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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A Mazement


–Longleat Hedge Maze (England), from Wikimedia Commons

I can’t speak for others, but for me the journey of writing is like walking through a maze—specifically a hedge maze, set in a sunny clearing in the middle of a deep, dark wood.

A maze that I must create the map for as I go along, because I have no idea where I am going. A maze that bewilders, scares, and delights me, like a new ride at an amusement park. A maze that is fresh and green, and goes in unexpected twists and turns until I arrive at the center…to find what prize? But that is the question I came here to solve.

Then I have to find my way out the other side, arrive there safe and well, and show others how to navigate the same pathway I did.

And then I have to do it all over again. And again. It’s the anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing where I’m going, the thrill of discovery, the thankfulness once I find the right path, and the relief of closure at the end. Because to me, that’s what writing is all about.


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Fire and Ice


                                              — image from Wikimedia Commons

I have always had a passion for learning and the curiosity to match. It’s amazing how little I know about English poetry so this summer I have started on a self-improvement kick, studying one famous poem each month. This month I have chosen “Opal” by poet Amy Lowell:


You are ice and fire,

The touch of you burns my hands like snow.

You are cold and flame.

You are the crimson of amaryllis,

The silver of moon-touched begonias.

When I am with you,

My heart is a frozen pond

Gleaming with agitated torches.

It’s obvious by the end of this poem that Lowell is talking about more than an opal, she’s writing about love and desire. Her vivid visual images work in opposites–cold and flame, fire and ice, a frozen pond and burning torches. Fire and ice are a simple but powerful contrast and opal, a gemstone with rainbowlike inclusions, fits the poet’s purpose exactly. The frozen pond gleaming with torches evokes the thought of a frozen heart warmed and melted by the lover’s presence and his touch.

A good poem vibrates long after the verses have been read and admired. How much of fire and ice were there in my past relationships? Could there have been more? I wonder what I would want if ever I had another love relationship, and whether my significant other would feel the same.

What poem will I choose next month? I haven’t decided, but you know what? I am really ignorant about famous painters. If I can read a poem a month, surely I could study one painting a month too, or maybe take up a second language, or learn the clarinet…what do you mean it’s time to go to work? I don’t have time to go to work! There’s too much cool stuff waiting for me to learn…

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Perfect Pizza!


Available now on Amazon: Perfect Pizza and Other Low Carb Delights


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— image from Wikimedia Commons

I stood in front of the display, trying to clear my mind. Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening formula? Mouthwash crystals? Baking soda? Tea tree oil?

“May I help you?” said a clerk at my elbow.

“I’m looking for toothpaste.”

“We’ve got it.”

“Yes,” I replied uncertainly. “I see that.”

“What are you looking for? Tartar control? Cavity protection? Whitening…”

I zoned out and didn’t follow the rest of her spiel. After her mouth stopped moving I grabbed a red and white box, walked up to the counter, and paid. It was fluoride-fortified whitening gel-striped minty cinnamon organic fresh toothpaste but I no longer cared. All I wanted was toothpaste.

I’m not confused by multitudes of choices in general. Just buying toothpaste, and maybe athletic shoes. Something that doesn’t confuse me, has a million choices, and that I can spend hours or days choosing is character names. Choosing character names for a short story or a book sounds like a trivial detail, but the wrong name choice can grate on a reader’s nerves like a faucet dripping in the middle of the quiet night, or that one mosquito in your bedroom that you can never catch.

I can’t just grab any old name and say, that’s the one. It has to have just the right ring to it, and it has to be a good fit. Does the name sound too much like another character’s name? Three main characters named Nathan, Nathaniel, and Nancy sound potentially confusing and repetitive. Do the names reflect the time period the book or story is set in? Dorcas, Tamsin, and Bildad are good names but also instantly recognizable as from Colonial America, just as Flavius and Domitia are from ancient Roman times. Addison and Jaden would set the stage for modern times, but don’t feel right if the author was writing about the 1970s. Do the first names sound good with the surnames? Does the feeling behind the name fit the character? I take my time and mull over these questions until I find the answers. Just toothpaste, but not just any name. It takes time, and care, and love.

Do other writers go through this process in naming their characters? Probably not all, but I’m sure some do. Are their books or stories any better for agonizing over their name choices? Again, probably not. But that’s how I roll.

PS: Let’s bring back Lavinia. I love that name so much.


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My first Goodreads giveaway


(fireworks image from Desktop Nexus)

My first Goodreads giveaway is in progress starting today. Stop by Goodreads and get a free copy of my novel Unearthly: Goodreads giveaway for Unearthly

Please leave a review, if you would like to, at Goodreads or on Amazon.  This giveaway will continue until June 22.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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I reddit Last Night


— picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After YouTube, reddit has to be the greatest time waster in the world. Whenever I am trying to fix an awkward place in my first draft, reddit comes to my recue. It’s probably the most effective tool in my box of procrastinators. I love it.

Whenever I get on reddit, there is no such thing as “just five minutes.” I will read thread upon thread until five in the morning and never notice the time until the pure liquid chirping from the robin who lives in the bush below my window tells me that dawn is breaking and my alarm will be going off in half an hour.

What’s so special about reddit, you ask. It’s true that most of the posts are about pretty ordinary stuff: “Look at my cute baby/puppy or kitten/what I knitted today/my co-worker’s screwup/the weird insect I found at the park.” Sometimes, though, a post can be deep or profound, revealing some serious personal issue or an observation on people and life. A few areas of reddit I stay away from because they show a dark side of human nature I’d just as soon not know more about. And sometimes a random post will be so abysmally dumb that the scathing replies it generates are really amusing. But the best part of reddit, the place I love to hang out at, is Ask Reddit.

Ask Reddit is the place where people can openly ask, well, literally almost anything, and anybody can post an answer. As with reddit generally, Ask Reddit is a mixed bag. Some questions are ordinary, some are offbeat, sexually oriented or even socially unacceptable, some are fascinating and insightful, and some are just…really, really stupid. All those questions are interesting to read, but what I find the most entertaining is when redditors start riffing off each other’s replies. When posters build upon and add to each others’ posts a thread can soon become hysterically funny, and it just keeps on going.

Here is an example of a profound thread:

What fact did you learn too late in life?

This is an offbeat thread (warning, disgusting content):

What is the worst smell you’ve ever encountered?

Another fascinating thread (warning, graphic content):

What is an animal that is not more afraid of you than you are of it?

And here are two threads that got funny quickly (warming, inappropriate content):

When was a time when you had to hold in laughter, and failed?

Reddit, which word(s) do you always struggle to pronounce correctly?

(Seriously, I live for threads like these!)

I don’t post in reddit myself. I don’t even have an account there, because I couldn’t possibly compete with the quick wit of many of the redditors there. But is reading funny stories about people’s worst bosses worth losing a good night’s sleep over? To me, yes. Yes it is. So I merrily read my threads, muffle my laughter in a pillow so as not to wake anyone else, and slide into bed guiltily as I hit the snooze button on my alarm.


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Spring Break

No, not an enthusiastic post about the excitement of spring break in general, but an announcement about a spring break of my own. Due to various writing-related activities I will be taking a short break from posting in here, and will return in May.  For this month’s entry, here is an image I found on Desktop Nexus of a wonderful jumble of spring flowers. Enjoy!

daisies and mums

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