A Little Trip to London and Scotland

I was in beautiful sunny Scotland for the last week or so, with a few days in hot and sunny London as well. I tend to visit those isles during freakish weather. When I visited Ireland, we had thirty minutes of rain. Don’t tell anyone, lest they kidnap me and stick me in a dungeon to keep the clouds away. It was a lovely trip. That word was said quite a lot on the trip. That and delightful. Scotland’s natural landscape truly does evoke powerful emotions which obliterate the brain’s thesaurus. Or perhaps it’s the whisky and the beer.

sunset ruins
Sunset and Ruins on the Isle of Skye

We arrived in London for a friend’s wedding at the Naval college, went on a great Jack the Ripper tour with London Walks, then met writer Ian Ayris at The Grapes pub in the East End and talked until closing. Great fellow, that Ian. His novel Abide with Me was released to rave reviews, and he has a great story in Protectors as well.

Rob Roy's Grave
Rob Roy’s Grave

Then we took a train to Scotland with a crowd of loud children in the quiet car, and I drove 848 miles on the wrong side of the road and survived several near-death experiences across the roundabout infested, wind scoured kilt-scape. Firs stop: Oban, where we met the magnanimous Fiona “McDroll” Johnson for fish and chips. The best of the trip. McDroll has several story collections and a novella series out, and we edited the Lost Children anthology together. She writes with great power.

Fiona "McDroll" and me
Fiona “McDroll” and me

Next to Skye. A gorgeous isle of castle ruins, unique geological protuberances and wildlife, we crossed its 20 miles on a one lane road among oil trucks and tour buses. The beautiful setting made up for the stark raving terror. We had a terrific meal of fresh seafood in Portree, along with a few glasses of smoky Talisker’s scotch, the Port Righ port-barrel finished being my favorite. We also visited the Dalwhinnie distillery and enjoyed their distiller’s edition and 25 year very much.

Eilanan Donan castle
Eilanan Donan castle

On the way out we stopped at Eileanan Donan castle, one of the biggest and most evocative, but also where Highlander was filmed, which was the important thing. Here I am, the master of your destiny:

TomSword-sml
The Kurgan in his natural habitat

From there to Loch Ness, where we caught some rain and ducked into a pub to enjoy a night of traditional music at Ghillie’s rest, where local musicians wander in and join the band. The next day took us to Inverness and the coast, where we hopped a boat to see a dozen plump north sea bottlenose dolphins settling down to lunch. We hugged the coast and stopped in Aboyne to see the Highland Games, where I regrettable didn’t join the shotput event despite having set the record in my Freshman high school year, thanks some pestering old injuries. That and I had no kilt. Maybe next time. I do want to learn to toss the caber.

Castle Pat Benatar
Castle Pat Benatar

South we hit Castle Dunnotar, one of the last fortresses to hold out against the British invader, then St. Andrew’s cathedral, whose tower has existed since the first millennium. Saw the RSS Discovery, which explored the Antarctic.  From there we drove straight to Edinburgh.

St. Andrew's cathedral
St. Andrew’s cathedral

In Edinburgh we saw Mary Read’s Close, which is an alley from the old city that was built on top of in the 1900’s. Much of it remains and it is a curious if dank window into the city’s past. We also saw the Military Tattoo play outside the castle, and met up with Allan Guthrie, Nigel Bird, and Tony Black & family in Portobello, and spent a fine evening chatting over pints and chai. Overall it was a great trip and I can’t wait to return to Scotland and the East End of London, visit my friends once more, and have more time to relax and explore.

Nigel Bird, myself, and Allan Guthrie
Nigel Bird, myself, and Allan Guthrie

Nut Up or Shut Up… Goals and Accomplishments

I’m very grateful for an amazing year. I’d like to thank my family and friends, most of all my wife Sarah, for all your support. I’d also like to thank all the writers and readers I’ve met over the last year. I’ve made some great new friends, and got back with some old ones.

I’m far from done with my goals as a writer. But I’ve covered more ground than I ever thought possible in a year. I’m beginning to understand the phrase make your own luck. I used to think it meant fixing the odds, breaking the rules. But all it means is working hard toward your goals. I’ve seen it time and time again with writers I’ve met over the last year. They’ve struggled and kept busting their behinds, and are reaping the rewards of that hard work.

My resolution is to keep on working hard and aiming high. One goal is to complete my first novel and get it published. I have a second book of the Lost Children anthology in the works. The writers have been chosen and you’ll see it next autumn. It will be bigger, with many more voices joining the cause to support The National Association to Protect Children. I’d like to write more short stories and crack some new markets. My goal last year was to get in as many different venues as possible, and this year I am going to concentrate on some big targets such as Alfred Hitchock and Ellery Queen, Hardboiled, The Strand, Shock Totem, and so on. However, a goal is something within your control. Dean Wesley Smith and my friend & personal trainer Peter V. Dell’Orto both have good posts about setting attainable goals. Here are my attainable goals.

1) Write every day. Writing, and getting back to writing, are not daunting tasks. I will set aside more time to write and not follow distractions.
2) I will write the best stories I can and continue to keep them constantly in one editor’s hands or another’s. They will never lie fallow.
3) I will write the best novel I can. I will edit it diligently. I will not rewrite it for rewriting’s sake.
4) I will find the editors and agents of the writers I admire most, who have accepted work most like my own, and I will get my novel in their hands before year’s end.
5) I will not be a slave to my anger and I focus my rage on the page. 
6) I will go to MMA class once per week.
7) I will resume a healthier diet… beer is not a food group.

You set goals and they become accomplishments. Here are my accomplishments of 2011, in vague order. And a few great things that happened that were outside my control, but made me happy.

January.
Completed my first novel, The Garage. Drawer fodder. Currently rewriting it, using the characters and concepts I developed in this 115,000 word monster born of NaNoWriMo 2010.

February.
Wrote my first short stories in ten years.

March.
First story published in ten years, Punk Dad Manifesto, at the Morning News… And was paid for it!
Married my Firecracker, Sarah. Love of my life, who keeps me centered and in line. Had a beautiful wedding and a wonderful time with friends and family, and a relaxing honeymoon with my new wife.

April.
Began writing for flash fiction challenges, met Fiona “McDroll” Johnson online and she told me to submit my work to crime venues. Pointed me to the magnanimous Sandra Seamans, who lists all the markets. I began reading them all, finding many new-to-me writers and all sorts of inspiration. I never forget to thank Fiona Johnson for that first kick in the ass. I wouldn’t be writing the way I do today if it wasn’t for her.
This led to 33 stories accepted in 2011, appearing in anthologies and journals alongside Lawrence Block, Wayne Dundee, Ray Banks, and many, many other writers whose work I admire.

May.
First crime story published in Shotgun Honey, “The Last Sacrament.”
I met Lawrence Block at a signing at Watchung Booksellers. Since then we’ve chatted online and at the Mysterious Bookshop. One of our great living writers and a hell of a guy, it’s always humbling to meet your literary heroes.

June.
Rode on the Star Ledger Munchmobile with Peter Genovese and crew, got my picture in the state newspaper stuffing my face with a sandwich.
Made print in The Utne Reader, when they reprinted Punk Dad Manifesto.

July.
Ron Earl Phillips asked me to be a moderator at Flash Fiction Friday.
My story “A Glutton for Punishment” debuted at Beat to a Pulp, and Lawrence Block not only read it, but commented on it. A few short words that still mean a lot to me. Thanks, Mr. Block.

August.
“Rain Dog” published in Crimespree #43, first crime story in print.
Wrote back and forth with Harlan Ellison, another literary hero and influence, who tells readers not to write to him. But always replies.

September.
Won the First place Bullet Award for my story “Black Eyed Susan,” which was also favorably reviewed by James Reasoner and hardboiled legend Wayne Dundee.
I ask Fiona Johnson to write a fiction cue for Flash Friday and she comes up with the Lost Children Challenge.

October.
Pulp Modern #1 released, putting me twixt the same covers as Lawrence Block.
Made tons of friends in the crime fiction community online and at Bouchercon. Most of all Josh Stallings and Sabrina Ogden, who felt like old friends, but also Glenn Gray, Christa Faust, Matthew Funk, Johnny Shaw and Kent Gowran. We joke that crime writers are the friendliest bunch of murder-minded mothers around, but it really is true. Everyone I met was friendly, from Harlan Coben to Joelle Charbonneau, even when I was a babbling idiot.

Visited Italy with Sarah, experienced the ruins of Pompeii, the bustle of Napoli, the decadence of Capri, the old and new of Rome, and spent time with our friends David and Courtney. Everyone needs a break, and someday I’ll write about a chase through Pozzuoli between a tourist and the Gomorra to write this off as research. Hell, my honeymoon trip inspired my longest short story, “White People Problems,” which will be at All Due Respect this year, and be expanded into a novel … eventually. I really want to introduce you to Bobby and the Five Stages of Grief… you’ll get a taste soon at ADR.

November.
Published Lost Children: a Charity Anthology to support PROTECT, and spoke to Executive Director  Grier Weeks about the project.
Corresponded with another hero, of mine, Andrew Vachss. We’d written before, but never so often. A pat on the shoulder from a veteran warrior in the fight against child abuse and exploitation, who became a lawyer and an incredible writer to fight this fight… well, it means more than I feel comfortable sharing.

December.
I deadlifted 555lbs and I benched 260lbs. I pursue goals other than writing. I added 60lbs to my deadlift and began benching again after tearing both my rotator cuffs two years ago. I surpassed my old record of 250 on the bench. All by adding 5lbs a month using the 5/3/1 lifting regimen. A slog, but with great results. Last year I was deadlifting 400lbs for 10 reps. Now I’m lifting 510lbs for 5. And I stopped a falling refrigerator with my chin.

I’ll diverge because it amuses me. Pulp queen Christa Faust got a kick out of me crowing about my personal record and said we should fight crime as Max Deadlift and Pixie Cockpunch. We shall see. She’s a busy writer with a lot of irons in the fire, but I just might suggest a collaboration…

I made quite a few best-of lists for short story. According to the readers, my best stories are Black-Eyed Susan, Shogun Honey, Candle, The Forest for the Trees, Junkyard Dog, and Legacy of Brutality.

We sold 150 copies of the Lost Children Anthology in 2 months.

It’s been a hell of a year. I’m sure I’ve missed some. And I could have expended as many words thanking everyone by name. Thank you for reading, and spreading the word. Writing is the most solitary art. The feedback is delayed and muted, so when someone takes the time to tell you they liked what you wrote, it has great effect, no matter how we try to make our response as cool as can be.

So, don’t make resolutions. They sound like U.N. agenda items, and we know how useful they are, with China and the Sudan on the human rights committee. Set realistic and attainable goals, with milestones and measurable markers of success. “Eat better” means little. “Don’t go back for seconds, and do not snack after dinner, and walk 30 minutes a day” is controllable, and will guarantee results. Eight years ago I weighed nearly 400 pounds. I began by walking an hour a night, and not eating bread and sweets. A year later I’d lost 140 pounds. Every day adds up. If you fail, get up immediately… don’t give up. What’s one day of missing your targets out of 366? Nothing. A pittance.

Here’s wishing you all a happy new year… now get to work on making it that way. 

The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology now available

30 powerful stories from around the world to benefit two children’s charities: PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children (www.protect.org) and Children 1st Scotland (www.children1st.uk.org). 


Stories by David Ackley, Kevin Aldrich, David Barber, Lynn Beighley, Seamus Bellamy, Paul D. Brazill, Sif Dal, James Lloyd Davis, Roberto C. Garcia, Susan Gibb, Nancy A. Hansen, K.V. Hardy, Gill Hoffs, Fiona “McDroll” Johnson, J.F. Juzwik, MaryAnne Kolton, Benoit Lelievre, Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw, Vinod Narayan, Paula Pahnke, Ron Earl Phillips, Thomas Pluck, Sam Rasnake, JP Reese, Chad Rohrbacher, Susan Tepper, Luca Veste, Michael Webb, Nicolette Wong and Erin Zulkoski.

It began as a flash fiction challenge when Fiona Johnson and Thomas Pluck donated $5 to PROTECT and £5 to Children 1st for every story at Ron Earl Phillips’ Flash Fiction Friday and Fictionaut. Now we have collected the 30 best stories to benefit these two charities.


Join us and make a difference while you read 30 great stories genres by writers from the U.S.A., Poland, Hong Kong, Portugal, India, Scotland, England, Canada, and one told by a Lost Boy of the Sudan to his teacher.


Only $2.99 
Available now for Amazon Kindle (You may also read it on your computer with Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader, or on your phone with the Amazon Kindle App)
Available for Nook, Kobo, Sony e-reader and in PDF, epub, mobi and Viewable Online at Smashwords
If you don’t have an e-reader: you can download the Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac app, the Nook for PC App, Nook for Mac App or view it online at Smashwords, or download it as an Adobe PDF file. You can also read epubs on the Adobe Digital Editions reader for PC and Mac.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology

The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology

When I asked Fiona “McDroll” Johnson to take the guest spot at Ron Earl Phillips’ Flash Fiction Friday, I had no idea the response she’d get. She gave us a meaningful challenge, to write about neglected, abused or otherwise “lost” children. Together we decided to donate $5 to PROTECT and £5 to Children 1st for every story submitted, and we told everyone we knew. We ended up getting 44 entries, and raising $600 for the charities, plus the donations from individual writers such as MaryAnne Kolton.
We received entries from all over the globe and from writers from the FFF community, Fictionaut, Facebook and Twitter, and from the ever-supportive online crime fiction community. We decided that more could be done. We chose 30 of the stories to include in The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology, all proceeds of which will be split between PROTECT and Children 1st. The e-book will be offered for $2.99 on Kindle, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble. After the vendor takes their cut, that’s $1 for each of the charities for every purchase.

If you don’t have an e-reader, it will be available in PDF format from Smashwords and Goodreads, or you can download the Kindle for PC app, or the Nook for PC app. It’s all for a cause, so there’s no need to buy a e-reader if you want to support two institutions that are on the front lines in the war against the exploitation, abuse, and neglect of children.

I will put the sale links here on the blog on NOVEMBER FIRST when it is released, but to follow updates and read short bios contributing writers, please visit the blog for THE LOST CHILDREN: A CHARITY ANTHOLOGY.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Meet Fiona Johnson…

Every bird’s got to leave the nest, but sometimes they need a little push. Or a three-toed kick in the arse. That’s what my friend Fiona gave me back in March when I wrote “The Last Sacrament,” and wondered if I should submit it anywhere. She told me to, gave me suggestions, and I got my first publication.

A short while later this fine judge of good writing asked me if I thought she should submit her own stories. Now, I’d been reading her tales of Gemma the Scottish police investigator for some time, drawn in by their gritty reality and Gemma herself, a fiercely alive character you should drop by Fiona’s blog- or Shotgun Honey- to meet. So I got to return that kick in the arse. I’m not sure if she believed me, or if it took our mutual friend Kate, but she’s got two great stories in The Flash Fiction Offensive and Shotgun Honey,  venues that keep getting better.

Fiona is interviewed today at Sea Minor, the blog of Nigel Bird, a fine writer himself. Please drop by. She gives me a great shout-out, but honestly, I’m sending you that way in the hopes you’ll read her stories “Saying Goodbye” at TFFO and “Hard as Nails” at Shotgun Honey, and see what a talent she has. If crime stories aren’t your game, “Saying Goodbye” is as good a coming of age tale as I’ve read in a long while. Read her now, so you can give a smug sniff a few years from now when Gemma stars in the gritty procedural from Scotland that everyone is scrambling to read.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck