Monday, December 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes of The Jekyll Island Enigma Creation


“...Jekyll Island is shaped like a leg of lamb.”

Some of the mind-prompts, gizmos, gadgets, maps, notes and references which supported the creation of my Jekyll Island story, are shown here.

Visiting and photographing the scenes where action takes place and assembling a collage to re-create a visual hook to hang the action on, was another essential to authenticity. I visited the site several times before it was re-opened to the public, before the story surfaced. And again as a guest at the renovated hotel, years later, I began writing the first page of the first-draft of the first chapter – and didn't stop for 800+more pages!

The hardest working item in any writer's toolbox is the 3x5 index card. I've used them for half-a-century as a journalist scribbling notes fairly unobtrusively – compared to a spiral-bound Reporter's Notebook which to often firmly closes a source's mouth when they realize; despite being cautioned, they are about to be quoted. The 3x5 is also handy for page-marking – before stick'ems were invented, flagging down a taxi (from a distance they could be mistaken for a folded Fiver), impromptu tooth-pick and crumb-brush.

They come into their own though as story-sorters, fiction or non-fiction. Any in-depth feature story with an overload of information, can be reduced to “scenes” or events written on 3x5 cards, then shuffled to get the best storyline flow.

In an intricately interwoven mufti-charactered novel like 'The Jekyll Island Enigma”, where several sub-plots and story lines are playing in concert, they become essential. They are/were, practical devices to rearrange sequences, before re-writing and re-writing reams of copy. There are electronic programs, nowadays, to capture changing structures and record variations of rewrites but – they would take ME longer to learn than to hand write.

Oh, the bicycle-helmet on my desk? That's a gift from a guy I met at the outset of his 13-year pedal around the planet. Another “The Day...”story to come ;^))

Friday, December 17, 2010

FINALLY! The Jekyll Island Enigma is out there



After 16 years, a girlfriend, two agents, one cat, two dogs, countless rewrites, critics and distractions -- its GONE!

The story-behind-the-story (I should live so long) will be entertaining backstory for the alert Hollywood scout, trapped in Atlanta's Airport this holiday period, who happens upon it via his NOOK, KINDLE or app. Recently the X-Men paid a visit to Jekyll Island, so the camera tracks are already in place ;^))

JIE was uploaded to Barnes & Nobel's PUBIT, the ebook publishing arm of the company, last night. It will eventually work its way into other electronic outlets. I'm sure book-pirates worlwide are waiting with bated breath to re-work and package it. Lottsa Luck!

Now, where did I put those paints and water-colour pencils I picked up a while ago?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Day...We Sailed Around The Lightship




Charlie Nichols was the least likely person I would ever have expected to take an interest in me.

He was the plumbing instructor at Eastbourne Technical School, one of eight institutions of higher learning I can remember attending. To this day, more than half-a-century later, I seemed an unlikely candidate for the benign attention of a school master.

Mostly it was of the ear-grabbing, ruler- whacking, bum-roasting, cane-wielding methods of retributions that Masters singled me out. Mister Nichols was a salt-and-pepper wrinkly-haired craggy red-faced character, with a permanent nose-drip, who slouch-lurched in a peculiar rolling gait. My first impression was of a local yokel, clad in a long grey workshop coat, complete with rural Sussex drawl.

His classroom/workshop was an echo-chamber barn-like space converted above the former indoor swimming pool of the prewar mansion housing the red-brick ivy-covered school. Below its reinforced wooden floor, via a trapdoor, supplies of copper and galvanized pipes were stacked in racks in the tiled pool area.

Charlie, as we referred to him amongst ourselves, would call on me to help lug supplies up into the classroom. It is possible the faculty had been warned not to let me out of their sight by “Basher” Blackwell, principal. I quickly learned the deceptive weight of a thin, pliable sheet of lead. It was like having my own personal weight-lifting trainer.

It helped build my 129-pounds frame without bulking up.(Many years later I mentioned it to Charles Atlas - billed as the “Strongest Man in the World” during what may have been his last interview, but he may have sensed his days were numbered and was more interested in religion at that time). Lifting lead prepared me for my evening job; collecting deckchairs from the beach. (Another "Day").

One perpetual trait about the building trade is that raw materials, lead and copper especially, are prime targets for thieves. Always expensive, it became almost impossible to obtain following the end of WWII. Consequently our “rations” to practice the craft of plumbing, were zealously guarded.

Mostly what I remember about the never-ending classes was the ability of a master-plumber to turn a square sheet of lead into a three-dimensional pipe by bossing it – using peculiarly-shaped wooden “mallets” above and below to bash the metal into submission and work(move) it into the required shape.

One of his showpiece exhibits Charlie would proudly show off was the work of a former apprentice who had created a replica of Eastbourne lighthouse and rocks, from a nondescript slab of lead. All I can recall of my efforts to produce a T-joint plumbing fixture was; I probably created a new letter in the alphabet!

So it was a complete surprise when one Friday workshop session he asked me if I would be available the next day to be his crew aboard a dingy to go sailing. I had no idea it would be the start of a lifelong love/hate relationship with pointy-ended rag-bags extending to the present.

The sea, ships, and an abstract yearning to join the navy if I ever completed the endless sentence of school, always lurked in the recesses of my mind. While other kids floundered about when asked by adults, parents and relative the inevitable questions: “What are you going to do when you leave school?” I responded with alacrity: “Join the navy.”

At that time, in my mind's eye, the Royal Navy ruled the waves and England ruled the world with its far-flung colonies and Empire being touched by sunrise and sunset around the globe.

The fact that we “rulers” were still surviving on ration cards and shortages and meat, butter and eggs still a luxury, didn't enter my mind. It had always been thus for me, growing up during the Blitz to D-Day and beyond.

Near the Redoubt, a fortress created on my south coast home town to thwart the ambitions of Napoleon a couple of centuries earlier, the sleek, colorful light-weight carvel and hard-chine boats of The Eastbourne Yacht Club nestled on the beach above the high-tide mark.

Charlie's heavy clinker-built center-board dinghy was a sturdy working boat appropriate to the tenets and tenants of The Artisans Boat Club. It was built beyond the public bathing beaches and esplanade. Beyond the Fishing Club, the bowling greens, the tennis courts. Even further away than the black-tarred fisherman's shacks, lifeboat station and fleet of heavy-duty fishing boats.

The Club sat on the edge of the Crumbles, miles and miles of stones and shingle, reinforced concrete piles of uprooted invasion barricade blocks and tank-traps. Within sight and smell of the tip where refuse and garbage was dumped, and we went rummaging and ratting on a Saturday morning, before cinema matinees replaced that activity.

Of all the four-letter words I picked up from the artisans, POSH was not one of them, when referring to themselves or the organization.

Charlie patiently explained the difference between lines and ropes and halliards, port and starboard, fore and aft, cleats and pulleys, life-jackets-proper-use-of and where they were stowed, the centerboard trunk, and most important, the bailing-pan-cum-pee-can.

Luckily the tide was high so the group of of club members, wives, kids and onlookers were not required to help us launch, and could comfortably watch as Charlie clambered aboard and I waded crotch-deep into the chilly English Channel keeping the dinghy's nose facing into the breaking waves.

Charlie's purple face and open mouth urged me in nautical terms; not used in his classroom, to clamber aboard as he tightened up on the jib and mainsail and kneed the tiller over to get the dink under way.

A teeth-chattering soggy whirlwind launch became a sauna bath of satisfaction following dozens of rapid-fire orders and instructions to prevent broaching, being headed by the brisk breeze fetching across the mud-gray water. A cacophony of slapping canvas sails, whipping sheets, creaking boom working its neck around leather-collar on the mast when we took our first tack, moved from hell to heaven as the little craft dug her keel into the waves and lifted her bow toward the open sea.

For one blissful moment it was akin to flying.

Then, the chorus of commands and task of unraveling a tangle of bristling hemp and cord, preparatory to our next tack to avoid stout oak groynes looming dead ahead.

There was so much going on, and Charlie's boat was so lively, I never had the faintest inclination to react to the dreaded mal de mer. That would come later, when I sailed with Charlie, his friend the master boat-builder aboard his 30-foot open-deck pride and joy, the builders son and former schoolmate, and one of my current school's architecture masters,

Nothing like a quality audience to applaud the anticipated performance of leaning over the side and “Calling for Ralph”.

Sadly for them, the day we rounded the red-painted “Royal Sovereign” lightship a few miles off-shore, in a stiff breeze which put white caps of foamy surf atop the pea-green seas, I quelled the reaction to a queasy stomach.

However, the motion, the high spray coming over the bow and occasional wallop as a rogue cross-sea struck the heeling vessel, triggered an urgent desire to pee.

No way could I could brace against the lee gunnel, winkle out my shriveled member and let loose downwind under the the gaze of that crew.

As I bailed ankle-deep water from the bilges, and the pee-can floated by, I realized everyone aboard was soaked to the skin. And nobody had taken a leak during the entire two-hour haul.

I don't know if they all had cast-iron bladders or what but I resolved to christen the new boat in a unique personal manner. Once the thought entered my mind, it was just a matter of timing – a shuddering smack and a quartering sea flung a sheet of water inboard to cascade in a stream across us.

Amongst all the yelping and joshing, with their minds and activities directed elsewhere, I experienced the nirvana wet-suit divers in frozen waters briefly enjoy. For a long moment I was warm, again. Before the next wave flushed the brief euphoria away.

I'll always remember the day we rounded the lightship – but probably not for the same reason the others did.

Ends...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Cold Is It? DON'T Ask!



That angled water in the bird-bath - an inch thick - is showing no signs of melting at 2 pm in time for tonight's hard-freeze warning. Brass monkeys, real or mythical, had better watch out. It's definately going to be a high-shrinkage night!

The "Good News" is, clients attending our impromptu "Bird, Bath & Spa" facilities appear to be mixing well, amicably sharing the dining facilities without to much squawking and joining forces to fend off agressive interlopers. Rabbits and squirrels are also being kept at bay by Basher, who's presence on deck is a useful deterrent, asleep or awake.

While hawks, and an occassional eagle, circle within eyesight, they have not moved in on the small-fry - yet!

So far the "dripping-tap" ploy seems to have worked, in preventing stilled water in pipes, from freezing and bursting.

And it isn't even Winter (officially) until Next WEEK!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Freezing in Florida - Foraging For Food: Original Snowbirds



Long before man set foot in Florida, the early snowbirds flocked here to escape the killer cold up north.

Man might have hacked through forest and prairie to create routes between communities, bringing concrete and blacktop in his wake. But in the process the shallow run-off ponds created new habitates for all manner of wildlife.

So a flood solution for some, becomes a snowbird smorgasbord for others.

Nice!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

All In Favor Say - SHUT UP!

(Roll Of DRUMS)
There's one piece of legislation headed for President Obama's desk all TV viewers want him to sign: Senate Bill 2847 – the CALM ( Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act.

Normally my hearing is pretty good, although it can't beat my dog's. His ears perk up when I'm merely thinking about going to the refrigerator door. But for most purposes, they work fine.

Maybe its a sign of aging but I've recently become aware the background music on television shows becomes thunderous right at the point of denouement.

I might have invested 47.5 minutes listening to a cop show, clicking the MUTE button of the remote when commercials begin their blaring pitch. Apart from shrieking at the screen when a character pulls some dumb-ass stunt: “Whatever you do, do NOT follow me into the Creature's Cave” or “... go down that dark passage...or enter the door leading to the cellar.” These are typical stunts written into the script to carry an audience through a chatty conversation about which detergent whitens Billy's skid-mark skivvies brighter.

The dog is pacing to go out, the digital clock indicates the show's time-slot is running out and denouncement is poised on the lips of the "never-fail to find the culprit" detective and:

BRRrrrrooom (drum-roll)...Crash of cymbal...Shriek of violins and, for good measure, an electronic tweaking vibrator.”

ALL speech is drowned out!

No matter how many times one stops play, re-winds the action to replay the sequence over and over and over, those elusive vital words drown in sound. The motive will never be known, due to the crescendo of noise at the end of the show.

Unfortunately, its seems to be prevalent in all suspense shows, when the action and background music clash at the cliff-hanger end of a segment. The current crop of mumbling actors doesn't help, either.

I recently attended the latest “Harry Potter” flick. I chose a Tuesday afternoon matinee when the auditorium is normally near empty.

Its safer that way.

The last time I went to the movies for an evening performance, noises in front and behind the seat overpowered on-screen action. A group of late-arrivals who appeared in the early minutes of plot setting, then held a megaphone discussion about which row of seats to clamber through, and whether they had enough popcorn to munch on for an hour-and-a-half, got me so wound up I missed the first half-hour of the movie. I was to busy mind-plotting various imaginary painful demises of the theatre's patrons.

And that was before the ubiquitous cell-phone era!

Nowadays, I either go solo or with carefully selected, non-talking viewers. I may make an annual visit to view in peace, a big-screen event.

However, during the Potter event at the last minute, before the interminable string of previews for films to come flashed on screen, two single moms and their knee-high toddlers, occupied half-a-dozen seats half-way along the center-aisle rows.

Every few seconds their movement; bobbing up and down retrieving items from the diaper and feed-bags, or reclaiming infant mountaineers scaling seat-backs, were a distraction.

Tension build-up, waiting for the first squawk, yelp or howl to burst from the mouths of little children, was on par with a Hitchcock classic scene buildup.

The shrieks, when they came, could not be submerged even under the surround-sound clash and thunder accompanying bursts of energy and destruction from wands waved between friend and foe in the Potter saga.

I don't know why or when deafened sound-engineers turned the volume up to compensate for their physical ailments, but theorize they are all suffering from cell-phone brain-wave meltdown. Or hip-hop headphone burnout, and are compensating for their loss of hearing.

At this stage the antique home-stereo with yesterdays records, cassettes and CD's providing background white-noise, and books, where every word can be “heard”,are beginning to look better all the time.

If I could just get the neighbor's dog to shut up!

Ends...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hang In There - It Gets Better



In UK the world is white and gray.In Florida grass is brown, oranges snap-crackle-pop with frost and winter is just getting under way.

Time for a booster-shot of better days ahead, like this warm and fuzzy photo of the promise of Spring shown in these bluebell woods. Sent by an avid green-thumber, she's hunkered down in Soham waiting-out the winter - and hoping to dodge any home-grown murderers.

Enjoy! It makes a great desktop screen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

IMAGINE - with a tip of the hat to John Lennon

Earlier I posted links (forwarded to me) on Facebook and Email boards to share these unusual methods of spreading some holiday cheer – despite the blatant commercialism almost overwhelming the spirit. You don't have to be any/or to enjoy the JOY!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSFv6IjEKo4&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE

ps: any/all other denominations – WELCOME!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Tequila Sunrise to Remember



With holidays and partying just around the corner I'm reminded of a Tequila Sunrise I'd as soon forget.

It seemed like a "good idea" at the time - following a tequila quaffing contest - to drive along Florida's sandy Atlantic beach to see a rocket launch from Cape Kennedy/Canaveral.

Worked out fine until we ran into a patch of soft-sand at Sebastian Inlet. The fishermen were highly amused as they watched, without moving a bait-bucket to help, while we hugged and tugged to no avail.

There's something about frequent dousing of gallons of sea water, while trying vainly to stop waves swamping in the Volkswagen windows. It can sober one up in a hurry. I'm the hirsute one playing King Canute until the tow-truck arrived - while the driver/owner was hopping around taking pictures for insurance company records.

Learned a couple of valuable life lessons from that experience:

* PAY insurance bills on time. Missing the deadline resulted in - no settlement.

* Don't drive when drunk - unless you want to end up in the DRINK.

Enjoy - and take care!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Traditional American Indian Pow-Wow Is No Disney Show


Had a rare chance, Saturday, to meet some real McCoy American Indians at their annual post-Thanksgiving Pow-Wow just down the road from Fort McCoy. The fort doesn't come up in conversation much, due to it being built during the late Seminole Wars. Maybe coincidentally, the only Florida-based Seminole faces I saw were on Harley-Davidson biker tee-shirts worn by tourists...



However, there was no lack of traditional costumes displayed in a kaleidoscope of prime contrasting colors, set off by home-made trinkets and jewelry wrought from metals, mirrors and glass. Feathers and furs mixed with leather and spurs, bound by intricately patterned beaded belts. Tassels and fringes, bones and bells decorated vests, dresses and boots.

Sometimes a mix of old with new caused a double-take like when a warrior rolled back a leather amulet to peek at a digital wrist-watch, or a basket-weaving squaw, cross-legged on a blanket, took a sip of coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

Hereditary roles of Chiefs and Princesses have been replaced, in large part, by democratically elected tribal leaders...so I was told. The times, they are a'changing...

An adult raven-haired Ohioan, her hair plaited to drape at bosom level, recalled less festive times as the family odd-duck – all her sisters inherited red hair from their Irish/Indian parents. In the school playground the prejudices of the times tempered her into a strong independent woman. She is heard daily by drivers stuck in traffic and housewives watching the Soaps on television, in a variety of voice-over advertisements.. Her “Oxford English” accent would make a Cockney blush but she's not afraid to try - anything.

The folklorists reciting stories of bears and the great Spirit, or singers lamenting lost loves and hard times, were a prelude to thundering drums and chanting voices raised above the cheers and clapping of the crowd, following the silent parade of all flags: American, Tribal, Memorial flags wereborn aloft by veterans of current wars in honor of the warriors from many wars.

Quite amazing. The real McCoy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tempus Bl**dy Fugit, eh!



On my way back from Thanksgiving dinner, with leftovers still to be consumed, this over-the-top display of colored-light-bulb wealth lit up the highway for all to see a grand display of conspicuous (power) consumption.
Am I getting older quicker or is the world spinning faster?
I guess next week it'll be time to display the Easter Bunny!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why Hardcopy Books - not Nooks - Will Outlast Us All






Its been an interesting writerly week talking about just about everything BUT writing, to writers.
The first session was at the invitation of Dr. Maureen Jung, a recent transplanted California communications expert http://www.wordspringconsulting.com/about.html, who's drawing poets, pundits and potential writers into the FWA network
The premise of the chat was: will electronic tablets take over the writer's world – or will hard-copy books survive. As a writer and purveyor of books over the decades I spent an hour, demonstrating with papyrus, parchment, rag and wood pulp why they have – and will - outlast plasma screens. I had no idea, until I saw the photos taken with my camera by artist/writer/builder and pizza-creator buddy “Doc” Heman Harris, how animated I become when talking.
And on Saturday (Nov.20, 2010) I joined a panel sponsored by the St. Augustine FOL and FWA Steering Committee discussing the state of modern publishing. It was guided by FWA NE-District leader and author Vic Digenti. Also author Tim Robinson and Writer/Publishers Mike King (ClearView Press); Bill Reynolds (High Pitched Hum); with Barnes & Noble ebook/Nook expert Brad West. Members from both St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra groups crammed the room, and peppered the panel with a lively Q&A session.
Stay tuneed to FWA...there's more to come!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Florida Does Too Have Fall!



Folks who only ever see sand, sea and palm trees don't believe the seasonal changes Floridians experience. But, facing half-an-acre of fallen leaves scheduled to be raked up, I'm a believer!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Starting Is Not For Sissies


A couple of decades ago when I wrote a boaty column for the Palm Beach Post, as light relief from chasing cops and criminals on the south Florida police beat, I was given the "honor" of starting the International Off-Shore Power Boat Races from Miami to Palm Beach and back.

Millions of dollars worth of boats with a crew of three were churning up the sea maneuvering for position, waiting for the pace-boat I was aboard to lead the pack and for the checkered flag to be lowered for the START signal...by me!

Earlier, writing an advance piece, I'd spoken with an off-shore driver who told me harrowing stories of crews breaking limbs as the hulls became airborne and smacked into waves – solid as concrete. He airily told me they sometimes dumped the guy overboard, in a life jacket, for the chase-boat to pick up.
“Saves time and gas.”he shrugged.

As our pace-boat picked up speed and I firmly grasped the pole sporting the flag, it flapped noisily and tugged for freedom. What started as a -- “ Don't go over the side” joke -- shouted by fellow news-jockeys bouncing on the slick vinyl stern seats, soon took on elements of scary reality.

The hull lifted and smacked with increasing speed as bow-waves of pursuing boats poured on the gas, inching throttles of mega-horse-power engines, forward. Noisy cracking flaps from the black-and-white flag overhead, mixing with shrieked conversations between committee members arguing about knots, distances, wind and time, whipped back along with stinging spray from our bow waves.

The flag and pole, once bravely held aloft and anchored by my 150-pound frame, wobbled and staggered as the pace-boat bounced from wave to wave.

White, and some pale-green faces, stared up at me as journalists and PR hacks jounced around. I mouthed the word HELP several times before fingers grasped my shirt, shorts, whatever, to keep me anchored aboard. Other hands grabbed the wavering flagpole dangerously close to the area where I tried to clamp it in what I call my “fireman-sliding-down-a-pole” grip.

Suddenly, as the white bones-in-the-teeth of a thundering fleet of throttle-gunning powerboats threatened to over-run our churning wake, the inaudible shrieks from forward were reinforced by a power-horn blast signaling -- START!

We'all collapsed in a heap, the checked flag was lowered, the fleet pounced forward and we were drenched in a deluge of crisscrossing waves which tossed our slower pace boat about like a ping-pong ball in a washing machine.

I politely declined the honor next year, to repeat my role!

This link MAY take you to a few hairy moments recorded in recent races http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oBr8bHuZ1k&feature=player_embedded

Ends...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Today is History - Tomorrow

Does anyone remember wooden radios powered by glass batteries? Money in the meter for gas or electricity...mail delivery three times a day...doctor house-calls...the BBC Nine o'clock news before lights out, electric devices unplugged, doors bolted and so to bed.
In today's 24/7 world of several hundred television and cable stations available via cable or satellite dish, it's difficult to recall the era when BBC or Networks ruled the waves. Most everyone in the land knew the catch-phrase of the day or season, most could discuss an episode of a favorite show broadcast the night before, and most knew the current stars on the tiny Black & White screen.
For the life of me, if called upon today, I could not name one song in the top ten. For a million dollars, if asked to name Hip-Hop Royalty, it would have to be Eminem – the only one I know.
Its my personal belief the remote-control is a major cause of obesity, followed by addiction to FaceBook and its ilk which keeps lard-ass's glued to the couch or seat for days on end.
For the most part, neighborhood streets remain deserted of kids playing stick ball, kick the can, hop-scotch, rope-skip, tennis-ball-tag, hide-and-seek and a dozen other activities designed to blow off steam before the call to come home echoed from house to house.
All the above sparked by a comment in the supermarket checkout lane to the bag-boy stuffing 16 items into 16 plastic bags.
“What a waste. Why don't you combine some of this into fewer bags,” I ask, deftly tucking the counter-load into two handfuls instead of arms-full.
“In my day” (harrumph added) “we all had our own shopping bags. Walked or rode bicycles everywhere and were lucky to get one or two stations on our steam radio!”
“Steam radio? Wow! For real?”
Behind me a geezer using a shopping cart as a walker, turns a laugh into a cough and gives me a knowing look.
I'd like to be there when the kid asks his mom about that one..

ends...

Friday, November 5, 2010

It Could Be Verse...

It wasn't even a “Poetry Slam”, from what I gather, just the regular Thursday night session of poets reciting.
But the bare emotions displayed in verse have to be right up there with conversations overheard in a therapist's or psychologist's study.
Moving, raw, personal emotions aired in public for any casual spectator to tune in to.
Stories of infidelities and thwarted longings. Of pride and praise for a family raised and hopes dashed. Love crushed under a constant stream of abuse and scorn piled on the prime breadwinner of the family by an ambitious daughter and dissatisfied wife.
Stuff I'd normally only hear from close friends – he's or she's – when in their cups and inhibitions were set free by booze or dope. I'd warrant, more confessions are spilled in a bar than are heard by occupants of cubicles in houses of worship.
When I was finally dragged to a poet's night out, as a morale-boosting escort to a frequent recital cop-out, I was expecting "moons" and "Junes", butterflies and puppy dogs, puffy white clouds pinned on blue skies, rising sun rays lighting dewdrops on leaves or a green flash from the last glimmer of sunlight as the molten orb sizzles into the sea.
Not a laundry list of workaday woes, deep desires and tirades against everything from cell-phone usage to wars of conquest and assaults of corporate cash to buy elections.
Ginsberg's “Howl” would have felt right at home, inside the Gainesville university city Civic Media Center last night, after carefully stepping over and around recumbent figures of the homeless, They clustered in doorways and on the sidewalk wrapped in blankets, waiting for the benevolence of strangers to bring hot meals on the first cold-snap night of the winter of 2010.
Including, a poetry perfect tan puppy curled comfortably in the warm fetal cave provided by its new master, camped on the sidewalk.

Ends...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Inspiration & Perspiration – Pen Mightier Than Sword?



A roomful of white-haired wannabe and real writers sat in awe Sunday, soaking up the words of a two-time Top-Ten NYT best-selling author telling them how she did it.

The 16-year-old - that's right, SIXTEEN YEAR OLD - writer who's still attending high school in Gainesville, Florida, has published two books (“Swordbird” and its prequel “Sword Quest”) which have received world-wide circulation and acclaim by children and adults. The first book, written when she was 13, made her the youngest best-selling author in the history of publisher, HarperCollins.

Her fantasy world, of talking birds who enjoy a chat and a spot of acorn-tea but sometimes have to take up arms to fend off evil, is her “Peace” story response to the New York twin towers tragedy of 9/11. She and her family, then living up-state, had viewed the city from the observation tower in the summer. Her book, she told a rapt audience, was inspired by that attack and a dream she about birds facing evil.

The articulate, animated, young writer reeled of a work and achievement roster which drew “aahhs” and “ooohs” from the mostly sedentary audience with grandchildren older than the speaker. Her poise, focus, and enthusiasm for all the tasks she has taken on from piano, math, science, ballet, psychology and sword-fighting energized the somewhat somnolent audience. It could barely contain itself, itching to pepper her with questions at the conclusion of her address.

Did I mention she was a seven-year-old who only wrote and spoke Chinese when she entered the United States. She has since translated the English text of her book into Chinese to reach HarperCollins' expanded market. And, between gearing up for exams to enter college where she plans to obtain degrees in biochemistry and comparative literature, she's preparing a sequel to round out the trilogy.

Hey ho...back to the drawing-board!

Nancy's website link http://sites.google.com/site/wwwswordbird/index.htm

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sweet Surprise


Despite a brown thumb, my garden sometimes forgives and rewards my intention, if not my ability. Thank you.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Rat (Island) Race Awaits Beyond The Morning Mist



A misty morning on the marsh - a portend of the morning.

It is written, in the book of "Murphy's Law".

The wind shall desist on the date of the annual Decanter Challenge Regatta -- organized by the Palatka, Rat Island Yacht Club -- and, preferably, competitors will face an incoming tide the length of the 24-mile course before dropping the hook for a dutch treat dinner, a crystal decanter and a handshake.

And so it came to pass, Saturday, October 23, 2010 as 18 sailboats maneuvered for position near the starting line between market #48 and the committee-boat.
Yachts tacked and turned, spilling what wind their was from their sails to avoid a false start, before the sequence of colored flags and air-horn warnings marked the moment...they were off!


Slightly faster than the speed of growing grass, with more hot air passing between kamikaze crews (as hulls passed each other with barely a gel-coat thickness between them) than the apparent breeze, they headed for the unseen finish line.

The St. Johns River has the distinction of being the only north-flowing river in Florida. People in this hemisphere seem to think going South is downhill (tourist drivers heading North after their vacation, tend to lean forward). However, the St. John's connection to the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, a major US Navy seaport city, allows for a tidal-flow which influences the waters more than fifty miles up/downstream.

“Stink-Pot” and “Rag-Bag” are some of the kinder words exchanged between power boat operators and sailors, especially when fishermen pick up the scent of a fish kill and pour on the coals to get to where they want to go – while a white-knuckle yacht-helmsman who has strategically placed his crew to achieve a delicate balance to maintain a wind-slot and make his rhumb line, blocks his way – and a rooster-tail followed by a mountainous wake throws everything akimbo.

At those times, the air can match the blue of the sky!

There's nothing quite like messing about in boats.

Especially, on a weekend.

Ends..

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shuttle's Last Launch Sparks Many Memories

Sometime soon the last shuttle launch into space will fire off from Cape Canaveral, a couple of hundred miles south of here.

I'll wave as it goes my backyard just before the separation of booster tanks from rocket in a sequence we all, now, think of as being routine.




An earlier daytime launch seen from my backyard


But back in the days building up to its first launch of Columbia more than a quarter of a century ago, (April 12, 1981) the World was still excited about the race into space. A decade earlier (1969) Neil Armstrong became the first man in (known) history to step onto the moon's surface. I'm willing to bet, very few Floridians will forget where they were when THAT happened. One of the better “I remember when...” memory moments.

Due to its proximity and frequency of flights over the years, we became blase about launches from the Cape, until that dreadful crisp October morning in 1986 when Challenger exploded killing all seven astronauts aboard..

I was at a West Palm Beach marina helping a good friend (now departed) and skipper of a 54-foot corporate yacht top up his tanks when there was a commotion on a nearby boat.

“The goddamn shuttle just blew up!”

A guy hurled himself from the cabin of the sleek Rybovich sports fishing boat on the next dock, scrabbling for his binoculars.

He didn't need them.

Seemingly just north of overhead the bright clear blue sky was marred by a cluster of white vapor trails expanding outward from a dark central cloud. Miniscule black objects rained down, leaving faint trails behind, like the world's largest Fourth of July rocket exploding in daylight.

It was the world's largest rocket – to carry human beings on its back into space.

Disasters before and after that date have marred the unbelievable 20th Century exploration of outer space during my lifetime. No doubt further progress will leave more memorable milestones behind.

Hopefully the final launch of Discovery and recovery will merely be a sigh of relief at safely marking its date in history.

http://www.nasa.gov/missions/highlights/schedule.html

Ends...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Creating Character Traits and Banishing Brainstrain Blues

The fellow holding the floor at last night's writer's group is a brain trainer. He makes a comfortable living instructing folks of all ages and abilities how to get rid of brain flab and turn those little grey cells into a lean, mean thinking machine.

As a fiction writer who spends a lot of time getting into the mind of my characters – before they take over and run me – Matthew Barrett showed short-cut brain exercises to tweak the thought process so the cut-to-the-chase “caveman” mentality does not override creativity, with practicality.

Physically Matthew, who directs kids and corporate clients to train thier brains to retain information by skewing basic logic patterns, is not a powerful dominating figure. He later admitted to having an innate fear of meeting people on a face-to-face basis. But, by training his brain to be accept he knows more about his subject than his audience, he is confident enough to control and hold center stage.

It was one of the many exercises he explained and espoused during an hour-plus talk and interactional session conducted during the dinner hour at the noisy McAlsister (Scottish/Jewish?) Deli in Fleming Island, just south of Jacksonville, Florida.

He cajoled, teased and tested his audience with facts, fables and riddles before setting them up for a “writerly” task; create a cast of characters for a story which may never be written.

He distributed sheets of paper containing a dozen pre-printed blank data files with the following sub-heads:

Name:...........................Age.....
Occupation/Role.........................
Traits:(Phy.)............Per(sonal).....
Notes:(i.e.)loud,Walmart Greeter,.......
Kleptomaniac, Hooker...etc..............

Names were selected at random from a telephone book (which pegged an instant image in many minds) and, by working the room, additional data was extracted from writers present – and that's when the fight started (joke).

The cardboard characters created by names began to take on “living” persona as they acquired layers of personality. Mini-groups within the gathering humorously or dolefully created and voiced their own soap-opera versions of actions/reactions likely amongst the make-believe cast presented.

Within the space of twenty minutes or so a gathering of writers were discussing, some quite heatedly, the life stories and styles of figments of their collective imagination.

All the brainchildren of a mild mannered brainiac adept at teaching CEO's how to control short-term memory loss so they can remember – where they put their reading glasses.

For more info check http://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/stories/2010/09/20/smallb1.html

Ends...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sack-Races Granny Never DREAMED About...

Just when you think you've seen it all...



I don't think the Florida “Cracker” Cowboy has changed much since being recorded in the Charles Russell and Frederick Remington era. But the games we played as kids, have certainly been tweaked into “Extreme Sport” mode.



Who ever would have though the innocuous-sounding “Sack-Race” could be cranked up a notch or two into the sort of exhibit I saw today at a St. Johns County rural event.




Yeeeehaaaw !

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wish I had This Sign at the Old Book Shop




As a former bookshop owner I firmly believed children of a certain age and disposition should be parked outside the shop, or allowed to play in traffic, before entering my Old Book Shop http://anoldbooklook.com/about.asp (note the little kinder clambering up the shelves in window-painting)

Along with a sign on the door reading: "Open by Appointment - or Chance" I had another which told callers: "Buyers Welcome, Browers Tolerated, Children @#!!$". Most parents got the message and sent the potential book-destroyer and shelf-mountaineer,(think Richmal Crompton's WILLIAM) off with their other half.

Except the fairly distinguished chap who entered one day with a child who had the control of spit on a skillet. I lasted an agonizing 23.01 seconds before cornering and confronting the Young Master and told him unless he treated my precious tomes with respect, he would be ejected. Asking what he was interested in - cowboys, war,seriel-killers, I selected an appropriate book, and seated him on a stool across from my desk.

Papa, poking around somewhere in the stacks in the back, emerged a while later with a puzzled frown, glanced at his wide-eyed son clutching a book, thought better of it, paid for his puchase and left - hurridly.

Years later, said gent and his college-age son returned to my Palm Beach shop. The youth nodded briefly then quietly browsed the stock. Papa smiled and said, before dissapearing to rummage amongst the stacks: "Thank you. He's never forgotten his last visit here."

That was the last time I ever saw the former Canadian Inspector General, and his son.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dang Paparazzi -- Again!



A quiet, innocent conversation in an out-of-the-way cafe between yours truly and Rick Sapp, prolific author/editor of things that go BANG! were captured on camera by enterprising Gainesville's WUFT student roving reporters looking for copy.

If they'd only known...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pubit! puts it in (digital) Print - soon...


In a "test-drive" of Barnes & Noble's new entry into the E-publishing world, I submitted my short story (part of a proposed book with the tag "The Day...[Fill in the Blanks])

It ain't pretty in the preview, just basic typewritten copy, until I figure out the tweaks/program/method needed to navigate the space/indent/format the typeface protocols BUT - it should appear in a NOOK near you - sometime in the next day or so!
(see below)

Congratulations!
Bela Lugosi - in the FLESH! is on its way!
Check back in 24-72 hours to see it available for sale on BN.com.
To make changes to this title after it goes on sale, visit the My Titles tab to access and edit your eBook.

Hmmnnn...if that had been my "Great American Novel" it'd be "on-the-shelf" in time for the Holidays ;^))

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bela Lugosi – In the FLESH!

By JACK OWEN

Halloween masks depicting Dracula cannot match the real thing - on the fright-scale.

This is not a tall tale but a true story (would I lie?) about a misadventure half a century ago when it seemed like a good idea to play hooky from school.

Today, the prank would probably land me in juvenile court. At the time (1951) my absence from the assigned classroom desk on a Wednesday afternoon, barely raised an eyebrow.

Traditionally shops in Britain closed for a half-day Wednesday.

It was part of the long established retail custom of creating as much confusion and inconvenience to customers as humanly possible. Shops closed at lunchtime to avoid the annoyance of interruptions by the rest of the population, trying to buy food or clothing between the hours of 9 am. and 5 pm.

Sundays, everything was closed all day.

Home Economics classes at the nearby girls’ school concentrated more on plans of attack and ploys to shop for groceries, than actually cooking any food obtained. Which probably created a correlation between classes taught and the quality of meals served at home. Usually “something” on toast!

The poorer plodding relatives in our extended family group were all in the retail sector. Our rich relatives, who had homes with telephones and cars in the driveway, were stage, film and sports personalities.

My retail-working mother, whose brief high-kicking days in the chorus line of “No, No Nanette” were doomed when it was discovered she had two left feet, was totally star-struck.

Routinely I’d be hoiked out of school Wednesday afternoons to meet a “visiting relative”, at a matinee stage or movie performance somewhere. I never knew – to this day – which of the figures in films shown on the big screen were “real” uncles and aunts.

Names like Ida Lupino and Bonar Colleano didn’t sound very English to me, but I was told they were stage-names of relatives. It made sense, at the time. My mother regularly used four created first names of her own - and she only sat in the audience.

One of my ukulele-playing uncles, who appeared on the same bill as a well-known music-hall black-face comic, told me the comedian was traveling to London to meet his first agent but hadn’t settled on a stage name.

It was an inspirational journey. When he got off the train he’d adopted the stage name Nosmo King from the stern British Railway’s notice he’d spotted in his Third Class carriage, “No Smoking”.

Occasionally diminutive copies of the giant faces and physiques I’d seen on the movie screen would appear at my grandmother’s for dinner. The only one’s I was fairly sure were blood relatives would be those I’d seen on-stage and in their dressing rooms.

And, when they were “resting” between engagements at our house. The strain of performing must have been harsh. Some “rested” at my grandmother’s for several months at a time.

The modus operandi established by dear old mum suddenly jelled in my mind’s eye when, instead of trying to solve an algebra problem at school, I developed a ruse to see Bela Lugosi in the flesh performing his classic role as “Dracula”.
Convincing a stuttering friend - who had little ability to express his doubts - it would be an educational excursion, we slipped away from school during lunch break.
Most of the matinee audience at Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre, fortunately, was too stiff of limb to clamber up three flights of concrete steps to the gods. The dark and foreboding stairwell was dimly lit by old-fashioned sputtering gaslights.
We had the section all to ourselves and plunked down in balcony front-row seats just as the house-lights dimmed.
Ages before the Beatles long locks style arrived in the USA, most UK schoolboys either looked like short-sighted sheepdogs peering through a mop of hair, or wore the pudding-basin-cropped model.
During Lugosi’s chilling performance mine, I was assured, looked like I’d put my finger in an electric outlet. It could have been a prototype for an Afro as Dracula, the personification of evil, commanded the stage just an outstretched hand away.
My mate, naturally tongue-tied, sat enthralled and agog throughout the performance. [He was so impressed at seeing a live performance he later took elocution lessons and speech therapy. His on-stage delivery is now powerful enough to blow a fuse in devices used by the hard of hearing.]
Courage flowed back into our veins as Dracula was dispatched with a stake through the heart. An almost visible tension ebbed from the audience as the curtain dropped.
Time was flying if we were to leave the theatre and merge with the school letting-out crowd to successfully complete our escapade without discovery. We inched toward the exit sign, clapping all the way as performers stepped forward to take their bows.
Lugosi moved toward the footlights, bloodied lips curling back on his pale death-mask face acknowledging the ovation. The curtain closed behind him. He held up his hands, silencing the applause.
His heavy Hungarian accented tones, mimicked into mockery in a multitude of movies, echoed throughout the theatre.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” he said pleasantly. ”Just a word before you go. We hope the memories of Dracula and Renfield won’t give you bad dreams, so just a word of reassurance.”
We hovered at the exit, loath to miss a moment. One foot on the concrete steps, the other on theatre carpet. “When you get home tonight, and the lights have been turned out, and you are afraid to look behind the curtains,” his voice became somber, his face screwed into a snarl. “And you dread to see a face appear at the window...why, just pull yourself together and remember that…”
He pulled his cloak around himself bringing his arms up toward menacing fangs. House-lights dimmed, the spotlight emphasizing his hypnotic eyes.
“… after all there are such things… heh, heh, heh…” he flung his arms wide, displaying the crimson lining of his cape, cackled and…
FLASH!
A blinding light burned into my retinas as he disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The audience shrieked.
But not as loud, or as long, as two terrified schoolboys plunging headlong into wavering shadows cast by flickering gaslights screaming all the way down three flights of stairs and still running way, way, into the parking lot.
Scary Halloween masks?
Bah!
They’re nothing, compared to Lugosi – in the flesh!


One of many chapters recalled in the forthcoming book
“The Day...The Cat Sneezed Its Nose Off”

Monday, October 4, 2010

A pre-paparazzi "piss-off" picture



Martha Parish was surprised at my response to society photographer the late Mort Kaye, when he snapped this pic of us in the Celebrity Room at the Royal Poinciana Theatre, while Ted Kennedy was holding forth nearby. But it wasn't the reason she fired me at the end of the season.

Years later, after she married Nixon's psychiatrist and I worked for her ex-husband Pat, we mused about the woman who had screwed both of us!

Mort, who I clashed/joshed with over the decades, gave me some sound advice before I bought my last boat - DON'T! I should have listened to him. This was a guy who showed up for his shooting gigs - in his own Rolls-Royce.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Contrasting Writers II



Two disparate writerly events bracketed a Saturday outing, each inspirational for seperate reasons.
First on the agenda was the family-style lunchtime launch of a quartet of youngish writers calling themselves “The Rogues Gallery Writers”. The mug-shot of Michael Ray King, Tracy McDurmon, Rebekah Hunt Scott and Jeff Swesky shows a villainous Central Casting group of Al Capone characters posed for posterity.
They are all contributors to an anthology of disparate short stories built around the book title “Writing Is Easy”, It ain't, as each of the stories explains with an explanation behind the inspiration – and a short Q&A post-script.
The premise of the book is to encourage writers of any genre or level to tweak their work into print asap – following critiques and reviews by peers.
Many feedback folk attended the launch in a tucked-away family operated “Taste of Portugal” restaurant in a (comparatively) new community of Palm Coast. The buffet-style lunch for the launch did NOT contain a single sardine, but a family helper smiled widely at the recollection of days gone by when Portuguese fishing fleets spanned the Atlantic seaboard, filling their holds with finned silver.
Book sales, signings, readings, seated around tables sharing a meal and shop-talk gossip – and the latest antics of kids – gave the launch a sense of a familial gathering far more so than most writerly events. To soon to say whether the contents live up to the promotion, but there's a taster of things to come via Openavein.com
Later in the day, under the lengthening live oak and Spanish moss shadows of a brief Florida twilight, art and SciFi aficionados gathered at the Bellamy Road Gallery venue in the historic community of Melrose, to hear from Joe Haldeman. http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/joe-w-haldeman/
The Nebula and Hugo award winning writer of a couple of dozen books, some translated into 20-plus other languages and his opus “The Forever War” now in its 35th year of continuous publication, held forth on the links between art and writing.
His address launched a series of programs planned by the gallery, beginning with next week's “Other Worlds” opening Oct, 9.
Using slides from many book and magazine covers, some from the lurid era big-breasted, scantily clad heroines of the pulp-fiction era, he held his audience captive for an hour or more.
Each of the illustrations had a story behind it; some were the genesis of a contracted story ordered by an editor; who's arty girlfriend may have pressed to have published. Others were fought or wept over when the finished item was presented in a fiat accompli – before Joe's literary clout was taken into account.
His lynchpin work which eventually won him recognition – and a handy teaching gig at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – was rejected by 18 publishing house, he said.
Eventually printed by an empathetic publisher, the low-key, un-SciFi cover of worlds as grains of sand running through an hour-glass, fooled the critics who read the contents for its literary heft.The book eventually got rave reviews and a four-page spread in the (late) New York Times Literary Review.
Joe showed some of his working journals and, under the watchful eye of wife Gay, some of the full-frontal ladies captured in pen, ink and watercolor at art-classes he sometimes attends.
During the Q&A session the inevitable query was posed:
“What was your inspiration?”
“Hunger!”
But he didn't say whether it was a hunger of the stomach – or the soul.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Contrast of Writers


Today should be one of contrasts between a new author's first book launch and a master writer's lecture. Separated by a 100 miles or so of Florida's rural hinterland, their common thread is the written word.

Jeff Swesky, a real-life computer programer and part-time writer http://www.jeffswesky.com/ is launching a collection of short stories under a lurid cover showing a cut vein spilling blood to spell out the title “Writing Is Easy” http://jeffswesky.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/the-official-release-of-writing-is-easy/ between 11 am. and 3 pm. at “A Taste of Portugal” restaurant in Palm Coast's Staples Shopping Center. Its a few miles north of NASCAR addicts place of worship – the Daytona Beach Speedway.

Now you know as much about the book as me, so we shall see. Last year Jeff, formerly bossman at the St. Augustine Ancient City Writers (think I've got that right), won an award for his manuscript, “Flight From Fear” the (ghosted) autobiography of Rabbi Samuel Cywiak, a Holocaust survival story, currently being printed.

Viet-Nam Veteran Joe Haldeman, a real-life writer and part-time astronomer, is taking a weekend break from teaching science fiction at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It will be a return home for him He lives half-an-hour away in Gainesville, so it will be a chance to meet-up with writing, star-gazing and painting friends and family. He's due to talk about “The Art of Science Fiction Writing”, which will launch the Bellamy Road Gallery's “Other World's Science Fiction and Fantasy” themed art show http://bellamyroad.org/

But with Joe, one never knows. He is a dab hand at wielding a pen, pencil or brush himself. His journals and writing-pads used to create stories, are records of his thinking-process between brain and book. He could launch into art mode!

Both events should be interesting, for a Saturday in the “sticks”.

If I could just get that Willie Nelson tune, On the Road Again, out of my mind.

ends...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Last Bloom Of 2010?


A "cool" wave moved in following a tropical depression which grazed Florida earlier this week. Slept WITHOUT the A/C last night - can Winter be far away?

Notes from America - A Pebble in the Pool

I don't know if it was the result of a prank, or payback, but the suicide death leap from New Jersey's George Washington Bridge by a gay Rutgers student has shaken residents of shock-proof New Brunswick and sent reactionary ripples around the world.

The campus is one of the state's notable colleges. Its student body is a mosaic of the hustling polyglot population, reflected in the background of its prime participants.

The dead victim, an 18-year-old White boy, an Asian roommate and his Oriental girlfriend.

According to national and local news reports and online buzz, the fiddle-playing youth had sexual liaisons with another male friend. Unknown to him, his roommate, using a hidden webcam hooked-up with his girlfriend's computer, recorded and streamed the resulting action online.

A few days after revealing their actions, the fiddle-player left a cryptic note on his Facebook page: “Going to jump of Washington Bridge – sorry”.

Police found his body several days later. The roomie and girlfriend faced privacy invasion and broadcast of lewd acts, then were released on bond.

However, the campus is a seething mass of protests by both gay and straight students. The governor of the state (a replacement for a married predecessor who publicly confessed to his homosexual affair)is “shocked, saddened and dismayed”. The victim's parents are devastated, and his accusers parents lives will never be the same.

This is Week One of a saga which, based on previous media performances, promises to become a three-ring circus. The ripples will keep expanding – until the next pebble is thrown into the pool.

One final footnote in a bizarre succession of events. The oldest building on the historic campus, dating back to the 1776 beginnings of the American Revolution, is nicknamed after the original seat of learning – Queen's College.

Ends...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"We'll be right back..."

“...two officers shot – we'll be right back – after the commercial...”

That's all she heard before her cell phone began its St Vitus dance across the Formica-topped kitchen counter simultaneously buzzing and vibrating.

The landline telephone on the wall, kept just for emergencies like a hurricane or tornado when things flew through the Florida skies ripping buildings apart and blowing telephone and power lines down, begand to ring.

Charlie, in cranky pre-breakfast mode, whined for attention from his highchair, Oscar yapped his high-pitched dachshund yelp, jumping up at the unusual noise from the telephone and the kettle's whistle began shrieking for attention.

“Now is the time to drop everything and rush down to Pals Auto Mall where you can help us help you into the Last Days of Summer Sale gas-saver of your dreams,” shouted the precocious twin teen daughters of the local used car dealership. Sparkling cars draped with patriotic flags fluttering under the stimulus of off-camera industrial-strength fans, filled the plasma screen. A flashing red BREAKING NEWS banner ran across the top segment, a Weather Alert scrolled along the bottom portion warning of a late season tropical storm, riding counter to the ticker-tape plunging stock market prices.

Baby Angelia wriggled in the cradle of her mother's arm, was shifted to hip-rider mode and that familiar off-balance posture known to mothers world wide, before mom reached for and flipped the lid of the cell phone open, while nudging the wall phone loose from its hook.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Blanker? Wife of patrolman Ronnie Blanker,”a male voice came clearly from the landline phone, while a squeaky female voice echoed the same question from the cell phone juggled in the same hand.

Celia Blanker watched the televisions screen dissolve from a flourish of red white and blue bunting with stacks of dollar bills under a flashing yellow SAVE sign superimposed on it, to a scrabble of SWAT team members, cop cars with glittering strobe lights and Emergency Responders clustered around stretchers and a skin-head reporter, hand pressed to earphone while talking into a microphone and cell-phone, looking wide-eyed and earnest into the camera.

The dual shrieking of the unattended whistling kettle and high-pitched feedback from the telephone in her ear drove home the realization she was at the other end of the reporter's question.

“Mrs. Blanker...are you there,” sirens on-screen and through her telephone's earpiece joined the chorus of noise filling her safe place kitchen.

“Ronnie! Is Ronnie alright?”

“Mrs. Blanker. I have some sad news to pass...”

“And we'll be right back after this commercial break.”

A hearty bellowing voice broke in as the screen displayed a bottle of liquid soap and animated suds while the chaotic but comfortable world of Celia Blanker, Charlie and Angelia disintegrated – between commercials.

Ends...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Book Week - Almost GONE!

Just in case you (almost) missed it, this is Banned Book Week in the USA.
http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm

My last book "Palm Beach Scandals - The First 100 Years" was Banned at the Breakers, Forbidden at the Flagler and Nixed at the Norton ;^))

Saturday, September 25, 2010

STOP PRESS – Booze Sell Books



Robert Macomber (arrowed by the mirror at head table) the keynote speaker at Friday's Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine, revealed one of his marketing “secrets” which have propelled his Civil War nautical yarns, starring Peter Wake, into a successful series of books with a world-wide readership.
Early on in his novelist's career he and fellow Matacha Island neighbor best-selling novelist Randy WayneWhite, were lowering the Plimpsoll line on a bottle of rum, discussing the business.
“I asked why he held signings in clubs, bars and taverns,” Macomber told a SRO audience of authors, pens poised over notebooks. “I was selling and signing my books at bookshops, libraries and museums.”
The audience laughed in anticipation.
“Booze sells books,” the sage had replied, no doubt lifting his glass in silent salute to the strength of the spirit.
Now, world traveler, lecturer, raconteur, writer and military adviser, parties his way into the hearts and minds of growing numbers of fans and followers. Like the snowbirds, both natural and touristy who flock to the “Sunshine State” he has his migratory path mapped out to reap the benefits of strategic marketing.
Check out Macomber's website http://www.robertmacomber.com/ for the working itinerary of a self-propelled professional writer for an hors doeuvre of how its done, Part of the year he's in the Pacific, part in the Atlantic as a guest speaker aboard luxury liners. At other times he is popping into European, British, Australian and Mediterranean locales, either guesting or questing as he gathers – first hand – knowledge for the setting of his next book.
I'm not going to preempt his smorgasbord of spiels for all occasions, you can do your own research or attend his next launch or partee.
At an upcoming “Pirate in Paradise Festival” (November) in Key West, he'll guide followers around the naughtier parts of Key West before hosting a book-signing party for “Wakians” - nickname of his protagonist's groupies.
Its rough work, he admitted to the throng of eager wannabe block-buster writers, but he forces himself to have a good time despite the 600 or so people, book in hand, waiting for his sacred signature before leaving one of Macomber's parties.
Like the sage said:”Booze sells books.”

ends...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The day…..Of the Eclair

There may be something behind the theory that certain traits are passed on from one generation to another.
Back when my mother ran out of Demonstrating gigs, and before she worked for the Alston corset company fitting large ladies into the waistline of their dreams, she took on a temporary job at a teashop, as a waitress.
Mother was pretty good at many things – but co-ordination was not one of her strong points. As the youngest child of eight, there was a very short period of time my Grandfather considered her for a stage career. He had been a sometime music hall pantomimist, then a cyclist on a six-man-machine speed racing with a French indoor track team, and later a London taxi driver. He did not take Noel Coward’s advice to “Mrs. Worthington”, and two of my mother’s siblings actually made money as a sister act on the stage, for a while.
MY mother was in, and out, of a chorus line before you could say “Exit – Left”. She had the legs for the work, they just did not want to work in unison with the other girls. Between World Wars I and II, while the rest of the bob-cut girls did high-kicks with their Left foot – she opted for the Right foot. And vice-versa.
But she could talk, Talk, TALK without fear of being browbeaten. That ability led to her becoming a prized ‘demonstrator’ at the Ideal Homes Exhibitions, held at London's Earls Court, and on the road selling everything from an electronic ‘VitaPhone’ – a massive lump of machinery with dials, flashing buttons, and handles for the brave to hold onto to determine (sans doctor) whether the duped member of the public had a healthy heart, good blood flow and a chance of an active sex life – to lipsticks and perfumery.
When things were flush, financially, she would treat me and my school friends to a birthday bash at ‘Bondolfi’s’, a posh tearoom which specialized in sticky buns, cakes and éclairs. Half a century later, surviving friends still recall those parties.
What most of them don’t know is, during a financially dry period years later, when retailers no longer believed her claim to be ‘39-years-old’, she found a job at Bondolfi’s working as a waitress. It was short-lived career. She memorized the menu, and had the patter down straight, thanks to her theatrical background , but her co-ordination gene was missing.
The story goes, one day as her station filled up with blue-rinse ladies, and their pin-stripe-suited hubbies, Mother plonked the three-tier cake tray onto one of her tables, and an errant éclair slide off to kerplop into the lap of a gentleman with a large corporation.
Quick as a flash, with a mind to save her potential tip, Mother scooped the éclair from the gent’s lap. And vigorously began rubbing the spilled cream-filling from his trousers. The pink-faced gent, blushing to the crown of his bald pate, wriggled in great agitation. The squeals from his wife finally alerted Mother to the full picture.
There she was, in a crowded tearoom, down on her knees obliviously rubbing the poor man’s crotch to his great embarrassment, and the delight of all seated nearby.
It is probably just as well I recalled that incident when, as a boy serving in the Royal Navy, I spilled soup into the lap of First Sea Lord of the Admiralty - Lord Louis Mountbatten.
Mother may have saved me a spell in the brig

ends...

Monday, September 20, 2010

...in case you wondered



...here's Marie holding forth from the podium giving How-To tips to St. Augustine's published and wannabe writers.

Who You Meet Today Could Be On CNN - Tomorrow





Had lunch Saturday with the”true crime genre” husband and wife writing team of McCay and Marie Vernon, following their talk to the Florida Writer's Association St. Augustine group.

Hurricane Patties, the pirate-themed waterside restaurant in the mainland side of the Intracoastal Waterway, was busier than usual for “Pirate's Day”. A blasting rock band, pirates and wenches in Johnny Depp look-alike outfits, worked the tables while we tried to talk.

Marie, a former journalist up north in Washington, D.C.-Maryland area, contributor to he Christian Science Monitor and mother of six before becoming the widowed Mac's second wife. He was a psychologist and homicide forensic expert, specializing in deaf and mute patients, author of seven books and 200+ articles on the subject. The specialist school in his hometown of St. Augustine, boasts Ray Charles as one of its alumni.

Their latest book (Deadly Charm) published by Kensington Press, is an exploration of the motives of a less likable student, Patrick McCullough, the only known deaf serial killer.

In shopping for a publisher, the Vernon's short-listed. Kensington Books as number two on their list. The true-crime genre specialty pros opted for the Vernons' first offering (Deadly Lust): story of a local lad (William Darnell Lindsey) who'd been bumping off ladies around town to get his jollies.

They quickly learned there is a “carved-in-stone” formula for a successful true-crime book: it has to have a beginning, middle and end with no doubts about Good Guy and BAD guy. And the villain ALWAYS gets it in the end.

Uniquely,”Mac” had known the second killer from the age of five to his violent death at 42.

Ironically, he also knew the first killer too. When Mac was a lad with a newspaper route, he had delivered newspapers to the serial killers home.

We shared a common thread,I told him. One of my newspaper route customers turned out to be a British spy for the USSR.

But...that's another story.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Don't Forget the Doggies - When you Quit Smoking!


All to often human smokers forget man's best friend when they quit smoking.

Dogs go through withdrawal too when those conveniently placed coffee-table-high snacks disappear, along with the ornate ash-tray glass, plastic or metal packaging cigarette butts are presented in:
The open-mouthed china frog – gone
The lighthouse-and-rocks motif ceramic seaside gift – gone.
The slightly chipped rock-crystal ashtray/paperweight from aunt Matilda's estate – gone.

Man might be gulping down No-Nic pills like tic-tac breath sweeteners, and scratching at the itchy Nicco-Gone patch, but bowser's boring a hole in the living room carpet spinning in circles to reach the newly activated hot-spot itch on his rump.

Nobody included him in the withdrawal equation!

Deprived of his nicotine fix his appetite to fill the void will increase in proportion to his Master's waist-size. Nothing will escape his rutting for food; pet food, people food and disgusting combinations best left out of a publication fit for family-consumption.

Its up to Master to look out for his best friend's health and welfare. Activities - to exhaustion - can occupy minds craving one more hit.
Frisbee – the competitive version. Not just the usual backyard crew (kids and the other-half). Try the local park where degrees of aggression and expression can be expressed, without the threat of imminent divorce as a consequence.
Jogging - of the “25K Marathon for the Cure” kind (pick your disease) would keep one on the go, and give those living under the same roof some relief.
Swimming - Forget the pool-laps or Cross-Channel stuff. Take the plunge, and your passport in a zip-lock baggie. Strike out for the USA. The breast stroke is SO sissie, and the Australian Crawl can be exhausting.

Take a tip from man's best friend – dog-paddle!


Ends...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Comparisons - Voice to Text System

Day One of “The Dragon” (Naturally Speaking 10), converting speech into text, was quite successful.
In a near miraculous move I managed to install the program onto my laptop with no major hiccups.

This from someone who stands in front of an open refrigerator for minutes, trying to figure out how to get to the food within a new high-tech pretty package.

Online, on-screen step-by-step visual instructions guided me through the process: make sure the headphones are comfortable and the microphone is located – just so – before speaking and enunciating each word.

There was a set piece to read so “The Dragon” can recognize my voice and determine the position of the mike could pick it up. Apparently it sorted its way through my accent accumulated via private and public school slang, mess-deck chat, newsroom gossip and mid-Atlanticisms. And, this was a surprise, “The Dragon” scanned my “My Documents” files to pick up my style.

Hope its broadminded enough to handle the R-rated stuff. I think the rating-graph spiked!

I skipped the test-run read-and-write exercise, cut to the chase and read off the back-cover blurb from my book “Palm Beach Scandals – The First 100 Years” which I’m planning to re-issue in e-book form - see earlier post.

A comparison of the actual text, followed by the, “as read” text ready for editing, can be seen below FYI.

An Intimate Guide to Palm Beach…

It takes you by the hand through the rich bounty of scandals recorded during the first 100 years. Stories buried in yellowed newspapers, old courthouse records, private correspondence. Much more than a sound-byte. The real Palm Beach stuff. Read between the covers about:

Roxanne Pulitzer -- the “strumpet with a trumpet” who made a shocking trial a rich writing career.

Sir Harry Oakes -- his pal, the Duke of Windsor, Myer Lansky and the Murder Mystery of the Century.

Merriwether Post -- the Queen of society and the queer goings on at home.

Ted, Pat, and Willie -- when the Senior Senator from Massachusetts took the boys out on the town.

Harold Vanderbilt -- the world's wealthiest bachelor and the “Spite Wall” which forced him out of the Town.

Larry Flynt -- the happy “Hustler” who thumbed his nose at society.

 30 –


It takes you by the hand through the rich bounty and scandals recorded during the first 100 years. Stories buried in yellowed newspapers, old courthouse records, private correspondence. Much more than a sound-bite. The real Palm Beach stuff. Read between the covers about:

Roxanne Pulitzer -- lowercase the strumpet with a trumpet who made a shocking trial the rich writing career.

So Harry Oakes -- his pal, the Duke of Windsor, my at Lansky and the motive mystery of the century.

Meriwether post -- the queen of society and the clear goings on at home.

Ted, Pat, and Willie -- when the senior senator from Massachusetts took the boys out on the town.

Harold Vanderbilt -- the world's wealthiest bachelor and the spite wall which forced him out of the town.

Larry Flynt -- the happy Hustler who thumb his nose at society.

-- 30 --

It ain't perfect but MAY save a lot of time typing - hunt 'n peck style.

Ends…

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Rebirth of Writing?

Before I learned to write I had to learn to speak.

And today I might repeat the process. Not because of any life-threatening medical condition, physical impairment or accident which has effected my brain (that I can think of) but due to “The Dragon”.

Its a device which reputedly speeds up the writing process fourfold or more, depending how well one gets along with it, by transferring what one says into digital words, on a screen,in a computer!

Its an alien procedure in the writing process, to my way of thinking, best left to medical mavens and legal eagles eager to get their billing out of the way before rushing off to tee-up.

The process, when it finally catches on in the professional world, will probably eliminate millions of secretaries from the payroll. Dictation, transcription, mailing and tea-making jobs could become tasks of the past. A boost to corporate earnings could equate to massive unemployment – again.

But, that's my normal doom-and-gloom outlook. The sunny side upbeat view is the seemingly impossible chore of reactivating one of my out-of-print books, looks viable.

This book-keeping-writing via computer malarkey for me harkens back to the late 1970's when Sanyo produced a spiffy word-processing CP/M machine, with green words magically appearing, at the stroke of a keyboard, behind a blinking cursor traveling across a blank television-like screen. My computer was prominently displayed on the check-out counter of my Old Book Shop, an incongruous sight in a sea of anachronistic objects.

I soon parlayed its prowess as a database filing system, capable of printing lists of used and collectible books, which could be turned into catalogers for clients, to “The Great American (second) Novel” - still unpublished along with the first.

It did draw the attention of visiting writers, agents, publishers, actors, headline makers and breakers in the business, political and diplomatic world – which initiated conversations that became interviews and eventually articles.(see “Writers Rap in a Bookshop” coming soon). And when the next generation was born – about every other day – was traded up and tweaked to the point I needed substitute post-kindergarten grandsons to install programs for me.

As a result, my book “Palm Beach Scandals – The First 100 Years” was published, featured on national television, became the belle of the fund-raising ball powder-room crowd (some of that powder was just for inhaling), lasted a couple of seasons then went out of print.

BUT with today's digital publishers and trade-paperback sized electronic reading devices, offering everything from the Classics to Tony Blair's blah-blah-blah, I see an opportunity to re-issue those breathless prose to a yearning public.

Problem is, the PW (Perfect Word) program of the word processor I used in the early 1990's to record that copy onto floppies – is gone. Dead. R.I.P

It didn't even rate a Wikipedia note.

My Computer Guys – a real name – came up with several suggestions; some of which I cannot repeat for fear of bruising the sensitivities of you, dear reader, and are actually physically impossible to implement.

My alternatives are to: Rewrite the whole book. Download onto Notebook and edit out all the gobbledygook computereese symbols. Disinter a hard copy of the book and scan it page by page to turn it into a readable file – plus extensive rewrite/editing.

OR – Dictate into “The Dragon”, trade name for a translation/transition system using microphone, headset and repeating “How now brown cow” until “The Dragon” gets the gist of what one's trying to say. (Cockneys, Georgdies and Scousers are going to give it conniptions).

So that's the plan du jour.

Back to Communications 101.

First we learn to speak. Then we – (re)write.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Morning Awakening




Monday Morning Awakening

A Florida fog shrouds pine trees and live-oaks with their clumps of tangled Spanish moss, in a moist post-dawn grip as a result of yesterday's thunder and lightening drenching.

Good.

We'll be spared the direct rays of the climbing sun, blanketed somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean 50 miles away, and its searing heat waves for an extra hour or so.
No need for the air-conditioner to crank up into its expensive-sounding
rattle as it fights the heat and humidity of mid-September's last gasp of summer.

The wiseacre pundits, scoring points in their endless morning television banter, will hoot derisively when the ex-surfer turned forecaster comedically assumes the position emulating Igor, from a multitude of late-night Frankenstein skits, to announce the position of our seventh hurricane of the season.

Dripping beads of air-born moisture splash into the new pine deck, retarded by a weather-proofing solution which will probably prove fatal to humans in a few years. A game yellow blossom shows itself on the wilting potted tomato plant. Maybe one last tasty red morsel before biting into a waxen version from the supermarket, later. Purple wild Lantana cascades from its Terra-cotta pot, perched on the white-painted wrought-iron which now supports a wobbly metal side-table makeshift base for the bird-feeder.

Brilliant red cardinal families squabble in a pecking-order of their own making, scattered by the arrival of a blue-jay or interference from mourning doves who prefer its safer climes than nearby fields and alert hunters seeking something for the pot.

Seems to me there's been an added volume of shots, in or out of hunting season, during the past year or so of unemployment, lowered wages and foreclosures. Impatient fishermen, with families to feed, are as likely to clamber up a tree and shoot the shadows schooling in the stream below, as biat a hook and cast a line.

A scratching of nails on glass heralds the return of Basher, mostly spaniel with a splash of chow based on the black spot marking his pink tongue. He will have completed his morning rounds, touring his territorial half-acre boundaries hemmed in by chain-link fence. He's already had his breakfast but it won't stop him clanging the bowl with his collection of metal tags cluttering up his collar, before turning those hopeful dark brown eyes in beg-mode. Passively he'll sit when I dose him with anti-epilepsy pills, knowing there's a dog biscuit reward. It won't stop him emulating the squirrels.

(Ooops...shouldn't have said that out loud – his ears twitched and he tensed to dash out the glass sliding doors.)

Squirrels (soto voce), cats and the occasional rabbit, stimulate his exercise regimen. The tiny town of Interlachen, midway between touristy St. Augustine with its legendary Fountain of Youth and Gainesville, its University campus and Gator football team dominating the city, is a one-traffic-light community which just acquired a four-lane commuter highway divided by a median strip and, a second traffic light.

The heat, unleashed marauder dogs, rustling and rattling in the undergrowth all combine to limit safe spaces to walk the dog. There's a mile or so of ancient-growth live-oaks still intact after the Department of Transportation swept through with bulldozers, front-end loaders and tarmac to transform green swards into blacktop highways, The shaded arch of trees provide a concrete path, past homesteads with grape-vines held-shoulder-high off the ground in organized rows, and cattle clustered around a sink-hole pond of white blooming wild hyacinths.

That route, plus a circuit of a nearby supermarket plaza front and back, where the tantalizing odours of dumpsters tinge the air, are good walking spots for us. I get my daily dose of exercise, and Basher gets his nails “clipped” in an environmentally Green way, on the concrete, at no cost to me.

The first hour of Monday has slipped away. Tea gone, Basher itching to go.

Time to move into the new week before the sun burns through, shades come down and outside activities are dashed for the day.

When the cold snaps arrive I may look back at today with feelings of warm nostalgia.

But to echo Scarlet O'Hara's sentiment, I'll think about that – tomorrow.

Ends...