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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Revival and Other Stories

A blogger friend published his first book. I bought it at Amazon for my kindle. It's only 60 pages with six short stories and a final poem. I promised him a review, which I post at Amazon and now a more detailed critique.
As a writer I want people to tell me what they think of my writing, but all I get is superlatives because they are afraid to either tell me they didn't read it or don't want to hurt my feelings.
A fellow blogger, no longer blogging did a bang up review of my first book right after it was published and it is still deeply appreciated. I wish I could get some for my other novels as even if the words hurt, they make the writer stop and think about how to improve his/her work. With that said, here goes:

Of the six short stories the first five have a good premise, and offer suspense, but little beyond that. If Gambrel is shooting for horror he's a little short of the mark, not that the stories couldn't be revised to instill a better sense of dread, creepiness and even fright. The beauty of e-books is that you have do-overs. I've published a number of my stories and after a little time do a quick re-read, find mistakes, correct them and republish. Can't do that with the printed word.
Here's my thoughts:
Gambrel states in his blog that he found criticizing others work is much easier than trying to write it himself. Good self realization and with an open mind he'll become a fine author as the plots of the stories are solid. I'm going to speak about the first short story as the problems in it are reflected in the next four.
They are the skeleton of the story. Its bones are there (plot), but blood (dialogue), flesh (description) and skin (polish) are missing. In short he tells the story instead shows the story. In Griffinfield Cemetery two boys go into a mausoleum and find a tunnel which leads to a house where they witness something horrible that haunts them the rest of their lives. A good premise, but by using only narration in first person the story is flat. Two boys daring each other to do something creepy would be talking their heads off. It needs dialogue. The tunnel is described as creepy (don't want to give away too much), what's missing is touch, taste, smell, the senses that get the reader to feel the story other than what the narrator is seeing. The two boys in their dialogue could provide this. When they raise the trap door and see what's happening only their reaction is told, not what they see. Gambrel led the reader up to this point and without giving the reader a clear picture of what scares them and haunts them the rest of their lives makes the story pointless. (Sorry if that's a little harsh). As they're being chased down the hall there needs to be more drama, nearly being caught, having shirts ripped off, stumbling something to draw in the reader giving a sense of danger and panic. Mystery Man I hope this is helpful.
The other four stories suffer from the same problem of telling, not showing. Good skeletons with a little work will make fine stories and when fully fleshed could become novellas or even novels by the time they're done.
The last short story: The Quarry is a prime example of what I've been talking about. It has dialogue, it shows more than tells. It's very well done, maybe a little more of the senses like smell and taste, but otherwise a really good story.
The poem is well done, one piece of advice on poetry: Center it instead of using full page. The eye recognizes it as a poem and you pick up meter and cadence easier.

Overall this is a very good first try and I recommend my few other blogger friends check it out and post a review at Amazon to help Mystery Man out.

Monday, January 12, 2015

To Had or not to Had

When I first published Optimus: Praetorian Guard my wife proofread it and since she's an assistant editor of a state religious weekly paper and spent thirty years doing nothing but proofreading I was reasonably content with it being grammatically correct.
When I started attending writer's workshops I bought a book by one of the local authors entitled: Revising Fiction Making sense of the Madness. When Kirk Hickman was plugging his book and trying to get us to attend his workshop he offered one piece of free advice. "After you're through writing for the day go back over it and delete every 'had' that is not needed."
I was reading a book at the time which was really good except it read slow and  would get bogged down. I thought I was losing my ability to concentrate and was a little worried.
After hearing this advice a light bulb went off. Here are some examples from A Week in the Life of Corinth by Ben Witherington III with my corrections.
The captain had offered the morning sacrifice.
Niconor had seen enough sea voyages for a while. His poor stomach felt like it had swallowed half the Adriatic Sea, which he had just crossed on his way back from Roma. He had fallen (fell) into a pattern of only eating later in the day from the stock of dried fish he had brought with him from Roma.
That's just the first two paragraphs. Only in one sentence the use of past perfect tense didn't bog down the reader.
When I purchased the publishing rights to Optimus and started editing and revising it to release as an e-book the first thing I did was get rid of all those unneeded "had" this and "had" that.
I revised a number of my other novels, the beauty of e-publishing letting you repost after cleaning up your mistakes. I find myself after I had just finished writing something that I had thought was the best stuff I've ever written having to go going back and getting rid of the writer's form of space filler, the dreaded superfluous "had."
The point here is that grammatically those sentences are correct and editors of major publishing houses give author's the liberty of using this style, but if you want your work to read smoothly and easily take out the linguistic speed bumps.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Simple Dreams

I have always been a Linda Ronstadt fan. When I was fourteen and came down with strep throat I was stuck home for five days with nothing to do but listen to the local rock and roll station. The one song I remember to this day from that time was Different Drum. I still love listening to that song.
She held a concert in Albuquerque on a Halloween night and the newspaper writeup mentioned she came out dressed like a skeleton. I was recently married and money was tight and couldn't attend and she never came back to our little town.
I've listened to many of her albums over the years and now they're on my cell phone so I can hear them off the Bluetooth while driving to work, around ten hours total. I include her Trio albums. I really like her What's New with Nelson Riddle. Those songs bring her voice to life.
I just finished reading her biography on my Kindle and found it fascinating. It filled in some gaps for me. It seems after she recorded What's New and then Canciones de mi Padre it was like she disappeared at least off the radio. I didn't know she recorded two more albums with Nelson Riddle and two others in Spanish or toured with this music.
I enjoyed reading about her growing up in Tucson since that's where my eldest grandson lives and was reading this book while my daughter was driving as we picked him up and brought him back for Christmas. She mentions the Saguaro Cacti, but it was funny as we were driving through the Saguaro National Park that you couldn't see any. When we drove through there 12 years ago they were in the median and all over the place from Wilcox on, what happened to them? In the city I saw lots of them, but not off of I-10.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends.

Went to Tucson to bring my eldest grandson to be with us. It's been two years since he was last here! He much taller and is getting along with the other two grandchildren. If we can only get his mother to let us have him over the summer like she's supposed too....
Last time we drove to Tucson was twelve years ago and I remember from Wilcox on there were a lot of saguaro cactus all over the vast expanses on both sides of the highway. This trip I didn't see one, not even in the Saguaro National Park. It wasn't until inside the Tucson that they were present usually in front of a business. What happened to all of them?
It's been fun having three rambunctious kids running and making lots of noise in the house, but after awhile it's nice when my son loads them up in the van to visit other people and we get a little peace and quiet.
Wife's off for two weeks while I'm here at the office and will return next week, things have flipped a little since I retired.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

We already knew this.

The torture report came out and all the tut-tutting that is going on is too little too late. We already knew the CIA was torturing people at black sights and third party surrogates. We had pictures from Abu Ghraib proving it was going on. Bush and Cheney boasted about it while in office and after they left office. The scope might be bigger than expected, but the scope doesn't matter. Torturing anyone is illegal under the constitution for any reason: it's called cruel and unusual punishment.

Here is a post from my Captain's Log blog in January 2011

My Two Cents

Quote from No Comment blog today. Sorry Scot Horton is no longer blogging.

Torture is the habit of tyranny, not of free republics, and it cannot simply be switched on and off. It inculcates a conception of state power and human worth that directly conflicts with our founding principle of an inalienable dignity to the human person, even the most culpable. As we know from Abu Ghraib, once it is unleashed, even as a supposedly well- quarantined tactic practiced by putative professionals, torture spreads like cancer…. This is the lesson of history for all governments that turn to torture: an isolated practice expands to become the emblem of state power and the reality of the citizens’ subjection.

Because It Is Wrong—Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror

I'm no expert, and believe me I don't wish to be, on the subject of torture. Since the day W announced the opening of Guantanamo and the suspension of Habeas Corpus I knew torture would be in the mix. When the first pictures of torture surfaced from the normally lap dog press the only surprise was that it came to light so soon. Here's what I've learned since then:

A. Why torture is ineffective:
  • Torture does not get the information you need. The ticking time bomb scenario makes for good fiction, not reality. Military leaders and the different JAG's have all pointed this out repeatedly.
  • Standard military procedure is for captured soldiers to hold out under torture for 24 hours. At that point all the info they have will be useless. Sun Tzu mentions the Doomed Spy. Someone given information they think is correct so when captured and they reveal the information under torture makes the enemy believe the false information as true. We call this today Misinformation.
  • Eventually everyone under torture will say or do anything in order to make it stop. How many people have confessed to crimes and spend years or their lives in prison for a crime they didn't commit? Chicago is a prime example of a city's police department that trampled justice for decades until their practices came to light.
  • It dehumanizes the torturer as much at the one tortured. It dehumanizes the society that allows it. See quote above.
  • To implement torture you have to violate the following in our constitution: 1. Habeas Corpus - indefinite confinement without charge 2 Bill of Attainder - punishment without due process of law (5th and 14th amendments) 3 cruel and unusual punishment 6th amendment.
B. Torture's effectiveness:
  • I only came upon one mention of how torture can be done right, and it came from a cartel hitman interviewed in Harper's magazine. Naturally he was in the country's police force and kidnapped people to hold for ransom. He recounted that he would get all the information about the person he could find and when he started questioning the guy would know at first when he was lying and then would apply torture. Only after he conditioned the prisoner to not lie would he ask questions needed forthe financial information and ransom amount. This is kind of hard to do in a battlefield situation or by randomly grabbing people off the street in Iraq or Afghanistan. Stimulus/response only works with foreknowledge.
  • Conformity or obedience. In prisons like Guantanamo those prisoners who have been tortured are the least likely to cause problems, they've been tamed, so to speak.
  • They are however a tiger by the tail. Yes they will not cause problem while under guard, but let them loose and send them home and they want revenge. Many of those who were tortured and then released join terrorist groups wanting payback, can anyone blame them? This is unfortunately why Obama is finding it so hard to close these prisons down.

Monday, December 01, 2014

My books on Amazon

Individual novels are $0.99, the trilogy is $2.99

Fletcher Family Battles available for $0.99
 John Fletcher is a young knight looking to find a wife and begin his life until King Edward I decides to invade France. Fighting alongside the Black Prince at the battle of Crecy and making a name for himself he becomes the patriarch of of the Fletcher family of Mill Town Abbey.

John Fletcher is child of a third son and decides he doesn't like studying to be a priest. Entering the army of Henry VIII he's sent to Spain in what becomes known as Wolsey's War coming home in disgrace. Joining the artillery when Scotland threatens to invade he redeems himself at the battle of Flodden.

Milton Fletcher is the second son of John Fletcher master of Mill Town Abbey. Thomas Wolsey the King's Almoner favors him and he starts to rise in the bureaucracy being created by the most formidable man in England.

Gregor Fletcher is head of Clan Fletcher in Aberdeen. Called by King James IV to join in the invasion of England his whole clan is on the line should they fail.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Death With Dignity

Came across this post today on the Brittany Murphy assisted suicide. Reading the comments reinforced Benjamin Corey's arguments on the true horror of the woman's sadly short life, Christian condemnation for her choice.  Some of the commenters still don't understand the woman didn't want to die, but she was faced with the choice of ending he life peacefully or suffering a truly horrible death from her disease. Someone with compassion, someone who is supposed to be known to the world by their LOVE, would weep with her family and grieve with her family, not say or print what they think God will do to her.
Have Christians forgotten the words of Jesus: Matthew 7:1 Do not judge lest you be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your measure it will be measured to you. Or have they forgotten Paul's words: Romans 8:1 There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. Finally the good news in a nutshell: John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave  his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
The message of Jesus and what he lived and died for was F-O-R-G-I-V-E-N-E-S-S. From what fundamentalist Christians are saying Jesus is only about judgement and condemnation which is totally opposite for what He gave his life and rose from the grave to accomplish.
 I have a friend whose mother was suffering from a painful terminal illness, but she hid her pain and without the family knowing of her illness committed suicide. They were members in a fundamentalist church that I belonged for a time. At the funeral I will never forget this pastor's words: "When she met Jesus I'm sure she said,'I did wrong.' and Jesus said, 'Yes you did, but you're forgiven.'"
My question here is: if we can have love and compassion for fellow Christians why can't we do the same for non-believers? Brittany Murphy will not be judged by God on how she died, but how she lived and what she believed while alive, and no one else has a say or knows God's decision.
Two of my loved ones died of cancer and for understandable reasons one chose to let nature take its course and the other fought to the bitter end. My role was not to judge either one of them, but to understand and be there with help, love, compassion, to grieve with my family during their demise and after their passing.
My father was in his eighties, suffering from type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer's. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the doctor tried hard to give him treatment, but it would be chemo-therapy which would make him sick and weak to prolong his life at most six months. His choice six weeks of hospice care where the pain would be managed or six months of dizziness, vomiting and loose stools. Would anyone in their right mind choose to have the treatment?
My sister was in her early forties with a four year old daughter when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. With the best of care and up-to-date treatment she survived for five years. My sister had a good reason to live as long as possible no matter the pain: she wanted to spend all the time she had with her husband and daughter.
Would the judgmental Christians condemn my father for choosing to die without a fight and praise my sister for fighting? Who cares? It's none of their damn business!