Thursday, July 28, 2016


For some reason, my late wife has been on my mind lately. As a result, I’d like to post something that came to me during one of these moments.
I know exactly when the act of inhaling and exhaling became something more than simply breathing. I remember when it became breathsong.

Subconsciously, I had accepted the concept long ago, but understanding it as song came clear as my wife lay in an ICU, her lungs tortured by pneumonia, her breathing measured by machines. Betty had a long history with the illness. She’d contracted it once many years back. In later years, she had “walking pneumonia” five times in one twelve-month period, something that required medical attention but not hospitalization.

Unfortunately, she had an even longer history with tobacco. She began smoking at age sixteen and continued unabated until her arrival at the ICU unit at University Hospital. She routinely smoked two packs a day in the fifty-five years I’d known her. As a matter of fact, before we married, Betty made me promise not to try to make her stop smoking.

When I heard her discussing smoking with a friend one day, I asked if they weren’t bothered by recorded data that showed the use of tobacco could be deadly? I recall their almost identical responses. “Those are statistics. We’re individuals with our own set of genes and stamina and ways of dealing with health issues.” In years hence, I’ve wondered if those two intelligent women realized how dumb they sounded at that moment.

Betty’s gone now, of course, but I often think about her breathsong. It was a language all its own set to a rhythm, a beat that changed according to the stimulus of the moment. It was full-throated when she drew on her Doral filter-tips. A muted inhale followed by a satisfied whoosh, signifying pleasure.

It was slow and languid when cuddling one of our sons as he slept in her arms. Sharp and irritated when the other grew mischievous. Her breath could speak of anger or displeasure (usually with me) as distinctly as it could express forgiveness. It was a clear warning to the boys when they had earned her displeasure.

It could signal anything: excitement, fatigue, love, displeasure…and especially the passing of an emotional storm. Her breath bespoke of love at times of personal intimacy, awe when first laying eyes on the Valles Caldera, surprise at a birthday or an anniversary.

And I remember arriving at the hospital the day the song died.

Oh, how I miss that breathsong.
Thanks for letting me get that out of my system. I hope the concept of breath as a song, as a language struck a cord with you.

Feel free to contact me at As always, thanks for being readers.

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

SEMICOLONS, Those Ornery Little Critters

 I seem to have an occasional compulsion for confessing foolishness and foibles as practiced by Donald Travis. There are plenty to select from… and believe me, I’m very selective.

A few weeks ago, the writing class I co-host reviewed the uses of the grammatical mark we call a semicolon. You know, that thing you don’t really understand but throw into your writing now and then for variety’s sake. Its most glaring peculiarity seems to be that (together with big brother Colon) it’s the only grammatical that goes outside quotation marks. If that isn’t enough for you, take a look at the thing: [;]. It’s a big dot in the middle of the line of type with a menacing claw attached to it. That should be enough to warn anyone away except for the bravest… or the foolish.

At any rate, I recognized that during our class discussion the subject of semicolons in dialogue would come up. Although the style book I use is silent on that particular subject, I had been taught that you do not use semicolons inside dialogue because in spoken conversation, semicolons cannot be heard. Nonetheless, I contacted my chief editor at Dreamspinner, a very helpful British lady named Sue Adams. She confirmed their practice is moving toward expunging semicolons from dialogue whenever they discover the errant little creatures. So at the very next Wordwrights Writing Class, I went forth and preached the holy text.

Last Saturday, I completed my review of the “Author” edit of THE BISTI BUSINESS, which is what Dreamspinner Press calls their first review of a manuscript. Their editing department uses the Word Track Changes program for the process. I must admit it was very disconcerting to see bubbles saying the Author suggested this and recommended that or (worse yet) quoted Chicago Manual of Style. I was the author, wasn’t I? After accepting their concept, I waded through the assault on my manuscript.

The first time the editor recommended I change a semicolon to a comma within dialogue, I assured Nicole (the editor of this first edit) this was a typo, as I never used them in this manner. In addition, I taught this to my class.

The second time she recommended a semicolon inside dialogue be changed to a period, I admitted she had just made a liar out of me.

On the fourth one, I confessed to embarrassment. The tenth? Mortification.

After the twentieth, I surrendered and told her to do whatever the hell she wanted with them.

Unfortunately, she had ample opportunity to exercise that freedom thereafter.

In my feeble defense, THE BISTI BUSINESS was written in 2011. Presumably, even I can learn something in five years’ time. I don’t know, maybe I ought to take a look at all my unpublished manuscripts.

Well, that gets confessions behind us for a little while. I hope my self-flagellation was of interest.

Feel free to contact me at As always, thanks for being readers.

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Another Peek at THE LOVELY PINES

Hey, guys, I almost hate to take down my book covers for the three BJ Vinson Mystery Series novels, but it’s time to move on. Once I learn how to do it, I'll replace the old covers on the blog with the new ones. As you can probably tell, I’m a little pumped by DSP Publications’ re-issuance of the first two books and initial publication of THE CITY OF ROCKS. That, in turn, puts me in mind of the fourth book in the series that I’m presently working on. (See how my mind works?) Therefore, I’d like to share a little more of THE LOVELY PINES with you.

The following scene takes place in Chapter 2 when  protagonist BJ Vinson visits the Lovely Pines Winery for the first time after owner Ariel Gonda hires him to investigate a break-in.


     For the next hour, Gonda walked me through the property, starting with the chateau. He took me to their living quarters on the top floor and prompted me to stick my head in every room. This tier had a distinctly European flair, from the eclectic blending of Louis IV and Queen Anne furnishings to the heavy, somber renaissance paintings on the wall. It was tastefully done.
     From the chateau, we went to the large stone building behind the house, which was, indeed, the winery. On the way, I met Maurice Benoir, the master of chocolates, who better fit my image of a Swiss merchant than his boss. Solid, even stocky, he had thinning sandy hair cut short and a fair but florid complexion. His accented voice rumbled up out of a deep chest as he greeted me amiably.
     Ariel paused at the doorway of the winery to show me the hasp that had been ripped away, now replaced with a new one firmly affixed to a reinforcing steel plate. Entry by the same means would be more difficult now. When we entered his lab, as sterile as any hospital facility, which also served as his winery office, Ariel told me this was the room where the mischief—such as it was—had occurred. Then he opened a desk drawer and handed me a gallon-sized clear plastic bag containing a bottle.
     He nodded. “This is the one which was disturbed. I thought you might wish to see if there are fingerprints on it.”
     “I can give it a try. I assume your prints are on record because of your alcohol license, but since we’re going to have to take elimination prints from all of the family and staff, it would be better for your people to see you being printed, as well.”
     “Certainly. Whatever you think best.”
     We walked through the winery, and although I am not a wine aficionado, I had visited other such facilities in the area and was able to make mental comparisons. The big surprise was the aging or storage facility... the cellar. Until Gonda opened a heavy double door and ushered me inside. I hadn’t realized the building backed up to a cavern. The cellar was actually a natural cave.
     “This is one of the reasons I was attracted to C de Baca’s operation,” he explained. “This underground storage is ideal. The temperature seldom varies beyond a point or two, and the humidity is easily controlled. I age my wines at fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit and keep the humidity rather high. I prefer to mature the product slowly. Rapid aging caused by elevated temperatures gives the product a questionable taste.”
     I stared at what appeared to be oak barrels stacked in rows that disappeared into the gloom of the large hollow in the earth. The darkness was only partially broken by low-watt bulbs placed at regular intervals.
     “I bulk-age in split oak barrels for a period of time and then bottle-age until the wine reaches maturity,” he said.
     “How long does that take?”
     “Cabernet Sauvignon has a fairly long aging period. Anywhere from four to twenty years, depending upon the product you are striving for.”
     That was when I realized the bottles he'd given us at the office were part of the former owner's wines. None of Gonda's had yet matured.
     He confirmed my reasoning. "Most of what you see is inventory I purchased from C de Baca. Fortunately, my practices mirror his closely."
     I glanced around. “Is the only access to the cellar through the winery?”
     “Yes. This door is the only way in and the only way out.”
     I pointed up. “Is the ground over the cavern on your property?”
     He nodded. “Yes, but the end of this tunnel means you have reached the northernmost boundary of the ten acres the winery sits on.”
     Without waiting for an invitation, I walked the length of the long corridor. I estimated the size of the cavern at around one square acre. Part of it was given over to barrels, and part was lined with row after row of racked wine completing the aging process in bottles. Gonda explained that early aging was done in wood to give the wine the flavor of the oak, and then the product was siphoned off the lees by means of a racking hose attached to a racking cane. Thereafter, it was bottled and placed in another portion of the cellar to mature.
     At the far end, behind the oldest wine barrels, I found an area with a battered sofa, a few chairs, some cabinets, and other indications of human occupancy.
     “What’s this?”
     “I suppose you could say this is our preparation against the—how do you say?—vagaries of both man and nature. Our own little shelter against disaster. We store water and canned and packaged foods in case our people need to take shelter for any reason. The prior management set this up, and I have continued it, although I cannot really think of a reason it would ever be required.”
     “But no one lives down here?”
     “Oh, no. It is a little too cool for my tastes, and I was raised in Switzerland. It is merely a precaution.”
Hope this peek piques your interest.  (Say that three times, fast.) Please give me your opinions and comments at As always, thanks for being readers.

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Thanks for your help, guys. THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT and THE BISTI BUSINESS covers are now finalized. I am pleased with both of them.

Now I’m going through the same process with THE CITY OF ROCKS, so I am soliciting your opinion on that cover, as well. Take a look the proposed artwork and let me know what you think. Your feedback is important.
Courtesy: Dreamspinner Press Art Dept
Maria Fanning, Artist
As you can see, this is not a clean copy as it is still in development. Would like your opinion of the cover for this third book in the BJ Vinson Mystery series. 

Might as well take a look at the other two and see what the series will look like. Remember, ZOZOBRA is due out in November with each of the other two books to follow about four months apart. Here they are:
Courtesy: Dreamspinner Press Art Dept
Maria Fanning, Artist

The Zozobra cover is finalized and is a clean copy. This is the way it will appear on the book.

Courtesy: Dreamspinner Press Art Dept
Maria Fanning, Artist

The Bisti Cover is also finalized. Love the hoodoos!

There they are, the covers for the first three books in the BJ Vinson series. The first draft of the fourth book (with a working title of THE LOVELY PINES) is now about 40 percent completed.

Thanks for your help in getting this far. Please give me your opinions and comments at As always, thanks for being readers.

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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