Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Civilization (A Short Story)

The scientists were stunned. The planet was much older than they could ever have imagined. There was much discussion on whether to release the information to the public.

“Command Center will protest vehemently,” said one.

“But we mustn’t let them interfere,” said another. “They have prevented too much from being known.”

“For the time being, until we can figure out just what this discovery means, I think we should keep this to ourselves. When we can definitely pinpoint the origin of these things and what they mean, then we owe it to the people to inform them,” said a third scientist.

The argument progressed for a while but ended with a consensus that the discovery and meaning of the strange black objects should be kept secret among themselves until they figured out what they really meant.

The archaeologist who had discovered the objects in a dig on this remote spot of the planet was called in and informed of the decision. He immediately agreed not only with the decision but also to work with the other scientists to discover just what the significance of the black things were to an ancient civilization. Carbon dating had confirmed that the objects were over 500,000 years old. No one had ever imagined that human beings had lived so long ago, if, that is, human beings had indeed created such objects. Yet, what other kind of being could have done so?

The archaeologist, Pacquer Dymshi, went to his quarters in the scientific compound and studied the pictures he had taken of the objects, which were stored in a locked, climate-controlled, subterranean room. The bigger object had a square window and strange configurations below it. The window was dark and didn’t open onto anything. That an ancient civilization could have built something so sophisticated was mind-boggling. But the carbon tests had proved conclusive—they had tested over and over again. There were lines leading from the big object to the small one and a very strange tail-like appendage hanging loose from the big one. Pacquer thought he knew what the lines and tail meant but that, too, was incomprehensible. If human beings had lived on this planet 500,000 years ago, how had they had the sophistication to develop such an idea? Surely, any human from that period of time would have been more animal than human.

The other scientists soon summoned Pacquer to the subterranean room and a more extensive examination began, under the tightest security. Their secret must not be revealed too soon. There had to be a gradual public instruction regarding the discovery, preferably from the command center chief, who could persuade the less educated populace to believe him and only him, whenever a scientific discovery clashed with their beliefs.

The scientists had to tread very carefully in order to acquire and maintain the funding that they so desperately needed from command center.

Pacquer soon discovered that his theory regarding the tail and the connecting lines was correct and this led to even more astonishment at the breadth and width of the accomplishments of a people who should have been very primitive. Soon he and the other scientists were working the configurations and to their utter amazement the window soon revealed pictures of a civilization beyond belief. In fact there seemed to be a mixture of civilizations with people and even strange looking animals of all ages and both genders dressed in strange varieties of clothing. The hardest thing, and perhaps the most important, was deciphering the language of these ancient peoples. They finally settled on words that were repeated over and over, which seemed to be the main focus of the beings in the black object.

Months went by as the deciphering continued. Pacquer and the others would sometimes leave the compound and stroll around the remote area. It was an area that had been chosen, not only because of the discovery of the black objects there, but also because it was far from the other inhabitants of the planet and command center. Pacquer looked out on the desert mountains and thought of the pictures of the people and creatures in the window of the big black object. These people appeared many times in front of a strange-looking edifice but there were other pictures where they seemed to be inside of it. Pacquer wondered how the black objects came to be buried here in such a remote spot or had the terrain been completely different back then? Could this have been one of those exotic locales that had been destroyed by natural elements such as earthquakes or of the shifting of the planet’s axis or had early man participated in his own demise and that of his surroundings?

He was soon back to work and the deciphering of the words continued. The one phrase that was used over and over seemed to Pacquer and the other scientists as the key to deciphering the language of these strange people. However, it was that often-used phrase that confounded Pacquer the most. Finally, he thought he had it figured out but it appeared meaningless to him. Why had these people and creatures insisted on such insignificant words over and over again:

“Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Best Books of 2016

In going over my list of the 44 books (my goal was at least 50) that I read last year, I discovered that there were 17 that I had given A+ or A++. They were the ones that gave me the most reading pleasure—the “I can’t put it down” award:

The A++ Books:
The Cain File by Max Tomlinson. I can’t say enough about his books—he blows my mind with each book he writes.
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. This shows how varied my reading tastes are. No two writers could be more different than Tomlinson and Heyer.
Guilt Trip by Ben Rehder. His Texas novels reflect a murderous humor similar to that of Carl Hiaasen’s Florida novels.

The A+ Books:
Indiscretion by Polly Iyer. I met Polly in a Suspense/Thriller Promotion group and was intrigued by the description of this book.
Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin
Clammed Up by Barbara Ross, a superb cozy mystery
The Shadow Priest by D.C. Alexander
The Third Knife by Pamela Boles Eglinski
Unpredictable Love by Jean Joachim, a terrific romance novel
Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman, Tony’s daughter continues his characters in a different but brilliant direction
Too Late to Die by Bill Crider, a new-to-me author whose books I will continue reading
Powder Burn by Carl Hiaasen and Bill Montalbano. Hiaasen never disappoints
The Pearl, The Red Pony and Other Stories by John Steinbeck, I have avoided Steinbeck since my high school days due to a teacher I didn’t like but a friend gave me a book with his stories and now I’m sorry I avoided him for so long
Lethal Dispatch by Max Tomlinson
The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart, an American mystery writer who came before Agatha Christie
The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman, although I’ve read her husband’s books, I had never read hers. Now I will.
The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver, I haven’t read many of his Lincoln Rhyme mysteries but look forward to reading more.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tributes 2016

2016 was a heartbreaking year considering how many celebrities died, people who gave so much of themselves by entertaining us. But my year ending blog always deals with the authors whom I’ve read and died. And this year only two authors fit that requirement: Harper Lee and Pat Conroy.

There isn’t anything I can add to all the accolades for one of the greatest American novels, To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a classic and will endure forever. It has been a long time since I read the novel and it’s the movie I remember best. I was thrilled when Gregory Peck won the Academy Award for his performance.

I only read one novel by Pat Conroy, The Great Santini. And like Mockingbird, it’s the movie I remember more than the novel and the performance by Robert Duvall. But unlike Ms. Lee, Mr. Conroy left behind a substantial body of work.

The deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds touched me immensely. I never read Ms. Fisher’s books and I don’t know if Ms. Reynolds wrote any or not. The reason I mention them is that Debbie Reynolds, my idol when I was a teenager, was the inspiration for a character in three of my own books. In my Tiger Sister trilogy, she was the oldest of six sisters and a rambunctious mischief maker who terrorized her younger sisters. But Debbie Tiger got her come-uppance with a surprise ending in one of the stories and would never have existed in my mind or my books if Debbie Reynolds had never existed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hooked from the Start—The Blurb, the Setting and Key Words

When I first encountered the novel Disappear by Iain Edward Henn, the blurb caught my attention immediately. A man had disappeared eighteen years previously and his body suddenly appeared—looking exactly as he had looked back then. That was a book I had to read! And read it, I did, plus all of Mr. Henn’s subsequent books.
The same happened when I came across Sendero by Max Tomlinson. In that novel the main character is a woman called Nina caught up in a war in Peru. She becomes an officer in Cuzco’s tourist police and goes in search of her brother. But it wasn’t just the blurb that caught my eye. It was also the Peruvian setting. I know very little about South America as my own experiences take place in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The troubles in Peru presented an alien world. And again I was hooked and proceeded to read all the novels by Mr. Tomlinson, including the ones not set in South America.
But there are key words that hook me also such as “tropical island”. That kind of setting will always catch my attention. But I have been burned by just buying a book because it’s set on a tropical island. Romantic suspense on a tropical island becomes a must read but it does pay to read the book’s blurb and reviews first.
Other key words that intrigue me are “time travel”. Years ago, I read House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and I was hooked for life with that genre. My own time travel mystery-romances were inspired by that novel (these are still works in progress although one short story has been published). And, of course, I had to read the recent novel by Marja McGraw--Choosing One Moment: A Time Travel Mystery. Time travel and mystery in one book? What more could I want?
A blurb, an intriguing setting and certain key words will grab my attention and the result is that I will buy the book, whether I know the author or not.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Hooked by a Title

The year was 1989, I lived in a small Texas town and I perused the local library for mysteries to read.  Suddenly one afternoon I spotted an intriguing title Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye, an author I had never read. And a "faraway place with a strange sounding name" could not be ignored.

Fast forward to four years ago when I started a blog series titled Hooked from the Start and the fifth and last blog dealt mainly with first lines. I don't know why I put the series on hold but I did mention that Part Six would deal with titles, especially Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye (M.M. stands for Mary Margaret). Obviously, I intended to continue the series but life got in the way and I forgot all about it. Hopefully now I'm back on track. 

Yes, I am a great lover of mysteries and of far away places and six of Ms. Kaye's books began with "Death in...." a faraway place. I read most of those books in 1989 and read one right after another. Later I discovered that not all of these titles originally began with "Death in" and must have been changed to indicate a continuity of sorts. She and her military husband moved 27 times and she used some of the places as inspiration for her novels.

 I learned, by reading her biography on Wikipedia, that she was born in India and her father was an intelligence officer in the Indian Army. Her grandfather, brother and husband all served in the British Raj, which was the rule of the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947. Death in Zanzibar was the first of her mysteries that I read and as I said, I was hooked. The novels that I read next were all Death in a faraway place: Kashmir, Berlin, Cyprus, Kenya, the Andamans. She wrote other novels also but her most famous novel was The Far Pavilions.

In 1989 a public library was my sanctuary to search for mysteries. And certainly a series that began with "Death in..." suggested mystery. I discovered a lot of mystery writers that year just from browsing through titles. Of course the Internet later made it a lot easier to find mysteries or any genre, for that matter.

Part Seven in this series will continue not with titles or first lines but with blurbs that caught my attention.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Tribute to my Father

Yesterday, June 18, my father, F.L. “Cotton” Chancey would have been 110 years old. My father loved to tell tales of family life on an Oklahoma farm in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, I didn’t write them all down. One was about my grandfather when he was shot while riding his horse out in the woods. A man who lived alone in the woods found him and nursed him back to health, patching him up the best he could. Although the “patching” was amateurish, my grandfather lived until he was 90. There was more to the story but I can’t remember it.
The story I do remember was told to me by my father on a long car trip. It was about a time when he was quite small, maybe five years old. He had to go round up the cows for the evening but while he was riding his pony through the woods, a blizzard hit. He was completely lost.
And that story means more to me than all of the stories I’ve written. In early 2001, I submitted it to a magazine for boys. Two weeks later I received a letter from them. I knew that such a quick response meant a rejection and with great sadness I opened the envelope. Inside was a card that said my story titled Cotton would be published in the 2004 March/April Horse issue of Boys’ Quest Magazine. I couldn’t believe it. Tears streamed down my face. This was my first acceptance from a major publisher! If only my father could have lived to see his story in print. I had to wait three years for the story to be published but those three years passed quickly.
Of course, I can’t tell the story here because, as far as I know, that particular issue of Boys’ Quest Magazine is still available. But it had a happy ending and it is still the most thrilling of all the acceptances I have received since then.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cha--a Tribute to my Mother

(My mother's nickname was Cha--rhymes with chat. The following is a true story.)

Wake up, Cha, let’s hurry so we can beat the others to the river. For once let’s be first.”
Ten-year-old Cha Kennedy slowly opened her eyes and looked at her older sister.
It’s morning already?” she asked. Then she remembered how she wanted to be the first to jump in and swim across the Chikaskia River to a sandbar on the other side.
During the ride yesterday from their home in Blackwell she had overheard her parents talking about the spring rains and how they hoped that the river hadn’t flooded. The family had arrived very late last night at Camp Phelps Grove in northern Oklahoma and had not had a chance to check out the river that ran in front of the cabins.
Springing into action, Cha, accompanied by her older sister and little brother who was also awake, crept out of the cabin with eager anticipation. Their parents and little sister were still asleep. Once outside they saw that some of the other vacationing kids had beaten them to the bank and were staring anxiously at the water. Cha had a sinking feeling when she saw how worried they looked. After all, none of them had jumped in yet.
As soon as the other kids saw Cha they began to challenge her to be the first one to take the plunge. She wondered why they were picking on her. They should remember I’m not a good swimmer.
Come on, Cha, you go first.”
Yeah, see if you can make it across.”
Cha looked at the river and saw why they had hesitated. The river was higher than normal and the racing current visible on the surface was quite intimidating.
The kids continued to egg her on and she was tempted to jump in. Could she make it across? The others seemed to think she could--or were they just goading her?
As the taunting increased she gave in and decided she could at least try. Surely the river wasn’t so bad. She had swum in the Chikaskia many times before. She plunged into the rapidly moving water—and was immediately swept away.
Overcome with panic, she began to scream. “Help! Help!” She gulped and sputtered as the water washed over and around her, pulling and tugging her further and further away from the shore.
The other kids began to scream too as they ran along the riverbank following her. At least one had the presence of mind to go for help.
Mr. Kennedy! Help! Cha can’t make it to the other side of the river! She’s caught in the current—help!”
Cha’s father immediately stepped out of the cabin, surveyed the scene, pulled off his shoes and jumped into the river. To Cha’s great relief he was soon beside her. But to her distress he didn’t grab her and haul her back to shore. Instead, he swam alongside her, firmly urging her to swim onward.
She couldn’t believe that he wasn’t helping her. Was he just going to let her drown?
Come on, you can do it,” he repeated over and over.
Disappointed and angry, she had no other choice. She continued with all her strength and swam downriver with her father beside her.
Despite the pull of the rushing water, Cha, impelled by her father’s stern, “You can do it,” struggled to reach the shore. She kicked her legs and moved her arms furiously over and under, over and under, with her father swimming alongside her continuously pushing her with his words. “You can do it! You can do it!”
She wanted so much for him to grab her and hold her as he swam to the shore but he refused. You can do it! You can do it!  The words became an echo inside her head as she frantically propelled her body onward through the water. All at once she knew she could do it—she had to.
And she did it—she reached the shore by herself. But she was still angry with her father for not helping her more. Standing up, she shook the water off and looked around, ready to complain to him. They had swum quite a distance downstream but they were safe. Suddenly she smiled, no longer quite so angry with her father who, she realized, should have been angry with her for so carelessly endangering herself.
However, as he waded onto the shore he said simply yet sternly, “I knew you could do it.”
Grateful that he had not reprimanded her more, she thought to herself, I did it but I’ll never do it again. By the look on his face she could tell that he knew she had learned her lesson.

No one else went in the river that day.