Three Things to Make Fiction Fun and Useful Too
Posted by: at 07:18, February 2 2016.

The other day I was digging through things in the storage shed, looking for something totally unrelated and ran across note cards from college. I flipped through them quickly and WOW!

I found experiential proof that all things thought, lie in wait somewhere in the recesses of your mind just waiting for their time. Well, at least this one thing was lurking in my brain and came back.

On a 5x8 card was my philosophy of what makes a story good and useful, too. Probably every writer and reader has their own belief along these lines. What seemed profound to me is that I am following my own dictum in the Vic Challenger novels. Unconsciously. Here, very simply, is what I thought and still agree with, about fiction, the thread I follow to write Vic novels, now available to the viewing public for the very first time, and you can feel free to quote me!

Reality + Speculation = Story

Reality teaches, adds real value, causes readers to exclaim “I didn’t know that!”

Speculation causes readers to think by providing something at least a tad outside their past and potential experience, most commonly leading to thoughts like “What if that happened?” Or “What would I do if…”

Story entertains, allows the reader to seamlessly enjoy learning and thinking.

(Confession: my notes only actually included the words underlined. I beefed things up for this journal post.)

These ideas are obviously based on my personal values, which dictate that even fiction should be “useful”. Time is precious and when you read you deserve at least one of the above - be taught, made to think, or entertained. If you get all three it’s a trifecta, and that’s what I try to do with Vic Challenger. Always included: facts, historical and scientific; speculation, always as cryptids, and sometimes more; hopefully in a story that entertains with action and unpredictable occurrences.

What do you think? Agree with any of this?

Next time.

Formula writing without a formal plan
Posted by: at 09:44, January 5 2016.

Vic: Fast, latest in the Vic Challenger action adventure series, will be out in paperback next week so I thought for this journal entry I would say a few things about the question, “Do I use a formula?” I hate to say this, it is so cliché, but it is true: Yes and no.

I began the series with no plan, no outline, no formula. It started with a character which I (obviously) think is perfect and a vision of the series ending. I started writing and they just come out, still with no plan or formal formula. Vic: Fast is # 5 and there are that many more already queued up in my mind, none of which include then ending, and none have a written outline.

It has become apparent, though, that I use a simple pattern for Vic, which seems to contain the following:

1. The beginning always contains a sort of roundup of activities since the last adventure and leads into the next. At the end, there is a similar roundup of mentions within the novel and lead in to next adventure. The purpose is to portray Vic as a normal person. Her vivid recall of life as a cave girl gives her what we might call great daring, but it isn’t bravery to her. In that past life it was just another day to fight the ape folk or run from Oo the long-toothed devourer of men and mammoths, so anything she runs in to now doesn’t exactly worry or excite her the way it would you or me. Except for her trips, she is like us - she works, she gardens her beloved hot peppers and coffee trees, she hangs out at Mortimer’s drug with friends - and plans the next trip and new ways to find her lost love. So, those sections at beginning and end are to build her character and remind you that she isn’t a super hero, just a person like us, who has a goal she is determined to achieve at any cost, or die trying,

2. There are two types of antagonist in each novel: bad guys and cryptids. That wasn’t planned. It happened organically but I like it and it’s fun, so will continue.

3. Another organic organ of Vic novels has become mention of what I guess you would call “social issues”. It’s not heavy, though. No preaching. It’s partly an extension of Vic’s character building. She has high moral standards, so things get mentioned. Also, social issues are part of life - they were in the 1920’s and still are. It would be crazy to hope to give Vic the feel of “normality” with no social issues. And she doesn’t like it any more than you or I. She and Lin Li agreed in #4, about friend Emma’s problem - it was easier to fight bad guys and monsters! Slavery was the first issue and came up naturally when she was captured by slavers in Africa. That is her #1 target of personal rancor and loathing! There have been others, including voting, drinking and in #5, an unusual twist on racism. Even though I of course have opinions on all these type subjects, I attempt to limit the mention of each to statements of the situation and Vic’s comment and actions as I think would come from “the real” Vic Challenger.

4. Another thing that ‘just happens’ is unfinished business - things in one novel that make a reappearance later. It’s already happened some and will again. It’s a natural flow of how I write Vic. Because I get ideas and see scenes from future novels as I write, things just happen that can or must be revisited and some will run into each other. (Even so, I work to make each novel stand alone, no requirement to read in order).

So, there it is. The naturally evolved pattern for Vic novels. No formal plan or outline, but a few components that I like, so will likely continue. What do you think? Too much structure?

Thanks for reading.

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Time for Resolutions Again
Posted by: at 11:12, December 30 2015.

This is a really obvious subject for end of year but it’s also appropriate. Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Do you keep any of them? Or to rephrase that second question - are you serious about your resolutions or are they just pipe dreams that are kinda fun to think about?

I make resolutions and I admit they don’t all get completed. The biggest reason is my eyes are bigger than my stomach syndrome. Too many BIG resolutions. That doesn’t bother me because I always get some biggies done and most of the little ones.

So we are on the same page, in my mind resolutions are goals or short term bucket list items. Making them is important because it stops forward movement for a couple of hours so you can analyze progress or lack of progress on the resolutions of last year, make deliberate decision about what next and envision even bigger goals! To paraphrase lots of people, ‘if you don’t plan to go somewhere, you’ll end up nowhere’.

If you have a problem keeping resolutions, do you make a plan to achieve them, do you schedule activities to support them, are they important to you? If you find it difficult to stick to or complete resolutions / goals, ask yourself questions like those. Identify problems and tackle those or resolutions will forever be pipe dreams.

Now for entertainment. Here’s a little video about resolutions, just something to think about and maybe inspire.

Thanks for your time.

Something Tasty for Cold Days Ahead
Posted by: at 07:31, December 18 2015.

Time for a recipe. In book #1, Time Doesn’t Matter, Vic asks for atole for breakfast. Specifically she requests chilitole which is atole with hot chilis added (yep, my favorite). Other names are sometimes used depending on ingredients, usually with similar construction - (something)tole. It is often taken for breakfast but is great anytime in cold weather. Here is a quick idea of what atole is - it can be confusing if you don’t understand that it comes in many variations.

Often it comes as a drink and customary ingredients include masa (corn flour), unrefined sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. To that you can pretty much add anything you want - different fruits and chocolate are common. A traditional way to make it is mix most ingredients and cook on a griddle then add to boiling cinnamon water. I mentioned it can be confusing because in addition to flavor variations, if you order it at a restaurant it may come as a drink or as a food. If you would rather eat than drink it, just make it thicker for a porridge or oatmeal consistency.

You don’t need traditional masa to make atole. It can also be made with other types of flour, rice, or oatmeal. A slight variation I personally find convenient is using instant grits. For the uneducated, grits are made from corn Here is why I never suffer writers block - nearly every thing I think causes a rush of ideas and questions and here is what just popped into my mind. I like grits and eggs. Why not mix the instant grits, a little salt and pepper, a bit of butter and a raw egg; then add your boiling water? Wouldn’t that sort of be grits and poached egg? Or egg atole? I’ll try that this weekend.

Here are two other variations I recommend. 1. Add whole kernel corn. 2. Add diced, already cooked bacon, and for extra flavor add a teaspoon of bacon grease per bowl. Yummy!

Now here is another idea just popped. It’s not super creative and though I’ve never done it with atole I know it would work. Make your atole (chilitole!) (or oatmeal) extra thick, plop some in the skillet or on the griddle and fry up some atole cakes! You could pour a little white gravy over it! Top with sausage… STOP! Work to do! Must stop thinking of food….!

Want step by step for atole and other great Mexican food? Here’s my recommendation:

This link takes you directly to sweet corn atole recipe but she has a ton of other great recipes.

Go make some atole!

Thanks for reading.

Do Your Roads Have Potholes OR Why Vic Challenger takes the train
Posted by: at 08:02, December 15 2015.

Vic Challenger was doing her thing in the 1920’s and it was a really different world. I run across facts for every book that make me think “Wow!” Take roads for example.

In book 4, ‘Terror Incognita’, Vic and friends take a road trip from Beatrice to the Northwest corner of Nebraska for a camp out. I was pretty sure there were no interstate highways but wasn’t sure of the state of roads. Dirt. Almost certain, they were driving on a dirt road. One source stated going twenty miles a day was good travel then. I believe a horse can do that. Here are some interesting facts I discovered.

In the beginning, roads were foot paths. Then wagons and buggies took the same route and they widened to roads. So way back, building roads was no big enterprise, just get enough people riding the same path for awhile and it’s a road. As far back as 1815 there was something called the National Road from Maryland to St Louis to make it easier to migrate to the center of the country but it was dirt and had no official entity to take care of it.

In 1920 there were some cement, brick and gravel roads but mostly in cities. All roads back then were created by the state or more likely the local people of a city or region.

In 1919, Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower led a convoy from Washington D.C. To San Francisco to spotlight then need for good roads. It took two months and that was too slow. It was a national security issue.

The “first road across America” was the Lincoln Highway which ran from New York to San Francisco. It began as work by local municipalities an companies. Cement companies, for example, poured miles of road to improve local transportation. It was completed in 1923.

There was a Federal Highway Act of 1921 which was funded in 1926 and the federal government officially got in the act. Roads were names “U.S. #” and the system is still used. The Lincoln Highway became part of U.S. 30.

In 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation that began the Interstate Highway system we enjoy today. In 1990, President George Bush signed legislation that renamed the national system of interstate highways the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

What about those other things we complain about? Who’s to blame? First state to use taxes for road construction was New Jersey in 1891, followed by Massachusetts and Virginia in 1892. Massachusetts and New York were the first states to collect license fees in 1903.

Not related to roads in 1920, but have you ever wondered how interstate highways are named? Major routes are designated by single- or two-digit numbers. If a route runs north-south, it is given an odd number, and if route a runs east-west, an even number. For north-south routes, numbering conventions begin in the west. Thus I-5 runs north and south along the West Coast, while I-95 runs north and south along the East Coast. For east-west routes, numbers begin in the south.

Next time you think that pot hole is horrible, remember 1920. Now you know why Vic Challenger takes the train.

Here are some references if you want to learn more:
     IF YOU ARE PLANNING A ROAD TRIP you need to check this out. All kinds of great info. They have forums but you need to sign up and be approved to participate. Obviously I did.

Thanks for reading.

Vic Challenger and the mysterious cryptids
Posted by: at 07:56, December 9 2015.

First of all, for anyone not sure, here’s a quick definition of a cryptid - A living thing suspected or reported but not confirmed officially or scientifically. I use the term ‘living thing’ because, even though animal cryptids are most popular, plants can evidently be cryptids, too. Famous examples include Bigfoot, unicorns, sea serpents, and chupacabra.

Does Vic Challenger run into cryptids? She does. Like Vic novels in general, there was no grand plan to begin, it just comes pouring out (at this writing, Vic 5 is just done and Vic 6 is in my head waiting to be typed). The cryptids just show up. So far, Vic has encountered a thunderbird, death worm, Nessie, great apes where they shouldn’t be, and cannibals.

There may be some argument about that last one - cannibals. Humans are living things and if they are in or near populations of other humans but unknown (living among us!) does that count? Sort of a rhetorical question, since the answer doesn’t really matter, but it is the kind of question that consistently pops up in the research for Vic Challenger novels.

There is a categorization of cryptids called ‘Eberharts Classification’, proposed by George Eberhart of the American Library Association. Here is a brief version:
1. Distribution anomalies
2. Undescribed, unusual, or outsized variations of known species
3. Survivals of recently extinct species
4. Survivals of species known only from the fossil record into modern times
5. Lingerlings, or survivals of species known from the fossil record much later into historical times than currently thought
6. Animals not known from the fossil record but related to known species
7. Animals not known from the fossil record nor related to any known species
8. Mythical animals with a zoological basis
9. Seemingly paranormal or supernatural entities with some animal-like characteristics
10. Known hoaxes or probable misidentifications

You can read more about it here:

In case you are wondering, things like the coelacanth fish are not cryptids. To be a true cryptid the existence of the creature must be disputed. For those who aren’t aware, the coelacanth is a species though extinct for millions of years - until fishermen caught one in the 1920’s, and more have been caught since. That made me ask another question which I haven’t checked. Has the coelacanth been added to the endangered species list? If I caught one, could I mount it and show it off over the mantle?

The question has been asked, “Will there always be cryptids in Vic Challenger novels? Since there is no true formula or plan, it is hard to say always, however, yes, always- Vic met up with both cryptids and bad guys in all her trips. In book 5 she encounters 3 cryptids!

If interested, here is a list of cryptids to begin your deeper research.

Also, the reference notes for each Vic Challenger novel always include the references used for cryptid info,
It’s at the website

Let me know what you think of cryptids and I would especially be interested if you have ever seen one or you if you want to suggest a really obscure cryptid.
Thanks for reading.

The Real Spy in Vic Challenger #1
Posted by: at 11:01, December 5 2015.

Real People in Vic novels - #1 Sylvanus Morley

Some of the ‘fiction’ in Vic isn’t all fiction. In book one, Time Doesn’t Matter, Vic meets Professor Sylvanus Morley at the ruins of Chichen Itza. Morley was real. He was a Mayan scholar who planned the dig at Chichen Itza. In the novel, Vic has a strong suspicion that Morley is more than an archaeologist - she was right.

Morley was also a spy. He worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence during The Great War (WW 1) and maybe beyond. I will admit I ran short of time and didn’t probe as far as I could have – some sources made it sound like his espionage activities were secret, other say he openly wore his naval uniform and what he did for ONI was known in the archaeological community, so not so secret. Either way, his work for military intelligence shouldn’t be too surprising considering his alma mater was Pennsylvania Military College.

Morley’s mission, in part at least, was to look for secret German submarine bases. It doesn’t appear that he found any but he did supply tons of information about politics, geography, etc - the kinds of info you find in CIA area handbooks you can get on-line.

In the novel, the war is over and Morley may secretly be looking for war criminals.

If you want to read some interesting non-fiction, read about Morley.
Here are some on-line references:
he image above came from the PMC page.

So far there has been at least one real character in each Vic Challenger novel and that will continue. Eventually, I will make a quickie journal entry for each of them.

Thanks for reading.

Women Only, Must be 21, No Exceptions
Posted by: at 04:42, April 17 2015.

 Recently I was doing research for Vic Challenger novel #5 and somehow ended up on a website for a social club.  Not a bad thing, though, because after perusing the site just a bit I knew without doubt that Vic Challenger would join this group!  She’d love it!  I had to know more so I contacted the club and was showered with information by Georgia Pettit, spokeswoman for the SOTF.

SOTF.  Sisters on the Fly.  No, not aviators and not fans of the old horror movie.  Seems it began primarily for fly fishing but grew into an outdoors adventure club for women and so much more.   

The founders of the group are Becky Clarke and Maurrie Sussman, two sisters, inspired by their mother Mazie to love fly fishing and pretty much anything outdoors.  The sisters thought  it would be fun to share their love of the outdoors and adventure with other women and in 1999  began the club.  Their mother Mazie, who passed away in 2014 at the grand age of 94 was Sister #0.  Maurrie is Sister #1 and Becky is Sister #2.  Each member gets a number when she joins so she can always easily identify herself to other sisters.  The SOTF currently has 6,000 members in the United States, Australia, England, New Zealand, and Canada . 

SOTF conducts group activities year round.  The excursions give members a chance to thrill to a safe adventure, experience some personal growth and have lots of fun.  From time to time there are events for “Sisters and Misters”, where husbands are invited along, but most events and trips are Sisters Only!  They are a little like “girls night out” only longer and probably more fun.  In fact, a favorite catchphrase of the SOTF is “We have more fun than anyone!”   There is nothing shallow about this group, though.  The official goal is to bring women together to challenge themselves and be all they are capable of being.   

Many of the members have vintage travel campers, which have often been restored by the member in her  personal style.  That may be why one of the big events of 2015 is a 25 day road trip from Joliet, IL to Ventura, CA. and it won’t be on an interstate.  Get your kicks on this nearly month long trek, discovering America on historic Route 66!  Don’t have a trailer, don’t want to rent one?  You can go anyway, in your car.  Of course, a van or SUV would make for more comfortable sleep, but the point is, any vehicle.  Don’t have 25 days free?  Take part of the trip.  Flexibility!  Go, have fun and feel safe because you are with a group of strong, capable, adventure loving sisters! 

One facet of the club I really appreciate is that not just the central office decides on trips.  Country and state chapters plan trips as well and even better - if you have an idea for a trip, suggest it.  If there is enough interest in your recommendation, it may be a go!  This is especially exciting because many of us have things we always wanted to do, places we would like to visit, but don’t want to go alone.  This may provide the opportunity to make that adventurous dream come true!  And what if there is no local chapter?  Not necessary and I have a suspicion that if you grabbed a couple of friends to join with you, you could start a chapter where there isn’t one. 

What types of adventure do Sisters enjoy?  Characteristic activities are kayaking, wine tasting, horseback riding, fly fishing, working ranch adventures, barbecues, cruises, camping, cowgirl college, dude ranch retreat and special grandmother/grandchild trips.   Sound amazing?  I’m just hitting the highlights. 

Can you see why Vic Challenger would love this group and swoop up the next sister number asap?  Fishing (stone cooked trout on Loch Ness in Never Give Up), then camp prepared pirarucu and piranha soup in Terror Incognita) horseback riding and road trip (in Mongol - the Sisters omit the part about being shot at), swimming, hiking and camping (plenty in Time Doesn’t Matter). 

Are you female, at least 21 years old.  Yes?  You qualify to join Sisters on the Fly.  They do have strict rules for most get-togethers, however: No Men, No Pets, No Kids and Be Nice!  

The SOTF sounds awesome, a bit like a grown-up scouting program!  I encourage you to check it out if you are female.  Guys, tell your wife/girlfriend, mother, sister, daughter and co-workers.  They will thank you.  

You can find even more info and join SOTF at   Happy adventuring!

Death - Then and Now
Posted by: at 09:56, April 4 2015.

I research a lot to keep historical mentions accurate in the Vic Challenger novels.  Sometimes in looking up a specific bit of info I run across broader concepts that may not seem to appear in the novels but nevertheless impact how they are written.  These are things that to some degree would have influenced daily life for Vic, or would reflect life then.  With that in mind here are some observations on death in 1922 (I am currently working on novel 5,which occurs early 1922) compared to 2013 (latest info that came up on Google search).  While much of the research for the novels involves many areas of the world, this information is for the United States.

The tables for 1922 and 2013 are below with links to their sources.   Here are some observations.

In 1922, heart disease was number one on the list and was still number one in 2013.  I glanced back further and saw that 1918-1920 pneumonia and influenza was number one.  Any bells ring?  Know why?  If you read Vic: Time Doesn’t Matter, you know.  Those were the years of the great flu pandemic.  According to Wikipedia at least 50 million people died from the flu worldwide in those years.  Influenza and pneumonia are down to number 8 on the list in 2013.

Here is something that may or may not be related to the epidemic.  In 1918-1920 number ten on the list was puerperal disease.  This refers to a problem occurring to a mother in the 6 week period following delivery.   Sounds like many postpartum problems are puerperal.  I wonder if it was related to the flu epidemic in those years?  Ideas?  Whatever the cause then, puerperal isn’t listed now so it’s one area where things are better.

What’s gotten worse, or moved up the list?  Cancer and diabetes were on the list back then and have climbed higher.  Environment, eating habits, stress, less physical activity?   Another negative:  suicide wasn’t listed in 1922.  In 2013 it managed to slip into the number ten slot.

Back then there was a category labeled "Diarrhea, enteritis, and ulceration of the intestines".  It was number nine in 1922 but is not on the list for 2013.  I just have a guess about this.   That category probably included things like infectious dysentery and cholera.  Vaccines and antibiotics have helped both avoid and treat problems like those.
Here’s a nice positive note.   Premature birth was on the list in 1922 and 3 years before and after ( all I looked at) but it’s not listed in 2013.  Another possible high spot: Tuberculosis was number three cause of death in 1922 and is not on the list for 2013.  Don’t applaud yet, though. According to several sources, resistant forms of TB are at epidemic proportions in some parts of the world and there is real danger of worldwide spread.  That has really become a scary word hasn’t it - resistant.

Vic Challenger, it seems to me, had no greater worry about her health than we do today.  It was just a different list.  She was more likely to die from an infectious disease or a wound that became infected.  Aren't you glad we have answers to those problem - for now?  So I give medical advances a mixed review.  Possibilities exist for great improvement but chances of catastrophe seem just as prolific.  It’s like walking past an infinite line of corners, never knowing what the next step might reveal.

Action adventure opinion, Doc review
Posted by: at 10:08, March 27 2015.

Doc Savage review and my opinion of action adventure in general.
This is a re-post from another blog I have ditched.   

Doc Savage is a favorite character of mine. The book is The Haunted Ocean by Kenneth Robeson, aka lots of people.  I believe all the Doc novels were written in the 1930's.

Clarke Savage Jr, better known as Doc, is one of those ultimate type heroes who battles villains which no ordinary agency can touch. When it seems too much, everyone knows to contact Doc. In this book the President calls Doc and lets him know this problem is too big for anyone else to handle.

This book includes all kinds of action/adventure goodies. Kidnappings, a mysterious woman, a murder at Doc's door(!), strange lights, something just below the surface of the ocean, slow crushing death by glacier, and LOTs more! This is one time where Doc actually walks away from one of his men – when he sinks in a mini sub into frigid arctic waters that are 600 feet deep and there is no power in the sub and no way to restore it. There is nothing he can do there so he goes on for the villain.

Talk about super science! Like most Doc books there are things that didn't exist. His super sonic plane, the submersible that is clear (glass, plastic?) and then the bad guys. Miles of ocean are lighted up and the strange light makes normal engines stop. The bad guys though have engines that run on light! Oh, and who is the bad guy? Is it the guy who made the strange light?

One thing about the Haunted Ocean bothered me. It was something I find a distraction in all Doc Savage novels. It's habeas corpus. No, nothing to do with law. It's Monk's pet pig. He goes along on most adventures. I understand that he was probably meant to be comic relief. He may even engender worry in pet lovers. I think he shouldn't be there though. I have nothing against pets. I like pigs, you can't beat a good BLT... actually I meant to say... let just move along, shall we. So what happens regarding habeas? There are villagers who think he would make a fine luncheon! He is lost in sub zero weather! OMG! Will habeas survive? You need to read the book to find out.

Rating? 5 stars of course! All Doc Savage books are 5. How can that be? Because it's fun! It doesn't need to be anything else. Just be fun and make you eager to turn the page.

Most action adventure books were never meant to be literature. If they were they wouldn't be fun (sorry English and Lit teachers). They let you enjoy a bit of a life that is unlike your own but often alongside someone who has some of your own frailties. Sometimes they highlight the struggles between good and evil, life and death, etc., but never in a prolonged or heavy way. They touch on such subjects and leave it for you and your own imaginings to plunge deeper on your own if you so wish, They are fairly short, too. I personally never have a dull or empty day. I have no desire to read 400+ pages and drag things out. I want to finish in 2 or 3 nights before bed or 1-2 chapters at a time over a weekend. Then look for the next. And if you find a pig in a book you can skim over those paragraphs and the story is still good.

Doc Savage books give me what I need in an adventure book in spades. I recommend it to anyone who likes action adventure, pretty fast reads and lite sci-fi. I believe there are a total of 86 Doc novels so there is a lot of fun to be had!

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