Category Archives: Mike Simpson

Has Anybody Seen Toto, by Mike Simpson

After all those years of growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, I would never have expected my closest encounter with a tornado—about thirty yards—to be in North Carolina. The storms that came through about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, knocked out our electricity and it was about eighteen hours before we got it back. At first I thought it was a lightning strike that took out our power. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning we discovered it had been raining trees.

I had been sitting upstairs, diligently working on Second Wind manuscripts, when my wife called up at me, “What are you doing up there?” She thought I was pounding on the walls and scratching the window in my study. The sound she heard was truly unique—I’d never heard it either. It was sort of like hail, but at a much lower pitch. In the midst of our yelling back and forth at one another, the lights went out—came on—and went out again. With the moon behind the clouds, there was a sort of eerie gray light illuminating the outdoors. With that and the constant flashes from lighting, I could make out a number of strange shapes in the front yard and the street.

I grabbed a flashlight and went to investigate. It didn’t take long before the weirdness of what I was seeing began to add up. As you can see from the attached photo, we live in a heavily wooded area. A small creek runs along the east side of our yard.

The East Side of Our House Smith Branch Creek Is About 15 Feet Further to the Left

The East Side of Our House
Smith Branch Creek Is About 15 Feet Further to the Left

Scattered in our front yard and street were numerous large limbs, twigs and branches. To be specific, they were almost all from sycamore and tulip poplar trees. Our house is surrounded by a number of ornamentals (that’s a dogwood you see standing by itself in the photo above), including a massive cherry tree. On the west side of the house are elms, pines and hickories. Right away I thought it was kind of odd that the gusty wind would select out only certain trees. Then I began to pay closer attention to appearance of the branches I was pulling out of the street.

A Sycamore Limb with Telltale Twisted Break

A Sycamore Limb with Telltale Twisted Break

Every one of the limbs and branches had a telltale “ripped and twisted” appearance from where it had been attached to the tree. This sort of corkscrew tearing does not come from straight wind gusts, but from winds that have a powerful rotation.

The sight of these branches transported me back to an April morning in 2000. I was standing at a large storefront window, trying to judge the severity of a sudden storm, when I saw the top half of a large oak tree floating airborne down the center of the street, rotating as it went by. That morning in Greensboro, NC, there were four or five small tornadoes (category 1 or 2) that followed creek beds throughout the city. Since no alarms were sounded and there had been no weather alert, the civil authorities first reported that these were “straight winds.” It didn’t take long, however, before the type of damage and the narrow pathway of these “winds” forced the recognition that it had been twisters and not straight winds (after that the three local TV stations all quit running ads that boasted about their Doppler radar systems).

Tuesday evening about thirty minutes after the initial storm blasted through, another squall line hit us. This one was straight line winds and torrential rain. Having been outside between the fronts, I could tell on Wednesday morning that the heavy winds that came through with the second front had not resulted in any more damage or downed limbs. Over the course of the next couple hours in the daylight, we discovered the twister that came down our little creek was only one of at least two. The one that was a quarter mile to the east, following another creek bed, did a lot more significant damage—within a very narrow parameter of maybe fifty or sixty feet. Several massive trees were “skinned” and/or splintered; a nearby mega congregation had its church marquee sucked out from the back and an oak tree, maybe ten or twelve feet around, was bent over, blocking the entrance to its parking lot. . . . Sort of makes you wonder if there was a divine message there.

Want to Know the Tornado’s Path?

Want to Know the Tornado’s Path?

This photo was taken at the corner of my street where it intersects the street immediately to our east. The row of tall trees along the right side of the photo is on the side of the creek bed opposite our house; this is about fifty yards from our front yard. If you want to see the path of tornado, notice the lamp post just to the left of my neighbor’s house (in the picture below, you can see that the lid of the lamp post has been opened; tornadoes do some strange stuff). Just above the top of the lamp post you’ll see a hunk missing from their river birch tree; those limbs aren’t really missing, they just got folded down. Then to the right side of the photo, you can see the lighter color of the turned-down leaves of saplings. The funnel cloud went in close proximity to this path. No other foliage in the area was impacted except for the upper limbs of the poplars and sycamores, the tallest trees along the creek.

As we neighbors put our heads together on Wednesday morning, we began to realize how lucky we all were. The two twisters bracketed our fifty-six house development and, so far as we know at this point, caused no structural damage to any dwelling. As for me, I wondered if there was maybe a divine message as well—since the twister was literally less than 100 feet from the room where I was working. In retrospect, I think there is a message that for me: royalties! I need to get my authors’ royalty checks in the mail before something really bad happens. –Mike Simpson

The Tornado Opened the Top of the Lamp Post And Flew Above the Houses in the Background

The Tornado Opened the Top of the Lamp Post
And Flew Above the Houses in the Background

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Nom de Plume

ImageBy Jay Duret

The best decision I ever made as a writer was to adopt a pen name, or more precisely, several pen names. Why would anyone ever want to write under his or her own name? A pen name is so flexible. Pen names do not have social security numbers or driver’s licenses. There is no registry, no governmental permission. A pen name can be a wisp, an evanescence. How perfect! You can write cringe-worthy prose for years, then cast off the old nom de plume and start fresh under a new pen name in a matter of moments. It is as easy as murdering a character in a story.

Over the many years I have used pen names, I have learned a few things that a well advised writer might wish to consider:

A bad pen name is as easy to create as a bad sentence. I know this from personal experience. I began to use a pen name at 12 years old writing stories an impress a girl in my class. Suavely, I used the nom de plume “Clive”. I thought Clive – just one name, like “Cher” – had a sophistication that my given name lacked.

I did not stick with Clive long but I clearly liked its weight and compactness because my next pen name was “Cleave”. With Cleave I thought I would get all the sophistication of a Clive but also the whiff of menace that a Clive would have if he, say,  wielded a cleaver.

Cleave clove to me for several years but by my mid- teens I had gone to ground in Middle Earth and I had became “Merlyn”. Yes, I know, Merlyn did not inhabit the pages of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, but with his long beard and forkéd staff, he could easily have worked his magic in Middle Earth. And to make that point explicitly, I spelled Merlyn, not in the pedestrian manner that I have spelled it above, but in a more mysterious and vaguely Elvish fashion: “Merlÿn”.

Oh that looked good at the top of the page, just under the title. I loved the umlaut; little in life can match the power of a good umlaut. An umlaut is the symbol that means true dat. Those two profound  dots on the top of the Y made my Merlÿn distinct from all the other Merlyns and Merlins out there; indeed, it exposed them as pretenders.

I stuck with Merlÿn far longer than I would confess, but gradually my taste in fiction matured. And so it was that I became “Hoadley”, the single worst pen name ever created.

What was the etymology of Hoadley? What was I thinking? It was Goddamn J.D. Salinger. He created Holden Caulfield and that’s where I got Hoadley. Making use of all the subtle artistry of a 17 year-old writer, I simply borrowed five of the six letters in the name “Holden” and secured the benefits of his name without being obvious about it. Oh my God.

By the time I finished college I had given Hoadley the burial he richly deserved and I began a trip around the world. As I did, I invented a new category of writing: I began something called a journal. Yes, yes, I know. I was not the first young man with literary pretentions to have penned a journal, but my advancement of the medium was profound. I was like the Steve Jobs of journaling. I had  read Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer and heavily under that influence I began to write about myself in the third person. 

How did I manage those awkward journaling moments that arose, for example, when the narrator was talking to a third person and to maintain coherence it was necessary to identify the narrator by a name? A lesser journalist might have floundered, but not me. Skilled as I had become in the art of the pen name, I just gave my protagonist his own nom de plume. I called him Viajero, the Spanish word for traveller. I liked that literary name because if you said it fast in Spanish it sounded like: Be-A-Hero and that suggested that traveling was heroic in some fashion. I frequently considered myself heroic in some fashion and while I couldn’t come right out and say that, a good pen name can do that type of heavy lifting.

When I returned from my world travels,  I needed a new pen name, one that reflected the maturation in my world view and sensibilities. Those one-word pen names of my youth were but frippery. I needed a real pen name. Thus I became “J.B.” The pen name J.B. was succinct and I liked the way it sounded when spoken aloud. However on the naked page it looked as if something were missing or, worse, that I was a pornographer.

It took many tries and many years of writing prose before I settled on the name “Jay Duret”. Short but memorable. Easy but slightly exotic. A comfortable, serviceable nom de plume. Every writer should have one.

But be warned! Choosing a proper pen name today is not as simple a task as it was when Samuel Clements chose Mark Twain or Charles Dodgson chose Lewis Carroll. A pen name is a brand. A pen name doesn’t just grace the byline of a story or the cover of a book, it is a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, a domain name. A brand must represent on Tumblr and Digg and Reddit and StumbleUpon. What good is a pen name – even one as mellifluous as Jay Duret – if the closest available URL is www.jayduretauthor.com or the best obtainable email address jayduret331@gmail.com? What if a Google search of Jay Duret turns up a teen singing sensation from Estonia who has lit up the Internet with hundreds of thousands of news articles and postings? Would you condemn your brand to that confusion?

Yes, a pen name has to be chosen carefully, but fortunately writers are onomasticians – that is, people who study names. Indeed, few professions are so frequently called upon to choose names for the people around them. Most parents only select a handful of names in a lifetime; even those with 5 or 6 or 10 kids hardly have a chance to become skilled in the art before their breeding days have passed. But an author, a novelist, may name 50 characters in a single book. Onomastics is in an author’s sweet spot.

For all the benefits of pen names, there are awkward issues. When I wrote Nine Digits I wanted to dedicate it to my four children, but how to do that? If I were to list them by their actual names, I would be breaching the tight curtain of anonymity that I have enjoyed for these many years. On the other hand, I didn’t want a generic reference “To my children” or “To my kids”. That felt confusingly imprecise; if I were to have more kids, those late arrivals might think they were in on the dedication even though they made none of the sacrifices that earned their siblings a seat at the table.

To solve this dilemma I reached into my bag of literary tricks and brought forth the brilliant idea of giving the four of them their own pen names! Thus Nine Digits is dedicated to Delilah, Eli, Ajax and Emmy Duret. One hopes they’ll be able to figure out who is who.

A pen name is also a liability in the places where the craft of writing intersects with the business of writing – in other words, wherever money is involved. I have never met a publisher who wanted its publishing contract to be signed with a fictitious name. Similarly, when I get a check for royalties or an honorarium, that check best be made out to Yours Truly or there’ll be mischief upon deposit. And the problems of booking a flight under a pen name! Don’t do it! They’ll think you are Al Qaeda. You do not want your nom de plume mistaken for a nom de guerre.

As fine as a pen name may be in literary cyber life, confusion can be created in more physical space. At a reading, particularly one with other authors, how does one introduce oneself? Am I Jay, the suave reader of the next short story, or am I that actual flesh and blood person who labored to produce that story under the name his parents settled on those many years ago? And what if at that very same reading there should be readers who know me as Jay and friends and family members that use my, well, actual name. How awkward to stand in a cluster of chardonnay sippers from each camp and see my different identities crash into each other.

There is no doubt that writers from an earlier era had an easier time with their noms de plume than we who write in the cyber age. Among the issues they did not have to worry about was the problem of photography. They had daguerreotypes when Mark Twain was writing, not Instagrams, not Snapchat.  Whenever you publish today you need an author photo.  It is standard. What are you supposed to do when you write under a pen name? Don a fake nose before sitting for a photo session?

Fortunately, this is a problem that I have solved.

All those who post their words on the Internet in any form are familiar with the idea of an avatar. The word comes from Hinduism and describes the manifestation of a god in human form. An avatar on the Internet is a photo or image or likeness of the author that appears with the author’s posting and becomes something of trademark for that author.

Every author must have an avatar, but choosing one is no easier than choosing a proper pen name. A picture tells a thousand stories and the avatar must represent those author’s stories in many media. My first avatar expressed my desire to project gravitas:

Gravitas

 

But that was so wrong. Too Einsteiny, too threadbare, too old. That was not Jay Duret, no way.

My second try was a bit better, but still not right:

My third try was an utter failure:

Beat Marcus2

But finally inspiration arrived:

 

Jay Duret

 

Jay Duret, in cyber flesh. Good looking. Deep. Clearly a poet, a lyricist, a writer of critically acclaimed bestsellers: Jay Duret.

Not just another scribbler with a nom de plume; this is an author with an  image de plume as well.

*          *          *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco writer and illustrator. He blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, is being published this year by Second Wind Publishing. Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

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My First Shot At Regency Romance by Christina OW

I think I should start with a little introduction 🙂

Hi, my name is Rinah and I go by the author name Christina OW–it’s my mom’s names and initials. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her and all she’s done for me being a single parent raising three girls. I write Paranormal, Contemporary, Fantasy fiction romance and now Regency/Historical romance. I must say, so far Regency romance has been my favorite to write– it feels like giving unknown personalities from the 18th and 19th century life by telling their ‘what if’ story and I find it remarkable.

Once upon a time, long long time ago I wasn’t much of a fan of historical books. Yeah, shocking! But I used to think the Old English was too distracting and I didn’t like the description of the characters especially the male ones–too unmanly. An image of a pale out of shape stuffy dandy with an annoying nasal voice kept popping in my head when I’d read some of the dialogue. And the women, they annoyed me most. Always written like complete air heads who fainted at the littlest things and hang onto the belief that without a man their lives were meaningless! I also didn’t like that they didn’t have a say in their own lives– I became a true feminist while reading those books. So I stopped reading them all together until I happened across a book by Jerrica Knight-Catania. There was nothing wrong with the genre I was just reading the wrong categories and books by authors who didn’t suit my taste.

She introduced me to lust worthy heroes and strong heroines despite their limited life coupled with restrictions of the society  and the best description of a world I wished I’d seen first hand. And let’s just say the forbidden fruit is tastier even for a passive audience like a reader. The illicit affairs, the forbidden loves and the lengths the heroes and heroines would go for happiness… regency romance became a fantasy fairytale to me full of passion and excitement that drew me in and left me craving for more! After just one of Jerrica’s books I became hooked, an addict for the genre searching for authors with the same writing style and adding them to my favorite authors list. Then one day I just thought, why not try my hand at it?

I knew I would need to do a lot of research to make the story authentic enough and change my way of thinking and writing to fit the genre and then finally, I let my imagination weave the rest and thus TRIAL OF LOVE, book #1 of THE SLAVE BOUND SERIES was born! It took a while before I queried it because I was so frightened it wouldn’t be good enough. But I took the risk, figuring the only way I could truly know it was read worthy was if I queried it to the same publisher who published a good number of my favorite regency/historical books.  I queried to Second Wind Publishing and Mike loved it. It was a long road before the final product was out but I’m proud of the book we both put out.

Trial Of Love, a turbulent love story about a slave from America and the Earl who saved her from a fate worse than death.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00015]

Blurb: After her mother’s death, Melanie’s life in America is full of heartache. Still, she has never allowed herself to despair. She was responsible for the care of her beloved father. Then he remarried a woman to wicked to be considered a mother to Melanie or her two sisters. After years of abuse, the stepmother sells Melanie off—to work in a brothel, and about to be sold to the highest bidder. Through a series of fortuitous events, Melanie falls into the care of Christopher, Earl of Ashworth, who has family issues of her own. The solution to his problems—and redemption for Melanie—wind together toward destiny.

Book Link: http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/product_info.php?products_id=237

It was great meeting you all!I look forward to my next post in the 2W blog.

See you in the pages of Trial Of Love!

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The Sum of All Nightmares Comes True: Read This and Pray with Me That I’m Wrong by Mike Simpson

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, as I drove home, I gazed with skepticism at the long lines of people gassing up their cars. Among the rumors going around that day was that American oil and gasoline supplies would be cut off. That turned out, as I suspected, not to be true. My daughter called that night and asked if I thought she should leave the city where she lived. There was a the rumor going around that, since there was a nearby oil tank “farm,” it would be a high value target to those attacking our nation. While I had a real sense that nobody was coming to blow up those oil tanks, I also knew she’d feel more secure if she took her cat and dog and stayed with a friend that night. As it turned out, the rumors about the tank farm were also untrue.MikeI’m the guy who doesn’t buy into scams and rumors, even when our nation is under attack. Regarding 9-11, my intuition from the beginning was that those who conducted the attack had a fairly limited plan. They had no ability to take over the entire country or destroy all the potential “soft targets” in our land. They just wanted to terrorize us and disrupt our lives to maximum extent possible with the relatively limited resources they possessed.

At this moment, however — as a person who is always skeptical about alarms, rumors and conspiracy theories — I feel the need to echo a warning. I have a quite rational fear about what may have happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and what may happen to us as a result.

I am writing this blog on the afternoon of the Ides of March, 2014. At this writing the current supposition about MA 370 is that it ran out of fuel as it flew, fell into the Indian Ocean and sank. While it would mean 279 people died tragically, I really hope that scenario is true, because most of the alternatives possibilities are much worse. My fondest hope is that the concerns I’m unpacking here are completely unfounded.

Like so many others who have watched this unfolding mystery with curiosity, I pretty much decided several days ago that it wasn’t mechanical failure but human intervention that caused the flight to vanish. If you consider the manner of the jet’s disappearance, it clearly supports the idea that a plan was in place to make a plane go missing at a time and in a place where it’s absence would be difficult to detect and tracking it would be next to impossible: 1) flying long after dark, 2) shutting off communication devices systematically, 3) turning abruptly and flying into an area where there would be little civilian tracking available, 4) altering altitude several times—which would among other things make satellite tracking more difficult. Ultimately it seems quite possible the hijacker flew out across the vast, deep Indian Ocean to make it appear that it crashed there. If that was a ruse—the way everything else the hijacker did was a ruse—then it’s still working: a dozen navies are scouring the seas for a jet that I think probably never hit the water.

As I was trying to piece various possibilities together last night, I read a chilling comment at the end of a news article dealing with the flight’s change in altitude. The strange jump up to 45,000 feet, I learned, would make its fuel last longer and would make it more difficult for satellites to track. However the real reason for this dangerous change in altitude, according to the comment, would be to kill the passengers. Soaring to 45,000 feet and depressurizing the cabin would freeze and suffocate the passengers. Even if the famous buttercup airbags deployed, those in the cabin would have at most twenty minutes of air. Those in the cockpit would have substantially more air as well as protection from the frigid temperatures.

An eerie awareness descended on me as I began to put together some of the things I had heard (that had not been discredited). We know the plane did not come apart catastrophically. We also know that passengers these days are savvy enough to try to establish contact from endangered planes and also are more than willing to take on potential hijackers. Did no one on the plane have a satellite phone? In the days following the disappearance, passengers’ phones rang—indicating they were viable, but none were answered. Why no news from the passengers? Perhaps it’s because they suffocated swiftly at 45,000 feet. Once that occurred, any hijackers would not have to worry about being rushed or having to care for traumatized people.

Of course the old saying is, “a dead hostage is useless.” Wouldn’t it defeat the purposes of an air pirate to kill those he has kidnapped? Wouldn’t those potentially paying ransom want assurances that the passengers were alive and unharmed? Given the extensive ongoing search for the jet, wouldn’t kidnappers hasten to make contact with authorities and consummate a ransom deal before their whereabouts were discovered? Since the answer to all those questions is “yes,” then it seems logical to assume that this is not an act of air piracy.

If the hijackers didn’t want the passengers, what did they want? They wanted the plane.

Those who took MA 370 have demonstrated with awful clarity that they know how to fly it, how to manipulate all its systems, how to avoid radar detection and how to distract the foremost experts in commercial jet avionics. If the hijacker or hijackers are not at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, then it seems to me we must admit they have been two steps ahead of those pursuing them from the very beginning. In order to catch up, then, it seems to me we should ask where this journey ultimately might be leading.

Let’s start by asking why would they want the plane? My guess is they want to turn it into a single use weapon, one that can travel up to 7000 miles at 600 miles an hour and blend in with other aircraft (whose flight paths and travel times seem to be known to the hijacker). Only, what can you do with just one jet? Well, not far north of the area where the flight disappeared are a number of former Soviet republics and a couple other nations that possess nuclear weapons. I think it’s possible that this plane is being fitted with a nuclear device.

So, just for the sake of argument, if you were the sort of person who would hijack a jetliner and kill all the passengers aboard it, and if you had a nuclear bomb and high-flying way to deliver it, where would you detonate it? If you wanted to obliterate Israel, you could blow it up there. Or you could take out any major European capital. After 9-11 and its aftermath, however, I’m just paranoid enough to think that the United States might be the most tantalizing target of all.

Where in the US would you strike with a nuclear device? As 9-11 demonstrated, you can demolish the financial heart of the nation and the American economy pretty much keeps on percolating. So I find myself wondering if those with that sort of weapon might be more likely to strike the nation’s capital. A single nuclear weapon detonated at the worst possible moment has the potential to decimate or eliminate the entire elected leadership of our nation—and like the passengers on MA 370—they might never see it coming. Additionally, an unforeseen nuclear strike on Washington could turn irreplaceable artifacts, documents and facilities to dust, contaminating the surrounding area and making it uninhabitable in the process.

I’ve left out the worst result of a nuclear strike on any major city: the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. And that brings me to the most ironic part of this nightmare scenario: there are at least a couple places in this world where our nation is hated because of drone strikes that allegedly have taken the lives of innocent civilians. I have to ask myself if those who might possess stolen a Boeing 777 and may have turned it into a flying atomic bomb might also consider the sudden death of innocent American citizens from the sky a sort of ironic turnabout.

Again, I would love to be wrong about all this supposition, though nothing yet has said to me that it isn’t entirely possible and quite plausible. As noted, if this scenario is transpiring, then those conducting it are ruthless, clever and competent. As said above, these folks, like the 9-11 attackers, just want to terrorize us and disrupt our lives to maximum extent possible with the relatively limited resources they possessed.

What do we have going for us in trying to ferret out and stop such an attack? Time, maybe. We know that it has taken terrorists a certain amount of time to ready and carry out their plans in the past. With so many people searching for the plane, however, one might assume the hijackers will act as swiftly as possible. Technology is also on the side of the civilized nations here. Avionic experts have a global grid of multiple varieties of surveillance and communication that might be tweaked and tasked with detecting this plane should it ever take to the air again. We also have civilization on our side. Much as we may detest certain other nations and their leaders, it’s quite clear that civilized human beings would cooperate in deterring an unprovoked nuclear attack.

In his book The Sum of All Fears, the late Tom Clancy wrote of an unprovoked nuclear attack as being the inspiration for his title. The thing is, that was just a fanciful story with no actual basis in fact. What’s worse than a make-believe story and worse than worrisome rumors, however, is a horrific nightmare scenario that might really occur—it’s like the sum of all our nightmares turning out to be true. I hope you’ll join me in praying that this awful dream never comes true, and that those entrusted with the safety of ours and other nations have been thinking about these possibilities as well.

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This Blog is Going to the Dogs, or Rather, the Wolves — by Mike Simpson

So here’s an apology I’ve needed to make for a long time. I need to make amends to all of my canis lupis friends out there.

That right: “Dear wolves, I owe you an apology.”

Unfortunately, my grave misbehavior toward you occurred precisely at the moment of my first real literary accomplishment. Of course I’m talking about the publication of my first short story, for which I received $10 and three copies of the magazine. Probably you have your own copy stashed away in the attic and might have even forgotten my story, so allow me to remind you that the publication was Long John Latham’s Western Fiction Magazine and the name of my story was “The Fifth Wolf.” This happened in 1969. I was sixteen-years-old. The magazine published my story and immediately went out of business. Yes, it’s true. Sort of reminds me of Mark Twain’s description of his Civil War service: “I joined the Confederate Army, served for two weeks, deserted, and the South lost the war.” I hope my story didn’t hasten the demise of the magazine.

The story itself, given that it was purely the product of an adolescent mind, was fairly well done:  two cowboys camping out had a discussion about running low on ammunition. One of the men told the other the story of how his brother had been out hunting one day only to be surrounded by a ravenous pack of wolves. The brother systematically shot the wolves one-by-one until he ran out of bullets. The “fifth wolf” was the one that got to the brother and killed him. Okay, okay. I was sixteen.

Over the years as I’ve thought back to that story, two impressions invariably come to my mind. The first is amazement (I was too young and dumb to know how lucky I was). The second is regret. The fanciful story I wrote would never have actually happened.

In 1972, while I was working as reporter/photographer for the Courier-Gazette newspaper in McKinney, Texas, I was sent out to a farm to take photos of something. There I was walking through a wooded area, looking for a landmark with nothing but a camera in my hands, when I surprised and was surprised by a gray wolf. We were never closer than twenty yards and he bounded away quickly, stopping once to see what I was doing. I remembered the story I had published and thought, “How ironic, to be eaten by a wolf, just like the brother in the story.”

Really? I had nothing to worry about. Wolves—those that are not rabid—never attack human beings. In fact, there is no record of a healthy wolf on the North American continent attacking a human being. Anthropologists suggest this is because, for thousands of years, canis lupis and homo sapiens were partners. We hunted together. It’s thought that proto humans learned a lot of cooperative group behavior by mimicking wolf packs. Odd, isn’t it, that the wolves seem to have remembered while we have forgotten?

Over the weekend as I stood outside the gray wolf enclosure at the Western Carolina Nature Preserve in Ashville, I thought about the disservice I had done to our historical teammates. Sorry about that, friends. As a whole, we haven’t done right by our old partners. At least “The Fifth Wolf” was never as well known and brazenly perpetuated as the story about that little girl with the red riding hood.

—Mike Simpson

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“Where the Wind Comes Whistling Down the Plains, Teacher” by Mike Simpson

If I were asked where I grew up, my spontaneous answer would be, “In an Oklahoma root cellar.”

Over the past few days as the media have followed the tragic events of destruction in Moore, Oklahoma, my thoughts have drifted back to my childhood. As a little boy, I assumed that springtime was when the trees bloomed and everybody sat around in Grandma’s root cellar—or maybe below Mr. Mac’s house (he was the only one on Symmes Street with a basement and when siren blew, he welcomed us all in).

Tornadoes have always been a fact of life in Oklahoma. Growing up in Norman, which borders Moore to the south, I heard all the stories of tornadoes past and knew all the rules about evading and surviving the future twisters we rightly anticipated. Everybody in that part of the world has tornado stories to tell, but this blog isn’t really about tornadoes.

Being related to half the population of central Oklahoma, I always get concerned when I hear that tornadoes are reported there. I found out quickly the storm that hit Edmond on May 19 was on the opposite side of the city from my sister’s home. The next evening I heard about a tornado rolling through Moore, where many in my extended family live. I called my mother, who lives 30 miles south, to ask if any of our folks were in harm’s way. Mom and two of my cousins were in her truck driving south (always remember, tornadoes travel north and west) because another tornado had been forecast to track through tiny Byars where she lives. After the debris quit flying and noses were counted, all my kinfolks were unharmed. This blog, however, is not about my family in Moore once again surviving an F-5 tornado.

As I read and listened to accounts of those who endured the May 20 twister, and in particular the reports of what happened at the three schools that were partially or completely destroyed, there was something I heard repeatedly: as the tornado hit, the children in those schools were on the floors in the hallways and bathrooms and their teachers were lying on top of them.

I keep thinking about that. And I thought about the heroism of the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, trying to shield their students from a gunman with their bodies. Can you imagine such fierce love, such a totally unreserved willingness to perish for the children they taught? Servicemen and women go to combat knowing that they may be killed or desperately wounded. In the face of that, our nation recognizes their courage and lauds them with high honors—rightly so. Yet when a teacher goes into a classroom intending to impart a daily dose of education to a group of children and ends up putting herself or himself in the path of death for the sake of those kids, I ask myself: is there any individual anywhere who should be more highly honored? In moments of crisis and tragedy, our truest selves emerge. And if we ever wanted to know the “stuff” of which the teachers of Moore and Newtown are made, we found out with perfect clarity. Really, though, the unbelievable heroism of those teachers is not the ultimate subject of this blog.

As a little kid going to Andrew Jackson Elementary in Norman, Oklahoma, (yeah, a school named for Andrew Jackson in the Chickasaw Nation; ironic, huh?), I was the boy no teacher wanted in her class—the little snot who only opened his mouth to say smart aleck things. Yet as God is my witness, if Monday’s tornado had ripped through Norman in 1959, Mrs. Rey would have climbed on top of me to save my life without hesitation.

In general (and, yes, I know there are exceptions), school teachers then and school teachers today are committed professionals who will give the best of themselves for their students in every way without reservation. Teaching children is a calling as deep and strong as any calling ever felt by a minister, missionary or prophet. The difference between the era of my childhood and today is that teaching and teachers are presently under assault: compared to previous generations (and, yes, I know this is a matter of degree), they are not supported in their work by school districts or legislatures; they are not respected and held in high esteem by parents and citizens; the general attitude toward education in our nation is that it is “broken.” If public education is broken in our nation, those who absolutely are not to blame are the teachers. As Newtown and Moore demonstrated, teachers are every bit as committed as they ever were. Teachers are just as smart, just as well educate and even more called to teaching than previous generations. Obviously, knowing the jaundiced view of the public toward education, why would anyone become a teacher if they could be happy doing something else?

Now we come to the real point of this blog—the “moral of the story.” I’m going to tell whoever will listen how to fix public education in our nation: get the hell out of the way of our teachers! The real job of every school board, county commission, state legislature and federal agency in our nation with regard to education is very simple—go to our school teachers and ask them, “What do you need from us in order to educate our children,” and then give teachers the resources they ask for and stay out of their way. Public education is no place for eager politicians, idealistic bureaucrats or self-righteous moralists. As the education of our children goes, so goes our nation. Since the days of my childhood, public schooling in America got broken in great measure because we let posturing politicians and careerists make decisions about our children’s education.

As a direct result of two horrible recent tragedies, we have been taught a huge lesson by courageous public school teachers themselves. No congressman or pundit has ever been present to shield a schoolchild from imminent danger. Talk is cheap. Shielding a child with your own life is beyond price. Teachers are the ones willing to be there and who know what to do when they are. As a civilization we need to honor our public school teachers and let them do the job to which they feel called.

—Mike Simpson

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Book ‘Em by Ginger K. King

On February 19th 2012 I was at my sister’s home for the weekend to celebrate her birthday.  We had been shopping all day and were watching a movie or reading quietly in the room together.  I was just browsing around on my I-pad and saw something about a writer’s conference in Lumberton NC, where I live.  I cannot recall perfectly, but I believe it was in a newsletter from the Lumberton Area Visitors Bureau Executive Director Mickey Gregory.bookem-nc-logo

A change in my career path had me thinking about writing, and a very personal event lead me to write a short story in October of the previous year.  This newsletter in February (a month I typically get the winter blahs) piqued my interest because just a few weeks prior I had been looking at a writer’s conference at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, wishing I had time to go.  Needless to say that once I researched the event in Lumberton, NC a little further and found out that it not only was a writer’s conference, but it was a charity event as well I knew I was definitely going.

My interest in this event kept growing and I have to say I was really excited about it and telling anyone who would listen that they too… should go.  Just getting to see the authors and hear them speak was so interesting to me.  The event was a huge success for the Book ‘Em NC Foundation and well, quite frankly for me too.

When I found out about the event, I was interested in writing, but knew I had a long road ahead of me learning about the publishing industry and the craft of writing fiction.  Little did I know that I would leave the event with the business cards of a publisher who was interested in my make-shift cookbook that was really the paperless version of a wine journal I had created just for myself.  It looked more like a cookbook after I put some serious thought into it that night having a fresh glimpse into the publishing world, and meeting Mike Simpson of Second Wind Publishing.

Second Wind indeed picked up the book and it was released in September of 2012.  This year I will be at the Second Annual Book ‘Em NC event in Lumberton, NC on Saturday February 23rd, 2013.  This time, I will be there as an author.

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Getting the Most Out of My . . . (sigh) Colon by Mike Simpson

If you didn’t at least chuckle at the title of this post, you might want to skip over what comes next and not try to, uh, digest it.

So today at lunch a bunch of us went to a barbeque house, the kind where you order at the counter and they bring your food out to the table. When the server brought out my plate saw my face, she took a step back and said, “Honey, I saw your commercial on TV.” All my friends erupted with laughter. It only got worse as the nice lady described how healthy I look in the commercial and how sorry she feels for all I’ve gone through. It’s official. I have the most famous colon in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

I think I’ve written before about the diagnosis I received about eighteen months ago, of colon cancer. That diagnosis and the resulting treatment I received turned 2011 into “the year I’d most like to forget.” What got me through that difficult time — in addition to the support of family and friends and looking forward to resuming my work as a publisher — was a bit of advice I was given in one of the many “helpful brochures” I received about coping with my changing condition: “try to keep a sense of humor.” Well, when you’re being subjected to lots  of examinations and procedures that range from embarrassing to humiliating, it really is important to find something in it to laugh about. The great thing about my kind of cancer is that it lends itself readily to lots of jokes, puns, word play and general scatological snickering—no sh— . . . uh, fooling.

And it was that irreverent humor that made my GI doctor ask if I’d be willing to do a public service commercial about the importance of having a colonoscopy. The commercial was supposed to run in February and March of 2012, which is colon cancer awareness month. For some reason they kept running the commercials all through the spring and summer. My son-in-law called me last August and said, “Hey, Mike, I just saw you on the Olympics.” That’s one way to get there I guess.

Then last week I got a call from my five-year-old grandson who said excitedly, “Grampy, you’re on the TV! Wait a minute.” There was a fumbling of the phone and next I heard the voice of his three-year-old brother exclaim, “Grampy! We saw you on television. Goodbye!” Yep, my notorious commercial was running again. So far this year I’ve appeared on the AFC wildcard playoff, various news broadcasts and game shows. I’m guessing this is a lead in to cancer awareness month again and they’re trying to get all they can out of my colon.

I always dreamed of being a celebrity, but not this way. Frankly, when it comes to my colon, I’m afraid I’m getting overexposed. You’d think I’d be flushed with pride, but this is beyond the scope of what I expected to reveal and little bit more than I think I can bare . . . uh, bear.

Getting to the bottom of this, I’d just like to say you all can help me out. If all of you, fifty years and older, will just go have a colonoscopy, they’ll stop running the stupid commercial. Then I won’t be so bitter about my end.  –Mike Simpson

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A Picture for Some Words

It has been said that one picture is worth a 1000 words. At the end of this post I will show you a picture for 100,000 words. Actually The Telephone Killer is a mere 85,000 words, but at one time it was more than 120,000 words.

Some years ago, in the dark recess of my numb mind, an idea swirled around and in that swirling found other ideas that attached themselves to it. Then, suddenly it was no longer just one or a few little ideas, but a whole, big idea and it was no longer content to be trapped in my mind. It had to get out. Through vague mental promises and absurd hopes it convinced another part of my mind to let it out – make it into a story.

It was not easy. Sometimes the idea had to almost force me to continue working on the process that would let the complete idea out. The idea knew the whole idea had to come out, not just little bits and pieces of it.

Finally, there it was, but no one seemed interested except friends who will almost always tell you something you did is good, even when it isn’t.

English: Cooking pudding: The black pudding is...

You’ve been there. You’ve been a guest at a meal that was just horrible, but you thank the host telling them their special pudding was delicious when it looked and tasted like warmed-over swamp mud.

But sometimes with a little bit more of this, and a lot less of that, that thing that tasted like swamp mud can be made to be, if not delicious, at least acceptable.

In the realm of story ideas that adding a little and taking away a lot to make something acceptable is called editing. And so you edit, over and over again until you’re pretty sure you have the ingredients right and that is when you invite total strangers to sample your pudding. That is called the query.

Sometimes the person you asked to sample your pudding will say something like, “Yes, it is good, but I don’t think I can cook it on my stove.” Usually the strangers just say, “No! Not for my menu.” They don’t tell you if they think it is good or bad, just “No.”

Half a world away, another mind, one that abides in the bright light of seeking is willing to take chances, comes across the sample I sent him and says, “Send me the whole thing.” That man was Mike Simpson at Second Wind Publishing.

Eventually that leads to signing a contract, some more editing and creating the cover.

The idea of a good for a good cover is that it stand out from the hundreds of others on the bookstore shelf and then make the person want to take a closer look.

I think this cover art does that. So here it is!

Tracy Beltran at Second Wind Publishing did it.

The latest word is that the murder mystery The Telephone Killer will be released December 11, 2012.

Check back with us.

More later – Thank you!

Paul’s book The Telephone Killer published by Second Wind Publishing will be out in December, 2012.

Visit me at Paul’s Books

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Five Lessons for Publishers by Mike Simpson, Second Wind Publishing

The excitement of being a publisher, I’ve discovered, is not unlike the rush a writer feels upon having his or her first book published. There is an almost other-worldly thrill when the first proof arrives and you realize that you are helping someone achieve a long-held dream. That first book was Norm Brown’s Carpet Ride and I had a photo taken of me holding the proof; I sent the picture out to all the authors with whom Second Wind had contracted. I still have “euphoric recall” thinking back to that moment.

Of course, like every important achievement in life, both getting published and becoming a publisher turn out to be much more beginnings than completions. I’ve found that the ecstatic bliss an author feels upon opening a book and reading text that she or he wrote lasts between thirty minutes and twenty-four hours. Somewhere in that fleeting period, the writer begins to notice things about the book that aren’t right, begins to wonder what sort of critical and financial acclaim it might receive, and, somewhere in there, begins to wonder if the publisher shouldn’t be doing more.

Don’t pity the poor publisher. He wonders the same thing. In fact there has not been a moment since the first fifteen minutes of holding Norm’s proof that I haven’t been absolutely certain I should be doing more for our authors, learning more about the industry and making brilliant literary and business decisions. Progress in my case has come in fits and starts. For the better part of an entire year I was sidelined with a health crisis, which meant having to turn a lot of the work I had been trying to accomplish myself over to coworkers—who turned out to be much more capable, creative and dependable than I ever was. There have been marvelous accomplishments right along with the lessons as well. Recently we published our official 100th title, the wonderful anthology of Novel Writing Tips and Techniques. And, because I’m even more committed than I was five years ago when the first dozen books appeared, I’m continuing to learn how to be a worthy publisher.

So maybe you want to be a publisher too (like I didn’t know you’ve been thinking you could do it better?). Allow me to pass along some wisdom to you, a handful of lessons that will be confirmed again and again as you proceed in the splendid insanity of the publishing business:

Lesson #1: You cannot make every writer happy. Or let me say it the other way—you will very likely make every writer, those you publish as well as those you reject, unhappy at some point. Clearly you’re going to upset people when you turn down their work. Because I’ve had my own share of titles turned down and I never forgot how that felt, I made the commitment early on never to take the standard, cop-out route of the impersonal rejection letter: “We’re sorry, but your manuscript does not meet our current publishing needs” (there’s a special place in hell for the jerk who came up with that one sentence soul-deflator). Thus, regardless of the quality of the piece that’s submitted to us, we always try to explain why a book doesn’t work for us. So far I’ve never said to anyone, “Please, God, stay as far away from a word processor as you can for the rest of your life,” although I have been tempted.

And once you publish authors, you’re still going to let them down and make them unhappy too. That’s partly because you can’t do everything an author wants you to—you can’t even do everything you want to do! I’ve learned the only way to atone for my shortcomings as a publisher is to keep learning the trade and try not to make the same mistake twice. Observable growth and the acknowledgement of your shortcomings seem to be the qualities that allow your authors to bear with you as you try to move forward in the publishing craft.

Lesson #2: The publishing industry is changing with astonishing rapidity and no one knows exactly where it’s going. We knew when we started Second Wind that e-books were a coming force to be reckoned with and we rose with the tide when Kindle, Smashwords and Nook emerged. While lots of folks presaged the direction of the market, I haven’t read anything yet about someone gloating because they knew that, in three years, digital books would outstrip print books by a factor of four. Here in the fourth year of the online, digital book revolution, we are already in the “third phase” of e-books. We know that 1) digital publishing has drastically changed both reading habits and the publishing business model, 2) literally millions of people are self-publishing with very mixed results, 3) the playing field has dramatically leveled for independent publishers like Second Wind. Ironically, with all the folks who are self-publishing, the legitimacy of being published by a legitimate press has never been more significant.

Lesson #3: If you stay with the process of growing as a publisher and try to be patient, marvelous things will begin to happen—things like watching a book go viral, like achieving national distribution, like having titles you publish nominated for national awards, like having people you don’t even know write nice things about your company on Facebook or Editor & Predators.

Lesson #4: There is very little in life more spiritually nourishing than working with an author as she or he takes a pretty good manuscript and transforms it into something truly unforgettable; it’s like watching an orchid grow, bloom and blossom out of another person’s soul. There is very little more rewarding than coming to the end of a book you’re editing and being truly sorry the story was over. There is little more humbling than being trusted by truly creative people expressing and growing in their art right before your eyes. The lesson is, publishing is spiritual garden: mostly you stay out of the way, pluck a weed here or there, fertilize, turn some soil, and then sit back and watch the miracle.

Lesson #5: A day comes when it suddenly dawns on you that the dare you took, the dream upon which you acted—it was worth it a hundred times over.  –Mike Simpson, Second Wind Publishing

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