Dear Crook: A Public Service Announcement

To whom it may concern:

I am appalled by the low-quality phishing and fraudulent e-mail filling my inbox. You are not going to get my funds or personal information unless you improve the quality of your work. To wit:

1) I am as likely to respond to broken English as I am to a supposed Brit using American slang. Especially if it comes from the keyboard of someone who is purportedly the head of an international bank in Kuala Lumpur.

2) Keep track of which official you are impersonating. I highly doubt John Ashcroft is still in office with the US government, nor that his e-mail to me about funds being held for me by the Department of Homeland Security has been caught in traffic this long.

3) Pick country besides Nigeria or Singapore or Ireland.

4) When borrowing a corporate logo, use the correct colors with the design. Hint, hint, Federal Express’s logo is generally not done in brown and white. Nor does the Royal Bank of Scotland use crimson and gold. And trying to get me to click on a link to Northern Rock was just mean, although I give you points for a sense of irony.

5) There are far fewer princes in Africa than there used to be. Try again.

6) If your spouse was a missionary, you’d better spell the name of the religious denomination correctly or no one will take you seriously.

Thank you and have a nice day.


Waiting for the First Drops

It takes rain to make rain. The most frustrating part of living in a drought may well be the nightly weather forecast, when the weather dude (or dudette) says, “All the ingredients for a good rain are here, but until we get some moisture, the system has nothing to work with.” And so you open the morning paper to see that the area a hundred miles east of you got pounded with flooding rain, ping-pong-ball-hail, and farmers are griping because it’s too wet to harvest the winter wheat. Meanwhile dust is dancing on the morning wind and the cracks in the ground of your yard are so deep that you’re pretty sure if you look carefully, you can see a group of people in a park practicing tai chi.

Without moisture in the ground, there’s nothing to evaporate and fuel the storms that bring more rain. All the air does is bake, sucking more water out of the plants and soil. It takes rain to make rain. Only after something pumps starter moisture into the area, be it the remains of a hurricane in the Gulf or the Pacific, or something sucking southeasterly winds up into the Plains with dew points in the 50s F, can the rainmaking weather systems produce rain.

Writing and culture seem to be a lot like waiting for rain. It takes someone saying “Hey, I’m tired of elegantly written, beautiful books without plots. I want characters that stand up and defend what they believe in. I’m tired of reading 400 pages of ‘brilliant prose’ about a woman having existential angst about her midlife crises over the course of a day of shopping.” And someone else chimes in, “Yeah. Me too. I want some big damn heroes.” And a writer ventures out into the waters, publishing a little electronic book and saying, “Hi. You might like this.” Or “Dear Big Publisher, sod off. I’m writing what I want to read and if other people buy it, great.”

One story becomes two, becomes three, becomes the first faint gust of moist wind. Other proto-authors see the new books, or encounter a reprinted swashbuckling classic, and say, “Hey! I’ve got one of those in my drawer.” Or they decide to venture out into the publishing waters with their own tale of adventure. (Captain Blood in space, anyone?) The damp gust becomes a stronger wind, bringing inspiration and ideas and motivation with it. And then the rain begins, or a wave. Let’s call it “human wave,” a storm of books about people of all colors and flavors, human and otherwise, fighting for truth, beauty, justice, and the right to be left alone. Or to win the hand of their true love. Or to defeat the evil wizard. Or just to survive on a hostile planet.  And so the rain falls, bringing more rain, and refreshing readers thirsty for well-told tales and pretty-much happy endings.

You don’t need a hurricane to bring rain, just a steady, water rich wind.




6/24 Progress Report and a Gripe

2000 words, rest of chapter sorted out, good work out at gym. I’m really getting the sense that Blackbird will be the longest Colplatschki novel.

Gripe: if you are write a fantasy novel set in the 1800s, do not use “gift” as a verb. Even in the character’s native language, the word for gift cannot be verbed.  The usage threw me out of the story. I’m not asking for linguistic purity by any means, but eschew quasi-slang verbiage, please.

Monday Niblet

From the first story in the forthcoming Cat Among Dragons collection, to be released in early August.

Cadet Daze or “Through Other Eyes”


<<You look especially chipper this afternoon>> Zabet observed, sarcasm dripping from her mind voice. She tipped her small, round ears back, whiskers fluttering up and down beside her delicate muzzle.

Her House Pet, Rada Ni Drako, took off her weapons belt and hung it on the stand beside the desk, made certain that none of the servants lurked in the corners, and stomped over to the window seat before she replied in Trader. “I’m about ready to tell roughly a thousand Azdhagi soldiers, courtiers, and a certain King-Emperor to shove their tails into an uncomfortable place. Stupid reptiles!” She glanced over her shoulder, adding, “No offense, boss.”

<<Since I’m not stupid, none taken,>> the reptile in question replied. The silvery-blue True-dragon shifted so she could see her business partner better. <<Is generalized idiocy finally overwhelming you or is there a specific cause?>> Continue reading

Green, Green Grass

It’s amazing what a little water will do. And by a little water I mean seven inches in three weeks. And by do, I mean turn brown and black land green, cause mosquitoes to spontaneously generate, and start a morning chorus of lawnmowers.

The native grasses of the High Plains respond well to fire, if it is followed closely by water. The short grasses—gramas, Buffalo grass, some spartina types—are not truly pyrophilic like those of the Great Plains. Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Little Bluestem, the waving grasses that reach six feet into the air in a good year, thrive when burned every few years. Fire removes the tree and brush seedlings, eliminates the dead layer above ground, returns nutrients to the soil, and generally “cleans up” the prairies. I’ve seen the spring burns in tall grass, and it’s truly an awe-full sight, even when you know the fire is under control and can’t escape certain boundaries. The short grass is a little different.

Shortgrasses developed under intensive grazing instead of burning. Grass fires were not unheard of, but  heavy, episodic grazing by buffalo did more to shape the development of buffalo grass and the gramas.

A lovely bunch of side oats grams from the Ladybird Johnson Center.

A lovely bunch of side oats grama at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Fire on the short grass steppe tends to move quickly, at the speed of the winds. Back in the day, it could run hundreds of miles before it stopped, turning the grass behind it into clumps of smoldering black. Yucca smokes for days if not drenched into submission. The ground turns black, and the wind whips bits of ash into the air. Grass fires smell sweet, almost overly so, with an undercurrent of cinnamon. Once you smell a grass fire, you never mistake it for anything else.

Over the past winter and spring, the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles have had a sate of fires, some small, some terrifying because of when and where they occurred. And without rain, it looks as if the land is ruined forever. But add a few inches of rain and two weeks of humidity, and oh, wow. You’d think the Lord dropped green velvet over the landscape. The grasses spring up, hiding the ashy black, and coating everything in a lush, soft drapery of new growth. You want to get out of the car and pet it, it looks so good.

Along with the grass come the insects. Mosquitoes, of course, and dragonflies not long after. The fires help keep the ticks down to a reasonable number (as do our hard winters. From roughly Plainview north cattle are above the dead-line, where so-called “Texas fever” is endemic, or was.)

The air smells soft, and the skies lost their brassy, hard edge after the first week of rain. As much as I hate the chaos that is Schloß Red (until the foundation gets fixed and the floor and wall repaired), I love the rain more. We got another inch this past week, and you’d think the entire town won the lottery.

Elizabeth of Vindobona Update

The cover art for the book is done. This is much sooner than I’d anticipated, so  instead of releasing the book in late July, I anticipate it going live in early July.

One mile and no words. I’ve been working on editing stories for the next Cat collection and on the non-fiction project.

Tuesday Teaser (And 6/17 Progress Report)

5200 words, two miles. From the opening chapter of Blackbird :

There is a tale from the Time of Trials that says: In the beginning, Selkow the Beautiful and Her consort danced the world into being. But his works fell short of Her perfection, and when he would not change his steps, she dismissed him. With his last dance he created the birds, and the last bird came into being black, as black as soot and a night without stars, ugly and ignorant. The other birds, offended by this disgrace, attacked the black bird, seeking to drive him away. But he fought back, scattering black feathers until at last, surrounded and alone, he lay near death. Selkow in Her mercy and grace respected his bravery and determination, flawed though he was, and set the black bird into the night sky, where he flies to this day, imperfect but courageous. Thus should all Selkow’s children respect true foes, even those who refuse to admit the error of their existence. An excerpt from “The Dance of Creation” in Tarya’s Book of Nights


Alma T.C. Boykin © 2014 All Rights Reserved