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