Monday, December 7, 2009

Trip To Pittsburgh


Deanna's cousin, Jerry, works for the Oakland Raiders. Both are only children. Makes them more like siblings, than merely kin. Jerry live in California. The two don't get to see each other often. Jerry tries to set Deanna up with tickets to games when he's going to be on this coast. For the Raiders v/ Steelers game, the timing worked out. And I was asked to tag along.

The problem for me started about a week prior to the weekend trip. Headed to Pittsburgh in December. I've watched football on TV since I was 18 years old. (Wasn't always a sports fan. Long story. Meant for a different blog, I suppose). I knew weather at games in Pittsburgh in December would be brutal.

Oddly enough, this game was going to be the first NFL game I ever attended. Never had a problem not going. Watching a game from home just seemed easier. Got to run to the bathroom, do it on a commercial. Make something to eat, commercial. Get a drink, commercial. Always heard at games if you have to go to the bathroom, plan on missing an entire quarter. (Which may still be true. Don't know. Didn't want to risk testing the theory. So didn't go. At all). Stopped at Burlington Coat Factory last week. Bought some Thinsolate gloves, a scarf and a Carthart hat. No one would ever mistake me for the outdoors-ie type. Never. However, last weekend my sister got my kids Dolphins v. Bills tickets. We went to Buffalo--as Dolphins fans. Again, meant for another blog. So this would be my second NFL game in as many weeks. Not bad. Getting to be a pro at this.

Felt good being armed with some winter wear. Parents bought me a ski jacket that Christmas before. It hung in the basement, waiting to be used. (Generally wear my long leather. It blocks wind. Retains heat. Looks good). Brought the suitcase to my room on Thursday. Thing was, what else do I pack? I knew there was a chance we'd dine with some of the Raiders team and staff. Found out bringing a set of dress clothes wouldn't be a bad idea. Slacks, dress shirt, shoes, belt. Ok. Also packed snowflake jammers that the kids bought me. Jeans for the game, socks, wool socks. Three T-shirts. Flannel shirt. NYPD hoodie. Couple movies. And bathroom stuff. Toothpaste, shaving cream, hair gel, razor, Dental floss picks, Q-tips ... you get the idea).

Deanna dropped her dog off for her parents to watch. Sammy's a good dog, if a bit hyper-active. She sent me a text. Sammy had gotton into a box of Chocolate chip cookies she'd packed for the road trip.  Ate four. Left three. We laughed. Kinda. Then she picked me up. From Rochester, NY to Pittsburg, PA is just over 300 miles. Roughly a 4 1/2 hour trip.

Halfway to Pitt, we grew hungry. Talked about pulling into a rest area to get a little something to eat. We were making good time. Kept driving past exits. The box of remaining cookies was in arms reach in the back seat. I fumbled with the box. Cookies looked good. Dry, at least. Untouched, for the most part. Did we eat them? Ah-yeah. We did. And renamed them. Chocolate Chip Retriever Cookies. Mmmm-mmm good!

Lucy came with us. Who's Lucy? The van's built-in GPS. She was in one of her moods. Insisted on showing us directions upside down. The arrow that represented us pointed down. Right was left. Left, right. It worked fine if you drove while sitting on your head and watching the GPS. She also insisted on picking a non-toll route. So the entire time we drove she called off every exit, letting us know we were not using her route, and in her way, letting us know we'd never make it if we refused to follow her directions. So, not a problem. For the most part.

Although while passing through southern New York we'd seen some areas where it had snowed, there was no clear sign of winter anywhere in PA.
Never been to Pittsburgh. Drove through once or twice on the way to Florida. Didn't realize just how beautiful the city is. Enveloped by rivers, it was littered with tall buildings both modern and full of old architecture. One building housed a giant bottle of ketchup that poured out and filled large block letters of it's name in red, HEINZ.

Lucy, still in her mood, seemed late out of spite in sharing information about exactly when and where to turn once in the heart of downtown. The Marriott had to be close, we realized, while stopped at a red light. I looked out the passenger window. Saw the hotel sign and said, "Isn't this what we're looking for?" It was literally right next to us.

We checked in. Called Jerry, to let him know we'd arrived. Left out Lucy's conspiracy to keep us in endless circles and trapped on one-way streets. Figured we'd deal with her appropriately on the way home. For now, we were here. Safe.

Jerry, who'd just walked back from having lunch, met us in the hotel lobby. Must have known we were hungry. We took the shuttle across one of the rivers to Station Square--a small shopping strip, just outside of downtown and decided to have an early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Six hours later, or close to 1:00 AM, we made it back to the hotel.

Raiders needed to catch a bus from the hotel to the stadium the next morning. Last bus ran at 9:30 AM. Jerry wanted to meet with his cousin for coffee. The hotel lobby was roped off. Kept fans to one side. Team and staff on the other. Deanna met many of the players after a long elevator ride down to the lobby. From the 16th floor, they stopped on each and every floor on the way down. Ca-razy!

Sunday morning in Pittsburg is tough if you have breakfast on your mind. There is nowhere to go to eat. Only place we knew was Station Square. Only thing we didn't know was how to get there. Asking the parking attendant for directions was somewhat helpful. He gave me a bunch of lefts and rights to make, and what lanes to stay in. After about fifteen minutes of directions (to travel less than two miles), I knew I was in trouble, and wished I'd written things down. I thought I had the main lefts and rights memorized, thanked him and we were off.

Off to where, I'm still not sure. I guess off to sight see. Because, even though I got some of the turns correct, I messed up on which lanes to be in. Lots of expressways. Apparently, next to Venice, Italy, Pittsburg is home to the most bridges. Surrounded by rivers, under and over passes, I began to feel as if we were actually navagating through a convaluted system of water pipes.

Grant Street was key to finding the right bridge to get to the right road to make it to Station Square. Kinda. By 11:00 PM we'd made it to Station Square and parked. A shuttle ferry was set up, running fans across the river to Heinz stadium. We decided we'd eat and head over to the game on the ferry, rather than risk staying endlessly lost in the maze that was Pittsburgh's roads.

Houlihans was the least packed place in the strip. They don't serve breakfast. The table behind us was set up for a small party. Someone was turning 13. Only people showing up were older ladies. Much older. The ladies whined and worked setting up the cake and placemats for the party. Tough not to listen to them talk. So we didn't fight it. When I came back from a bathroom break, one of the older women sat across from Deanna at our table.

I said hello. She asked if I was the Pittsburgh weather man. Gave me a name. I explained I was not. That I was from Rochester. She didn't seem to believe this. So I did my best to talk in a newscaster voice while she refused to join her party. Seems the place she wanted to sit at their pushed-together tables, someone had draped a purse over the chair. Feeling unwanted and cast aside, I guess she prefered sitting with us. Was all right, we were done.

The ferry filled with passengers fast. There's always that one person who insists on talking loud. Wants everyone around to hear every word they say. We had such a woman on our ride across the rivers. I prayed she didn't have stadium tickets next to us at the game. Boat rides don't bother me. Her voice was nausiating my gut. I know I was turning green. Stayed near the rail incase lunch decided to come back and show itself. (Didn't happen. Thankfully.)

Heinz stadium is beautiful. huge. Might not hold as many people as Ralph Wilson, but looked two times bigger than where the Bills call home. The main floor houses a museum of talented showcases. And everywhere we looked people wore Pittsburgh Steeler colors, jerseys and face paint. A few of us Raider fans did our best to blend. (Thankfully we wore neutral, non-threatening attire. Nothing that would say for sure we weren't there to see the Steelers win. The fact we weren't in black and gold might have been tip-off enough, but we did not encounter trouble).

The seats were complimentary. Nose bleed, we were told. Took a day and a half to walk the ramps to the top level. And a tank of oxygen to climb the remaining set of stairs up to our seats. Section 519, Row JJ, seats 25 and 26. Three rows down from the top. they were aisle seats, thankfully. Claustrophobia is one of the ailments I suffer from. (You got it, another blog).

Fortunately, amid the Steeler fans were chunks of Raider fans in this section. While Dea and I did little to draw unwanted attention. The guys next to her, enjoyed the taunts and teases both dished out, and fed back. It was all in good fun, best I could tell. Guys next to us had traveled to three Raider games. To Kansas City, to Buffalo, and now to Pittsburg. Not bad. They bled black and silver. No doubt.

Thankfully, the guy sitting behind us must have been a sports announcecr at one time. He could very well have been related to the lady on the ferry over. He wanted to call the game, play-by-play, with interjected commentary between plays and during commercials. Annoying, yes. Right most of the time, yes. So at least he wasn't a complete babbling ... idiot. Not a complete one, that is.

Game was back and forth. Steelers were up in the fourth. Just scored a touchdown. Just over a minute left for the Raiders to do something. With 80 yards to cover, and just 9 seconds left, the Raiders got the ball in the endzone, winning the game!

62,000 people cleared out of the stadium in an organized hurry. We took the ferry back to the car. And started for home.

Long road trips often make for interesting conversation. Poor Deanna, who by now had to be tired, but refused to admit it, did claim that: "Long trips I speak no sense."

Hmmm. Sounded Native American to me. For the record, she's not. Of course, I helped with the translation. I became Chief Sitting In Passenger Seat, and said--for strictly clarification purposes; "Ah. Long trips. Me no speak sense. Uggh."

Thankfully, she wasn'tsipping coffee. That would have been a gusher. No doubt. Nose spray, at the least.

And then pronun-ski-ations. Hard not to cover this topic as we made our way down I-90 East toward Rochester.  Is LeRoy pronounced Leroy--like the name, or La-Roy.  Lucy refused to lend credit one way or the other. The battle over correct pronouncement of the small town on the western outskirts of Rochester was not decided.

But we did have a good time. We went to Pittsburgh in December. No snow on the way down. None on the way back. And it wasn't too cold during the game. Can't beat that. Good times, I tell ya, good times.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the recap of my weekend. I did. Sure I left some things out. Maybe on purpose, or maybe because they were so outrageous, I had to. Either way, I did my best to recall as much as possible.  It's time for a second cup of coffee and a Chocolate Chip Retriever Cookie! Anyone want a bite?

Thomas Phillips,
Author of The Molech Prophecy
And the soon to be released, Convicted

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is ... Spiders?

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:28-31

Back in 1990 when my (now ex) wife and I were dating, I took her to see one of the scariest movies of all times, Arachnophobia. Actually, the movie is classified under the genre comedy/horror. Believe me, there was nothing funny about the movie. Not then. Not now. Jeff Daniels and John Goodman are two of the big stars in the picture, which might lead you to believe that the movie was indeed a comedy, but let me assure you once again, it was not a funny film.

My wife, who was not impressed at all with the movie, found other ways to amuse herself. For example, during one especially terrifying scene when what seemed like millions of half-dollar sized spiders came scurrying up from the bottom of a sink drain, my wife dropped a handful of popcorn on my head. I jumped out of my seat, screaming and slapping at my scalp, certain that spiders were all over my body. (I know that my wife reads these devotionals, so . . . very funny, dear. Don’t think I’ve forgotten).

Arachnophobia. What is it? According to it is the abnormal fear of spiders and is the most common of all phobias. Did you know most spiders are venomous? They are. Usually, and especially with the smaller buggers, the venom they inject is in such small amounts that there is not enough in the dosage to kill a human, or to even make a person sick. And did you know if I wanted, I could crush most spiders with my shoe, or a wadded up roll of newspaper? I could. But what you probably don’t realize is that I don’t care if spiders are venomous or not, or that even if I could crush a spider, I won’t---I would prefer to call (scream at the top of my lungs) for my someone, even my eleven year old daughter, to come and kill the little demons for me.

God says He knows every hair on our head. We have value in God’s eyes. He loves us. God does not want us living in fear from things that can harm the flesh, but have no means of harming the soul. I can’t explain why my fear of spiders is so overpowering, but it is, even knowing the fear is irrational. What God is saying, however, is that I should not be scared of spiders. They can’t touch my soul. Not the Black Widow, or the Brown Recluse, or the Wolf Spider, or the Garden Spider, or the Assassin Spider, or the Daddy Long Legs … but I digress.

Obviously there are other, more legitimate things in life that can harm us physically, and/or emotionally. Some examples might be car accidents, sickness, downsizings, divorce . . . the list can really goes on and on, but God essentially tells us that we need only fear Satan. This is the one real threat worth fearing. How do we put elements of fear into perspective? Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Concentrate more time focusing on Him and you will spend less time worrying about Satan.

Leonard Ravenhill, the great revivalist, once said, “ The two prerequisites to successful Christian living are vision and passion, both of which are born in and maintained by prayer.” God tells us we’re His, and that if we are born again, if we are saved, then God promises a home for us in Heaven. There is nothing scary about that promise. In fact, the thought makes me a little homesick.

Thomas Phillips,
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Don’t Have Time for Patience

This particular blog seems entirely relevant as I impatiently wait to hear from the City of Rochester on a potential new position working as a 911 Dispatch Operator...

“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” Galatians 5:22 NIV

Having patience is easier said than done. I don’t know how many times I’ve become impatient waiting for a bag of popcorn to pop in the microwave. Or during the times when I’ve pulled up to order at a drive-thru only to become impatient sitting for at least a full minute at the pick-up window waiting to pay for and collect up my food.

Ever feel impatient while driving? I get that way all the time. There’s been a few times (ah-hmm), when I’ve felt almost trapped behind some car traveling at some speed that has to be below the limit. So what do I do? I pass him. Then while stopped at the next red light what do I see in my rear view mirror? It’s the guy I just passed pulling up behind me. He looks calm (and smug), while I have a white knuckle-grip on the steering wheel waiting for the horrendously long lasting red light to turn green.

I love all aspects of the life of David. As a young, lowly shepherd, Samuel told David that he would be the next King. Over the years he became best friend’s with the king’s son, and was welcomed into the king’s home as if he were family. Of course as the Lord blessed David, the young shepherd continually did amazing things. As he earned the respect and love of the people, Saul, the king, became increasingly jealous. Eventually Saul decided that he had to kill David, despite the fact that David had been nothing but loyal to Saul and the people.

When David realized he was a marked man, he and a handful of allied troops fled the land and hid, holed up in a cave. One day, Saul, tracking David with an entire army, came to rest just outside the particular cave where David and his men were hiding.

Needing to use the “facilities” (go to the bathroom), Saul entered the cave alone. David’s troops told him that God had brought Saul, and placed him in a most vulnerable position, and that David should take advantage of the situation and kill Saul.

Obviously killing Saul would solve David’s immediate problem of being hunted down by the king and his army, but instead, David let Saul go. David knew that when God’s time was right, even though years had passed, he would one day be king as God promised. He just needed to be patient. And patient he was. And eventually, David became king.

The Bible says that as Christians we are to be patient (2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; James 5:7-8; Romans 2:7). Why do you think learning to have patience is so important? I think one reason might be because God works using His own timetable. Not mine. (2 Peter 3:8-9). And if I really think about it, it’s only fair considering how patient God has been with me.

Thomas Phillips,
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is The Payoff Worth The Gamble

“If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life.” Mark 8:35

If we played the word-association game, what would your first thought be if I said, “Gamble?”

I admit, more than a single-associated thought pops into my mind.

When I see or hear the word gamble, my head fills with a flood of images—very defined images. I see shiny red and white dotted dice bouncing along a decorated green felt table. I hear the clickity-clack of a spinning, checkered black and red roulette wheel. I see a deck of playing cards being expertly cut and shuffled. I can feel the growing sound of thunder as the pounding hoofs of horses round the last leg of a race, as kicked up clouds of dirt linger along the trail. To top it off, all these images I visualize behind flashing Vegas-style neon lights.

Okay, I have a bit of an over-active imagination, but I’d be willing to bet (no pun intended) many of the things I described above are similar to thoughts that pop into your mind when you hear and see the word, “Gamble.”

Believe it or not, whether we realize it or not, we gamble every day. We gamble with our lives when we get into a car; we gamble with our health when deciding what food to eat; and we gamble with our spirituality when we choose a certain way to live our lives.

Many years back I worked as a freelance writer for a local paper. I covered human-interest stories throughout Rochester. I loved meeting and interviewing interesting and intriguing people.

One night I covered an event at a party house where volunteer firefighters were being specially recognized for achievements throughout that year. I listened to one particular captain talk about a fireman under his command. Without using a lot of adjectives to try and make his story more interesting, he spoke in a simple, matter-of-fact way, which I believe had an effect bringing the rendition to life.

Goosebumps scaled my arms as I listened to the details of a dangerous rescue. That winter a child had fallen into a body of icy water and went under. The first volunteer fireman on the scene dove into the water, searching for the child. The temperature outside was frigid, but the temperature of the water was deadly. The fireman was in just as much danger of drowning as the boy he hoped to recover. After a seemingly impossible amount of time had passed, the fireman swam to the surface, the unconscious boy in his arms. After performing CPR and other life-saving techniques, the boy regained consciousness and lived.

When the captain called front-and-center the fireman up for this courageous award, I was a taken aback because I not only knew the man, but worked with him as well. He was an attorney-by-day at Kodak. Never in all of our dealings together did he once mention that he was a volunteer fireman. Never once did he mention that he had saved a child from drowning.

Mark 8:35 talks about the risk of only living for oneself. The rewards from God come when we deny self, pick up our cross and follow Him. Living for others, serving others, helping others is clearly Jesus’ reoccurring theme throughout the Gospels and the New Testament. Don’t misunderstand me, good works will not get you into heaven, if that were the case, then Jesus’ death on the cross was pointless. (Salvation is a free gift to those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and invite Him in to their hearts, to be the center of their life). But as a Christian we should want to live our lives doing for the benefit of others.

I am not a volunteer fireman, but metaphorically speaking, I do know many people who are drowning in some pretty icy water. The question I often ask myself is, will I just stand where it is safe with the rest of the onlookers—hoping help will arrive in time, or like my friend the attorney/fireman, will I dive in and attempt to make a difference . . . one person at a time?

Thomas Phillips,
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Tidbit: Do Rivers Run ... Up?

One day when my father and I were walking the pier at Charlotte Beach, where the Genesee River dumps into Lake Ontario, he looked at me and said, “Isn’t it amazing that this river flows into the lake?”

I had no idea what he was talking about. “What’s so amazing?”

“The river,” he pointed out. “It runs south to north.”

South to north? How was that possible? Rivers can’t run ... upwards.

Standing on the pier, knowing that Lake Ontario was north of Rochester, and that the Genesee River was indeed flowing from Rochester up into the lake, I couldn’t rightly disagree.

Still, I didn’t believe my father. Instead, when I got home, I did research on the Internet.

Know what I found? My father was right. Additionally, the Genesee River is one of many rivers running south to north.

I learned that the Niagara River is another south to north running river.

Imagine that, one of the Seven Wonders of the World---Niagara Falls--is a waterfall that actually falls south to north. It falls, if you will, up.

Now I’m just being silly, but it is true that both the Genesee River and Niagara River, including Niagara Falls, are rivers that run south to north. But this is all based on perception.

North, south, east, west . . . these are directions.

North isn’t really up.

South isn’t really down.

The earth is spherical. It is a ball. There is no up or down when it comes to north and south.

The simple scientific fact is that water only flows from a higher point to a lower point, regardless of if the water is traveling in a northern, southern, eastern or western direction.

Makes you wonder though, how many things in life do we miss out on because we perceive things incorrectly, without getting all of the facts?

Thomas Phillips,
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Good And Faithful Servant

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the three servants.

In this parable, a master is about to go on a long trip. He calls together his three servants and gives them his money to hold onto while he’s away. One gets five bags of silver, one receives two bags, and the third is entrusted with one bag.

When their master finally returns, he once again calls for his three servants. He wants to know what has happened to his silver. The first, who had five bags, informs the master that he’s worked hard, invested the five bags and doubled the amount of silver. The second servant has a similar story, giving back to his master four bags of silver. The third servant did absolutely nothing with his bag of silver except bury it somewhere safe. And now he returned to his master the same bag of silver that had been entrusted to him in the first place.

The master is furious. He can’t understand why his servant didn’t at least deposit the money in the bank where it would earn interest. The master takes the one bag of silver away from the third servant and gives it to the servant with the ten bags. He then has the lazy servant thrown and locked out of his kingdom forever.

This particular parable always troubled me. For years, I just didn’t get why the master was so angry. The third servant didn’t lose any of his master’s money. In fact, in keeping it hidden he protected the silver. But then I realized that the bags of silver could represent silver, but they could also represent many other things. Like talent, for example. Or time. Or Love.

Everything we have been given is God’s. He has allowed us the opportunity to be blessed with whatever it is that we posses. When He finally returns He’s going to want to know what we have done with what He has given us.

I believe God has given me the gift of writing. When He returns He may want to know what I’ve done to further His kingdom with the gift He’s given me. (I often pray that writing brings deserving honor and glory to God and helps to further His Kingdom).

In the parable, when the master saw that the first two servants had doubled their bags of silver, it wasn’t the fact that he was now richer that excited him. It was the fact that his servants used their talents in a way that honored him. For this he said to them, “Well done my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together.”

There are promises in this statement. Obviously, the master in this parable is God and we are the servants. God has clearly entrusted us with plenty of blessings and gifts—especially living here in America, the land of the free. When He returns—and He will return--are we going to be able to give an account for what we’ve done with all that we’ve been given? Or will we be like that third servant who did nothing with all that he had been given? Will we get to hear the glorious words, “Well done good and faithful servant?”

Thomas Phillips,
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Inspitation III: Daddy's Little Girl

I'm one of those people who hates birthdays. Not celebrating birthdays for others, love that, but when it comes to my own, not so much. Is it that I fear, or loathe getting older? Could be. If I had to pin down a reason why birthdays bother me, I'd have to say it has more to do with attention. I don't like the attention. I don't want gifts. Don't want people spending money on me. I don't like cake (prefer a hot slab of homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you must know. And now you do. So make note of it...)

As I re-read the above paragraph, I sound like the Grinch. Or Scrooge. Or my great-great grandmother on my father's side. Either way, I speak the truth. Not a birthday person at all.

There's one reason why when that time of year rolls around I celebrate. My kids. I do it for them. No other reason.

A friend of mine, Abs, has a different reason for not liking her birthday. Eleven years ago her father, Sanford, passed away on her birthday. She was the classic, stereotypical "Daddy's Little Girl." Losing her dad was, as one can imagine, is still difficult. Sanford's ashes were taken out on a boat and poured into Lake Ontario. And then Abs jumped into the water and swam with her father one last time.

On her birthday, the anniversary of Sanford's death, Abs goes down to the lake. It's not her birthday she celebrates, not anymore, but her father's life. The man drank Beefeater's with Lime. Armed with alcohol, she either walks the shoreline, or the pier, and pours the drink into the water as the two spend time together.

This year, as I'd said, Sanford's 11th anniversary, a few of us joined our friend for the evening. We toasted Sanford's memory at The Pelican. Listened to stories. And took pictures as our friend poured her father's drink into the water.

Where are the pictures?

Well. Abs' daughter, Danielle, and her daughter's friend, Dre, joined the rest of us. Dre is a mountain of a person. Too much muscle for one person's skin to hold. We grouped together for a photo. Dre picked up the camera. It looked like a Matchbox car in his beefy hands. And then the camera fell. The protruding lens bent trapping photos inside the camera.

Anyway. We decided to head down to Durand. Abs wanted to swim. Mid-September. But understandable.

Durand was far from deserted. It being only 9:00 PM. A warm evening, with few clouds in the sky, it was not that dark. The stars were out. Shining. The moon set high. Bright. A gentle breeze came in from the North, but did not cause a single ripple on the placid lake. The water resembled glass.

Maybe for only ten minutes, Abs went into the water. Alone. And walked around. Her legs and feet disturbing the calm.

When the night ended, Abs was grateful. Where she normally spent most of her birthday alone, this year she was surrounded by family and friends who refused to let the birthday pass unnoticed.

I do, at times, ponder my own immanent demise. Suppose we all do. And as a father of three amazing kids, one of which is clearly, and undeniably "Daddy's Little Girl," I would hope that when I go, my kids will carry on. I would want them to remember me. I like how Abs honors the memory of her father. But I also hope that my death would not take away from the joys my kids can still extract from their life. As their father, I would not want them to be sad after I am gone. Maybe it's easier said than done. My parents are both still alive. Sadness may be inevitable, is inevitable. But as a father, I would not want my kids to mourn forever. Abs celebrates the life her father lived. And that is exactly what I would want my kids to do, too.

As I spend more time around more people, I am touched by the stories that make-up a person's life. Naturally curious, I find that non-fiction is far more profound than fiction. Guess I've always known that. For far too long I've lived life mostly inside my own head. Rarely venturing outside my family to see what life is really about.

The more I do this, the more people I meet, the more I learn.

Maybe because I married young, started a family immediately, and then spent most of my time working, I missed out on things going on around me? I do not regret those choices, getting married and starting a family. Things may have not turned out the way I planned. Life rarely does. If I'd not of met and married my ex-wife, I would not have the three wonderful kids I have. So no, no regrets.

What I take away from this experience, is what I have always known--but, again, on a larger scale. Life is about family and friends. About being there for each other. And about moving forward. One day at a time.

Thomas Phillips
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy
(Click on the above link to order your copy today)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Inspiration Comes From Living II: Outsider Looking In

Lions and Elephants and Jacka--Donkeys, oh my!

Yesterday evening a friend asked if I wanted to attend a party. The Admiral was running for Rochester City Council, again. Votes would be in around nine. And the campaign people, and supporters were huddled away ... no, not in Rochester, but in a close friend's beautiful condo in Brighton.

I'm not political, don't follow politics. I vote on school budgets, and for presidents. I'm Conservative. But this blog, it's not really about politics. Sides. It's not about Democrats and Republicans. It's about Observing and Reporting, as if I were a security guard.

I'd never been to one of these...parties. Seen them in movies. Most memorable was Primary Colors, where John Travolta portrayed Governor Jack Stanton -- who bore a considerable resemblance to the legendary Bill Clinton. So, going in, I had some idea what to expect.

I thought.

Walking up to the condo, I was introduced to a handful of people who stood outside on the stoop. It's a condo. Wouldn't call it a stoop. I am, though. It works. My friend told people who I was and that I was a professional writer. Not to be confused with just any old writer. But a professional. Hard not to stand a little straighter after an intro like that.

"Are you with the D&C?" I was asked.

Shook my head. Felt my shoulders lower some.

"What paper?" Someone else asked.

"I, um, write thrillers. Fiction."

The glow and gleam in their eyes glazed over to dull, lifeless marbles. Deflated, I shrugged. "But, I was brought here tonight to blog about the experience." Clearly unimpressed with the credentials of a fiction writer, I made a last ditch effort to maintain some of that "professional writer" status. "But I'm here to blog about the experience!" The second time I said it was as impressive as the first, apparently.

One lady clutched her wine glass with two hands, and smiled. "Oh, how nice."

Felt like I'd just handed her a torn page from a coloring book, and she now felt obligated to stick it on her 'fridge with a watermelon magnet.

I pressed on. Ignoring myself. Blog? Did I really tell these people I was going to blog about the experience? The word alone sounds so, so, so uncouth. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Blog...It's like an onomatopoeia for puking. Great.

Inside the condo, thankfully, I was shown around. Faced more introductions, but missed names, while I concentrated more on not using the word blog, possibly ever again. At first I'd wished I'd brought a pen and pad to capture everything fresh, as it happened. Good thing I hadn't. I would have had to explain what I was doing over and over, no doubt. Of course, knowing me, I'd of stayed away from telling people I was blogging, and would have simply lied. Made up some paper I was covering the story for. Like Fletch. Would have been easier. And funnier.

"Who are you?"

"I.M. Fletch Fletcher. Never Irwin. I write a column under Jane Doe. Maybe you've heard of it?"

"Who are you, again?"

"Dr. Rosenpenis."


"Dr. Rosenrosen."

"Dr. who?"

"Dr. Rosen. Where's the records room?"

Ah, but I digress . . .

Okay. So, then I met The Admiral. I put it in italics for effect. Want you to feel the intimidation I felt. I'm only 5'8". The Admiral, was a towering 4'something", but power didn't come from her stature. No. I learned that right away as I shook her hand and wished her luck. The power shot from her eyes. She wore glasses low on her nose, I assumed, on purpose. This allowed her to look up over the frames and at you. Into you. Through you.

In the living room and dining area were two groups of people. Each group hoovered over a person whose sole job was to man a laptop. The city website provided up-to-the-second results from polling booths. The laptop operator thumbed the Refresh Page button with casual vigor, like that kid at the skating rinks who never skated, but dropped an endless supply of quarters into a Galaga arcade game and thumbed through level after level, and, of course, slapped in initials for all the high scores at the end of each game.

Turns out, the guy in the dining area was the Admiral's son, Mitch Rowe. He had more responsibility than I'd first realized. He was the Admiral's campaign manager. And an apparent Blazing Saddles fanatic. I caught at least two regurgitation's of movie lines (his thumb never stopped hitting Refresh, as he offered them up, either. Talk about multi-tasking). The lady in the living room was the Admiral's daughter, Vickey Wehbring. Poised. Elegantly dressed. But very, very serious about hitting the Refresh button ahead of her brother, and shouting updates from room to room. That split second lead, I could tell, gave her an edge she was not easily willing to relinquish.

Thankfully, Abby, my friend--although still introducing me as a writer (which at some point, the professional aspect was dropped from her vocabulary)--refrained from mentioning I'm Republican, but, however, insisted on calling me a newbie.

The Admiral promised she'd be gentle with me because of this newbie status. And for a brief moment, I felt calm and at ease. (No military pun intended ... or was it).

Unfortunately, the race was not that intense. Carolee Conklin (a.k.a. The Admiral), was in second from the moment we walked in. With a nice, cushy lead, to boot. (To boot? Who says that? Aside from me. Just now.)

However, this lead allowed for a good-natured, light and free atmosphere. Jokes flew. I caught a few. Can't repeat them. Not without blushing, or washing my mouth out with soap. (Or, since I'm typing, without washing my hands. But that's not a bad thing, hand-washing. Not with swine flu running amok, now is it?)

Turns out, aside from his elected position as City Clerk, Dan Karin moonlights as a stand-up comedian. You can catch him on weekends at Daisy Dukes in Webster. He wears a disguise and uses a different name. Protect the innocent and all that. From me, he gets props.

When the General of the Army from the board game Stratego walked in, I had to do a double take. I didn't realize the board game was based on actual characters. Turns out I was wrong. It wasn't the General of the Army, but Chief of Staff for Council--Bill Sullivan. Whew. I was somewhat relieved. If the actual General of the Army was really out on the streets, that meant so were the no-rank spies. And that would just be creepy!

In the kitchen, I met Dan Greene. He was running for Sheriff, something or other. Luckily, he didn't come alone. He had a bodyguard. Tough looking guy, dressed in black. I felt safe, despite being Republican in a condo surrounded by Democrats. They were also with a woman. Don't know who she was. No introductions were made. I did tell her, however, that the finger foods she'd been munching on, were made by me. She lit up. Told me they were wonderful. Of course, feeling guilty for having lied, I explained that I did not make them, and that in fact, I could not cook at all. She told me she absolutely believed I had made the food, and that I had a career in politics. It's something to think about.

No real surprise, Carolee Conklin won. Again.

A real reporter called, already asking for a real interview. Which made me feel like a real fraud.

Regardless, a convoy was assembled outside. Matthew's on East Avenue was the party-to-be destination.

It is both important and relevant at this point in the story to point out that Abby recently (like last week) underwent major back surgery. She wore a steel-plated brace, like a chastity belt that didn't quite cover what needed covering. Made me think of that scene in Space Balls. But that's neither here nor there.

Why is this important? Because I went from...professional Blogger, er, um, writer, to personal body guard. Had no idea all the Democrats in the city, all 55 of them, were going to be at this downtown bar. (Was that a dig I just made? Um-yepper. It was. Sorry. Couldn't resist). The hugs, and handshakes, the hoots and hollering every time someone new walked in the door made anyone, everyone feel special. Even me. And you can't beat being made to feel special. Can you? Maybe. I'll think about it.

I did my best to stand behind Abby as politicians and friends banged their way through the crowd to race toward the back room at Marshall's where news stations (more professional journalists) had photo journalists covering the results-in, and interviewed the candidates. I may have stumbled in the line of fire on accident, or purpose a few times. Would have mouthed the words "Hi, Mom" but that would have been plain silly. And this was a serious occasion. Silly would have been uncalled for.

Regardless of my attempts to have my friend's back--literally--it was Mitch, Abby's brother who got past my defensive position. I saw him get down in a three-point stand. See, Mitch played football. Once a football player, always one, I suppose. Someone said, "On two." I heard, "Hut, Hut." And Mitch sprang up. Arms shot out. Wrapped his sister tight. Maybe he was celebrating their mother's victory. I'm not sure. I thought I saw Mayor Duffy drop back and throw something across the length of the bar. It was late. I might just have been seeing things. Who knows for sure? Not this blogger.

All in all, a good experience. I ended the night hitting the drive-thru at Taco Bell. Add a little indigestion in for good measure.

And, oh, by the way? I charged it all to Mr. Underhill's credit card ...

Thomas Phillips
Author of the suspense novel, The Molech Prophecy

Saturday, September 12, 2009

1408 -- My Life

A while back I rented Stephen King's 1408.

At the time, I lived alone. Studio apartment. It was late at night when I started the movie. The beginning was creepy. Made my skin crawl. I had to shut the movie--figured I'd never get to sleep, not with the lights off, anyway.

The next day, when it was still light out, I finished the movie. And although it continued to creep me out ... something else happened.

The secondary story became more apparent. That's what a good movie, a good book contains. A secondary story. 1408 had one I did not expect.

See, the movie is about this writer. He visits haunted hotels, and sleeps in haunted rooms, and writes books about the experience.

When he is more or less dared to stay in a New York hotel, specifically in room 1408, it is the first time he ever encounters anything truly paranormal. Usually his writings uncover fakes and frauds. But this time, in room 1408, all of that changes ...

What the "ghost" does, however, is show the writer flashes from his own past.

And it was this writer's past that just wrecked me emotionally.

(MOVIE SPOILER--Don't keep reading if you don't want to know what happened in the film).

The writer was married. They had a young daughter--this pretty little girl, maybe ten.

Without much detail, we learn that the young girl is sick, dying, and eventually, died.

This guilt of not being able to do more to save his daughter, ruins the writer's life.

He leaves his wife. He buries himself in his work.

But the haunted room brings clips of his daughter to the forefront.

And at one point in the movie--she is there, in the hotel room with him. She tells him she loves him, that she wants to be with him and with mommy.

I kept expecting her to change into some horrid creature.

That never happened.

Instead, he hugs his daughter, tells her everything will be all right. He assures her that this time, this time, they can stay together.

And then she dies in his arms.

She goes limp. Lifeless...

He lost his daughter a second time.

The point of this blog is personal. I'm divorced. Didn't want to be. But there was nothing I could do. There was no saving the marriage.

I have three kids. They are my life. My world. My everything.

And though I live only a handful of miles away from them, and though I get them every other weekend, and one day during the week, and see them at school and sports events ... I can't help but feel, sometimes, like they have died. Or that I have.

The loss I feel is that great. The pain is that powerful.

And what is worse, at the end of each visit with them, when I take them back to their mother, I feel like they are dying on me a second time, or that I am. Every time.

It never gets easier.

Can't imagine it ever will.

I was that writer. John Cusack's character. Helpless, as I watched my kids slip out of my life. Lifeless am I each time I take them back to their mother ...

So, as I watched this writer in this movie writhe in agony over the loss and second loss of his daughter -- I was overcome with emotion.

I cried. I sobbed. It was uncontrollable. It lasted for what felt like forever.

It was a horror movie. Supposed to be scary.

And instead, to me, it was the saddest movie I'd ever seen. The realest movie. The rawest.

There is no real point to this blog.

Just that, to overcome the gloom and depression I feel, that sometimes sinks in, I thought I needed to write out my feelings.

If you read this, if you pray for people, please consider praying for me. Pray for my kids.

Divorce is awful. But when kids are involved, it is down right evil.

I know that God fills us when we are empty.

But at times, I feel more empty than ever imagined, than anyone should ever feel.

God bless,

Thomas Phillips
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy

Inspiration Comes From Living (Panorama/Pineapple Jacks)

As a novelist, I am often asked the question: "Where do you get ideas for your stories?"

The short answer is, the ideas just come to me. And that is the truth. I don't dream them. I don't struggle to come up with plots. I just, all of a sudden, have an idea and then grab a pen and pad (or napkin), and scribble out the basics of the idea.

However, that new story idea, is just that, an idea. The work I put in comes from fleshing out the idea to make it three-dimensional. Plausible. Believable.

A key to good storytelling, is realistic characters. Crisp dialogue. And plenty of action, regardless of genre. Action is what keeps readers turning pages.

Last night, I was overwhelmed with inspiration.

See, I posted on Facebook that I was headed down to a local watering hole to watch the Yankees/Orioles game. A good friend said she'd see me there. It was "Girls' Night Out" and I was invited to intrude on the get-together.

Most of the women going, I knew. Most I had not seen in 20 years. Not since high school.

I arrived at Pineapple Jacks a bit before seven. Found a place at the bar and ordered a drink. I paid with a twenty. The barmaid, always chatting up patrons, forgot to give me change back. I tried not to get anxious. But twenty bucks for one drink ... it was hard to not fidget on the bar stool.

When she came back around, the guy next to me held out money. She took it as he said, "This isn't my change."

She Oops, and goshed, and gave me the change I waited for. I bought the guy next to me a bubble (next-drink-on-me-kind-of-thing), as kind of a reward for returning a lost wallet idea. We shook hands, he thanked me, I thanked him. In return, the barmaid gave me a bubble. Karma?

My friend Mindy showed up. Said she and her friends had a table out front. I followed. The only guy among eight women. Not a bad night, eh? No. Not at all.

We spent an hour catching up. Turns out most of the women hadn't seen each other since school, either. Cell phones with pics of kids and husbands were passed around. Memories shared. An abundance of laughter ensued.

Unfortunately, I smoke. Bad habit. Filthy. But I do. So did a few of the women. Four of us entered the smoking section at the bar. (One of the only bars I know of in Monroe County that has a smoking section, part of why I love going there to watch games).

While Mindy went to the bar, Abby, Kim and I went to a table. Mindy was harassed by a large man while waiting for a glass of water. The guy, apparently was rude, and obnoxious. His comments to vile to post on a public blog.

When she came back to the table, so did he. Mindy, tough like she is, told the guy off in equally obnoxious language.

See. I'm the guy. There's an obligation to stand up to the man, and put an end to the situation.

So I did. I turned to the guy. He sat next to me. I said, "Look, you're upsetting my friends. We're just here to hang out. I'd appreciate it if you'd leave the table."

Don't think he expected me to stand up to him. He looked at Mindy, who wasn't listening to him, and said to me, "She's got nerve." (Nerve wasn't the word used, but I use poetic license here to get the point across). Then he turned to me. "And so do you."

But he stood up. Was ready to leave. Mindy missed the exchange. So she started in on him. Insults flying from her mouth so fast and furious, all I could do was cringe. I said to Mindy, "Dear, I handled it."

She wasn't listening. Kim and Abby tried to tell Mindy, it was over. That I'd handled it. But Mindy was on a roll.

I expected a chair over the back of the head, or a sucker punch to my ear.

After all, this guy wasn't going to hit a girl. He was going to hit me. Right? Of course right.

Kim, who'd just told me a story about a fight she'd been in at Roller City, had used one of her roller skates to pound her adversary, and assured me--had a bru ha ha erupted, she had my back. Abby, who'd also shared some fight-stories from her youth, let me know she was ready to use her chair to smack the guy across the back of his head if necessary--despite having just undergone back surgery. And Mindy--no doubt--was ready to duke it out.

Eventually, we finished our cigarettes and made our way to safety, er, ah, um, I mean back to the other half of the bar outside of the smoking section, where we joined our other friends.

Of course, we recapped to the other ladies what had just taken place in the smoking section. Everyone laughed. Apparently at my expense.

"If Kim had a roller skate with her, I'd have felt a lot more prepared," I'd said. This, for some reason, made everyone laugh ... more.

My imminent doom seemingly caused much delight.

What I took out of the event?

Emotions. They'd surged. Anger, that some guy would continually insult my friend. Fear (not for me, mind you, for the obnoxious guy. I don't think he knew the hornet's next he'd stirred was buzzing and ready to sting, relentlessly). Courage, for not having backed down. Inspiration, because I knew I'd get a blog out of the deal, and some character attributes to store away for use in future writings.

All in all. It had been a great night, with many, many inspirations tucked away.

Had I of stayed home, on the sofa, in jammers, and watched the Yankees game on TV, I'd have missed out on all the free inspiration oozing at Pineapple Jacks.

You want to write? You have to live. No way around it.

--Hey? Did the Yankees even win? I missed the whole game!

Until next time ....

Thomas Phillips,
Author of the suspense thriller, The Molech Prophecy
(Click the link above to purchase a copy of my novel)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Little Girl Lost: A Ghost Named Jenny

I remember after spending a year at SUNY Brockport, that I'd taken an English essay writing class at Monroe Community College. The professor gave an assignment: Write about something that effected your life in some way.

I thrived in English and writing classes. While students asked for bare minimum guidelines, I asked if there was a page maximum. I knew what I'd write about, didn't have to think about it, and didn't want to be held back by any limits.

Although we had a week to complete the assignment, I completed mine that night.

I wrote about Jenny.

I got the paper back the following week with a D. Under the grade it said: "Too much like King/Poe. This was not a fiction assignment."

Jenny effected my life forever. So, you tell me, whether I imagined the below tale or not, I believe it happened ...

When my parents bought their second home in Gates (Rochester, NY), I was nearly two-years old. It is where they still live today. Three bedrooms were upstairs. There was a living room and kitchen on the first level, and below, a family room, and below that a basement.

If you stood in the living room and looked up the stairs, you'd see my sister's bedroom door. Hung on the wall was a painting. A young girl, in white dress stood in a field of yellow flowers.

I always disliked the painting. We all know that when you walk by a painting the eyes of the person depicted follow you. The girl in this particular painting was no different. Her eyes followed me. Really followed me. I swore they moved.

When I was fourteen years old, I could stand it no longer. I took the painting down and out into the garage. I used a grilling fork--the ones with two long, sharp tines, forked the eyes out of the painting. and dropped the framed artwork into the Dumpster.

Two days later, when I went into the garage, I stopped short. Leaning against the far wall stood the painting. Eyeless, but still staring at me.

I took a hatchet and hacked the thing to pieces. I gathered the destruction in my arms and once again dropped it all into the Dumpster. My parents claimed, and still claim, that they took the painting out of the garbage. Said they wanted to hang it back up. But without eyes? I don't think so.

This was when it all started.

Had my actions caused a stir in the spirit world? Perhaps.

In no particular order, I want to inform you that since that day I never slept in my bedroom again. I spent the next four years sleeping on the sofa in the living room until I moved away to college. And when I returned from school, I still slept on the sofa.


That first evening I fell asleep on my bed. I was on my back. My hands on my chest. I woke up. My right hand was numb. Under it, I felt another hand, a third hand. I lifted both my arms in the air. The other hand was still on my chest. I could not see it, but felt it. Cold. And now my chest, too, was numb.

I screamed. I called for my mom, and for my dad.

When my bedroom door banged open, the hand flew off my chest, and a cool wisp of wind blew by my face.

I fell out of bed and scrambled for my father, who told me I'd just had a nightmare.

I was prone to nightmares. Walking and talking in my sleep. My waking up screaming was nothing new. But this was different. I knew the difference.

Something of a slob, each morning I took my blankets off the sofa and rolled them up in my arms. I'd go up to the hall closet. Open the door, throw the blankets in and slam the door before the ball of fabric rolled back out. One day when I did this, a corner of blanket got caught in the door jamb. My sister was right beside me. Laughed at the fact I'd have to open the door, and try again. When I opened the door, we both gasped. Literally, gasped.

Every blanket in the hall closet was folded and neatly stacked. Including the ones I'd just tossed in. There was no corner of a blanket by the door jamb.

One night when my parents were out, some friends were over. It was winter. I was sixteen. They were headed to Blockbuster to rent a movie. I stayed home. In the living room I watched TV. Alone. I heard floorboards creak. (The house was carpeted. No hardwoods). Someone was behind me on the stairs. I was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. No socks. No shoes. I needed to get out of the house. My legs didn't seem to work. I couldn't turn around. Wouldn't.

Instead, when I could finally stand, I stood. I kept my back to the stairs. I moved along the back of the couch slowly, and when I reached the door I booked out it. Into the snow. Feet cold, and ran for the street. Once in the street I turned back to the house. The front door slammed shut.

I waited outside for nearly twenty minutes, shivering, waiting for my friends to get back home. They all had a good laugh at my expense. I laughed along with them. Inside, my heart beat wildly against my ribcage.

It was on one night in particular that I learned Jenny's name.

I was asleep on the sofa. This may have been a dream. Felt like one. I'd opened my eyes, and seated on the chair across from me was a girl in a red robe. Her hair was wet, long, worn down over her face. (I wondered later if her hair covered her face because she had no eyes...)

She told me her name was Jenny. That she was not here to hurt me, but that she wanted a friend.

A friend.

One weekend when I was home for the weekend from Brockport, I'd brought a friend. She and I were in my room. We sat on my bed. She opened up to me, told me that she "saw" things no one else could see. I just politely nodded and listened as she counted off strange things she'd encountered. Know what? I didn't believe her. But I listened.

And then she looked at me with wide eyes. She told me, we're not alone. I almost laughed. She wasn't joking. She asked me, "Who's Jenny."

My breath caught in my lungs. "What?" I asked.

"Jenny," she said. "Who's Jenny ... because she's not happy I'm here."

I grabbed the girl's hand. I got to my feet and ran for the bedroom door, pull/dragging her with me. As we stepped out of the bedroom, the bedroom door slammed shut. We practically flew down the stairs. Up in my room, things banged, and thumped and fell.

We ran out of the house ... breathless ...

Jenny might have wanted a friend, but she was jealous, it seemed.

Unfortunately, I never looked into Jenny, to try to figure out who she was, why she was haunting my parents' house, the way people do in movies, and in books ...

After getting married, and moving out of the house, I never saw signs of Jenny again. I've been back to my parents' house, have spent nights there, and nothing. Nothing.

I wonder if Jenny left; if she actually was a figment of my imagination, or real.

To be honest, at this point -- I just don't know.

What I do know is, from the time I was 14, until I was 21, something kept me from sleeping in my room, kept me from ever getting a solid night's sleep. And, from the time I was 14 until I was 21, Jenny was as real as any ghost ... real.

That professor giving me a D was uncalled for. And I fought for a better grade, explaining all of this to the professor who decidedly changed my grade to a B.


Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Monday, August 31, 2009

Unidentified Flying Object Spotted in Rochester, NY

Wednesday, August 26, 2009.

It was my day with the kids. At 9:45 PM, I took them back to where their mother lives in Greece, NY.

My oldest son was telling me a story. He'd seen something in the sky. Since we were fifteen minutes early, their mother wasn't home. I parked in the drive-way. We climbed out of the car. We stood on the lawn. Phil, the oldest, pointed toward south in the sky, toward the moon. He said he'd seen something big, bright, flying across the sky.

I believe in aliens. Hard not too. Outerspace is too open, too vast for me to believe that life only thrives on our one, insignificant planet.

Had I ever seen a UFO before?

Nope. Not until that night, that is.

Standing on the grass, Phil and Grant in front of me, Raeleigh on my right, we tried to follow Phil's finger as he pointed up at the night sky.

For some reason--no reason I can explain, or care to try to explain--we all ... yes, we all ... turned right. We turned right, and we looked up toward the north-west sky.

At that moment, that exact moment, something large and round, and flat -- not saucer shaped, but like the moon, or a plate, fell from the sky. It dropped fast, between the V-scope of two Maple tree tops.

I saw it. All four of us did. And all four of us gasped.

Phil swore the object was only hundreds of feet away.

Grant, Raeleigh and I believed the object was much further away--maybe not as far up as an airplane might fly, but farther than a few hundred feet up and away.

It didn't glow. It didn't have lights. Like I'd said, it was flat. Round. Off-white, kind of nicotine stained looking.

The thing didn't float.

What it did, if I can believe my eyes, is drop.

Drop, like it had been watching us search the sky for signs of UFO's, and when we turned, turned and saw it, it hid.

Sounds crazy. I feel crazy even writing it.

But it happened. Something had been in the sky. And when we discovered it, it dropped into hiding.

Whether hundreds of feet away, or thousands, it was there. I cannot deny this. Won't deny this.

We did not see aliens.

Nothing flashed. My car didn't turn on. Headlights didn't flicker.

What had we seen?

It may not have been some alien ship, but clearly, undeniably, it was something I would classify as a UFO, an unidentified flying object.

We've told friends. Family. No one believes us. Had my kids of come to me, I might not have believed them either. I'd have nodded, and would have believed that they believed in what they'd seen ... but that might have been all. The extent of my belief.

But I was there. I saw it. I have no idea what I saw. Just that it was something. Not a plane, not a shooting star. Not a kite. Not a weather balloon.

I know. I know. I write mystery novels. Horror stories. I use the supernatural to plot my tales. This, though it may seem, may sound like a gimmick, a writer stunt--I assure, it is not.

What I'd like to know is--how many of my readers have had similar, or for that matter, even unique encounters. What I'd like to know, to prove, is that my kids and I are not alone in our sighting.

Thomas Phillips,
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Write About What You Know.

I have been writing since I was fourteen. Grew up with a reading disability. Hated books. Did all I could to never read. In seventh grade when our teacher assigned S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, everything changed.

I not only became an avid reader from that point on, but since have worked hard at writing. Born a storyteller, it only made sense that I work to get my ideas down on paper. My first writing instrument was a Sears electric typewriter. Uh-huh. I remember saving money up to buy it, and cringing everytime the ribbon (with corrective white tape) ran out.

I spent hours in my room pounding out stories.

My first real short story, I Made It, was published when I was a freshman in the Cardinal Mooney annual literary magazine. (I have copies stored away). You write about what you know. My parents never had much money. They worked hard. Just never seemed to catch up. I really wanted to go to Cardinal Mooney High School. I got a job at the end of eighth grade, and worked all summer to pay the tuition. My job was as a busboy at a party house. The Diplomat.

Well. I was hired as a busboy. But what happened was, new hires had to "earn" the right to bus tables. I worked weekend mornings. Cleaned up after parties the nights before. Vacuuming, setting tables, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping and mopping floors. Soon, I worked nights, too. Washing dishes, scrubbing pots and pans. And eventually, I worked parties.

My first day of work was a Saturday. Like any business, communication was terrible. When hired I was told I needed to wear black dress pants, black shoes, a black vest and a black bow-tie, as well as a white dress shirt. Standard busboy attire, right?

So, Saturday morning I showed up to work all decked out in new duds. The "head" busboy, Gary, looked at me, shook his head, and said, "Lose the tie." I spent the next seven hours breaking my back cleaning party rooms--wondering how everyone else there knew to wear jeans and T-shirts.

And this ... this true-story became my first published piece. It told the tale of how I went from showing up to work ill-dressed, to getting the call one night to come in (on a day off) and to bring my bus-clothes.

I'd made it.

Key point of the blog, write about what you know. Remember, fiction still needs to be factual!


Thomas Phillips,
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writing is Just Like Going to the Gym

I like to tell people I used to jog ten miles a day. But I found, if I take the car I can be done much quicker.

Lame joke. I know.

But writing is a lot like exercising. It's about developing a routine, following a schedule.

It's been said many times that if you want to write, then write every day.

This is sound, solid advice.

If you belong to a gym, my guess is you have some kind of a work-out schedule. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, let's say. And I'll also bet, when many of those days roll around you do not feel like going to exercise. However, I'd continue to wager, that once at the gym, you are fine and the work-out begins.

That's how it can be for writers as well.

Or, more specifically, that's how it should be for writers.

I have a small key-group of people, writers, that I write with.

For me, writing at home does not always allow me the ability to write for as long, or to produce the best writing I can. Too many distractions. The TV. The refrigerator. The sofa. The phone.

On Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays, me and these other writers make a plan to meet at a local Barnes & Noble's to write. It's a way for us to hold each other accountable. It's a way to ensure quality writing time. We tend to power up laptops, sharpen pencils, and plug headphones into Ipods, and write without disrupting each other.

At the same time, when one of us hits a stumbling block, a speed bump, seated around that person are potential resources to help overcome the hurdle.

I may say, "Steve, how does this paragraph sound? Does it sound like writing, because if it does, I need to re-write it."

Or Steve may say, "I need my develop more sympathy for my character. I tried this, does it work?"

It's not always possible to make it to B&N on every day scheduled for us to write. When this happens, there is guilt associated with telling the others that you can't make it.

Guilt is an awesome tool that keeps our group from canceling more often than we may want to cancel. See what I'm saying?

If you want to write, to improve your talent, to hone your skills as a writer, then it will be more than important, it will be essential, that, as a writer, you develope a writing schedule that fits your needs. Whether it is every day, first thing in the morning, or at night after everyone else in the house has gone to bed, or heading to a coffee shop after work. Whatever the case may be, you need to know that you have a schedule to follow, and devaiting from it will cause your writing to suffer.

Teaming up with other writers is helpful, not necessary. Two or more with the same goals, same dreams, will help you hold yourself, and them, more accountable for the work that needs doing.

Writing should be satisfying, just like when you leave the gym -- feeling pumped and energetic, and excited about the work-out you'd completed for that day. With writing, whether you completed a chapter, a few pages, or some complex portions of your tale, when you finish writing for the day you should feel pumped, energetic, and excited about the words you'd strung together.

Like with exercise, writing is theraputic, inspiring in and of itself, and a wonderful stress reliever. I'd go as far to say that writing is healthy. Maybe not for physical results, but certainly for emotional and spiritual purposes.

Now, enough with reading the blog. Get out there and write!

Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Life Interrupts The Day

Has it really been two months since my last blog? I am so sorry.

I have been very busy. As a midlist author (which means, not a best seller), I still need to work a full time job. Writing does not pay the bills. It barely covers enough to Super Size at McDonalds, these days. But I am not complaining.

I thought about this the other day. If I never sold another thing, I'd have nothing to complain about.

In 1995, I sold my first short story. It was a western that took place in Rochester, NY. That was what the editor liked about it. It was called, Eye For An Eye. The magazine, Western Digest, was a new Canadian publication out of Alberta. I'd found a listing for them in Writer's Digest. I'd never written a western. I'd also never been published. But I set out to write and sell a short story, and did exactly that.

My tale concluded at 8,000 words. I was paid a penny per word. Canadian. Got a check for about $45 dollars (U.S.). And I actually did take the family to McDonalds -- and spent the whole thing!

After that, I went on to sell over 75 short stories to an array of publications. In February 2000, my first novel, MIND PLAY, was released by Dry Bones Press.

Dry Bones was actually a non-fiction, medical oriented publishing house in California that wanted to expand into fiction titles. I was one of the first signed fiction authors.

Here we are in 2009, and I've sold not just 75+ short stories, hundreds of articles, six mystery/suspense novels, and two books for young readers, but I have done hundreds of interviews (TV, Radio, Print, On-line), hundreds of book signings, countless speaking engagements, attended conferences, and have been recognized as "the author" enough times to make me feel a little special ...

How could I ever complain if I never sold another thing?

The good news, I do have some publishers now considering some of my completed manuscripts. So I am far from down and out. And in the waiting-time, I am hard at work on a Mafia thriller, and have completed a rough outline for a supernatural thriller, as well.

Also, I continue the hunt for a new literary agent. Seems they are as hard to find as a solid publisher. But I have not given up!

I will be back -- hopefully with good news about signing a new contract for another novel soon!

Until next time, have a wonderful day!

Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Monday, May 25, 2009

Brush With The Law

Ever hear the saying that bad things happen in threes? My luck tends to disprove that theory.

Yesterday, I was on line at a website called 911tabs. Here you can get chords and tabs to thousands of songs. I was looking up how to play some Jefferson Starship on guitar when I clicked on a tab link.I was immediately informed that I'd caught a Trojan virus.


What I thought was my spyware software warning me, was actually something called Personal Antivirus. Looks just like Microsoft alerts. I began to click buttons to prevent my laptop from getting sick.What I ended up doing was downloading the spyware directly to my computer. All these warning popups appeared, demanding my attention, telling me my computer was infected. That my personal data and passwords were being sent to an offshore IP address.Personal Antivirus wanted me to purchase their spyware.Did some research. Turns out, Personal Antivirus does this. Infects your system with their "fake" viruses. Had it worked out so that popups continually interrupt whatever you are doing to make you panic, thinking your computer is infected and needs their software to heal it.

So, that was how my day started.

Got in my car later. It made a rattle sound. Like something was loose. Being not at all mechanically inclined, I fixed the problem by turning the up the volume on the car stereo.

Deep inside, however, my mind was going over new bills I'd be incurring in the near future. Fix my laptop, and taking the car to a garage.

Anyway, I was on my way to pick up Mindy. We'd made plans to go to the drive-in. Vintage, in Avon. Demons & Angles and Star Trek was showing on screen 3.

I told her about my day. I explained that something else would go wrong. Had to. In writing, we call this foreshadowing.We got a good spot in the third row--and per the Vintage employee's direction, parked close to one of the white poles. The poles indicate parking spots. At one time I am sure they housed speakers for viewers to listen to the movies. (All done by car radio now, in case you were not aware).

It was after two AM when Star Trek ended. I went to pull out of the parking spot. Forgot about the white pole, and ran the driver's side along it. Screamed. Backed up, raking the pole, again across my door.

Laptop. Funny car noises. Scratched the car on a stupid pole.

One. Two. Three.

Once on I-390 North, we saw two police cars had pulled someone over. I slowed to 55 mph. Road between the two lanes, and both Mindy and I developed rubber neck as we peered at the guy in his car being questioned by two police officers.

We commented. "Some one's in trouble."

Next thing I know a cop is behind me. Lights on. No sirens. I pulled over to the shoulder.

I looked at Mindy. "I know I wasn't speeding," I said.

The officer came to my door, flashlight shinning into the car. "You just drive by where we had someone pulled over?"


"You brushed the other officer," he said. "Sent him onto the hood of his cruiser."

My stomach dropped. "There's no way," I said.

"Were you driving in this lane?" He shown his light on the right-hand lane.

"I was."

"Yeah," he said. "You hit the officer."

"Sir," I said. "There's no way. We slowed down to like fifty-five. I even moved over into the left lane some."

"You were in this lane," he said, again showing me the right lane with his flashlight.

"I was," I said.

"Yeah. You hit him." He walked around my car. Looked at the front passenger side. Came back. "How about your license and registration."

I gave it to him.

"Sit tight," he said and walked back to his cruiser.

I looked at Mindy. "There's no way we hit him and didn't know it."

She agreed. We laughed. The situation was not funny.We could hear the officer talking.

"It was a Cobalt? A red Cobalt?"

I drove an Aveo. Looked similar.

He came to my window. Handed me back my license. He was on his cell. To me he said, "You seem like you're telling the truth," he said. "A lot of red cars drove past us. Have a nice night."

I tucked my license back into my wallet. The officer pulled back onto the expressway, and gunned the engine.I sucked in some air, realizing I might have been holding my breath.

All I could think was, Laptop, funny noise, scraped the paint, and accused of hit-and-run.

One. Two. Three. Four.


I guess if I didn't have bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all, huh?

And people always ask, "Where do you get ideas for the stories you write?"

My pat response: "They just come to me."

Uh-yeah.Have a wonderful Memorial Day!

Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Saturday Morning Rant

It's been nearly two months since my last post. Sorry. Been busy.

Last time I blogged, I wrote about some not-so-great news. A large publisher had been been considering my vampire novel for a series, but then did not offer a contract due to the ongoing suffering of the economy.

Since, I have been working hard to re-work some of my manuscripts. With three completed works stored in my computer, I have recently begun doing two things:

1. Soliciting agents for some of my works, and for others
2. Sending queries to publishers

People may not be spending hard earned dollars on book buying right now, but that hasn't stopped me from writing. In fact, I am writing more now than I have in a long while.

The goal is to land a contract with another large press, like Whitaker House, who published The Molech Prophecy in July 2008. However, I am not opposed to signing a contract with a smaller press. Not at all.

My first short story was published in 1995. It was a western, sold to a magazine out of Calgary. I'll never forget the feeling of seeing my work in print for the first time. It had been amazing. Over the years I've sold more than 100 short stories, six novels and two books for children. I've done hundreds of book signings, been interviewed on TV, radio, magazines and on-line. If I never sold another piece, I have nothing to complain about. Nothing.

But I can't stop now.


I still have stories in me that need telling. Stories worth telling.

And I believe as long as I can find an outlet -- large publisher, small press -- I will keep plugging away!

So why stop?

Why quit?

Makes no sense. Not to me.

I accepted long, long ago that I may never achieve my dream of bestseller.

I'm good with that. Not a problem.

Midlist writer is just fine with me.

The Molech Prophecy has sold more books than any of my other novels combined. And for that small miracle, I am both thrilled and thankful. The book is carried in stores across the country. That fact alone humbles me.

So I may not have a new book coming out in 2009. As long as I keep at the hunt for an agent and/or publisher, I am confident that by next summer a new Thomas Phillips novel will be available on bookshelves once again.

Don't give up on me as a writer. Keep following my blog.

There is more to come.

I promise.

Have a great Saturday!

Thomas Phillips
Author of The Molech Prophecy

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back To Square One

In my earlier blog posted, February 27, 2009 blog, Suffering Economy Hurts Book Sales, I talked about the overall decline in book sales, and more specifically how a publisher considering my vampire novel was putting new acquisitions on hold until summer. Unfortunately, I -- and other authors currently with this particular publisher have received word that, basically, new books will not be placed under contract at this time.

What does this mean? I need to either begin a search for a new literary agent, or attempt to place the manuscript with another publisher on my own.

This is not news I take personally. The manuscript, I was told, is what they were looking for. They liked it. Publishing it at this time, however, is too risky for them -- financially.

It's a set-back. No doubt.

I have been knocked back down to square-one, but not down and out.

When I think about my writing career, I know I have nothing to complain about. It's never been about money. Never have I expected to hit bestseller lists, or to make it rich writing.

Since 1995, I have sold more than 100 short stories and articles. I have had six novels published, and two books for middle grade readers.

I have been interviewed on TV a few times, numerous radio interviews, and endless print and online interviews. My books have received glowing reviews, and I have had countless best selling authors endorse my work.

With all of that success, how could I ever complain?



Rejection, for whatever reason, comes with the territory.

What I would like to do is bring all of you along on the journey ... from query letter, proposal, and submission ... as I hunt for a home for my vampire novel, Pulse of Evil.

Sound like fun?

Uh-huh. We'll see.

So. Stop back regularly to check in on the progress as I compile a list of agents and publishers and work toward receiving a contract for publication ...

Have a great day!

Thomas Phillips

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

James Patterson v. James Patterson

A long time ago I was roaming through a store while my wife shopped. Like always, I made my way over to the book section. I saw a paperback called, Along Came A Spider. I'd never heard of James Patterson at that point, but having an unnatural fear of spiders, decided to give the author a try.

The book had absolutely nothing to do with spiders. It didn't matter. I was hooked. I was introduced to the now legendary fictional character, Alex Cross. I then read Kiss The Girls, which had just been released in hardcover. Anxiously, I awaited for more Alex Cross novels.

Over the years, I have read just about every Patterson novel out there, with a special interest in the Cross books.

What I soon realized was, Patterson could put out two, sometimes three books a year. Especially lately.

Many of his older, less popular titles, were re-worked and re-released, oftentimes under new titled names.

For quite a while, only his name appeared on the book covers.

What began to bother me was the number of co-authors soon appearing on Patterson's books.

I believe the first time I noticed this happening was when I bought The Jester. It was written by Patterson, and co-written by Andrew Gross -- who has since launched a very successful solo career. The Jester was different than any book I'd ever read by Patterson. It took place in medieval times. I assumed Gross was a historian expert, which was why Patterson enlisted help in writing the book.

Slowly, I noted that Patterson worked with more and more frequency with co-authors: Peter de Jonge, Howard Roughan, Michael Ledwidge, Gabrielle Charbonnet, Hal Friedman, and Maxine Paetro.

Reading the books with co-authors left a bitter taste in my mouth. Were the books good? Absolutely. Did they seem similar to books written just by Patterson? For the most part, yes. The characteristics were the same: short two page chapters, switching POV, page-turning suspense from start to finish.

So why the bitter taste?

I couldn't help but wonder if Patterson was writing all of these new novels with the co-authors, or whether the publisher was using Patterson's name and unique style to launch the careers of lesser known, but still talented writers.

This past Christmas, I was given Cross Country, the latest Alex Cross novel. It sat on my To Be Read pile for some time. I was not as excited to read the book. I was worried my interest in Patterson's stories had been weakened by my personal suspicion that he was no longer the actual author of the books written.

Two days ago, I set that feeling aside and started Cross Country.

Like every Cross novel, I've devoured the book, reading the 406 pages in just under a few hours -- was almost mad at myself for waiting months to read it, and mad that it was over and I'd now have to wait for the next Alex Cross installment,

On I saw that Patterson's next Cross novel, Alex Cross' Trial, is due to hit stores in August 2009.

But there was something else I noticed on Amazon. Something that made my heart miss a beat, and my stomach drop.

This latest Cross novel bears the names of two authors.

James Patterson and Richard Dilallo.

To say I merely tolerated the "other" Patterson novels, or the non-Alex Cross novels, might be extreme ... but it is close to true. While they were all excellent reads -- the nagging feeling that Patterson wasn't the actual author continues to bother me . The saving grace had always been that -- At Least The Alex Cross Novels Only Have One Author Listed.

But not now. Not anymore.

So rather than just worry about what Patterson may or may not be up to, I decided to do some digging. What I found, however, has shocked me to the point of disappointment.

What I discovered is that, while most successful authors have personal assistants, James Patterson has started his own firm. It is called, James Patterson Entertainment. In 2007, Patterson had six novels released. Six.

When asked by USA Today (2007), why he uses so many co-authors, Patterson stated: "They can't keep up with me." In fact, he says, "I'm not a fast writer. I struggle through the writing. I'm not a craftsman. I'm OK. I can get it done. But I know it's not my strength."
What is, he says, is his "amazing imagination."

Reading more into this article I learned that, Patterson has a huge folder of ideas. He then pumps out a detailed outline. And the co-author's get to work fleshing out the ideas and writing chapters. They then submit the chapters to Patterson, who sends back marked up revisions.

At least, this was the revealed formula for Step On A Crack, written with co-author Michael Ledwidge. The co-author is even quoted, saying that Patterson served less as an editor and more as a writing coach, or teacher.

As suspected, some publisher's admit to attempting to produce, or reproduce Patterson-like authors.

Andrew Gross is a prime example. His first solo novel, The Blue Zone, had an impressive 200,000 first printing. (And was a fantastic book, so you know).

Apparently on a talk show, the interviewer read excerpts from two of Patterson's novels and asked Patterson if he could name the books he'd read the excerpts from, and Patterson couldn't. The interviewer said, "You wrote this stuff." And Patterson simply replied, "Yeah, so what."

Although sales for Patterson's novels have not been negatively impacted since all the co-authoring business, this reader is largely disappointed, and as a suspense author, perhaps a bit jealous as well.

Part of me wished I never asked questions, never looked for answers. I will not be able to look at Patterson novels the same.

Will I still read them?

Good question. At this point, I'm just not sure.

Have a great day.


Source: 2-5-07
Publishing juggernaut Patterson keeps rolling along, Co-authors help shoulder the load
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

People Watching

I've held off on writing this particular blog for one main reason. I co-lead a creative writing group that meets once a month. This month, I'll be giving a "presentation" on creating memorable characters in fiction. A lot of that presentation is pulled from, or is derived from the information contained in this blog. (I know for a fact that one particular member of that group follows my blog. More may. But he, I know, reads it for sure, and I'd hate to kill any surprise ... so Steve ... spoiler below :-)

Writing a novel takes more that drive, discipline and dedication. Creating memorable characters is essential. Readers need to care about what happens to those characters. They need to care about what happens next, too.

Developing characters for me is somewhat simple.

I people watch.

I do it all the time. But doing it at the mall is sometimes my favorite place for such ... research.

Many of you may have seen me in the mall, seated on a bench, a notebook and pen and hand and apparently just thoughtfully jotting down stuff on the paper.

Truth is, I'm watching you.

Kinda creepy. I know. What can I say? It's what I do. And if I do say so myself, I do it well.

Real people inspire me.

I like to watch the way you walk. Do you have a bounce in your step, a limp, a shuffle?

I like to listen to you talk. Am I eavesdropping? Yepper! How do you say things, what are you saying? Do you repeat words, or have slang that I haven't heard?

I like to see what clothing you're wearing. How you're wearing them.

I like to look at your hair, makeup, jewelery. Got spiked hair? Too much eye shadow? A grill?

My job is to capture these characteristics so, when I'm home, writing, I can call on my notes to help draft characters that are three dimensional and real, as opposed to flat cardboard "people" no one will care about.

The work doesn't stop there.

I use the Internet and surf for photos of people that resemble the characters I'm creating. I Copy/Paste those photos onto a Word document. I then set to work creating a list of information about each and every character. I call these, Profiles.

1. I need to name them. (An unwritten rule is one unusual name per story. Unless you write fantasy, and then the odder the better, apparently).

I used to use the first names of family and friends when writing. I realized, being Italian and having a huge family, that there was just no way to write books fast enough to make everyone happy.

One great uncle kept asking when I'd use his name in a book. I explained to him that I had, but that the book wouldn't be out for a few years. (Unfortunately, the book never made it to print). Excited, he asked what the name of the book was. I told him, Pigeon Drop. He said, What's that? That's crap. (You can please some people some of the time, but not all people all of the time, and all of that, eh?)

2. I need to give them history. (How old are they? Married? Single? Divorced? Do they work? Where? Doing what? Where did they go to school? Any family? Favorite color, food, music, movie? What do they love, hate?)

3. For main characters I need to list strengths ... and at least one fear/flaw.

Number 3 is especially important for the protagonist, or main character. The fear/flaw needs to be introduced at the beginning of the story, and by the end ... that character needs to face, overcome and somehow change as a person based on the accomplishment.

Referring back to my "Profiles" regularly, I hope to build consistent and realistic characters.

Hopefully, I am successful.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope this blog was informational to aspiring writers, and people generally curious about how writers put stories together.

Have a great day!

Thomas Phillips