Excuses, excuses….

Today is a very special day, for me and especially for my bride, Annie. It’s her birthday.

Her 39th.


And she’s every bit as lovely and charming as the day I met and fell in love with her.

So, why would I spend my time today on anyone else? I’m spending it with her, of course. And I might just drag out this celebration clear through next weekend as well. I hate to disappoint any of my loyal readers, but this is important, and I do not want to disappoint my most important reader of all!

Oh! And Happy Daylight Savings Time to everyone impacted. As of this moment, you’re an hour late!


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What does Amazon have against tiny American Indians?

I’ll answer that question very shortly. Bear with me, please….

A few weeks back, I revisited the background and some of the research I did for Treason, Treason! my alternate history story set during the American Revolution. It gave me an opportunity to chat a bit about what sorts of things went through my head while writing the book.

Then it came time to discuss what came next, a four-book series I worked on for about seven years: the Little Primitive books. Well over a year ago, I reworked the covers for all four books. Most of the changes were minor, and I maintained the general look and feel of the originals. Then I republished them.

Big mistake.

No. Make that BIG MISTAKE!

Why? Because in their infinite wisdom, if I changed the cover, even slightly, Amazon would no longer post the book reviews I’d received on each of their sale pages. Now remember, the interiors remained the same. And, to the best of my recollection, none of the reviews mentioned the covers.

Several phone calls and emails were met with stiffer resistance than the Russians faced from Ukraine.

All four books are available, each with a slightly modified cover, and I’ve reduced the prices on both the ebook and paperback versions.

It’ll take Amazon a while to catch up with those changes, I’m sure. And it might even freak them out–assuming any human beings are actually involved in any of this–when I make the first two titles available as FREE downloads starting tomorrow (3/7/23).

I would dearly love to see some reviews for these books. They got some raves the first time around, which is why I’m so disappointed in the stance Amazon has taken.

Anyway, this is probably a good time to revisit the books in this series in case some of my newer readers aren’t familiar with them. You’ll find links for all four titles at the end of this post.

So, let’s dial the calendar back to when I finished the first book, A Little Primitive. Great title, no? A story about a two-foot-tall native American Indian who encounters a world populated by what appear to him to be giants. That’d be you and me!

I contemplated a title for the follow-up story, and the only thing that felt like a natural fit was A Little More Primitive.

A trip to Wyoming and the charming little western town of Ten Sleep provided a wealth of great material. We had the opportunity to visit the sorts of terrain where the story takes place, from the plains to the mountains, and everything in-between.

The people of Ten Sleep are wonderful. I’m confident in saying that even though we only met a handful of ’em. There’s a relaxed, country vibe there which as far as we could tell, everyone shares. It’s friendly and inviting, just the perfect fit for a story about a miniature human making his way in a world of giants.

Even though the Little Primitive series is a collection of contemporary stories, I had to do some digging into Civil War history to find intriguing details that impacted the lives of the character’s ancestors and provided motives for what they did and how they lived. It’s always exciting–for me anyway–when I learn things that make me rethink what life was like in an earlier era. I’m certain many a great story resides therein and is yet to be told!

Stories about little people pop up in almost every culture on Earth. Granted, they aren’t all the same, and between lifestyles and customs, those stories come shaded in rainbow hues.

But I was particularly intrigued by the stories about tiny people which abound in Hawaii. Naturally, that provided the impetus for the next book in the series, A Primitive in Paradise. It gave me a chance to put little Mato into a deep, romantic quandary while simultaneously dealing with a massive threat to the lives of thousands upon thousands of visitors to the islands.

I got to poke a little fun at the corporations that operate gigantic theme parks and produce films featuring cartoon characters we all know. I just couldn’t use their names. (Some such theme park operating conglomerates are well-known for bringing lawsuits against anyone who dares to name any of their products or productions. I’ve no desire to spend any time in court.)

But then I knew I had to bring the players back to Wyoming for the finale. And that led to the creation of Primitives in Peril.

I wanted to dig deeper into the lives and loves of Mato’s people. In doing so, a new character evolved, one who absolutely stole my heart and who may star in her own adventure later on. A fifth book in the series? Who knows. Maybe!

When I started working on the very first book, I had no idea where it would lead. I never imagined a three-book series, much less one that stretched to four and possibly five.

I find that I learn something new in every book I write, and sometimes the thing I learn isn’t about some crazy fictional world or bizarre player from my dreams. Sometimes I learn something about myself. Thus far, it’s been mostly good stuff.

But then, I pride myself on telling people I make shit up for a living!

Thanks for dropping by. And if you’re interested in helping me out by buying a copy of one or more of these stories, if you haven’t already, please, please post a review on Amazon. The book links are posted below. And remember, books one and two will be available for a free download from March 7 through March 11, 2023. Depending on the response, I may do the same thing for books three and four.

A Little Primitive

A Little More Primitive

A Primitive in Paradise

Primitives in Peril

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Williamsburg woes, part 2 (details from a decade ago)

“The details are coming; the details are coming!”

It turns out I’m not done with the whole Colonial Williamsburg thing. In fact, I recall staying awake nights fretting about newly discovered details (new for me, anyway) concerning life in the 18th century as I worked on my Revolutionary War saga, Treason, Treason! Seriously, how many of these things could I squeeze into one book before readers held their collective noses and disposed of my meticulously plotted tome in the nearest dumpster?

In case you missed my last discourse on this–feel free to go here to catch up; I’ll wait–now, here’s more on a writer’s research conundrum: when it comes to unusual and/or generally unknown facts about a particular period in history, how much is enough?

JL tavern bib CU

Let’s begin with something simple, like oh, I dunno… napkins. It turns out that patrons of the finer colonial inns could expect to be fitted with bibs roughly the size of bedsheets. The photo at left captures your humble correspondent just prior to being served a magnificent Colonial-style meal, sans soup. One wonders how carefully our ancestors dined, or if they were all as frenzied as Henry Fielding’s legendary rogue, Tom Jones. (In the photo below from the 1963 movie, “Tom Jones,” you’ll note the obvious historical booboo — no giant napkins. On the other hand, such would only have covered up another pair of booboos. Thank you, Hollywood.)

And then there’s the business of headgear. Based on most of the period movies I’ve seen, all males living in the 18th century were equipped with tri-corner hats. Right?

Uhm… no.

Men’s hats at that time generally had a round brim, and the wearer could opt to fold up, or “cock” the brim, any way he (or she) liked. Tri-cocked hats were all the rage in France and were widely emulated in the colonies, but the good folk in Williamsburg insist that as often as not the brims were done differently, and zero to two “cockings” (“cock-ups?”) were common.

All right then, just what did the well-dressed gent wear under his hat? A wig, right? A white one. And probably powdered to hide the smell or kill bugs or… Wrong again.

For openers, only the upper crust could even afford wigs. In Virginia that amounted to about five percent of the population. So, all the other guys had to make do with plain old hair. And more specifically, their own. Those who could afford fancy hairpieces were not restricted to white ones. They had a full range of styles and colors to choose from. This held true for the ladies, too. A cheap wig, according to the Williamsburg experts, cost about the same amount as a good team of oxen.

And, speaking of oxen, I also learned there’s no such “breed” as an ox. Pretty much any old cow, or pair of cows since they usually worked in teams, could earn the Oxen Merit Badge. Males, females, steers, brothers, sisters… didn’t matter. Hitch ’em up! Or trade ’em in for a wig. Hard to beat a deal like that. (And something else I didn’t know, city slicker that I am, all of these critters have horns–boys and girls–kinda like modern-day teens. C’mon. You saw that comin’.)

Okay, almost done for this session. But this one I really like: surgeons were held in lower regard than physicians. Why? Because the latter usually went to some sort of medical school while the former earned their trade from barbers and/or butchers. Your best bet, however, was a trip to the herb lady. She normally carried a wide variety of herbal remedies. And, if all else failed, she also carried a saw and a knife for removing limbs, as well as something torchy to cauterize the stumps. One in four such patients actually survived–the same odds you’d get from a surgeon, and at a reduced cost.

If you haven’t had a chance to get a copy of Treason, Treason! there’s still time. That and a couple dozen other titles by yours truly are available via Amazon. Sorry about the blatant plug, but I’ve still gotta pay the bills.



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How much is enough? (A 10-Year-Old Replay for a Reason)

I first posted this about ten years ago. I wrote it while putting the finishing touches on what is quite possibly the best book I’ve ever written. Anyway, there is a very strong possibility that I will be relaunching said book — Treason, Treason!  — later this year. So, I thought, why not revisit what was going through my mind roughly a decade ago? Here’s part one:

I’m reminded of those uber-annoying commercials featuring lip-twisting matrons agonizing over the proper number of prunes needed to ensure regularity. Bleah!

DSC05992What caused me to dredge up such a memory? A trip to Colonial Williamsburg, of all places. With my darling bride in tow, I sought to visit the 18th century and dig up a few quaint but little-known details of Colonial life to add authenticity to the book I was working on, Treason, Treason! scheduled to come out the following fall.

It’s entirely possible I stumbled across The Mother Lode of Colonial American trivia. Some of the questions then begged, quite naturally, are as follows:

–How much of this cool insider stuff should I add? At some point, readers will cease to be amazed and simply become annoyed. (Jack Whyte, an historical novelist I’ve met and greatly admire, advises that just because one conducts meticulous research, one hasn’t earned the right to exhaust a reader with every boring detail.)

–How do I know this fabulous material will elicit a positive reaction? I live for the chance to actually watch a reader enjoy something I’ve written. But what if they find fault with one of these research gems? (I can already hear the book cover slamming shut. “No! Please, keep reading; I’m begging you.”)

cartoon JeffersonSo, what kind of stuff am I talking about? How ’bout the idea that Thomas Jefferson had a speech impediment? In fact, saying that might be a wee bit over the top. What we know for sure is that he had a high-pitched voice and loathed public speaking. But it’s quite possible he had other speech-related issues as well.

Does that mean Jefferson is in the book? Only tangentially; I named a building after him. Is that enough to trot out a bit of dialog from an “expert” in order to expose this obscure morsel about our redheaded third president?

Here’s another charming scrap I picked up from an enthusiastic Williamsburg cast member (that’s redundant; the entire cast is enthusiastic, and their efforts make all the difference in the world): in certain colonies, when someone was put in the stocks for a lesser infraction of the law, they had their ears nailed in place. In order to be released, the ears had to be cut from the head.

Are you ready to relocate to the 18th century yet?

For some readers, details like that will garner an “Oh, gee, cool!” kind of response. Others will go in search of a place to throw up. What’s an author to do?

How ’bout something non-gruesome: According to at least one of the Williamsburg historians in residence, General George Washington (yep, that one) had a quartermaster named George Bush who played the fiddle for him. Oddly enough, I know exactly where I could work that into the story, but is it over the top? Will readers see it and wonder where, exactly, I lost touch with reality?

But wait! There’s more: females were not allowed to play certain musical instruments because they could not do so without violating strict rules of feminine “deportment.” Among these was the prohibition of exposing their <gasp!> elbows. So much for flutes and violins. And don’t even think about playing other wind instruments; they require the musician to contort the face, inflating and deflating the cheeks, something which was, for women, verboten. The feminine face, it turns out, is the essence of beauty. It must not be marred by unseemly expressions. Cellos, on the other hand, were just dandy for the gals. Go figure.

I’m still working on the answers to all of these, and quite a few more. If you were hoping for closure, well, sorry! (I tried closure once, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, I still have dreams about it. Your mileage, of course, may vary.)

It’s one thing to sit at a comfy desk in an air-conditioned room making stuff up about people you’ll never meet in places you’ll never visit. It’s a whole ‘nuther ball game when you can step right through the funhouse mirror and arrive in that other time and place. I highly recommend it! (And if you’ve never been to Colonial Williamsburg, you’re missing an amazing opportunity to experience American history in a vivid and memorable way.)

DSC05978-CUAnd whether you read Treason, Treason! or simply take a short vacation in the 18th century, be prepared to have your contemporary world turned a little inside-out and a little upside-down. The prunes are entirely optional.


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I just spent a half hour with chatGPT, and it was… scary.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been hearing about chatGPT, a program that uses artificial intelligence and a vast catalog of data to create readable material. I didn’t want to believe it at first, and images of vintage robots popped into my head.

Then I read a couple of articles in today’s newspaper about school systems and teachers worrying that their students might be using the program to generate their essays and term papers for them. That made me wonder just how good such robot writing could be. So I decided to see for myself.

I went to the chatGPT website, created a free account, and played with it for a while. I entered scenarios featuring two or three characters, some sort of conflict, and a setting. Then I asked the program to write a short scene based on that input.

Shockingly, it responded quickly and with reasonably good material. I then added embellishments to the characters, their nationality, or new details about the setting and directed the program to revise the scene.

Bingo! In a matter of moments, the updated material appeared on my screen.

Here’s a quick, two-step example:

First instruction set:

My contribution: Black Bart, a notorious gunslinger wanted in several Western states bumps into Wade Watkins, a rancher with a short temper and a sawed-off shotgun. The two argue over who should apologize: Bart for not looking where he’s going, or Wade for not keeping his feet clear of the walk space. Write the argument in a short scene in the saloon.

Here’s chatGPT’s response: Wade Watkins was leaning against the bar in the saloon, nursing a whiskey when Black Bart walked in. Bart, not noticing Wade, bumped into him, spilling some of the rancher’s drink.

Wade spun around, his face red with anger. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he yelled at Bart.

“Sorry, I wasn’t watchin’ where I was goin’,” Bart replied, unperturbed.

“You’re damn right you weren’t!” Wade retorted. “You oughta watch where you’re goin’ in a crowded place like this. And you oughta apologize for spillin’ my drink.”

Bart raised an eyebrow. “And what about you? You oughta keep your feet clear of the walk space.”

The two men stared at each other, the tension in the air palpable. Neither was willing to back down or apologize first.

Finally, Wade broke the silence. “I ain’t apologizin’ for nothin’. If anyone should be apologizin’, it’s you for bumpin’ into me.”

Bart grinned. “Well, I ain’t apologizin’ either. Looks like we got ourselves a stalemate.”

The bartender, who had been watching the exchange with interest, decided to step in. “Gentlemen, there’s no need to argue. How about I buy you both a drink and we call it even?”

Wade and Bart reluctantly agreed and the bartender poured them each a shot of whiskey. The two men clinked their glasses and the tension dissipated, but the glares they shot each other made it clear that the argument was far from over.

My reaction? Surprise. It wasn’t great literature, but for a first draft based on limited input, it wasn’t bad. So I decided to up the ante a bit and add more detail.

Second instruction set:

My added input: Revise the scene and add an attractive, flirtatious barmaid with whom both men have dallied. Put the scene in her point of view.

Here’s chatGPT’s response: As the barmaid, Lola, walked over to the bar, she couldn’t help but overhear the heated argument between Black Bart and Wade Watkins. She had seen this kind of thing plenty of times before, and usually, a drink or two was enough to diffuse the situation. But these two were stubborn and both seemed dead-set on having the last word.

Lola had a soft spot for both men. They were rough around the edges, but had a charm that was hard to resist. She had dallied with both of them at different times, and they were both good in their own way.

She leaned against the bar, pretending to wipe it down as she listened to their argument. She knew that she could have a calming influence on them, but she also didn’t want to get involved in the middle of their disagreement.

Finally, the bartender stepped in and offered to buy them both a drink, and Lola breathed a sigh of relief. She decided to take advantage of the opportunity to inject herself into the situation.

“I’ll take care of those drinks, honey,” she said, winking at the bartender. “Why don’t you two join me at a table? It’s a little crowded here at the bar.”

Wade and Bart exchanged a look, then followed her to a table in the corner of the saloon. Lola poured them each a shot of whiskey and sat down between them, making sure to brush her hand against both of their arms as she did so.

“So,” she said, batting her eyelashes. “What were you two arguing about?”

Neither man answered, but their expressions softened as they looked at her. Lola could see the tension dissipating and she grinned to herself, knowing that she had done her job.

She leaned in, her hand resting on Bart’s arm. “You know, I have a feeling that you two could be good friends. If only you could get past this silly argument.”

Wade and Bart looked at each other, then back at her. Lola could see the gears turning in their heads, and she knew that she had them right where she wanted them.

“You know what?” Wade said. “I think you’re right. We were just having a little spat. It’s nothing that a drink and some good company can’t fix.”

Bart nodded in agreement, and Lola smiled. She had successfully diffused the situation, and who knows, maybe she could convince them both to stay for a little longer and keep her company.


I’m not quite sure what to make of this program. Based on my initial attempts, it looks like something that could easily generate first-draft material a writer could take advantage of. I honestly feel for the teachers who will have to figure out if their students are using it instead of doing their own writing. It also saddens me to think we’ll be seeing short stories and novels generated this way.

People should write the stories the world loves, not machines.

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Can Science Fiction Be Funny? (Encore)

Someone long ago told me the reason she didn’t read science fiction was that it took itself too seriously. “You can read that stuff all day and never even smile,” she claimed. I’d read enough Heinlein to know that wasn’t true, but I’d also read a lot of stuff that supported her argument. So I decided to write an SF story that had a little humor. This one comes from my short story collection Dancing Among the Stars available from Amazon right here.

Andi loved the beach. That’s why they went. The undead of winter: skin-shearing wind, rain like small caliber bullets—it didn’t matter. The sound of the surf in all its ferocious brown froth and sharp-edged waves didn’t deter them from a walk on the flat, depopulated expanse of sand and sodden vegetation. She felt the lure of the shells, or what was left of them. Miles and miles of mangled exoskeleton. The charm had no effect on Charlie. But it was the space she occupied and was therefore where he had to be.

“What the hell is that?” he asked, that being a ham-sized piece of greenish-white flotsam sticking out of the sand like something clawing its way up from a grave.

“I can’t imagine,” Andi said, delighted by the find. She knelt to free the object from the sand, carefully digging around it like a crime scene investigator or an anthropologist, just like on TV.

When it didn’t come free, she dropped to her knees and dug into the sand with mittened hands, bulldozing the wet, gray grit away from her treasure. “You could help, y’know.”

“I could, but then I wouldn’t be able to watch your backside wiggle.” Charlie was a great admirer of feminine backsides, and Andi’s was unquestionably top-tier. It didn’t get any better than that. But, oh my, can it wiggle, he thought.

“Dig, you horny swine,” she said. “Or else.”

He dug.

They quickly freed the still unidentified object, which Andi rinsed in the frigid surf. “I don’t think it’s a shell.”

The slantwise rain had Charlie squinting and shivering. “Let’s take it inside. The light’s better.”

“What a wuss,” she said as she carefully stowed her prize in a Piggly Wiggly bag. “Okay. Let’s go. I need food.”

He gave silent thanks and linked arms with her for the march back to the beach house, his mind consumed with alternating thoughts of warmth and bourbon. And Andi. Wiggling. The plastic grocery bag clutched in her free hand had already fled his mind.

Lunch was soup. Bean and bacon, accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches—his specialty. He used mayo, a squirt of chipotle sauce, and a slab of cheese somewhat thinner than the average yoga mat, all compressed on thick raisin bread. His motto: screw the soup.

The lunch dishes done, Charlie endeavored to lure Andi into the bedroom where they might investigate the many wiggle-related elements of her anatomy. Sadly, her focus remained on the bony remnant from the beach.

“I’ll bet there’s more of it out there,” she said.

He offered discouragement, but gently. “If so, it’s probably spread across acres and acres of sand. Could be buried deep, too. We’d need shovels. Cranes, maybe. Earth movers. Toddy?”

“Shovels! Great idea. I think I saw a tool shed when we parked the car.” And just like that she launched herself on a mission, out of reach. Fully clothed and motivated. “C’mon! We need to get back out there before someone else finds ’em.”

Evidently, she had failed to notice how empty the search area was, then and now. “I’m not too worried,” he said.

“You’re gonna make me do this alone?” she asked, the question punctuated by the sound of her zipper racing chinward.

He held up an empty grocery bag. “Perish the thought. Lemme just grab another layer or two of arctic weather gear and–”

“I’ll get the shovel and meet you on the boardwalk!”

Andi disappeared, though her scent and the exclamation marks with which she spoke lingered. Charlie sniffed appreciatively then zippered up and headed for the wooden walkway that linked their rental unit with the northern reaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

She had already begun a new excavation. Midway between the boardwalk and the water, Andi attacked the beach as if looking for survivors of a mine disaster. Bits of wind-born sand stung Charlie’s eyes before he altered his approach. “Find anything?”

“Yes! It’s another one of those whatsits like we found this morning.”

“Oh, joy.”

“What if they came from the same creature?”

“I don’t find that comforting,” he said. “Especially since we have no idea what the first thing is. If it’s a left-something, and you just found the matching right-something, then we could be faced with a really large something.”

She stopped digging long enough to fix him with one of those are-you-nucking-futs looks that women develop around the onset of puberty.

“How can I help?”

“I’ve got this chunk,” she said. “Why don’t you look for more.” It wasn’t a question.

“All righty.” He paused, searching for a diplomatic way to phrase the next question. “Uhm. How will I know if it’s a piece of the same critter?”

She rested her forearms on the end of the shovel, panting slightly. “Ignore shells. Look for anything that might be a bone.”

“Like a leg?”

“Or a tail, maybe. Or a skull….”

“A skull? Y’mean like a fish head?”

“I mean like a skull. Like the other end of whatever this is.” She stabbed the shovel into the sand and levered a greenish-white artifact to the surface. Definitely a mate for artifact number one. She rinsed it in the surf and placed it carefully on the end of the boardwalk.

“There!” she said, pointing a few feet away. “There’s another piece.” She turned away from him and spied still more. “Look! There, too! And there—dig. Dig!

He couldn’t match her zeal, but he refused to quit before she did, no matter what. The pile of parts grew. They called them bones for lack of a better word, but they didn’t resemble any bones he knew of, though his familiarity with skeletal parts faded rapidly once he ventured beyond fish and fowl. Charlie could recognize a Buffalo wing as well as the next guy, but when it came to these things, his imagination was sorely taxed. Andi’s, however, was merely piqued.

The sun, rapidly becoming a smudge on the winter horizon, provided too little light to continue. To his great relief, Andi signaled a halt. “Thank God,” he groaned. “I need a drink. And food. And then maybe some sex. And then sleep. And then–”

“Help me,” she said, oblivious to his needs. “We need to get these inside so I can figure out how they go together.”


“Yeah.” She gave him a look of impatience. “Of course. What’d you think I had in mind?”

“I dunno. You’ve got a shell collection. I just figured–”

“These aren’t shells,” she said. “They’re bones. I’m sure of it.”

“What kinda bones?”

“How should I know?” She stepped carefully through the dunes and climbed up on the boardwalk. “I’m going in to get something to carry these on. I’ll be right back.”


Haulsmuch, the maintenance overseer, couldn’t remember a time he had ever been so angry. A mere two duty cycles before they were scheduled to rotate home, some germ-brained worker announced the discovery of an eater—an adult eater no less—in one of the onboard hothouses. An eater—on his ship! Worse still, nothing had been done to hide the discovery from the science overseer or the flight crew.

They killed the nasty thing immediately, of course, but they utterly abandoned common sense at that point. No attempt was made to hide the news. The flight crew refused to leave the backwater planet they had been parked on forever, and the science types refused to do any more work until the infected hothouse and all its contents had been spaced. They’d all be living on half rations while new crops grew. Worst of all, the ship would be quarantined for as long as it took to prove the infection had been eradicated. Knowing what sticklers the science and flight crews were, that could take a lifetime. One of his, obviously, not one of theirs.

On the floor in front of him, the offending worker had withdrawn into its carapace. Not a single appendage remained visible, though a steady nervous vibration emanated from it. “Proud of yourself, Crapmuncher?” Haulsmuch asked.

Not surprisingly, the worker was too terrified to respond.

“Next time something like this happens, come get me. Don’t try to think through your options; you don’t have any. Call me. Understood?”

The worker quivered in the affirmative, or close enough to satisfy Haulsmuch. “If this happens again, I’ll feed you to the eater before we kill it.”

The carapace contracted still further, and the maintenance overseer sighed in resignation. “Get the others. Harvest everything. Call me when you’re done.”


Charlie slept well that night, even without Andi sharing his bed. The dark hours passed quickly. He rose as the sky transitioned from black to gray and found Andi slumped forward on the table with her head resting on her crossed arms. Bones from the beach sprawled in front of her.

Circling the table slowly, Charlie hoped to identify the skeletal creature without waking Andi, but a varied viewing angle made no difference. The thing remained a mystery.

He appreciated Andi’s efforts, however. The bones—if bones they were—seemed to be lined up in an appropriate manner. Though not connected by tissue, the joints made sense in a sort of spidery fashion, there being an abundance of arachnoid knees and elbows. The head bore an impressive set of long and lethally edged teeth. Charlie touched a cutting surface in the upper jaw, convinced that very little pressure would be needed to sever the digit.

Andi stirred. Charlie leaned down and kissed the back of her neck. “You been at this all night?”

“Mmm,” she said.

“Want some breakfast?”





She opened one eye.

“Coffee it is.” He set about making some. “That’s one hell of an impressive thing you’ve got there, whatever it is.”

“It’s rotting.”

“Really? Does it smell?” He sniffed. “I don’t smell anything. Do you?”

“No,” she said, “but look at the joints. Any places where I tried to fit two pieces together. It’s all crumbly.”

He had noticed a powdery substance near many of the joints, but chalked it up to sand.

“Touch one of the pieces,” she said. “Any one. Doesn’t matter.”

He did, and a fine rain of powdery white particles drifted down. It clearly wasn’t sand. “Maybe we should take a sample somewhere and have it identified.”

“Mmm,” Andi said. “Wake me when the coffee’s ready.”


Seesfar and Ponderslife stood over the lifeless maintenance overseer. Like the hothouse where they found the remains, there wasn’t much left to examine—some bits of shell, an over-articulated appendage, fluid stains, and a disturbingly long piece of something from Haulsmuch’s digestive system. A pair of workers huddled in a twittering ball nearby. Neither appeared injured.

“You there! Quit sniveling and stand up.”

One of the workers managed to comply, but it was a less-than-noble effort.

“Did you see what happened?” Seesfar demanded.

“Eater,” it said, as if the admission would cause it the same untidy end as that suffered by the overseer.

“Obviously,” Seesfar said. “Has it been caught, or is it still running loose?”

The worker collapsed. “Loose,” it said.


Ponderslife clicked a mandible in thought. “For the longest time, I believed eaters were merely a distraction, legendary creatures meant to entertain the hive on long missions.”

“But you’ve seen one? Alive?”

“No, but I’d love to. Science is–”

“Yes, yes, science is god, and god must be fed; knowledge is food, blah blah blah.”

“Careful, Seesfar. There are those on board who take their religion seriously.”

“When the initial reports came through, I thought we would be safe. If they only found a single adult, then we had no need to fear their offspring. Aren’t they the true terrors?”

“They’re all terrors,” Ponderslife said. “They eat and they excrete. That’s it. They have no brain function—high, low, or in between. They’re sole purpose in life is to transform useful material into shit.”

“From plant to fertilizer.”

“From anything organic to fertilizer. Even their mode of procreation is mindless.”

“How sad.”

“How frightening.”


 “They’re dissolving,” Andi said, her voice flat and as devoid of excitement as it had been overloaded when the bones first appeared. “Look. All of it. It’s turning to dust.”

Charlie ran his finger through the powder on the table. “Looks like cocaine.”

“How would you know what cocaine looks like?”

“From TV. It looks like this, right?” He corralled the powder with a cupped hand. “We need to roll up a hundred-dollar bill and sniff it.”

“Great idea! Call me when the hospital discharges you.”

“I’m kidding, okay? Chill. Geez. What else can we do with it?”

“Let’s sweep it in the trash, pack our stuff and go home.”

Charlie tried not to smile. “The weather is supposed to clear; we can afford to stay another day. The beach is still empty.”

Andi looked through a rain-streaked window. “Mmm. This looks like a great day to stay indoors. Maybe take a nap.” She stretched in a languorous and thoroughly un-nappy way.

Charlie brightened. “Lemme clean this up. I’ll join you in a jiffy.”

As Andi ambled into the bedroom, Charlie swept the powder from the table into a wastebasket. He used a wet paper towel to clear the residue from the wooden surface and then followed in Andi’s footsteps, tugging at his belt as he went. He never noticed the first faint stirring of activity in the trash.


 The order to go on quarter rations came as a surprise only to the workers, who reacted with a predictable level of panic to any change in routine. In fact, workers would be lucky to get any food at all. Those who starved could be replaced eventually; they had an abundance of frozen worker larvae. A few were bright enough to recognize the unfairness of it all but knew better than to complain. There was always the chance that the emergency might end before the food stores did.

Dealing with an eater infestation was new to most of the crew, regardless of status. All surfaces, not just decks or hothouse access ways had to be kept free of moisture. Dead eaters had to be burnt, and their ashes dumped in an acid bath, lest their desiccated tissues escape. Contact with water invariably leads to the rise of eater spawn, tiny organisms with a microscopic share of their parent’s size, but a full helping of their life mission.

The ship would remain sealed throughout the quarantine. Until then it would sit, submerged, in the body of water the natives called the “Gulf of Mexico.”

Ponderslife frowned as he inspected the garbage chute into which Haulsmuch had stuffed the second eater, and where he’d fallen prey to the third. Someday, when the science crews were allowed to communicate with the various sentient species they studied, someone would have to apologize.


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A Necessary Evil — Part II (Encore)

What’s your book about? While that seems like an easy question, many authors have trouble coming up with a quick answer. What too often comes out is something like: “It’s about this guy who finds a magic tuba while digging through his great uncle’s attic. Of course, he doesn’t know it’s magic, so he’s not prepared when he blows on it and a genie comes out. Trouble is, it’s not a very nice genie. It’s been trapped in the tuba for ages, and now it’s out for revenge. Meanwhile, the guy’s mom is trying to get back home after escaping from prison for a crime she says she didn’t commit. Problem is, everyone thinks she’s a pathological liar, but that’s okay because….”

Is the book about a magic tuba? Or is it about the genie? Or maybe it’s about the poor shlub who finds them. Or his mother. Or maybe it’s about how the evil genie tries to seduce the girl next door. So maybe it’s a coming of age story. For the genie. Or maybe the girl next door. Who the hell knows? As the writer, you should certainly know. Alas, it simply ain’t so for way too many novices.

It used to be that only bad writers with money to burn would self-publish. Back then there was no “traditional” route to publication; there was only “the” route. Anyone wanting to see their stuff in print had to deal with agents or wrangle an appointment to chat with an editor at a writer’s conference or fan convention. Back then–and today for anyone still trying to sell a book to a Big Five subsidiary–the missing link was the “elevator pitch.” This amounted to a 30-second summary of the book packaged in such a way as to grab the attention of an editor or agent when trapped in an elevator at one of the aforementioned gatherings. Millions of such pitches have been cast in hotel bars, too, among other places.

Self-publishing has changed a lot of that, but there’s still a need for a pitch, even if you’re not trying to get a deal with a big publisher. [Don’t look at me like that. Just lemme explain.] Your elevator pitch might just make a dandy back cover blurb, and a well-executed book blurb is essential to a profitable sales campaign. It’s nearly as important as a great front cover.

If writing one seems like a daunting task, try using this formula for starters. You can revise it to suit your needs later, but for now, this should get you going. Just fill in the {blanks} as best you can.

When {identity} {character name} {does something}, {there’s a consequence}. Now, with {time limit/restrictions}, {character} must {do something heroic} to {reach a goal} or {lose something meaningful}.

So, f’rinstance:

When rookie FBI agent Filbert Feeney finds an ancient book of spells, he uses one to catch the top criminals on the agency’s Most Wanted List. But there’s a price to be paid for using the magic, and it will cost him his life–and his soul–unless he finds a way to reverse the spell without letting the criminals get away.

Here’s one based on the Leonardo DiCaprio film, “The Revenant,” released in 2015: When legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass is injured in a brutal bear attack while exploring an uncharted wilderness in 1823, he is left for dead by his best friend. Now, grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance against the confidant who abandoned him, Glass must survive the winter terrain to return home to his family.

Will it work for every story? Probably not. But it will help you shape your thinking about what needs to go in a blurb. More importantly, it might just give customers a solid reason for buying your book.

Your blurb, in various formats, will be needed to flesh out ads and other promotional material. And yes, you might even need to use it in an elevator when you meet some movie mogul on the lookout for a new blockbuster.

A good book blurb is the next essential piece of your book marketing campaign. You won’t go far without it. In fact, if you lack a good blurb, your book and all the hard work you put into it, won’t go anywhere.

We’ll investigate yet another piece of the writer’s marketing puzzle next time around, so stay tuned.


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Some (stupid?) things that keep writers awake at night

You’ve just finished chapter twenty-something. You’re feeling good about yourself. The story is coming along; the players are performing well, and there’s a better-than-even chance you’ll beat your deadline, assuming you have one.

If you’re self-publishing you might be wondering why you don’t have one. What’s your plan? When will it be done? Why didn’t you give yourself a deadline when you started?

If you’re writing a book as part of a contract with a publisher, you most certainly will have a deadline. Is it reasonable? If not, why did you agree with it? Did you fight for better terms? Should you have gotten an agent,or if you have one, should you look for a better one?

It’s far more likely, however, that what’s keeping you up at night has something to do with your work in progress. The questions that keep rolling around in your head feature things you normally wouldn’t think about. For instance, let’s say you’ve told the bulk of your tale using a first-person character (“I thought this…” or “I did that.” etc.) named Albert.

So, good ol’ Albert opens the story as a decent chap, one most readers will react to sympathetically. That’s almost always a good thing. But as the tale unfolds, you slowly realize that in order to make certain subplots work, Albert needs to move toward the dark side, and a different character needs to become the protagonist, and now you need to let poor ol’ Al take a dirt nap.

But wait! If most of the story is told in first-person, doesn’t that imply to the reader that the storyteller will survive until the last page?

Maybe, maybe not. Storyteller survival to the end of the book is most likely the norm, but quite a few authors have figured out how to get around the tricky business of having a dead character continue in the role of narrator, at least, if not working as a ghost. Union rules don’t apply here.

The alternative is to go back through all those twenty-something chapters and recast your first-person character in third-person (“He thought this…” or “He did that.” etc.).

Novelists tend to think of bizarre things from time to time. A writer friend had a character break out a box of day-old doughnuts in his story. That set me to thinking of ways to kill off a bad guy using something similar. That brought to mind the concept widely known as “Chekov’s Gun.” Simply stated, it means you can’t shoot a player in scene two unless you’ve introduced the gun in scene one.

Suddenly, a fractured version of that idea began churning my few remaining brain cells around something I thought of as “Chekov’s Doughnut.” It was good for a couple hours of nonsleep, at least.

This, I realize, represents a miserly few of the often stupid things that occupy writers’ minds while they’re trying to sleep. So, if you run into a writer who looks like he or she hasn’t enjoyed a good forty or fifty, undisturbed winks lately, be kind. If not, you might find yourself in their next epic.

Just sayin’…


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What was I thinking? Seriously? Part 1

Why would anyone choose the writing life? Damn good question! And I’m still not sure I’ll be able to answer it logically. But, the idea made me want to delve into the backgrounds of my books–the ones I’ve written all by my ownsome. Why did I write what I wrote? What was going on at the time? What did I really have in mind? This series will attempt to answer those questions. Fair warning: it’s going to take a lot more than one measly post.

So, to begin….

Fresh on the heels of my fourth collaboration with Canadian writer, Barbara Galler-Smith, I felt it was well past the time for me to write my first solo novel. When working with Barb, we adhered to a protocol that required us to outline everything before we wrote anything. And it worked, for a while. For a long while, actually, until one or the other of us got bitten by the inspiration bug and introduced a new character, conundrum, or crisis.

Then it was back to the drawing board to examine the outline to see just how far off track the new issue would throw us, assuming we both liked the new idea. As I recall, that wasn’t always the case. Anyway, by the time we got everything worked out, written–and in the case of one entire volume–re-written, we were done. By my estimate, it took seventeen (yep, 17) years from the time we started until the third book in our trilogy was finally published. Most of that time was NOT spent looking for a publisher, though we talked to several. (The titles in that series are: Druids, Captives, and Warriors, all published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.)

Weary of such a massive undertaking, we took a shot at collaborating on something much, much smaller, a romantic comedy set in Wales. That one took less than a year. Under Saint Owain’s Rock came out in the fall of 2011. We both liked the book, but I believe we were both tired of working together. When we started, we had different strengths, different outlooks, and different tastes. As writers, we both grew. We both learned a lot (and that’s a monstrous understatement). It was time for a change.

So, while still wrapping up the details in my last collaboration with Barb, I wrote my very first solo novel, Ressurection Blues. I managed to put the whole thing together in about nine weeks–start to finish. The two books came out one month apart.

Is one story better than the other? I don’t believe so. I think they’re both fun reads, and if one can believe the reviews, readers like them both. That said, the two stories couldn’t be much different. Aside from one being set in the British Isles and the other in rural Alabama, they both feature very small towns. In Owain’s Rock, the townsfolk are looking for public exposure and tourism; in Blues, the townsfolk revel in anonymity. The last thing they want is to be discovered by anyone!

Blues gave me the opportunity to experiment with new character types. More importantly, I no longer had to compromise–on anything. That sped things up immensely. I dug around in my own history; I thought about the things I most admired by other writers, notably Robert Heinlein. I got to tell a story that presented a wide range of possibilities, all based on libertarian principles. More than anything else, I found joy in exercising my imagination. In short, I was having a blast.

Did I make mistakes? Sure. Plenty of them. But far fewer than if I hadn’t spent so many years working with Barb and other members of our first writing group, The Imps (short for Writers Impatiently Waiting to be Published).

So, in case you missed either of these GREAT stories, NOW is the time to correct the oversights. Starting tomorrow, January 16, 2023, and running through midnight on January 20, 2023, you can download free copies of both books from Amazon. Here are the links:

Ressurection BluesClick here.

Under Saint Owain’s RockClick here.

With any luck, I’ll be back next time to chat about my second novel, Treason, Treason!

Meanwhile, look for discounted pricing on all my paperbacks in the next few weeks.

Happy New Year!


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What the hell were they thinking?

We’ve all been there. We’re wandering through a bookstore–could be gigantic, could be a small, local operation–the shelves are loaded to the max on either side, and we stumble across a book that looks interesting. We buy it, take it home, read half of it, and never look at it again, except to throw it out or give it to a charity so some other poor slob can be suckered in and then disappointed. Some charity.

Or maybe we’re wandering virtually, through the endless digital bookshelves at Amazon. We may or may not have an author in mind. We might not even care what genre a writer works in so long as the story, the cover, or the blurb on the back catches our eye. We’re looking for something; we’re just not sure what.

And then we see it. And one question pops instantly into our heads: What the hell were they thinking?

It’s a book, right? Probably. But I doubt I’d read it. Then again, there’s something about it… Maybe it’s the possibility I won’t be able to get the image out of my head. Whoever produced this must have had a story in mind.

I dunno. Maybe not.

Bad book covers are nothing new. I presume that’s because bad taste is nothing new. I don’t have enough knowledge of genetics to know if bad taste is an inherited trait or not. My guess is that it’s driven more by environment.

The idea, however, drove me to look for some really bad covers that came out in the past. To my surprise, there were quite a few. I’ve taken the liberty of selecting three for your edification.

To wit:

There’s bound to be some historical, regional, and/or social background information that might explain these covers to readers attuned to current marketing. Still, I can’t help but grin when I see them. It makes me think I couldn’t possibly do worse.

That’s something, isn’t it?


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