My Favorite Part of Writing


Golden Poison Dart Frog. Cute but how do I fit him into my plot?

My favorite part of starting a new novel is the research.  Truth be told, I probably add unnecessary elements to my stories just so I can research something like “poison dart frogs” and find out their venom is used for treating stomach ulcers (oh yeah – gotta fit that into the plot!!)  Some stories don’t require a lot of research but when you have a protagonist like Fi Butters, a lover of all things odd and curious, you’ve got to keep your mind and a Google window open. That’s what happens when your characters are much smarter than you are, folks! 


From the Giant Red Haired Cannibals – one of my most popular posts for mystifying reasons.

Of course, with the first Flipka book it was easy. The story is set primarily in Nevada, home to Giant Red-haired Cannibals, mysterious rock formations, prehistoric fish, whorehouses, nuclear fallout, Area 51, desert rats (the human kind), conspiracy theorists, UFOs, the Burning Man festival, the Virginia City Camel races, tumbleweed filled graveyards, the Cartwrights, plenty of goof ball politicians and, of course, Vegas. It’s a regular cornucopia of bizzarities waiting to be explored.

So you can understand my trepidation at setting the first part of Flipka 2 in the area near Hudson New York, home to farms and cows and cheese.  What delicious oddities about Dairyland could Fi Butters manage to fit into one of her long rambling asides? 


Said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper (mercenary hired by the British) who lost his head to a loose canon during a “nameless battle” near Sleepy Hollow

Well, luckily a headless horseman haunts that area, inspiring Washington Irving to write his classic tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  The problem is, I currently have no idea how to fit a headless Revolutionary War trooper into Flipka 2.  A possible rival to Professor Lopinski?

The good news is you can find plenty of oddities anywhere.  The problem, how to fit them into your story! What sort of things have you stumbled upon while researching a novel that you just had to fit into a plot?

BTW:  I’m considering adding a page to the blog for promoting writers who have specials going on their books or an upcoming release.  What do you think?  Would you be interested in participating? 

How It All Began…

Delightful story about Black Friday and how it all began!

James L'Etoile

Meet George Black.

George Black image by p. Reibero via flicker creative commons George Black
image by p. Reibero via flicker creative commons

George was ordinary guy. A guy who put in his 40 hours (plus or minus) slaving away at a dead-end job, in some soul-sucking factory where he polished widgets. Day in and day out, George clocked in and clocked out. Mind numbing drudgery. At the end of the week he’d collect his pay, a pittance that only Scrooge McDuck would make stretch far enough.

George lived alone. His “place” was a dingy room in a rent by the week hotel, one that catered to transients and bootleggers. Every evening, George came home and collapsed in an old recliner and watched the homeless forage through the dumpsters behind the bus station. When the diesel fumes wafted under the warped windowsill and made his eyes water, George retreated to the hotplate and warmed a can of whatever he found on the dented shelf at the corner market. He swore…

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Lazy Blogger Day: The Pilgrim


My garden’s a haven to what gardeners call “volunteers.” Some are the children of plants we’ve planted over the years and others are pilgrims to my alien shore that I don’t have the heart to starve, rip to shreds, or send out into a stormy sea.

This sunflower took root in a pot containing another plant and grew and grew and grew until it reached the sun.IMG_1086

The stalk is approximately five feet high. But it didn’t squeeze out the other plant. They’re living happily together.

May all your pilgrims be grateful for the protected soil they’re growing in!  Even in a crowded pot, there is room to share.

The Pooh of Fratz

My husband is fond of saying that if you really love someone you will give them a nickname.  I grew up being called “Janny” which rhymes with “Fanny.”  My little sister, Jane, was called “Janie” which rhymes with “Painie.”  Thus we were Janny the Fanny and Janie the Painie.  Here’s a picture of the two of us with our brother Jimbo.


Such a fashion plate with my Buster Brown orthopedic shoes and charming Easter bonnet.


My fifth grade teacher called me Bojangles because I couldn’t keep my feet still and was constantly tap, tap, tapping the floor.  I had no idea who Bojangles was until much later (this was pre-Google) but it sounded better than what he called some of the boys in the class – he had quite a temper and most certainly would not survive in today’s education system where it is not appropriate to grab misbehaving boys by their collars and slam them into the wall.

BOjanglesIn junior high, I was called “Magoo,” after comic book character Mr. Magoo.  Why?  You guessed it. I was half blind but vanity demanded I stumble around like an idiot instead of wear glasses.  Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses – remember that line? Well, they most certainly do not make passes at girls who walk into walls!


It took me three times to pass my driver’s test. Finally I got the hint and wore my glasses!

In high school the most popular girl was named Bobbi-Jo. Those of us lower beings fumbled around after her, mimicking her perfect flip, her well coordinated outfits and even the way she spoke.  When this effort did not propel us to the coveted title of Home Coming Queen, in a rash of stupidity which I can’t believe to this day, my best friend, Sarah Jennis, and I decided to rename ourselves Sarah Jo and Janet Jo.  This effort at total and complete humiliation ranks fairly high on my I can’t believe I really did that list (just below the time I convinced a group of rabid beatlemaniacs that the Beatles were hiding out in the Riverside Hotel.)

I never outgrew the need to make an idiot out of myself but by age sixteen I’d decided the popular kids were miniature versions of their parents and always would be.  I started doing things which were “weird” in their eyes, like reading every piece of science fiction I could get my hands on, listening to Indian ragas and wearing outfits to school which were more like costumes.  I had become The Pooh of Fratz, the title given me by the person who inspired FLIPKA.  During my reign as Pooh I traveled all over the country and Europe, always with a wacky stick and daring do but alas, foolishly I married young and the Fratz Kingdom crowned another Pooh.   

Recently someone I haven’t spoken to in twenty+ years called me Fratz on Facebook. With that name returned those autumn mist days when life was indeed a frolic in the waves and not a dog paddle to stay afloat; back to the time when I believed in love everlasting, soul mates, true love and all that jazz. In the time of Fratz, best friends remained close for a lifetime and beheadings only happened in fairy tales and history books. In the time of Fratz I’d never close a door to a stranger, take Baskin Robbins ice cream for granted, or believe political candidates would be applauded for peeing on our most cherished motto “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”  There are a lot of horrors that would not have been possible in the Land of Fratz such as this:


JFK Jr saluting his father’s coffin  from Bing images

but I have returned.  Does any childhood nickname send you back to your Land of Fratz ?

BTW – in the light of the Syrian Refugee crisis I encourage everyone to check out Duke Miller’s chilling first hand accounts of working with refugees in war zone.   I wish the politicians would.

Excerpt from Spider in My Mouth


Image from

Recently my buddy Duke Miller sent me an excerpt from his WIP Spider in My Mouth which, given the constant turmoil in the world, seemed an appropriate thing to share with all of you.  Duke was an aid worker for over twenty years and has circumvented the world at least four times, often to some of the most dangerous places imaginable.  In his book Handbook for the Hopeless, How to get a job in a War Zone and Hallucinations he describes how relief agencies operate and why so many of his former colleagues end up suicidal. His brutal vision is not for everyone but for those of you who like his dark wit, I’ll post excerpts when I get them under the Read Free tab that way you can read the work in succession and not between my otherwise silly rantings. Without any further commentary, here t’is:

Chapter 7 (unedited) of the mythical Spider in My Mouth
by Duke Miller

Let me run beside the vehicle and look through the window at the glow of the dashboard and analyze my own shadowed face: the one recovering from dengue and a long drunk on volcanic rocks with a group of naked goat herders.  If  I guessed who I am would you care?  Probably not, you have better things to do like finding yourself in the mirror or asking a stranger to put a warm index finger up your ass. 

That’s funny he thought.  What the hell is that?  Jesus, it’s a pack of wild dogs, maybe hyenas.  They jumped up like a flock of very large birds.  One bounced off the reinforced bumper and he watched as a black stripped body flew passed, taking his side mirror with it.  The headlights shot through the curve and then the animals were gone; other sentient beings failing to avoid fear and pain.       

So who am I?  Let me explain between rapid breathes and these fucking holes in the ground.

The man driving was a representative of the djinn; son of a djinn in fact.  His life was like the aftermath of a miracle-less airplane crash and he was looking for the war; searching for the good side and he felt that it was just ahead.  He had a sense of knowing the good from the bad and was attuned to well-educated killers as well as the insane ones and those who thought of themselves as gods.  It was important to make those kinds of distinctions and he preferred the killers with advanced degrees from the States and Europe.         

Desolate roads, remote thoughts: the girl’s voice was reading a letter he had written many years ago.  She was naked under a white sheet in a hotel bed on one of the Honduran Bay Islands.  He had nicknamed her “Parking Space” in the local vernacular.  He was confused about who she was, and how she was so perfect, despite the poverty and the father who raped her from time to time.  Maybe he should kill the old bastard; one whack in the head while they were fishing, sure, why not?  Better the sea take him.  But then, that was the way it was if you looked hard enough.  You could see possibilities, and it was usually beyond the normal way.  “What are you doing?” said the voice on the other end of the phone.  “Don’t ever try to contact me again.”  He was slowly jogging along a jungle path, trying not to kill butterflies, ingesting the smell of the sea as medicine for his injury.  The little group in the pickup was blown to bits and he could see them now, there on the road, the other road, a million miles away.  With every footfall and flash of color he imagined where he might be going and then the girl overtook him and she looked back over her shoulder. 

She was wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day.  Her hair was cut very short and it reminded him of silence.       girlwithshorthair

Few knew of his plans and hidden aims.  He carried a safe conduct pass, a letter of introduction to a commander who was the friend of a friend, and bundles of large denomination bills.  Taken together they would allow him almost unlimited access to the misery and death created by out-of-control militias, child soldiers, and officers trained in foreign lands.  

 He didn’t think of it as work.  No, it was fun.  Still, one needed the packet of pills and bottles of booze and no sleep and out of touch doctors and walls of crooked Picasso whores.  Yes, one required all that and more; but where were the ideals or the patriotic thoughts?  Gone, years ago; fuck religion, fuck Buddha.  Where was the good reason to take another step?

“Don’t ever try to contact me again.”  He listened to her in his mind and then the click, the silence. 

There was a round moon over the purple-blue bush and the light splashed down as if from a connected pitcher overhead.  The road moved in front of him like sluicing milk toward vanished mountains.He could see the infinite horizon in the half-dark.  Thoughts bounced back and forth between the Bay Islands and his feelings of self-hatred.How did he get here?  Everyone eventually asks that question, yet he felt very alone; alive to the first mystery that pertained only to him. 

Border lines to be crossed: one day you are healthy, the next sick; day-to-day.  You can see, and then you are blind; moment-to-moment.  You are happy and then in a flash you are sad.  Birth, death, the yellow line in the middle of the road, the smile, the tear; the start of the race and the finish; always one moment to the next and who can see across the divide?  Who can tell the future?   No one and there it is, yet we make plans and act as if we know;  it is our collective magic and we are absurd in our unbound ignorance.  After all, love is overrated and does not conquer evil.  Maybe evil might have a setback, but eventually the empire falls and the babies are carried on pitchforks.  Face the facts, we’ve had it; and he drove on for a few more hours, lost inside, traveling toward the barefoot army, the one killing indiscriminately and they were the good ones; and everything was out there, moving across rivers and through villages, stealing cattle, taking revenge, kidnapping, raping; and the whole mess following old trade routes, moving somewhere out there.  He only needed to find the horrific circus and inspect the madness and then get out. theyellowline

A distant click in the motor caught his attention.  Nothing; it better be.  The expensive vehicle that he drove was worth many people.  If he sold it and added the money to his funds, he could purchase a large number of slaves.  He had witnessed slave auctions before, but only as a spectator.  What sort of a buyer would he be?  At the first one he was surprised to see the stocks, chains, and neck collars.  Slave technology had not changed much over the centuries.  Prices for young, healthy adults were high.  Most of the men were dead or fighting, so women were the main commodity.  Large numbers of children were present as well and it was no longer just the rich Arabs who traded in starving human flesh.  Political and military marauders of the most outrageous kinds were in the game now.  Adding the value of the vehicle with the cash in his bag meant he could probably purchase as many as 200 slaves, which meant he would have to visit a number of auctions.  Negotiation tactics tumbled in his mind.   Depending upon how many he bought per lot, he reckoned that the individual price per head would be fairly low.  Even the stupid bastards who captured and sold slaves understood quantity discounts.  Of course, he would need a vast estate to work his people upon and he imagined land with fruit trees, animals, crops, and honey pots. Perhaps he would take a few brides and use then as managers of a sort.  The others would comply and slowly he would build an empire on a river or near the sea and he would rule with unheard of benevolence.  He would also need a shaman to divine the details of the paradise.   He would play the role of king and import teachers from the outside to educate his people and he would not be afraid of the rising expectations that education brought to slaves since by that time other options on the planet would have been few.  He understood that a blinding false religion was necessary.  He only needed the time to write a new bullshit order of how people and things moved together.  Gasoline would be an essential ingredient of the faith.  Wood would be stacked and soaked in gasoline.  Ceremonies would be short, but enthusiastic.  Orange balls of flame would blast up into the air and monstrous faces would appear and the eyes would look down upon the dancing slaves as they cut flesh and slung blood on top of hot rocks and the smoke would rise upward, toward the meteor showers that consistently ignited the nights of his kingdom. 


St. Denis, just outside of Paris, November 18, 2015

Unafraid, he would organize his people to dare the converging doom of the world with gasoline fires.  “Pour salt into the wounds,” would be chiseled into the large stones that lined the border of his land.    

A slave-owning king within seconds and he never heard the removed shot and he did not know that a native had gone into his hut and retrieved a WWI, bolt-action rifle and fired a single round at his speeding vehicle; the running wild streak of djinn in the night.  The bullet split apart when it hit the steel frame and a small fragment glanced off his head.  He was immediately knocked unconscious and the vehicle turned sideways, ripping through the bush and finally slamming into a long trench that had been lined and marbled by the dry wind and a primordial flood known only to the people of the fire; his people, the ones who would give him a second life.  

That is who I am, but I am only guessing, since that is all I can do. 

I don’t know about you guys – but I can’t wait to see where he goes from here. What do you think?

When does it make sense to give away books?

FrostyLast week I participated in a book giveaway that made me more nervous than Frosty the Snowman during a heat wave. The only thing worse than asking people to buy your book is begging them to take it for free.  Argh.

Here is one theory behind a giveaway: If hundreds of people download your book it will rise in the Amazon rankings.  You could be a Best Seller! (Even if only for a day or sometimes, a hour)

You see the irony, don’t you?  A best seller on Amazon could be aBestSeller book that sold no copies.  But that’s okay because marketeers believe people impulsively buy anything that’s on a best seller list.  Or anything having ninety 5 star reviews.

And, I hate to admit it, they’re right. I’ve done it myself.

Several months ago we hired Thor the Handyman for home repairs that Joel the CouchSitter put off because he has to do his Sudoko (and besides he’s “old now”).  We hired Thor solely because he had 15 five star reviews.  Folks, that easily puts him on the Handyman Best Seller List.  Heck, it’s amazing he didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize for Handy Dandyship!  (Don’t tell me there’s no such prize because I happen to know that a good handyman has prevented many a war between spouses!)Thor

Thor showed up on time and did our test project well enough that we gave him a tip and asked him back.  On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, he was a no show.  After waiting a couple of hours we tried calling him.  His mailbox was full.  A few days later he called us. He’d been in an accident; he was so sorry, etc. We made another appointment.  Guess what happened?  Another no show. What’s with all his 5 star reviews, I thought. He can’t be handing out free labor. Needless to say, we found another handyman – this time a 4.5 guy.  So far, so good.

FiveStarThe best seller theory could backfire in other ways.  Say, someone buys your book because it’s a best seller and one reviewer (your Dad) wrote that it was the best book since Gone with the Wind.  The problem is your book is more like Fifty Shades of Grey.  The buyer not only feels misled but they also feel betrayed.  And guess who they’ll take their anger out on once it’s time to write a review?  Your poor book.

This theory on giveaways probably makes more sense.  A reader downloads one of your books for free and loves it so much, he will actually pay for another. This is more likely to happen, I think, if you’re writing a series and the reader has fallen in love with your characters and wants to follow their adventures. However, if your second and third book introduce different worlds and different characters, they may be disappointed. And what do they do when they’re disappointed?  Write a bad review. Either way, it’s a gamble.

Do you follow writers because you love the characters they create? Or, is the writing more important to you?

BTW:  Thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you who accepted my gift. Last week I gave away about 700 ebooks.  The book most downloaded was The Graduation Present, which is set in Europe in the 1970s.   Flipka, a wacky mystery set in Nevada, was second, and Willful Avoidance third.  I was right.  No one wants to read about taxes!