Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Million Mile Walker Review What We’re Reading and Why By Mark D. Walker

FIind this book on Amazon HERE
My fellow writers will appreciate this book filled with inspirational stories about how authors prepare themselves each day to create their next masterpiece . . . or not. 

I learned about Daily Rituals from a speaker at the Phoenix Writers Network and began reading some of the 161 short profiles from famous authors and artists each evening, which I found inspirational as well as an opportunity to rethink my approach to writing and how to be both creative and effective. I’ve often wondered how other authors and artists do meaningful creative work and earn a living, which many of these profiles deal with. 

According to the publishers, this book brings together “Writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers and scientists on how they create (and avoid creating) their creations. “ 

The author reveals why and how he wrote this book in the following statement: 

In that sense, this is a superficial book. It’s about the circumstances of creative activity, not the product; it deals with manufacturing rather than meaning. But it’s also, inevitably, personal. (John Cheever thought that you couldn’t even type a business letter without revealing something of your inner self— isn’t that the truth?) My underlying concerns in the book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time, to “work smarter, not harder,” as my dad is always telling me? More broadly, are comfort and creativity incompatible, or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work? 

The book includes 27 graphics and photos, such as Ben Franklin’s ideal daily routine, from his autobiography, which starts each morning with the following question, “What good shall I do this day?” The opening quote of the book from Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice,” anticipates what much of the book’s content will try to answer: “Who can unravel the essence, the stamp of the artistic temperament! Who can grasp the deep, instinctual fusion of discipline and dissipation on which it rests!” An extensive set of notes and permissions can be found at the end. 

I gravitated first to my favorite authors like Graham Greene, who decided to write a book of questionable quality because it would be a good seller and allow him to pay the bills while finishing his classic, “The Power and the Glory.” According to the profile on Greene, “…To manage the pressure of writing two books at once, he took Benzedrine tablets twice daily, one upon waking and the other at midday. As a result, he was able to write two thousand words in the morning alone, as opposed to his usual five hundred….”

An excellent and inspiring read for all writers and artists looking to improve their habits and creativity as well as appreciating our special vocation by looking in at the “rituals” of others.

Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He came to Phoenix as a Senior Director for Food for the Hungry, worked with other groups like Make a Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA, a Christian-based organization that supports survivors of human trafficking. 
You can learn more at 

His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Authors Association for nonfiction and according to the Midwest Review, “. . . is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery . . .”

Find it on amazon HERE

Monday, May 11, 2020

How writers find inspiration in today's harsh reality - by Vijaya Schartz

The most popular stories are written to entertain, by authors concerned about the issues of their day. No matter what we write, the questions in our minds have a way of popping up into our work, and like good little problem solvers, our brains imagine possible solutions. 


The best stories often take inspiration from legends and myths and ancient history, which are part of our cultural background and define the way we think. Many great storytellers throughout history tried to illuminate the problems of their day through such tales, from Homer (Odysseus), to Shakespeare, to Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), to Jules Vernes, Hemingway, Faulkner, and closer to us, Glen A. Larson (Battlestar Galactica), Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), George Lucas (Indiana Jones, Star Wars), James Cameron (Avatar)… the list goes on.

But even in a very elaborate and colorful fictional world, created by a talented storyteller, what sticks inside our minds are the people involved in the story… their struggles, their mistakes, their strengths, their resilience, their determination… and their weaknesses. We can relate to them. We wonder what we would do in similar circumstances. We wonder whether we would have the courage to do the right thing… if we could figure out what the right thing is.

Whether it’s good vs evil, or the dangers of totalitarian empires, or whether the machines will one day take over our lives, these hypothetical stories have roots in what happened before or what might happen if we are not vigilant. I like being entertained with a tale that makes me wonder how we can improve as individuals and as a society. Fiction allows the writer to tackle hypothetical situations in a neutral setting, without ruffling too many political or religious feathers. It gives us the perfect stage for freedom of expression, philosophy and satire.

I predict that in the years to come, pandemics may become a sci-fi sub-genre. It will depict heroic health workers, overwhelmed hospital ships, suffering, tragic death tolls in senior care sick bays, disorganization, catastrophic mistakes, selfishness, greed, corruption, as well as self-sacrifice, and unimaginable acts of kindness… and that will become a classic theme for many stories to come, because this generation of authors will have lived through it… and so will their readers. 

Like World War II or 9-11, this pandemic experience will become part of the collective memory, part of the recorded archives of our generation… part of the experience of the modern human race.

But unlike today’s grim reality, popular sci-fi can offer a safe escape, where the sacrifices are not in vain, the heroes are rewarded in the end, and the villains get their comeuppance.

Happy Reading.

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes

Byzantium Space Station series
Standalone story

When bounty hunter Akira Karyudo accepted her assignment, something didn't add up. Why would the Galactic Trade Alliance want a kidnapped orphan dead or alive?

She will get to the truth once she finds the boy, and the no good SOB who snatched him from a psychiatric hospital. With her cheetah, Freckles, a genetically enhanced feline retriever, Akira sets out to flush them out of the bowels of the Byzantium space station. But when she finds her fugitives, the kidnapper is not what she expects.

Kazmo, a decorated Resistance fighter, stole his nephew from the authorities, who performed painful experiments on the boy. Stuck on Byzantium, he protects the child, but how can he shield him from the horribly dangerous conditions in the lawless sublevels of the space station?

Akira faces the worst moral dilemma of her career. Law or justice, duty or love. She can't have it both ways.

"Wow! If readers want to see and feel and believe they are in deep space, then "Akira's Choice" is the perfect choice! With a touch of romance, the vivid descriptions and beautifully developed characters masterfully presented by Schartz create a virtual world that invite the reader not merely to observe, but to walk amongst them and participate... This is a delicate art, and Schartz wields her weapons with precision and skill. Banzai!" 5 stars - exceptional - recommended read - Ind'tale Magazine

"A captivating story with interesting, appealing characters. Being a cat lover, I found the relationship, with its psychic element, between Freckles and Shane absolutely captivating. As always, Ms. Schartz’s solid plot and crisply-written prose incorporates a good blend of action and intrigue... This story can easily stand alone... but I believe you’ll enjoy this exciting Sci-Fi series much more if you start reading it from the beginning... a must read for all fans of Sci-Fi romance. Go pick them up and settle into your favorite armchair for some entertaining reading. 4.5 stars - Manic Readers

Thursday, May 7, 2020

My Hydroxychloroquine Caper

My Hydroxychloroquine Caper by Toby Fesler Heathcotte

 In mid-March 2020, as I listened to numerous news reports about the impending epidemic of COVID-19, I worried that things could get worse, like pandemic bad, because medical people didn’t appear to have any treatment or vaccine to combat the virus. In other words, it was a super virus.

Lo and behold, Trump, despite having zip medical training, hyped a drug that could cure the virus—hydroxychloroquine.  I was shocked and surprised and wondered what that might mean for me.
For the past four or five years, I’ve taken the drug 
hydroxychloroquine, brand name Plaquenil, originally developed to cure another epidemic—malaria. It is useful for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, an affliction of mine for about twenty years. 
I had begun to suffer from some side effects including eye problems. Both the ophthalmologist and the rheumatologist decided to start me on a different medication and wean me off the hydroxychloroquine. I clearly had a bunch of it in my system. What impact would that have if I contracted COVID-19? 

Would I be immune? Do I have to stay home, or could I go out shopping, visiting, and ramming around the neighborhood? Just asking.

If so, I could become Florence Nightingale and walk amongst the ill and become a healer for the nation. With such glorious possibilities in the offing, I struck out, metaphorically since I was confined to my house, to discover some answers.

Might I be such a superhero? What’s a superhero if no one believes in her?

To find the answer, first, I texted my younger son while he was working from home instead of going to his law office. With such slim info as I had presented, he opined that chances were slim that I would contract malaria based on my drug usage, for whatever that was worth. I considered his response utterly inadequate.

Next, I texted my elder son who was traveling out of the country on vacation. The feds were threatening to recall all Americans abroad asap. Undaunted, he replied that he feared like Brer Rabbit he could get stranded in New Zealand and not have to leave. The authorities insisted so he did make his flight home and brought back a suitcase full of toilet paper. Despite my broad support for his international turmoil, he took no interest in mine and failed to make any pertinent comment on the question of his mother’s conjectures about her physical superiority through medication.

My sons did not believe in my superpower, so I turned to medical professionals.

In chatting with my rheumatologist, I described my excitement about my potential immunity. I asked her how much of an illicit market there might become for my stash of hydroxychloroquine.
To my delight she pointedly and jokingly required that I let her get in on the deal. She could prescribe and I could sell on the side and split the profits with her. I should have been surprised at her duplicity until I recalled one year at Halloween when she arrived for my appointment dressed as a vampire, blood-letting tools in hand.

To learn whether there could be any chance of acting on this idea, I called my pharmacist. I requested getting my prescription filled early and shared my concern about whether he would have supplies on hand, considering the newscasters reported shortages. People were buying up pills, believing Trump’s hype.

The pharmacist assured me that he had plenty, blowing up my potentially illegal trafficking scheme. He had one other customer who used it, so he saved enough back for us.

Even though I didn’t ask, I wondered how people were obtaining pills without prescriptions or who might be writing fraudulent ones. I googled black market but got no results. That particular avenue for exploitation eluded me.

I googled side effects for hydroxy chloroquine and found many, including cardiac failure, blurred vision, diarrhea, and many other wretched outcomes. I’ve been spared the worst of them, so maybe I am immune to this current virus. I can’t let go of the idea.

One night I had a dream exactly to the point of my concerns: A gnarly old guy from AAA was selling drugs out of the trunk of his car. He was trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 scare to make a huge profit on hydroxychloroquine.

I couldn’t tell whether AAA stood for American Automobile Association or Arizona Authors Association. That’s the thing about dreams. It may not be either. The salient point here was that I recognized the gnarly old man.

It’s Trump, of course, with his rambling whine, selling a new snake oil to cure COVID-19. I hear he has stock in the company producing hydroxychloroquine. Otherwise how could he possibly know how to pronounce it with so many syllables?

On consulting the rumor website, Snopes, I found this: “U.S. President Donald Trump will benefit financially if hydroxychloroquine becomes an established treatment for COVID-19” is mostly False. “What's True U.S. President Donald Trump earns some income from three family trusts that are administered independently by J.P. Morgan, an investment bank and wealth-management firm. These trusts are in part invested in mutual funds that themselves are partially invested in companies that produce hydroxychloroquine.”

So there you have a Trump fact we’ve come to accept. It’s true and not true at the same time. Yes, he’s making money on the drug, but not enough to make it matter. He has moved on to bleach and light.
Some scientists are testing hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure for COVID-19. A few doctors are using it as a treatment for infected people. If that turns out to be effective, would I be immune to the disease?

The most recent news suggests they’ve run amok and have killed enough folks to stop the experiments. Conclusion—don’t listen to the president. Unfortunately not enough people have learned this rule. I could have told them he’s not to be trusted a long time ago. In fact, I did but my was voice lost in the wilderness of Facebook.
Feeling anxious, I wanted to stay alive, but ultimately for what? Is my life worth saving? More to the point in this environment, is my life more valuable than my sons, who are working from home because they have high-paying jobs or my grandson, who is at high risk of contamination in a grocery store with a low-paying job? A life’s worth seems flipped on its head. At least for me at this time.
I dread writing my feelings down and at the same time want to, at least to memorialize the episode of horrifying history I’m experiencing.

With copious bouts of writer’s block, the same doubt has assailed me since the day I took early retirement from teaching so I could devote myself to writing. Ironically, I only respond to deadlines, self-imposed or created by dent of my membership in a critique group. Thus, I have to have a deadline to do what I supposedly wanted to do and managed to pen these pages in time. Sketchy as this approach seems, it’s all I’ve got.

For the past few mornings, I’ve awakened from dreams feeling pulled away from a task. I’ve volunteered in the dream world to work on a team to create a cure in the astral world for the virus in the real world.

Maybe this bears out my previous dream of the gnarly old man from AAA. Perhaps he’s from the Astral Analog Assembly. If that isn’t an organization, maybe I should found it myself.
With such dreams to fortify me, I imagine myself walking through the hospital immune to all disease. I swoop in and touch the sick people and they are magically cured.

How cool would it be to be a superwoman destined to end this sorry business we are living through?

Wouldn’t you love it too? We’re all wannabe superheroes at heart.