Friday, November 30, 2012

What th' @@##$%$#@#?!!

Today is Friday and I'm doing this blog from a library computer. Why, you might ask, am I doing that? Well, having just completed the NaNoWriMo challenge of doing 50,000 words in 30 days (Actually did 55,000-plus in about 23 days), I've been busy going back over it and trying to turn it into an actual novel.

Problem was, I neglected to save each chapter as I polished it - Only had the first 4 or 5 chapters saved off my laptop - and just as I realized this wasn't a good thing and started dumping 57,000-plus words of what I thought was pretty good stuff onto a zip drive, my laptop died.  I don't mean slowed down, or started having fits; I mean died as in it just sits there, screen blank, staring back at me.  Fortunately, all my photos and other graphics had already been saved, along with other important documents - but, not THE MOST IMPORTANT document, the updated version of Dead Men Don't Answer.

I'm just about over the shock, and looking at new computer options.  In the meantime, I'm using my wife's laptop when she's not looking, or heading out to the library where people stare at me strangely as I sit muttering at the screen.  I still have all my notes, character profiles, and timelines, and with the chapters I saved, I'll get it back - and, maybe it'll be even better, because I'm now writing from a mood of total angst.

I learned a good lesson, too. ALWAYS back up your work! Do it every day, even if you're working with a brand spanking new computer.  You'll be glad you did, and you'll regret it if you don't.  That's my writing advice for this Friday.  To my favorite blogger, Becca, who does a great and funny WTF Friday blog posting, sorry for being such a downer this week, but I had to share this.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When the Muse Dumps You

No Crocodiles, No . . . Whatever

Another great post from my friend Paul Berg:

Dear Friends:

Life can be cruel.  

You know that my Foreign Service career has been all about adventure.  Crocodiles.  Boxing.  Guerrillas. Tribal wars.  Tsunamis.   Volcanoes.  Kayaking.  Surfing.   Open-sided helicopters leaning out over the coca fields.  Mountain climbing at dawn, strong drink and off-color anecdotes at dusk.  Raw meat.  Military buddies with the occasional spy thrown in.  Nights in impossibly dirty hotels in faraway hellholes.  Joining the mullah for a prayer call. Cops. Premans.  Fast cars, twisting bazaars.  Action.  Hey, baby, that's-a whut ah layk.

I braved a platoon of PDASes this summer begging them for more of the same when I finish at Leatherneck in August.  Please send me out into the bush again, with or without M-4.  Give me another weird language to learn, you know, something with no consonants whatsoever, vowel tones that come off like Gregorian chants mixed with civet cries, grammar derived from chance screams uttered by Genghis Khan's victims while their throats were being cut, declensions following the Fibonacci sequence.   

And give me a team of rough and ready buccaneers to supervise, I insisted.  Don't want no nerds, no dandies, no precocious pre-schoolers, no empty suits.  Don't want any of those metroguppy daffodils who go on about vintages and pedigrees.  I want the real thing, like I have here at Camp Leatherneck, or had in Port Moresby, or in Medan.

I want to work in a city with no culture at all, please, like Medan, like Bombay.  Cheap cement skyscrapers built yesterday with bribes where the mortar should be.   Betel nut juice staining autoclaves, dumbwaiters and negligees alike.  Tattooed tribal women wrapping their feet into live pangolins instead of pumps. Where the werewolves come out and bite three nights before the full moon, where alligators chase the blacksnakes around the altar when they're not chewing limbs off the worshippers.  

And I wanted a place where they eat the food raw, kill it themselves, eat it with their fingers, dab their fingers in the blood and daub it over the fruit.  Where they pull the crabs apart live and grind the pincers between their molars, masticate and spit 'em out onto the table.  If possible, I pleaded, some place so disgusting you would only send Paul Berg there.

And the PDASes nodded and they said, yes, yes, that's where we always send you, diplomatic Devil's Island, the places the rest of the Foreign Service goes only for penance, purgatory and punishment.  You're weird, you're hard, you're vulgar as a longshoreman on a date with a bar girl, you'd scare the bejesus out of the locals in any civilized country.  We know you.  You come off like a one man military coup plus you write cables that sound like Kerouac on a bout of food poisoning, not the tone we expect for economic trends reports.   You can depend on us, they said, we'll send you to some place where they have viruses the size of Norway rats, where scarlet plague is viewed as benign, where the currency is based on green caterpillars, the kind of country we always send you to.  Trust us.

But they're cunning sadists, those PDASes.  Never trust them.  Never.  I waited and waited for my assignment to Barbaria, to Repugnistan, to ConGen Improbable.   I twisted and turned in the cool dry desert wind.  But they let me down, and I think they did it on purpose.  They're so jealous of the life I've survived they want to humiliate me right down to my core.  To take away what hold dearest.  I mean, this has been one helluvan anxious autumn as one inviting pesthole after another on my bid list fell away to somebody else, as I cried myself to sleep under the mortar rounds and sirens of the Leatherneck night.  Those PDASes were looking to do their worst, so they wanted the pain to sink in nice and slow.  And for the first time in my career, I came to know real, pale-knuckled fear.

And I'm afraid my worst nightmare has now indeed occurred.  That band of ingrates and hypocrites is getting even with me by sending me to a place that has absolutely nothing that I crave, no crocodiles, no tribal wars, no tsunamis.  Depriving me of everything I care about.

They're making me Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.  

The bastards.

This will be tough to get over, and I'm going to need your emotional support in the trying days ahead.  Please understand what I face and let me cry on your shoulder now and then.  Empathize.  Everything I care about perverted or gone.  Food.  I'm not sure my stomach will even be able to digest carbs after all these years of pure raw meat.  Clothes.  My doctor tells me I'm allergic to suits, so haven't worn one in five years; only wear muscle Ts or cabana shirts, and where will I find them on the Via Condotti?   Three years sentenced to Caravaggio, Corriere della Sera, Castelnuovo and cavellini.  Dang.  Dang.  I'm already considering a grievance.    

Life can be cruel.


More Free e-Books!

Give yourself a treat this holiday season; more of my books available free for Kindle readers.

A Good Day to Die:  December 1 - 5

Pip's Revenge (The Chronicle of Pip of Pandara)

Die, Sinner:  December 5 - 9

Don't miss this great deal.

The National Memo » Donald Trump Wishes Mitt Romney Had Reached Out To Minorities

The National Memo » Donald Trump Wishes Mitt Romney Had Reached Out To Minorities

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The National Memo » A Death In The Family — And The Question Is: Whodunit?

The National Memo » Virginia Attorney General Suggests Voter Fraud Helped Obama

The National Memo » Virginia Attorney General Suggests Voter Fraud Helped Obama

The National Memo » Pity The Poor Plutocrats

The National Memo » Pity The Poor Plutocrats

The National Memo » In Baseless Persecution Of Rice, Republican Reputations Will Sink

The National Memo » In Baseless Persecution Of Rice, Republican Reputations Will Sink

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A view in the woods

A view in the woods by CharlesRay2010
A view in the woods, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

White tail deer - 2

White tail deer - 2 by CharlesRay2010
White tail deer - 2, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

White tail deer

White tail deer by CharlesRay2010
White tail deer, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

The National Memo » The Only Evidence You Need That The Florida GOP Was Suppressing Voters? Long Lines

The National Memo » The Only Evidence You Need That The Florida GOP Was Suppressing Voters? Long Lines

The National Memo » Republicans Threaten To ‘Shut Down The Senate’ If Reid Pursues Filibuster Reform

The National Memo » Republicans Threaten To ‘Shut Down The Senate’ If Reid Pursues Filibuster Reform

The National Memo » Gun Sales Surge After Obama’s Re-Election

The National Memo » Gun Sales Surge After Obama’s Re-Election  The gun lobby and the weapons industry are taking full advantage of the presence of so many nuts in our population.

Journalist Bashes Fox - While on Fox

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I Survived Black Friday - Now, I Have To Get Through Gray Saturday

English: DC USA, Target, Black Friday
English: DC USA, Target, Black Friday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to start this post by making it abundantly clear – I HATE SHOPPING!  And, by that, I don’t mean just Black Friday, although it has a special place on my list of things I detest, but shopping any time.  When I need to buy something, if I can’t find it on the Internet, I make a list, research the stores that have what I need at the price I’m willing to pay, go to the store, enter, buy, and get the hell out as fast as I can.

Having said that, this year, my wife finally discovered Black Friday, and wanted to know what all the hype was about.  All day on Thanksgiving, she threatened to wake me up at oh-dark-thirty Friday and drag me to the nearest shopping mall to join the mob.  Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well Thursday night, and the lobster, turkey, and all the other goodies I wolfed down had nothing to do with it.

I got up yesterday at my usual time, 6:30, and made my breakfast.  As usual, I tippy-toed around the house, hoping I wouldn’t wake my better half up; she likes to sleep in and hates eating breakfast except on weekends.  At 10:30, her usual wake-up time, I breathed a sigh of relief when she got up, did her shower and makeup, and plunked herself down in front of the TV with a cup of coffee to catch her favorite Korean soap opera.  At noon, she pried herself away long enough to make two bowls of noodles for our lunch, and went back to the afternoon news shows.  Never a word about Black Friday shopping; could I be that lucky, I wondered.

I didn’t really relax until six in the evening. All day, she’d not said a word about going shopping, and it was now time for her favorite evening shows to start.  No way she misses them unless the house is on fire, and even then I wonder.

But, we went to bed last night, and not once did she say anything about shopping.  So, I was able to get a bit of writing done – starting the editing phase of my NaNoWriMo entry, which is a lot of work and requires the ability to focus.  Of course, now I have to worry about whether or not she’ll decide to see what’s left on the shelves the day after Black Friday – a day I’ve taken to calling Gray Saturday for the somber mood of everyone who went through the torture yesterday, and the appearance of the stores with shelves nearly bare from the scourge of locust-like shoppers yesterday. 

I’m a bit happier, though, after looking at the sky.  It’s a grey day here in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland.  The wind blew hard last night, dumping tons of leaves on our recently raked lawn, so instead of shopping, I’ll get my afternoon exercise moving leaves from the grass to the tree line behind our house.  That I don’t mind; it’s a good way to stretch the muscles after sitting here at the computer for several hours, and it’ll set me up for a late night writing session.  I might start my new Chronicle of Pip of Pandara book tonight.  Or, maybe I’ll do some more sketches for planned projects.  What I won’t be doing, folks, is shopping.

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The National Memo » The GOP’s Holiday Gift Guide: Pain for the Poor, Ponies for the Rich

The National Memo » The GOP’s Holiday Gift Guide: Pain for the Poor, Ponies for the Rich


Stonehenge  A photo taken in 1995 or 1996; I really can't remember.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: No Mo' For this Year!

NaNoWriMo 2012 is over for me.  Last night, I typed the period that marked the end of my effort for this year; 55, 538 words and I managed to do it with nine days left until the end of the month.  It was a like trying to run the Marine Corps Marathon wearing a 40-pound pack – barefoot.  This was my first time trying this challenge; writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and not stopping every few chapters to do a bit of editing.  I have a healthy respect for those who've done this year after year. NaNoWriMo is not for the faint of heart.
For my first effort, I set myself a monumental challenge.  I decided to do the next episode in my long-running Al Pennyback mystery series; a book I’d been planning for several weeks in late October to get started on, but had been delayed because of some other freelance writing assignments that were on my calendar.  A week into November, I decided, what the heck, might as well give it a shot.  Problem was, for this one, I’d decided to do two plot lines; totally unrelated in the beginning, but coming together in the end. 

This is difficult to do without the added stress of writing to a deadline, and, now the real work starts.
Now that it’s done in a really, really rough draft; and if you check the excerpt at my NaNoWriMo dashboard you’ll get an idea of just how challenging it is.  My task for the next week or so is to go back over every word and strive to make the whole thing hang together.  The objective is to give the few faithful readers I have another Al Pennyback story they’ll enjoy reading as much as they have enjoyed the 13 that preceded it.  I’ll have to make sure the characters who've appeared previously are consistent, and those introduced in this story fit the story line.  The plot twists that I've introduced have to be unsnarled satisfactorily at the end of the story; and, one little change in my main character’s history has to be explained in a credible fashion.

This has been an interesting experience, but a stressful one. Even for me; as a recent retiree my time constraints aren't the same as I imagine they are for many who enter this project.  I don’t have to get up in the morning and go off to work; I just trundle down to my basement office and apply butt to seat and fingers to keyboard and write until my fingers are as numb as my brain.  Some days were easier than others.  On a real good day, I managed more than 4,000 words.  My desk and the floor around me are littered with notes, maps, timelines, and character sketches.  The litter will stay in place until I've polished, re-polished, and buffed Dead Men Don’t Answer until it shines. Then, I’ll send my baby out into the world to make his own way.

Thankfully, this only happens once a year.  If I had to do this month after month, I think I’d go crazy.  Actually, I think I've already crossed that line, because I think I just might do this again next year.  My advice to others who are engaged in this mammoth project:  Take today off and enjoy Thanksgiving. Stuff yourself with turkey and all the trimmings, take a nap this afternoon to recharge your batteries, and hit the keys again tonight.  You can do it.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012


In addition to their regular military duties, the Buffalo Soldiers also had to act as peacekeepers
in some of the frontier towns.  (watercolor by Charles Ray)

Buffalo Soldier on Patrol

The Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments
patrolled the western frontier from Texas to the Pacific Ocean,
clearing the way for the country's westward expansion. (pen and ink
sketch by Charles Ray)

The National Memo » LOL Of The Week: The GOP Gives Itself An Intervention

The National Memo » LOL Of The Week: The GOP Gives Itself An Intervention

The National Memo » The Sad State Of Zealots With Microphones

The National Memo » The Sad State Of Zealots With Microphones

The National Memo » Change? Learn? Compromise? Grow? Not These Republicans

The National Memo » Change? Learn? Compromise? Grow? Not These Republicans

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Where Ideas for Stories Come From - 2

When I started writing the Al Pennyback mystery series, I didn't have a specific sub-genre in mind.  It’s not a hard boiled mystery with a hero who is always battling bad guys; nor is it a procedural mystery – I go light on the technical aspects of crimes, criminals, or police procedures.  I was just going for a good story that had a crime as a central element, which the hero, Al Pennyback, would then set about solving.

My main motivation for writing this particular series was the fact that I live in the Washington, DC area, and have for more than 30 years, and most of the stories set in this locale are about politicians, spies, or high-powered lobbyists.  I know that the average Joe and Jane who happens to call the Washington metro area home lives a life that can be just as exciting as the K Street crowd, or the boys across the river in McLean, so, about ten years ago I started drafting.

My first, Color Me Dead, went through more than six years of rewriting; the title changed, the central plot changed, and most importantly, the name and background of the main character changed.  I no longer remember what I called him at first, but, one day as I was sweating over the tenth or twentieth draft, Al Pennyback was born.  He’s an African-American; after all, the area is predominantly African-American; he’s retired military; being retired military, I can relate to that, and the area also has loads of retired military people; and he’s a sucker for puzzles and unsolved mysteries.  Despite, or because of, his military background, he hates guns, preferring to use his wits or his martial arts ability to get out of tight spots.  He’s a widower; gives him an air of sympathy; but, has a girl friend.  The sex scenes are only hinted at.  I think too many modern mysteries go overboard on the sex.  And, the language is mostly mild. On occasion, Al or one of the characters lets fly with an earthy expletive, because that’s the way people talk after all, but you won’t find curse words on every page.

That’s sort of the definition of a cozy mystery; cosy in British English; but, I didn't set out to write cozies.  Despite that, one of my British readers has decided that’s the sub-genre of at least one of the stories in the series, Dead Man’s Cove.  He gave it such a good review, I don’t have the heart to argue the point.

5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written cosy crime mystery, November 2, 2012
This review is from: Dead Man's Cove (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)
I've never read an Al Pennyback mystery before and I'm pleased there are others since this one set the benchmark. It was a laidback cosy read and thoroughly enjoyable.

Al, a private eye, gets to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Sandra on a small island, Dead Man's Cove at the invitation of his good friend Quincy (who had previously encouraged him to open up his detective agency) on a client's yacht with a few other friends including two married couples. Al suspects these couples are putting on a front (as many unhappy couples do) but it has nothing to do with him as he's more than content with Sandra and while he's a bit of wimp when it comes to sailing, he goes along for her benefit if it makes her happy. It transpires that his wife and young son died some years ago and it's been a long trawl to get back to some form of normality, and he is grateful for his good fortune at getting a second chance at love. However, what should have been a leisurely relaxing weekend soon turns into a busman's holiday for Al.

It's hard not to give too much away, but as the story progresses, the drinks are poured, the sun beats down and all seems right with the world, the unexpected happens - one of the party is murdered. All of a sudden all central characters are put under scrutiny and all kinds of secrets and lies are unearthed as Al tries to find the truth and, out of the unlikely bunch, a cold-blooded killer.

I liken this to the male version of Murder She Wrote (sleuth encounters murder while minding his own business), and I'm happy to say I'll be purchasing every Al Pennyback thriller/mystery I can get my hands on if Dead Man's Cove is anything to go by. It well deserved my five star rating.

Now, this is the type of review you want to get.

I tend to write stories in scenes, a lot like a movie, so that the reader can ‘see’ what’s happening.  A few readers have taken notice of this.  Here’s what one reader had to say about Till Death Do Us Part:

5.0 out of 5 stars First Review, July 17, 2012
This review is from: Till Death Do Us Part (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)
This book reads like a T.V. episode of a crime/adventure show.The author developed his plot slowly and effectively.His characters were interesting and well defined.It was a good read.

Following the advice given in most books on writing, I try to show, not tell.  I let the characters’ dialogue and action move the story rather than filling page after page with exposition or descriptions. 

Now, the question one might well ask is; where do the ideas for this series come from?  The answer is – everywhere.  I read newspapers, print and online, and every edition has at least one story idea.  Till Death Do Us Part, for instance, came from an article I read in a South African newspaper on a flight from Capetown to Copenhagen a few years ago about a couple who’d come to Johannesburg on vacation and been victims of a carjacking.  The wife was killed, but the husband escaped unharmed.  It turned out later that he’d arranged the incident in order to get rid of his wife.  I changed the setting to Jamaica and was off to the races.

I've done two books about radical militias, Dead, White, and Blue and Deadly Intentions.  The proliferation of militias and other hate groups in the U.S. over the past several decades has always concerned me, so this was a natural.

Deadline started out as a story about scams against lonely women, but about one-third into the first draft I decided to throw a ghost in just for the heck of it.  I’m a bit agnostic about ghosts – I don’t know that they are real, but I don’t know that they’re not, so there you are.

Whatever motivates the story idea, my main objective is to write a story that keeps the reader wanting to turn the page to see what happens next.  According to two readers, I've succeeded:

5.0 out of 5 stars Great, July 30, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Till Death Do Us Part (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)
This was a great book. Fast paced, I couldn't put it down. You really want to read this book. I loved it.

5.0 out of 5 stars My new hero....Al Pennyback!, October 23, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Till Death Do Us Part (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)
Just finished "Til Death Do Us Part" and really enjoyed Charles Ray's Suspense novel....completing it in just two sessions. His characters ring true and I felt as though I too were fighting for "right vs wrong" along with Pennyback. Ray has the vernacular down pat for all walks of life and proves that having more experience with life and humanity has its' advantages.

Well done you, Charles Ray!! Keep them coming.

 There you have it; that’s where story ideas come from.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

The National Memo » 5 CEOs Who Are Punishing Employees For Obama’s Re-Election

The National Memo » 5 CEOs Who Are Punishing Employees For Obama’s Re-Election

The National Memo » Mitt Romney’s Sneering Farewell To The ’47 Percent’

The National Memo » Mitt Romney’s Sneering Farewell To The ’47 Percent’

The National Memo » WATCH: Maine GOP Chairman Upset After ‘Dozens’ Of African-Americans Vote

The National Memo » WATCH: Maine GOP Chairman Upset After ‘Dozens’ Of African-Americans Vote

Great Zimbabwe: Guest post at Bucket List Publications

A piece I did, complete with photos, on my visit to Great Zimbabwe is now live at Bucket List Publications.  Check it out here.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid To Be Successful in Business

I am now offering guest post slots here on 'Free flow of ideas,' in order to broaden the range of thought available to my readers.  My first guest blogger, Lucy, writes from Manchester, UK.

5 Pitfalls to Avoid to Be Successful in Business

Achieving success in business is not an easy task and cannot be achieved overnight. It demands a lot of attention and effort to generate a steady source of revenue and earn profits. But, just making efforts to succeed is not enough; you should be cautious and avoid certain pitfalls that can have a negative effect on your business.

Most business owners make silly mistakes and, as a result lose thousands of dollars. All the hard-work and effort becomes useless; just due to minor negligence. Here are 5 pitfalls that you need to avoid in order to achieve success in your business:

¨       Misperception on future progress:

The most common mistake made by most business owners is their assumption of success. Without proper planning and appropriate effort it is difficult to achieve success in any field. If you have started a new business, achieving success right at the beginning might not be possible; it takes at an average two to three years to attain a stable position. Therefore, having a long-term plan will always help you in facing such problems.

¨      Assuming that advertisement is not necessary:

If you think that there is no need to promote your business and you can achieve success even without promoting your brand then you are wrong; it is true only in rare cases. If you do not promote your brand, how will the customers become aware of it and how will they get to know about your products and services. Therefore it is very essential that you promote your brands to gain more customers.

¨      Running out of funds:

When you are running a business, it is very important that you have proper financial planning in order to achieve success. If you lack finances, you cannot arrange proper raw materials; and, that will affect production and reduce overall sales. Therefore always have a proper financial plan for your business. If you run short of funds and need instant cash, then you can go for loans.

¨      Contacting irrelevant customers:

Targeting the correct group is very important in order to get significant results; because if you approach a person to purchase your product who actually does not need it, you will face a potential failure in your business. Therefore, find the appropriate broker or consultant who can help you to target the right people and achieve success.

¨      Failing to gain seasonal profits:

Almost all the business owners earn maximum profits during festive seasons. Usually there are more customers shopping around during these seasons providing huge profits to the business owners. If you do not have proper resources and fail to earn profits during this period it is tough to achieve success in your business.

Author Bio: This guest post was contributed by Lucy, financial guest blogger from Manchester, UK. Lucy has written many articles on ppi claims. See more on her finance-related blogs at @financeport.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Where Ideas for Stories Come From - 1

Ideas for writing come from all kinds of places.  My Buffalo Soldier historical series grew out of a combination of inspirations.  One day, I was sitting at my computer, surfing the Internet, and I came across a site about the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th US Cavalry on the western frontier, and I realized that not many Americans know a lot about the colorful history of these African-American soldiers and the role they played in the westward expansion of the country.

The germ of an idea was planted.  What if I did a series of short stories (more like novelettes actually) that introduced them to readers?  The more I thought about it the more it excited me.  Several years ago, when I lived in North Carolina, I was a writer and artist for a short-lived magazine, Buffalo that was based in California.  I had a regular cartoon feature, did a few historical articles, and did the illustrations for several of the magazine’s covers.

So, I already had a bit of grounding in the subject; it was just a matter of how to kick it off.  I decided to center it on a few fictional characters, with the main character, Sergeant Benjamin Franklin Carter, and show the kinds of activities they were engaged in.  While I strive to make it historically accurate, I try to avoid long lectures on history.  Instead, I insert the historical facts and incidents in through the characters’ dialogue, or short descriptive passages to establish context.  My main objective is to tell an interesting story that will keep the reader turning the page.

I can’t be sure I've succeeded.  Reader feedback has been limited, but what has been received is encouraging.  There is, for instance, this review of the latest in the series, Buffalo Soldier:  Incident at Cactus Junction that a reader posted on Amazon:

Charles Ray does a great job setting the stage for a slightly different classic western tale involving the "Buffalo Soldiers" of yore. The story follows Sgt. Ben Carter and the soldiers he commands on a mission to the sleepy town of Cactus Junction which needs help with finding out who is rustling the local rancher's cattle. The townsfolk are surprised to see black men in uniform and are at first reluctant to accept them or work with them. However as Ben and his men take on the task of finding the missing cattle - and the tough men who took them - the town soon warms to the Buffalo Soldiers. The story was put together well with great characters and descriptions. Although the plot is simple and the story straightforward, it should satisfy those readers who, like me, enjoy the old American west tales of adventure and action. If you're a western fan you'll enjoy this one.

This California reader gave the book four out of five stars, which I take as high praise indeed.  My friend, Zimbabwean author Virginia Phiri (Highway Queen), who has read and reviewed a number of my books, also commended the series, describing them as ‘good writing, and good reading.’ 

I use a lot of my own military background, as well as my childhood in Texas during the 50s and 60s, to establish the social, cultural, and geographic setting, as well as trying to make the language used by the characters as credible as possible.  None of the specific incidents in the stories are real, but they’re all based on historical events of the era after the Civil War when America was opening up the western frontier to settlement and development. Make a video of your own at Animoto.

I do research on a continuing basis seeking new story ideas, and to make sure that the equipment, tactics, and events have a ring of credibility.  For instance, during my research, I discovered that the US Cavalrymen, contrary to what you might see in the movies, didn't use repeating rifles during this period.  They used the single shot Springfield because the army viewed it as more reliable and durable than the new Winchester repeaters, and it was cheaper.  Even in those days, the government was concerned about the bottom line.  I also learned that white soldiers received $24 dollars a month pay, and black soldiers $12 – which wasn't bad money in the 1870s when you consider that when I enlisted in 1962, my pay was $72 per month.

So, you see, ideas for your writing can come from anywhere.  You just have to open all the doors and windows in your mind and let the light shine in.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Here There be Demons - Two

Here There be Demons - Two

When Crisis Strikes in The Neighborhood, Who You Gonna Call? Hillary Clinton

When Crisis Strikes in The Neighborhood, Who You Gonna Call? Hillary Clinton

Get More Mileage Out of Your Blogging

Have something to say that you're just itching to share with the broadest possible audience?  Looking for content that will liven up your blog?  Well, look no further; blogger Cathy Stucker has created the site that will meet your every need.  Blogger LinkUp is a site where you can find guest posts for your blog, or offer to do posts for other high-traffic blogs.  You can see the current issue at:  And, if you want to sign your blog up to take full advantage of this fantastic site, go to: to complete the requirements.

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The National Memo » Once Again, Florida’s The National Punchline

The National Memo » Once Again, Florida’s The National Punchline

The National Memo » Record African-American Turnout Powered Obama To Re-Election

The National Memo » Record African-American Turnout Powered Obama To Re-Election

Monday, November 12, 2012

When Crisis Strikes in The Neighborhood, Who You Gonna Call? Hillary Clinton

When Crisis Strikes in The Neighborhood, Who You Gonna Call? Hillary Clinton

Wallace in Underland - Illustration

For a look at an illustration for an upcoming Wallace in Underland story, click here.

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Brooklyn: Gets no Respect

Everyone likes Manhattan, Times Square, and Central Park, but Brooklyn has
culture, arts, night life, and a lot more personality.  Photo by (c) Charles Ray

Lake Kariba: A Great Vacation Destination

The National Memo » LOL Of The Week: Paul Ryan Loses The Middle Class

The National Memo » LOL Of The Week: Paul Ryan Loses The Middle Class

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Top Five Reasons Romney Lost The Election

The Top Five Reasons Romney Lost The Election

My 15 Favorite World Destinations

I just got finished re-reading Bucket List Publications’ blog on the Top 10 Most-visited Tourist Attractions in the world.  A fascinating read, and some really neat places, although, I was a bit dismayed that most of them are in the U.S. Not, mind you that I think the places on the list don’t deserve mention, but they’re there because of the number of people who go and see them.

I’ve been bumming around the world for more than 50 years; and during my sojourns have seen some of the most beautiful and exotic places on the planet.  So, reading this blog got me to thinking; what kind of list would I construct if I were asked to list my favorite places.

I started thinking back over the past half century.  The problem I immediately encountered was the difficulty in ranking the places I’ve seen.  My list of places that have made an indelible impression quickly surpassed ten, you see.  So, I decided to just list the places that have left the most lasting memories.  Some of them I have photos of; many black and white and color prints from the days before digital cameras, and more recently, thousands of digital photos.  After a lot of listing, crossing off, and listing again, I came up with 15 places that seemed to come up again and again, and I share them here.  You might not agree with my list, in fact, I would surmise that anyone making a list would come up with many differences, but these are the places I’ve visited, and wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.

The Taj Mahal:  This monument to love in Agra, India is an engineering marvel.  Gleaming white and majestic, it has stood the test of time.

Stonehenge:  The image of Stonehenge, a cairn of stones on a plain in England, has been with me since I first saw pictures of it in an encyclopedia in my step-aunt’s library.  I was only mildly disappointed when I visited at how small it actually is, but then, when I think about when it was built, the magic returns.

Angkor Wat:  It this complex of temples had been built in Europe, Angkor Wat would be one of the wonders of the world.  Built without nails or cement, these towering temples are a must-see for anyone traveling to Southeast Asia.

Great Zimbabwe:  Most Americans probably have never heard of Great Zimbabwe, a stone complex built by the Shona people of southern Africa in the 13th century.  Commanding a view of the surrounding valley, this structure debunks many popular myths about civilization in Africa.

Table Mountain:  Overlooking Capetown, South Africa, Table Mountain is just a fun place to go.  One of the few places in the world where you can see the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean from the same spot.

Kalahari Desert:  For wildlife lovers, this is the place to go.  This desert, that in places doesn’t look like a desert, stretches from South Africa north through Botswana.  It is a haven for hundreds of species of African wildlife and thousands of its flora.

The Outer Banks: Where flight was born, North Carolina’s Outer Banks is the home of Kitty Hawk.  Windswept beaches and old lighthouses offer great opportunities for the avid shutterbug.

Victoria Falls:  One of the world’s largest waterfalls, this World Heritage Site on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia is a magnificent place to visit year round.

Great Wall:  A man-made structure that can be seen from the Moon, the Great Wall stands guard over China’s ancient history. 

Jerusalem:  Home to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the walled city of Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, and the Temple on the Mount make going through security at Tel Aviv’s airport worth it.

The Grand Canyon:  I still get weak-kneed just thinking about standing on the rim of the canyon, peering into the depths that seemed a million miles away.

Niagara Falls:  Great to look at, but my favorite activity was riding the Boat of the Mists under the falls.

Copenhagen:  Not just a city, the home of the Brothers Grimm is a state of mind, and a great place to visit winter, summer, spring, or fall.

Monterrey Peninsula:  I lived on Monterrey Peninsula for a year back in the 1980s, and never got tired of walking on the beach, visiting Cannery Row, hiking on Jack’s Peak, or exploring the small farming towns in the area.

Oberammergau:  Fantastic views of the Alps, hiking through the towering pines of the forests, or just enjoying a German beer at one of the many outdoor bierstube, this is one of my favorite places in Germany to visit.

There you have it; fifteen places that I list as my top places to visit.  In no particular order, mind you. It all depends on my mood.