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.

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.

The Demise of Vacant Lots


Shadows of two cats checking each other out against a cracked wall
Two strays meeting in the night.

When I first arrived in the Washington, DC area, my brother lived in the Dale City area.  It was a new housing community with mega-houses being built.  His was a five bedroom house–tiny bedrooms, a living room, and a gigantic family room.

And there were places along the roads where there were no houses.  Grasses grew tall and waved in the wind.  I’m sure mice and rabbits crept through it, nibbling on grass.

Those empty spaces soon were covered in more mega-houses.  In fact, there is very little in this area that remains empty.  A small patch of land here and there, usually because of the odd size or placement.  It always has a sign up on that says For Lease, but no one can do anything with it.

When I was growing up, we had two vacant lots in our city.  One was across the street from the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church.  It was all dirt, and people tossed junk into it.  Fun walking through it to see what junk was there.  Either the church owned it or they bought it because they eventually flattened it out, wrapped a cyclone fence around it, and added grass for a playing field.  Still there.

The second lot was behind my house.  It was huge!  I imagine it was owned by one of the people on the opposite end of the block.  No one paid it much mind.  The grass grew tall in the spring rains, then turned yellow and dried out.

The local strays wandered through it, their tails flicking up.  The cats were all black and mangy.  Our cats hopped the fence, too, stalking through the grass.

We had a cyclone fence bordering our yard and the lot.  My father was into amateur radio then and had something like four antennas up, all tethered with guy wires.  There was a gate also that opened to a strip of land that was a tiny vacant lot.  We owned that one as part of our property.

The kids would walk back from the elementary school and cut through the vacant lot.  However, to get to where they were going, they had to hop the fence to the tiny lot, then hop the gate, then cut through our yard.  We’d sometimes look out the window and see boys–girls never did this–just strolling past our house from our backyard.

My father always chased them off.  The kids probably talks about the “mean man” who scared them away.  But with all the guy wires, he didn’t want someone to get hurt.

That lot’s now gone.  The developers filled it with condos.

I think I liked the vacant lot better.

Classic Car Sightseeing at the Kennedy Center


Last weekend, I went to see the opera, Barber of Seville, at the Kennedy Center.  If the title’s not familiar, you’ve probably heard some of the music:

“Fieguro!  Fieguro!”

It was a fun production.  The title character helped a count who had fallen in love with a woman from afar.  The problem was that she was ward to a doctor who wanted to marry her for the money.  It was a comedy, and the actor who played the doctor did a lot of comedic stunt work.

During the intermission, I wandered outside and got an extra treat: Classic cars were on display.

Front view of a metallic blue 1964 Chevy Impala
1964 Chevy Impala

This is a car that makes me feel old.  When I was growing up, the first car that I remember that we had was a 1964 Chevy.  It was white and had what we called the “seat monster.”  The hooks holding the backseat in place broke, so when my father stopped suddenly, the seat slid forward. Needless to say, when my best friend and I were riding in the back, we squealed with fun terror at the monster.

The car got stolen from a parking lot and used in a holdup.  The police found it, so it hung around until we got the first of two Volkswagen buses (pumpkin and chocolate).

 

1957 Light olive green Chevrolet with fins
1957 Chevrolet

I was a fan of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The submarine Seaview and the Flying Sub both had fins inspired by cars like this.

 

A black Chrysler with wings
Yes, those are wings on that Chrysler

There wasn’t a placard for this car, so I have no idea why it has wings.  Can you imagine driving your car and taking off like a plane?  Speed Racer had some elements of that, and later on with Knight Rider, with both their jumps.

It was a lot of fun checking these out.  DC doesn’t have the kind of culture for these types of cars, so I don’t see anything like this very often.

***

STORY UPDATE:  Progress is slower than I want–I’m guessing it will be 60 days.  Part of it is that it’s a new genre in novel form for me, but also the historical aspect is very different for me.  Some of the things that it’s made me think about:

Milk used to be delivered to your house in glass bottles by a milk man.

People did not lock their doors.  We always did in Los Angeles, so I found very strange that my grandparents in San Francisco and later Morro Bay never did.

And a look at a place that was built in 1946, called The Pink Motel.  There are a lot of great photos to look it.  The hotel is closed to people staying there, but it’s been used in a lot of films.

Writing with the Spiders


Blond woman holds out spider. Eew!

This week, the weather in Washington DC finally decided it wanted to be spring.  We started out in 60 on Monday, it went to 70 on Tuesday, 80 on Wednesday…and then we’re veering in what might be summer weather with the 90s.

But good for going outside at lunch and doing some writing.  I have a Surface with a keyboard, which is very good for something like this.  There’s a nice picnic table by a pond, so I get the sound of the water and the gorgeous blue sky.

And the spiders.

I think they must come from the trees.  They’re gray and small–smaller than my thumbnail. And they LOVE my Surface.  They’ll be on this otherwise empty picnic table, and the minute I sit down, one of the spiders will want to crawl all over the Surface.  If I see them coming and move, they make a beeline for the Surface.

Spider sabotage!

I started “The May Project,” a mystery on May 1 and have a total of about 3,000 words so far.  I did about 300 and 400 respectively at lunch and the rest in the evening, after work.

I thought I picked a good main character name, but into the first chapter, I was mixing him up with his father’s name.  Oh dear.  The father’s name clearly feels better than the main character’s name.  So I’m still writing with a placeholder name.  Have a last name though…saw it on a real estate sign.  Plucking the names out of empty air.

And there’s the usual chaos and panic of starting a new story.  I know zip when I start, and the idea for this one was: Private Eye> Hollywood > 1940s – Mystery.  New clue what the crime is yet.  No idea how it’s going to end.  No idea what happens next.

Elephant on a tightrope
This is what pantsing is sometimes like.

Sometimes it feels like walking across a tightrope.  It can be really scary.  So I’m trying to ignore the critical side that’s now panicking, going, “Ack!  I don’t know where this going!  How do you expect me to work with it?! Ack!”

Dave Farland had this tip out this week, which kind of spoke to me:

Others . . . well, maybe you just want to work on your writing. But guess what? That comfort zone includes writing. Are you comfortable writing only one kind of story, or writing in one style? The truth is that you’ll be more valuable as a writer if you learn to write in several genres and in various styles.

 I’ve got spiders.  He’s got hermit crabs.

On to lurk with the spiders again today.

Hollywood, Remakes, and Maybe the Reality


Last week, the new Lost in Space TV series premiered on Netflix.  Lost in Space was one of Irwin Allen’s TV shows, though I never liked it much. It seemed like all the bad things about Irwin Allen converged into one place.  But I tuned in any way.

Didn’t stay long.

I want to see new ideas.  We have all this fantastic change, and so incredibly fast, and yet, Hollywood is pulling stories from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.  Lost in Space was fifty years ago.  Even The Brady Bunch, another remake was over forty years ago.

And I’ve heard it said–and said it myself–that Hollywood is lacking creativity.

But is it an actual creativity problem or is it something else.

Problem #1 is that they are allowing money to make all the decisions.  The same thing is happening in the publishing industry, and it makes them risk-averse.  They’ll look at a TV show like Lost in Space or Star Trek and see how popular it’s been and then look at something really new and different…and want to go the safe route.  Safe means it will probably make some money.  New and different means it might fail.

And it also means that despite the number of films and TV coming out, not a lot of it will have the staying power of some of these old shows they’re trying to imitate.

Hollywood’s been doing this for decades.  If another studio came out with a blockbuster, everyone rushed into to do the same type of movie, hoping for that blockbuster.

So why are they focusing on all these old TV shows and movies?

I think that’s where the second problem comes in.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I read Variety at the college library.  Even studied film.  That Hollywood is not the same one today.   Today’s has shot so far out of the boundaries of really pretty much everything that they’ve lost touch with audiences.  They want a show like Star Trek that people talk about fifty years from now, and yet they don’t know how to do it.

They’ve lost that skill.

I used to work with someone who would try to game the marketing in his fiction by picking the right word, as if happy would be more marketable than glad.  The problem is that doesn’t work.

And they’re really stuck.  Getting involved in public opinions has not helped their cause because it alienates too much of the audience.  Trying to trigger the nostalgia doesn’t work if they don’t understand what people liked in that old film (especially given they tend to say “we’re going to improve it”).  Finally, simply shooting for the visuals to get one part of the audience forgets that people want to see good stories.

Something new please, Hollywood.

 

Who Knew There Was a Plant Pathologist?


Sign for NASA at 60

 

I went to the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival this weekend, at the Washington Convention Center.

The festival was focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and more particularly on drawing girls into the sciences.  And it was packed with lots of kids checking out the displays.  This was a huge facility, and people kept coming and coming.  There’s definite interest in science, despite what feels to me like we’ve veered away from it with big companies influencing the results of studies like in the food industry.

Some highlights:

Most popular section:  NASA and space travel.  This was more crowded than anywhere else.  Maybe we’ve got some future scientists who will figure out how to get us off the planet with artificial gravity.  Right now, to leave our gravity well, we have to put a lot of explosives under our space craft.

USDA’s job table was pretty cool.  They had jobs like:

  • Plant Pathologist: They figure out causes and controls of plant diseases.
  • Remote Sensing Specialists: Analyzes satellite images
  • Marine Scientists: Researches problems facing Marine life

I was grabbing those up, and it also told me that I could check on some of the government job listings in the science areas for research.

Probably the most interesting was a visit to a table of a man who had been out in the Arctic three times.  He had on display the boots he had to wear “Big Red,” which was the coat.  The boots were very heavy–you’d get a good workout just from them.  I was also able to put on “Big Red,” which was a goose down coat they wore.  It also was quite heavy.  Between those two, you’d get quite a workout!

Military was also there as well.  This is from the Air Force:

Air Force Plane on display

It was a lot of fun!

Star Trek and the Marine Corps


Orange kitten perched on a tree branch, green in the background
We’re not as green as the background yet. The flowering trees are just blooming and the maples are letting loose…soon. Now if it would stop snowing!

I’m in the process of using cycling writing throughout my nearly finished book, Cursed Planet.  In the past, it’s been a pretty routine thing.  Clean up typos and sentences that I thought made sense that now have me scratching my head trying to figure out what I was trying to do.  Or removing what I call stubs–something that my creative side brought into the story and then, like a cat, got bored with it and abandoned it.

But there was an interesting article on Star Trek and how the new Marines Corps Commandant is a fan.

It’s a long ways from what it was when I was growing up, but a good, evolving change.

When I was growing up, fandom was just starting snowball.  Star Trek was in reruns on KTLA (first Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea at 4:00 and Star Trek at 5:00).

We had a gym uniform for PT in school, white shirt, blue shorts.  Some of the other students wrote on the back of their shirts their favorite sports teams.  I did Star Trek.  No one made fun of the sports team, but they did of me.  There was one boy who openly sneered and said Little Rascals was so much better than Star Trek. (Little Rascals was also running on KTLA at the time.  I’d watched it, but I never thought it was particularly good.  I think it was more of a nostalgia thing for the adults who had grown up watching it).

Even my guitar teacher got in on it.  Since this was L.A., it wasn’t hard to run into people who worked in the film industry. Her son had worked on the set of the show.  Did she tell me how they filmed the show?  Did she tell me what it was like for him to work with the various stars?   Did she gossip about the stars?

No!  She told me the sets were fake.

Of course I knew they were fake.  Phhtt!

But it was like all this space stuff was just toooooo fake and really I shouldn’t bother.

Star Trek cons were just starting to really get popular then, too.  I attended several of the ones called Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Conventions (I believe these are what is now Comic-Con, but don’t hold me to that).  I remember walking to the hotel where my first con was held, and there was this man costumed as a a Klingon.  Just…wow!

Qapla’!

And reporters would show up at these cons, too, evidently told by their editors to get a story to fill an empty space in the newspapers.  The disdain the reporters had for the cons was pretty evident.  They would look at all the average people standing in line, and home in on either the little boy costumed as Spock or the craziest looking adult fan,  dressed sloppily, and festooned with buttons.

Then the picture would appear in the newspaper, identifying us as Trekkies with the implication that Star Trek was for children or crazy people.

Now it’s gotten a lot of respectability over the last fifty years since it premiered.   Now a Marine senior leader is a fan.

How cool is that?

And for your viewing pleasure, a mashup of MacGyver and Star Trek The Next Generation.

Granny Logic


A woman on a pier, holding an umbrella over her face
SHORT STORY: I broke my right foot. Terribly inconvenient. But it inspired this story.

Nothing like having Granny on stakeout.

Sidelined by a broken foot, private investigator Erin King must go on surveillance.  Her body-building granny plays chauffeur.

Add a thorny case of fraud and an impatient insurance company.  And the bill collectors.

With time running out, Erin needs answers, fast.  But sometimes granny knows best.

Set in Pismo Beach California, this heart-warming mystery is a page turner.

A Granny PI mystery short story available from your favorite booksellers.

Strands of Blackmail


Cover for Strands of Blackmail
When I was driving home, a white dog was standing up on his hind legs, feet propped up on a fence, looking like he was chatting with the neighbors. So I had to use him in a story.

Sometimes returning home brings back good memories, or bad ones.

For Shari Kendell, it’s finding answers to the questions her grandmother’s death left.  Actors always live in their own world, but Shari is surprised and what she didn’t know.  Who was blackmailing her grandmother, and why?

A Morro Bay mystery short story, available from your favorite booksellers.