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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.