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Friday, January 2, 2015

Suspending Disbelief

One of my favorite childhood books was The Wizard of Oz. Most of us are familiar with the story of Dorothy, who is transported from her home in Kansas during a hurricane to the mystical world of Oz and her trials and challenges in finding her way home again.

To fully appreciate the story and become immersed in it, however, the reader must suspend disbelief. From the Munchkins to good witches and bad witches... to a talking scarecrow, a tin man and a lion... we have to be willing to leave our present world behind and enter hers.

Suspending disbelief in books has grown increasingly more popular since the rise of science fiction, a genre unknown until this past century, in fantasy, the genre in which The Wizard of Oz falls, and in horror. Horror has been around for some time - who hasn't read Dracula or Frankenstein, for example? It, too, has gained additional popularity with the rise of vampire novels, otherworldly creatures, and paranormal abilities.

There is a believable way in which to write such a book. In The Wizard of Oz, we begin in Depression-era Kansas with a young woman on a farm who could have been any one of us. A bump on the head and a cyclone later, we enter the world of Oz - and at the end of the book, Dorothy is left wondering if it was all a dream. The next books in the series tell us otherwise, as Dorothy returns to Oz again and meets more mystical creatures.

Books that allow us to suspend disbelief are often those that begin with something we deem normal; in another of my favorite books, The Mummy by Anne Rice, we begin in England with the daughter of an archeologist. The mummy was removed from his tomb in Egypt and transported to England, and by the time he begins to come alive, the story is so expertly told that we are ready to suspend disbelief.

What does it take for you to suspend disbelief? Is there a fantasy, horror or science fiction story that you have particularly enjoyed?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Mary Neely

My most popular book to date continues to be Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely's capture by Shawnee warriors in 1780, her time in captivity and her eventual escape three years later and her journey home through a war-torn country.

Mary's family came to the United States from Ireland in the 18th century. They journeyed from what is now Northern Ireland, County Tyrone, from Glencull and Ballygawley. They came to America in search of more opportunity and a better future for their children and grandchildren.

While many know of Mary's story--the murder of her father at the hands of the Shawnee and later her mother's and brother's deaths during a separate attack, and the struggle all the Neelys endured just to survive in the untamed wilderness of Middle Tennessee (then a Virginia territory) --little has been provided about the Neely family before the brothers' departure for America.

I will attempt to provide bits and pieces of information as I come across it, not only for Mary Neely's descendents, of which there are many, but also to those people who came to love Mary in the pages of Songbirds are Free and River Passage.

A treasure trove of information has come my way as a result of my sister Neelley Hicks' trip to Ireland in November 2014.

Below is a document she obtained in Ireland of the Neely territory in Ireland, the meaning of the name, the ancestors and the coat of arms. If anyone would like a full color copy of the original document, please contact me through my website at and I'll be glad to email it to you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

One of my favorite books as well as a favorite movie is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I'd read the book years ago and just read it again with a new release for eBook platforms.

Josephine Lesley wrote the book in 1945 under the pen name R. A. Dick. It was published only in the United Kingdom and received interest in the United States after the movie was released starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison.

The book and movie are not to be confused with the television series that ran in America from 1968 to 1970; the series was a sitcom with slapstick comedy and not at all like the original book and movie.

Like all great books, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir shows a transformation in the main character. Left widowed at the age of 34, Mrs. Muir must break free of her oppressive, Victorian in-laws and begin life anew on her own terms. She moves her children with her to a seaside town where she purchases a run-down home left vacant for years after the previous owner, a sea captain, purportedly committed suicide there.

Mrs. Muir discovers Captain Gregg early after her arrival and also discovers that his death was accidental and not a suicide at all. He remains with her in the house and when her money has run out and she is facing destitution, he writes his memoirs through her. The book is published to great financial success, allowing her to remain financially independent for the rest of her life.

Mrs. Muir is transformed from a young, naive woman to an independent, self-sustaining woman. Yet through it all, she never wavers from her love for Captain Gregg, even after he disappears from her life and she is left wondering whether he was only a figment of her imagination. In the book, he does not appear visually at all but is a voice that only she can hear; yet with his accent, his colorful language and his memories of life at sea, she could not have mistaken him for imagination. Movies, of course, are visual mediums, so in the movie he is seen as much as heard - but again, only to her -- until she discovers years later that her daughter also saw him and had fallen in love with him as well (though not romantically as her mother had).

I loved reading about the tiny village near the sea and of the old home where Mrs. Muir lived and where Captain Gregg had died. The Victorian era was extremely oppressive and women looked down upon, and I had difficulty reading how she was treated by her in-laws before she managed to break free.

The new release has a forward by Adriana Trigiani and I learned more about the book and the movie. I hadn't known that it was shot entirely in California and that the shots of the sea were taken along the Pacific coast in Malibu. While the movie does not stick with the book entirely, it is a wonderful adaptation that stays true to the spirit of the story (pardon the pun).

I do not know why Ms. Leslie wrote the book under the pen name R.A. Dick. When my first book was released under p.m.terrell, I was asked numerous times if I was trying to hide the fact that I am a female. (For the record, no, I wasn't.) But the idea intrigued me, and I wondered if Ms. Leslie had encountered gender bias in the 1940's and believed her only hope to getting the book published was under a pen name that could be mistaken for a male. She died in 1979 and there is very little about her life on the Internet.

Below is one of my favorite videos; this is a trailer for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir to the music of Alex Band's Wherever You Will Go.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gone With the Wind

Last weekend, I was in Atlanta and was very fortunate to have the time to visit the Margaret Mitchell Museum. As a writer, I was interested in seeing the place where she wrote 90% of Gone With the Wind. It was a small apartment consisting of a living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen. To get to the kitchen, one had to walk through the bedroom. Each room was very small, and in the corner of the living room she wrote at a small table where she had natural light from two windows illuminating the area. She wrote on a manual typewriter, and whenever anyone would come to visit, she tossed a towel over the table so no one would know what she was doing.

When Opportunity came knocking, she turned it away - twice. She denied she had written a book at all, though one of her closest friends had spoken to a publisher about it. Even after she gave the publisher some of the chapters, she sent a telegram saying that she had changed her mind and wanted it back.

It's to our good fortune - and hers as well - that the publisher ignored her request and offered her a contract. Within three months, David O. Selznick had purchased the rights to the movie and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have seen some authors labor throughout their entire lives and never see any of their work in print. But though Margaret Mitchell resisted seeing Gone With the Wind published, there are some things that seemed destined to happen, against all the odds and against even her own efforts to derail it.

Could Gone With the Wind have been published today? Most scholars say no. It is a fabulously written book, but today's audience doesn't want to read hundreds of pages of backstory - which is what the reader must wade through to get to Scarlett's story. Scarlett herself is an interesting character for a heroine. She is spoiled and in the beginning what we'd refer to as "air-headed". She thinks only of herself and doesn't seem to look much beyond the end of her nose.

War changes all of that, of course. And that was precisely why Margaret Mitchell wrote the book. At its core is the eternal question: what makes some men and women break under the strain, while others rise above it? What do some people have deep inside themselves that keep them going, against all the odds, despite all the obstacles, while others are ready to give up? Why do some people continue moving forward while others spend entire lifetimes lamenting the loss of what they once had? And why do some people dream of someone they could never have, while the one who is perfect for them is right in front of them?

In the end, Scarlett is transformed. At times she is ruthless; at times she is money hungry; at times she is bull-headed, short-tempered and in her own words, a poor mother. But there is something about her character that tells us that we, too, can survive if only we try.

Perhaps a key to the book's initial success was the timing. America was in the grips of The Great Depression. Yet when people had trouble putting food on the table, they were doling out three dollars for a book. Perhaps the story fed their souls, giving them hope, showing them that throughout history there were trials and tribulations that would eventually be overcome. We will never know just how many people were affected by this story; how many were inspired to keep going despite the odds, how many were taken out of their own sorrows and placed into another day, another time, another era. And perhaps that is why the book was published; it was not only a great read but it feeds the soul like few books can.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Making of a Psychic Spy - Part 19

When I decided to write the Black Swamp Mysteries series featuring CIA psychic spy Vicki Boyd, I decided I would make her role and the missions she worked as close to reality as possible. I immersed myself in reading true stories of psychic spy missions, much of which is available through the Freedom of Information Act or has been declassified.

One name that popped up over and over again was Russell Targ. You might remember him as a pioneer who helped to engineer lasers and laser technology that we often now take for granted. He is a physicist and an author, and during the 1970's and 1980's, he worked at Stanford Research Institute. His mission there was to explore psychic abilities and what became known as remote viewing. The funding for the project came from the CIA. Yes, that CIA.

As a scientist, Targ looked for proof. The results were often astounding, and led to more than 100 papers he published on ESP research as well as plasma physics and laser technology. One of his more recent books is The Reality of ESP: A Physicist's Proof of Psychic Abilities. He is known for pushing the boundaries of science and exploring the relatively new frontier of parapsychology, of psychic research, of spirituality, and of those things we can not explain in a three-dimensional world.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What Dreams May Come

I was asked recently which authors or books have influenced my writing, and one of the books that came to mind was What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson. I read the original hardcover book more than 20 years ago. It was the first book I'd ever read cover to cover without stopping even for a five-minute break. When I was finished reading it, I flipped back to the first page and read it again.

I ended up analyzing that book. One of the most important things I learned about it is that each chapter ended with a cliff-hanger. I would glance forward, see that the next chapter was just a few short pages and I would make the decision to read only to that point. But once I got there, the last two or three paragraphs would entice me to keep reading... And so it went, until I'd read the entire book.

I would categorize the book as a Romantic Fantasy. It begins when Chris Nielsen dies unexpectedly in an accident, separating him from his soul mate. And I do mean that's where the story begins. It takes us through Chris' life after death, and when Annie needs him the most, he risks Heaven and Hell to get to her. It is a powerful book, and it inspired the movie starring Robin Williams as Chris Nielsen and Annabella Sciorra as Annie.

For those interested in New Age teachings, Richard Matheson spent years researching stories of life after death, incorporating common memories or themes from those who had near death experiences into the plot line. It makes for a powerful and riveting read.

Richard Matheson, it turns out, is one of the authors who influenced Stephen King's writing, and when one of his short stories was filmed, a young Steven Spielberg directed it. Perhaps you know him best as the author of I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Omega Man, or a number of Twilight Zone episodes, including my personal favorite, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The White Devil of Dublin

My 18th release, The White Devil of Dublin, officially released this Monday, September 15. It is the sequel to The Tempest Murders, which placed as one of only four finalists in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards (cross-genre category), and brings back Irish Detective Ryan O'Clery, who is now married to Cait and has twin girls, Darby and Dee.

When a noted historian claims to have discovered information about Ryan's ancestors, he arrives for their meeting to find her murdered and her computer stolen. His investigation will lead him to 12th century Dublin, to a time of the Viking conquest on the cusp of the Norman invasion, and to an albino known as Hvitr Bard, or The White Devil. It will also uncover a secret his family had kept hidden for more than eight hundred years. And it will bring him face to face with a serial killer he thought was gone forever, but who is back to finish the job he started.

For a short time, the eBook is on sale for only $2.99. In another week or two, the price goes to $6.99 so this is a perfect time to buy it! It is available on amazon, in the iBooks store, on Nook, and all other major eBook formats. It is also available in paperback for $16.95.

If you don't see the book in your book store, please ask for it! All stores can stock it but not all stores have them on their shelves.