Friday, January 30, 2015

Post-Christmas Cop

"You have the right to remain Silent...NIGHT!"

Okay, it sounds like a hackneyed horror film phrase, right? But I'm about ready to put it into effect.

One of my neighbors still--STILL--had a stupid inflatable snowman bobbing in his yard well into January. Nothing brings out the Christmas fuzzies like a glorified balloon. It ain't a car-lot, for crying out loud. You know the worst offenders are the guys who stick up huge blow-up Kansas City Chiefs inflatables in their yards during Christmas. Somewhere along the way, the inflatable industry has corrupted Christmas.
"Pop me, please!"

But I digress. Finally, the neighbor took the offending snowman down. 

Good. Before I did. And I was ready to, oh, yes, I was. 

Look, as much as I dislike the inflatables, that's not what's got me in a tizzy. Fact is, we're entering February. Christmas is over. Deal with it. Call me the neighborhood post-Christmas cop. Take down the decorations, focus on Valentine's Day. And taxes. Ho, ho, ho.

Yet another neighbor is still burning Christmas lights outside the house. Feh. There's like a statute of limitations on something like that, I'm sure. And he's not keeping things very "green."

It's time for me to take charge, lay down the law of the land. Make a citizen's arrest on behalf of good taste and common decency. It's not happening on my watch. Neighborhood Watch.

I'm gonna' go pound on the offending neighbor's door now and demand he take the lights down. I've reached my limit.

Here I go.

I'll let you know how the post-Christmas intervention goes.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The hardships and agony of being a "Fun Uncle"

Well, yeah, of course I'm the "Fun Uncle" when it comes to holidays. I've heard our types called "Funcle." But I prefer Fun Uncle. Funcle sounds like a pretty gross foot growth, something belying the nobility in Fun Uncling. I suppose it doesn't matter, though, as Fun Uncles are never given the respect they should be accorded.

It's not like I set out to be Fun Uncle. It sorta' just got thrust upon me. And why not? I'm immature, have a like mind-set with kids, know how to wrangle gas jokes like a seasoned ranch-hand. Kids love me. And, dang, don't they wear me down.

A couple times a year, adults love me for this reason as well. It gives them a chance to hang out, be uncool, talk about dumb stuff like politics and work and who's died recently. Sip coffee, pinky finger extended. Boring big people crap. No thanks.

But. I'm an unpaid babysitter on holidays. I think I'm the only family member to come away from holidays with bruises, a sore back, scratches on my face. Holidays are tough. Worse than professional wrestling. I need a vacation from vacation.

I've been "operated" on, had toy trucks slammed against my head, been buried alive with pillows then jumped on, rode like a donkey, had bacon thrown at me, had food (and things I don't prefer to think about) smeared upon me, had my shoes ripped apart. One time a "little rascal" hid one of my shoes so I couldn't escape my parents' house. Just like old times, grounded again. Children are a joy.

Maybe it's time for Fun Uncles to unionize. Take back the night. Demand better wages (well, any wages would be a nice starting point). While I'm outside, in the bitter cold, defusing two siblings from throwing punches, hurling insults, beating on good ol' Fun Uncle, where are the adults? Sitting inside, warm and snug, taking Fun Uncle for granted, extending those damn pinky fingers. It's like those extended pinky fingers are pointing at me, taunting me, saying, "Sucker!"

And things only get worse. Here's the rub. The hallowed title of Fun Uncle tarnishes with age. Once kids hit a certain age, Fun Uncle begins to look like a dork, a creep. Try telling a fourteen year old to pull your finger and see where that gets you. They're thinking, "Why in the hell is an adult hanging out with kids when there's coffee to be sipped, politics to ponder, pinky fingers to extend?"

I can't win. People, please be kind to Fun Uncles. You can help by donating to my fund, "Fun Uncles Are People, Too." Here's my PayPal address: "" I accept checks, money orders, beer, and mixed nuts. Oh, nachos, too, but be sure to package them properly.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Psst! The secret origin of The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals

Okay, I'm gonna' have to swear you all to secrecy. Trust me. You don't want Like-Minded Individuals, Incorporated coming after you. It won't be in your best interests.

I'll give you a minute to take the super secret oath, paper-cut your thumb, and dab the blood onto your screen, device, whatever.

Done? Let's do this...

What is Like-Minded Individuals Inc., you ask? They're the extremely hush-hush corporation at the center of my new thriller, The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals. It's complicated. the blurb.

Okay, are you back? Whew, that's a lot of info (and secrets) I divulged. I hope "LMI" isn't listening. They have eyes and ears everywhere. Turns out, um, they're not quite as fictional as I thought.

Still, here I am, risking it all to tell you where the idea came from...or, at least, where I thought it came from:

"The Husband Bench." 

Yep. That place where suffering men sit at malls and stores, waiting for their significant others to finish Epic Shopping. Some time ago, my wife
parked me amongst several other bored guys, told me it'd be just a minute. Well, it wasn't. But I started watching the men; men from all walks of life with nothing in common but sheer boredom. I began to wonder if some of them had other reasons for being there. Running with the idea, I thought the "husband bench" might be a particularly secretive, discreet, amusing, and unusual place for a clandestine meeting.

Now all I had to do was come up with a reason for the secret meeting. Hence, The Secret Society of Like-Minded Individuals was born.

Or so I thought. Now, someone's watching me. My cell-phone's tapped, my computer's being tracked, a dark Town car keeps following me. You're my only hope, dear must find out the truth from my book and expose the evil conspiracy. And why they're doing it! Before it's too late!

My life depends on your buying this book!


A dark suspense thriller with an unhealthy vein of humor coursing through its veins, TSSLMI is the first in a trilogy. A fictional trilogy...or is it? 

Available now for pre-order. The Kindle and print book launches February 3rd. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Joan Curtis: Sexist or Dang Good Mystery Author? YOU be the judge!

Here ye, here ye, court's in session. Today we have Joan Curtis, author of the spiffy mystery The Clock Strikes Midnight, on trial for charges of discrimination toward men in her book. But before we get to the kangaroo trial, let's chat some about the book.

*Hey, Joan, thanks for sitting in the hot seat today. If it gets too hot…well, just sweat it out, there’s no escape. You asked for it. Why don’t we start by your telling the reader what The Clock Strikes Midnight is about? 

Joan: This is a story about two sisters whose lives are entwined in a bitter past shrouded in mystery. 

Janie Knox wants nothing more than to live her life quietly in Savannah, Georgia and never return to her hometown of Atlanta. At age 17, a week after a jury convicted her
stepfather of killing her mother,she packed all her worldly possessions in a single duffle bag, hopped on a bus, and vowed never to return. But, when she learns that she’s got three months to live, she journeys back home to finish what she couldn’t do when she left--kill her stepfather.

As the clock ticks away, Janie’s uses the last days of her life to right the wrongs that have haunted her for 20 years. She faces more than she bargained for when she discovers her sister’s life in shambles. Meanwhile her stepfather, recently released from prison, blackmails the sisters and plots to extract millions from the state in retribution.

The Clock Strikes Midnight is a race against time in a quest for revenge and atonement. This is a story about unleashing the hidden truths that haunt a quiet Southern family.

*One of the things I enjoyed about the book is I wasn’t quite sure what genre it fit in. That’s a good thing, I think. Sure, it’s billed as a mystery, but while it has some mystery elements, it’s really quite a bit more. Since we live in a label-pasting society, I’d call it a “women’s lit, character study, thriller.” How would you TRULY define the book, Joan?  

Joan: Although not a traditional who-done-it mystery, this story centers around the mysterious death of the sisters’ mother. That’s what makes it a mystery. Gone Girl is not considered a mystery but, it, too, is labeled in that category. (But, please, do not compare The Clock Strikes Midnight to Gone Girl coz I hated that book!) I’d say this book is a family saga draped in mystery. How’s that for a new genre?

*You’ve written two interesting, extremely flawed characters in the siblings, Janie and Marlene. They’re tormented by the past, seemingly unable to let it go. And it drives them to be who they are, for better or worse. I’m thinking worse. Tell me the truth, Joan, did you actually like these gals? Who they are before the end? 

Joan: I’m not sure I have to like my characters. I like things about them. Janie is strong and focused. Many of us upon learning of our impending death, might just say, “Oh, hang it. I’m gonna spend my final months doing exactly what I please.” Janie, on the other hand, felt compelled to reconcile with her sister and make up for what she had done in the past. Marlene, too, becomes a strong character as the book progresses. (Can’t say more!).

*I think my favorite part of the book was the surprise center section. We get a new back-story, another fascinating character study, one I wasn’t expecting. I liked the way the past intersects with the present in your book, forming the present. And, the center section bridges the gap in many ways. How’d you chart this? So you don’t mess up timelines? I know when I attempt such a thing, it’s tough. Do you have your own “murder board” set up in the living room, strings attached to port cards and the like? 

Joan: Wish I was organized enough to have a “murder board.” My books evolve. There’s no other way to describe them. The stories and the characters bubble to the surface as I write. That makes editing a nightmare.  (My own editing—before the manuscript is seen by outside eyes.) What I write in the beginning may not work at all later on. Originally, I wrote this entire manuscript from the points of view of the two characters as teens. Then, I re-wrote it from their adult points of view. So, I knew and understood the past as if it had happened to me. I would not recommend this technique to those at home!

*Janie appears to be seeking redemption. To a lesser degree, so is Marlene. But a lot of the things Janie wants to be redeemed for areof her own making. They carry around a wagon-full of guilt and they’ve been punishing themselves in different ways for years. Are they Catholic? Or just really, really messed up? We have survivor’s guilt, blaming oneself for abuse, mentally checked out parents. It’s a textbook case of psychology in many ways. So…what kind of research was involved, Joan? And, um, how much of this is true? (Ducks and covers.)  

Maybe I should confess. My husband is a psychiatrist and my background is sociology. I’ve read and heard many a story and learned a lot over the years. The characters are not Catholic, but they are Southern. They grew up in a typical Southern household where everything was made to look good. “Put a good face on it.” Janie and Marlene (having lost their dad very young) clung to each other until something destroyed that strong bond. Later they acted out in different ways. No ducks and covers, my characters are totally fictional.

*Atlanta plays such an important part of the tale. You describe it so well, it’s nearly a character. Having survived driving the Atlanta highways during rush hour (nightmare!), I can attest to many of the things you describe. Drivers are dang crazy. Do you live there?  

Joan: Thank you, Stuart. I’m glad the setting felt that real. I live in Athens, which is 75 miles northeast of Atlanta (the little a) I’ve had to work in Atlanta and have experienced that traffic first-hand. Yuck. The metro-Atlanta town where Janie and Marlene grew up, Decatur, is a place I know quite well. If I didn’t live in Athens, I’d probably move to Decatur or Savannah—another of my favorite Georgia towns featured in The Clock.

*I found it interesting that the one action piece in the book is experienced by the two main characters hearing it. They don’t see it, they’re not active participants. From one character’s POV, it’s a terrifically understated suspense set-piece. Did you intentionally set out to write quiet, effective suspense? Or do you just hate writing gunfights?  

Joan: Geez. I wish I could be that intentional. “I’m gonna write a certain way…” Instead, things just happen the way they do because they do. I put myself in that character’s place and imagine what she or he is seeing and hearing. I love it that you describe it as “understated suspense.” I’m going to tell people I planned that from now on!

*Okay, let’s talk turkey. Not being sexist, but I’ll bet your book will appeal to women readers more than men. I may be in the minority as a male reader who enjoyed it. HOWEVER…I think the male characters aren’t given their due. Poor Peter. What’d he do to deserve this (okay, okay, he purchased a house without consulting his wife. Major bad. But other than that, he’s a stand-up guy)? Dude takes an emotional beating. And, sure, Ralph’s a heinous villain, there’s no way to defend a sexual predator/abuser. But Janie seeks revenge on him for killing her mother. After he spent years in prison. I got more gripes about Janie's attitude toward men but it'd lead into spoilers. Finally, the character of Nick. Gah. HATE him. Opportunistic player, yet he’s presented as a woman’s dream. Okay, Ms. Curtis, start dancing…how do you defend yourself in my courtroom blog? You’re up on charges of sexism and discrimination against male characters. 

Joan: You forgot my favorite male character, Mark. He’s a lifesaver both to Marlene and to Janie. And, what about Marlene and Janie’s dad? Such a good guy. Indeed, Peter got a raw deal, but who knows what the future might hold for him. 

I wrote a book I’d love to read. I’m a female, so it makes sense that my book might appeal more to the ladies. But, the first reviewer was a man. I was a bit surprised when he gave it five stars. So, go figure… 

*Hmm, not sure I'm satisfied with that answer. What say you, readers? Guilty or not guilty on the charges of discrimination against men?

Joan, what’s up next for you?  

Joan: My next book is the first in a series. More mystery-like, The e-Murderer stars Jenna Scali, a thirty-something, criminology graduate student who works for a shrink and who gets tangled up with a serial killer. Yikes. Murder and mayhem follow.

*There you have it. Go get Joan's book here.