Category Archives: Blog

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Left

betsy ross

When I was ten years old, I got to dress up as Betsy Ross and ride on a big “Happy Birthday, America” float in our local community’s Bicentennial parade. I no longer remember the reason I was chosen for that honor—straight-A report card or Dork of the Week or whatever—but I remember the experience. I was proud, super proud, to represent all that was good and right about my homeland.

Growing up in these United States, I would often hear scary stories about Russia and China and Cuba, and how the governments in those countries suppressed truth and presented only twisted propaganda to their populace. I would shake my head and feel sorry for all the people not fortunate enough to be living in a great free country like I was. In school, I studied American history and felt reverence for our forefathers who laid down their lives for the right to speak their minds, even when their ideas weren’t popular. Today, my heart is aching for the world that was.

Whatever political affiliation you may have, whatever feelings you may harbor about our outgoing Commander-In-Chief Barak Obama, I doubt you were expecting his recent remarks at a conference in Pittsburgh:

“We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to. There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.”

In other words, let’s censor the Internet! No more debate about climate change or vaccine safety or Russian hackers. The official government-approved statement on all of these is out, and you will accept it. Then add to that, just last week, a Tweet by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo echoing a similar sentiment, as he informed us (incorrectly) that it would be illegal for any of us peons to read the Clinton/Podesta leaked emails, but it was just fine and dandy for our esteemed press corps to do it, and then pass their sanitized version of the truth on to us.

Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent, I hope you are as appalled by these attitudes as I am. The idea that citizens of the United States should not be free to express or consume any information we choose is as un-American as it gets. The words “unmitigated gall” come to mind, but for now, let’s just call it Orwellian.

My response to the would-be thought police is this:

Do I look like a three year old who just asked where babies come from? Sorry, my self-proclaimed intellectual leaders, but I am an adult, and a highly educated one at that. But in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, I don’t have to be, to be allowed to make my own decisions. Maybe I’m an idiot. Maybe I’ll make bad ones. Maybe my choices will turn out to be horrendous mistakes, but they’re my mistakes to make. I don’t need you or anyone else to “curate” my information sources, thank you. I’ll decide who to listen to and who to ignore…and that might be you!

The Wild, Wild West of the free and open Internet is the best thing that ever happened to this country and the whole world. We can read a thousand differing opinions on each of a million different topics. Is some of it wrong? Is some of it potentially hurtful? Is some of it downright comedic? You betcha. But I’ll figure that out myself and glad to do it. We understand why you want to quiet dissenters, bury unpleasant truths, and spin reality like a centrifuge; it’s not exactly a new tactic, guys (see earlier remarks about Russia and China). There’s a reason we’re all turning our backs on CNN and MSNBC and The New York Times. Shuck the agenda, stamp out the spin, and give us the facts, if you want a rat’s chance of survival.

And while I’m on my soapbox: Long live the America I grew up in, where liberty and individuality were celebrated, not squashed, and where we were reminded daily that while we might find others’ ideas offensive, our freedom to speak our minds depended on us tolerating the same from everyone else. Three cheers for the First Amendment!

Brains, Boobs, or Batons?

beauty queen

The term “trophy wife” harkens back to a time when wealthy, successful men would seek out mates who were lovely to look at, but weren’t necessarily Rhodes Scholars. Marrying the local beauty queen was a mark of station and affluence; her ability to answer those “world peace” questions was irrelevant. And no doubt, having an attractive spouse can confer a reasonable measure of happiness, at least while we’re young.

Whether physical beauty remains an important quality throughout the span of a marriage is, of course, less certain, but one thing we now know for sure is that another key quality—intelligence—passes primarily through the mother. Recent scientific research shows that intelligence-related genes reside largely on the X chromosome. This means girls, who inherit X chromosomes from both parents, are a mixture of their mother’s and father’s intelligence, but boys, who get a Y from dad and an X from mom, will have IQ genes almost entirely dependent on their mothers. In other words, smart wife means smart son, and brainless bimbo means brainless bozo!

So listen up, all you successful men out there: If you want children, particularly boy children, who won’t be living in your basement when they’re thirty, quit chasing cheerleaders and find yourself a nice brainy chick, much like any of the heroines in a Maria Romana mystery. She may not catch your eye initially, but if you let her, she’ll challenge you til the day you die, and you’ll never be bored!

Hitting From The Trees


One of my kids is going through a particularly rough patch in life right now, which has led to a lot of long, tearful mother-daughter chats. After feeling woefully inadequate as a mom during one such recent conversation, I was giving some thought to the idea of mistakes and how we deal with them. My daughter was expressing regret over what she sees as a big mistake that she’s made. I don’t view the situation the same way, but that hardly matters; it’s how she sees herself that counts. With time to ruminate on the topic, I was reminded of a speech I heard long ago that might have offered the kid some comfort, had I thought of it in the moment, which of course I did not, but that’s how it always happens, right?

Several years ago, my family attended a charity golf tournament hosted by Bubba Watson. If you’re not a golf aficionado, you might not have heard of him, but if you are, you know that Bubba is a fantastically talented golfer who is known for his crazy shots and his crazy temper. He’s been working on the latter, though, and in this case, he was addressing a bunch of young people (it was a junior tournament), and he was nothing but sweet and funny and, to me, quite profound. The statement that really struck a chord was this (as best as my aging brain can recall): “It’s not about the great shots you hit—because there won’t be very many of those—but about what you do with the bad ones that matters.”

Of course, Bubba was talking about golf when he said that, but I was looking at the bigger picture. Couldn’t we say the same about life in general? We all make mistakes; we all dream of do-overs and take-backs for those moments we wish had never happened, but in real life, do-overs aren’t allowed. Make-ups are. We can carry on from where we went astray and try to fix the problem. We can view the mess we’re in as a challenge to be tackled. And we can use our knowledge of the past to avoid similar messes in the future. We can learn, and we can grow, and we can act as mentors to others who are digging their way out of the mire.

What the heck good would life be if every ball was lying dead-center in the middle of the fairway? Would anybody even bother to play? Would we even bother to get out of bed in the morning? Life is full of challenges, people. Every mistake is an opportunity to overcome. You say your ball is tucked fifty yards into the woods, around a blind curve, and covered with pine straw? Embrace it! Rise to the occasion. Do what Bubba did and hit it out with a crazy curve shot, straight onto the green, then make the putt to win the Masters.

Retirement? Hardly. Find Your “Icky Guy” and Do It Until You Die!

When should I retire? What will I do when I no longer have a job that requires me to get up, show up, and punch-in? This article from the Harvard Business Review questions whether we need or should want to retire at all. It goes on to present evidence that the happiest and longest-lived people are those who never really retire, and instead spend their later years pursuing their ikigai (pronounced “icky guy” and meaning, essentially, life dream or life purpose).

I’m not quite to retirement age yet, but I’m getting there faster than I care to admit. Fortunately, I have my retirement all planned out: quit the day job and spend all my time writing books, instead of just evenings and weekends. I started thinking this way a long time ago, because, as it happens, I have great role models for the second half of life in my mom and dad.

Upon retiring, Dad dove into his favorite pastime—wood-working. It’s something he’d done his whole life “on the side” of his engineering job. He didn’t do it for money; it was just a passion…and he’s good at it. He’s an incredibly talented craftsperson. He’s built custom-designed stage sets for my sister’s productions (she’s a drama queen and a drama teacher). He’s built several pieces of specialty furniture for my house and others, each with soft-close drawers and hidden storage and artful touches. And he even offered to build a fine outdoor home for my pampered pooch, but I declined this, as said pooch prefers the spot under my desk for her eighteen-hour days as personal foot-warmer.

My mother, on the other hand, has taken retirement to a whole new level. She learned two brand-new skills in her “dotage”: computer-aided embroidery and digital logo design, and combined them into a business she’s been successfully running for a couple decades now. Last Christmas, while we were trying to have a family holiday, she was constantly fielding phone calls from customers with last-minute embroidered gift requests. Thankfully, she told them all she was closed until New Year’s!

What can I tell you about my parents’ lives? Are they harried and hurried and worn out from their post-retirement-age activities? Heck no. Dad will be 83 this month, and Mom will kill me for telling you all that she’ll soon be 76. Both are happy, healthy, and energetic people, with all their wits about them. They travel, entertain, attend theater and concerts, and spend boatloads of time with the grandchildren. Rocking on the porch makes up a very small part of their daily routine. They are who I want to be when I grow up. Or grow old. Or whatever you want to call life past 65. But whatever you call it, don’t call it dull, boring, or RETIRED!

Straight Shot or On the Rocks

wedding proposalI spotted this little meme on the web, and it threw me back to my high school days. No, I was not a teenage alcoholic. I was a “smart girl”. A geek. A goober. One of those four-eyed nerds who actually liked math. As you can imagine, socially, that was the kiss of death. Boys weren’t exactly knocking each other out of the way to ask the straight-A chick out. Unless it was to get her help with the Calc homework.

Like most girls that age, I lacked the confidence and clarity to realize that that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and consequently, I habitually played down my brains. I would purposely act a little ditzy around the cute boys in order not to intimidate them. In other words, I watered myself down, because they couldn’t handle the 100 proof. Eventually, I realized that there are men out there who dig smart chicks, and more importantly, even if there weren’t, you can’t spend the rest of your life pretending to be something you’re not—especially something less than what you are.

The bottom line? Be yourself. You are amazing just the way you are. If the people around you don’t like you at 100 proof, find new people.

Something Borrowed and Something New

wedding proposalWell, apparently, I’m really old now, because some of my children’s friends are starting to get married. Okay, their much older friends anyway. The four of us (hubby, two kids, and I) attended one such friend’s wedding this past weekend. Man, weddings have changed a lot since the old days of hand-written directions to the church. Did you know it was a thing now for the bride and groom to entertain their guests with a professionally choreographed dance? I have to say, I was most impressed with the happy couple’s groovy moves. Back in our day, the hubs and I just held onto each other, swayed to the music, and tried not to step on each other’s toes.

We also didn’t have our own wedding page on “TheKnot”. Frankly, I’m a bit jealous. It is indeed a cool use of technology. I particularly enjoyed TheKnot’s article on unique proposal ideas. There are some really clever approaches out there, although I personally would stay away from any proposal that involves a crowd. No matter how sure you may be of the answer, it’s supposed to be a question, not an announcement. Spare yourself and your intended the embarrassment of a hemming and hawing response. That possibility aside, it’s a really fun list. Check it out for a quick dose of romance.

Newsflash: Homework Improves Grades!

One of my daughters recently related a story to me wherein one of her high school classmates asked her why, when she already has straight-As, was she working so hard to finish all her homework and study for her tests? Uh, yeah, great question, kid. Not like there’s any potential correlation between those two things, huh?

Seriously, when did we lose sight of the importance of actually working through material in order to gain a better understanding of it? As if this had ever been a question, a couple of professors at one of North Carolina’s lesser-known public universities, East Carolina University, decided to settle this issue scientifically, once and for all. The professors designed a clever study of introductory economics courses at the university level, comparing courses where students were required or not required to do assigned homework sets (same course, professor, material, and students did not know ahead of time whether homework would be required).

Shockingly, the results proved what your mom always told you—doing your homework dramatically improves your likelihood of success in a difficult course. Yes, you heard it here first: requiring students to do homework results in “higher retention rates, higher test scores (5 to 6 percent), more good grades (Bs), and lower failure rates.” Am I the only one here with the cocked brow waiting for the punchline? I hope not. Thank you, ECU, for clearing that one up.

If you’d like to read more about it, the actual study can be found here, and a layperson’s summary is here.

Scientific Research Goes Rogue

ThiefOne woman’s plan to free all of science. If you weren’t aware, I’m a digithead in my non-novel-writing life. I spent a decade cranking out statistics for the pharmaceutical industry and have since run numbers for a bunch of other companies. Whatever I’ve done, there was always an element of scientific research in it, and like everyone else who uses journal articles, I’ve always been appalled at the cost to read published research. Typically, access to scientific journals runs $30-$50 per single article viewed as a PDF (usually 5-20 pages). If you are doing serious research, you may need to read dozens or even hundreds of these articles to find what you’re looking for, so these $30 dings really add up. Enter Sci-Hub, the brainchild of Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan. Ms. Elbakyan was fed up with her inability to complete any reasonable scientific research due to these high prices, so she created a site where researchers could access virtually any published science for free. The site provides the articles by “borrowing” university credentials or otherwise illegally bypassing journal pay-walls, giving millions of users access to science they could never otherwise afford.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those “all information and creative products should be free” types. Clearly. I write books, and I sell them. For cash money. That’s how I get paid for my efforts. But I write fiction—pure entertainment—and provide it for a very reasonable price. A latte at Starbucks costs more. And I receive no other remuneration for what I do. Scientific researchers, on the other hand, are already paid. Most of them work either on salaries or grants from universities or corporations. And that’s the only way they’re paid for the work they produce—understand, they do not get paid when people read the articles they wrote in an online (or offline) journal. In fact, more and more, journals are charging researchers to edit and publish their articles, and then they charge you to read the finished product. And while we’re at it, let’s remember that some of that research is paid for by public funds. You paid for the research study with your tax dollars, and then you have to pay again to read how the study turned out. In other words, scientific journal publishing is like giving a private company exclusive rights to the Declaration of Independence and then charging people $35 to read it.

Ms. Elbakyan has been heralded as the Robin Hood of the digital scientific age. Is she? Is it ethical, as she claims, to essentially steal these articles and make them freely available to all? Probably not, but neither is it ethical for private corporations to control the flow of publicly-funded research. Yes, they do provide a valuable service: they read, edit, and evaluate scientific research, and lay it out in an easily accessible format online. That service is probably worth a few bucks per read, and, as those companies are now finding out, when you dramatically overcharge for a service, you can expect to be challenged—either by innovative competitors or by rampant theft. The music industry learned this lesson first, and the traditional book publishing industry is learning it now. Scientific journals have a choice: they can make content available at a reasonable price or expect to be out of business in five years.

Read more at: Big Think: Meet the Robin Hood of Science.

My First Book Trailer

So I’m finally being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of moving pictures. I’m not a huge fan of video myself; I tend to prefer reading articles to watching videos. Like many of you I’m sure, I can read (or at least skim) an article much faster than anyone can speak the information out loud to me, but more than that, I seldom want to hear every single word of text therein. If I’m in search of a single piece of information, I don’t want to patiently sit through three minutes of unneeded content to get to that one gem I’m after. And most importantly, once I’ve found the bit I seek, I want to be able to study it and think about it and get back to it quickly without having to fast-forward and rewind. All of that said, I’ll admit that, yes, sometimes, video is educational or entertaining in a way that words alone will never be, and to that end, I buckled down and created a video to present my two series and added a really cute, fun piece of background music to set the mood. Try it out and let me know what you think!

The Gifted Ones Book 3 Now Available!

I promised Book 3 of The Gifted Ones series for Halloween, and here it is. The Animator focuses on a Gifted One you’ve already met, and a certain lady he’s very taken with. This is the official blurb:

Ellie’s Aunt Grace has always had a love/hate relationship with The Gifted Ones. Deep down, she blames them for destroying her sister’s life, so when Doo Clovis, an especially kind-hearted Gifted One, shows her some attention, she isn’t quick to take the bait. When Grace finally lets her guard down and begins to warm to the handsome cowboy and his old-money Texas family, however, she is unprepared for the evil that lurks in the more distant branches of his family tree. The next thing she knows, Grace is found with blood on her hands, sucked into a web of lies and deceit, and must turn to The Gifted Ones to get herself out.

It’s showing on all the big vendors now. You can find the purchase links on the book’s page. So scoot on over there, and hunker down for a hunky read.