Friday, December 27, 2019

Fun Sites

As a belated Christmas gift, here are some of my favorite sites for writers and readers.

Fun Stuff

The purpose of CityLab is to tell the story of the world’s cities: how they work, the challenges they face, and the solutions they need. My favorite recent story is why kids love garbage trucks.  (Having something large and a little scary do the same chore each week is kind of magical, especially when a friendly driver always waves “Hi.” Also, kids love dumping stuff.)

Gizmodo is a design, technology, science and science fiction website. It has lots of neat articles and posts, cool maps, and links to the latest in science fiction TV and movies so you can get your Mandalorian fix. Gizmodo Design takes a people-centric approach to covering software, architecture, and more and analyzes why products and systems look and work in the way that they do. The section called Field Guides covers gadgets and how to make them work better for you.

If you write science fiction and need an idea for a spaceship or just like looking at cool stuff that zips through outer space, this is the site for you.

Want to know how your smartphone is listening to you or what apps steal your data? Check out Kim Komando’s tech website. It’s not scary but written clear enough for even those of us who still find our new microwave oven's controls confusing. Why are you looking at me like that? You know you can’t figure yours out either.

I love the sciency stuff and Science Friday is one of the best. It’s fun for the brain, an entertaining, informational show produced by public radio. The most recent show discusses the best board games and science books for the layman in case you need to spend that gift card. Then check out the 2019 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, a tribute to offbeat and quirky scientific studies. (The researchers who won the economics prize tested which country’s paper money is best at transmitting dangerous bacteria.)

Writing Stuff

This is a nifty site from Purdue University that’s open access for the public. It’s not just for academics. They have easy to understand explanations for grammar, word usage, and punctuation and good articles on the writing process.

From the blog by Suzannah Windsor Freeman, the title says it all. These aren’t just short tips, but links to blogs with a detailed discussion of particular issues.

For the writer and the hypochondriac in all of us. WebMD is written for the layman so it’s the perfect site to find just the right disease to inflict on a character.

Reedsy is great for writers looking for help. The site has professionals for hire such as editors, book designers, cover artists, and the like, especially helpful for self-publishers. Reedsy also produces an interesting blog and has lists of tools, book promotion sites and writing contests.

Speaking of tools…ProWritingAid
I was leery of writing tools, but ProWritingAid changed that. It has a lot of interesting features, a strong editing interface and is great for catching grammar errors. More importantly, I found it easier to use with a smaller learning curve  than Grammerley and Scrivener. Also, it’s reasonably priced. Grammerley has free a version to download or you can upgrade to premium. ProWritingAid and Scrivener both have free trials. Each site has pluses and minuses, so try before you buy. ProWritingAid and the others are no substitute for a human editor, but help to polish that first draft. If you’re thinking of a writing tool, check them out.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Literary Devices

What is a Literary Device?

It isn’t pen, paper or a thesaurus. Literary devices are specific writing techniques used to add depth to a story. They can create atmosphere, convey information about persons, places, or things or provide in-depth psychological insight to a character’s motivation or ethical dilemmas. Literary devices also can work on a deeper intellectual level or merely aid the flow and pacing of a story.

Understanding the proper use of literary devices can helpful to an author. With proper use, a writer can emphasis a particular point or give clarity to a scene or help the reader relate to the author's choices.

Common Literary Devices in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Allegory is a narrative that uses characters and plot to exemplify abstract ideas and themes, such as racism, patriotism or illustrate a moral or spiritual truth. Events and characters are more than they appear on the surface.

Animal Farm by George Orwell is a commentary on the events leading to Stalin's rise and the formation of the Soviet Union. The pigs represent figures such as Stalin, Trotsky, and Molotov.

Although Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss is a children’s story about a turtle who yearns for too much power, it’s actually a reference to Adolf Hitler and the evils of totalitarianism.

Anthropomorphism comes from combination of the Greek words for “human” and “form” and attributes human emotions and qualities to non-human elements. They can be characters like animals or objects like the weather. It's a common device in fantasy and science fiction.

Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Artoo-detoo. Anthropomorphism can also be used as a descriptive element such as calling the relationship between two countries a friendship or saying a storm caused an “angry” wind.

Irony is used to convey an opposite meaning
than the one expressed. Irony is often used in a humorous context and sorry, Alanis Morissette, rain on your wedding day isn’t ironic. It’s merely bad luck. There are three types of irony in literature:
Verbal irony: Words spoken with a hidden meaning. It’s similar to sarcasm, but not as mean. An example is using the phase “clear as mud” to describe confusion. In the movie, Annie, the orphans insist “We love you Miss Hannigan” when they obviously don’t.

Situational irony: An action occurs that's the opposite of what was expected or intended. It’s a surprise to the reader. At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends find out they had power to attain their hearts’ desires all along.

Dramatic irony: The reader is aware of the true intentions or outcomes, while the characters are not. As a result, certain actions and/or events take on different meanings. This was a common tool for Shakespeare. Macbeth appears to be loyal to Duncan, but is actually plotting his murder. Romeo believes Juliet is dead but, being a dork, doesn’t bother to check her pulse before downing poison.

Foreshadowing is an excellent device to add tension to a narrative. It involves indirect hints to future action in the story through the use of dialogue, description, or characters’ actions. Often the foreshadowing event seems inconsequential, but in retrospect is a clue to what is to come.

The prologue of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton alludes to a settlement relating to a genetic crisis caused by a company called InGen that occurred off the coast of Costa Rica.

In the Lord of the Rings Frodo tells Gandalf it’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when he had the chance. Gandalf responds pity stayed his hand. “Many that die deserve life, and some that live deserve death.”

Symbolism is a way for an author to represent abstract concepts and ideas in
 stories. Symbols are typically objects or characters and often appear multiple times throughout a text, sometimes changing in meaning as the plot progresses.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is actually a Christian allegory with the symbolic use of Aslan as Jesus Christ and Edmund as Judas. Yeah, I know. That one blew my mind, too.

The first time Dark Vader strides on camera in Star Wars, no one can miss that he is a symbol for all that is evil in the empire, but his symbolic sacrifice at the end of the trilogy frees his son and his soul.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Rules for Lying Free on Amazon November 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Amazon Free Days
November 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Magic isn't for sissies

WARNING: No good comes from a book with magic, mayhem, theft, murder, sass talk, demons, animals committing felonies, gleeful revenge, and bad things happening to good people for no particular reason. This story won’t encourage good habits and probably fine tune bad ones. The only lesson learned is don’t lie until you know the rules.
Life in New Jersey is tough in the Great Depression, but teenager Peter Whistler has an exceptional ability to lie. He hones his talent, convinced it’s the ticket to easy fortune. He certainly doesn’t foresee the arrival of a murderous conjuror with mysterious designs on a little blind girl named Esther. Drawn into a nefarious plot to unleash a demon, Peter leads Esther and an enchanted terrier on a desperate escape to New Orleans and meets Amelie Marchand. Like all well-bred Louisiana gals she’s trained in deadly martial arts, but with a murderous stepmother, Amelie has troubles of her own. Peter and Amelie’s one chance for survival is to head deep into the bayou and seek help from a mad shaman known as the Frog King.

Welcome to an alternate 1930s where both jazz and magic fill New Orleans’ air. Can a little luck, mystical lies, and a dash of Cajun crazy help Peter harness the power to kill an immortal demon? If not, the Depression will be a picnic by comparison when hell arrives on Earth.


   The Grimaldis knew the truth about Pike. He drove their car, so they must be involved in his scheme. A little snooping to discover the truth, and then Mrs. Hart could get on the horn to the Feds. I imagined a squad of G-men storming Grimaldi’s Market and then Nico and Carlotta’s faces peering morosely out the back of a paddy wagon as it drove through town. Maybe I could even convince the coppers to stop for Chauncey.
   The unlit streets were deserted as I made my way to the Grimaldi’s house. The black roadster was parked outside the garage. A light shone in a downstairs window, so I snuck across the lawn and peeked in.
   Pike sat at the kitchen table; fingers clasped placidly in front, not a glowing eyeball in sight. I gave myself a mental kick in the pants for being such a dope.
   The Grimaldis huddled over a piece of paper. Mr. Grimaldi looked up and cleared his throat. “Everything is in order. The carriage house suited you?”
   Pike slid an envelope stuffed with cash across the tabletop. “Yes. It was private and exactly as described. We have a deal.”
   Mrs. Grimaldi snatched at the bills with undisguised greed. “We wouldn’t do this, you understand, but the Feds raided all the local speakeasies. Our best clients shut down. Times are tough.”
   Mr. Grimaldi scrawled a signature on the paper and handed the pen to his wife. She added hers, and then Pike tucked the paper in his pocket. “You needn’t be concerned about the girl.”
   My ears pricked up. Girl? What girl? If Pike meant Mrs. Hart, the doctor needed to get his own eyes checked.
   Mr. Grimaldi shifted in his seat, a flush tinting his fat cheeks. “People might get the wrong impression if the arrangement is discovered. You understand—they don’t realize our actions are for her own good.”
   I sucked in my breath. Mr. Grimaldi lied big time.
  “Don’t worry. No one will ever find out.” Pike’s voice was as cold as midwinter ice.
  A teensy doubt jabbed at my mind that all this had to do with gangsters, but I brushed it roughly away. Pike and the Grimaldis rose from the table. I darted from the window and ducked behind a tree right before the kitchen door opened.
Mrs. Grimaldi beamed at Pike. “If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to stop by.”
   The dark man set the fedora on his head and snapped the brim over his eyes. “I’m quite satisfied. You won’t see me again.”
   For some reason, the truth shook me more than a lie. Mr. Grimaldi closed the door, but Pike remained on the stoop. The kitchen went dark and then a light switched on in an upstairs bedroom window.
   I peered from behind the tree. Why did Pike wait? To rob the joint after they fell asleep? If so, I had no plan to stop him. I had half a mind to help.
   The bedroom light flicked off and the yard went pitch black. One second…two seconds…three seconds…A yellow beam danced across the door, and my throat nearly closed in terror.
   That was no flashlight.
   The ray from Pike’s eyes narrowed and focused pencil-thin. The smell of burning wood drifted across the lawn as he etched a smoldering hieroglyphic of a flame in the middle of the door. The outline of glowing embers flared and then snuffed out. Pike stepped back from the stoop. He paused for a moment as if to admire his handiwork and then sprinted down the alley.
   Heart thumping, I darted to the door. My fingers stroked the spot where I last saw the little flame. The wood was still warm.
    I snatched back my hand. The wood now blazed hot, more scorching by the second. The glowing outline flared to life again. A spark shot out, soared overhead, and landed near the chimney. Patches of shingles exploded in flames.
A long thin spark slithered from the symbol, a fiery snake writhing toward the keyhole. Without thinking, I reached to sweep it away only to jerk my fingers from the scalding heat. The spark slid into the opening. With a roar, a curtain of fire engulfed the downstairs windows.
   In a panic, I banged on the door. “Wake up! The house is on fire!”
   A thick choking cloud of smoke billowed under the doorframe, and I staggered back in a coughing fit. In a blink, the first floor was an inferno. How did the fire spread so fast? Mrs. Grimaldi’s terrified screams cut through the crackling fusillade of flames.
   Blistering heat drove me across the yard. The panic-stricken face of Nico Grimaldi appeared at the bedroom window struggling to open the sash.
   The wooden supports inside the house splintered and gave way. Mr. Grimaldi vanished in a thunderous crash as the second floor collapsed on the first. His wife’s screams cut off.
   Multiple sirens wailed in the distance. I stumbled down the alley as hot cinders rained from above. Embers lit on my clothing, and I slapped them away. The Grimaldi house was now a nightmare of hellfire. I flinched as all the outside walls caved in with a deafening roar.
   The first of the fire trucks screeched around the corner. Cops would surely follow asking questions I couldn’t answer. As I ran across the street, the glare of a headlight caught me for an instant.
   Tires squealed, and a man yelled, "You there, stop!"

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Origin of Magical Words

Need to cast a spell? There are several useful words to know that have long magical histories. The roots of the word “magic” itself can be found in Magi or mage, a hereditary class of Zoroastrian priests of the ancient Medes or Persians. Magi was later used to describe men with special abilities such as king, priest or astrologer who could read omens in the skies. The word “magic” goes back to the 1300s, and it originally referred to rituals, incantations, or actions thought to give the user control over the natural world, but the definition has changed through the centuries.  By the 1700s, it also referred to an actual supernatural power. In the 1800s, sleight of hand and card tricks became popular and stage performers used the word to imply they had special arcane abilities.

No one is sure of the origin of the strange word abracadabra, although believed to be Hebrew or Aramaic origin. It is possibly derived either from the Hebrew words ab (father), ben (son), and ruach hakodesh (holy spirit), or from the Aramaic avra kadavra, “it will be created in my words”. In the Harry Potter series, Rowling played with the Aramaic version to create a death spell, Avada Kedavra, which was supposed to mean “let this thing be destroyed.”

The earliest use of abracadabra is in a Latin poem in a medical book. The word was a written charm to protect against bad luck, illness, or evil. It was often worn as an amulet and resembled a “v” with the final letter dropped on each line until only “a” remained.

Hocus pocus
Hocus pocus first appeared in the early 1600s as Hocas Pocas, the common name for a magician or juggler. In 1634, a book appeared entitled Hocus Pocus Junior - The Anatomy of Legerdemain. The author was anonymous but was later dubbed Hocus Pocus after the book's title. It’s also possible hocus pocus evolved from nonsense words that sounded exotic and magical.

Another explanation for the origin of the term came from John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1694. In his Sermons he accuses it of being a parody of the consecration of the Catholic Mass and wrote, “In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their trick of Transubstantiation.” That Archbishop Tillotson was miffed at both stage performers and Catholics isn’t surprising, and there’s little evidence of his claims.

On a side note, hocus is also believed to be the source for the word hoax, but the word doesn't appear until 1796 and, like Archbishop Tillotson’s claim, there’s no direct evidence for a link.

Alakazam is an invocation of magical power to indicate an instantaneous transformation or appearance that occurs as if by magic. This word has the most mysterious origin. Because alakazam can be a proper name, some suggest it was used to invoke the powers of a particular person. Others trace the origin to a Hindu word meaning “flawless” or the Arabic al qasam, meaning oath. However, the first known appearance was in 1902 and appears likely that it was merely invented by stage magicians to evoke a sense of the mystical power of the Orient.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

When your Health was Written in the Stars: Medieval Medicine and Astrology

It’s the middle of the Medieval Ages and you’re not feeling up to snuff. There are no HMO’s so what’s a person to do? Luckily, the local doctor has the right astrological charts to get you back in fighting shape. The basis of medieval medicine was the perceived belief in the connection between astrology and human anatomy. Astral connections weren’t unique to Europeans. The Babylonians created the first organized system of astrology, mostly as a way of divining information about political events in particular locations. Historically, kings and emperors were known to call upon designated court astrologers before going into ward. The Egyptians improved on the Babylonia system and devised the zodiac around the 1st century BC. Ptolemy, who lived in Alexandria further developed horoscopic astrology into signs we know today.

Ancient peoples believed astrological bodies had the power to rule fortunes on Earth, so why not the human body, too? To treat a patient, a medieval physician needed to consult the stars, specifically the location of the moon. In the case of an operation, the first step was to check the moon’s alignment. A close relationship to a constellation signaled that a zodiac sign was active. Unlike solar counterparts, lunar signs last only two or three days, rather than an entire month.  If the moon blocked Leo then Leo was active and when a sign was active, it was dangerous to operate on associated body parts. You better hope that boil on your foot didn’t fester until the doctor considered it safe to lance.

The Middle Ages had no telescopes, so illnesses and their treatments were only ascribed to the seven planets visible with the naked eye along with the sun and the moon. Each one was believed to affect specific body parts and some were clearly holdovers from ancient myths. Venus and Mars, for instance were linked to reproductive systems. Where else would you expect from the goddess of love and the uber-macho god of war? Specific diseases also had their own astrological signs. Poisoning was linked to Saturn, insanity to Mercury and liver trouble to Jupiter.

Astrological signs were connected to specific body parts and covered a person head to toe. Since Aries was the first sign in the zodiac it affected the uppermost region of the head. The next sign was Taurus who affected the throat and neck. Other signs continued the downward progression in order until reaching Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac who had responsibility for the feet and toes.

After voicing a complaint to a doctor, the diagnosis process began by determining where the moon was in location to a constellation when the patient first became ill. Doctors had special almanacs (or calendars) containing illustrated star charts, allowing them to check the positions of the stars before making a diagnosis. They often had illustration for patients, the Middle Ages equivalent of those pamphlets at your doctor’s office. How did the system work? Let’s say, an examination of your astrological chart determined the need for therapeutic bloodletting. Because the moon governed blood flow, it was best not scheduled during a full moon. Then you needed to know where the moon was in a constellation and the birth date of the patient to determine the effect on their astrological sign.

Complex and confusing, no? The presumed relationships between the heavenly bodies and the human body were so complex, numerous, and contradictory that in practice it was impossible to carry out any operation without breaking some astrological rule. Naturally, many patients died, but the reasoning was don’t blame the practitioner, blame the system. Someone simply miscalculated a star chart. It takes one wonder how many patients survived not because of medieval doctors and their lunatic diagnoses, but in spite of them.

Friday, July 19, 2019

New Release: Law of the Claw, Big Easy Shaman Book 4

Big Easy Shaman Book 4

Available now on Amazon

“Life always has the possibility of bloody death. One simply must learn to duck.”
Clovis Landry

It’s Christmastime in the Big Easy and all budding shaman, Peter Whistler, wants is to find the perfect gift for Amelie, but a distraction arrives in the form of a mysterious stranger bringing a threat from abroad. What connection does this new evil have with a hideous painting that falls into Peter’s possession? And why is something that ugly so desperately sought by local criminal, Blinky the Dip? Meanwhile, the New Years’ first full moon means trouble in Bayou St. Gerard. A creature prowls the swamp with unknown designs on one of the Benoits.
Réveillon, rougarous, and ghostly voices from the past. Will the Law of the Claw make peace between ancient enemies or only hasten the destruction of Peter and his friends?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Road Trip! Fantasy and Science Fiction Movie Location to Visit

Summer is here and that means road trips. Turn off the TV, plug in coordinates to the GPS and visit real movie locations. You don’t have to settle for California. Many movies were shot in areas nowhere near La La Land and open to the public. We all know about the beauty of New Zealand thanks to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit movies. If you have the bucks you can actually can pop into Hobbiton and many of the places where the movies were film. On a tighter budget? There are plenty closer to stateside to choose from and they’re not exactly what or where you’d expect.

Ghostbusters Headquarters
The building is actually Hook & Ladder Company #8, a fully working and operational New York Fire Department firehouse at 14 North Moore Street in TriBeCa. Exteriors were shot in New York City and interiors in Los Angeles, Fire Station #23, 225 E. 5th Street. It was decommissioned in 1960 and is now a Historic Cultural Monument for Los Angeles.

This one might blow your mind. Although the movie supposedly takes place in future Detroit, the downtown area is actually a mash-up of Pittsburgh and Dallas. OCP corporate headquarters is Dallas City Hall at 1500 Marilla St. Matte paintings made the building appear taller (and more ominous). Check out more before and afters posted by the Dallas Film Commission.

Star Wars: A New Hope
The Massassi Outpost rebel base on the fourth moon of Yavin in the original Star Wars film was shot on location at the Mayan temple ruins in The Tikal National Park in Guatemala. Director George Lucas picked the location after spotting a poster at a travel agency while shooting in London, England. A trip to Tatooine starts a little farther. The Mos Eisley Spaceport was really Ajim, Djerba Island, Tunisia, while Tosche Station was Sidi Jemour, Djerba. They already sound like science fiction locations. Don’t want to travel halfway across the world? The Tatooine desert was Death Valley National Park.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Poor Katniss had it tough in The Hunger Games. Yeah, sure, real tough when she spent her days basking in luxury at the Marriott Marquis Hotel at 265 Peachtree Center Avenue NE in Atlanta, Georgia. The building served as the Tributes’ Quarters and Training Center. Production designers chose the Marriot for the glass elevators and central atrium, at one time the largest in the world. The Tributes’ living quarters were filmed on the 10th floor and another set built on the hotel roof.

The Shining
Heeeere’s Johnny. Actually, here’s a conglomeration of hotels that inspired The Overlook. The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, California, inspired the interior while exterior and establishing shots came from the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. Stephen King’s original inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in the novel was the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Kubrick never shot there, but it was used in the 1997 made-for-TV version of The Shining.

X Men
The exterior for Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is Hatley Castle, in British Columbia, although Casa Loma in Toronto and ParkwoodEstate in Oshawa, Ontario were also used. Interiors were sound stages. Hatley Castle is a National Historic Site and tours are available.

Logan's Run Before Black Friday Sales
Logan’s Run
A dystopian future never had so much great stuff to buy and check out the nummy hot pretzels at the food court. Although areas around Dallas/Fort Worth were filmed, the domed dystopian future city was actually a shopping mall named the Dallas Market Center.
Logan's Run After

Logan’s Run is one of my favorite cheesy bad movies. It’s quite awful from beginning to end and I’d always hoped to visit and check out the sales while I wandered around recreating the escape of Logan 5 and Jessica 6. Unfortunately, urban development necessitates progress and the The Dallas Market Center now looks like this, a fitting end for the set of a dystopian city.

The real Field of Dreams is a real family farm. Located in Dyersville, Iowa, the Lansing Farm has free admission and live, guided 30-minute tours. Hear stories about the Lansing family who homesteaded in the early 20th century, and the farm’s rebirth as the set for the Kinsella family in the 1989 fantasy classic. The baseball field is still there and used for games. Want to stay overnight and talk your dead daddy into a catch? The house is available for rent on

Groundhog Day
On my top ten list of best fantasy movies ever is Groundhog Day. While the story takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it was almost entirely filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The quaint bed and breakfast where Bill Murray’s Phil Connors stayed was the Royal Victorian Manor, at 344 Fremont Street. Alas, it is now closed. You’ll have to settle for a selfie out front.

The Blob
It’s alive! Well, not exactly alive, but the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania is open for business. If you’re a fan of classic science fiction, you surely can’t pass up a visit to a place where the blob nearly oozed through a building full of teenagers. July 12th this year is the annual Blobfest where you can catch a show and then run screaming from the theater.