Author Interview – Bill Ciccotti “”

I have gotten to know some other writers over the last couple years.  To break up the sound of my own voice on this blog, I thought I’d ask them to answer a few simple questions about their most recent work and how they create.
This month is an author I met in a professional setting.  I just finished doing the audiobook narration for Bill Ciccotti.  The book is “The Dead Never Sleep – The Long Walk II“.  It’s available at
Bill is a fairly prolific author, with titles covering adventures in Key West, the Old West, WWII and more.  He struck me as an interesting addition to the series.
1. Introduce Yourself – I an not a retired NAVY SEAL, but do have an overactive imagination and a lifetime full of wild adventures that may have been embellished (slightly?) in my books. I did lose my job but found another. As well as a love for writing.
2. And now introduce your book –  This book is based on a factual trip and altercation in Canada. My best friend Brian (AKA Ryan) and I have had some wild times and more than a few road trips, including Cuba. The Ukrainian Club  9 theme has been used in all my Key West books. It started as a light side note but morphed into a book of its own, To Russia Without Love is the story of two friends who have been hounded over the years by the Russian mob. All over a bar fight in Canada. After death attempts and destruction of my boat and Ryan’s home, we decided to head to Russia after those tattoo thugs and finish this once and for all.
3. Why did you write this book? Why write the book? Because I love writing and I have a funny storytelling ability, The driving force in writing, for me is to put all these wild storied down before they are forgotten. Also hopefully sharing these adventures with others and putting a smile on their faces as they read my books or listen to the great audio production. My inspiration is my life. I have had a lifelong friend in Brian and out adventures in craziness have fueled my imagination with the raw basis of these great tales.
4. What was the hardest part of writing this book?  The greatest challenge was spelling. Thank God for spellcheck. I have a vivid imagination. And great memory of a wonderful life. all of this makes writing easy for me. 

5. What do you hope your readers get from your book?  I hope my readers get a smile out of my books and audios. Laughter is underrated.

6. What are you proudest of about your book?  I am proudest about being able to read my works several times and still laugh at what I have come up with. I have written many books Some I am not so proud of but as I wrote more, I have improved greatly and smile a lot more
7. Other writers and some readers are fascinated by the writing process.  Please describe yours.My writing process is come up with an idea. Then figure a storyline. Then concentrate on each individual part of the story presented in each chapter. One small section or step at a time. Rewrite often. Reread it often. Switch out parts you don’t like, add inspiration from life experiences. Change the names of your friends if they are characters. But not enough that people who know them wont recognize who you are talking about.

Never delete anything. Save it all in files on your computer for later possible se. Maybe that same book or a future one.

8.  Who or What Inspires You? My inspiration is my life and friends. I have led a wild life and have a handful of true friends. Ryan is Brian, my best friend for over 50 years. Use reality, then embellish the hell out of it.
9. Are There Any More Books Coming? Many more books in the future. Several completed, and a few being worked on as we speak. The ideas never stop. Think wild. Normal is overrated.
My books are available on Kindle, Paperback, and Audio Book format at Check out my Author Page.

Author Interview – Stewart Smith “The Van Dammage Report”

I have gotten to know some other writers over the last couple years.  To break up the sound of my own voice on this blog, I thought I’d ask them to answer a few simple questions about their most recent work and how they create.
First up is Stewart Smith, author of the “Van Dammage Report Vol.1”.  In addition to being brilliant, good looking and extremely knowledgeable about movies, Stewart is also my cousin.  Despite having so much in common, we disagree on movies at times.
1. Introduce Yourself – Born in Louisiana but consider myself a Texan. Father. Husband. Cinephile. Award-winning film critic. Addicted to video games. Spent a decade as a journalist before venturing off into the world of non-journalistic writing.
2. And now introduce your book –  Van Dammage Report Vol. 1 is a comprehensive look at the films of international action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, beginning with his first starring role in No Retreat, No Surrender in 1986 to his widely-acclaimed dramatic performance as a quasi-biographical version of himself in 2008’s JCVD.
3. Why Van Damme? Because for years I considered him and his films to be a joke. But I found myself being drawn back to them again and again until eventually I started to see beyond the elements I considered ironically entertaining and realized there was actually more going on than I gave him or the films credit for. Then I found him legitimately entertaining. His persona, fighting style and choice of characters set him apart from the majority of the action stars of his day and I find all of that fascinating now.
4. I’ve never watched a single JCVD movie, where should I start? Best place for anyone to start is near the very beginning of his career. You can’t go wrong with either Bloodsport or Kickboxer. Both are great showcases for his martial arts ability but also his unique acting charms. Many consider Bloodsport still to be his best movie, but I’m of the opinion that Kickboxer is a more robust “JCVD experience.” Its fight scenes are better and it also has a greater array of elements that you’ll see are integral to the types of films and characters that Van Damme is drawn to.
5. What was the hardest part of writing this book?  The hardest part was just sitting down and cranking it out. It’s (almost) always a pleasure to sit down and watch a new Van Damme movie I’ve never seen before (and most of these pieces are based on my first time watching the film). But like any writer, procrastination is often my worst enemy. If I had really put my nose to the grind I could have had this book released at least a couple years ago.
6. What are you proudest of about your book?  First and foremost, I’m mostly proud of just getting this thing finished and published. I’ve published countless writing assignments before thanks to my years as a journalist, but this is the first personal project I’ve ever finished. As for the content, there are at least a couple entries where I feel like I truly brought something to the table in terms of analysis and consideration of Van Damme’s work. Your mileage may vary, however.
7. Other writers and some readers are fascinated by the writing process.  Please describe yours.  My writing process involves sitting at my computer, opening up a fresh document, picking out what music I’m going to listen to (lately internet radio stations playing chillhop music has been incredibly helpful), getting a paragraph or so written and then goofing around on Facebook and Twitter for way, way, way too long before finally snapping back into concentration mode and getting another graf or so onto the page. Wash, rinse, repeat for as long as it takes to be productive. When writing analysis pieces like what this book contains, I’ll have a good idea of what I want to say and where I want to go, but I never outline or do any sort of real planning. 100 percent of what I wrote for this book is extemporaneous and stream of consciousness. And if that means I maybe miss a point or two that I had previously thought about touching on, oh well. Unless I feel it will drastically improve my points or just be a killer addition to what I’ve already written, rarely do I go back and make significant modifications. Generally, I trust my instincts and ability to flow in my writing that if I couldn’t find a way to add it in organically during that first draft, it probably doesn’t really need to go in.
8.  Who or What Inspires You? When it comes to film analysis, it may be a bit cliche’ to say it but I will forever consider Roger Ebert to be among the gold standard of how to write an informative and yet also entertaining piece. Reading capsule reviews by Pauline Kael is a tremendous primer on how to communicate a lot with only a few words. And if I could ever find myself writing an essay that contains even a fraction of the insight, humor, thoughtfulness, compassion, and wit of your average David Foster Wallace piece then I will consider myself a fully accomplished writer.
9. Are There Any More Books Coming? Yes! More books for sure. I definitely want to put out a Vol. 2 of the Van Dammage Report, but that will also require continuing to dig into his filmography, a process I intend to rev back up soon. I’m also trying to get back into writing a novel I’ve been chipping away at for a few years now.
You can find Van Dammage Report Vol. 1 on the Amazon Kindle store for $3.99:

Photo – Back To My Roots

In the beginning, there was black and white.  That’s where you began.  It’s where you learned.  I skipped over that part.  I have no formal training at all.  I picked up a camera and started to play.  And I played in black and white.

It was never my primary film of choice.  I was a slide guy (and that is an enormous pain in the ass today.  Somehow I have to come up with the money to get hundreds of slides digitized.  Sigh.  Prints I can scan quickly).  While I love shooting in color, I continue to be fascinated by the unique artistic and creative challenges of black and white.

So I’ve been playing with some shots recently.

This one is almost cheating.  The keyboard is black and white except for some orange icons on the “f” function keys.  But the original color version just felt blah to me.  So I flipped this to black and white and cropped it a little.  Everything seems to pop a little more for me here.

This one started as a much wider angle view of the washing machine at the laundromat.  If you spend much time in such places, you know that boredom is the one constant.  So it can be a great place to try and find some way of being creative.  Because I didn’t want a perfectly centered picture, I took this from the side.  That resulted in an image that looked titled and no amount of simple cropping fixed it.  So I zoomed in tight on just the door.  The blur in the window is my laundry underway.  Laundromats give me a slightly disoriented feeling, and the blur of the clothes plus the slight blurriness on the edge of the door give me that same feeling.  Again, almost a cheat because the majority of the item is silver.  But what little color there was in the image was distracting, so the B&W works here again.

There was plenty of color here, but again it felt like it distracted.  This is my writing desk set up.  The dual screen is a new experiment that I find intriguing.  The lighting has a noir feeling to it that is offset by the whimsey of the rubber ducks and Wrimer, my writing companions.

Just as when people ask writers where our ideas come from, the answer for photographers is the same.  Ideas are everywhere.  You just need to keep your eyes open for them and be willing to experiment along the way.  Play with something new, go back to something old.  The process of playing is a large part of the process of creativity.

All images are the property of J.D. Phillippi.  All rights reserved.

Copyright 2018

Photo – Playing With Toys

Photography remains one of my favorite outlets for creativity.  When I started back in the dark ages, the creativity came in two phases.  Through the lens and in the darkroom.  I understood the darkroom concepts but never used them.  I trained myself to get the image in the viewfinder.  Not being able to afford the level of film expenditures that the pros used helped that way too.

While that’s great training, and one I recommend to every beginning photographer, it does still leave some options off the table.  Which is why the digital age has been such a boon!  Now darkroom options are available to everyone.  It doesn’t require a dedicated room, just a few pieces of software on your computer.

There’s still a learning curve.  And I’m enjoying puttering along the way.

Here’s a photo I took with my camera phone (an LG K20 PLUS, which I really like).  The brilliance of the leaf on the reflective surface caught my eye.

But it’s not perfect.  The tip of the leaf is out of focus and the interior of the car is too visible.  It’s distracting.

So I jumped into an app I picked up, Photo Painter (0.99 at Google Play), to see if I could improve the image.  The interface is easy to use and offers several options.  I chose the edit function which then lets me play with various styles (Impressionism, Realism, Expressionism, etc).  After fiddling with it a bit, I chose Expressionism.  And it gave me this:

This solves a lot of my issues.  The interior of the car is reduced, the sense of reflection is maintained and the edges of the leaf are much sharper!  Now, I suddenly notice the clear, non-reflective section at the bottom left.  It hadn’t bothered me before but does now.  That’s easy to fix!  Using my favorite photo viewer and editor, Irfanview (Free), I can quickly crop the offending section out.  The added value here is that it takes the leaf out of the center of the frame.  I think that’s a much better presentation.

So here’s the final version:

Is it lying in a puddle, or a pond, or on the windshield of a car?  It can be anything you want.  When I look at this one, I am very happy.  I took a grab shot and turned into something that makes me happy and proud.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.


All images are the property of J.D. Phillippi.  All rights reserved.

Copyright 2018

A Season of Thinking

Been gone for awhile.  Nothing bad has happened but a lot has happened.  It just seemed like a good time to sit back and think about what’s going on and where this blog fits.  So here’s where I found myself when all was said and done.

I still have hopes for this blog that I haven’t achieved.  Part of the problem is that this blog has to juggle several different parts of my personality and life.  I’ve tried to keep them separate with only limited success.  The obvious reason for that is that they are not separate.  All of them are integral pieces of who I am.  So it was necessary to find a better way to put this puzzle together.

Here’s the plan at the moment –

The current “regular” posts will continue but as monthly rather than weekly posts.  Too often I found myself feeling like I had nothing to add and the posts went up because they were scheduled to do so.  That’s a waste of my time to write and your time to read.  So the “Adventures in Urban Cycling” and “Time For A Change” posts will run monthly.  My intent is to make them a little longer so I can explore a little more about what is happening on each of those fronts.

You may note that there is no mention of a regular “Life Among the Unemployed” series.  That’s because I’ve left those ranks.  I am moving into a whole new professional world, health insurance.  It’s exhilarating and terrifying.  I may post about those experiences depending on how it goes.  I’m still pondering that.

Now just those posts would leave this a pretty empty blog.  And that’s never been the goal.  The original purpose, as I mentioned before, was to use this as a creative blog.  So I’ve decided to go all in on that subject.  “From A Craxy, Mized Up World” will become the official blog for my writing website (  That means there will be at least two posts relating to the subject of writing or dealing with my books and stories each month.  I hope to add two other “creative” topics each week.  The plan is that those posts will appear each Thursday.  I am looking at occasionally posting on the subject of faith (which remains an important part of my life), Thankfulness, maybe doing a little more with my explorations of RVA and the surrounding area.  There’s also the possibility of the odd wine/beer post too.  Who knows? Lots of room to explore.  All of this will slowly begin to show up in the next couple months with the final “launch” coming January 1, 2018.

Some of these changes are being made to simplify my life.  I was trying to maintain three different blogs, two Twitter feeds, create radio programs and a podcast.  It was a mess because there had never been a plan.  It had all grown organically.  Just like any weed.

So let’s get our baseline stories caught up.

Weight – 187.5      That’s up just a little bit.  Given how my exercise went in the tank over the last month, I’m very happy with that.

Biking – Mileage YTD – 538.2.  That’s on 24 rides through September 25.  That’s not bad, but still a long way towards my 1,000 mile goal.  September has been a total bomb for the riding.  I hope to take another shot at the Cap2Cap soon.

Active Minutes – Most of the month was fine.  The one week that was so low was also the week I misplaced the Fitbit.  Starting at the beginning of September my weeks went 226, 21, 130 and 138.

Diabetes – I’ll just be honest and acknowledge that I haven’t been testing my blood glucose.  I think I did it twice this month.  Both numbers were fine.  That’s not good enough.

I will probably look at refreshing the look of the blog as well.  So plenty to keep me busy between now and the first of the year.  I hope you will continue to enjoy what I’ve done before, plus what is to come.


The Mid-Year Review

Wherein, I rat myself out.

One of the great things about New Year’s resolutions is that, by this time of year, everyone has forgotten that you ever made any.

But I did make some (HERE), and the idea was to work towards them all.  So with half the year behind me, it’s time to see how I’m doing.

My goals for 2017 were:

Health Goals:

  • Lose the last 20 pounds (be The Guy)
  • Keep my blood glucose within ADA ranges and work toward the lower ranges
  • Maintain a minimum of 150 active minutes a week

UPDATE – I’m actually doing all right on these.  Weight continues down, blood glucose is going down and I’m averaging way above the active minutes.  WIN!

Creativity Goals:

  • Add six more songs to my guitar competence list
  • Finish a writing project
  • Create a minimum of one good photo a month

UPDATE – Ummm.  On the guitar front, I began the year with “frozen shoulder” which made holding the guitar painful.  I have begun to work my way back on that one.  Working on the writing projects.  The photo goal has been a bust.  NEEDS WORK

Activity Goals:

  • Bike the Cap2Cap from Richmond to Williamsburg
  • Explore the parks nearby
  • Log a minimum of 1000 miles on the bike

UPDATE – Some progress made on this one.  So for this point of the year – WIN

Fun Goals

  • Visit five more historical sites
  • Go to the beach at least twice
  • Visit 20 wineries

UPDATE –  No, no and no.  NEEDS WORK

Real Life Goals:

  • Find a new job
  • Find a new church home
  • Get involved with community group(s)

UPDATE – Not yet, YES!!!!, and not yet.  Call this one a PUSH


So it’s two wins, two needs works, and a push.  With lots of time to get things turned around.  Not where I had hoped to be, but I’m OK with it for the moment.  Where are you on yours for 2017?

The Creativity Project – Let’s Go Short



Seems like I’ve talked more about the obstacles to creativity recently than actually being creative.

Let’s see if we can’t change that.

I recently stumble across a blog for short fiction called “The Drabble“.  It has been a struggle to find quality short fiction sites that are active.  This site actually does fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.  And they are serious about “short”.  If you want to submit, it’s a maximum of 100 words.

Given that my first collection has a variety of very short stories in it, I thought this was an interesting challenge.  There has been an idea floating around in my head for the last couple days.  It had the feel of one of those flash fiction kind of stories, so I thought “Why not?”

The first problem I hit was that even my ultra short story was too long for “The Drabble”!  It took me about as long to edit down the story to 100 words as it did to write the original.

The “full-length” story is below.  I have submitted the short version, and if they like it, I’ll give them first shot at publishing it.  If that happens I will link to it.  If not, I ‘ll share the short version here.

The Intimacy of Driving

I’m all set. The car is clean, seat adjusted, my little “u” sign carefully affixed.

The first call arrives just as I leave the highway and enter the city proper. A young woman on her way to the gym. She’s forgiving when I’m a couple minutes late. The app and I are still getting to know one another.

Young women are an interesting balancing act. They are climbing into the car of a middle aged man they do not know. I want them to feel comfortable and safe. Should I talk? Should I remain silent? Is the guy who never speaks to them on the trip reassuring or creepy? Certainly, the guy who talks too much is no good.  I usually say a few things right at the beginning, then wait to see if they pick up the thread. If not, I will offer a companionable silence. Most of the trips are quick so it never grows uncomfortable. The younger riders tend to spend the time on their phone, a soundtrack of quiet beeps and sound effects.

Five rides in quick succession. To the gym, a coffeehouse, home from work or to the airport. The airport trip passenger is a man a little younger than me. We compare notes on airports.

I pick up a young woman at a local college. We’re headed out of town. When we arrive I ask where she wants to be let out. She’s never been here before, so we search a little. It’s a woman’s health clinic. It’s none of my business. I wish her well and say a little prayer that all is well.

Then I turn the wheel for home.


Never stop creating.