Monday, September 29, 2008

When Gone with the Wind was written, it was the story of the sweeping changes brought on by the civil war within the south. The words penned by that author left us with a vivid depiction of how the south was before the war … and how it was forever changed after the war.

When the winds from the recent hurricane descended upon us, it brought a very different type of change into our lives. Those of us who had been through a hurricane or two before knew the feelings we'd begin to experience, whether we tried to repress them or not. We'd experience them, because they'd be forced upon us … like the unwanted attention of something sinister that has passed through our lives in an earlier time…a dark memory that we cajole ourselves away from as quickly as we can after the event … but no matter how deeply hidden, the memory begins to creep back inside us, escalating in tandem with the wind hovering in the gulf, filling our thoughts, rattling our nerves as it whispers to those nasty little fears that we've tucked away in our subconscious.

The changes begin then, with the first niggling bit of apprehension, and then escalate … sometimes without our full awareness… sometimes with our unabashed terror… and by the time the storm has spent itself on us and gone reeling off in another direction like a drunken giant, everything has changed.

We wake to find devastation … this time on a scale that rivals anything most have experienced before … and with the devastation we find a reality check … within a few hours we see that all we deemed normal … is gone. Once again, we find normal will be hard to define for quite awhile….until we can tempt our minds to put the experience to the side and not look at it dead on … it's the way you get through it … the way you hide it from yourself … until the next time.

It's a little like the thriller's we all write … we love them … they do make us feel alive … and wonderfully safe as we read them in bed … with the lights on :) But, it would behoove us to remember … that sometimes the winds of change arrive … and have a wicked little way of snuffing out all illumination without our permission.

With that thought, come join us as we present The Final Twist's new anthology of short stories, in A Death inTexas. We will be launching the anthology at Katy Budget Books on Friday, October 10th, after 5:30 p.m. You will be able to meet the Final Twist authors, and have them sign their stories for you when you pick up a copy. I'm delighted to say my story, Dark Pleasures will be inside. It's about another type of evil presence in the south that brings about a lot of change … but this time … you can leave the lights on … it's up to you to decide when to turn them out:)

Learn more about Loretta Wheeler (and her alter ego L Reveaux) at these sites:

Excerpt from Dark Pleasures: A Death in Texas (Anthology)Available through Amazon ,
Barnes and Noble & L &L Dreamspell Oct. 10, 2008

The dog was free and loping down the corridor now. It ran with no hesitation, as if it could see its prey. Suddenly, it leapt forward and snatched at a word tucked in a dim corner of her mind, then swiftly circled back and laid it in front of her. How about carnage? Her mouth twisted. Yep. There it was, in all its grim glory, might as well go for broke and tell it like it was. She accepted the word and closed her eyes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Surviving the Storm of Life by Autumn Storm

By now many of you know that Texas has been dealt a pretty severe blow. There’s no getting away from it….it’s been on the news and headlines across the nation read….Galveston-Houston area crippled by Texas size storm. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued; towns and communities forced into lock downs because of damage to their communities. Everywhere you look, there is debris….power poles are down….electricity is out….and tree limbs litter our yards. Some will be forced to move….everything they’ve worked for….their dreams along with their homes, their cars and their boats….have been swept away by the sea. Bits of our history and the things we are made of…are gone…huge massive Oaks, sweeping Magnolias, along with some really big Pecan trees…..are gone…..they have proudly stood for a hundred plus years and now ripped from the ground….they are dying a very slow death. In one way or another we have all been affected….each of us mourning different things.

I have to admit….I am very affected by the damage to our beautiful trees. They are in shock and screaming at us to bring order to their branches. They are tattered and torn and it will be a long time before any of them start to recover.

Now….I know most of you are probably thinking that something must have fallen and hit my head….truth is….I too have lost a home to weather. If I may….let’s travel back in time….May 19, 2000….it has already rained off and on for three days. Just a few short months before….eight to be exact…my husband (of twelve years) and I had finally purchased our first home…a nice little place in the country. The skies are black and the weatherman talks of another night’s worth of rain….the power goes out. With little else to do….I curl up on the bed to sleep. A few hours later I am awaken by the dogs jumping on the bed with wet feet. It takes me a few minutes to fully realize what’s happening and by then I could hear the water rushing into my home….the phone is out….the husband is gone on business trip….I think most of you can fill in the rest of the gaps. Nineteen inches of rain in four hours resulted in my home being filled with 3 to 3.5 feet of water. It took days for the water to recede and then we embarked on the long road to recovery. Long story short….with lots of hard work, money (didn’t have flood insurance) and determination we rebuilt our home and lived in it until just recently…. Now three floods later… it belongs to FEMA.

Please don’t misunderstand me….I ‘m not making light of anyone losing their home….it’s an indescribably tragedy, a void that may or may not ever get filled… and one that some will have a hard time recovering from. A home is a place where we are meant to feel safe….a place to share laughter with family and friends….and a place to live and grow old in. Some will mourn the loss of their house and some will mourn the contents they lose……so now at this point you are probably wondering what did I mourn back then…..?

My books….In the process of putting up shelving many of the books were down on the floor in boxes. I cried as boxes of books were dumped into a 40 yard dumpster. It was a twenty year collection….authors and titles no longer in print….Even to this day I look back and think about all the friends that I was forced to let go of….the travels they took me on….and the friendships I was given. Just the other day someone gave me a copy of Sweet Savage Love….I caressed the book and held it close….giving it its rightful place on the book case….I patted the spine and told Ginny and Steve….welcome home.

Many of us in Texas come from a lineage of pioneers….we will set about and forge new paths for ourselves….just doing what needs to be done. The builders will build and restore….the farmers will plant, encouraging Mother Nature to replenish its land….and the writers….well….we’ll write…. telling the stories that need to be told.

A Death in Texas from L&L Dreamspell: ISBN: 9781603180511 is scheduled to be launched at Katy Budget Books on Friday, October 10 from 5 PM to 8 PM and features 16 talented authors delivering mystery, mayhem, and murder. If you’re in neighborhood….please stop by and say hello….would love to meet you all.

Autumn Storm
Secrets of Canyon Lake

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Screenwriting Helps by Cash Anthony

On the occasions when I've given talks to writers' groups as a screenwriterwith some good contest results on my C.V., one of the points that comes upfrom many audiences is "How can you stand to write under the dictates of somany rules?"

Many people think screenwriting is simply too hard -- too confining --because of what they perceive to be its stricter-than-other-fiction demands.Its most stringent demand turns out to be an excellent standard, however:the artistic selection of powerful images, against sparseness and brevity.When a writer is creating a blueprint for a cooperative effort as well as astory, intended for a highly sophisticated viewing audience that haswell-known expectations, it forces the writer to be specific only when itcounts. When everyone can be assumed to 'get it', or it allows for artisticlicense in the reader's imagination and later, hopefully, in the artdepartment's designers, no one wants to read what's obvious. You have 110pages, a page a minute -- you can't waste words.

It's also true that when you have to learn a craft mostly by yourself, you may tend to try to find a set of rules and follow them like a slave, figuring that not knowing the rules is the mark of an amateur.And this is one thing, at least, you can do.

Here I think the answer is to turn off the critic and forget the rules when writing first drafts, and then turn it back on for rewrites. At that point, all the theory, allthe techniques you've mastered, and all the better second thoughts you taketime for, the more likely your work will in fact improve.

Since there are professional standards and story structure expectations, then unless you're the one in the million who breaks through to an Oscar from acareer as a stripper (a la Juno), it can't hurt to look like you know whatyou're doing: make your format perfect, proof and proof and beg your writerfriends to proof your manuscript, try to hit your designated pages for majorplot points, and so forth. And have a great story to tell.

Despite the strictures of writing screenplays, I've found that working under the peculiar dictates of this genre has three advantages.

1) It forces you to learn at least a modicum of story theory, which appliesno matter what genre of story-telling you do. It may not be strictlynecessary for a novelist to know theoretically how to write for the screen-- the rules may seem a block to a more organic approach, feeling that onemust be so conscious of where and when a plot point is supposed to bereached -- but many of the excellent story consultants working in Hollywoodtruly know their stuff when it comes to theory. Their books are worthreading.

2) It makes you write in visual terms, since the script can only serve as ablueprint for a picture taken by a camera. "Talky" movies insist on usingdialog to move the action along, but better films combine silent actionscenes, or scenes with dialog not about the action (see Pulp Fiction), andthis helps any fiction writer produce a more vivid, and potentially morecomplex, realistic and interesting scene.

3) It makes you choosy. Producers prefer screenplays to be only 110-115pages long. Why? Shorter films mean more cash for the theatre owners, whocan sell popcorn each time a new audience comes in. The studio has to sellthe film to the distribution chain, meaning to the theatre owners who aretrying to get more people in the door to buy popcorn, Coke and hotdogs.
That means that you must not only write with a spare hand, but you also must make vitally important choices about what scenes to use and what to discardby examining your original notions with a cold eye. You can't afford to havedull scenes, even if you've had to write a few to get the first or seconddraft into shape. You can't afford to fall in love with scenes that don'thave to be there.

But when you're doing your rewrites, an objective appraisal gives you theopportunity to look for another perspective to spice up those dull scenes:have a character overhear it secretly (Hamlet behind the arras); have badguys doing exactly what will make a plan impossible to carry out, intercutwith the formation of that exact plan being made by the [ignorant] goodguys; have a character turn out to be working for the other side, repeatingexactly what has just happened at a secret security council meeting to theenemy, word for word. And so forth...

Even if you don't ever plan to write a "real" screenplay hoping to produceor market it onto the big screen, the format can serve as a kind ofspecialized outline that you'll probably do anyway, if you're writing anovel or intricate short story.

And if you want to go even farther and take up screenwriting as yourprincipal genre, seriously wanting your movies made, you might considerwriting a short screenplay and producing or directing it yourself.The tools to make independent films on a scaled-down basis are easy to findthese days, and the expense can be minimal. (Many actors will show up forthe off-chance of fame and for cold pizza.)

But the lessons you learn about what to write, or not to write into yourscreenplay -- when it's something you've personally got to deal with on areal set, with all the location variables and with live actors -- areincalculably valuable. It makes the distinction between reality and fantasy(call it animation) very clear.

I expect soon to take out notes from a novel started long ago. It'll beinteresting to see how I view those scenes now, after writing screenplaysinstead of fiction prose for the last seven years.

Cash Anthony is a Writer, Director, Actor, and Producer

Ninth Lord of the Night - screenplay, novel adaptation, Blue CatSemi-Finalist

Taking Up Serpents - screenplay, multi-competition Finalist

Do Me No Favors - short film, written, produced & directed

Complaining Witness - short film, written, produced & directed

False Negative - short film, written & directed

The Best Man - short story, in A Death in Texas anthology

The Stand-In - short story, in Dead and Breakfast anthology

The Secret of the Acequia Stone - B&B play and puzzles

The Case of the Baker's Dozen - B&B play and puzzles

A Week of Wednesdays - Novel (WIP)Other B&B plays, puzzles, clues and poems

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Deadline by Betty Gordon

Deadline is a feared word by many writers, but I’m one of those mavericks who welcomes the battle of reaching the finish line. The pressures involved in tying up loose ends before a certain date stimulate my imagination and trigger excitement. I can’t deny there’s tension involved in reaching the end of a tale, but my eagerness to write ‘The End’ on the last page far outweighs the self-imposed stress involved in arriving at the final destination.

Life plays out in segments of deadlines in various ways: a sales promotion must be adhered to by a certain date, one has to get their child’s college entrance papers in by a certain date, etc., etc. So, why should writing be any different? I work in blocks of short-term and long-term goals and I’m constantly making myself reach a deadline of one sort or another. That’s not to say, however, that life doesn’t get in the way oftentimes and I have to work around the obstacles and set new deadlines. Nevertheless, self-imposed or not, a deadline is a good thing—at least for me.

Learn more about Betty Gordon and her books at

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Didactic Function of Genre Fiction by Mark Phillips

Mark Twain wrote that,”Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I would claim that novels can play a similar role. On the other hand, Cecil B. DeMille, when asked about the message contained in his latest picture commented that, “If I wanted to send a message, I’d use Western Union.” Our primary duty as mystery writers is to entertain, but many of us feel that even genre fiction can also contain profound ethical insights and illuminate social and political issues in all their rich complexity. The authors I enjoy have a distinctive world view that permeates their work. They are presenting a philosophy whether they intend to do so or not. Wayne Booth, in his book The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, argues that the astute reader has a duty to critically engage the ethics of a work of fiction. Reading the wrong works can undermine our character just as surely as hanging around with friends who are a bad influence. Reading truly ethical works can help us expand our moral vision, undermine our parochial viewpoints, and illuminate the possibility of individuals heroically transcending the everyday morality of their parents and society that is the essence of all ethical progress and reform.

We in detective fiction have the added burden that any didactic functions we wish to explore in our writing must be buried within a suspense- and plot-heavy, all-too-often formulaic medium. But the ethical message is always there, for good or bad, naïve or profound, conscious or unconscious. Noël Carroll argues, in The Philosophy of Horror, that both detective and horror fiction are fundamentally about morality. Each begins with a violent suspension of the norm. The monster metaphorically or the murderer literally represent aberrations in the ethical norm that cannot be tolerated. They hearken back to the ancient Greek belief that a horrible sin, unless found out and rectified, can infect the entire community. Marlowe or Van Helsing must engage the aberration and re-knit the torn fabric of ethical normality. On this view the detective or horror hero is a modern Oedipus engaged on a fundamentally conservative mission. But if the source of the horror or corruption is society itself as in the science fiction horror films of the 50’s commenting on McCarthyism or the Bomb, or in the racism encountered by Chester Himes Harlem detectives Coffin Johnson and Gravedigger Jones or by James Sallis’ New Orleans detective Lew Griffin, then the hero must transcend the norm or even rip the fabric of ethical normality himself to reweave it into a more just pattern. The variations are endless, including undermining or openly violating the audience’s expectations. In the film Chinatown (Roman Polanski (dir.)/Robert Towne (wr.)), the detective Jake Gittes pursues corruption to its deepest extreme, but there is no happy restoration of morality—the corruption is both endemic to his society and stained into the fabric of human nature, beyond redemption. It is a near perfect illustration of the nihilism that permeated American fiction in the early ‘70s.

The really interesting moral dilemmas are the ones where there are no easy answers, with seemingly valid perspectives seeing the same thing from contradictory viewpoints. One of Batman’s nemeses is Ra’s al Gulh (forget the portrayal and motivations of that character in Batman Beyond—I’m speaking of the Ra’s al Gulh as created in DC comics by writer Dennis O’Neil and others) who strives to protect the environment from human devastation even if it means eliminating the vast bulk of humans. In his own mind, Ra’s is the hero and Batman a noble but misguided opponent. Ra’s even attempts to convince Batman to join his crusade as his heir. William B. Davis, the actor who played the Cigarette Smoking Man on the X-Files, explained how he found a way to play the “villain” so convincingly—he simply imagined that he was the real hero of the series constantly trying to foil the misguided efforts of Fox Mulder which threatened to ruin plans necessary for both national security and the survival of our species.

But most of us write of moral ambiguity and complexity on a less apocalyptic and more personal scale. In our first novel Hacksaw and in a subsequent short story entitled Death on the Bayou (soon to be published in the anthology A Death in Texas) my brilliant coauthor Charlotte Phillips and I explore the complexities of Houston’s homeless population. One of our colleagues in the Houston writer’s group The Final Twist Society, Laura Elvebak, also expertly explores the plight of the homeless in her novel Less Dead. My interest in the moral ambiguities surrounding homelessness began with a book called The Mole People by Jennifer Toth. She admirably documents the diversity and particularity of the mad, the unlucky, the addicted, and the alienated who inhabit the tunnels beneath New York City. She also describes the wide variety of reactions to the homeless from the socially integrated above.

My own reactions to encounters with the homeless, beggars, and the wandering mad have always been ambiguous and confusing. I am agoraphobic and always try to avoid contact with strangers that might be unpredictable or confrontational. Beggars at stoplights, especially aggressive ones, make me intensely uncomfortable. But I was also raised on ancient Greek mythology. Zeus is the protector of the supplicant at the door of the rich and powerful, and often appears in the guise of a beggar to test the generosity of those who have tasted of the draught of good fortune. A Greek was well aware that the wheel of fate turns for all men. The high and mighty of today may be the fallen of tomorrow and vice versa. And the Greeks well understood the sin of hubris. To shun the unlucky and to deny them a meal and a place to sleep in their wanderings, to despise them because they were supposedly not as smart, or industrious, or simply less powerful than oneself, would be to invite the gods to indulge in divine poetic justice. No man could ever tell whether or not some ragged beggar might turn out to be a hero in disguise ready to string the bow that only brave Odysseus could bend and wreak a terrible vengeance. I’m not a religious man, but in every encounter with the homeless, I remember the stories and pause.

One day on the commute home from work I saw a homeless man standing on the lawn of a church. It was raining and, seeing the silver lining in every cloud, the man had stripped naked and was busy lathering up for a good shower. I mentioned this incident to a colleague of mine. I quickly realized that we were on completely different wavelengths. She assumed that I was as offended by the homeless man’s shower as she would have been and launched into a diatribe against the aggressive, predatory, offensive, unseemly, and often fraudulent behavior of Houston’s vast homeless population. I explained that I was not in fact offended by nudity; that the church setting suggesting both sanctuary and charity was entirely appropriate, that for all I knew some god had arranged that warm summer shower that day for the express sole purpose of providing the man with a refreshing wash, and all other things being equal I preferred the desperately poor to be well groomed. She proceeded to mention how children might have seen the incident and how horrible that would be. I naturally responded that I doubted any children would be scarred for life by the mere sight of a penis and that American attitudes towards the human body seem to wildly and inconsistently oscillate somewhere between Cotton Mather’s and Caligula’s. Every four years I write the International Olympic Committee in my so far futile quest to have the Games held clothing-free as were the Games in ancient days. Besides, wouldn’t it be more positive to teach children not just to tolerate the eccentric and the harmlessly mad but, as many other cultures do, to provide the mad and the eccentric with a special cachet, to see them as touched by the gods, their vision of reality altered for some divinely mysterious purpose.

Needless to say she was not convinced. My degree is in philosophy and I’ve found that almost no one, including other philosophers, is ever convinced by reasoned argument (or at least my reasoned arguments). Fiction can be so much more effective (Frighteningly effective. Please remember Uncle Ben’s line from Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”) . Getting to know the homeless, desperately poor, and mad as fleshed out, believable characters slips the reader across a prejudicial barrier. By seeing the homeless through the eyes of a sympathetic character that they have come to identify with, readers are gently asked to reevaluate their own reactions and to temporarily suspend their unquestioned judgments. I believe that fiction, even, and perhaps especially, genre fiction is the modern democratic forum for ethical discussion. We can and should be conscious contributors to that ongoing dialogue.

Mark Phillips weaves social themes throughout is fictional works which include:
Hacksaw, First in the Eva Baum Detective Series
Death on the Bayou (A Death in Texas anthology)
The Resqueth Revolution (Fall 2008 release)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dread by Cash Anthony

The following article was supposed to appear yesterday on The Final Twist Society blog. A lack of electricity in the aftermath of Ike has created a posting challenge, so I'm hosting the story here. Please use the comments link to leave messages for Cash and her fellow authors in The Final Twist Society.



If you have ever sat through a hurricane of any size and duration, you’re familiar with this emotional state. It’s far more than mere suspense. More like a toothache, because it doesn’t subside in a moment and go away. It drags on, and it grows.

This emotion is a good one to evoke when setting up the environment for a murder mystery or horror story; and since it looks as if it’s inevitable that Houston’s going to get clobbered with Hurricane Ike this weekend, anticipation of that reminded me of what dread entails: a period of waiting that, in the big picture isn’t all that long – a few days, maybe a week to watch a watery monster grow – but it feels like forever; dire consequences are likely to befall someone, and everyone knows it! And everyone is powerless to stop it. Someone will suffer, maybe die. The question is who.

If you’re in the path of Ike, will you be spared both the immediate loss and the resulting trauma? Even if you are, will you be one of the people who have to live through the aftermath? Coastal veterans know that means more powerlessness (literally), that extends past days into weeks, slowing every part of life down except disease and hunger; general disorder and frustration and irritation and the heightened emotions of other people… and an awareness of suffering not far off, if not in your own backyard.

No one knows who’s going to get it, but whoever it is, it’s likely to be bad. Dread.

What should you do? Should you flee, even though you know that the target is going to keep moving, and maybe if you had sat frozen like a hare, you’d have been spared…

Should you dodge out of the way, just a little, even though you know other people in more danger than you probably are need the resources and lodging and open roads? Even though you know none of them are open, and you’re going to be part of the huge problem of people out of their normal life situations trying to save themselves in a chaotic and dangerous environment – that you aren’t presently in?

No… you’ve decided to “hunker down”, a word described well elsewhere, a course of action equally necessary for the helpless and the brave. (Diana’s blog site) But once you decide to stay, then you come to know dread for sure.

You’ll feel it as you watch endless news accounts to see a spot over water move a quarter inch at a time – knowing that if it represents eighty miles or so, that will change many lives, including your own. You’ll dread the news when the storm (the muzzle of the gun?) turns more toward you – your life, your health, your home and community and everything you know are at risk, except the work you’ve got on a computer you’re ready to disconnect and run with.

Dread… before the storm, and then of the storm itself when it finally, finally gets here. The howling wind, the lashing rain, the pounding of waves of water on the walls of your house, until it comes squirting through the keyhole to your door. Hour upon hour of it. Will the house stand up to this? How many more hours of it do we have to tolerate? How long before the creaking of the house and the swishing of the battered trees outside end -- because they start shredding apart, snapping off, letting the torrent in?

I can only put up with so much dread, and so many of the TV weather reports. When it finally gets here, we’ll all be mentally exhausted anyway. I will probably mix something with rum in it, toast the emergency workers out there, and sleep through as much of it as I can. We’ll circle the recliners, push them back into quasi-lounges, and let the dog crawl underneath. The cat, most likely, will do even better than me, and sleep through the whole thing.

Wishing all on the Gulf Coast a safe weekend… and if you don’t have anything to read while you’re waiting for the insurance adjuster next week, check out the terrific books by writers of The Final Twist.

Our new anthology of short stories, A Death in Texas, will be out in October. Drop by the book launch at Kay Budget Books on Friday, October 10th, after 5:30 p.m., meet the Final Twist authors, and pick up a copy. I’m honored to say my story, The Best Man, will be inside.


Cash Anthony is a Writer, Director, Actor, and Producer
Ninth Lord of the Night - screenplay, novel adaptation, Blue CatSemi-Finalist
Taking Up Serpents - screenplay, multi-competition Finalist
Do Me No Favors - short film, written, produced & directed
Complaining Witness - short film, written, produced & directed
False Negative - short film, written & directed
The Best Man - short story, in A Death in Texas anthology
The Stand-In - short story, in Dead and Breakfast anthology
The Secret of the Acequia Stone - B&B play and puzzles
The Case of the Baker's Dozen - B&B play and puzzles A Week of Wednesdays - Novel (WIP)Other B&B plays, puzzles, clues and poems

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Unleash Your Story for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

I’m participating in an event to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Please join me and help raise funds for investment in vital CF programs to support research, care and education.

During the month of September, I commit to writing 15,000 words and I'm hoping to raise at least $150 for CFF.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a devastating genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. More than ten million Americans are symptomless carriers of the defective CF gene. Advances continue to be made in finding a cure, but your help is needed now-more than ever-to help keep up the momentum of this life-saving research. To learn more about CF and the CF Foundation, visit

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those with cystic fibrosis. Thank you for supporting the mission of the CF Foundation!

Thanks to everyone for your support!
Click Here to donate.

In other news, both of my non-fiction booklets, Made Up Mayhem and Adapting Your Novel for Film have released. Stop by my website for details!
Perilously yours,