Month: November 2012

What th’ @@##$%$#@#?!!

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Today is Friday and I’m doing this blog from a library computer. Why, you might ask, am I doing that? Well, having just completed the NaNoWriMo challenge of doing 50,000 words in 30 days (Actually did 55,000-plus in about 23 days), I’ve been busy going back over it and trying to turn it into an actual novel.


Problem was, I neglected to save each chapter as I polished it – Only had the first 4 or 5 chapters saved off my laptop – and just as I realized this wasn’t a good thing and started dumping 57,000-plus words of what I thought was pretty good stuff onto a zip drive, my laptop died.  I don’t mean slowed down, or started having fits; I mean died as in it just sits there, screen blank, staring back at me.  Fortunately, all my photos and other graphics had already been saved, along with other important documents – but, not THE MOST IMPORTANT document, the updated version of Dead Men Don’t Answer.


I’m just about over the shock, and looking at new computer options.  In the meantime, I’m using my wife’s laptop when she’s not looking, or heading out to the library where people stare at me strangely as I sit muttering at the screen.  I still have all my notes, character profiles, and timelines, and with the chapters I saved, I’ll get it back – and, maybe it’ll be even better, because I’m now writing from a mood of total angst.


I learned a good lesson, too. ALWAYS back up your work! Do it every day, even if you’re working with a brand spanking new computer.  You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll regret it if you don’t.  That’s my writing advice for this Friday.  To my favorite blogger, Becca, who does a great and funny WTF Friday blog posting, sorry for being such a downer this week, but I had to share this.

Walking With Lions – You’re Kidding, Right?

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An article I did recently for Tour and Travel News.  Read here.


White tail deer

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White tail deer by CharlesRay2010
White tail deer, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

Travel Theme: Liquid

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"Victoria Falls"Our earth is made up mostly of water – there’s liquid all around us.  Over at Where’s My Backpack they’ve set a challenge to show liquid with your photos.  With water all around us, that shouldn’t be difficult.

"The Atlantic Ocean from Tenerife"
A view of the Atlantic Ocean from the window of my hotel room in Tenerife.
"Stone and Water"
Patterns in the surf

"Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe"

Sometimes that liquid element contains danger.
"Hippo in the Water"
Sometimes it holds mysteries.

"Reflections of Giraffes in the Water"

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Engage Boys – Empower Girls

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I Survived Black Friday – Now, I Have to Make it Through Gray Saturday

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Friday (Rebecca Black song)
Friday (Rebecca Black song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to start this post by making it abundantly clear – I HATE SHOPPING!  And, by that, I don’t mean just Black Friday, although it has a special place on my list of things I detest, but shopping any time.  When I need to buy something, if I can’t find it on the Internet, I make a list, research the stores that have what I need at the price I’m willing to pay, go to the store, enter, buy, and get the hell out as fast as I can.

Having said that, this year, my wife finally discovered Black Friday, and wanted to know what all the hype was about.  All day on Thanksgiving, she threatened to wake me up at oh-dark-thirty Friday and drag me to the nearest shopping mall to join the mob.  Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well Thursday night, and the lobster, turkey, and all the other goodies I wolfed down had nothing to do with it.

I got up yesterday at my usual time, 6:30, and made my breakfast.  As usual, I tippy-toed around the house, hoping I wouldn’t wake my better half up; she likes to sleep in and hates eating breakfast except on weekends.  At 10:30, her usual wake-up time, I breathed a sigh of relief when she got up, did her shower and makeup, and plunked herself down in front of the TV with a cup of coffee to catch her favorite Korean soap opera.  At noon, she pried herself away long enough to make two bowls of noodles for our lunch, and went back to the afternoon news shows.  Never a word about Black Friday shopping; could I be that lucky, I wondered.

I didn’t really relax until six in the evening. All day, she’d not said a word about going shopping, and it was now time for her favorite evening shows to start.  No way she misses them unless the house is on fire, and even then I wonder.

But, we went to bed last night, and not once did she say anything about shopping.  So, I was able to get a bit of writing done – starting the editing phase of my NaNoWriMo entry, which is a lot of work and requires the ability to focus.  Of course, now I have to worry about whether or not she’ll decide to see what’s left on the shelves the day after Black Friday – a day I’ve taken to calling Gray Saturday for the somber mood of everyone who went through the torture yesterday, and the appearance of the stores with shelves nearly bare from the scourge of locust-like shoppers yesterday.

I’m a bit happier, though, after looking at the sky.  It’s a grey day here in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland.  The wind blew hard last night, dumping tons of leaves on our recently raked lawn, so instead of shopping, I’ll get my afternoon exercise moving leaves from the grass to the tree line behind our house.  That I don’t mind; it’s a good way to stretch the muscles after sitting here at the computer for several hours, and it’ll set me up for a late night writing session.  I might start my new Chronicle of Pip of Pandara book tonight.  Or, maybe I’ll do some more sketches for planned projects.  What I won’t be doing, folks, is shopping.

"Becca Forgot to Be Funny"

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Thankful

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Having an owner – and, one often wonders in the dog-human relationship just who the ‘owner is – is definitely something to be thankful for.


"Waiting for my human"

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Colorful Monotone

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Whether it’s natural or man-made, a monochromatic scene can be restful and dramatic at the same time.  Here are some of my one-color dominant photos to illustrate.

"The ocean blue"
The soothing blue of the Atlantic Ocean off Tenerife.


"The beach at evening"
As the sun sets on the beach at Tenerife, everything takes on different shades of blue, fading into purple.


"Flamenco Dancer"
The golden dress of this Flamenco dancer dominates the scene.
"Guinea fowl"
The regal green of this guinea fowl against the peaceful green of the grass.


"Lunar landscape"
The silver of the moon against a Stygian sky; what more needs to be said?
"The Kalahari Desert"
Brown grass in the Kalahari Desert, South Africa.






Where Story Ideas Come From – 2

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When I started writing the Al Pennyback mystery series, I didn’t have a specific sub-genre in mind.  It’s not a hardboiled mystery with a hero who is always battling bad guys; nor is it a procedural mystery – I go light on the technical aspects of crimes, criminals, or police procedures.  I was just going for a good story that had a crime as a central element, which the hero, Al Pennyback, would then set about solving.

"Al's Angels"
Al Pennyback, with the main ladies in this series, (l to r) Lucy Mendez, Heather Bunche, and Sandra Winter.

My main motivation for writing this particular series was the fact that I live in the Washington, DC area, and have for more than 30 years, and most of the stories set in this locale are about politicians, spies, or high-powered lobbyists.  I know that the average Joe and Jane who happens to call the Washington metro area home lives a life that can be just as exciting as the K Street crowd, or the boys across the river in McLean, so, about ten years ago I started drafting.

My first, Color Me Dead, went through more than six years of rewriting; the title changed, the central plot changed, and most importantly, the name and background of the main character changed.  I no longer remember what I called him at first, but, one day as I was sweating over the tenth or twentieth draft, Al Pennyback was born.  He’s an African-American; after all, the area is predominantly African-American; he’s retired military; being retired military, I can relate to that, and the area also has loads of retired military people; and he’s a sucker for puzzles and unsolved mysteries.  Despite, or because of, his military background, he hates guns, preferring to use his wits or his martial arts ability to get out of tight spots.  He’s a widower; gives him an air of sympathy; but, has a girl friend.  The sex scenes are only hinted at.  I think too many modern mysteries go overboard on the sex.  And, the language is mostly mild. On occasion, Al or one of the characters lets fly with an earthy expletive, because that’s the way people talk after all, but you won’t find curse words on every page.

That’s sort of the definition of a cozy mystery; cosy in British English; but, I didn’t set out to write cozies.  Despite that, one of my British readers has decided that’s the sub-genre of at least one of the stories in the series, Dead Man’s Cove.  He gave it such a good review, I don’t have the heart to argue the point."Dead Man's Cove"

5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written cosy crime mystery, November 2, 2012


C. M. Donaldson (UK) – See all my reviews

This review is from: Dead Man’s Cove (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)

I’ve never read an Al Pennyback mystery before and I’m pleased there are others since this one set the benchmark. It was a laidback cosy read and thoroughly enjoyable.

Al, a private eye, gets to spend the weekend with his girlfriend Sandra on a small island, Dead Man’s Cove at the invitation of his good friend Quincy (who had previously encouraged him to open up his detective agency) on a client’s yacht with a few other friends including two married couples. Al suspects these couples are putting on a front (as many unhappy couples do) but it has nothing to do with him as he’s more than content with Sandra and while he’s a bit of wimp when it comes to sailing, he goes along for her benefit if it makes her happy. It transpires that his wife and young son died some years ago and it’s been a long trawl to get back to some form of normality, and he is grateful for his good fortune at getting a second chance at love. However, what should have been a leisurely relaxing weekend soon turns into a busman’s holiday for Al.

It’s hard not to give too much away, but as the story progresses, the drinks are poured, the sun beats down and all seems right with the world, the unexpected happens – one of the party is murdered. All of a sudden all central characters are put under scrutiny and all kinds of secrets and lies are unearthed as Al tries to find the truth and, out of the unlikely bunch, a cold-blooded killer.

I liken this to the male version of Murder She Wrote (sleuth encounters murder while minding his own business), and I’m happy to say I’ll be purchasing every Al Pennyback thriller/mystery I can get my hands on if Dead Man’s Cove is anything to go by. It well deserved my five star rating.

Now, this is the type of review you want to get.

I tend to write stories in scenes, a lot like a movie, so that the reader can ‘see’ what’s happening.  A few readers have taken notice of this.  Here’s what one reader had to say about Till Death Do Us Part:"Till Death Do Us Part

5.0 out of 5 stars First Review, July 17, 2012


L.I. LINDA (LI NY) – See all my reviews

This review is from: Till Death Do Us Part (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)

This book reads like a T.V. episode of a crime/adventure show.The author developed his plot slowly and effectively.His characters were interesting and well defined.It was a good read.


Following the advice given in most books on writing, I try to show, not tell.  I let the characters’ dialogue and action move the story rather than filling page after page with exposition or descriptions.

Now, the question one might well ask is; where do the ideas for this series come from?  The answer is – everywhere.  I read newspapers, print and online, and every edition has at least one story idea.  Till Death Do Us Part, for instance, came from an article I read in a South African newspaper on a flight from Capetown to Copenhagen a few years ago about a couple who’d come to Johannesburg on vacation and been victims of a carjacking.  The wife was killed, but the husband escaped unharmed.  It turned out later that he’d arranged the incident in order to get rid of his wife.  I changed the setting to Jamaica and was off to the races.

I’ve done two books about radical militias, Dead, White, and Blue and Deadly Intentions.  The proliferation of militias and other hate groups in the U.S. over the past several decades has always concerned me, so this was a natural.

Deadline started out as a story about scams against lonely women, but about one-third into the first draft I decided to throw a ghost in just for the heck of it.  I’m a bit agnostic about ghosts – I don’t know that they are real, but I don’t know that they’re not, so there you are.

Whatever motivates the story idea, my main objective is to write a story that keeps the reader wanting to turn the page to see what happens next.  According to two readers, I’ve succeeded:

5.0 out of 5 stars Great, July 30, 2012


lisa repak – See all my reviews

Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

This review is from: Till Death Do Us Part (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)

This was a great book. Fast paced, I couldn’t put it down. You really want to read this book. I loved it.


5.0 out of 5 stars My new hero….Al Pennyback!, October 23, 2012


Kathleen Boston McCune “Kathleen Boston McCune” (Prairie Village, Kansas) – See all my reviews

Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

This review is from: Till Death Do Us Part (Al Pennyback Mysteries) (Kindle Edition)

Just finished “Til Death Do Us Part” and really enjoyed Charles Ray’s Suspense novel….completing it in just two sessions. His characters ring true and I felt as though I too were fighting for “right vs wrong” along with Pennyback. Ray has the vernacular down pat for all walks of life and proves that having more experience with life and humanity has its’ advantages.

Well done you, Charles Ray!! Keep them coming.


There you have it; that’s where story ideas come from.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

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Green can mean a lot of things; new growth, peacefulness, jealousy.  Here are some of my photos that symbolize green to me.

"Greenery around a castle"
The lush foliage around Nesbit’s Castle Inn in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe always reminds me of spring.
"Racing on a grass track"
Coming around the turn on the grass track at Borrowdale Race Course, Harare, Zimbabwe
"Mbare High School Marchers"
These young girls from a Mbare, Zimbabwe marching group look resplendent in their green and white uniforms.
"Victoria Falls"
The mist of Victoria Falls beyond the savannah, seen from Elephant Hills Lodge.
"Going for the green"
Making an approach to the green at Elephant Hills Golf Course over a heard of antelope.
"Guinea Fowl"
A guinea fowl with bright green plumage.
"Search and Rescue"
An Air Force search and rescue helicopter flying over a lake in Arizona.
"Vietnam Memorial Wall"
In a peaceful green setting, this stark black memorial honors all who died in Vietnam.








Where Story Ideas Come From – 1

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Ideas for writing come from all kinds of places.  My Buffalo Soldier historical series grew out of a combination of inspirations.  One day, I was sitting at my computer, surfing the Internet, and I came across a site about the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th US Cavalry on the western frontier, and I realized that not many Americans know a lot about the colorful history of these African-American soldiers and the role they played in the westward expansion of the country.

"Buffalo Magazine Cover"
Cover illustration I did for the Christmas issue of “Buffalo” Magazine.

The germ of an idea was planted.  What if I did a series of short stories (more like novelettes actually) that introduced them to readers?  The more I thought about it the more it excited me.  Several years ago, when I lived in North Carolina, I was a writer and artist for a short-lived magazine, Buffalo that was based in California.  I had a regular cartoon feature, did a few historical articles, and did the illustrations for several of the magazine’s covers.

So, I already had a bit of grounding in the subject; it was just a matter of how to kick it off.  I decided to center it on a few fictional characters, with the main character, Sergeant Benjamin Franklin Carter, and show the kinds of activities they were engaged in.  While I strive to make it historically accurate, I try to avoid long lectures on history.  Instead, I insert the historical facts and incidents in through the characters’ dialogue, or short descriptive passages to establish context.  My main objective is to tell an interesting story that will keep the reader turning the page.

"Buffalo Magazine Cartoon Page"
I did a monthly cartoon page for the now-defunct “Buffalo” Magazine in the 1970s.

I can’t be sure I’ve succeeded.  Reader feedback has been limited, but what has been received is encouraging.  There is, for instance, this review of the latest in the series, Buffalo Soldier:  Incident at Cactus Junction that a reader posted on Amazon:

Charles Ray does a great job setting the stage for a slightly different classic western tale involving the “Buffalo Soldiers” of yore. The story follows Sgt. Ben Carter and the soldiers he commands on a mission to the sleepy town of Cactus Junction which needs help with finding out who is rustling the local rancher’s cattle. The townsfolk are surprised to see black men in uniform and are at first reluctant to accept them or work with them. However as Ben and his men take on the task of finding the missing cattle – and the tough men who took them – the town soon warms to the Buffalo Soldiers. The story was put together well with great characters and descriptions. Although the plot is simple and the story straightforward, it should satisfy those readers who, like me, enjoy the old American west tales of adventure and action. If you’re a western fan you’ll enjoy this one.

"Buffalo Soldier: Incident at Cactus Junction"

This California reader gave the book four out of five stars, which I take as high praise indeed.  My friend, Zimbabwean author Virginia Phiri (Highway Queen), who has read and reviewed a number of my books, also commended the series, describing them as ‘good writing, and good reading.’

I use a lot of my own military background, as well as my childhood in Texas during the 50s and 60s, to establish the social, cultural, and geographic setting, as well as trying to make the language used by the characters as credible as possible.  None of the specific incidents in the stories are real, but they’re all based on historical events of the era after the Civil War when America was opening up the western frontier to settlement and development.

I do research on a continuing basis seeking new story ideas, and to make sure that the equipment, tactics, and events have a ring of credibility.  For instance, during my research, I discovered that the US Cavalrymen, contrary to what you might see in the movies, didn’t use repeating rifles during this period.  They used the single shot Springfield because the army viewed it as more reliable and durable than the new Winchester repeaters, and it was cheaper.  Even in those days, the government was concerned about the bottom line.  I also learned that white soldiers received $24 dollars a month pay, and black soldiers $12 – which wasn’t bad money in the 1870s when you consider that when I enlisted in 1962, my pay was $72 per month.

So, you see, ideas for your writing can come from anywhere.  You just have to open all the doors and windows in your mind and let the light shine in.

How to Get More Out of Your Blogging

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If  you want to know how to get more out of your blogging, read this article.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal

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Want to try your hand at the Weekly Photo Challenge?  Here’s my shot at portraying Renewal.

Nothing says renewal like a brilliant white blossom set in a bed of green.

Red and Blue: The Colors of American Politics

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Colors have meaning.

The color red is the color of fire and blood; it is associated with energy, danger, war, strength, power, passion, and determination.  A very emotional color, red increases respiration rate and raises blood pressure.  It is used as an accent color to stimulate quick decisions, and is widely associated with danger.  The color blue, on the other hand, is the sky and sea, and is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness.  In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity, and is linked to consciousness and intellect. Its association with depth, expertise, and stability makes it the preferred color for corporations in America.

Now, none of this has any real connection with what I’m writing, except for the fact that political pundits have chosen to use the colors red and blue to symbolize America’s political divide; with red representing the conservative, right-leaning regions of the country, and blue for the liberal areas.

Everyone in America by now has had enough political commentary, and, if you’re like me, just looking forward to the holidays so they can stuff themselves to the hairline with turkey and all the trimmings and vegetate on the couch watching the football games.  So, I promise that this is the last political screed you will see from me until the next mid-term elections two years from now.

If you haven’t seen the maps showing the results of the just-completed election, though, you might find it interesting to see how the color spectrum came out.  The red states, all 24 of them, sit squarely astride the middle of the country for the most part, like a big scarlet gash, splitting the country roughly in half.  This means that the president will have an uphill battle getting any kind of consensus during his second administration. President Obama’s support among religious groups varied, with white evangelicals and weekly churchgoers opting for his opponent in large numbers.

What I found interesting about the election results was the identity of those states that, despite being in America’s heartland, swung so far to the right.  Some were not too surprising, but a couple defied what I would have predicted.  This list shows the percentages who voted for each candidate, with the spread shown in parentheses.  They are presented here for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Utah   Romney-72.9  Obama-24.9 (47.7)

Wyoming  Romney-69.3  Obama-28.0 (41.3)

Idaho  Romney-66.5  Obama-32.6 (33.9)

Oklahoma  Romney-66.8  Obama-33.2 (33.6)

West Virginia  Romney-62.3  Obama-33.5 (26.8)

Arkansas  Romney-60.5  Obama-36.9 (23.6)

Nebraska  Romney-60.5  Obama-37.8 (22.7)

Kentucky  Romney-60.5  Obama-37.8 (22.7)

Alabama  Romney-60.7  Obama-38.4 (22.3)

Kansas  Romney-60  Obama-37.8 (22.2)

Tennessee  Romney-59.5  Obama-39 (20.5)

North Dakota  Romney-58.7  Obama-38.9 (19.8)

Louisiana  Romney-57.8  Obama-40.6 (17.2)

South Dakota  Romney-57.9  Obama-39.9 (16)

Texas  Romney-57.2  Obama-41.4 (15.8)

Montana  Romney-53.3  Obama-41.8 (13.5)

Alaska  Romney-55  Obama-41.6 (13.4)

Mississippi  Romney-55.4  Obama-43.6 (11.8)

Arizona  Romney-54.8  Obama-43.6 (11.2)

South Carolina  Romney-54.6  Obama-44 (10.6)

Missouri  Romney-53.9  Obama-44.3 (8.6)

Georgia  Romney-53.4  Obama-45.4 (8)

North Carolina  Romney-50.6  Obama-48.4 (2.2)

At this writing, the outcome in Florida has yet to be determined, but President Obama has a 6% lead so far.

Get Your Kindle Book Autographed

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Readers of my books on Kindle can now get them autographed.  Just go to and click on the book that you have and follow the instructions.

"Deadly Intentions"


The Election’s Over – But, the Politics Has Just Begun

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The election is over, and most of the ballots have been counted. It doesn’t matter, though, because enough ballots have been counted and certified to let us know who won the election except for a few local races that are still being adjudicated. Barack Obama is back in the White House for four more years, the Democrats retained control of the Senate with a slight increase in their majority, and the Republicans kept the House of Representatives, although, thankfully, a few of the nuttiest Tea Party representatives got sent home packing.

The winners have made gracious acceptance speeches, complimenting their opponents for their ‘active’ campaigns, and the losers have made even more gracious concession speeches, promising to work with their victorious opponents. That’s what we’ve seen on the surface, but my more than 50 years in and around Washington, DC and the other focal points of our government tells me that the reality is different from what we see.

The winners probably did victory laps around their hotel rooms, with lots of fist pumping and high-fiving of supporters. The losers, on the other hand, were probably snarling at the TV screen as they gulped down something strong to ease the sting of defeat, and instead of trying to figure out why the majority of American voters rejected them, are plotting to throw spanners in the way of the winners at every opportunity, and how to come up with a better spiel to sell us their snake oil next time out.

Let’s face it, we Americans are all about winning. We talk about being good losers and good winners, but in fact, we’re neither. We gloat when we win and plot and make excuses when we lose, and politicians are better or worse at it than the average guy, believe me. Just watch if you don’t believe me. The Republican-controlled House, despite Romney’s call for reaching across the aisle, will continue to block almost every initiative coming out of this Democratic administration, and the Senate will, for the most part, continue to be split along partisan lines.

If I’m wrong about this, I’ll be happy to eat my hat.

"I Voted"
Many people proudly displayed their “I Voted” buttons even the day after the election.