Friday, October 19, 2012

Genesis of a Novel: A Dirty Old Man

Readers sometimes ask where I get ideas for my novels. I'd like to say that there's some sophisticated process of pondering, gestation, and - some time later - voilà, a novel is born.

Alas, no. Ideas for my books come from seemingly random events that my little brain manipulates and interprets into evil motives and actions. Take, for example, the spark for THE DEVIL OF LIGHT. It ignited shortly after I was groped by a horny octogenarian.



Yes, you read that right. A dude in his 80s fondled me. Not what I expected from a respected member of our East Texas community. But excellent fodder for a crime novelist's brain...


In fairness, I guess the spark didn't fully flare until he groped me the second time and I realized that the old fart hadn't just lost his balance and grabbed my right breast and left ass-cheek to stabilize himself.

[How did this dirty old man even have the opportunity to grab said breast and cheek? During one of those polite 'hello' and 'good-bye' hugs that characterize greetings in Texas, and perhaps in other parts of the South. Simple as that.]


In truth, the idea for THE DEVIL OF LIGHT crystallized into a flammable substance as I listened, between gropings, to this old man describe the joy he experienced as a young buck, when he chased blacks and Hispanics ('nigras' and 'spics' - his words) through the East Texas woods. This would've been in the 1930s or so, when he was in his teens or twenties. Such was his glee in describing the chase that I didn't dare ask what happened when he caught these people. The chase was chilling enough.

But full-blown ignition occurred after Groping #2, when I realized that the old man believed that playing grab-ass with women he barely knows and chasing scared people through the river bottoms was perfectly acceptable behavior.

No. More than acceptable. It was his right.

And then it hit me that he probably wasn't alone in this belief. The dirty old man was merely acting on what many people believe to be true: that certain folks are "less than" and therefore, undeniably gropeable. The definition of those who are "less than" in THE DEVIL OF LIGHT is simple: anyone who is not white, wealthy, male, and / or holding certain positions of power in the community.







My little brain went into full-blown event manipulation mode, and the idea behind THE DEVIL OF LIGHT, the old man, and The Church of the True Believer was born. Detective Cass Elliot had been knocking around in my conscious and subconscious for a while, waiting for a meaty mystery to dig into. Cass is a wounded woman for whom justice is not just a concept - it's a physical necessity. The cruelty and arrogance of the old man, his Church, and his sadistic killer were just her ticket into existence on the page.


On its surface, the novel is about the hunt for a multiple murderer. But beneath that thin veneer THE DEVIL OF LIGHT explores what might happen when the gropers of this world unite and decide to 'control', to 'mold' their communities into a preferred state of status quo. Where those "less than" are forced into their place and kept there through a mix of blackmail, violence, and bastardized religion. It's about corruption for the sake of a tiny bit of power in a narrow slice of the world. The story is brutal at times. Violent. Gritty.

And powerful, given the reviews the book has received to date.

And maybe, just maybe, THE DEVIL OF LIGHT is my way of poking a metaphorical finger in the octogenarian's eye. My initial reaction to his gnarly fingers squeezing my body was to bop him in the nose. A bit of broken cartilage, some blood, perhaps a fall and a fractured bone. But that would've ended badly for all of us. Me, especially.


A novel is a much safer outlet. Delightfully satisfying to write and hopefully, an enjoyable break from reality for my readers. 

And there you have it, the Genesis of THE DEVIL OF LIGHT - a dirty old man with wandering hands and a sense of entitlement, and my little brain seeing opportunities for evil everywhere...


photo credit: Tiago Daniel via photopin cc
photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: Shavar Ross via photopin cc
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Physical Books and CDs: Alive and Well in 2012 England

It's hard to find a bookstore or a CD shop any more. Have you noticed? Barnes & Noble are still around, along with a (very) few independent bookshops, re-sale CD shops, and in our area, the highly addictive Half Price Books (who do a mighty trade in CDs). In this neck of the woods, that's about it.

As a writer, the demise of the physical bookstore doesn't bother me - customers find me in a variety of digital venues. As a reader, it definitely does bother me. Same holds true for my musician husband when it comes to CDs and his recording / listening habits. He can distribute digitally, but prefers to have the physical CD (or even the vinyl, in some cases) for listening purposes.

Although this change might be a bit slower coming to other parts of the world, the digital age continues to gain ground. In this August 6, 2012 article, Michael Harper notes that in the UK, Amazon is selling 114 ebooks for every 100 paperback or hardback books sold, and the British are buying approximately four times more books now than before they owned an ereader. (That's good news for those of us who so far, only publish our books electronically.)

Two of the things I enjoyed most about living in England were the ability to walk to many of the places we wanted to go and the number of bookstores and music shops we came across on our walks. In June, my husband and I had the pleasure of traveling to England to visit his family in Norfolk County. One of the things we worried about before we took flight was how many of those lovely stand-alone book and CD shops we'd find, now that we've been away for five years. So much has changed in terms of the world's digital lives that we had serious cause for doubt.



It was with some trepidation that Martyn and I walked down London's Charing Cross Road in hopes of seeing Foyle's Bookshop and Ray's Jazz. To our delight, both exist and appear to be thriving.





The Stage at Ray's Jazz is still on Foyle's first floor, but with a larger seating area for the café. (If you have a chance, stop by for a great cup of coffee, scrumptious scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and free Wi-Fi.) The record shop is upstairs on the third floor now, with an expanded selection of music. Yup, you read that right: expanded selection. Music to Martyn's ears, so to speak.




With the exception of the Borders bookstores, we found almost all of the stores that we remembered open and doing quite well, in both Norwich and London. All the bookshops down Cecil Court were open, along with the Waterstone's on Oxford Street, Hatchard's on Piccadilly, and many of the independent shops.

The bookshops on Cecil Court

On the music front, although the Virgin store is long gone from Piccadilly Circus, HMV lives on in London and Norwich. We were pleasantly surprised to find the funky Fopp on Earlham Street still open (they're somehow linked to HMV now), and all the instrument shops down Denmark Street thriving.



The Earlham Fopp Shop
Denmark Street












What does the presence of all this populated brick and mortar mean? Although the digital age marches on, it seems there are a few holdouts for lovers of physical books and CDs. Across the pond, anyway. Given the rise of the ereader and other digital devices in England, it may not last. But hopefully those physical shops will hold on long enough for us to make another trip back - maybe next year...

Does having access to physical shops for books and records matter to you?


Girl Reading Book photo credit: Βethan via photo pin cc
All other photos via yours truly.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Harpers Hollow Horror-ble Grand Opening Giveaway!

Calling all horror, sci-fi, and fantasy aficiandos!

Do you love a good chill down your spine? Get a thrill from watching your victims scream and dance as you scare the daylights out of them? Are ghost hunters your heros? Take heart - Halloween is just around the corner, and Harpers Hollow is celebrating their grand online opening by hosting a fabulously fearsome giveaway!

Don't know Harpers Hollow? It's the new virtual home of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy - freaky features are added daily! Click here to learn more about the little house of Harpers Hollow horrors.

For an easy-as-pumpkin-pie chance to win a custom designed Halloween prop with a value of up to $500,  a $100 Halloween Home decor item, or a coupon for $10 off your $60 shopping spree - click the link below! But click fast, the giveaway ends12:01 a.m. September 1, 2012.





photo credit: Hourman via photo pin cc

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Triple 7 Challenge



Image of Alan McDermottI was recently nominated to take up the 777 Challenge by my good Twitter friend Alan McDermott (find him at @jambalian on Twitter). Alan is the author of the GRAY JUSTICE and GRAY RESURRECTION thrillers - both available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. You can find the seven line excerpt from his upcoming novel GRAY REDEMPTION on his blog, here.

Gray Justice 

The rules are simple - share seven lines from page seven or 77 from my current work in progress and then pass the Challenge along to seven lucky authors!





This excerpt is from page seven of book two in the Forney County series, tentatively titled AVENGERS OF BLOOD.  If you've read book one, THE DEVIL OF LIGHT, you've met Goober, a gentle resident of Forney County whose transportation is a blade-less riding lawn mower - because that's all the power he can handle. On page seven of AVENGERS OF BLOOD, Goober is on a desperate mission to get to The Whitehead Store before closing time to pick up potato chips. But instead of a simple rack of snack food, Goober finds a crime scene with the victim hung and burning.

For the record, I don't write about zombies, werewolves, or vampires, so it's Goober's overactive imagination that turns the victim into a zombie:

Reaching a hand out, he felt for the spigot on the wall, never taking his eyes from the zombie as it swayed ever so slightly in the gentle breeze. Goober yanked the hose from its reel and flinched away from the sizzling that sounded when the sputtering stream hit the burning figure. With a rip of protest, the frayed rope around its neck broke and the zombie dropped to the ground with a thud. Water flew and bits of charred cloth and skin ripped away from the smoking body. It lay motionless for a moment, then stirred.

Goober’s heart lunged to his throat and he jumped straight up into the air, releasing a blood-curdling shriek. He charged back through the stockroom door, slammed it shut and stood trembling, listening as the zombie staggered to its feet. Goober took a running leap over the gooey mess on the floor and sprinted into the store, where he dove behind the counter and reached for the phone.

With shaking fingers, he pecked out 9-1-1. “Police? This is Goober. We got a burnin’ zombie on the loose in The Whitehead Store. Bring the machetes. We gotta cut his head off.”


Now for the hard part! Here are seven authors I admire to take up the Triple 7 Challenge, in no particular order:







Thursday, August 2, 2012

England 2012: A Parallel Universe

I've been tickled by the chiding Boris Johnson has given the good people of London recently. The Mayor felt it was time for the locals to stop whinging about all the problems the Olympics are causing around town. But it wasn't his fussing that I found humorous, it was that we experienced exactly the opposite when we visited England back in June.



My English husband, Martyn and I moved from London to East Texas in late 2007, and were happy to go. The weather was miserable that summer, tensions over terrorism were high, violence in the city was rising, the level of disengagement from people was overwhelming - it felt like the English had closed in on themselves. The peaceful Texas countryside beckoned so we hopped on a plane and headed for sunshine - and many challenges as it turns out, but that's another blog post.


A cold and wet Denmark Street


We made our first trip back to England in June 2012 with some trepidation, and were pleasantly surprised at what we found. The weather was still miserable, terrorism remains top of the agenda, but the people - now there's where we saw a real change.



Covent Garden


It was truly bizarre. Perky shop assistants. Kind waiters and waitresses. Smiling, downright friendly people walking the streets. Helpful sellers on the markets. Even the kids working the music shops on Denmark street were polite. When we stepped out of the way of a boy riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, he said, "Thank you." Shocking, given the attitudes of people when we left the city in 2007.



 (For the record, things didn't get too far out of hand - most people still observed the First Commandment when using public transport: 

Thou Shalt Not Make Eye Contact

But a thrill-loving few disobeyed. Remarkable.)

Given that we expected rudeness and long, dour faces, we were stunned. So stunned that we kept count of the negative interactions we had during our brief ten-day trip. We must've interacted with a hundred people or so, which is a tiny fraction of the English population. So how many were difficult? Only two. That's right, we encountered only two people who were remotely unpleasant.

Leicester Square


Martyn and I tried to figure out what had happened in the five years we'd been away to change attitudes and behavior so dramatically. Aerial spraying of anti-depressants? Some mysterious 'nice juice' in the water supply? Sugar instead of salt on the fish and chips? Not that we could detect.






In fact, all we could come up with was that everybody felt, well, pride at being English. Even at being British.






Fortnum & Mason'
Yeah, I know. Seems implausible. But consider that we hit England smack dab between the Jubilee Celebrations and the start of the Olympics, while the England football team was still a contender in the European Cup. The place was swathed in the Union Jack and reminders to keep the place tidy. And people did. The streets were as clean as I've seen them. And the people. Well, it's like we landed in a parallel universe. A lovely one, but parallel nonetheless.


Oxford Street
What does it all mean?


For those who venture out to the Olympics, you're in for a real sense of how great and good the British people are. Of how the country retains its ability to pull together to meet a challenge, and to make visitors to that jewel of an island feel welcome.




A good motto any time


For us? After five years of dreading the trip back, we're already planning the next visit, hoping to stay longer, and looking forward to that time with downright excitement.

The welcome was as warm as any we could give in Texas (minus the hugging, of course). And for that, British-folk, I salute you.



Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Author Roundtable at Jason Bourne's Blog!

Jason Bourne




I've recently had the pleasure of chatting about writing with blogger Jason Bourne!






Grab a cup of coffee or tea (or heck, it's July - maybe something fruity with an umbrella in it) and stop by the Author Roundtable for a quick read of the interview - and to meet Jason. He's an amazing friend and tweep - you can follow him on Twitter at @Jason_Bournesm.


Jason and Friends

Thanks for stopping by - I hope you enjoy the interview!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ya'll vs. Y'all - A Texan's Anguish

There are only a few things in life that drive me absolutely nuts, and this is one of them. I've just read another book by an author who mangled the whole 'you all' contraction, and Lordy, do I feel a rant coming on. If one of your characters has any reason to speak Texan, or even Southern for that matter, this is vital information.


Before we start this discussion, you need to know that I'm no Grammar Girl. I loathe the comma. Semi-colons give me the willies. But I DO know with absolute certainty the correct way to contract 'you all'. (It's one of those things that's gifted to you when you're birthed in Texas, like knowing that dry rub has no place on a quality piece of meat. Don't go rubbing my brisket with that gritty stuff, babe...)

So here we go.

Let's start with the general idea. A contraction is simply a way to shorten two words into one by using an apostrophe to replace the missing letter (or letters) and the space between the words:

"I am" becomes "I'm" - the apostrophe replaces the 'a' in am

"she will" becomes "she'll" - the apostrophe replaces the 'wi' in will

See? It's ridiculously easy. So if I want to shorten 'you all' into one word, what would I do?

Some writers put the apostrophe AFTER the 'a', as in: ya'll. *shudders* Now tell me, does that make ANY sense given the law of contractions? No. It does not. The proper way to contract 'you all' is by using the apostrophe to replace the 'ou' in you and the space between the words, as in:

y'all

It's beautiful in its simplicity, don't you think? Boy, do I feel better, maybe even up to tackling a semi-colon or two. Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.

What grammar or punctuation mistakes drive y'all nuts?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Miss Marcy and Her Texas SugarDaddy’s


Miss Marcy

There are many perks related to being a musician’s wife, but tagging along to gigs has to rank near the top of the list. A few nights ago, Martyn played upright bass with Miss Marcy and Her Texas SugarDaddy’s at the Hot Jazz on The Red concert hosted by the BarnwellCenter in Shreveport, LA.


Dave Burris



It was a gorgeous night – temperatures in the 80s with a breeze blowing off the Red River. The Hot Jazz gigs bring out a great crowd of live music enthusiasts who love to dance. When you add Miss Marcy’s hot "drinkin and cheatin tunes for the woman who's had enough", you’ve got the makings of a fabulous evening.





Martyn Popey

If you like your music down and dirty, soulful and sexy (think the gritty feel of Janis Joplin or Elkie Brooks), you’ll love Miss Marcy and her SugarDaddies. I’ve posted a few videos from the Hot Jazz gig here, but for a better taste of what she has to offer, visit Miss Marcy’s website (www.missmarcy.com). You can sample her music, buy her tunes, and find out where she’s playing next.




Steven Hitt
Miss Marcy is based in Dallas, but - like any gal earning a crust as a musician - travels for gigs, so book her early and often! These songs were filmed by yours truly, are copyright Miss Marcy, and are included on this blog with her permission.

Put your dancing shoes on, click, and enjoy! Then tell me - what's your favorite music?

O.C. Blues
 








 

Stand By Your Man

Restraining Order




Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shake, Rattle n Roll - Earthquakes in East Texas

I've had the pleasure of experiencing mild earthquakes in both California and Japan, but never considered Texas a hotbed of seismic activity. Today, I'm having a good think about that because we experienced our second earthquake in less than a week last night.


by bugdog
The first one hit this past Thursday and was a 3.9 on the Richter Scale. It was centered down around Timpson - about fifteen miles from us as the buzzard flies - and we didn't even notice that one. Last night's occurred a little after 3:00 a.m., and shook the house. What a way to wake up! This quake was also centered near Timpson, and registered a 4.3.



Neither quake caused injuries or much damage, thankfully. Our house is intact and the well hasn't run dry. The cows were their usual ravenous selves this morning, undisturbed by the night's festivities. The humans, however, were a tad disturbed to wake up in a house rocking on its slab.

Signs and wonders, some say. Good ol' oil and gas company fracking, say others. Fodder for the crime-writerly brain, I say! After being so rudely shaken, I lay awake for a while, 'opportunities' flooding the neurons. What if:

    by Renaudeh
  • ...an empty house collapsed during an earthquake, and the police found a body inside? One that had already started to decay...

  • ...a quake caused a gas pipeline to blow and an oilfield worker found body parts scattered around the blast site? Body parts with cut marks indicating that they'd already been severed from the body...

  • ...an earthquake causes a crack in a pond on land owned by a respectable old farmer, and as the water drains, a body wrapped in chains is revealed?

Lots of food for book ideas coming out of last night's shakin. Some of them might even make it into a Forney County novel. But I do hope we're done with earthquakes around here for a good long while...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Teaser Train Excerpt from LEAVING SERENITY by Alle Wells





All aboard the #TeaserTrain!

I'm tickled to host a teaser from Alle Wells' third novel, LEAVING SERENITY. Alle writes Southern fiction that tells the story of one life and how society, beliefs, culture, and the choices an individual makes can shape that life.

In addition to writing great stories, she hosts Alle's 5 Star Reviews, where she reviews books by indie authors. You can also find Alle on Twitter (@allewells) or Facebook.

Check out Alle's teaser below and then stop by Amazon to buy all three of her books...




Chapter 5
Leaving Serenity
July 1971

My heart skipped a beat when he casually walked through the door. He was even taller than me, clean-shaven with a trace of sun-kissed freckles across his face. Dark ringlets flowed freely around his relaxed shoulders. He wore tiny wire-rimmed glasses, gently worn bell bottom jeans, and an African print dashiki shirt. A strand of colorful beads fell just below his Adam’s apple. Images of Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors who died the week before, popped into my head.

Andy spun around on the counter stool and raised his hand.

“Jack, my man!”

The guy called Jack brushed his palm lightly over Andy’s hand. “What’s hangin’, Bro?”

Andy ran around the counter and fished two Mountain Dews from the drink box. Andy’s reaction to this guy told me that he was as special as he looked. I watched his every move from the corner of the dining room where I filled the salt and pepper shakers. I’d never seen a real live hippy before. I wondered where he came from, if he went to Woodstock, and if he did drugs. Most of the guys at school had shaggy hair just above the collar, but none dared to have hair as long as his. And nobody in Serenity dressed like that except Kizzie when she was here. I was fascinated by him and couldn’t pull my eyes away.

“So, Jack, my man, what’s goin’ down?”

“Ah, Man, I’m so mad I could spit nails! That hillbilly construction foreman canned me. He claimed I ripped him off.”

Jack pointed a long, tanned finger in Andy’s face. “I said to him, ‘Dude! How dare you have the audacity to question my veracity?’ ”

I pictured the irony of a construction worker spitting nails and held in a giggle. The whole room seemed to light up when he spoke. His accent was smooth, not flat and southern like everybody else around here. He sounded really smart, too. I wondered if he was in college, like Adam.

Andy took a swig from his drink bottle. “Bummer, Man, but you sure told him, for sure.”

Jack held a Marlboro between his lips, lighting it with a quick flick of the wrist. The sharp knuckles on his large, lean hands caught my eye.

“Right on, Dude! He’ll be sorry he messed with Jack, the man!”

Andy glanced at me and cocked his head, inviting me over. I shook my head at him and straightened my hair that looked like yesterday’s dough burger. I wanted to run and hide, but it was too late.

Andy called out, “Hey, Jack, I want you to meet a friend of mine.”

I wiped my hands on my jeans. My knees felt like jelly as I walked across the dining room that seemed to get bigger as I approached the counter. Jack swirled around on the stool and smiled at me. “Well, hello there, pretty lady.”

No one had ever called me pretty or a lady. I imagined my whole body melting into the floor like the wicked witch on The Wizard of Oz. I managed a weak smile to match my jellified knees. No words came from my mouth as I swooned over his sculptured face.

Andy spoke for me. “This is Annette.”

Jack pointed toward me with the hand holding the cigarette. “Yeah, far out! I remember you. You’re sister to that Ken Doll…” Jack pinched his nose with two fingers on his other hand. “Ah, Adam…something.”

The thought of someone making fun of Adam made me laugh. A giggle slipped from my throat. “Ken Doll?”

Jack looked at me, amused. “Yeah, you know, all up-tight and stiff-like. He’s your brother, right?”

I hid the grin behind my hand. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Jack patted the stool next to him. “Here, pretty lady, take a load off.”

He said it again. Jack’s charm drew me in as he looked at me sideways.

“You don’t remember me, do you? I’m the guy who used to wink at you in the drug store.”

Suddenly, I recognized the freckle-faced boy behind the lunch counter who made me laugh. Heat trickled over my face. “Oh yeah, I remember you now.”

His beautiful green eyes studied my face. “You want a drink or something?”

I shook my head. “Nah, I’m supposed to be working.”

Jack turned back to the counter. “Hey, Bro, how about getting me one of Rosie’s famous dough burgers?”

“Sure thing, Man.” Andy disappeared behind the kitchen door.

Jack turned his drink bottle up and put it back down. “Yeah, I remember you coming in on Saturdays with your mama. How many sisters and brothers do you have?”

“One sister, two brothers.”

Jack lit another cigarette. “Yeah, right on. I remember you, for sure. Of course, that was before I went to Nam.”

My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I realized that I was talking to someone who had fought in a war clear on the other side of the world. “You were in Vietnam?”

Jack took a drag from his cigarette and said, “Yep. I was waiting to hear from the Navy Seals. Special Forces like that need smart guys like me, you know. So, I was just sitting around waiting to be called, and damn if the Army didn’t get me first. Drafted. Bummer, Man!”

“For real, did you like being in the Army?”

Jack laughed. “Hell-blazes, no! The army is nothing but one big hassle. I don’t like hassles. I’m cool. I like taking it easy, see?”

Andy came back and put the sandwich on the counter, but Jack was way too wound up to eat. Andy leaned on the counter to hear Jack’s war story.

“I had this sergeant, see. He was the meanest son of a you-know-what you ever saw. He was always yelling right up in your face. I didn’t feel so bad for myself because I’m a pretty tough dude. It was the other guys I felt sorry for. So this sergeant starts cussing and raising all kinds of Cain at us, orders us to get in the trenches, you know, like nasty swamps. Well, I’m cool and down for just about anything, but snakes and such…no way, Buddy. I don’t want no part of that. You know what I mean?”

Jack jumped off the stool and threw in a few hand gestures to punctuate his story.

“Well, so this high and mighty dude says for me to get my –uh, you know what – down in that swamp. I said, ‘Well the hell no!’ He said to me, ‘Boy, you’re gettin’ in that swamp, or I’ll write you up and have you thrown in the brig.’ Now, that really pissed me off ’cause I don’t take too kindly to getting snake bit. So he starts walking back to his tent to write me up, like he said. I take that big gun I’ve been carrying around for days but never got a chance to use and BAM! I shoot his ass!”

Andy’s eyebrows shot up. “Did you kill him?”

Jack waved his hand. “Nah, Man. I mean I literally shot the guy in the ass.”

I was engrossed in the story, staring wide-eyed at the ringlets falling freely around his manly face. “Wow, he’s okay, right?” I asked.

“Aw, yeah. He just couldn’t sit down for a month.”

We all laughed at that until Andy asked, “What did they do to you? I mean, did you get in trouble?”

Jack took another swig from his drink bottle and sat back down to eat his burger. “They threw me in the brig for six months, and then I got a discharge. Being here is a lot better than being over there, that’s for sure.”

Andy shook his head. “Hey, that’s a real drag. What was it like in the brig? Was it bad?”

Jack pondered over the question. “Far out, enlightening, Man. You find out all kinds of stuff in prison that you’d never learn about out here in real life. I met some really smart dudes in there, Man. Dudes that know about things you and me would never dream of, like conspiracy. Do you know what conspiracy is?”

Andy and I shook our heads.

Jack pushed his empty plate away and explained. “Conspiracy is what the establishment is all about, Man! The politicians, the bankers, everybody over thirty, they all want to turn us into a controlled society. You know, like we’re nothing but a bunch of worker bees while the fat cats sit back and tell us what to do. It’s been going on for years. The establishment has your whole life all planned out for you, even before you get a chance to live it.”

Jack shook his head. “I’m telling you, Man, never trust anybody over thirty!”

Andy scratched his chin and answered quietly, “Yeah, I see what you mean.”

Jack stood up. “Well, Dude, I gotta jet, places to go and people to see.”

Jack reached over the counter and shook Andy’s hand like a real grown-up. Andy nodded and smiled at him. I nearly fell through the floor when he turned to me, stared directly into my eyes, and actually kissed my hand!

“Until we meet again, my pretty lady.”

Then he dashed out the door. My heart felt like it jumped out of my chest and ran out the door behind him. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen in real life or on TV.

“Oh God, Andy, did you see that? He kissed my hand like I was some kind of princess.”

Andy smiled. “Yeah, Jack’s all right, a real straight up guy.”

“Yeah, cute too, and so smart! But you know what? He didn’t pay!”

Andy leaned over the counter and whispered, “Yes he did.”

He opened his hand and revealed the marijuana joint. Then I knew why Jack shook Andy’s hand.

Andy gave me a half-smile. “If you want, we can smoke this tonight after work.”

“I don’t know, Andy. Smoking’s not really my thing.”

“This is different. Trust me, you’ll like it.”


Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring at the Ranch: Calves and Clover

Spring's a great season - new life, fresh growth, clean air and hopefully, mild temperatures. More importantly, tax season is over and life can get back to a normal rhythm. Or back to what passes for normal around here, which means weird writing hours, even weirder music hours, and ranching in between it all.

Rarely do I stop to smell the roses - partly because of the bees hanging around and really, who's got the time? - but it's hard not to enjoy springtime at our ranch when it's full of crimson clover and calves. In 2012, we've got the clover and thanks to some prearranged romantic interludes for Elvis and the girls last summer, most of the calves should arrive in May.


To put my glee at the pretty plants and baby cows in perspective, the summer of 2011 was a miserable time in Texas. We experienced the worst drought in nearly a century and exceedingly high summer temperatures. Our pastures were a wasteland. We'll spend time and money in 2012 replanting those pastures, if we get decent rain this year. Only two of our ponds had any water in them, the rest of the ponds and Brushy Creek simply dried up. Many ranchers sold out in 2011 rather than endure the expense of feeding their cows over the summer. We decided to hang on to our stock and made it through with lighter pockets, but with our original herd of Black Angus intact, if a bit thinner than we'd like.


Crossing our fingers that the winter would bring rain, we planted 100 pounds of crimson clover seed in the autumn. Although it takes a lot of walking to spread - we're pretty low tech out here - that's not as much seed as it sounds. Thankfully, the rains came down and up came the clover.



Keeping weight up on a cow is a real challenge during a drought, and miscarriage is a risk. So far, we've got eight hooves on the ground with 48 more to come. This little guy is our first born, and yes, he is as cranky as he looks:




He's also the first-born to his momma, and we worried because she couldn't seem to put on weight during the winter. She's still a little ribbier than we'd like, but momma and baby are doing fine.





I'm off to go feed the heifers and then work on book two in the Forney County Series. Thanks for taking the time to hear about our spring here on the ranch. Speaking of, what signals spring to you?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lucky Number Seven...

I was tagged by the lovely Rebecca Scarberry on her blog, scarberryfieldsForever, to play a Twitter game called “Lucky Number Seven.”

by n3lson

The rules are simple: go to page seventy-seven of your latest work, published or in progress, count down seven lines, then copy the following seven lines to your blog. The next step in the game *evil grin* is to tag new victims authors.


This sample is from my WIP, tentatively titled AVENGERS OF BLOOD, book two in the Forney County series. The scene takes place at the county medical examiner's office. Detective Cass Elliot, English forensic anthropologist Bernie Winterbottom, and Forney County's ME, John Grey, are examining a murder victim. Bernie has just asked Cass what she notices about the body:

Cass leaned closer. “The area around the mouth is significantly more burned than the rest of the face. Goober said the zombie’s mouth was on fire when he found the body.
“Very good," Bernie said. "Grey’s autopsy identified charring in the esophagus and lungs.”
“What does that mean?”
“He drank an accelerant, probably gasoline, or had it forced down his throat,” Grey answered quietly. He joined them and studied the man’s torso. “It wasn’t much, perhaps a few ounces. The damage to his throat and lungs means that he was alive when he was set alight.”


And now for those Lucky authors who get to carry on the Number Seven Game, four friends from across the pond *drum roll*:

Stuart Haddon, author of thriller THE BUTTERFLY AND THE BULL


Clive S. Johnson, author of mysteries LEIYATEL'S EMBRACE and the newly released OF WEFT AND WEAVE (April 2012)


Sinclair Macleod, author of The Reluctant Detective Series, including THE RELUCTANT DETECTIVE, THE GOOD GIRL, and newly released THE KILLER PERFORMER (March 2012)


D.G. Torrens, author of memoir AMELIA'S STORY


(Book links are to Amazon.com, but all books are also available on Amazon.co.uk)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tax Tips for Authors #4 – That Pesky Self-Employment Tax


UPDATED WITH LINKS TO 2012 IRS FORMS


by vivekchugh
Put those pitchforks down! And you, there at the back, douse that torch before something catches fire! 

Nobody likes self-employment tax, I know, but as our authorial success grows, there's a chance that we’ll make a profit for tax purposes. At that point, we’ll need at least a passing knowledge of self-employment tax. Come on, anybody who can write a WHOLE BOOK and then market the thing to make a profit can figure a little self-employment tax!



Now for the disclaimer: As a reminder, everything you need to know about personal and business tax reporting is available on the IRS website (www.irs.gov). My advice is not intended to replace that of your accountant; I hope simply to help you prepare for your annual tax filing.


I thought about mentioning this in the post on IRS forms, but really, the self-employment tax is so special that it deserves a post of its own…


by JosephHart
Since your writing business is run by you, the sole proprietor, you are responsible for paying both the employer and employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes on any profit you earn.


Before you get in a huff about this, read on: 

If you have a ‘regular’ job – the kind where you get a paycheck every now and then – you already pay the employee portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes. Check a pay stub. It’ll show amounts withheld for Social Security and Medicare – see? That’s the part that you pay. What you can’t see is the portion that your employer pays on your behalf.

Okay, you’re still huffy and reaching for that pitchfork or torch. Why are you, struggling artist, forced to pay twice the Social Security and Medicare taxes that a ‘regularly’ employed person would pay? Never fear, the IRS comes through with a save on this one. After you calculate your self-employment tax, you get to take a deduction for the employer’s portion of the self-employment tax.


The IRS taketh away, then it giveth back.


And it works like this:

by djshaw at http://www.whitespark.ca

You’ve just completed your Schedule C – inputting income, calculating Cost of Goods Sold, and including your expenses – and you do the math to get to the figure on Line 31 to find out whether you’ve made a profit or loss for the tax year. You carry that figure to Line 12 on your Form1040.

Good. You’re done with Schedule C.


And then one of two things happen with regards to self-employment tax:

  1. If you show a PROFIT on Schedule C, Line 31 (congratulations!) – you’ll complete Schedule SE – Self-Employment Tax. Put your profit figure from ScheduleC, Line 31 on Line 2 of Schedule SE and complete the calculations on the form. Input the figure from Line 5 on Line 56 of your Form 1040, and the figure from Line 6 on Line 27 of your Form 1040.
  2. by xcpointx
  3. If you show a LOSS on Schedule C, Line 31, you probably will not complete Schedule SE. However, you should read the criteria on Lines 1a and 1b of Schedule SE to determine if you do not have to file Schedule SE. (The point of the exercise is to net all sources of self-employment income to determine whether you have to pay self-employment tax. For example, if you had a bakery and a writing business, you would net the income or loss from each. If you had net income from both businesses, then you would complete the Schedule SE – a net loss, no Schedule SE.)

And that's all there is to self-employment tax. Not so bad, was it? Go have a cupcake. You can pick up your pitchforks and torches at the back of the room...

Be sure to check out other relevant posts: