Sunday, April 21, 2013

So long for now, friends

The Unpredictable Muse is going on sabbatical for a while. I’ll leave the blog up if I can do so without getting spam. There are some interesting articles in the archives on writing and all kinds of topics from a number of excellent writers. I’ve been fortunate in meeting some great people and having them share their knowledge and ideas over almost three years. I’ve enjoyed it and learned a lot.
However, it takes time and energy to maintain a blog, not only to think of the topics or schedule guests, but to format and post. Blogger “updated” its program and what used to go right in now takes an hour or more to format.
Then there’s spam—a never-ending headache. I wanted it to be easy to leave a comment, but spammers made that impossible. I tried Captcha codes, but they’re a pain for everyone (I often have to try several times to leave a comment on someone’s blog, so I seldom do it). Finally I tried moderating comments before allowing them to post. That takes time, and people don’t get to see their comments appear for some time if I’m not watching. Also, all the spam comes to my email. At first it wasn’t too bad, several a week, but in the last couple of months it’s grown to around 100 a day.
I want time to write. I have another book half done that I really like, and I need more time to work on it. When it’s done, I hope you’ll check it out. Meanwhile, I’ll be on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Thanks for your support and interest. See you again, maybe in the fall.
Cheers to all,
P.S. I've turned comments on, but spam is overwhelming so I've resorted to the dreaded Captcha Codes. I wish there were a better way. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Genesis of the Glorious Twelfth

Buy Links Below for US and UK

My guest this week is Alan Calder, author of The Glorious Twelfth, a mystery/suspense novel set in Scotland.
    The Glorious Twelfth is set in my native Caithness where I was brought up and went to school. The most northerly Scottish mainland county has a particular atmosphere. It lies beyond the Highlands, the people a mix of Viking and Gael, the land littered with the stones of its prehistory, the geography dominated by the rugged cave infested cliffs of old red sandstone, the sky vast and the sea always brooding. Indeed the sea has always played a vital role in Caithness life, especially during the 19th century when the herring fishing became established and provided the basis of between the wars writer Neil Gunn’s famous novel, The Silver Darlings. Caithness is a unique place and a fitting setting for the first novel that I began to write.
    In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown speculates that the Holy Grail lies buried in the filled in crypt of Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh. This mysterious church was built by the Sinclairs in the first half of the fifteenth century, by which time the clan was well established in Caithness where it still holds the Earldom. Caithness, then remote and inaccessible, would have provided a much better hiding place for the Grail than Rosslyn, especially after the Sinclairs began to build a series of heavily fortified castles round the Caithness coast. 
    In Caithness, the Sinclairs also built several mausoleums where many generations of their upper echelons were laid to rest. One of these, an enchanting building with an ogive shaped roof, is built over the remains of an ancient chapel to St Martin and surrounded by a graveyard which once contained a class II Pictish stone, conferring great antiquity on the site.  So the mystery of the Sinclair Clan is the main driver of the novel.
    The Glorious Twelfth opens on an archaeological dig led by archaeologist, Ben Harris, on the land of Sir Ranald Sinclair. Ben is soon distracted both by the laird’s beautiful daughter, Fran and artefacts that point to a medieval shipwreck near a cave that he discovers is connected by a tunnel to Sir Ranald’s mausoleum.  

Alan Calder is a Scottish born writer who divides his time between Yorkshire and his native Caithness. He is married to Jennifer and has two daughters and four grandchildren. He has BSc and PhD degrees in chemistry from the University of Aberdeen.
    Writing novels and poetry follows a successful career in research and marketing with ICI/Zeneca. He was made a CBE in 1996 for services to the chemical industry. He is also interested in fishing, walking and photography. His first book, The Stuart Agenda, was published in 2011.


    The Glorious Twelfth opens as archaeologist Ben Harris finds a Celtic stone and evidence of a medieval shipwreck on the Noster estate of Sir Ranald Sinclair. Careless talk by Ben at a conference in Paris sparks off a robbery at  Sir Ranald’s mausoleum, uncovering a treasure that has been hidden for centuries. The robbery follows the opening day of the grouse season, hence the title of the book. The chief villain, grail fanatic Russian Boris Zadarnov, also abducts Sir Ranald’s wayward daughter, Fran, who is already in love with Ben. American oilman Al Regan, a neighbour of Sir Ranald, leads a rescue party to Paris where Fran is freed and most of the treasure recovered, but the thieves escape with a ruby encrusted chalice
    For a series of misdemeanours, Ben is sacked from his university job. He finds consolation in the arms of Fran and moves north to continue treasure hunting, making the discovery of his life near one of the ancient Sinclair castles. Has he found the greatest archaeological prize in Christendom, the Holy Grail? Will he be able to protect it from the malevolent attention of the Russians?
    The genre is mystery/suspense with a streak of romance running all the way through. The action takes place mainly in Caithness with forays to Edinburgh, France, Italy, Egypt and Poland. The book can be downloaded to e-readers from Amazon or the publisher’s website.
    Buy Links for The Glorious Twelfth
    Also by Alan Calder, The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon

Friday, April 12, 2013

Excerpt: PUMP FAKE by Michael Beck

Amazon Kindle
This weekend I have an excerpt from PUMP FAKE, the new thriller by Michael Beck. Beck is the author of KILLPOINT, an action-filled thriller featuring Mark Tanner--Here's the description:

     Mark Tanner, a wise-cracking, disillusioned U.S. veteran and casualty of the War on Terror in Afghanistan, whiles his time away in a sleazy trailer park surrounded by eccentric misfits. After losing a bet with his long time Army buddy, Bear, Mark begrudgingly agrees to be the personal trainer of the young tennis prodigy, Brooke Wentworth.
    When Brooke mysteriously disappears, apparently because of something in her past, Mark spares no effort and no person in his endeavors to find her. Mark must try to put aside his own demons while he tries to navigate his way through the lies and deceit to the awful and tragic truth behind her kidnapping.
    Ably assisted by Bear, he cuts a swathe through both the criminal and tennis worlds. Mark, with acerbic wit and devil-may-care attitude, treats tennis players, white-supremacists, cops and crime bosses with equal amounts of disdain and disregard. And then his tortured past catches up with him.

Tanner is also the protagonist in PUMP FAKE, due out by the end of 2013.

By Michael Beck

JUNE 2012
   Anna Gilliam was thirteen years old, had long blonde hair, loved chocolate chip ice cream and disappeared eighty yards from home on a sunny, New York summer’s day.
   Her mom had sent Anna and her fifteen year old sister, Nicole, off to the local corner store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to buy ice cream as a treat. The shop was only a block away but that was all it took.
   As they normally did, Anna and Nicole took their Rottweiler, Sheba, with them. They were laughing as Sheba, who weighed one hundred and thirty pounds, nearly pulled Anna off her feet, such was his excitement at the scent of a walk. As their mom, Shirley, watched them disappear up the nice, middle class street, inhabited by nice, friendly neighbours she couldn’t help but think how lucky she was. Two perfect golden girls with their whole lives in front of them.       
   Sheba, as was his want, did his business on Mrs McKay’s front lawn. The girls said hello to Mrs McKay who, as she did most days, was sweeping the leaves, dropped by the huge sycamores that lined the street, off her lawn. Mrs McKay smiled at the girls as they held their noses and played rock, paper, scissors to see who would pick up after Sheba with the plastic bag they carried. They did this five times because, each time Nicole lost, she would laughingly accuse Anna of cheating. Anna won every time. Anna had always been the lucky one.
      They swept past the house on the corner where Mr Mann worked under the bonnet of his much loved 68 Ford Mustang. He never saw the girls but heard their footsteps and laughter as they ran by. Sheba barked loudly causing Sally, (Mustang Sally), his ginger striped cat, to jump onto the bonnet. Startled, he reared up, and struck his head.
      Mrs Ving, a thirty eight year old Thai immigrant and mother of four troublesome boys and one patient daughter, served the girls at three pm in Mal’s drug store. Mal had sold out to the Thai family two years ago but the sign still remained above the door. Nicole had honeycomb and Anna chocolate chip. In the two years Mrs Ving had owned the store with her husband, Han, that was the only flavour Anna had ever tried on her weekly trips. Anna loved the crunchy chocolate bits. At home she swore by chocolate flavoured milk, hot chocolate drinks and Nutella sandwiches. She was also prone to hiding the odd chocolate bar in her bedside drawer for when she got hungry late at night. Her mom had no idea how she stayed so slim with white, perfect skin. Just lucky, she guessed.
   Mrs Ving’s daughter, Afre, chatted to Anna. They both were in 7th Grade at Edison Elementary and were taught by Mrs Dawson, who they adored because she was young, pretty and told them funny stories about her time teaching in Tanzania. Anna thought the boys in her class were silly because they only thought about playing basketball at lunchtime and never tried to do well in class. Anna loved all of her classes.
Australian author Michael Beck's Website
   Anna told Nicole she was going to hang out with Afre for a while. Sheba sat on the floor happily munching on a cow bone that Mrs Ving always had waiting for him. Nicole left Anna and Sheba at the shop and arrived home at 3.10pm.
   Anna waved goodbye to Afre at 3.25pm. Afre watched from the doorway as Sheba catapulted Anna down the footpath towards home. A strong wind swept through the open door and under her dress, so she quickly shut the door. Afre couldn’t be sure but she didn’t think there were any cars or pedestrians. Through the frosted glass, she could see a blurry Anna running behind Sheba towards home.
   And that was the last time anyone saw thirteen year old Anna Gilliam.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Michael Beck, author of KILLPOINT

Kindle eBook

My guest is Michael Beck, author of KILLPOINT, a terrific, action-filled thriller. I couldn’t put the book down and alternated between laughing out loud at the wise-cracking protagonist and holding my breath.
How did you settle on Mark Tanner as your protagonist?
I wanted to create a character that I would like to read about. A person with admirable character traits but with flaws like a real person. I enjoy reading books where the characters display a dry, irreverent humour so I wanted to create a character who displayed these qualities. I have a keen interest in sport which is why I gave Tanner a Fitness Trainer background. As they say, it’s always easier to write what you know.  
How much of you is in Tanner?
My wife tells me only the smart-ass side! Seriously, Tanner loses his temper very easily whereas I have a very laid-back personality. I like to think the loyalty and protective streak Tanner has towards his friends and family is something I also hold pretty strongly. Tanner and I share a love of physical fitness but these days I can only dream of running half as well as Tanner!    
Even the minor characters are well developed and interesting.
I had a lot of fun writing all the minor characters and was conscious of trying to make each one real and memorable.
Tanner has an irreverent sense of humor. He made me laugh.
Her grip was firm and calloused—not like a girl’s at all.
“You don’t look like a fitness trainer,” she said.
“My spandex shorts are in the car.”
“Somehow, I doubt that.” She looked me up and down. “In fact, I bet you have never even owned anything made of spandex in your life. Would I be right?”
“I have a blow up girl with a spandex bra but it’s not something I like to mention in mixed company.”
Do you share Tanner’s sense of humor? Do his smart answers come naturally to you?
I have always had a cheeky way at looking at things. For this reason I found Tanner really easy to write. The dialogue/ humour almost wrote itself. In fact, the chapter which contains this paragraph (where Tanner first meets Brooke Wentworth) quoted above was one of the first scenes I wrote and was not written sequentially. I wrote this chapter before the earlier chapters as the whole scene and dialogue came to me like it was already written in my head. When I’m writing Tanner’s dialogue I hardly have to think what he is going to say at all. He just seems to write himself. 
Funnily enough, my family don’t find me funny at all. Like dads everywhere,  all I get from my own children is a lot of eye-rolling! 

Tanner’s attitude toward fitness borders on extreme. Do you share his enthusiasm?
Yes, I have always been a fitness enthusiast. I have always enjoyed running and hitting the gym. I have been heavily involved in a lot of sports such as Australian Rules Football, squash, skiing, ice-hockey, inline hockey, flatwater and whitewater kayaking. This was probably the reason it took me so long to finally write my first novel. I was just too damned busy!

In the book, Tanner’s not too fond of tennis.
Thunk. “The only way you could get me to a tennis match is if I was in a coma, completely paralyzed and with severe brain damage.” I paused to consider. “No. Even then, I’d find a way to escape.”
Tanner seems to know a good bit about it in spite of his opinion. Michael, are you a tennis fan?
My family find Tanner’s hate of tennis quite funny as I seem to spend most of my spare time driving my kids from one tennis tournament to another. So it was quite easy sending up tennis as I know the sport so intimately. Indeed, much of Killpoint was written while I was actually at tennis tournaments, either in a clubhouse during rain delays or, when the words were really flowing, in between points during matches. In fact, the whole story line of Killpoint came to me during a ten hour drive to a tennis tournament! I drove with a pad on my lap and was madly scribbling down ideas as they occurred to me. By the time I arrived most of the plot of Killpoint was done.
Some of Tan’s problems stem from his experiences in the Middle East. The descriptions are so real, it’s hard to believe you imagined it. Were you there? Aussie or U.S.?
 No, I’ve never been to the Middle East. I suppose that’s the beauty of the internet and the extensive media coverage of today’s world. You can go anywhere and see anything and not leave your own living-room. I have always had an interest in military history and I found all of the scenes in Afghanistan very easy to write. In fact, you might find it interesting that I wrote all of the Afghanistan scenes first, almost like a mini war-story before I even started the main story line that occurs in the US.
Your bio says married, seven children. When do you find time to write?
It’s not easy! I write a lot at night when my kids are in bed. I am very much a night owl so it is not uncommon for me to be up until 2am. I have to write whenever and wherever I can because I don’t have much time at home. I am not one of those writers who needs solitude to write. In fact, here’s a tip. At home (when my kids are up and the place is as noisy as a frat house) I often wear soundproof headphones when I write! As I said earlier, I write a lot at tennis tournaments. Guess where I am right now? Yes, I am writing this while watching my daughter play tennis!  
Your bio says you live in Australia, but the book is set in New York. Have you lived or spent much time there?
 I have only spent three weeks in the States a good twenty years ago. I would love to spend more time there but work and family haven’t allowed this.
What does your wife think of Tan?
She loves him. She likes his humour and his obsessive loyalty to family. 
Does she read as you write?
 No. I don’t like anyone reading my books until they are actually finished. When I am finished she will proofread and give me suggestions. My wife is great in that she will tell me what she really thinks so I always know I am getting honest feedback.
Actually, my dislike of people reading my work before it’s ready is a bit of a running joke between my wife and I. Jenny knows that this really annoys me and will often walk past behind me and try to read what I have written and I will always click off the screen so she can’t read it.
This reminds me of the first time Jenny read one of my books, which happened to be Killpoint. Do you remember the very funny film, Funny Farm? Where Chevy Chase gives up his job and moves to the country to write a book. And when he shows it to his wife she just cries and cries because it was so bad? Well, my wife Jenny was really nervous that this might be her reaction when she read Killpoint. She was so relieved when she had read the first few pages (and actually liked it!) she couldn’t stop congratulating me. I’d never seen anyone so relieved!

Are you working on another Mark Tanner book?
I have finished the sequel to Killpoint and it should be out by the end of the year.
Can you tell us a bit about it?
In the sequel (which, at the moment, is titled Pump Fake) we find out what actually happened to Tanner’s parents. The question of who killed them and why is finally answered.
In PumpFake, Tanner is also dragged into the world of professional football when his ex-girlfriend, Liz, asks him to find out who is trying to destroy the career of her current boyfriend, who just happens to be the quarterback for the New York Jets.   Tanner must enter the world of professional football, in the guise of a player no less, to discover who would want to kill the Jet’s quarterback. Tanner follows a tantalising trail, that leads across time and distance, to a small cabin nestled deep in the Rockies. Every year, five care-free, teenage friends make the pilgrimage to the cabin for Thanksgiving. That was until eleven years ago. That year only four came back. Tanner discovers that bad luck and death have followed all the survivors of that Thanksgiving weekend. What did the death of a sixteen year old girl eleven years ago have to do with a famous quarterback from the New York Jets? More importantly, who was killing off the teenage friends?
Tanner also discovers that his parents weren’t the only ones murdered in such a gruesome manner fourteen years ago. He traces the dark steps of the killer, (dubbed Cupid for a reason beyond imagining), which leads to a final revelation that horrifies and angers Tanner to the core of his being.
In Pump Fake, Tanner’s obsession for the truth leads to two mysteries, both linked deeply to the past and both likely to kill him.

Michael Beck grew up in Melbourne, Australia. With a passion for adventure and the outdoors most of Michael Beck’s life has been devoted to pursuing his love of extreme sports. He is a qualified whitewater Instructor and has spent many years exploring Australia’s wild, remote rivers.  His love of photography and writing led him to have some of these exploits published.  He is an expert skier, has represented his country in inline hockey and has a bachelor of education degree.
Michael Beck resides in Victoria, Australia, with his wife and seven children.

 Watch for the excerpt from KILLPOINT on Saturday, April 13. You won't want to miss it!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

FIRST FRIDAY! Blackburn. Hilborne. Tyler. 3 authors, 3 voices

It's First Friday, the day three authors view one picture and write what they see in 150 words or less--always fun and you get to meet three terrific authors. 
Would you take the picture, already?
But the car’s all wrong.
So what should I do, Caroline? Buy a car from the 20’s?
Maybe not. But can’t we at least borrow one?
Borrow an antique car? Like, from where?
I don’t know, Jimmy. But if you’re supposed to look like an old-time gangster, you should have an old-time car. And it should be black. I seriously doubt Al Capone ever drove a red car.
The red matches my tie.
Yeah, but black would match your toy gun. And speaking of that tie—gangsters didn’t wear red.
I’m supposed to be headed to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in this picture, Caroline. Valentine’s Day means red. And red means blood. It’s called symbolism.
The antique store down on Route 100!
Oh, my God! You’re right! They have that old Ford parked out front.
And it’s black. I’ll drive.

“Times have changed,” Charlie’d told him.
Herman Hicks picked up the cigar.
Charlie’s words rang in his ear. “You wanna come out on top, little bro, you gotta
change with the times. Get it?”
 He didn’t like it, and he’d said so.
“You don’t have to like it, but you’ll like the results.”
Herman felt the heft of the assault rifle in his hand.
“This time’ll be different, you’ll see.” Charlie’d grinned, handed him the champagne.
“What if I get caught?” he’d said.
“That’s the risk you take.” Charlie had sighed. “Look, you’re sixteen. You’re still a minor.”
“No buts. And no more coming last. Girls want the bad boy. You want the girl don’t you?”
Wearing his brother’s clothes, Herman reached the prom, pushed open the car door, and adopted a sneer, ready to be a jerk.
Nice guys finish last. Not tonight.

“Danny, why have we stopped here?  Come on, let’s get to the party!  No, put that camera away!  I didn’t spend hours putting this costume together just to have you taking photos of me in a field!  God, how did those women walk in these pencil skirts and stilettos, anyway?  Don’t look at me like that!  What?  Come on, we said we wouldn’t talk about it again.  You said you’ve forgiven me – can we try to move on, like we said?  No!  Don’t be daft, of course I wasn’t in love with him.  It was just a moment of drunken stupidity, you were away – look, am I going to have to spend the rest of my life saying sorry?  Hey – what are you doing?  Danny, don’t be silly!  You’re not scaring me!  Put it down, come on!  I know you’re just mucking about, it’s not a real gun - ”

At Amazon
STONE COLD – In the aggressive world of advertising, competition is fierce. When a scandal threatens to ruin Charles Dean’s company, he is determined to identify the culprit and handle it his way. Mara Mann has other ideas, and her own reasons for bringing him down. Then the murders of two senior corporate executives stun the community.
Mara's hatred for Dean leads her into the dangerous world of Reid Dalton, and to a forgotten grave. As she learns the secret he has kept hidden, she is drawn deeper into the mind of a killer and puts her own life at risk.

Terry Tyler lives in the north east of England.  She writes contemporary fiction, incorporating issues such as divorce, infidelity, obsession, addiction - and the search for success.  Her fifth novel, FULL CIRCLE, will be out soon; it's a mixture of rock fiction, drama, love stuff and relationship dilemmas.  Her husband has been heard laughing out loud whilst reading, so she presumes it's quite funny in parts, too!

Cindy Blackburn writes The Cue Ball Mysteries—lighthearted romps of ridiculous stuff that would never happen in real life. Murder meets menopause. Take a guess which wins.
But why guess when you can read Cindy’s books? PLAYING WITH POISON, DOUBLE SHOT and THREE ODD BALLS are all available on Amazon. How convenient! 
At Amazon     
Come play with us--it's fun! Leave your idea (150 words or less) in a comment.