Monday, December 31, 2007

The Big Bad Wolf

You... yeah, you know who you are. You just read a book and thought it was so cool you LOANED to a friend or a family member or passed it around your office. Book sharing isn't illegal. Is it? Lucky for you, the publishing industry isn't quite as stupid as RIAA who wants to dictate what you do with your purchased CD's...

From an article in the Washington Post by Marc Fisher:

ow, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.

Technically, they're right. They are unauthorized copies. But come on guys -- note that the plaintiff didn't share them with his buddies or sell them, he copied the songs to his home computer. The songs in question are still within his control. This is like a publisher dictating that you can only read their books in your den, not in your kitchen.

I know that piracy is a big deal, but coming from the publishing world where used books are sold in the millions and the authors do no receive any royalties off those sales, I'm pretty jaded about the "kick the customer in the balls" approach.

If you make it "Us vs. Them" the piracy rates will only go up.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Going Nowhere Fast

All was going splendidly yesterday as we prepared to wing our way to snowy Iowa. Dropped the car off at the off-airport parking place, took the shuttle in, checked in with Delta, "popped" through security in twenty minutes. Hubby went to get us a sandwich while I double checked our flight was departing from C30. (Disclaimer -- I travel a lot and I used to be a travel agent. Trust yet verify). No, not out of C30, but C36. Except it's not shown as departing from there either. So I check The Really Big Board. Canceled.

Quel bite. I round up hubby and the sandwich, stand in line and we hear the verdict: fog in Moline, Illinois (the closest airport to where my mum-in-law lives). The next flight to Moline is on Sunday. We'd have to come home on Monday or Christmas, if they could cram us in. We decline and decide the best thing to do is just drive. 12 hours. So hubby gets on the mobile with the sis-in-law while I call Delta using one of their nifty black phones. Report from sis-in-law: do not come up. Nasty winter storm due in Sunday with high winds. We cancel the hotel and rental car pronto.

So I tell the nice Delta lady on the phone we'd like to have a credit issued against future travel. To my shock, she refunds both tickets. Blew me away. I'll rebook this weekend and we'll go see the mum-in-law in January. Situation under control, though our dear mum is quite bummed.

I figured we'd zip down, claim our luggage and be in the hot tub faster than you can say "Kalamazoo." No way. It seems that Delta, in a zeal to get the luggage out of Atlanta has been trying to book it (not us) on other flights even though we'd canceled our reservation. This made me chuckle. Gee, aren't bags checked against passenger manifests? No Jana, no Jana luggage. Right? I always knew that was pretty amazing b.s. (except on international flights, that is.)

So we are told someone will trudge down into the bowels of Hartsfield and retrieve them. May take forty-five minutes to an hour. An hour and a half later, hubby finds someone else to talk to. This lady was brilliant. Bags are on the way to Detroit on US Air (oh, they have such a good track record with luggage, don't they?) She's baffled why they were even put on a plane.

We came home, faxed my mum-in-law the news (she's really deaf and it's the only way to communicate) and broke out a beer and some homemade chili. Then we settled in with our respective books and unwound.

My bag has been found. Supposedly it will arrive on my doorstep this morning, no doubt with many a tale to tell. The husband's is AWOL. "All my favorite shirts and my most favorite sweater!" he grumbled.

I sense a shopping trip in our future....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Of Hookers & Politics

Judging a presidential candidate is a lot like assessing the hookers who stand on street corners, displaying their wares. You see only what they want you to see. They don't tell you if they're likely to give you a terminal disease or of their $200/day coke habit. They don't mention that their pimp who just out of stir for aggravated assault. Instead, they put on their best smile, pose themselves seductively and hope you'll buy the goods.

You are only allowed to see a politician's best side. That's why I've never appreciated sound bites. I like context. I like to look at the candidates' personal history. What have they done, how have they grown over the years? Are they petty, malicious, have a tendency to lie when then truth would work just as well? Are they there for themselves or for us? At the core, I'm looking for a decent human with a sharp mind who understands that this isn't all about them.

So what those Democrats? For Hillary Clinton, it's business as usual. She would probably make a fairly decent president. She knows how Washington works and she has Bill to soften her sharp edges. Still, she is part of the problem and right now we don't need any more insiders. Sorry, Hillary, I'm not there for ya, though I do respect your achievements.

John Edwards continues to show his commitment to the have-nots in this country, whose numbers grow with each passing week. That earns him brownie points in my world. Still, I don't really get a sense of the man. However, if it came down to Edwards vs. Clinton, I'd go with John.

As to Mr. Obama, his lack of experience in Washington's shark pool would be a detriment. Still, it might not be a fatal flaw. Washington would probably try to isolate him to prevent "contagion" from new ideas, but Obama has overcome others of that ilk. He would be a fresh voice willing to sit down and talk rather than charging off like a half-cocked cowboy. Whether he would be capable of making progress with the sharks, I'm not sure. If it comes down to Edwards vs. Obama, it would be a tough choice for me.

Or perhaps an Edwards/Obama ticket. Possible, but I don't know if Barack would go for second fiddle. Frankly, I think it would be a smart move on his part. On the job training that might lead to him securing the presidency down the line. For America, having two young(er) and open-minded males might make a helluva difference. They'd have the energy to take on the Old Guard.

I'll continue to ponder the options. Much like making that choice at the street corner, you never know what you'll get until they take that oath of office.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Well, it has been a year for awards and this one is very special. Stephen Wylder, a frequent commentator on this blog, has tapped me for the Shameless Lions Writing Circle's A Roar for Powerful Words Award. Wow. Steve has also won this award, which is only fitting.

You see, he's a deep thinker. Always has been. That didn't necessarily play well with some of our high school classmates, but hey, it was *cough* the late sixties and early seventies. A time of vibrant and often disturbing change. RFK and King's assassinations. Vietnam War. Nixon. Lots of political and international upheaval. Like today.

So it is only fitting that Steve received the award and passes it on to others. My writings are nowhere as deep as Steve's but they do cut to the core of the issues we face on a daily basis. This blog is a means for me to examine what's going on and reveal my thoughts on various subjects. Not unlike thousands of other blogs. A collective weighing and measuring, if you will.

So it really cool to have someone give me a thumbs up for my postings. Thanks, Steve. You're an inspiration to the rest of us.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Holiday Irony

Just in case you missed this report:
Muslim Helps Jews Attacked on NY Subway

The irony is rich. The ignorance on behalf of the attackers, breathtaking. Instead of charging them for a hate crime, send the idiots to a comparative religion class where they'll learn about Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Maybe then they'll now why we celebrate Hanukkah and why they're an embarrassment to their fellow Christians.

Let There Be Questions - The End

A few more questions as I wrap up my session with the Kennesaw State University marketing students. I wasn't able to answer all the questions-there were tons-but I hit the high points.

Nikki R. asks, "Have you ever had problems with copyrights?"

No, not yet. I'm not a big enough fish to attract sharks. I'm sure that will change in time. I do register my books so I hold the copyrights thereto and I will vigorously protect those copyrights since the books are my livelihood. So if you rip off my characters, copy my book and put it on the internet with your name as the author, things get ugly.

I do, however, take a mellow line on FanFic (Fan Fiction). FanFic is where a writer pens stories based on someone else's characters/universe. Like writing an episode of Star Trek, LOTR, etc. but with your own plot. Some authors and publishers go ballistic over this. I don't. If you want to dabble in my universe, I'm okay with that as long as you do not sell your work or represent that universe as your creation. If I find someone has written a Time Rovers story and tried to sell it online, at a convention or to a publisher, all Hell(TM) will break loose.

I began in FanFic, writing Babylon 5 stories, with an eye toward publication Of course, I did exquisite research into the world, put the duology (two books) during a period of time that worked for the real series, etc. I'm like that. It was at this point I learned that only one publisher (I think at that time it was DelRey) pubbed B5 stories. My two query letters were ignored. I got irritated and decided I write in my own world from that point. The story lines were good. I think that someday I'll go back, strip out the B5 references and make them a nice two-book set. I never put them online (too much of a perfectionist for that) but they did "goose" me toward writing in my own world.

Paula DeL - "What are the most ineffective things you have done to market yourself?" and "What are the most effective things...."

Your professor would be proud of these questions. It's hard to judge "ineffective." At my stage in the game, any exposure is good even if it doesn't result in a lot of book sales. Of course, some kinds of exposure wouldn't be great "Author Runs Into a Busload of Nuns While Drunk". That wouldn't necessarily create new book sales. So it comes down to degrees of effective.

I haven't found chats (where a website invites readers to come chat with you at a specific time) to be very helpful. I'm not big enough yet and most of the chatters have not read my books. So the chats are not particularly meaningful. Guest blogging helps, as does being a member of a social network ( But those are also time sinks so you have to weigh benefit vs. time spent.

I've found one of my strongest assets (besides my books) is my personality. I'm pretty decent to be around. So I make sure I'm "out there" for folks to meet and talk to. If they find out you're not a jerk, they might check out the books. Because of that I do a LOT of conventions each year, sitting on panels, etc.

I also like to giveaway small things -- bookmarks, pens, postcards, etc. It allows a potential reader to take something home with them where they can surf the Net at their leisure and decide if my work is what they want to read.

One thing that has proven effective is my SOJOURN samplers. These are three-chapter samplers (or chapbooks) of my first book. They are really nice, with a gorgeous color cover. Readers can sample my work and if they get hooked, they'll buy into the series. I call these a 'gateway' drug into the Time Rovers. They've proven very effective for the cost.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Religion & Politics

I know it's the current fad to spend a lot of time talking about your religion while on the campaign trail. It lets you use certain "buzzwords" that resonate with members of the voting block. I, for one, don't want to hear it. The Constitution specifically states that no religious test should be applied for the office of president. So you can be Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or Seventh Day Adventist and I really don't care. That being said, I have my own test.

"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."(Matthew 7:30)

I don't quote from the New Testament very often, but the statement is apt. Telling me you're a devout Christian (etc). is not like SHOWING me. Heavy-handed tactics do not impress me. Demanding that the 10 Commandments be displayed in courthouses doesn't rock my boat. I'm Jewish. My people received the commandants at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but I don't expect my Hindu or Muslim neighbors to be impressed by that. They have their own religious texts which are just as meaningful as the Bible or the Old Testament. What? How can that be? Read 'em, folks. The underlying beliefs are the same -- Love Thy neighbor. And what about the Atheists? Not everyone believes in a Higher Power. Who am I to tell them that belief is invalid? Despite all the promises, none of us will truly know until we're no longer here.

America was founded on the principal of religious tolerance. Choosing staff members at the Justice Department based on political loyalty and religious preference is anti-American. Spreading rumors that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim on a holy crusade to destroy America from within is just stupid. If a Muslim was the best man/woman for the job, you'd pass them over for some idiot who is of the "real" faith? Apparently so.

Jimmy Carter had it right. He is a decent man who has quietly led by example. He kept his faith private for the most part. He's built homes for the poor, monitored elections around the globe and earned his keep while in retirement from the Oval Office. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, will slink off to Crawford and cut brush. Period.

We've only got one country, folks. We need the best person for the CEO position. We've done a lot of damage to ourselves, our reputation, our economy over the last eight years. We HAVE to get it right this time. Deciding who should be the next president based on his/her religious qualifications is destructive. It's a sad thing to watch candidates preening for their religious constituency while the country swirls around the drain.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mike Huckabee's Skeleton

I'm a great believer in parsing politicians' words against how they behave. Most of them fall short. Right now Mike Huckabee is gaining ground in the primaries. But even the former Baptist minister has a skeleton in his closet, and it's a disturbing one.

What Was This Guy Thinking?

Huffington Post Article re: Huckabee's Pardon of a Serial Rapist

If you have women begging you not to let this pervert go, why in God's name would you pressure the parole board to do just that? I don't know how Huckabee lives with himself. We all make mistakes, but this one is just too disturbing to ignore.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ron Paul & The American Attitude

Well, I did some more reading about Mr. Paul. Interesting fellow. His spiel of hewing strictly to the Constitution has been ignored for years, considered too crackpot. But not now. Why? Here's a couple of reasons from the last two days (and I didn't even have to dig that hard to find them):

1) NY Times (11/28) reported that the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow home searches without a warrant.

San Diego County’s district attorney has a program called Project 100% that is intended to reduce welfare fraud. Applicants for welfare benefits are visited by law enforcement agents, who show up unannounced and examine the family’s home, including the insides of cabinets and closets. Applicants who refuse to let the agents in are generally denied benefits.

The program does not meet the standards set out by the Fourth Amendment. For a search to be reasonable, there generally must be some kind of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. These searches are done in the homes of people who have merely applied for welfare and have done nothing to arouse suspicion.

According to the editorial, the 9th Circuit believes that the home visits aren't really "searches", you see.

2) TSA, our buddies at the airports, will require airlines and travel agents to collect full names, gender and BIRTH DATES so they can check them against the terrorist watch lists. They believe that by doing so there will be less mismatches. Passengers will not be required to submit these answers, however that noncompliance may result in longer delays in the airport if their name matches one on the watch list.

Apply for welfare and you give up your Fourth Amendment Rights? Allow even more of your private data to be released? Will the agencies, airlines and TSA value that data, keep it secure? Will they do a better job than, let's say, Ameritrade or any of the other corporations who hold your private information but seem to "misplace" it on occasion?

Ron Paul's message would have seemed pretty bizarre a decade ago, but right now it's making sense to a lot of people. I'm still skeptical that returning to a minimalist government will fix stuff, but the man does have his moments. He does not believe we should be meddling in the affairs of other countries. Iran (remember the Shah?), Iraq (we used to love Hussein), etc. etc. Haven't had a great track record there. He suggests the use of Letters of Marque, which apparently is mentioned in the Constitution. Of course, we went to war against Iraq instead.

He's against the embargo against Cuba since it really hasn't done one damned bit of good. He is definitely pro-life, but believes that's not the purview of the government to regulate abortion. That's a State level issue.

Paul would like to ditch out most of the government agencies (Federal Reserve, IRS, etc.) And a few cabinet posts. I doubt that will happen. Bureaucracy is alive and well in DC. They'll do anything to keep The Firm running as is, including throwing the country under the bus.

Paul cites Washington, Jefferson and some of the other Founding Fathers, using their wisdom as his message. Fresh from a fight with a tyrannical king, they were worried about a standing Army and dangers of an overly strong government. Hence all the personal freedoms mentioned in the Constitution and other documents. The same ones that are now vanishing day by day.

Will Paul make to the White House? I doubt it. Still, his strong showing should be a wakeup call to those in power. There are a sizable number of Americans who are not happy with the direction their country is headed (last polls were in the 70% range) and the daily erosion of freedoms is beyond troubling. Some call us paranoid. I rather like to think it as "wary". We're not seeing that the two main parties are doing much to help the situation. They're too worried about their jobs. Paul's message is simple: Return to a Constitutional America. Whether his plans would make things worse, I'm not sure. At least they'd be different than the status quo, which I think is part of his appeal.

I'll continue to wander through the other candidates' positions as time goes on. I've already given Romney a few negative points for his repeated comments about not having a Muslim in his cabinet. Of all people, you'd think Romney would understand that religion is not the measure of the person. His answer should have been: "I really don't care who a person chooses to worship. If he or she is the best candidate for the job, they're in." But then that would open-minded. That particular trait is sadly lacking in DC these days.

12/7 - I've done a bit more research and realize that Mr. Paul and I do have a number of issues we disagree upon. One in particular: assault rifles. Now this will not earn me love from many firearms owners, but I actually support a ban on assault rifles (Mr. Paul does not). I have always supported a ban. I've actually fired one, an AR15. They are one sweet firearm. They are not for hunting. They're not ideal for home protection unless you're holding off an Army. I understand Mr. Paul (and others') concern about banning one firearm will lead to banning them all. That's always a risk. Still, assault rifles are designed for military and police use. That's where they should remain.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ron Paul?

I'm currently trying to figure out Ron Paul. I've never been a fan of big government, however I do prefer a compassionate government. Where Mr. Paul stands on that spectrum I'm not sure. His website seems to hit the right cords with folks who are tired of illegal wiretaps, interference in their personal lives, etc. What I don't understand is how this minimalistic government concept is actually going to work. We're a huge country, not the size of France or Britain. States' Rights comes with some downside. Will we have to move across the country to a state that allows "X" but doesn't rule out "Y"? Don't know.

However, I was struck by how much Mr. Paul's being noticed in one niche - the gun owners of America. A Disclaimer: I own a firearm. I am licensed to carry said firearm as I occasionally drive across the country from Point A to Point B on my own. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to think of such things. Unfortunately, we left "perfect" behind a long time ago. However, I'm not a member of the NRA as we part company on the notion of owning assault rifles. End Disclaimer.

So hubby and I attended a gun show on Saturday in search of a discrete carrying case that doesn't scream "she's got a gun" to all and sundry. I've never been to a gun show before. I figured it would be all Good Ole Boys. As usual, I got it wrong. There were a fair number of Georgia boys there, but the cross section of the attendees was like going to a baseball game: WASPs, Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics and everyone in between. So much for stereotypes. I should know better.

There was a Ron Paul supporter there who'd bought a table and was handing out his candidate's literature. That literature ended up on a number of the other dealers' tables, a not so subtle hint they like this guy. I didn't get a chance to buttonhole the Paul dude and ask pointed questions. I'll be doing that this Saturday at yet another gun show. After that, I'll be gun-showed out I suspect.

This week I'll be digging into what Paul's rhetoric actually means. My gut tells me that a hands-off government comes too late at this point in the game. We're terribly screwed up as a nation and trying to let States' Rights shift it back where it should be probably won't work. Not when you have 40 million people without health insurance.

So I admit my ignorance about Mr. Paul, at least until I do some research. I welcome my blog readers' input on the fellow. He's not as easily dismissed as Giuliani or some of the other nutters. I suspect I'll have the same difficulty with Obama. I'm saving Hillary for last

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Timing Isn't Everything

Tomorrow, of course, is Black Friday. I, for one, will not be out at the crack o'dawn to scour for bargains. I used to work retail during the Christmas Season. I'm sure I reduced my sentence in Hell by at least a quarter. It's an ugly time.

However, if I was out there at the crack o'dawn, my bankcard would not be workable. As in kapput, da nada, no matter how many crazy American $$ I have in my account. Why is this, you ask? Let me digress.

The end of September a major bank went bust. As in bust like during the Depression, minus the long lines outside. There was virtually no news coverage of the event, which you would have thought should have created a financial ripple or two. The bank was NetBank who had started as a humble Internet bank and risen to prominent size and scope. They were apparently heavy into the mortgage business and got their corporate mammary glands caught in a ringer. When Ever Bank tried to buy them out, things didn't work out. So the Feds closed NB. This was on a Friday. We left for England the next Tuesday. Yes, there was some panic on this end as I'd moved a sizeable portion of $$ into our checking account so we could get to it while in Merry Olde. I also had a lot of Brit currency, which was all we actually needed. Luckily, the Feds and the bank that took control of the assets (ING Direct, the folks with the orange lion logo) got the online banking back up to snuff quickly. Somehow I suspected that not all of the shoes had dropped.

Then we got the email. On Friday, Nov. 23 our debit cards would not longer work. Sorry for the inconvenience. And that was ALL the message other than a phone number you could call if you were confused. No explanation why. I suspect the suspension of the debit cards (curiously 8 exact weeks after the takeover) is a Fed rule, but you never saw that in any of the paperwork we rec'd. Just "so sorry" and poof the debit cards are now neutered.

As is our checking account on Dec. 7th. ING doesn't do paper checks, you see, so we have to open a checking account at some other bank if we want to continue to that sort of outdated, Luddite thing. Okaaaaay. There are some folks who have to paid by check as they aren't wired for the online bill pay. Which is going away, as well. All those lovely accounts I've set up with addresses, acct numbers, etc. POOF.

Do you see a trend here? So we are trudging over to The Other Bank on Black Friday and opening accounts. They are a smaller banking group, very friendly and just what we need. We'd already moved our business accounts to them and been very pleased with their customer service.

So, Mr. Big Orange Lion -- ya got a snappy logo, I'll give you that, but nothing else is that exciting. That's one of the joys of America -- you can't sling the proverbial dead feline without hitting a bank. Hopefully this one does a much better job.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Of Editors

A perfect weekend. I had one. The driving was pretty dull given all the road construction between here and Gainesville, FL, but once there everything went perfectly. I had a signing at Borders Books in Gainesville and it was fun. Lots of traffic and books sales, even though there was a U of F game going on. But I wasn't in FL only for the signing, but to meet two people: Adrienne deNoyelles & Ed Klein. Adrienne is my editor, the woman who uses the "Comment" tool on Microsoft Word to ensure my stories flow and the characters aren't doing stupid stuff. Obviously, she's very good at what she does. Ed is her wonderful hubby who looks dynamite in a tux.

Adrienne joined us at the signing and then we went off to a yummy Singaporean restaurant for dinner. Lots of talking occurred as we've only communicated via the email in the past. Adrienne is not only a professional cellist, but a grad student, a mom and a freelance editor. I don't know how she does it all (and I suspect neither does she). Ed is also a professional musician (and dad to a two year old!) and we got to catch up with him in Valdosta later that night after he'd played a concert with the Valdosta Symphony. One other nifty talent Ed possesses is the ability to go through a manuscript and find mistakes, both typographical and continuity issues. I feel much better knowing a manuscript has been "Ed-ed" after Adrienne and I are through with it.

So in all, it was an absolutely wonderful weekend. Now we're home, we're tired and we need to get back in gear tomorrow. Luckily it's a short week for my hubby because of T'Giving. Just taking a quick look around, we have a lot to be thankful for.

My hope is that the same applies to you and yours....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Let There Be Questions - Part IV

More questions. Yes, it was a large marketing class.

Uraina Z. asks, "How and why did you choose the glow watch to be your logo?"

Purely by accident. Lynn Perkins, one of my cover artists, designed the watch for the spine of the first book. It was so cool I asked permission to use it as the logo for the series. The second book has a different glow watch on the spine in keeping with the cover's color scheme (teal). The third book will have a different one, maybe in red, in keeping with the overall theme of the book.

She also asks, "What was your reaction to your previous book Sojourn winning so many awards? Has it made anything different for you towards the series?

I started with stunned. Then I moved on to thrilled. Then I hit scared to death. Why? At my level in the publishing world, this is like hitting the top of the NY Times list with your first book. It's a real adrenalin rush. The problem is -- what do you go from here? If I had "finaled" for or won a couple of awards, no sweat. But Sojourn was nominated for TEN awards and won seven of those. Now where do you go, Ms. Oliver? How do you top a book like that? I was already freaking about Virtual Evil being as good as Sojourn and then the awards goodies fall in my lap.

Admittedly it's nowhere near as career altering as #1 on one of the big lists, but those awards do impact my work. After a long period of introspection I finally adjusted to the fact that 1) I am a talented writer 2) that I can do that magic again and 3) freaking over this isn't productive.

Fortunately, I have a strong internal "resetting" mode. I adjusted and moved on. It appears that Virtual Evil is just as strong as Sojourn. Does that mean it will win a ton of awards? Most likely not. Good writing is always a must, but timing is key, as well. What was new and unique last year may not even be nominated for an award this year. Such is the way of publishing.

I am, however, still entering the contests. Lightening does strike twice, just not very often.

Brittney S asks, "I noticed on your website it said you have repeatedly married your husband. How many times have you two been married?"

Twice, so far. I figure we'll renew the vows again down the line. The last time was at an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica with hummingbirds flying all around. Really nice. And windy. Very windy. Ever try to recite your vows whilst trying to hold a bouquet and keep your skirt down at the same time? I needed more hands.

She also asks, "Did the name of your cat, Odds-Bobkin, come from a character in one of your books?"

No, just from the fact that Bob (he was a Manx) was just damned odd. He turned up on our doorstep and after a number of months actually allowed us to pet him. (He was always the outdoor cat as the inside feline (Midnight) would never tolerant interlopers.) Bobkin remained skittish no matter how decently we treated him. You will note the past tense here. Bob vanished on us this summer, along with a number of other neighborhood cats. There are coyotes in our area, the occasional owl and such. I like to think Bob returned to his original household. If not, then somewhere out there is a little kitten who is odder than anything and answer to the name of Odds-Bobkin. Cats are immediately reborn, you see. They're too cool to do anything else.

Jennifer J. inquires, "What advice do you have for beginning authors?"

Don't go there! I'm just kidding. If you intend to do this as a career, understand that it is just as much of a career as law, medicine or any other profession. There are rules, strata (as in another author is always higher on the food chain than you) and pitfalls. But if you burn to write your stories, then do it. Seek advice from those who know more than you do (which is about everyone when you're starting out). Never assume what you've written is Gospel. It's not. Editing saves your butt. Professional jealousy is a waste of time. Write what you love, not necessarily what you know.

Also understand that publishing, by and large, is still firmly routed in the 19th century. Innovations come slowly, if at all. Book distribution isn't a piece of cake. Even though I have an award-winning series, the books are not easily found in bookstores.

As you move forward in your career, cultivate friendships. I have a number of writer buddies to whom I can bitch, whine, ask advice or just generally b.s. with on a regular basis. They are my "sanity" monitors. If I think I'm going a bit off the dial, I check in with them. They are supportive of my career, but not enablers.

Ultimately, you are the pilot of your career. If you aren't willing to put butt in chair, write that short story or book, you're going nowhere. But if you are, welcome to the club. Now pass me that dictionary, will you?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Let There Be Questions - Part III

More questions from those inquisitive Marketing students at Kennesaw State University.

Amanda A. asks - "Do you ever feel that being so open and blunt in your blogs, that fans of yours would stop reading your pieces if they disagreed with your personal opinions?"

Ah, you see, that's the rub. Blogs expose an author to the world in ways even we can't contemplate. Where there aren't many comments on my blogs, I do have a fair number of readers as per the stats page. Many authors stay strictly within the "here's a picture of my pet mongoose and here's me at the latest convention and by the way, my latest book is due out on Friday." I have no problems with that, but I'm just wired a bit different. I believe that with public exposure comes some responsibility as to social issues. My life is not entirely comprised of book signings, brushing the cat, etc., so I feel I should comment on the real world every now and then.

I don't expect my readers to accept what I write as it were Gospel. I just want folks to pry open their minds and think through stuff they might have previously just accepted without much thought. We all do that. It's easier. But the bigger questions in life need some careful consideration. I am blessed in the respect that I am not for one political party so my postings don't seem as partisan as they could be. So far I have had only one person take great exception to something I wrote and that was when I said that Jesus was a liberal, someone who bucked the establishment. The lady did not like that. We shall just have to disagree on that point.

In all honesty, I could be turning off readers. It's definitely a possibility. As with all things, one has to accept the cause and effect of one's actions. I do know that if I didn't post what I was thinking, the blog would have no meaning for me.

And Amanda also asks - "With regards to the Internet, how has the emergence of technology affected you as a writer? Do you consider it a positive or negative effect?"

It's both ways. The Internet is an incredible tool for research and promotion. I can wander through the records of Newgate Prison from the early 1800's. I can see who crossed on a ship from the UK to the US during that time. I can view images and read personal accounts of life in Late Victorian London that I would never have seen unless for the Internet. I can plan my research itinerary all from visiting museum websites. Previously these tasks would have required a trip to a library (if the books were available). Now I can do all that by moving my mouse.

The negative side is that the Internet now requires another level of marketing exposure. There are all those social networking sites, blogs, websites, chat rooms, message boards, you name it. I could spend all day just keeping up with those and not get a lick of writing accomplished. So the savvy writer quickly learns where to use their time for the most effect. I tend to avoid social networking sites like MySpace, etc., as I see them as a time sink. They may well bring new readers in the fold, but maybe they don't. I do visit one "social" site ( because it fits my need to interact with other mystery readers and writers. Obviously I blog. I try to keep my website up-to-date and I do troll around the message boards on occasion which range from paranormal mystery to romance to Jack the Ripper. Quite eclectic.

The problem with the Internet is that there is so much competition for the reader's attention and it's easy to get lost in the buzz. So it is a blessing and a curse from this writer's perspective, though I have to admit that writing my books would have been an incredibly difficult task if it wasn't for the Web.

This is Amanda's day! "Which award have you received that is the most special to you? Why?"

I hesitated tackling this one as I was sure I'd aggravate one of the contests if I said "X" is my favorite. At last count I've won seven awards so someone is going to feel left out. So let me go at this in a more balanced, Solomon-like approach:

The Compton Crook Award -- I didn't win this one but I got very close. This was the wake-up call. If I could get this near to such a major award, right behind Naomi Novik who is great writer, I knew something had changed. I was stunned by this and it was fortunate I made this adjustment early in the year as the rest of 2007 would have left me on life support.

The ForeWord Award -- to be chosen over all those other authors for THE fiction book of the year absolutely blew me away. I received the phone call from Brian Hades (Hades Publications) after the awards ceremony in NY. All I can remember saying is "OMG! OMG!" I don't usually take the Deity's name in vain, but somehow I think this one was kosher.

The Independent Publisher Award, Golden Quill, Bookseller's Best & Pluto Awards -- these were all very meaningful to me. They proved I had broad support across the genres, not only in science fiction and fantasy, but in romance. Each one reminded me this is what I was meant to do in this life.

The Daphne du Maurier and the Prism Awards -- These meant a bit more because of a couple of vows I'd made a few years back. I'd finaled for the Daphnes twice with my self-pubbed books. I swore that some day I'd be back up there to claim a First Place Daphne of my very own. Unfortunately, this year they did away with the speeches so I didn't get to deliver the one I'd worked on for an entire YEAR. Maybe in 2008.

The Prism -- I first held one of these gorgeous awards in 2002 when P.C. Cast won her first. (I think she's up to three now.) I vowed I'd write something good enough to win one. So when I did, I floated up to the podium and immediately discarded the speech I'd written.

Each of these awards are displayed prominently in my house. They are a reminder that others find my work of value, that what I write has meaning. When an author is hip deep in the middle of a particularly difficult passage/chapter/book, it helps to look up at those awards and say, "Yeah, I can write. So let's get this done, okay?"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Of Robots

In my books, I have various kinds of robots making the occasional appearance. There are DomoBots (like Sigmund, a butler who also tidies the house). There are CopBots who are black and white little critters who solemnly announce that you are sitting in a DGS (designated green space -- i.e. a park) and that after thirty minutes you have to move on. And there are LuggageBots who haul your heavy suitcases around.

I recently took a step into the future with my own Bots. They're not very good with the dusting and can't make hot chocolate like Sigmund. Still the Roomba sweeps the floors and the Scooba "mops" them. My husband talked me into a refurnished Roomba a couple of months back and were so delighted at how it does its thing, my birthday present is a brand new Scooba.

Now I know this sounds lazy, but I detest, loathe and sincerely dislike to do that same thing over and over. Housekeeping falls in that realm. I do keep a fairly tidy house. There is clutter, I admit. But I do mop floors and sweep the carpets. It's just that I don't like doing these chores as they are a Waste of Time(TM). So I turn the Roomba loose after setting its boundaries with the Virtual Walls and the thing sweeps. And does a good job at it. We have a Furry Tyrant. It sheds. The Roomba solves a lot of that mess.

The Scooba just arrived today and so far it's cleaned the kitchen floor and is currently working on the front hallway. The front room and dining room on the list after that. Just move stuff out of their way and off they go. The Furry Tyrant glares at them and takes refuge on the top of the stuffed chair. Prudent cat.

Once the bots are done they return to their little recharging centers and blink away. I figure they're plotting world domination, learning the layout of every middle class house in America and beaming that data up to the Mother Ship. Well, maybe not.

I have to wonder what sorts of Bots will be in existence in another 10-20 years. Maybe they'll create one that does laundry and goes grocery shopping. Then I will truly love the things....

Friday, November 09, 2007

Proud to Be An Iowan

Did Hillary Clinton leave a tip at a Maidrite in Iowa? That's all the buzz in the news world. Word was that she didn't tip her waitress. Her campaign says they did. Drudge (and others) have picked up the story and run with it. When a reporter called the waitress, Anita Esterday, she said she couldn't figure out what all the commotion was about.

“You people are really nuts,” she told a reporter during a phone interview. “There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.”

Right on, sister.

Can I get an "Amen!"?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Just Don't Lie to Me

That's probably a statement we've all heard from our parents or a lover at one time or another. It's pretty basic. Don't lie. Of course we all "shade" the truth. Telling your best friend that her new dress makes her look like a giant tomato is not a kind thing to do. Telling your boss you think he's a mental midget is a CLM (career limiting move). On the flip side, there are times when honesty has to come through no matter then consequences. I'm at about 50-50 on those. I've butted heads with hospital management about the care of women in labor, but held my tongue in other situations that I now regret not taking on. I'm sure most people have the same track record.

Then comes the politicians. Back in the "good old days" I felt the media would take these bozos to task if they outright lied to the public. My gut tells me that a lot of b.s. got shoved past us back in those good old days, but not as much as today. When you add in the pressure of a presidential race, the pols really go to town.

Hopefully there will be more places like this one:

An example from the site:

Giuliani's wrong when he claims to have added 12,000 new NYC cops while he was mayor.

On his Web site, Rudy Giuliani claims that he grew New York City's police force by 12,000 officers between his inauguration as mayor in January 1994 and mid-2000. That's just not true. Most of the cops he's counting 7,100 to be exact were already housing or transit police who were simply folded into the New York Police Department. The merger of the departments didn't increase the number of police in the city at all.

The actual increase in the size of the force was about 3,660, or about 10 percent, during the period Giuliani pinpoints. And Giuliani doesn't mention that the cost of hiring about 3,500 of the officers was partially covered by the federal government under President Bill Clinton.

Giuliani is particularly inclined to lie. Yes, I used that word. The media speaks of mendacity (the tendency to lie) rather than just saying, "Rudy. You couldn't tell the truth if you tried." He has an ego problem, a habit of going out of his way to punish enemies and the tact of a razor blade. And I'll go on record -- he will be a worse president that Mr. Bush. Bush may lie, but in his heart he believes what he's saying. Giuliani just doesn't care. He believes were all chumps and so far, he might be right.

Why? That's the question we Americans should be asking. If he (or any of the candidates) lie to us now, they'll do it later. (Remember those WMD in Iraq?) The consequences are far more grave than a "well, he did get those health care numbers wrong." A lying president sets the tone for the entire administration. A lying president covers his ass and in the process, people get hurt.

If Mr. G can't be bothered to tell the truth (and he has the staff to do the research so there is no reason he shouldn't know the numbers, details, etc.) then why do we need him? Why can't the American people say "No way. You lie. We want as honest an individual as we can get, and you are not it."

All politicians shade the truth. The ones that lie to your face and expect you to kiss their ring are the last thing this country needs. So do a little fact checking of your own. Don't believe a word they tell you. In the end, you will be the one to pay the penalty, not the Pinocchio in the White House.

Late addition: Here's another set of beauties at TPM Election Central The guy just won't quit.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Time Rovers Rule!

Wonderful news! SOJOURN is a Pluto Award winner! This award is given by Yellow30 Sci-Fi in recognition of the Best New Voice in Science Fiction 2007. This is the first year for this award and I'm thrilled to receive it. As a New Voice, it's sometimes hard to get heard in the hurley burly that is publishing. So I send my thanks to the fine folks at Yellow30 Sci-Fi!!!!

About that Second Book, Ms. Oliver --
I've been doing a lot of fidgeting lately. It's been because of VIRTUAL EVIL, the second book in my series. It's that second book thing, you see. Since the current story arc is three books, book #2 better rock or you've lost the readers. As I've mentioned before in my blogs, I agonized over VE, rewriting and rewriting even before it reached my editor. Then she grabbed me by the lapels and we redid the book over twice more. I worried over this book like a dog with a bone. The effort was worth it.

I'm thrilled (and relieved) to announce that VE (and SOJOURN for that matter) earned Romantic Times Book Review's 4-1/2 Star Top Picks in Science Fiction & Fantasy. It's probably the only time I'll have books earn a higher rating than those of Jim Butcher, Mercedes Lackey and George R.R. Martin. VE also earned 5 Angels from Fallen Angel Reviews and praise from Coffee Time Romance and ParaNormalRomance .

Romantic Times: "Readers are in for a gripping adventure!"

Fallen Angel: "This book is one of the most creative, imaginative, and exciting stories I've picked up in a long time."

ParaNormalRomance: "A rollicking good read!"

The one complaint? My cliffhanger ending. Now I don't like those myself, but no matter how I tried to write the ending in a different way, it just didn't work. That's the way VE was supposed to end. I pretty much know the ending for MADMAN'S DANCE (the next book) and it's not a cliffhanger. I won't do that to my readers two times in a row (or I'd probably be hung from the closest gas lamp).

And lest some of you are not romance readers and note that so far the reviews are all from that part of the world, not to fear. There is a strong romantic subplot weaving through the entire series, but these books also include mystery, suspense, paranormal elements and a good dose of 1888 London. I like to mix genres and see what happens. The mystery and science fiction/fantasy reviews are in the pipeline. I'm hoping they like the book as much as the romance reviewers. (fingers crossed).

So there is rejoicing on this end because of all the good news. And the sobering reality that MADMAN'S DANCE is due March 1st to my glorious publisher. That's 120 days from now. You know, I think I'll go type some words now...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Let There Be Questions - Part II

Now that I'm home for a bit (at least until Saturday) I'm going to work on those Kennesaw State University student questions from September. Remember those?

Natalie E asks, "Can you tell us a bit more about your talk for the Whitechapel Society and the Once Upon a Dark Alley: A Tale of Ripper Fiction?"

Sure can. Lots of dedicated Ripperologists (as they're called) can quote chapter and verse from non-fictional accounts of the crimes. Not a lot of them read fictional works about Jack the Ripper. Why? Most of it is just so bad! A good number of authors don't do their homework, make assumptions about Jack, the Victorian Era, the investigation, or just figure they know everything anyway so why bother read up on the subject. The end result is something that grates on one's nerves if you are aware of the details of the crimes and the times. Why so picky? It's easy. If you're a mechanic and some author puts a blatant mistake in his/her book about how to fix a carburetor, you're going to notice. Make another mistake and now you've pulled the reader out of the story. At this point they might give up on you and put the book down (or toss it across the room if they're really steamed). You've trashed the "suspension of disbelief" that allows a reader to immerse themselves in your make-believe world. That's why most Ripperologists don't bother with Ripper fiction. They know too much about the subject to suspend disbelief.

I decided it would be interesting to see how other authors have treated Old Jack since 1888. A couple good examples fall in 1889 and 1899. From that point on Jack has been portrayed as the ultimate demon, a role model, a "victim" and a hero (!). I certainly couldn't read every bit of Ripper fiction out there, but I did enjoy the breadth of the stories that I sampled (at least most of them). Anno Dracula (Kim Newman) combines Jack and Vlad Dracula in a riveting tale. The Whitechapel Horrors (Edward Hanna) pairs Sherlock Holmes and Jack in a story that really gives you the atmosphere of 1888 London. The Lodger (Marie Belloc Lowndes) is the classic tale of a landlady who begins to believe that her lodger is the infamous killer. Bill Perring's excellent The Seduction of Mary Kelly depicts Jack (and Victorian England) from the point of view of one of his most famous victims.

What I learned is what I suspected: each author brings their own "view" of Jack to the story which, in many ways, mirrors the mindset of the time it was written. Time After Time (Karl Alexander) is a good example. The Ripper steals H.G. Well's time machine and journeys to 1979 San Francisco. Jack quickly realizes he's an amateur in the horror department, an authorial comment on our violent society.

So the talk revolves around some of the different offerings of Ripper fiction, how Jack is portrayed or "revealed" inside the story and how that differs from some of the other Ripper fiction one can read. The talk was well received at the Whitechapel Society (thank heavens) and I'll be presenting a PowerPoint version this Saturday at the Fayette Co. Public Library (Fayetteville, GA). Should be a lot of fun.

Over time, I hope to become an "expert" (I use that term very loosely) about Ripper fiction. Not many people have made a study of it. I figured -- why not? I always enjoy a good story as long as they get the details correct.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

HallowCon 2007

Some conventions are always a good time. HallowCon is one of those. We schlepped ourselves to Chattanooga via The Interstate from Hell (I-75) and it only took 2-1/2 hours when it should take far less than that. You can employ the scenic route and it takes 3. When we come home, we'll do that and enjoy the trees and the mountains instead of the back end of a semi.

Anyway, we checked in, reacquainted ourselves with the hotel and the found some food. Opening ceremonies was had, a Meet and Greet the Guests commenced and then we settled in for some port and chocolate in our room with some old friends.

Saturday went very quickly. A few panels, lots of food and, for me, a whopping ache in my neck. It managed to go weird overnight even though I brought my own pillow. So I was more reserved than usual this year and took a couple of naps augmented with BioFreeze to try to numb down the ouchies. Didn't work.

Though the weekend wasn't as much fun for me because of that issue, it was still great for everyone else. Lots of good food, libations, stimulating panels and strange people to talk with (you know who you are!) Mickey & Dutch (the folks who put on the con) do a bang up job.

If you want to find out what one of their "relaxa-cons" is like, please go here. They do two cons a year (insane!) -- Fantasicon & HallowCon (March & October). Pick one and go. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Same Wavelength

Everything went without a hitch. We took the train to Manchester on Sunday night, settled into our hotel and found a wonderful Italian restaurant to enjoy our final supper in England. We were off early the next morning to the airport and managed to get ourselves a very chatty cab driver. Once he found out we were Americans, we starting comparing notes.

To sum it up, a goodly number of Brits are keeping a wary eye on our elections. If you don't know why they'd care, I suspect you might want to bone up on our history for the last seven years. They're edgy who will be in the White House, edgy about their economy, the problems with their health care, immigration, etc. Sound familiar?

I found a common theme: We're so screwed and don't know how to fix the mess. We have politicians who couldn't find their arses with four hands and our future is looking pretty crappy. Brits are a stoic lot. They've been through stuff that makes our 9/11 look like a bad road accident. They grumble, but they usually have a sense of the future, that things will get better. I didn't feel that during this trip and it troubled me.

Much like here in America. We're worried about the same things, furious at our politicians who can't seem to do a damned thing right and frustrated about where it's all heading. I didn't travel anywhere else this trip, so I can't say if this is a worldwide malaise or just isolated in a few countries. Contrast this with the Victorian Era, which was full of energy and a sense of confidence, and it's even more depressing.

On the whole, it was a very good trip and I learned a lot, both for my writing and on a personal level. I'm hoping if I make a journey back to England next year I'll find my Brit cousins a bit more buoyant. If not, then I know things are really not going to get much better in the long haul.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The 2007 Jack the Ripper Conference

Many of you might find it quite odd that a bunch of folks gather every year to talk about a serial killer from the 1880's. I admit it is a bit odd, but everyone has a hobby. Of course, to some of these folks the pursuit of the Whitechapel killer isn't really a hobby. Many of them have made a lifetime study of the crime scenes, victims and potential suspects. I stand in awe of them.

For me the conference offers an opportunity to speak to some highly intelligent folks who know just about anything you can ask about Victorian England. This conference was in Wolverhampton (northwest of Birmingham) and focused strictly on Catherine "Kate" Eddowes, one of the women who died on 30 Sept 1888 during the "Double Event." Kate has always had a special place in my heart and I included her in my first Time Rovers novel. It was interesting to hear of her life, her family and her final hours.

The image above is a portion of the backdrop used at the conference. My photo quality isn't that good. The original was superb. The work is by Jake Luukanen, who creates 3D models of the crime scenes based on old maps, photos and anything else he can get his hands on to make the images as accurate as possible. They are incredibly time consuming to create, but Jake has given us a means to visualize scenes that no longer exist. His images were used during a presentation by Neil Bell which laid out Kate Eddowes' last hours and her journey into Mitre Square. Neil also detailed the two constables' "beats" (the set routes they followed each night) around and through Mitre Square. The hours of work involved to do the research, let alone create the artwork, was daunting. The end result was very impressive. If you wish to see more of Jake's work, visit and in particular here.

But not all the time was spent discussing old murders. Saturday evening we did the banquet thing. Alan Sharp, author and all round nice chap, displayed his full Scottish regalia. Husband and I remained a bit more mundane, though we did dress upmarket for the occasion. I think hubby is now regretting not renting a kilt for the soirée.

Sunday brought the opportunity to auction off a character in my next book (Madman's Dance) which is the third in the Time Rovers Series. After a very generous donation to the conference, the part went to Robert Anderson, a fellow American. Now what is ironic is that there was a Robert Anderson involved in the Ripper case -- Sir Robert Anderson. I will, of course, make sure our Robert gets a plumb part. I already have a notion just what that might be.

Sunday evening we were off to Manchester. It's been a very busy and exhausting fortnight. I seem to have acquired a genuine British cold. Thanks for sharing, guys.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blists Hill - Shropshire

Anytime you can take me into something remotely Victorian, I'm happy. Blists Hill was just such a place. Designed to give us modern folks a glimmer of what life was like in Shropshire during the late Victorian Era, it does the job quite well. The only downside is that it does it so well that school groups were touring the place at the same time as us. One clue: British school kids, at least the younger ones, aren't any better behaved than their Yank cousins. The older kids were well mannered and that was a plus. We just kept working our way around the groups so we could have more time to talk to the inhabitants of this little village.

I spent considerable time in many of the shops taking reference photos. I use them as I write to get the flavor of the time or a particular place. The chemist's shop is a good example. I spoke with the chemist who referred me to a book that laid out practices and procedures for dispensing medications. It included a section on therapeutic and lethal dosages. Contrary to what you read, Victorian chemists were very cagey about how bought poisons from them. They needed to either know the person or have someone recommend that individual before they'd hand over the arsenic or the strychnine. Sales of poisons were logged in a ledger. This chemist shop also included a corner where a dentist could ply his trade on certain days of the week. Now that is a gruesome thought.

We also visited the printing shop where my husband and the printer discussed the finer aspects of typesetting (hubby learned some of that in high school) and then we were off to the equivalent of their grocery store where I indulged myself in even more photos.

Hubby was also tickled to find two of his favorite things at Blists Hill: steam engines and draft horses. He spoke with a couple of the older gents about some of the early engines. Though he is a computer wizard, he does have experience dealing with steam-powered threshing machines in Iowa. And as for the draft horses, we used to own a pair of Belgians. We were pleased to find a pair of Shires at Blists Hill. The younger one (below) was being trained to deal with the noise and such that goes with the visitors. His handler didn't use blinkers or blinders, feeling it was better for the horse to be able to see what was approaching him. Sound reasoning.

It was suggested we budget at least two and a half hours for Blists Hill. It took four. It was a marvelous treat. Tomorrow we're off to Wolverhampton and the UK Jack the Ripper Conference. Now that will be a change of scenery.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Go Forth & Explore!

Today was a transition day. We boarded a Virgin Train (no jokes please) and set off for Telford. The train ride was flawless. They've added new rolling stock since we were last there and though they've adopted the airlines idea of cramped seating, the environment was very pleasant. The continuous rail made the journey quiet and fast. By buying the tickets ahead a two and some odd hour journey cost us $25 each. Not bad.

Once in Telford we took a cab to our B&B in Ironbridge. We arrived a bit early, but our hosts were very gracious, showed us to our room and plied us with hot tea and cake. Yum. After a quick nap, we set off for Ironbridge. Now it's not that far of a walk, but it did involve some back roads (see above). Very rustic and relaxing after the hurly burly that is London. And abundant stinging nettles. Now if you don't know about nettles, let's just say you don't want to be an idiot and think it's mint and run a leaf between your thumb and index finger so you can smell the heavenly minty odor. With nettles, it hurts like hell. And continues to hurt for some time afterward. I pulled this stunt during my first trip to England in '87. I know better now. I glowered at the nettles and they glowered back. Best to leave it that way.

The town of Ironbridge is (obviously) named after the famous Ironbridge that spans the gorge. Build in 1779 it's an incredible work of engineering. Now I might not have been as impressed if the Victorians had built it, but conducting the work in the 1770's sincerely left me in awe of their effort. We were still getting our country in order and they were building massive iron bridges across huge gorges. Amazing.

It proved a great evening to trudge around. The weather was truly refreshing. The leaves are just getting a blush of color. A house (above) had a wreath of ivy that was trending from green to fire red. Very stunning. Hard on the brickwork, but pretty nonetheless.

Tomorrow we're off to Blists Hill, a Victorian village. It'll be a great day for me to take pictures and ask lots of questions. As for the husband, if he gets to see steam engines, draft horses and farm equipment, all will be well.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

From 1666 to 1888

The Great Fire of London. If you've not heard of this particular bit of London's history, it's a riveting story. A fire breaks out in the ovens of the King's baker in the year 1666. Not everyone was worried: the Lord Mayor of Lord deemed it so insignificant that a "woman could piss it out." Not the first time a public official got it wrong in one.

Over 80% of London was destroyed. 13,000+ homes, 87 churches including the great St. Paul's. Supposedly only a handful people died. The truth is closer to hundreds, if not thousands perished as no accurate records were kept of the deaths. I came across the book The Dreadful Judgement while touring through the Docklands Museum. It's an incredible read. Utilizing factual details with a twist of fiction, the story comes alive. I finished it in only a few nights, it was that good.

Efforts were made to improve the firefighting response as there was no metropolitan fire authority at this time. It wasn't until after the Tooley Street Fire of 1861 that things really moved forward. The fire started in a bale of jute and consumed 20+ warehouses. It burned for two weeks (!) and created a slick of burning oil and tallow on the Thames that claimed some of the ships.

Soon after, the London Fire Brigade was created. Today we visited their museum even though it was pouring rain. It was worth it. We toured through different centuries of fire fighting technique, viewed old hand pumps, engines and the latest firefighting equipment. Outside the newest batch of would-be firefighters were busily training with a hook and ladder.

One display (see left) let us see how the firefighters' uniforms had changed over the centuries. The goldish helmet is the uniform from the Victorian Era and the coat was made of wool. A step up from the leather helmet of previous centuries. Other exhibits demonstrated leaps forward in the science of firefighting, usually after a disaster such as the King Cross/St. Pancras Station fire in 1987 where in 31 people died.

After a nice lunch at the Market Porter (yes, I did make it back) we headed toward Whitechapel. By now it is raining steadily, my shoes (of the tennis variety) are soaked as are portions of my legs and arms. I was carrying an umbrella (I detest the things) but it wasn't helping much. Still, the prospect of hiking through Whitechapel spurred me on.

Whitechapel. Once home to immigrants from Czarist Russia, now it's known as Banglatown because of the large number of Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants. It's also home to the Whitechapel Society, Jack the Ripper's hunting grounds and a few remaining examples of lovely Victorian architecture.
We spent the afternoon wandering around back alleys, ducking dripping waterspouts and trying not to get drowned by taxis or buses. We splashed around Mitre Square where Kate Eddowes was killed on 30 Sept 1888. Most of the landmarks are gone. So is Miller's Court (Mary Kelly 9th Nov 1888). The Victorian Era is slowly giving way to whatever we deem important at the moment. Still, some of the old buildings are rare gems and should be preserved. The locals are trying their best, but it seems more and more of those gems vanish every week.

Whilst craning my eyes upward (a lot of the really good Victorian bits are now on the second or third floors) I found what appears to be a Sanskrit sign underneath the English one. It's rusty and looks old. It's a bit of a puzzle so I intend to do some research into how that sign got there. It's not the only one, it appears. I love a mystery....

Monday, October 08, 2007

Many Miles Did We Travel

By now we're logging some serious foot mileage. We're ranging between 5 and 10 miles per day according to my pedometer. (Yes, I'm a masochist. I love numbers.) Today we were all over the place. We began our morning by taking an Original London Walks Tour of Southwark (pronounced suth-uk). We were joined by Mary & Tony from the U.S. Tony is a Dragon Moon Press author, as well, and when he said they were going to England we decided a meet-up was in order. Mary is always a kick and her mere presence causes balky UK mobiles (cell phones) to work. Don't know how she does it. Just happens.

Jean, our trusty London Walks guide, was great. She trudged us all over the back alleys of Southwark, visiting places Dickens would have known and relating stories from that time. She would slip into the proper accents and go to it. I always take these walks when I'm in London as they are very informative. They give you lots of tidbits and then you can do further research on your own. We only went on one this year and this was an excellent choice courtesy of Mary & Tony. As we walked, I made a mental note to come back and eat at the Market Porter (left) just across from Borough Market.

We also visited this very strange graveyard. Currently it's a storage area for a business and stacked with pipes and such. Underneath are at least 15K bodies as the site was used during one of the outbreaks of the plague and for paupers and prostitutes. People have attached little mementos and ribbons to the bars along the side of the graveyard, including a tribute to the women who were recently killed in Ipswich. Since ground is so expensive in London, there is a push to develop every square inch. This memorial is a reminder that often ground is too important to be used for the next supermarket or wine bar.

After the walk, we navigated our way across the river to Covent Garden and The Salisbury on St. Martin's Lane. This is a stunning Victorian Pub with cut class panels and mahogany interior. Do check out the link. I didn't get any decent pictures of this and have made note to do so the next time I visit. And spend more time in there. It was like a shrine.

Of course, I got lost on the way to the pub. That's kinda rare as I know Covent Garden very well. So we wandered a bit, whetting our appetite as it were, and then settled in for good food and conversation. Once lunch was over, Mary & Tony were off on their own pursuits and we went to Stanfords to collect yet another 1894 Whitechapel map (I left mine at home) and then on to Greenwich.

Once in Greenwich, we didn't get a chance to visit the Observatory or the National Maritime Museum. Just not enough time. But we did trudge through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel from Island Gardens (north) to Greenwich (south) which goes UNDER THE THAMES. Okay, I'm not good with old tunnels under water. Neither is my heroine, Jacynda. Gee, I wonder where that comes from. So I felt it necessary to make the journey just to experience the "thrill."
This tunnel is "younger" than the Thames Subway (which runs from the Tower of London to Tooley Street on the south bank) and the Thames Tunnel which runs from Wapping on the north to Rotherhithe on the south. The Thames Subway is closed now, used for fiber optic cables and such. The Thames Tunnel (Brunel's invention) is used for the trains. So the Greenwich Tunnel is the closest I can get to "experiencing" what it would be like to trudge under the Thames in the 19th century even though it was finished in 1902.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to make the crossing in peace and quiet. Bicyclists love the tunnel and even though they're not supposed to ride through, they do at breakneck speed. A couple of the younger ones were shouting at the top of their lungs. The sound reverberated like thunder. I kept moving at a very swift pace, partly because of my phobia and partly because I was counting how many steps it was between Island Gardens and Greenwich. Of course the hubby didn't know what I was doing and kept up a steady stream of commentary, rendering it quite difficult to keep an accurate count. I could have stopped at some point and given him a clue what I was up to, but that wasn't in the cards. Besides, there was a loo (restroom) that was calling my name in Greenwich. Some requirements just take precedence over everything else.

After finding said facility and then repairing to the Admiral Hardy for a good dinner and a pint (or two) of Boddingtons, we took our burning feet back to the B&B. At this point I'll do an unsolicited plug for Burt's Bees Peppermint Foot Foot Lotion. Recommended by my massage therapist, this stuff did wonders for our sore feet. Of course, our room always smelled like a peppermint factory, but that couldn't be helped.

Tomorrow is the London Fire Brigade Museum and Whitechapel. And of course, rain is in the offing....

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Regent's Canal

This was one of those beautiful days in London. It's getting on autumn here so there's a hint of color in the leaves and the air is crisp. We journeyed to a section of the Regent's Canal and then walked from Little Venice (as it's called) to Camden Town. About 3-1/2 miles. We trudged under old bridges, behind some stately mansions, through the London Zoo. All the while canal boats floated by us. If we'd been smart, we'd have taken one of those instead of walking, but somehow I think it would have ruined the effect.

Little Venice is home to a colony of flat-bottomed boats. Some of them appear to be permanently moored here. Each has their own electric and cable service (!). Though small by our standards, I could see how it would appeal. The canals run throughout portions of England so you can actually journey around, tie up for a pint and then head out again. I made note of that for a future trip.

Constructed in the early 19th century, the Regent's Canal was used to transport goods and people around London. There was a tow path along the side of the canal and horses pulled the boats along at a very slow pace. Sometimes a "train" of boats was strung together and towed along by a steam barge. In 1874, there was an explosion under the Macclesfield Bridge as one of the boats contained five tons of gunpowder which detonated as they passed underneath. You can read the account here.

We ate supper at Camden Town, wandered around their eclectic market for a time and then headed back to our B&B, totally knackered (tired) as the Brits would say. One odd thing about the market, however. For a time we thought we were back at Dragon*Con given the large numbers of Punks and Goths hanging around. Seemed surrealistic, to be honest.