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Wednesday, August 29, 2012 19 comments

The Unicorn Bell and the Statue of Liberty

Last week, I entered the August Query Extravaganza over at Unicorn Bell, a fantastic blog run by a bunch of writers who walk the walk when it comes to paying it forward.

I had a great time, and wanted to offer some critique-al love to Alicia, Charity, Elizabeth, Huntress, L. Blankenship, Marcy and Sharon (who just gave birth to her son several days ago :)
(Jeffrey, as only guy in the group, you get a Man-hug, bro.J)

Unicorn Bell asked writers to submit queries for critique and suggestions (this week they have agents reviewing queries for completed manuscripts) and I thought a “Query Makeover” was in order.

With help from several group moderators, and a few Bluddies (blog buddies) like Lara and Tracy, I whittled my query from 411 words to 206, keeping all my highlights.

Here’s the revised version. (Original is below.)
Dear Agent,

In 1995, a handsome, up-and-coming tenor, performing with the Welsh Opera was out cycling when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Suffering only cuts and bruises, Donald Braswell, described as “the next Pavarotti,” was relieved until he realized the accident stole the irreplaceable – his voice.
Doctors told the Juilliard graduate he might never sing again, yet Braswell, a life-long Christian, never lost faith. His journey back to a professional stage took thirteen years of menial jobs, one musical miracle and a 2008 audition on America’s Got Talent. That first AGT performance almost ended before it began as a restless, tired crowd heckled the “Texas Tenor” before he sang a note. But, after he finished Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” the jeers became cheers and Braswell’s improbable ride to the Final Four was underway.

Today, Braswell, 49, is again a full time entertainer with an annual schedule that includes many charitable concerts to further his goal of “paying it forward.” An inspirational story of perseverance and chance, it is no wonder then-judge Piers Morgan once called Braswell, “The Rocky of our show.”

A former journalist and current blogger, I am co-writing REVIVAL: THE DONALD BRASWELL STORY. The 67,000-word memoir is complete and polished.*
(*by February 2013 :)

Donald Braswell

(Original below :)
Dear Agent,
In 1995, a handsome young tenor, performing with the Welsh Opera was cycling when a hit-and-run driver struck him. Suffering only cuts and bruises, Donald Braswell, described as “the next Pavarotti,” was relieved until he realized the accident stole the irreplaceable – his voice. New York doctors confirmed the million-to-one throat injury. The Juilliard graduate was told he might talk, but would never sing again. An immediate $50,000 payday was lost, as was the long-term career of “the American Corelli.” Braswell refused to quit. He relearned speech, rediscovered song and regained self-respect in the following years. Working as a plasterer’s assistant, he also sold insurance, pools and used cars, anything to provide for his growing family.

In 2004, Braswell met Walter Lucas at the car dealership, and agreed to the homeless-looking man’s request for a test drive. Hearing Braswell’s story, Walter, a former musician, told him to contact a local, Grammy-winning music studio. Executives said producing a CD would cost $50,000. Could Braswell contact a trusted client to bankroll the project? Calling his first sale at the Jaguar dealership, the woman was shocked – but not due to Braswell calling – she’d just bought that music studio. Struggling for nine years to regain a toe hold in the world of opera, Braswell inked his first record deal just two weeks after what he dubbed “The Miracle of Music.”

Overall, Braswell’s journey back to a professional stage took him thirteen years and a first audition on America’s Got Talent (2008.) During his first performance, the restless crowd heckled even before Braswell sang one note. After finishing Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up, the jeers became cheers. Eliminated in the next round, the “Texas Tenor” was voted back on the show following an emergency Wild Card round. A fan favorite, Braswell sang his way to the AGT Finals, where he placed fourth overall. Today, Braswell, 49, is again a full time entertainer with three CDs and much more to his name. Blessed with this second chance, his annual schedule includes many charitable and Christian concerts to further his goal of “paying it forward” to those less fortunate. (His most recent lead role was Cornelius in a June 2012 charity musical, The Centurion.)

A former journalist, current blogger (and an ex-Irishman living in Hawaii,) I am co-writing REVIVAL: THE DONALDBRASWELL STORY. The book proposal for this memoir is complete and 47k words are “in the bank.” The 67,000-word ms will be ready by Jan. 15, 2013.
This post is my way to say THANK YOU to those in the community who step up to help the rest of us out.

And to anyone struggling with a query, chapter or ms… don’t let your fear overcome your dreams.

Like it (should :) say on the Statue of Liberty:

Courtesy: Earthcam

“Give us your tired draft, your poor query, your huddled ms yearning to breathe free.”

Because, when you do share, you may be pleasantly surprised with the results…

So. What’s holding you back from sharing your work?
Monday, August 27, 2012 23 comments

15 Sundays to Honolulu


 Eleven years ago I made myself a promise.

I was going to run a marathon a year for ten years starting with Honolulu Marathon of 2001.

I was running with the gang of amateurs – and I fit in quite nicely.

I always ran on Tuesdays, and on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, I was so angry that I ran and ran even after my Achilles tendon nearly popped.

Unable to walk for six weeks and not much caring about a “stupid race,” I put my goal on hold until the following year.

I ran my first marathon in 2002, and this December, I will finally run in the Honolulu Marathon – and reach my goal of “Ten in Ten.”

For the next fifteen Mondays, I’ll be posting something related to my “training” and the adventures behind my first nine marathons.
(I ran one once without a lick of training, ‘cos I wanted to see what would happen…)

Please don’t think this is going to be all serious and dry, and full of nutritional tips, ‘cos it won’t be, I promise.
(Although drinking warm beer served at Mile Marker 18 at Disney World’s race did fill me up.)

I’m not all about beating personal times – my only goal is making the finish line before the cleanup trucks catch up with me!

Next Monday: How a random blind date during a group run ended in marriage (!!!) and how the person who set us up in Long Beach became our Discharge Doctor for No. 3 Son here in Hawaii J
PS... If anyone will be running in Honolulu... let me know!!!
We can be TEAM BLOGISFEAR      :)
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 25 comments

Guest Interview: C. Lee McKenzie (Author of "Alligators Overhead"

Today, I’ve the honor to pick the brains of a wonderful blogger friend by the name of C. Lee McKenzie, (she of the awesome sauce blog, The Write Game.)
Aloha Lee,                        

Thanks for dropping in and agreeing to be my latest victim guest interviewee.
Aloha back! I only wish I could say that to you in person. It's been too long since my last visit to the islands. Gotta do something about that!

In late July, you published your first MG book, Alligators Overhead. Sincere congrats on that, but I have to ask: Why alligators? You seem very nice and normal, and alligators are mean and abnormal (I lived in Central Florida for three years and one nearly ate me…)
First, thanks for the "nice and normal" compliment, Mark. You obviously haven't talked to my family or you might not have written that about me. Sorry about the traumatic alligator encounter. That would put me off those critters for sure, but they've been on planet earth for over 65 million years, so they got here first. We have to give them some space and what better place than a lovely swamp?

So why alligators? I guess I wanted to write a story without a cat in it for a change. There are cat stories all over the place . . . and dog and horse ones, too. In my opinion, alligators are underrepresented. And as for those cats, well, I love cats or I did. Have you read the news on my blog about what those cats are up to? They want to ban my book. Very unreasonable demands! They're calling for a total rewrite of the story, taking out the alligators and putting themselves in as the witch familiars. This is a battle, but I'm determined to win.

Am I allowed to be bold? Why C. Lee? (I’ve always wondered what the C stands for :)

C. Lee McKenzie
I wanted a new persona when I started writing for young readers. I didn't know any simple way other than to alter my name. Beside I found a Cheryl McKenzie online who was a stripper and I didn't want people to confuse the two of us. For the record: I'm not, nor have I ever been a stripper. Do you know what the F. stands for in F. Scott Fitzgerald? or the C. S. in C. S. Lewis? How about S.E. in S. E. Hinton? (ANS: Francis, Clive Staples and Susan Eloise) I was always curious about those initials of authors, too. I'm glad you asked.

How did you come up with some of those awesome character names like Lucy Thricewater… she must have a very clean and filtered family history J
Clean and filtered she is, indeed. Each of the characters needed something special about them and I began with their names. (Do you see some kind of pattern in my life? Naming seems to be important. Maybe that came from something in my childhood.) The problem about the names in this book is that I had to put them into my spell check so I could spell them the same way throughout book. I mean Stiltencranz and Wartgob and Frankenhoff aren't too easy to say, let alone spell. But I loved the quirky names and they fit the quirkiness of the story. I kept the MC pretty common (Pete Riley), but then I had to tweak his sidekick's name a bit. I had a neighbor once that we called Weasel. He hated that nickname. Hope he has a good laugh if he ever reads my story. Either that or he'll write me a nasty letter to tell me how much hated me for calling him Weasel lo these many years ago.

If *they* said you could not be an author, and you had no choice, what is the one job you would most least like to do – and why?
How about witch for what I'd like most to be? That's an ancient and honorable job. They don't burn witches anymore, do they? That would be a downside to that career choice. I'd least like to be night watch woman. I'd also be almost totally unemployed, too. I'm an early riser, and I'm definitely an early to bed person. If I had to guard anything after ten, whatever I was guarding would pretty much be up for the taking. So there you have it: witch woman but not watch woman.

Can you remember when you finished your first ever story? How old were you, and what was it about?
I was about 8. It was actually a play about vegetables. (You're laughing? And that would be because . . . ?) I took my play seriously, and I created my cast only after giving it a lot of thought. There was Miss Tomato, Mr. Cabbage, Mrs. Carrot, and I think an onion or two. When I cast my play I could recruit the tomato and the carrot, but no kids wanted to play the cabbage or the onions. I had to do a rewrite and make the cabbage into a cucumber. I forget what the onions became. It was first experience with critics.

Someone gives you $5,000 to give away. You’re not allowed to spend it on friends or family, or donate it directly to a cause...  but you do have to spend the money in a charitable way. How would you pay it forward?
That's easy. I'd buy up tons of books and send to libraries all over the world, especially ones that were small and in poor areas where they needed books for young readers. Could you make that $10,000?

Wow… You’ve been blogging since 2007. How did you first hear about “web logs,” and was it like just you and like six other people here on Blogger? (I bet one was Alex J. Cavanaugh  :)
Yep. Them was the good old days. To tell the truth, I hated blogging. I only did it because my editor told me I should. I not only hated it, I was rotten at it. Then I started connecting with writers and readers and that changed how I looked at this new way of sharing ideas. I started enjoying it. I started having a lot of fun. I'm glad I kept at it. I mean if I hadn't, I never would have joined the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I never would have met you or all the other great bloggers!

What’s next on the writing front? Is Alligators Overhead going to be part of a series?
I'm finishing up another MG fantasy adventure, but it's another stand alone and it doesn't have any alligators in it . . . No cat either. I have a hard time with series. I can read them; I just don't think I have the talent for writing them. I'm also in the final stages of a rewrite on another YA that I hope to put out next year. In between those two books, I hope to get away and find an island paradise where I can locate some inspiration for some future stories. Any suggestions in your neck of the woods, er, water? (Stay away from Tahiti… they’re always filming The Final Bachelorette there…)

Reading your five fabulous moments here I’m going to hazard a guess you don’t live in Manhattan or Downtown Chicago. Are you all country – or a recent import?
I'm a long time hick. I love visiting cities, but they make me jittery after a while. If I have a perfect day it has to be a walk in the forest or along a creek. My next best one is a sandy beach day. I really love the sounds that nature make and prefer them over our noisy man-made ones.

You walk into a classroom, full of first-year writers, and you’re *the* teacher. What three points would you want to impress on this group of fresh, eager author-interns J
First, I'd ask if they've consider coal mining? It's honest work and when they go home at night they won't have to face letters of rejection or critiques about their current WIP. Seriously, I guess I'd want them to know that everyone can write stories. Then I'd want them to know that not everyone can write them well, but they can learn with practice and by paying attention to good writing. Third, I'd want them to know that if they are truly passionate about writing and sharing their stories with others, they can never give up. Giving up is the only sure way to guarantee failure.

Lee, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my random questions – and much success with Alligators Overhead.
What great questions, Mark. You did your research! I really appreciate the time you took to put this together.

Alligators Overhead is available from Amazon  and a variety of sources via Lee's blog, The Write Game.

Monday, August 20, 2012 26 comments

Comedy Winner of "What If...?" Blogfest is...



That. Was. *Fun.*

Though I may (hopefully) live happily ever after, I will never again read a fairy tale as it is was meant!!!

(And my sons are definitely barred from reading these “What If Fairytale Madness” BlogFest” posts until at least the dreaded teenage years, which is probably when they least want to read fairytales, so I should be OK ;)

With nearly NINETY entries, it was a witch of a job to pick a winner, but pick a winner we did.
Who is “we?”

Oh, don't you know how the story ends :)

My awesome sauce co-hosts and co-judges were:

The Impeachable Cassie Mae – who judged “Team Plot Twists?”

The Unflappable Leigh Covington – who judged “Tragedy.”

The Unstoppable Morgan Shamy – who judged “Team Love.”

And, I, Sir Alas PinderKass, I judged: “Team Comedy.”

Before we get to the winners, I just wanted to tell you I hate TV commercials, and I don’t know about you, but program interruptions really suck.

(White noise, white noise, etc, etc,..) 

Welcome back, and here we are, about to reveal the winner of the First Annual “What IF?” BlogFest, but before we do, let’s take an extended look at the 2012 Fall line up, here at TV Blogisfear…

No, let’s not…. Shhhhhhh, come with me quick.

Personally, I can’t handle another commercial that promises to save me fifteen percent on my car insurance (as I drive to my University of Phoenix enrollment while eating a burger 'cos I'm loving it.)

Just sayin’.

Anyhow... where was I... OH!!!
The winner of COMEDY is:
Dah Da Dah Da Da DAHHHHhhhhh...


Her winning entry, “50 Shades of Red” can be found >HERE!<

Congratulations to Elizabeth, and shoot me an email, dude-ette, so I can hook a sistah up with unlimited quantities of Hawaiian goodies (as long as it doesn’t cost more than $20 ;)~
For those wanting to discover the other winning entries, simply click the corresponding links above J

(Bowing down…) From my heart, and on behalf of my co-horts, er, co-hosts, I just wanted to say this BlogFest was an absolute blast.
Seriously, was sooo much fun to read how many of you think wicked thoughts about the poor, defenseless fairytales…

Yes, Michael di Gesu, in time, I will be looking toward you as we return in August 2013 for “What If… Fairy Madness 2.0”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 29 comments

Janet Reid & The Toot; A Tooth & an LAA Truth

Three things I hate:

·         Tooting my own horn. I. Hate. It.

·         Dentists (During a 1985 visit, the Dublin dentist who worked on me did so with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth J)

·         The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim losing (if you follow baseball, you’re probably smiling… (shaking fist your way J)

However, we are a community that lives and breathes successes and failures, so following a recent post I read by the great E.J. Wesley, I’d like to share some mini successes this week:

·         I picked up a Silver Medal at the Olympic Blog Relay this week.

Hosted by the amazing Nicole Singer, I was sandwiched between D.L. Hammons who took Gold, and some dude named Alex. (The only Blogger who doesn’t need HyperlinkingJ)

Nicole awarded me an Olympic “London 2012” pin, which is the first thing I’ve ever won for writing.

I now plan to proudly wear said pin the first time I ever do a book signing J

·         Also, this week, I made the finals of the latest 100-word contest from Janet Reid, Literary Agent.

For anyone who’s enjoyed our 300-word What If? BlogFest (runs through this Friday,) you must check in on her during the weekends, which is when she normally runs these wicked word-prompt contests.

They are so much fun to do, and you only get twenty-four hours, so it absolutely stretches your mind.

Below is my entry. (The five words I had to incorporate into the story are in bold:

Scratching her legs – the damned mosquitoes would scar her – Liz stared at her friend.

“Hamish, what does ‘ken’ even mean?”

“It means I ‘know.’”

Taking in the wreckage strewn across the beach, Liz punched the Scotsman in the shoulder.

“Well, do you ken what happened to the outrigger?”

“No idea. Dave was steering, but he –.”

Liz interrupted him. She didn’t want to think about the stacked bodies at the base of the tree.

“Do you think they’ll send anyone?”

“No, but I’ll have enough food.

I’ve never had haggis using a human stomach. I’m sure you’ll taste just fine.”


OK, so that’s more than enough Tooting for now.
Thank you very much.

Got “Toot?”
Please share!

PS… the “LAA truth” as mentioned in the title?

My Future Derek Jeter (who will only play for the Angels :)

Well, even though my beloved Angels *SUCK* so far this year, I will remain forevermore an Angel.

I love the Angels so much that my blood even turns red.


Monday, August 13, 2012 47 comments

My Entry for "What If" Blogfest - Comedy


Today is the first day of the "What If Fairytale Madness" Blogfest :)

I'm hosting with Leigh, Cassie and Morgan and I'll be judging the COMEDY entries.

It's not too late to join us - we'll be running this through Friday.

To participate or find out all the details, please click here.

Here then is my entry (at three hundred words - excluding the title.)

No News Is Good News

As Noreen White told Stella the truth, she took a load off her feet – and mind.

“You’re pregnant, and you don’t know which one it is?” said Stella, her blonde hair in a ponytail.

Noreen, or “No” to her friends, looked around her one-story home with love. The kitchen here, her regular-sized, and the seven small bedrooms back there. Sure, mornings, it was hectic, but the guys were working and wouldn’t be back until the Sports Palazzo closed at 2 a.m.

“Want a coffee, love?” said Stella, appraising her friend anew. No’s black hair was dank and her red cheeks weren’t so rosy.

“I’d murder a cuppa, cheers, especially now I’m off the Lambrusco for months.”

After Stella poured the coffee, the pair tinkled with the sugars and creamers for a moment.


“Remember that party when Jack returned from his climbing exhibition…”

“Expedition, dear.”

“Right. Well, that night me and the lads started a drinking game called “spin the apple.” The apple was too red to be organic. I wasn’t eating it, but we used the top for a pointer.”

“Did you buy the apple at The Mirror?”

“Yes. I should have known. That cashier is such a witch.”

Stella nodded.

“We had fun and you know I have feelings for the lads, right? Even when they’re sleeping, shy or silly.”

But, No, how can you not remember which one it is?”

No looked at Stella – horrified.

“I didn’t make love to the little people – I did it with Jack.”

Stella felt relief – and then confusion.

“If none of the lads are going be dads – which is great, because one's sneezing again – well why the ‘“I don’t know which one it is?’”

“Jack and I are getting married! I don’t know who to have walk me down the aisle.”


To join in all the fun, you can get all the details here.
Good luck - and *THANKS* to everyone who signed up to participate.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012 18 comments

NEVER. GIVE. IN. (Olympic Blog Relay)


I’m part of Nicole’s Gold-winning Olympic Blog Relay over at Write Me A World.

My section of the “race” is about never quitting or never giving in.

One of my favorite inspirational stories about never quitting comes from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

It’s about the love a father had for his son, his injured son, who just wanted to finish his race – even though he’d lost all hope of qualifying for the next round of the 400m men’s race.

The athlete’s name is Derek Redmond of Great Britain and he and his dad, Jim, are great men.

The other night, I thought I was going to quit.

For real.

I was going to quit querying.

I was going to quit WIP.

Just quit writing.
I was bone marrow tired and tired of falling asleep over the keyboard, my head snapping forward and back while trying to finish the latest query, chapter (or both.)

Annoyed at never seeing any tangible progress versus the amount of work I’ve done, I highlighted the master WIP file and let my finger hover over DELETE.
Sitting there in the near-dark, obviously frustrated, I reflected on the one new paragraph I’d written all week, and I was like, whatever, who cares. I mean seriously.
Then, my phone buzzed, and it was the sweetest “Atta boy, you can do it” text from my wife (who didn’t realize how down I was feeling, but just wanted to send me some encouraging words.)

I put the safety back on, holstered my index finger and went to take a shower. (I have OCD and *have to* shower before writing J), then I returned to the keyboard.
Powering up Pandora, the first song that came on was Hang On by Plumb.

This second chance event caused me to look Heavenward.

“You… You’re very good, you,” I said, à la Robert de Niro in Analyze This.
Spirits lifted by these random events, I got stuck into some good writing.

An hour later, I stopped, looked over the top of my computer and laughed for not seeing the irony in my wanting to quit WIP…

I’m co-writing the memoir of Donald Braswell, a former professional opera singer who lost his voice – his voice!! – in a 1995 hit-and-run accident.

I heard Donald’s story during his first audition on America’s Got Talent (2008.)

He explained how he never quit believing he could one day sing again on a professional stage.
So, how could I quit, when Donald never gave up.

His story is so inspirational and I ain’t quitting, don’t worry. Donald’s story will soon see the light of day, and I’ll leave the rest in the hands of the Lord.

PS: If you watched both the Derek Redmond and Donald Braswell videos, you’ll notice that Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up is the featured song.
Random, huh? :)

And finally, as Winston Churchill once said:

Never. Give. In.

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