Tag Archives: Raymond Bolton

Morning Brush-off

Because I am working in two disparate locations—Santa Fe, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon—I am constantly rewarded with unique experiences.The oscillation between arid juniper savannah and verdant river valley, between wide open spaces and dense urban metropolis, keeps me off-balance and receptive to unexpected delights.

Portland’s decrepit Sellwood Bridge is undergoing replacement, a process that will take two or more years. For me, it is an unavoidable bottleneck that frequently backs up the morning commute. As a countermeasure, I depart my digs early and hope for the best. When I mistime the congestion, I often duck into the Starbucks on SE Tacoma, grab a coffee, read my mail, phone my wife and tweak a chapter. That’s usually enough for the traffic to ease.

December 2

In early November I was returning to my car when a novel sight plastered a grin across my face. Two plein aire artists were encamped on an intersection island applying oil to canvas as if ensconced in a field. Always the photographer, I was yearning for my camera when I remembered I was packing my iPhone. What a kick! I began shooting and it was not long before the gentleman handed me a card “so you will know who you are photographing.” Good move! I learned I was capturing two of Portland’s finest: Anton Pavlenko and Brenda Boylan. You will find their work featured, among other places, in Plein Air Magazine and at http://www.outdoorpainter.com/   I am so glad I stopped. They are far from withdrawn. We enjoyed a great couple of minutes before they returned to their work and I to mine. Anton and Brenda have been kind enough to supply images of two pieces they created that day. If you would like to see more, paintings they produced in Sellwood are on display at the Caswell Gallery in Troutdale (opening Dec 7th). If you are in the area, drop by and check them out.

december 1

You can find Anton’s Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anton-Pavlenko-fine-art/153612281322495 and his website is http://www.antonpavlenko.com/

Brenda’s web address is http://brendaboylan.com/ and her blog’s URL is http://brendaboylan.blogspot.com/

In fact, her November 4 post shows the pair at exactly this location.

“Pause On Sellwood” by Brenda Boylan


“Quick Painting in the Middle of the Street” by Anton Pavlenko




Go Phish

Last night I was awakened from my hotel bed in what, I believe, is the newest and scariest phishing attempt to date. For the uninformed, phishing refers to efforts to steal one’s personal—especially financial—information. In other words, identity theft.

At 2:54 a.m. the phone by my bed startled me out of a very sound sleep. The polite young man, identifying himself as Jason, asked if this was room 203. When I said it was, he apologized for calling at such an hour, then launched into a convoluted story about how the hotel’s internet had gone down, how the computer technician they had called had fixed it, but in doing so had eradicated the hotel’s database. Again, he apologized for calling but the manager, he said, had asked him to phone each room and manually restore each guest’s information.

As muddled as I was, something didn’t feel right, and besides, I wasn’t about to go searching for my wallet in the dark. When I told him I would provide the information in person, in the morning, after I was dressed, he shouted, “F*** Y**!”

Needless to say, I was too angry to get back to sleep and lay churning all night. I knew exactly what I was going to say to the hotel manager and by dawn had composed in my head the letter I was going to write to the parent corporation. It was only when I stormed into the lobby this morning, that I had any clue what had actually transpired.

“What was last night about?” I demanded.

Mr. Patel looked at me blankly. “What do you mean?”

I related to him what I just told you, to which he replied, “No one phoned. I am the only one here and I was asleep.”

I continued to press, running repeatedly into Mr. Patel’s obviously guileless denials. “No one phoned. Maybe another guest,” he said, offering a feeble smile and looking as confused as I was becoming. Then, upon reflection, he reconsidered. “But they would have had to call here.” He gestured at the desk. “And I would have had to transfer the call. Nobody phoned. I was asleep.”

He was right. Nobody could have phoned. But somebody did. Someone had hacked into the hotel’s telephone system and reached right into my room. Who knows how many others he called? I suspect everyone. How many of these, their minds clouded with sleep, had surrendered to this nameless, faceless stranger their name, mailing address and credit card number, along with its expiration date and the three digit CVC code on the back? It was the perfect time to call. Now I am wondering how many guests at how many other hotels are going to fall prey to this very sophisticated scam. I am certain it won’t end with me.


An Annoyance

As I grow my following on Twitter, I am beginning to understand the frustration and dismay so many agents express over many submitters who call themselves writers, but in reality are the farthest thing from it. Before I ever attempted sending my thoughts out for anyone else to read, I worked hard to master the basics—spelling, punctuation, syntax, grammar—long before I ever attempted to construct a story. Nowadays, I constantly run into so many who are completely oblivious to any of these elements, all the while professing, as one who calls herself a “foklorist” does, to be “Raging author(s).” Or, as one lady in her late twenties says, “the brain still thinks were 18 a bit reluctant to disapoint it!? Aspiring author.”

Now I make typos all the time. Making mistakes is part of the human condition. But I search them out and correct them, whenever possible. Further, for most individuals writing, as opposed to Writing, isn’t much more than a necessary annoyance, a way to communicate. I’ll easily forgive an individual’s less than ept skills when they make no pretense, but these others who profess to be Writers irritate me because they cheapen what those of us serious about our craft are endeavoring to do. Let me illustrate.

Who among us would sit down at a piano with no prior instruction, bang away on the keys, then announce, “I am an aspiring concert pianist”? None of us. That would be ludicrous because everyone knows you can’t even begin to think about becoming a concert pianist without years of practice, years perfecting your playing, years mastering what the greats have composed. The same goes for sports. You don’t spend weekends playing sandlot baseball, pick-up basketball or touch football, then tell your friends you want to be a pro. They would laugh you right off the park/court/field. Yet, all these tyros making the same claim about a writing career are why, when the serious ones among us call ourselves writers, people sometimes roll their eyes.

I suspect the ones I’m making bones about do so because it’s relatively easy to string words across a page. A casual glance won’t reveal much, if anything, is amiss. Looks like writing, doesn’t it? But banging discordantly on a keyboard announces at once to the world how incapable you are, as does fumbling a pass, missing the hoop or swinging wildly like a garden gate.

An old high school classmate contacted me recently asking me to buy the two books he had published. I was overjoyed for him until I realized the emails he was sending all lacked one basic element: the paragraph. Let me correct that. No matter how long his messages were, they all consisted of one long paragraph—a two hundred, three hundred, five hundred word paragraph. With some careful prodding, I eventually learned he had hired an editor to hammer his words into something readable. He may have had a story or two to tell, but buying his way into print did not make him an author.

Now, I’m not telling anyone not to sit down at the keyboard and try. Try all you want. I had been trying for years before things started to come together for me. In fact, they are still coming together and I know for a fact I’ll be saying the same thing years from now even after—the fates be willing—I am published. In those early days, when folks asked how I was spending my time, I did not say I was a writer. I told them I was learning to write.

Yes, this is a rant. Will it accomplish anything? Certainly not. Nor will I say anything unkind to anyone starting out on the long road to accomplishment. I’m just trying to get at the burr in my side.


When Life Collides with Art

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in Guys’ Night Out. Once a month, four of us go out for drinks and dinner. I am the one writer in a group of photographers, although had life not sent me down an alternate path, I could have wound up a photographer myself. I may become one still.

Lee Manning is the professional in the bunch. Drop by his website to catch a glimpse of his work: http://www.leemanningphotography.com/ When he asked how my writing was coming, I told him I’d written nothing for several weeks. I’m opening a second business location in Portland, Oregon. It’s a huge financial risk, and if it isn’t to become a disaster, I have to give it all my attention. I know the caveat about writing daily, but I haven’t enough creative self to spread that thinly. Lee responded by assuring me most creative types find themselves in this predicament at least once, though the reasons are as diverse as the artists. He also said it is a place from which some choose to abandon their art. I’ve given it some thought and I’m sure that’s not yet me.

Once before, I set aside the thriller I’m working on—needed time to do research—and when I returned to the task, the writing had improved. The current hiatus, while more protracted, seems also beneficial. After so much time away, I need to reacquaint myself with the manuscript and I am discovering nuances, seeds for future twists, planted before but now forgotten, that I am eager to develop. At the same time, as I reread these chapters, familiarizing myself with the first 43K words, weak sentences and inconsistencies are jumping right off the page, products, I suspect, of extended proximity.

During all of this, I have continued to make time to “read” audio books. As always, the techniques of those authors—currently, Gillian Flynn and Elizabeth Kostova—tend to refine the way I regard various elements of writing, like scene construction and tension. That brings me to the belief one’s time writing a book doesn’t always have to be spent writing. It can be spent considering plot defects, character development and involving the reader. Perhaps writing for the sake of it—creative drudgery—can even subvert the creative process by extinguishing the spark of spontaneity. Now, however, as I study each chapter, I am growing increasingly impatient to return to the task.

Have any of you found yourselves in similar straits?


God Bless the Word Processor!

Granted, it is the curse that convinced most of the world, literate and semi-literate alike, they could write, flooding literary agencies with the flotsam that makes it so hard for neophyte authors to get noticed. Yet, what a wonderful tool it also is.

For much of my career, I have written in a linear mode, crafting one chapter after another. How glorious it was to find I could lift an entire chapter and insert it elsewhere. Of course, in olden times, all one needed to do to accomplish that was removed the desired pages and insert them elsewhere in the manuscript. But then, it became the paragraph and suddenly one could edit wholesale on the spot, cutting and pasting, altering words and phrases to one’s heart’s content. Recently, however, I discovered another use, though I won’t be surprised if most of you already employ it.

I was recently introduced to a wonderful writing team: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs. The thrillers they write are layered with subplots and levels of tension beyond what most authors achieve—at least in my experience.

I was recently reading <i>Thunderhead</i>, a powerful paranormal-turns-out-not-to-be-paranormal thriller set in the Southwest. One of the things that delighted me about the story was how elements introduced into the plot frequently elicited “ah ha!”s when I recognized that the seed for each new turn had often been sown much earlier.

Now, a plotter can sometimes arrange for this, glancing ahead in her notes, but Preston is an admitted pantser—don’t know about Childs. For this sort of complexity, I am sure when he introduces a twist, he must ask himself where earlier in the work he could plant a seed. Then, I suspect, he returns to that point and carefully, to avoid heavy-handedness, works it in. Barring another strategy to accomplish this feat, that is how I would do it, and because I enjoy the elegant, I am now looking at my work with a new eye to how I might layer my stories. And I now have a new appreciation for how my word processor can assist me!


It Doesn’t ALWAYS Rain In Portland

And when it does, it’s not a deal breaker.

Every now and then, I have to trade the great Southwest for the Pacific Northwest, the wide open spaces for some urban pleasures, cholla cactus and juniper savannah for unending miles of deep, moist green. For that, Portland, Oregon is my city of choice. Its people are friendly and polite and Portland is wonderfully walkable, reminiscent of the San Francisco of bygone days. Did I say its residents are polite? That is an understatement! More than once I’ve been on the freeway in bumper-to-bumper, switched on my turn signal, and the driver in the next lane backed off to let me in.

In Portland, you don’t have to go far to experience the great out of doors. It is filled with parks, from Forest Park, the largest urban stretch of forest in the country, to the Japanese Garden.

For nightlife, Portland is fast becoming a mecca for jazz. From the outlying Hollywood District to the Pearl—once populated with warehouses, now filled with luxury condos, fine restaurants and night clubs—where to go and what to do is a dilemma only because of the abundant choices. As for the writer in me, not only has Oregon the highest population of readers per capita, but Portland boasts Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookstore on the planet.

Talk about abundant choices. One of Portland’s finer restaurants is named Veritable Quandary because that’s what choosing from its eclectic, largely continental menu becomes. Or try Henry’s Tavern, a restaurant for young and old with full bar and pool tables, as well as a menu ranging from comfort food like macaroni and cheese to pot roast, steak au poivre to Maryland style blue crab cakes. For fresher fare, there are several farmers’ markets with among other wonders—would you believe—fist-sized chanterelle mushrooms for between $6.99 and $8.99 a pound!

I’ll only briefly mention the Willamette and Columbia rivers that flow through it and contribute greatly to its character, but I suggest you set aside time for a boat ride down the Columbia River, second in volume only to the mighty Mississippi.


Dang Labels!

From time to time, I am a disgruntled consumer who needs to vent. Consumer protection laws, like so many others, should do what they were designed to do: among other things, insure we receive accurate information about the products we use. Then again, that assumes the people who write our laws have something between their ears, or care more about their constituents than the corporations who fund their campaigns. I won’t go into that.

I just opened a bottle of sodium chloride tablets to prepare saline solution for washing the chemicals from my contact lenses—far cheaper to make than to buy. The expiration date on the bottle says October 2011. Are you awake when you’re reading this? I said, the expiration date. This is ridiculous. Salt doesn’t expire. In two years or two hundred, two millennia or two geologic epochs, salt will still be salt. It doesn’t decay. It doesn’t change. In fact, this is why salt is used to preserve things. Bacteria or fungi won’t grow in it and it is damn near eternal.

Seeing this, I went to the kitchen cabinet and reached for the table salt. To my relief, the sea salt I use has no such marking. At first blush, it would appear those watching our foods have more between their ears than those watching Big Pharma. No such luck.

One can in my cupboard irks me even more. I don’t want it removed from the stores. I use it somewhat regularly, but I would like it labeled accurately. This product is the spray-on oil you apply to your skillet so food won’t stick. I’m sure you know it. What irks me is how a product that is 100% fat can say it contains 0% fat as its label does. The reason is this: in the United States, any product whose suggested minimum serving contains less than one gram of fat can be labeled fat-free. Under “Nutrition Facts,” it clearly says a 1/3 second spray, the suggested serving, contains .27 grams. Later on it says that a one second spray (.81 g) covers a ten-inch skillet. Now I don’t know about you, but I find one second, let alone one-third, an awfully restrictive criterion, especially when the suggested serving will cover the 3” skillet we all love to use. Further, a quarter of a second longer than what is required for ten inches and you move into full-fat land. Clearly, this song and dance is to woo the low fat market, but give me a break! Salt doesn’t expire and every oil is pure fat.

I know I’m being a kvetch, so you can bag this post and move on to something more compelling. I just wish the powers-that-be weren’t such idiots, or didn’t treat us as if we were.



Authors like to tell stories about characters taking on lives of their own, and often that’s a good thing. Predictable stories are as boring to write as they are to read. So when the unexpected happens and a character steps to the fore, demanding your attention and assuming an unexpected role in the plot, that may be the most promising development you could ask for. Then again, it may not.

Recently, while working on a chapter that threatened to become oh-so-ho-hum—something for the compost pile if I couldn’t invent a new twist—a previously minor character began jockeying for the protagonist role. He spoke brilliantly, provided many insights and brought new dimension and potential to my book. All of a sudden, minor seeds I’d sown in earlier chapters were fomenting a storm that could rise and give everything preceding new power, new direction. Except that they couldn’t. And he could never become the protagonist. Why not? Because this book is a sequel. The protagonist has already been decided and this character, as compelling as he was trying to become, should never become more than a foil for the lead. Not without a complete rewrite. And then what do I do for a second act to the original work? A writer must learn to endure a great deal of suffering involving hours of unending work, but as for this direction, frankly I’m not that masochistic.

Hmm. What to do?

One thing every writer must learn is how to recognize the gems that arise during the writing process and how to make them work for and not against him. To do so, I had to learn more about my main character, to study what I had already written and decide which established or hinted-at traits would enable him to fit into the role this secondary character had begun to create. To do so, I had to revisit not only earlier chapters, but also friends and acquaintances I had met in this life—people with similar traits—then decide how they might act. I think this is one of those situations where a deep well of experience rewards the mature author. (You will note I didn’t use either “old” or “geezer” when alluding to myself.) 😉 A vast array of memorable people—both real and fictional—populate my imagination and it is from many of these on whom I draw.

As for the upstart? Until that moment, he had been merely wallpaper. Now he has a voice. I know well enough not to stifle him, and his new presence keeps the lead on his toes and me on mine. I’m pleased where the book is going now. With luck, someday you may enjoy it too!


Astronomical wonders

I enjoy the night sky. I enjoy the day sky. The objects in the great overhead vault never cease to amaze me. I can usually recognize Jupiter and Saturn—always Venus and Mars—and I can identify a dozen or more constellations. Sunsets and sunrises are emotionally stirring and the milky way, our galaxy, sets my imagination reeling when I think of the billions of stars that comprise it.

Occasionally, some novel occurrence adds to the celestial splendor. A harvest moon swells two to three times its proper size. Meteor showers—the Perseids in August, the Leonids in November—add a different delight, keeping me from my bed until the wee hours of morning. More spectacular are the bolides, sometimes called fireballs, whose trails cover as much as half the sky. I can recall seeing two such objects.

There are other rarities. Lunar eclipses, sometimes called blood on the moon, are eerie specters. Then there are the comets. In 1997 there was the much touted Hale Bopp—overrated in my opinion—and Comet Hyakutake that loomed like a great heavenly ghost for several weeks.

This year offers two special blessings: the annular eclipse of the sun that occurred on May 20, and the transit of Venus that will happen next Wednesday, June 6. Here in New Mexico, where the air is some of the cleanest in these United States, the eclipse was spectacular. I have seen countless photographs of such events, so I wasn’t expecting much by way of excitement. Nonetheless, I was determined to actually witness one. I dug out a box that contains envelopes full of color negatives I will never make into prints, retrieved a dozen or so strips and divided them between my wife, Toni, and myself. We regarded the event through six or eight layers.

What was it like? I remember when, as a child, I first saw Steve Reeves, aka Superman, fly. I knew he was going to, yet when the actual moment arrived and wires hoisted him across my TV screen and away, I laughed and laughed, unable to contain myself. In much the same way, Toni and I babbled like kids as the orb of the moon devoured the sun, celebrating the moment when all there was left was the fabled Ring of Fire.

Next Wednesday’s transit will be an even greater rarity. Venus will be crossing directly between the earth and the sun. Depending on how early you rise and how clear the sky is, you may be able to see it as a small dot crossing the sun’s face. If you do, you will be among the last to do so for more than a century. Transits occur in pairs roughly eight years apart, then do not recur until between 115.5 and 121.5 years later. Although scientists calculate there was one interval of 169.5 year in BC 117,115. Boy! I bet they were on tenterhooks waiting for that one. 

Next week’s transit, visible just after dawn, is the second of an eight year pair, so if you miss it, there will not be another opportunity until December 11, 2117.


Treading the Line

For the time, I am immersing myself in crafting thrillers, although fantasy keeps rearing its head, beckoning me to return because in so many ways it is less demanding. First and foremost, fantasy requires little if any research. Even more important, it poses no liability issues. From the outset, it is obvious the characters and settings are entirely fictitious. Not so with thrillers.

This genre’s readers demand realism. The stories must be believable—the more so the better. They must be set in the real world in recognizable places, must pose real issues, realistic threats, and be populated with flesh and blood characters you might yet meet if you haven’t already. Herein lies the crux of the inherent problem.

While the city and State the story occurs in may be real and cited by name, naming actual businesses or recognizable privately-owned locations, especially in a context where bad things happen, can have real legal consequences. Consequently, when I set off a dirty bomb in a major sports venue, I had to take care to give the teams different names from the real ones, but similar enough the reader can identify with them. And while the stadium remains unnamed, the city makes it immediately recognizable. Fortunately, because I set my story in the future, I can argue that the home team, the visiting team and stadium’s ownership as well as team composition have changed by that time. They are certainly not the ones that currently exist. In fact, upon publication the book will undoubtedly have to be prefaced with appropriate legal disclaimers acknowledging the fictitious nature of the work and stating any resemblance to actual places or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Until now, I always wondered at the reason for such obvious statements, but my attorney wife has made it abundantly clear how much I would stand to lose without the appropriate boilerplate appearing immediately after the book’s title page. Naturally, if I find my way into print with a traditional publisher, their legal department will take care of all such matters. If, on the other hand, I decide to self-publish, I may have to retain an attorney with relevant experience to insure such disclaimers are properly worded. While this service will probably not cost an arm and a leg, it will be a real, necessary expense nonetheless. A small price to pay for a good night’s sleep all because “the times they are a-changin’ ” – Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music  J

Raymond Bolton