Monday, January 25, 2016


I’m back! Those of you who live in what’s now the Great White Northeast, you know what I’m talking about. For the rest of the country, here’s how it went down: starting late Friday night and running almost to midnight on Saturday, our part of the US got socked by what’s already known as the Blizzard of 2016. Pennsylvania even set a new record, with 28 inches of snow recorded at Harrisburg. South of us I hear they got even more. Yeah, I know. New York and New England are laughing at us and calling us wussies right now. Go ahead. You folks have earned the right. This year was our turn. Next year it could be the Midwest. Or Florida.Wouldn't that tick my brother off.

I can’t say we weren’t warned, and those of us who prepared beforehand probably did okay. I stocked up on milk, snack foods and water before Thursday so I wouldn’t have to buck any crowds on Friday. I also got the snow shovel out of the shed and brought it into the house. Good thing, too. The snow came with high winds, and those winds were blowing toward my house. I just happened to open the front door Saturday morning and discovered I had drifts piling up on my porch. We’re talking close to two feet of drifting snow here. I had to shovel throughout the day just to make sure I’d be able to get the door open. My back door did get snowed shut, because I didn’t think to check on that until noon, and by then it was too late. I hardly ever use that door anyway. Just as well, since now it won’t open and I can’t get to it from the outside. When you’re 5’4” and the snow’s in three-foot drifts, wading drops off the list of options, even in the soft powdery stuff.

Apparently Governor Wolf grew a brain, because Harrisburg ordered a travel ban for Pennsylvania for Saturday, to keep all but essential personnel off the roads. I’m not sure why anyone would be out anyway, except maybe for the adventure of it. I’m pretty sure everything was closed. Wonder if the WalMart was open? If it was, I’ll bet they had people there. During a similar storm in the ‘90s, I went for a walk into downtown Ephrata and found a store open. I had money on me, so I bought something. Why not? He’d opened his place of business when anyone sane would have called it a day and stayed home. It was the least I could do.

Oh yeah, something was open. I was watching the local news. There was a chain convenience store in southern Lancaster County that had been open all day. (The employee lived across the street.) The news camera showed the place. It had customers. It had cars parked out front. This was around 6:00 at night, after a full day of snow and blizzard conditions. So much for the travel ban.

Me? I just stayed in the house and worked on a massive freelance assignment. Every couple of hours I’d shovel the porch. Nothing on TV. We’re lucky in that we didn’t lose power, although I’d charged the laptop’s battery the day before. If we had lost power, no big. I’d have set up shop next to a window with paper and a pen. Long live longhand!

And then came Sunday morning, and the cleanup.

At this point I’d like to offer my thanks to the retired men of America. They’re the greatest people on earth. They’ve done their stint in the workforce and earned their idle time. Best of all, they’ve got all the big-boy toys: power mowers, leave blowers, and especially snow blowers, all of which they love to trot out and play with. These guys live for storms like this. Sure, the young guys have snowmobiles, but the older guys are more practical. How are you supposed to get that snowmobile out of the garage without cleaning the driveway first?

Therefore, I salute my retired neighbors with snow blowers, because they cleared a path to the street for my car after the plow blocked me in. (The plow blocks everybody in. They’ve been forbidden by the landlord or the management group or whoever it was who contracted them from clearing our driveways for us, for some legal reason. So all they can clear is the street itself, which blocks all our cars. Sucks, but there y’are.) If it wasn’t for these boys and their toys, I’d be outside excavating my car right now instead of working on this blog. As it stands, I was good by late Sunday afternoon, with car, driveway, and sidewalks cleared. Direct sunlight can handle the rest.

And that was the Blizzard of 2016, as it affected Lancaster County, PA. Weather conditions are supposed to be mostly sunny and above freezing for the rest of the week. That’s how it usually goes. Nature dumps a pile of snow on top of us humans and screws up our lives, then a week later the temps zoom up to 50 and everything melts out. Nature is a bitch. Yeah, well, we’ve got pollution on our side. We’ll fix you.

Time to get the car out and see how the roads are. I’ll wait a day or two before I go near a grocery store. Let the post-storm swarm die down. If this happens again, I’m going to go to Florida and move in with my brother, even though I can’t stand his wife. And if the snow follows me, I swear Nature’s getting a punch in the nose. With a snow shovel. Nature isn’t the only one who can be a bitch.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Time Management

Told you last week this would be the hard part.

Quick recap: this year, instead of setting a list of New Year’s resolutions that would only peter out in a week, I’m resolving a bit at a time. Specifically, one small change every week, all leading up to a better, healthier, more financially stable life by the end of December. The first week involved adding exercise to my far-too-sedentary lifestyle. Last week I resolved to write 1000 words a day. It only takes an hour, two at the most. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Ha. Ha-ha, in fact.

As usual, I underestimated my ability to blow off days at a time. Too many other things get in the way. Housework. Eating. Doing the dishes after eating. Showers. Working the paid freelance job. Trips to the library to use their free Internet. Grocery shopping. Reading. Mindless TV. When I finally glance at the clock, I discover yet another day has gotten away from me.

Last week wasn’t a total fail. I hit the target four days out of seven. On one day I wrote at least 2000 words. On average, however, trying to play catchup never goes well either.

The good news is, this can be fixed. It’s all due to habit, and habits can be changed. I just have to alter behaviors and stay on top of things. To that end, we come to Week 3’s resolution, the frenemy of writers everywhere: the schedule.

Mine’s simple. Get up in the morning, have my tea, write longhand until I get hungry (usually around 9 a.m., when the Supernatural reruns start on TNT. Gives me something to watch while I eat breakfast). In short, do my writing in the morning, when I’m as close to energetic as I get. Afternoons are reserved for the paid freelance assignments, trips to the library for email, and possible typing. Evenings are there for whatever—research, edits, extra writing, inventory of all those bits and pieces I’ve got stashed in the closet. It’s not like there’s anything decent on TV these days. Sundays I take off and do housework. Sounds like a plan to me.

It also sounds like a job, which still makes a part of me recoil in horror. On the other hand, it’s a job with no commute, which makes it much easier to live with, especially at this time of year. Snow and ice storms become an asset when you don’t have to drive in them. Getting stuck in the house gives you a chance to catch up on things, like dusting and doing the dishes. And piling up a stack of rough drafts to be polished into submittable stories.

Will it work? In theory, yeah. Structure is always a good thing, and deadlines keep you focused. Though it could take time to adjust. I did fine on Sunday—got my 1000 words in, then worked on a freelance assignment. Then hit a speedbump Monday, as I devoted most of the day to freelance work, which comes with an actual paycheck. I have to get that done and out of the house first, before I can start on the 1500 words I need to write today to even out yesterday. And write and post this blog, of course. I’d better add “prioritize” to this week’s resolution.

Resolutions can be kept and changes can be made. We’re into Week 3 and I’ve kept up with my daily ten minutes of exercise. Sometimes it’s simple calisthenics or hiking up and down the aisles of the KMart, but any form of movement is a plus when you haven’t been moving at all. Is it doing any good? Must be; I seem to have more energy, and I don’t feel like taking naps all the time. Weight loss? Too soon to tell. The pants say yes, the scale says no. In February I’ll up the stakes to 15 minutes a day. The ultimate goal is a minimum of 20 minutes per day at least three times a week and 15 minutes on the other days. That probably won’t happen until spring, when I can go outside. Riding the bike around the house doesn’t work, not even in a trailer.

Next week will be easier. I’ll be modifying my diet with more fruits and veggies and cutting back on the portions. I can only eat what I bring into the house, so if I only buy healthy foods, I’m golden. Now I just have to find healthy foods that taste as good as junk food. I suspect I’ll be eating more fruits than veggies. Why doesn’t lettuce come in a sugar variety?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

J. J. Collins Strikes Again!

Friend and fellow M/M writer J. J. Collins has a new release out from Evernight Publishing today. Priceless is a science fiction tale of an art dealer who finds himself in possession of a sexy alien male. There's a long excerpt on the Evernight site. Here's part of it.

Most of the items he’d seen before. Jovin averted his eyes from the more pornographic and focused on seeking the new. The skin of an ebony cat, still with its black-diamond sheen. A golden statue of a naked, impossibly handsome man, seated on a crate. A picture of—Jovin hastily looked away. Zhee artwork, normally so sublime, sometimes veered off into darker directions. Even worse, he knew someone who’d pay hugely for this particular piece. That churned his stomach all the more.

He caught himself rubbing his nose. Something stank in here. Spicy-sweet, like cinnamon. Like…


The statue raised its head.

Jovin went absolutely still. His eyes and his nostrils widened. Holy Ghod, that wasn’t a statue. That was a living being.

But… Jovin cleared his throat and swallowed hard. He couldn’t be alive. Nothing so beautiful existed in nature. He had to have been sculpted, inch by loving inch, by the hands of a master artist. Standing, he’d top six feet, perfectly proportioned and every muscle exquisitely defined. Bronze hair, cropped short, capped a face designed to lure the unwary toward lips designed to seduce. His skin was the color of molten gold. In the gloom of the dingy room, it almost seemed to glow.

Eyes like emeralds met Jovin’s, naked and direct. Jovin reeled from an almost physical jolt. Those eyes promised sex that could burn a man to the ground and pulverize the ashes. Jovin automatically grabbed at his raincoat and tugged a fold over his crotch.

The golden man’s perfect mouth formed a slight smile. The tip of his tongue appeared and wet his lower lip.

Sweat started on Jovin’s forehead. He couldn’t even move his hand enough to wipe it off. Insistent demands hammered at his awareness from underneath his raincoat. Damn, it had suddenly gotten stuffy as hell in here.

Wait a minute. That wasn’t some trick of the gloom. The golden man really was glowing.

Cray’s nauseating chuckle at his back made him jump. “Finally noticed him, did you? I had a bet with myself. Took you less than five minutes. You win.”

Jovin gratefully seized the excuse and wrenched his stare off the golden man, whirling on Cray instead. “That’s—” His voice came out gravelly, ragged with want. He tried again. “That’s a—”

“A Telzhan.” Cray’s smile spread across his ugly pumpkin face. “A male, thank Azira. All the better for us. Nothing human can keep up with the women. And,” he finished triumphantly, “he’s right on the verge of rut.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

And Now, the Hard Part

Hi-deli-ho, neighborinos! How’d you do at Powerball? Not well, I’m guessing, because anyone who won a substantial amount isn’t on the Internet. Around about now they’re waking up with a hangover in someone else’s bed. Hope they signed the backs of their tickets. You should always do that first.

Did I win? Yes and no. I bought two tickets Saturday morning. I had one number right on each of them. One of those numbers was the Powerball, so I get my $4 back. It’s not $900 million, but I consider breaking even a win.

I don’t think I’ll be playing on Wednesday. Look at the odds. The millions of people in the US and Canada—hell, around the world—who played, and nobody hit the jackpot. I heard somebody somewhere in Pennsylvania got five of the numbers and won a million. Maybe others did too. Good for them. I was disappointed when I checked the payout schedule. Powerball doesn’t pay out on percentages. Five numbers, no Powerball gets you a million. Four plus the Powerball is $50,000. Four and no Powerball = $100. It drops even further after that. Screw this.

Besides, it’s gotten surreal now. The jackpot’s at over a billion dollars. I can’t even conceive of that much. Wonder how big of a chunk the government demands? Hell, for a billion bucks you could buy the government. You could buy Trump. Start your own country, claim hardship, and apply for US government aid. Let me know how that works out.

Personally, I’ll be ticked if someone who’s not an American citizen rakes in the jackpot. All right, I’ll give Canadians a pass. Canada’s okay. They gave us William Shatner. But if some Middle Eastern terrorist turns up with the winning ticket, I will be quite perturbed. Wouldn’t that throw a damper on lottery fever. If that happens, you’d better believe laws will change in a hurry.

# # #

So how are my weekly resolutions going? So far, so good. It wasn’t always easy, but I found ten minutes per day to fit in a walk and/or stretching exercises. A couple of times I did laps in the house. On weekends I walk around malls. That’s led to an interesting sidebar. Malls sure have gone downhill in the last twenty years or so. The four I’ve hiked around in the last six months, both pre- and post-Christmas rush, have been pretty dead. In the one I hiked last weekend they had five cell phone stores. All of them have at least two or more empty stores. In the one yesterday, they’d lost one of their big anchor stores. I know of at least two malls within driving distance that have been torn down and replaced with separate stores, like way back in the old days.

Too bad, because malls are great for us old folks to take walks in, especially in harsh winter weather. Except, of course, for Lancaster County’s premiere mall, Park City. Most malls are built in a straight line, perfect for an easy hike. Park City’s a wheel. You go to the hub and walk up and down the spokes. Lancaster’s geared more toward outlets. Plenty of walking room, but it’s all open air. Not so much fun in 30-degree temps and wind chill.

I’ll probably be doing my indoor hikes in the trailer, or in the KMart, which is closer to where I live than the WalMart. Or the grocery store, though that tends to be counterproductive. Too much temptation to grab a candy bar at the end of my walk. Exercise is not supposed to make you gain weight. Spring and warmer temps better get here soon.

# # #

That was Week 1’s resolution. Now comes the challenge of Week 2: write a thousand words per day. Every single day. Yes, you heard me correctly. Every. Single. Day.

I can hear you, you know. If you don’t stop laughing, you’re going to get this ballpoint up your nose. Or a lot farther down.

I can do this. I’m doing it right now. This blog post should top out at about a thousand words. Most of my posts do. Sometimes they’re longer, sometimes shorter. I write two blogs per week. See? It can be done.

Only I’m not talking about blogs. I’m talking fiction. One thousand words of fiction per day. New fiction, not just retyping longhand stuff. I’ve got the sweats already.

If you’re a fast, prolific writer, a thousand words is nothing. A lot of writers shoot for 5000 words a day, hit it and surpass it. Those writers are successful professionals, with a typing speed you wouldn’t believe. I am not a fast, prolific writer. If I want to become a successful professional so I can pay the rent, I’m going to have to become one.

This should be easy if I have a project I’m hot on, but what do I do once I’ve finished it?

Here’s where the cheating comes in. Up until now I haven’t counted blogs in my daily writing tallies. That just changed. Right now I’m in the prelim stages of plotting out what I hope will be a long-term continued story for my other blog, Shapeshifter Seductions. Each chapter will be a separate post, about a thousand words. I want to stockpile about a dozen chapters before I start posting this muthuh, to make sure I don’t run into any serious plot holes or run out of steam halfway through. If I do a thousand word rough draft every day, goal achieved. Several goals at once, in fact.

In addition, I can combine both weeks’ resolutions and plot out the day’s writing while I’m taking that ten-minute walk, then come home and write it down. Mission accomplished!

I’m not sure what Week 3’s resolution will be. Probably “cut down on junk food.” There go the walks through the grocery stores. Good luck to you Powerball players for Wednesday. If you win the billion, I’ll split it with you. Sounds like a fair deal to me.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Shape of Things to Come

Welcome to the New Year! Made it through the holidays okay? I can’t believe I lasted all the way to midnight. Back in ancient times, when the car and I were both a lot younger, I used to drive down to a friend’s house in Valley Forge for her annual New Year’s party. And then drive home at around 1:30-2:00 in the morning. Sometimes with ice and/or snow on the road. I’d get home around 3:30, go to bed, and get up again around 7 am because all the caffeine (I can’t drink booze; it doesn’t agree with my finicky stomach) and adrenaline had jacked up my system to the point I couldn’t sleep. Then I’d stumble around the house all day like a zombie and take down my Christmas tree. Flash forward to the here and now, where if I can stay awake to 10:00 pm I consider it an achievement. I’m still better off than my brother, who says he hasn’t seen the ball drop in ten years. These days he’s usually in bed by nine. Of course, he’s nine years older than I am. And always will be. Nyah nyah.

Anyway, it’s that time again. Got your resolutions made? All set to kick those bad habits, get that new car or that new job, dump those pounds padding your ass and hanging off your gut? Not me. I’ve finally called it quits. What’s the point? Every year I make resolutions and every year they fizzle out before the first week’s over. Then I just feel crappy. I don’t want to feel crappy. The easiest way out of this vicious cycle is not to let it start. So screw you, New Year’s resolutions. I reiterate: nyah nyah.

And then the future went and threw me a curve. Looks like I’ll have to make a resolution after all, and stick with it at least until September. Even worse, it’s one of the toughest: lose weight. In my case, a considerable amount of weight.

Why? I hear you ask. What could possibly entice lazy me into finally shucking my excess poundage? Vanity, pure and simple. Y’see, my brother’s youngest, my nephew, is getting married in September. I’m going to have to show up for the wedding. In a dress, or quality pants at the very least. In public. That means I’ll need to get something that fits me. I don’t think elastic-waistband jeans are appropriate for a wedding for anyone over the age of 20, unless the bride is marrying one of the Rolling Stones or something. So I’ll have to find something decent-looking.

Yeah, right. If you’re bigger than a size 6, good luck with that. In the fashion industry, size 10 is considered Plus. All the good-looking clothing is designed for skinny little scarecrows with no hips or boobs. The rest of us … well, just take a stroll through your local WalMart. Be sure to bring plenty of eyedrops.

I have no choice. If I want to look presentable for my nephew’s wedding, I’m going to have to dump some padding, or at least inches. That means a plan. A—what’s the word I want? Resolution. Damn. And the new year was going so well.

Therefore, I have resolved to make a series of New Year’s resolutions. But this year, I’m going to do it differently. Instead of making a list of things at the start of the year and letting them all peter out in a week, I’m doing it a week at a time. One small, doable change every week over the course of a year. Week 5: start cleaning out the clutter. Week 12: initiate a job hunt. Things like that. Do one tiny task for a week until it becomes a habit. Then add another small change, a good habit replacing a bad one. And so on down the line.

For the first full week of the new year, I’m going to do a minimum of 10 minutes of exercise per day. Not a prob. Instead of parking myself in front of the TV, I can take a walk around the block. Or do laps in the house if the weather’s bad. That’s the advantage of living in a trailer. Once I build up some stamina I’ll go back to hiking up that steep hill to the library instead of taking the car. If I carry the laptop, I can call it weight training.

In the weeks to come I’ll add in other stuff, like eating smaller portions of better foods and eliminating junk foods from my diet. If I do it in stages, it won’t feel so overwhelming. It’s like writing a book. Say you want to write a novel of 90,000 words. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Not if you only write a thousand words a day. Most people can do that in an hour or two. This blog’s about a thousand words, and I wrote it in an hour. See? Easy. Do that every day and in three months you’ve finished your 90,000-word book. Not so insurmountable when you look at it that way, is it?

If I change my eating and exercising habits a bit at a time instead of all at once, there’s less chance of me getting frustrated and quitting. It just takes persistence and patience. But hey, it’s only January and I’ve got until September. If I don’t lose actual weight, I’m sure to lose inches, which is even better. That’s one small step for man, one giant leap into a smaller dress size for mankind.

I should probably get a newer car, too, so I can drive to north Jersey in style. I don’t think “rob a bank” would go over big as a resolution with the state authorities. Better try something else. If I start subbing to publishers that actually pay advances …