Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Casablanca Never Visited

The many faces of Morocco

For a second there, I think I'm in Paris, with the many cafes bearing French titles taking up prime real estate on the countless street corners in the old bustling district of Casablanca. But of course I'm not. I'm planted on a different continent altogether. My third trip back to Africa. This time to the extreme North West or Morocco.

I wasn't sure what to expect in this country's biggest city that is as much European as it is Arabian (you can practically swim to Spain from Tangiers way up north). I avoided this area of the globe for a long time picturing caravans of tourists attempting to catch a glimpse of the Arabic speaking world not from their armchairs necessarily, but the closest mobile equivalent possible. Thus far anyway, I've seen little evidence of the cheese factor, lets call it.

I'm pleasantly surprised that this city has not lost its charm, or edge, in that the buildings that line both sides of the old Boulevard Mohammed V are still of the old white, pre-war (WWII that is), stucco-covered Parisian style architecture. Overhangs protect the outdoor cafes not from the rains (which most surely come at some point) but from the relentless sun...a bright warmth which is decidedly welcome in late April coming from a guy who just spent the majority of the never ending Winter up in Albany. If you want an idea of just how warm it is at present, think Miami, Florida or Los Angeles, California, and you get the idea. Still, it's not unusual to spot a woman outfitted from head to toe in a black abaya and khimar with a North Face down parka zipped all the way up to the neck, especially in the early evening.

This is a big city of 6 million, so there is constant activity...voices shouting in Arabic or French or a combination horns...sputtering motorcycle engines...robed young men pushing carts with battery powered speakers blaring prayers or a call to prayer anyway...fruit venders...police car sirens...Play Station cafes with patrons smoking Dhoka from water pipes...

For the Tony Bourdaine types out there, the street food here is pretty safe, so long as its cooked well. For lunch yesterday I scarfed a hot dog panini. I'm not entirely sure what the hot dog was made of, and it's probably a good idea that ignorance rules the day here. But it was served inside a deliciously crusty bread with vegetables. I finished the small meal with a cafe au lait.

For dinner I ventured out for a Moroccan version of a steak sandwich which are beef chunks cooked kabob style over a coal-fired oven. The beef is placed inside bread which is stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, and cooked green olives. It's wrapped in a tube made of paper to which a heaping helping of French fries is piled on top. The meal, along with a Moroccan beer (yes, you can drink alcohol here in this mostly Muslim country) cost a whopping 30 Dirham, or about three bucks US. I made certain to tip generously since, unlike Europe, this is a "tipping culture," or so the guidebook tells me.

One last item: I did inquire respectfully to my driver about the, ummm ISIS problem, with its presence in Algeria, Libya, and most points east and its training camps in Mauritania to the immediate south-west. Just last month a major ISIS cell was broken up, not to mention the refugees that are entering the country hoping to get to Europe. The tall, dark, wiry, thirty-something man was quick to tell me, "In Morocco, we practice an Islam that is all about the liberty and freedom. We will not tolerate ISIS. That is politics we do not want."

I hope things stay that way.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Global US Troop Deployment Inevitable

Troops in training at Fort Drum

I've been saying for some time now that the seeds of a major war are being sewn in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Korea. While I'm not convinced the Russians wish for a major conflict, North Korea, ISIS, and the Iranians might as well hold up flags that say, "Bring it on, Bro!" 

As for the Middle East situation, it's looking more and more like a nuclear deal is not happening. At least a deal that makes sense in terms of denying the Iranians a bomb. My guess is they either already possess a nuke or are fast on their way regardless. ISIS is spreading like a cancer and active recruitment for the radical Islamist terrorist group has now reached all points west. While Christians are beheaded by the dozens, Israel can't stand by idly for long while as their assured destruction is birthed inside a deep not so secret "secret" underground bunker facility in Fordo.

Meanwhile, you'll recall the Russians I mentioned who don't want war? Well, they've just made a deal to sell the Iranians missiles to go with the nukes they apparently don't have or ummm, don't want. And don't forget our Naval Fleet tracking an Iranian convoy off the coast of Yemen. In the words of the State Department, we just want to protect the flow of commerce. Huh? The joint is on fire. What commerce? Welcome to the new world order where a US that leads from behind or not at all, invites a world that crumbles into chaos and quite possibly, WWIII.

As if to confirm my suspicions, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey L. Bannister, Commander of the 10th Mountain Division in  Watertown, NY,  said this week that a major deployment is being planning for 13 months from now, and the destinations will not only include Afghanistan and Iraq, "where division soldiers have been a fixture since 9/11," but also Europe and possibly South Korea.

Get the full story you won't read on the major news networks (or MSNBC) by clicking HERE.

To quote the General, "This (deployment) is part of our assurance to our allies. You can't just pull out; you have to assure them."

The 13 month time-line makes sense since the Obama administration, in its attempt to secure a Nobel Peace Prize for its appeasement to Iran, wants nothing to do with what is shaping up to be a well planned murder of global proportions. He would prefer to kick the can to the next president whoever he or she may be.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do you Plot it or Wing it?

Indy, making it up as he goes...

Do you plot, plan, outline? Or, do you just go where your characters lead you? Why?...

...Seems like a straightforward set of questions, doesn’t it. But in truth, the answer’s not so simple. On more than one occasion, I’ve overheard established authors referring to their novels as “their babies.” That said, if I were to use the baby analogy to answer the question of are you a Plotter or a By-the-seat-of-your-pants author, I might say, Like my three kids, two of them were planned out ahead of time, from conception, to gestation, to setting up the nursery, to birth, to diaper service, to weekly babysitting, and everything else required of the first full year of a little baby’s life. It took a lot of thought, time and effort, but in the end, planning things out made for a smooth and happy experience.  

The second child required a bit less planning, but still, we made sure to plan ahead to a degree where we were confident that all would turn out smoothly. But by the time we got to the last kid, well, we weren’t even sure we could get pregnant, so we just sort of winged it. When we found out we were pregnant we just sort of went with the flow, allowing things to happen naturally. After all, we’d been through it twice before and realized that sometimes over-planning can take the fun and spontaneity out of the process. After all, life is a process of discovery if nothing else. So should writing a novel.

Okay, perhaps I’m pushing the baby metaphor to the breaking point here, but by now I’m sure my motive is obvious. When I was younger and just out of writing school in the late 1990s, I didn’t have the confidence or to be perfectly frank, the skills required to write a novel by the seat of my pants. Even if my characters were strong, their voices already speaking to me, I needed to plan out every plot point, from inciting incident to first conflict, to conflict resolution, to the epilogue. Not only did creating a clear plan help me construct and flesh out my novel, it also allowed me to go on the next morning without being stuck. 

As time went on however, and I became more comfortable with the novel process, I found that I was able to write a full length, 60K word piece of work by outlining only a few chapters at a time. I found that by planning anything beyond that would take away from my protagonist’s ability to make it up as he or she went along. Because life is a lot like that isn’t it? Often times, we find ourselves adapting to unforeseen circumstances regardless of how much we attempt to stay in control. You know, someone sideswipes your new car at the intersection, or you find that your wife’s been cheating on you…Life isn’t perfectly scripted by any sense of the word. This new method of semi-outlining allowed the novel to develop organically as opposed to one that’s built by connecting the dots. 

These days, after writing 17 novels, all of which are in print, I have enough confidence to sit down at my laptop with just a shred of an idea and in turn, build a novel out of it. That’s not to say I don’t spent time jotting down notes, or little bits of story outline, or even a page-length character synopsis or two. But what I don’t require anymore is a detailed outline. In fact, I purposely avoid it. With experience comes confidence. With confidence comes the freedom to allow your story…your baby…to take itself where it will.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Declaring Digital Independence: Advice for Writers

Marketing guru and writer Seth Godin is a master when it comes to offering straight forward advice on how to be creative and at the same time, avoid distraction. It dawned on me recently that I have been spending way too much time looking at emails (which these days are overstuffed with SPAM), Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest of it.

When it comes to my Dumbphone, texts have been killing me. WhatsAp is fun (and free) especially when I'm overseas, but just hearing the short vibrating buzz that accompanies an incoming message while I'm writing makes me go ballistic. I'm guessing Mr. Godin feels the same way which is why he's offered up five quick and easy steps in reducing the digital virus in your life:

  1. Turn off mail and social media alerts on your phone.
  2. Don't read the comments. Not on your posts or on the posts of other people. Not the reviews and not the trolls.
  3. De-escalate the anger in every email exchange.
  4. Put your phone in the glove compartment while driving.
  5. Spend the most creative hour of your day creating, not responding.
To add to this, turn off your social media while you're writing. In fact, perhaps check it in the morning, and then check in again in the evening. Use the rest of the time for creativity. Think about it, in the old days, you didn't check your snailmail box at the end of the driveway fifteen times a day. If you had, the neighbors would have chalked you up as either schizo or suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. At the very least, you'd be taking meds for ADD.

I particularly like Godin's suggestion No. 2. Don't read the reviews and don't pay attention to the trolls. Good advice for fiction writers like me who make a living off of their words. Many of the said "trolls" are wannabe writers who find it impossible to make a living without cheating or engaging in social media assassination.  

But wait, not being close to your phone and/or email and texts makes you anxious?
Remember, if there's an emergency, someone will get in touch with you one way or another. But do you really need to view a text about what color sweater someone is wearing today? Or what song is playing on the radio? Is it worth interrupting your work for absolute nonsense?

Enjoy your social media gadgetry and your digital Dumphone. Just don't let it take control of your life.

 _ _ _

"Most people wouldn’t think that pyromania and parenting would go together, but hey, every family is different. For me to lose myself in a thriller, I need characters (fire starters or not) I can care deeply about—action scenes alone won’t do it. Everything Burns took me on a psychological roller-coaster ride through action and emotion that I can’t forget."--Kjersti Egerdahl, T&M Editor

EVERYTHING BURNS ... the Amazon Number 1 Bestselling Psychological Suspense Thriller.