Friday, April 30, 2010

The Dangers of Microwave Cooking

by Jean Henry Mead

After two bouts of walking pneumonia and four rounds of antibiotics, I decided to take a comprehensive course in holistic medicine. One of the first things I learned was the dangers of microwave cooking. Not only is the radiation generated by the microwave oven a health hazard, the food cooked or heated in the oven can cause disease as well as death.

Scientists in Nazi Germany developed the microwave radiomissor cooking oven during the Second World War for use in the invasion of Russia. The ovens were designed to alleviate the problem of feeding a massive amount of troops. The Russians confiscated a few of the ovens and studied the biological effects through long term research. They subsequently banned the ovens in 1976, then issued an international warning about the dangers of microwave cooking. The warnings weren’t heeded and the ban was eventually lifted due to pressure from the microwave industry.

Dr. Hans Ulrich Hertel, a currently retired Swiss food scientist, was fired for questioning the processing procedures that genetically alter food. In 1991, he and Lausanne University professor Dr. Bernard Blanc wrote a research paper concerning microwaved foods that pose health risks. The paper stated that food cooked in the ovens has cancerous effects on the blood and cause degenerative changes in the body.

Hertel not only lost his job, the Swiss Association of Dealers for Electro-apparatuses for Households and Industry forced a legal gag order on both men, preventing them from publishing their findings. Hertel was also convicted of "interfering with commerce."

That same year an Oklahoma hospital was sued for microwave-warming blood for a transfusion, which caused the death of a patient. Norma Levitt died from the transfusion because microwaving altered her blood cells.

Parents have been warned about warming baby formula in the microwave because it releases toxins from plastic bottles. And because the ovens don’t heat evenly, they cause hot spots in the milk which can seriously burn the infants, to name just a few potential health problems from drinking the milk.

Extensive studies have proven serious problems resulting from microwave cooking, including:

~Brainwave disturbances such as memory loss, ability to concentrate, suppressed emotions, headaches, frontal lobe brain shrinkage and insomnia.
~Loss of energy
~Cellular membrane and lymphatic disturbances.
~Digestion problems and stomach tumors.
~Cancer causing free radicals in the stomach and intestines.
~Loss of balance and dizziness.
~Hormonal disturbances in both men and women.
~Destruction of food nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

And more . . .

Is the convenience of quickly cooked or heated food worth the risks?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chasing Ghosts

By Mark W. Danielson

Still curious about the Civil War and having extra time in Memphis, I decided to visit the Civil War Interpretive Center in nearby Corinth, MS. This National Parks facility, which opened in 2004, does a great job of teaching why Corinth was so vital during the War. As a major railroad crossroads, it moved Confederate supplies as well as some 300,000 soldiers, making it a prime Union Army target.

In March, 1962, Maj Gen Ulysses S. Grant disembarked his Army of the Tennessee (named for the river, not the state), at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. Under strict orders not to engage the enemy until reinforced by Maj Gen Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, he established base camp on the river’s bluff and posted forward camps around a log church called Shiloh Meeting House. Aware of these orders, Supreme Confederate Commander in the West, General Albert Sydney Johnston, planned to smash Grant’s army prior to Buell’s arrival. On the morning of April 6, Johnston led his Army of the Mississippi, 44,000 strong, to the Union camps at Shiloh Church. Detected by a forward Union patrol, (AKA “picket”), Grant’s army of 40,000 hastily assembled to meet their attackers. The resulting battles lasted throughout the day with the advantage going to the Rebels. Overnight, two miracles favored the Union: Union Gen Buell’s army arrived and Confederate Gen Johnston bled to death from a stray bullet. In the morning, Johnston’s replacement, Gen P.G.T. Beauregard, mounted an offensive to finish off the Union Army, unaware that the Union Army was now 54,500 men strong compared to his 34,000. By the end of the day, Beauregard had withdrawn his troops to Corinth. The Union did not pursue.

In the aftermath of the two day battle, over 7,000 men lay dead and another 18,000 were wounded or missing. This stunned America, as it was more casualties than she had suffered as a united nation during all her previous wars. After being reinforced by a third army, the Union pressed its attack on Corinth, capturing the city on May 30th. On October 3rd and 4th, the Confederate Army launched an unsuccessful counter-attack on Corinth. When the smoke cleared, an additional 7,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lay dead.

In a nutshell, that’s the history behind both battles. Although today’s Corinth has considerable markers commemorating sites, all that is left of the original town is railroad tracks because whatever the retreating Confederates didn’t burn, the Union torched when they moved on. I found the Civil War Interpretive Center well worth the visit, but the town itself has no historical re-creations. On the other hand, you can easily spend all day taking in the stories at Shiloh Battlefield.

From Corinth, Shiloh Road follows the trail of the advancing Confederate army. With my anticipation building, I entered the park near Shiloh Church, and was stunned by the vast number of numerous markers, monuments, and cannons. Under a blue sky and a nearly deserted park, I reveled in walking the grounds, reading markers, visualizing battles, and stopping countless times in awe of the once blood-splattered woods and meadows. The Hornet’s Nest is a dense forest so named for its buzzing bullets. Newly planted trees now grow in The Orchard where some of the heaviest battles occurred. While admiring a Confederate mass grave, I heard heavy footsteps in the nearby woods. Staring into the forest, I imagined how impossible it would be for soldiers to silently make their approach 148 years ago. Then the Tom turkey revealed himself; a huge bird of at least forty pounds. Soon, his hen came running to him like Bo Derrick in the movie “10”, but with less grace. In other locations, squirrels were the ones trampling the fallen leaves. I saw no ghosts, but did feel the presence of many fallen soldiers. Most were kids when they died fighting their brothers. Shiloh Battlefield gives a real sense of proximity in which these battles were fought. Initial lines were separated by a few hundred yards. Then the cannon fire preceded the charge. Stepping over their fallen comrades, the soldiers merge. When too close for bullets, bayonets and swords pierce and slash. My visit here was solemn and humbling. Dreams of these battles have disturbed my slumber ever since.

Our brief history as the United States of America is scarred by many battles, but none approach the magnitude or significance of our Civil War. More than anything, this war began over a division in economic structure. We must never forget this dark side of US history. Our nation is currently divided over politics, much as it was in 1862. When emotions run high, violence breaks out. Recently, a Louisiana couple was severely beaten, followed by several political slurs. As our economic woes continue, there is strong potential for more violence. As a nation, we cannot repeat our past mistakes. Every political leader agrees with this principle, and it is also the reason our National Parks maintain sights like Shiloh Battlefield and the Civil War Interpretive Center.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In Search of a Murder

By Chester Campbell

I'm in the market for a plot. Not a plot of ground, but a plot for murder. I'm gearing up for my second Sid Chance mystery, and I need an exciting case to challenge his talents. It would be nice if I could look out my office window and find an inspiration for a good plot. But let's face it, I live in a boring neighborhood.

How nice it would be to live like my colleague Ben Small, out there in rattlesnake country, where deadly critters lie in wait for somebody to invite them in. Or maybe have a neighbor like the guy Beth Terrell wrote about who kept for pets such things as Komodo Dragons (or was it Kimono Dragons, no, that wold be Japanese).

I guess the worst I've seen out my writer's perch is young guys going down among the trees toward a creek that flows out of sight. I learned they had a nice setup with folding lawn chairs where they smoked pot. Some of the neighbors took offense and invited the cops to join the festivities. Unfortunately, I wasn't here to enjoy the proceedings. Needless to say, the party room was shut down.

Of course, Nashville has its share of homicides. It seems there's some sort of altercation on the news most every evening. I suppose I should be happy they don't take place  in my neighborhood, but it would be so convenient to stand by my window, or venture outside if necessary, and watch the cops do their thing. They'd have to import a body from elsewhere, since I wouldn't want any neighbor to be the guy decorated with a garland of yellow crime scene tape.

In today's paper we have a couple of interesting court cases to consider. One involves a woman charged with strangling her husband. He had filed for divorce and gotten an order of protection to keep her away from his house, where he lived with their three kids. That's a bit of a switch from the usual wife getting an order to keep an abusive husband at bay. She admitted going to the house and taking the kids away but claimed she didn't see her husband. A housekeeper saw him, dead in the bedroom closet.

I could go with the serial killer angle. We have one of those back in the news. He's a long-haul truck driver who's accused of murdering several women at truck stops around the country. While awaiting trial on one that occurred at a truck stop near downtown Nashville, the prosecutors say he arranged with a fellow jail mate to kill a few witnesses. He recently got thirty years for that, but his lawyers are asking for a new trial on the basis of court errors. They didn't mention the errors he made in setting up the proposed killings.

So many murders to consider, so little time before I have to get to work on the book. Ah, the perils of a mystery writer. I may just have to flip a coin. Heads he goes after a serial killer, tails he tracks down a husband choker. I'm not too thrilled by either of those, however. The excitement in the neighborhood will just have to pick up and lead to a totally new concept. Now that would be intriguing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ooey-Gooey Was A Worm

by Ben Small

You’re at the buzzer on Family Feud. The question is, “Things you’ll find in the Arizona desert?”

Push the button.

"Cactus” or “rattlesnakes," one or the other.” Choose. You got a 50-50 shot.

So why have I heard so much about Arizona rattlesnakes, yet not actually spotted one? I've lived in Tucson four years now. Only snakes of any kind I've seen were a King Snake and a Black Racer, both good slitherers to have around. You’d think by now I’d have a rattlesnake farm, maybe snatch a grant to research reptilian weapon potential.

Nada. Nope. None. Not a single rattle.

Every year more people are killed by rattlesnakes in the Tucson area than anywhere else in the world. The Green Mohave is the most deadly. Bad mojo. The Green Mohave is aggressive and its venom especially toxic -- both hemo-and-neurotoxic. A buddy was biking in a wash and stood his Trek on its fender when he saw a Mohave slither out from behind its bushy cover, ready to greet him. He dove off his ride and was stuck for two hours while the snake used his bike as base camp.

Another friend was hiking and came over a hill in the late afternoon sun. Blinded, she covered her eyes and started down the trail. Rattles. All around her.

Hitchcock should be so scary.

The baby rattlers are the worst. The larger ones know they can’t eat you, so they modulate their venom, just give you enough, supposedly, to scare you away. But the young’uns don’t know any better; they’ll load you up. Same venom, just lots more of it. My landscaper’s friend was nailed by a wee one. It stabbed him as he fished in his tool chest for an Allen wrench. He almost didn’t make it.

Yes, we’re told if one makes enough foot-traffic noise, snakes will move away. But my wife found one in our driveway, a western diamondback, and it was in no hurry to leave. All stretched out, the snake seemed to be enjoying itself, not moving at all. But it separated my wife from the mailbox. At first she thought the snake was dead, but she shuffled her feet, and the snake swung its head.

And tongued her.

You don’t do that to my wife. Not unless you’re carrying chocolate, flowers and jewelry.

Normally, my spouse would have practiced her backswing with the machete, and we’d be having saut√©ed snake-bites for appetizers, but that day she’d been swimming and hadn’t Spartanized yet.

So she pelted the snake with rocks, stomped her feet and yelled. She’s good at that, too.

No rattle, no coiling. The snake just slow-slithered away.

So my wife came inside and alerted me, knowing I’m hot to trot to catch me some rattlers. 

I mall-ninja-ed up, complete with plated click-and-stick Molle-type vest, tacti-cool cargo pants, parachute cord, personal hydration system, safety glasses, high steel-toed boots, tactical gloves, helmet, knee-pads, a taser, pepper spray, and a six-foot long aluminum pole with a steel squeeze-handle on one end and steel spring-loaded jaws on the other. “Snake-Stick” or something like that. American-made, by Aazel Corporation. Good for long distance snake grabs, plus I’ve found it useful on my bicycle. Neighbor-grabbing, if you get my drift.

Dressed for action, I tip-toed out to the far end of the driveway and then into the desert, looking for slither-signs, round corners in the Etch-a-Sketch Sonoran scape.

I wasn’t as quiet as I’d have liked to be. Some clanking, a bit of pinging, the rub of leather, as my pouches, plates, buckles and slings swung with my steps.

Sixty pounds of gear. You try being stealthy.

A promising creosote bush caught my eye and I heard rattling, although in truth it might have been me. Anyway, I got down on my knees and peered through the evergreen blur. Then, I moved forward, crawling. Kept my head down, used my helmet to brush aside branches and green.

Heard what might be a rattle.

I stayed stock still. Moved only my eyeballs. Caught some motion underneath my chin. And then I panicked, threw up in my mouth and forced a swallow. Couldn't spit; sudden movement might trigger a strike. My jugular was exposed. A bite there, and I wouldn’t make it back to the house.

Imagine my fear. Imagine my breath...

My eyes focused, and I saw sweat dripping off my chin strap. The drops fell on dried mesquite seed pods, which turned and rustled in the desert detritus. The temperature was a hundred-five, I was scared and wearing sixty pounds of mall-ninja gear. Sweat. Who’d’ve thought?

I exhaled, and smelled my lunch. I found my hydration tube and sucked in stale two-year-old water.

That’s when I felt it. Combustion in my legs. A searing heat. Starting at my shins and moving upward. Stinging, like a bee plague. Burning, like my limbs were on fire. The conflagration pulsed up my body.

Flame touched my loins, and I was up and running. Knees high, boots pounding, my arms pumping, I must have sounded like a pan vendor jumping rope. But I was oblivious, too busy screaming and slapping at my body as I hurtled down the driveway.

I stormed through the back gate, straight to the pool. I dove in... and almost drowned.

All that gear, you know. Good thing my wife’s a strong swimmer. She was highly motivated: My life insurance premium was overdue.

Fire Ants.

When I get out of the hospital, I’m going to Cabela’s for fire ant gear.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Free Association (or How Writers Think)

By Beth Terrell

"Where do you get your ideas?" people ask. I know I've written about this before, but last night I discovered a prime example of how a writer's mind works.

Last night, my husband, Mike, and I were watching an Animal Planet show about people who keep dangerous exotic animals as pets. One woman was admitted to the hospital suffering from the bite of a poisonous snake. Despite doctors' attempts to save her, the woman died. When police went to her home, one turned over a basket he saw in the living room; there was a live cobra beneath it. A moment later, they realized that there were almost a dozen poisonous snakes roaming freely through the house. Since discretion is the better part of valor, they carefully backed out of the house and called in specialists. I don't know where you find venomous-snake-removal experts, but apparently they're out there. All I know is, I couldn't find one in the Yellow Pages.

The second story on the show was about a man who had a house full of monitor lizards, some of which were six or seven feet long. Again, the animals were roaming freely through the house. You probably know that lizards carry salmonella and that the saliva of monitors harbors bacteria that is potentially deadly to humans. Komodo dragons are the deadliest, but even the bites of smaller lizards can carry deadly infections. This man had been bitten multiple times by his lizards and failed to seek medical attention for his injuries. Instead, he waited until he started to feel sick, then took some antibiotics he had in the medicine cabinets. By then it was too late. Weakened by his illness, he collapsed on his living room floor, where the pets he loved so much...ate him. Or parts of him.

These stories reminded me a panel I attended at a Bouchercon several years ago. It was a conversation with John Connolly and Lee Child, two of my favorite authors. I don't remember everything they said, because I spent more time than I should probably admit swooning over their accents and thinking, My gosh. I'm breathing the same air as JOHN CONNOLLY!!!!!" I did my best, though, which is why I remember that one of the moderator's questions led to a discussion of cat mysteries.

"I never quite got cat mysteries," Connolly said. "If you were going to have an animal solve a mystery, why not pick something that might actually care that someone had been murdered? Like, say, a golden retriever? Why pick an animal that, if it were to find its owner lying dead on the kitchen floor, would probably feed on the soft bits?" (Not OUR cat, of course. Edgar, would be above such base instincts.)

Anyway, that memory led me to think about how dangerous and exotic reptiles might be used in a mystery. There's the obvious answer, of course--that a deadly snake or monitor lizard could be used as a murder weapon--but how about other possibilities? What about a guy who collects or studies these animals? I can't see a Komodo Dragon being as engaging as Rita Mae Brown's feline sleuth, Sneaky Pie Brown, but my quirky side finds the idea appealing. Our detective would have to be an eccentric fellow, probably something of a loner, so what sort of crime would it take to engage him in the plot? Well, what if a half-eaten body were found in his lizard enclosure, and police were convinced that his lizards were to blame for the death? Our reluctant hero would have to find proof that someone else killed the victim and dumped him in the enclosure.

I'll probably never write a book about this guy (though he's beginning to appeal to me, so I may end up writing a short story about him--or her), but I think going through the thought process exercises my writing muscles. Ideas beget ideas; creation begets creation.

Where do you get your ideas?

Southern Comfort

By Mark W. Danielson

Unanticipated changes in my work schedule gave me extra time in Memphis, Tennessee, so I went to the nearby Olive Branch, Mississippi, library with the intent of refining my next home’s design. Lacking any books on the subject, I was drawn to the April, 2010 edition of the Civil War Times; published in Leesburg, Virginia. I had never heard of this magazine, but it reaffirms that the South has never forgotten the Civil War. Like it or not, in the Deep South, elements of the Confederate flag remain integrated in many state flags.

Having once considered writing a Civil War period novel, I read this magazine with great interest. I have spent many years living in the South, and my father's mother's grandfather, Benjamin Nelson Pullen, fought with the Confederate Army under General Nathan Bedford Forrest (photo right). Benjamin survived the war, but his brother died in his arms at Chattanooga. Still, my only feeling for this war is sympathy for all concerned.

This issue of the Civil War Times was packed with articles on the South’s struggle, but also included one on Lincoln, quoting his November 19, 1863 Gettysburg Address: “Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . .” (By the way, “fourscore” equals eighty years.) This article impressed me, as did these other snippets:

On September 23, 1862, Union Colonel Henry Sibley and his army battled seven hundred Sioux led by Chief Little Crow at Lake Wood. Plans are underway to set some land aside to honor the Sioux who were starving on the reservation.

On May 18, 1863, twenty-five black Union soldiers of the 1st Kansas and twenty white soldiers of the 2nd Kansas were foraging for food at Rader Farm, Missouri, when they were attacked by seventy Confederate guerillas led by Major Thomas Livingston. The black soldiers had laid down their arms to load corn on a wagon when the attack occurred. In response to the escaping Union soldiers’ testimony, hundreds of union soldiers descended upon the farm. After placing their soldiers’ mutilated bodies in the farm house, it was burned, as was the nearby town of Sherwood after they learned its townspeople participated in the attack.

The Federal government spent $123,864,915.00 on horses during the war. The Union Army used 825,762 horses between 1860 and 1865. Giesboro Depot, the Union’s largest mount facility, received 170, 654 horses between January 1864 to January 1866, costing one million dollars per day. (That ain’t no bull!)

A travel ad for Corinth, Mississippi, says, History is only half our story. For a look into their past, visit the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.

Another ad sells the Confederate Military History, which boasts over 7,000 pages of Southern history, including essays such as The Background and Justification of Secession and The Conduct of the War by the Confederate Government.

Yet another ad for Harper’s Ferry where in 1859, Abolitionist John Brown seized the First Federal Arsenal with the intention of arming black slaves in Northern Virginia. Between the pages were numerous ads for battle recreations and replica firearms.

There was an article on The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, which yielded his widow $450,000.00, thirteen days before his death from throat cancer. Unable to speak, Grant gave his work to his friend and former Civil War adversary Simon Bolivar Buckner with a note stating, “I have witnessed since my sickness just what I have wished to see over time the war; harmony and good feeling between the sections. I have always contended that if there had been no body left but the soldiers, we would have had peace in a year.”

Former Confederate General James Longstreet lost favor with the South over his post-war statements, including, “The War was a grievous error.” As a commander of the post-war militia and state police, he was despised for using black police to counter violence during the Reconstruction.

An article on treason answers the question about how governments get people to join their armies to fight. Historically, what begins with rhetoric ends with intimidation, and the Civil War was no exception. This article discussed military executions on both sides. As with any war, soldiers must either kill the enemy or be killed by the enemy or their comrades. With desertion the serious problem in the Civil War, military executions were performed in front of hundreds of their peers for maximum effect. The article didn’t provide any statistics for the Confederate forces, but the Union reportedly executed 263 soldiers; 50% for desertion and 25% for murder.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from the Civil War Times is we must all learn from the past. This magazine did a nice job of unbiased reporting, offering historical fact and understanding. I agree with General Grant’s observation that friendliness prevails on both sides, but there is always room for more healing. There is nothing civil about this war, or any war. General Longstreet’s and Grant’s position was that we must come together as a nation. Their vision still prevails.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Computerize Your Hand's Palm

By Chester Campbell

If you think iPads and iPhones are the coolest things around, you haven't run across the Skinput. It's the brainchild of Chris Harrison, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and a former intern at Microsoft Research. It can turn your hand and your forearm into a keyboard and screen.

Yep, you read that right. Want to answer a call? Just tap your thumb and middle finger together. Maybe touch your arm to go to the next track on a music player.

Sounds as far out as Dick Tracy's wrist radio did back in the old days. Hey, that's nothing now. Dan Morris, a Microsoft researcher working with Harrison on the project, says it could become commercially available in two to seven years.

These hand and finger movements would register with a device in your pocket using a Bluetooth connection. Working with a pico-projector, the Skinput system could display a full keyboard image on your forearm. Type out a text message by tapping your finger on the "keys."

Skinput users wear an armband that's lined with sensors. The sensors pick up inaudible sounds made by ripples through the skin and bones that result from the tapping. Each move makes a different sound that can be detected by the device.

The major hangup that's going to take more time is refining the accuracy. Initial tests used only five buttons. Now they're working on a full keyboard. "The accuracy is good, but it's not quite consumer-level yet," Morris said.

If you'd like to read the full description of how the Skinput works, it's at this CNN link.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Fries Are Cold

by Ben Small

How do you feel about twenty-one-year-olds packin' concealed heat... with no gun training whatsoever?

Me, I'm not so hot about it.

You might be surprised. Maybe you've noticed I've written quite a few gun articles, am an avid shooter, and if you're my Congresswoman, you think I'm some kind of right-wing gun nut.

Guilty as charged, mostly.

But I think it's nuts to give twenty-one-year-old kids high powered weapons, complicated pieces of machinery capable of dealing death faster than the blink of an eye, without one iota of required training.

And in Arizona, that's exactly what's happening.

The Arizona legislature passed a Bill last week permitting concealed carry by anybody over the age of twenty-one -- no training or permit required. You must be legal, of course -- you know, not a convicted felon or someone who beat up his girlfriend. But there's no other limitation. A twenty-one year-old kid can, under this Bill, legally carry concealed. Yup, he might be the pimple-faced kid in front of you at McDonald's, the one who goes postal over cold fries.

The governor signed the Bill into law, effective sometime this summer.

I possess an Arizona Concealed Carry permit. So much for that. To obtain my permit, I endured a day-long, boring presentation on civil and criminal law -- Yawn, I'm a lawyer -- a shooting test a blind guy passed, and a written test, the correct answers provided in advance.

Yeah, my Concealed Carry Class was a torture chamber, a real intellectual and physical challenge.

But the class was worthwhile. I appreciated the pointers and reminders, the safety tips, the hypothetical examples we mulled over, the discussion among students and instructor, the methodology training, the proper marriage between gun and holster and method of carry, shooting tips, etc. I even enjoyed some of the stupid statements people made, threw some out there myself. But these stupid statements reminded me just how dumb some people may be.

And these people may be carrying concealed guns. Throw in youth, immaturity, beer and hard stuff...

I may be staying in more.

If you're gonna carry a gun, you must have a cool head; should know your weapon; have tested your weapon; have a gun and holster and carry mechanism that meets your needs, style and size, and you must realize the legal and moral aspects of your situation. You need to practice, both shooting and the draw; you don't want to be pulling on the trigger as you're drawing. Duh. And you need to be aware of your circumstances, always take the avoidance route if one is available, use restraint... unless presented with a direct threat of grave bodily harm to you or your family.

Concealed Carry Classes teach all this. And they fully inform you what will happen if you do pull the trigger, justified or not, accidental or not.

Scary stuff. Good to know.

And Arizona just threw this training requirement in the dumpster.

So what good is my Arizona Concealed Carry Permit now? It's not worthless. It shows I took the time to ensure I was prepared; it shows I'm a law-abiding citizen; my records withstood a background check. And it frees me from BATFE approval delays because of that background check. My permit's even gotten me out of a few traffic tickets. Seems some cops like responsible citizens, are actually nice folks, and occasionally give breaks to people they deem deserving.

Another good deal.

No, I'm not happy about this new development. Scares me that kids with no training will be brandishing concealed guns, waving them around, pulling them because their friends think it's cool. Or maybe just having a poorly paired gun-holster-carry package, dropping a gun in the Safeway frozen pizza aisle.

Guess I'll re-think flipping off the next pimple-faced kid who tail-gates me in the passing lanes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Woe is I.

I apologize for this brief interruption. My computer is down,and I can't seem to access my e-mail on this library computer. Woe is I.

I'm shopping around for a new computer (that I can afford) so I may be offline for 2 or 3 weeks. Just thought you ought to know -- I'm still alive, but incommunicado.

Over and out ...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Steady Writing

by Jean Henry Mead

When I sat down to write, I thought of a long ago interview with bestselling romance novelist Parris Afton Bonds for my book, Maverick Writers. Bonds emphasized the need for writers to write every day. The mother of five lively sons, she wrote between diaper changes as well as on the job, which cost her several secretarial positions before she decided to write full time.

“I write when I’m sick,” she said, “and even as I shove that turkey into the oven on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are no legal holidays for [professional] writers.”

A steady writing schedule is one of the most important aspects of publishing one’s work. Whether you rise two hours early to write before leaving for your day job, or at night before you go to bed, it needs to be done at least five days a week. Women with small children can schedule their writing time when the young ones are down for a nap, if only for an hour, but the same hour each day until it becomes a habit. But if you only have a few minutes now and then, use that time to jot down notes or bits of dialogue as Doctor Don Coldsmsmith did on the backs of prescription pads.

Mystery novelist Marlys Millhiser echoed Bond’s work ethic. She begins writing at 10:00 a.m. and continues until 4:00 in the afternoons. Both writers stressed the fact that you must stay at the computer (or note pad) no matter how difficult the writing is going that day.

“My first draft is pretty bad,” Millhiser said. “But no matter how difficult it is, I hang in there. Sometimes you have to backtrack and begin again, but don’t stop to polish a chapter until the first draft is finished. When I’m on a run and the plot floats along, the characters take over and it’s wonderful. But most of the time, I’m just sitting there and sweating it out. And I’ve found, I’m sorry to say, that the stuff I sweated out and got three pages by working my pants off, was about the same quality as when the story just flowed along and I’ve gotten ten pages.”

Brian Garfield, author of “Death Wish” and countless other novels and screenplays, said, “I took up writing partly because some of the stuff that was published seemed so awful and so easy to do, and of course it isn’t easy to do, as you find out when you sit down to try to do it. And it took a long time—a lot of apprenticeship practice before I could write anything that was worth publishing. But you don’t know that until you try. At the time of the interview, he wrote five hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. No longer because of back problems.

Set your pace, as steady as walking on a treadmill. Before long you’ll feel that you must write during those hours. It becomes as important to those who want to succeed as breathing.

I'm at my computer by eight in the morning, with few exceptions, and write until three or later in the afternoon. A half hour treadmill break gives me a chance to loosen up and recharge my brain cells.

When do you write and how often?

(Pictured above: The treadmill desk)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Up Side of Rejection

By Mark W. Danielson

Let’s face it; rejection hurts. But here’s a look at it using the “glass half full” approach. What do you see when you look at this car? Depending on your perspective, it’s either a red Corvette or a timeless wheeled sculpture. I invested a lot of time restoring this twenty year old car to its present condition, just as I have invested time in writing novels. This car has won several first place awards, but it has also taken some second and third place awards, and even come home without placing. The same holds true for my novels and magazine articles; some were published on their first attempts while others went through several submissions and re-writes. After a while, you realize that such rejection is nothing more than a reviewer’s opinion.

Like many authors, I have seen my share of publisher rejections. Most say something like, “Thanks, but no. It doesn’t suit our needs.” The kinder ones conclude with, “best of luck.” Gee, thanks, except luck has nothing to do with getting published. Either my work fits their needs or it doesn’t. End of story, as it were.

I have kept every one of my rejection letters as a reminder of what it takes to meet a publisher’s parameters. Once in a while, the reviewer has offered some constructive criticism. One publisher didn’t like the names I had chosen for my characters, so I changed them, edited the entire manuscript to ensure the names and situations fit, and then resubmitted. This reviewer’s next response was more demeaning than helpful. “While we admire your perseverance, once we reject a manuscript, we will not consider it again.” That was like getting a head pat while being kicked in the rear – particularly since the reviewer never gave it a second glance. But that’s the nature of this business. Nothing personal. Either they like it or they don’t.

While it’s nice to think that whoever is reviewing your work would have a little more compassion, they don’t have any time for it. Reviewers are swamped with manuscripts, so if something doesn’t immediately catch their eye right away and spell mega-sales, it dies a swift death. Having said that, authors should remain true to their style. After all, it’s who you are. Changing your style to appease a reviewer is ludicrous because there is no way to predict your reviewer’s mood when your work crossed their desk. Case in point, consider John Grisham’s book, The Firm. Grisham had plenty of rejections with this book, but he believed in it enough to self publish. Unfortunately, no one noticed. He had closets full of these books and couldn’t give them away, but then the right person noticed and cared. Sales exploded once The Firm was re-published, then it was made into a movie, and suddenly a new mega-star author was born. Vince Flynn falls into the same category. So were the reviewers right about Grisham and Flynn? Survey says no – at least for these two authors.

The moral of the story is to accept that rejection as part of the writing business. When you receive a negative response, it means that on that particular day with that particular reviewer, your work didn’t shine, so learn from it, make sure it’s what you want, and then submit it to another publisher or agent. If you are concerned about time, then never agree to an “exclusive” look. Instead, sent it to as many agents and publishers as possible, assuming your work meets their criteria. And don’t forget about entering writing contests. It’s a tough business, but you have nothing to lose.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nope, not gonna do it today

Normally, unless I've forgotten, a blog post from me would be sitting here. But as I caught the stomach flu last night and am so sick I don't know if I'm alive and living in Montezuma's prison or dead  and being eaten as shishkababs, I just can't do it today. For me, bed and bathroom are all I'll be seeing today. Sorry, see you next week.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Life On Re-Runs

By Pat Browning

In Vienna there was a huge statue of a Russian soldier left over from Cold War days. According to my taxi driver, that statue was “the only Russian soldier who never stole a watch.”

My life seems like a re-run. First it was Buzz Aldrin, one-time moonwalker stalking through the cha-cha on “Dancing With The Stars.” Then it was a TV special on the Pacific battles of World War II. Now we have START (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty), signed in Prague by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The bigwigs always go to Eastern Europe because of Russia. For many years after World War II all of Eastern Europe – except Austria – was the property of the Soviet Union. Austria slipped from its grasp, and Vienna was divided into three zones, American, British and Russian. Sad, scary times. Remember the movie “The Third Man”?

It was a big deal in 1979 when U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet Communist Party Chief, showed up in Vienna to sign the SALT II treaty. And guess who else was in Vienna? The timing wasn’t planned, but there I was.

Vienna just happened to be a stop on my TWA Getaway Tour “The Dalmatian.” I remember the thrill of looking out the window as our plane touched down and taxied past Air Force One – a big beautiful bird with the words United States of America stretched along the side.

Our tour hotel was the Hilton, and the world’s movers and shakers were staying there. I actually walked up to the pressroom on the mezzanine and looked over the handouts. Alas, my brush with the famous consisted of chatting with a woman who rode in the elevator with Tom Brokaw. It was like the old song “I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.”

Vienna remains one of my favorite cities, although I’ve only been back once. I remember it as elegant and historic, with the world’s best coffee and pastries. Its history goes back to the Roman Empire, when it was Rome’s eastern outpost. Its glory days were during the Hapsburg reign. It has a long and tangled history, a subject for another time.

The Europe edition of Time magazine that I bought has somehow survived. Only the back page got ripped off during one of my many moves. The world was a different place in 1979. One of these days I’ll sit down and read the magazine front to back, to remind myself what was going on, what we were reading, the clothes we wore, the music we listened to.

But not tonight.
1) Cover of Time magazine, Europe edition, 25 June 1979.
2) Air Force One, SAM 27000, second of 2 Boeing VC-137C USAF aircraft, customized version of a Boeing 707; entered service in 1972, retired in 2001; on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California; photo from
3) Vienna photo from

Friday, April 9, 2010

We've Come a Long Way

by Jean Henry Mead

Women reporters have come a long way since the early days of journalism. Fresh out of college, I began working as a news reporter for a California daily newspaper. At that time, manual typewriters were the only means of getting our stories to press. Never a great typist, I bought an Olivetti electric which I hauled back and forth to work. It wasn’t long before everyone in the news room had one.

Computers were a God send and I bought my first in 1981. When newspapers finally discovered their versatility, they were called video display terminals or VDTs. By then I was freelancing and editing an instate magazine.

Before the 1960s, women news reporters were mainly confined to the society pages or as copy editors. Later, those of us “lucky” enough to be on the police beat--which meant chasing ambulances and investigating train wrecks--were not allowed to dress casually. Even slacks were prohibited and certainly not tennis shoes or jeans. I remember arriving at a horrific train wreck with box cars piled on top of one another, wearing a dress, nylons and heels. I returned to the office looking as though I had been in the train wreck.

Police officers ignored my questions because women weren’t supposed to report on accidents and robberies. The same was true at city hall. So when the mayor was suspected of illegal practices, I went after him in print with every bit of evidence I could gather. He was subsequently relieved of his duties.

One of my aticles helped the F.B.I. capture a bank robber, but my accomplishments pale compared to those of a broadcast journalist that I admire. Hank Phillippi Ryan (pictured above) works for Boston’s NBC affiliate, 7News. Her investigative reporting has resulted in new laws enacted, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosures and millions of dollars paid in restitution.

Hank has won an astounding 26 Emmys, ten Edward R. Murrow Awards and dozens of other journalistic kudos. She began her career as a political reporter in 1975 in Indianapolis, and was later assigned to beats such as medical, movie critic and on-the-road feature reporter in Atlanta, where every Monday morning she would close her eyes and point to a map. That’s where she’d go to find a feature story, or what reporters call a “kicker.”

She said, “They called me ‘something out of nothing productions’ because I could find a story anywhere.” In 1988 she was assigned to write the long-form “think pieces” for presidential conventions. From that time on, she was an investigative reporter.

“Over the past thirty years I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, chased down criminals and confronted corrupt politicians—and had many a door slammed in my face. But the idea that I can change lives and even change laws is so gratifying. It’s a big responsibility, which I take very seriously. But when a tough story comes through and changes are made as a result—the rewards are immense.”

Hank has also found time to write four mystery novels. Her Prme Time book won the Agatha Award for first novel and Air Time has been nominated for another Agatha.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Sticky Parts

By Beth Terrell

Writer's block. Some writers believe in it; others don't. Some say it's a manifestation of fear of success. Some say it's the Muse's way of telling you, "Hold on. Pietro and Penelope don't need to fall into each other's arms yet. That's too easy. They need to miss each other at the marketplace. And Umberto's jeep needs to have a flat tire on the way to his assignation with Clementine. STOP! YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!"

Some say writer's block is an excuse not to produce, that there is no such thing as plumber's block or widget-maker's block, so you should just get off your duff (or on it, in front of your computer), and write something. Some say there are many different types of writer's block, some more serious than others, and all with different underlying causes. Sometimes it's not writer's block at all, they say. The block is just a symptom of the real problem. For example, a person battling severe depression isn't blocked; he's depressed. Treat the depression, and the block will take care of itself.

I don't claim to be an expert on writer's block and whether or not it exists, but I do know that, if I go a few days without writing, it gets easier to go a few more days and harder to sit back down at the computer and crank out words. Sometimes when that happens, it's because life has gotten in the way, but often it's because I've come to what I call a sticky part--a place in the book where the writing gets tough, the emotion gets too intense, or I'm not sure which way to go next. I put off writing one scene for weeks, because I knew it was going to break Jared's heart--and mine. Whatever the reason, cranking out words is exactly what I need to do.

So I pick up an empty spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen, imagine calling Jared (my protagonist) over to sit beside me, and ask him, "And then what happened?" From there, it's like taking dictation. He talks, and I scribble down what he says. When he stops talking, I ask him a question to start the ball rolling again. "What did that look like? How did you feel when that happened? And then what did she do?"

I know that what comes out will be rough and raw and in no shape to be shown to anyone. I know that parts of the story will change, sometimes dramatically. But the exercise gets me moving again. It adds to the block of metaphorical clay from which the real story will be shaped, and it gets me past the sticky parts so that writing can be a joy again.

How about you? What helps you get past the sticky parts?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Buzz Job

By Mark W. Danielson

They say one photo is worth a thousand words. This one can stir many or be limited to a couple. (As in Holy Sh . .!) My buddy recently sent me this photo of an F-4 doing a low pass over a Canadian lake. F-4 Phantoms are long gone from the US inventory, but they were sure fun to fly. It was very interesting to see how this F-4 looked from the boat’s perspective. You see, I made a similar pass over a guy standing in his tiny boat, and when I looked in my mirrors, the boat was empty. After sharing a laugh, my back-seater and I focused on our next turn point. Oh, come on -- it was funny! It was also unplanned. Too many years have passed since that buzz job, so I guess it’s safe to tell my side of the story. (Sure wish I could hear the Filipino’s.)

At the time, I was stationed with the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, and was operating out of Clark Air Force Base in Luzon, Philippines, for the Cope Thunder “war games”. To understand how this happened, I always flew as if I was going to war, and saw no reason to operate any other way. On this particular day I was the “ground spare”, armed with six inert five-hundred pound bombs and a live 20 mm cannon. The “war” went on without me, but then they decided to let me take off, fly the low level, and drop my bombs on the target airfield -- solo. Very cool.

The sky was overcast with embedded rain showers; typical for the monsoon season. And since wars don’t care about the weather, I flew under the clouds, which got lower the further north I flew. I was comfortable flying at 520 miles per hour at treetop level under a seventy-five foot overcast until the mountainous terrain forced me up to my minimum safe altitude. The interesting thing about flying low and fast is you can see monkeys sitting in trees directly in front of you, but everything to the sides is a blur. That phenomenon is called tunnel vision.

I flew in the clouds navigating by an inertial computer until a hole appeared in front of me. Now over water, I dove for the deck, leveling at fifteen feet on my radar altimeter when directly in front of me was this fisherman standing up in his boat. If you notice in the above photo, the water below the F-4 is disturbed by the air pressure. I’m sure this was the also case with my fly-by. Most likely, the fisherman never heard me coming and was probably blown overboard by this air pressure, or if he heard and saw me, he may have dived overboard. Either way, he got wet. Too bad, so sad. Like I said, it wasn’t planned. Sorry, dude.

The rest of my low level was uneventful. When I arrived at my predetermined point, I pulled the nose up, climbed for a few seconds, then rolled over and pulled the nose around to the target airfield. After checking my dive angle and nose position, I released my bombs, pulled up, and egressed without knowing where the bombs hit. When I got back to base, I heard my bombs cut a nice diagonal through the targeted runway. (Remember, these were cement bombs dropped in a practice area. No one got hurt.) The best part was a peer in my sister squadron witnessed my “glorious” attack. It was truly one of my most memorable flights in the Phantom. Seeing this photo brought it all back.

Now, before you criticize, think about this – do you want fighter pilots who are trained to deliver ordnance in wartime, or pilots that fly at unrealistic altitudes and get shot down when they have to face their opponent? I thought so.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Video Chatting and Mystery Writing

Artwork from USA Today

By Chester Campbell

I read an article in the newspaper this morning about the video-chat revolution. Using programs like iChat, Skype, ooVoo, and Chatroulette, more and more people (especially teens) are talking face-to-face on-screen instead of holding a phone to their ear and staring at the ceiling.

In a survey last fall, 45 percent of respondents said that in five to ten years, they expect to use live Internet video frequently to communicate with family, friends, or colleagues. Right now it's mostly computers with webcams, but the big screen is coming. Panasonic, Samsung, and LG began selling TVs equipped with Skype this year. A webcam and mike are extra, but soon they'll be built-in.

Think of the possibilities for mystery writers. Detectives can talk to each other and view evidence in places far removed. With the TV on and a DVD in the recorder, you might even pick up a murder live. Not every detail, of course. We'd have to hide most of the bad guy's identity. Just enough to provide the telling clue.

From what I read, Chatroulette is a controversial site created by Andrey Ternovskiy, a seventeen-year-old Moscow student. When you sign on, it randomly pairs you with someone unknown from anywhere around the world. It began with twenty users, and in a matter of months mushroomed to 30 million unique visitors. The news story said it sometimes produces X-rated results.

I can see it now: a guy logs onto Chatroulette and up pops someone from across the globe. The face on the screen stares at him, lifts a .45 Glock and says, "Bang! You're dead." Two days later the guy turns up a corpse. Ah, the intrigue.

The article writer, a reporter for USA Today, compares the trend among teenagers to what us oldies remember from the sixties with Judy Jetson, the animated space-traveling kid in The Jetsons TV series. But, as she points out, it no longer requires bulky hardware and a corkscrew antenna. You can read the full article here.

I can see other uses for the video chat. How about talking to your editor and holding up manuscript pages for her or him to check? "Why don't you take out that word there," she says, pointing, "and change it to..."

It would be a great research tool to interview someone miles away as though you were sitting in the office with them. If it were me, I might want to clean  up my desk a bit before exposing my rat's nest to strangers. That's just one of the hazards of modern technology. Just think of all the advantages. In fact, why not put your thoughts in a comment?

I'm waiting.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Deserving Cinderfella

by Ben Small

I'm gonna depart from the usual and write today about something not mystery-related. Gotta rest my trigger finger... for the clicker, as I watch Butler win the NCAA National Men's Basketball Championship. Replays, you know. I plan to make my own.

And there's more: I'm on the lam. Dog-catchers... Dog-catchers sporting blue horns -- just like Coach K. Guess somebody didn't like my barking around the neighborhood.

Musta called him,. Coach K. Ratface the UNC folks call him.

Yeah, somebody ratted me out.

Why on the woof? I was born and raised a Hoosier, which means I was raised with a basketball as my best friend. I slept with one, rolled one under my feet as I ate, and played basketball every day after school, snow or not. We played on cement, gravel and dirt, even on uneven ground or hilly driveways. The surface didn't matter. Hoop and ball, that's all we required.

My best buddy's father had season tickets to Butler Bulldogs games during the sixties, which meant I was a frequent attendee. Plus, Butler Fieldhouse was the home of Indiana High School Basketball. It was where tiny Milan High School made history, beating mighty Muncie Central for the state championship in 1954, a feat made legendary on the same floor by the movie Hoosiers.  But contrary to the movie, Milan's victory was no fluke. The year before, Milan had been the state's highest ranking team, small though they were, and Milan beat the awesome Crispus Attucks team, which started the Robertson brothers, Oscar and Bailey. Milan didn't win in 1953, however, their year was 1954. A few years later, the Milan coach, Marvin Wood left the smallest school in the state for the largest, my high school. I knew Marvin Wood; he was my coach and my Driver's Ed instructor. A nice guy who got lucky.

The Milan tradition, the pride, lives on, and this year, Butler is the Milan of college basketball. Butler has only 4200 students, and they're playing for the national championship just six miles from what is now Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler's home floor.

How's that for cool?

Every basketball kid in Indiana knows about Butler basketball and about Tony Hinkle, for whom Butler Fieldhouse was re-named. Tony was Butler's coach forever, it seemed, and what a coach he was. Tark the Shark was famous in part for towels in his mouth. Tony Hinkle pulled on his white socks; he had to change them at every halftime.

Tony Hinkle didn't get the talent the big name schools got, schools like Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue. Tony got what Indiana talent was left over after the name schools ran out of scholarships.  His center was often only about six-foot-five. Tony got by with strategy  and gamesmanship, and his kids went to class. No team played with more intensity than the Butler Bulldogs, and the Bulldogs were tough to beat. Indiana and Notre Dame wouldn't play Butler; they didn't want to lose. Each year Tony would schedule the Hoosier Classic Tournament, and he'd invite Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame. Since Indiana and Notre Dame wouldn't accept the invitation, he'd replace them with Ohio State and Northwestern. And Butler would fare well in the tournament, despite facing the likes of Jerry Lucas and Terry Dischinger, future all-pros. Butler even won some of these games.

Butler made the NCAA tournament once during the sixties, back when the tournament was only about sixteen teams, but it lost its first round game. Who cared? Butler had made the tournament, and all of Indiana celebrated.

But there is more to the Tony Hinkle story. During WWII, some coaches who were drafted or enlisted were assigned coaching positions according to merit. Branch McCracken, Indiana University's legendary basketball coach was assigned to a secondary Army soccer team. Tony Hinkle became coach of the Army's primary basketball team.  He was that good.

And Tony Hinkle loved kids. As a friend reminded me the other day, Tony cut a hole in the fence behind the Butler Bowl, where Butler played football, so kids could sneak in. And during basketball season, Tony cracked open a door in the back of Butler Fieldhouse, by the heating plant and utility facilities.

Needless to say, every kid in Indianapolis loved Tony Hinkle.

Like John Wooden, a close friend of his, Tony was a soft-spoken guy. I never saw Tony raise his voice. He'd show his concern by tugging on those white socks.

Tony Hinkle is gone now, but his legacy lives on. And so does the legacy of Butler Basketball, except now, Butler is playing for a national championship, something that's long overdue.

In this age of one year players, shoe contracts, shots behind the NBA arc instead of the college arc, World Wide Wes, faked SATs and John Calipari's sleaze, Butler is a throwback to days gone by.

But don't bet against Butler. And don't be surprised to hear the name Tony Hinkle. The legacy lives on.

Hollywood Meets the Heartland at Hinkle

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Gonna Study War No More

By Pat Browning

Gonna lay down my burdens/
Down by the riverside/
Down by the riverside/
Gonna lay down my burdens/
Down by the riverside/
Ain’t gonna study war no more.
…….. Old gospel song

The TV special, "War in the Pacific," is almost too cruel to watch. Now a relative has directed me to a YouTube video of the official Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Sept. 2, 1945, and it really rattled my chain.

I thought of my old cotton-picking buddy from my days as a skinny kid in the Oklahoma boonies. He was a Marine, killed at Iwo Jima. Couldn’t have been more than 18 years old. I thought of my cousin Rudy, who joined the Navy at age 16 as a machinist’s mate and was discharged in 1946 as a chief petty officer. On Sept. 2, 1945 he was aboard the USS Cleveland at Okinawa. The ship left Okinawa on Sept. 9 to cover the evacuation of Allied prisoners of war from Wakayama.

My cotton picking buddy and my cousin are dead, but an old high school friend who was the radar operator on a B-29 in the Pacific is very much alive and kicking. His B-29 was in the swarm of bombers that did a flyover of the USS Missouri after the surrender ceremony.

He lives in Colorado now. I e-mailed him to ask about that long-ago flyover in Tokyo Bay. The vehemence of his reply almost knocked me off my chair. The memory is still raw after 65 years. In fact, getting him to talk about the war at all is like pulling teeth.

Quoting his e-mailed reply (it was in caps and the color red):
Yes, Patricia, I was there. Every B-29 that could fly was there. We went north of Tokyo then turned south. We flew over mile after mile of ash and rubble … not much left of Tokyo. We flew low over the battleship Missouri during the signing. I have a picture of the battleship, taken with a cheap Brownie Hawkeye camera … no long range photo lens, of course.

The Marines hated MacArthur. We thought he was a pr**k of the first order. He let the U.S. Air Force be destroyed on the ground at Clark Field on December 8 … a full day after Pearl Harbor. He left all his supplies north of Manila when he should have stored them at Bataan.

During the Korean War he sent Marines to the Chosen Reservoir where it was impossible to resupply them or to enable their escape when the Chinese came in. Mac assured us that the Chinese would never enter the war – he knew the Oriental mind!!! I will give him credit for success in post-war Japan.
(end quote)

The YouTube video, a newsreel that is remarkably sharp and audible after so many years, is at

MacArthur was the Supreme General Commander of Allied Forces. On deck with him that day to sign the agreement were Allied representatives from Australia, Canada, China, France, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, the UK and the US.

MacArthur’s closing words were: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.”

It’s a bit of a jolt to read gossip columnist Liz Smith’s column in for Feb. 20, 2010. Speaking of the movie “The Hurt Locker” Smith writes:
Isn’t it also time that we acknowledge once again that war is the world’s business and, particularly, it has been America’s business over and over. So, perhaps we should be paying much more attention to the results of war and its perils and aftermath; as seen in "The Hurt Locker."

WHEN I say that war is America’s business, I am thinking of Dwight D. Eisenhower warning us that we might be taken over by the military industrial complex and we surely have been, despite his warning.

Beginning in 1775, we have been involved in
* The Revolution,
* the War of 1812,
* the Indian Wars,
* the Mexican War,
* the Civil War,
* the Spanish-American War,
* World Wars I and II,
* the Korean War,
* the Vietnam War,
* Desert Shield/Desert Storm,
* the Iraq War
* and now we are in Afghanistan in an ongoing war against terror.
(emphasis mine, end quote)

War seems to be always with us. Only the combatants change. As one footnote to World War II – Wakayama, former campsite of Allied prisoners, is now a Sister City to Bakersfield, California and Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons on the Web.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Make Every Word Count

by Jean Henry Mead

I recall a workshop where the instructor impressed upon his students that each word committed to paper should pull its own weight. And that every unnecessary word needs culling from the plot.

Writers have to engage their readers, not simply enlighten and entertain them. Creating word images that readers can relate to is preferable to forcing them to fill in the blanks. A Hummer H2 conveys a much stronger image than having your protagonist ride to the rescue in a Volkswagen.

Strong verbs are necessary to give one’s plot a dynamic, energetic tone: words such as massacre instead of kill, horde instead of bunch, or terrorize instead of bully. And as we’ve all been told, stay away from the verb to be in all its forms because it’s the weakest of words.

Adverbs that end in –ly also weaken prose. On the other hand, strong specific verbs give writing vitality. I’m reminded of my interview with A.B. Guthrie, Jr. who said, “The adjective is the enemy of the noun and the adverb is the enemy of damn near everything else. Writers use too many descriptive words." As for adjectives, author Lois J. Peterson once said, “One well-chosen adjective can be more effective than two or more, which used together might weaken the idea or image.”

Do we really need adverbs? Not unless it's impossible to come up with strong verbs, such as substituting rumbled for drove noisily. Cull the adverbs in your second draft and replace them with muscular verbs. As for adjectives, the rundown house can be rewritten as a hovel.

Word choices affect the plot’s pace. If every symphony movement maintained the same pace, the audience would either be exhausted or asleep before the finale. So writers need to think of themselves as conductors, controlling the pace with word choices, syntax and variety. Long sentences and paragraphs slow the pace and seem introspective while short, choppy sentences are much more dramatic and conducive of action scenes. So, in order to keep your reader reading, alternate your sentences and paragraphs in a variety of lengths.

Sentence rhythm is also important. Make sure to read your work aloud before committing it to a final draft. Some word choices bring a sentence to an abrupt halt and should be rewritten or replaced, along with all unnecessary words. The musical analogy is a good one because sentence flow is so important.

In other words, make every word count and the best choice possible.

Artwork: Wikipedia