The Portal Room


View of the bed with a large wooden headboard. Sink is to the left.

For my trip the the family house, I stayed in what we call The Portal Room.

Ornate fireplace, framed by stained glass

It’s called that because all the ghosts use the fire place as a portal to the house.  Several family members have seen the ghosts of children here.  The ghosts are friendly–they are past family members coming to visit.

I didn’t see any ghosts, or even experience the sensation of a presence or being watched.  But there are three rooms in the house, all in the same area, where there is a lot of activity.  The ghosts come in and move things around.

A few more pictures of the room…

Antique dresser with mirror

And a sign that’s in the room that you won’t see anywhere:

Sign: This room is equipped with Edison Electric Light. Do not attempt to light with a match. Simply turn key on wall by the door. The use of electricity for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep.

Photo: Grace Lee Whitney from Star Trek


Medium Shot of Grace Lee Whitney

My novel Crying Planet is coming out in Story Bundle tomorrow. The story is everything I liked about Star Trek–space, adventures, aliens, and maybe a little bit to think about.  Plus military thrown in well, because.  So I thought it would be fun to put up photos I took of actors from shows like Star Trek.

This one is of Grace Lee Whitney.  It’s not dated, but I probably would have taken it in the 1990s at one of those cons.  I was going to quite a few then and getting a lot of photos.

She was on the original Star Trek, of course.  Not in that many episodes,  but she was pretty memorable to all the fans.  She passed away in 2015.

Pintrest has some nice shots of her. Mostly from Star Trek, but there’s a few bathing suit shots and some photos from her other roles.  Someone even Photoshopped one of her in a mirror universe uniform!

Traveling by Air—Then and Now


Passengers walk out to board plane as the sun sets above.

I’m old enough to remember what it was like to travel before everything changed so much.  Most of my travel when I was growing up was flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  I think I probably did a trip to San Luis Obispo a few times too.

We used PSA, the smiling airplane (had a big smile on the front of the plane).  PSA stood for Pacific Southwest Airlines, and it serviced California.  The uniforms for the flight attendants were pink and orange.

We got a paper ticket in a little envelope, well in advance of the flight.  I was always terrified that I was going to lose that ticket!

If I was traveling by myself, my parents waited with me at the gate until I boarded.

We boarded the planes by walking out on the tarmac and climbing up steep aluminum stairs as the engines roared and the wind whipped around us.  The cockpit would be open, the bright light streaming in from outside. I could see all the gauges—just wall to wall with them!

The seats were also pink and orange, made of cloth.  The cabin was quite roomy.  You can see some interior photos here—some pretty cool pictures.  The bathrooms—ah, I don’t think there’s much difference between then and today.

When I got off the plane at the other end, I exited out of the gate and there was another family member like my grandparents waiting for me.

Meanwhile, I was just in Wisconsin the last few days.  I flew over on American Airlines.  I started the day with an email telling me my first flight was going to be delayed so I would miss my connection.  I rebooked a new outbound flight and had to go to the airport immediately because I was now in the 2-hour window.

Race down to the airport in my car (which I so did not want to do; a taxi would have been much cheaper).  I find the gate on the board, go through security, and then find the gate.  A screen shows my flight.

Then it blinks and my flight is replaced with one from New York.

Wait!  What happened to my flight?  This did not bode well.

I went back to check the flight list. That still showed the old gate.  DCA is pretty small (it started life as a regional airport), so another passenger and I check the other gates.  This part of the terminal is packed with people, so we’re navigating around people and suitcases.  Everyone is talking, so we can’t even hear the speakers.

Ah ha!  We find the missing flight.

We’re barely there a minute when the flight blanks out and is replaced by another flight.

We start hunting for the flight again, and it’s back at the original gate again.  I can feel my eyes crossing.

The flight attendants are courteous.  But I feel like all the airline is treating me like I’m a dollar sign to them.  The airlines charge to put the bags in the hold, forcing the passengers to try to bring everything on the plane.  Since it’s a commuter plane, all the rollaway bags end up in the baggage hold anyway so the passengers aren’t charged.  Really, how smart is this anyway?  (I had a backpack since I know from past experience if I have anything even slightly bigger, I might not get it into the bins because everyone is bringing such big bags).

We’re herded onto the plane like cattle.  I’m only 5’4” and the seats are too small for me.  On one of the flights, I sit next to an overweight woman who spills over into my seat.  She’s sunburned bright red from her knees down.  On another flight, I end up at the window.  Since getting out of my seat would require the passenger next to me to actually get up, I don’t get up to use the bathroom before we land (therefore, I really have to go when we do).

Flying is just chaos!  What are your horror stories?

Photo: Lily pads


Lily pads float on the surface of a pond.

This was taken at the Winkler Botanical Preserve, a name I only remembered because I associated it with Henry Winkler from Happy Days!

It’s one of those places where you have to be local to know where it is, and even if you’re local you might not even know it’s there.  It’s not in any of the tour books–in fact, I drove by it for years and never knew it was there.  I discovered it when I picked up a book on waterfalls and the writer mentioned it.

Wait?  What?  There’s a waterfall down the street? (It was turned off when I went.)

The preserve is located at the end of an apartment parking lot.  Every single time I go there, I overshoot the left turn and have to come back down.  It’s really not obvious.

Anyway, check out more pictures here.

Photo: Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California


Morro Rock, taken from the Embarcadero

This is a photo from one of the settings in my mystery book.  I went to California for a few years back and visited Morro Bay, where this was taken.  That’s Morro Rock in the distance, though there’s a place where you can walk right up to it…just hard to get a picture of all it up close.

Guess what time of the year this is and see if you get it right.  Answer is a bit below.

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January. Yup.  That’s winter.

 

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.

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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.