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Friday, May 31, 2013

Freaky Friday - Life on Mars

Scientists have plans to colonize Mars.

If you consider the population explosion of the past century, the infant mortality deaths that have largely been eliminated and the older ages most country's citizens can expect, it isn't far-fetched to think that, barring some unforeseen global disaster, we will run out of space within the next few centuries. While we won't be around to witness it, our grandchildren or their grandchildren might be.

So in 2023, just ten years from now, the first mission is scheduled for Mars' colonization. Nearly 80,000 people have applied to be included in this mission in just the first two weeks of its announcement.

It will take seven months to reach the Red Planet.

But here's the catch: because each person must become adapted to its environment, they can't come back to Earth. These are one-way tickets.

What will the people do once they reach the planet?

They must begin growing plants, which initially will be in greenhouses. These plants are vital to future life on the planet, providing much needed nutrients to the air and environment. They will build a village, which in the future could become a town or a major city. They will also provide a continuous stream of data that will help scientists on Earth plan for future human habitation.

The individuals selected for this maiden journey will receive eight years' training before lift-off in 2023.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Political Thrillers

I am currently working on the fifth book in the Black Swamp Mysteries series. Entitled The Pendulum Files, it is scheduled for release in the spring of 2014.

The book is a political thriller that combines the expertise of Christopher Sandige, a political strategist, and Brenda Carnegie, a computer hacker, with CIA agents Dylan Maguire and Vicki Boyd. It will take them from their home in Lumberton, North Carolina... to the high seas in search of the perpetrators of maritime bombings... to the halls of power in Washington, DC.

Very early in my career I made the commitment to myself and my fans that I would never allow partisan politics to enter my books' plots. I am keeping this commitment in this political thriller by providing information on political platforms - such as the fictional President's reaction to the bombings and Chris' own search for politicians with whom he can work - but without labeling them as one party or another.

In many instances, they share views common to most Americans, regardless of political affiliation. It also provides the backdrop of our current status as the only recognized superpower in the world. At the time of this writing, there are three others poised to become superpowers within the next decade: China, India and the European Union.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, that region also sustained a dramatic fall from its once powerful superpower status.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Weather

One of the things that makes a book come alive for me is the backdrop, especially the use of weather and terrain. My most popular book is Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely and her capture by Shawnee warriors in 1780. In the scene below, she managed to escape her captors, only to have them track her to an abandoned village in the middle of the night:

Mary bolted upright as a wicked crack of thunder erupted in the night. Her heart pounded as a simultaneous lightning flash sliced through the shadows.


The next instant she was plunged into a darkness as black as pitch. Unable to see her hands in front of her face, she groped behind her until she located the back wall, and then settled against it. Outside the storm raged, the water pounding against the roof and walls with such fervor that she grew concerned the aging structure would not hold.

As another flash of lightning lit up the interior, she spotted a rivulet encroaching into the hut. She backed further into the opposite corner and drew her legs under her.

Every muscle in her body ached. Her feet, now crammed into her shoes, felt swollen and cramped, the soles bruised and cut from countless brambles and rocks. Each leg and arm had grown heavy, causing every movement to become excruciating.

As the storm raged, Mary’s eyes instinctively gravitated to the open doorway, where the sheets of rain howled as if trying to enter. Forked lightning illuminated the sky as a simultaneous crack of thunder seemed to shake the ground.

With the next burst of light, a figure appeared in the doorway of the hut, filling the entrance.

Mary gasped. Her body was paralyzed while her mind raced. Every hair on her small frame stood completely erect.

There was no way out. The figure blocked her only exit.

The next flash revealed the form still in the doorway as if he hadn’t moved a single muscle. For the briefest of moments, she caught sight of an almost naked body, the chest, arms, legs and face painted with black and red stripes, the hair plucked to the scalp except for one shiny black patch on top, from which a single long tail extended.

She realized her nails were pressing hard into the sides of her bowl. Yet she was unable to let go. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she saw herself sitting completely still, her bowl clutched in her fingers with the intensity of a mother protecting her child.

When the next burst came, he was standing over her.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday Musings - The Irish Lady

I just finished reading The Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker. It is really two stories in one, which merge together as it heads toward the final climactic courtroom scenes.

For someone like me who is of Irish descent, I thoroughly enjoyed the history and backdrop.

It follows Meghann McCarthy's extraordinary journey from the day Protestants attacked her Catholic neighborhood and left her an orphan. The family who took her in had sons who turned to the Irish Republican Army and then to Sinn Fein. One of them, Michael Devlin, was her first love and her great love, a man she turned her back on because she could no longer remain in the very troubled region of Belfast. She moved to England, where she became a successful attorney. But when she is called back to Belfast to defend Michael against the murder of a prominent British politician - a murder he didn't commit - she is forced to confront the demons of Northern Irish history and come to terms with both her past and her future.

Interspersed with Meghann's story is the story of her ancestor, Nuala O'Donnell. Nuala's story haunted me. It takes place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a time in which fiefdoms ruled Ireland, a time in which the regions' religions were directly tied to its politics and its future as Mary Queen of Scots struggled to take the crown from Elizabeth. It is the dying of a way of life that had existed for centuries and which, under Elizabeth's strict rule, is facing its final, desperate moments. When Nuala marries Rory at the age of fifteen and makes his castle her own, she has no idea that within ten years' time she will give birth to and lose nine children and give birth to a tenth who belongs to the man who captured the castle while Rory fought elsewhere. It is a time when a woman has no rights of her own but is her husband's possession. A time in which, because her husband decreed it, she must give up her tenth and only surviving child to the man who raped her.

This is the first book I've read by Jeanette Baker, but it certainly will not be the last. She is from Irish heritage herself and obviously knows the country and her subject very well. Because I have distant cousins still in Ireland, it was particularly moving. Both stories are gripping and as they converge during the climactic courtroom battle to save Michael's life, it is one I could not put down.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Freaky Friday - Sky Watching

If you enjoy watching the night sky, you might want to look to the skies on the evening of May 26 (this coming Sunday.)

On that day, three planets - Jupiter, Venus and Mercury - will form a triangle in the sky that will be easily seen from Earth. Those three planets are the brightest in our solar system so this sight will be especially exciting.

The best time to look is 30 to 60 minutes after the sun sets. Then look to the western skies.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - Changing Face of Book Buying

Statistics were released last week on books sold, and some of the figures were quite interesting.

What got my attention was the closing gap between online book sales versus sales in brick and mortar book stores. Book sales rose to $6.93 billion through online sellers while the brick and mortar stores reported $7.47 billion.

Of the $6.93 billion sold online, nearly half - $3.04 billion - were in eBook sales.

I have become an iPad addict. I have been replacing the books on my shelves with eBooks, which is greatly reducing the clutter in my home and office. I've also been discovering new authors and new series. I love reading eBooks because:

I can pick up one device which weighs about the same as a trade paperback and take it with me anywhere;

That one device can hold approximately 50,000 books;

I can enlarge the print so I don't have to wear reading glasses;

It has it's own light so I don't have to sit by a lamp or turn on a light in the middle of the night;

I can download books instantly and not have to wait for them to arrive in the mail;

I don't have to find a place to put them after I've read them;

And I can search for books in the genres or topics I enjoy instead of walking through stores that carry only a tiny percentage of the books published.

How do you read your books - in print form or eBook? Why do you like that method over the other?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Blogging as an Expert - When You're Not

Anyone who has followed my blog tours knows my background. I've been in the computer industry since the mid-1970's. I spent fifteen years training people in the workforce how to use computer software before moving into custom application development, which led to computer intelligence and computer crimes (working with the good guys, of couse.)

So a couple of years ago when someone formatting one of my books for publication complained loudly about having to manually go paragraph by paragraph through my document, it raised a red flag. It turns out that I, like many authors, type while I'm composing. And I've gotten into the habit of pressing the space bar after each period.

The formatter complained bitterly that she had to remove each of those spaces at the end of a paragraph manually. I knew otherwise but didn't want to get into an argument with her. My silence turned out to be the wrong choice, because a few days later she blogged about it.

Recently, another author was in tears when she told me how the same formatter humiliated her in front of others by chastising her for using a tab instead of an indent before each paragraph. Again, the formatter claimed she had to manually remove each of the tabs and insert the indent. A few days later, she blogged about it.

In reality, the formatter didn't know how to use the software.

Most authors use Microsoft Word and most formatters continue to use it until it's imported into PageMaker or Quark for print publication.

So if you're like me and you press the space bar at the end of a paragraph, here's a twenty-second way to remove them all:

1. Go to the top of the document.
2. Select the "Replace" option on the toolbar.
3. You're looking for a space followed by a carriage return. So press your space bar beside "Find What" and then click on the "More" button. Click on the down arrow next to the "Special" button and select "Paragraph Mark."
4. Now move to the "Replace With" box. You want to replace it with a simple carriage return (without the space.) So select "More" if the rest of the Replace box isn't shown, "Special" and "Paragraph Mark" again.
5. Now choose to "Replace" if you want to see what is happening or "Replace All" to do it in seconds.

If you want to remove all the tabs in front of a paragraph and replace them with an indent, here's how to do it in less than a minute:

1. Go to the top of the document.
2. Select the "Replace" option on the toolbar.
3. This time, you're looking for a carriage return followed by a tab, which together marks the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next. So select "More" and "Special." Then select "Paragraph Mark" and "Tab Character."
4. Now move to the "Replace With" box. First, you want to replace it with a carriage return. So select "More" if the rest of the Replace box isn't shown, "Special" and "Paragraph Mark."
5. Click OK to exit that box, and either "Replace" if you want to see each replacement or "Replace All" to do it all at once.
6. This removes the tabs but the paragraph are no longer indented. Press CTRL/A simultaneously to select everything in your document.
7. Then drag the inverted triangle on the ruler to the desired indentation. All the paragraphs will now begin with that indentation. (If you don't have the ruler displayed, select "View" from the menu and check "Ruler."

Both of these happen so quickly that you might be tempted to think it didn't work. Just turn on the Paragraph Mark to see the underlying code, and scrolling through your document will show you how the formatting has been updated.

It's just a shame the formatter who spread the word far and wide about how hard she was having to work and how difficult authors made her job... didn't know how to use the tools of her trade. Unfortunately, it's beginner authors and beginner computer users who suffer the most from misinformation such as hers.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Freaky Friday - And Is Time Travel Possible?

Yesterday I mentioned a time travel trilogy written by Terri Brisban and admitted to being a huge fan of time travel novels.

But is time travel possible?

It actually is, and it has a very scientific explanation.

Time on Planet Earth is not the same as time on other planets or even when traveling through our solar system.

If an astronaut remains in space for an extended period of time, he can actually return to Earth younger than he would have been if he'd remained Earth-bound.

But can we travel back in time and remain on Planet Earth?

That is a question scientists are currently exploring. Einstein's Theory of Relativity has withstood more than a hundred years of scrutiny by top scientific minds, which shows how we could travel forward in time (though we currently lack the technology to travel faster than the speed of light for long enough to accomplish this.) When that key is unlocked, it may also hold the key to traveling back in time.

Think this is impossible? A bunch of hocus pocus? I remember my grandfather's comment every time anyone attempted the impossible: "He can't do that any more than we can put a man on the moon."

Need I say more?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - Time Travel

I have just finished reading a fabulous trilogy by Terri Brisban entitled The MacKendimen Trilogy. I am a big fan of time travel books; I love the journey back in time to ancient villages, the time of castles and warlords, and of intrigue set against the backdrop of real history.

The first book in the Trilogy is A Love Through Time, in which two tourists visiting Scotland fall through a time slip and find themselves in a medieval Scottish village. The castle and village come alive in the book and along with the main characters, Maggie and Alex, you meet others who also have their own stories to tell.

The second book, Once Forbidden, picks up where the first book leaves off with one of the characters from the first book, Anice McNab, taking center stage. She was someone I feared and hated in the first book but this second one did something I did not expect: it showed another side of the woman who had fallen first for Alex MacKendimen... And now has another chance to fall in love. It is set against political intrigue and family secrets and I admit to coming close to tears when I thought all was lost.

The third book, A Matter of Time, is even better than the first two. Maggie's and Alex's son, Robert, falls through the same time slip as his parents did - and finds himself in the same medieval village twenty years after they left. I didn't know what was going to happen in the end - whether Robert would be hurled back to the present without the woman he had fallen in love with; whether it would be possible to take her with him to the present; or if he could somehow defy Fate and remain in a medieval time.

Terri Brisban is a fabulous writer who weaves a fascinating story. The characters and the village itself will remain with you long after you finish that last page.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Chinese Goods

I am currently working on The Pendulum Files, the fifth book in the Black Swamp Mysteries series. It is due to be released in the spring of 2014 by Drake Valley Press.

Dylan Maguire's next assignment is to interrogate recently captured terrorists suspected of bombing shipments originating in China and bound for the United States. As you can imagine, the case is not as straight forward as one might think and the twists and turns lead him in directions he never could have imagined.

As part of my research, I've been looking at statistics of imports versus exports and here are a few interesting tidbits I've found out:

In 2001, the United States exported $19.2 billion dollars worth of goods to China while importing $102.3 billion dollars worth of goods from China, an imbalance of 83%.

Within ten years, the amount of goods exported by the United States rose to $103.9 billion dollars - but the amount of goods imported from China has risen to $354.9 billion dollars. Though our exported goods have risen, the trade imbalance in 2011 had grown to a whopping 399.3%.

What do we export to China?

Vehicles, aircraft, medical equipment, plastics, copper and organic chemicals are among the top ten.

What do we import from China?

Toys, games, furniture, footwear, apparel, iron, steel and vehicles are in the top ten.

What do Chinese workers earn?

There is a growing number of middle-income families in China, thanks to the increasing salaries of the average worker. The highest paid workers are in Beijing, with an average salary of $730 a month. If employees worked 40 hours a week, that comes out to an average of $4.56 per hour. However, the average employee actually works six and often seven days a week and they usually are not compensated for overtime as they are in the United States. They have only three holidays per year.

Still, that is good pay compared to a place such as Bangladesh, whose average hourly wage of a garment factory employee is 15 cents per hour. The average CEO of a garment company earns roughly $2,995 an hour - the equivalent of 19,966 Bangladesh employees combined.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Irish Bogs

In Dylan's Song, Dylan Maguire returns to his native Ireland to locate and extract a missing CIA operative who is imprisoned in ancient castle dungeons below the surface of the bogs. Below is an excerpt as Dylan and two other operatives ride on horseback through the bogs:

Lightning flashed across the sky and a few seconds later, a low rumble of thunder shook the ground beneath their feet. The horses whinnied and turned completely around.


“What’s that?” Perry asked as all three men fought to control their horses.

Dylan followed his gaze to the distant horizon. “Blue flames.”

“Fire?”

“It’s caused by the bog gasses. Methane. It’s common durin’ storms. When I was a tyke, the old-timers used to say they were faeries, cookin’ their supper.”

It felt as though it was taking far longer for them to reach their destination than it had in broad daylight with Brenda and Vicki. But that’s the way it was at night, Dylan reminded himself. During the witching hour and in the pre-dawn hours that followed, the terrain took on the feel of a vast, empty space in which compasses no longer functioned properly. It was said there were little folk who lived in the bogs, mischievous creatures who watched every movement and waited for the perfect opportunity to play havoc—or worse. Fooling with their compasses was just one of their tricks.

They were known as ballybogs or bog-a-boos, depending on who was telling the story. Some said they were the remains of the dead rising out of the bogs. Others said they were nasty creatures that were not related to humans at all.

“You’re sure you know where this place is?” Perry asked uneasily.

He looked toward the horizon. “Aye.”

The thunder and lightning grew and intensified and the mist began to turn to more solid precipitation, though it stopped short of becoming a rainstorm. It was well known that one had no business being in a bog when it rained. It often came fast and furious and often the peat was buried beneath ponds that could suck men into them in mere seconds. Dylan found himself wondering whether the water would pour into the castle remains. It would be a horrific way to die.

He turned in his saddle and peered behind him.

“What is it?” Rich asked.

Dylan shook his head. “Just feel eyes on me, tis all.”

Purchase the book on amazon in Kindle or in trade paperback. It is also available on the Nook, iPad, and other eBook formats.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Freaky Friday - How Good is our Technology?

I often mention on Freaky Fridays my fascination with science and advancements in technology. But even I was astounded when I learned that we now have the technology to detect a meteorite half an inch wide hitting one of Saturn's rings.

Saturn is approximately 746 million miles from Earth.

We now have spacecraft capable of detecting a meteorite crater only one half an inch wide in the galaxy. The one that detected this one is called Cassini. For more information including some stunning images from Cassini, visit NASA's website at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/main/index.html.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday Thoughts - How Real Is It?

I've been mulling this one around in my head for a few weeks.

You see, a few weeks back the proprietor of a restaurant told me that one of his patrons is convinced that he and I are having an affair because I mentioned his restaurant in some of my books. She went even further, stating that she thought the romantic interest in the Black Swamp Mysteries series is actually this restaurant proprietor.

Never mind that Dylan Maguire of the series is Irish and the restaurant owner is American;

Or that Dylan has thick black hair and hazel eyes and the restaurant owner doesn't;

Or that Dylan is 29 years old and the restaurant owner is close to 20 years older than that;

Or the fact that, actually, come to think of it, they bear no resemblance to each other at all.

Fiction is actually just fiction. The people are unique. I may take characteristics from one person or another but just as you might have the same mannerism as your parent, you are still uniquely different individuals. So are the characters in my books.

There are things I like about a lot of different people, that eventually made up the character of Dylan Maguire.

I like Pierce Brosnan's eyes when he smiles. (And he's Irish.)



I like Joe Manganeillo's physique and height.



I like Eduardo Verastegui's thick black hair and his occasional five o'clock shadow.


These men were the basis for Dylan Maguire's character. From Pierce Brosnan, he got the positive outlook and charm of the Irish; from Joe Manganeillo, the ability to fight when it's called for; from Eduardo Verastegui, a sexual appeal that would help to make him irresistible to Vicki Boyd. 

Plus little characteristics and personality traits that would seem to fit his character and the scenes he's in.

He is uniquely Dylan Maguire and no one else.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

WIP Wednesday - Inspiration

I was asked recently where I get the inspiration for my books. As I thought about it, I realized inspiration is needed in a variety of ways.

Inspiration is needed for the plot itself. In my case, it's planning the crime. I usually get inspiration for my plots from real life cases, declassified government documents and newspapers or documentaries. Then I make my own twists on them, such as using Enron's method of raising electric prices on another commodity - such as oil.

Inspiration for characters. I am an avid people-watcher. I look for odd characteristics; a particular limp, a way of raising an eyebrow, the use of hands while talking, a nervous chatter... There are people everyone meets with whom they take an instant dislike. I wonder why, and look for those characteristics that repel people. And with those that everyone likes, I look for what draws people to them.

Inspiration for scenes. I love the use of weather to ratchet up suspense. I look for the types of weather that frightens people - thunderstorms, of course, snowstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes... The types of weather that can suddenly knock out electricity and leave you in the dark, where everything appears differently. I look for places where the scenes should take place; having two talking heads throughout a book makes for a very boring one, at best. What locales would further my plot, enrich it, provide it with a distinct flavor?

Inspiration for props. We don't hear much about props in a book, but I am a very visual person. Ever watch an episode of Two and a Half Men? They sometimes meet in the kitchen while getting something out of the refrigerator, a cup of coffee, while having breakfast... Berta often is seen carrying a load of laundry through the house. These are all props. They are used in every scene to further enrich it and provide layers that make it real and interesting. In a book, it breaks up the monotony of a conversation and allows the opportunity to show more of each character and scene.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday Teaser - Dialogue

When I first began writing, I followed some great advice and began listening carefully to people talk. It wasn't just what they said that interested me, but how they said it - the accent, the regional dialect, their choice of words or lack of words. It's often a place where writers experience problems; they've been taught to write so it's grammatically correct, but dialogue usually isn't - unless you're portraying some ultra elites, which doesn't capture much of the public's interest.

Then sometimes the conversation takes a turn I didn't even suspect, and it seems almost to write itself, such as the scene below from Dylan's Song. Dylan Maguire answers a Skype call from Sam:


Dylan's cell phone rang and he reached for it, his brows furrowing. “It’s Sam on Skype.” He answered the call. “Aye?”
“Dylan, it’s Sam.”
“Aye, I know it’s Sam ‘cause I’m lookin’ at your face.”
“Whatever. Look, we’ve got a little situation.”
“Are you in the fish house?” Dylan asked, peering closely at the screen.
“Yeah. Everything’s fine. Look—”
“Is that a cat I see in the fish house?”
Sam frowned. “So what if it is?”
“Cats eat fish.”
“Not my cat. My cat does not eat fish.”
“What did you feed ‘er for breakfast?”
“Tuna, if it’s any of your business.”
“Tuna is a fish.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like these fish.”
“Does your cat know that?”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Freaky Friday - The Future of Printing

If you haven't seen a 3-D printer in action, it is well worth discovering.

Print on Demand books is currently taking place at a company level such as commercial printers and publishers. But the future holds 3-D printers for household use, which would be capable of printing an entire book complete with hard cover or paperback cover. It even creates the exact binding needed to produce a complete book that rivals those printed now through the largest companies.

But 3-D printers go far, far beyond that. Imagine anything in your home from furniture to kitchen utensils to picture frames, towels, or bedding and you get a sense of the technology coming down the pike.

They can even create objects that function - blenders, coffee makers, television sets, lamps...

Perhaps in the future, stores will be eliminated. Perhaps consumers will simply logon to the Internet, select the blueprints of the item they want, and it will download and begin to print or materialize right in the person's own home.

Think I'm talking about science fiction? Then watch this video below:



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

WIP Wednesday - The Pendulum Files

I am currently writing the fifth book in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, The Pendulum Files. It is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2014.

The Pendulum Files begins with the bombing of cargo ships heading to the United States from China. Tasked with tracking the terrorist activities back to their source, Dylan and Vicki are plunged into the world of espionage, deceit and counter-intelligence. When they discover the source of the bombings as supply shortages become increasingly more acute throughout America, they must confront their own political ideologies - and make a decision that could affect the country's future.