If I had to summarize “Pretty Little Dead Girls” it would be one of the best books to ever survive torpedoing itself. But let me back up.

“Pretty Little Dead Girls” is a novel that transcends genre. It’s horror told in a whimsical, romantic style, as if the narrator is a slightly eccentric middle-aged woman telling you dark stories while serving you tea and lemon cake in the sunshine of her veranda–and you feel no reason to distrust either the tea or the lemon cake. The subject is truly horrible, but bathed in a delightful golden light.

The story centers around Bryony Adams, a woman who, from her earliest years, has been marked for death. Everyone can see it in her eyes. She will die, die soon, and die horribly. And yet she hasn’t–so far. Her ill-fated fragility draws those who want to protect her. And Death itself seems to have bad aim, continually missing her and killing people around her. Sooner or later, however, Death will not miss…

Let me say straight out that Yardley’s use of language and tone in this novel is magical. I nearly felt guilty for taking such delight in such darkness. I loved this book, or I wouldn’t be reviewing it at all. It’s a compelling story that draws you in and pulls you along.

And yet there were enough typos and editing mistakes–at least in the POD format–that I got thrown out of the story several times and am still a little irritated about that. I can endure a few typos–I find those even in big publisher releases–but the errors were too many and too large to ignore. It could have been so much better a book if only I could have just read onward without being interrupted by the novel itself.

If you’re one who is not bothered by such things you’ll likely love this book. Perhaps it’s cleaner in other formats, such as the ebook. There are ample 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon, and none of the ones I read mentioned the editing. So it’s entirely possible other formats are just fine, or I’m just too picky.

In any case, if you’re interested in a different sort of novel; a quirky, magical experience that somehow bestows an airy quality to the darkest of subjects; this is one worth trying out. I understand why it’s reviewed so favorably. It’s worth reading around the editing problems. Also, aside from the dark subject matter, there is nothing else to disqualify this book. There is no bad language, there is no sex. The violence is only moderately, poetically graphic–and I have to admit it’s probably better with it, as otherwise it would be easy to accuse this book of sugar-coating. Horrible things happen in this book, and we should be shocked by it, however briefly. Whatever genre it may be, it is at least horror.

I might never have picked this novel up if not for my recent forays into horror. This is probably the best non-horror-horror novel I’ve ever read. I just wish I could make a few quick clean-up edits.

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Thom on August 24th, 2016

This last week I went to San Francisco with my two boys for the Pokémon 2016 World Championships. The two have been working toward this for nearly a year since they watched the 2015 World Championships streaming video from Boston (and learned there was a World Championships). My older boy especially made it a goal.

It’s been a long year. The process for qualifying for Worlds is a multi-level progression in which a player must accumulate a specific number of “Champion Points”. There are League Challenges, City Championships, State Championships, Regional Championships, and National Championships. A player can only count their six best finishes from league challenges, four best from cities, four best from state and regionals, and one national. There is a maximum number of points available at each level, from 15 points for a league challenge to 500 points for a national championship–for first place. Lower rankings may earn a lower number of points depending on how many participants were involved. For example (as which happened frequently) at a City Championship if there were four players the top two would get points (50 for first, 40 for second), but for third or fourth to get points there would need to be eight participants.

Anyway, with that background out of the way, my two boys were in different divisions this year; my older boy was in Seniors, and the younger in Juniors. Juniors had to accumulate 200 points, and Seniors had to get 250. They got off to a bit of a slow start. The younger didn’t really take it seriously at first, and didn’t participate in many of the League Challenges. The older tried every one he could and soon maxed out the points he could earn from them.

Then came cities season, which played out over November, December, and part of January. The younger won the first he tried and then got busy with tennis and didn’t try any more for a while. The older went to every cities he could, but kept running into the same three other players who he had a hard time beating, and since they seldom had eight or more players, he’d usually get shut out of points. He was getting pretty frustrated. The younger then came back for a few and picked up a few more wins–and points. By the end of the cities season the youngest had enough points he could reach his qualification total simply by maxing out his league challenge points. But the older was just ten points shy.

Next came our State Championship this spring. There would be more players, so it would be easier to get points–and all he needed was ten! But the older one did poorly, not picking up any points at all, while the younger got second–and many more points than he needed. We then tried the championship for the next state over. The younger got first, and the older still came up short. Much consternation abounded. Not that there were hard feelings between them–the younger would gladly have given points to his brother if he could.

The older’s last shot came at Regionals a few months later. Finally the roles reversed; the older got seventh, and more than enough points, while the younger finished below point level. But at least they were both in.

Of course just to make things more suspenseful we had troubles with the Pokémon Company itself. At one point one of the older’s city wins got lost and left him even shorter on points. That was eventually worked out. And then this summer, just before the final list for Worlds was posted, the younger’s entire point total went missing. We still don’t know what happened there, but a week before Worlds (and a couple weeks after his brother) he got his invitation anyway. A bit of a nail-biter there. His points still don’t show anywhere.

And then came the Big Event last week. We tried to manage our expectations–this would be the Main Stage of Pokémon, the best of the best, not an easy win to be found. They would have to do their best to even get very far. But hope springs eternal.

The World Championships is made up of two days. The first day is for all the general qualifiers to battle it out for the top spots that get to move on to the second day, where they compete against those who secured their second-day berths with wins at national championships. Since we didn’t even go to Nationals, both boys had to battle it out on Day One. The older son was up against around 204 seniors vying for 30 spots. The younger was up against 178 juniors for the same number of spots.

The younger came in 58th overall for the day. He was a little frustrated along the way–certain decks opponents can play can be horribly annoying, so I don’t blame him. But he went 3-3-0 for the day and finished in the upper third. It just wasn’t good enough. After the initial frustration he seemed to take it pretty well. He did the best of any of the competitors from Utah in his group, after all. But he would be a spectator on Day Two.

The older son got off to a flying start, going up 3-0-0 in his first three rounds. If he got four wins he’d move on to Day Two automatically. But then things got tougher and he lost the next two rounds. He started getting frustrated, but fought it off before his final round, where he pulled off the Pokémon equivalent of a last-second touchdown pass to win the game. He ranked 10th overall for the day and won a berth in Day Two.

Day Two didn’t go as well. He started off with a tie, then won two games, then lost the next four. His final ranking was 85th.

But with the pressure off and the competition finally over (for them), both boys perked up immediately and were quite satisfied with what they accomplished. And they should be. They did better in their first year of competition than many kids ever do, and made it farther at worlds than many of their peers. I’m quite proud of them–both with how they did and how they handled themselves. They’ve matured a lot over the past year, and now they have a better idea of what it takes to play at the top levels. With the exception of one other player (in my older son’s division–and one of his Day Two  losses was to him, which he felt just fine about) our boys did better than anyone else from our state for the card game. The one other player made it to 17th place on Day Two–just missing the finals.

From not even being on the radar last year, my boys have established themselves as respected players. Masters level players take them seriously and treat them as comrades-in-arms. Just about everyone who plays competitively in our area knows their names. It’s pretty cool to watch, and gives me no small amount of satisfaction as a parent–especially that they have a reputation of being good kids and good sports, not just good players.

What does next year hold? Beats me. Pokémon is changing up the tournament structure, so it may be more difficult for them to qualify. We’re still waiting to find out what the changes will mean. There’s also the added problem the younger “graduating” into the same division as the older. Two of the top players in the senior division just moved up to the Masters level, but it’s by no means certain they’re both going to dominate. And frankly the younger’s commitment level isn’t as high as his brother’s. He’s still got tennis, where he’s just as lethal, if not more so (I know this from hard experience).

All I know is that it’s going to be an interesting year. It’s harder to read the younger son, but it’s quite clear the bug has bitten my older son. He wants another shot at Worlds, and he’s already gearing up for it. He was sick to death of the deck he took to Worlds last week, but within a few hours of our getting home he had already taken that deck apart and started putting together a new one for the next tournament.

And so it begins.

Thom on August 23rd, 2016

Okay, Studio C, you got me with this one:

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Thom on August 12th, 2016

I’ve long suspected that traffic would flow faster if people would relax and stop acting like it’s NASCAR.

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Thom on August 10th, 2016

Donald Trump claimed recently that if Hillary wins the election it’s because it’s rigged. Considering what’s been happening since then I can’t help but wonder if he’s right–and he’s in on it. Some people have been saying this for months, and I’m starting to believe they were on to something.

We already know that Hillary had her good friend Debbie Wasserman-Shultz rig the Democratic primary so that Hillary would defeat Bernie Sanders. But what if that was just the beginning? What if Trump’s plan all along was to say what he needed to say to get himself the Republican nomination and then self-destruct to the point that even if they would never vote for Hillary, Republican voters would not be able to bring themselves to vote for Trump, thus handing Hillary the win?

It’s probably far fetched, but let’s face it: if it were true, what would Trump be doing differently? Practically every day he says some new, indefensible thing. He’s losing support left and right, and Hillary is pulling ahead in the polls. The media continually ignores her lies (she continues to claim that the FBI chief exonerated her on the email scandal) and pounces on everything Trump says.

American politics is an odd duck, to be sure, but it’s really hard to believe that Trump’s growing number of unforced errors are accidental. Didn’t he promise he’d act more “presidential” after he got the nomination? I’m not seeing it. I suppose this could be some crazy-like-a-fox scheme to get Hillary’s campaign to not take him seriously, only to pivot and show a competent, presidential side closer to the election, but I doubt he has it in him.

I’m beginning to think he hid the truth in plain sight and let us all know up front that we’ve been had. He’s probably been in Hillary’s pocket all along.

I won’t be voting for either one of them. But heaven help us, I have no idea who to vote for. There’s no one who represents even a majority of my views.

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Thom on August 8th, 2016

I really shouldn’t admire celebrities, as more often than not I end up disappointed, either by their behavior or my own lack of finding out more about them first. But I’ve yet to see anything yet to suggest that Novak Djokovic, Serbian tennis star, is not what he appears to be in public.

Take his loss today at the Rio Olympics. He had gone as far as the bronze medal match in London 2012 only to fall short, but no one was expecting him to wash out in the first round. Though he fought hard (7-6, 7-6), he just couldn’t get it done. He was clearly disappointed, but rose to the occasion with a great deal of class and sportsmanship:

‘No doubt this is one of the toughest losses in my life and in my career,’ he said afterwards. ‘It’s not easy to handle, especially now, just after the wounds are still fresh.

‘But, you know, you have to deal with it. It’s not the first or the last time that I have lost a tennis match. But the Olympic Games, yeah, it’s completely different.

‘Delpo was the better player and he just deserved to win. That’s sport. He just came up with some extraordinary tennis and I have to congratulate him.

‘I’m very sad and disappointed from my side to go out in a tournament this early, but on the other hand I’m glad a good friend of mine, and somebody who has struggled the last couple of years with injuries, is back and playing at this level.’

His reaction doesn’t come as a surprise, and such sportsmanship is certainly not limited to Djokovic in the tennis world–I’ve seen and heard of many occasions when players will contest erroneous judging calls that were in their favor. But I like Djokovic. He doesn’t make excuses, he doesn’t throw fits (that I’ve heard of), and his interactions with and kindnesses to ball kids are the stuff of legend. So far I feel pretty safe letting my youngest son chose him as his role-model.

He’s still in the running in men’s doubles, so we’ll be keeping our familial fingers crossed. Stay classy, Novak. The world can always use more of that.

Thom on July 20th, 2016

We’ve lived in our current house for five years, nearly. Among the fruit trees we inherited are two apricot trees. When I first looked the house while house-hunting they had apricots on them. Since we moved in there have been none at all or so few that the birds find them before we even realize they are there. I was severely tempted to cut them down and put something else in their place.

Apricots01Then there was this year. Remember that verse from the Bible that promises God will “pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it”? That’s these two apricot trees suddenly. They were loaded with flowers this spring, and evidently we never got a hard enough freeze to kill the fruit like we have in years past.

Seeing the coming tide, I thinned them without remorse, and I removed at least three for every one I left. Hah! That didn’t even slow them down. They grew, and they grew, and then, just as we were getting ready to go on vacation, they began to ripen. Worst. Possible. Timing.

My valiant wife has done her best to keep up with them–and to find uses for them. We’ve tried them in jam (yum!), in cobbler, in cakes, eaten them straight for nearly every meal, canned them, frozen them… and they just keep coming! And we can’t even give them away, because of course everyone else is having a good apricot year, too!

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that one tree seemed to lag behind the other. After we got back from vacation I went out and picked the rest of the apricots from that tree. A lot were bird-eaten and/or over-ripe, but we still got quite a few. A few were ready on the second tree, as well, but after picking those it appears we might get a week’s reprieve before the next wave hits. Apricots02

I don’t know what we’ll do when this next wave hits. Try making smoothies? Sell them to unsuspecting city-slickers as gourmet peaches? Hurl them at random passersby? Pile them up on the front walk and let them get all slimy as a trap for door-to-door salesmen? See if we can convert them into bio-fuel? Give a bunch to our new neighbors as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift?

I know in a couple of years we’ll be missing apricots again. I suspect with the weather patterns around here it’ll be rare when we get this much–if any. At least now we know it’s possible. We’re used to the apple and plum trees producing yearly. Perhaps next time we see apricots coming on we’ll be better prepared to deal with them.

It’s a nice problem to have. We just hate to think of any of them going to waste.

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Thom on July 18th, 2016

I came across an interesting column in the Washington Post today, title “I rejected my parents’ WASP values. Now I see we need them more than ever.” In it Pamela Constable discusses her life growing up with privilege, her rejection of her parents’ values in young adulthood, and her more recent attempts to get closer to  her parents and subsequently finding they were much better people than she’d given them credit for.

Visiting home between assignments, I found myself noticing and appreciating things I had always taken for granted — the tamed greenery and smooth streets, the absence of fear and abundance of choice, the code of good manners and civilized discussion. I also began to learn things about my parents I had never known and to realize that I had judged them unfairly. I had confused their social discomfort with condescension and their conservatism with callousness.

It’s an interesting article, well worth a few moments to read.

It made me reflect on my own upbringing and my parents. I never rebelled like Constable, but I can’t say I truly appreciated my parents, either. I probably still don’t comprehend everything they went through for us. I know they did the best they could, however, and the older I get the more I appreciate what they managed to accomplish. Of course they weren’t perfect, but some of what I might once have considered failings I’ve come to accept as the simple difficulties we humans experience in trying to understand one another. Perhaps I wasn’t entirely understood by my parents, but I didn’t appreciate how difficult I was–and continue to be–to understand. I’ve since come to realize that I don’t make it easy for anyone to get to truly know me. Somewhere along the line I learned to hide large parts of myself from everyone. With five other kids to take care of it can’t have been easy for them to realize how much I kept hidden, though I’m not certain being an only child would have helped either. I’m pretty good at building walls.

In any case, my parents did an amazing job. Both came from difficult circumstances–not negative, mind you, just difficult. They both grew up accustomed to rural life and had to adapt to a more citified existence. Dad experienced many career changes, and ultimately settled in a low-level job at a University. I never realized it then, but many of his frustrations with his job came from the built-in class conflicts inherent in such an environment. He knew his job better than the highly educated people over him, and was smarter than many of the people he had to deal with every day. Dad’s genius was in hands, in his love of and understanding of people, and in his ability to organize the chaos inherent in meeting and balancing the material needs of students and professors. Students appreciated and liked him, but I’m not sure he always got the respect he deserved from the faculty and administrators.

Not that I have room to talk. I don’t think he got the respect he deserved from me, either. I know much of that is inherent in the parent-child relationship, and fathers being misunderstood by their sons is practically a requirement. I think I fell into that less than most, but I still can’t help but notice how the older I get, the more brilliant my parents seem. My parents, like so many others during that time period, quietly “got it done,” and largely without getting the credit they deserve. I hope we all figure this out before it’s too late.

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Thom on July 9th, 2016

Life is getting in the way too much at the moment. I think I need to step away from everything for a while reevaluate what I’m doing. Until then, I’m not going to be posting, or very intermittently.

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Thom on July 7th, 2016

Because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about today I went back a year and looked at what I was posting this time last July. It turns out I had just finished The Merchant Prince (my fifth novel) and was planning to take some time to revise The Queen’s Colors, the novel I finished before that.

My first thought was discouragement. It’s a year later and all I’ve got to show for it is about 30k words on the next novel I had planned. But I did do a fairly extensive revision of Queen’s Colors, and I’ve since identified another major fix I need to work on. I did a lot of world-building for The Forerunner, my current project, and wrote close to 20k words that I largely threw away when I started over. I also began a side-project, my yet-to-be-named “young adult paranormal romance.” That one quickly went off the rails because I was trying to “pants” it, which I’ve pretty much determined I can’t do anymore. My first two novels were written as I went, which is the reason why the first one stank on ice and why the second is an odd exception. I think that one only succeeded because it was fan-fic, so much of the world-building was done for me and because the plot was rather cliché.

So far to date The Queen’s Colors remains my favorite and, I believe, my best work. The Merchant Prince really needs some significant rework, but it shows promise. As for The Forerunner, I’m trying to out-stubborn it. I’ve felt for some time I’m not up to the challenge of this one yet, but I’m determined to make a go of it anyway. It’s had some magical moments, but for the most part it’s near-drudgery. As in “why am I still trying to be a writer?” drudgery. There are some other things going on in my life that have lent quite heavily to that, but I have to admit to questioning my commitment to being a writer. It’s more habit that’s keeping me going than anything else sometimes.

But to give myself a little credit, the level of complexity has changed for this novel. Yes, Merchant Prince followed three major characters’ points of views, but it was largely one main character with two other characters all involved in different perspectives of the same plot line. Forerunner has two completely separate plot lines with a major character in each, and before long there will be a third minor plot with a major character completely separate from the other two. I’m still setting up things that will run for three novels (at least), as well as building the plot for this novel. It’s challenging, and it’s work. Usually by now in each novel I’ve hit my stride and it begins writing itself. That’s not happening yet with this one. One of the plotlines is starting to show signs of taking off, but that’s not the one I’m on at the moment.

Summertime is always a hard time to write, I think. There are just too many distractions; vacations, kids’ activities, lack of good sleep (allergies are wrecking havoc this year), heat, etc. My motivation is low right now, and likely to take some even more serious hits soon. The next month is going to be a struggle, and my main goal is just to not give up.

How’s that for a motivational post? 😉