A Ballad To Remember


Way back in the dinosaur days when I was in college, I wrote a lengthy term paper about English and Scottish ballads. The reason this song, If I Die Young by The Band Perry (available in Amazon digital music) fascinates me is because it has all the elements of a true English ballad. I think it’s haunting and lovely, both the words and the music:

If I die young bury me in satin,
Lay me down on a bed of roses,
Sink me in the river at dawn,
Send me away with the words of a love song.

Here are the classic symbols of romantic love, emphasizing her youth and beauty and the future she never got to have. Most ballad subjects are about love, and death, the present and the future, sadness and the promise of that sadness being lifted in the future.


Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother.
She’ll know I’m safe with you when
She stands under my colours, oh and
Life ain’t always what you think it oughta be, no
Ain’t even grey, but she buries her baby.

She speaks as though she’s already passed on, alternating with still being live—like one foot on the earth and one foot already in heaven. Concern about the survivors, and a celestial omen that might appear in order to provide comfort.


The sharp knife of a short life,
Well, I’ve had just enough time.

The sharp knife, a homey and simple image, not only for her mother but for herself, that it hurts not to have had much time on earth but it’s ultimately all right. No cause of death is mentioned, but that isn’t the focus of this ballad.


And I’ll be wearing white when I come into your (God’s) kingdom.
I’m as green as the ring on my little cold finger
I’ve never known the lovin’ of a man

But it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand

She has died a pure virgin, not because of prudishness but because there wasn’t enough time for the right man to come along.


There’s a boy here in town says he’ll love me forever

Dispassionate statement, no indication that she felt he was the right one.


Who would have thought forever could be severed by

The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I’ve had just enough time….

What I never did is done.

Just enough time because of God’s will, sadly not enough for the romantic love she would have wished for.


A penny for my thoughts, oh no I’ll sell them for a dollar.
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner,
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’.

The canny, wise girl-woman who sees backward and forward at the same time. Wisdom gained both before and after her early demise.


…the ballad of a dove
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep ’em in your pocket
Save ’em for a time when your really gonna need ’em oh

The prescience of the newly dead, a common belief in old times. Don’t grieve excessively for me, let go and move on with your lives.


The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I’ve had just enough time
So put on your best boys, and I’ll wear my pearls

Prepare for the kingdom of heaven. Also an implied hint that perhaps one of those “boys” might be the right man for her, in God’s kingdom.


A beautiful, perfect ballad.

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Out of the Deep Freeze

blizzard 1 (2011)

The midwestern US has its share of cold snaps, but this year was a record-breaker. On the worst day the air temperature stood at -25° and the wind chill was reported at -49°. Today, the second day of February, the weather has changed. It’s +37°, I can breathe through my nose without my nostrils sticking together, and the ice on the upper part of my windshield has finally melted. I don’t have to run out in the evening and run my car for a half hour to keep the battery charged. The monotonous scrape, scrape of snow shovels and the roar of snowblowers is suspended. It’s going to rain some time this afternoon, and I am delighted beyond words.

What have I learned during this cold snap, the worst in twenty years? I’ve learned that salt doesn’t melt ice if it gets too cold. I’ve learned that after a certain point, bundling up against frigid weather doesn’t help you any more. I’ve also learned that I am a wimp. In Siberia people live with extreme weather all winter long. They keep their cars running until spring because if the motors were turned off they would be unable to start them again. Children go to school while the thermometer stands at -50 degrees. Folks go about their normal daily business in temps that can freeze bare skin in seconds. It’s amazing what you can get used to, if you have to. But what does that make me? Lucky, yes. But a wimp nevertheless.

The next time I find myself complaining about normal winter cold, I will remember Siberia. I will try to do better, I swear—after I thaw out my fingers and unstick my nostrils, that is.

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There’s Something About Cacti

cacti4 rip red

I have an indoor green thumb. I really do. I’ve produced cuploads of cherry tomatoes from the tomato plants on my windowsill, raised healthy lettuce and onion sets, sprouted celery plants from root cuttings, and kept potted marigolds blooming into October. My three huge philodendrons are running wild and I have to trim them back whenever they get long enough to reach out to grab me when I walk by. But for the life of me, I swear I can’t manage to keep an indoor cactus alive.

Maybe my problem is feeling sorry for the underdog. At my local garden center I always seem to end up with that lonely orphan cactus shoved into the far corner behind its more successful siblings. I want to love that little runty thing, nurture it, and watch it grow tall and strong. But alas, it always ends the same—my rescue cactus looks fine for a couple of weeks and then without warning withers into a spiny skeleton of its former self or turns pale and succumbs to some mysterious wound in its outer layer that I somehow did not notice even though I inspected the darn thing every day for a month.

I’ve tried nurturing and coddling my cacti, I’ve tried neglecting them, I’ve tried over- and underwatering them, sunning them, keeping them away from direct sun, and more. Nothing I do seems to make them happy. Maybe cacti aren’t my thing. Maybe I should stick to normal plants that actually respond to kindness and nurturing. But—why the hell can’t I make a cactus happy!?

When all but one of my latest acquisitions bit the dust (literally, and I don’t know why that remaining one is still alive) I stopped by the garden store again on my way home from work. All the cacti in the Succulents area cringed away from me, hoping the Angel of Death would pass them by, but in vain. I selected not the runt of the litter this time but a nice, round, fat and very green barrel cactus bursting with good health. I paid too much for it, brought it home, and as I set it down where countless other spiny denizens have perished I whispered into what looked a bit like its thorny ear, “good luck!”


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Hill Magick giveaways on Amazon and Smashwords

Happy Holidays

Amazon is giving away 20 digital copies of Hill Magick through December 31. Enter for a chance to win a free digital copy:

Hill Magick giveaway

Smashwords end-of-year sale is on now through January 1. Visit and get 25 % off digital copies of The Retrievers: Strange Tales of the Supernatural, 50% off digital copies of Hill Magick, and free digital copies of Perfect Pizza and Other Low Carb Delights. Find these books at:

Perfect Pizza and Other Low Carb Delights

The Retrievers: Strange Tales of the Supernatural

Hill Magick


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Writer’s Block: The Obligatory Post

Some writers insist there is no such thing as writer’s block, and they are blessed with steady production for as long as their writing careers last. Not every writer is so lucky. Writer’s block can strike at any time, for any reason. Sometimes it lasts for a few hours. Sometimes it goes on for a day, or a week, or a month. When it goes on for more than a year it can jeopardize the writer’s career and make them question everything they ever put on paper.

Writer’s block doesn’t mean you can’t write any more ever. It means that for whatever reasons, the idea train isn’t leaving the station. There are myriad articles describing methods of jump-starting stalled creativity, but the same answers don’t work for everyone. Keeping on creating is a very personal and individual process for every writer, and sometimes it’s possible to try too hard and make the problem worse.

It was October, and I had just finished my second novel. I sat at my desktop computer waiting for inspiration to strike, but nothing was coming from my fingertips. What was I going to do for my next book? I had nothing. No new ideas, no fresh emotion, nothing I felt passionately about to set down on the page. I was empty. The blank white screen was mocking me, intimidating me. I held down a key and a stream of Ks raced across the page. There, no more emptiness, but I still didn’t have a book to write. I deleted the page and opened a fresh new page–another blank space. I needed a break from the emptiness on the page that mirrored the emptiness inside me.

I checked my email. I read the news. I made sure there was no frost tonight in the weather forecast. Then I went to YouTube. Cute animals provided me with twenty minutes of distraction, but I still had forty minutes left of writing time. I examined the thumbnails on the right side of the page. Mixed in with pet cats and dogs were various wild creatures, and one of them looked very unlikely. It was a fish, but a fish like I had never seen before. It had to be a fake, a movie special effect or something. I selected the video and watched the long, sinuous eellike body, the strange rippling fin, the staring robot eyes. This thing was no fake, it was real–a weird, ugly fish I would have a nightmare about that night.

But I had my inspiration, my evil force, my “bad guy” which would inspire the book I was about to write. I closed my browser and started typing furiously. That’s how Eve of Darkness was born.


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My Haunted Village

This month I will give you a brief tour of my haunted Halloween cemetery. This idea sprang from the day I picked up three cheap plastic tombstones from the local craft store to put on my windowsill for Halloween. Now it covers a 3 x 3 end table and a 1.5 x 2 foot addition, and it keeps growing every year. Please forgive the photography. I have decided to blame my camera, which is an older digital one, and not my own poor closeup picture-taking skills.


I have collected these cemetery monuments from various places. A portion of them are from Lemax, as is the fence and all the figures. In the background on the right you can see one of my two skeleton gunslingers. Behind him is the haunted resin tree stump that I painted for inclusion in the cemetery.

monument and Cthulhu

Resurrection Cemetery prides itself on being open to all faiths. On the lower right you can see a small gravestone with a representation of Cthulhu. I bought the statue online and made a base for it out of polymer clay, matching the color of the statue as closely as I was able. On the top left you can see the blurry image of my second skeleton gunslinger.

Death and coffins

On the left Death is hovering over a pile of coffins. In front of the coffins is the small (dead) pond outline that I created from pebbles. You can see a silver fish skeleton just over the top rail of the fence.

violin player

This is my newest acquisition, the violin player. To his left is the entrance to the cemetery, with a bench for mourners. On the right in back are the two Louis XIV skeletal figures in a dance pose. Note in back of the French figures the bare tree with Mothman hanging upside down. The background I created for my cemetery is a special combination of several types of sand and glue layered in a special method. I chose the dark coloration to mimic the visual effects of moonlight in a cemetery.

I have expanded my real estate to include a farm (not shown). I’m looking forward to doing a little more each year. Eventually I hope my setup will cover a full tabletop, and I would like to add a chapel, a mausoleum, and perhaps a haunted cornfield for my farm.

Many people have Christmas villages. But heck, never mind a Christmas village–I’m having too much fun with my Halloween graveyard!


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–image from Wikimedia Commons

I’d never seen anything like it, that pool of foul black water filling my kitchen sink. A faint watery sound was coming from the cabinet under the sink. I opened the cabinet door and saw a rivulet of filthy water trickling down the side of the garbage disposal unit. This time, the offensive machine was completely borked–all was lost. When I recovered my presence of mind and the use of the speech center of my brain I called the plumber’s emergency number. After stemming the awful rotting tide and replacing the bad pipes, at my insistence he also removed the broken garbage disposal forever from my home. Out, damned thing! It had made my life a misery one time too many. Now I had new pipes and a brand new normal drain, whew! And I was also left with the aftermath of the disaster.

The sink needed to be scrubbed and bleached, and the counter where the plumber had rested his tools and parts of the old pipework. The clean dishes stacked on another counter had to be washed again to make sure there were no stray splatters on them. Whatever was stored under the sink at the time of the disaster was covered in wet awfulness. I went wild with the trash can, tossing in an almost empty can of Raid, two almost empty bottles of Windex, and a full bottle of Goo Gone that I hadn’t used since I bought it five years ago. My favorite old scrub brush was beyond salvation, just like that new scrub brush with the handle that made it too awkward to use. A damp box of old SOS pads disintegrated in my gloved hand. When I was done scrubbing and bleaching and throwing things away, only three items were left out of a cabinetful. I had been forced to make a clean sweep whether I wanted to or not. And I was…glad. Glad that it happened, and glad that I went through it without blowing chunks.

Sometimes the sludgy ugliness of life looms larger than the goodness and sweetness of it all. That taint can creep into the nicest things, and what was once a pure pleasure is a half-pleasure, an unfinished joy. Something must happen–a purge of some kind, a sweeping clean all the nastiness that blots out the sun in your soul. And when that clean sweep takes place, hard as it is, the beauty and happiness of life can enter your soul again and wash that bitterness away.

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