The President is Missing

Jul 17, 2018 by

The President is Missing

It took me three days, but I finished the 511 pages of The President is Missing by former President Bill Clinton and author James Patterson almost as quickly as the book itself plays out. This is the first book I’ve read by Patterson. I must say first of all, I’m not a big fan of the Patterson book-mill, however impressive it is to churn out novels like he has done. I like my reading to have some lasting meaning, message or something to gain from it. This book does not have that. It’s just a distraction, a sensational escape from reality with a few philosophical messages thrown in, my guess to assuage the former president, and then a wrap of the story. 

All that said, I stuck with the book. I started it on Friday night. I finished it at 0200 hours Monday. So whatever was on those pages, hooked me enough to sit there straight and read, read, read.

The Plot

I won’t give that away, suffice it to say that someone has contacted the president with code words they should not have. Code words only a small circle of people know, and because someone on the outside knows them, that means someone in his inner circle has committed treason and set the country on the brink of a catastrophic collapse from a cyber attack. The president is the only person who can save the country. And so he goes about doing trying to do that.

Reviews on Amazon

There are reviews on Amazon (the three star ones are the ones I tend to focus on since they’re the middle of the road) thought the book was too wordy, that the end speech by the president to the Congress was too inflated, blah, blah, blah. I thought those criticisms were a little too stern once I finally got to the parts that were most critical. In fact, I thought they were misplaced and not all that accurate.

This is not a book that’s going to win any literary awards. It’s not meant to. It’s meant to make Clinton some money, (It has backfired in bringing up the Monica Lewinsky stuff by including the mention of impeachment in it) and it is meant to be another book for Patterson to sit on top of the New York Times Bestseller List for a while. What I thought was funny in a way was that I bought my copy of the book from Barnes and Noble in mid-June and it still bears a “50 Percent Off” red sticker on it. So while it is selling, no one appears to be making the top dollar off it they’d hoped.


The book is worth buying and worth reading. It validates the premise of my first novel draft I have written, The Privacy Patriots, which I need to revise.  In that book, the president and the NSA are ready to launch the world’s first quantum computer and China, Russia, Iran and North Korea (I call them CRINK) find out and launch an all out cyber attack on the US. Because when we do get the first quantum computer activated, it’s going to render all the passwords we all have today useless. So after reading The President is Missing, I see it is time to dust off that draft and get it ready for querying.

A quantum computer will take down computer security. What was wrong with The President is Missing is that Clinton and Patterson forget that the whole world and USA is not dependent on Microsoft computers so a virus with a .exe suffix wouldn’t affect Linux-based servers and machines like Macs, and even the host this website is kept on. There would be problems, but not all the world would be affected like they proposed. But the problems would be bad and we’re supposed to suspend reality in reading a book like that and of course, we should all be worried to some degree because at some point, some kind of cyber attack is likely to affect us. Numerous government officials in the US have long-said it’s not a matter of “If,” but a matter of “when,” and when that finally does happen, Lord knows it’s not going to be pretty….


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Your Destination is on the Left–An Inspirational Story For All Artists

Jul 16, 2018 by

Your Destination is on the Left

Friday I had the pleasure of reading Lauren Spieller’s debut novel, Your Destination is on the Left. I’m not much of a YA reader, but I have to honestly say I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. Like I said, I read it in one day. It was that good.

And what made it so good to me? 

The writing is smooth and easy-going. The story is easy to follow. But there is something more. The story is a pep-talk of sorts, even for someone my age. Let me explain.

The Artist’s Way

The main character in Spieller’s book, Dessa, is a young girl trying to get into college to go to art school. She thinks that’s what’s going to make or break the difference in her being a successful artist. I’m not going to take anything way from having a formal education. Lord knows I have three daughters I want to each earn college degrees so they have the best chance of being successful in this modern world. My degree in political science from Auburn has helped me along the way, too.

But I, too, am an artist and I’m also a writer. As a matter of fact, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to being a novel writer. Presently, I have three different genre first drafts written, and I have one ready for querying. So far I’ve sent out 65 queries. To date, I have 21 rejections (number 21 coming this morning) and I have two agents who have asked for more (a request for a full came Saturday!!) and are considering offering representation.

It’s those 21 who have said no who have made me feel like Dessa and question myself with such self-doubt at times it’s almost been stifling. With each new rejection email I receive, even at 52, I feel worse, I think, because I don’t have as long left in life as she does to make the big time with my art.

So reading about a young girl who kept going in the face of adversity, I needed to read that. I needed the kick in the pants this book provides from her mentor, the woman she takes an internship with, who believes in her and encourages her to keep going. Dessa also has friends and a love interest who do the same. In many ways, I have those, too.

But what Spieller captures in her book is the inherent loneliness artists feel inside as we scrape like hell to break out of our shells and fight to prove to the world that our art, our writing in my case, is something worthy of standing on its own–if only we can get it in front of the right people/person at the right time and in the right place. As I wrote in a previous blog post, that’s pretty darned hard and discouraging. But it has to be done. It’s part of the process of making art better and developing one’s sea legs. It’s part of maturing as an artist and in many cases, learning how to do things better.

I Recommend Your Destination is on the Left

That is what makes Your Destination is on the Left such a wonderful and inspiring read for anyone, regardless of age, regardless of profession or mission in life. This book takes its readers on a journey, an honest journey through life and offers hope. Something that seems so remote and lacking in this day and age of ugly partisan fighting and arguing via social media and politics.

Lauren Spieller’s book was a great read and I encourage you, no matter where you are in a life journey, discouraged or encouraged, to pick up this book and read it, absorb it, and use it to lift yourself up. That’s what I got out of it and I am certain you will, too.

DISCLOSURE: I met Lauren Spieller during the DFWCon in early June 2018 and pitched her The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. She is one of the 65 agents I have pitched and queried. In all fairness to her and anyone else reading this, I thought I need to mention that. She was on my agents to pitch list well before DFWCon. After reading her book, I have even more respect for her, regardless of whether she becomes my agent or not. She is a talented writer and her book is a good read. 

Your Destination is on the Left is listed as number 85 my Reading List of 101 books I’m reading to become a better writer.

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The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

Jul 2, 2018 by

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

This weekend I finished reading The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut. I enjoyed her book. It made me think a lot about about chance and choice, the two pivotal points that intertwine the two main characters of the book.

Imagine the person you had a crush on in high school, the one who never paid you any attention, but they filled your most every thought and desire. And then years later, you’re working as a prison psychologist and they’re bought in for murder.

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut is a great read and one that will have you thinking about chance and choices.

Now the first thing that should happen is the shrink should never see the inmate for ethical reasons. But this is fiction. Or maybe it’s a close parallel to reality. The doc wants to find out why the inmate committed the murder. IF the murder was committed by the inmate, after all, that didn’t seem like it could happen in high school.

And of course, the inmate doesn’t remember the doc, but all of a sudden has this guy bending over backwards to help.

There, you have chance. The rest of the book are the choices the two make because of the chance situations.

The Passage of Time

Debra Jo has written for years. In fact, she said the other night during a signing at Interabang Books in Dallas that she began writing the book almost 20 years ago and queried it and got nowhere with it. So she put it in the drawer and let it breathe while she had a life. She got married. She had a son. The story itself matured, as did her writing.

So many years later, she revised the story and made some changes, queried, and found an agent for the book.

The rest is history.

The Captives

You will enjoy reading The Captives. The writing is good. The tension is steady and there are good twists in the story.

Reading it also reminded me of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, (BTW Ottessa will be at INTERABANG BOOKS in DALLAS on JULY 21) which I read two weeks ago. It, too, is about a person working in a prison and involves a shrink/educator. But the ending is far different.

Debra Jo is an excellent writer and encourager. We talked about my present plight. I’m querying for my second written of three novels, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, and as she signed my book, reminded me that the journey along the path to getting published is key. And even as I write this post, another rejection just came in. But I forge on. I simply must.

You can order your copy of The Captives from Interabang Books, by visiting their store, or of course, via Amazon, but if you’re local in Dallas, I encourage you to visit the store. You’ll love the people there and the atmosphere is wonderful. When I am published, I will be having signings there, as sure as the sun comes up in the east.

(What else have I read lately? Here is my Reading List on my way to my first 101 counted and reviewed books….)


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A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

Jul 1, 2018 by

A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

My local McDonald’s has murdered two huge trees–one because a branch fell on a car. The other, guilt by association. I took pictures of the carnage in yesterday’s post. Today I counted the rings of one of the trees and then compared the McDonald’s service history to the growth of the tree.

Do you know how many customers it took McDonald’s to serve for that tree and it’s accomplice to reach their lofty heights? As long as it took for McDonald’s to serve “Billions and Billions.” As long as it took for McDonald’s to quit saying how many billions of customers they have served.

From my counting of the rings, the tree sprouted in 1965. McDonald’s served 1 billion customers that year.

Murdered by McDonalds

The timeline of McDonald’s Billions and Billions served vs. how long it took for this tree to grow–they’re almost the same.

In 1970, the tree was five years old, McDonald’s had served 5 billion people. By then, almost the number of people on the planet.

In 1980, 50 billion served by McDonald’s and the trees kept rising toward the heavens.

In 1990, 80 billion served and you can see the enormous growth of the tree.

In 1994, McDonald’s reached their 100 billion served mark and stopped counting.

But to be fair, somewhere around 1995 or so, the tree caught up to that 1 billion it’d missed out on–McDonald’s had reach 1 billion by 1963, two years before it began growing.

Then came the new millennium.

Then add the spring of 2018 when a branch fell on a car in a parking of a McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas.

After providing shade to customers at the east end of the parking lot of this store, a branch fell from a healthy tree. One of two tall trees standing majestically on the lot separating it and a dry cleaners.

Men showed up one day with a wood chipper. One of the operators looked like he didn’t know what he was doing, like he’d lose an arm himself in the contraption.

Two weeks later, the two trees, after McDonald’s had serve an untold number more customers, the beautiful, green crowns of the trees were gone. All that remained were the mutilated trunks of the trees, lying there like dead bodies one might see in old Civil War photos.  And remaining next to them, their stumps, which tell the story above.

McDonald’s murdered these two trees because a branch fell on a car. Both living, vivacious and healthy trees that had grown up with the franchise and served the environment of Mesquite, Texas, like McDonald’s has served people around the world.

But one branch fell and that was enough for McDonald’s to kill two trees. Two healthy trees.

The Overstory

In Richard Powers’ novel, The Overstory, a character goes and counts the rings of a fallen tree just as I have done. He does it because he, too, is sickened that people so carelessly murdered a tree. At least in the case of the story, the tree was harvested for the wood it would yield. In this case, the tree was chopped up. There is a nice mulch bed, but the rest was mutilated it appears. A total waste of 50 or more years of growth from two trees because someone was too lazy to do a little maintenance on two trees, provide some shade, and keep two viable, living trees in the ground.

The Overstory is a great book about the life of trees. Reading it has changed my perspective about trees. Had I not read it, I’m not sure I’d be this upset about what McDonald’s has done. But I am sickened by what McDonald’s has done because it was nothing short of murder. As they say in the book, trees are part of us. And part of all of us died when McDonald’s murdered these two trees the way they did.

The Rings Tell The Story

Here’s the tree rings.

Billions Served by McDonald's

The rings of one of the trees murdered by McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas because a branch fell on a car.



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My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

Jun 30, 2018 by

My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

Last week I finished reading Richard Powers’ The Overstory and it has changed my view about trees, forever. This morning, I took clothes to my dry cleaners at the corner of Belt Line Road and Cartwright in Mesquite, Texas. Actually, they’re not on the corner, a McDonald’s is. Last week, when I was dropping off clothes, I observed two guys who looked like they were determined to cut off their arms shoving in a branch into a tree mulcher. Today I returned to find that two viable, huge trees that were at least 40-50 feet tall had been cremated and cut to shreds.

McDonalds Trees

What remains of two huge trees McDonald’s MURDERED after a branch fell on a car parked in their lot.

I was in shock. The trees had full crowns of green shady leaves. When I asked the girl at the dry cleaners what had happened, she said a branch fell on a car.

I went into the McDonald’s, which I seldom do, and the checkout girl said the same thing. “It was a mess,” she said.

So instead of trimming heavier branches on the tree where the branch fell on the car, THEY CUT THE WHOLE TREE DOWN AND CUT A SECOND ONE JUST LIKE IT DOWN, too.

The Corporate Line

Now I get corporate liability and the canned answer McDonald’s will offer. if they respond at all.

“We cut the tree to ensure the safety of our customers, our first priority next to good, healthy food. The safest thing for us to do was to remove the two trees.”

That’s a lot of bunk. And it appears to be the line that’s been sold. A branch fell on a car, more could fall on other cars, we can’t have that.

The ‘Every Tree Is Entitled to One Branch Falling’ Legal Theory

I guess they were using the theory that every tree was entitled to one branch falling, like every dog is entitled to one free bite.

But these were two HEALTHY trees. Two trees with HUGE crowns, and they were healthy. In all likelihood, the one branch that feel got whipped around in a recent strong wind and fell.

Maybe McDonald’s could have done more to trim over-extended branches.

McDonald's Trees

The trunks of two trees McDonald’s MURDERED because a branch fell on a car in their lot.

But instead, my local McDonald’s murdered two trees.


What’s worse, is they clearly didn’t do anything with the actual wood from the tree except cut it up.

Pictures are included of what’s left of the trunks.

The day the men started shredding that branch, I had no idea they were going to cut the whole tree down, let alone BOTH trees. There was absolutely no visible reason for them to do so.


Now I do not regard myself a tree hugger, no not one bit, but I know waste when I see it and this was an abomination. This was a crime against nature. You want to get all uppity about what kind of beef vendors use and whether they’re using GMOs or letting the cows roam free, I don’t give a hoot about that nonsense.

But Richard Powers’ book, The Overstory, changed my view of the world of trees and made me more sensitive when a corporation like McDonald’s does a dumbass thing like cut down two viable trees. No, murders, them and wastes their resources because a branch fell on a car.

McDonald’s. This was wrong. It’s going to take years to replace what you did. YEARS. I understand the liability and minuscule payout your insurance has taken because a branch fell on a car. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t equal out to killing two healthy trees. It just does not.


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The Overstory – A Great Book

Jun 28, 2018 by

The Overstory – A Great Book

Between my love affair for the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite, (really all the trees of Yosemite) I have long had a thing for trees. But Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory, I must say, has me looking at them in a whole new light. This 501-page book is wonderful and a really great work of art. I highly recommend you read it.

The book is divided like a tree, into sections–root, trunk, crown and seeds. At first, I wondered where the vignettes were going, then in the trunk I began to smile with glee. Things began to make a lot of sense and the magic of storytelling really began to unfold.

The Overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a beautiful book and one of the best written works I have ever read.

The Overstory is an effort to help remind we the living that trees are critical to the future of our success as humans. And while environmentalists rant and rave about how killing the trees is killing the planet, part of what Powers writes suggests that when we do away with what is keeping us alive as humans, trees and forests, the things that have been around for millions of years, long before us, will rejuvenate. Those that we kill off may not, but then again….


There are some great quotes in the book I just had to pull and share that won’t give away the book. Really good lines that are very true to heart.

“And what do good stories do? … They kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t.” pg 412

Amen to that. And that’s what reading this book did to me. At the end I felt a little sick in my heart. I think that was the grieving part I felt. An unsettled anger from reading what happened to the characters.

“Noah took all the animals two by two, and loaded them aboard his escape craft for evacuation. But it’s a funny thing: He left the plants to die. He failed to take the one thing he needed to rebuild life on land, and concentrated on saving the freeloaders!” pg 451

Powers is clearly a science guy. I don’t know how spiritual he is. But what’s clear about this, what Noah didn’t do, is things worked out well regardless. Trees and grasses and all that worked out well even if Noah didn’t take them on the ark. That says something about the staying power of Nature, does it not? The character who said that in the book, I’m not sure understood that point. Maybe that was the point she was making, that plants and particularly trees, they have a power we do not understand and they are going to be around and are going to adapt to this world despite what we do.

“The year’s clocks are off by a month or two.” pg 452

He dabbles in the climate change, global warming argument here. I won’t get into that briar patch.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” pg 488

Richard Powers presents some great arguments in this book by telling a masterful story. The problem with helping spread the word of this story is that it’s 500 pages long. Few people are going to dedicate that long to reading something that long in this day and age. But those who do, I promise, are in for a treat.

I loved this book. Someday, I may read it again.

The writing is rich and colorful. When characters spend 10 months on a platform in a great redwood out west living 20 stories above the forest floor, you feel like you’re doing the same. His writing is superb. I highly recommend this book. I just wonder, if the intent was to move people to action, if it had to be so long. But as a writer, don’t know where I could or would cut a single thing.

The writing is poetry and it was a story worth telling from beginning to end.


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Three Rejection Letters – Finding an Agent 

Jun 22, 2018 by

Three Rejection Letters – Finding an Agent

Yesterday I received three rejection letters for my novel, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. One of them I took pretty hard. I’d pitched the agent at the recent DFWCon in early June and had really hoped she’d rep me. 

In her rejection letter, she said, “This story has all the elements I love—an interesting premise and a well-built world. The writing is solid with a nice voice. A dynamic, interesting protagonist.” She concluded by saying she didn’t feel the love she needed to sell the story. 

The two others were more to the point. 

Voodoo and Explorer.

The intersection of Voodoo Avenue and Explorer Street, KI Sawyer AFB, Michigan.

“I’m afraid this doesn’t seem like the right project for me, but I’m sure other agents will feel differently.” 

“Unfortunately, I’m afraid I’m not the right agent for this project. I wish you much luck in getting THE VOODOO HILL EXPLORER CLUB published.”

I still have several queries out and there are other agents who have asked for pages, so all is not lost. 

I am early in the query process. Just a few months in, and in that time, my query has improved. 

Because of what the first agent I mentioned taught me at DFWCon, my query letter is now a mere NINE sentences. It’s tighter, to the point. It targets what is important to the structure of the story and I don’t get into the subplots and things that might confuse a slush-pile gatekeeper in New York deciding whether to read more or not. Since DFWCon I’ve also gone through the book and cut 10,000 words. If it was not about four boys in the woods building a treehouse near a Russian spy, it went. Period. My inciting incident is in the first 25 pages. Boom. 

I learned these important things from the agent who said my story has the elements she loves. 

For that I am grateful and a thank you letter, I send them typed on my 1948 Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter, will say that. She’s like that high school English teacher we all had. The one who was the hardest on us. In the end, the one who taught us the most, and not just about literature but life itself. 

Finding an agent is like asking a pretty girl to dance in middle school. You know so little about her. You’re nervous. You think you know how to dance. You’re worried about your blemishes, if your hair is straight, pants and shirt are fashionable, if she will say “yes.” Whether she will fall in love with you just the same. The odds seem so remote and extreme. On one hand, it seems like the best thing to do is sit on the bleachers and watch the cooler kids dance. But at the same time, you know you can dance. You’ve been watching yourself in the mirror for weeks, months, years. And you’ve gotten better and better and better. It’s time to be under the disco ball at center court with a pretty girl.

I am a good writer and I have a solid book and I will get published. I know I will. 

I didn’t meet my match yesterday, but there is always today. There is always tomorrow. And I have more books to write. I have two other books already written needing revision.

What I learned yesterday is that I am looking for LOVE. I want to hear a reply that says, “I LOVE YOUR BOOK.” Hedging, doubt, all of that, won’t do. I very much respect and enjoyed the agent who wrote me. I will keep her as a friend. But there wasn’t a spark. There are others to dance with. There must be love or the result will not be good in the end.

And thank goodness, I have other writer friends I have talked with overnight who are in the same boat, beating on against the current….

My current query/pitch: 


In 1977, four teen boys, led by KIRK CARSON, build a tree house near the secret hideaway of a Russian spy. The historical commercial fiction work is 88,000 words.

Kirk is fighting his own Cold War among friends, a bully, and himself. He tries to type “I’m trying to change my life,” but instead his typewriter clacks out, “I’m trying to change my lie.” He wishes he could use white out on the whole year.

How Kirk handles the ultimate test of a December blizzard in Upper Michigan and the Russian spy who has been trying to scare them all out of the woods means life or death for his friends.

THE VOODOO HILL EXPLORER CLUB is a nostalgic reminder of an America where kids played outside until their mothers signaled a summer’s day’s end by turning on the porch light.

I have written in journalism and public relations, and for governors and school superintendents for more than 30 years. Since 2014, I’ve been part of Southern Methodist University’s Writer’s Path program. 

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