My second newsletter – May 2024

You can read back issues of my newsletter here.

May-June 2024 Announcements

  • Our previous RoundTable 360s were fascinating with lively discussions between panelists and audience members.
    Our May RoundTable 360 topic is creative block, and every creative’s been there…that dreaded feeling of hitting a wall, not knowing what to create next or even how to do it, wracking your brain for some kind of answer, direction, or inspiration. (Jack London famously said “You have to go after [inspiration] with a club.”)
    Creative blocks can be frustrating, but they are universal, and creatives have found various ways of dealing with them. Come take part on Thursday, May 30 at 1:30 PM in the East, 10:30 AM in the west and 6:30 PM in London, and join a panel of writers, artists, actors, and other creatives discussing the different ways creative blocks can present themselves, strategies for working through them, and tips and tricks to keep your creativity flowing.
    This episode will be moderated by award-winning poet, publisher, and editor Clarabelle Miray Fields of Carmina Magazine. Reserve your space at Eventbrite.
    Our June RoundTable 360 will be led by noted EU actress, model, and voice talent Sabine Rossbach discussing creating realistic characters.
    Our July RoundTable 360 will be led by London based fantasy, horror, and scifi author Liz Tuckwell discussing rejection.
    Want to be on our panel and/or lead a discussion? Let me know here.
  • Ross Pickering seeks beta readers for his
    Raine Summers: The Lost Child of the Aether, Book One in the Raine Summers series novel. Anyone interested please contact Ross via Facebook.

  • For folks in or near Wales (wish I was there) – Arthurian Scholar Jeffrey Dixon’s putting on a photography exhibition of the late Llandrindod Wells artist Steve Harris. The exhibition is at Centre Celf and is open until 6 June 2024 from Tuesday-Thursday 10am-4pm and Saturdays 9am-12noon.
  • Jeffrey Dixon’s latest work, Encyclopedia of the Holy Grail is currently available from the publisher at a greatly reduced price. Arthurian scholars and readers take note!
  • Rika ChandraRika would love if you could fill in her 5-10 minute survey on family biographies as gifts.
  • I’m hosting a writer’s month long workshop discussing many if not all phases of craft and storytelling. The next class runs Wednesdays, 5-26 June 2024. Sign up here.
  • A movie star returns to her hometown and doesn’t live to regret it.
    Thriller author Donna Huston Murray’s new book, Farewell Performance (a Ginger Barnes Mystery), is available now on ebook and in print 4 June 2024. Pre-order is 99¢ You can also find it here.
  • Amy Olmedo writes “I am looking for a perspective of a mature woman who has overcome adversity and discovered her purpose” to review her new book. Amy says “This book captures a unique blend of spirituality, mythology, and personal experiences, blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction. This intriguing fusion promises to take readers on a deeply personal yet universally relatable journey of self-discovery and enlightenment.”
    Interested people please contact Amy directly via email or 443-691-4830.

And that’s it for May.

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Enjoy!

The Words We Use

The limits of my language are the limits of my world. – Ludwig Wittgenstein

A recent discussion tickled me. It revolved around an individual’s identity and stemmed from the statement “I’m [x] by blood.”
This intrigued me because the [x] offered is cultural, neither biological nor genetic, and once we get beyond culture and avoiding physiognomics, our [x]’s are matters of choice.
Someone offered that all [x] carry certain genetic markers which give them identity.
Well…first, not all [x] do and second, in a landscape where genetic therapies are increasingly available and where CRISPR technology gives people the ability to change their genetic makeup in the womb…I wondered if the speaker had ever read Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain or seen GATTACA (both highly recommended).
The modern landscape culturally allows gender – perhaps the most basic biologic marker – fluidity and dynamicism. Further, gender identity is often a matter of how an individual chooses to define themselves, not their natural biology or reproductive design.
If nothing else, we as a species should be anxious…
And note in the above: “…how an individual chooses to define themselves…” I don’t know any emergency room doctors who check how a person chooses to self-identify before performing life-saving surgery.
But it’s been a while since I was in an emergency room and things might have changed since then.
CRISPR, genetic manipulation and surgical techniques allow us to increasingly design what we are and definitely what are children will be. Consider a future where Beggars in Spain and John Crowley’s Beasts are the norm.
And notice I didn’t use “who” in the above. “Who” is a matter of choice. It must be in a world where “what” can be altered at an online pharmacy or from a back alley dealer.
Genetic testing is a wonderful thing…so long as one understands what is being revealed versus what is being hyped. Indicating someone is “[x] by blood” is good marketing, not good science. Genetic variants are determined by environment and evolution. Indicating someone is “[x] by blood” actually indicates where their ancestors dwelt for a predetermined time, and that predetermined time generally covers only a few thousand years. Go back to the mid-1100s and Europeans and Asians are related due to the Mongols. Go back to the late 700s and all Europeans are related. Thank goodness our deep history ancestors shifted from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies. At that point people stopped migrating. We know from archeological evidence Europe was swept by seasonal migrations back as far as 25,000BC.

Caitlyn Jenner is really a poof, right? Because Bruce really just wanted to wear women’s clothing, right?
Does Ms. Jenner know what she’s done? Surely she remembers Olympic glory. But according to the definitions of [x], she can’t. She’s no longer the person who won all those medals.
When shall we go ask for them back?

Don’t forget, No Sabo people are not Latin(x, y, or z) because you can’t claim to be South or Central American unless you speak Spanish. I hope someone tells the Brazilians!
Who decided Spanish is the main language spoken across Latin America, or that you can’t claim Latin origins unless you speak Spanish hence have no right to claim that identity. But I think that’s a huge misconception because there are so many languages that are spoken across Latin America. Spanish isn’t even native to Latin America, right? And so to use it as, like, a metric of Latinidad is really – it’s pretty ridiculous.

Someone offered that [x] is a based on ethnicity, education, culture, … One raised a certain way is a certain thing.
I wonder what Henry the 8th would say to that. So he’s still a catholic even though he founded Anglicanism? I hope all members of affiliated churches bend their knees at the right altar.
And Siddhartha Gautama. Is he really Shakya royalty who faked enlightenment? Perhaps we should let Buddhists know their enlightened path is based on the teachings of someone who doesn’t know who they really are.
Mohammed will forever be an Arab orphan raised by paternal relations, correct? He may have founded Islam but really, let’s be honest, he isn’t one.
And we should let Christians know that all of Christ’s teachings are based on material which was in circulation from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent, up through much of what is now eastern Europe and western Asia, and down through much of eastern and northern Africa, and all centuries if not millennia before Christ’s PR and marketing people got a hold of it.
I mean, they’re not really Christians, they’re Pereanites!
Talk about repackaging and rebranding!
Or that the holy books of judiasm are based on written work compiled before judiasm was judiasm?
I know good authors borrow and great authors steal, but come on…

And while we’re at it, I’m pretty sure Li Po and a few others have something to say about how the word Tao is being used these days…

In the end, me thinks, it all comes down to self-identification (and again recognizing certain physiognomic factors come into play).
To that point, I wondered why Othello never suffered racial and/or ethnic prejudice and bigotry.
The reason is simple, really. There simply weren’t enough individuals of his racial and ethnic heritage to warrant prejudice and bigotry.
I mean, when you do violence to the only individual of a group because no others of that group are around, the violence is personal, not racial, not ethnic.
But let’s face it. Isn’t all violence personal?

So how do you self-identify, Joseph?
I believe Jiddu Krishnamurti is correct:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent.
Do you see why it is violent?
Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerns with the total understanding of mankind.

And I detest violence in any form.

I also believe Rick Turcozy is correct when he says “I am not defined. I am a vessel of unlimited possibilities.”
(I’ll bow out of the unlimited part, though)

Several of my teachers and mentors used the phrase “To learn anything you must learn everything.” They said it in different languages and it all came down to pretty much the same thing. Stephen Hawking said it more definitively, me thinks, “To truly create an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
Richard Feynman, mentioned above, also offered “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

You’re Avoiding the Question, Joseph
Okay, alright.
As mentioned above, I self-identify in a way most people don’t or wouldn’t: I’m boring and dull.
Why do I do so?
Because I know me, and as far as I can figure, it’s true.
Remember, folks. Don’t be easy to define, let them wonder about you.

The Alibi (A John Chance Mystery) – Chapter 43 Section V Mega Chapter 2 (part 10)

The Alibi – Chapter 43 Section V Mega Chapter 2 (part 10)

 
Cranston stood in his kitchen going through the cupboards. An empty, resusable cotton grocery bag lay on the counter in front of him like a sleeping kitten. “Leddy? Dr. Cuccello invited us over to her place for dinner. She gave me a list of things to bring. Care to help me find them? What we don’t have here I’ll have to pick up on the way. Leddy?”

Leddy, in a “Go Pats” neck to knee nightshirt, slid across the kitchen’s linoleum flooring on stockinged feet. “You have a list?”

“No.”

“She didn’t give you a list? C’mon, Pop. She’s more anal than you.”

Cranston kept shifting things around in the cupboards. “She TXTed me.”

Leddy sat on the countertop facing her father. “She TXTed you and you lost it, right? Deleted it by accident?”

“Damned phone.”

She held her hand out. He gave her his phone without looking. A few swipes and taps later she read off, “Hot or sweet Italian sausage. From Buello’s, not Brüdermann’s. Hey, Maria’s cool. She even umlauted the u in Brüdermann.”

“Women. And it’s Dr. Cuccello.”

“She lets me call her Maria.”

Cranston turned to her. “Maria? Not even Maria Francesca?”

“Just Maria.”

“She never let me call her just Maria.”

Leddy raspberried her father. “You know she likes you, right?”

Cranston stopped going through the cupboards and looked at the grocery bag. “She tell you that?”

“Women know these things.”

“Yeah, right. And since when are you a woman?”

“Pop, I’ve been having my period for two years now.”

“Do I need to know this?” He looked at his daughter. “For two years now?”

“You never noticed the box of mixed tampons in the shopping cart every month or so?”

He went back to filling the grocery bag. “I know I don’t need to know this. And where’d you learn about tampons?”

“Maria told me. She asked before my period started and told me to get ready and what to do.”

Cranston sagged. “Oh, god.”

“She even gave me a couple tamps and told me to keep them handy just in case.”

Cranston focused on the grocery bag. He roved his cupboards and moved items, desperate to return them to their place.

“It’s a Sisterhood thing, Pop. We Sistahs know things about each other.”

“Can we change the subject?”

She pumped her arms up over her head and sang, “Sistahs, are doing it for themselves!” She kept pumping her arms and shaking her head. “Come on, Pop! Sing! Sistahs, are doing it for themselves.”

Her father kept moving cans and tins back and forth on cupboard shelves. “What else is on the list?”

She read the remainder of the list and glanced at the clock on the stove: 8:30am. “Hey! We’re making pizzas, right?”

Cranston closed his cupboards, rolled the grocery bag into a ball, and took his phone back. “We’re going shopping.”

Friends offered to back Maria Francesca Cuccello should she want to open a pizza parlor. She politely refused. “I make pizza for friends, not for money.”

She had lots of friends. Her pizza was known from Portland to Atlantic through Central Canada, down to Chicago and Denver, over to Atlanta, DC, Baltimore, NYC, and back to Boston. Also overseas. In Naples. Where her life was jokingly threatened if she didn’t give up her recipes. “Watch me. Learn that way.”

But it didn’t matter. Each time things were slightly different based on the feel of the flour, the taste of the water, the freshness of the yeast, what vegetables were local, …

Leddy, ready in short order, came back into the kitchen with her backpack over one shoulder. She grabbed the car keys off their hook by the back door. “I’ll drive, Pop.”
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Cranston picked a second grocery bag from the closet. “Remember your father is old and scares easy.”

Maria Francesca opened the door as Cranston reached the top of the stairs, a full grocery bag in each hand. Leddy, in the rear, guided him with a hand on the middle of his back. “Congrats, Pop! You made it.” She pointed at two kittens silkscreened on Maria’s long-sleeve t-shirt. “Wow, nice. One over each boobie, and it looks like they’re playing with each other.”

Cranston turned and glowered at his daughter.

“What? I meant the kittens, not her boobies.”

Maria Francesca burst out laughing. “Thanks. Picked it up at a fleamarket.”

Cranston turned back to Maria. “You never heard of elevators? Don’t you own this building and you couldn’t install an elevator?”

“It’s my combined senior citizen-solicitor deterrent system. You soliciting for something?”

“No.”

“Then you must be a senior citizen.” She lifted one bag from him. “Leddy, bring your old man in here before I have to give him mouth-to-mouth.”

Leddy stepped around her father, glared and nudged him when she passed. He rolled his eyes at her.

Leddy followed Maria into the kitchen. “Hey, Maria, you won’t need me for a while once we get the sponge going, right? I need to install new software in SIMON and run some tests.”

Maria emptied her grocery bag on her kitchen table. “I keep the roof keys in my bedroom. Come on and I’ll show you where.” Leddy followed Maria as dutifully as a novice following a nun. Maria stood behind the door and motioned Leddy in close. “I didn’t get it at a flea market, Led. It was a gift from an old teacher.”

Leddy burst out laughing and Maria glared at her. “Shhh!”

Leddy kept her voice girl-talk confidential. “God, don’t let Pop hear that. He’ll be jealous and never ball up.”

“Ball up about what?”

“He likes you. But you knew that, didn’t you?”

Maria lifted a red-ribboned skeleton key off a rack behind her door and walked back to the kitchen. “First rising’s in an hour. Irene Casey’s coming later. Said she’s bringing a friend. We should have plenty of hands to help. Take your time.”

Leddy checked her phone. “Who’s Irene Casey.”

Maria and Cranston talked over each other. “New lab assistant.” “Patrolwoman.”

Cranston placed the remaining grocery bag on a chair. “Is this so SIMON will do what I ask?”

Maria opened the package of white butcher-paper wrapped sausages and held them to her nose. “Good choice. Fresh this morning. There’s nothing on the roof to get her in trouble, Detective.” She picked up a spatula and shook it at Leddy. “You’re not going to make a liar out of me, are you, Sistah?”

“Women.”

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Previous entries in The Alibi (A John Chance Mystery)

Dissed by a Hawk

Ever encounter someone who’s just going to be persnickety no matter what?

You can be friendly, gregarious, giving, and they simply can’t be bothered.

I often wonder how to work with such people.

One of my guiding Principles is people treat you as they wish to be treated.

Often I wrap that in “You’ve got to be kidding. They want to be treated like poo?”

Some people, some times, yes.

I appreciate some people may respond uncharacteristically in the moment.

Who knows what’s going on with them when they respond so? A bad day? Bad haircut? Bad piece of beef or undercooked potato?

Such people apologize.

No problem. No harm done. Is there something I can do to help?

Others simply repeat their behavior or avoid making contact, perhaps ashamed of what they’ve done or said.

I mourn for those sailing such straights.

Their minds must be seething with things unimaginable.

And I write fiction.

I can imagine all sorts of things.

 

The Alibi (A John Chance Mystery) – Chapter 43 Section V Mega Chapter 2 (part 9)

The Alibi – Chapter 43 Section V Mega Chapter 2 (part 9)

 
John Rhinehold palmed his BPD Detective’s shield as he stepped out of his blue Suburu WRX. He parked across the street from the police barricades and crime scene tapes and the WRX, modified well beyond Suburu’s specs, locked itself and went on stand-by as he walked away. He pulled a pair of heavier than usual RayBans out of his shirt pocket, put them on, and put in some earbuds.

His phone pinged a TXT message. The phone had four SIMs which activated randomly and he routinely switched these with a number of SIMs he kept specifically for randomizing purposes. The incoming TXT came from one of his burners planted at locations from Portland through Portsmouth to Boston then onto Providence, Hartford, and NYC. It’d be pointless to TXT back because whoever knew about the phone would know enough to destroy the SIM and smash the phone for double-good measure.

He read the TXT and his eyebrows lifted momentarily.

A foot patrol officer came up to him. “Something I can do for you?”

Rhinehold put his phone away and flashed his badge. The foot officer nodded and let him past.

SkyHook security didn’t accept the badge as valid until Throne gave him an Okay via a phone call. “Yeah, he was with me yesterday. Let him through but keep your eyes on him. No souvenir hunting.”

The security guard, wearing a dark gray pinstripe suit, open collared pink oxford sans tie, and comfortable loafers, smiled at Rhinehold. “I’ll go with you. Maybe you’ll see something we missed.”

Rhinehold smiled. Smooth, friend. Smooth.

Forensics hadn’t cleared the blast zone for cleanup and grit crunched underfoot as they walked. Rhinehold smiled. The crunching reminded him of his mother’s stories of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, how everybody and their brother scrambled to get a piece of history and offer it to the highest bidders, how the ground crunched underfoot from gravel to grit as more and more people came from around the world to claim this moment of history.

The backwash of daylight grew less and less as they walked deeper and deeper into the garage. Rhinehold pulled a small light out of his pocket and flicked it on. A pale green light misted in the garage like a gentle spring rain.

The guard squinted into the light’s mist.”Doesn’t throw much light.” He lifted his phone. Rhinehold held his hand up. “No thanks. I got this.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to take off your sunglasses?”

“Sensitive eyes.”

Rhinehold splayed the light back and forth like it was a hand-held lighthouse searching for ships lost at sea.

Nothing, nothing.

Nothing, nothing.

They walked towards Shaul’s destroyed Exige.

Something!

Rhinehold stopped walking. His brow furrowed, his hand held the light still and fixed as he focused.

The guard squinted into the dim green light. “What? What is it?”
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Rexall Shaul sat on the remains of his Exige shaking his head. The sharp edges left by the explosion didn’t bother him. He realized he didn’t interact with objects normally any more. He could sit on, sit halfway in so twisted metal came through him, sit on the floor with his head poking through what use to be a fender and wheel well. It didn’t matter. “Fuck that heaven and hell bullshit they taught me in Sunday School, right, Shaul? Oh, no, Father Huntress, none of that matters now, huh? And all those times you asked me into your office to help you with your robes? You sick fuck. But I have you to thank for setting me on this path, didn’t I?” He laughed. “Yeah, a fucking path to being dead and unable to do anything about it.”

A thought struck him and his head snapped up. “Hey…where are all the other dead people? Boston? The waterfront? I can’t be the only person who’s died here in all of history. Thiis place should be crawling with spooks.”

A green light filled the garage and he felt it as a pressure on his skin, the warmth of sunlight on a Bermuda beach. “This is not how it’s suppose to be. I had a job to do. I was careful. I fucking trained saboteurs and terrorists, goddammit.” He looked up, his eyes above the lightbeam and directly on Rhinehold face. “Shit. The last time we worked together was JAWBREAKER. And you thought we made out well then? Boss, if only I was alive and could tell you what I’ve learned. We could both be rich.” He stood up. “Wait a second. I’m a ghost. And I decide how much I interact with not-dead things.” A twisted smile creased his lips.

***

Rhinehold’s glasses picked up an ion-trace trailing through the garage, it went back and forth like a dog tracking down a fox. The trace increased density at the rear of the Exige, as if whatever caused it stopped to admire the flash car.

An invisibility cloak?

All the tech companies he’d looked into were close but wrong and the goal was a cloak like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. He heard SkyHook was close. His man here never reported anything like this but this cinched it.

The ion trace. The byproduct of polarized matter?

Something else flickered on the edge of light. He turned the light towards it. A fresh trace. It moved out from the Exige.

He kept moving the light and played it on the walls and floor, always keeping it moving while he adjusted both the beam and his glasses. A trace flickering, yes, and he took a chance and followed the trail.

There it was. Polarized matter.

Keep the light moving!

Whoever this operative was, they may be able to tell when his light hits them. Keep it moving.

One trace active.

He took a dare, caught an image from the floor, traced it’s foggy outline up.

Jesus Fuck Christ! It’s a man!

He kept the light moving up unilt it played along the ceiling.

Whoever it was came back to check on the damage? What the hell did they use that was portable and could do this kind of damage?

He’d worry about that later.

The fog outlined figure turned and looked directly at him. He kept moving his light all around, using his peripheral vision to determine where they were, his eyes always looking where the fog figures wasn’t while seeing where it was for another thirty seconds, then removed his glasses. “Yeah, right. Much better with the sunglasses off, huh? Duh.”

Rhinehold chuckled as he secured his glasses and the light back in his pockets.

A functioning invisibility cloak was good enough, but polarized matter could give you real anti-gravity.

And what a wonderful weapon that would make.

SkyHook’s security guy looked around. “Did you hear that?”

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Previous entries in The Alibi (A John Chance Mystery)