Author Archives: Second Wind Publishing

Interview with Ashley M. Carmichael, Author of “Valerie’s Vow”

91B1ylE3rmL._SL1500_What is your book about?

My debut novel is Valerie’s Vow. It is a story of loss, love, and loyalty but more than anything it is a story of friendship. Though it’s been six months since she has lost her best friend to cancer, Valerie spends the majority of the novel dealing with her emotions over this traumatic loss. She meets and reacquaints herself with men from her past and present as a way to figure out where her future lies. As a romance writer, I enjoy having my main character find love, but as an inspirational writer the lessons that she learns, particularly about life, love and friendship are what I truly value.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

In November of 2013 a dear friend of mine passed away. She had spent several years battling a very aggressive form of breast cancer. She was in inspiration to everyone who knew her as a teacher, mentor, and most importantly as a friend. While Sarah and I are not as close as the characters in the book, she was still the inspiration for the story and I did my best to honor her legacy while writing.

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

There is a lot of me in this book, but don’t be mistaken—I am not Valerie. I did use some of my experiences to help me write (like how I met my best friend, the fact that I’m a teacher, some of my Sunday School Lessons and students). What is entertaining is talking to the people who know me after having read the book. One of the girls in my Sunday School class read the book and came to me and said, “Can I guess who is who?” referring to the kids in the class vs. our class. We laughed, because while the kids were not one and the same, she was pretty spot on with her guesses about who I’d based who on. So the next question she, and everyone asks, is who are the guys?

Like almost all characters, they are based on men who either have been in my life or are in my life in some capacity or another, but to what extent and who they are…well, I think that’s better left a mystery.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

I love Cooper, and as far as I can tell, most people who read the book love him too. He’s a likeable character because of all that he does for Valerie, but also because he’s somewhat mysterious. And who doesn’t like that?

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

The message can be summed up in a quote from the novel: “Go, do, see. Don’t spend your life in the shadows of someone else, the past or even the future. Just go live. But make sure you do it for God, because in the end He’s the only one worth living for. You are beautiful, you are special, and your life is worth living.”

What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

Since I first wrote this book I have joined Winston Salem Writers, attended many writing programs and classes, joined a critique group and even joined a group via meetup.com to focus on The Artist’s Way. By increasing my networking, I have become a better writer and overall a better person. I love this new community I have become a part of and, to be frank, it has made me more confident as a writer.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

When I’m in my writing peaks I strive to write about 2000 words per day. To keep myself motivated, I will often keep a spreadsheet to track the number of words I am writing. However, I came to realize that writing was only a part of the ultimate process and it wasn’t and shouldn’t be my sole focus. I also needed to turn some of my energy into editing. I now strive for at least 250 words minimum per day and a least a little time editing or re-writing as well. I try to do some writing in the morning, as this is when I am at my peak intellectually. As a morning person I know this is crucial to my success. Working full time as a teacher, this is not always possible, so as long as I continue to make sure I do some writing every day I feel as though I am on track.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently editing 3 novels. They are written, beginning to end, but need a lot of cosmetic work. Hopefully they will be ready for publication in the next few months. I’m also in the process of finishing a YA book, I’m not sure it’s my genre, but it’s been an interesting adventure writing and I look forward to discussing it as a part of the critique process. I’m also starting the research process for a historical based on the set of letters my grandmother gave me. They are from my great-grandmother’s ex-fiancé. There’s definitely a story in there and I look forward to this adventure too.

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?

I have characters who are constantly talking to me and swirling around in my head. Sometimes I dream them. Right now, I think I could count about 7 stories, each with individual characters. At times, I seem like I’m being anti-social…but really I’m creating new societies. I’m glad I have such supportive friends and family, otherwise they may have had me committed a long time ago.

What writer influenced you the most?

I would have to say the C.S. Lewis is one of the most influential writers. I got lost in a wardrobe when I was a kid and I’m never really sure I ever came out. I could probably quote him all day long, but when I’m writing I think about one in particular: “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again; even now.” Because that is what writing is to me—returning to my inner child who is searching for answers in a story that I can both connect to and relive over and over and that is what makes me glad.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about writing?

Power through to the end. Writing to the end of a story is always the hardest, but once you’ve come to the end, it’s like you can suddenly breathe. It’s a kind of validation. I’d spent the greatest part of my writing life prior to this novel writing, editing and rewriting the first few chapters so I could never get past or even to the climax sometimes. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to write, it was just that I couldn’t get past the unperfected parts to get to the end. Once I stopped trying to perfect it along the way and just powered through to the end it was as if I’d opened a floodgate and suddenly I was able to move forward with more direction and focus than ever before.

If you could have lunch with one person, real or fictitious, who would it be?

I’d want to have lunch with Jo March. She is a brilliant, strong writer (yes, I know she’s fictitious, but she’s based on Louisa May Alcott, so maybe that’s who I really want to have lunch with) who faced derision and rejection and not only overcame it but rose above and conquered those who told her she couldn’t succeed. She turned down a life of comfort (Laurie) for adventure, or at least for a life that would teach her more. And then she opened a non-traditional school for boys and she mothered and taught them about life, love and living. She would be an amazing person to know.

Where can we learn more about Valerie’s Vow?

From Second Wind Publishing: http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!product/prd15/2506087281/valerie’s-vow and Amazon

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Interview With Robert N. Chan, Author of “Girl”

What is your book about?

A trusted member of her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community rapes fifteen-year-old Hannah in the back room of a Brooklyn kosher butcher shop. Unwilling to succumb to her parents’ demand that she blame a homeless black man, she runs away. Alone on unfamiliar New York City streets and armed only with an indomitable spirit, quirky sense of humor, and unyielding intolerance for hypocrisy and injustice, she confronts adversity after adversity.

Blaming herself for having been raped and bent on avoiding emotional intimacy, she becomes involved with an enforcer for a Serbian mobster and embarks on a life of prostitution and hard drugs. Then comes unexpected motherhood and a son she treasures. When he is arrested on trumped up charges and almost killed in prison, her wide-ranging client base, including hoods and feds, comes in handy. But her plan backfires, her son is forever lost, and she is banished to an Appalachian backwater as a protected witness. Depressed and alone, she rediscovers her childhood dream of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and charts a path to justice and redemption. All she has to do now is emerge from witness protection, outwit vengeful hit men, and run for Congress in Tea Party country as a New York Jewish former whore. Too bad about that quirky sense of humor and unyielding intolerance for hypocrisy and injustice.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

People who’d read my novel, To Gain the Whole World told me the main character’s mother was a terrific character whom I shouldn’t have killed off early in the book. So I decided to write the same story from her point of view. That didn’t work, but I had as a starting point the main character, an ultra-orthodox girl who is raped and turned out by that very conservative closed community and forced to make her way in an alien world for which she is totally unprepared.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The insights into the world of the Brooklyn ultra-orthodox, the main character’s struggles and triumphs, and the quality of writing which has already received eight glowing reviews on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/girl-Robert-Chan/dp/1630660957

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

I allow my main character to take the story where she wants it to go.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

Mostly I want them to enjoy an exciting, inspiring, well-written story.

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

Extremism of all types is soul destroying and the human spirit can overcome almost all adversity.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

Writing about rape in a sensitive and searching way.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

One who truly enjoys reading and has many friends he or she can suggest my book to.

Does writing come easy for you?

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

Fifty Shades of Gray. I could put up with the criticism of the bad writing, phony eroticism, and worship of materialism for the huge amount of money. I’m not looking to sell out but for the right price…

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

Each element is crucial as is the quality of the writing.

Where can people learn more about your books?

Second Wind Publishing: http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!robert-chan/c1ltt
Website: http://www.robertnchan.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robert.chan.7568596
Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=60336546&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/chan5642/

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Interview with Eric Johnson, Author of “Summer School Zombocalypse”

What is your book about?

Summer School Zombocalypse. After a plane crashes onto the school yard and rescue attempts turns the first responders into zombies, Tom and his motley crew of grade-schoolers fight to find their way home. But home isn’t the safe haven they have been seeking. The zombies are everywhere. Tom leads the kids on a desperate search through the town for their parents. Horrors arise at every corner. Their search leads them back to school where they discover the awful truth- aliens are turning humans into zombies for food! Now finding their parents isn’t the most important thing they have to do. They have to save the world.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

I am a panster by nature, I get an idea of a character, choose three things about him. Pick a beginning and get a rough idea of where I want to end, and go.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

Summer School Zombocalypse started as a writing exercise for my writers group.

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

I can’t answer that, I turn the music up to 11, close my eyes and let my fingers go, fingers free.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

Tom like all 14 year old boys wants to test his boundaries, he wants to be trusted that his ability to make good judgment calls about how he handles himself can be accepted.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

I had no intention of making my characters likable. Likeability is over rated.

Why will readers relate to your characters?

Waves magic wand, I hope so. I enjoyed writing them. Tom is the leader, the driver of the story, Emmett and Winston are the logical and the child. Anidea she wants what everyone else does, to escape, but on her terms. She is a manipulator.

If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?

I’ll let the producer choose, budgets are a major factor in film. But if I could choose and had a time machine I would choose a 14 year old Wil Wheaton to play my main character.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on the third novel in the “Times Forgotten” series

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work-in-progress?

What would you do, if you could do it all over again?

Where can people learn more about Summer School Zombocalypse?

From Second Wind Publishing: http://goo.gl/FieHl3

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A Gift from Rubicon Ranch

From now until December 5, you can download the first two books in the Rubicon Ranch trilogy for free. In case you’re not familiar with Rubicon Ranch, it was a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and was written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing. No one knew the outcome of the novels before they were written — the authors just wrote their characters’ stories trying to prove simultaneously that they were the killer and that they were innocent. A real challenge, but according to Sheila Deeth, writer and reviewer extraordinaire, the authors succeeded.

Sheila wrote: I thoroughly enjoyed it. Different authors pen chapters from the points of view of different characters. But the end of each tale meshes perfectly with the next, and the story progresses, through twists and turns (and death), to its mysterious, perfectly logical conclusion, while the reader is left to guess, imagine, wonder, and reflect.

Rubicon Ranch

In the first book, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a little girl’s body was found in the wilderness near the desert community of Rubicon Ranch. Was it an accident? Or . . . murder! But who would want to kill a child?

Click here to download a free ecopy of Rubicon Ranch Book One: Riley’s Story (no code necessary) in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords.

In the second book, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces, residents of Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch, that is.

Click here to download Rubicon Ranch Book Two: Necropieces in the ebook format of your choice from Smashwords. Be sure to use Code LT25A when ordering to get your free download. Offer expires December 5, 2014

These ebooks will make a great stocking stuffer. Just click on “Give as a gift” on the Smashwords page before proceeding to check out.

Once you’ve entered Rubicon Ranch, nothing will remain the same!

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Happy Six Year Bloggiversary!

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of this, the Second Wind Publishing Blog. In those six years, 1,871 posts have been published, 9,146 comments have been made, 192,520 people have stopped by to visit. 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

Fathers’ Day, by Sheila Deeth A memorial to a memorable father.

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?

My Problem With Vacations by Harry Margulies Planes, trains, automobiles and assassination luggage.

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 . . .

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

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The Hymn of Brutal Intimacy: “Hallelujah”, by Lazarus Barnhill

(I apologize in advance for the length of this post; it’s my fail for the month.)

“I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord,
but you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall, the major lift,
the baffled king composing hallelujah.”

One way or another, we all know the song. Leonard Cohen, the Canadian folk singer, composed it in 1984 and since then it has been recorded by over 200 artists and groups. And we all have our favorite interpretation of it. My children and grandchildren love the beautiful Rufus Wainwright version included in the first Shrek movie.

“Your faith was strong, but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof.
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair.
She broke your throne and she cut your hair,
and from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”

One doesn’t have to have a profound familiarity with the Hebrew scriptures to know that there are multiple—and mixed—references to the Bible in the song. Of course the second verse is a reference to the restless King David, restricted from the battlefield on account of his importance to the Israelites, entranced by the exquisite, naked form of Bathsheba, the wife of his devoted servant Uriah. Cohen combines this narrative with that of another Hebrew warrior, Samson, who like David was beguiled by a beautiful woman: Delilah, who cuts the hair of the Israelite leader as he sleeps in her bed, robbing him of his great power. There are those vocalists who seem to focus on the biblical element of the song, taking great delight in the “hallelujah” chorus—if you’ll forgive the pun. Among these singers are Three Talented Girls, John Thomas and numerous church groups.

“Baby I’ve been here before.
I’ve know this room. I’ve walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag from the marble arch.
Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

It’s in his third verse, however, that Cohen affirms the real theme and message of his song. “Hallelujah” is a treatise on romantic love, specifically the sort of brutality that exists between people who share the most intimate of relationships. He focuses on the authority, prowess and might of men, and states that all male power melts away from the man who is enchanted by a woman. Their relationship becomes a struggle, a competition in which there are consequences and casualties, but no real winner. This is expressed so poignantly in the first verse, as Cohen says to the woman he loves: “I make this beautiful music, and it means nothing to you.” The singer who seems best to have captured the essence of this message was the late Jeff Buckley—the person whose rendition of the song is often considered the best of all.

“There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below,
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
and the Holy Dove was moving too
and every breath we drew was hallelujah.”

The fourth verse once again reveals Cohen’s use of religious texts. “Holy Dove” is a reference to the Spirit of God in a distinctly Christian way—at least for a guy who is Jewish. This is actually not unusual for him (he reflects at length on loneliness of Jesus in his marvelous song “Suzanne”). In “Hallelujah,” Cohen uses the spiritual metaphor of the delicate, fleeting divine Spirit to describe the sudden absence of intimacy between himself and his lover: “Losing your love is like losing the sacred presence of the Holy.” That haunting theme of lost affection, some have said, is captured particularly well by KD Lang in her recordings of the song (maybe it’s because she’s a Canadian too)—though often she leaves out this fourth verse.

“Maybe there’s a God above,
but all I’ve ever learned from love
was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
It’s not a cry you can hear at night.
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

Verse five is, to me, the ultimate expression of despair—the depths of loss compounded by the recognition that the Holy One is not going to intervene to set right the relationship that is so profound and precious. This is a make-or-break verse that has the power to reveal whether or not the singer has suffered the sort of emotional grief being described. Jon Bon Jovi’s understated version of the song—and particularly this verse—expresses the feeling of human and divine abandonment with particular poignancy.

“You say I took the name in vain,
but I don’t really know the name;
and if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn’t matter what you heard—
the holy or the broken hallelujah.

The sixth is “Leonard’s verse.” In it he deals with the great subtheme that has developed as a result of his ascribing divine importance to something as human as the affection between lovers. I can almost hear his departing love criticizing him for comparing the loss of romantic love to divine abandonment, and his response: “whether you recognize it or not, the love between us drew the angels to us and elevated us to the holy places. It is in the embraces and clashes of lovers that sacred and profane are entwined.” Leonard has a point. Those scriptural stories to which we most closely relate are not the great tales of victory—Samson slaying lions or David killing Philistines. Instead we find ourselves yoked to the brokenness of these great figures—the shame of David when the whole of the Hebrew nation learned how he plotted the death of Uriah; the humiliation of Samson, blinded and mocked in the temple of a foreign god. And this is Leonard’s verse especially because Leonard Cohen, who sings of the divinity found in the failures of life, is often considered among the poorest singers of his own song. How odd to realize one of the great lessons of this song is that we are closest to the sacred in our most conflicted, defeated moments.

“I did my best. It wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I’ve told the truth; I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I stand before the Lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

“Hallelujah is a long song. The briefest versions are all over four minutes. Many renditions, even if they don’t have a musical bridge, are over six minutes. As a result, often singers omit verses and in particular this last one—which is too bad. Here Cohen goes back to his original statement, that music is his divine gift, saying, “Well maybe I failed (in love and in song), but ‘hallelujah’ was what I was aiming for and I’m not ashamed of that.” The song—melody and lyrics—are a bittersweet treatise on love, failure and the ever-presence of the holy. A friend of mine told me once that the angels stay so close to us because it’s their only chance to experience the depth of human love and grief. Somehow, Leonard Cohen captured all that; else 200 artists would not have recorded multiple versions of the song and millions would not have listened.

That brings me to the reason I’ve written this ponderous, lengthy examination of “Hallelujah” and its versions: I just heard a most beautiful, ironic version of it. The IDF—that’s right, the armed forces of Israel—recorded a knocked out version of Hallelujah . . . in Hebrew. Watching the video of them (see link below) encapsulates the profundity, irony and magic of this incredible piece of music. Listening to the angelic voices of these very young Israelis and watching them, dressed in drab, baggy military fatigues and bathed in smoky, blue light, is an astonishing thing. Here are the descendants of Samson, David, Bathsheba and all the generations who followed—in the process of living out—as we all do—the magnificent, excruciating truths of this tender song. –Lazarus Barnhill

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152384530103717&fref=nf
If you can’t see the video via the above link, you can see it on UTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtAMrRtuF_4

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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What Makes Us So Special? by Mike Simpson

“Horse sense,” Mark Twain wrote, “is the remarkable quality that prevents horses from betting on people.” Twain was well known for asserting in his speeches and literature that, despite our assumptions to the contrary, it is not the intelligence of human beings that sets us above all other creatures on our planet.

In actuality, humans do have the greatest raw intelligence of any species. When it comes to evaluating the true worth of our intellect, however, our natural smarts may not be our best calling card. The wise psychiatrist Murray Bowen was able to demonstrate that virtually every decision made by human beings is emotionally driven—that is, we decide what we believe, what we want, what we’re going to do and then we use our significant brain power to justify the decisions we’ve made. One of Bowen’s students famously referred to this process of rationalizing our decisions as “cerebating”; and, in its way, it really does make you blind.

So assuming it’s not really our brain power that sets us apart from all other creatures, what does separate human beings (in a positive way) from the rest of the animal kingdom?

In my youth, I can remember it being said that people were a higher species because, unlike animals, we weep. It was said that, “human beings are the only risible animal” (the only one that smiles and laughs).

I guess the underlying assumption of these assertions is that animals don’t experience emotions, but human beings do. If Facebook and YouTube have taught us anything, it is that animals—lots of species—experience and express emotions just as people do. Spend an hour scrolling the posts on Facebook and you’ll see dogs, elephants, deer, primates, lions-and-tigers-and-bears, even (bless their hearts) cats express a great range of emotions: joy, fear, indignation, rage, courage, guilt and grief. We all remember watching clips of the house cat taking on and scaring off the dog that had attacked a little boy. To recognize the full depth and power of the emotional states animals experience, I recommend watching the short video of Jane Goodall and her co-workers releasing a captive ape back into the wild. The appreciation, relief and joy expressed by that primate in the video are beyond denial.

And while I’m on this, I get so tired of pundits telling us not to “anthropomorphize” animals by attributing human emotions and characteristics to them. What hooey. When you get down to it, animals can be a lot more “human” than a lot of people I know. In our best moments of compassion, courage and goodness, we human beings should say how proud and humble we are to act out the goodness we have seen in animals.

Well if it’s not our intelligence and it’s not our emotions that make us a superior species, then what is it?

I believe what sets humanity apart from the other species on the planet is our ability to create. Take, for instance, the places where creatures dwell. When you walk around a barn and you see a nest hanging from the eves, you know it was make by swallows. Those who study spiders are able to determine from the shape of a nest what variety of arachnoid created it. Ever moron who has ever gone noodling knows exactly where in the muddy water to stick an arm to snag a catfish.

Like every other creature, human beings also need safe places to dwell, but—from thatch huts to high rise apartments to brick farmhouses—the dwellings we call “home” reveal a dizzying array of creativity, responses to the environment around us and our own innate need to be a least a little bit different from the folks next door.

Human beings create. Musicians, engineers, writers, neurosurgeons, seamstresses, artists and entrepreneurs—regardless of their ideals, faith, politics, personalities or vision—all have this one thing in common: they create. They build upon the foundation of the creatives who came before them and expand the vision they received with their own new, keen insights. And the purist, finest, most revolutionary creativity in every field of human endeavor in each generation advances our species as a whole.

Accordingly, if I’m correct that it is our ability to create that sets up apart and above all other species, then logically the highest form of human activity is creation—that is, being immersed in the creative process. Thus those human beings who have to greatest value to our species are those who create, followed by those who empower creators. And therefore, those human beings who are the most deadly to the potential and survival of our species are those who ignore, demean or impede the creative process.

I believe human beings were created to create. Learning, developing, exploring, meditating and sharing your creative endeavors is not just what sets us apart as beings, it is the purpose for our being. When you create—in whatever of the billion forms of creativity there are—you affirm the existence of us all. Thank you, creative soul.

—Mike Simpson

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Has Anybody Seen Toto, by Mike Simpson

After all those years of growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, I would never have expected my closest encounter with a tornado—about thirty yards—to be in North Carolina. The storms that came through about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, knocked out our electricity and it was about eighteen hours before we got it back. At first I thought it was a lightning strike that took out our power. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning we discovered it had been raining trees.

I had been sitting upstairs, diligently working on Second Wind manuscripts, when my wife called up at me, “What are you doing up there?” She thought I was pounding on the walls and scratching the window in my study. The sound she heard was truly unique—I’d never heard it either. It was sort of like hail, but at a much lower pitch. In the midst of our yelling back and forth at one another, the lights went out—came on—and went out again. With the moon behind the clouds, there was a sort of eerie gray light illuminating the outdoors. With that and the constant flashes from lighting, I could make out a number of strange shapes in the front yard and the street.

I grabbed a flashlight and went to investigate. It didn’t take long before the weirdness of what I was seeing began to add up. As you can see from the attached photo, we live in a heavily wooded area. A small creek runs along the east side of our yard.

The East Side of Our House Smith Branch Creek Is About 15 Feet Further to the Left

The East Side of Our House
Smith Branch Creek Is About 15 Feet Further to the Left

Scattered in our front yard and street were numerous large limbs, twigs and branches. To be specific, they were almost all from sycamore and tulip poplar trees. Our house is surrounded by a number of ornamentals (that’s a dogwood you see standing by itself in the photo above), including a massive cherry tree. On the west side of the house are elms, pines and hickories. Right away I thought it was kind of odd that the gusty wind would select out only certain trees. Then I began to pay closer attention to appearance of the branches I was pulling out of the street.

A Sycamore Limb with Telltale Twisted Break

A Sycamore Limb with Telltale Twisted Break

Every one of the limbs and branches had a telltale “ripped and twisted” appearance from where it had been attached to the tree. This sort of corkscrew tearing does not come from straight wind gusts, but from winds that have a powerful rotation.

The sight of these branches transported me back to an April morning in 2000. I was standing at a large storefront window, trying to judge the severity of a sudden storm, when I saw the top half of a large oak tree floating airborne down the center of the street, rotating as it went by. That morning in Greensboro, NC, there were four or five small tornadoes (category 1 or 2) that followed creek beds throughout the city. Since no alarms were sounded and there had been no weather alert, the civil authorities first reported that these were “straight winds.” It didn’t take long, however, before the type of damage and the narrow pathway of these “winds” forced the recognition that it had been twisters and not straight winds (after that the three local TV stations all quit running ads that boasted about their Doppler radar systems).

Tuesday evening about thirty minutes after the initial storm blasted through, another squall line hit us. This one was straight line winds and torrential rain. Having been outside between the fronts, I could tell on Wednesday morning that the heavy winds that came through with the second front had not resulted in any more damage or downed limbs. Over the course of the next couple hours in the daylight, we discovered the twister that came down our little creek was only one of at least two. The one that was a quarter mile to the east, following another creek bed, did a lot more significant damage—within a very narrow parameter of maybe fifty or sixty feet. Several massive trees were “skinned” and/or splintered; a nearby mega congregation had its church marquee sucked out from the back and an oak tree, maybe ten or twelve feet around, was bent over, blocking the entrance to its parking lot. . . . Sort of makes you wonder if there was a divine message there.

Want to Know the Tornado’s Path?

Want to Know the Tornado’s Path?

This photo was taken at the corner of my street where it intersects the street immediately to our east. The row of tall trees along the right side of the photo is on the side of the creek bed opposite our house; this is about fifty yards from our front yard. If you want to see the path of tornado, notice the lamp post just to the left of my neighbor’s house (in the picture below, you can see that the lid of the lamp post has been opened; tornadoes do some strange stuff). Just above the top of the lamp post you’ll see a hunk missing from their river birch tree; those limbs aren’t really missing, they just got folded down. Then to the right side of the photo, you can see the lighter color of the turned-down leaves of saplings. The funnel cloud went in close proximity to this path. No other foliage in the area was impacted except for the upper limbs of the poplars and sycamores, the tallest trees along the creek.

As we neighbors put our heads together on Wednesday morning, we began to realize how lucky we all were. The two twisters bracketed our fifty-six house development and, so far as we know at this point, caused no structural damage to any dwelling. As for me, I wondered if there was maybe a divine message as well—since the twister was literally less than 100 feet from the room where I was working. In retrospect, I think there is a message that for me: royalties! I need to get my authors’ royalty checks in the mail before something really bad happens. –Mike Simpson

The Tornado Opened the Top of the Lamp Post And Flew Above the Houses in the Background

The Tornado Opened the Top of the Lamp Post
And Flew Above the Houses in the Background

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Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story — Review by Sheila Deeth

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative trilogy that was written online by me and several other authors from Second Wind Publishing. We started out with the murder of a little girl, and though we never knew where we were going (the murderer wasn’t chosen until the very end) or what the other writers were doing, we actually ended up with a book that seemed as if it had been planned from the beginning.

Sheila Deeth, inveterate reviewer (she’s rapidly becoming one of Amazon’s top reviewers) and author in her own right (Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum, and Imaginary Numbers, are all coming soon from Second Wind Publishing) had this to say about Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story:

Rubicon Ranch: Riley's StoryI read occasional chapters of this novel online while it was being written. But now, at last, I’ve been able to read the whole thing in one setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Different authors pen chapters from the points of view of different characters. But the end of each tale meshes perfectly with the next, and the story progresses, through twists and turns (and death), to its mysterious, perfectly logical conclusion, while the reader is left to guess, imagine, wonder, and reflect.

The inhabitants of Rubicon Ranch are a mixed bunch, with accidental killers, accused pedophile, angry son, angry widow, and singularly dubious strangers staying at the local B&B. In classic Agatha Christie style, they might all have reasons to kill, and to hide, in a desert development where even the sheriff has his secrets. But which one, or ones, did the deed?

Feisty widow Melanie teams up, reluctantly, with the handsome sheriff. Seeing the world through a camera’s eye, and describing it with a writer’s sense of detail, she’s either the best at hiding her motives, or else she just hasn’t looked in the right place yet. Their tense relationship is fun, filled with promise for future books in a series that’s most un-traditionally written, but classically cool and enticing.

The desert’s pretty cool too—seriously hot, beautifully described, thoroughly genuine, and with snakes in the grass. I really enjoyed this delightfully traditional, thoroughly modern mystery.

Disclosure: I bought this when it was free and can hardly believe it took me so long to get around to reading it. —Sheila Deeth

You too can download a copy of Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story. Just click here: Rubicon Ranch on Smashwords to download in the ebook in the format of your choice. Or you can read it online here: Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story.

Or you can sample the first chapter here: Melanie Gray.

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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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