an office environment, the only way to elevate your feet is to put them on your desk or computer work table.
Doing it in my home office is no problem, but I just happened to be about to leave on a trip to consult with some DOD colleagues at a research facility, so I’d be working in a lab with four or five other people. I explained my situation, and they laughed, but encouraged me to give it a try. To my surprise, within two days, the swelling in m y hands had completely subsided, and decreased considerably in my feet – more in the right foot than the left, but noticeable in both. Thing was, I also figured out how to get the same amount of work done.
So, the next time you see someone leaning back with feet on desk, don’t think ‘lazy bum.’ That person is just doing a little valuable physical therapy to improve health and lengthen work life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What the hell's happening in Ferguson?

Police in riot gear. (Photo from Google images)
In the Canadian-made TV series ‘Continuum,’ now showing on SyFy channel, Kiera Cameron, a police officer from the year 2077, while serving as a witness at the execution of Liber8 terrorists, is thrown with them back to the year 2013 when the anti-corporate terrorist movement started. In one episode, Cameron encounters young Julian Randal, an anti-corporate activist who becomes a master terrorist in her time. After watching Randal tortured by two cops trying to extract information from, Cameron then puts a gun to his head, planning to kill him to prevent his future self. Randal begs for his life, assuring her that he will no longer engage in his activist agenda. She is talked out of this rash and illegal move by her new partner, 2013 detective Carlos Fonnegra. In the next scene after Randal runs away, Cameron and Fonnegra are sitting on the ground and she asks him whether or not her actions are the thing that pushed Randal onto his murderous course. “What if,” she asks. “My putting a gun to his head is the event that caused him to do what he does in the future?”
“What does this have to do with events in Ferguson,” Missouri, you might well ask. For those who haven’t been following one of the hottest stories in the U.S. these days, on August 9, in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an unarmed young black man named Michael Brown. There are conflicting accounts of just what happened, with the fact that Brown was unarmed the only real point of agreement. Other facts, though, are chilling – especially in the aftermath of this tragedy. A private pathologist’s examination of Brown’s body found that he’d been shot at least six times, including two times in the head, while the county coroner’s report said he’d been shot six to eight times. The local police haven’t covered themselves in glory in the handling of this case from day one, and in particular in dealing with the violent demonstrations that erupted almost immediately after the incident. What appears to be selective release of information designed to tarnish the victim’s reputation, while withholding other information, the police’s aggressive stance vis-à-vis sometimes peaceful demonstrators, arrest and detention of journalists, etc. The list, unfortunately, goes on.
It would be easy to take one side or the other and pass judgment from afar on the situation in Ferguson. A town where 67 percent of the citizens are black, but where, of the 53 police officers on the town police department, only three are black, Ferguson has a history of poor relations between the citizens and the police. A recent racial profiling report from the Missouri Attorney General’s office, for instance, found that last year, innocent blacks in Ferguson were much more likely to be searched when detained by police than whites. The report found that 21.7 percent of black people searched were found to be carrying contraband (the specific nature of the contraband was not identified), which means that four of out of every five were innocent. Searches of whites during the same period produced contraband 34 percent of the time. In Ferguson, blacks are also far more likely to be arrested than whites. Last year, 92.7 percent of all people arrested in Ferguson were black.
This is limited information, but viewing it, a pattern begins to emerge. A friend of mine decried the citizen reaction to this incident, claiming that police were justified in their militant response – deploying with body armor and military equipment obtained under the Pentagon’s 1033 program that provides excess military equipment to local police to aid them in their war on terror and drugs. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this equipment has ended up being used just as it has in Ferguson, against citizens. A chilling image from this incident – CNN footage showed a police officer shouting at protesters, “bring it, you fucking animals! Bring it!” The rules of engagement for use of this equipment on U.S. streets are less restrictive than they are for our military in the Afghanistan war zone. In fact, one of the requirements of the program is that those police forces receiving equipment must use it within one year or lose it. Thus, if they don’t encounter an al-Qaeda cell or a narco-army, they end up using it in routine police operations. That is truly scary, considering that there is no training that comes along with the gear.
But, I digress. In responding to my friend about the depth of citizen anger in Ferguson, while I do not condone criminal behavior, I must point out that most people don’t just go out and start riots. As was the case with the Los Angeles riots that erupted after police beat Rodney King, and the video tape of the beating aired nationwide, these things happen often as a result of anger and frustration built up over a long period of time. Sometimes, it’s a result of a gun being held at peoples’ heads too long, and some precipitating incident just pushes them over the edge. I worked in government for more than 50 years, and my sentiment is often with the authorities. It’s often a thankless job – pay is low, and the dangers are many.
As in the King incident, or the O.J. Simpson trial, views on this are likely to break down along racial lines – and, that’s unfortunate, for it’s likely to also obscure the truth – if in fact it ever emerges. With the competing investigations, local, state, and federal, there are likely to be slightly divergent findings, and we humans have an amazing ability to discount any inconvenient ‘fact’ that doesn’t accord with our preconceptions.
I, for one, would like to remove myself from the mainstream of humanity at this point and take the ‘wait and see’ position. Let the investigators to their work and then let’s objectively evaluate their findings. To the people of Ferguson I say, I understand your anger and frustration, but now is the time for calm not anger. To the police I say, your job is to protect and serve. When you view the citizens of your community as ‘the enemy,’ you set yourself up for failure.
I’ll go out on a limb with one finding of my own, though. What we have here is dysfunction – a dysfunctional community, and a dysfunctional police force – a situation that prevails in far too many communities in the U.S. these days, by the way. What has made them this way is unimportant. What is important is that both sides need to recognize the problem and then mutually agree to take the steps necessary to begin its resolution As for the rest of us, rather than engage in Monday-morning quarterbacking Ferguson, and taking sides in the dispute, maybe we need to around to assess our own environment.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Native Advertising - What's it All About?

I think sometimes I live in a bubble. I've been noticing the buzz about native advertising for the past two years without paying too much attention. Today, though, I just happened to see a comic skit on TV (don't watch except when I'm traveling and I flip on the set in my hotel room) where the host did a ranting bit on native advertising - which is really just a form of sponsored or paid content disguised to look like news or editorials. Advertorials are nothing new, but one would think this Native Advertising is something brand new that never existed before. When I watched Ed Murrow's news broadcasts in the 50s - sponsored by Camel cigarettes - that was a rather primitive example, and product placements in movies and TV shows is another example.

The buzz seems to have quieted. Most new fads have a short half-life as our minds flit to the next one. But, sponsored content is here to stay, so maybe we should know more about it. I'm in the process of educating myself, and will share what I learn periodically.  I'd like to start, though with an infographic and link to a Copyblogger post from earlier this year  - Copyblogger's 2014 State of Native Advertising Report.

Copyblogger's 2014 State of Native Advertising Report
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Whitetail Deer attacks Hunter

Apparently, deer don't need weapons to defend themselves. Score in this match, Deer - 1, Hunter - 0.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Demise of the Content Mills

 One by one they're biting the dust – fading into obscurity – riding into the sunset. I’m talking about the content mills – those internet sites that took short posts from all kinds of writers and put them up for all to read. For this they paid peanuts; a mere fraction I’m sure of what they took in from advertisers. But, despite that, their business model is no longer seen as viable.

That at least is what the notes said that I got from two of the sites that I've contributed to for the past several years. I never made a ton of money from feeding the mills; chump change actually; but it did help me to reach a lot of readers, and was great for working out the old writing muscles. Most importantly, having to write to the length limits – 200 to 600 words on average – helped me learn to trim the fat from my writing.

A lot of writers I know view content mills with disdain. They think of them as second rate places for writers that don’t pay enough. I’m not sure about the second rate part, but I do agree they never paid enough. But then, I used to work for print publications, the most generous of which paid me fifty cents per word, or sometimes $400 to $500 per article (the latter were very rare. My average per article was around $50). Compare that to the content mills that were paying based on readership. I've had content articles that made me a hundred bucks, and had the site not close for economic viability reasons, would still be paying. When the print publications I wrote for went out of business they still owned my articles. When the content mills shut down I can download my articles and sell them elsewhere.

So, I’ll miss them. But, like the changes from paper only to paper and e-books and the rise of indie publishing, the writing industry is forever changing, and writers who want to endure must change with it. I have no doubt that most of the current content mills will soon disappear – but, in due time they’ll be replaced by something else. I have no idea what that something else will be, but I’m sleeping with one eye open so I can be near the front of the line when it arrives.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rainforest Writer: That's a lot of bull

Rainforest Writer: That's a lot of bull: After reading my last entry on ‘shoot the bull (shit, breeze, crap)’, a friend emailed to suggest that the phrase ‘that’s a lot of bull’ co...

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Free e-Book. 'In the Dragon's Lair' for Kindle. Free!

Get In the Dragon's Lair free for your Kindle July 1 - 4! Great summer reading, don't miss out. And, when you've finished a review would be appreciated.

Friday, June 20, 2014

PnPAuthors Talk about Published Authors: Kathryn Treat, the one and the only wonderful auth...

PnPAuthors Talk about Published Authors: Kathryn Treat, the one and the only wonderful auth...:   ____________________________________________________   It’s...

Harold Titus' Amazing Book is Spotlighted by PnPAuthors Promotions: HAROLD TITUS~

Harold Titus' Amazing Book is Spotlighted by PnPAuthors Promotions: HAROLD TITUS~:                                                                                                         PnPAuthors Promotions http://p...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

PnPAuthors Promotions: PnPAuthors Promotions spotlight Michael ALvin

PnPAuthors Promotions: PnPAuthors Promotions spotlight Michael ALvin: PnPAuthors Promotions  __________________________________________...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

PnPAuthors Promotions: PnPAuthors Promotions spotlight Michael ALvin

PnPAuthors Promotions: PnPAuthors Promotions spotlight Michael ALvin: PnPAuthors Promotions  __________________________________________...

Friday, June 6, 2014

'The White Dragons' free for Kindle, June 16 - 20!

The White Dragons, a novel of international intrigue, will be available free for your Kindle June 16 - 20. I would greatly appreciate reviews from all who download a free copy. If you find the adventures of David Morgan and his friends to your liking, you might also want to check out In the Dragon's Lair and Dragon Slayer, both now available for Kindle. All three are available at the following links: