Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter

I want to wish all of you a Happy Easter. No matter how you chose to observe it Easter brings families and friends together to celebrate a rebirth that occurred many years ago. Easter also provides us an opportunity to taste family traditions at the dinner table. Maybe it’s your grandmother’s favorite desert of mothers famous honey baked ham. My mother baked a ham for that dinner. She would slice a diamond pattern across the outside of the ham and my job was to stick a clove into each diamond shape. When I was done, it reminded me of a porcupine. I remember the wonderful smells and laughter around the dining table. Tomorrow I’ll celebrate this wonderful time with my son and his family and his in-laws.

As we say in Italian, Buona Pasqua.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Having Fun With GIMP or What Keeps Me Motivated

Click on the picture

With the completion of my first book, The Dark Side Of The Medallion, I decided to learn more of the intricacies of the photo-editing program called GIMP. More specifically, I wanted to make my own book cover.

One of my Christmas gifts last year came from my daughter. It was the GIMP Bible. I believe that in the past two months I visited every one of its 722 pages...Yikes. As with any powerful program, if you don’t keep up with it you soon forget how it works. I came up with a germ of an idea for a book cover. I wanted a picture of Jen, my protagonist, Bast the magical cat that protects and helps Jen and Seth, the antagonist. Sounds simple yet it proved difficult to execute. Not that I couldn’t draw the objects that I wanted no it was too busy on the book cover. I needed something simpler and at the same time something that forced the reader/buyer to pick my book up and open the cover to discover what lurks inside.

For those of you that use Photoshop you’ll know what I mean when I tell you that learning how to use GIMP is a steep learning curve. I tried literally a hundred times to make a book cover until I began to realize that some of my efforts were beginning to pay off. I could not afford the asking price of Photoshop. GIMP on the other hand is a free open-source photo editor with many great bells and whistles.

Last night I managed to finish my first attempt at a book cover. I still have some tweaking to get it where I want it. The good news is that I can now make this cover in less than a half hour of my time.

Seeing this first completed cover is one of the things that motivate me to continue my writing journey. I am researching a different font for this cover and might rescale the image of Bast to a slightly larger size. I also want to add a line somewhere letting the reader know that this is book one of my trilogy.

I would love to hear from anyone who is designing his/her own book cover. Keep your pens moving and words flowing.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to ye. With the wearing of the Green-Day approaching, I thought it appropriate to introduce you to an unexpected ally that “pops” into Jen’s reality as she and her BBF struggle against the ancient Egyptian god, Seth and his battle to take over as the supreme deity. This is from the second book of The Dark Side of the Medallion Trilogy titled QUEST. My three protagonists, Jen, Cheryl and Sally, have finished another round of fighting and Jen wanders into the reading room to think through this latest battle.

A “pop” and “oomph” resonated in the reading room breaking her train of thought. Jen swiveled her head left and right, looking for the source of the racket.

“Ay, begorra…me poor ol’ head.” A shuffling sound occurred behind Jen. “Clancy, are ye about? Of course ye ain’t—and him being invisible and all—at a time like this.”

Jen cautiously leaned her head over the back of her chair. The comical sight that was sprawled on the floor brought both relief and puzzlement. “If I didn’t know better I’d accuse you of being a leprechaun.”

Before her was an old man no taller than three and a half feet tall. His suit and hat were forest green and he wore a bright red waistcoat. A long grey beard hung down to his waist and large gold buckles sparkled at her when his black boots moved. A thin leather strap swept over his right shoulder and across his chest leading to a bag on his left side.

The small man scrambled to his feet, removed his hat and bowed to Jen. “I am sorry…I-I-I intruded into your…ay begorra…where are I?” His hands grabbed his head and shook it side to side.

Jen nodded her head and looked around the room. “What’s your name, my fine young fellow?”

The little man grinned and again removed his hat and bowed. “I be Michaleen O’Lugh, at ye service.”

“Who’s Clancy and where is he?

“Ay, me good friend is a grogoch. Strait from Donegal he is. He be a wee bit shy and remains hidden. If ye have a small amount of cream,” holding his hand up his thumb and forefinger displayed a quarter inch between them, “we can call him forth.” Jen connected and returned with a glass of cream.

“Tis mighty impressive ma lady. Now hold the cream high above ya.”
With a perplexed look, Jen raised the glass above her head. Suddenly it took on a life of its own and flew from her grip and she heard slurping and licking sounds. The empty glass landed on the floor in front of Jen’s feet. “Clancy thanks ya.” Michaleen leaned down, picked up the empty container and handed it back to Jen. His hand drifted into his small pouch and soon an accumulation of personal stuff piled high on the floor. Clothing, new shiny boots, cobbler’s tools, pieces of leather, an Irish harp, tin whistles, a fiddle, pipe and tobacco…the list continued. Jen’s eyebrows arched as she watched each new item appear. Michaleen’s arm dipped deep into his sack.

Jen lowered her view looking at the bottom of the pouch.

Finally, with a grunt Michaleen pulled out a rather large whiskey jug. Sitting down he wrapped his legs around the jug and pulled the cork out. “Woe be me, not a drop remains—and me with such a terrible thirst.” He raised his head and looked at Jen. “Can ye spare a wee drop to put out me dreadful dryness?”

Jen connected and returned dressed as Isis. She held out a glass full of the nectar of the gods. Michaleen accepted the drink and sucked it dry in a single gulp. His head rose and he looked at Jen, “Ay, begorra—”

“Watch your language, Michaleen O’Lugh.”

Michaleen’s face reddened and he stood straight up. “As I were saying befer I was rudely interrupted,” he swayed on his feet and almost lost his balance bowing, “I’m honored to meet ya, Isis.” He held his empty glass up. “Tis the finest Irish whiskey I’ve ever tasted.”

Jen smiled. “Come join me on the seat and tell me who you are and what you and Clancy are doing here.” Jen turned around in her chair and was surprised to see Michaleen sitting opposite her. She swung around quickly and looked at the empty floor behind her chair. Shaking her head, she asked, “Michaleen, how come I can leave your view and when I return you’re still here? I thought all leprechauns, once seen by a human, thought only of escape?”

A disembodied voice spoke into Jen’s left ear. “That’s only true if you have a crock of gold to guard.” Jen made a yucky face as an unpleasant body odor surrounded her.

Michaleen’s hands covered his ears. “Clancy stoptar do bhéal mór.”

“No, let him speak. However, not close to me. This sounds interesting and I want to hear it all.” Jen said. Sally, Cheryl; this is Isis speaking. Are you awake?

Only if it doesn’t involve another battle, Cheryl grumbled.

What she said, Sally added.

Meet me in the reading room. I think you would enjoy this. Oh, and please bring a pitcher of cream.

Jen waved her hand and a decanter filled with Zeus’s tail appeared. “Michaleen, would you be joining me for another drink?”

Cheryl arrived next to Jen, slammed into something that let out a “Plá ar do theach” and she and the pitcher of cream went flying. Cheryl landed with a thud; the cream carafe disappeared in mid air. Standing up Cheryl brushed her hands together then straightened out her dress. “Yuck, what’s that stench surrounding me?”

Michaleen moved from his chair, picked the empty container up from the floor, and handed it back to Cheryl. Removing his hat, he bowed. “Clancy thanks ya.”

“Yikes!” exploded from Cheryl’s mouth. “A talking shrimp!”

Watching Cheryl’s antics, Jen almost lost it. “Where?” Jen bit her tongue and spun around in another direction.

“In front of me you numbskull.”

Sally arrived next to Michaleen, looked down and jumped back several feet before closing her mouth. The carton of cream she held slipped and fell to the—it disappeared from sight. A large belch sounded close to her ear and she reached up pinching her nose shut. “What the devil!” muffled out of her mouth. Sally’s head swiveled around looking for the cream.

Jen collapsed into her chair, tears of laughter streaming down her face. Looking at her two BFF, “I haven’t had this much fun,” catching her breath, “since I visited Disney Land when I was six.” “I would like to introduce both of you to Michaleen O’Lugh, a leprechaun from Erin and his friend Clancy a grogoch from Donegal.”

Michaleen removed his hat and bowed to both women. “I am pleased to meet ya.” Cheryl and Sally introduced themselves and took seats on either side of Jen.

Sally turned toward Jen, “Well that explains one of the oddities in this room,” she glared at her BFF, “now where did that stink come from?”

“Yah and what’s a grogoch?” Cheryl asked.

Jen turned toward Michaleen, “You’d better explain this one for me. No need to bow…if ye please.”

A smile spread across Michaleen’s face. “A grogoch is a sidhe or Irish fairy. He’s about my size and wears only a thick covering of long hair.” He looked at the three women. “I’m sorry for the discomfort ye experience when he is close…he…well, he don’t like water. He does have a good side. Clancy will help you out of a jam if you call his name. He is also able to survive in extreme cold or heat. If he likes ya, he will show himself. Oh yes, he loves cream.” Jen thanked him and Michaleen sat down.

“Michaleen was going to relate the story of why he doesn't have a pot gold to guard and I though both of you would kick me if I let you sleep.” Jen smiled at her friends.

Michaleen’s head lowered and he spoke to the floor. “Tis a sad and dark tale I relate. Several years ago I celebrated me four hundredth birthday and me father gave me a pot o’ gold for me to guard. Oh fur sure it was the proudest day in me life and the music and dancing continued for several days.”

“As did the drinking,” Clancy interrupted. Michaleen’s face turned red and he continued.

“Returning home with me pot o’ gold I discovered a magnificent horse in me stalls. All black and powerful was he with his silky elegant mane and glowing golden eyes. I put the pot o’ gold on the ground and went to inspect this latest birthday surprise. No sooner did I touch the animal that he disappeared. Turning around I discovered to me horror that me pot o’ gold was also gone. I was deceived by the worst of the Irish fairies—the pooka. The pooka is a short, disfigured goblin that is always up to no good.” Michaleen stood, spit on the floor and stomped his foot on top of the saliva. Pulling himself up to his full height, he continued. “Me father,” he spit again on the floor, “banished me from his hall underneath Mount Errigal and—“

“Lugus,” Clancy’s voice boomed. “Respect thy father Michaleen O’Lugh; after all he is the High King of Erin.”

Jen figured she could have dropped an egg on Michaleen’s head and it would have sizzled.Jen offered the decanter of Zeus’s Tail to Michaleen and he filled his glass; downing its contents in a single swig. Shaking his head, he composed himself.

“Clancy me good man don’t ye have something better to do like watch out for the cóiste badhar? As I was saying, me fine father, King Lugus can be a nasty little man. He is the king of war and knows all the dirty tricks that win battles against his enemies. He is…how can I put this delicately…not used to dealing with his own family members in a friendly way. He banished me to wander aimlessly until I finds me pot o’ gold. Clancy is me only friend and he agreed to accompany me on my travels. Woe be me, I am flummoxed and know not what to do.”

“Sheese, that’s quite a story,” Jen said. “Is a pooka a shape-shifter?”

“Yes he can assume any shape he fancies. His favorite is a dark horse.”

Jen leaned toward Sally and Cheryl and arms flew through the air as they conversed. Jen smiled at Michaleen. “Michaleen, after our war against Seth is finished we’ll help you find the missing pot of gold.”
A smile filled his face and tears ran down his face. “I thank ye Isis. Might we,” his arm pointed to an empty place in the room, “help you in this conflict?”

“Possible but first I will give you a room to live in and you must promise me that you will introduce your friend to a bath. He stinks. What is a cóiste badhar?”

“The cóiste badhar is also known as the coach-a-bower meaning deathly or silent coach. Driven by a dullahan—a headless equestrian—who carries his head in his right hand so he can see his way. He commands six wild black horses to collect the souls of the ones about to die in an accident or those that are gasping their last on their deathbed. The only defense against him is a piece of gold and Clancy and I have none.”

“Yes, ye dear father took all our gold and set the dullahan on our trail; may he live forever.” Clancy added. Jen heard two spitting sounds then the noise of hands slapping against each other.

“Thanks ya Clancy for that wee bit of information.” Michaleen looked at Jen. “Clancy likes ya and after he cleans up he will let you see him.” Jen smiled.

“You asked where you’re at. Both of you are inside a military city on a planet called Pelta. Currently we’re at war against Seth and an alien race called the Swthshee. We’ll keep you safe from the dullahan and the cóiste badhar.

A loud poof sounded in the room and Michaleen appeared dressed in a suite of armor banishing his sword and shield. "Seth, tá a fhios againn go maith air. Tá sé olc agus trickster salach.” Jen’s eyebrows arched.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cliffhangers as Chapter Endings, Good or Bad?

Authors often employ different writing techniques to make his or her readers eager to turn to the next page in their book. A cliffhanger at the end of a chapter is one method that authors make use of—to keep their readers engaged in their story’s plot and characters—forcing them to turn pages. We refer to these types of novels as page-turners.

Would you be surprised if I told you that this writing practice was popular during the age of Queen Victoria? One of the progressive ideas to come from this age sprang between a monthly magazine and an author. Short story author like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, you ask. No, I am talking about a completed novel not stand alone short stories. The magazine published sections of a novel one chapter at a time. Thomas Hardy is given credit for being the first to add a cliffhanger to the end of each of his published chapters. You see he needed a gimmick to keep his readers wanting more, thus ensuring a monthly paycheck from his publisher. Hey, that’s something that we all want; only now we call it royalties.

The question that I’m asking today is do you use cliffhangers in your own manuscripts/books and if so, are they found at the end of each chapter?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What can I say? I’ve been busy these past few months. I’m back!

The big dog roundup: Some of you know that for years I’ve been helping take care of and adopt out abandoned animals. No one pays me for this and I’ve lost thousands of dollars in caring for, feeding and occasionally paying medical bills. My personal motto is that I’ll never let an animal starve or be in need of medical care.

Two months ago, I discovered a few puppies running around near my barn. I left food and water for them. By the end of the week, I had ten puppies eager to please me. Two weeks later, I had seventeen puppies running around and eating (from two litters). I already had six six-month old dogs from a litter of eight. Add to this menagerie, my own two dogs; and I was feeding twenty-five animals. Yikes! Enter and angle into my life.

The local Chappell Nebraska Animal Control Officer, Terry, called me one day and asked how I was doing. I related my tale of woe and she promised to think about a solution. A week later, she called back with a plan to adopt all of the dogs out. Through her contacts, she found a place in Wyoming willing to take on all of the puppies and six-month old dogs. She brought over material to build a large enclosure with a gate. I set up their food bowls and water inside along with several cages. It took two weeks to capture all of the larger dogs and another day to pick up fifteen of the puppies. I brought them all to Terry’s house and placed them in her cages. The puppies were immediately taken to Scottsbluff Nebraska and last week Terry called and informed me that all of them were adopted out.

The older dogs are being spaded and neutered, given shots and wormed. Several of them have loving homes and one of them is learning how to heard sheep. I couldn’t be happier. The other benefit is that all four of my dogs are going to be spaded and neutered, shots…isn’t life grand.

Class is in session: I’ve always wanted to take an accredited course in reading, writing ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. I signed up for a free course on the internet. This takes me about two or three hours each day and I spend another two-three hours writing the ending of my second book.

During this time, I’ve neglected my blog and now that I am working on time management (and have only a few dogs to tend to); I find that I can once again write a blog-post twice a week.

It’s nice to be back.