Thursday, December 24, 2015

And on earth peace, good will toward men . . . hmmm

It’s late on December 24th and Christmas Eve 2015 is quickly drawing to a close. Carols have filled my house for the last couple of weeks, not the Rudolf, Santa Baby, and jolly old Saint Nick kind, but the ones that tell of the truer, deeper meaning of the holiday – Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Little Drummer Boy.

The music whispers peace and joy in the background, but my mind is focused in a far different direction.
O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
I’m focused on frustrating circumstances that have plagued my life over the last several months. I’m not talking ISIS or the Middle East or Terrorists. I’m talking about home, my backyard. I’m talking family. I’m talking friends.
Said the night wind to the little lamb,
do you see what I see
Way up in the sky, little lamb
The music whispers to me, but my heart feels frustration and discouragement and, yes, more than just a touch of anger. It churns in my gut. It’s a bitter taste.
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
My music and calendar tell me it’s Christmastime. They speak to me of a holy time, a joyous time, and I suddenly feel my hypocrisy. Christmas calls to me to refocus my heart. It wants my heart. God wants my heart. My friends deserve my heart.
Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give our king

And I’m left with nothing more than this timeless simple message . . .

Merry and blessed Christmas to one and all. --Mark

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Red Wedding -- Stark Imagery

Recently I plopped myself on the sofa and indulged in some Game of Thrones binge watching. (For me, “binge” consists of watching two consecutive episodes before getting too antsy.)  LONG before HBO adapted George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for TV, I’ve been a HUGE fan since reading book 1: A Game of Thrones back in 2001.

As I watched, I started thinking about the infamous Red Wedding. (A Storm of Swords / HBO series: S3E9) and the impact the scene had on readers and viewers alike. If you’ve lived under a rock for the last few years and haven’t read or watched the series, STOP NOW if you don’t want spoilers!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Overcome with Good

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. 
(Romans 12) 

Friday, November 6, 2015

When the well runs dry

When the well runs dry . . .
Cliché? You bet. It’s also been a long time since I’ve blogged. I've broken the number one cardinal rule of the entire blogosphere. Maybe, just maybe, the cliché has some bearing on the prolonged silence.

I’m sitting at the computer now, though, staring at the monitor and struggling to somehow frame this blog while my mind wanders ethereal paths. A handmade wooden desk clock, an old, sentimental gift from my then twelve year-old son, says 10:30 p.m.. I’ve put in a long day, starting at 5:30 this morning. The house is dark except for the light above me, silent except for softly clicking keys. In a tad more than 6 hours my alarm will blare that annoying perky tune. I should be in bed with my sleeping wife, but here I am staring at the computer, trying to frame a mess of jumbled thoughts, always stressing about the novel I haven’t touched in months. How does it come to this?

I’ll add another cliché here – life happens. Family and friends happen. Work happens. When a load of stuff hits you in the face simultaneously, writing suffers. Or am I just making excuses? 


Maybe the dream has dimmed. No, I know the dream has dimmed. It’s so damn hard to literally pour your heart and soul (another cliché!) into a story that very few will want to read. Forget all the accolades that I receive from fellow authors I know regionally. Why agonize and bleed over every word in a story? As a long-time acquaintance told me once, “I saw your Facebook posts about the release of your novel. I’m not going to buy it.” Gee, thanks for your support!

I guess that’s why I’ve stared at the same paragraph in my current writing project for more than two months, reluctant or maybe too fearful to dive back in.

You know something, though. I’m a stubborn Italian and a small ember still burns in my gut. The dream isn’t dead. Maybe it’s just covered with a blanket at the moment. A still, small voice deep inside encourages me even as I wrestle with it. I can tell you this. I’m taking part in a project for 2016 that I’m pretty excited about. More information is coming within the next few weeks. The dream will always burn inside. I'll continue to follow it through the peaks and valleys, wherever it leads.

I’m going to bed now. I have to get up for work in less than 5 hours . . .     

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sweet and Endearing Grace

Grace Yee is a young lady from my Pittsburgh East Scribes critique group. Just a couple of years out of high school, Grace's writing is mature far beyond her age. There is something so sweet and endearing in her prose. Chapter One of her story, The Lewis and Tolkien Library, is one that you experience with your heart as much as read with your eyes. Read Grace's chapter and you'll see what I mean . . .

Feel free to look over our author's sample gallery of published works on the Pittsburgh East Scribes web page.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MIA: My Brain

After racking my brain for days trying to find something (ANYTHING!!!) to blog about, a cruel realization sets in . . . 
My brain:                        The rest of my body:
Me, at this very moment:
 Man, do I need a vacation!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Aug. 6, 8:15 a.m. Could it Happen Again?

Aug. 6, 8:15 a.m. Seventy years ago, Hiroshima turned into hell on earth by a new and terrifying American weapon nicknamed Little Boy. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima, together with another that hit Nagasaki three days later, killed more than 200,000 people, most of them civilians. Today Hiroshima marked the anniversary with a solemn ceremony attended by thousands at the Children's Peace Monument.

We in the US have our Freedom Tower, Hiroshima has the Children's Peace Monument, Nagasaki has the Peace Park. All rose from the ashes of terrible tragedy. All three are monuments to honor the fallen and to show the tenacity of the human spirit. We can rebuild. We will rebuild. We will be stronger coming through the fire.

I was born many years after the end of WWII. With that and the intervening years, I have a tendency to view the events of Hiroshima and the A-bomb with a cold detachment. I accept at face value what I read in textbooks, that the U.S. dropped the bombs to avoid what would have been a bloody ground assault on the Japanese mainland. The bombs shortened the war and saved countless lives on both sides. I accepted that. Then today I went to the CNN website as I routinely do. There I saw haunting crayon pictures drawn by children who survived the devastation at Hiroshima. The pain suddenly became real. It had a face--a child's face.

  I saw the drawings and wondered if something unspeakable like that could ever happen again. Even as I type these words, I think of the evil infecting the Middle East, and I realize that yes, it could happen again. In a heartbeat. Without hesitation and without remorse. King Solomon was right when he said there was nothing new under the sun. Human nature hasn’t changed.  Evil still exists. Sin is still rampant in the world.

I pray I’m wrong. I pray that humanity progressed and we’ve learned from the carnage and pain of the past. Deep in my gut, though, I sense something else.  In closing, I only have one thing to say: Maranatha-- מרנא תא

Click here to link to the CNN article and drawings

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Medieval Mars Annoucement

No little green men, but how about dragons, knights, castles, and even an ornithopter thrown into this intriguing short story compilation titled: Medieval Mars: The Anthology (Terraformed Interplanetary Book 1)

I was so excited when I received the invitation to join several authors in this genre-bending project. There so much great world-building in this collection of short stories.

Imagine . . . A future terraformed Mars, where civilization crashed back into a Medieval Era. Christian Knights called “riders” patrol the Pilgrim Road from Olympus to New San Diego, on the Chryse Sea. The technological past is known as the “Age of Magic” and only a handful of people understand how the remaining ancient devices really work. Lighter gravity in dense air makes flying dragons and bird riders a reality; alloys of the past make “magic” swords; and masters of ancient knowledge wield wizard-like power.

Nine authors spin tales in this unique story world, one which combines elements of science fiction and high fantasy.

Click the image to launch your interplanetary adventure on Amazon. A 315-page collection of great stories for $1.99? No need for a rocket scientist to calculate the huge deal. :-) I hope you'll check it out.  Best Regards, Mark 


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bragging on my Home

I’m going to brag some on the area where I live. This may bore some, but I’m going to brag nonetheless. I live thirty-five miles northeast of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, the city once described by James Parton as "Hell with the lid off!" The city has also been referred to as The Smoky City, a Rust Belt City, and The Armpit of America, to name but a few.

Historically, coal. iron, and steel built the city and surrounding Southwestern PA region, and as a result the land showed the scars from decades of abuse and neglect. I grew up in the area during the 60’s and 70’s, when smoke billowed from hundreds of stacks, where sewage and mine drainage killed the rivers and turned water the color of rust. The Kiskiminetas River (called the Kiski for short) flows past my hometown and never froze in the winter, even when temps dropped below 0 degrees F (-17 degrees C). Fishing and swimming were impossible due to pollution. Air quality reports were a staple of daily news programs. Warnings regularly went out for the elderly and people with health problems to stay indoors.

Over the last 40 years, though, I’ve witnessed the land’s transformation, a remarkable rebirth. This is due in part to the shifting industries and economy in the region, but also to strict pollution laws and the tireless effort of thousands of people.  

The hills and waterways slowly continue to heal and participation in countless outdoor activities has exploded in recent years. Biking, walking, and hiking trails have replaced abandoned railroad beds. Canoes, kayaks, fishing and pleasure boats dot the waterways. Every year I see more bicycles on the roads, more and more bicycle and kayak racks on vehicles, more and more people on the trails, more kayakers and canoeists on the local creeks. I hear coyotes at night; see beaver and muskrats on the water, hawks and great blue herons flying. Just this year I’ve followed three different bald eagles while kayaking local creeks. It is wonderful to see.

I know my area may not be as spectacular as other parts of the world. I’ve been to El Capitan and Half Dome, and driven across the Tioga Pass. I've witnessed the majesty of the Grand Canyon, both from the South Rim looking down and looking up from the bottom while rafting on the Colorado River. I’ve traveled through the Alps and cruised the Rhine River. Southwest PA is my home, though. It’s my little corner of paradise, and I’m blessed to have witnessed its wonderful rebirth.       

I'm not the most accomplished photographer, but here's a slideshow of some of my favorite places within a short drive from my home. Enjoy. --Mark  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Blazing Saddles Redux

The other night I actually found a TV station airing Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks’ hilarious 1974 spoof of Hollywood Westerns, in all its full whacky splendor. It had been years since I’d last seen the movie, so obviously I had to plop myself down in front of the TV and relive some teenage memories. I can’t believe the movie has been out for over 40 years! Ouch!

A few minutes and a few chuckles into the movie, something hit me (and it wasn’t Mongo’s right hook). 

I realized that Blazing Saddles could never be made today in our hypersensitive, political-correctness-gone-amok world. The movie is completely and shamelessly politically incorrect. It is a daring, irreverent satire that doesn’t tiptoe around provocative issues. Rather it smacks you right in the face with issues of bigotry and racism that still haunt us today. It forces each of us to confront our own preconceptions and biases, only it does so in such an over-the-top hysterical way. Who can ever forget the arrival of newly appointed Sheriff Bart into Rock Ridge or Gene Wilder’s Waco Kid or Mongo’s iconic horse punch or Lili von Shtupp singing I’m Tired? Through it all, there was Mel Brooks using outrageous characters and scenes to make us laugh while exposing our own thinly veiled prejudices. 

All this was lost to me as a sixteen year-old watching the movie at the old Casino Theater in Vandergrift PA. At the time I was more interested in emulating the infamous campfire & beans scene with my friends. Now, so many decades later, watching the movie with the eyes of a writer, I applaud Mr. Brooks for his daring. As fiction writers we want to entertain, but we also want to enlighten without being preachy. We want to confront issues that are important to us like hate or intolerance, pollution, corporate greed (what have you) without being too heavy-handed. We want to touch and we want to teach.

Blazing Saddles is a social commentary and pure madcap genius rolled into one. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards, and is ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years . . . 100  Laughs list. In 2006, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.  

Not bad for a movie that today no one would dare make. Well done, Mr. Brooks. 

Here is the 1974 trailer:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dark Matter Dogma

Maybe I’m the only one who would find this ironic. Two seemingly unrelated articles in the July/August issue of Discover magazine had me scratching my bald head. Hold on while I attempt to tie an article on irrational thinking with one of the deepest darkest conundrums found in the cosmos.

In “How to Fight Science Skeptics (The Irrationalist in You)” Christie Aschwanden stated that “irrational thinking stems from cognitive biases that strike us all.” People “hold the belief they want to believe and then they recruit anything they can to support it.” Christie went on to add, “Being science-literate won’t protect you from such biases . . . people who score high on measures of science comprehension tend to be more polarized than others.”   

Hmm . . . polarizing scientists? Never!! 

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Gazillion Talking Heads

Sometimes I desperately need to tune out the gazillion talking heads in the world and focus on the only Voice that matters, the one Song, and allow perfect peace to wash over me like a river in the desert.  

     "I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world 
     cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid."
                                                                                    --John 14:27
                                                                                      New Living Translation

  To answer Bono's question - Forever.

   Remember the promise

And let it flow from your heart  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bringing Tom Home

For years, my dream vacation was been the 14-day trek from Lukla Nepal to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Yes, Everest Base Camp . . . not the Caribbean or Hawaii or Manhattan. I realize it’s a dream I’ll probably never check off my bucket list. With the news of the devastating Nepalese earthquakes recently, my thoughts naturally traveled to that majestic part of the world.  

I grieve for the massive loss of life, but I know the Nepalese will rebuild. Such is the determination and resiliency of the human spirit. As of this post, Everest Base Camp is devastated and empty. No climbers are on the mountain. However, just as I know the Nepalese people will rebuild their homeland, I know that Everest Base Camp will once again teem with adventurers. The slopes of Everest will not remain empty and silent for long. Such is Everest’s draw. Such is the spirit and camaraderie of those seeking adventure.
In a recent CNN article, Bringing Tom Home, Moni Basu and Wayne Drash wrote about Eric Poppleton’s determination to recover the body of his best friend, Tom Taplin, from the slopes of Everest after the first massive earthquake rocked Nepal. The account touched me, and in a very tiny way, I can relate.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Road Taken

In his famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost wrote:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Even while I write this post, I sense the road before me forking, diverging. But unlike the traveler in Robert Frost’s poem, I have no sorrow, no regret. I know I cannot travel both. As a person of faith, I believe God directs my path, that His word “is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 91).

In a world full of forks and curves and potholes, there is only one correct road for each person to travel. The trick is determining which one it is.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dreaming the Dream & Fighting the Fear with Blood Tithe -- The Chosen

"All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them." --Walt Disney
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear--not absence of fear." --Mark Twain

I’ve been dreaming for years. I’ve also dealt with fears and self-doubt for as long as I can remember. The two are NOT mutually exclusive. They do not play nice together. They are always arguing, always whispering to my heart and soul. There’s no question that one will always win out over the other. Rather, the question is which one will I let win the war. Which small voice will I heed?

My dream has been to touch people with words, to entertain and encourage. I want readers to explore fantastical worlds with me, to meet the characters that have become a part of my life. Along the way, I’ve constantly had to battle screeching doubts and nagging fears. It’s the curse of every writer. The dream is still out there, though, calling, a distant light that I’m reaching for.  

So here I am again, taking the plunge for all the world to see. I am excited and nervous to announce the release of The Chosen, the first installment of my new middle grade fantasy novel Blood Tithe.

This is a sequel to Whispers from Forbidden Earth. Look for the next installment soon: The Hunted.

Michael John Bobak once wrote, "All progress takes place outside the comfort zone." I am definitely outside my comfort zone with my dreams out there for the world to see. I hope and pray that you like them as much as I do.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easter Reflection: A Time of Joy and Shame

Like millions of Christians the world over, my family and I recently attended Holy Week and Easter services. We sang songs of worship to honor and celebrate our Lord’s sacrifice. We participated in Communion and listened to memorable sermons. It was truly an awesome, uplifting experience.

Then a couple of days later I read an open letter by Bashar Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil in northern Iraq, and my joy turned to personal shame. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Free Sneak Peek of Future Perfect, the Colony Zero Series.

As a reader, many stories challenged me and pushed me and opened my eyes to concepts both new and powerful. Those are the stories I’ll always cherish. As an author, the Colony Zero series had the same impact. The series forced me to face bigotry and hatred. It forced me to witness and write about people who considered others as less than human, vile, useless. Zeroes.

I also witnessed something else, though . . . 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

LLAP, Mr. Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy of Mr. Spock fame recently passed away and over the intervening days, countless tributes flooded social media channels, including my own tribute. I grew up a fan of science fiction, and I especially loved Star Trek. Despite the cheap sets and prehistoric visual effects of the original series, I have been and always shall be a Trekkie.

In my teenage years, I related most with Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-vulcan first officer of the Enterprise. Many (most?) admired his logic and his loyalty to his crewmates. I identified with something deeper in Mr. Spock, though, an element boiling just beneath the surface and beautify brought to life by Leonard Nimoy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday, March 11: Guest on Blogtalk radio The G-Zone

Tonight at 7:30, I'll be a guest on The G-ZONE blogtalk radio show 3/11@7PMEST! Listen in!

Hmm...what will we discuss? Writing? My next novel? My mother's ravioli recipe? Inquiring minds want to know. :-)

Here's the link:


Saturday, March 7, 2015

It's time for a Sneak Peek of Blood Tithe

I'm really psyched. Here's a sneak peek of Blood Tithe, the sequel to Whispers from Forbidden Earth. Check it out!

 Click here to read the first chapter of Blood Tithe.

Any and all comments are welcome. I'm blessed and humbled to have all of my friends join me on this journey. --Mark

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thanks for all the great cover comments!

I want to take a minute and thank everyone who took time to comment on the cover concepts for my next cover
Blood Tithe 
The first installment is titled The Chosen. It means a lot to me that people took time from their busy day to help! The covers are some initial ideas that we'll be tweaking before the story comes out. I've included some of the comments below. Thanks again!  --Mark 

Here are some of the comments:
"Left one because it catches my eye and draws me in. Also since this is a YA novel, I think this one would appeal more to the target audience."

"I like the colours of the one on the right."

"Overall, I think I like the left better than the right. I do like the gossamer look of the fairy. And I like the alignment of the fairy with the title The Chosen. I don't really get the feel of Blood Tithe from the book on the right."

"I like the green colors but like the left one as a whole."

"Overall I like the right one better, but you have to do something with the title, very hard to read."    

Friday, February 6, 2015

Need Help Choosing a Cover for my new YA novel, Blood Tithe

My Publisher, Helping Hands Press, and I are working up early cover ideas for my next novel, 
Blood Tithe 
Do you like A or B? I would love to hear your comments and suggestions. Thank you so much! -Mark
A                                                          B

Here's an intro to Blood Tithe:

Months have passed since dragons had torched parts of Chicago. With the portal finally locked between Eversong and Earth, life seems to be returning to normal on both worlds. Fat chance.

On Earth, Jason Snider and Kat Meyers thought eighth grade would be the toughest thing they’d face until faeries start stalking them. An ancient faerie war threatens to erupt again, one that only the Blood Tithe sacrifice can prevent. The Tithe requires special blood from a special human and Maurelle, the terrifying faerie king of the Winter Court, has found that one special person: Jason Snider. 

On Eversong, destructive forces are unleashed that the Magi Order hasn’t faced in generations. The young elf Strum is drawn into a race to capture a mad mage bent on reopening the portal. Many fear the mage will succeed. Others secretly fear Strum will and summon the power of the storm to ensure that he fails.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cancelled due to weather: Speaking and Book Signing at Book Lovers.

My speaking engagement at Book Lovers has been cancelled for Tuesday due to weather. I'm bummed but we'll reschedule for another day.  Now out to shovel the lovely white stuff. :-)

I'm so excited to be speaking and signing copies of Whispers from Forbidden Earth at Book Lovers on Tuesday 1/27.
Time: 6:00pm
Place: McGinnis Sisters Specialty Foods, Monroeville PA.
I'll will be disussing the popularity of fantasy in mainstream media.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area, come on out. I'm looking forward to meeting the folks at Book Lovers!

Saturday, January 10, 2015