Thursday, January 29, 2009

Novels to Hollywood, take 2

I have too many postings in a row with no pictures, so here is a gratuitous photo of a balloon over Las Cruces, New Mexico. It really has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Here is a second meaty email I received on the subject of turning novels into movies. Nick O'Connor has kindly given his permission for me to post it here. Thanks, Nick!

Dear Bob,

I should probably shut up, because Kelli may already have told you all you
need to know by introducing you to her husband. But what writer can shut

Essentially, I agree with Kelli. I worked as a script reader and story
editor for a TV movie company in Hollywood for a year and all of what she
says is standard truth.

However, a couple of other thoughts for you: Projects, especially feature
films, get made in Hollywood because someone with influence is passionate
about it. I mean, much as you probably lived and breathed your novel for a
long time, someone has to be willing to give up a big chunk of his or her
life to make it happen. That means they have to fall in love with the
project. If you've got a "good story well-told," you're way ahead of the
game. Although every movie company is literally wading in scripts, about 95
percent of them, including those submitted by supposedly professional
writers through big agents, do not bear reading. It's amazing how much bad
stuff is cranked to script readers, and amazing how much of it is from those
who should know better.

Hollywood is run by accountants who are afraid to take chances, who would
much rather put $100 million into asure-fire sequel than an unknown
newcomer's crazy concept. But what really keeps Hollywood alive are the
surprises, the films made by outsiders (relatively speaking, perhaps) on a
shoestring that prove again and again that you can't formulate creativity.

So, think creatively. There's a famous story (I think maybe in William
Goldman's *Adventures in the Screen Trade*) about some screenwriters who
wanted to get a script to Frank Sinatra. Nobody could get to Sinatra. They
parked a moving truck on the street in front of his securely gated house,
with the big back door open. Inside the truck was a table, chair, and a
working reading lamp (and maybe a bottle and glass). On the table was the
script. A ramp lead up to the truck. There was some kind of sign making it
clear that this setup was for Mr. Sinatra's reading pleasure. Sinatra read
the script. I forget what script, or what else happened. The point is
that Sinatra read the script.

Do some research. If a working director (like Kelli's husband) likes a
project, he's one of the best people to take your novel the distance. There
are lots of directors out there -- most of them, even some good ones,
needing work and therefore looking for projects. It's not hard to find out
what kind of movies they've already directed and even what they're looking
for. The Director's Guild lists members and their contact info. IMDB gives
credits information. Netflix has the movies. Get your hands on *The
Hollywood Creative Directory.* **You can work up a list of directors to
submit to.

If there's a star who would be perfect for the main character, you can try
submitting to the star through her agent. Visit the Screen Actors Guild

Or find a screenwriter. The *Writer's Guild* has members' contact
information. Or check out the *Scriptwriter's Network*, which is where a
lot of new screenwriters are getting their feet wet.

I must dispute the assertion that producers don't read books with the idea
of making movies from them. Some do. And some specialize in finding books
as a producing niche. You can figure out who some of these people are by
starting with a movie made from a book and tracking its evolution.

Enough! I have work to do!

Nick O'Connor

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A milestone

iUniverse just notified me that my novel When Pigs Fly has sold 500 copies, which I understand to be five times the industry average for self-published books. This qualifies me to apply for their Star program, which means they would actually try to sell the book to chains like B&N with return privileges, help me re-launch the book, etc.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Novels to Hollywood?

Kelli Mix sent me an email on the subject of trying to turn my novel into a movie, and she graciously consented to my publishing it. Thank you, Kelli! 

Here it is:

My husband owns an independent film company.  Check out  They are always searching for scripts.
Most production companies will not consider a book manuscript.  It
must be in script format.  So if you are serious about your manuscript
being transformed, you should contact a scriptwriter.  As a slush pile
script reader, I will give you the following pointers to consider
before attempting this monumental task:

1.  A large production company such as Universal will not typically
touch such a project.  They have an arsenal of multi-million dollar
scripts and writers constantly cranking out scripts.  So, unless you
are a cousin to Julia Roberts, stick to small independent film
companies.  It's not impossible, but similar to getting a Random House
2.  Period pieces are very expensive so most independent film
companies will not touch them.  It is preferable to have a film set in
current times (1980 - 2009).
3.  It is best if your setting is nowhereville.  Can it be produced in
any city or is it set in Rome or NYC - also costly & nearly impossible
to recreate.
4.  Consider your genre when soliciting.  Just like the book industry,
independent film companies have targeted genres where they make the
most money.  If a company has produced four horror movies, they will
likely not take on a romance.
5.  Does your book have any high action scenes such as cars blowing up
or bombs exploding - if so the cost of your production will be very
6.  You can sell the rights to your book and have the film company
hire scriptwriters, but you will lose all say in how the script is
7.  The "funny" market is good right now, but do consider that humor
scripts are one of the hardest sells because they do not typically
sell well to the international market, who makes up a good portion of
profit for film companies.  Humor does not translate well across
cultures.  On the flip side horror markets are huge overseas because
action & blood is internationally understood:).

Those are a few that come off the top of my head and have been drilled
into me when forwarding a script up the line of readers.  Let me know
if I can answer any other questions.  Again, check out my husband's
website because he just finished a television project (The Dukes of
Hazzard 30th Anniversary) after doing a movie set here in Georgia and
he just commented to me that he was ready to take on another film
project if he could find a good script.

Kelli Mix
Author of the Game Day Alamanac Official Rules of Poker

Books into movies

Just wondering...a number of readers of When Pigs Fly have commented that my novel would make a funny movie. Does anyone out there have any thoughts about how to get my book into the hands of the right people in the movie biz?

The book has sold over 400 copies, which isn't too bad for a self-published book.

All thoughts welcome, whether wacky or wise.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A good toy for grownups

A few people have asked about my Kindle. I am certainly glad to have it, although it's hardly a necessity like bread or wine. My wife encouraged me to buy one, and since of course I am a sucker for self-gratification, I spent the 350 or so bucks. It means buying fewer books, but that will never stop completely. Kindle is a great device with a non-glare screen and reasonably easy navigation; open a file, and you go right to the place you left off. Downloads from Gutenberg are free, and current books cost no more than $10 (that I know of) from Kindle. The complete works of Mark Twain set me back about $2 from Amazon.

Is it economical to buy a Kindle? It depends on how many books you normally buy. It's going to be a long time before my gizmo "pays for itself," if it ever does. But as grownups' toys go, it's a good one.

Friday, January 23, 2009

In the tar pit

For the last couple of days I've been stuck in the tar pit of email, making numerous minor updates to the archives for The Internet Review of Books, commenting on some of my friends' blog posts, and beginning to organize two projects for the El Paso Writer's League. It's all fine and fun writing-related stuff, but it might be nice to do some new writing of my own instead of just writing about writing.

My next book review will be on American Lion, by Jon Meacham, for the February IRB issue. I'm little over halfway through the book, so I'd better get to it. I am reading it on Kindle, which works out well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thoughts about America

Lately I've reflected on how proud I am to be an American. The pride is nothing new, of course; there has never been a country where I would rather live. But we have often lurched along. Memory doesn't reflect the past perfectly, but a number of impressions linger from my childhood and early adulthood. No black faces in my Beverly, Massachusetts neighborhood or in any neighborhood I knew of; "nigger-lovers" as a term for anyone who thought blacks had rights; my dad saying he liked Negroes in general, but specific Negroes he disliked were "niggers"; segregated rest rooms and water fountains on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and points south; my dad refusing to let us eat in a Georgia restaurant that had a "no Negroes" sign in the front window; my older brother turning off the television specifically to prevent me from watching Martin Luther King's great speech in Washington; that same brother years later working for a black supervisor and not complaining; a Ku Kux Klan storefront in Montgomery, Alabama; cousins in Mobile joking about "darkies"; hearing comments about interracial marriage and how thoughtless and cruel those couples were to produce children who would be rejected by both races. (Give it up, Barack. There's no hope for you, man.)

My son turns 35 in a few weeks. He has never seen any of this. We are a different society now, and we are the same. We are still sinful, virtuous, vibrant, outrageous, arrogant, powerful, prejudiced, accepting, and free. We are the country so many foreigners love to hate, and the country so many yearn to live in. Some day, my white son will no longer be in the majority in America, and it won't matter. We are a country that can and does remake itself.

Many of my friends supported John McCain, a good man, for President. Had he won, of course I would still be proud. But to see Barack Obama enter the White House is a remarkable statement about how much this country has grown.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

RV trip day 14—free money and finis

Long johns in Old Town, San Diego

We had planned on two short driving days to get home, but once on the road we decided to keep going til we reached Las Cruces. The drive was more tiring than I expected, partly because the RV is a bit harder to drive than a car. But we're home and happy, and the cats seem pleased to have room to zoom around and finally burn off pent-up energy.

Around lunchtime, we pulled into a rest stop in Arizona and parked in the section reserved for trucks. As I was drinking coffee, someone started banging on my front door. It was a young fellow who was smiling and gesturing at me to get out of the cab. Though a little reluctant to get out, I did. He started jabbering about somebody giving away gas money, and introduced himself and stuck out his hand for me to shake it, which I did—that much seemed harmless.

"A guy's giving away gas money," he said. "Didn't you hear it on your CB?"

"No, I don't have a CB."

"Well, come on anyway! He's giving away money!"

"Um, no, that's okay."

"Come ON!" He pointed to a cluster of men standing in the parking lot next to the trucks, and the men were all shaking hands and acting cheerful, so I went.

"Here," he said, pointing to the man at the center of it all. "Shake hands with a winner!"

I shook hands with the winner, who held a fistful of bills in his left hand. At the previous truck stop he had bought a scratch ticket that won him $189,000, and on the CB he told fellow truckers to meet him because he was going to give everyone gas money—hundred-dollar bills. As I was standing there, a few of them were playing three-card monte on the blacktop, which immediately made me suspicious that one of them was running a con. A fellow in the group handed me my hundred-dollar bill, and I handed it back and returned to my RV.

There was apparently no con involved; the man was just so happy, he wanted to share with his fellow truckers, and I just happened to be there. Someone said a local TV news crew was supposed to be on its way to meet him. I don't know how much money he received on the spot, but it didn't feel right to accept his generosity. I don't know why. If I had won that money, I sure wouldn't tell a bunch of strangers.

Later in the day, we stopped at a diner for slices of pizza that probably would have been good if we'd eaten them the day they were made. The place was almost deserted except for us and an old gentleman sitting by himself, wearing old clothes and a broad-brimmed hat. He looked at me and said, "Well, the commies are taking over next week."

"Pardon me?" I said.

"The commies are taking over in Washington. They're gonna take our guns away."

As one might imagine, a deep intellectual conversation ensued. The problem, he said, was nobody understands we have a Second Amendment. He said he is a proud lifetime member of the NRA, and while he is worried about Obama, "at least that woman didn't get in."

This got Nancy's attention. "I'm a woman," she said. "Is there a problem with women holding office?"

"Not if they're qualified, I suppose. I happen to really like that woman from Alaska."

I smiled at him. "Oh," I said, "the one who shoots wolves from a helicopter?"

He smiled back. "Yeahhh," he said.

I neglected to tell him I campaigned for Obama and eagerly anticipate his inauguration. The damn guy might have shown me his .44.

Friday, January 16, 2009

RV trip day 13—down the home stretch

Gracie, one of our two faithful friends and traveling companions

Today we started home and have driven as far as Tonopah, Arizona on I-10. The saguaro cacti started appearing just after we crossed the Colorado River and the state line from California. There are a great many mountains along the way, none very high, and most are bare and beige. I don’t plan to take any more photos on this trip, as our sightseeing is pretty much done. However, we do have one more stop, in Benson, where there is supposed to be a small astronomical observatory right on the RV site. Now that sounds different.

Here is our other traveling friend, Gracie’s brother George:

RV trip day 12—Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua trees

We took fewer photos today as we drove through Joshua Tree National Park. It's both scenic and bleak, encompassing parts of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts (the Mojave is at a higher elevation and contains the joshua trees).

I heard from iUniverse today. They said that yes, they do still have the unit information I requested, and that a program triggers a notice to them when an author's sales approach the 500 mark. This is all part of their recognition program leading up to a "Star" designation for a book. However, the program only notifies them if the book has already earned their Editor's Choice designation, and they told me that my book hasn't qualified. Balderdash, I say. When Pigs Fly has not only received Editor's Choice but Reader's Choice, and I have both from iUniverse in writing.

I haven't made the rounds on other peoples' blogs today, because I have been up to my knuckles (after the national park drive) in edits for the January issue of The Internet Review of Books. If you aren't familiar with it, check it out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

RV trip day 11—a travel day

We left San Diego with a promise to ourselves to return. The weather has been delightful (the TV weather person described San Diego’s four seasons as “nice, nice, nice, and a little cool”).

The drive to Desert Hot Springs took only a couple of hours of easy freeway driving through a region filled with low mountains. A few of the taller mountains have dustings of snow. I didn’t take any photos today, but expect to make up for that tomorrow (Thursday). Above is a hippo from our visit to the zoo, where the animals appear to get excellent care. This critter is in a 150,000-gallon tank.

This morning I called iUniverse to inquire about my sales of When Pigs Fly. Until now, their standard excuse for lack of sales stats was a “database upgrade.” Today, a fellow told me that they permanently lost pre-2008 sales data because “a truck hit a light pole.”  Don’t you back up your data, fools? Every business I ever worked for has created backups in case of emergencies. He did say the loss was only of dollar sales and royalties, and that someone in the company has the unit sales information I am looking for. I can reconstruct a good deal of it myself, but it’s a sorry situation when iU can’t do the same.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

RV trip day 10—San Diego Zoo

We made it to the zoo but ran out of time to visit the animal park, and we were tired out besides. Once back at the RV, I spent several hours working on The Internet Review of Books, where I have webmaster duties. Being on the road makes everything a little more awkward. Anyway, I haven't finished going through the zoo photos yet, but here are some I like. All those good people who encouraged us to visit the zoo were absolutely right. Thank you. We will certainly come back to San Diego. Tomorrow, though, we are off to Palm Springs and then will start working our way back to Las Cruces.

We saw this giant panda in the middle of the day and waited for her to move. Once in perhaps a half hour, it twitched. We left the panda area for awhile, and when we came back she looked as though she had never budged.

This koala was no bundle of energy either.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Losing track of the days—Day 9?

Yes, my wife assures me it’s day 9 of our RV adventure. We purchased $5 city transit passes today and rode the bus and trolley into San Diego’s Old Town, passing by the naval base and the General Dynamics shipyard. The ocean never came into view, but a couple of ships looked imposing; I couldn't tell if they were in drydock, under construction, or on the water.

Old Town is a state historical park showing San Diego as it was in earlier days. We had planned to check out the Embarcadero and other delights, but ran out of energy and ambition. 

So tomorrow we will rent a car and see the zoo and the animal park. Other sights may have to wait for another visit.

First trip in a new RV, day 8

The wind calmed considerably, and we headed west on U.S. 8 through the Imperial Valley and its rich farmland. Eventually we came to the mountains (whose name I haven't figured out yet), climbing from sea level to over 4,000 feet and driving across them for miles before finally descending on the west side.

We arrived at a KOA campground in San Diego in the afternoon, just stone's throw from the busy freeway. No doubt the steady hum of traffic will lull us to sleep.

Our Bengal cats George and Gracie deserve a lot of credit for being such troupers. They never wanted to come along on this trip, but they have settled in and behaved beautifully. George, though a sweetheart, does have a slight discipline problem when he's  at home; he often bites me when he is worked up. I never sense that he is being malicious at all, but sometimes he just can't seem to resist my bare elbow. I mention this now only because he has stopped that behavior completely since we've been on the road.
We haven't seen much of San Diego yet, but will be here for two full days. On Wednesday we'll move on, heading back in the general direction of home.

No new photos today. The building above is the Heritage Library in Yuma, Arizona, one of the nicer looking library buildings I've seen in a while. The cat at the left is George, in a photo taken a few months ago. He's a good boy, mostly.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

First trip in a new RV, day 7

Instead of heading west, we explored a bit of Yuma. Here is a colorful bench in front of the Heritage Library in the city's historic district.

Our RV park is full of snowbirds, a great many from Canada, especially British Columbia and Alberta and from as far away as Ontario. On the other side of the city is the Colorado River.

It's a quiet day. Nancy is playing chess on her laptop, and every few seconds a trumpet sounds as she checks the enemy king. She is improving her game quickly; the chess program isn't.

Wind conditions permitting, we'll head to San Diego tomorrow.

Friday, January 09, 2009

First trip in a new RV, day 6

I am behind in commenting on other people's blogs and hope to do better as the week goes on.

Today we are in Yuma, Arizona, and the wind may be too strong for us to drive up U.S. 8 through the mountain pass tomorrow. We hadn't known it, but apparently the mountain crossing is a common wind hazard. So we changed our plans and will take an alternate route north to U.S. 10, which looks more promising. That will take us an extra day to get to San Diego, but we are in no hurry.

Yuma may well be a lovely city, though all we've seen of it is a Walmart Supercenter and a large number of RV parks. Kind of a comedown after seeing all those Western movies with gunslingers in Yuma. Maybe the gunfights are on the other side of town. All in all, the area doesn't seem especially photogenic. We're in a decent RV park, though; the black swan is one of several that share a small pond on the property.

I'm having trouble uploading more photos, so let's see if I can at least post this blog entry.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

First trip in a new RV, day 5

We drove Route 85 south from Ajo into Organpipe National Monument and Lukeville, on the border. We walked across the border into Sonoyita but didn't see much, as most of the town is a couple of miles down the road. A U.S. customs officer told us that Lukeville is tiny enough that one person owns almost the whole town and likes to call it Gringo Pass.

We've never seen so many cactuses (cacti) as on this trip.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

First trip in a new RV, day 4

We headed south today to Ajo, a bigger town than I expected and a rather pretty place. I will have photos of it tomorrow, as we will spend a full day in the area. Our RV is at the left.

On the way, we drove through Saguaro National Park, home of millions of saguaro cacti. I read speculation once that all the saguaro may be dying, but because they both grow and die so slowly, it’s difficult to tell for a long time. I don’t know whether it’s true. The great majority I have seen, though, are badly damaged at the base, due I suppose to animals. Cactus wrens nest inside the trunks as well.

At this stop I met an older gentleman who introduced himself as Willie and told me he was bicycling across the United States for the fourth time. Nancy thinks he is homeless; she and he may both be right.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

First trip in a new RV, day 3
—Confessions of an art thief

We drove to Tubac today, south of Tucson. It’s an artsy little village with a few shops, not much there. But I took some photos of someone's artwork on display in the patio of a shop—from outside the property—and the owner-witch came out pointed to the “no photos” sign. Okay, fair enough. I stopped. But then she called me a thief for photographing her copyrighted artwork. I told her I would delete the photos from my camera, for which she thanked me; but she said she didn't spend a hundred thousand dollars on her education just to have people steal her artwork—and yes, I was still a thief. I did not argue with her. There were four photos, and I did delete them, and that was no loss. My wife told me later I shouldn’t get steamed about it, but I did. The photo at the right is from down the street.

We drove from there to Nogales, but didn’t cross the border or even get out of the car. It looks like a down-on-the-heels, plug-ugly little burg. Two images of our few minutes in Nogales stand out in my mind, both from billboards: the first a photo of a young murdered  woman with a reward offer for information leading to the arrest of her killer, the second a photo of a suspect wanted for some other murder, with a reward offer, etc. The only thing I did downtown was to look for highway I-19 North to get back out again.

The Internet connection has been awful here at the Beaudry RV park; they had advertised it as being included in the price, but apparently started charging in the middle of our stay. So I’ve paid, but lately haven't had the connection anyway. The heck with it. I’ve spent too much time getting peeved about it to bother anymore tonight, and tomorrow we are moving on to Ajo anyway.

This is an interesting place as RV parks go. We thought our 31-foot class B was big, but most others here are class A’s and dwarf ours. Nancy insists she doesn't have RV envy—what we have is just right, we both agree. In between parking spaces are lemon, grapefruit, and orange trees, all with ripe fruit hanging down. The last two mornings we have picked fallen grapefruit off the ground and eaten them for breakfast. Tonight we expect a frost, and that may kill off the remaining fruit. Too bad if it does, because a lot is still hanging on the trees.

Here are images from yesterday’s trip to the ghost town of Harshaw: An abandoned building and a grave in the cemetery across the street. You won’t find much else.

First trip in a new RV, day 2

Argh! I promised myself there would be photos in this blog, and I did take some, but ran out of time even to look at them. My friend Kate recommended a drive to Harshaw, Arizona, a tiny ghost town south of nowhere. That was an excellent ride in our rented car; pix will follow tomorrow barring any hassle about the RV park's Internet connection.

Tuesday is our last day in Tucson; on Wednesday we move on to Ajo.

Now before turning in, I will check out today’s crop of pix.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

First trip in a new RV, day 1

Today we started our two-week RV round trip from home in Las Cruces to San Diego. Tonight the rain is pouring down on us in Tucson, Arizona, probably the first rain they’ve had in a good long time. We certainly have had nothing like this in L.C. since the rainy season last July. It’s a soothing sound that I hope lasts all night. I had planned to take photos but didn’t have time today.

Tomorrow we will drive to Patagonia and a ghost town named Harshaw and will certainly have pix to post.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

iUniverse lost my sales data!

It didn’t take me long to figure out what to do on the Getting Lucky edits. iUniverse would charge me about as much as the original cost of publication, and I don’t see myself ever recovering the expense. So I will do them myself.

My first novel, When Pigs Fly, came out with iUniverse in November 2006 and has sold over 400 copies, including my purchases. To learn the exact number, I went to their website, which could identify only 123 of them. They show sales records beginning in January 2008 and ending in July 2008. When I told them their records were incomplete, they wanted me to give dates and quantities. No, that is their job. They’ve had problems with accurate numbers before, but I had naively thought they might have rectified the problem by now. They blame a change in databases, and most recently a change in “operating system.” 

Baloney. A database upgrade is supposed to fix problems, not cause them. Their old system maintained reasonably accurate records, but no longer. I guess I am partly to blame for not keeping my own separate records and for relying too heavily on iUniverse. With my new novel, I will keep my own records and keep after iUniverse to not screw theirs up any further.

I have always thought highly of iUniverse, but I’m unhappy with them now.

Friday, January 02, 2009

I blog, therefore I am

Blog every day? Last year I'd go months without blogging. Would a 21st-century René Descartes, examining the purpose of life and the universe, write Blogito, ergo sum? Oh, probably not.

This morning I had a phone conversation with iUniverse about my novel Getting Lucky. We discussed an editorial evaluation they had done, which had useful but minor suggestions. I said I am perfectly able to make the changes myself, but at this point they require that I have them do a line edit at a not insignificant price as a condition for them awarding the book Editor's Choice. My first reaction is to say no, because I would probably never make the investment back, but I will have to crunch the numbers.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

When Pigs Fly, chapter 1

Lowell, Massachusetts

The Big Belly Deli buzzed with the chatter of happy losers.

"Who won the hundred million bucks last night?"

"Not me!"

"I wish!"

"If only!"

"I'll win when pigs fly!"

A dozen customers talked about striking it rich next time. Diet Cola looked over their heads as the TV news reporter interviewed the owner of the deli where the winning ticket had been sold. The skinny man looked into the camera and said he came from New Delhi.

No, the owner said, the winner hadn't come forward yet.

The winning numbers were posted on a white board for everyone to see: 1-2-3-4-5-6. Diet Cola crumpled a fistful of losing tickets. What kind of lame numbers were those? He picked up a family-sized bag of Doritos, a package of Little Debbie snack cakes and a quart of half and half, which would have to get him through until lunchtime. He got in line.

The bell over the front door jingled, and a white-haired couple walked in. The guy had a red bow tie and the broad had a straw hat with a flowing blue ribbon, straight out of a freak show if you asked Diet Cola. They stopped, looked at the board, and then traded puzzled expressions. The lady put on the glasses that dangled around her neck. The man, a tall dude, nodded as though analyzing each number in turn. Then he went back and did it again. Their faces brightened as though they'd gotten fixed up with new batteries.

"My God, Carrick," the woman said, "we w-"

The guy put his fingers on her lips, old Carrick's way of saying shut the hell up. The woman clutched her purse like it was a baby in a crowd of perverts. Without another word, they left the store.

Diet Cola had to think faster than usual. In the afternoon he had to see his lawyer and arrange to turn himself in for some two-bit rap or other-dealing dope, shoplifting, punching a hole in a wall in the downtown Burger King-no, just possession, and Attorney Bernie promised six months max.

He dropped his food on the floor and walked into the bright sunlight, spotting the couple arm in arm, half dancing across the parking lot. They had his ticket!

They jabbered on as he walked a few yards behind them. "We can't tell anyone yet, Brodie. Let's go home and take a deep breath."

"Can we set up a scholarship fund, Carrick? There are so many deserving children in the city."

"Anything you want. Of course we'll share with our boys and their families. And we'll go to Hawaii-I think I see a lei in my future."

She whacked his ass with her hat. "That would make three times this week. And it's only Wednesday."

Diet Cola scowled. Bopping at their age, who were they kidding? It was a crime against nature, like pizza without cheese. They didn't deserve the ticket, because they'd just waste the money on other people.

His eyes followed their Lexus-hell, they were already rich-as he got in his car and started the engine. As he trailed behind them down the main drag, he cursed the cosmic luck of some people who won all the marbles while all he'd ever won was a kick in the nuts and a stretch in the can.

While they led him down one side street after another, thoughts swirled and gelled into a plan. So far, only three people in the world knew they had won: them and him. He would have to take a chance, a big one. Would a neighbor see him pull in behind the couple? Would they have already called their kids on the cell phone? No, they didn't look like cell phone types. They would probably dance in the kitchen and then wait a couple of days to call their lawyer.

They finally pulled into a driveway next to a sixties-style ranch house with curling shingles that cupped little pockets of pine needles. Diet Cola stopped his car maybe thirty yards down the street. He peered through the stand of pine trees as the couple laughed and walked hand in hand to the side door of their house. The only time Diet ever saw his dad hold his mom's hand was to swing her against a wall. That night Diet took a baseball bat to the old bastard's head and caved it in like an eggshell.

The old couple walked up the steps of the side porch. The old dude opened the door and made a sweeping bow to the old biddy, who returned a radiant smile. Thirty years ago, she must have been hot. Forty years ago, she must have been irresistible. Today she was a used-up old bag with one hand on her purse and one foot in her grave. Her purse dangled on her shoulder as she went inside. Her husband Carrick followed and closed the door.

Now Diet Cola weighed the pros and cons of just going inside and killing them. On the pro side, the couple was old and weak and would snap like twigs. On the con side, he didn't much care to risk a fall for a needless double homicide. On the pro side, the meals and the shower sex weren't all that bad in prison. On the con side-

He ran, not wanting to think about any more cons-or to become one again, not for this. That cash could fill up a swimming pool, and it was going to be his. No, no, it was already his. He'd meant to bet those numbers, he was positive now. At the bottom porch step, he moved quietly, then tried the doorknob. The plan was so clear-lightning speed followed by patience. There would be two gut-ripped corpses with no evidence of any motive. Sigh. Just one of those sad, unsolved crimes.

The door was ajar, and he pushed it far enough to hear voices. "And we'll visit Mack in Arizona," Carrick said. "You've always wanted to go there."

Diet Cola caught his breath as he stepped inside and into the kitchen, but the couple seemed to have gone to the other end of the house already. "Oh, I love you, Carrick," Brodie said in her geriatric voice, and they made a sound like lots of loud kissing. Two people smoothing out each other's wrinkles-he didn't even want to picture it. The kitchen smelled like a roast cooking in the oven, and damned if that didn't distract him for a few seconds. His mouth watered, and he fought off a fantasy of the old couple setting a place for him at the table and piling slabs of beef on a plate and drowning them in gravy. What was in the fridge? He opened it and saw a birthday cake with white frosting and blue writing that said "Happy Birthday." There was a drawing of a rocket ship, too. A pang shot through his chest, because nobody ever gave him a cake when he was a little kid. His grandmother had burned her guts out with margaritas, and his father had called him a wad waste. Diet began to feel sad about all the birthday parties he never had, was never invited to. Well, screw that. One day he'd be the one having parties and not inviting people.

He wrenched his gaze away from the food and quietly closed the fridge door. To his left was the living room with its brick fireplace. The woman's coat lay on an upholstered chair, and a leather purse strap poked out from underneath it. The couple giggled and became quiet, and he stopped and listened. Eventually, the man grunted.

"Brodie, darling," the old man said. "Where there's a will, there's a way."

"Where there's a willy, there's a way," she said, and they giggled some more.

If the ticket was still in the purse this could turn out easy, with the old farts busy with their slow-motion perversions. They had what, almost two centuries between them? He opened the purse, which had a red leather wallet inside. When he snapped it open with a soft click, there it was, like the world's biggest piece of platinum: the lottery ticket with exactly the numbers posted on the white board at the convenience store. It took his breath away, made his heart pound, his hands sweat.

He put everything else back in place. Then he pulled a long, serrated knife out of its holder on the counter and wrapped the handle with a paper towel. A knife this long, he would pin them both to the mattress with one fierce stab. Killing them was pointless since he could escape with the ticket, but he felt like being pointless today. With his fist around the handle, he tiptoed down the hallway toward the bedroom. He put his hand on the doorknob and raised his knife.

No turning back now.

The telephone rang in the bedroom. Once. "Oh Lord," Brodie said. "Why now?"

Twice. "Let it ring."

Three times. "Hello? Oh, hello, Mack. No, that's all right, dear, we weren't in the middle of anything." The old lady started chattering.

Diet Cola turned away from the door. The phone call was a complication he didn't need. The ticket was everything-well, almost everything. He tiptoed back into the kitchen, where he opened the fridge and cut a large slice of chocolate cake that he washed down with a gulp of skim milk from the bottle. He thought about eating the other half, but he had things to do. Meet his lawyer that afternoon about that lame possession rap, for one thing. Diet Cola had a size 50 orange jumpsuit in his future, and that was a sure thing.

So he figured okay, hide the lottery ticket and take the hit for six months in the joint. Naturally, he couldn't hide it in his own apartment, the way cops went through there with search warrants. Hell, his own mother might even come in and clean. There was a first time for everything, and if she found the ticket he'd never see the hag again except on television. Of course the sensible thing to do was sell it for ten, maybe twenty percent and then skip the country. Sure, he could forget jail altogether and live on the twenty mill. But why give up so much so easy when he did all this work? Just be patient, pay the blindfolded lady with the scales, then cash in on the full value of the ticket.

The old folks seemed well occupied for the rest of the morning at the rate they were going. Diet Cola looked around the living room. The mantel over the fireplace had family pictures and a small white container that had painted flowers on it. He lifted the cover and saw a mishmash of jewelry sitting on top of a bed of ashes. He shook the contents and saw small bits of bone. Hmph. An urn, a cheap resting place for a dead guy, and the lady must be treating it like a jewelry box. Underneath the ashes could be the perfect hiding place for the ticket, which naturally meant he'd have to kill these folks another day. He trembled as he folded the gorgeous slip of paper, slid it under the ashes and arranged everything neatly. It wasn't like the deceased had any big travel plans, right?

An hour later, he sat in his apartment and guzzled a pint of half and half-not that skim milk shit the old people had. He felt excited yet at peace. He could just relax in the slammer for half a year. Behave the whole time, don't bang anyone's head on a wall, don't tell a soul, don't talk in your sleep. Then walk out one day and start a whole new life.

That afternoon he got a whole year and a lecture from the judge, who said enrolling in an anger management class might gain him early release. He wet his pants and told the black-robed witch that yes, he would take the class; then he went off in handcuffs to serve his time. For most of a year, the little square of paper was all he could think about. That and all the whores he could keep on sun-drenched beaches in the Caribbean. Sometimes in his cell bunk in the middle of the night, he imagined hot babes licking the sand between his toes. Six little numbers. A hundred million dollars. He could wait, as long as he got out before the one-year limit for claiming the prize.

Promises to keep in 2009

A New Year's resolution can be hard to keep. It's best not to make too many of them and to resolve to do only what's realistically in your power.

My own resolution is to follow through on commitments already made to myself and to others. My wife and I have bought an RV, and we will travel around much of the West in 2009, beginning with a trip to San Diego. So more travel isn't a resolution; it's a given. That means working more on my laptop as we stop at Internet-friendly RV parks. On my plate for the coming year are: helping moderate the Internet Writing Workshop Practice List; writing reviews for and maintaining the Internet Review of Books website; organizing and moderating meetings of Mesilla Valley Writers; and organizing the 2009 writing contest and literary publication for the El Paso Writer's League.

But wait (as the commercials say). There's more. Sometime later this winter, my second novel should be out. There are a few more edits to do to satisfy iUniverse's editor, and then Getting Lucky should go into production. In this regard, I plan to work on Internet publicity through blogs and improving my own website.

So no new commitments for me until I fulfill the old ones.