Monday, March 1, 2021

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale -- Or Four

Announcing the release of the Pimping Out My Sister-In-Law, Volume 1* audiobook available now on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.

Pimping Out My Sister-In-Law, Volume 1* is an anthology of short stories selected to provide you with a brief escape from where you find yourself right now. Each will allow you to leave this reality and take a quick trip into a different one. Have no fear. It’s a nice place. Even better, they know you there.

The unabridged version of the book runs just over two hours and was recorded by actress and voiceover artist Courtney Sanello. Courtney's versatile vocal talents bring each of the four stories to life allowing the listener to relax, become immersed, and escape into each short story.

Some recent reviews:

"The book is short and enjoyable. Charles can empathize with the characters while dealing with a story that is always close to finishing. I did not want the story to end but that is the beauty in short stories. Charles is a talented author and I look forward to reading the rest of the collection once it is published. ★★★★★” Rory

“Each story left me guessing as to what the outcome would be and sometimes creating my own continuation and what-ifs... Some erotic, steamy writing so definitely written for an adult crowd. Being an adult, that was perfectly fine with me. Lol! Wondering where I can pick up one of those candles! This really was an enjoyable book. I certainly don't always need 400+ pages to tell a good tale. Actually, I read this more thoroughly than any recent novels and think I got more out of it.” Todd Hanks

“Most of the stories are sultry and adults only- which is fun! On that note, the stories are modern and have a feeling of relatability (Looking at you Miss Rona!) The short story that stood out to me was Just Down from Rimpy's Bait Shop. The main characters remind me of my own grandfather and his stubbornness. These stories have a great mix of dialogue and action! ★★★★★” Alexis Carter

“I like that each story in this book is complete by itself - which to me is a plus for any story. I didn't feel anything was lacking, really, regardless of length. For example, the shortest story, It's a Surreal Thing, has enough intrigue to keep the audience interested without changing the setting or introducing new characters much at all, yet it is complete. I felt one of the longest stories, A Scents of the Virus, has mystery and a nice added hint of the paranormal to it, which is pretty interesting. I could see that one continuing with different characters centering around one main item. But the way it is presented doesn't feel there needs to be more, and I appreciated that. ★★★★★” Natasha Sims


Monday, February 22, 2021

Music That Slays - Killing Me Softly

Humans need to feel not only joy but also sadness. I've written before about the need for melancholy. After all, the only real way to appreciate happiness is to know his flipside. For me, emotions are often connected to music, including feeling blue, but the only song that will turn me introspective immediately and almost always brings a tear to my eye is Killing Me Softly With His Song.  

I'd heard the song on the radio many times, but when I heard Sherry sing it, the emotion it made me feel changed forever. She and I were in the same guitar class and almost immediately we found harmony. Not just metaphorically; our voices harmonized well. My voice was somewhere between bass and baritone but pretty unremarkable. She had the range of Olivia Newton-John but with the power of Linda Ronstadt behind it. Here's a sample from the spring concert of 1977 when she performed Sam; give a listen. Beautiful, right?

While rehearsing for a show, out of the blue, she played Killing Me Softly. I'd never paid attention to the lyrics, but at the same time, I was paying attention to her as she played. I felt the song for the first time.

I heard he sang a good song, 
I heard he had a style 
And so I came to see him, 
To listen for a while 
And there he was, this young boy,
A stranger to my eyes

Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song

She finger-picked the guitar, which added more emphasis to her voice and the words. Unaware she was doing it, Sherry was fleshing out the way deep and meaningful songs had affected me my entire life. Music told my story, the secret way I felt about life and love. She was laying out all of the profound darkness of my teenage angst. That is pretty deep exposure for sixteen.

The song is not difficult to play on the guitar. After a few run-throughs, we played it together, taking turns singing the verses and harmonizing on the chorus.

I felt all flushed with fever, 
Embarrassed by the crowd
I felt he found my letters,
And read each one out loud
I prayed that he would finish,
But he just kept right on

Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole life with his words
Killing me softly with his song

When I sang, I changed the lyrics a bit as needed, and by the end of the song, I was finding it hard to hold back the tears. It was an odd feeling. I've been affected emotionally by the music my entire life but never by a song that didn't have a specific event tied to it. This was a new and different feeling, and the song immediately had a heavy emotional weight for me. 

She sang as if he knew me,
In all my dark despair
And then she looked right through me As if I wasn't there
And she just kept on singing,
Singing clear and strong

The message I get from the lyrics is a simple one. A person is listening to a singer playing the guitar. Still, when she listens to the words, she is immediately slain by the fact that he knows her. Not just that he knows her, he knows her inside and out. He continues to expose even the darkest feelings as he sings and strums his guitar without concern for his effect on her. Her pain is the instrument he is playing, and her experiences have become his lyrics.

Strumming my pain with her fingers
Singing my life with her word
Killing me softly with her song
Killing me softly with her song
Telling my whole life with her words
Killing me softly with her song

I think we played the song two or three times during that session. I guess it is more significant that we never played the song together again, even though we dated off and on throughout high school and after. Not sure what Sherry is doing now, but I hope somewhere that voice still sings.

A bit of history... Lori Lieberman recorded and released the song in 1972 and it was included in an in-flight audio program that Roberta Flack heard and liked. Flack went to work on a cover arrangement injecting her own style. She first performed the cover publically at the Greek Theater in LA, where she was opening for Marvin Gaye. Gaye told her that she needed to go and record that thing right away. In 1973, Roberta Flack won the Grammy for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Killing Me Softly With His Song

Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel are listed as the composer and lyricist for the song, but both acknowledged the contributions of Lori Lieberman for many years. In 1997, that changed and they began to dismiss her part in its creation. Realistically, I'm not sure how they could call what she did a contribution when in actuality, she wrote the first draft lyrics.  Lori Lieberman's recollection of who the song is for and why:

"Don McLean," she said simply. "I saw him at the Troubadour in LA last year. ("And there he was this young boy / A stranger to my eyes") I had heard about him from some friends but up to then all I knew about him really was what others had told me. But I was moved by his performance, by the way, he developed his numbers, he got right through to me. ("Strumming my pain with his fingers / Killing me softly with his song/ Telling my whole life with his words."

She wrote the draft on a napkin while still at the concert. Here is a clip where she performs both Empty Chairs and Killing Me Softly.

She was strumming my pain 
Yeah, she was singing my life
Killing me softly with her song
Killing me softly with her song
Telling my whole life with her words
Killing me softly with her song


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Pluribus Locis Nostrum -- Brat On!

I am proud to be a military brat. If you're not familiar with the term, it means that one of my parents served in the military. As a result, I grew up relocating for new assignments every few years. This mobile lifestyle had its challenges and as we moved from base to base I was forced to make new friends, learn new places, and adapt to new schools every few years. Like most military brats, I credit that style of growing up as beneficial because I learned how to adjust and gained a global view of the world that most people do not have.

Like many military brats, my years as a brat ended when I entered military service myself. In my view, this is no more unusual than the kid who takes over the family business from his parents. It's just that our family business was defending the nation. Those of us in the service who were prior brats walked in familiar with life on a military base. For us, it was just going home.

Now I've reached that place in life where the one downside of being a military brat is found, where are all of those friends I made over the years? For the person who grew up and lived their entire life in a single place, finding a person you went to sixth grade with is easy.  Not so for those of us who did sixth grade in an overseas school on a base that no longer exists. The Internet has made it easier to find people, and I've been able to find and get in touch with a few people I knew growing up. Of course, that doesn't work well for people I knew younger in life whose last name was never part of what I knew about them. Also, getting in touch with the girls I grew up with is more difficult because many of their names have changed due to marriage. 

One incident occurred my senior year of High School that keeps me hopeful that I will eventually run into more of the folks I grew up with as time goes on. My father was stationed at Fort Eustis, the last base he was assigned to before he retired, and I was working as a busboy at the Officer's Club. After we would finish our shift, the busboys would gather together and have and enjoy a few illegal beers while shooting pool. One night we talked about things that happened in our past and bases where we lived over the years. When I mentioned Fort Ord, Tom, one of my fellow busboys, commented that his dad was assigned there during Vietnam like mine.

A few days later, Tom brought in a picture from his second grade class at Fort Ord. As he handed it to me, he told me that he was in the front row. For some reason, the kids and background looked familiar to me, and I started to scan the faces in the picture.  Lo and behold, in the second row, three kids from the right, was me. Tom and I had gone to the second grade together.  Ten years later, in another state at the opposite end of the country, we were together again getting ready to graduate. Only a military brat has that kind of experience. Of course, after graduation, Tom and I went our separate ways, and I've never been able to locate him since.

Now, some mornings I enjoy my coffee while spending a bit of time with ghosts from the past. I wonder what they are up to today, from Mary Ellen Anderson, the first girl I ever kissed, to Tom Arnold, who I attended second grade and graduated high school with.  They are all out there somewhere. I hope they're all happy and doing fine. I also ponder the truth that at least three of the dozen or so bases I grew up on don't exist anymore. Not many non-brats can claim that their hometown vanished because of a BRAC.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Brief Escape-- It's Okay, They Know You There

One of my favorite writers, Edgar Allen Poe, only produced two novels during his career and only one in his lifetime. He did produce hundreds of poems and short stories that he called tales. During his life, he was not well known as a writer but more so as a critic. Now, most people know him as a writer and don't realize he was a critic in less you take college-level American Literature. Another of my favorites, Mark Twain, wrote eight novels aside from Tom Sawyer in Huckleberry Finn. In addition, Twain wrote many short stories, essays, and produced several collections of his works as well as an autobiography. Several movies are based on short stories that were written by Stephen King. King is also a prolific producer of short stories. Why the history lesson? It is a good lead-in to this entry about short stories.

I was in the seventh or eighth grade when I was introduced to the short story genre by Ms. DeLong it was not a direct introduction, but occurred because of her reading aloud assignments during class. She would start at one end of the room and each person would take turns reading aloud a paragraph or two of the current selection.  Some people were better readers and others, I was lucky enough to be a good sight-reader. When the process was slow down by someone who is not good at reading, I would flip to other pages in the book and read other stories. The selections that were my choice were primarily short stories because I could read and finish one of them without getting caught and before it was my turn.

This led me to discover many authors who later became my favorites. It also led me to seek out collections of short stories in the library and in the Scholastic Books flyers we got every couple of weeks. I still like short stories, most are self-contained quick escape with literary gratification within a page or two.

Now, as a novelist, I find myself wanting to produce short stories myself. The short story is challenging for an author. A writer must very quickly lure the audience into empathizing with the story’s characters and, at the same time, push a plot forward that is always just a page or two from the ending. Simultaneously, it gives an author a lot of freedom to write a framework that allows the reader to fill in the blanks and expand a few words into thousands.

My first short story collection is titled Pimping Out My Sister-In-Law* Volume 1 (* A Collection of Short Stories That Has Absolutely Nothing to Do with the Title or Cover Art)  The volume contains four short stories.

This compendium's title comes from the answer I’d give people when asked what my next book title would be. It became a running gag over the past few years, and when I decided to put this collection together, I could think of no better title to use. I can guarantee you that none of these stories have anything to do with pimping anybody. The cover photos also have nothing to do with any of the stories and are not of any sister-in-law. You will find a collection of short stories from various genres to keep you entertained for a brief bit of time. Some are shorter, some are longer, but all fall within a short story's basic guidelines. Here is a brief description of each of the stories 

Words Ever Unspoken

Years have passed since Carson and Melissa broke up. Even though time has passed, both still dwell on the last time the two were together. Was that night a way of marking the end of their relationship, or was it a desperate attempt on both their parts to prevent their breakup from being permanent? Neither of them said a word during that last time together. Will either of them be able to find the words to express what is going on inside their minds and hearts today?

It's a Surreal Thing

He was deep into that summer between being a kid and being a teenager. She was the kind of woman that was the building block of a young man’s fantasies. As he sat there alone, she walked up behind him unnoticed and for a brief moment became the center of his universe when she made a simple request… a swig of his Coke.

Just Down from Rimpy’s Bait Shop 

Peter’s grandfather brought him to live on his farm during his most turbulent years. As the man he loves succumbs to the deterioration of age, Peter is increasingly frustrated as he is forced to deal with the aging man’s belligerent and sometimes dangerous behavior. Fertilizing a section of the lawn should be a simple chore, especially when there are explicit directions. But then again, maybe not.

A Scents of the Virus 

A sleepless night filled with the boredom of the COVID19 lockdown, a distracting ad on the Internet, and a credit card leads to the purchase of a Hollywood star’s latest vanity project: A candle with a unique scent. The first time Munro smells it, he begins to recover a memory.  It is a memory he suppressed for years of a woman and relationship his heart and body cherished. Now, whenever the aroma surrounds him, he is immersed in a world where she and the relationship still exist.

Unlike my novels, I chose to serialize the collection into three volumes, to be released over the next year. The volumes can be read in any order, just like the stories within each volume. After all the volumes are released, they will be combined into a single tome and released in paperback.

I hope the stories provide you with a brief escape from where you find yourself at this moment. Each will allow you to leave this reality and take a quick trip into a different one. Have no fear. It’s a nice place. Even better, they know you there.

eBook available now, Audiobook coming in January 2021...


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Where Ya Been, Where Ya Goin'?

I heard this song the first time when I was on the duty train going from Frankfurt to Berlin for an extended TDY. To say I'd been having a wild time on my tour of Europe would be an understatement.  But I discovered* the song when I was re-examining who I was and what I should be doing versus what I was doing.  At 23 or so, it was the right thing to be doing at the right time.  It took a few more months before I calmed down and took my self-discovery to an action level.  

This song always reminds me of that ride through the stark German night contemplating the person I needed to become.  Never regret your past; it makes you who you are now, only regret not taking time to consider the things that might need to change to let you discover yourself.

* The song truly was a discovery, it was part of a bootleg mixtape I bought off some guy for a couple of DMs on the platform in the Frankfurt Haupt Bahnhof just prior to getting on the train.


Monday, September 28, 2020

Worst Episode Ever, I Loved It!

I received my first review for a performance, in the first grade. I had just performed for the first time publicly as a toy soldier in the Christmas play. My Mom said I was outstanding. Maybe it was the review, or maybe my high school drama teacher, Katherine Goodwyn, that drove me onward to perform many times in community theater starting with my role has the Dead Body* in The Real Inspector Hound and ending with my role as King Arthur in Camelot. Almost all the roles I brought the stage would at some point be reviewed. Some were good, some were bad. I even won a few awards. 

My point is that I was used to having other people tell me what they thought of what I was doing. When I wrote my first book, I found there were many people willing to tell me what they thought of the words I put on paper. Just like my stage roles, some were good, some were bad, and I even won a few awards. I will admit that I take most reviews with a grain of salt. I recall getting a one-star review on Goodreads for From Within the Firebird's Nest, after reading it I discovered the reviewer did not like the fact I used italics. Suppressing the desire to lash out, I instead read some of the person's other reviews. What I noticed was a trend. The reviewer seemed to be a frustrated copywriter who also had issues with people who used ellipses too often, asterisks, and hated the Oxford comma. The one very big thing lacking in the reviews was anything about the book's content or storyline. Essentially, because of his obsession with punctuation and typeface, all the joy of reading had been sucked from him. Pity.

There is one basic truth: a review is just one person's opinion. When I first released Blood Upon the Sands, I was expecting my character Maksim Fillyp Bondreovich to be noticed. I was quite proud of him, even though he was an evil villain. I spent a lot of time and effort crafting ways to make him sadistic and easy to hate, to include lengthy internal monologues about how he was enjoying the evil he was doing. That attention did not go unnoticed, as I got two Amazon reviews back to back. One called him a great villain that was so memorable he might cause nightmares after reading the book - Yea!. The other said that Maksim was too mean, and too much time was spent inside his head providing his viewpoint as he shredded other characters - Uh Oh. Same book, same character but two different opinions. 

Now that my book Ferdinand's Gold has hit the streets and reviews are starting to come in, I have to say I'm pleased with most of what I've read so far, even the ones that didn't like this or that.

One reviewer stated that they loved all the detail of military procedure that was talked about in the front of the book as it helped them more fully understand what happened as things went on. The next day, a different reader felt I spent too much time on that sort of thing. Anyone who has read my books knows that I lay in a solid back story for each character at the beginning of the book as things start to happen. This allows the action to go on later in the book without interruption since you fully understand the character.

I'm happy to read in most of the reviews that the dialogue was appreciated as was the depth of each of the characters. I like a book with multiple characters where you can pick and choose which one to identify with but are still provided by the author with enough detail on the others to understand them. Therefore, it is the way I tell stories.

I will admit that the reviews I like best are those that notice things I try hard to achieve, like characters that are not caricatures. References to time and place so the reader is not confused within the setting, believable dialog that is unique to the character, and more.

This excerpt is from a review that is one of my favorites because of the reviewer seemed to find all the things I had put into the story: 

“I also appreciate (minor spoiler) that Angel was handled so wonderfully. I’m always apprehensive of queer and female characters in military stories because not a lot of people flesh them out more than stating their queerness, or womanhood. She was a great character; she went through some tough shit and came out on top and for that I’ve gotta give this writer props ★★★★★” Meranda, Amazon

I love getting props for good storytelling.

Aside from everyday reader’s, I have received a few from professionals:

"A riveting combination of fact and ingenious narrative ability that throws surprises at the reader on a regular basis Ferdinand's Gold proves a taut and exciting read with Charles leveraging his own experiences as a decorated Air Force veteran to good effect...Sure to be met with approval by fans of the War and Military Action genre, Ferdinand's Gold is a must-read and is recommended without reservation!"  BookViral Reviews

"This novel is fascinating in its historical detail, but also woven together with fictional elements that make the story leap off the page. Charles is able to bring a barracks to life, even for someone who has never stepped foot in one, just as easily as he depicts a flurry of action or violence - confident, specific, and memorable. With increasingly high stakes and a powerful narrative voice that makes it hard to put down, Ferdinand's Gold is a tumultuous ride that is a perfect afternoon escape for fans of military thrillers and adventure fiction." Self-Publishing Review

“At its climax, the story offers gripping ultra-violence, offset by a surprisingly satisfying denouement. Overall, readers will find a tasty mix of criminal conspiracy set in unfamiliar territory, all spiked with political intrigue.” BlueInk Reviews

“Air Force veteran Charles’ novel feels entirely authentic, and his extensive knowledge of military aircraft and procedure lends weight to Dex’s exploits… The author’s prose style is largely crisp and direct… every player proves memorable nonetheless—especially for such a relatively compact narrative. A fast-paced adventure with some emotional weight.” Kirkus

While the reviews are all fairly positive, each has a differing viewpoint – one person, one opinion. I have seen one bad review destroy somebody’s aspirations for the future. I guess because I’ve been hearing feedback on things I’ve done for so long, I take each review with a grain of salt and try to learn something from each of them. If you were to lay any of the Evan Davis tales next to Ferdinand’s Gold you would see that I use considerably fewer italics than previously. But you would also notice that I threw in a couple of ellipses that really were necessary as well. As an author, I always get the last word...

* Kevin Costner's first role in a major motion picture was portraying a dead body in The Big Chill. So, I was in good company.


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Sir Issac Newton Only Had the Plague to Worry About

Sir Isaac Newton and a great many others did their best work while quarantined – – let's just say it didn't do a thing for me. Writing is a solitary thing. You dream up a story and then set down to put it all on paper -- at least that's my process. You would think, given the way the quarantine is supposed to work COVID19 would be the perfect environment for a writer and it might be for some. COVID19 was a huge disrupter to life as we know it and it also disrupted and delayed the completion of my last book Ferdinand's Gold. The book was finally released at the beginning of this month, but not without a lot of stops and starts over the last six months. 

It is very satisfying to have this story completed. I was part of the events that occur in the book on Guam in 1986 and the story came to me shortly thereafter. I have no idea why this was not the first book I wrote, I guess I was waiting until I had something else written before I went back and grabbed what I knew was going to keep the audience in suspense. Of course, like any story from the past, the ending is mostly known upfront, but it is how you get there that matters. 

From the back cover:

As the son of a disgraced army deserter, Dex Kevan has struggled to escape the dark shadow of his father’s past and his own bad attitude. An air cargo specialist for the US Air Force he spends his days counting crates, filling out paperwork, and trying to hold onto his girlfriend as his career prospects crumble. It’s 1986, and the Philippines is undergoing the ouster of kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos. While Dex quietly continues his work at the Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, he’s oblivious of the maelstrom taking place across the sea. 

When an unexpected flight arrives carrying a weary flight crew and a colossal secret –a cache of stolen gold bars – a series of events finds Dex and his associates embroiled in a plot that puts a bullseye on their backs. Tempted by the wealth and a future full of riches blinding them, the four Airmen commit to sneaking a portion of the treasure off the plane.

Unknown to them, the plunder belongs to Col. Talan Madulás, the head of a secret death squad. But the conspirators fail to consider what kind of person would steal and then smuggle such a treasure, and what lengths might they go to, to get it back.  Madulás’ bloody reign is over, his president fleeing. When his gold nest egg is stolen, he doesn’t hesitate to step back into his dark skills to hunt down the thieves. 

Based on an incredible true story, Dex Kevan and his fellow thieves will learn that a man’s thirst for revenge can be just as dangerous as his greed and that no amount of wealth is worth an early grave.

Some early reviews of the book:

"... a fun weekend read. It's got adventure, mystery, and is quite thrilling. The author, Charles, is a rather skilled story teller with his ability to use his descriptions to make the words come to life off the page, I ended up reading this in 1 sitting. ★★★★★" Rory, Amazon

“★★★★★ A well-crafted espionage thriller with perfect pacing! Ferdinand's Gold had every element a good story should have. An intriguing plot, attention to detail, but best of all fleshed out, well-written and well-rounded character development. There’s an abundance of well-illustrated scenes that make you feel like you are right there in the story…It’s one of those stories that come along once in a while that makes you want to read it non-stop until you get to the end.” Piaras Cíonnaoíth, Emerald Isle Reviews

“Sheldon’s very brief synopsis offers the bait to seduce us into this terrific novel…once opened, the action and events and premises are so compelling that pausing the experience is not likely. Highly Recommended” Grady Harp, San Francisco Review of Books

"★★★★★ Each page keeps you gripped as you turn page after page, curious to know just what is going to happen next. The emotional grip of greed, mystery, and revenge all weave together wonderfully with the author's descriptive words"  Jason Mann, Amazon

As with any large effort, it is easy to label it the best you've ever done upon completion. I'll wait and see what a few more folks say before I give this book any such label, but I do think it is an excellent story with enough twists and turns to keep a demanding reader entertained.

I hope you will consider adding it to your late Summer/early Fall reading list. It is available in Paperback, EBook, and shortly Audiobook.