When the Rhinos F*ck the Cows


An acquaintance of mine from Portland shared an article her husband wrote about finding one’s voice as a writer. Since he’s published and I’m not, and he is a very nice man, I read it and a line in there reminded me of the most extremely short-lived job I ever held in my illustrious career of job-collecting.

Since this was commission-based, I made no money at this. Promotions in Motion was the worst of the worst sales jobs. We went door to door at various businesses, ignoring “no soliciting” signs to interrupt people at their work to sell them something they don’t need. The vast majority of the time, we were told no anyway. Fortunately, most people were pleasant about it but it was still embarrassing.

I don’t even remember what we were selling, but I vaguely recall a promotion for an obscure comedy club. I trained for two days and decided to bail. My first trainer had been a stripper before this job. She was pretty cool and I had fun while I trained with her. The next trainer was nice enough, but he had a lot to say about our POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world.” He spent the entire drive back to the office trying to convince me to stick it out with a psychological head-trip of “It’s not easy being a leader.” But I’d already figured out that such a job would have been a daily exercise of humiliation where my dignity chipped away to nothing. Later, I met somebody who worked for them for about a year. He said he “made money,” but he also said he worked well beyond the 9-5 time slot, and often went to homes and businesses until 9 at night to make about $1500 a month. (This was in the 90’s btw.)

They didn’t tell me that when they were selling this job to me. 

So how does this have anything to do with the title of the blog or the article my friend’s husband, Johnny Shaw, wrote about finding your writer’s voice? Patience, please, because I’m getting there.

On my first day of training, the former stripper told us about their morning meetings where they get pumped up with a Rhinos vs. Cows cheer. We were the “Rhinos,” of course, and everybody else working a regular job with guaranteed pay and some benefits were the “Cows.”

“Rhinos fuck shit up,” she said. “Cows just graze.”

On my second day of training, I got to experience this for myself. All the door-to-door sales associates were there and the POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world” started the cheer.  

“WHO ARE WE?” he roared.

Everybody made the “hang loose” sign - aka “shaka” in Hawaii - with one hand. Then they defiled this expression of mellowness and peace by putting thumb to nose so their fist and pinky finger made a facsimile of a rhino horn.

“WE’RE THE RHINOS!!” they called back.








Yeah. It would have been the wiser choice to bail right then and there, but I’m a firm believer in stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to find inspiration. This was one of those moments. Experiencing the sheer lunacy of people was priceless.

Johnny Shaw’s article made a reference to fucking a cow too, but that was for the sake of artistic merit. If you would like to know how his article triggered this memory when I was young and clueless, check it out here. I don’t know if this experience helped me find my writer’s voice, but perhaps Johnny’s professor would have been gratified to know that such a story was out there.

Tiny Victories and Tremendous Satisfaction


I’ve always used storytelling as a vehicle to get my work out there, but it is also an art form that I love in and of itself. So, since January of 2017, I’ve done these events called Tea & Tales where I tell a story out of Ella Bandita as well as fables, myths, and folk tales from all over the world. We lounge on pillows, drink herbal tea, chill out, and the audience listens while I talk. Sometimes I sell a novel out of this, but for the most part, donations are the only payment I get out of it. The first year, I quickly figured out that Tea & Tales 2x/month-year-round is not realistic. So Tea & Tales has since become a monthly event that happens seasonally from the fall until mid-Spring when the days are noticeably longer.

I was burned out at the end of this season. I was more than ready for the last Tea & Tales on April 7th to come and go because the light was increasing along with my restlessness, and I was more than ready to be done for the rest of spring and summer. I’m proud of what I’ve done with Tea & Tales, that I’ve stuck with it for 3 seasons, and have slowly built up a network of regulars that I can count on somebody showing up.

For the first 2 seasons, I had only 1 regular who I could count on, and Simran is fabulous. He kept me going, showing up when nobody else did. And so long as he was there, I told my stories and got some practice. He even participated as a guest storyteller a couple of times, and he painted my Tea & Tales sandwich board sign on both sides. Isn’t it fabulous?

During the 2nd season, I promoted and emailed and pushed and had larger audiences as a result, but I did not gain new regulars. I tend to find my regulars through the things I like to do. For example, I love espresso and my favorite barista came to a few of the Tea & Tales this season. A friend of mine has been coming, and a couple of potential new ones came who I met through a women’s group that I recently joined. Marc started coming in the 2nd season, and he invited me to do a skit with him through Open Heart Mic after I did a storytelling there.

And on this last Tea & Tales, a young woman showed up who had seen me last year at Open Heart Mic. This was the first she had seen of my Tea & Tales on Facebook, and she jumped right in. The fact that she came a YEAR after she had seen me perform at Open Heart Mic left me elated.

If that’s not the highest compliment to what I do, I don’t know what is. These are the small victories that keep us going. I may have to promote more next season, but I also need to get out there at other events. That was a gorgeous eye opener, and a warm glow that will last me until the fall when I do it all over again.

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? - On the Road #11


I was on the road in Anchorage when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. That catastrophe hit me hard because I had lived in New Orleans for two brief stints before moving to Alaska. Even though I was so immersed in my DIY booktour road trip, all I could think about was my time in New Orleans, so I couldn’t help but write to my friends about it, even though that wasn’t a part of my road trip. Many of my friends found this piece to be one of their favorites from the trip. For previous journal entries from On the Road blogs, go here and here.

Ah, the decline of the city of debauchery!  That spit in the face of nature, a major port city built with a swamp as the foundation, a place that has suffered through being changed to the rule of differing countries like a spoiled brat being tossed back and forth between reluctant parents who never should have had kids to begin with.  That inconvenient city that has been neglected, corrupted, bought and sold, taken over, all the while home to murder, slavery, the birth of the "free people of color." The latter were the offspring between slaves and white plantation owners who became so widespread, they became their own segment of New Orleans society. The free people of color even had slaves to serve them. They threw octoroon balls, so the beautiful daughters of the free people of color could meet privileged Creole gentlemen, and be set up as their long-term mistresses. Not to mention the recurring presence of the plague brought on by the innocuous mosquito wiping out populations making the Nile Virus look like the common cold. Not to mention voodoo, everybody in New Orleans takes voodoo seriously, thanks to the 19th century mulatto free woman of color, Marie Laveau. She made two fortunes before and  after the Civil War, when everybody there lost everything. Then the arrival of Yankee Irish carpetbaggers who came to scavenge Louisiana and other parts of the south, showed up on her doorstep due to her reputation as a powerful sorceress.

It's hard to believe that so much richness and wretched beauty existed in such a thoroughly whacked-out place, and you have no idea how much it hurts my heart to see the pictures and read the reports of the destruction of that city. 

Although it had been pimped out to common tourism (we in Juneau know nothing about that, now don't we?), New Orleans never lost its mysticism or its magic. I could write a book about the short time that I spent there, and it's impossible for photos, news reports, or writing to do that city justice. New Orleans to me was one of those places that really made an impact on my psyche, even if I didn't spend years of my life there. My parents went to college at Tulane where they met. They even married there. Without New Orleans, I wouldn't exist, so there's always been that connection.  Then, of course, there was the writing of Anne Rice and Truman Capote...

Mysterious, fascinating, decadent, violent, New Orleans never should have existed except for the megalomaniacal vision and ambition of man; from the day le Sieur de la Salle saw that space in the swamp, and the access of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, and was consumed with trading glory for France. De la Salle never found that spot again; he got lost in Texas and was murdered by his crew before they ever found it, so Bienville and Iberville were the brothers given credit for founding this city built on a swamp. 

"So what's your story?" 

This is the usual go-to when meeting new people. And the superbly fucked up story of La Nouvelle Orleans was unstable from the word go. It’s part of its charm and mystique, and nobody can do dysfunctional with the same expertise and panache of those who were born and raised there. New Orleanians revel in their dramas, and always welcome newcomers, so they can perform their story for a fresh audience. The one thing I remember about that city is that lots of people helped me stay, but it was like extricating myself out of molasses when it was time to go.  Let's face it, anyplace built in a swamp is going to encourage stagnation, not growth.

But there's no place like it on earth. The vibe of that town is mysterious with its decadent homes where 11 foot ceilings are considered stunted, with wrought iron gates, magnolia and jasmine trees scenting the night, and the hanging oaks insuring the privacy of the doings inside the houses. It's a city of sin and secrets, masquerade and carnival, even if Mardi Gras has been degraded from nudity and body paint, fucking strangers while in mask to a frat boy street party where "Show your tits!" and fresh-faced twenty-something teeny boppers pull up their shirts is the pinnacle of thrill.  

There's nothing quite like being drunk in New Orleans. It is literally a different kind of high, all the ju-ju, mojo, and mysticism must get in the air and permeate the alcohol. A town where seeing people smoking joints in the street is not an uncommon sight and of course, taking your drink with you when you leave the bar to go to the next, whether in the French Quarter or any other part of town, is legal. 


"No human being should be in New Orleans during the months of August and September."  So said Laura, my lunatic roommate in the neighborhood known as "Uptown," when we were discussing the humidity of New Orleans.  

The heat and humidity still live in my memory. I was raised in Florida, no slouch in tropical weather humidity, but in New Orleans, it's worse. But from the first weekend visit before I moved there a month later, the beauty and the vibe of that town knocked me out, and I absolutely loved it.  I found a job and my first place to live within a week.

"Five fifty?!  For a beer?!" (This was in 1996. Nowadays, $5.50 is normal.)

I worked as a bartender on Bourbon Street during my first run there; and well, it was a vivid experience. I've never worked so hard or so long in that profession as I did at that particular job, the only bartending job where I worked fifty to seventy hours a week during busy times - Superbowl, Mardi Gras, and Jazz Festival - for a very colorful family. I didn't make the “bank” that one would expect, due to appallingly over priced drinks, but I had to stay. I worked for the "Jewish Mafia" as one of my co-workers put it, the last of the old families that ruled the French Quarter from the old days before corporate companies brought Californication to the Big Easy and put the smiley-face, homogeneous smear on the place. The kind of people who "bought" the employees they wanted, instead of "stealing" them. The Karno family was a hold-out from a different time; they were gleefully corrupt, unapologetically greedy, and cheerily abusive. I was definitely out of place there. Being the cog in the machine, I got yelled at every day for three months until I adapted to my surroundings and became a part of the "There's us, and then there's them" mentality they had towards outsiders.

"Larry, is your name motherfucker?" Gail, the manager, shouted to one of the cocktail waiters at a meeting geared towards building teamwork in time for the Superbowl/Mardi Gras season.

It was not a warm and fuzzy environment, being that I was working amongst a bunch of self-admitted hustlers, and stress ran high. Squabbling, fighting, cursing each other out were daily occurrences. And as I said, I would have made a lot more money in half the time spent if I had worked at any of the other bars on the street. Most of my friends and family thought I was crazy working there, but I had to stay. 

The Karno’s owned these bars, worked their employees like plantation slaves, and played the nastiest head games with us because they could.  They were the last of their kind and I knew I would never meet anybody like them again. Face it: they would have been sued out of business anyplace else but New Orleans. Their psychology was shaped by the absolute power of the good old days, when the bosses of the French Quarter could have people black-balled, and one really didn't want to piss them off if one wanted to continue to make money there. Their core employees were still a part of that mentality, and it kept them frozen in time.

Even then, I knew it couldn't last. Modern times were catching up with that swamp city of decay and decadence. I had a feeling my employers would eventually lose everything, but I never imagined anything like this.

"Yeah, one good hurricane coming up the Mississippi would wipe us out, we'd be living underwater," joked Sammy Karno. "It hasn't happened in over two hundred and fifty years."

This isn't the first time a hurricane has wiped out New Orleans, the only difference was that the first buildings were last minute shanties.  It wasn't the architectural marvel and fantasy it's been ever since.

"What keeps it up? Technology, or dumb-ass luck?"

"So far," said Sammy, "it's been dumb-ass luck."

It just hit me in the last day or two that many people that I knew and cared about are going through this misery of Hurricane Katrina. The folks I worked with were under-educated, ignorant (some had no idea the corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was known as "Cancer Alley" due to the pollution of the Mississippi and looked shocked when I told them. I was equally shocked at their shock, I mean what do you say?), and living from paycheck to paycheck or tip day to tip day.  If you wait tables in Louisiana, your base pay is about $2 an hour. Apparently you can pay bartenders as low, but since Miss Billie, my boss, was paranoid about stealing and the bartenders had access to cash, she paid us minimum wage - I think I made $5/hr when I worked for here nine years ago (1996-97).

"Hang in there, baby," said Gail and Dawn, my managers.  "The Karnos will take care of you." 

I didn’t stick around to find out, and left after less than a year to continue my happy trails of the vagabond bartender phase of my life. But many musicians, entertainers, cocktail servers, and other bartenders did not evacuate before Katrina hit.  There's no way. They can't afford to go and leave everything behind. 

Both times I left New Orleans, I was so thoroughly exhausted - physically, emotionally, mentally and psychically. It was a place that I loved, but it was impossible for me to be healthy there. Also, I can't stand limbo and being stagnant was unbearable. My friends and community there were shaped by decadence, drama, and various forms of abuse. I loved them, but they were draining. They loved me and they didn't want to let go...

In New Orleans, lots of people will help you stay, but nobody will help you go. You gotta pull yourself out of the swamp. 

The second time I left, I cut all ties and never looked back.

But I can't stop thinking about them lately.  




Genre Matters, But I Hate It!


One of the most frustrating questions asked of me as a writer is “What genre do you write in?”

As much as I hate it, genre matters. Genre matters a lot. This is true when it comes to looking for an agent, an editor, a publishing house, and even self-publishing is not free from the tyrannical clutch of “genre.”

Writing contests and awards are one way to stand out from the sea of horribly-written, self-published fiction. And guess how are those writing contests classified and divided? 

There’s no escape from genre.

Technically, mine is fantasy but I don’t get so wrapped up in the magical elements or alternate world building that is considered usual in the genre.

For me, magic is a tool I use to make my point and carry the story in ways that I would not be able to do in a setting of the “real world,” but magic is not the focus of the story.

I consider my foundation to be in fairy tales, fables, and mythology, and forget urban fantasy or science fiction, because I’m not into technology in my personal life and I don’t want to get bogged down in that in fiction.

I also want to be commercially successful, but well written. So well written, that my commercial fairy tale fantasy would be considered literary. 

Then there are the sex scenes, which reach the explicit standard of erotica. But I treat sex with a lot of reverence. So in those scenes, I do my damnedest to write them beautifully in as poetic and lyrical fashion as I can, in the hopes that one would consider this literary erotica.

But if the main genre is “fantasy,” some readers may not see that coming and I’ve read that explicit sex scenes make a novel less “serious” and not “literary.”

For the hell of it, why don’t you consider that it’s possible that the description of good sex can also be literary and artistic in the world we’re writing in?

For erotica to be literary, the sex must center on a love story.

But it doesn’t fit the romance genre because romance insists on the happily-ever-after ending. My love stories don’t end that way.

Oddly enough, the second novel I’m working on right now in a series of 4, is far more of a love story with a lot of erotica more than fantasy.

It even has a HEA ending, but the two love stories within that end in abandonment and heartache. There is some magic there, with a Sorcerer who turned an angry, ugly peasant named Addie into Adrianna the Beautiful, a Courtesan who only gets better with time.

But other than that and a couple of other scenes, magic plays very little in this fantasy novel that is much more about love, sex, intrigue, and rivalry than a fantasy world of magic.

The question of genre irritates me because it is so confining.

As a writer who blends styles, and prefers to do some of this, a little of that, a bit of this here, and touches of that there - why can’t there be a space to write outside of the limitations of genre?

Isn’t that what creativity is supposed to do? Isn’t that how we grow and evolve what is art and literature?

Changing a Novel That's Already Out There


So I wrote and self-published a novel almost five years ago. At that time, I wrote, rewrote, and rewrote again, then edited and polished; my goal was getting an agent, an editor, and a publishing house. So I knocked myself out to meet all their nitpicking details, like a modest word count. What ended up happening was an over-rewritten novel that had lost a precious measure of juice and the lingering annoyance that something’s just not right 

There wasn’t adequate backstory needed to make the central character more sympathetic, instead of one who readers couldn’t connect with – except those who had suffered enough loss in their personal lives to read between the lines and understand her. I took out at least 75 pages of that backstory, as well as a chapter that had won 3rd place in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category of the Southwest Writers Contest. That 75 pages held a lot of information about the relationship, or non-relationship between the unnamed Patron’s daughter who would become Ella Bandita and her father. It also told the story of her crush, the Horse Trainer who had Come as A Vagabond from his point of view.

Ella Bandita and the Wanderer was my 1st finished novel. First novels are seldom, if ever, an author’s best work. In the novel, “The World According to Garp,” by John Irving, the main character, Garp, was also a novelist; and his editor praised his first novel as a fine story, with the caveat that it was still “just a first novel.” So, got that. But it still doesn’t feel good to read the more critical reviews and know that they’re right. My partner put it simply: “Something’s missing. 

So I’m putting most of those cut out parts back in to complete the story, even though it will be such a pain in the ass to redesign and reformat the novel. I’ll have to update the copyright as well, and the novel needs a new title. In other words, this is a hassle and I’m not too sure that the novel will be that much improved for adding some missing pieces. It will still be a first novel. But I hope the series will be better for it.

I realize that much of what I wrote in my journal of the writer’s process makes no sense to anybody but me, and perhaps the SEO gods will frown upon me. But what the hell - it’s my blog and sometimes one must do whatever one wants.

Writing Prompts for Fiction and Inspiration for Journaling!


It’s been a long time since we’ve put out some writing prompts. Here are a few tidbits of inspiration for those who love to write stories, and those who love to journal. Cole did an outstanding job on these, and I’ve been remiss in getting them out there.

Eventually, I’ll get some writing prompts of my own out there, but in the meantime, here are the last ones that NC Saul did for me. For anybody who’s new, some previous writing prompts can be found here and here. Some memes I had fun making, and that could also serve as inspiration for journaling or fiction can be found here.


Sounds like a nugget for an exciting fantasy adventure!

Sounds like a nugget for an exciting fantasy adventure!

This is a nice prompt for either journaling or a literary novel.

This is a nice prompt for either journaling or a literary novel.

And another fantasy adventure!

And another fantasy adventure!

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The beauty and mystery of the world is an eternal supply from the Muses.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The beauty and mystery of the world is an eternal supply from the Muses.

Can you weave a tapestry of words about your life?

Can you weave a tapestry of words about your life?

I love me a good travel adventure, and always come up with some amazing stories when I’m following some happy trails!

I love me a good travel adventure, and always come up with some amazing stories when I’m following some happy trails!

Picking Up Strays - On the Road # 10


Hey y’all,

Again, this is a letter written 14 years after the DIYBTRT in Alaska, the summer and fall of 2005. So Joe and I decided to go to Valdez first before heading to McCarthy for the Blackburn Festival. We were curious to follow the pipeline all the way to Valdez. But Joe slept on that drive, which I couldn’t believe. Maybe he has since experienced the incredible beauty I did. But the drive between the Wrangell/St Elias range and the Chugach range is known for a low cloud cover ALL THE TIME. On that day, the cloud cover lifted and what I saw was all kinds of jaw-dropping-stunning-gorgeous! The jagged peaks, glaciers that stretched almost to the road (or so it seemed) and the deep, rich, emerald green that was both vivid and surreal, I felt like I was driving through a mythical land. Where I lived was plenty beautiful, but this was the most exquisite part of Alaska that I ever saw. And that was only from the road. That was not the backcountry.

Joe decided to stay on in Valdez in the hopes of getting another fishing job. He didn’t and joined me at Blackburn, where we stayed in my half collapsed tent. Shannon, the friend from the peanut oil bus, saw Joe entering my tent and was about to deck him, when I showed up and reassured her that he was a friend of mine. The Festival happened, and the blogs about it are here and here for anybody who’d like to read about it.

Another friend joked that I picked up strays along the way and took them for a ride of a brief spell in my road trip, and that was true after this Girdwood party in Kennicott. I don’t remember how this happened, but after the Festival was over, there were a handful of us who stayed in the parking lot for another night. A photographer from Girdwood who had a passing resemblance to one of the Bee Gees in their prime, he had long hair and a beard, and a similar mindset to somebody who came of age in the Disco era – and no he was not of that age. I think Girdwood’s random lesbian, a cute girl with a pixie blonde haircut and large heart shaped sunglasses, a responsible looking woman and her husband, and me and Joe. Anyway, the Bee Gees photographer dude caught a ride with me and my Beast filled with books, and Joe in the backseat. The drive was several hours to Anchorage and then around Turnagain Arm to Girdwood. The photographer lectured Joe about his attitude about something or other, which pissed Joe off to no end. We still had a place to crash, and Bee Gees Photographer Dude showed us the pictures he had taken of all the belly dancers gyrating near the rusting ruins of a defunct copper mine – because of course, he took a lot pictures of the belly dancers. He didn’t get ANY shots of the magical moment when they danced spontaneously. I doubt the essence of that dance could have been captured in a snapshot though.

Anyway, that catches up the gaps in that particular squeeze of time that I neglected to write home about.



Love Story vs. Romance


So what distinguishes a love story from the romance genre?

Although I’ve gained a new respect for romance novels – which you can read about here - I’m more than a little frustrated that my former assistant put “romance” all over my META data and keywords.

I don’t write romance, and to put that in my META data to increase SEO is false advertising.

Anybody who stumbles across my work and mistakenly buys it is going to be really pissed off when they encounter a predatory seductress who’d rather eat the hearts of her conquests than live happily-ever-after.

So what are the differences between love stories and romance?

There are broad generalizations, but I’ve come up with a few reasons why love stories command my respect and I struggle with romance.

If written well, a love story can be considered literary fiction. Romance follows a formula and that always makes it commercial, even if it’s beautifully written.

If we’re going into the classic love stories, a couple of examples are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” as is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte.

“Pride and Prejudice” ends nicely, but not in a smarmy way. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy had to earn their happy ending. “Wuthering Heights” has a morose aura of tragedy and does end well with Catherine and Heathcliff together.

For film, “A Star is Born” is definitely a love story, and so beloved it has been remade over and over again, yet still makes an impact. And it ends sadly.

Since I don’t read romance novels, I don’t know who the latest prolific romance novelist is after Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, but I do know both of those women made a fortune off their genres. In movies, there are too many rom-coms to list.

A love story often has a slower pace without too many plot twists. Romance is all about the drama of obstacles to these star-crossed lovers.

A love story can be set within an ordinary life, or an extraordinary circumstance in an ordinary life; whereas romance tends to be set in exotic times and places.

But I think the greatest distinction between a love story and a romance is in the ending.

Romance novels, by their very nature of romantic escapism, must have a happy ending. Romance always ends with the man and woman are together against all odds.

Since love stories are closer to life, sometimes they end happily – as was the case for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” but not always.

It could be argued that “Pride and Prejudice” was an early romance novel because the happily-ever-after ending was not true to life. This also wasn’t what the writer, Jane Austen, actually experienced in her life.

Marrying within your social class and with an attention to money was an insurmountable obstacle in Regency England. Jane Austen did not get the guy because her family, although respectable, was not moneyed.

Perhaps that aura of loss and disappointment lent itself to the happy endings of her novels. But they still qualify as love stories, not romances. On the other hand, “Northanger Abbey” was silly enough to be a romance.

In “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine Earnshaw married somebody stable and died young. No happily-ever-after for her.

In the “Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca stayed with her husband rather than leaving him for a sexy photographer/soulmate.

Love stories can end happily, but they don’t have to. This is probably why they command respect that romance doesn’t. Here’s another blog on the differences between love story and romance here.

One of my early reviews on Amazon about Ella Bandita and the Wanderer declared that theirs was a love story. Not a happily ever after love story, but a love story nonetheless. That is why I’m kind of pissed about romance being in my META data.

My Ideal Reader Profile


Reader profile? Most promotional emails for writers are bulls**t, but I just received one from a publicist who specializes in indie authors about creating a reader profile to increase book sales and find my audience – or my “true fans.” She referred to specifics that go beyond the basics, that go beyond “women who have hopes and dreams.’

That got my attention. In the mistakes I’ve made in the last 4 ½ years (this does not include the mistakes I made in the decade before that), some things became crystal clear – especially who my audience was NOT.

I discovered my audience was not who I thought they would be. My audience does not comprise upper-middle class women between the ages of 18-40 who have enjoyed the privilege of fairly stable lives with occasional bumps, wobbles, and unexpected twists in the road. That’s not to say that people in that group did not or could not enjoy my work because many of them have; I’m merely saying they didn’t connect deeply with it.

Technically, my genre is fantasy. But that is not the deciding factor in who is likely to love my work.

Loss has been the defining characteristic of my audience. I was surprised to learn that. Over time, I have found the readers who understood the character of Ella Bandita and who resonated with the stories about her were people who had suffered a lot. Gender, age, education, those didn’t matter so much. I’m not talking about mourning over the death of beloved family members of friends, but the kind of pain that involves the loss of self, parts of yourself, or who you thought you always were.

Have your illusions been destroyed?

Have your dreams been lost or even stolen?

Have you had no choice but to reinvent yourself?

In a nutshell, has Life kicked your ass?

Anybody who has answered yes to any of these questions – and likes to read – is a likely member of my natural audience. Given that Ella Bandita was born from the dark side of my soul, who else would make up my “true fans” but those who were also intimately acquainted with their shadows? My natural audience is made up of individuals who have had to work hard to find their place in this world. They are those who have gone through the hell and come out intact.

This is not to say that somebody who has enjoyed a steady, stable life without trauma wouldn’t like or love my work. Grief comes to us through all kinds of paths. There are many ways to be broken open, and the most avid lovers of books are those who need to escape the unhappiness of their own lives. 

I don’t know if there’s a Reddit thread for this or a Facebook group, but I’d be curious how a publicist would handle a reader profile like this one. I doubt that is what this publicist had in mind. Maybe she could tackle it.



Let Me Take a Look at You


This is an excerpt from the novel that I’m currently working on, working title “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” It’s the 2nd novel in The Ella Bandita stories. Although the photo above is not of the characters, I liked it because they are doing a dance with each other. To see the other excerpt I’ve put in already, click here.

“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”

The creamy voice of my hostess caught me off guard. But I liked how she sounded. The Courtesan retained the sweet tones of a younger woman.

She stood above me, halfway down the stairs. The candles and crystals from the chandelier cast a warm glow over her lovely features, and her golden eyes sparkled in the incandescent light. The Courtesan was even more breathtaking in person than she was in her portraits.

She smiled and leaned her head to one side when I hesitated to answer.

“May I ask what you’re thinking?” she said. “I adore the way you’re looking at me just now. But your expression is rather singular.”

“I’m wondering how the devil I ended up here, if you must know.”

She chuckled softly.

“The devil may well have had a hand in this. My home is far and away from the natural wilderness where you usually roam.”

My heart ached when she said that. In that moment, I yearned for open space. People and society made life difficult, painful even. I longed for the solitude, for the peace of having only my flock for company. Even though it was snowing hard, I would have given anything to be outside, the cold air stinging my cheeks as I searched for a thick copse of trees near water, listening closely for the soft babbling of a creek that ran beneath the snow. That would have soothed my weary spirit after a day like this.

“Shepherd, you seem distressed. Is there anything you need?”

“Not at all. You’ve been very attentive to our comfort, Madame.”

“Please call me Adrianna,” she replied. “Madame is so priggish. I only allow my Butler to address me as such.”

“I don’t know you to address you by your Christian name.”

The Courtesan smirked, and cocked her right brow.

“There’s nothing Christian about any part of my name. Would you be more at ease with ‘Mi’Lady’ like the other servants? Those are your only choices.”

I paused, knowing how foolish that would be. I was a guest in her Casa, and I had no doubt the Wanderer wouldn’t hesitate at the informal address of her first name.

“As you wish, Adrianna.”

Her smirk broadened to a smile.

“Before I forget to mention it, I ran into your friend. The Wanderer said he would catch up with you in a few minutes. He also said to tell you he didn’t want to interrupt your reverie of my portraits.”

Adrianna smiled impishly, while the heat rose to my face. The Courtesan glided smoothly down the stairs, evoking a sense of leisure with each step until she came beside me. It was a shock that she only stood to my shoulder. I know I’m very tall, and her average height would make her appear diminutive next to me. But with her startling presence, I expected such a woman to be rather tall herself.

Apparently our differences in height didn’t intimidate her, while Adrianna unnerved me immediately. She took my hands and turned me to face her. The gesture was personal, if not intimate. Then Adrianna held my arms to my sides and, with no attempt at discretion, she looked me up and down.

“What are you doing?”

“My dear Shepherd, you’ve had the advantage of seeing me naked at every age, and from every angle for the better part of an hour. I would simply like the pleasure to really look at you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want to take in your form for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”

“I mind very much. You openly display your portraits and I believe posing nude was your choice.”

She glanced at me and winked, her golden eyes mischievous as she squeezed my hands.

“Please,” she murmured. “Be a darling and humor me, Shepherd.”

She had me so off balance I didn’t have the presence of mind to continue to protest. I nodded reluctantly, and that was all the permission Adrianna needed. There was nothing lascivious in the way she looked at me. She simply examined me as she would for the quality of a gown, the elegance of a piece of furniture, or the beauty of a work of art. Even though I had clothes on, I was exposed, even more naked than Adrianna had been in her portraits.

“How I adore tall men,” she purred. “Especially those who have such lovely, long limbs.”

She ran her hands along my shoulders and down my arms. The intimacy unsettled me - especially from a woman I had only met that afternoon. Yet there was nothing quite like the thrill of a woman’s touch. It had been a long time since I had last enjoyed that. The tingles along my skin made me shiver. Adrianna smiled slightly, her gaze sharp as she continued her appraisal in a buttery voice.

“You’re lean with a strength that is felt rather than seen. Tanned skin may not be the fashion of the Capital, but I love rugged men who weather well.”

She even took my chin in hand. Her grip was gentle, but I flinched. She stopped her assessment, the haze gone from her eyes when she saw into me.

“How uncomfortable does this make you, Shepherd?”

Adrianna still held my chin as she asked.

“Thoroughly uneasy.”

“That sounds unpleasant. Do you want me to stop?”

“I do. But go ahead and finish what you started.”

Her eyes glazed over again as she returned to her examination, turning my face each way.

“Salt and pepper hair becomes you nicely, and I like your brow, Shepherd. You have what I call an intelligent brow, the brow of a man who loves to think and reflect. Do you?”

“Maybe a little.”

“High cheekbones,” she continued. “Beneath your beard, I can see a strong jaw. Straight nose. How fine and chiseled your features are.”

The Courtesan then looked at me, her gaze open and penetrating at the same time. She smiled slowly.

“And your eyes,” she said in a singsong tone. “Clear green and piercing, as if you could see inside my soul. Can you, Shepherd? See to my deepest thoughts and feelings so you can know my secrets?”

“Not at all. But I suspect you can see into mine.”

Adrianna let go of my chin. She threw her head back and roared with laughter. The sudden shift in mood startled me. Her manner of laughing was surprisingly masculine from a woman with an excess of feminine wile. But the mannerism was also familiar. She stopped laughing with same abrupt manner that she started.

“Time has been extremely kind to you,” Adrianna concluded. “You are the most handsome man I’ve seen in a long time.”

Then she brought a palm to my face and stroked my cheek. Her expression shifted to that of wonder, even wistfulness.

“You must have been so beautiful when you were young, Shepherd.”

The sudden tenderness touched something buried deep inside. I struggled to breathe and froze. I couldn’t do anything but gaze into those large, feral eyes.

“I can’t say I’ve ever thought much about it.”

I was relieved when words finally came out of my mouth. Adrianna also seemed relieved, but I couldn’t be sure when she smiled.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she replied. “Isn’t that part of your charm?”

“Are you always so personal with men you just met?”

Adrianna paused for a moment, her hand still resting against my cheek.

“No,” she whispered. “Never.”

Wanna Get Excited About Writing? Talk About It!


A fairly common piece of writing advice is to not talk about your novel while you’re writing it.

I think that holds true when I’m in rough draft, because the unsolicited feedback that often comes when somebody feels they can improve upon your ideas can really psych writers out, or distract us into going in the wrong direction, which ultimately creates more work to correct, if we don’t give up out of frustration.  

But that’s only in the beginning. After a point, it’s incredible how talking about your work can create more excitement for it.

Yesterday, I was working out with my friend, and Laura asked the usual question: “What have you been doing since I saw you last.”

My answer: “Writing.”

That is most of what I’m doing right now.

2nd draft is a slower process because I focus on keeping the details straight, so there is a novel that is done at the end of this. A novel that needs a developmental edit, some rewrites, and polish, but still a finished novel - whereas the rough draft is a mess.

Anyway, she asked me what the story was about, and I told her it’s a triad of love stories involving seduction, fascination, and rivalry.

The Shepherd and the Courtesan are together to tell their stories of Ella Bandita, the predatory seductress who had abandoned both of them. The Shepherd has never gotten over her, and neither has the Courtesan.

The Courtesan’s goal is to know for certain that Ella Bandita is dead. To entice the Shepherd to stay and swap stories with her, she tells him of her transformation from an ugly, embittered, hard-labor peasant named Addie to the glamorous and irresistible Courtesan known as Adrianna the Beautiful.

This is the 2nd novel in a series of 4. Ella Bandita is the central character, however she is not the main character in this particular novel, nor will she be in the 4th.

In this one, Ella Bandita is a secondary character in the background, present only through dreams and memories in the stories the protagonists share with each other.

Through sharing their stories and the time they spend together, the Shepherd and the Courtesan find a chance for redemption and healing, but only if they are willing to let go.

The appeal of this novel is discovering the labyrinth of life experiences that make a human being who they are. The Shepherd’s character is complex, but his solitary life is simple. His relationship with the Woman who would become known as Ella Bandita, Thief of Hearts, is the only unusual circumstance of his life.

The Courtesan’s character is complex with an incredible life story, and at least half the pages in the novel are spent on who she is and how she came to be that way. I suppose this is excessive “backstory,” but I don’t care. Because the Courtesan’s origin story is that juicy. Her stories propel the story forward between the Shepherd and the Courtesan, so it’s staying.

As I told Laura more, especially because there will be plenty of sex scenes, Laura got excited and said she wanted to read it. Of course, her enthusiasm made me want to keep writing the book.

I needed that.

This draft is excruciating became it tests me in an area where I’m weak – patience. So although I would have been unwise to talk about this in the early stages, I found the sweet spot of talking about my work at a moment when I needed some juice to keep writing.

Laura got me excited about a story that I was starting to feel jaded about. That would not have happened if I had not talked to her about it.

So yeah, you writers out there, give it a try so long as you’re not in rough draft.

Writing in Musical Flow


Somebody once told me that if I took the time to learn how to play piano, it would make me a better writer. I think that applies to learning any musical instrument, and frankly, it makes sense. I savor reading anything that evokes a musical pattern in my brain while I’m reading. Some examples for anybody who wants to check out exquisitely beautiful writing are: “Jazz,” by Toni Morrison; just about all of the early work of Truman Capote like “The Grass Harp,” “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” and “A Christmas Memory” – all of these predate “In Cold Blood.”

Years ago, I wrote my breakout story, “Ella Bandita and the Lone Wolf,” to the soundtrack of Amelie. That beautiful, haunting, and romantic music by Yann Tiersen soared through the room as I sat on a bunch of pillows, writing on a wicker occasional table, feeling that excitement when one knows one has landed on something GOOD. “Ella Bandita and the Lone Wolf” was originally written as a fable I could tell in 1½ hours. Since then, the story has expanded to the novel, “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer,” which I tell in excerpts and parts.

Be that as it may, that original story was influenced by the music I listened to as I wrote it. When I read it now, I can still hear the rhythms and melodies of the “Amelie” soundtrack, and all I can think is..


I did not take Andrew’s advice to learn piano because I don’t gravitate towards that instrument, but someday I might give it a try with guitar. Or something.

In the meantime, I should probably do my final rewrites to music. I’d love for the flow of melody and lyricism to influence my work and make it more beautiful. Wouldn’t you?

So give it a try. I think music also helps with releasing writer’s block.

Serendipity and a Squatter's Treehouse - On the Road # 9


Hey y’all,

This letter is written long after that wondrous DIYBTRT (do-it-yourself-book-tour-road-trip) of 2005-2006 was over. At the time, one friend told me to take copious notes so I would not forget ANYTHING. Well, I didn’t and fortunately, the emails I wrote during that time were enough of a push that I could much remember the gaps much later. I realize the perspective of looking back does not carry the excitement and immediacy of the present moment as I was living through it; but I hope to fill in those gaps and be more honest about the downs of an experience where I only drew attention to the ups. The downside of the original emails was that I was showing off.

So before the Blackburn Music Festival near the Kennicott glacier that I wrote about in these blogs here and here, Joe and I crossed paths with our mutual friend Ela while I was in Seward. Anybody who has ever lived in Alaska knows that this a small town in a huge state. Since there are a lot of seasonal nomads who go to various parts of the state to where the work is, I ran into a lot of people I knew from Juneau. Joe had been fishing out of the Alaska peninsula; Ela was working in Girdwood for the summer. Later, I would run into friends in Fairbanks, and then I would meet their friends who then became my friends.

Keep in mind this was before Facebook and other forms of social media.

So anyway, I knew Joe and Ela from Outdoor Studies - a program where we would learn about how to navigate the Alaskan outdoors – kayaking, rafting, glacier travel and crevasse rescue, ice climbing, rock climbing, as well as hiking, backpacking, and navigation. I broke my experience down to two years and Joe was in my first year, and Ela in my second. After we ran into Ela, we headed up to Girdwood with her and stayed the night in a squatter’s tree house where Ela had lived all winter – even with a broken back. She peed when she had to in a plastic milk gallon jug with the top half cut off, whereas able-bodied me and Joe went down the ladder to pee outside. She said we had to be careful going in and out because the town of Girdwood was tearing down the tree houses, so more people would have to pay rent, and this one was particularly vulnerable because it was close to Alyeska resort. So she always dressed as if she was coming out of a hike, and passed on the treehouse to us, as she was about to leave Girdwood.

I wish I could have taken her up on it. Later, Joe and I would stay the night with Pando in the treehouse (blog about Pando here). He may have claimed it because this was right up his alley. But I remember that night as being a challenge to my patience, because Pando and Joe were wasted, loud, and obnoxious. Perhaps if I had been drunk too, I would have been fine, but I wasn’t. So it was less than ideal to be in tiny treehouse in a loft with two drunks laughing at nothing on the floor below you.

I hope that treehouse is still there, but I doubt it. Girdwood has changed a lot.

Anyway, after the treehouse adventure – or maybe we stayed in the treehouse after this camping trip, I’m not sure – we met up with another friend from outdoor studies, Winter. She was staying with her father in Sterling, and her sister Brita was there as well. The five of us went on an overnight hiking and camping trip on what is now known as the Primrose and Lost Lakes trail – about 15 miles of hiking through beautiful rainforest and a stunning alpine ridge trail with stunning views.

Of course, it was a total blast and Joe loved nothing more than being the only guy in a group of girls. Even if he didn’t hook up, he loved being in the circle of how crazy and off-color women can be with each other with no men around.

Of course, I don’t remember the particular conversations from a camping trip I made more than 14 years ago. But I do remember how good it felt to be in such good shape that I could backpack at the last minute, and do a 15 mile trail with no problem. I also remember the beauty of Alaska and how much it hurt when it was time to leave that state. I also remember that I heard about Blackburn that would take place the following weekend from Ela on that camping trip. Once we arrived at how chosen place to camp, we sunbathed on the ridge, and chilled out in a warm sun while Ela told us about this really cool party. She was bummed out she couldn’t make it because of work, but Joe and I decided at the last minute to go.

The spontaneity and serendipity of that road trip were the headiest miracles about it. I was constantly amazed how a chance meeting led to an adventure, which led to another escapade and so on. I realize it’s not sustainable for most people to live like that all the time because I did this trip long enough to experience the exhaustion of it.

But it sure was incredible while it lasted. I still miss the freedom I had on that trip. 



Adventure or Stability? Writer's Life.


Experience feeds the muse. I’m a strong believer in experience as fodder for writing. I firmly believe writers get their best ideas from those times spent outside the comfort zone – taking risks, learning new things, experimentation, travel, trying new experiences, trying things one thinks one couldn’t do. For writing, it’s even better when things blow up in one’s face because chances are there will be a story to tell later. All these experiences can and will pass through the funnel of our conscious and unconscious mind and the result could always end up as wonderful fiction.

I’ve been blessed with many unique experiences because I’ve made unusual choices in my life. I’ve taken a lot of chances, embarrassed myself more often than I like to admit, suffered plenty, and tried to make sense of it all. Most scenarios did not work out in my favor. But I found inspiration in those moments of mortification and pieces of pain. I also discovered that although I may have had the fleeting wish to die of embarrassment, none of that killed me, or my sense of self.

Yet when it comes to being productive, I have recently found that stability has made me more productive. Right now, I’m engaged, have a stepdaughter, and 5 cats. My traveling is in-state most of the time, and my escapades tend to be shorter in duration. In other words, my life is not as exciting as it used to be. Yet my life is also a lot less lonely, and loneliness gave me the worst writer’s block of my life.

With all my core needs met, I’m stable and I’m writing more often than I have in years. I’m actually optimistic that I am finally going to finish the 2nd novel in a series of 4 that I couldn’t bring myself to write for years.

So the paradox is interesting, and more than a little frustrating. Adventure gave me a lot of the stories, but I was too immersed in what was happening to write it down. It has been stability that gave me the breathing room to write and rewrite them down. Also, sometimes distance helps.

I wonder how many of us can write prolifically while having an adventure, or do you need stillness and steadiness to write?

New Respect for Romance! But I Still Don't Write It.


 Like a lot of young girls growing up curious about that mysterious stuff of love and sex, I had a phase where I read a lot of romance novels during adolescence. Harlequin romances were easy to gobble up, but there was one bodice ripper that I was obsessed with, yet didn’t finish. I’m pretty sure Fabio with his long locks, square jaw, and bulging muscles may have been the male model for the masculine hero. I don’t remember what made me stop reading it. It may have been a rape scene or attempted rape scene or the sex scenes were above my head and far out of my comfort zone, so I stopped reading and never read a romance novel again.

As a reader, I outgrew romance novels. Many of my friends and family did not. As I grew into my writerly ambitions, I’m ashamed to say I expressed contempt for romance and those who read and write romance. Even though former writing teachers cite romance as the perfect example of our innate human need for stories with happy endings, I couldn’t see the value of it. To me, romance novels were not true to life and therefore, were inherently absurd.

A conversation I had last summer at a writers’ conference changed my mind. I ran into a woman I had met years before when I first moved to Portland. It turns out her genre is historical romance, and she absolutely adored romance novels, and always has. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she had been to the Romance Writers of America Conference, and had loved it. This conference is huge, with thousands of writers who come. She met a lot of great women with whom she really clicked. She also mentioned that most of the women she had met, who wrote and read romance novels, were a lot like her.

And how was that?

They were happily married women.

I raised my brows at that, because I’ve always seen romance readers as single women who have developed unrealistic standards on the men they want to fall in love with and marry; or they were bored housewives looking for a vicarious thrill; or adolescents trying to find the juicy parts  in the mysteries of love and sex. When I asked my friend to elaborate on why she would love romance novels when she already got her happily-ever-after, her answer surprised me, even though it was kind of close to my second assumption about readers of romance.

“I really love to fall in love. Of course, my husband and I have been together for a long time, so it’s not a thrill ride. When I read a romance novel, I get to fall in love all over again and enjoy the rush. Everybody I know who loves romance novels love them for the same reason I do.”

That gave me pause. Instead of “bored housewife,” most romance novel readers were in the “stable and steady phase of love.” I never stopped to consider the vicarious emotional joyride that a woman would get immersing herself in a fictional heroine’s impossibly romantic journey, and how valuable that would be. All these happily married ladies staying true to their husbands, while enjoying the jolt of falling in love with somebody new in a way that doesn’t threaten their marriages. I had to respect that.

So anything that keeps the marriages of ordinary people intact as they go through the daily drudge of work, bills, and kids, repeat - how can anybody disparage that?

But I still don’t write it. I write love stories. There’s lots of room for tragedy and loss in a love story. Love stories provide a truer reflection of life.

The Long Absence From Writing


It’s intimidating to get back into a project after a long absence from writing. In my last post, I mentioned the relief I felt finishing the rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” because I’d had writer’s block for years. If you want to read it, you can find that blog here.

That rough draft was difficult because my writing muscles had atrophied, and my abilities had gotten weak. It hurt to write when what I was writing wasn’t good; and for a long time, I didn’t have any faith that eventually, it would be good. But I kept it up and finishing that godawful mess of a rough draft about a year ago was likely the most magnificent achievement of the last five years.

More than twenty years ago, I discovered that I can’t write when I’m in pain. This was the year when my mother suddenly collapsed with a cerebral hemorrhage. She almost died, and if my brother, Robert, hadn’t been at the house to do CPR, she would have. I was journaling every day at that time, and I remember opening up my notebook, putting pen to paper to write about it, and I froze. I made nothing more than dot on that page that day because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. When somebody suggested I write about the pain, I argued that I could do that from a place of remembrance. At the time, it was all I could do to live through it. I couldn’t bear to reflect on it.

Over the years, things happen. Things like betrayal, heartbreak, abandonment, death, and grief, and every time I would take a long absence from writing. I envy those writers who can produce even while they suffer, even when they wake up with anguish and go to bed with despair. I’m sure their writing is very powerful and deeply moving. But to date, I simply can’t do it. For me, suffering blocks productivity. Maybe that will change some day; maybe I will find solace in the fictional story that has nothing to do with what is current in my life, and that will give me an escape.

I have no advice on what to do when things are bad and the writing is blocked, but I can offer some ideas on what to do to shift your energy away from the inertia that grief often brings. Several months ago, I did a blog about changing your habits, which is pretty much how I became productive again. You can read about it here if you like.

But it really comes down to meditation and exercise. If you must choose one over the other, I suggest exercise that has a meditative quality, like walking, running, and swimming – especially swimming. Exercise pulls you out of apathy quickly, and meditation brings you to the inner stillness and peace I believe are necessary for productive creativity.

Then write. Make yourself write even if your writing sucks. You have to do something to get back your momentum. Eventually, your writing will be good again.

The Miserable Task of the 2nd Draft


When I finished the scatterbrained rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” I was so relived I didn’t care about the miserable task ahead. That rough draft was a mess, which had taken many months to put to words to paper (or computer screen). But all that mattered to me was that this was the first new thing I had finished after years of writer’s block.

By the miserable task ahead, I mean the second draft. This process of 2nd draft is excruciating. At the same time, it’s also kind of exhilarating. The story – or triad of stories - is actually starting to find it’s shape, and I can see the novel’s potential. That’s it nut just jumbled chaos of words and scene and sloppiness.

I’ve always thought of writing a novel as putting a body together. The rough draft is only the skeleton of the piece, the bones that make the structure. The 2nd draft involves placing the organs – the brain, the heart, the lungs, the intestines and everything else in between, all those things that are needed to make a body function.

The 3rd draft is the skin, hair, teeth, and nails, in other words, refining the structure, plot consistency, character growth, and story arc. The 4th draft is the polish of language, reaching for the gold ring of lyrical beauty, harmonious rhythm of the written words singing in the brain, also know as the facial features of this particular body of work. What color and shape are the eyes and mouth? High cheekbones or jowly jaws? Is the body fat, thin, muscular, average? Is this body beautiful, endearing, homely, or sexy ugly?

Breaking the process of writing a novel down to building a body makes this doable for me. When I’m discouraged and convinced I’m a hack, I remind myself that I’m only building a skeleton. It’s not time for the features of lovely prose yet, so go ahead and let the writing suck. When I want to pull my hair out during the 2nd draft, I push ahead, knowing that when I comb through it the next day rewriting the spleen before reworking the pancreas, that the spleen may not seem so awful with a break and renewed TLC. But once I cross the finish line of a completed 2nd draft, I’m pretty home free.

Because writing gets fun at the 3rd draft and is giddy during the 4th. The 3rd and 4th draft make suffering through the 2nd draft worth it.

So what are some of your tips for slogging through the draft that sends you into orbit? Here is a more detailed blog with practical how-to steps to navigate 2nd draft if you’d like to take a look-see. Personally, I don’t use Scrivener.


Beautiful Naked Woman - Good Way to Start a Novel?


Her beauty was staggering.

I had never seen so much flesh in my life as I did in the massive portraits on these walls.

Standing, reclining, full front on, in profile, her back to the artist, the Courtesan was naked in every pose, her silhouette that of an hourglass.

Her full breasts stood high on her chest, her torso curved to a slender waist above rounded hips, her legs were long and tapered. Her skin was creamy and luminous; and black hair cascaded to her waist.

Her features were noble; hers was the classical beauty of the highborn class.

But her eyes made her unforgettable. Beneath arched brows, her large eyes angled on a tilt and mingled the hues of gold and amber. Her steady gaze held the controlled ferocity of a wildcat.

Such fierce scrutiny replicated in portrait after portrait overpowered my senses for a moment. I turned my back to gather my bearings, only to come back to the incessant pink of the foyer.

How in the devil did I come here?

That’s what I wondered as I encountered again the cavernous entry into the home of the most legendary Courtesan the Capital City had ever known.

That was all I could think about that afternoon when the Wanderer and I first stepped inside the Courtesan’s Casa.

The atrium had soaring ceilings with pale pink satin lining the walls, while mottled pink marble stretched along the floor and up the steps of the sweeping staircase in the middle. Maybe even the ceiling was pink.

It was impossible to tell because the massive chandelier hanging in the space between the ceiling and the floor reflected pink everywhere.

Hundreds of candles and thousands of crystal droplets married fire and ice when the tiny flames coupled with the glimmering teardrops, then flickered along the marble floor, the stairs, and the walls.

Such a pairing had cast rosy radiance throughout the foyer to render everybody inside timeless and ageless.

The procession of servants and protégées lined up and waiting made up the most gorgeous household I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe it when the men bowed!

Even the strongmen actually bent at the waist, the same men who had pulled me and the Wanderer out of the rioting mob, and who had likely saved our lives. Yet here they were, bowing to us like royalty, while the women curtsied.

The courtesan protégées made quite a vision as they fanned their sumptuous skirts. Even the most junior maids held their plain skirts wide. Their timing was impeccable. The Courtesan’s staff moved in flawless unison, but how could they have rehearsed that moment?

My friend, the Wanderer, had enjoyed many grand adventures in his life. Yet his black eyes were wide in his face. He appeared as stunned as I with this spectacle. None of it seemed real, especially with the hard coldness of pink marble penetrating my boots to chill my feet.

Instead of gaining my balance, the glowing majesty of the entryway stirred the memory from that afternoon, which made me light-headed. I turned back to the paintings.

This time, I found it easier to focus on the portraits lined along the wall north of the wide elegant staircase that cut a dramatic swathe in the center of the foyer.

The woman peered intently at the artist who had painted her. The loving attention to detail made me wonder if the artist had caressed his lover with each stroke of the brush. Carnality and lawlessness emanated from the Courtesan’s portraits.

I could easily imagine a handsome, tormented soul painting with fevered intensity, a creator hopelessly in love with his libertine muse who would only cherish him in the moment. Perhaps they had made love in between sittings?

Before me were nine paintings displaying the glory of a legendary Courtesan in all the phases of her life.

About five years must have passed in between each portrait.

Her features matured and grew more defined with each painting, as she left the plump bloom of youth behind. Her body ripened to her prime, then past it; silver streaked her glossy black hair more and more in each portrait.

Yet in all the paintings, her expression was much the same.

Those golden eyes sparkled with defiance and unrepentant joy. Her generous mouth curved in a knowing smirk.

Had she anticipated her future audience when she posed for her portraits? Did she see past the artist, looking to those who would later gaze upon her?

Her stare was relentless. She dared me to judge her, the scarlet woman who should have been an outcast. Instead, the joke was on the rigid and the proper. And the Courtesan knew it.

How in the devil did I end up here? What a day of madness this had been, I mused as I gaped at the sensuous portraits.

“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”


Novel excerpt from “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” a work-in-progress by Montgomery Mahaffey

©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Read a Lot and Write a Lot


Stephen King offered this pithy gem of advice in his fabulous book for scribes, “On Writing,” and he considered it crucial enough that he repeated “read a lot and write a lot” throughout the book. As much as I admire Mr. King for “On Writing,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and the sheer mass of work he produced (I’m not a fan of horror), I have a slight tweak to add.

Read a lot, but read selectively. Write a lot.

The reason why is that I have found that whatever I’m reading affects the way I write. Although it probably affects character and plot development in ways that I’m not aware of, my biggest concern is the effect on the beauty and quality of the writing. In other words, if I’m indulging in a juicy piece of mind candy to escape from reality – and we all do it, chances are it’s not written in the gorgeous style of quality literary fiction. Chances are, the editing may not be that great either. But if the story is engaging, pulls me in, and I’m enjoying the read, I don’t care because I’m getting what I want out of it. However, I’m not thrilled when that less than high quality style of writing is coming from my fingers as I’m typing happily, especially if I’m in the 3rd or 4th rewrite. So it’s probably best to read the most sumptuous, lyrical, poetic prose I can get my hands on, especially while I’m in the later stages of rewriting, editing, and polishing.

I have found that what we read influences not just what we write, but how. This is especially true of the fiction we read while growing up. For instance, before I found my niche where I belonged, I tried my hand at writing a mystery. Why? Because I grew up reading Agatha Christie mysteries. I read all of them by the time I finished my teens. Between the pages of those deceptively simple tomes was a brilliant brainteaser of a Whodunit. Nobody did the Whodunit better than Agatha Christie. Nobody even came close. And the reason why is because it’s f***ing difficult. It wasn’t long before I found out that I sucked at writing mysteries in general, and the Whodonit in particular. 

Yet there was no way I wasn’t influenced by Agatha Christie’s work. I read too much of her when I was young for any other outcome. How? What gift did I receive from the pages of those mystery novels I couldn’t write? Strict and obsessive attention to detail. From what I read, Agatha Christie didn’t neglect a single detail in her books, that’s why when the reader and the innocent characters in her stories finally got to Whodunit, every detail offered up was presented, including the details that she sneaked in. Not a single detail was wasted, whether it was to throw us off the path, or stacked to build a case for the murderer who had actually done it.

As a reader, I notice the abandonment of details - usually in subplot storylines that don’t conclude or even in the main story itself – and every time, I’m irritated with the sloppy, lazy writing and editing. I’m especially annoyed because those works actually got published. As a writer, I do my best to avoid that. Hopefully, I succeed in the goal of getting all stories and details to round out to a satisfying ending. 

So those influences come out in sneaky and surprising ways.

Read a lot and write a lot. But be selective in your reading choices.

If you would like more of Mr. King’s pithy advice about writing, read his book, “On Writing.” In the meantime, here’s this blog: https://jerryjenkins.com/stephen-king-writing-advice/

The Sweetest High Ever!


“Artists are envied by millionaires.”

I don’t remember the book where I read this, but I do remember that claim and how gratifying it felt to read that. All flattery aside, this makes sense. Artists are creative and to be creative is to play God. Who wouldn’t envy that?

Personally speaking, I believe everybody is born with creativity. Yet few grow that quality or have that part of themselves nourished enough to have that creative strength throughout their lives.

Creativity is powerful. It is also overwhelming. Because I have found that a deep creative groove carves many paths, one detours to another, which then segues into another…and before one knows it, what was supposed to a straight road has become a labyrinth of various creative pursuits.

How heady is that? And how easy is it to get carried away and get lost and very possibly be left with a plethora of unfinished projects? Way too easy.  

For example, I write original fables and fairy tales. I also enjoy the art of oral storytelling, my own stuff, as well as other people’s, and of course, the myths and folk tales from all over the world. Those two pursuits are very compatible, but I still have to stop writing to practice storytelling, even with my own stuff. Storytelling is not the same thing as reading from a book. It’s a performance, and that alone takes time and energy and repetition before a piece is polished enough to present to an audience. In other words, the path of writing segued into performance art.

When I was on the road with my collection of fables, I stopped in Santa Cruz for six months and came across flamenco dance. I even lived with my flamenco teacher and her husband for most of the time I was there, and was blessed to learn from excellent Gypsy teachers who came to California from Spain. Several months later, I wrote a lyrical piece, “Snowboarding for Flamencos” when I was torn between a flamenco workshop in Santa Cruz and the best snow season in SE Alaska where I lived at the time. Winter was intoxicating, and snowboarding won over flamenco. But the conflict was such that I wrote that piece and recorded, doing flamenco dance steps in a wide variety of footwear, including my snowboarding boots. So that is writing, spoken word, dance, and even music, because I made the cadences of my dance steps into as hypnotic a rhythm that would match the lyrics of “Snowboarding for Flamencos.” This short lyrical piece that was only two minutes long was doable, and very joyful when I finished it. I also used flamenco with another piece I wrote about an ecstatic experience I had on the Oregon Coast while on magic mushrooms. Again, performance art, choreography, dance, and live spoken word. That took at least 2 weeks for me to put together and practice, and if I did it again now, the rhythms would be different because I didn’t film or record it. Again, it’s doable. But I also fantasize about doing that as a book on tape for AN ENTIRE NOVEL. That would likely take a decade. That’s not doable.

So yes, creativity is overwhelming. But what a glory it is when all those segues and paths come together and something gorgeous is created!

That is the sweetest high ever!