Random photos

Monday Night football, Eagles/Redskins, from the cheap seats:

You’re not sitting here. You’re not:

The last thing a mouse sees:

Inside the gazebo of the von Stauffenberg summer house, Geislingen, Germany:

Halloween, 2013:

Peter Parker:



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The Fonz is Revving the Bike

I DVR Community; heck, I DVR everything because it’s so much better to zip through commercials than suffer an aneurysm. So, I was prepped for Community‘s GI Joe episode by the blurb and didn’t immediately go “WTF?” when the cartoon started.

I went “WTF” later.

Because, well, this has already been done. The infamous stop-action Christmas episode comes immediately to mind, and, apparently, not just to me because the cast makes a joke about it towards the end of this episode. Got to give Dan Harmon credit for acknowledging plowed ground.

And there were good moments. I, too, have long wondered about the marksmanship of GI Joe and Cobra, so it was great to see the Joes’ and Cobras’ reaction to someone actually getting hit. And the increasingly paranoid TV commercials were a hoot, as was the ending PSA. But, this is inside baseball.

We viewers do like formula. The Brady Bunch lasted for so long because we knew that, every week, there would be some kind of First World crisis involving Greg and Marsha, and at least one Alice witticism. Community‘s brand of nuttiness is also formula, and I look forward to the weekly whipcrack banter around the table and the subsequently ridiculous situation requiring an even more ridiculous resolution. Pillow Fort, anyone? But, certain things are one-offs: the Christmas episode, f’rinstance, which was the superimposition of a cherished childhood icon onto Abed’s rather tragic condition. It worked. But it won’t work twice. The imposition of cherished childhood icon GI Joe on Jeff’s turning forty? Puhleeze.

I sense the presence of a jumping shark. Already, Community has resurrected a Dungeons and Dragons replay that, admittedly, worked because the group was relying on a previously used technique to help out a pal. But, like any shadow, it was a weaker version of the original. And, yes, a high-concept show like Community is going to have difficulty keeping up the high quality from episode to episode. Just look at Season 4. But, when you’re grazing among the gems of past glory, then perhaps it’s time to go all Wonder Years and end on a high note.

Like, maybe Jeff eaten by a jumping shark.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel: Silly, But a Good Silly

I belong to a Film Club…well, not so much “belong” as somehow ended up on their Email list and show up at the local Alamo Drafthouse (beer and a movie? I’m there) when they have something that catches my interest. Last night, it was Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. My one word description: silly. But, a good silly.

The basic plot is this: M. Gustave (played by Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the aforementioned Budapest, is accused of murdering a dowager client (and frequent paramour) so he might obtain a priceless painting. He escapes from prison and goes on a cross-country journey with his Lobby Boy, Zero (played by F. Murray Abraham and Tony Revolori, in flashbacks) to prove his innocence.

The plot, though, isn’t so much the point as is the gorgeous colors and sets and obvious worship of 1930′s and 40′s comedy-of-error and swashbuckler films. For example, the uniforms of the police…or military or whatever they’re supposed to be…are a mix of every Foreign Legion, gendarme, and early German official ever seen from The Prisoner of Zenda on. Indeed, every set, every character, is a celebration of Hollywood pre-WW2 Europe tropes and stereotypes. And that’s fun. Recognizing all the actors and cameos is fun, from Edward Norton through Bob Balaban. My favorite was Harvey Keitel as Ludwig, shirtless and tattooed and leading an over-the-top, er, beneath the floor, escape. Quite the hoot.

There were many hoots, including Anderson’s hilarious camera shots where persons crossed the screen from odd directions, or made impossible transfers from car to railroad.  And a chase down a mountain that just got too silly for words…

…which was the problem: the movie just got too silly for words. There’s a point, right about the chase down the mountain, where I went, “C’mon, already.” I get it: the convoluted double flashback situation, the repetitious passing of a message through the monastery, the crazy hitman, yeah, great, silly fun. But, dude, tone it down.

Not that I didn’t like Budapest Hotel, I did. Good movie. But all the inside jokes, all that silliness, stopped it from being a great one.

So go see it, if anything for the craft. Don’t bring the kids, though. Language and sexual situations, people.

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The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat: Guest blogger

Russell here.

It’s come to my attention that a few unflattering things have been implied about me in these pages, specifically regarding my intents to supplant a certain Wander Cat in the affections of D. Krauss. Let me set a few things straight:

First, let’s review where a certain Wander Cat spent this past winter:

Follow the tracks to see where I did:

Yep, inside that box thing D. Krauss made. Which, don’t get me wrong, was nice– dry and warm –and definitely fit my Wild’un lifestyle: you know, out all night, stumble home around dawn, sleep snug all day. Yeah.

But while Wander Cat Girl was eating well:

I had to scramble a bit. And if I managed to grab a meal or two through a bit of subterfuge

can I be blamed?

So, let’s scotch those rumors right now. I have no designs on anyone’s current status.

None at all.

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Interview of: Ian Barker, an author way too classy for this blog

I have known Ian Barker for a few years, mostly through the online writer community, Backspace. We also share a publisher, Rebel E. He is one class act. Judge for yourself:

1. “Ian.” That name’s so, well, English.

My parents chose it because it’s hard to shorten into a nickname. Actually it’s not really English at all, it’s Scottish for John. Depending on how the independence vote goes I may have to give it back.

2. Tell us about your non-fiction writing.

I spent a long time working in IT and writing in my spare time. I then discovered that I could write about computers and people would pay me for it! Shame it took me almost 20 years to work that one out but it led me into writing for, and eventually editing, a computer magazine. Since then I’ve written several ebooks on technology subjects and contribute to a number of techie websites.

3. Now, and you knew this was coming, tell us about your fiction.

I started by writing short comedy sketches for radio shows. Over time, that grew into short stories – honed through writing sites like the old Redrum Tavern and later Backspace – and eventually to a novel. A much rejected novel I should add, which eventually got put in the bottom drawer whilst I wrote another, better, one.

That second novel, Fallen Star, a look at the price of fame and the shallowness of celebrity culture, also got quite a lot of rejections but was eventually accepted by Rebel ePublishers and published in 2010.

I then reworked my bottom drawer novel which became One Hot Summer, a coming of age story set in the 1970s, published in 2012, also by Rebel. So my first novel is actually my second and my second is my first. In order to avoid causing some sort of rift in the fabric of time, my third novel will actually be my third!

4. What’s it like dealing with cheeky American readers, who think you sprinkle an unnecessary “u” or two in your wourds?

Frankly, it’s our language and it’s not my fault if Americans can’t use it correctly. I contribute to a US website quite a bit so often my spell check is set to US English but that doesn’t make it right. On a serious note, the Internet has made us a much more global society and I think that people are less inclined to notice the differences in words like colour/color, etc. than they might once have been. There are definitely two “i’s” in aluminium, though!

5. Describe your writing process.

Erratic. When you spend your working day writing non-fiction it’s quite hard to motivate yourself to do fiction in your spare time; the stuff that pays the bills always takes priority. As a result my fiction writing tends to be somewhat episodic. I break a lot of the “rules,” like write every day and don’t revise until you’ve finished. I just write when I can and revise as I go along.

I tend to write the ending of a book quite early in the process then fill in the middle bit. If I haven’t got an ending by the time I’m about 10,000 words in then I can be pretty sure the idea isn’t going to work.

All of the above means I’m not a fast writer when it comes to fiction; it takes me around two or three years to produce a novel.

6. What is your sanity check when writing? In other words, what kind of gatekeeper do you use before you think something is publishable/readable?

I seldom show firsts drafts to anyone and I’m a big fan of reading aloud to ensure that the text flows properly and that dialogue sounds natural. Through participation in online communities like Backspace (second mention I know but I’m not on commission, honest!) I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with some very talented writers who are willing to read and critique material.

This was particularly useful on Fallen Star where one of the POV characters is female. Having beta readers of the opposite sex helped make sure I was in touch with my feminine side, and she came across as believable.

7. Will the United States and England go to war again?

Over spelling maybe? I doubt it, but if you are planning to declare war perhaps you could wait until after you’ve delivered our F-35s? Thanks.

8. You have a title with a small press. What do you think of this route to publication (and, yes, this is an obviously leading question)?

For the benefit of readers who hadn’t already noticed, we do share the same publisher. As I said above, I’d had a lot of rejections elsewhere so I seized on the first publisher to show interest like a drowning man clutching at a lifebelt. It’s nice to know that someone else shares your faith in your work.

The production process with Rebel has been excellent. The editing, cover design, and book production is, in my view, second to none. I’d say that, with both novels, the editing process has made them better than they were originally. There is perhaps a lack of clout when it comes to promotion, but to be fair I know some authors with big publishers who don’t get much of that either.

9. What, exactly, are mashers?

They’re the implements you use for making mashed potatoes. Or am I missing something here?

10. What projects are you working on, and when can we expect to see them?

I’m writing a sequel to Fallen Star which picks up the main characters a few years on from where that book ends. I’m hoping to complete the first draft this year (see above about slow process) so it may emerge blinking into the light some time around 2015.


Ian’s website is here: http://www.iandavidbarker.co.uk/

Follow him on Twitter: @IanDBarker

And the mystery of mashers continues.

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I went back to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, a few weeks ago because my son graduated from Army Basic Training:

Yes, ladies, he is one handsome devil. Thank God he takes after his Mom.

We attended what the US Army likes to call Family Day:

Those familiar with Army SOP (that’s Standard Operating Procedure, for all you dope smokin’ civilians out there), know that possession of a family violates the Army’s tenet of issuing you one if they’d wanted you to have one.  Accordingly, Family Day was held in one of the most inaccessible portions of Fort Sill, directions to which were written in the most baffling manner possible on the back of an attached map that did not show any street names or locations, the nearest parking about a half mile away. Despite that, we found it, and were promptly seated outside on metal risers and then treated to another time honored Army tradition: hurry up and wait. Did I mention it was about 35 degrees with a 30-50 knot wind blowing through the pavilion? No?

Finally, we had the ceremony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHcMxOJ5BN4

Afterwards, my son did the only thing he’d been wanting to do ever since his TI greeted him on the drill pad:

Not that I blame him. All that marching around and throwing grenades is exhausting. I know. I was in the Air Force for twenty years. We used to watch those Army guys marching around throwing grenades and stuff and feel bad for them.

I found it a bit on the ironic side that I was back on Ft. Sill for the second time in two years, the first as a side trip when attending Larry McMurtry’s auction (see below). I lived in Lawton, OK, the town right outside the Ft. Sill Sheridan gate, from about 1958 through 1965, in this house:

which has, in the following 40-odd years, become this house:

on a street that I rode my bike up and down with great joy when I was ten years old, and that I would not walk down today unless I was carrying a shotgun and a back-up pistol.  Ch-ch-ch changes.

So I stayed on Ft. Sill pretty much the whole time, primarily to avoid the locals and their feuds. We visited the Guard House, where Geronimo spent some time:

Sergeant on duty:

US Marshal getting ready to transport:

this guy:

Geronimo’s cell:

in which he spent about two days. The rest of the time, he was tending his farm and working as a scout for the cavalry. Talk about ironic.

Story of the first outlaw:

which has “movie” written all over it.

My son remained on Ft. Sill for Advanced Infantry Training, and we wended our way back to Virginia.

I don’t really see any reason to go back to Oklahoma. Didn’t see any reason since I left in 1965, either, but have been back twice now.

Funny how a place calls you.

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It’s “Read an EBook” Week: 2-8 March

In celebration, get Partholon for 75% off. Go here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/355550

or click on the image below.

Enter the code: REW75

See why John Rashkil is having a very bad day.

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Interview of: Tj O’Connor, author, and a guy with piano wire hidden in his watch.

1. Does the TJ stand for Tommy James? Are you a Shondell?

Thomas John—but I go by Tj (note the small j). Yes, in a former life I was a Shondell— there was TJ, Larry, Larry, Craig and Jim. Just like the two Larry’s there was TJ and me, a second Tj—hence the small J. Just don’t tell the real Shondells.

2. Tell us about Dying to Know.

Dying to Know was a fluke for me. I wrote three thrillers and was hunting for an agent. I was telling one of my daughters about a 20-year recurring nightmare that I was killed during an anti-terrorism operation and returned to catch the killers. She love the idea and kept telling me that the paranormal was making a comeback in books, TV and movies—there were vampire detectives, ghost hunting, all sorts of things. So, while my last thriller, Double Effect, was being considered by a lit-agent, I wrote Dying to Know—the story of a homicide detective killed  and who returns to help his wife and partner solve his murder. The official summary goes as follows:

Dying is overrated. Murder is not.

That’s what Detective Oliver Tucker used to think. Not now. He’s dead—murdered—and back as an earth-bound spirit to help his wife, Professor Angela Tucker, crack the most important case of his life—his own.

But, this is not a ghost story; it’s a murder case.

Tuck knows why he is back among the living but not one of them—Detective Solve Thyself. Perhaps he was murdered because of his last case—a murder involving a retired mob boss, a local millionaire land developer, a New York hit man, and the local university elite. Or could it be that Bear Braddock, his best friend and partner for more than fifteen years, wants Angela? Tuck knows that everything surrounds Kelly’s Dig where the discovery of Civil War graves may put an end to a multi-million dollar highway project. If it does, who stands to gain the most? Enough to kill?

Using his unique skills, Tuck weaves through half-truths and generations-old lies chasing a madman. And he’s not alone—others, dead and alive—are hunting the same killer. Still nothing can change the truth—it is the living, not the dead, who are most terrifying.

When the story came out well, I decided to send it out to a few agents and test the waters. Kimberley Cameron, a well-known agent, signed me because she saw similar themes from the 1940’s Topper and The Thin Man in the story. She was the third agent I reached out to.

All the books I write have three themes—a primary story line, a historical subplot, and a secondary story line that ties the first two together. I’ve been accused of being too complex at times, but if you want easy reading, stick with the funny papers.

3. How’d you come up with the Tuckers?

I was on my Harley cruising through the Himalayas when a Tibetan monk beckoned me to stop. When I did, he said, “I’m tuckered. Give ride?” And the name Tucker just stuck. It was an omen, right?

No, really, I did what I always do with names, I visualized the character, then starting throwing names against my story board to see what stuck. Oliver Tucker did. I wanted an old fashioned name like Oliver so I could go with a nickname. And Tucker had a nice nickname with it.

4. Is the story based on a real life experience (which, come to think of it, would be a little weird)?

Yes, oddly enough, it is in many ways. As a former government agent and then a twenty year international security consultant, I’ve lived and worked a lot of fascinating cases and met some amazing people. I’ve borrowed from my past wherever I could. In this case, the basic theme—the dead Oliver Tucker—is based on my recurring nightmare I began having when I left Athens Greece in 1990 after running anti-terrorism operations there. A subplot in the story is the discovery of Civil War skeletal remains during the excavations for a highway project around town. This discovery has a significant role in the story. True to fact, battlefields and historical markers are as prevalent in Winchester as any city in Virginia. Also true  is that a long-running debate in this area has been the development of land around Winchester for the construction of a highway bypass project that’s been heavily mired down by, among other reasons, historical preservation. This real-life battle has been waging on and off for years. And, at times, it’s become very heated. Having watched from the sidelines, I can tell you that land developers and historians mix like gasoline and matches. So far, though, no one has buried anyone in the hills outside town. Not that I know of anyway.

The discovery of the Civil War bones in Dying to Know and the underlying plot they bring in my story is also based in fact. Some twenty-seven years ago, I was a young OSI agent assigned in central Ohio when a building excavation on a military base unearthed a human skeleton. Stop the backhoes! At first, the history behind the site concerned us. During the 1st and 2nd World Wars, the ground under construction had been occupied by military barracks for soldiers and airmen. Had there been an unreported or unsolved murder? Was some long-forgotten soldier just now being discovered?

No. Thank God there was not.

Instead, we called in forensic experts from Ohio State University, whom we thought could shed some light on the age of the victim and provide us with some tips on how to handle such a dated and decaying find. Back in the 1980s, few CSI or other on-hand experts could swoop in and solve the murder in an hour while never losing their sunglasses. Yet, oddly enough, the forensic folks sent us down the hall to the archeology department where we met with scientists researching the Mound Builder Indian cultures. That’s where the trouble started.

Within an hour of our meeting with the archeologists, we found ourselves at the beginning of a major controversy. At first, the archeologists believed our discovery was that of a pre-historic Indian from Mound Builders history—Ohio is laden with American Indian Mound Builder culture discoveries. And, after their initial speculation, they swooped in with court orders and papers that froze the scene for months while they sorted out the dig site. In the end—many, many months later—it was discovered that the poor soul in the site was a mid-19th Century farmer; probably a family burial left unrecorded. Oops. The lawyers, historians, government officials, and developers were in a mêlée over what to do. It got ugly.

My partner and I quietly exited stage left.

5. If you could be any color you chose, what would it be?

Black. Okay, let me explain—I’m not a sycophant of the president or anything. Black as in my favorite color—the color of murder mysteries, political thrillers, etc. Great stories come from that color and the many shades of mayhem. So, color me mayhem.

6. What other works do you have out there?

I’ve written seven novels and working my eighth. To date, Dying to Know is my first published novel and the first of its two sequels, Dying for the Past, releases next January. The next sequel, Dying to Tell, will release January 2016.

During the past year, I also finished two different murder mysteries with similar paranormal twists—a key character is dead and plays a vital character role—New Sins for Old Scores, and The Killing of Tyler Quinn.

New Sins for Old Scores

Murder, like history, often repeats itself. And when it does, it’s the worst kind of murder.

Detective Richard Jax was never good at history. After years as a cop, he was about to get the lesson of his life.

As Jax lay dying after being gunned down at an old inn while on a case, he’s saved by Captain Patrick “Trick” McCall—the ghost of a World War II OSS agent—who has been waiting since 1944 for a chance to solve his own murder. Soon, Jax is a suspect in a string of murders—murders linked to smuggling refugees out of the Middle East—a plot similar to the World War II OSS operation that brought scientists out of war-torn Europe. With the aid of a beautiful and intelligent historian, Dr. Alex Vouros, Jax and Trick unravel a seventy year-old plot that began with Trick’s murder in 1944. Could the World War II mastermind, code named Harriet, be alive and up to old games? Is history repeating itself?

Together, they hunt for the link between their pasts—confronted by some of Washington’s elite and one provocative, alluring French Underground agent, Abrielle Chanoux. Somewhere in Trick’s memories is a traitor. That traitor killed him. That traitor is killing again.

Who framed Jax and who wants Trick’s secret to remain secret? The answer may be, who doesn’t?

My agent plans on presenting New Sins for Old Scores to the market this winter.

The Killing Of Tyler Quinn— is still in second draft. It’s the story of Quinn, a small Virginia newspaper reporter who returns from Afghanistan a broken—and dead—man. He struggles with understanding what happened to him during the war when he returns only to find his mentor and best friend has been brutally murdered. When he begins to seek the truth behind his friends murder, he realizes there are eerie similarities to his own demise on the back streets of Kabul and begins to recall his life there—and chasing a serial killer. The story merges the “then” and “now” and follows the trail of a serial killer who thought he had escaped justice. Now, in Patriot, Virginia, he has to face Quinn, whose new idea of justice doesn’t involve the court.

The Killing of Tyler Quinn is still in a working-mode and I hope to return within the year and finish the edits to get to my agent.

I’ve also written three thrillers—The  Trinity Trial, The Whisper Covenant, and Double Effect. Of those, I can only image Double Effect is print worthy. I hope to return to it this year and re-write a little and try to get it to market.

7. Automatic, or revolver?

Both—I have two hands. My fav is a 1911 .45 semi-auto. I have two—one for shooting bad guys and one antique from WWII on display in my den. I also have an antique 1863 Army Colt revolver on display and a Civil War Springfield.  I’ve got a few other pieces and working on a small collection of antique military weapons to parallel my books I write.

8. Rumor has it you were once part of an elite intelligence unit renowned for its practical jokes. Care to comment?

There are parts of my past I dare not relive. Lives could be at stake. Reputations lost. Disturbing memories unleashed. In my profession, your best story is your next one.

9. Tell us your agonizing tale of getting published.

Oh, Dear God! Five years looking for an agent. Eighteen months to sell my first of seven novels, and it turns out to one of the first three publishers my agent pitched—eight months before! Terrible cover art, lousy series titles “The Ghost Gumshoe” really? Are you kidding me? And in the end, it comes down to this—write books, be happy, you have no say once the publisher signs you. Well, unless your Nelson DeMille or Patterson. The only thing more gut-wrenching than my story is the ten years I spent writing before I tried to get published.

10. What’s your writing process?

Story board for sketching ideas.

My past and some great memories to fuel the stories and characters.

A wild ass imagination and sense of fun storytelling.

Then the hard part… tap, tap, tap, tap, tap… backspace, delete, tap tap tap… pour a bourbon… repeat.



See more of Tj at his website: http://tjoconnor.com/


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22 inches, by knee measure

That’s how much snow we got on Thursday, 13 Feb 14:

The backyard looked like some lost Tibetan city:

The little snowblower that could:

A Greenworks electric.  Inferiority complex, so it tries harder.

The front porch is under there somewhere:

As is my son’s car:

Reflections in a snowy door:

And then, this morning:

Ah. Finally. A break…

…until tonight, when we’re supposed to get four more inches.

Honduras is looking better and better.


Posted in Life in the Shenandoah Valley, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat: Give ‘em an inch

Well, winter’s decided to hang around:

Like I care:

It’s only a problem for Russell:

who hasn’t got enough sense to get his own D. Krauss guy and come in from the cold. So, on the rare occasion I went outside for a minute or two (just to see what’s happening; gotta keep a paw in), Russell comes running over and starts calling me a sellout and a leech and a traitor, yadda yadda yadda.

Oh, baby, you hurt me so much:

But, after a couple of weeks, things began to change. First of all, that D. Krauss guy put a bed out for Russell:

A real nice one, waterproof and warm, and Russell starts acting all grateful:

Next thing you know, D. Krauss has put together this godawful bubble-wrapped contraption and put the bed inside, and Russell now has a condo!

Okay, fine, give Russell some credit, he played this well.

But you know how it is, camel’s nose under the tent, or, in this case, whisker in the door, and the other day, I’m at work, keeping the sofa warm, when I hear something:

I get up to take a look, and I can’t believe my eyes:

It’s Russell!

Eating! My! Food! And the LOOK he gives me!

I check the food to make sure he hasn’t eaten it all:

And then, it’s on:

Well, things got a little confused after that. Upshot, I’m going to hide out for awhile:

Just until things calm down.


Posted in The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat, Uncategorized | 1 Comment