Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Under Appreciated

I clicked on a link a couple days ago that led to another southern writer’s blog. She’s an interesting woman. The blog post that appeared under the link was one bemoaning a lack of respect for writers. The blogger has been writing for thirty years, and met someone socially the other day who apparently had just begun writing and enthused how “relaxing” it was, and how much “fun” she was having with it. “We must get together to talk about it,” the fledgling writer had said, and it set the professional’s teeth on edge. How dare the younger woman assume they were at the same level? That’s like the volunteer campaign worker inviting the President for a chat. They clearly had nothing to share.

The blogger went on to complain that everyone thinks they can write.  

The reality is different.

Non-writers (an extinct species, no doubt) and newbies seldom start out knowing what a brutal business writing can be. They have never (or at least, not yet) been faced with the endless rejection by editors and agents, nor the disheartening dismissal by relatives who keep asking when they’re going to get a job, even after their novel has been published. They are unaware of the quiet hours of solitude needed to produce the finished product. Most people are afraid of being alone, and need constant conversation and social reinforcement to sustain themselves. They are unaware that the professional writer does not just whip a poem off the top of his head and go on to the next. Never mind the spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation and voice; non-writers do not know of the weeks and months the writer spends in contemplation in order to gain that one little nugget of insight that will stay with the reader forever. They have no idea that the poem “dashed off” beside the weekly grocery list has to be shopped, edited, and marketed by the writer himself.

Maybe the professional writer / blogger was a little harsh in her criticism, but she’s right, and after a certain amount of time spent in this business, 

having your achievements disregarded by those who have yet to attain them, and derided by those who have never tried, is maddening.

Double the feelings of frustration if you’re a technical writer on a subject that everyone wants to experience, but hardly anyone wants to pay for: astrology. Too many people who have picked up an astrology “cookbook” (Everything You Need to Know About…The Only Thing You Need to Know About…Astrology for Dummies) and read it, thinks they are then qualified to be an astrologer. Too many who buy computer software that calculates charts and drops down a box containing three sentences about a planet, sign, house, or aspect think they are able to predict the future. 

Surprise, kids. Astrology isn’t about predicting the future.

Astrology is about understanding yourself deeply. It’s about finding your purpose in life, about negotiating the journey you’re on, and about honoring the Source of All Things. It’s about knowing where your soul has been and where it intends to go. In order to truly understand astrology, you must study not only the planets, signs, houses and aspects—that’s the barest bones, the mere equivalent of learning the alphabet to understand literature—you must also study astronomy, science, math, psychology, philosophy, religion, mythology, and metaphysics. The learning never ends. It is a life-long task.

In addition to having a strong grasp of those subjects, the astrologer must also understand how to cast a chart by hand—without computer software—so that she understands the scientific basis of how it affects the individual, and what the heavenly bodies will do next. Can you compute logarithms? Convert star time to local time?  Understand the precession of the equinoxes?  Go ahead and look that one up on Wikipedia if you don’t.

And the astrologer is just getting started. There are several branches of astrology she will have to learn in order to be prepared for the client who could want to know anything. Besides the natal chart, which encompasses all the components listed above, there’s also mundane astrology, which shows what will happen to the world, individual countries, and all people, en masse. Elective astrology for when the bride wants to know when to wed to ensure a long and happy marriage, or the businessman wants to know when to cut the ribbon to ensure a successful enterprise. There’s horary astrology for finding lost objects, missing people, and answering all when, where, why, who, and how questions. There’s psychological astrology and spiritual astrology and past lives astrology. The list goes on and on.

We’re still only getting started. The astrologer must cast and read the charts that predict the future of her client: the transits, progressions, directions, returns, lunations, eclipses, and harmonics. Hours are spent casting and studying these charts before the client even walks in the door.

So after twenty-five years, when friends and relatives still ask me, “When are you going to read my chart?” and often the charts of their spouses, children, and significant others, as if all I had to do was glance at some glyphs printed on a piece of paper, it makes me want to bang my head against the desk. Or when I have a potential new client who makes an appointment and then doesn't show for it after I've done all that work on her chart makes me cross my eyes.  When someone balks and complains that astrologers charge $100 (or more) an hour, I cringe. Once, one time, I was very, very lucky in my life, and a professional took pity on me and did a boat load of work on my behalf without charging me. I did not ask him to, but I am eternally grateful.

Doctors and lawyers and accountants and veterinarians do not work for free, and you would not dream of asking them to. 

Astrology may often be about the spiritual world, but we still live in the material world, and we have to provide food on our tables and gas in our cars, too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jessica's Trap Has Been Released

I promised to let y'all know.  Jessica's Trap has been released and has a new cover.  

If you like paranormal, you'll love this one. 

It's something a little different than the usual vampire fare, and you can practically steal it for your Kindle! In case you've forgotten, I reviewed it here: Review from this blog
To read other reviews and order it from the big bad book site, go here.
Incidentally, I've gotten more hits to this site for this book than any other I've reviewed.  

I think that's a good indication that people are interested. I'm now reading Hillman's next one, not yet published, and it's awesome, too!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Second Duchess

Years ago, I met an author in what became a doomed writer’s critique group. The most fortunate thing about it was that I was partnered with her, and it was my honor and privilege to be able to read the first chapter of her work about a duchess during the Italian Renaissance who was based on the famous Robert Browning poem, “My Last Duchess.” It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. It was like slipping through a doorway into a very different and very real world, where I could not only see the ancient stone walls on either side of the narrow, twisting streets, but hear the crowd murmuring and cheering while gathered to catch a glimpse of their new duchess, and the metal ringing as the coins she tossed to them sometimes hit the cobbled street. I could feel the rocking of the barge and sway of the litter in which she was carried to her wedding, and smell the roses, lilies, lavender and thyme she held in her arms. It thoroughly transported me to another world.

The author I met was Elizabeth Loupas, and the story,  

The Second Duchess, 
finally published and released on the first of this month, is bound to become as famous as its immortal counterpart. The tale opens in Italy in 1565 and is centered on Barbara of Austria, the second wife of Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, whose first wife was the young and beautiful Lucrezia de’Medici. 

Barbara, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, is a bit beyond “marriageable age,” and much less attractive than the first duchess, but a politically motivated marriage has been arranged that will save her from being sent to a convent where two of her sisters are already immured, and instead, make her the duchess of the dazzling, opulent royal court of Ferrara. 
It would be a fairytale dream come true for any woman, except that the groom is suspected all across Europe of murdering his beautiful first wife.

Barbara is determined to ignore the rumors about the man with whom she will bed. To even hint at the possibility that the duke may be guilty of murder is treason. But the whispers, insinuations, and threats begin on her wedding day, and soon enough, her own life comes to depend on discovering the truth.  

Elizabeth recreated the royal court to the last  
glittering detail
and brought its inhabitants to  
shimmering, intriguing, romantic life. 
I closed it with a deep sigh of satisfaction and the thought, “Oh. Wow.”

You can buy it at Powell's and other fine bookstores. Of course, you can buy it at Amazon, too, but I'm not recommending them after they sent my copy to the wrong address, where it was lost in the mail, never to reach me. :- (

Definitely 5 bookmarks. For an explanation of my bookmark system, click here.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Extraordinary Knowing

Everywhere that you read a review of Extraordinary Knowing, you’re going to read how author Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer’s world was rocked by an event she couldn’t explain, and why she devoted the rest of her life to researching how it could have happened.

The event that occurred was the theft of her daughter’s harp. It was a rare and expensive instrument, and her daughter was heartbroken. Dr. Mayer, affectionately known as Lisby, did all she knew to do to retrieve the harp. There were the usual reports to the police and searches at pawnshops and so forth, to no avail. Finally, one day, a friend said to her, “If you really want that harp back, you should be willing to do anything,” and that led to a dare that she accepted. She contacted a dowser.
“It’s not just about the water.”  

Lisby lived in Oakland, California. Armed with a map of her city, the dowser, from his mobile home in Arkansas, pinpointed the exact location where the harp was stashed. It wasn’t enough to get a search warrant, so Lisby hung “wanted” posters about the harp on street signs up and down that block, and in a few days she got a call, and in a week, the harp was safely back in her hands. As the diehard skeptic said, 

 “This changes everything.”

Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind
is about the scientific investigation of intuition, premonitions, hunches, ESP, remote viewing, dreams, prayer, the collective unconscious, and the possibility of God’s hand in our lives, or what Lisby calls  

anomalous knowing, 

and why, in the face of empirical evidence and personal experience, science still can’t talk about it, much less admit its existence.
I generally don’t abuse my books, but I found myself dog-earring pages all through Extraordinary Knowing so that I could easily find certain passages again. I have to admit, this book isn’t for everyone. My focus sometimes waned when reading the scientific and statistical data, but then I’d become fascinated again when the author described personal experiences with psychics she sought out in her research, or described the Ganzfeld Experiments. It’s a good book for anyone who is skeptical but open-minded, as well as believers who are interested in real evidence.

4  Bookmarks (for an explanation of my bookmark system, click here)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Boy and His Dog in Little Rock

I saw this picture on foundmagazine.com, and thought I would post it to increase the chances of the owner finding this adorable picture that was discovered hiding in a library book in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


If you think for one minute that you will prevail in court because the facts are on your side, because you brought your proof, because you lined up your witnesses and they are eager and waiting to tell what they know, then you are living in a land of white rabbits and red queens.

If you think that your opponent will raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth, and actually will tell the truth, you need to lay off the mushrooms. Better to hold your nose and swallow a strong dose of Reality. Assume from the start that he is a liar from whose stuttering tongue will roll the most astounding falsehoods you have ever heard.

If you believe the judge (especially if he is elected, and may not have even practiced law) will examine your evidence and allow your witnesses to speak, you are as mad as a hatter. If you believe that because you waded through muck to find one of that rare species—a good lawyer—that you will win your case, then you need to put the hookah away.

Here’s the pure, unadulterated truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: unless you committed a horrendous crime that has titillated the public’s attention and you have become the media’s darling or devil, you will be lucky to get ten minutes in court, much less Your Day. The whole truth is that if your appearance falls on a day when the caseload is heavy—and in these days and times, that is every day—your plan—and your attorney’s plan—should be on shoving the winning facts directly under the judge’s nose and wrapping up your case in ten minutes or less. If you don’t do that, you are going to leave the courtroom wondering, as I did, how did I just get screwed?

Let me tell you how: Judges, like everyone else, are overworked. I personally have waited in court from 8 a.m. when it began, to 7 p.m. the same evening, to go before a judge, and I can tell you that none of them, not the judge, not the state’s attorney, not the defending attorney, took a lunch break. I’m not sure they even took a bathroom break. They were all there, beginning to end.

Judges are just like literary agents staring down the slush pile: they hope there’s something interesting there, something that’s worth further attention, but they know the odds are against it. That’s like finding a diamond in a coalmine. They are looking for reasons to reject. They want to whittle that workload down to nothing as fast as possible so they can get home to their families and their dinner, just like the rest of us. Remember the last time you went to traffic court, saw a hundred other people there, and thought Gah! This is going to take all day. Now imagine sitting on the bench, behind the eight ball. When you’re done, you get to leave. The judge is still going to be there, no matter what, so he is looking for any reason to collect money for his district and dispatch you expeditiously. If you think for one second that in a contest between opposing parties that he won’t split it down the middle just to move on with his day, then you are truly a fool.

Good Lawyer, Bad Lawyer

I have spent the better part of the last four years wrangling with legal issues. There was the class action suit over the tainted pet food that killed one of my cats and hospitalized the other. There was the self-proclaimed literary agent who sued me, along with a dozen other writers, real literary agents, and publishing types, for calling her a pretend wannabe.  There was that lovely piece of work by my Insignificant Other, and finally, at least so far, an issue with a lying sack of shit that I prefer to forget about. I’ve dealt with a lot of lawyers during that time, and I want to help you determine when you’ve got a good one, and when you’ve got one who is likely the source of all greasy lawyer jokes. So here’s a shopping list:


~ You meet for the first time as he opens the door to the courtroom for you on the day of your appearance.

~ The extent of his knowledge of your case is limited to the evidence you brought to show the judge, and he barely looks at it.

~ He misses one of your court dates and you neither know why, nor are able to reach him by phone.

~ He does not answer your phone calls or emails within reason. By “within reason,” I mean that you are not contacting him every day, or even every other day, or even once a week if this is a long, ongoing drama in your life. If every once in a while there is a small flurry of exchanges while short, pertinent, direct questions are asked and answers are given, fine, but when that business is done, leave him alone. You are not his only client, nor the only thing he has on his plate that day. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, a reasonable amount of time to hear back from him is twenty-four hours.

~ His secretary says he is in court every single time you try to contact him. That’s bull. Lawyers actually spend very little time in court unless they are over-priced high-profile attorneys like F. Lee Bailey or Gloria Allred.

~ His phone is always answered by voicemail. He does not employ even one full time secretary, assistant, or paralegal.

~ He agrees to represent you in a case where he clearly has a conflict of interest. This may be hard to discern unless you ask pointed questions. If you need a lawyer to represent you in a bank robbery, for instance, ask him directly if his account was at that bank.

~ He is an attorney in a class action suit where the only funds that are distributed are payments to the lawyers.

~ He guarantees that you will win. Says things like, “We’re going to get this guy.” Enthusiasm for your case is good. False promises are bad.

~ His diploma is from the University of Altered State or Beach College of the Bahamas.

~ He’s a showboat who loves publicity and to hear himself talk. If he has time to give to a weekly radio show, he probably doesn’t have many clients (ask yourself why), and probably isn’t giving sufficient attention to those he has. A good lawyer saves it for the trial.

~ Is under-dressed or over-dressed. If he shows up for court with toothpaste on his tie, or he’s more interested in the French cuffs on his shirt than the brace on your neck, you should look further for representation.


~ Meets with you in his office to hear your story and see your evidence.

~ Asks questions about your case that have never even occurred to you.

~ Would never dream of putting a witness on the stand without knowing what they are going to say.

~ Will tell you up front that there are never any guarantees. He cannot control the judge.

~ Keeps you informed! If you have a short case where you’re going to see a judge and it’s going to all be said and done in fifteen minutes, then this is probably a moot point. But if you’re involved in a case that will drag on for years, your attorney should be sending you letters or copies of documents all along the way to let you know what is going on.

~ Sometimes prolongs a case not to bank billable hours for which he can charge you, but to wear down your opponent. If your lawyer is excelling on every other point listed here under “Good Lawyer,” consider the possibility that this is the case, even if he doesn’t say it.

~ Obtained an excellent education, graduating Summa Cum Laude or Magna Cum Laude. Lectures, teaches, publishes. Provides a list of representative cases. Is active in organizations related to his field of expertise. Is respected not only in his profession, but in his community. And the #1 sign that he’s a good lawyer: He has achieved a degree of success that enables him to take on pro bono cases (even if it’s not yours) just because they’re interesting. This is the epitome of good lawyers, the Holy Grail. See example here.


~ Do not call your lawyer expecting him to bail you out of jail unless he is a personal friend with whom you have dinner or cocktails on a weekly basis. That’s what bail bondsmen are for. This is not TV.

~ Your lawyer is not a detective. Do not expect him to chase your opponent all over town to catch him red-handed. This is not TV, and that is not reality.

~ Never handicap your attorney by hiding the truth from him. He knows how to deal with whatever you’ve done. That’s his job. Nasty surprises on the witness stand will sink your ship. 

For a good attorney in the Memphis /  northwest Mississippi area, try Al Welshans, with the O'Brien firm.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Lolita, in English This Time

There’s not a lot I can say about Lolita that hasn’t already been said. The novel is more than 50 years old now, has been reviewed hundreds of times, and probably discussed thousands of times.

What I wondered was how a novel about a pedophile became not only acceptable to the mainstream public, but considered “classic literature.” 

Even in this modern day, and with my liberal outlook (I don’t believe in censoring what other people want to read), I was a bit shocked by it, so I can imagine how revolting it must have been fifty years ago. And I’m right. The author, Vladimir Nabokov, couldn’t find a publisher for it in the U.S., at first.  My, how publishing has changed! After only four rejections, he began shopping it in France, where it was published in 1955. And right away, it sold 5,000 copies, strictly by word of mouth because no one would review it. What does that say about French society?

Anyway, and finally, Graham Greene, the English author, playwright and literary critic, in an interview, called it

"one of the best novels of the year." 

(Greene became, and remained, quite famous until his death in 1991. He authored one of my favorite novels, The End of the Affair, which was made into a movie starring Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes, for those of you who don’t read.) 

Then the editor of a London newspaper (a tabloid now, but I’m not sure about then) said it was "the filthiest book” he had ever read, and "sheer unrestrained pornography." The British seized all copies of it being shipped into their country, and the French, who had published it in the first place, banned it. In fact, one of the original publishers lost his career over it. How could that result in anything but huge sales?

Leave it to Americans. G. P. Putnam had the foresight to publish it in 1958, and it was the first book since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in the first three weeks.  And that’s how Lolita became both accepted and esteemed as fine literature.

Lolita is not smut. It’s not porn. It is a highly controversial and sensitive subject, but it’s extremely well written, and that’s what separates it from obscenity. It offsets the shock-factor with wry commentary on the American way of life as seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Humbert Humbert, who is old-world European. Written in first-person, the story is full of puns, anagrams, double entendres, word play, multilingual puns (there are many French phrases, which I did not always look up due to the lack of a French-to-English dictionary at the time and place where I was reading). And, of course, Nabokov coined the word “nymphet.”

I was wrong about Lolita being synonymous with pedophilia. It’s more attuned to sexually precocious girls. Lolita wasn’t all that innocent, in spite of being only twelve when the story began. Sadly, what scandalized us in the 1950’s, is mainstream today. The only difference is that not many twelve-year-olds (at least, not many I know) have affairs with forty-something-year-old men.  Lolita is often described as a love story. I don't know...obsession maybe, but not any kind of love I'd want. In spite of the fact that Humbert Humbert is sexually and violently abusive, there are a couple of moments of selflessness that almost win our sympathy.

 5 Bookmarks (for an explanation of my bookmark system, click here)