The Art of Science Fiction Book Covers


This is a fascinating look at the old pulp covers of year’s past.

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.

Breaking out the Old Military Uniform


My military uniform

I’m doing something I never expected I would do…I broke out the old military uniform.  There’s a Memorial Day related event sometime this week where the veterans have been invited to wear their uniforms.

Yes, it fits.  It’s actually too big for me. 🙂

I’ll see if I can get pictures of me in it.  Though I’m not looking forward to wearing the shoes.  They were evil then.  They will probably we bnow.

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.

Remake of She-Ra, Princess of Power


Normally, I haven’t been interested in many of the “remakes” of old TV series.  With too many of them, it’s obvious the makers only think of the old show as a title they might be able to make money with.

But with this announcement for She-Ra, Princess of Power, I’m at least interested enough to see where it goes.

It was a pretty good show when it originally aired in the 1980s.  It came out after He-Man and the Master of the Universe became popular.  Fat Albert was also a popular show (pretty sure after the recent celebrity trial, that’s going to be off-limits for a remake).

The world itself was developed to be like Tolkien’s (though a lot more pink and lavender).  One of the best things about it was there were a lot of women characters, and they were all portrayed as capable and resourceful.  That was something different than a lot of what I’d seen at the time.

I’m hoping Netflix doesn’t ruin it by going too dark.

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.

Another Military Anniversary: The K-Bar Knife


Red, Yellow, and White Tulips reaching for the sky
Tulips are my favorite spring flowers. I love looking at them when it’s very sunny out and they are spread out to catch some rays.

Spring is still trying to kick winter out.  We were sunny and gloriously warm yesterday and sunny today, but windy and cold.  But I’ve been able to do some tulip sight-seeing.  I think they’re probably only a couple days away from passing the torch to the next batch of flowers.

This week has another anniversary: The KA-Bar, which is a military knife.   This is like an all-purpose knife.  When you look at the link, skip over the first picture, which is a bit disturbing.

When I was in Desert Storm, I was one of the few in my unit to be issued one, or one that was like a KA-Bar.  The knife came with a whetstone, which it needed.  It dulled cutting through air!

I worked on fuel point, filling up the convoys that came in, and issued POL–Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricant (it’s been so many years that I had to think about what stood for).

Knives are useful things.  I used to have a Swiss Army knife like MacGyver (the 1990s version, not this remake, which has none of the charm or fun).  I was surprised at how many uses I had for it.  Of course now it’s hard to carry a knife anywhere, even it’s small and for everyday use.  People are so afraid that someone will do something something bad with it.  In Washington, DC, we have to go through metal detectors to get into the museums, and bags are subject to searches.

Things have changed a lot from when a knife was just a tool we used every day.

The May Project and the Muse is Running in Circles



A man is chased by a giant ape!
Run for it!

I was stumbling around around trying to write a short story and suddenly reminded myself that my goal for 2018 was to do longer fiction.  Short stories don’t sell that well.  Cursed Planet, #3 in the GALCOM Universe series, is in with the copy editor.

I have ideas for at least two more GALCOM books.

And…

I’m thinking maybe I need a bit of genre diversity.

I kept circling back to mystery, because I do like mysteries.  I read Nancy Drew and  Trixie Beldon when I was growing up.  Phyllis A. Whitney was one of my favorite writers then, too.  And I read Michael Connelly, J.K. Rowling, and Lee Child.  In fact, it’s hard to get science fiction or fantasy in Washington, DC.  The library tends to stock more mysteries.

Yet, when I wrote my first novel, it was a fantasy.  My second, third, and forth were science fiction.  I’ve only done two mystery short stories.

Muse is running in circles, a little panicked.  I’m actually not sure why.  It might be that my first novel, the Novel That Must Not Be Named, was a mystery.  I had a terrible time with it.  I hit that 1/3 point, got stuck, figured something was wrong with the beginning, and revised the beginning.  Then I would get stuck at the same point again.  Rinse, repeat.

It went on for years.  Coming up with ideas was hard then.  I didn’t have any other ideas that could be a novel, and besides (I told myself over and over), I already invested so much time in it.  So I wandered between the novel and short stories (see the pattern?  I fell into again. 😦 ).

Then there’s the second issue…

This  book is going to make use of a long neglected research area that I know very well:  Hollywood.

1940s.

This is mainly because the 1940s-1970s in the time that interests me.  Today’s politicking celebrities and gritty productions–Pfff!

But 1940s is historical.

Historical is SCARY!

My association with research for fiction was writers who approached it from a position of fear.  Fear that they were being graded like in college.  Fear that a reader would call them out on an obscure fact.  I remember one writer bragging–actually bragging–that he researched the weather on a specific day 50 years ago.  I’m more of a big picture thinker and though I could never write at that level of detail.  Never mind it made Muse want to hide.  Just not creative friendly.

A workshop on research for fiction writers helped a lot.  Though I need to get my feet wet…actually I need to bellyflop right in.

Then there’s the third issue…

Which is to finish the story in 30 days, starting May 1.

That’s got Muse in a panic, too.  I’ve never actually been able to finish a book in 30 days–and this is finishing with cyclical writing so that once I reach the end, it’s done.  I’ve said before that I would finish the story in 30 days and then I got stuck (that 1/3 point) and it took six months.  I got it down to three months.

So we’ll see what happens with The May Project.

 

 

 

Silence Drips into Color


A woman soldier facing away from the camera holds a rifle.
The scariest thing in Desert Storm was when the gas alarm sounded and we evacuated to a foxhole. Did not know anything. Could not see anything.

Private First Class Anita Johnson’s greatest fear is dying,   After a gas alarm is called, she hides in a bunker, listening to the unknown and waiting for IT to happen.  Normalcy may be her only sanity.

A flash fiction story available from your favorite booksellers.

The Pen That Can Write a Mile


Everything in the military is created with careful thought.  My battle dress uniform had buttons on the fly because, in the field, you could sew on a missing button.  If a zipper broke, you’d be in trouble.

And the pants themselves were designed to be turned inside out and worn that way…which I had to do when I was on a painting detail.

Similar careful thought went into the design of the Skillcraft pen which celebrates its 50th anniversary.  Every soldier I knew had a love-hate relationship with it.  If you had one, it was likely someone else would walk off with it.  One of my platoon sergeants reported that he had a class at one of his schools on “The Care and Accountability of the Skillcraft Pen.”

Some features you won’t find with your Bic:

  • Can write in a war zone (natch!)
  • Can write a linear mile before running out of ink.
  • Small enough to fit in a uniform pocket

Check out the history and specs of the Skillcraft pen.