I Believe I Can Touch the Sky: From Poverty to Prosperity in Stories

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I was born in rural Shelby County, in East Texas, in the 1940s, a time of rigid segregation. Parking in my hometown of 715 people was segregated by race and I went to a separate school where books and desks were hand-me-downs from the town’s white school. The first new textbook I ever laid hands on was a physics textbook in high school when the school district included physics for the first time and had to buy a sufficient quantity for both schools.

     After graduating from high school in 1962, too poor to attend college and refusing to accept the employment available to black people in East Texas at the time, I joined the United States Army to see the world that I’d been introduced to through crinkled pages of old National Geographic magazines.

     In the ensuing fifty-plus years, I rose from the poverty of a small farming town to prosperity, from tending the pigs on our small farm to meeting with kings in their palaces and presidents in their state houses.

     Thanks to the urging of my daughter, Denise Ray-Wickersham, I have finally put down stories from my life in written form—stories that I bored her and her brother with when they were growing up and her children with during the past few years.

     I Believe I Can Touch the Sky: Stories From My Life is not your usual memoir. The focus is not really on me, but on the incidents and events that impacted on me in my life. Short and to the point, much like the novelettes I write, it is a series of stories that stretch back over seven decades. Stories about the famous and infamous, the well-known and the unknown. It is a story of the persistence and patience of a young boy who refused to accept that the pine-covered clay hills were all there was to the world, or that he was limited to what other people said he could do because of the color of his skin.

     Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle version on Amazon. Get your copy today:

Hardcover:  $15.99  https://www.amazon.com/Believe-Can-Touch-Sky-Stories/dp/B0B2J26KVD/

Paperback:  #$7.99  https://www.amazon.com/Believe-Can-Touch-Sky-Stories/dp/B0B2HQ7KLC/

Kindle version:  $0.99  https://www.amazon.com/Believe-Can-Touch-Sky-Stories-ebook/dp/B0B2QV1BW1/

Raven Tale – Episode 1

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https://embed.podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-1-the-sea/id1623447209?i=1000562707899

Jerry Underhill interviews fellow Raven Tale horror author Charles Ray.

Dusty Saddle Roundup

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I was honored to be the first guest on Peter Alan Turner’s ‘Dusty Saddle Roundup’ podcast. Go to this line to listen: http://charlesray-author.com/index.php/2022/04/04/dusty-saddle-roundup/

Authors Beware of deals that seem too good to be true – they are just that!

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There’s been a number of articles on various sites about publishers who hook unwary authors into contracts that give nothing in return. Many indie authors have fallen into this trap—I include myself, unfortunately, in that number.

 

When I was working on my first book length manuscript, a book on leadership that I was encouraged to write by a young man who worked for me as my speech writer when I was U.S. ambassador to Cambodia (2002-2005). After slaving over the manuscript for nearly three years, I went searching for a publisher.

 

I encountered an ad from PublishAmerica, a Maryland-based small imprint that, unlike the many vanity publishers advertising at the time, touted the fact that they PAID authors for their work instead of asking for payment. Knowing, or at least suspecting, that the book I’d written would have limited appeal, it didn’t sound like a bad deal, so I submitted it.

 

A few weeks later I received an email advising me that my book was accepted for publication. Attached to the email was a contract. Naïve in the ways of publishing, I unwisely didn’t have that contract read by a lawyer before signing it. From what I’d read, it didn’t seem to bad – the advance was paltry (a mere $1.00), and I was locked into an 8-year commitment. But, the book would be published, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

 

It was published, but from that point on, it was a nightmare. The cover was somewhat amateurish—even then, just learning the art of designing book covers, I could’ve done a better job. The price was a bit high, I thought, but again, I was new to all this and didn’t know any better. I was encouraged to buy copies for myself at a measly discount from the inflated cover price. The royalties were also small; something like 8% of the cover price (compare that to the 75% you can get publishing it yourself through the Kindle Direct Program, or even the rather generous percentage you get when you publish a paperback through CreateSpace). They did, at least, list it on all the major book-seller sites; Amazon, etc.

 

Surprisingly, there were a few early sales, and I even got it included in a couple of libraries (The U.S. State Department Library, and my college library, to name two). A few people I met at conferences, who had read it, also informed me that they’d purchased copies to use in their management training programs. Despite this, my royalty checks over the past eight-plus years have yet to exceed $50. Looking back, when I compare this to the $100 per month I get through KDP, and an average of $30 per month through CreateSpace and other sales of paperbacks, I can see that what seemed at the time to be ‘too good to be true,’ in fact was just that.

 

The eight years in the contract are up now, and you would assume, as implied in the contract, my book rights belong to me. Guess again.

 

PublishAmerica changed its name to AmericaStar, in an effort, I believe, to attract foreign indie authors, but its practices remain the same. It does nothing to promote the books it accepts, beyond importuning the author regularly to buy copies, and lately it has done something that seals its fate as far as I’m concerned.

 

Over the past 60 days, I’ve been getting emails from AmericaStar nee PublishAmerica, informing me that the company is getting out of the publishing business and going full time to book promotion. In doing so, it plans to sell the rights to the books it holds to another ‘Indie’ publisher, but I can get them assigned to me for a modest fee of $199—it said in the initial emails that this was to cover the cost of removing it from selling platforms, etc.

 

At first, I couldn’t believe they would have the gall to do something like this, so I just ignored the first four or five emails. Then, they said, if I couldn’t afford $199, for a few days I could get my rights back for a mere $149. Again, I ignored them. A week later, another email, informing me that I had only two days to BUY my rights back, and they were doing me a big favor by reducing the cost to $99.  Thoroughly steamed by now, I just filed the emails away and went on to other projects.

 

The latest are . . . funny, pathetic, I’m not sure how to characterize them. I now have 24 hours to obtain the rights to my own work for $79. If I fail to do this, someone else (as yet unknown) will own the rights to my book, and they can’t promise what the buyer will do with these rights.

 

Thankfully, I’ve self-published scores of books since my first mistake, and while I’m not on any best-seller lists, and not getting rich from it, I’m enjoying fairly regular sales, and getting some pretty solid reviews. As for buying the rights back to my own work—I’m in wait-and-see mode. If the last email is correct, I will probably be hearing from the mysterious new publisher someday soon with a request that I buy my book, or something equally ridiculous.

 

I’ve written that book off as a lost cause, and a lesson learned. Never were the words caveat emptor more appropriate.

This Is Who We Are

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QBG_Tilted Tiara

The one thing you have to give to the GOP, they are well organized, and their messages no matter how toxic are specific and consistent. They have spent the past fifty years building towards this pivotal point in time. Half the states are controlled by maniac legislatures and governors intent on rolling their states back to the days of Jim Crow and women’s subjection, never mind more than half their constituents disagree with their policies. Those at the top both elected and not, are ramping it up every single day on every single media outlet. Make no mistake, they are winning the war of words with soundbites meant to inflame, intended to sow fear and fury, they are winning.

Before we proceed, let’s take a close look at what we are really talking about. For those who love this nation, who believe the words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the…

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Retro Quote – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

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Chief Writing Wolf

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking; where it is absent, discussion is apt to become worse than useless.”

Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy, On Life and Essays on Religion

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Review of ‘A Date to Die For

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Gaylene B. Corben’s A Date to Die For is a well crafted mystery about two police detectives, Joe Patterson and Tessa Mariani, on the trail of a serial killer who is using a dating site to lure his victims, young, attractive women, to their doom. The killer leaves a taunting note and a white rose with each victim, and our two detectives find themselves racing the clock after three kills and one near kill, while at the same time dealing with the demons in their own lives.

     Corben has crafted a near-perfect mystery, with plenty of red herrings and false trails to keep the reader guessing, but a story line that leads unerringly to the killer in one of those ‘my goodness, why didn’t I think of that’ moments.

     The author sets the perfect tempo in this, her debut book, like a heartbeat, speeding up when the tension level rises and then slowing down when things seem to be getting quiet. With characters you can’t help but empathize with and care about and enough surprises to keep you on the edge of the chair, this is one you don’t want to miss.

     I received a pre-publication copy of this book for review and my advice is go to your nearest book selling site and pre-order it, so you don’t miss out. An author to keep an eye on, I give Corben five stars for her first effort.

Review of ‘Double Indemnity’

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Heartland Insurance Company and its founder, Jared Finch, have a unique business model. They buy the insurance policies of elderly people and in exchange for becoming the beneficiary, pay out money to the insured. The problem is that Finch is one of those people for whom money is everything and no amount he earns is ever enough. He has found a way, a diabolical way, to make sure he is getting more money than he’s paying out. People are dying soon after he buys their policies, sooner than any actuarial tables say they should be dying.

     When three die, including one apparent burglary turned deadly, New Orleans Police detective Jo Crowder is assigned to investigate and she first determines that only the apparent burglary involved foul play and there is no leads to a suspect. When a young man dies of an apparent drug overdose, the case also lands on her desk, but the man’s sister claims that he didn’t use drugs. Jo is leery of all four cases, but the evidence available to her, in abundance, supports the appearances . . . until FBI agent Alex Hill shows up and informs her that the drug OD is not what it appeared because the victim was his informant and he knows for a fact that the man was clean

     Jo and Alex then join forces to look into all cases, and while the bodies continue to pile up, they come to the conclusion that they’ve been led down the primrose path by a sinister cabal of greedy, totally immoral people for whom human life is meaningless.

     Double Indemnity by Richard Zappa is a chilling crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your chair from start to finish. The subplots are nested like Russian dolls, with red herrings and false trails a-plenty, and an eminently satisfying conclusion. A thrilling roller coaster ride of greed, deceit, and murder; a book that you can’t put down.

It’s scheduled for July publication. Don’t miss it.     I received an advance review copy of this book for review and give it five stars without hesitation.

My accompanied travelers

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Expedition Overlanding Nomadic Adventures

Image captured by the author

My life’s journey crossed significant bridges to become a college student, a military soldier, a husband, and a father.

I committed to a 25-year career that led me to my retirement bridge, crossing my abyss of excitement, fears, unknown possibilities, and imaginative opportunities of an uncharted world.

Other than consuming self-help retirement novels, I had no one individual who inspired or shaped my idea of retirement. I had ideas to conquer my bucket list of items, and I did. I settled into a permanent base camp of perpetual warmth and living near water to fulfill a dream.

As I nomadically travel around the US, I often reminisce about my ancestors and elder relatives who have died, never considering travel, let alone retirement, to enjoy outdoor leisure opportunities or hobbies beyond their careers of blue-collar work.
Oh, I’m sure they dreamed of retirement, but they live…

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Review of ‘Grandpa’s Horse and Other Tales

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Grandpa’s Horse and Other Tales by Ed Lehner is an eclectic collection of short stories that combine humor, nostalgia, and profound philosophical thought in one volume that’s a memoir of sorts that could very well be snippets from the author’s life growing up in Iowa.

From ‘Grandpa’s Horse,’ a short-short story about the author’s grandfather and a new horse that needed to be taught who was boss, to ‘Dana’s Story,’ about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality. Each story could stand alone but the collective is a complete treat and advisable if you’re looking for a few hours of pleasant diversion that will be at the same time uplifting.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book and once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I give this one five stars without hesitation.

Best Quotes of the Week – February 12, 2022

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Chief Writing Wolf

“The extremists have gone off the rails and chosen to endorse violence as ‘legitimate political discourse.’”

U.S. Rep Colin Allred, on a Republican Party resolution that downplays the January 6, 2021 attack on Capitol Hill as “legitimate political discourse”

“Throwing plastic into the sea is criminal. It kills biodiversity; it kills the Earth; it kills everything.”

Pope Francis, during an interview on Italy’s RAI

He added: “Looking after creation is an education (process) in which we must engage.”  He also cited a song by Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos in which a boy asks his father why “the river no longer sings” and the father responds that “we finished it off”.

Francis also reiterated some key themes of his papacy, condemning excessive spending on armaments, defending the rights of migrants, and condemning ideological rigidity by conservatives in the Church.

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Book Less

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Chief Writing Wolf

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [‘hard-core pornography’], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964

You know the old puzzle: if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound? Using that logic, if a book is published, and no one finds its content offensive, is it obscene?

Obscenity seems to be subjective. Right-wing extremists certainly feel that way, as they have (once again) assumed the role of moral overseer and decided they have the authority to determine what books are and are not appropriate for others to read. To we writers…

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Review of ‘Valley of the Dogs’

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For a writer, getting inside the reader’s mind is the holy grail of the craft. In Valley of the Dogs, a collection of eleven dark short stories, author Jim Musgrave has invaded most of our minds and left an impression that will linger long after we close the book and stick it on our ‘to be read again someday’ shelf.

     These stories satirize the traditional Hollywood endings and poke a little fun at the much-vaunted ‘star power’ that Hollywood loves to flaunt. As topical as the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions and as classic as the equally traumatic effect the Vietnam War had on our society, Musgrave digs deep into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, exposing our true fears. At the same time, he entertains, and that’s the hallmark of really effective short fiction.

     If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with when the wind’s blowing outside and the sky is gunmetal gray and depressing, this is what I would prescribe.

     I received a complimentary copy of this book for review. I’m not easy to impress, but the author managed to beat the odds. Yes, I was impressed. I give it five stars.