BLACKBEARD’S LOST TREASURE named a Semi-Finalist in the 2016 Adventure Writer’s Competition

On Wednesday I received word that my new novel Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure was named as a semi-finalist in the 2016 Adventure Writer’s Competition, sponsored by the Clive Cussler Collector’s Society.

This is a huge honor for me as Cussler’s novels are one of the things that inspired me to begin reading in the mid-1990’s. The formula I used for Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure is patterned after many of Cussler’s works.

From the Adventure Writer’s Competition website:

Our finalists will be announced approximately September 4, 2016. “Again, only a single point divided the tenth spot from the four-way tie for eleventh,” said Peter Greene, the competition director. “It literally came down to the last judge’s submissions to get a top ten.” 2016 was the largest entry field of fifty-eight qualifying entries out over almost seventy total entries.

“There were so many great entries, I think the judges had their hands full, but in the end, they did a great job.  On to the manuscript round,” said Greene.  Judges now have almost a month to submit their scores.


The Winner will be announced Saturday evening, October 8th at the Clive Cussler Collectors Society Convention held in Denver, Colorado at the Ramada Plaza Northglenn. The event will take place October 7-8-9.  If you plan to attend, please make your room reservations as soon as possible. Finalists may attend the award dinner and ceremony free of charge, and are encouraged to attend the convention, however, it is not a condition of the contest and is not required.

You can read more about the contest here and learn more about Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure here.

Author Interview Wednsday: Connie Chappell

During and after the publication of Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure, I have become acquainted with many other fellow authors. I love seeing how they go about their craft: what they write, how they write, what inspires them, etc.

I reached out to Connie Chappell, Author of Wild Raspberries and Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont, and asked her a few questions about her latest work.

connie chappell photo
Author Connie Chappell

Give us a short history on you and your work. 

I’ve been a writer since 2007. I’ve been an author since 2015. I make that distinction because, in April of 2015, my first novel, Wild Raspberries, was released. My second novel, Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont, was released in February of 2016. Wild Raspberries’ genre is literary fiction while Deadly Homecoming is a mystery.

The difference between the two genres, from a writers’ standpoint, is what drives the stories. Literary fiction is character-driven while Deadly Homecoming is plot-driven. The emotions of the Wild Raspberries’ characters drive that story. In Deadly Homecoming, it’s the clues revealed to solve the mystery that drives that story.

Have you won any awards for your writing?

My publisher, Black Rose Writing, nominated Wild Raspberries in 2015 for the Maxy Award. The novel qualified because it was published by an independent publisher. Award announcements were made May 2, 2016. 

Maxy Awards issued this statement about its choice for Best Literary Fiction: “Chappell does a wondrous job allowing her words to speak for her characters, immersing the reader in scenes where dialogue would have typically done the trick.” In Wild Raspberries, Chappell authored a subtle and daring story. When protagonist Callie MacCallum sews her first quilt after the death of her lover, Jack Sebring, she doesn’t realize she’ll be drawn into a Sebring family battle between his wife and daughter-in-law. Each of the women harbors her own heartaches and diverse secrets. They, nevertheless, unite in pursuit of a resolution to their mutual crisis: the welfare of a child.

May 2 was a very exciting day for this author. If you get a chance, do a little research on the Maxy Award. I was particularly drawn to this award contest by the promise that a portion of the proceeds would be donated to a foundation that provides therapy to individuals with developmental disabilities.

connie chappell wild raspberriesWhat are you currently working on?

The book I hope to see released early in 2017 is an independent sequel to Wild Raspberries. I say ‘independent’ because readers won’t need to read Wild Raspberries first. The title of the new book is Proper Goodbye

Proper Goodbye is Beebe Walker’s story. Beebe is a character in Wild Raspberries. I decided to tell her story separately while I was still working on Wild Raspberries. Her story grabbed me that much.

In Proper Goodbye, Beebe’s life changes when she learns about a secret buried in her father’s cemetery. I bet that premise is already drawing you in. Buried secrets! Gotta love that!

The perpetrator of this buried secret is Beebe’s mother. I promise you’ll meet many memorable characters in Proper Goodbye and a dog named Barleycorn.

How do you get inspired to write?

Waking up in the morning is all the inspiration I need. From that first morning I sat down to write, inspiration has never been in short supply. At some point, I began to think like a writer and read like a writer. That transformation is a permanent one. I firmly believe I can never go back. 

Where did you get the idea for Wild Raspberries?

The premise behind Wild Raspberries comes from a writer’s very basic requirement to tell a story that has never been told before. I decided to tell a love story from the “other woman’s” point-ofview, a love story that begins after her lover dies. In Wild Raspberries, the longsuffering wife is the one who possesses questionable character traits. 

Of utmost importance when I sit down to tell a story is the desire to tell all sides. That said, Wild Raspberries explores an ample supply of good and bad deeds on behalf of both women.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I can honestly say I’ve never had writer’s block. Sometimes, I have an idea for a scene and struggle over how to get it started. That struggle usually results in a free-write, where I type out whatever I’m thinking about for the scene: descriptions, purpose, characters’ movements through it, their emotions, conflicts. I type fast with my eyes closed so I’m not distracted by typos. Eventually, I type a sentence or phrase that clicks. My fingers stop, and I know I have that all-important first line that spurs my imagination into high gear.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I like so many things about being a writer that it’s hard to label one as the best. I like the fact that I can’t not write. I must write. I like the routine I’ve put in place. I’m up early at 4 a.m. Most days, I give it two hours. But, oh, those mornings when I get to write until my brain literally shuts down and I can write no more. Those are precious mornings.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

I would say: Beware! Aspiring writers get bad advice. I know I heard bad advice. I heard conflicting advice. Trust your instincts, especially when the advice you’re given isn’t sitting well with you. Ask your questions of more than one person. 

Secondly, follow basic rules. Learn the building blocks of writing: What are the parts of a scene? The parts of a sequel? When and where should backstory be included? Understanding the foundation makes the story flow.

Tell us about multiple points-of-view.

When I sat down to write Wild Raspberries, I decided the story would best be told if the reader heard directly from the five main characters. One of the compliments I get repeatedly is that those five characters are distinctly different from each other. That was my goal.

Before I wrote the novel’s first paragraph, I decided to let those five characters introduce themselves to me. I wanted to hear from them. I wanted their story in their words. I decided they should each answer the same question which was: Why shouldn’t you be judged by the worst thing you did in your life? Click on the links below to hear their answers.

What are some of your favorite parts of Wild Raspberries—for instance, a favorite line?

Yes, I do have a favorite line in Wild Raspberries. It’s the book’s closing line. It’s spoken by Callie, and the book is really Callie’s story so it’s fitting that she closes it up. Callie is sitting on the couch in the West Virginia cabin where she and Jack hid their long love affair. She’s thinking about Jack. The line is: Love, larceny, and wild raspberries, they made a heady, heady brew.

I just love that line.

Wild Raspberries also contains my favorite quote by Sir Oscar Wilde. The first time I read it, it made me pause to think about the quality of love that’s contained in his words: If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life. 

Isn’t there a great deal of love in that sentiment? I think so.

Do you use the five senses when you write?

Using the five senses is one of those things writers are taught because the senses draw the reader into the book. It helps the reader gain a better experience in a scene. Real quick, the senses are: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

When Wild Raspberries moves from Maryland to West Virginia, I wanted to introduce the reader to the new location, immerse them in it, so to speak. Here’s that introduction, which, at the same time, introduces Lucius Dameron.

August ripened sweetly in the mountains around Baron, West Virginia. Lucius Dameron considered them stocked with the fullest complement of nature and wonder. The pollinating wilderness proudly displayed its fragrant offspring. Roadside wildflowers in maize and mauve and melon bordered the narrow gravel-and-dirt trails that seemed to wind all the way down from the sky. Lapping streams, forever in motion, wore grooves, like wrinkles in weathered skin, into the mountainous terrain. The streams’ clear whispers told of both timeless and innocent secrets. The mountains sustained life, Lucius’s included, with the heady scent of pine, the sticky ooze from maple trees, and the hum of paradise.”

How did you come up with the title Wild Raspberries?

When I get the idea for a book, it never arrives with the title. Sometimes, I struggle more with the title than the 100,000 words needed to tell the story. I struggled with Wild Raspberries. I can honestly say, it was painful.

The book had several titles through the course of writing the story, but I wasn’t satisfied. I tried them out and abandoned them all. So when the book was pronounced done, it still had no title.

I finished the book on an August weekend. So, with no title, and an hour’s worth of grass-cutting time ahead of me, I decided to work more titles through my head. I was nearly 95 percent done, just four or five more mowing strips to go, and all possible titles rejected, when I looked over to the edge of the woods that borders my property. 

Absent-mindedly, I thought, Look. Wild raspberries. 

I took two steps and stopped dead. I liked the title Wild Raspberries. It had nothing to do with the book. But I liked it as the title. 

Since the story was done, I had to come up with a thread I could wind into the book to make the title work. And that’s what I did. 

The addition of this storyline really enhanced the backstory and brought a new dimension forward. First, I told the Wild Raspberries thread to myself. I wrote it out, then I found the appropriate spots to weave the new thread into the book. As I recall, I wove it through four locations. The last being the book’s final scene, tying the story back to the title.

Tell us about the characters in Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont.

I began writing Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont—the first Wrenn Grayson mystery—as I always do by letting the main characters introduce themselves and their stories to me. All of their stories are told around the caveat of what they were doing “the summer Trey Rosemont was murdered.”

Click on the links to hear the mystery’s four main characters introduce themselves.

What do you like best about Wrenn Grayson’s character? 

That’s easy. Her quirkiness. This is a woman who has a compulsion to pull weeds. Now that I’m hearing from readers, I find that there are many others who are compulsive weed-pullers, and they are not embarrassed to admit it.

In addition, I like that Wrenn writes historical articles for the local newspaper, and she feels that she must possess a kinship with those locations in town that entice her to write a story.

Click on the link to hear a passage from Chapter 2 of Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont, aptly titled Unnatural Compulsion. That’s followed by Wrenn’s description of her current assignment: writing about Piedmont Alley.

Tell us about the map for Havens, Ohio.

Yes, there is a map for Havens, Ohio, which is Wrenn Grayson’s hometown. For those of you who like the Wrenn Grayson mystery series, the second and third mysteries in that series are written and my mind is spinning out an idea for the fourth. Of course, Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont is Wrenn’s first mystery.

With each new mystery from Havens, I create another downtown business or housing addition, new streets, a hospital, motel, churches, and more. All of this, I add to my Havens map. From book to book, I need consistency. The map gives me that. 

I also have detailed maps of locations like Piedmont Alley. Piedmont Alley has ten businesses located there, so I mapped them out. 

If I continue to improve with website construction, I would like to upload the Havens map so my readers can take a virtual tour of the town. All the buildings and streets would reference whichever mystery that location was created in. I think a virtual tour would be fun. 

Have you ever received advice from a professional writer?

I was honored to spend about an hour and a half with bestselling author Larry Beinhart. He wrote the novel, Wag the Dog, which is political satire.

One of the lessons I took away from my time with Larry was to “write in a straight line.” That simply means write the story in the order scenes happen. Don’t write about a current scene in the book, then jump back for a lengthy narration of backstory. Don’t come forward again, then go back to a time that occurred before your last visit to backstory. His point was, there needs to be order. 

When I wrote Wild Raspberries, I intended to begin that story at the point all four ladies arrived in West Virginia and met Lucius. When I got started, nothing was working. I had too much backstory. 

Eventually, I gave in and started the story earlier while the ladies were still in Maryland. In the book, when the ladies finally get to West Virginia, we’re on page 78. That’s nearly one-fourth of the book. Too much for backstory. So, thank you, Larry! Telling the story in a straight line was one of the efforts I made to write a successful book for the reader, and it made writing the book easier.

Do you have a favorite non-starring character in Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont? 

Yes, I do have a favorite character in that category.

First of all, I absolutely love creating characters. I want them to be memorable so every character must have a unique personality. Every character I write about is there to entertain the reader.

The non-starring character I most enjoyed creating in Deadly Homecoming at Rosemont is Norb Engle. Norb is a locksmith and general fix-it man. Wrenn goes to Norb’s shop looking for her new friend, Wilkey Summer. Wilkey works for Norb.

Click on the link, and I’ll read that short scene to you:

Who’s your audience?

It’s interesting that this question was asked because I was recently on the phone with a fellow writer, and she told me that her friend Mary and she were discussing Mary’s book. Mary was contemplating the age-old question writers ask: Who’s my audience?

Who’s my audience, I repeated back. Why, I am. I’m my audience. 

I got into the writing game to entertain myself. Early on, I had no idea if I would get published. Mind you, I get up at 4 a.m. to write for two hours before I get ready for work. I want to entertain myself. I write for myself. I think that’s why my characters are so vivid and memorable. They’re people out of my imagination who I make real. Why, at 4 o’clock in the morning, would I hang out with humdrum characters? No way.

One of the best compliments I can receive is a reader telling me they think about my characters after they lay the book down. My characters go with them into their day. That’s awesome.

What book or movie has Wild Raspberries been compared to?

The US Review of Books wrote this about my debut novel, Wild Raspberries: “Similar to Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, and Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, death, grief, and healing form the foundation on which Chappell’s tale is built. The Southern and Midwestern locales of those stories are replaced here with the manicured lawns of the Maryland suburbs and the rolling hills of West Virginia. While similarities for those works may be noted, Chappell does a fine job of sprinkling enough wit, pathos, and surprise in her story to make this novel far more than a knockoff.”

Where can readers go for more?

My website,, is the best location to learn more about me and my books. I can be contacted via email through my website as well. Reviews are included there along with a host of podcasts. I also have author pages on Amazon and Goodreads.

Author Interview Wednesday: Travis Laurence Naught

This week, I interviewed award-winning poet Travis Naught about his foray into fiction with his new novel Joyride and how he develops his craft.

How do you get inspired to write?

I generally write as a form of self-therapy. It is important for me to feel productive, and as a quadriplegic, there are several hurdles to overcome in this struggle. Historically, I’m a poet, but once I felt like the material was becoming a rehash of everything I’d written before, I started listening to stories within the voices chattering away in my brain and decided to give them further substance in prose. It’s still therapeutic for me to write, because now I’m actively taking part in the world as a published author, but it’s less self-centered.

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

Joyride Cover Travis Laurence NaughtJoyride started as an unknown commodity. I sat down in front of the computer to write a novel without any pretense as to where it might go. Jack Kerouac is one of my biggest writing influences, so I adopted his method of automatic writing to help my story along. My prose is different than his, and about 35,000 words in, the ending became clear to me, so then I started directing my characters in the appropriate direction. The ride took me 28 days, originally, but three major rounds of content and copy editing turned this into a several months long project over the span of a few years.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Write. Put words on paper. Don’t feel like you have to name your style or genre. Most of what I write is called poetry because that’s what short sentences and multiple linebreaks are called, but I didn’t know that when I was writing them originally. I just thought I was putting thoughts on paper… It never occurred to me people might actually want to read them! And that’s the other piece of advice: Someone will want to read whatever you put on paper! It might take a lifetime, or even several, for your audience to discover your words, but it will happen.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Well, I don’t do it for the money (because so far there hasn’t been much of that) and I haven’t hooked up with any fans yet (you know, “hooked up”), so the next best thing is simply having the validation of a worldwide peer group of authors. Spokane, where I live near, is blessed to have a thriving community of writers that are wonderfully supportive of each other… In fact, I’m headed to a reading soon (applicable whenever you are reading this interview, as long as I still live in Spokane)!

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I’m a big believer of not believing in writers block. For those times when I am feeling creatively stalled, I write letters. For those times when I don’t want to write a letter but I am also needing to get creatively unplugged, I write a grocery list. For those times when nothing coherent wants to come out, I write incoherent shit… Just gotta keep the pencil moving. Doesn’t matter if what comes out is good or bad. We are not allowed to judge that for ourselves, anyway.

What is your current book about?

Joyride centers around two sets of main characters. Garrett and Tammi are on a camping trip in northeastern New Mexico and attempt to rekindle their marriage that may already be burned out. A series of unfortunate accidents forces a lot of emotionality to the surface, and the couple surprisingly comes out headed in a very positive direction they are both excited for. Harker, an 18-year-old senior in high school, convinces his single mother, Eloise, to get out of town after an accident turns his life upside down. She hands over the decision-making to her son, and they promptly head toward the Pacific Ocean. Inevitably, the storylines reconnect for what is hoped to be a memorable ending!

What book/movie/etc. is it comparable to?

Nothing, hopefully. My stated goal, in a personalized epigraph, was to come up with something new. I’m not bold enough to say I ever believed it could happen, but Joyride did end up blending several genres and styles of writing. I’m proud of the fact that I can’t direct readers to other, like books.

What are you working on now?

It’s been three years since I started Joyride, and it’s about time for me to think about another novel. I have hundreds of poems written since my first book, The Virgin Journals, that I would also like to pare down into a publishable manuscript. Maybe some sort of memoir… I’m always writing, so we’ll see what project bubbles to the surface first! Hopefully something.

Where can readers go for more?

Check out for more writing by me. Mostly there are poems, but there are also stories and reviews of other people’s work! Make sure and follow me through and @NaughtaPoet on Twitter.

Author Interview Wednesday: Christopher Schmitz

In recent months, leading up to and following the release of Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure, I have had the pleasure of meeting many fellow authors. As I have come to know these fine folks, I have learned much from them. What inspires them, how they develop their craft, what they do outside of writing.

To that end, I have invited several to answer a few questions to answer share their stories with you. First up, fiction writer Christopher Schmitz!

How do you get inspired to write? 

I get inspired by so many things. I often take queues from my dreams or daydreams and take notes when I wake up. I also take inspiration from the works of others. For instance, I thought that my Kakos Realm fantasy series was growing too big in scope for readers to keep track of… and then I read some George R.R. Martin and realized that this wasn’t the case.

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book? 

christopherdschmitz wolfofthetesseractMy most recent book, Wolf of the Tesseract (Black Rose Writing), just kind of came to me. I was actually taking a bunch of teenagers to a summer camp and had the idea. I sketched the character profiles and outline during a camp meeting and the WIP sat in my “idea notebook” for almost two years while I refined my ideas for dimensional travel, the agod Sh’logath, etc… for which I drew heavily on one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers? 

Don’t just call yourself a writer. Actually sit down and write. Don’t write a novel out of the gate; work on novella and some novelettes. Learn to start and finish well and also learn how to trim out what should NOT be there. Above all, learn to engage an audience with pacing and verb tenses. I often tell young authors I interact with on platforms such as Wattpad, “If you average more than 1 usage of “was” or “were” for every two pages in a chapter, you need to go back and rewrite it. Passive tenses make people put books down.”

What’s the best thing about being a writer? 

The ability to not just live in other worlds, but to lead the way there so others can join you.

How do you deal with writer’s block? 

I write. Even if it’s all garbage, I write. I lock myself away and give myself a hard limit to reach (word-count, finish a passage/chapter/etc.) I find that after a page or two the “blockage” (usually) lifts.

What are you currently working on? 

A nonfiction book meant to be left on the back of a toilet. Seriously. But for fiction, I’m editing the three books of my Kakos Realm fantasy series and working on an apocalyptic horror novel called “Fear in a Land Without Shadows.” “The world was dead, and Jimmy Swaggert was the one who killed it.”

Jimmy Swaggert–he hates that name and insists people call him Swag, came from a home with hyper religious parents. As he rebelled and turned to the answers in science, his desire to disprove his parents pushed him into theoretical physics and metaphysics. It was Swag who uncovered the link between the supernatural and the natural. He called the creatures he discovered “Entities” because “demon” hearkened too much of the Judeo-Christian mysticism he so fervently rejected. Entities proved the ability to take control of most human hosts, turning them into the “Afflicted.” Secretly, the group who funds his research formed a clandestine military group which weaponized them as military assets. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?

Following E-day, when humanity experienced the extinction-level event, a small remnant of the population made it into the top-secret bunker. Now 313 humans remain in an underground facility, Ark I, where special lights illuminate every scrap of darkness, prohibiting the entities from entering. But on the edge of the bunker the lights have begun to go out…

What is your book about? 

In a world underneath our own reality, magic & science are two sides of the same coin. After merging with her copy from an alternate reality, college student Claire Jones works with an inter-dimensional guardian in order to stop a warlock from shattering the laws of existence. As they flee his wrath, she must decide what these romantic feelings for him mean… warlocks aside, their mission is to rescue the woman he loves.

What book/movie/etc. is it comparable to? 

If Guillermo Del Toro directed a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe movie but had the option to insert a dose of HP Lovecraft, you might get a universe similar to Wolf of the Tesseract. I’ve always envisioned it as a trilogy–I even have some ideas for the subsequent story arc–but we’ll see.

Where can readers go for more? 

Readers should check out my website: and should sign-up for the mailing list. I don’t send out many emails–but when I do, it’s bound to be because of a book-giveaway or a huge discount on paperbacks. It also has about a dozen ways to personally connect with me via email or a variety of social media outlets.

They can also visit my publisher here.

Caleb Wygal’s characters search for Blackbeard’s gold – Review from The Charlotte Observer

Here is Dannye Romine Powell’s review of Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure in the Charlotte Observer. 

Imagine you’re digging around in the archives of the Museum of Natural History in Raleigh, and you unearth the diary of Blackbeard’s wife, Mary Ormond Teach. That’s Caleb Wygal’s premise in his new novel, “Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure.”

Wygal lives in Concord, and he spins a tale of two friends who, map in hand, search for the treasure. But wait. They’re being shadowed. It’s a race to find the treasure before they’re killed.

Wygal fills the novel with lots of interesting information, much of it factual. And he’s created believable characters in Lucas Caine, who’s suffering from the loss of his beloved grandfather and from the break-up of his marriage, and in N.C. State grad Darwin Trickett, who works at the Museum of Natural History but longs to be a marine archaeologist.

Nothing in fantasy literature equals the search for buried treasure. Wygal’s tale will not disappoint.

You can learn more and order your copy of Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure here. 

When “Kids Say The Darndest Things” potentially goes bad

In 1995, Bill Cosby hosted a show on CBS called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” In it, Cosby would simply ask children questions and carry on a conversation. He would masterfully revolve the conversation around whatever the young child might say.

Here is one example:

Cosby: “Of your parents, who is the boss of the family?” 

Chlid: “My mom.” 

The audience audibly groans and Cosby gives the small boy a blank look.

Cosby: “Why?”

Child: “Because my mom bought most of the land.”

Laughter followed.

Any parent knows this happens when you have conversations with children. They can say things that adults most of the time can’t get away with. Their innocence and honesty at an early age is endearing, sometimes embarrassing, and oftentimes hilarious–no matter how hard we try to hold our laughter.

My brother has a little girl named Dorothy (I’m giving you the name she sometimes likes to be called after Dorothy on The Wizard of Oz instead of her real name). She has a bubbly, ebullient personality that brings joy to anyone who comes into her presence. She is very smart (my brother says it is because she has half of my brain) and has a HUGE imagination.

She can turn any room and situation into one of her favorite movies: either the aforementioned Wizard of Oz or Frozen. She can act out all the scenes from the movies and recruit others to fill other roles. She knows all the lines, all the songs and can show genuine emotion during any recitation. She is a phenomenal little girl and I love her so much.

However . . .

There was this one time I thought she was going to get us killed. Briefly. Because of something she said in a restaurant.

My brother and I live in the same North Carolina town outside of Charlotte. When our parents come to visit us from out-of-state, one of our traditions is going out to eat as a family. Occasionally, our sister from nearby Greenville, SC travels up I-85 to come join us.

We let our parents pick the place they want to eat, and they’ve developed a few favorites over the years. The place we went this time was a local, family owned barbecue place called Troutman’s in Concord. Many of the patrons at this place were either large families. older couples or retired farmers and vets dining by themselves.

It was one of the latter whom I believed wanted to kill us.

As we had a large group, we were seated in the middle of the dining area at a big table. We had placed our orders and were catching up on current news and gossip with our parents while waiting for our food to be served. It sometimes takes a long while between the time an order is placed and the time the food actually comes out at this place. We knew that beforehand. It’s worth it because A) my dad enjoys the food, and B) we get time to catch up with each other.

Dorothy was probably three-years-old at the time and full of questions, comments and one-liners. Like most children, anytime they have to be in public and can not do what they want to do, they get restless. She asked repeatedly if we could go outside and play while we waited and only played briefly with my brother’s I-Phone before losing interest.

Not finding something in her immediate vicinity to keep her occupied, she got quiet and started to look around.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a people watcher. I love being at a busy mall food court and just watching the interesting waves of humanity that surrounds me. I believe young Dorothy is a lot like me in this way.

There were some older couples sitting along the wall, one small family and one man dining by himself. It was this singular man who caught and held her attention. Because Dorothy and I seem to share this “people watching” gene, he grabbed mine as well. The others at our table went about their conversations, unaware of the situation unfolding around them.

He was hunched over his table facing in our direction, cradling a steaming cup of coffee. He looked like he was probably in his sixties, had a red bandana over his head and wisps of gray hair fluttering around the edges of it. He didn’t have a beard, but you could tell he had not shaved in days. He wore a camouflaged military jacket that had sleeves going just past his elbows exposing his forearms. On the exposed skin were looking tattoos of snakes, skulls and other scary imagery. His most notable feature was a black patch over his right eye.

As he stared blankly at the table in front of him, eyes never leaving the steam rising from the bland coffee, his lips flared in an eternal snarl, I wondered what events in his life had brought him here. His face was a map of deep-set wrinkles, leaving me to believe he had had a hard life and had seen many bad things. His hard expression simmered with hate, loathing and everything in between.

Everything about this man said “Leave Me Alone.”

Dorothy did not sense the abhorrence of mankind coming from this solitary man that I did. Her eyes studied him for several minutes as she sat on her knees in the chair, facing in his direction. She wasn’t bothering anyone. No one paid her any attention. She was just looking around. The old man had not looked up from his coffee. He was seemingly unaware of her interest.

Then it happened.

She sat up straighter in her chair. She was ready to reveal the thought that had formed in her young, innocent mind.

She grabbed her daddy’s–my brother’s–sleeve to get his attention.

He turned to face her. “What is it, sweetie?”

She gave him the most beatific smile, pointed at the old man, and said in an innocuous, happy voice loud enough for everyone in a five-mile radius to hear, “Look daddy! It’s a pirate!”

My whole world went silent. All my focus was on the old man. She was right. He did resemble a pirate. I pictured him pulling out a knife and murdering everyone in my family. For the first time since I started watching him, he reacted.

He took a sidelong glance at Dorothy. His head did not move. Just his eyes. He stared at her for a hard second. It felt like an infinite amount of time to me. Then, he did the thing I least expected (because I fully expected to die): his eyes moved back to his coffee mug, took a sip, grimaced and went on as before.

He made no sudden moves. Did not look back in our direction for the rest of our meal.

Soon afterwards, our food arrived. We ate. We conversed. We left.

Dorothy thought nothing of it again as her chicken strips kept her occupied for the rest of our meal. She just smiled as she always does.

Kids say the darndest things.

Every good pirate story needs a treasure map: here’s mine

A little behind-the-scenes from the creation of Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure.

At the beginning of Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure, archivist Darwin Trickett discovers, among other things, a treasure map he believes was drawn by none other than Blackbeard himself.

However, there are no markings on the map besides a big X indicating the treasure’s location and the inscription: treasurre buried 23 paces in by the large oak under the falling sun where dolphinss gather.

This finding propels Darwin and his only friend Lucas on an adventure to try to find the mysterious site on the map.

About halfway through the writing of the novel, I knew that this map would play a huge role in the story and wanted to have one made. So, I commissioned a graphic artist to create one for me.

Here it is. I would say “good luck” in trying to figure out what the map depicts, or you could read Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure to see if Darwin and Lucas are able to decipher it.

kidney scroll map