The Undesirable by S. Celi

The Undesirable
S. Celi

Charlotte Walker lives in a future America that looks nothing like today. The state runs television. Everything is for a war effort against Canada, which has cut off the Keystone Pipeline. There is no president or Congress. There is only the Party. And Maxwell Cooper, the Supreme Leader.

This is the only world Charlotte has known, and the Party manages to turn even that upside down. Humvees roll into Harrison Corners, a small town in northwest Ohio that, up until now, has been isolated from the turmoil gripping the US. She, like her neighbors, are forced to work in a factory making shirts for the war effort. But there’s more than war production behind the occupation. As Charlotte points out in the first chapter, she’s just found out she is Cooper’s bastard. What follows is a clandestine escape to Canada, followed by a harrowing rescue run back to Harrison Corners.

Two authors came to mind as I read this: Stephen King and John Scalzi. Like Scalzi, Celi makes her future familiar. However, whereas Scalzi’s Earth in both the Old Man’s War series and The Android’s Dream is actually a decent place to live, Celi’s America has more in common with Susan Collins’ Panem, minus any bloodsport spectacle. (Yet. This is a series after all.)

The King comparison comes from the desperate vibe that permeates the book, which echoes The Running Man (the book, not the movie), The Long Walk, and shades of The Stand. The status quo is bleak, hopeless, and insidious.

There are nice touches here as well. Cooper is described as an Ohio native son who bears a resemblance to a certain House Speaker who hails from nearby Butler County. But whereas Mr. Boehner usually looks like he has a migraine (Wouldn’t you with the current Congress? Even if most of them are your people?), Cooper solves the problem of gridlock with a coup. But on a more mundane level, the Humvee has replaced the limousine and the Army Jeep as the ride of choice for the powerful.

Still, anyone can make a new universe, altered reality, or dystopic future. Celi, however, has an affinity for romance (which is the bulk of her subsequent books). The real story is Charlotte, who already has to be a survivor thanks to a neglectful mother, and Fostino, a fellow student who has had a crush on her. Fostino finally sees a chance with Charlotte when he is drafted into the Homeland Guard (Cooper’s storm troopers) and takes her under his protection. It’s this relationship that drives the story. Charlotte must leave Fostino behind as he is part of the occupation, then must go back for him when the government betrays its own citizens in Harrison Corners.

I liked this story for its quick pace and its spanning of three genres (YA, science fiction, romance). This is Celi’s first novel, and a very fine effort for a debut. I look forward to more in this series.

The Return Of Nita Ritas!

Spring has sprung, and with it, time in our backyard. Right after Nita and I got married, we lucked into a wonderful discovery. You don’t need Triple Sec to make a margarita. You can use Jameson. Or rum. Or Jack Daniels. Or…

We wanted margaritas one night to sip out on the back deck of the old Rancho Winter, but we had no Triple Sec. We did have Jameson. So in went the Jamie.


We tried it with rum and Jack and Beam and… Yeah, we taste tested a lot of these ritas. But it’s not really a margarita without Triple Sec, is it? No, it’s not. It’s a Nita Rita, and you, too, can enjoy responsibly.

Nita Ritas are 3 parts Cuervo margarita mix, 2 parts tequila (We recommend Cuervo Especial, but I really want to try Cabo Wabo one of these days), and one part… Well, what kind of Nita Rita do you want?

Irish Nita Rita: Jameson

Jamaican Nita Rita: rum

Nuclear Nita Rita: Bacardi 151 dark spiced rum

Tennessee Nita Rita: Jack Daniels

Kentucky Nita Rita (legal): Jim Beam

Kentucky Nita Rita (illegal): moonshine

Canadian Nita Rita: Crown or Seagrams

Jaeger Nita Rita: Dude, that’s just insane. Don’t ever do that. Trust me. It’ll end badly. Agave and absinthe’s cheap cousin do not mix.

So there you have it. The Nita Rita, invented by my wife, the incomparable Nita.

Nita hammock

Self Editing Blues

thissucksSince I finished the SF novel (Since Dick completed his debut novel), I’ve switched to writing first thing in the morning. Some days, I only write 500 words. Some days, I can get in 1000 or better. Quite a few days, I’ll wake up my wife to get her shower, sit back down, and realize, “Idowannastopwriting!”

Those are good days. In the evening (like in a few minutes after I post this), I do hooks for new and existing stories. For shorts, that doesn’t take long at all if I know the story. If I don’t, I write sketches and come back to them later.

And then we get to Holland Bay.

I am pleased with this book overall, but this time I printed out the novel (while waiting on an edit I’m trading with someone else). And…


Header from SJ Aisling’s blog.

Yeah, I should have printed this out the first time. One thing I’ve noticed that I did not notice during the previous read-thru, which was electronic, is that I tend to repeat information. Somewhere in the process of drafting, I forget whether I mention some piece of information pertinent to the situation. Such as a suspension bridge being built in the city that looms over the titular neighborhood in Holland Bay. I describe it in some detail early on, then think, “ZOMG! Did I mention it’s going out to the island where one of the city’s boroughs lies?” Yes. I did. Several times.

So we cut again. And cut. And cut. The blogger from whom I pilfered the image above (or to the right. All depends on how you’re reading this.) calls editing “pruning.” I know of editors who cut for the sake of cutting, which really annoys me. If you’re default position is to cut, what happens if the writer left something out? If a cut makes the story better, then out a passage should come. If a cut is just to get to that mythical 10% quota, you are wasting the writer’s (and the reader’s) time and, most likely, money.

Editing is usually the last thing I do in the evening at the moment. I’m about 3/4 of the way through the manuscript. Early on, I excised whole paragraphs and made “WTF” notes on a lot of scenes. Now we’re getting toward the end where, at least in this version of Holland Bay, I knew the story better. Now the errors are more leaving things out, sometimes whole scenes, but more often a word or two of dialog. “He crossed the to the stadium.” The what? The railroad tracks? Hoover Dam? The universe? Things like that.

I am two weeks from the end the semester at school, which means I will have more time to revise. During this time, all new writing is short fiction, maybe a novella or two, and articles where I find the opportunities. I’d state a goal to finish revising here, but I’ve done that before in this and other spaces. I envy local author Sara Celi (whose book The Undesirable will be featured here next Friday.) She’s probably busier than I am, and just announced hitting the 50,000-word mark in one month on a new book. (Helps when the book grabs you by the lapels and screams “Write me, damn you!” For me, that only happened with Road Rules.)

I’ll be finished with the red ink this weekend. And then it’s off to reread “Gypsy’s Kiss” for a serious reworking. (Not happy with that one. Call that writer’s remorse) and outlining a prequel novella for Dick. What’s that? Well, I never told you the title of the SF novel (let alone Dick’s real name), so I’ll give you this tantalizing tidbit: The novella’s title, premise, and, while we’re at it, marketing gimmick is Only the First One’s Free.

Speaking of free, how would you like a free book? I’ll give twenty people a copy of Road Rules or The Compleat Winter if they promise to review it honestly. I’m not bribing you to write a good review. I’m bribing you just to talk about it. Fair enough? Ebook copies only. We’ll look at a contest for print editions, especially when I make an announcement about Road Rules later this spring. Hit me up at if you want a copy.

Who Is…?

One of the things the experts (The real ones like Kristen Lamb or Dean Wesley Smith, not the idiot telling you to bombard people with eighty promos a day) tell independent authors and traditional authors alike is to identify yourself. Call it branding, but when you put your name out there, even a pen name (especially a pen name), you should really have a sense of what you want to reveal to your readership.


For the six readers across the world who have enjoyed my books, and those on the fence about buying them, here now is…


  • Winter is snarky.
  • Winter writes dark, depressing stuff and makes you love him for it.
  • Winter is an angry man who has little patience for angry people.
  • Winter knows that certainty is a myth.
  • Winter will kill you fictionally if he thinks there’s a good story in it. Nothing personal.
  • Winter spins stories with bad language, gratuitous sex, and irrational violence.
  • Winter ain’t got time for that.
  • Winter loves your sacred cows. Over a gas flame with his wife’s secret spice blend and served with a baked potato and an ice cold beer on his patio, followed by a Nita Rita.
  • Winter thinks Karl Marx and Milton Friedman were the biggest pinheads in history.
  • Winter does not believe in Zeus.
  • Winter has no brand loyalty. (Though Volkswagen is making a really good case for an exception.)
  • Winter does not keep up with the Joneses. Screw Jones.
  • Winter is rock and roll.

It’s Shaped Like A Hook For A Reason

Read this. And don’t whine about the bad language. It’s Chuck Wendig. And you’re over 18, so you can handle it.

Read it? Good. It’s the most brilliant piece of writing advice I’ve read in years. How about that? The question mark is shaped like a hook. I’ve been taking some short stories I had drafted and subjected them to this treatment. What an eye opener. The sequel to “Highway 101″ and “Bad History” that I wanted to write? Works so much better. Here’s how…

question-markTony Bolin is sitting in a rundown apartment alone.
He’s waiting for Roger.
Who is Roger?
Roger’s brother Sam died a month ago.
Bolin killed him.
How come?

I can have that written in about 500 words. There’s about two pages of that which culminates in a rather abrupt (but dramatic) ending.

Would this work on a novel? Probably not. A novel is a little more involved, but it could work as a first step, once you have a firm idea for the story. Then you can do the outline for real.

It’s now a permanent part of my writing routine.


Five Cylinders All Mine!

Northland VW in Cincinnati, Greta’s previous owner

Six years ago, my late father’s venerable Ford Taurus, dubbed “The Wintermobile” ran afoul of a common Ford ailment. It stripped a spark plug and sucked it into the engine. After an expensive and aborted attempt to replace the motor (which my brother eventually succeeded doing), I punted and bought another car. As this was the first time gas had hit $4/gallon, I went cheap and lightweight, buying a 2005 Dodge Neon.


It wasn’t a bad little car, easy on gas. But at the same time, it had a balky transmission and loose motor mounts. At 105,000 miles, it was pretty clear Mercedes had no freaking clue how to build an American car as the Neon began rattling and blowing minor parts. After blowing two sensors in a month (including a camshaft sensor I’d had replaced last year), I decided it was time for The Princess to either take Grandma to the grocery store or finish its life with the punishing duty of pizza delivery car. So about five minutes after my mechanic called to say the car was done (and remind me the water pump was on its last legs), a ad popped up on the Weather Channel site. One of the cars was a 2011 Jetta with 30,000 miles and the right price. I clicked on it, looked it over, and shot the dealer an email saying I wanted to look at it.

They called me by 6:30. I was at the VW dealership by 6:45. By 8:30, I owned the car, and The Princess was ready to be towed to auction. (The cheapest car on the lot was a 2005 Toyota Corolla that, despite the high miles, looked pretty clean. This dealer does not screw around.)

This was fast. But then the car was certified, so essentially, I benefited from VW’s sign and drive. That was not my first experience buying a car through the dealer. That honor went to a local dealer I’ll dub Irish Bastard Motors, or “IBM.” (Sorry, Big Blue.) IBM tried to sell me a 1988 Dodge Spirit that listed CV joints among the items that still needed repaired. My sales rep wanted to send me to buy the car as-is. I said I’d drive it off the lot as soon as they fixed the CV joints. The repair job would have been three times my car payment. They balked. I made them sell me a Camry. A month later, they told me the car was in an accident. I said that’s great, the transmission went out. By then, I learned you don’t buy a car, even a Toyota, with over 100,000 miles on it from a dealer. Strangely, one of IBM’s main dealerships is a BMW store.

A few years later, I went to IBM’s main competitor and bought a 98 Chevy Cavalier. They kept me at the dealership for six hours after promising me I would not miss work that day. I would not have minded getting screwed on the financing had they bothered to use lube.

So I vowed never to do business with either of those dealerships again. The Princess came from Hyundai dealer with a better rep. It helped that I walked in with a down payment, had pointed out the car I wanted, and made a counter-offer that suggested I wanted to save a buck, but without the delusion that I could get the car 25% under wholesale. I’ve seen too many people go in spoiling for a fight and come out without a car (or driving the 88 Yugo when they were going for a brand new Audi.)

Car buying has changed much since I bought that first car 21 years ago. The hard sell is a good way to chase customers off the lot, especially since the more daring auto buyer can go online and just order the car for delivery. Car Fax reports are almost mandatory now if a dealer hopes to move a car off the lot. When I bought the Cavalier, I demanded a Car Fax report several times before going home and ponying up $20 for one. Now?

“Would you like to see the Car Fax report?”

I’d already read it online.

They quoted me a payment based on VW’s best interest rate (short of 0%.) That was the one panic moment I had. Had my credit recovered from the layoff three years earlier? “Um… Can we go longer if you get some bad news?” I got some bad news. They couldn’t give the original interest rate, so my payment was $5 more than originally quoted. On the upside, Nita and I have matching car payments. When I mentioned that her bank couldn’t get her as good a rate as VW, the finance guy actually high-fived me. (Um… My wife reads this, doesn’t she? Er… Prank caller! Prank caller!)

So, the car? As the caption above reads, she’s been dubbed “Greta.” Yes, I know that rhymes with “Jetta,” but that wasn’t why I picked the name. Greta is a German name, and this is my first German car. Essentially, a Volkswagen is an Audi is a Porsche, which have all owned each other at various times since the 1930′s. Dr. Porsche was that rare German engineer who, while adhering to the German obsession with precision car-building, had this odd idea that cars eventually breakdown, and that it might be nice if a mechanic could fix the car by yanking out a part and putting in its replacement. Gee, that sounds like…

American cars. Japanese cars. Korean cars. Yes, GM and Chrysler still need to learn Statistic Process Control (Huh? That’s the thing that makes Japanese cars put more miles on them than the average Apollo command module.). However, I’ve known people who keep their more expensive German machines over 100,000 miles only to discover that it’s easier to replace the space shuttle than to find out what broke on their Beamer or their Benz. Yes, kids, we Americans like to drive cars a really long time. Why? Even the cheap ones are expensive.

But Greta handles like an Audi Quattro (I’ve been able to drive a couple over the years. Sweet cars.) She also has more room than any car I’ve owned except the Wintermobile. And speaking of Audi, Greta sports a five cylinder engine, which gives me V6 power with 4-cylinder mileage. But I know what you’re asking. What about the most important part of the car?

How’s the sound system?

I took Nita and AJ out for a spin last night. (They all want to drive Greta. AJ informed me he’s taking it to Western New York this fall. Hmm…) AJ cranked the sound system up and was able to adjust the sound to his liking quickly. (I had to reset it this morning.) Nita felt the music. Oh, yes. We will be blasting Zeppelin this summer.

A lot.

What about The Princess? Do I miss it?

Not really. It handled sloppy and was a bit underpowered. She did her job, but in the end, she was a needy car that looked sporty but drove like a Pinto. I’m glad I had it when I did, but I really don’t miss it.

Besides, I can plug my iPod into Greta. And isn’t that the only reason to buy a car?