First, thank you for dropping by. I do appreciate it. Here you'll find my occasional blog and updates of my work. If you take the time to read the excerpt of A Dangerous Servant, any comments would be appreciated. Of course, you are also welcome to just say hello. Send me an email (your address will be kept private), and I promise to answer you as quickly as I can.

Indie Writers

December 16, 2012

As a wannabe author, I take great pleasure in reading indie authors whom I enjoy that have managed to find some small or,  in some cases, significant success.

Certainly, one of my favorite successful indie authors is Michael R. Hicks. His Empire series, is  brilliant sci-fi  in which the main character, Reza Gard, must prove to an ancient alien race that he has a ‘soul’. The fate of the human race lies in the balance. How’s that for high stakes? Mr. Hicks capacity for world building are not exceeded by any mainstream author. You can read for free the first book in his series here.  Be prepared to stay up late to finish it.

Recently, I ran across Jack Stamp,  a writer that has not found Mr. Hicks success, but is deserving of attention. Jack Stamp published his first novel in mid 2012, and is struggling to find sales. His Chelsea Project, is a brilliant first effort in the mystery thriller category, where plot twists will keep you guessing to the very end. His attention to detail in his first book has created a work worthy of the mainstream press – what all indie authors should strive for.

Jack, like me, is a man who has made one career, and seeks to make another. I really like his stuff. I think you will too. Give him a look

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Worth My Salt

November 2, 2012

When I was in the third grade, I attended a small Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky. While focused primarily on the three R’s (that’s readin, ritin, and rithmetic), daily bible study was also in the curriculum. I remember many days spent on my knees during recess with Miss Laura Mae Bornwasser while she held my hands and prayed to the good lord that I might shed the mischievous urges that drove my many childish misdeeds.

Miss Laura, as we called her, was tall and thin. Flat-breasted, she wore dark, calf-length skirts and collared white blouses that were always freshly starched and buttoned to the top. Her opaque skin-toned hose were stuffed into masculine, laced shoes with broad and raised heels. Black, horn-rimmed glasses and salted-brown hair pulled straight back into a tight bun gave a look of severity that I learned was incongruous with her nature. She had a ready smile and a genuine laugh that was pleasing to the ear, and she knew the bible inside and out.

A plain woman, she was built sturdy. And while she wasn’t much to look at, a fellow could go over the mountain with a woman like that, I reckon. She hailed from Harlan, Kentucky, and thinking back on it, her Germanic name was extrinsic to that country filled with Taylors, Crafts, Sparks and Adams. I have no idea of her heritage, or how her people came to be there.

While she was kind, she was also a strict disciplinarian, and when she didn’t have the patience to try and pray away my transgressions, she was not above taking a paddle to my bottom or a ruler to the palm of my hand. I thought an awful lot of her. Curious, that. I credit it to her sincerity.

One remarkable thing I recall about her was her lunch habit. Every day she brought a peanut butter and pickle sandwich on rye. She varied it by utilizing a variety of condiments: mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, and on occasion, honey – and I swear by the God she preached, the truth of this.

I remember one day in class, and I can’t remember why she needed it, but she asked, “Sherman,” – since there was no easily discernible difference between her pronunciation of Carl (one of my classmates) and Harold, and we often answered for each other, she called me by my middle name to distinguish between us. – “Sherman,” she said, “let me borrow your pocket knife.”

While I was loathe to admit an inability to honor her request, I said, “I don’t have a pocket knife, Miss Laura.”

She drew her head back in surprise, clinched fists on spindly hips, and said, “Why, Sherman Simpson, every boy worth his salt carries a pocket knife.”

Then she turned to George Mackey, a loathsome pig-eyed, fat bastard that had terrorized me the three first three months of third grade until I could take no more, shoved him over a desk when Miss Laura was out of the room, jumped atop him, and was beating the hell out of him when she returned. Miss Laura and I prayed a long time over that one, and I got my ass busted to boot. Anyway, George Mackey pulled out his pocket knife and gave it to her. I can’t tell you how much that galled me; George Mackey being worth his salt.

When I arrived home that afternoon, my father was sitting in the kitchen nursing his first beer of the day. “Dad, what’s it mean to be worth your salt?”

My father was a hard man, a drinking man, smarter and more learned than most college professors, and a hell of a lot meaner. “Look it up,” he said.

I hated that. He said it often, and while it never ceased to annoy me, I will admit that it helped to teach me a certain self-sufficiency with regard to my education.

Less than a block from my home on Twenty-third Street in Louisville was a library. I spent a lot of time there while we lived in the west end. I was a huge reader, and I knew each and every one of the librarians, and even at that age understood that they were not only the guardians of knowledge, they were also its ready purveyors.

I marched into the library and up to the librarian. “What does worth his salt mean?”

She shook her head at me and pointed to the ‘Quiet!’ sign that sat atop her desk, then leaned into me and whispered, “It is an idiomatic phrase that means valuable or worthy.”

As it is with much of life, answers often yield more questions. “Can you spell that?” I asked.

She cocked her eyebrow at me, perplexed.

“What kind of a phrase?”

“Idiomatic,” she repeated, and spelled it out.

“Thanks.” I turned and went to the unabridged dictionary that sat atop its own pedestal, and pulled over the step-stool that let me ascend high enough to thumb through its pages and find the term. While I don’t remember the precise definition, I do remember that it is a collection of words that mean something other than the words themselves, and is generally peculiar to a particular tongue and doesn’t translate easily.

That very weekend, I pestered my Grand-dad to buy me a pocket knife, and he did, and I have carried one ever since, and can’t tell you how many times a friend or family member has asked me to pull it out for one reason or another, cut some string, trim a broken nail, or peel an apple. Its uses are endless.

Miss Laura’s off-handed remark to the small boy I once was left an indelible impression on me, and while a pocket knife does not by itself confer my worth. I have, since that day, always striven to be worth my salt.

Thank you Miss Laura.

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Though I live in the twenty-first century, and work in a twenty-first century fashion, my life still follows the rhythm of the seasons. During summers my wife and I tend a small garden, and spend our weekends and whatever summer vacation I have at a small camp on Lake Champlain in far northern Vermont.  Of course there is a lot of work to do keeping up two homes, but I love the lake in the summer. Unfortunately they are too short here in the northern USA.

Fall is harvest time, both in the garden and in my small but growing orchard. This summer was the first year that my peach trees bore fruit. Unfortunately raccoons nearly destroyed the trees removing those beautiful peaches. I am going to have to find a way to deal with those pests next summer, and my thoughts are not along the lines of trap and release. I’m considering a more permanent solution that involves the use of number three shot..

Come winter, it is time to hunker down in the north country. Aside from shoveling snow, it is also time to write, and I have a bit of that to do this year if I am to finish my novel before next summer, which is the plan. But that’s another story.

Then spring rolls back around, and it is time once again to plant and begin whatever summer projects my dear wife has lined up for me. A colleague of mine recently asked what I was doing for the weekend. I replied, “Whatever my wife tells me to do.”  –  He laughed at that, but I ask you; is that law not as eternal as that of the seasons? While men strut and cackle like roosters, does the hen not tend the nest and the rooster?

If you laugh at this proposition, you must obviously have never tended chickens, because an angry hen will beat the hell out of a rooster, if she takes the notion.  While the rooster struts, the hen rules, and to my way of thinking, it’s a better world for it.

 

 

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The Old Ways Are Best!

December 24, 2011

When I was a young man, every small town had one or two shoe repair shops, or cobblers as they were known.  Those days are now gone.  My small town in Vermont doesn’t have one, though Chittenden County, along with the City of Burlington, does boast three or four by my count.  As we increasingly become a throw-away society, fewer and fewer repair shops for appliances, shoes and electronics can be found.

Repair shops were often owned by men that were tinkerers, and offered jobs for men that had that talent.  Before the modern era, back into the earliest days of the colonies, blacksmiths filled the position in communities as “fixers of broken things”…   Not only did the blacksmith repair objects that were broken, he created nails, bits  and hinges…  materials that could be used to build homes, harness and agricultural equipment.   Smiths were  valued members of the  community as were the cobblers and repairmen of my youth.

But, alas, times have changed.  I occasionally remark to those around me “the old ways are best,” as much to cement my position as the local conservative curmudgeon contrarian (CCC) as it is to remind them that there are qualities in the American character that we simply cannot afford to lose, qualities that have separated us as a people from other peoples  before and since the revolution that separated us from the Kings of England.

Nowhere were the virtues of  the American people more exquisitely rendered than in Toqueville’s Democracy in America. If  you are interested in what America was, and what I believe America must retain if it is to remain  “That shining city on a Hill”, you must read this book.

According to Toqueville, Americans were doers. He was astonished at the number of community organizations created to fix the problems of the  towns  he visited in his travels across the then nascent states, and all without the aid of government. This  in distinct contrast to France, where government was deemed the best solution to a community’s problems.  This is perhaps, I believe, one of the most telling of his observations.

As government intrudes more and more into our lives, becomes more responsible for the rearing and education of our children, care of the indigent and infirm,  and soon a greater control over the health care that we receive, we give up that control and responsibility for our community to others.   Liberty requires personal responsibility.  And when we give up that responsibility to a government distant or near, we give up our liberty as well, and liberty, my friends,  is hard won and easily squandered.

The cobblers, blacksmiths and radio repairmen may be slowly passing away.  And though I may  bemoan their passing, I do not yearn for a “simpler time”.  To do so would be to yearn for that which has never been, for the complexities of life have been with us always.  They have simply been different from generation to generation.  But the myths, the collective consciousness that sustain us, the ideas of freedom and liberty must remain with us, and we must maintain our commitment to them, our responsibility to them,  or our experiment in self-government must surely fail; these, are something we simply cannot afford to throw away.

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Steve Jobs is dead and we are diminished by it.  I wrote the following post a couple of years ago, but at this moment in time, I think it appropriate to resurrect it.

 

Jake the Dog

 

Over the course of our lives, we may, if fortunate, meet someone along the way who, by their clarity of thought and intellect, the force of their convictions or moral certitude,  or through the cultivation of their faculties and capacities, are set so far apart from us mere mortals that in their presence we are most always  in a state of awe.

The uniqueness of these types of individuals truly stretch the definition of what it means to be human.  They are outliers on the Bell Curve.  They pull us all to the right of that curve, and as a species we are all the greater for it.  Yet, as human nature might have it, we feel also in some ways both diminished and humbled by it, for we are shown our own limitations.  Because to exist in their presence is like living in the light… We seem but  shadows in in comparison,  yet shadows filled with wonder and joy.

Until recently, I had not considered that the phenomenon of which I have been writing might also extend itself into the animal world, but friends, I am here to tell you that it does.  A little over a year ago, Jake the dog entered my life, and he has enriched me in ways that before his coming would have been simply unfathomable.

He is the smartest damn dog I have ever seen.  If I tell him to go outside and pee… well, he  goes outside and pees.  My children don’t mind me that well.  Not that I tell them to go outside and pee mind you.  In Vermont we go to the bathroom inside the house and cook outside… at least in the summer.  As a matter of fact, this is a complete reversal from my  life in Kentucky as a young man, where we peed outside and ate inside.  So much for progress, but I digress.

Yes, Jake the dog is a very special animal.  Aside from being extraordinarily beautiful, he is also strong and athletic.  He will trot alongside my bike for ten miles smiling the whole way.  He is ready to go anywhere, anytime to do anything at a moments notice.  You cannot throw a ball that he cannot catch in his mouth.  I have considered trying to teach him to pitch, cause if he could, I’m thinking a multi-million dollar salary as a short-stop for the Red Sox.  Yes, he is that good.

He likes to catch a Frisbee over his shoulder, but if he can’t he doesn’t mind doing an amazing somersault in the air to grasp it between his teeth.  He does this with such aplomb and ease that it is mind-boggling, and his humility is simply astonishing.  You can’t make a bad throw with a frisbee or a ball as far as he’s concerned.  He’s just happy you’re throwing the damned thing.

He has nearly ruined my self image of cantankerous curmudgeon.  I feel a certain shame in admitting it, but if he wants to sleep in bed with me and the wife… well, he sleeps in our bed.  I do not have the heart to deny him.

He is a hell of an animal, and I feel almost undeserving of the attention that he gives me.  He is a vessel of such grace, kindness, love and friendship, that I feel truly privileged to walk this earth with him.

So my friends, I say lift a glass to the Jakes of our world and their equivalents in the  human category.  We are enriched and ennobled by their presence among us, and though they might sometimes  remind us of our weaknesses ,our frailties, our inadequacies, we are much the greater for their existence, and perhaps better Frisbee throwers as well.

And to this I add, goodbye Steve.  I raise my glass to you.  You will be missed.

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