COMMUNE-ISM

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People often accuse me of making up the stuff I put on this blog. The reason is: because it’s true. Every post is based on a real incident. I just use literary license to make it more interesting—literary license is what writers call lies, just like politicians call them speeches. Today’s post however, I guarantee is one hundred per cent true…except for the parts I made up.

When I was young I knew a girl who was a big fan of communism and socialism. She said every person is equal and therefore should be paid equally and have the same benefits and success as everyone else. Certain people start out life with a better chance of success than others, she said, so why should the less fortunate be handicapped because of their starting circumstances?

I told her that success had many variables, and while you could and should guarantee equal opportunities, guaranteeing equal outcomes depresses entrepreneurs and work ethic. Even in the communistic countries, everyone did not have equal outcomes. Did she truly believe Leonid Brezhnev was paid no more than the guy digging potatoes out in the field? (Okay, I made that part up. I actually told her that her ideas were silly, she was dumb and a big poopy head.)
About a year after she graduated from high school, some people about an hour away decided to open a commune. This was the early seventies and opening communes was a common fad. My friend, of course, was one of the first ones to pack her bags and head that way. About a year later she told me about it.
The commune was a big, two-story farmhouse out in the country. About twenty people lived there, and they wanted to be as self-sufficient as they could. The house had a wood-burning furnace along with a traditional propane furnace. A big grove stood to the north of the house full of dead trees they could use as firewood. They plowed a huge garden on the south side of the house where they planned on raising enough food to eat fresh and still be able to preserve enough to get them through the winter. They also had chickens for eggs and a few other animals.
The day she arrived, they sat down and chose a leader. The group would vote on all major decisions, but they realized some problems would pop up that had to be handled immediately. They chose Bob to make those decisions. The second thing they did was pick the jobs they wanted. Some people stayed in the house to clean, cook meals and can and freeze garden produce for the winter. Some went to the grove to cut and split wood for the cook stove and stockpile enough to get them through the coming winter. Others, including my friend, worked in the garden..
Every morning she would go out in the garden, pick the peas, weed the corn and water the mariju…the carrots. At night she’d go in the house, eat and sit around with the others playing the guitar and singing Kumbaya. It went well for about a month, then one day she came into the house and nothing had been done. No food had been cooked, the house hadn’t been cleaned, and she could tell the people in the house had spent most of the day smoking carrots.
After that, less people went out to work in the garden and chop wood, and more people stayed in the house. Nothing got cleaned in the house and the only cooking they did was to make brownies. By the time the first frost came and shut down the garden, the crew of people working in the garden had been reduced to my friend and two others.
One day Bob called a meeting. He said they hadn’t put up nearly enough food to get them through the winter. The woodpile was barely enough for the cook stove let alone to heat the house when it got cold. He had planned on selling some of the carrots to pay the bills, but the group had used so much that there was hardly enough for their own use. They were kind of like the Pilgrims in their first winter in America, if the Pilgrims had worn bell bottoms, been high most of the time and listened to Dillion, Credence and Led Zeppelin songs. Bob said some people were going to have to go into town to get jobs, so they would have money to pay for food and propane through the winter..
My friend had never been afraid of a little work, so she and three others volunteered to get jobs. A production plant in town happened to be hiring–I don’t remember what kind, and I am certainly not going to just make something up. They wore plastic aprons on the job and water hit the aprons and ran down onto their feet. Everybody else at the plant wore rubber boots to keep their feet dry, but tennis shoes were all my friend and the other people from the commune had to wear. After two weeks, their feet looked like they had jungle rot from constantly being wet. When they turned their checks over to Bob, they told him that all the people working at the plant were going to have to buy a pair of rubber boots or their feet would fall off. Bob said he was sorry, but they had a lot of bills due right then. Maybe with the next paycheck they could get one or two people boots, and the next paycheck after that they could get another pair or two. Right now they were going to have to suck it up for the good of the commune. Two days later Betty, Bob’s girlfriend, was showing off the new beaded leather vest Bob had bought her. When they got their next paychecks, everyone working packed their bags and left. Six months after she was gone, a herd of wild Sasquatch attacked the commune, tore down the house and ate all the carrots. The commune broke up shortly afterward.
My friend said she still believed in communism and socialism. She just didn’t think it could work with people. (By the way, I made up the part about a herd of wild Sasquatch. It was two or three at the most.)
A couple writing things. I’m working on the last chapter of In The Lake, the sequel to In The Sticks, and then comes the editing. I will be doing a reading from In The Sticks on November 20th to help promote Kindles at a local business. County Ops is again just 99 cents at Amazon.
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THE MECHANIC

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When I was young, flexible, poor, and had the intellect of cauliflower, I did my own car repairs. That was back in a time when you could open the hood of a car and find the motor, unless you lived in Chicago. (We once took our youngest daughter to the University of Illinois hospital in Chicago for some tests. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, and I parked our van out front in the parking lot. I asked the woman at the front desk if it would be all right to leave it there overnight. “That depends,” she said. “Do you want the whole van to be there in the morning?” I moved it to a nearby parking garage with security.)

I used to change the oil, rotate the tires, change spark plugs and plug wires on all my cars. I even dropped a transmission once, got it fixed and put it back on. It worked perfectly when I was finished, sort of—it depended on who you asked and if you wanted the car to move both forward and backwards.

These days I open the hood of a car and I’m greeted by a jumbled tangle of hoses, wires and tubes. I imagine somewhere underneath there is still a motor, but I don’t have the persistence to look for it anymore. Now I take it to a mechanic. It isn’t like in the old days when a mechanic had to guess at a diagnosis of what was wrong with a car, and then start by replacing the air cleaner and working his way down until he solved the problem. There are so many electronics in cars now that the mechanic just hooks it to a computer, gets a printed readout and starts replacing the air cleaner and works his way down.

My wife has a friend who has never ridden in our car without hearing a “funny noise.” It’s always a clicking, rattle or a hum—you have to watch out for those hums. Usually I can take care of the problem by just turning the radio up a little louder, but sometimes my wife insists on a more permanent fix. Then I have to take the car to the mechanic.

Me: My wife hears a clicking noise when she turns to the right if she’s going north on a Wednesday.

Mechanic, nodding knowingly: That’s pretty common in this model of car.

Me: Can you fix it?

Mechanic: I think so. We’ll start by replacing the air cleaner.

Me: How much is this going to cost?

Mechanic: How much you got?

Me: You mean on me? In my checking account? Savings account? IRAs? Mutual funds?

Mechanic: Right.

My wife has an obsession with tires. She’s never met a tire that didn’t need air. She doesn’t believe tires should ever bulge. I could put two pachyderms, a Sherman tank and a tyrannosaurus rex in the back of my truck, and if the tires bulged even a little, she’d think they needed air. Her car has a display screen on the dashboard that gives her information on various things: how much oil life is left, what the car is getting for gas mileage, whether we have enough milk in the refrigerator to get us through the week, etc. One of the statistics is a display of how much air is in each of the tires. They are supposed to be at thirty-five pounds, and when she starts driving, they usually are. As she drives the tires heat up and the pressure will increase. Rarely are all of them at the same pressure at the same time. Sometimes each of them is at a different pressure. Occasionally one of them will go up to thirty-eight pounds.

My wife, pointing at the display. “You have to do something about that,” she’ll say in a voice I’m sure President Kennedy used when he found out the Soviets were putting missiles in Cuba.

So I’ll reach over and shut off the display. Who says I’ve lost my mechanical ability?
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THE MUSIC MAN

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Yesterday I went to my grandson’s marching band competition. He is a really good musician. Maybe someday it will develop into something. My grandson plays the trombone and piano, my granddaughter plays the flute and piano, my oldest daughter plays the clarinet and piano, my youngest daughter plays the flute and my wife plays the clarinet. I have trouble playing the radio. Someone once said that most novelists also have musical talent. That is the reason I call myself a storyteller.
When I was young, I taught myself to play the guitar. Many guitarists have taught themselves to play. Kenny Loggins said his brother got a guitar for Christmas and never played it. One day Kenny picked it up, taught himself to play and in a few weeks he was Footloosing in The Danger Zone. A few weeks after I started playing, I had bloody fingers and people compared my playing to a brain-damaged baboon pounding on a bedspring… and those were the comments I took as compliments. Kenny and I obviously had different teachers..
I can read music, sort of—I’m pretty good at the lyrics; the notes’ parts, I don’t have a clue. I’m an excellent singer. When nobody is around, I sound exactly like Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley or any singer you want to name. I can even hit the high notes in Mariah Carey songs. The problem is, as soon as someone shows up, I sound like a cat that has a Buick parked on its tail–again, I take that as a compliment. Often people hear me sing and runoff to listen to Yoko Ono records just to get the horrid sound of my singing out of their heads..
Once, when my youngest daughter was two or three, I was taking her on a short trip. She was in the backseat strapped down in her car seat, and pretty soon she started to cry. (Kids always cry when they are in car seats, because they look at them like convicts look at electric chairs.) I started to sing to her to try to calm her down. In a matter of minutes the backseat was silent. Since I hadn’t thrown the electric switch, I was rather proud that my singing had calmed her, and then my daughter spoke.
My daughter: What are you doing Dad?
Me: I’m singing to you, so you’ll stop crying.
My daughter: I tell you what. I’ll stop crying if you’ll stop singing.
Proving that, music indeed “hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” After that all I had to do was threaten her with a song, and she behaved perfectly. I think there might have been child abuse charges that were applicable, but I’m sure the statute of limitations has long passed..
When I was in high school, two friends and I had a trio. Mainly we sang at church functions, mostly youth group. They always had us sing last in the program. High school kids have a habit of loitering around when everything is over. When we sang, by the time we hit that last off-key note, the place was empty, and in the picture of Jesus on the wall, he had his hands over his ears..
Our minister heard us sing at youth group once, and asked us to sing at the next Sunday morning service. We were thrilled because most people don’t have the guts to get up and dash out of a Sunday morning service–although there were a few who did. We finished and went back to our seats beaming with pride, until the minister got up and said:
“If you don’t get your life right, you may spend eternity listening to stuff like that and worse.”
He had them lined up out to the parking lot..
My novel County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald was on sale for 99 cents last week. It made it to number ten on Amazon’s women’s action list. I guess that makes me a top ten author?.
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LIKE CATS AND DOGS

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As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a cat person. I prefer dogs. When we were first married, my wife had a cat. It hated me, so I didn’t feel that guilty about hating it back. It spent most of its days sitting on a sunny windowsill in deep thought. I imagine it was contemplating how to hold a knife without the benefit of opposable thumbs so it could slit my throat while I was sleeping.
A person never really owns a cat. To a cat, a human is just a useful idiot who feeds it. If it had those opposable thumbs to run a can opener, a human would be nothing more than an inconvenience. Some of you cat owners are going to say that you also change the litter box, but actually the litter box is for the benefit of the human. If it wasn’t there, the cat would find a nice flower pot, rug or bedspread to use instead. They really aren’t that fussy.
A dog will run around the house barking frantically when it has to go to the bathroom. It knows if it goes in the house, the human will be mad. Dogs don’t want humans to be mad. If nobody is home, and it can’t hold it any longer, it might go on the floor, but when the human gets home, it will hide in shame because of what it did. A cat on the other hand, uses the litter box solely to do you a favor. If the litter box isn’t there, is dirty or isn’t exactly where it usually sits, the cat has no problem using the carpet in the living room.

“Hey Bozo, the litter box was six inches from where it’s supposed to be, so I left you a present by the coffee table. Maybe next time you’ll be more careful, stupid human.”

For a dog, every time you walk through the door it is Christmas and their birthday rolled into one. They have an enthusiasm not found in any other animal. When have you ever seen a cat, hamster, parakeet or goldfish wet itself and run in circles just because you walked into the house?
“It seems like you’ve been gone since the Johnson administration.” Pant, wet, slobber, pant, wet, slobber. “I didn’t think you’d ever come back.” Pant, wet, slobber pant, wet, slobber. And that’s just when you’ve gone out to get the paper.

A cat really doesn’t care if you ever come home as long as you leave it enough food. With an automatic feeder and water, you can be gone for a month, and the cat is perfectly happy–or at least as happy as a cat can be.

“You’re back already? What, nobody else wanted to put up with you either? By the way, I left you a few presents here and there. Get them cleaned up, because I’m tired of living in this squalor, stupid human.”
If someone has a dog, everyone knows it as soon as they come through the door. It will come up to be petted, slobber on you or smell everyone’s crotch. I know people who say they have a cat, and I’ve never seen it. It’s always, “downstairs hiding in the basement” or “it only comes out at night when we’re sleeping.” Personally, I’d be worried it was spending its nights sitting by the knife block trying to figure out that opposable thumb thing.
By the way, the sequel to In The Sticks is going well. I’m thinking about calling it In The Lake. Also my thriller County Ops is on sale for 99 cents until September 24.
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THE WILD LIFE

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When I was a kid I read a lot of outdoor novels. I read everything our library had by Jim Kjelgaard and Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild. I always saw myself as that loner out in the wilds by himself with just his trusty dog to keep him company. One day I came across Jean Craighead George’s book, My Side of the Mountain, and it changed my life. The book is about a kid who runs away and lives in the mountains by himself. That is what I wanted to do. I often told people I had read the book and would like to do that myself. Usually people looked at me with shock and surprise. “You can read?” they’d ask in amazement.
Immediately I started preparing for a life of self-sufficiency in the mountains. I taught myself the ancient skill of building fire with just two sticks, half a bottle of lighter fluid and a book of matches. Learning to procure food became essential. I developed my fishing skills to the legendary proportions they are today. I’d gather grasshoppers, crickets and worms for bait and take them to the river. After only a few hours of fishing, I’d have a sizzling skillet full of fried grasshoppers, crickets and worms. I found mushrooms and learned the difference between the good ones and the poisonous ones. The internet did not exist at the time, and no books on the subject were available to me. My mushroom education was simply trial and error. Of course, I was not so stupid as to eat the mushrooms; instead I fed them to my little brother and gauged his reactions. No reactions = good mushrooms. Stomachache, foaming at the mouth and/or uncontrollable muscle spasms = bad mushrooms.
My younger years were filled with daydreams of living in the wild. Many times it saved me from the horrors of learning anything constructive in algebra class. While the teacher droned on about integers, variables and coefficients that I knew I’d never use, in my head I would be tucked safely away in my mountain cave feasting on fried grasshoppers and mushrooms.
As with all dreams the day comes when dreaming is not enough. That day for me came when I filled my oldest sister’s (the mean one’s) jewelry box with Cheez Whiz. At the time I thought it would be a good prank—one we could have a hearty laugh about. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe my sister would not see the subtle humor and social commentary on rich versus poor. She was more likely to just beat the snot out of me. I tried to clean it up, but once you put Cheez Whiz in a wicker jewelry box it is there for eternity. You can remove some of it, but it will never be clean again. My best option was to finally fulfill my dream and go off into the wilds until she cooled down or became too old and feeble to do any major damage.
Originally my dream called for it to be me and my trusty dog. A dog is always useful. It provides companionship, guards the campsite, assists in hunting and, if things got really bad, I could always eat it—or it could eat me, depending on how big of dog I had. As luck would have it, I happened to be between dogs at the time, so instead I asked my friend Weiner to come along. The choice of Weiner for a partner was not made at random. I put much thought into it and considered all my friends. I chose him because we got along well, we had often camped out together and, most importantly, he was smaller and looked more tender and tasty than any of my other friends.
When we started out I could tell right away that Weiner didn’t grasp the concept that we were leaving forever. I knew this because I didn’t tell him for fear he wouldn’t go. What I said was “Let’s go do some self-sufficiency camping for awhile.” After a couple months he’d figure out the rest on his own. Weiner also had trouble with the term self-sufficiency. I carried a folding knife in my pocket and a belt axe on my waist. What Weiner had strapped to his back looked like a silver-back gorilla covered with a canvas tarp.
Since neither of us drove and there are few mountains in Iowa and even less wilderness areas, we chose a big hill outside town. It wasn’t exactly wilderness, but it was almost two miles from my house, so I was sure no one would ever find us. We set up on the side of a hill and started our campfire. I scrounged up some grasshoppers for supper. When I got back to the campsite, Weiner was digging a can of beef stew out of his pack.
“So how come you decided to do this camping trip all of a sudden?” Weiner asked. “Usually you spend weeks planning these things.”
Guilt-ridden, I confessed about the jewelry box and a mean sister who would beat the tar out of me when she found out.
“So why don’t you just throw the jewelry box away?” Weiner asked still rummaging through his pack. “She’ll just think she lost it or someone took it.” He threw the flap on his pack closed. “You know what? I think I left the can opener at home.”

“You did?” I said in shock. “How are we going to go camping without a can opener? I guess we’ll just have to pack up and go home.”

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GUEST BLOGGER

 

 Since I started this blog I have had two guest bloggers, Tara Looft, who is currently trying to get her first novel published, and my granddaughter who is currently trying to get her first novel read (I’m joking). Today you’re getting a third. After my last post about all the things I wanted to do when I was young, I was contacted by a fellow author who took up skydiving and toured the world when she was grown up and should have known better. Before that one time when her parachute doesn’t open, she agreed to let me repost one of her blogs. I hope you enjoy it. If you want to read more of her blog it’s at this link http://www.askyetaylor.com/blogging I’m sure she’d appreciate any comments you might have.

    I remember the year I turned fifty. The closest of my friends were eager to present me with black balloons and shower me with bits of shiny confetti that said, “Over the Hill.” But I had an answer for them.

“Today is the first day of the second half of my life!”

The second HALF was important to me. For one thing, my grandmother lived to be a hundred and two and I aimed to match her. But more importantly, I had a huge bucket list of things that I wanted to do and I was eager to get started. Fifty was a good place to start. My baby had gone off to college and I’d moved to my new home by the sea in Maine. I had a new and interesting job with a fantastic boss, who is still my friend today, even though I’ve retired now. I look back on that birthday today and it seems like a lot more years than it’s been. But then, I’ve been to a lot more places than even I’d dreamed was possible and done some really neat things.

   

“I took up skydiving, which is probably the most outrageous and exciting thing on my bucket list. What an incredible thing to really fly with the air rushing past, tipping, turning and flipping. Then you pull the ripcord and suddenly the world is silent except for the soft flutter of your parachute. You can see for miles and it’s fantastic. Better than looking out an airplane window, even a small plane with big windows. How I love that canopy ride back to earth. The feeling of freedom is amazing.

    

“I swam with the Whales snorkeled over coral reefs and climbed Mt. Tafahi. Then I joined the Peace Corps. That adventure took me to the other side of the world to a culture and climate very different from anything I’d ever known. I lived with a Tongan family for two years, taught English to beautiful brown-eyed children and  made a whole raft of new friends. While I was there, I swam with whales and crawled through lava tubes, climbed an extinct volcano mountain, and bobbed in a warm volcano fed spa of very green water. I dove into Mariner’s Cave and snorkeled over fantastic colored coral reefs, camped on a South Pacific beach and sailed on water so blue it made me catch my breath.

    

“I found a new family in Tonga taught ESL and explored a lava tube.

“When I left Tonga, I traveled home the long way. In New Zealand I hiked over a glacier and into ice caves, rode in a helicopter and took a train ride through the alps. In Syndey Australia, I climbed the bridge, met a wallaby and visited the Opera House. Two of my children traveled to meet me in Thailand and during our week there we had a James Bond experience, running through a busy market from a tuk tuk driver who didn’t want to lose his fare. We fed monkeys and fish, rode elephants and rafts and participated in Song kran, the Thai New Year where NO one stays dry. In Vietnam, I toured the Hanoi Hilton, Khe San, the Mekong River and the tunnels of Chu Chi and got the “Other” side of the story of the American War. But I also took a train ride down the coast from Hanoi to Saigon, stopping in Hue, Hoi An, and Nga Trang, visiting thousands-of-years-old ruins and temples, cruising on the Perfume River, and I swam in the South China Sea where once our soldiers went for R&R. In Saigon, I had lunch at the Rex Hotel before flying on to Singapore. From there, I visited friends in Marseille, France and was treated to a week long jaunt of castles, quaint villages, churches and pubs and the beautiful coast. And then I was home again.

    

 

    

 

    

In the years since then, I’ve acquired ten new grandchildren and moved again, this time to St Augustine, Florida. I’ve become a published author and begun a new career. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in places like Paris France and Times Square. I’ve dressed as a colonial Spanish lady and worked in a taberna circa 1740. I’ve made dozens of new friends and discovered dozens of new historic sites, but I’m just getting started on that bucket list. So, this year is number sixty-eight, but who’s counting? I’ve still got a lot of places to see yet, new friends I haven’t met and books that still need writing.   What’s on your BUCKET LIST?

If you want to check out her books here is a link to her authors page. Skye Taylor. I’d buy them now. When that parachute doesn’t open, the price will go up.

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BRAVERY IS FOR THE YOUNG

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Back when I was young, indestructible and had the common sense of Brussels sprouts, I wanted to go skydiving. Jumping out of an airplane and freefalling within a few hundred feet of the ground before popping the ripcord was a thrill I couldn’t imagine. I’d want to hold off opening the parachute for as long as possible, because at the time, hanging below a parachute hundreds of feet off the ground had to be the most boring thing I could imagine. Today if I was in an airplane it would take a whip, gun and a very angry sasquatch to get me out of it.

When I was little, a friend of mine, Ray, and I would climb an old railroad trestle. We would climb it from the ground to the top: up the stone supports, onto the steel girders and up to the railroad tracks where we would be about seventeen gazillion feet in the air. (I never actually measured it, so I may be off by a few feet one way or the other.) We never worried about falling because there was a river below with water to fall into. If we missed the water, there were trees along the banks with branches we could grab before we hit the ground. And if we missed the branches, we could maneuver ourselves in the air so we would land between the rocks, and the soft sand would break our fall–sometimes high optimism covers up low intelligence. Someday I hoped to scale some unconquerable peak. Hanging by two fingers, I’d stop for lunch and deftly unwrap a baloney sandwich with one hand and enjoy a cold Dr. Pepper from the cooler with ice strapped to my back, while all the time looking for that soft spot between the rocks in case I lost my grip. Nowadays I drive pitons, string ropes and put on a safety harness if I have to climb up on a chair to get a dish out of the top cupboard in our kitchen.

I used to skateboard when I was little, and I’m not talking the wussy skateboards they use today that don’t break in half over jumps and the wheels stay on. I’m talking homemade skateboards where you grab a 1X6 or 8 or 10 and nail an old pair of metal roller skates to it. That was skateboarding at its finest. We didn’t wear those sissy elbow pads and knee pads they wear today. No siree, nothing but skin to protect us from the pavement when we crashed. And we crashed a lot; because those old wheels locked up if you hit a crack wider than a quarter, a rock, a stick or a night crawler crossing the road. We had scrapes and cuts, but we were fine–most of the time you could barely see the bone. It didn’t bother us because we were tough and in a punch-drunk daze most of the time from loss of blood and head injuries, because we didn’t wear those sissy helmets either. Occasionally now, I’ll see one of those new skateboards with the polyurethane wheels sitting on the sidewalk, and a small voice will say, “You can still do it.” It’s Satan talking. So I don’t do it, because I still have the will to live.

I think part of the reason I don’t want to do dangerous things anymore is because I spent twenty-six years in law enforcement and had to do many dangerous things, such as teaching my oldest daughter to drive. (See Driving a Straight Stick.) I’ve driven as fast as I want to go in conditions I’d rather not drive in at all. I’ve felt that adrenaline rush as much as I care to in one lifetime. It’s not that I still don’t take chances. Just this morning I skipped my bran muffin. There’ll be hell to pay tomorrow, but I can take it.
Quick update on the sequel to my first novel In The

Sticks. I had been really struggling with it for awhile now. It’s not that I didn’t know where the story was headed, it’s just that there weren’t many twists and turns and a half a billion suspects. Those of you who read my first book know I like a lot of suspects. I like to let the reader think he knows who the murderer is, then, wham, I throw water all over his conclusion. I found a bunch of water buckets lately and the story is going well.

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