Archive for July, 2012

You know, it’s time I faced a sad fact…

I am a slow reader.

Not so slow that I was ever placed in special classes when I was a kid.  In fact, I always tested so high in reading comprehension that my teachers usually volunteered me for extra reading assignments or had me helping my fellow students.

But the last thing I could ever be called is a speed reader.  Worse yet, I’ve gotten into the bad habit of reading three or four books at the same time, which means I don’t finish anything fast.

Take right now.  I’m close to finishing Michael Offut’s gripping Slipstream, but much as it’s grabbed me and pulled me in, I had to finish Wolf Hall first ’cause I promised my copy to a co-worker who was nagging me.  (BTW, Wolf Hall is so long it make The Compass Master look pithy.)  Then when I was feeling blue I knew it was time to start another cheer-me-up kinda spiritual self-help books, which may sound silly to you but hey, the right ones can work for me and books don’t have nasty side effects like medication does.  Throw in a couple books I’d already started, and I’m even more distracted.  One is a historical work called Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture; I’m concentrating on the nineteenth century facts for my next manuscript, which means lots of note-taking.

Anyway, you get the picture.  And bear in mind that this doesn’t even cover the pile of Vanity Fairs on my dining room table.

Then there’s the fact that when I really like what I’m reading I… slow… down.  I will re-read good sentences.  Memorize great metaphors.  Put little yellow stickies on masterful paragraphs. Sure, once in a while I’ll read a fun “fast” book, like Charlaine Harris’s True Blood series.  But even then there was the scene in which Sookie was shot and was slipping into shock.  It was very well written so I stopped and re-read the entire scene again.

Michael, I’ve re-read a few of your scenes.

As you can imagine, this is why I’m amazed when I go into other people’s blogs and they talk about all the books they’ve read lately and all the writers they want to recommend.  And they’re not showing off.  This is normal for them.

Gad, I feel like such a back-asswards slacker.  At least I’ve got good comprehension.

So how quickly (or slowly) do you read books? BTW, fast and very smart readers include Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.   And Roosevelt once read all of Anna Karenina over a few days while capturing and escorting two cattle-thieves to justice.

I am so not in his league.

What I will not talk about in today’s post is what happened here in Colorado. I am too furious, too heartbroken, too sick of it.

So on a more cheerful note…

This last weekend I had a first – I got to meet an internet friend.

Have you ever done that? Through your blog or Facebook or whatever, you build up a casual, long-distance friendship with someone. You live in different states, and maybe there’s no reason for either of you to go out of your way to get together in the real world. But then an opportunity arises.

That’s what happened to me when my Internet pal Robert emailed that he and his wife and kids were coming to the mountain town of Breckenridge in Colorado for a family reunion. Was there a chance I could swing by to meet them?

Of course I could.  I met Robert through my blog, and eventually he volunteered to read and critique The Compass Master when I was getting it ready for publication.  That’s when we talked a couple times on the phone about details in my book, and he sent me two of his manuscripts (they were entertaining and so smart).  He also guested here once when he wrote about his passion for Olympic weightlifting.

Anyway, I drove up to Breckenridge, met Rob and his lovely family, and it seems we both made the momentary adjustment to how each of us looked and sounded and acted in real life.  Then in no time we were talking about Layla action hero stuff.  This meant sharing our painful physical experiences in parkour classes (that’s how I launched my Layla plan), and we did some fencing.  He’s done just a tiny bit of foil while I’ve had years of epee, but he wanted to have some bouts so we had several goes at it with my two epee blades.  Damn, that was fun!

At his request I also brought along my lock picking tools and some padlocks, and sure enough Rob quickly learned to pick open (four times!) one of the smaller locks.  We talked about archery, some climbing (he’s more serious while I’ve been a slacker), studying foreign languages, you name it.

Granted, some of the time the two of us were like a couple little kids getting together to play.  But I really enjoyed it.  And of course we also talked about writing – I’m still at it, but Rob has set his own writing aside to concentrate on inventing, which I think is really exciting.  I’ve mentioned his blog about inventing for the public good, which can show you how serious and good he is at engineering.


So that was my playdate on Saturday with my internet pal.  I hope all of you have had similar great experiences.

So Not Okay

on July 16, 2012 in Misc 13 Comments »

I have two subjects today. The first is brief and sweet.

In case you didn’t catch it, Michael Offut gave The Compass Master a  very intelligent review on his blog, SLC Kismet (  You’re wonderful, Michael.  And as soon as I finish reading Slipstream (it is SO good), I’ll be returning the favor.

My second subject is a rant.

Yes I know, I’m prone to rants, and this one has nothing much to do with writing and only a little something to do with action hero stuff.  See, a long time back I wrote a post here (humorous, obviously) about how action heroes might look and dress.  Usually they’re glamorous.   At the very least they’re clean and put together when out in public, unless they’ve been fighting bad guys or have just escaped from a dungeon.  And in a convoluted kind of way this leads me to the question…

When did it become okay to look, act, sound and dress like skanky brain-dead trash in public?

See, I was raised with a sense of physical self-respect.  I learned to groom before going out in public.  This meant washing up, brushing my hair, and putting on whatever cheap but clean kid clothes were in my drawer.  It was a routine that took just a few minutes and about one ounce of self-discipline.  Adults had the same routine:  they wore reasonably clean pants and shirt or a dress and spent a few minutes grooming.  They respected themselves too much to allow themselves to look like crap, and they treated other people with respect.  At least that’s how I remember the struggling middle-class world I grew up in.

OMG how things have changed.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned about this, but I believe that if you go out in public, even if it’s just to walk the dog, you don’t let tits and ass or a hairy potbelly hang out there for all the world to see.

You do not walk the dog in  mid-morning hours or stroll through the grocery store while wearing pajama bottoms because you’re too pathetically lazy assed to pull on real clothes, and you don’t wear torn spandex slut tops and bluejeans below your ass while simultaneously trash talking at the top of your voice.

You do not show up at a high school graduation ceremony dressed like you give blowjobs for $5 in alleyways, and you don’t let your kids dress like that either.  If your teens are pallbearers in a funeral, you tell them it’s not okay to wear bluejeans and a T-shirt.  If they can spend hours and big bucks dressing up for the prom, they can put on a suit for a funeral.

You do not cuss like trailer trash on speed in front of your children.  You do not treat your kids or strangers or anyone like garbage just because of the  mood you’re in.  You do not forget to teach your kids basic manners and how to be civil to others, because they want to know how to get along in this world even if you don’t.

As for tattoos:  Nobody much cares about a couple tattoos.  But when you cover your body with tattoos and then flaunt your huge flesh scribbles in public, remember what Tina Fey  said:  your body “looks like a dirt bag’s binder from 7th grade metal shop.”

Yes I know, you can do what you want with your body, and you can act rude and crude wherever you go because you’re special and deserve to do whatever you please.  You can foreswear all personal grooming for religious reasons.  You can be a hopeless slob with a heart of gold.  You can be a psychopath and look like the cover of GQ.  You can argue all you want.

But here’s the thing — I’m not talking about people who are too poor to buy a few nice items of clothing from Goodwill ($2.99 average for tops and shirts, and I should know).  I’m not talking about homeless people or blue-collar folks after an exhausting day on a dirty job, because such people are in my experience usually civil and decent and kind.

What I’m saying is what my friends and family and co-workers are saying:  where did all the dirt-ignorant rude trash people come from, why do their numbers seem to be growing, and why do they keep shoving themselves into our faces even as we go out of our ways to avoid them?


So I didn’t get out and do much this weekend for one good, happy reason:


We are talking late Saturday afternoon when a whole mess of thunderstorms blew into Denver and went wild and kept going all night.  We are talking a biblical deluge of water coming down, and that was after they thoroughly soaked most of the mountain areas.

Like I’ve written here a couple weeks ago and as y’all know from the news, Colorado has been tinder dry, there’ve been terrible forest fires,.and about 600+ homes have gone up in flames and smoke.  So when the drought broke and sheets of rain finally came, there were lots of happy people everywhere.  The firefighters musta been dancing with joy.

Of course the heavy rains meant flash floods in the burned-out places, but you can’t have everything go right.

Anyway, the weather made me spend a lot of the weekend inside, where I kept on editing one of my manuscripts and I spent several hours studying French.

Sure, I said in this blog way back when that one of my Layla projects was to study French and Arabic.  Well, I kept up the Arabic for a little while but eventually that fell by the wayside.  I mean, I so don’t have the time.  At least I’ve been better about brushing up on my very imperfect French.  But I’ve had to make myself do it because there’s something relaxing, maybe even indulgent, about sitting around and reading up on something I had in high school and little bit in college, but isn’t really relevant to my present life.  I’m not used to spending personal time on something brainy that has nothing to do with my writing.

One encouraging sign: a few nights ago I caught a documentary on the Sundance Channel about France’s (now former) first lady Carla Bruni.  You know who she is – drop dead gorgeous former supermodel who went on to become a successful singer-songwriter/ recording artist who then marries the most powerful man in the country, and she talks casually about being 40 (she looks 20) and how she’s had 30 lovers.   Sounds like the plot to a cheesy novel, doesn’t it?  But what hooked me about this flick was that I COULD UNDERSTAND MOST OF IT!

I mean, sure, I glanced at the subtitles. But most of the time I could grasp most of what the people were saying.  It also helped that everyone seemed pretty articulate and they didn’t use a lot of slang or idioms.

By the way, whenever Carla Bruni sang her sexy little songs in her soft breathy voice, all the men around her seemed to melt with desire.   I have so never had that effect on men.

Hope y’all had a good weekend and you’ve got a good week coming.

You know, taking the trash and recycling out isn’t my idea of a romantic literary exercise.  Walking the short distance from my building’s back door to the alley just ain’t the kind of chore that would inspire anybody.

So someone please tell me why, as I schlepped along with smelly bags in hand, a gorgeous piece of inspiration hit me out of nowhere.  Suddenly I knew exactly how to fix a major plot problem in a manuscript I haven’t even worked on in a couple months.  It was a clear, simple, perfect idea that seemed to float down out of the evening sky and into my head where it lit up my brain and made me go, “That’s it!”

I mean, I wasn’t even thinking about my story, but here came the inspiration anyway.

It’s a good thing I’m making some literary progress because Layla action-wise, not much is happening. I haven’t really had the energy for much anything with the 100+ temperatures, which should finally end later this week. Meanwhile, hundreds of glorious firefighters have conquered the worst of the fires here in Colorado.  What real-life action heroes they all are.

My biggest physical news is my discovery that I’ve put on a few pounds in the last few months.  I discovered this the hard way when I tried to fit into a couple of my summer pants.  Since I can’t afford to get a new wardrobe, the fat’s gotta come off in the next couple weeks.  I figure I’ve lost all of two pounds so far (hey, I just started this diet ten days ago), and a couple articles in the New York Times are helping me.  The title of one piece is “Which Diet Works?” ( and the other is “What Really Makes Us Fat” (

Turns out that the standard low-fat diet the medical establishment has been pushing for years doesn’t work very well and may not keep the fat off.  Instead, the low-glycemic diet, which allows for twice as much fat (40 versus 20 percent of total intake),  is much more effective and better for you.  At the more extreme end is the Atkins diet, or ultra low-carb, which sounds to me like it’s good for people in the short term but once some of the weight is off they should switch to the low-glycemic one.  All of this is based on the fact that not all calories are equal.  One hundred calories of apple will behave differently in your body than one hundred calories worth of croissant.  And I love croissants, damn it.

Yeah, I know – this diet talk isn’t glamorous action hero stuff, and it has no literary value. But it’s practical and helping me so I’m passing it on.

Anyway, I’m ending this with a writing question: Did you ever get some great inspiration at the weirdest moment?