Tuesday, December 24, 2013

To our military, wherever you are deployed this Christmas

My deepest gratitude to you for your sacrifice to protect our freedom, and to your families for their sacrifice at home.
My family and I know what an empty chair at the Christmas table feels like. We know what it's like to miss loved ones and to be missed. We know what it's like to wait for phone calls, and the anguish when the call doesn't come. This song has special meaning to my family and I because of that.

We are waiting; we have not forgotten . . .

A simple Christmas carol not heard on the radio very often has touched my heart deeply this year. I pray it touches those who need God's peace this Christmas just as it touched mine.

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsty.com/christmas-songs-still-still-still-lyrics.html ]
Sleep, sleep, sleep, 'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth. The night is peaceful all around you, Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you. Sleep, sleep, sleep, 'Tis the eve of our Saviour's birth.

Dream, dream, dream, Of the joyous day to come. While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber. Dream, dream, dream, Of the joyous day to come. 

A blessed and peaceful Christmas from our family to you,
Mark and Kathy Venturini

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Touching Adoption Story - Guest Blog by Patti Smith

I was going through some boxes and found an Anthology of Student Writing from my son's elementary school. I went directly to a dog-eared page and this is what I found:
(A True Story)
Bobby Cleghorn
Grade 6
Up until I was 7 I remember that I lived in a truck and under a roller coaster and in motel rooms. When I was 7 my Mom left my sister Bonnie and I in a motel room to go bail my dad out of jail and she never came back. 
The principal of my school found out that we were left alone and called the police. We were taken to a shelter home. We lived there for a year. Then we went to a foster home with Debi as a foster mom. We stayed there for a year  then Debi and my sister moved to Connecticut. I moved to a group home. I was there for a year till Debi moved back and I went to live with her and my sister again. When I moved back in we both went to a new school. It was a small school. My teacher was really great and the school secretary started taking me to her house on weekends. I also spent Spring Break with her and Don. It was a “test-drive” to see if I would like living in Aguanga with them but I didn't know it.
One day, Debi took Bonnie and me out for ice cream. She wanted to tell us that there were people who wanted to adopt us. Bonnie's teacher in Connecticut wanted her and I guessed many names until Debi said Patti and Don wanted to adopt me. I was really happy about that!
We had to go to court and the judge said that Bonnie could move to Connecticut and I could move in with Patti and Don. I  lived with them a year and we went to court again. The judge said the adoption was final and I was Patti and Don's son forever. After court that day my new mom and dad had a surprise adoption party for me at Stadium Pizza. All the people from my school were there and so were my grandparents and my social worker. I was really surprised! I got really nice gifts and had a fun time.
I talk to my sister on the phone almost every week and we see each other in the summers. We share stories of our new families.
I am now in the sixth grade and still go to the same school. My new teacher is great!
What a blessing to have found that gem! Robert (I still call him Bobby, much to his dismay) is now 33 and the father of two beautiful daughters.  Even though he's a grown man, I still see that little boy that walked into my office and into my heart so many years ago.
 Then and now . . .

Monday, December 16, 2013

Whispers Book Cover: The results are in! Thank You!!!

In a blog post, Blame it on the Book Cover, LuAnn Schindler describes: 
 Y ou’re at a party, scanning the buffet table, uncertain which treat will satisfy your appetite. The succulent cuts of thin-sliced prime rib may ease the craving, but then your eyes lock on a thick slab of key lime pie topped with whipped cream. Which do you select?
     The same principle applies to the bookstore. Walk in, and you’re inundated with an explosion of colors and graphics that capture your attention. Do you select the book with muted tones and a gold-embossed title? Or do you gravitate toward the pastel-colored cover with a cute shoe/handbag/cartoon-like caricature?

When faced with choosing a book cover for the paperback version of my  fantasy Whispers from Forbidden Earth a few weeks ago, I asked followers of this blog a similar question. I needed help choosing a book cover that would appeal to fantasy fans ages 8 and up.

Your response was overwhelming! I want to thank everyone who participated. Surprising, the responses were literally split right down the middle. Left: 23, Right: 17, Both: 2. Some of the responses were interesting:

Jane wrote: 
I've collected votes from the Kiddos.
Boy, age 5: right
Boy, age 9: right
Girl, age 12: left

Michael wrote this interesting observation: 
The one on the left (pastel) may be more attractive to female readers (that's a guess) but it will be less attractive to male readers (that's not a guess). 

What I found most interesting is that many comments from women seemed to back Michael's observation. Many were drawn to the pastel colors. The left cover intrigued me, but I finally came to the decision that it looked too much like a science fiction cover. What cinched the decision, though, were the votes from Jane's kids as well as this comment from Mary: For this demographic, I like the one on the right. It looks high fantasy and will appeal to Eragon and Harry Potter fans.  
      So, with everyone's help, the decision has been
made and the cover selected. I do appreciate the
overwhelming response. It was a blast. We'll do it again with the sequel.

You can check out the Whispers on amazon by clicking the link on this blog. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Now for something completely different . . . NI !!!!

Don't ask me why, I guess I'm just in one of those strange Monty Python moods today! Maybe I'm channeling my inner teenager again. Enjoy. NI . . .

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Guest Blog: The Grinch aka Melanie M. Jeschke

The Grinch    
I have a confession to make: I am a Grinch.  I live in dread of this time of year and feel guilty because of it. Don’t get me wrong: I love Jesus and totally get that “He is the reason for the season.”  As a child, I absolutely loved Christmas: the decorations, the music, the lights, the cookies, the tree, the visits from Santa, the reverence of our candlelight Christmas Eve service, the fun of opening gifts—everything held me in awestruck wonder. I appreciate now all my parents, and especially my mom, did to make the season magical.
But as I have taken on the role my parents played, I have found the season to be incredibly stressful, not magical at all.  Mind you, I have nine children, three times that of my parents; so I could in good conscience multiply the amount of work I have to do at least that many times, plus even more now that we have enlarged our family, adding 7 sons and daughters-in-law and 12 grandchildren (as well as my parents who have moved in with us). While I’m writing this blog, I have a stack of end of term papers to grade for the college composition class I teach, long overdue edits on my books to complete so that they can be released as e-books, and then the usual Christmas litany of the annual letter to write and mail, the decorations to finish putting up, and the gifts to buy and wrap. I feel overwhelmed and stressed and not at all excited that Christmas is a little over two weeks away.  Sometimes I almost wish we were Puritans who do not observe special holidays! But we are not, and for this reason, I’ve confessed that I’m a Grinch.
So, now that I’ve confessed, I have to ask myself: what can I do about this situation? How can I de-stress myself? This morning at our MOPS group, where I’m a mentor mom, we had a therapist and mother talk to us about abandoning our perfectionism. For me, her talk was timely, as I recognized that part of my problem is trying to replicate the wonder of my childhood Christmases and living up to some perfectionist ideal which I cannot possibly achieve. Our speaker encouraged us to give up unrealistic expectations. I have to face grading papers and getting my semester grades in since that is my job, but I should relax and give myself a break on all the other stresses, which are primarily self-imposed. I should recognize that I will never be able to decorate like Martha Stewart and our bank account won’t allow me to be extravagant in my gift giving. The Christmas letters may or may not be out on time this year. But most importantly, I shouldn’t allow my own anxieties or frustrations, Grinch-like, to steal other people’s joy.
 Here’s hoping I can take a deep breath, concentrate on essentials, forget the nonessentials, and do the next thing God has put before me, not what I think should be done. And like the Grinch, I hope I can reform and allow my heart to grow three sizes in one day. 
May “God bless us, every one!” Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Rant Meter is pegged at 100%

I intended to write something light and fluffy today but a CNN article on the most recent International Student Assessment (PISA) test results got my rant meter pegged at 100%. Sorry :-)

More than half a million students, aged 15 and 16, sat a two-hour exam last year as part of the assessment. Pupils came from 65 countries representing 80% of the global economy. Shanghai's results topped the list of countries. Congratulations to them. Where did the United States rank? Try 36th!

I was disheartened. I was angry, I was upset. Guess what, I still am! Some on the fringe right may argue that US public schools have been failing ever since God and prayer were removed from the classroom. I contend that it isn’t a lack of prayer, but rather a lack of hard work and determination, a lack of parental involvement and discipline. We live in a culture of entitlement, where everyone has to be equal. There are no winners and losers. You can’t have a winner because you may hurt someone’s feelings. Johnny, I know you struggle with math, but you’re really good at video games, aren’t you.

My grandfather, Louie Venturini came to America in 1908 when he was eight years old. He never made it past the 4th grade, yet he was a successful farmer and a very successful owner/operator of a coal mine. He started working when teams of horses plowed fields and canaries were the early-warning signal for carbon monoxide in the mines. No one handed my grandfather anything. He worked hard. He persevered. He was determined and he did well.

Is every child in the US failing? Of course not. Are there achievers out there? Definitely. However, in a broad sense we as a country are failing our most precious commodity—our children, our future. I’m not smart enough to shape educational policy. All I’m advocating is common sense and hard work with a good measure of stick-to-itiveness thrown in. It worked very well for my grandfather.      

Here's the CNN article:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving, Food Banks, and the Vanishing Middle Class

Today is November 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day in the US, and for the last few days a couple of thoughts have been kicking around inside my head. Disjointed, perhaps, but maybe you can see the common theme that knits them together.

The turkey is cooking in the roaster this morning and it smells wonderful. After I’m done with this post I’ll head outside to scrape the bit of snow that fell overnight from the driveway We’re expecting 17 people to come and share Thanksgiving dinner with us. Wine will flow with the conversation and laughter, and plates will overflow. I am so thankful for my family, especially Kathy, my forever wife and friend. I’m thankful for my job, stressful though it is at times. I’m thankful for my home nestled in the country. But--

For several years, I’ve volunteered at a local food bank. When I started, we ministered to roughly 70 to 80 families each week. That number has steadily increased to the point were we now average over 150 families each week. This past Thanksgiving week, we provided food and turkey gift vouchers to 289 families. We nearly ran out of food. 

Over the years, some people only come in once or twice, dressed in business casual or scrubs, needing a little help as they experience an unexpected rough patch in their lives. Others I’ve seen every month for years. I have a chance to talk to the people as we walk the boxes of food out to their cars. The vast majority are grateful for the help we provide. I am thankful for John, Judy, Don, Gabby, and all the volunteers at the food bank who tirelessly dedicate their lives to minister to the needy in the area.

I wish we didn’t need food banks and I wonder why the demand constantly increases. What is happening in this country? Why is there a need for more red kettles and volunteers ringing their bells throughout the year? Why is there such an increasing, on-going need? I read a thought-provoking interview with Vaclav Smil recently. In the interview, he states that ‘In every society, manufacturing builds the lower middle class. If you give up manufacturing, you end up with haves and have-nots . . . the whole middle-class sinks.’ Vaclav argues that the ‘demise of US manufacturing dooms (Italics mine) the country not just intellectually but creatively.’ To me, that is a chilling accusation of our country and the never-ending push by US corporations to find the cheapest labor cost without regard to the impact to our middle class. As long as that push continues, I fear the need for food banks and red kettles will continue to increase. The gap between the haves and have-nots will widen. Dear God, I pray I’m wrong.   

Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing from my other life, in languages both foreign and strange

In my other life, a huge software release looms on the horizon: December 7th! The outcome of this December day may not be as catastrophic as that fateful day in 1941, but close. I don’t anticipate any loss of life, at least not yet. Tears? Shouting? Pulling out hair? Yes, yes, and yes. But blood will not be shed (at least not by me).

In my other life, I am a software engineer, one who has put in a huge amount of overtime lately for the aforementioned release. While consumed with my work, I thought it would be interesting to share some snippets of the writing I do when not slaying dragons and chasing elves in novels.

The languages presented are nearly as ancient as Latin, and some may add just as dead. Some (re: my sons) would argue I'm just as old. Maybe I am, but it's been a challenging and rewarding career. Anyone who guesses the languages wins . . . um . . . a hearty pat on the back. I don’t have anything to give away just yet :-)   

Some may find it strange when I say that programming is much like writing a novel. A problem is presented to me, a goal is spelled out. It is my job to start at point A and design a process to solve the problem (plot), code the process (write the draft novel), wind my way through all the landmines and obstacles and testing (edit draft, write, cut, edit, write, cut, cut) until I have a final shining product that works (a story people will enjoy reading). 

A little known fact is that most software engineers read fantasy, while the hardware geeks (you know, the guys who can build a motherboard with their eyes closed) read science fiction. Go figure.

If anyone asks me what I do other than write, I can honestly say that I write software.
I've left a message below coded in IBM EBCDIC.  Code is read vertically and then left to right. (E3 is one letter) Want to try and decipher the message? You'll get another pat on the back. :-)


Monday, November 11, 2013

Come to the Quiet

I’m sure most of us have that one special place in our lives. It may be a timeshare on the beach or on the ski slopes. Maybe it’s the farm or the hunting cabin, or that special inn tucked away in the mountains. Heck, it may even be Time Square on New Years Eve or just your own porch in the cool of the evening.

For many years, my family has been blessed to own a cottage along the Allegheny River, roughly 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh PA. I grew up there, as did my children. Now a new generation is enjoying cookouts with family and friends, long boat rides, and sleepovers. Never forget the hotdogs and s'mores cooked over a fire.

 For me, my special place extends out a bit further to include a special time. As I post this, summer is a memory in my little corner of the world and fall is winding down. Our cottage is closed up for the season, as are most of the other homes on the river. The boat is in winter storage. The boat dock is on dry land.

This is my special time in my special place.

Now there is quiet in my special place as leaves turn and float to the ground. The water is still as glass. The boats and skiers and wave runners are a memory. No music blares from nearby camps. Now I hear turkey and coyotes calling in the distance.

Life is too hectic. There are too many distractions. I need this special time in my special place. I need to bundle up against the cold and take long walks with just my dog and my thoughts and my Lord.  I need to watch the sun set over tranquil waters. Sometimes this is the only place and time where the world makes any sense to me. How about you? Where's your special place? Care to share?


Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Cover - It's decision time & I Would Love Feedback

Whispers from Forbidden Earth is soon coming out in paperback . . .Woot!!!!. That leaves me in a bit of a quandary, however. I'm trying to decide between two covers and would LOVE some feedback. The story is a fantasy written for ages 8 and up.  I love the colors on one but that's the adult in me talking.

Let me know what you think, especially the children. They're the reason I wrote the story in the first place.
Thanks --Mark

Monday, October 28, 2013

Love for all things Keurig

I have one vice in life—COFFEE. Pause . . . deep breath. OK, maybe chocolate . . . and . . . um . . . there’s also peanut butter. BUT COFFEE is my #1 vice. More times than not, a coffee mug is within reach, whether I’m driving or attending meetings at work, or relaxing at home during cold winter nights. During our fall vacation to the Canadian Maritime Provinces in October, I HAD to make my first pilgrimage to Tim Hortons. Hopeless? Yes, I’ll admit it.

When the kids bought Kathy and I a Keurig coffee maker for Christmas a couple of years ago, I entered coffee nirvana. Completely new vistas of aromas and tastes and brands opened to me. Not the frilly pumpkin or cinnamon or Hazelnut or wimpy spice coffees, mind you. I’m talking dark roast and Italian Roast. You know, manly brews.  I discovered Newman’s Own Extra Bold and Caribou Blend (Thank God there’s a store 30 minutes from home). I fell in love with Barista Prima Italian Roast and Tully’s Italian Roast Extra Bold.

To tell you how hopeless I am, I had to stop drinking ANYTHING that contained caffeine for a week to prepare for a medical test. One day after taking my last sip of coffee, the headaches started. Two days later, I noticed dull muscle aches spreading through my legs. Yep, I was going through caffeine withdraw. I was experiencing the coffee-equivalent of DTs.  

Well, the test results were fine and I’m pleased to announce I’m back partaking in my drug of choice. I’m equally pleased to announce the DTs are gone! Here’s a list of my favorite Keurig K Cups. What’s yours? If you have a favorite dark roast, pass it along!

·         Barista Prima Italian Roast
·         Newman’s Own Extra Bold
·         Starbucks French Roast
·         Tully’s Italian Roast Extra Bold
·         Caribou Blend

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dreamscapes -- Hindering or Following?

We all have recurring dreams--periodic images form our sleep that our mind may employ to help resolve tough or emotional situations in our lives. Rest assured I won’t blog about running down the middle of the highway in skivvies. I shudder just thinking about that. :-)

In my recurring dream, I’m back in college during finals and I’m facing a math test I need to pass in order to graduate. The only problem is I haven’t attended a single class all semester. From there the dream takes on two distinct flavors. I’m either sitting in the classroom staring at the test, knowing I’m going to fail, or I’m running across campus, totally lost and unable to find the classroom.  I know, I’m a sick puppy, huh?

I’m not a trained psychologist, but in my life, in my personal circumstances, the meaning is clear. I’ve dealt with insecurities and fear of failure my entire life. The insecurities recently mounted with the publication of my mid-grade fantasy novel, Whispers from Forbidden Earth, now available in eBook on Amazon (YEA!!!). Thoughts of “what am I doing here” and “I don’t belong” kept swirling around in my mind.

BUT! But, but, but . . .  CNN had a recent slideshow/article that offered me such a feeling of hope: 

I was intrigued and encouraged reading quotes like –

“Even though I had sold 70 million records, there was this feeling like, I'm not good at this.” -- Jennifer Lopez

"I get insecure about everything. I'm still bewildered when people know my name or my face. I can't figure out what they would possibly want to talk to me for." --Anna Kendrick

“I had an existential crisis at the Oscars, sitting next to Sean Penn and Meryl Streep and being like, 'What am I doing here? I don't belong here,'" --Amy Adams

Kind of silly, but what a relief. I’m not the only one! I’m not alone! Despite their insecurities, these stars reached the top of their profession. They followed their dream despite their anxieties. For me, Whispers from Forbidden Earth is finally out. I authored a novel, something many dream of but never accomplish. Then I found a publisher who believed in my story enough to send it out for the world to see. I did it and I’m moving forward. Now let’s see what the future holds.

Maybe I do belong after all. 

Here's the link to my book. Let me know what you think --Mark

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Shared History--In Fantasy and the Real World

As an author, it is so fascinating to see a developing story lead me in directions I never intended. This is especially true with fantasy. Not only do the characters tell me what they should be doing and correct me when I do something stupid, but I see an entire world develop right in front of my eyes. I see rich vistas unfold before me—landscapes and villages and races. It is such a joy to behold.

With Whispers from Forbidden Earth (soon to be released by Helping Hands Press), there are two vastly different worlds: Earth and Eversong. One is familiar to the reader, Earth, but terrifying and strange to the protagonist, the young elf Strum stranded there. The other world, Eversong, is fantastical place to the reader, with its ancient races of trolls and pixies, elves, and gnomes, its lavender trees, its dragons and magi. But it’s Strum’s world, a world he fights to return to.

The worlds are vastly different but there’s a shared history hinted at within the story, a shared history more fully revealed in the sequel. That’s exciting to me as the author and totally unexpected. It is so exciting to have the story reveal itself to me, to share stories it wants me to know.That shared history caused me to start thinking recently about my own history. 

I’m a proud 2nd generation Italian born in America, both my mother’s and father’s family coming to this country in the early 1900s. To me, it’s so important to keep the old traditions alive, to follow the old recipes that my mother uses and her mother before her.

It’s that identity, tied to the old world, that I want to keep alive here, not only for me, but for my children and the generations to come.  I love the Feast of the Seven Fishes celebrated Christmas Eve. I love Soppressata and Capicola, Prosciutto and Fontinella cheese.  Here’s a recipe for a northern Italian dish called Bagna Cauda (translated: Hot Bath). We make it on special occasions, and anyone who loves dipping Italian bread into oil and garlic, will LOVE this. I guarantee it . . . or I’ll send my cousin Guido to your house to educate you on the finer points of Italian cuisine. :-)

Bagna Cauda
Cover bottom of pan or skillet with olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
Simmer garlic in oil until brown
25 oz sardines (in olive oil)
18 oz anchovies (in olive oil)
(We follow the rough ratio of 1 oz anchovy to 2 oz sardines)
1 stick unsalted butter

I prefer using Roland's sardines and anchovies

This sauce is served in a pot for everyone to dip vegetables into. Serve it with chunks of crusty bread and your favorite  raw vegetables.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Whistling in the Fog

The release date of my mid-grade novel, Whispers from Forbidden Earth, is fast approaching. WOOT! The journey has been VERY long and now that the culmination is approaching, how do I feel? Ecstatic? Nervous?

Try numb.

As a professing Christian, I look at many aspects of life through the lens of my faith, a lens that is a bit foggy at times. Here’s what I mean. First, I believe everyone is born with talents and gifts to use in life. Clear-cut. Second, I believe God guides our steps. That’s where the fog roles in. 

I am thankful to the folks at Helping Hands Press for seeing the potential in my story and agreeing to work with me. But, this is not the way I envisioned it. I’m sure most first-time authors dream of landing an agent and signing a six-figure contract with a major imprint for the next blockbuster novel. I did.

Facing the daunting, mind-numbing, maddening subjective world of publishing, and after receiving 14 “Dear author, sorry your work doesn’t meet our needs. Best of luck.” rejection letters from agents, I decided to submit to HHP after the success of others in my critique group. I know 14 rejections barely scratch the surface. But, with agents rejecting 99.5% of everything they see, and hearing stories of first-time authors being rejected 30, 50, 100 times, I wasn’t willing to spend a year or so playing the game. A part of me feels at peace going with a small press, but another part wonders what could have been. I made the decision, though. For better or for worse, I made the decision, and I have to trust the path before me is the correct one.

A year ago this week, I embarked on a vacation of a lifetime. I, along with two close friends, participated in a seven-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon with Western River Expeditions. OK, what does this have to do with writing? Be patient. :-)   It was the most unbelievable experience. For seven days, I witnessed the power of the Colorado River. I saw a glorious ecosystem unimaginable from the small glimpses most visitors get from the South or North Rim.

Now to tie the threads together. Rafting the Grand Canyon was my decision. People have died rafting there. Many people. One young woman drowned just a couple of weeks after my trip. The risks never entered my mind. This was a trip I’d wanted to take for so long, nothing would stop me. Right before we shoved off on the river, our head guide gave one final warning to the sixteen guests on the raft: If anyone has second thoughts about the trip, get off NOW. Once we start, there’s no way out or back for seven days.

I faced the unknown on that trip and had a blast doing it. I trusted our guides. I trusted their skill and experience. I trusted them with my life. I was nearly tossed from the raft on Lava Falls rapid, but man, what a ride. Enjoy the pics!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Narcissism or Marketing?

I HATE drawing attention to myself. But with the publication date of my midgrade fantasy novel, Whispers from Forbidden Earth, drawing closer, here I am blogging. I’m also tweeting and (gasp) actually have more than two followers. I’m on Google+, created my author’s page on FB and Goodreads, and I’m on Linkedin. I guess Pinterest is next. I’m told that this is all a part of marketing my book and, by extension, myself as an author. Truth be told, I’m very uncomfortable doing it.    

Blogging doesn't come naturally. I’m happiest taking long walks with my wife and dog through the woods, or kayaking the Conemaugh River or Crooked Creek, or backpacking through the backcountry with close friends. By day, I’m a software engineer, not on glitzy websites, but on boring back-office processing at a bank, handling millions of account records each night. I still program in COBOL for crying out loud! For anyone under 50, you’ll find a description of COBOL online near instructions on how to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins. [maybe I’m out of my Vulcan mind! :-) ]

Pushing my name and picture and book out to the web doesn’t feel right to me. At times, I feel like I’m stroking my own ego, screaming LOOK AT ME with flaming neon arrows. Many who grew up in the social network revolution probably don’t understand this. In my heart, I’m a private person. No one has to know what store I’m walking into at 2:00 PM or what I’m having for lunch.  

Before I created my blog, I thought no one would care one whit what I had to say. Surprisingly, I’ve had nearly 600 page views between April 29, 2013 and July 31, 2013. I guess some out there find my posts entertaining (I hope so) . . . or maybe you’re all tuning in just to see what the crazy bald guy from southwestern PA is ranting about now.

I guess I’ll have to keep up with the marketing, even as I struggle with the narcissistic aspects of it. Thanks for stopping by!  Live long and prosper.              

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Latest Interview with the folks at Helping Hands Press

I really am uncomfortable with drawing attention to myself. But if you'd like to listen in, here's a link to my Saturday July 27 interview with Helping Hands Press.

Whispers from Forbidden Earth

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Legacy in a Small Package

My definition of the word “legacy” drastically changed on July 20, 2013 with the marriage of my eldest son Christopher to the lovely Sarah Hyde. As guests entered into the reception hall, they saw a table with Chris and Sarah’s engagement picture on display. Behind that picture stood 10 wedding pictures, Kathy and I, Sarah’s parents, then grandparents, and great-grandparents. All told, the pictures spanned 4 generation.

I had never heard of that before at a wedding and seeing the pictures had a profound impact on me that weekend.  I realized that the pictures represented a legacy of love and commitment spanning over 80 years. Was everyone perfect? Of course not, we all have our faults. But one thing I know is that every couple stuck it out through the hard times and good, through the fights, and all the issues that come packaged with married life.

I was a teenager when the first Rocky movie came out (stay with me here . . .). I watched Sylvester Stallone and saw all the praise he received for his role as Rocky. I decided then that I wanted to make a name for myself like Stallone. I didn’t want to die in obscurity, without the world knowing my name. I wanted to leave my mark. Perhaps that fear drove me to start writing. I don’t know.

Fast-forward 40 years and there I stood at my son’s wedding, looking at 4 generations of pictures. That is the legacy I’m a part of, a legacy of love and commitment I’m so proud of. Even now, I’m sure no one remembers the short stories I’ve published. And who knows how many people will read my novel when it comes out in the next few weeks. No one, perhaps?

All that external stuff doesn’t matter to me as much after this past weekend. I’ve seen the pictures and I know my legacy lives on. I’ve left my little mark in the world and I’m so proud.

Thank you, Chris, Sarah, Jason, and, Kathy for opening my eyes.           

Here is my legacy:


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reluctant new member of the bent-neck club

When I started thinking about this post, I intended to title it, “Look at all the bent necks”.  Then a couple of weeks ago I RELUCTANTLY upgraded my trusty 3G cell phone for a smartphone. Thus, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the bent-neck club, and I hope I won’t need a chiropractor as a result while I try to figure out how the #&^!@#$ thing works. Perhaps you can tell where this post is going . . .

I work in downtown Pittsburgh, in the USX tower. Each day I walk several blocks to and from my van, and ride the elevators to my office all the way on the 43rd floor. I see thin white wires dangling from so many people’s ears nowadays. In well over 80% of the cases, necks of the aforementioned people are bent, eyes fixed on snazzy devices in their hands, thumbs a blur of frantic movement. Head-mounted radar must come as standard equipment with a smartphone upgrade. It’s a wonder no one trips or crashes into someone else suffering from the same bent-neck syndrome. I’m still waiting for a call to have my radar installed.

Call me old-fashioned. Okay, I am old-fashioned. Being 54 years-old allows for some cynicism. Stepping into an elevator or through a door, what happened to the eye contact I remember, the polite nod, perhaps a smile and even a “hi” or “good morning”?  Now, ears are plugged, necks are bent, heads and eyes down, and thumbs moving.

Okay, I realize Pittsburgh is a small city. Maybe the politeness I remember never existed in places like New York or Philadelphia. But it existed here at one time. I remember it. Not everyone acknowledged me, but some would nod or smile. Some would say ‘hi”. I remember that.     

Social media has allowed us to stay connected with our closest friends and know their business on a daily . . . umm . . . hourly basis. What about those outside our circles, though, the people we pass every day or share an elevator with for a couple of minutes? I remember a time when there was eye contact. Maybe there was a nod or a smile, too. Sometime we even chatted for a bit. I remember . . .      

Monday, June 24, 2013

My Online Interview with Helping Hands Press

I'm a bit nervous . . . okay so I'm a lot nervous . . . but if you're interested, listen to my online interview with Helping Hands Press at 11:00 AM. We'll be discussing my forthcoming tween fantasy novel Whispers From Forbidden Earth. Click the link:


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Perfectionist in a Paint.Net World

I broke the most important rule of blogging – write frequently and well. Okay, that may be two rules, and perhaps to some, I violated both! Well, I’m jumping in again with both feet, correcting one rule and, hopefully, improving on the other.

In Webster, I found a definition of perfectionism: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m the poster child of perfectionism (with a smattering of anal-retentiveness thrown in). I HATE making mistakes or seeing mistakes in any of my projects.  

Take my tween novel, Whispers from Forbidden Earth (soon to be released by the good folks at Helping Hands Press). I spent years on the story, adding/moving/deleting scenes, deleting characters, adding plot twists. I literally agonized over every punctuation mark. Then I had the bright idea to add sketches to the story. BIG mistake!

First off, I am NOT an artist. For years, my only exposure to graphic software was Microsoft Paint. So, I reached out to others more skilled than I (Hi Chris and Jason!) and then I discovered free image and photo editing software called Paint.Net. What a revelation!  As my sons and I worked back and forth on the book cover, I would load the image into Pant.Net. I discovered I could zoom down to the individual pixel level! I spent hours manipulating little squares all over the image. One time, my wife Kathy came into the home office and watched as I added a line of tiny black dots. “What are you doing?” she asked. Wasn’t it obvious? I zoomed all the way back out on the image and pointed to a dragon wing, explaining that one of the ribs wasn’t sharp enough. It neededmore detail. Being such a sympathetic soul, Kathy said, “You’re nuts,” and walked out of the office.

Well, the cover turned out perfect without my intervention . . . or as close to perfect as I’ll ever admit to. But I’m forever doomed now that I know I can draw on the individual pixel level.

God, please keep me sane and Kathy sympathetic to my plight. Amen.       

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Once Upon a Time, there was a TV Show on ABC . . .

Once upon a time, ABC aired a TV show with compelling storytelling, where interesting, flawed characters ruled the realm, and true love’s kiss could restore any life. What happened to that show?  

Season 1 of ABC’s Once Upon a Time held such promise. I watched a captivating show with a unique premise, where seemingly familiar characters were recast in truly remarkable ways. Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold and The Mad Hatter/Jefferson were such deep, tortured souls. I could not get enough of them. The story lines between fairyland and Storybrooke were easy to follow and compelling.

What happened? How has the story lost its way? Maybe the writers don’t have a clue where the story is headed. I mean, how many characters can one show introduce? It seems like a dozen secondary characters have come and then disappeared. Plot lines were developed and then vanished. I think the only fictional characters left in the world that the writers have NOT tapped so far are from the Greek and Roman Pantheon!
Then there’s the portal. How often must characters be sucked into fairyland? How many times can the writers get away with this plot device before it becomes cliché and boring? For me, two times is all I can tolerate. So, present-day Storybrooke, present-day Neverland, past Neverland, present-day Enchanted Forest, and past Enchanted Forest, it’s all becoming a boring mess to me.

Finally, there’s Snow and Charming, about as flat and interesting as two pieces of cardboard. I know they’re the epitome of all that is good in people. But, jeez louise, do something interesting or get out! 

Watching season 2 of Once Upon a Time has reinforced to me what good storytelling is all about—interesting, flawed characters set in captivating situations and worlds. I pray I never forget that. I hope the writers of the show quickly right their floundering ship before my interest is sucked into that dreaded portal, never to return.