Saturday, July 19, 2014

Making Hay While the Sun Shines #farming #amwriting

One of the blessings - or curses, depending on how you look at it - related to writing crime fiction is that I can't help but look for danger in almost any situation. It's summer, and that means it's time to make hay in East Texas - or not, depending on the weather. We've had a beautiful spring and summer so far, and the pastures are lush with grass. Some farmers are working on their second cuttings of hay, but we've just had our first cutting done.

Since many of my friends live overseas or have never had a chance to see hay baled, I wanted to share a few photos of how the process works. And, as usual, I'm looking for creative ways to kill my characters. It's that blessing or curse thing.

The Musick Men are our hay balers and they start checking out our pastures in May, but we're usually not thick enough to cut until June. Hay baling is a five-stage process if you count the growing stage, and I guess we should.

Stage 1: Growing. Pray for rain and hope the grass grows. Yes, it's that simple. You can fertilize and amend the soil, but without rain, there's not much hope for hay.

Stage 2: Mowing. Essentially, you hook a great big mower to your tractor and drive around the pasture in ever decreasing circles until you've cut all the grass. Leave the grass to dry and pray for no rain.

(Nope, those aren't the Musick Men, that isn't our house or pasture, and their tractor doesn't look like that. I had a great photo of Mr. Musick the Younger cutting hay, but can't find it. If you squint and tilt your head just right, this is kind of how our mowing went.)

Stage 3: Fluffing. The technical term is raking, but it looks like fluffing to me. After the hay dries, attach a rake to your tractor (the attachment looks like modern art against the sky, doesn't it?), and drive around the pasture in ever decreasing circles.

The rake fluffs the hay and leaves it in neat little rows, like this:

4: Baling. This is where the fun comes in. Attach the baler to your tractor and drive around the neat little rows, sucking the hay up into the baler, rolling it into a round bale, then tying it with twine and dropping it out the back. Looks like a dinosaur giving birth, if you squint and turn your head just right.


 (Those babies are nothing to mess with - they weigh in at 1,500 pounds or more. Hefty.)

5. Stacking. This part might seem silly, but you've got to get the baled hay off your pasture so you can start growing grass again. 

The Musick Men are kind enough to stack our hay where it stays relatively dry and is easy to access in the winter.

Now for the killing part. Is there opportunity for one of my characters to die when baling hay? Absolutely, particularly if the baddies are baling the hay. Sadly for real life farmers, the risks related to hay baling are all too real. Accidents happen every year, resulting in amputations, deep cuts, broken arms and legs, crushing, and death. The Musick Men are some of the good guys and thankfully, are conscientious when they're working with farm equipment.

In the fictional world, there's a great chance that one of my bad guys won't be so conscientious and will die while baling hay, or maybe when an errant bale rolls over them. Oh the fun we have in the country...

photo credit: Therm0 via photopin cc
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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Is It Possible to Have a Real Friend on Social Media?

I've seen a few comments lately about whether the friends you make on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter are really friends. They question whether you can have a meaningful relationship with someone you've never met, and are likely never to meet. Some say yes, others say no. I'd say the people you meet through social media are pretty much like the people you meet in 'real life': a collection of folks who stay with you through thick and thin, those whose company you enjoy on an occasional basis, those who run at the first sign of trouble, and those who simply are trouble.

Although I've lived in big cities and traveled pretty widely, I'm somewhat naive when it comes to meeting people and making friends. (If you were traveling on the London Underground between 1999 and 2007, I was the gal who made eye contact and smiled. You might've wanted to have me arrested for aberrant behavior, but I couldn't help it. Still can't.)

Maybe naive is the wrong word. I have few reservations when it comes to meeting new people and making friends, and I rely on my gut to determine whether you're someone I want to know better.

Is it easier to make that gut level determination in person? Possibly. I watch your body language, hear the tone of your voice. I feel the strength of your handshake, observe how you interact with those you might consider less than yourself, like wait staff or receptionists. On social media I rely on your written interactions with me and with other people. Some folks I've met through social media make me uneasy due to their language, the nature of their comments, or the inconsistency of their behavior. We can all be who we want to be online, but it's hard to be someone else full-time.

There aren't many people who make me uncomfortable. On the contrary, I've met some wonderful people who provide great support or comfort, and who make me laugh. People who are genuinely happy when I achieve something big or small, and share my frustration when things don't work out as I'd hoped. People who trust me with what's going on in their lives, and want to know what I think and feel about what's happening to them. People who help me when I need it, and will ask for help when they need it. Aren't these the kinds of things friendship is about?

Maybe I'm being naive again. It's quite possible. But I've had the pleasure of meeting a few of these cyber-friends in 'real life', and have found everyone I've met so far to be just who they presented themselves to be online - a real friend. Will every encounter turn out that way? Probably not, but I'm grateful for those that have.

What about you? Do you think it's possible to make real friends through social media?

photo credit: ilouque via photopincc
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photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

Sunday, June 29, 2014

ARMY OF WORN SOLES by Scott Bury - #bookexcerpt and #giveaway @ScottTheWriter

Excerpt fifteen from Army of Worn Soles

The Army of Worn Soles launch blog tour continues! Read to the end for the clue that will help you win the Grand Prize of a signed paperback copy of Army of Worn Soles plus a $50 Amazon gift card. If you collect all the clues and put them in the right order, they’ll make a sentence. Send the sentence to the author (Scott Bury - see below for contact details) for a chance to win an autographed paperback copy of Army of Worn Soles plus a gift certificate from Amazon.

For a chance to enter the early-bird draw, enter the clue at the bottom of the post in the Comments section.

To see where the blog tour stops next, and to find the next clue, visit the author’s blog, Written Words.

Chapter 11: Fighting on the Dnipro

Central Ukraine, September 1941

Maurice and his men grew more and more nervous as the clouds approached the riverbank. By afternoon, they saw refugees approaching the bridges, streams of people on horse-drawn carts or on foot, a few rickety trucks. Behind them were the remnants of the 6th Army, mostly foot soldiers, a few battered tanks and hundreds of horse-drawn carts. From their vantage point, Maurice and his boys watched the sorry parade stream across the Dnipro bridges.

Then they heard the distant thunder of approaching war. And the Germans were upon them.
The airplanes were first. Maurice could never forget the buzzing sound of the Messerschmidts and the screaming Stuka bombers. They filled the sky, bombing and strafing, easily dodging Soviet anti-aircraft fire from the eastern riverbank. 

Where are our planes?” someone yelled after a bomb shook the bunkers. 

There wasn’t a Soviet aircraft to be seen—just panic on the ground as the guards blocked the bridges. 

The Wehrmacht tore apart the ragged Soviet columns still on the western bank. Then Maurice and his men saw the dreaded Panzers. Some raced along the roads. Others crossed the deserted farmlands more slowly. It seemed only minutes before they were at the edge of the river, even though Maurice knew it had to have been hours. 

Charges under the bridges detonated before the Germans got there, stranding thousands of refugees.
The idiots,” said Danylo, the lieutenant of the unit to Maurice’s right. “They should have waited until the first tanks were halfway across and taken some of them down.” 

But Maurice and everyone else knew that was too risky.

Behind them, the Soviet heavy artillery started firing. Maurice saw plumes of dust rising as the shells struck among the German tanks but never actually hit one.

Behind the tanks came the infantry in squat armoured cars, and horses hauling cannons and wagons. By nightfall, the Germans had dug in behind the riverbank, and even though the Soviets kept firing cannons and mortars at them, the Germans didn’t seem bothered. “They’re indestructible,” Private Yuri said. “We can’t even touch them.”

Don’t be stupid,” Big Eugene said. He was a broad-shouldered youth who stood more than six feet tall. “Our gunners just have to get the range.”

Well, they sure seem to be having trouble doing that,” Yuri said.

The Red Army settled into a new routine, hunkered down in the trenches during most of the day as each side’s artillery duelled. Sometimes, the riflemen would take long shots at their opponents, but never hit anything. Overhead, the cannons and mortars roared and coughed and below the bluff, the shells exploded among the trucks and tanks. Occasionally, they hit something, but usually did no more than send dirt high into the air.

The Germans’ heavy guns would answer, spitting death overhead to crash down behind them. Usually they missed, but sometimes they smashed apart stores of food or ammunition, sometimes ripping apart men and horses. Once, Maurice and his men rushed up the bank to help douse a fire burning close to an ammunition store.

Days dragged. Maurice and his unit spent as much time away from the trench as the officers would tolerate. They hid in the bunker, playing cards and smoking. While on duty, watching the enemy across the river, they felt useless. 

Why don’t we attack them?” Corporal Orest said. “We’re doing nothing. We have the higher ground. We could destroy them.” 

Let’s keep our heads down, Corporal,” Maurice said. “There’s no use in making ourselves into target practice for Fritz.” 

Or being cannon fodder for the Russians, he thought.

About the book:


1941: Their retreat across Ukraine wore their boots out—and they kept going. 

Three months after drafting him, the Soviet Red Army throws Maurice Bury, along with millions of other under-trained men, against the juggernaut of Nazi Germany's Operation Barbarossa, the assault on the USSR. 

Army of Worn Soles tells the true story of a Canadian who had to find in himself a way to keep himself alive—and the men who followed him.

It is available in e-book form exclusively on Amazon.

About the author:

Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia. He is author of The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humorous erotic romance;a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.

Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats. He can be found online at, on his blog, Written Words, on Amazon, on Twitter @ScottTheWriter, and on Facebook.

Today’s clue: sequel