Monthly Archives: March 2012

Interview with Joe The Dog

We caught up with Joe The Dog sleeping in the sunshine on the deck of his house in Southern Maryland.

Sleeping? Not at all. Coiled spring, me. Instantly ready to bark at passers-by, grab an unsuspecting insect as it flies past, or leap up at the offer of FOOD. Is that a doggie treat you’ve got there? Sorry? A microphone? Dearie me. That’s not much good. I can feel myself losing the will to live already.

No. I’m not a character in the book. It’s a bone of contention. Hahaha! Did you get that? ‘Bone of contention!’ Anyway. All I get is a mention in the acknowledgements. I ask you. I mean, I take him along the beach every day, twice a day and that’s when he writes the stuff in his head. You’d think it wasn’t too much to ask to include me. But no. It’s not as if he’s even much good on the beach. I’ve never seen him cocking his leg, or pooping in the long grass, or crunching crab’s legs or any of that good stuff. And as for chasing a ball! Useless.

What do I think of the book? Tell you the truth, I haven’t read it myself. I like something with a bit more meat in the story. The odd chicken helps, too. And it has guns in it, as I understand. Dogs don’t do guns. It’s partly our lack of an opposable claw which makes the whole hold-it-up-to-your-shoulder-and-pull-the-trigger-at-the-same-time thing a bit tricky. But mainly it’s the noise. Scares the living crap out of us. We’d be no good on the front. Or the back, come to that. It’s hard to confront the enemy while lying on the ground with your paws over your ears and pooping uncontrollably all the while.

The author? What about him? Oh, he’s not a bad old geezer, I guess. Thinks he’s the alpha male in the house, though. Hahaha! That’s a joke. I go along with it a bit, of course. You know, submissive-tummy-rub stuff and occasionally following orders. But see when he’s fifty yards away and I’ve found a fine, chewy carcass on the beach and he calls me. Do I come? Do I Hell!

Okay. No problem. My pleasure. Now, stop kidding me around and give me a treat or I’ll take that microphone thingy and treat it like one of my chew-bones…

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The Versatile Blogger Award

I got up Sunday morning and was just slurping my first coffee of the day, when I spotted a new comment on my blog page. It was the wonderfully supportive and delightful Vanessa Grassi at http://vanessagrassi.com/ nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award. Thank you so much Vanessa, both for the nomination and for the kind words.

The award, I discover, has a number of rules:

  • Thank the award giver and link back to them in your post. (Done)
  • Share 7 things about yourself. (See below)
  • Pass this award along to 15 other bloggers. (I’m on it!)
  • Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award. (I’m on that, too!)

Seven things about me:

  • Although I spend most of my year living in Southern Maryland, I am Scottish to the core and proud of it.
  • My favorite lunch spot here in Southern Maryland is Panera, where I can enjoy coffee, delicious sandwiches and free wi-fi!
  • I’ve been a closet writer all my life, but only ‘came out’ when I retired.
  • I can confidently turn my hand to almost any household repairs, including plumbing, electrics and carpentry.
  • I am passionate about sailing and the sea. My novel, The Butterfly & The Bull, includes an Atlantic crossing in a sailboat.
  • I sleep with my Editor. She is my wife!
  • My favorite TV show of all time is The West Wing.

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New High Price, Same High Quality

Stuart’s Alter Ego talks to him about book-pricing.

So, Mr Smarty-Pants Author person, you’ve been messing around with the price of your book again? Setting aside the small matter of your ignorance and incompetence in this field, what in the blue blazes of hell’s own cremation fires makes you think it’s a good idea to charge more for the damn thing? I mean, are you or are you not an unknown author and is this, or is it not, your first novel? Well, there you are then, I rest my case. In any case, it’s been priced at 99 cents for the past two months and sales have been modest, apart from those three days when you charged nothing for it and managed to ‘sell’ more that fourteen hundred downloads. Doesn’t that tell you something? Like, that even a sub-dollar price is too high? What’s that? Dean Koontz? It costs what? Who, in the name of all that’s gloriously and ineluctably stupid in this world is going to be duped into paying that for a book that doesn’t even boast a drop of binding glue in its manufacture? Really? Well, you do surprise me. In that context, $2.99 doesn’t seem that bad. I guess, if the worse comes to the worst, and sales fall of a cliff, you can always cut the price again. Which is something you couldn’t have done when it was at 99 cents. Look on the bright side, dear boy. You need to!

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Pavel Sergeyovitch Vodyanov

I enjoy creating new characters. Here’s one that turns up in my new novel Flight of the Butterfly, due to be published in September 2012. This is a first draft, so may contain errors.

The man in the black wool coat and fur hat was turning white. Everywhere, a crusted, frictionless treachery had given way to deep snow, squeaking underfoot. Mournful stone buildings created a canyon around him. The wind sought its narrowness, revelled in the lift of speed it gave, the obliterating effect of the locust-swarm of flakes that came with it. He pulled his head down into the inadequate embrace of his coat collar, leaned forward into the blast. He knew Edinburgh better than any taxi driver. Especially its secret places: the dark corners, alleyways and blind crannies. And yet – the whiteness disoriented, his confidence dipped, stride slackened. Then, a brief glimpse of dark grey fluted columns and steps up to a grandiose entrance. Moments later, he turned right into Rose Street. In its narrow confines, the wind eased and he strode the last few yards to the pub.

His pub. The public house of Pavel Sergeyovich Vodyanov. One of only three left in the centre of the city. This was his haven, the only unsullied and legal aspect to his life. It floated like a swan above the murky, tendentious waters of the Vodyanov empire. There were no drugs, or prostitutes or paedophiles or bank robbers or swindlers allowed. Only ordinary folk and alcohol. At least, that was what he liked to believe.

The entrance was set in the corner of the building. Oak half-doors in a bulky stone surround; above, a semicircular fanlight; above that, the name in gold letters – McTurk’s. Pavel pushed the doors open, stepped into the narrow entrance porch and shut the weather out behind him. He knocked the snow from his shoes, removed his coat and shook it. Then he went in, pushing the inner door against its closer. Warm air swaddled him, familiar smells of malt, wood smoke and human frailty. Yellow-orange light from the fire made an ever-changing tableau of faces and furniture and shadows. Conversation ebbed. Pavel walked to the bar, set along the back wall, and laid his coat on the old, polished surface. Cherry, his favourite wood. He ran his hand over it. Conversation picked up.

“What can I get you, Mr Vodyanov?” Behind the bar, a thin man with a stoop and a slack grin, wearing a black waistcoat.

“Visky. Best malt.”

Davie the barman reached down for the bottle he kept specially for his boss, poured a generous measure into a shot glass. Pavel drank it Russian-style. Lift, pause, lift, head back, gone, glass smacked on the bar.

“Now, slow one.”

Davie palmed a whisky glass this time, same full measure. Pavel nodded wordless thanks.

“Kerilas is here, yes?”

“Aye, he’s up the stair.”

“Anyone looks for me, I’m not available, okay?”

Davie nodded.

Upstairs: a room lit by a wood fire and the reluctant glow from a single window; unfurnished, bar for a single table and two chairs. A heavily-built man with a face like a boxer who had long passed his sell-by date was sitting, reading a newspaper. He looked up when Pavel came in, leaned forward to stub out a black cheroot.

“Ah, Pavel Sergeyovich. Good morning. How are you, my friend?”

Pavel sat down, put his glass on the table.

“Karilas, my old friend, I am svimming against tide of history. And history is going down plughole, make no mistake. Country has gone to dogs, chickens and fucking animals of all kinds. Once I made honest living from prostitutes and gambling. But now? Pffft! Money is gone. No one pays. Whoresons all poor, Pavel Sergeyovich poor.”

Karilas chuckled.

“We haven’t quite got to that pass, my dear man. But times are tough, I do agree.”

“Tough? Tough you say? Tougher than ex-vife’s fucking heart, I tell you. And what do you know? You are just ignorant Lithuanian peasant.”

The other man smiled.

“I may be ignorant and I may be a peasant, but at least I have a university degree in accounting, otherwise Vodyanov Enterprises Inc. would have gone down the plughole a long time ago, along with history and everything else.”

Pavel took a mouthful of whisky, rolling it round his mouth before swallowing, held out a hand towards the other man.

“Listen to him. Thinks he is bees ankles, this Lithuanian.”

He thumped his chest.

“Who was it who came here twenty years ago with nothing but clothes he stood in and made name for himself? Who was that, eh? Not fucking Karilas. No! It was Vodyanov.”

“Sure it was.” Karilas leaned back, enjoying the ride. “And the fact that you had the balls to slip a sharp knife between the ribs of Godfather Rubienski just at the right moment in time, did you no harm at all.”

He leaned forward and tapped his finger on the table.

“But these days are gone, Pavel Sergeyovich. And we have to think differently.”

Pavel’s bluster evaporated and his head went down, shaking from side to side.

“I know, I know. But it is hard for old bastard to learn new tricks.

He ran a hand through the thick bristle of his greying hair.

“Anyway, anyway. Tell me about what you have done with woman and her two companions. I worry about them.”

“We have them locked away in a safe location. They will do us no harm.”

“Perhaps we would better neutralise them completely, then they would truly be harmless, yes?”

Karilas shook his head.

“We’ve already had this conversation, old friend. They could be useful to us, to give information, or to find information, or as hostages. We must keep them unharmed until we are sure that we can no longer use them to our advantage.”

“And what of American?”

The other man frowned, compressed his lips for a moment.

“Nothing further. He keeps himself well hidden. I have men working to find him, but I suspect that he is too wily an operator for us. No doubt when he wants our assistance, he will contact us again.”

Pavel threw himself back in his chair, swung on it for a moment, then sprang to his feet and stood, back to the fire, hands behind him.

“I don’t like it. Pavel Sergeyovich wishes to know what goes on in his patch. Find him! Find this American and bring him to me. I will make him talk.”

Karilas crossed his legs, lit another cheroot, exhaled its acrid smoke.

“You really want me to allocate more resources to this? Already, we have to keep fewer and fewer people running hard to stop us falling on our collective faces. I’m telling you, the American will show himself when he is ready. Or not. We have other things to worry about.”

Pavel flopped back into the chair, the flash of impatience running to ground.

“Okay, okay. I leave it to you. What else have you to report?”

Karilas pulled a map from his pocket, unfolded it on the table. It was his favourite prop when he reported to Vodyanov. The crisp outline of city streets had blurred over the years, the corners of folds opened up to allow light through. Both men leaned over it, though it was a merely a talisman. They carried all the information they needed in their heads.

“Wieng is up to something,” Karilas said. “It may be big or it may be nothing. Impossible to tell. I will know more tomorrow.”

Pavel shivered, picturing the small, dapper figure of the Chinese, bowing and smiling. He put his hand on his chest, fingers spread.

“You know I have heart of lion, Karilas, but I swear Wieng makes shivers in spine.”

Karilas nodded.

“I also feel that way.  But these people are in the same situation as we are. The cake is no longer big enough to divide amongst us. If you ask me to guess, I’d say that Wieng is planning to take it all.”

Pavel circled a finger over an area of the map.

“And what about Pilton? What news from there?”

Karilas sat up slowly, stretching his back, rubbing his hands on his thighs.

“Lost, I fear. Gone to anarchy. Local gangs fighting it out on the streets, good people moving elsewhere. Nothing there for us anymore.”

“Not possible to have meeting with gang leaders? Work out deal?”

Slow head shake.

“To what end, Pavel Sergeyovich? We would be negotiating over dust and rubble. These people are nothing but trouble for us. Now that we no longer supply them, because we lost so many of our people, they come looking for what they want. This kind of chaos will just move out from these areas and engulf us, if we don’t come up with a plan.”

“I know, I know. You tell me this all time. We talk plan.”

He sat back.

“Okay. But I warn you, this is going to be a whole new way of thinking for us.”

Pavel had folded his arms.

“You want old dog dance new tricks, yes? You think I am not able?”

“It’s not your ability that’s in question, old friend.”

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