Monday, May 30, 2011

Of loss and gratitude

Most years, Memorial Day meant two things: #1 School was over and #2 My family was going to Evanston, Wyoming.

When people talk about hot destination places to visit on Memorial Day, I'm guessing Evanston isn't near the top of the list. Not that there is anything wrong about Evanston, but a town of roughly 12,000 people near the Utah / Wyoming border isn't exactly a tourist trap.

So what would take us there each year? Aside from going to see our extended family on the Morgan side, we would also go to visit my father's grave.

I was only 6 years old when my father passed away from complications from blood clots--a rare hereditary disease. Back in 1975, they didn't know what was causing it, or really how to treat it properly. However, from what I understand, a lot of what they know now about it was due to what happened to my father.

I remember going up to a hospital near Salt Lake City and having blood drawn. All my extended family was there to be tested. Then one day, we go up and they say they have made a breakthrough. I don't understand all the medical terms, but it if I recall correctly, it had something to do with two chromosomes.

My dad, John Morgan, died at the age of 33. I'm turning 42 this year and I feel like in many ways, my life is just starting. I've often wondered what my life would be like now had he not passed away. He was a high school Spanish and Drama teacher. He had dark, almost black, hair with a winning grin. Although I physically take after my mother's side of the family (red hair, fair skin), I believe I got my sense of humor from him.

He was a kind person, always giving something back to the community. He was the president of something called "Amigos de Las Americas" where people from the USA would help those in Central America.

He was also a very wise man. I've shared this story before, but it's a good time to repeat it. On this one occasion, there was one doughnut left for my sister (who is 3 years older than me) and I to share.

My father gave my sister a butter knife to cut the doughnut in half. Well, she was a bit off--instead of 50/50 it was more like 70/30. As she went to reach for the larger part, my dad stopped her and said, "Now Jason gets to choose which side he wants." I've never forgotten how he always tried to keep things fair, and always taught us to do the right thing.

I'm sure my dad impacted my life in ways I can't even imagine. As a father now myself to 4 amazing daughters, I'll tell them time and again, "Hey, I'm just making this us as I go. I don't know what it's like to be a dad, but I promise to do my best."

So far, it's worked out pretty darn well (with a ton of help and support from my wife). I'm happy to say that my kids make me proud. Are they perfect? Nah. But are they good people? Yes.

To that end, it is my hope and desire that my dad is proud of me and the man I've become. Even though I didn't have a lot of time to spend with him on this earth, I have no doubt he influenced me in ways I don't realize.

And for that, I say, thank you dad. I miss you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book review of Nia by Mella Reese

First and foremost, let me congratulate author Mella Reese for a few things: #1 Fulfilling a dream of writing a book and getting it out there for people to read. #2 Overcoming Cushing's Disease. (This was noted on the back cover. I read up on the disease, and discovered for myself how challenging going through that must have been). And #3 for writing a rather enjoyable book.

I think Mella and I are kindred spirits as both our first books took place in a similar setting: the medieval times where there are fictional kingdoms, but it isn't fantasy as no magic is used. Instead, you have the story of Nia, the daughter of a powerful king, who has a talent for healing. Whereas her father is seemingly always at war, Nia is a healer by trade.

The book opens when one of the kingdom's conquered by Nia's father makes a unique offer: the fourth son of the conquered kingdom (named Garreth) will become Nia's personal guard--whether Nia wants it or not. Much of the story is about the relationship and friendship between Nia and Garreth, but not in the way you would expect. Nia is betrothed to another, Andras. who she sincerely loves--at least as much as a 16 year-old can understand of love.

Both Nia and Garreth have several layers to their personalities--something I enjoyed. There is the constant struggle of duty verses what the heart wants.

The book itself, simply titled Nia, has several twist and turns, and I found myself really having no idea where the book was going, which is a good thing. Through all the various actions and dramas that play out in the book, it never loses the focus that this book is about Nia and her journey.

As for any recommendations for the author? There were a few minor formatting and editing things here and there--nothing major. But as I discovered with my first edition of The Hidden Sun, people can get hung up on those. (Side note, the second edition of The Hidden Sun, re-edited is due out summer of 2011, so it can be done)

The only other suggestion was the cover. If I understand what the Mella was going for, it was to indicate that this was a story that takes place in a kingdom, but the picture is almost too blurry (there is a more technical term to use here, but I'll stick with blurry) that is could give off the wrong impression of how sharp the writing is inside the book.

So, who would like this book? I'd say the demographic it leans towards are those of the female persuasion, perhaps 13 and older. The book has very little language (really none), and the romantic scenes and violence that is a part of life in times like these could have been much more crude. Overall, it is a safe read.

The book can be purchased here.

Once again, bravo to Mella Reese on writing such an enjoyable book under what most certainly must have been very trying times in her personal life. I tip my hat to you.

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book to review, but in no way, shape or form did this influence my honest review.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Angry Birds

It was one of those rare moments I was home alone and my imagination was on fire. I sat in front of my computer, lost in my own little world as I worked on my next book. During times like these, I'm fairly oblivious to everything around me. Time absolutely flies with only my grumbling stomach as a reminder I've been sitting in one place too long.

Of course, if someone calls or the doorbell rings, I'm aware enough to respond. On this day, however, it wasn't either of those things that drew me away from my writing zone. It was the sound of something banging. Usually I dismiss such sounds as the kids doing something that I probably don't want to know about, but should respond to. But then again, I was home alone.

The sound was random enough that I couldn’t image what could be causing it. I tried to dismiss it, but it kept happening. Finally, I had to investigate. I went upstairs and looked in each room, trying to find something out of place, but found nothing.

I heard it again, and it came from downstairs. We've lived in North Carolina now for over three years and are still getting use to things we hadn't experienced elsewhere. Like the time I was mowing the lawn and I saw a stick on the grass ahead of me. At least I was sure it was a stick until it lifted its head and stuck its forked tongue out at me. And in that case, I did what any self respecting man would do. I screamed like my 8 year-old daughter and promptly ran the snake over with my mower. And I let it still there a good couple of minutes so I wouldn't see any trace of the slithering creature.

Thoughts like that ran through my head as I headed downstairs to investigate. I got to our main hallway and stood there, listening for it to happen again.

For a long, drawn out moment. . .nothing.

Then, there it was again! The sound came from kitchen area. Upon entering said location, I noticed a red cardinal sitting on the porch right by our sliding glass doors. I stood there for a moment and watched as the bird flew to one of the trees behind our house and perched itself on a branch. While this was odd, it didn't explain what was making the sound.

That's when the cardinal flew from the tree and right at the sliding glass doors. The bird hit it, creating the sound I'd been hearing, but not hard enough for it to hurt it or our window. It was one of the oddest things I'd seen.

I didn't want the bird to hurt itself, so I closed the curtains, hoping to trick the bird in thinking there was a solid object there. It seemed to have worked because I didn't hear the sound after that.

What makes this whole situation somewhat surreal is that my youngest daughter and I like to play a game on my cell phone called "Angry Birds". In this game, birds hurtle themselves at objects and buildings, trying to crush the evil green pigs inside that have stolen their eggs.

I'm not an evil green pig, and I haven't stolen anyone's eggs. But one of the birds in the game is a red cardinal. Life imitating art?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Double your money back

My wife and I often watch a TV show to wind down the night. Usually we have the shows on DVR so we zip through the commercials, but sometimes we watch them "in real time". Other times we'll mute the TV and make up our own narration to what is on the screen. Or we'll just talk, waiting for the commercials to end.
One night, we had it muted and were talking when a commercial for toilet paper came on. At the end, it offered a "double your money back guarantee". Since we didn't have the sound on, I didn't hear what the conditions were, but it really struck me as funny. Like, laughing so hard tears came to my eyes. (My wife, being the more mature of the two if us, just rolled her eyes at me).
Think about it: what are you going to have to say or do to prove you aren't happy with toilet paper?

So, for curiosity sake, I decided to look up some products that offered a "double your money back" deal, and what conditions must be met.
These are 100% real. I'm not including the product names so I don't get sued. My comments are below in BOLD.
"Just use our products for a year. If you don't see any reactions in that time, just contact us for help. Sometimes a little social training is all you need for success. If you still don't see any reactions after getting help, send the empty bottles back with a note detailing what happened at least 7 times you used them, and we'll give you double your money back."

Wow! If the product doesn't work after a year, they'll give me social training? How could anyone say no to that! And don't get me started on the 7 detailed notes. . .
"30 Day Double Your Money Back Guarantee. That's obviously a very bold statement. We can make this guarantee because of the faith we have in (our product). (Then the small print): The Guarantee does not guarantee any user will profit as we have no way of knowing if you will follow (our) rules."
So basically, they have faith in their product, but they don't promise you'll actually gain anything from it because you may be doing it wrong. Heck, that statement doesn’t sound so bold anymore, does it?
"If, within 7 days of the date of our report, you provide proof that with the same type of search, and using the same information you gave us to process your order, more current, more complete or more accurate information was obtained legally through any other similar service advertised on the Internet, we will promptly refund double what you paid us."
I love this one. So, you pay them to do a search for you. And in order to prove they didn't do a good job, you have to pay someone else to do the same job and hope they find better results. AND you only have 7 days to do it.
"We are so confident that (our product) will solve your odor problems that we can offer an unconditional 30-Day Double Your Money Back Guarantee. No other odor remover has a guarantee this strong.
If you're less than satisfied with (our product) contact us within 30 days of purchase by calling toll-free 800-XXX-XXXX. We'll work with you to make sure that the product is applied in the best way to eliminate your particular odor problems."
Ah, again. One of those products where if it doesn't work, it's because you, the consumer, are doing it wrong.
"In the rare event of a product failure. You will need to supply (us) with the following:
Original dated store receipt
Product packaging--This means keeping ALL packaging (empty bottles, box, cardboard, etc.) along with your original receipt.
Official proof of failure
Request must be postmarked within 30 days of results. Please allow 4-6 weeks for processing.
Failure to supply all required components & documents will void your eligibility to the 200% double money back guarantee."
Notice that they don't really state what they mean by "official proof of failure". I'm surprised they didn’t also demand a note from your mother.
After reading all these, I'm inspired to offer a double your money back guarantee on any of my books. It goes as follows:
"If, after reading (insert the name of the book) you less than satisfied with it, I'll give you double your money back."
Fine print: You must read the book at least 7 times. If you don't get it, have someone read it to you at least twice. If still less than satisfied, buy 15 more books from other authors that are more satisfying.
Send the following items to me in order to get double your money back: the original receipt (must be notarized), a list of the 15 books you bought with letters from all of their authors explaining why their books were more satisfying, video proof you actually read the book 7 times, score at least a 98.5% or better on a online quiz found on my website proving you read the book, and lastly, send me the book (must be in near mint condition!) so I can sell it to someone else. Allow 4 to 6 decades for processing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

To be honest whichya

As I've moved around the country, I've noticed phrases or words that are common to that particular area. When we moved to Idaho, it was "whatnot". As in, "For dinner, we'll have burgers, fries and whatnot." Or also, "When you do a load of laundry, do the socks, underwear and whatnot."

Now sometimes you needed to be careful how use you used the term "whatnot" since it could leave quite a bit to the imagination. Need an example? Imagine asking someone out on a date. When your person of choice asks, "What are we going to do?" and you respond, "I thought we'd drive up to the mountains, look at the stars, have a good talk, kiss a little and whatnot." (You could be meaning "reading scriptures--your date could take it another way)

Along that same vein is "yadda, yadda, yadda"--made famous from an episode of Seinfeld. The show actually did a good job of demonstrating how using such generic terms can lead to misunderstandings.


So, to avoid confusion, we should always be clear and honest? Right?

Which brings me to my next phrase which I picked up in Connecticut: "To be honest with you" (or if you want to say it right, it sounds more like "To be honest whichya".

People would say this when they wanted to make you understood they were being sincere. But why would they need to clarify this point? Doesn't using that phrase seem to indicate that most of the time the person is lying to you?

I was in a discussion recently where we talked what it meant to be honest. My first comment was "Being honest isn’t the same thing as speaking whatever is on your mind." This raised a few eyebrows. But the word "honest" comes from the meaning "respectable, decent, of neat appearance." Don't believe me? Click here.

Sometimes people confuse offering their opinion as "I'm just being honest". What’s left out of this sentence is ". . . about what I think."

And frankly, what some people think can be pretty messed up. Anyone that has read more than one of my blogs can attest to that!

Sometimes being too honest with your opinion can cause issues. Imagine getting pulled over for speeding though you didn't think you were. Let's say this police officer is particularly attractive. Would you dare say, "There is no way I was speeding. You must be bored to pull me over for something so trivial when there are so many other bad people out there breaking more serious laws. Oh, and by the way, you are smokin' hot."

And of course, there is the oldie but goodie that us men get asked time and again from our wives, "Does this dress make me look fat?" Try answering, "It's not the dress. It's your butt." I'll bet no amount of saying, "You told me you wanted me to be honest in our marriage!" will keep you from sleeping on the couch.

**For the record: this blog in no way, shape, nor form indicates how I think about my wife. I would never say or think such things--the couch is way too uncomfortable to sleep on.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Updates and announcements

Though I've never been in the military, I hear there is a saying often used, namely, "Hurry up and wait." I dare say that saying also applies to published authors. I, for one, have noticed it can take a long time for things to get moving, but when they start, it happens quickly--and often all at once.

I thought I'd take a moment to post an update on my writing projects and the various states they are in. And yes, this includes the first synopsis of my second book The Waxing Moon as well as me announcing my super top secret project.

Without further ado:

The Hidden Sun, second edition (re-edited and a few extras added) is being released by Walnut Springs summer of 2011. The timeline is either July or August. More on this, including the new cover design when I get it.

The Waxing Moon is written, edited and submitted to the publisher. No details are available about a release date for this sequel to The Hidden Sun. However, as promised, here is the first teaser:

"It's not easy to be Snapdragon. His sister and brother are well known and respected throughout the kingdom of Bariwon. How could anyone compete with a brother and sister like them? Yet, that is what Snapdragon sets out to do. He spends his teen years practicing everyday to become a Royal Guardian. His efforts are rewarded, but even posting the first perfect score in the history of the Shoginoc isn't enough. He must do something more. One of his first responsibilities is to accompany an entourage sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the people of Procep, a small village next to the northern mountains. Snapdragon sees this as an opportunity to prove himself, until he finds out his job is to basically babysit the nursemaids, servants and crafters sent along to help. He does his job begrudgingly, thinking there is no way to earn honor in such a lowly task. However, what happens once the group arrives at their destination forces Snapdragon to make some extremely difficult choices to not only save his life and those he is assigned to protect, but potentially all of the people in the kingdom of Bariwon."

Side note: this teaser is written specifically as to not to spoil any of the surprises in the first book. While Snapdragon is the primary protagonist, many characters from The Hidden Sun play a role in the story.

One of my short stories, The Reluctant Wanderer, has been picked up and published in an anthology called How The West Was Wicked. Ordering information can be found here. One bit of warning, while my story is an enjoyable read (at least I think so), it is fairly tame compared to some of the stories in the anthology. In other words, many of the other stories are more wicked than mine.

I have another short story, The Howler King, which I may submit for an anthology, though right now, I'm leaning on keeping it and flushing it out to be a full blown novel.

I had started writing the third book in the Bariwon series, called The Zealous Star, but have placed it on hold for the moment because I am currently working on another book which I can finally announce.

A little back ground first: I've always loved music, though I don't play an instrument and don’t sing particularly well. Growing up when MTV actually played music videos most certainly influenced my taste in music. One of the videos (and songs) I really enjoyed was called Don't Pay The Ferryman by Chris De Burgh. I absolutely wore out his LP The Getaway. His next album, called Man On The Line was also excellent, with the primary single High On Emotion. By this time, I was a huge fan and purchased all his previous albums. Then, in 1986, he released Into The Light. It was another spectacular album with a great collection of songs.

What I found interesting is that I had the Into The Light for several months when I saw that one of the songs was very popular in the UK and was starting to get airplay in the USA. That song? Lady In Red.

Lady In Red is probably what he is most known for in the states. Chris continued to put out quality albums over the years, but with the change in music taste in the 90's (grunge and rap), he, like many other artists, found that his style of music wasn't as popular in the USA, though he continued to do well in many placed in the world. In fact, its reported he has sold over 40 million albums worldwide. More information can be found at his website.

In 2006, he released an album called The Storyman. On this particular work is a song called The Mirror Of The Soul--an epic song with great imagery, an engaging story and powerful message.

I thought to myself, Self, this would make a wonderful book. But how does one go about contacting an international music star to get permission to do such a thing? Would I even have the guts to ask?

The answer? The worst that could happen is I would be told "no" or ignored.

Through a few inquires sent here and there, I was able to propose my idea to Chris' management. They initially liked the idea, but would have to run it by the publisher. The publisher gave their permission, and suggested I send my ideas so Chris could review them.

So, I sent my proposal and outline for the book, telling myself it would be ok if Chris rejected it.

His response? I won't quote it verbatim, but he said the outline was very good and should make an interesting book. (he even used 2 !! at the end.) He thought my idea of interweaving some of his other songs into the book as "fascinating" and said the overall idea was "very strong."

So, there you have it. I get to write a book based on one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite musicians--not only with his permission, but his support.

It will be called The Mirror Of The Soul. And as of this moment, I have the prologue and 5 chapters written. It may take some time to complete and edit it, but it is on the way!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review of "Dearly Departed" by Tristi Pinkston

Dearly Departed is the second book in the Secret Sisters Mystery books. It's not your typical murder mystery--and that's what makes it so special.

When someone sits down to write a mystery novel, I doubt the first thing that comes to their mind is "I know! Let me write it where the hero is an old, er, "mature" woman. And, I'll have it take place in a rest home!"

However, Tristi makes it work.

I was going to write a synopsis, but Tristi did such a good job, I'm just going to post hers:

"Ida Mae Babbit has done her community service and is a reformed woman--no more law-breaking for her. But when Arlett's granddaughter Eden discovers a mystery in a fancy nursing home, Ida Mae--with the perfect excuse of a broken wrist and a broken ankle--checks herself into the place. After all, it is for the greater good. Soon she's buzzing around in her motorized wheelchair, questioning the residents and swiping files from the office. She's bound and determined to get to the bottom of this case. But can she solve the mystery before she becomes the next victim?"

The story is very character driven and extremely clever. The writing flows well and keeps the story moving along. I actually found when I read the book that I laughed more than biting my nails. Sure, there are times in the book when things get a bit hairy for the heroes, but overall, it's a fun read.

Now here is the true sign this is a must read: I gave it to my wife after I finished it. From the moment she opened it, the vast majority of her free time was in her reading chair, completely engrossed in the book. It's during these times I say to the kids, "Mommy's in her happy place, come bother Daddy with anything you need."

It can be purchased here.

**Special note: This was an honest review and was in no way influenced by the fact that Tristi edited the second edition of my book The Hidden Sun, due out July or August of 2011. (See how I included a shameless plug for myself in a disclaimer? Now that's talent!)