Author Archives: Second Wind Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview with Harry Margulies, Author Of The Knowledge Holder

TKHFrontsmallWhat inspired you to write The Knowledge Holder?

I’d been itching to write a full-length novel for many years. When I finally found the time to get serious about writing, I chose a subject that has continually piqued my interest – the afterlife. As I tend a bit towards gallows humor anyway, the storyline came together for me and I found the process of writing, re-writing, and editing – over and over – rather enjoyable.

What is The Knowledge Holder about?

An everyman sort realizes he’s the only one on earth who knows what happens to people after they die.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

The protagonist, Greg Simon, does share my old career as a swimming pool salesman, and lives in the Phoenix area, as I do. Fortunately for him, he’s not only younger than me, but much more handsome. Also, he has two daughters enrolled at the University of Arizona, as I did. Here’s one difference between Greg and I: I’m not really giving anything away here, but Greg’s wife, Jane, dies before the book begins in a horrible accident. My wife, Joann, is quite alive. I’ve tried explaining to her that The Knowledge Holder is not autobiographical, but for some reason the Jane thing kind of irritates her.

Do you have a favorite character from the book?

They’re not all endearing I suppose, but I love them all. They each have their own agendas, some hidden, some not, which I think makes them interesting. If I had to choose, I guess I’d say Bart Josey, a 94-year-old rustic sort of guy who’s a bit unrefined and somewhat naïve. Other than the discrepancy in age, we’ve got a lot in common.

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

Aside from the fact that I’m not the speediest writer, I’d say my biggest challenge was having three cats disrupt my focus every five minutes. You’d think kitties would be more interested in naptime than play time, but not mine.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

Yes! Every day is significant; even the ones that suck. Make the most of them, enjoy them, and look forward to the next one. Oh, and above all, enjoy the read!

Where can we go to learn more about The Knowledge Holder?

My website http://hmargulies.com/ has plenty of interesting stuff about the book as well as some not as interesting stuff about me. You can also find me on Facebook, and if you Like my page, I will be eternally grateful. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harry-Margulies/451978504928208?ws&n

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Accepting Submissions for an Upcoming Anthology

Second Wind Publishing is accepting short stories, essays and poetry for its upcoming anthology, Wind Through an Open Door. All submissions should deal with the question: what happens to us when we pass from this life? Remembrances of lost loved ones, personal experiences, profound recognitions of the afterlife (or its absence)—regardless of religious persuasion—are all welcome. There is no cost to submit an entry. There is a maximum of 7000 words for essays or short stories. All entries must be submitted no later than March 10, 2014. Those whose work is included in the anthology will receive two contributor copies. Additional copies will be available for purchase, with contributors receiving a 60% discount. Submissions and questions should be sent to mike@secondwindpublishing.com.

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Interview with J. Conrad Guest, Author of “500 Miles to Go”

500 Miles to GoWelcome, J. Conrad. What is your new book about?

JCG: In a nutshell, 500 Miles to Go is about the importance of, and the risks associated with pursuing our dreams. Alex Król made his dream come true to drive in the Indianapolis 500 eight years after seeing his first 500, in 1955, the year Bill Vukovich was killed in his bid to become the first driver to win three consecutive 500s.

Then there’s the girl: Gail, as in Gail Russell. No, not the Gail Russell, who starred opposite John Wayne in Wake of the Red Witch and was in her own right downright gorgeous. Just not as gorgeous as Alex’s Gail. Gail had been Alex’s girl since high school. She fell for Alex before she learned that he risked his life on dirt tracks during the summer months to the delight of fans who paid to see cars crash—the more spectacular the wreck the taller they stood on their toes and craned their necks to see the carnage.

By the time she learns the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—that Alex had vowed to one day drive in and win the Indianapolis 500—it was too late. She was in love with him.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

JCG: This story was born from a part of my youth that I shared with my dad, recalled with much fondness. Dad took me to my first Indy 500 in 1966, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The 1960s are considered the golden era of motorsports. At that time Indy had a pure formula, and innovation was encouraged—unlike today, where, to keep costs down, the cars pretty much come out of a box.

Today’s sport is all about technology—wind tunnels, engineers, two-way communication with the driver and pit lane speed limits. Unlike the days of yore, when a good driver could put a mediocre car into victory lane, today a winning combination is maybe 40% driver, and their on-camera appeal as spokesperson for their sponsor is as important as their talent behind the wheel.

For 500 Miles to Go I wanted to capture the glamour and the allure of what was once known as the greatest spectacle in racing, so this my tribute to that bygone era, before television and technology turned a sport into a beauty contest and a science.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

JCG: A lot. Sadly, my father wasn’t very nurturing to me in my youth; as a retired marine and drill instructor, he was more disciplinarian than a dad. He taught me to throw and hit a baseball, but left the finer nuances of the game for me to learn.

Most of my novels depict rather dysfunctional relationships between fathers and sons. In 500 Miles to Go, the relationship between Alex and his father is one I wish I could’ve had with my own father. Fortunately for me, in the final year of his life, Dad and I connected; but I’m grateful for what we had during that final year. So many fathers and sons don’t get even that.

Why will readers relate to your characters?

JCG: Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? Alex and Gail never consummate their love in their youth, and she is largely absent from the middle pages, except in Alex’s mind, in his yearning for what might’ve been. The reader is left to root for them to achieve their happily ever after.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

JCG: I mixed real life figures—the actual drivers from that era, Foyt, the Unsers, and Eddie Sachs, who befriends Alex and is killed during Alex’s first race at the famed Brickyard—with my fictional characters, which was challenging. I tried to stay true how the races played out in reality, and I found some great Internet sources on specific races, the starting fields and how the drivers finished. What I found most challenging was getting the drivers to “sound” like their real life counterparts. I don’t have a particularly good ear for dialect, so getting A.J. Foyt’s Texas drawl was intimidating to me, but I think I managed it quite well, recalling interviews with him that I heard on TV. I’d never heard Eddie Sachs speak, so I had only my research to go on: he was a prankster, so I created him as a fast-talking wise guy who speaks in quips and laughs at his own jokes.

Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?

JCG: I think each novel I complete changes me in some way. Certainly I feel each book leaves me a better writer as I continue to hone my craft. In 500 Miles to Go, I learned that love, and marriage specifically, isn’t about me. It’s about my partner. When I focus on me, my needs, I doom the contract. Successful marriages are between partners who understand that it (the vows) is about their teammate and not about themselves.

Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his creator?

JCG: I killed off Joe January, the protagonist in One Hot January, at the end of the book. Since he lives in an alternate reality, it wasn’t difficult. Talk about your time travel paradoxes, One Hot January begins where its sequel, January’s Thaw, ends, and January’s Thaw ends where One Hot January begins. How’s that for a teaser?

Which is more important to your story, character or plot?

JCG: My plots tend to be tightly focused, while my characters are everyday people dealing with the everyday issues of love, loss and regret. That said, most important to me are my characters. They must be real and easy for my readers to connect with.

What has been your greatest internal struggle to overcome in relation to your writing career?

JCG: My greatest struggle came early in my literary career: dealing with rejection letters. I found myself questioning my talent and ability. Each rejection was a personal affront to me and my work. Once I learned how to enjoy the creative process—to simply write because it gives me great joy—I became a writer. Perhaps not so surprisingly, once I learned to enjoy the process, publication followed.

Do your characters ever take on a life of their own?

JCG: I think they have to, if they’re to come to life in my readers’ heads. Any book is only as good as what its words make happen inside the reader’s head, and so my characters do take on a life of their own. Corny as it sounds, I’ve said that I act only as channel for them. They tell me their story, and I put it down in words. If I have them say or do something that is out of character for them, they’re the first to voice their discontent.

Describe your writing in three words.

JCG: I love language and words. I can’t listen to a book on disk. I prefer seeing the words on a printed page (or my Nook). A three-word description of my work? A literary feast.

What one word describes how you feel when you write?

JCG: Euphoria

What is your favorite place, real or fictional? Why?

JCG: I love a good pub, a place where I can go with my fiancée to sip a black beer and simply relax, letting the world around us go by at its furious pace. My favorite pub is the Dead Poet, on New York’s Upper West Side. Its mahogany-paneled walls are adorned with black and white portraits of writers long since deceased but remembered for what they left behind, literary quotes, and poetic passages pertaining to the universal quandaries of life. Ah, nuts. Now I’m thirsty.

J. Conrad GuestWhat do you wear when you write?

JCG: In the winter I wear sweats and a hoody; in the summer, shorts and a t-shirt.

Where can people learn more about your books?

JCG: I have a website, an Amazon author page, and a page at my publisher’s site.

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Excerpt From “500 Miles to Go” by J. Conrad Guest

500 Miles to GoGail had been Alex Krol’s girl since high school. She fell for him before she learned that he risked his life on dirt tracks during the summer months to the delight of the fans who paid to see cars crash—the more spectacular the wreck, the taller they stood on their toes and craned their necks to see the carnage. When Alex makes his dream to drive in the Indy 500 come true and he witnesses the death of two drivers in his first start, he must ask himself if his quest to win the world’s greatest race is worth not only the physical risk, but also losing the woman he loves.

EXCERPT:

“I’ve never danced with a boy before,” Gail whispered in my ear as the band played “Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite,” a Spaniels song that was popular. I couldn’t believe how wonderful Gail felt in my embrace.

“That’s okay,” I said, “I haven’t either.”

Gail laughed, the sound tuneful.

“You’re funny,” she said.

“Well, looks aren’t everything.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Although I have to say, you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you.”

When the song came to an end, we made our way to the punch bowl.

“You know,” Gail said after taking a sip, “you’re my first date.”

“Ever?”

“Ever.”

“Not to call you a liar, but I find that hard to believe.”

“Oh, I’ve been asked once or twice.”

“Only once or twice?”

“Okay, several times. But I’m very choosy.”

“Huh,”I said, with a grin. “And here I thought I’d done the choosing.”

“I could’ve chosen to turn you down, you know.”

“True enough. So how come you said ‘yes’?”

Gail blushed and looked down.

“Oh, my… Be still, my beating heart,” I said. “Do you do that of­ten?”

“What?”she asked, looking up at me again.

“Blush.”

She rolled her eyes and said, “Unfortunately, yes.”

“Well, I think it suits you. I hope it’s something you’ll do only for me.”

Gail smiled and blushed a deeper shade. I came to her rescue – that’s who I was in my youth, a rescuer.

“So why did you say ‘yes’?”

“Promise me you won’t laugh?”

“Scout’s honor,” I said, holding up my right hand, palm out.

“I liked the way you looked at me yesterday when you asked.”

“How was I supposed to look at you?”

“I’m not expressing myself well.”

“That’s okay; I have that effect on people.”

Gail laughed. “I imagine you do.” And then, “It was obvious when you looked at me that y’all liked what you saw. But you were respect­ful.”

“Why wouldn’t I be respectful?”

“You didn’t leer at me.”

“Oh. My turn to apologize. Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake.”

“Telling me I looked like Gail Russell didn’t hurt your cause.”

“I’m very honest,” I said.

“And…”

“Uh-oh…, there’s an ‘and’?”

“I’ve seen you around school, and you seem one of the better boys.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“What, that you’re one of the better boys?”

“No, that you’ve seen me around school. That would mean I’ve missed seeing you, and I can’t believe that.”

“Do you always flirt so outrageously?”

“Only with you.”

“Good answer.”

Just then, the band segued into “Honey Hush,” a Joe Turner song that had been popular in 1953.

“Come on,” I said, taking Gail’s hand. “Let’s dance.”

-

The evening came to an end all too soon. We danced and talked and got to know each other, and we liked what we learned.

We held hands as we made our way across the parking lot to where her dad sat behind the wheel of his idling car, a 1950 Ford Zephyr Six.

We stopped about ten feet from the Zephyr Six to look at each other; I held both Gail’s hands in mine.

“What I wouldn’t give to kiss you,” I said.

“Why, Alex Król, what kind of girl do you take me for?” Gail said with a smile.

“The kind I’d like to kiss.”

Gail grew serious. “I know,” she said, glancing at her father, who was seated in the car with his hands firmly gripping the steering wheel. Perhaps he knew this day had been coming, when his little girl would grow up to meet the young man who might take his place.

Gail rose up on her toes to kiss me on the cheek.

“Another time, I promise,” she whispered. Then she gave me a quick hug, her breasts feeling firm against me, and made her way toward her father’s car.

***

J. Conrad Guest, author of: Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings, January’s Paradigm, One Hot January, January’s ThawA Retrospect In Death, and 500 Miles To Go has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to write stories of action, love, mystery and morality; tales that cross genres, seizing the imagination of the reader. Though his novels are varied and original, the reader will find that each is full of life’s lessons—full of pain and humor, full of insight and triumph.

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Most Popular Second Wind Blog Posts in 2013

If you haven’t yet checked out these  perennially popular Second Wind Publishing blog posts, now is your opportunity! Happy reading.

What is Your Character’s Favorite Color? — by Pat Bertram

The Importance of Imagery–by Deborah J Ledford

A Retrospect in Death: Pending Launch

What do you call the female version of Peter Pan? by Mairead Walpole

Is being realistic in actuality a form of pessimism or vice versa? by Mairead Walpole

The Benefits of Book Fairs

Interview with J. Conrad Guest, Author of Retrospect in Death

Have You Ever Been to Paris? The Answer May Surprise You. By Calvin Davis

Water me, please!

Like it or not, Words are a Writer’s Best Friend — J. Conrad Guest

Splish Splash, I was Taking a Bath by Sherrie Hansen

Short Story vs. Novel by Norm Brown

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Creating a Believable Science-Fiction Environment by Dellani Oakes

When introducing a new planet, the author needs to keep several things in mind:

What’s the scale?

Is it bigger than Earth?
Smaller than Mercury?

What is the climate like?

Temperature, rainfall, etc.
What sort of atmosphere has it got?
Will they need survival suits, oxygen, etc?
Is it a verdant, lovely place, hot and dry or cold and unrelenting?

How many moons or suns?

Distance from the sun?

Is it capable of sustaining human life?

Is it completely hostile to humans?

What is the indigenous population like?

Are they sentient?
Deadly?
Welcoming?
Ignorant of outer space?
Are they humanoid?
Do they look like giant cats, bugs or leeches?
What is their home environment?
Can they vocalize or are they telepathic?

How do your characters get from Point A to Point B?

What sort of vehicles are there?
Do they have to travel by horse (or planet’s equivalent)?
Must they walk?
Are there well maintained roads?
Do the vehicles need roads?
What’s the terrain like?

What is your level of technology? Not all futuristic worlds are the same. One need only watch TV shows or movies to see the vast differences in approach.

Is yours a post apocalyptic world (Resident Evil, Book of Eli,    Planet of the Apes)?
Are machines in charge (Terminator)?
Is it a more utopian society (Star Trek)?
Is it highly technical or more rustic (Firefly, Farscape)?
Are the characters at war (Battlestar Galactica)?

Social strata:

Is there slavery?
Are all inhabitants given equal rights?
How does the indigenous population regard humans?
Are there classes or casts? Is it possible to advance?
Is it a monarchy? Democracy? Dictatorship? Communist society? Anarchy? Religious fanatic? Autocracy? Something completely different and unique to them?

Not all of these characteristics need to be mentioned in your story to make it believable. The author must know what kind of environment the characters are in. How they react to their environment or how it acts upon them can make a huge difference in a story. Characters will not behave the same way in a jungle that they will in the frozen wasteland. If the space is confined, that makes a difference too.

Place rules and adhere to them. If you say the sky is purple, the grass is blue and water is pink, then don’t violate that later. If you’re going to get this off kilter, though, have a ready explanation for it. Some readers will question when the setting is too bizarre. Your readers must be willing to suspend their disbelief and embrace their new environment. Don’t make the mistake of creating a setting so odd that it makes the readers focus on that instead of the action.

***

This article is anthoNovel Writing Tips and Techniqueslogized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

(Dellani Oakes is the author of Lone Wolf and Shakazhan. Both science fiction novels are published by Second Wind Publishing).

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Happy Five Year Bloggiversary!

Today is the fifth anniversary of this, the Second Wind Publishing Blog, and in those five years, 1,614 posts have been published. Congratulations and many thanks to the Second Wind bloggers!

balloons1Here are some classic posts celebrating the seasons of our lives:

Changing seasons by Nichole R. Bennett There are places where the seasons don’t change much. The Black Hills of South Dakota is not one of those places.

A Time to be Thankful by John E. Stack As a foster parent, most of John Stack’s blessings come to him pint-size (new-born).

Christmas With My Sister For The Second Time by Coco Ihle Two sisters reunited after 50 years!

The Newness of a New Day by Pat Bertram New Years and the wonder of a new day

Spring by S.M. Senden Spring is an exciting time, for nothing seems to hold still.

A Donkey And A King by Paul J. Stamm “Hosanna” is the shout . . .

The Day of the Trickster by J J Dare The origin of April Fool’s Day

Mother’s Day: Coming to Terms with the Cruelty of Parkinson’s by J. Conrad Guest Mother’s Day is now every day,

In Honor of a Great Woman by Calvin Davis Commemorative for a very special woman

Class Reunions… a warm, fuzzy feeling of deja vu or the stuff nightmares are made of? (By Sherrie Hansen) Do you relish an occasional flash from the past?

Our Independence Day by Ginger King A goose bump moment as we hear the beloved Star Spangled Banner and reflect

Summer vacation…Finally! by Donna Small Vacation is for mothers, too!

The Laundromat, Not the Louvre by Carole Howard Living in Paris . . .

The Beauty of Black Sheep by Sheila Englehart Who broke from convention in your family tree?

Clever Twist or Unfair Trick? by Norm Brown In the spirit of Halloween . . .

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Rubicon Ranch Continues

RRBookThreemidsizeRubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing.

In the current story, Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, the body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of an inflatable figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery begin! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end! If you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

(If the Christmas theme seems unseasonal, well . . . considering how long it takes to write a book at the rate of a chapter a week, in a few months, the season will catch up to us!)

Chapter 17: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 23, 2:45pm

A sharp rap broke Melanie’s concentration. She pushed herself away from the computer where she was working on the rewrites her editor had emailed—the last ones, thank heavens—went to the front door, and opened it.

A round little woman gazed anxiously up at her. “A lady is being held prisoner. You have to call the sheriff,” she said all in a rush.

Melanie gave her head a shake to clear it. Was this someone’s idea of a joke? The woman’s purple wig and the colorful chiffon scarves that fluttered around her body made her look like one of Cinderella’s fairy godmothers. The only things lacking were a wand and a sprinkling of fairy dust. But maybe the fairy dust filled the woman’s head?

“You don’t believe me.” The woman sighed. “There’s no reason you should. She is tied up, though. The sheriff won’t listen to me, but he’ll listen to you.”

“Who’s tied up? Where?”

The woman waved a hand toward the desert, her many rings flashing in the winter sun. “On this street somewhere.”

“And that’s what you want me to tell the sheriff? That a lady is tied up on this street somewhere? If that’s all the information you have for him, no wonder he won’t listen to you. And he certainly won’t listen to me.”

“He will. The two of you have a bond that even distance and distaste can’t break.”

Melanie peered at her. Perhaps the woman did know something. She’d summed up Melanie’s relationship—or rather non-relationship—with the sheriff perfectly. Distance and distaste. He was distant, and she had developed a distaste for him, though months ago, when they had met over the body of little Riley Peterson, it had seemed as if there were some sort of bond between them. Of course, she’d been vulnerable then, still so new to this thing called grief.

The woman gazed steadily back at her, and a feeling of unease crept over Melanie. “A lady is tied up. For real?”

“Yes.”

“Can you find her?”

“Maybe. The feeling is strongest toward the desert. That’s why I know she’s up the street somewhere.”

“Are you . . .” Melanie hesitated. Would the woman be insulted at being asked if she were psychic?

“Yes. I am psychic,” the woman said. “I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. Celeste Boudreau. I live on Tehachapi Road. The house with the pyramid. And I know you, of course. You’re Melanie Gray. Your husband was killed by . . .” Celeste’s eyes clouded and then cleared after a second or two. “I’m sorry. I thought I saw who did it, but couldn’t catch the vision. It’s the way my powers work, you see.”

Melanie nodded. “Clairvoyance” meant clear seeing, but so often the seeing was hazy and not at all clear, which made it an easy con. In her travels with Alexander, she had met many truth seekers and true psychics, many fakirs and fakers, and though she didn’t know what powers, if any, Celeste might have, she could tell that the self-styled psychic believed in them.

Melanie grabbed a coat, and locked the door behind her. “Let’s just walk. Maybe you’ll get a sense of where she is.”

Celeste stood still, spread out her arms, took a deep breath, and brought her hands to her chest as if praying. Then her praying hands slowly moved downward until they were parallel to the ground. She started moving up Delano Road, pausing every dozen yards or so to repeat the procedure. They walked the whole length of the street that way, until finally they stood before the second to the last house.

“Here,” Celeste said, a quiet note of triumph in her voice. “I see her. Upstairs. Older woman. Pretty. Big eyes. Tied to a chair. Gagged. Rope burns.”

Melanie didn’t even have to ask if Celeste were sure. Sincerity had accompanied every word. She walked up the curving driveway and rang the doorbell.

Celeste scurried to catch up to her. “What are you doing? What if the guy who did this to her comes to the door?”

“Then I’ll ask him if I can see the lady of the house.”

“And if he gets rough?”

“I’ll take care of him. Maybe grab him by the throat and lift up his larynx a bit. That’s enough to make a grown man cry.”

But no one answered the door.

Now what? Call the sheriff? Break in?

Melanie looked at Celeste and held a finger to her lips. From deep within the house, she thought she’d heard a clank, but even though she strained her ears, she didn’t hear a repetition of the sound. She rang the bell again. And again. And again.

Finally, the door swung open. An attractive lady in her late fifties or early sixties wearing heavy makeup and long sleeves stood framed in the entryway. Her large hazel eyes opened wide in the guileless manner of someone with nothing to hide—or someone who wanted others to believe she had nothing to hide. She said pleasantly, if a bit hoarsely, “Yes?”

Melanie shot a puzzled glance at Celeste, but Celeste kept her gaze on the woman standing stiff-shouldered before them.

“Are you the lady of the house?” Melanie asked. The question sounded foolish, even to her own ears, as if the line were straight out of a bad nineteen-fifties film, but for the moment, it was all she could think to say.

“Yes?” the woman said again.

“We’re starting up a neighborhood watch.” Melanie forced a small laugh, and gestured to the vampire-wannabe that had crept close to the house. “We’re a bit late, but it’s time we reclaimed the neighborhood from the ghouls.”

“Sorry, not now. Late for an appointment.” The woman’s hoarseness grew more pronounced, and it seemed to Melanie as if she could see red marks around her mouth beneath the heavy makeup.

“May we speak with your husband?” Melanie asked.

“No husband. Live alone.” The woman shut the door.

“It’s her,” Celeste said. “I know it is. I saw her.”

“Well, she’s free now. So that’s good, right?”

“But she’s lying.”

Melanie shrugged. Maybe the woman had been tied up. Maybe she’d been involved in some sort of sex game. Maybe she’d even been held prisoner as Celeste had claimed. But if the woman didn’t want help, there was nothing they could do about it.

She trudged back down the driveway and after a moment, Celeste followed.

“There’s something strange going on,” Celeste said.

A pack of goth girls stood giggling in the middle of the street while two zombie boys circled them, making leering remarks.

Melanie took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “There’s a lot of something strange going on.”

***

Melanie had just returned home and settled herself at the computer when her phone rang. “Yes?” she said, not at all graciously.

“I know you killed your husband.”

“Who is this?” Melanie demanded. “What do you want?”

“Money. I’ll let you know where and how much.”

The line disconnected. Still clutching her cell phone, Melanie ran out of the house, cut across the yard to the Sinclair house, and rang the bell.

Moody didn’t answer, so Melanie banged on the door. Finally, the door opened, and Moody stood there, giving her a wide-eyed innocent look. “Yes?” she said.

Feeling as if she were in a nightmare, forever doomed to repeat the same scenario of knocking on doors and being greeted by seemingly guileless women, Melanie glared at Moody.

“Are you okay?” Moody asked

“What do you know about my husband’s death?” Melanie demanded.

“I don’t know anything. Before she died, little Riley Peterson told me that she’d seen someone messing with your car, but that’s all I know. And I don’t really even know that. I always assumed it was another of her stories until you mentioned once that the sheriff thought the accident looked suspicious.”

“So then, why did you call me and tell me you know I killed my husband?”

Again that oh-so-innocent look. “Call?”

“Oh, for cripes sake. When you deepened your voice to disguise it, you sounded just like your father. And I happen to know for a fact Morris is dead—I found his foot, remember?”

Moody tilted her head. “Hmm. I sounded like my father? This has possibilities.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.” And then all at once, Melanie knew. “You have Nancy’s book of secrets, don’t you? What did she write about me?”

Moody didn’t even have the grace to look sheepish at being caught out. She simply smiled. “Nothing that I can read yet. The book is in code, though Nancy did jot down a few notes in her own version of shorthand. I saw the initials MG and a few words in quotation marks, ‘I know you killed your husband,’ as if it she were reminding herself to say that to you. She did, didn’t she?”

Melanie’s shoulders slumped. Every time she thought she’d found a clue to unraveling the mystery of her husband’s death, the clue dissolved into nothingness. Turning to leave, she caught a glimpse of a figure on the porch next door.

The house belonged to Eloy Franklin, an old man who had spent his days sitting on the porch in his rocking chair, watching everyone in the neighborhood. He had given Melanie the creeps at first, the way he had just brooded there like some baleful landlocked amphibian, but after a while, she had gotten the sense that he was more than he seemed. A protector of the neighborhood, perhaps. Eloy had moved away, and now the neighborhood had become overrun with even creepier characters than the old man.

Melanie turned to Moody. “Is Eloy back?”

Moody shook her head. “No. He’s gone for good. I heard that Nancy bought his house. Why?”

“Maybe nothing.”

Melanie picked her way across the fifteen-foot no man’s land that separated the Sinclair house from the Franklin house, and crept close to the porch. A figure sat sprawled against the white porch railing, a Santa hat on his head and a Santa beard on his chin.

No! Not again. Please. No.

Last night she had found Nancy’s body. This morning the crime scene had gone up in flames. Just a while ago she had gone to rescue a damsel not in distress. And now another body.

She couldn’t call the sheriff again. She just couldn’t.

Moody came and stood beside her. “You do have a talent for death, don’t you? I should make you an honorary Sinclair.” She bent over the figure. “He looks like he could be about six feet. Thin. Silver hair with a bit of black running through it. Maybe in his fifties or sixties. Does that sound like anyone you know?”

Melanie backed away.

“You want me to call the sheriff?” Moody asked, an unexpected note of sympathy in her voice.

Melanie couldn’t bring herself to respond. She took one last look at the ersatz Santa, and fled back to her house.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing.

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