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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.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Does Facial Hair Matter?

Last week I posted a fun set of pictures with the same male model with different eye colors. I received so many comments about it on social media - and especially the video with the Musketeers from BBC America's hit show - that I thought I'd try another fun experiment.

This one involves facial hair, and in particular on Santiago Cabrera. Santiago plays Aramis on The Musketeers and I have to admit that he has inspired a character in a book I am currently writing, entitled The Ghosts of Brackenridge Castle.

Here is Santiago in his role as Aramis:

And clean-shaven:

With a five o'clock shadow:

With a mustache (okay, there is a bit of a beard but the mustache is more prominent):

And with a full beard:

How do you think the absence or addition of facial hair affects his appearance? Which do you prefer?

As a writer, this is just one of the characteristics I ponder about each male character.

For more information about this sexy actor, visit IMDB or BBC America's Musketeers website.

And just for fun, here are some reasons why you should love Aramis:


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Making of a Psychic - Part 18

Remote viewer or psychic spy?

This is a question our government asked themselves when they established the psychic spy program.

Concerned that the general public would not understand the use of the word "psychic" in an official government program, they came up with the term "remote viewer" - someone who views what is happening from a remote location.

In 1994, The Washington Post broke the story that the United States government was using psychics. They seemed to focus only on the negative aspects of the program and not on its successes, and because of that, many thought the program would die. However, the media storm only lasted a few days - a blink of an eye in media terms - and the program resumed just as it had before.

Although some government backers of the program initially distanced themselves out of fear of what their constituents would think of them, others rallied behind the cause. Officially, some of the programs were disbanded but in reality, other groups with more cover resumed the work.

It's important to note that psychic spies are used under strict scientific conditions, and each fact is checked by analysts and by boots on the ground. The more accurate a spy tends to be, the more assignments they receive. They also land larger and more important assignments. Those who have a rate of accuracy more in line with guessing soon find themselves out of the program.