Photo: Stairway into the Woods


Wooden stairway going down into green trees

This was taken at the Dora Kelley Nature Park.  The stairs are eerie and beautiful when all the trees are blooming.  And it goes really quiet out here, except for the birds and the sound of the streams below.

The stairs are quite hard to manage.  They’re rather steep and not evenly spaced, so it takes a bit of work to get up and down them.  At the bottom is a stream, and several walking paths.

Very pretty this time of the year.

Where Army Tanks Go to Die


A silhouette of a tank with a person standing on it, red X through the person
Even a tank needs a safety label. Sigh.

I never thought there would be a tank graveyard, but there is one.

It’s out at Sierra Army Depot in California.  Check out some pictures here.

How We Used to Travel


Stamps to Rome, Brazil, London, India, Sydney, Paris, Pisa, and New York

I’m doing a story set in 1940s Los Angeles, and the unexpected things muse pops up with has been doing some interesting research.  One of them is how we traveled then. I’m going to have a trip coming up.  I have a nylon bag with recessed wheels. It’s serviceable.

But nothing like what was used in earlier times.  My grandparents had one like the Samsonite Silhouette in this article.

I still remember the ones we used when I was growing up.  They were large and flat—because suitcases held suits.  The outside was hard and sturdy.  You could use them as a seat…they were that sturdy.

The case opened up like a book and laid out flat.  The lining and pockets were cloth.  We folded up our clothes and laid them inside, then fastened a divider over the top that kept the clothes from moving around.  The divider was made out of cloth, too.

They lasted forever and made travel feel like an adventure.

Science Fiction Becomes Military Fact


Side view of the shuttle Endeavor
I took this in 2014 when I went to California.

There’s been rumors for a while that the White House was talking about creating a sixth military branch, called “Space Force.”  Now there’s an official announcement.

It’s happening!

I remember when the first shuttle was announced.  The Star Trek fans got together and wrote NASA to name it after the starship Enterprise.  And NASA did!

The Enterprise shuttle was a test shuttle and never went into space.  It probably got more play on all the Star Trek series that followed, and actually was in the opening credits of Enterprise.

But the invention of the shuttle was a major milestone.  They were intended to be reused.  The earlier rocket ships of the 1960s could only be used once.

But I was disappointed when the shuttle program was abandoned.  It just felt like everyone gave up and decided it wasn’t possible to do more than go out to a space station.  Some of the things we use on a daily basis are because we had to be inventive for zero G.

In the hands of the military, this is going to be very interesting  It looks like Air Force is going to have the command. I’m just hoping Army gets some space travel.  When I was writing Crying Planet, I put an Army colonel in charge of the space cruiser because all I’d ever seen was Navy on spaceships.  I wanted Army to have some adventures!   But when I was telling someone about the book, she told me, “Oh, no!  You can’t have Army in command.  They don’t have the skills.”  Immediate panic set in.  It was my book!  I wasn’t going to change something that I’d intended.  So I came up with a reason for this person to get command, and it reshaped the story in some interesting ways.

This is all very exciting though.  Where do you think they will travel to?  Hoo-ah!

Losing Track and Finding it Again


It’s hard to believe that when I grew up, I typed a novel on my mother’s manual typewriter.  It was one of those Royal typewriters that you see commonly associated with writers.  I went from that to an electric, to a Heathkit H-89 to a Commodore 64.

This week I’ve been tackling a big project: the paper copies of the stories and non-fiction I wrote.

It’s part of that black hole of my closet that I’m cleaning up.  They’ve been long stuffed into plastic boxes, out of sight in the box, but the box itself always in view.  So it’s a form of clutter.

I pulled everything out and started going through it.  What did I already have in digital form…yeah, somehow I had printed versions of the stories and digital versions.  In some cases, I had multiple copies of revisions printed and stored.  And for some stories, they were either before Microsoft Word or, for whatever, reason, I only have the paper version.

It was just easy to lose track of what I had because it was in a file folder.   There’s a long history of everyone struggling with forms of the data, for as long as we’ve had data.

My grandmother was in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  The film was shot out where she lived in Northern California.  Assuming her memory is correct for the title, this is likely the film.  She would have been two at the time.  She tried to find the film in later years, but it no longer exists.  A lot of those films were done on nitrate, and then put into storage once the studio went onto the next release.  By the time places like UCLA got in there to transfer to safety film, the reels had disintegrated.  Or caught fire, since nitrate film was pretty flammable.

Then there’s Motown.  When I was doing temp work in Los Angeles—my Google-fu tells me it was probably 1983 or 1984—I got a job documenting inventory for Motown. They were being sold, so we had to inventory all their music.  They gave us stacks of music reels, which were about the size of pizzas.  We would open the boxes up see what was written on the reels, and then type that on the inventory.  Massive inventory, and they had no idea what they had.

But what I’m doing now is kind of fun and nostalgic to look it.  It’s my life at the time, and where I was at as writer.  It’s also some of the things I liked. There’s an article I write—might post it here if anyone is interested—on meeting William Windom in 1997.  It was for an anthology call that never happened.  But I enjoyed writing it, and I enjoyed meeting him.  I have photos, but those are in another box I haven’t cracked open yet.

It was at Starcon, which was the big gathering of actors at that time. I believe it was over 100.  Most notably, it was the only gathering of most of the actors from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Allan Hunt, Del Monroe, and Terry Becker.  Bob Dowdell turned it down, and David Hedison was unavailable.  Richard Basehart had passed away).

It was early in the day, and I was just roaming the aisles to see who was there.  He flagged me over, and guess what we chatted about?

We were both veterans!

Very cool.

Volcanoes are Cool…at Least From a Distance


Volcano erupting

Volcanoes are one of those things that are kind of cool.  At least as long as you’re not near them when they’re erupting.

They’ve been a staple of many TV shows, like on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’s “And Five Were Left.”  Five men from World War II are stranded in a cave under a volcano that’s about to explode.  Lots of explosions, steam vents venting, and rocks falling.

And of course, the heroes escape as the volcano blows up.

The show had two other episodes with volcanoes, “Night of Terror” and “Fires of Death.”  Gilligan’s Island had a volcano episode, too.

Oh, and my personal favorite, Airwolf.  The helicopter got caught in the ash cloud of a massive eruption and had to set down.  It put them in the middle of corporate greed and corruption from a mining company.

Hawaii’s volcano has been erupting for at least a month now, making more of the island with lava.  The people there generally have a lot of warning, since it’s not the kind of volcano that blows its top like Mount St. Helens.

The scientists are busy studying the eruptions.  One of the fascinating things from the eruption is olivine being brought to the surface.  They’re green gems.  They’re the same gems that make up the Green Sand Beach, also on the Big Island.  This link has a close up of the green crystals.

The science of nature is pretty cool.

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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Crying Planet, the first book in my GALCOM series was accepted for a military science fiction bundle from Story Bundle.  It will be coming out on June 27.

 

The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Digital Age



The Thinking RobotI’ve been spending some time trying to clean out my digital ‘closet,’ in addition to the real closet.  I’m shocked at how many files I’ve accumulated, and moreover, how many files I downloaded and then never paid attention to again.

It’s all clutter that wears on me, so I’ve been zapping it into the recycle bin as I find it.

But it’s amazing the amount of information that is available to us.  We can go online and look up Eddie Mannix (a fixer for MGM in the 1940s) and even post something that we know for everyone else to read.

Which is also a problem.

There’s so much information available that we have to sharpen our critical thinking skills.  They’re more natural for me as an INTP, where logic is the first place I head, but even it’s hard for me.  It’s easy to get taken in, especially when the other person is saying what we want to hear.

When I was on writing message boards, this type of attitude ran rampant.  People actively said, “I can learn something from other beginners,” and dissed best-selling writers as not knowing what they were doing.

The result is not questioning enough of the right things, which I see everywhere.

 

The messages coming at us are so powerful that people actually question what should be common sense.  

 

It seems worse for writers.  They want validation or to have a best seller so they can quit the day job.

So it’s easy to listen to the emotional messages from people who are good at selling, but not skilled as writers.

Some examples:

Description is boring.  Get rid of it all.  It’s not important.

I’ve hard variations of this one in many places.   Common sense should be to head to a best seller like Michael Connelly and see if he’s left off the description.  BTW, he has wonderful descriptions of Los Angeles, all told from the opinion of Harry Bosch.  Michael Connelly has also got something 20+ books.

What’s bad is that when writers flock to other writers and get critiques, the comments are generally that their description is boring.  It probably is because they just tossed in obligatory description without a thought about what they could do with the characterization.  So everyone says get rid of it, not fix it.

I interact with a traditionally published mid-list writer.  She advises writers to keep the description to a minimum—and no one questions this (except me).  It all fits into the narrative that description is boring, not that it needs to be done well.

And that writer has a series set in a place I went frequently when I was growing up.  You wouldn’t know the place from any other generic place.  No description of it.  Kind of sad.

You must outline.  Pantsing doesn’t work.

Yeah, I had to get this one in here.  It is a hobby horse for me because I ran into so much of it.  The group think veers to outlining and pressures everyone to conform.

What’s bad is no one checks out the source of this particular piece of advice.  It nearly always comes from two sources: Other beginning writers recommending it to each other and developmental editors.

Other beginning writers haven’t worked out their process yet.  And they’re giving advice on how to write a book.  Hmm.

Developmental editors are likely to see only the messed up stories of first time writers who are still learning craft and attribute it incorrectly to not outlining.

Race through the first draft and don’t look back.  You can fix everything on the revision.

Honestly, this one really needs a critical thinking Gibbs head slap.  Think about this:

You write the story and do it stream of consciousness.  Just leave out all the punctuation.

Now you come to the revision and you now have to spend a lot of time fixing that–and chances are it will never be right.

If we don’t have enough time in the first place, why do it in such a way that it takes even more time?

It’s terribly easy to go on auto-pilot, especially with all the digital clutter of the world.  Critical thinking is also a difficult skill to master, not only because it rewires our brain…but because there are so many things that keep challenging it.

Sky Hair


Cover for Sky Hair, a planet against a cliff backdropHer confidence shattered by death, Pitarra escapes to an artist’s retreat on the planet Demory II.  She hopes to rekindle her creativity and paint again.

But her fellow artists jeer at Pitarra’s failures.

Facing the possibility her creativity may never return, she makes a daily trek to her secret spot.  Hoping for a miracle.

And getting something different than she expects.  Something that no one sees coming.

A heartwarming science fiction story about loss and hope.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

The Black Hole of My Closet


I’ve been cleaning out my walk-in closet, which has been like a black hole and not very walk-in.  Very much needed clean out.  I’m astounded how many plastic boxes I accumulated–I’ve gotten rid of 16…so far.

I’m still trying to figure out how I accumulated all of them. 😦

So I’ve made a goal for myself that I cannot buy any storage items at all until I’ve really gotten a handle on everything.  Still, I found myself thinking that I needed box hanging folders.  Which is probably how 16+ plastic boxes in the first place.

Yes, I mightily restrained myself from buying any box folders.

The first thing I tackled was the military stuff, since I was finding it scattered everywhere.  Multiple patches showed up in various places, so I consolidated everything together.

Here’s a picture of the three patches I wore on active duty:

Military patches for FORSCOM, 7th Transportation Group, and Washington Military District

The one on the right with the three stripes is the FORSCOM (Forces Command) patch, which everyone on Fort Lewis wore.  You can see the color one here.

The middle patch is from 7th Transportation Group.  A group is like a brigade, and encompasses many battalions.  This was the group my unit came under during Desert Storm.  This particular patch is my war patch.  It appears like the group was shut down at some point, but there’s still a picture of the color patch.

The patch on the right is for the Military District of Washington (DC).  If you were in a unit in Washington DC, this was the patch you wore.  I tried to find this one online, but it looks like it was discontinued at some point and was replaced by one with the Washington Monument with a sword in front of it.

It’s amazing how much things have changed.

The event where I get to wear my uniform hasn’t happened yet.  I thought it was Memorial Day event, but it’s actually a celebration of the Army birthday.  The event will be on June 14.

 

Nothing Town


Cover for Nothing Town
The story was inspired by a setting: Alexandria, VA. It’s a location that was a busy port in years past, but now is just a pleasant place to walk.

A dying town trapped because of a time bubble. They blame Michelle Graham, descendant of the man who broke the town.

She wants to leave. The family house refuses to let her go.

Then past and present bleed together…horse-drawn wagons ride alongside cars. A timeline rupture?

Michelle races against time to stop the unfolding disaster. But it may change everything she knows.

A twisted science fiction short story that keeps you turning the pages

A science fiction short story available from your favorite booksellers.