Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How Stuff Ends Up In A Story

How does a nice B&B (Casa de Suenos) like this get turned into part of a story? It does in Chapter 17 of my first completed manuscript. The chapter deals with a romantic carriage ride enjoyed by soon to be 16-year-old Jack (the main character) & his girlfriend Talia during twilight in St Augustine.

Deb & I went for a carriage ride Thanksgiving night a year & a half ago after a nice dinner at 'The Columbia'. It was a fantastic, mid 70 degree evening with a light breeze & lots of stars. The city is always lit up from Thanksgiving through January. They call it 'The Nights of Lights' & literally every building & bridge is covered with little white lights - millions of them. It's quite awesome. I was writing Bad Latitude at the time & during that holiday weekend, decided to make the ride part of the story. This B&B was one of many sites that caught my eye so I included it, along with a healthy dose of pure baloney. Here's an excerpt that shows how a 30 second pause became a small part of a very tall tale .....

Even Dumpy (the horse) understood it was a ride not to be rushed and he clip-clopped through the quiet streets as if it was the last fare of a long night. Fifteen minutes into the tour, Jack asked Elayne (the carriage driver) to pull to the curb as he pointed toward an ornate house serving as one of St Augustine’s elegant bed and breakfast accommodations.

“Do you see those large windows with the circular tops across the front?” asked Jack. Talia nodded and rolled her eyes, knowing a story was on the way. Elayne held back gently on the reins and shifted sideways in her seat. She wasn't bashful about eavesdropping and decided to do so comfortably.

“More than one hundred and fifty years ago this building was used as a funeral home. In its’ heyday, it was one of the few mortuaries where bodies were embalmed before burial. Can you guess the reason for the large windows?”

Talia’s eyebrows arched. “Don’t tell me they did the embalming in front of the windows so people could watch.”

“No, but you’re close. Elayne, do you know?”

“I think so, but let's hear your version, if you don’t mind.”

Jack continued. “Because the mortician was able to preserve the bodies using the newfangled method, he displayed his handiwork right there in those windows. Once the body was prepared, it was dressed up real nice, make up was applied, and the corpse was placed in a propped-up casket with the lid removed. It was left to stand, facing the street, for as long as two whole weeks. Neighbors would gather to pay their respects and admire the undertaker's artistry. The funeral director always set the burial date in order to get the maximum use out of his clients. It was an early form of advertising, paid for by allowing the family a discount for his services, based on the number of days the stiff remained, uh... useful.”

Talia giggled. “Did they post a sign below the dead people saying ‘This could be you’?”

Elayne laughed and added, “They did put price tags at the bottom of the, uhm... displays. Helped to hide the bare feet. Shoes didn't get wasted in those days. If someone was buried with their boots on, you'd better believe they'd have been dug up by morning an' left in the box with just their naked little toes poking up.”

"When did the undertaker or director decide on a burial date?" asked Talia.

"Once the fingers started turning black and curling away from the body," said Jack.

"That's so gross. You're making that up!"

Elayne turned to face forward. "Sorry kid. He's telling the truth, but forgot to mention that if the undertaker didn't get the embalming just right, purplish patches would spread across the dead guy's face and then the little show was over. Guess it was sorta like fruit going bad, without the little flies."

Talia felt her stomach churn as she buried her face in the side of Jack's chest. She was trying to force the image out of her mind.

Jack winked at Elayne as they moved away from the curb. "The fly thing was a nice touch. I'll have to remember to use it next time."

So, I guess it's kinda strange - how my mind works, that is. There really is a story hidden away just about everywhere. Even in a short pause during a peaceful ride.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The First 24 Hours - Of The Weekend

This post was pre-empted for my 'Thanks Dad' post.

These were the waves late in the day (Saturday 6/14). I was gettin' pretty beat up - including one major face plant on the hard sandy bottom. It had me worried at first bounce, I was expecting to find my ear centered on my forehead when I finally stood up. OUCH!

Here's where Deb & I started out Friday evening. It's called OC Whites & it's an awesome restaurant that sits across the street from the marina at the St Augustine waterfront. One of our favorites. We sat outside under the canopy of wysteria vines (see pic) while a dude played guitar & sang songs. He was very good. The food was excellent - crab covered Mahi on pasta, caribbean salad yadda yadda yadda. Can you tell we like to have late dinners on the weekend? We walked along the water for a bit & checked out a yacht positioned at the end of the main pier. It had to be 200 feet long. Deb wants one. Guess I'll have to ask for a raise.

This is what the ocean looked like when we first arrived. It was like a lake! The air temp today was 88 degrees with an 8 mph wind starting from the east & changing to a southeasterly. The water temp is already at 82 degrees. It'll probably be in the high 80's by the end of the month.

This is a ho hum way to show how the waves (& crowds) were picking up. The St Augustine Beach pier in the background is at the end of Anastasia Island - 8 miles from where we were hanging out. Pretty good visibility.

I lost my watch somehow the other day. It's driving me nuts. This is how we kept track of time today - without running to the truck to check (that's a red flair poked into the sand). According to the shadow off the pen in this pic - it's about 3:45 in the afternoon. This really works in a pinch (when it's reasonably sunny). Just make sure you know where north is. Easy to figure out when you're oceanside. The tracks are from an ATV driven by the 'Beer Cops' - Alcohol is not permitted, so they have cops playin' 'gotcha' with everybody. I'm told the fine is about 50 Bucks - unless you're under age - then you're screwed.

We were watching some kids getting dragged along by their kites. At the Matanzas Inlet they kite board behind the sand bars out on the water. They use these giant kites & small surfboardlike things that have footholds built into them like water skis have. They jump & flip & crash into the waves. I'd try it - I have life insurance.

These guys were using similar kites but rode an oversized skateboard or a 3 wheeler (steering with their feet & adjusting kite strings with a harness). Looked fun at first but, without the jumps, it didn't hold my interest for very long. Hard to get both parts in a picture so I'll include 2 of 'em.

Here's what the kite looked like.

So that was the first half of the weekend. I left out the part about me squishing a large mouse under the Durango tires as he ran into our garage while we were pulling in from dinner Friday night. Deb didn't want me to take a picture & post it here. I shoveled him up & tossed him into the jungle out back using my best left handed forehand shot from my lacrosse playing days. He's waaaaay back there baby! I guess his weekend was a little shorter than mine.

Added: Sunday (being a 'holiday' I'd rather ignore) was pretty quiet & low key. I was in a blah kind of mood. We had thunderstorms in the afternoon & I wasn't in a creative frame of mind - no writing. Sooooo... I took care of one my least favorite jobs - I mopped the floors. Our house is all tile - except for the bedrooms & sitting room - that leaves a fair amount of swabbin' to do. I messed around with MySpace for a bit, read 1/2 of Ted Bell's 'Nick of Time' (a YA adventure that's great), watched part of a NASCAR race, & drafted a couple of future blog posts. Well it's gonna be a busy week, so I may as well get ready for it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thanks Dad

I get irritated when folks make the excuse that they're the product of their environment & therefore have no hope of ever escaping their circumstances or bettering themselves. It's such bull.

It's another Father's Day - the 4th one to come along since my dad passed away. My grandson was born one day - Dad had a stroke the very next. Can you say rollercoaster? My dad died a few weeks later, unable to speak or move anything other than his left hand. I remember standing at his gravesite during the funeral, like I was in some kind of fog, while my 2 sons practically propped me up between them as I held my new little grandson. Four generations in a tight little grouping - the 'men' in the family, together for one last time. Bittersweet.

My dad was fantastic in every way. He was loving, kind, patient, good natured & one of the funniest people ever. EVERYONE liked him, sometimes it was downright annoying. He was a great teacher, was very ethical & couldn't have been a better example or role model. On a scale of 1 to 10 - he was a 20. Great guy. We were extremely close & ALWAYS got along. He was big, strong, good lookin' - a man's man & I always wanted to be just like him.

He reminded me over & over, from the time I was little - "There's no such a word as can't". Later in life he had the chance to prove that he believed what he preached. He proved it - without question. It was amazing.

Here's the thing - He didn't have parents.
His mother abandoned him when he was 3, along with his baby brother, who was an infant at the time. Left them alone in an apartment over top of a bar for days until someone found them. His father was a drunk & nowhere to be found. My uncle was taken in right away by a good family (everyone wants the puppy) & eventually he took their last name as his own. Dad wasn't so fortunate. He went from place to place - never staying put more than a year. When he made it to the ripe old age of 6, he had to earn his room & board, working on farms from Pennsylvania to Kentucky. At 15 he joined the service. He figured lying about his age was justified in order to get out of his situation.

So how did someone with that kind of start in life become a terrific dad? It's a rhetorical question - I know the answer. It gets even crazier.

He was a builder. His business was doing pretty well & he was enjoying a measure of success, when, at the age of 47, he fell off a building, broke his back & was paralyzed from the chest down for the rest of his life. He never gave in to it - never quit. It changed what he could do physically - but it didn't change him. He was physically, mentally, & spiritually - the strongest man I've ever known. He was my teacher, my friend, my hero - my dad. THE BEST. He's the one that taught me to dream, to never put limitations on myself & to believe that I could accomplish whatever I put my mind to. I miss him like crazy.

He beat a bad start - tough circumstances & did it again when tragedy struck later in life. I never heard him complain about what was fair - ever.

So - I'm not a big fan of this holiday. Don't think I ever will be.

Thanks Dad - You did a fine job.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Basements In Florida??? Nah!

When we first met with our awesome real estate agent Niki Lee Hurst, I mentioned that it would be strange buying a house without a basement. She replied matter-of-factly that "in Florida we call basements swimming pools". Of course she was right. Dig down 3 or 4 feet & you're likely to hit water, but I still can't help but think that kids down here are missing out on a real Yankee experience.... gettin' the crap scared out of 'em on a somewhat regular basis.

The basement in my parents house, where I grew up & where my mom still lives, was one spooky nasty place. It would have been the perfect hideout for Lucifer himself. My parents were pack rats, and the basement was where every oddball thing landed, hidden away for me to 'find' at the weirdest times, always an urgent assignment of course. (I've never been a pack rat - maybe this is why.)

We had these rickety wooden stairs that plunged to the depths below. The ductwork was low enough to restrict headroom wherever it criss-crossed. The lighting was lousy, a couple of bare bulbs spaced far enough apart to ensure falls & broken limbs. It smelled old & musty. Mixed with strategically placed spider webs it was very Vincent Price-like. It always helped that my mom mentioned many times that some old lady passed away in the house before I was born & that she (the old dead lady) visited us frequently. (She was kidding - but didn't admit it until years later.)

There were 2 & sometimes 3 things that I could usually count on. 1st - My mom always needed something from 'downstairs' in the middle of a thunder storm. 2nd - The light bulb would burn out, or power would fail, as soon as I was far enough away from the 'safety' of my lifeline, otherwise known as the stairs. 3rd - The heater would kick on with a loud bang once all was dark & I was disoriented. PERFECT. All of which led to me wordlessly freaking out - tripping, falling, cracking my head on duct & stumbling my way up the pitch black stairs in a breathless state of unbridled terror. My mom thought it was funny. Me? Not so much.

Consistent with my mom's sense of humor, I've been informed that her will names me as the sole beneficiary - entitled to everything in the basement. Sheesh.

The fact that my sister never had to run any basement errands was never lost on me. Then again, I always wondered why she never had to do any chores either. Hmmm... that would be a good topic for a future post..... She would hate it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Welcome to $4 per Gallon

Regular unleaded has now hit $4.00 per gallon. I'm spending $200 per week just to get to work. Thankfully Deb doesn't work - Her Durango eats gas worse than my truck. A friend & former co-worker (he's now in Laguna Beach California where the surf is much better) sent me this today. This is why we worked so well together - No BS - No Excuses - Just Solutions. I think this would work.

OPEC sells oil for $128.00 a barrel.

OPEC nations buy U.S. grain at $7.00 a bushel.

Solution: Sell grain for $128.00 a bushel.

Can't buy it? Tough! Eat your oil!

Then, oil will come down.

Oh & by the way - I only buy fuel from Hess, BP / Amoco or Sunoco. These companies don't import from the middle east or Venezuela.

Next stop - getting our stuff from somewhere other than China. I was so pissed today when I saw the back of my belt stamped "Hand Crafted In China". I didn't pay a 3rd world sweat shop price for it! No more Nautica clothes for me. How do they charge $60 for a belt that cost only $3 to produce & ship? 'Cause we pay it. Time to wake up.

At the rate things are going, I'll end up a naked hitch hiker.

Follow up - Now they're battling in DC about charging the oil companies a 'windfall profit tax'. Helloooooo...... Dontcha just think the tax will be passed along to us? THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS IS CHARGED TO THE CONSUMER!!! What a bunch of geniuses. How 'bout we build some new refineries, drill along the continental shelf (the Chinese are drilling off of Florida but we can't), in ANWR (people in Alaska want it) & in the Dakotas, etc. There's enough here that importing shouldn't be necessary.

Saturday, June 7, 2008



I like stories that have a great pace, include plot twists, lots of surprises & characters with memorable personalities. Dialogue needs to be crisp, natural &, when possible, funny, off the wall and unpredictable. Lofty goals I suppose, but why set the bar at waist level?

One of my chores is to sum up my completed YA manuscript of 26 chapters (plus prologue) in 40 words or less. I think I finished it last night - 37 words. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. Since I don't belong to a writing or critique group - I'll have to wing it. Get the essence of the story across without getting bogged down in details or backstory. Grab attention without misleading. Whew!!! It really makes you machete through the story (characters, twists, description, backdrop, dialogue, & humor) to find THE POINT of it. Thought provoking & challenging to say the least.

As usual I saved the draft to let it percolate a bit before rushing to press. Today, while reading a blog that I visit frequently, I decided to post the summation to see if I (a) get any response at all (b) get any helpful criticism (c) lose the few readers / commenters that my blog gets. If everyone HATES it, go to my latest myspace blog where I have posted a BonJovi video (myspace/jaxbel).

So.... here goes....

Are you ready???

Are you sure???

Countdown .... 10 - 9 - 8 - 7 ....

Really here goes (shuts eyes tightly & reaches for mouse to click publish...)

Did I mention it's Young Adult....Not Steinbeck????

Did I mention it's called 'BAD LATITUDE' & the story is based in St Augustine????

That's it - here goes....

Fifteen-year-olds put surfing on hold after uncovering an ancient secret that could lead to unimaginable wealth or a tragic and untimely end. Their quest becomes a dangerous obsession, ultimately forcing them to choose between fortune and friendship.

I hope that wasn't too painful......

By the way - That's not me in the picture - I'm not looking for sympathy after all.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Da Boyz In Da Pixture

Before moving to Florida, we lived in Pennsylvania & had a house at the beach in Delaware, where we spent our weekends & most of our vacations. This picture was hung in the living room of that house. Now it hangs in the sitting room off the master bedroom down here. I remember the day we bought it, but won't bother with that particular story.

The first rule to remember as a buyer is never let on just how much you really want something when there is no price tag attached, especially when the seller is within earshot. This picture had no price attached &, since we were so eager, I'm positive we were hosed. In this case, it didn't (doesn't) matter - I would have paid double.

It's certainly no great work of art BUT - we had to have it. This could have originated from a photo of our boys when they were little guys. The size difference between the boys, the hair, the build of the 2 kids.... For us it absolutely captured the typical affection & brotherly 'best friend' body language of our kids. They were just like this when they were young - best friends. They're like this today - though the younger one is now a tad bigger than big brother. It's been one of our greatest rewards as parents to know that our sons are still best friends.

Sigh... This picture helps us keep those memories fresh.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Just For Fun


For some time many of us have wondered just who is Jack Schitt?

We find ourselves at a loss when someone says, 'You don't know Jack Schitt'!

Well, thanks to my genealogy efforts, you can now respond in an intellectual way.

Jack Schitt is the only son of Awe Schitt. Awe Schitt, the fertilizer magnate, who married O. Schitt, the owner of Needeep N. Schitt, Inc.

They had one son, Jack.

In turn, Jack Schitt married Noe Schitt. The deeply religious couple produced six children: Holie Schitt, Giva Schitt, Fulla Schitt, Bull Schitt, and the twins Deep Schitt and Dip Schitt.

Against her parents' objections, Deep Schitt married Dumb Schitt, a high school dropout. After being married 15 years, Jack and Noe Schitt divorced. Noe Schitt later married Ted Sherlock, and because her kids were living with them, she wanted to keep her previous name. She was then known as Noe Schitt Sherlock.

Meanwhile, Dip Schitt married Loda Schitt, and they produced a son with a rather nervous disposition named Chicken Schitt. Two of the other six children, Fulla Schitt and Giva Schitt, were inseparable throughout childhood and subsequently married the Happens brothers in a dual ceremony. The wedding announcement in the newspaper announced the Schitt-Happens nuptials. The Schitt-Happens children were Dawg, Byrd, and Horse.

Bull Schitt, the prodigal son, left home to tour the world. He recently returned from Italy with his new Italian bride, Pisa Schitt.

Now when someone says, 'You don't know Jack Schitt', you can correct them.

Crock O. Schitt