Well, that's just sick

            So, did ya miss me?

            No? Oh.

            I’ve been sparse online due to a double combo of sinus infection and bronchitis, which left me unwilling to do much of anything except sleep and whine – and you don’t want to hear me whine. Except maybe in my columns, where I do it for the funny. (I actually wrote this yesterday … which is good, because I feel worse today.)

            I’ll try to make up for it by posting something every day during the ten day voting period for Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest, what with me being a contestant and all. Public voting starts October 2nd, and as you’ll hear me say a whole lot, my entry is here:

            But to the reader it would be boring (at least) to just hear ten days of “Vote for me, I’ve been good”, so as I embark on this marathon I’ll try to mix it up in various fun ways – ways which I will no doubt invent as soon as the antibiotics take effect and my sinus medicine starts wearing off. Until then, I’m not entirely sure whether I’m actually writing this, or just imagining it. Come to think of it, my chapter one submission might consist entirely of a Vulcan language translation of Moby Dick.

            I really should go check on that.

Just a degree or two

I have this weird thing where I feel guilty whenever I call in sick to work. I could be laying in the OR while they reattach my arm, and I still feel bad that someone else has to cover my shift for me. On the other hand, I draw the line at going in when I'm running a fever; anyone who might be contagious needs to STAY HOME.

In this case, Emily informed me that I look like I should be laying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm, so I'm heading back to the couch.

Camping: Or, The Crazy Things Humans Do


            The human race spent a considerable amount of its fortune and creative energy making homes more comfortable: Indoor plumbing, air conditioning, entertainment centers, and the ultimate in accurate brand naming, Lazy Boys. Then, once our domiciles became places where we never had to suffer (except during family dinners), where entertainment and food could be delivered right to our seats …
            We went camping.
            There are people in third world countries who live in tents, cook over an open fire, and dig holes to, shall we say, deposit their waste, and dream of someday leaving that all behind for a one room hut with a hole in the bathroom floor and a rain barrel out back. They think we’re crazy.
            I suppose it makes as much sense as all the other crazy stuff humans do. We could use sprinkler systems to stop the fire-caused loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property. We could wall off Washington, D.C. and start a new capital from scratch, maybe in Kansas. We could live years longer by not indulging in needless poisons like alcohol and reality TV. If we allow all that foolish stuff, why not camp?
            So we did.
            Emily and I spent the weekend early this summer (Yes, I’m that far behind) at Chain O’ Lakes State Park, just a few miles from my home … and so was within driving distance if we forgot something, or if I could talk her into going home and sleeping in a real bed.
The trip started on a high note when the campground gate attendant recognized my name not from a watch list, but because she had my first novel on her Kindle (Several scenes from Storm Chaser are set at Chain O’ Lakes).
            It was all pretty much downhill from there.
            Emily and I have different tastes in camping. She was a Girl Scout, and basically spent every summer of her entire life in a camp. They wouldn’t let me join the Girl Scouts. I refused to enter the Boy Scouts because there were no girls.
That's all she needs: A tent, a hatchet, and two sticks to rub together. I needed enough sticks to build a house.
            So for her, camping is pointless if you can’t haul whatever you need on your back. That would only work for me if I was The Incredible Hulk, and so could carry a full sized recreational vehicle. “Hulk warm and comfortable!”
            She needs a tent the size of my bathtub, a sleeping bag, and a multipurpose knife. I need internet connectivity.
            Who am I kidding? I also need a satellite hookup, a fridge, a real bed, and a freaking toilet. However, I draw the line at taking anything that won’t fit into the RV, or on its roof and sides, or in the truck that’s towing it, or in the camp store.
            We compromised and took what would fit in a 2005 Ford Focus. It wasn’t much.
            Still, at least I didn’t have to figure out anything myself; Emily pitched a tent while I pitched a fit, built a fire while I built toward a nervous breakdown, and cooked an amazing dish called a shipwreck (and S ’mores) while I … ate.
            My biggest contribution to the whole thing was buying fresh batteries to fire up every single source of light in the house, which amounted to 38 flashlights and lamps of various kinds and sizes. That was Plan B. Plan A didn’t work because there wasn’t enough extension cord in the whole town to reach the nearest outlet.
            I just don’t like the dark. Never have. Sure, my Scout gal made fun of me, but I’d like to think she appreciated the little circle of light beams I set up around the tent … especially once the coyotes started howling at midnight. Did you know we had coyotes? There’s never a Road Runner around when you need one.
            I’d forgotten just how dark it can get in the middle of nowhere at night, and I’d also forgotten just how loud insects and animals can get in that selfsame pitch darkness. Between that and relearning that the hard ground is, by definition, hard … well, I didn’t get much sleep that night. Next time I’m bringing a tractor, plow, and disk, and I’m going to fluff that ground up to then make it as smooth and soft as possible.
            Or, I’ll buy an air mattress.
            It’s the best I can do, because not only can I not afford that big RV, but Emily’s made it clear that anything beyond a little extra padding is out of the question. Not that I won’t get a little extra padding of my own, if she keeps making those S ’mores.
I suppose I should be happy to have a woman who isn’t into a lot of extra luxuries.
            But next time, could we at least haul in a Porta-Potty?
Our tent, our cooler, our car, our breakfast. That's me behind the camera.

The Desert Rocks: Book Marketing

The Desert Rocks: Book Marketing: I belong to several writers’ groups online and also one that meets in a library once a month. Most of the time, there’s a closer feeling b...

An Interview With Joe Biden, or: Inquiring On The President's Health


            This is a good time to make serious inquires and observations relating to American politics, with this very important election coming up. But I don’t work that way. So instead, I decided to interview Vice-President Joe Biden. But he doesn’t work that way, so I put together an interview using his own words.
            There were so many words. As I researched, I saw the difference between Biden and the much-maligned Clint Eastwood speech from the Republican convention. Eastwood’s unscripted talk was rambling and a bit free-associative, and many people didn’t get his old actor’s technique of speaking to an empty chair. (Although how many of the rest of us could have done better without a teleprompter, including most politicians?) But if you parse out his words, you could make sense of it and it was pretty straightforward. (Whether you agree or not.)
            Biden, on the other hand, often comes out sounding all smooth and politician-like, right up until the instant he verbally steps into a big, stinking load of wet caca. All in all, I’d take Eastwood.

            Hello, Mr. Vice-President. I hope you don’t mind that I originally wanted to get the President for an interview …
            “He’s busy getting ready for Easter. He thinks it’s about him.”
            But do you and President Obama get along? You don’t sit around hoping he catches cold, or something? How do you feel about him?
            “You got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
            The first? Mr. Vice-President, some people think you’re a little insensitive on the issue of race …
            “You don’t know my state. My state was a slave state … my state is the eighth largest black population in the country.”
            But – aren’t you from Delaware? That wasn’t a slave state …
“Folks, let me be straight with you…I have a bad habit of doing that.”
            I appreciate your candor. Okay, I get that you’re a little uncomfortable with the subject, but how are race relations in Delaware now?
            “The largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
            What? That’s not very funny.
            “I’m not joking.”
            Well, how do you feel a Republican administration would deal with racial issues?
            “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
            So you still support –
            “Barack America!”
            Okay, how does he rank compared to other Presidents?
            “I can tell you I’ve known eight Presidents, three of them intimately.”
            And he – ah – compares favorably?
            "I promise you, the president has a big stick. I promise you."
            Well, I won’t ask for more details. Still, it seems like during the last election it was difficult to get to know Obama to the extent that we knew his main competitor, Hillary Clinton.
“The more people learn about them and how they handle the pressure, the more their support will evaporate.”
Could anyone on the Republican side have done a good job?
“The only guy on the other side who’s qualified is John McCain.”
So what do you think Obama’s biggest challenge has been?
“A three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S, jobs."
Did you two discuss the economy much during the campaign?
“I don’t recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic.”
Do you think the government should encourage private enterprise, or take more of a hands-on approach?
"When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened’."
But – FDR wasn’t President in 1929, when the stock market crashed … and the only TV sets in existence at the time were expensive experimental units.
“You need to work on your pecs.”
            I beg your –
            “You all look dull as hell, I might add.”
            Well, I don’t think –
            “Just sitting there, staring at me. Pretend you like me!”
            I’d love to, but don’t you think the administration is going just a little overboard with spending right now? Do you really think that will help the economy in the long run?
            “People when I say that look at me and say, 'What are you talking about, Joe? You're telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?' The answer is yes, that's what I'm telling you.”
            But what if you’re wrong?
"If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there's still a 30% chance we're going to get it wrong."
            I see. Well, what about foreign policy? Did the President do the right thing, leaving Iraq so quickly?
            “My impression is he thinks that if we leave, somehow the Iraqis are going to have an epiphany of peaceful coexistence among warring sects. I’ve seen zero evidence of that.”
            What should we do, then?
            “Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran.”
            What? You think we should give money to countries that hate us?
            “Oh give me a f***ing break."
            Well, that – you seem almost threatening.
            “I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now."
Oh, dear. When you go home and look at yourself in the mirror after interviews like this, what do you think?
“What am I talking about?”

Writer Q&A, or: Dining With My Characters

This weekend I’m a guest at GK Adams’ blog, where I riff on upcoming projects, inspiration, research, the writing life, and why you should do as I say, not as I do:

“For my unpublished novel, Coming Attractions, I outlined the whole thing and created the characters … while waiting in the car for the drive-in movies to start.”

Inside the Love Life of a Romance Writer

A glut of riches this week, with another blog tour interview and one more yet to come. Now Krisztina William asks, “How romantic is a male romance writer”? The answer may surprise you. Or maybe not …


“She thought I was female. I thought she was bright, quirky, and amusing. Turns out one of us was right.”

Can I Be Funny Now?


            I remember the first new episode of “Saturday Night Live” to air after the events of 9/11. After a somber opening and dedication to the fallen, one of the cast members asked the mayor of New York City, “Can we be funny now?”
            The Mayor replied, “Why start now?”
            It was a necessary ice breaker. All around we were hearing the best way to fight the terrorists was to go about our normal business, to not allow them to beat us into submission – to change us. A comedy show couldn’t just keep going without comedy. Well, some do, but not intentionally.
            Ten years ago this week, I dedicated myself to writing about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on each and every anniversary until the war was over.
            I knew even then that it would be a long haul. Muslim extremist terrorists are present all over the world, adept at killing civilians, using human shields, often hiding among more moderate Muslims who want nothing to do with them. We can’t do something like invade Germany or bomb Tokyo, then rebuild their country and expect them in turn to become vibrant, democratic allies. Extremists, by definition, are extreme. This war will go on until we figure out a way to ferret them out while also getting moderate Muslims to fight them too, or until they wipe out everyone who doesn’t convert to be just like them.
            Never forget, that was my motto.
            But I’m a humor columnist.
            Not only that, but there are only so many ways you can say the same thing. I spent some time thinking on what I wanted to write this year, then dug through my older 9/11 columns and discovered I’d already said all those things. I covered the victims, the heroes, the politics, the bad guys, the war. Should I just reprint one of my ten previous 9/11 columns, every year from now on?
            In that case, it doesn’t seem like anyone would get their money’s worth out of me. Besides, I already do that every two or three years with my Christmas column – half hoping nobody will notice and half worrying that nobody will.
            So much bad stuff has happened in my life this year. Medical stuff, mostly – don’t even get me started on the colonoscopy – and in my family we’re dealing with more of it to come. Worse, I’m convinced our government will continue this mad gallop over the fiscal cliff, down to the jagged rocks of national insolvency. As a nation we seem to have lost our moral compass. We can’t seem to bring ourselves to care about each other, we want everything for nothing, and blame everyone else for not making sure we get it. I can’t get people to start using their turn signal, and somebody’s dog is in the habit of taking a dump in my front yard.
            Am I just a barrel of sunshine, or what?
            I’m reminded of an episode of the British TV series Doctor Who. The Doctor finds a way to cure all the victims of a deadly virus, and he shouts to his companion in gleeful triumph: “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once, everybody lives!”
            It was the first time I had real insight into the effect the Doctor’s violent adventures had on him, deep down. He was so happy at that moment. Just that once, he found a way to solve a problem without sacrificing a single life.
            Just this once … can I help people through these difficult times with a laugh, or at least a smile? Can I be funny now?
            Oh, I’m not saying I’ll forget. I’ll never forget, and I’ll do my best to make sure no one else does either. I’ll put something on my website and social media, and take time myself to remember all the victims, all the suffering, all the challenges we faced and face still.
            But in this time of failing politicians, an economy about to be dropkicked, federal overspending at criminal levels, and bad guys working on ways to wipe out whole cities … well, we need to take action, but while we’re taking that action we can either laugh, or cry.
            I choose laughter.
            And let’s face it, that may have always been my best role. Maybe I should be like Bob Hope entertaining the troops, only not as funny, or brave, or rich, and with a smaller nose. If other people are more talented at fighting wars, tracking down terrorists, or doing so many of the other things that keep us safe, maybe I can bring a little levity to the proceedings; give someone a moment of respite from all that deadly seriousness.
            Yeah, it only took me eleven years to figure out I might be going about it the wrong way. We learn slowly. I still haven’t figured out not to eat my own cooking.
            I took that idea to my wife, explained the situation, and asked her opinion on it. I want to make people laugh in these hard times, I told her. Can I be funny now?
            She shrugged. “Why start now?”