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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Annual Report from the Hinkey-Drobnik Family


Here we are at the end of another year. They seem to be moving along at a much faster pace than they used to, don't they? We're still trying to figure out where this one went to!

Matt looking through the camera
Matt, the way we usually see him!

Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons by Lynne M. Hinkey
Lynne with the first copy of Ye Gods!
Work is still the same: Matt at SPAWAR, and working on his photography, especially action/sports photos of agility, roller derby, and surfing! Lynne is still teaching classes at Trident Tech in Charleston, and online for the University of Maryland to support her writing career. Her novel, Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, was released by publisher Casperian Books in April, and she had a number of short stories published this year, too. Between the novel, stories, and book reviews, she's turning into a real, professional writer, i.e, getting paid! (And that makes Matt happy!) See more of Matt's pics at:  
and find out about Lynne's books at

As usual, the fur-kids kept us busy. Lupin is all grown up into a fun, lovable werewolf. He's gone through a number of obedience and training classes to prepare him for agility. He's now learning the obstacles. We know there's an agility dog in there somewhere, we just have to get our wild-man to focus long enough to find it! Our loveable pup is a challenge, but we love how he makes us laugh, and is a buddy to Muggle and Minnie. He's quite a cuddle-bug, and completes our family.

Lupin jumping through a holiday wreath
Lupin showing off his agility moves at the
LCDA Christmas party!
Muggle had an eventful agility year, although he didn't make it easy on his handler, coming within fractions of seconds on that elusive third Advanced Standard Q in trial after trial. Like the action/adventure movies where the clock runs down to the final second before the hero saves the day, Muggle waited until the last trial of the year to get that Q and his Advanced Agility Dog title. So proud of our Eeyore dog!

Lynne and Muggle with his title ribbons
Muggle and Lynne with his Advanced Standard 1st place,
Qualifier, and title ribbons, and his
Advanced Agility Dog (AAD) title ribbon.
Minerva, as always, is the queen bee. She and Lupin have become best buds and revel in chasing and chewing on each other. She's taken over Muggle's crate at bedtime, and he's too much of a gentleman to chase her out, so he sleeps in the hall while she luxuriates in his bed. Now that the cold weather has arrived, she's abandoned the crate for our bed, where she snuggles with Lupin.

Minerva the cat
Our beautiful Minerva.
We had some wonderful trips this year, all in the US, but adventures nonetheless. In February, we went on a writers' retreat in the Georgia mountains with the Gosses. Lynne and Hanna made great progress on the novels they're writing (Hanna finished the first draft of hers!) while Matt and David took care of them, and the four dogs. We visited with the Gosses in Waynesville, NC two more times, once in May for David's surprise birthday party, and again in June for Lynne's book signing Hanna organized at Blue Ridge Books.

Hanna and Lynne writing in the cabin's loft
Hanna and Lynne hard at work on their
Writers' Retreat in February.

Matt, Lynne, and Tony & Mary Drobnik in front of the barn/forge
With Mom and Dad Drobnik at the
John Deere Homestead.
Also in May, we headed to Chicago for a visit with the Drobnik families--always a good time! Mary and Tony took us off the beaten path and instead of downtown, we headed to the country for a tour of the original John Deere homestead, and the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan.

July was a busy travel month, with a road trip to NY to visit the Hinkeys, including a day at Hershey Park, a trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame with niece Kristin and nephew Robert, and another book signing for Lynne at RiverReads Books in Binghamton. Later that month, we headed to San Diego to visit Misty and Terry, and attend Comic-Con! Had a blast and could have spent the whole time people watching the Cos-Players dressed in their amazing costumes. Do take a look at Matt's Flickr page for all the great photos from that trip!
Kristin, Robert, and Matt at Doubleday Stadium
Kristin, Robert, and Matt in Cooperstown

Comic-Con convention center hall
Comic-Con (go to Matt's Flickr page to
see loads and loads of great photos!

We finished the year off with an early 10-year-anniversary trip to Universal Orlando to check out the new Diagon Alley and Hogwarts Express. With lots of other geeky-grown-ups running around in robes and casting spells with their interactive wands, let's just say, we found our tribe. Also got to visit with Lynne's major professor from UPR, Baqar Zaidi and his wife, Elsie while in Orlando.

Matt and Lynne in front of the Universal globe
At Universal Orlando in December
The dragon on top of Gringotts breathing fire!
Check out more pics on Matt's Facebook page!

Kim, Lynne, and Cindy painting at Wine & Design
Kim, Lynne, and Cindy at
Wine & Design
Not only did we have some fun adventures out of town, but had lots of company to help us take in our hometown sites. Cousin Kim visited on her spring break in March, and we toured Boone Hall Plantation. Connie and Tom came down from Tennessee in the spring, and she and Lynne had a great time staying up way too late reminiscing about their wild youth. Kristin, Robert and Tom came to visit in August and we went on another paddleboard adventure, this time around Shem Creek. Tom joined us again for Thanksgiving, and we headed south to Beaufort and Hunting Island State Park. Hanna and David, along with Buffy and Willow, came for some low key, relaxing visits that we always enjoy, and we're looking forward to spending Old Years Night, and bringing in 2015 with them!
Lynne and Tom on the Hunting Island S.P. Lighthouse
Tom and Lynne at
Hunting Island State Park

Lynne and Matt sailing in Charleston harbor
Sailing in Charleston Harbor

Thank you ALL for being part of our year and lives! Much love, and wishes for a happy, healthy 2015!

2014 Hinkey Drobnik Christmas Card

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Writing is an Endurance Sport

I wrote the following as a guest blog post for another site back in 2012. This subject popped up elsewhere recently (or continuously?) so tracked down the old post and am updating it here. (NOTE: only a week ago, I said this blog was going on hiatus. I lied.)

Writing is an endurance sport. That's been my mantra for the past few weeks yearsTwo months ago, Back when I first started querying my latest novel, Ye Gods! (titled Chupacabra at the time) I received a request from an agent for the full manuscript of my current novel, Chupacabra and I've been patiently waiting I waited patiently for two months to hear back. Patience may be a virtue but it isn't one of mine. I refrained from sending daily emails, but just barely. I did send a friendly note after six weeks and got a prompt reply that I was next in the pile.

This week, Finally, I received the "thanks, but no thanks" letter. The agent took the time to tell me what she liked and what wasn't working for her. Enough worked that she read the entire ms, but overall, something missed the mark. [Insert the sound you associate with a crumpling ego and dashed dreams here.] 

What's a poor author to do when, after spending months, even years writing and editing and polishing, an agent says "no" to their masterpiece? Not so long ago, the options were to persevere or give up.

But this is a new age in publishing; the options have expanded. Authors who have put in the thankless hours of finishing a novel (that itself is a huge accomplishment) no longer need face the demoralizing anguish of being told, "It's just not good enough." Instead, they can rail against literary agents for "not getting it," rant about "the gatekeepers," and justify their own work with, "I've read books that are worse than mine." Then they can run their ms through spell-checker and immediately proceed to the self-publishing option of their choice and send their book out into the world, ready or not.

I have that option, but I'm not going to take it. Writing is an endurance sport. There's more work to do before I reach the finish line and a marathon runner can't take a short cut and still win the race. Or, if they do, the win will be fleeting. Just ask Rosie Ruiz.

I also have the option to look for small publishers, as I did with my first novel, Marina Melee. For new writers, small publishers offer a great way to break into the publishing world. My publisher, Casperian Books, is easy to work with, provides valuable services like layout, cover art, press releases, and help with marketing that I wouldn't have had I self-pubbed. So why not go with them again? Because with their help I've learned a lot about selling books and I've grown as a writer. I'm now better prepared to approach agents and offer them more than just another manuscript in the slush pile: experience, and an appreciation for what they do.
Update: I'd given myself 1 year to query. I received four requests for the partial or full manuscript and lots of helpful feedback and encouragement, but no takers. In total, querying and waiting to hear back from those agents, I waited 18 months before deciding to approach Casperian Books again, and that's where it found its home. It took another 14 months to go through the editing and design process, develop the marketing materials, and get in the queue to be released. Ye Gods! came out in April 2014.

I'm now working on the sequel to Ye Gods!, The Un-Familiar. Because it's a sequel, I suspect an agent would be hesitant to pick it up, so I will again query Casperian. (I know that just because they published me once is no guarantee they'll keep publishing my books. I have to give them a quality product that they can sell!)

It took one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore, eight years between deciding to become a writer and selling his first book, Practical Demon Keeping.  He spent a year writing it, and almost another whole year polishing and editing before it sold. His persistence paid off. True, that was before the advent of easy, cheap self-publishing, but, would he have chosen that path had it been available? "I can't imagine marketing a book without an agent. I'm doing this to write, not to be a salesman. I left being a salesman to write books, so I'm happy to have someone to do the selling" (click here for more). Sounds like a no to me.

Moore's Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove sat on the desk next to me and motivated me while I wrote Chupacabra. His writing inspires me and his words in this interview even more so. I'm in this to write and I'm in for the long haul. As tempting as it might be to self-publish the current, pretty good version of Chupacabra, I'll get back to polishing, I'll work on the areas the agent suggested, and the story will be even better. When I do find an agent, with their help, it'll get better still. Update: so glad I went with Casperian Books. Despite many, many rounds of rewriting, revising, running through a critique group and beta-readers, self-editing, and hiring an editor, their editor found additional errors and recommended other helpful changes.

Am I missing an opportunity by not considering self-publishing? Maybe. But I think it's for an even better one somewhere down the road. Being a novelist isn't a sprint, it's an endurance sport. That takes patience and persistence. While I'm not known for the former, I have the latter in spades.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Just Say "No!" or Why This Blog is Going Inactive

Today I came across this great article, The Many, Many, Many Things You Should Should Say "No" to at Work, by Kristin Muhlner is the CEO of NewBrand Analytics, which helps companies monitor social media chatter about them.

Nancy Reagan had it right? (From wikipedia)

Read the article for her explanations of each, but here are the things this social media expert says we should NOT be doing.

1. Anything where our presence isn't essential.
2. Anything someone else is/should be doing.
3. Networking. Yes, you read that correctly. This social media expert says don't do the networking thing! (I think I love her.)
4. Don't answer email.
5. Philanthropic work.
6. Being inauthentic.
7. Don't jump right into everything! Hold out.
8. Chaining yourself to your desk.
9. All-nighters.

It really is worth reading her explanations of each of these and how they're time-sucks that don't get us anywhere. But of course, it's #3 that really caught my eye.

I've always had mixed feelings about my "networking" activity on a glut of SOcial MEdia (So-Me) outlets: Facebook, two blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, 4 email accounts (really, how many email accounts should one person have? Yahoo, my original, but then it got wonky, so thought I'd migrate to Gmail, but realized I could selectively migrate by types of email, as something of a filter, so kept both, plus have my work accounts, one for UMUC and one for TTC!), and whatever else I've forgotten about.

If I have mixed feelings about it, why am I so active? Am I that self-absorbed? (Arguably, yes, but not in that way.)

The common wisdom in the writing community is an author MUST have a social media presence. My mixed feelings come because in my mind, the whole idea of author networking through social media was bastardized and twisted from, "an author should have a social media presence to reach readers" to "one has to have a social media presence to get readers so you can get published." That whole platform question that I blogged about (against) here and here.

I've been in the process of streamlining my life recently. I've finally gotten around to hitting "unsubscribe" to the hundreds of junk-mails that work their way into our mail streams as we click our way around the internet. I've stopped renewing memberships in organizations that, while I support what they do, I really don't have the time to read any of the emails, magazines, newsletters, alerts, etc that I'm flooded with, and I wonder what good I do in the big scheme when it costs them more to generate and mail all the printed material I receive than I contribute to begin with.

A little neater than my own desk.

My biggest motivation for simplifying and ejecting some forms of social media from my life is that it takes away my valuable and limited writing time. In the hour or two I've carved out to write each day, I send a few 140 character tweets, write a blog post (as random and rare as they are!), keep up with friends, acquaintances, and strangers on Facebook, posting pictures of what I'm thinking of doing (rather than doing it) on Pinterest, and check my various emails. Leaving me exactly 10 minutes to write.

Has any of that resulted in new readers? Maybe. I don't know. Certainly not in the hundreds or even dozens.

So, I'm going to do what I suspect I should have been doing all along: focus on my writing. Not email writing, not tweeting, not Facebook and blog posts, but working on my next novel. For now, I'm going to try to limit my So-Me presence to my static website, and one inactive blog. I may keep Waterblogged going with an occasional sea creature post because that's fun and I can tie it into my teaching.  I don't know if I can go inactive on my personal FB account without my author page, Marina Melee by Lynne M. Hinkey, getting disabled, too. We'll see.

And hopefully, I'll see all of you every now and then on Waterblogged or on my FB author page.

Hopefully, my next post will be announcing that The Un-Familiar is done, edited, accepted for publication, and will be released on...

So long for now, and thanks for following!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meet La Señora Milagros Isabela Hernán de Santiago

My friend Bob Sanchez invited me to his blog hop, wherein we introduce the main character in our latest novel or work in progress. So today Señora Milagros Isabela Hernán de Santiago, who'll star in my upcoming novel The Unfamiliar, is joining me from Puerto Rico.

Ye Gods! cover image
We first met La Señora in Ye Gods! She takes center stage in the Un-familiar as she
races to find the missing Carmen del Toro, her successor, before it's too late.
¿Como esta, Señora Milagros?
How do you think I am? I'm going through the change and I'm not ready.

That's a rather, um, personal problem isn't it, Señora?
It's going to be a global problem if I don't find Carmen.

What does Carmen have to do with your menopause?
Menopause? What they hell makes you think I'm going through menopause? I'm going through the change--the BIG one, not mere menopause.

Um, maybe you could clarify that for my readers, if you don't mind.
What's the problem? Did you not read Ye Gods!? You do know I'm a familiar, right? And all those stupid folk tales and fairy tales messed everything up. Familiars don't help witches, they help gods. Although, I can see where the confusion came from since gods do sometimes seem to use magic--although they don't, mind you. Gods are subject to the same physical and chemical laws of nature as everything else in the universe, they're just better at manipulating the elements.

 Anyway, familiars were created by the gods as personal assistants, and a means to keep their egos in check. In a rare moment of self-awareness, the ancient gods realized their gifts were too potent to trust to entities with big egos, like themselves. They recognized their arrogance was their weakness, so they created us. Familiars not only helped gods to find their true nature, but on occasion we have to humble them and snap them out of their delusions of omnipotence. Of course, that means we have our own powers. While creating us was a wise move, the gods, like anyone with power, were a bit paranoid. To avoid the possibility that we'd use our powers to overthrow them, they made our powers dependent on the presence, proximity, and strength of a god.

Like the gods, familiars selected their own earthly bodies. We know how important physical appearance—and the perception of it—are in exerting influence over our respective gods. Because of that, most familiars take the form of a cat. Even gods can't stay arrogant in the presence of a cat. I, however, chose a human. My god, known to most humans as the chupacabra, is a servant of the animals and as such, has a great ability to manipulate them, pull at their heartstrings, so to speak, so I chose to remain in human form when I became a familiar. But now that I'm ready to retire, I'll become a cat. That's the change I'm talking about. I'll live out my remaining days as the doted upon pet of my successor, Carmen.

Sra Milagros' retirement plan as Fifi.

Well, that sounds pretty good to me. Most people look forward to their retirement and having more leisure time, so what's the problem?
Carmen is missing. My very last duty to the god is to ensure he bonds with his new familiar. They have to be in each other's presence to do. I have to find both of them and get them together before I turn into Fifi.

Honestly, Senora, you don't look a day over fifty. You can't possibly be ready to retire. How old are you?
Fifty? Get your eyes checked. This is the body of a forty-year-old, forty-five tops. And I can't believe you're really going to ask me that. But, let me see...I became a familiar in...1850, when I was 33. I remember that because El Jibaro by Manuel Alonso had just come out not long before. That means I was born in...1817, so while I've been around for one hundred and ninety-seven human years, I've only been an active familiar for forty-nine years. We go dormant when our gods fade, you know. I don't count those years, so that makes me eighty-two, eighty-three next month.

Wow! You're pretty spry for 82.
Hibernating for 114 out of 197 years will keep you young.

This is who will play Sra Milagros in the movies.
(photo from

Does your retirement mean we won't see you in book 3 of the chupacabra series?
You're the author, you should know that. But, for what it's worth, my plan is to complete my change to Fifi, curl up on a nice pillow in the sun and ignore all the crazy shenanigans. Whether or not you'll let me enjoy my retirement in book 3 (tentatively titled, Ye Goddess!) is yet to be seen. If you'd hurry up and finish book 2 (The Un-familiar) we could all find out that much sooner, couldn't we?

Now, I invite authors Sophie Schiller and Rebeca Schiller to join in the hop and tell us about the main character in their work-in-progress. (Don't worry--this isn't like a chain letter threatening bad luck and horrible things to happen if you don't jump in. No deadline, no threat, just an offer, should you have time in your busy schedules!)


Monday, September 8, 2014

Guest Blogger: Author Bob Sanchez

Today, I have the great pleasure of hosting author Bob Sanchez here at "Random Thoughts." Bob is the very talented author of the novels Little Mountain, Getting Lucky, and When Pigs Fly--all three could be considered mysteries, but each with its own unique flavor. The first is more psychological thriller, the second an action-packed, traditional detective story, and the last one (his first novel, When Pigs Fly), a comic crime caper.  
Come on in and get to know Bob a little better.

Bob Sanchez, Author of the novels
Little Mountain, Getting Lucky, and When Pigs Fly
(Photo courtesy of B Sanchez) 

Given the maxim, "Write what you know," how has your life prepared you to write such intriguing murder mysteries like Getting Lucky and Little Mountain? 

 Little Mountain, with
Detective Sambeth Long 
Both novels are set primarily in Lowell, Massachusetts, a gritty burg that gave America the likes of Jack Kerouac. I lived nearby for three decades, walked its streets, ate in its ethnic diners, explored its network of mills and canals. For Little Mountain in particular, I read a dozen books on the Cambodians’ humanitarian disaster and spoke with Cambodian refugees. My wife and I had sponsored a Cambodian family, one of thousands who settled in Lowell. So that was an experience I just had to use, though Little Mountain is complete fiction.
Mind you, I’ve been advised that Little Mountain is more thriller than mystery, as the villain’s identity isn’t hard to figure out.

You have great character names. Where do you find them?

When Pigs Fly, with
Mack Durgin, Diet Cola, and

When I was a kid, a neighborhood bully named Mike Durgin used to terrorize me. (It helped him that I was a coward.) When I remembered him a few years ago, his name seemed cool. Other names are usually just what pop into my head, as long as they aren’t in the local phone book. Getting Lucky was going to star Mack Durgin, but the guy turned out to have a different background, so I scrambled for a new name. Being dead, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster didn’t object to my borrowing their last names to create – wait for it – Clay Webster. My favorite name is Poindexter, literally the first one that came to mind.  Hopefully, it’s not too obvious a name for a young Tohono O’Odham girl to give to her pet javelina.

In the movie version of your novels, who gets the roles of: Mack Durgin and Diet Cola? Clay Webster and Bonita Esquivez? Sam Long?
If he were still alive, Pete Postlethwaite for either Durgin or Webster. Maybe María Conchita Alonso for Bonita Esquivez, François Chau (from Lost) for Sam Long, John Goodman for Diet Cola. He’d have to put on weight, though.

Can we expect any more adventures for Mack Durgin?

Getting Lucky, with
PI Clay Webster
Mack is lost in the desert somewhere, but I’m hoping to get him back.  But I’m working with Clay Webster on a new story set in Lowell.

Best piece of writing advice you've ever received?
Ass in chair.

Tell us about your writing muse.
My muse and I are not speaking to each other.

Omigod, where can I get Bob’s books? Thank you for asking.

Thanks for joining us today, Bob! We're all looking forward to Clay Webster's next adventure.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Bad credit? No problem! WTF?!?

For years now, the car dealership commercials screaming, "Bad credit? No problem!" have irked me. Does no one else get irritated by this? I understand people often need vehicles to get to work, so they can make money, so they can pay their bills and fix their credit problems, but does anyone with a partially functioning brain think that, by getting them further into debt with a car loan they can't repay is really helping? Does anyone really think the car dealer is doing this out of the goodness of their corporate heart to help poor, put-upon Bernie-Bankrupt?

A typical car dealership ad (From Route 23 Honda)

In the middle of the banking and Wall Street meltdown, the ads ran rampant, no slow down,  no discretion, no inkling that, "Gee, lending money to people who couldn't pay it back was a big contributor to the current economic crisis, so maybe we should stop doing this." One would think there's be some sort of awakening of the public's consciousness and a demand for greater fiscal responsibility on everyone's part when the government laid out 80 million of our tax dollars to bail out US automakers.

But no.  The same people who rant and rave about welfare, rail against giving assistance to those in need, see no incongruity in giving loans to those with bad credit, making them even less able to pay their bills. So that our tax dollars can bail out the lending institutions. Again.

Hello?! Mortgage crisis? People buying more home than they could pay for? Just because the bank, Ford motor credit, or other lending entity is stupid enough to loan you money, you should  be responsible enough to realize, "Gee, I can't pay this back." Yes--personal responsibility.

Flip side of the coin, just because the law allows you to make a housing or car or whatever type of loan available to Wally-in-his-wife-beater doesn't mean you have to! Corporate responsibility means not making those risky loans, no matter how tempting it is to collect 18, 20, 22% interest off the idiot who's bad at math. Because you know your company will get bailed out, restructure, or in some other way not only avoid being penalized, but actually get rewarded for sleazy business practices.

Don't think it's only those pesky welfare recipients taking advantage of these deals. It's every self-righteous moron who thinks they deserve a new, bigger, more expensive vehicle every three years. Hey--the ad on the radio said, "Owe too much on your vehicle? No worries, we'll pay it off for you!" so of course it's ok, I can afford it.

Let me explain "upside down" to you: You paid $25,000 for your new car (but really, you only paid $1000 down and financed for 72 months--5 years--because that got you the lowest payments.) When you put the tags on, it became a used car and immediately lost about 1/3 of it's value. Your day-old new car is worth about $17,000. It depreciates yearly from there. Three years later (during which time you religiously paid you monthly car payment of $500, when you think you deserve that bigger, better, updated version--sticker price now $30,000--you still owe about $18-20,000 on a car that's worth about $12,000. That amount is tacked on--amortized into the loan for your new car--so they aren't paying for it, you still are, along with the loan for your new, bigger, better vehicle. You now owe not only 1/3 more than what your new, and now used, vehicle is worth, but tack on the remaining portion of the loan on your previous car. You now owe more than your car is, ever was, or ever will be. For more on some common car dealer practices, here's a great explanation of the car salesman's magic wand, the four-square.

Car salesmen's magic wand--works like the shell game. They can hide the money
anywhere and most people will never know where.  (Image from

So, no. It isn't just the unemployed, homeless, and "welfare queens" those ads are aiming at. They're aimed at Phil-flunked-math, who still thinks he can keep up with the Jones's. (He can, but only in the debt department.)

If we're really going to yell and scream about personal responsibility, and corporations are people, too now, isn't it time we made them--and ourselves--fiscally responsible for our own foibles? One way or the other, our tax dollars pay for it. Time to demand an end to the stupidity. Refuse to do business with places that brag about their ability to finance the un-financeable. Their responsible customers subsidize those risky loans, tax-payers subsidize the risky loans, and they laugh all the way to the bank at what a bunch of suckers we all are.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Are Fireworks Losing Their Bang?

I loved going to the fireworks when I was a kid. It was a huge event, the culmination of the Johnson City Fireman's Field Days, held every Labor Day weekend, and the harbinger of fall and the start of school the next day.

Fireworks at the Joe. (Photo by Matt Drobnik)

Fireworks were a big deal. We eagerly anticipated them all summer long. Oohed and aahed, shrieked and giggled with each boom and bang that rattled through us, leaving our pulses' racing. When they were done, we were both elated--riding on the firework high--and melancholy, knowing we'd have to wait a whole year to see such a spectacle.

Later, we'd drive to the next town over for the July 4th fireworks at Highland Park. Fireworks TWICE in one year. Imagine that?

I still get a thrill from fireworks, the percussive thrumming running through me. And so we went to the Charleston Riverdogs' last home game on Thursday, and that meant FIREWORKS!

Selfie: Me and Matt at The Joe. (Photo by Matt Drobnik)


With no Friday game this week, they did the big bang a day early. The Riverdogs put on a big fireworks display after every Friday night home game. That means 11 fireworks night at "The Joe" between April 1 and August 28. Less than half a year.

That's not counting the holiday fireworks--Christmas, New Years, and Independence Day. With a little forethought and planning, we can find one spot on the peninsula and see July 4th fireworks at Patriot's Point, Isle of Palms, North Charleston, Folly Beach, and Summerville.

There are fireworks to celebrate events one Daniel Island at the Family Circle Cup stadium and the Blackbaud stadium.

Photo by Matt Drobnik

It's hard to find a weekend between April and December 31 when there aren't fireworks somewhere in the greater Charleston area (the Charleston-Dorchester-Berkeley Counties.)

At the baseball games, most people stick around after the game to watch. But quite a few leave, too. There are a few oohs and aahs, but a lot of people texting, talking on their phones or with their friends, ignoring the light-and-sound show in the sky above. The kids mostly still seem enthralled with the show. 

But for how long? At what point do the fireworks become same-old-same-old. Oh, those again. Will this generation become sensitized from overexposure? Will the magic of the fireworks be lost on kids who've grown up virtually blowing things up and causing electronic fireworks on their video games?

I do love fireworks. But do you think we're overindulging our love of that thrill? Can they become...boring? Will the displays have to grow more grand and elaborate to satisfy us? And at what cost? (A good show can cost upwards of $20,000--or about $1000 per minute--more for something more elaborate.) What do you think? I'd love to know.

The finale. (Photo by Matt Drobnik)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding the Baby in the Bathwater

Sometimes, we have to know when to throw out the bathwater. For me, that time is now.

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
(Image from

I'm working on The Un-familiar, the next book in the Chupacabra Stories trilogy (Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, The Un-Familiar: A Tale of Cats and Gods, and Ye Goddess! A Tale of Dogs and Cats.) When I wrote Ye Gods!, I hadn't planned to write a sequel, or a trilogy for that matter. But when I finished and moved on, started writing a new novel, the characters from Ye Gods! kept interfering. Milagros and Carmen in particular, wouldn't stop whispering their stories in my ear.

Let me tell you how hard it is to write one thing with someone whispering something completely different the whole time.

I finally gave in. The Old Putters became a short story (for now) and appeared as Golf Goes On at Infective Ink and I got to work telling what happened to Milagros after the chupacabra, aka the god, aka Muggle, Paco, the dog, etc. went away.

The outlining process energized me. I know where this story is heading, I know the main plot points and how the characters interact, and I know all the returning characters really well. Some exciting and interesting new characters have entered the mix to stir things up, too.

My original outline for The Un-familiar.

I thought Marina Melee was complex, until I plotted out Ye Gods! I thought Ye Gods! was complex until I plotted The Un-Familiar. When I started writing, I knew this book would require me to move to a whole new level as an author. I felt up to the task.

I'm at about 50,000 words and have been for six months. I hit the wall of doubt. Is this working? Am I going in the right direction? Too much backstory? Not enough? I believe in my story wholeheartedly, but worry that it needs a more skilled writer to tell it properly. Can I become that writer?

Me, tearing my hair out in frustration over not being
able to capture on paper what I see in my head.
I've rewritten and revised these 50,000 words a few times now. I'm still excited by the story. I know, when finished, it's going to be my best work so far. I also know it isn't that right now. I haven't been able to put my finger on the flaw, and with 50,000 words invested, I hadn't been ready to call it quits just yet, but have been considering I might be better off starting over.

This weekend, I read Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane. There it was--the magic I was missing. That's what I needed--to keep the magic and get rid of the rest. I now know what I have to do. I have to find the magic. I have to pull the baby out of the bathwater and get rid of the parts that are mucking it up.

I don't need to throw out my whole story. The magic is in there, but I've buried it in words and word counts, in explanations and backstory. Today, I'm going in search of the baby in all that bathwater. For the first time in months, I'm excited about The Un-Familiar again, thanks Neil Gaiman's magic.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Unapologetically Connie

Growing up, I was a misfit. I didn't know that until about junior high, when fitting in became important. My neighborhood had a group of girls, each of us very different, but like most of us back then, geography more than common interest determined our friendships. The kids in the neighborhood, our gang, were our best friends.

The Goonies (Image from

Even among this close-knit group, with whom I spent some of my best times--and my worst--I never quite knew where, how, or if I belonged. I'd never be as pretty as Katie, no matter how hard I tried to imitate her dress, make-up, and hair. I'd never be as athletic as Theresa, no matter how hard I tried at softball and basketball. I'd never be a wild-child like Sue, no matter how much I drank or smoked. And I'd never be as comfortable in my own skin as Connie--even when, or especially when, I tried to imitate her.

Like most teen girls, our group formed and reformed in varying combinations and subsets, infighting, backstabbing, and declaring new and different best friends every few weeks. Despite all our girl-drama, we remained friends, even when we migrated to new groups of friends at school, found boyfriends, and pursued other interests. Through it all, I still didn't know where I belonged.

All during high school, I was rather protean, donning different personas based on who I was with, trying to figure out which one fit: the princess, the bad-ass, the brainiac, the All-American...I liked all of those roles, but knew they were just that, roles--costumes. Underneath, I was still the misfit. I knew I must belong somewhere, but it wasn't in any of those high school stereotypes.

The Breakfast Club (Image from

Somewhere along the line, Connie and I became best-friends. By college, we were inseparable. She knew my quirks and shortcomings and accepted them, and me, as I was, with no judgment. She remained my best friend, the person I turned to and relied on, through high school, college, grad school, a number of moves, and a failed marriage. Eventually, through jobs, marriages, and moves, we lost touch. We'd visit each other's parents and pass friendly "hellos" through them, exchange Christmas cards, and that was it. I made new friends--based on shared interests and passions, not just geography, and didn't see Connie for years. They grew into decades.

But then I found Facebook. Connie and I rediscovered each other, and after about twenty-years of not seeing each other, we made plans and got together. I was nervous, didn't know what to expect. What could we possibly talk about after all that time? What would we have in common any more?

We saw each other and it was like we'd never been apart. We had our own lives, had gone our own ways, and had different experiences, but our shared past gave us solid common ground from where to pick up and move forward. And we did. Connie made it easy because once again, as always, Connie was Connie and she didn't care about the differences that had separated us over the years. I was who I was, quirks and all, and that was fine by her. She hadn't changed a bit.

We've all seen people from our pasts and said, "You haven't changed a bit," when really they have. Physically, of course, we've all changed, and when we say it about someone's appearance we mean, "I can still recognize you under the gray hair/wrinkles/extra pounds." But the lives we've lived have changed us at the heart of who we were and are, our identities. The wild-child has become a respectable, hard-working member of the community, the beauty queen has a work-a-day life and family and bills to pay, the jock is no longer able to get by based on his performance in Saturday's game. Growing up has made us all more similar than different and the old labels no longer apply.

It took me longer than most, but I eventually found out who I am under all the acts and costumes. I learned to be myself and to be happy with that self.

I've been thinking a lot about Connie recently, as she and her husband go through some challenges. For all these years, I think I've taken for granted how very special she is. Reconnecting with her, I see that she really hasn't changed. What hasn't changed about her? Her basic "Connie-ness" that made her so special. Connie has always been her own person, marching to her own drummer, not giving a damn if someone else didn't like the beat. A talented athlete, she partied and smoked and hung out with both the jock and party crowds. A good enough student, she passed her classes without putting in much effort, and didn't feel out of place with either the brainiacs or the slackers. She didn't fit in perfectly with any group, but had friends in every group. I think that's because she doesn't see our differences as something that separates us, but as something that makes us all interesting. She knew what she liked and didn't, acted according to who she was, and felt no need to hide that. She swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney. She can identify where someone comes from by their accent within the first ten words out of their mouth. She can listen and hear beneath the words, and truly hear, but not judge, just understand. Connie has always known who she is and has always been unapologetically herself and is happy to let everyone else be exactly who they are.

As kids, I didn't always appreciate that about her. Thus, our frequent falling-outs throughout high school. Seeing Connie now is like a trip back in time in the Delorean, right back to how she was in our teens and twenties. She continues to be true to herself, 100% unapologetically Connie. Now that I know who I am and can be myself, I understand how hard that is, especially for teenagers and young adults. I'm in awe of the strength and courage it takes to do that, and in awe of Connie for having always had that strength and courage.

The "Back to the Future" Delorean.
(Image from

(Image from
Do any of you out there know someone who has always known exactly who they are and always behaved according to the dictates of that, rather than what others expected? Or are any of you that person? Or, are you like me--a (very) late bloomer? Let us know in the comments below.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Boy Talk

(Image from Joyce's Choices)
I overheard a fascinating discussion among the 4 lifeguards at the pool today. All four were young men in their early-20s. Bear in mind, I was swimming laps, so my eavesdropping was limited to time at the wall, and while at one end of the pool during kick sets. I caught bits and pieces, but the situation was clear. Here's some of what I heard.

Some lifeguards. (Image from

After lap 1
Guard 1: You need to just end it, man. You aren't being fair to her.
Guard 2: There's nothing to end. You know, we just hang out sometimes.
Guard 3: You call her when there's no one else around and nothing else to do, but if a better offer comes up, you ignore her.
Guard 2: So? She's not my girlfriend.
(Guard 4 mostly smiled and shook his head through all this.)

(Image from the City of Sacramento Aquatics Program)

After lap 2
Guard 1: So, you have a relationship with her.
Guard 2: No, we aren't in a relationship.
Guard 1: You've talking to her, hanging out with her, and doing things together for almost two years.
Guard 2: Yes, but it's not a relationship.
Guard 3: If you spend time with her, there's some emotional investment, so you have a relationship.
Guard 2: It's not like that.
Guard 4: No one said boyfriend-girlfriend, you just have some sort of relationship, like friends.
Guard 2: But we aren't in a relationship.

After lap 3
Guard 2: You guys just don't understand. I can't break up with her because we aren't going out.
Guard 3: Does she know that?
Guard 2: I can't talk to you guys about this.
Guard 1: We're trying to understand, but you're the one who doesn't get how unfair you're being to her. She sits around waiting for you to call her. And you don't even like her.
Guard 2: She's ok. I mean, I like her enough. I'm not crazy about her.
Guard 4: So why do you keep calling her.
Guard 2: To hang out.
Guard 1: But only when you don't have a better offer.
Guard 2: I'm not talking to you guys about this anymore.

If I wrote that dialogue, the whole scene, and that fairly easy to figure out situation into a novel, how many people would tell me, "That's not believable"?

We--society--have this preconceived idea, a stereotype of young men, especially college boys, being out for one thing. Yes, many are in relationships (defined as boyfriend-girlfriend), and even those, we assume are in them for sex.

Maybe those are only the ones we see and hear about because they're the loudest. Those are the one young women are exposed to because they're making the effort and playing the odds. Hit on enough women and eventually you'll find one to have sex with. The impression, reinforced by movies, television, and even books, is that all 20-something men are these hormone driven lust machines, but every now and then, the rare exception is out there--a nice guy who wants to meet a nice girl (not that being nice precludes sex).

(From IMDB)

Today I saw three of those nice guys. Not only did this discussion show that those guys are out there, but that they recognize and don't approve of the horn-dog behavior of that stereotypical guy! In this case, 3-to-1, favor nice guys.

That observation, that these young men were trying to convince this other man that he wasn't being fair to some girl, raised some questions for me.

1.  Do the stereotype and perception that all 20-something men are like this exist because these guys are the loud, visible ones we're most exposed to when we socialize as 20-somethings?

2.  Why do women, like the one at the heart of this discussion, put up with this behavior? Low self-esteem? Some misguided belief that we can change them? Fascination with the "bad-boy"?

3.  Why do young men (and not-so-young, too!) dread being labeled "nice"? One of my exes, who really was/is a very nice guy, cringed at that term. Said it was "the kiss of death" for a guy. Is that a guy thing, or have women created that negative connotation be picking the bad-boy over the nice guy so often?

All questions to ponder. Anyone out there have thoughts on this?


Thursday, August 28, 2014

A New Leaf...maybe

I'm turning over a new leaf. Maybe. If I stick with it. I'm not known for my long-term dedication or my attention span, but I'm going to try.

When I started this blog, I'd done the research, new what all the gurus of blogdom had to say about it, and I ignored it.

Me and my lavender hair---which has absolutely nothing to do with this post.
Growing out my gray hair, however, is another undertaking that challenges my ability to
stick with a project for very long. We'll see how that goes, too.

Not right away, of course. While I don't have the highest degree of stick-to-itiveness, I am very goal oriented. I like to set goals and then, at some later time, check them off the list. So, I began by setting the goal that I'd blog about something I was thankful for daily, for one year. The intent was to make me blog every day, as the blogging experts advised, and try to overcome my curmudgeonly nature by expressing something positive in my life each and every day.

I didn't last very long. Not because I don't have 365 things that I'm thankful for in my life, but because oh, the drudgery! Besides, the blog is called RANDOM for many reasons: it's random in when, how often, and what I post.

After a few years of increasing randomness, I'm going to try some structure again. My goal? Daily short postings on any old thing I happen to be thinking about when I log on. Part of this is to satisfy my curious, scientific mind about the efficacy of growing a readership (not just for my blog, but for my novels) through blogging and other social media. The conventional wisdom is that by blogging daily (or at least on a set schedule) readers will follow you regularly, too.

We'll see how long I can make it.