2014

                                                       JOURNAL #152

                                                        January 1, 2014  

 

          Some writers can do a couple of novels, edit two or three anthologies, and turn out six short stories during the course of a year. I’ve never been able to manage anything approaching that kind of production. I turned in Coming Home a few weeks ago, and submitted a story, “Enjoy the Moment,” to John Joseph Adams for The End is Nigh, which will be the first volume in his trilogy focusing on Armageddon. I then went back and made some corrections to Coming Home. Now, for the first time in years –or at least it seems that way--, I can catch up on some leisure reading.

          I should confess first that I’ve given up on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon writes what I can only describe as dense prose. I need a scorebook to stay with him. I’ve gotten halfway through, which is to say the first three volumes. And while there is much to recommend, I’m simply not enjoying it. And there are other books piling up that I’ve been trying to finish.

          My son Chris gave me the two Library of America volumes of H. L. Mencken’s Prejudices  in 2011. Mencken, writing during the first half of the 20th century, can be something of a crank. But he is brilliant, and I know of no one who is more sheer pleasure to read.

          I’ve also started Starlight, an Alfred Bester collection. I picked this one up back in the seventies during my customs inspector days on the northern border. I desperately needed good  writers at that time to keep me awake between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. at a station where traffic was, to say the least, sparse. But shortly after I got the book, I was promoted to Regional Training Officer and transferred to Chicago. I’ve been trying ever since to catch up with Bester. Other writers who were good at clearing the mind at midnight were Ray Bradbury, Gregory Benford, Mike Bishop, and James Thurber. That of course is the same Thurber who created Walter Mitty.        I needed something to fill the gap that Gibbon left, and Maureen supplied The History of the Medieval World, by Susan Wise Bauer. Bauer gives me the sense of actually being present on the ground during those dark early centuries. E.g., when a major earthquake hit the Roman world on July 21, 365, I lived through it. I watched buildings collapsing and people trying to put out the fires and rescue victims. And I also watched the water get sucked away from the coast a few hours later while people went down to the shore to see what was going on. Thousands died in the tsunami. And I understood without any need for explanation why everybody in that bleak world assumed they were experiencing an event driven by an angry divinity. But was it Poseidon? Or the Christian God? And in either case, why?

            I’m also about halfway through Henry James’s first novel, Watch and Ward, which has been on my to-do list since 1957. The guy’s good.

          Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars showed up in an airport bookstore during a trip home from a con last spring. It tracks the assorted elite units that are waging the anti-terror wars in the Middle East. Easiest way to summarize: There’s a lot more happening than I’d realized.

          My son Scotty gave me Thomas Bogar’s Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, which is an account of the event itself, and its effect on the cast and stage crew. I never realized I knew so little about the event. E.g., John Wilkes Booth possessed extraordinary acting skills, and numbered the President among his admirers. On one occasion, Lincoln sent him a note suggesting that they get together. For lunch at the White House, I presume. Booth returned an obscene response.

          Also, I’d assumed that Lincoln’s appearance at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, had been happenstance. Our American Cousin was a comedy, Lincoln liked comedies, so he suggested to Mary that they pop over for an evening. In fact, though, they’d been there on nineteen previous occasions. In addition, it was advertised that the President would be attending, along with General Grant. Another factor: It was no secret that the cast and stage crew included some very angry secessionists.

          I hate to think what the world must have been like before we had books.          

 

                                               JOURNAL #153

                                               January 15, 2014

 

          Several science magazines have been running articles recently on the multiverse. It exists, they say. Ours is not the only universe. And the multiverse is infinite. That conclusion seems to arise from the difficulty in imagining what could lie beyond the boundaries. We all wondered, growing up, what was at the edge of the sky. Humans don’t react well to infinity, but we also have a problem building a wall around the cosmos.

          The aspect of all this that’s especially intriguing is the premise that, in an infinite universe, every possibility occurs somewhere. That there’s a place where Attila was a nice guy, trying to spread democracy; where Hitler made a name for himself as an artist and World War II never happened; where Liberace made his name playing the guitar; where we never met our closest friends; where we lived in a world without books.

          Several years ago, I was having dinner with George Zebrowski and Pamela Sargent in New York. I don’t recall how we got onto the subject, but George at one point found himself explaining why an infinite universe implies that every possibility occurs somewhere. “It’s not me saying this,” said George, “it’s the physicists.” I couldn’t get my head around the concept, and I refused to believe that a majority of physicists could think differently than I did. (So much for the open mind.) But it just wasn’t possible that the three of us were sitting on another world, having the same discussion, except that we were on different sides of the argument. I understood the theory, and I still do. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it had any connection with reality. Nor was I willing to accept the notion that any serious physicist thought otherwise.

          I remember thinking that such a notion implied there was a universe where we were having the same argument and I was right. Which seemed to contradict the whole notion. Although I suspect George would have maintained that such a universe was not among the possibilities.

I’ve wondered periodically how it happened that the child born to my parents turned out to be me.  I don’t know any way to ask that question that makes sense. But how was it that I didn’t show up in India, or the Philippines, or the UK? Why wasn’t I born during the Roman era?

          Now I know the answer: Somewhere out there, all those possibilities are occurring. Just as they are for everyone reading this. Infinity. Without limit.

I attended Catholic school, where the nuns used the term a lot. I don’t recall the application, exactly. But I can tell you I had no clue what the implications were. None of us had.

Anyhow, it looks as if George was right. At least about the physicists.

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The size of the Milky Way came up during lunch yesterday. And no, I didn’t introduce the subject. But Jack Kraus, who’d been my boss in Chicago thirty years ago, had watched a science show describing the immensity of the cosmos. If a giant explosion were to occur at the core of the Milky Way, we wouldn’t see it for 28,000 years. And the Milky Way is more or less a galaxy of average size.

There are millions of galaxies in the universe. And now physicists are saying that our universe is only a bubble in a vast sea of bubbles.

My head is starting to hurt.                

 

 

                                                JOURNAL #154

                                                 February 1, 2014

 

          A couple of strong historical films that we’d missed showed up on TV last week. “Hyde Park on Hudson,” made in 2012, portrays the relationship between FDR and his cousin Margaret (Daisy) Suckley as it played out during the critical visit to the United States by King George VI and Elizabeth in June 1939. By then, everyone knew that war with Germany was inevitable, and the British were trying to lock in U.S. support.

          Roosevelt is played by Bill Murray, and Daisy by Laura Linney. Olivia Williams portrays Eleanor, and that was the aspect of the relationship that was especially striking. Eleanor knew early on that her husband couldn’t be trusted, but she seemed willing to accept reality to keep things together. 

          The other film was “The Queen,” from 2006, in which the royal family tries to deal with the unexpected death of Diana on August 31, 1997. Elizabeth, played by Helen Mirren, is unhappy with the manner in which Diana has behaved. And now suddenly she is a martyr, and pressure is being put on the Royals to lower the flag and to make a public display of their affection for the woman who has embarrassed them.

          I lived through all that, of course. But I’d forgotten the details of the aftermath. Or maybe it was simply that the royal angst didn’t get much play in the U.S. What does remain in my memory is the affection everyone had, and still has, for Princess Diana. And which she deserved.

Another aspect that stays with me is that the news of the fatal accident arrived while Maureen and I were attending the 55th World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio. And that for the balance of the weekend, it seemed as if nothing else mattered. The only thing going on during Worldcon weekend was the reaction to a woman everybody cared about.

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          A major piece of science news surfaced last week when Stephen Hawking stated that he’d been wrong about black holes.  In “Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes,” he says “there are no black holes.” They apparently don’t fit well with quantum theory.

          Neither did my Uncle Harry.

          Neither he nor I were ever been able to get our heads around quantum mechanics. The notion that a particle can be in multiple places at the same time is just a bit too much. So is the notion that objects don’t exist unless someone’s looking at them. I may not be stating either of these concepts correctly. But that’s okay. The issue here is that those of us who have written about black holes may have to face the reality that the scientific underpinning has been ripped away.  That we are now doing pure fantasy. (As if that’s any different from time travel.) There are some classics, like David Brin’s Earth and Larry Niven’s “The Hole Man” which will survive regardless. But I’m glad I’m not currently working on a novel for which a black hole is central.

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          Michelle Bachman had an interesting response to Hawking’s admission: “Actually, Dr. Hawking, our biggest blunder as a society was ever listening to people like you. If black holes don’t exist, then other things you scientists have been trying to foist on us probably don’t either, like climate change and evolution.”

She goes on to say that kids who learned about black holes in their science classes should sue Hawking. And that, fortunately, she never took any science classes. Not sure what classes she did take, but I’ll bet her teachers are proud.

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I’ve spent the last two weeks catching up on the year’s short fiction, prior to filling out my Nebula ballot. I expect to finish that today when I complete reading Impossible Futures, an anthology edited by Judith K. Dial and Tom Easton. One of the stories in it is my own “Searching for Oz.” (I should point out that voters may not include their own work, or work in which they have a vested interest, in the preliminary ballot.)  When that is complete, I’ll settle in to my first real challenge of 2014: Coming up with a narrative concept for my next novel.

Coming Home, featuring Alex & Chase, will be released in November. Beyond that, I have no clue. The most difficult part of the procedure is the initial concept. But even prior to that, I have to decide what sort of book is next. I’ve considered another outing for Priscilla, bringing back the time travelers, or arranging a fresh puzzle for Chase & Alex. Or doing something completely out of left field.

I’ve always been annoyed by people who can’t make up their minds.

 

                                                        JOURNAL #155

                                                      February 15, 2014

 

          One of the more frequent questions that come up during writing workshops concerns writer’s block. What can you do about it?

          The term means different things to different people, but if we’re talking about a breakdown of some sort while one is in the middle of a project, that it becomes increasingly hard to sit down and get to work, the message it sends me is that I’m on the wrong project. That I’m writing something I don’t really care about. It’s a signal to find something else. Or go get my tires rotated.

          January tends to be the time of year in which I launch that year’s major project. We just rolled past Valentine’s Day, and I haven’t yet written a word. But I’m happy to report that Gateway will get started as soon as I’ve finished this journal entry and had breakfast. 

          I’ve been back and forth since early December on what I wanted to do for 2014. I made some noise about taking a year off. But that’s hard to do. I enjoy writing and it was obvious that hanging around the couch reading and sleeping was going to wear thin pretty quickly. So maybe I could do a novel that wouldn’t require too much effort. Time Travelers Never Die was the easiest one to write. I loved having my characters wait outside the Globe on opening night for Hamlet to do what we’d probably all want to do, grab Shakespeare after the show to tell him how good it is. Or to show up at Harry Truman’s haberdashery and buy a Stetson. Stop by Princeton and say hello to Al Einstein. Titles began lining up: Time Travelers Always Make the Curtain . Or Time Travelers Never Miss the Train. 

          But there’s a problem with this type of narrative. If you have a device that allows you travel back and forth in time, it’s almost impossible to create a problem that’s not ridiculously easy to solve. Somebody commits a murder? Just go back and head it off. 

          I thought about another Alex & Chase novel. All I need for them is a decent mystery. If I can find one, and come up with a reasonable solution, the book virtually writes itself. Like maybe about a celebrated religious figure in the last century, beloved by everyone. He goes on vacation and--. Well, you can guess.

          The holdup in the process was that there’ve been a substantial number of requests for a sequel to Ancient Shores, originally published in 1996. I’d been reluctant because it was hard to see a possibility for taking it anywhere that the TV series Stargate hadn’t already visited.

          Eventually I realized I needed to get outside the box. I could do the sequel, but take it in a completely different direction. And lightning struck. At least I think it did. I expect to spend most of the day today writing the prologue for Gateway. And I should express my appreciation to all who’ve encouraged the project over the years.

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          It’s been a bad week for celebrities. We lost Shirley Temple Black and then Sid Caesar, two of my favorites while growing up. TV has extended our emotional reach to include people like these, whom we’ve never actually even met. We acquire an affection for movie stars and athletes and comedians and even politicians. (Think JFK.) When they die it can be like losing a family member.

          We also lost Jim Fregosi. Anyone with a Philadelphia sports background remembers him as a popular Phillies manager back in the nineties, the guy who took them from nowhere to the World Series in ’93.

          Maybe the real advantage of the developing media technology will eventually be recognized as its capability for bringing larger numbers of us closer together.

           

 

                                               JOURNAL #156

                                                 March 2, 2014

 

          I’m a rabid Sherlock Holmes fan. Which might explain why I don’t watch “Elementary.” And why I will probably not bother with “Sherlock” again. Bear with me, but I’m hopelessly conservative. A lot of people would laugh at that statement. But it’s true. I liked President Clinton largely because he had balanced the budget. I was not encouraged when President G. W. Bush did his across-the- board 10% tax cut, because the bulk of the money went to people who would probably invest rather than spend it. I like to conserve the lives of the people who serve in the military. And I think it’s smart to do what we can to conserve the environment.

          When there’s a series based on a literary character, or, for that matter, a comic character, I want them to stay with the original script. I had a problem when I was a kid with a Captain America serial in which there was no shield and Steve Rogers was missing. Or when, in the Captain Marvel serial, CM took to machine gunning the bad guys, and throwing others out twelfth-story windows.

          So if they’re going to do Holmes, I need the originals.     

          There are two detective shows that Maureen and I have connected with recently. One is “Father Brown,” which captures most of the flavor of Gilbert Chesterton’s brilliant series. The other is based on the Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings. I’d never heard of the series until we blundered onto “The Artful Detective.” 

          We’ve only seen three of The Artful Detective episodes so far, but they were so good that I’m assuming they’re consistent with Ms. Jennings’s creation. The characters are well done, and the mysteries are clever. And there is periodically an historical link. Characters appearing on various episodes include Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Winston Churchill, the Wright Brothers, Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison, and Buffalo Bill.

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          My book club is reading Elaine Pagels’s The Origin of Satan. A fascinating account of how people started accusing each other of being devilish. Or worse, of being taken over by the powers of darkness. It’s an illustration on the value of allowing other people to entertain their own views without somebody else imposing judgment. Or getting upset when there’s disagreement over ideas that no one can prove.

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          Feels like the Cold War is coming back. People who didn’t live through it can’t understand what it was like to be in a world that seemed literally doomed. Back in the sixties, when I was in the Navy, I did not believe we’d survive into the 21st century. It seemed then as if nuclear war was inevitable, and that the only question was when.

          I can remember sitting in my car outside the Philadelphia Library on the Parkway in 1962, listening to reports coming in on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I felt like a character in an end-of-the-world SF story. Sometimes I wonder if we realize how much we owe Jack Kennedy. Had someone else been in the White House, we might not have gotten through all that.

          Anyway, I’m probably overreacting. I hope so.

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          This is the busy season for SFWA members. Whatever other projects we may be working on, the Nebula nominees have been released. Inevitably there is material we haven’t read, usually two or three novels, and a substantial amount of short fiction. So charge the hill, baby.          

 

 

                                                    JOURNAL #157

                                                     March 15, 2014

         

          The jetliner that vanished between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing has become another of those catastrophic events, like the assassination of JFK, or the 9/11 attacks, that tend to generate conspiracy theories. The United States arranged it so that we could grab some scientists who were on board. It fell into a small black hole. It’s been grabbed by aliens. I’m not sure what else. A couple of people were on TV this morning and they had a list of absurd rumors.

          Despite constant claims of breaking news on the story, it has stayed pretty consistent. It’s gone and nobody knows what happened. The only real news this morning, as far as I can tell, is that the Malaysian airline has changed the flight number from 370 to 318. There are three flights to Beijing daily.

          Everyone with any sensibility feels a sense of regret for those caught on board, and for their families. But I can’t help wondering why, whenever there is an event like this, so many of us fall back on fantasy. Is it that the real world is just too dark? Or that it’s too predictable? Or too vulnerable? In 1963, we hated the notion that a lone lunatic could bring down a president that the country loved. In 1941, we had a hard time accepting the fact that the Japanese could surprise us in Hawaii, so rumors surfaced that FDR had known the attack was coming, and that we just let it happen to have an excuse to get into the war against Germany.

          Some people argued that the George W. Bush administration was behind the 9/11 attacks. I don’t recall ever hearing why the feds would have wanted the capital dome, the Pentagon, and the twin towers taken down. Maybe it just gave some of us a chance to sound as if we had a bit more insight than the general population.

          I wonder whether it just doesn’t track back to a passion for fantasy. How disappointing would it be if we were to land on Mars, discover Martians, and find out that they lived a North Dakota life style? And that the place looked like North Dakota? Or that there’s life on Europa, but they live in row homes? There was a show in 2010 about the weakness of the public education system. The title expressed the general sense of disappointment: Waiting for Superman.

          Why is science fiction so popular? It doesn’t matter whether you go to a con in Los Angeles or in Maine, it always feels as if the same people show up: They have a passion for anything that deviates from routine.

          Is it that SF appeals to a sense of something beyond the rooftops, beyond the ordinariness of everyday life? That people instinctively reject ordinary reality so much that even when there’s a catastrophe, we try to attach an explanation that lifts it somehow out of the common course of events?

          I’m probably not making much sense here. But I can’t forget 1947, when the first UFO stories arrived. (There were reports about strange objects during World War II as well, foo fighters, but I don’t think they ever reached South Philadelphia.) But when Kenneth Arnold spotted that string of UFO’s out in the northwest, I can recall being seriously excited. Every kid on the block was. And there was nothing we wanted more than to see a flying saucer come in and land on the large vacant lot at the north end of our street. We got ramped up even more, a few months later, when a UFO reportedly crashed in Roswell.

          We were on our way to the stars! We knew of course that actual visitors from elsewhere presented a hazard. But we were prepared to take our chances if it provided an opportunity to see a starship, and to shake hands with real aliens.

          I can’t really explain why. I’ll stick with the resistance to the routines of daily life theory. The universe was a big place, and we were all stuck on a small street where not very much happened.

          On the other hand, it might be more complicated than that. We still have people claiming the Moon landings were faked. Maybe we just have a taste for deception. 

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          The End Is Nigh, volume one of the Apocalypse Triptych, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey, has arrived. It’s an anthology of stories dealing, as the title suggests, with a discovery that the end of the world is approaching. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it includes my contribution, “Enjoy the Moment,” and also work by Nancy Kress, Paolo Bacigalupi, Ken Liu, Sarah Langan, Will McIntosh, and others.  I’m looking forward to settling in with it.       

 

                                                        JOURNAL #158

                                                          April 1, 2014

 

          The UN has released a report on global climate change. It was put together by a team of scientists rather than politicians. And it’s scary, especially for those people, like me and pretty much everybody in places like London, New York, Shanghai, and Tokyo, who live close to the ocean and not much more than a few feet above sea level.

          According to the New York Times story, the report states that “ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct. The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth.” And incidentally, the violent storms that have rolled across the continent this year will get worse. Despite this, we all know people who deny it’s happening. Which raises a question: How is it that we are so inclined to simply ignore evidence that conflicts with what we believe?

          I mentioned in the last journal that my book club had read Elaine Pagels’ Origin of Satan. Organized religions tend to insist that one must believe certain dogma, or they will not gain salvation. But it’s always seemed to me that belief is not a voluntary act. We look at the evidence and our brain decides automatically whether it buys the story or not. We can pretend to believe something. Or we can behave like the Jesuits who declined to look through Galileo’s telescope. But surely we’re not deceiving a Creator.

         Some of the people around me are still talking about cyclic climate changes and insisting that’s all it is. Of course there are people who maintain that the U.S. is always been on the right side of every dispute, never mind about slavery and women’s rights and an Afghan war that has now become the longest in the nation’s history originally begun, as I understood it, to bring Osama bin Laden to ground.

          When I was working on Coming Home, the Alex & Chase novel that will be released in November, I had to do some research on rising sea levels. If it goes as some project, it’s sobering stuff.

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          We blundered onto a movie titled Paul last week. We expected to watch it for about ten minutes before moving on. But I like road films, especially with a science fiction link, and we couldn’t turn this one off. An excellent comedy.

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          John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey have released volume 1 of their Apocalypse triptych. There’ll be three volumes, one with stories about discovering an apocalypse is approaching, the second about weathering the event, and the final volume about the aftermath. Writers were invited to commit to doing a story in each volume. The plan is that they would be connected, following the same characters through the overall experience.

          I’ve done a number of stories for John Adams. This project sounded like fun, and I readily accepted the invitation. Without giving much thought to what would follow, I wrote “Enjoy the Moment” for the first volume, The End Is Nigh. The nature of my version of the apocalypse: A brown dwarf is approaching and, within twenty years, will drag the Earth out of orbit and send it into interstellar space.

          A problem surfaced pretty quickly: You can’t do much about a brown dwarf. I couldn’t imagine that people watching temperatures drop and the sunlight dwindle every day would be able to muster much in the way of optimism, which meant I’d be stuck with doing a story about characters utterly without hope, trying to adjust to abysmal living conditions. And, of course, the third story, dealing with the aftermath, couldn’t be much more than handing out pills to the last few survivors. Nobody was going to want to read that. At least not the way I’d write it.

          This thing has been hanging over my head for the last few months, while I’ve been trying to move ahead with a sequel to Ancient Shores, which is due in the fall. I considered asking John for a pass on the final two stories. Or having Maureen inform him that I’d become an amnesia victim and was talking about running off to the Bahamas.

          I’m not sure what happened last night. I watched the Phillies win their opener against the Rangers, and went to bed with a sense that anything was possible. I was awake thinking about the project until about six, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a solution arrived. I’ll let it pull itself together today, and start writing it tomorrow. It should have become obvious that good things were coming  when the 76ers broke their 26-game losing streak a few nights ago.

                

 

 

                                                    JOURNAL #159

                                                       April 15, 2014

 

          It’s easy to overlook the impact modern technology is having on our lives until something special happens. A wedding, a death in the family, a niece making the high school softball varsity in her freshman year. For me, one of those events came yesterday in the form of a birthday. Our capability for talking with one another instantaneously, and doing it sometimes across the world, is, at least for me, a relatively new experience. Part of me still lives in a world in which most personal contact is limited to people who live in the immediate area, or to phone calls. Or even writing stuff down on paper and dropping it into a mailbox. I had no idea of the number of people who would take advantage of one of those special occasions to remind me they were there.

There’d been a substantial number of messages over the past few years, but they tended to arrive as periodic emails and an occasional posting on a Facebook page. Recently, maybe five or six weeks ago, I finally figured out how my Facebook page worked. And I know how that sounds. But I came from a family that, back around 1950, suspected that television would not last long and radio was the entertainment medium of the future.

I receive invitations to speak to different sorts of audiences, high school kids, science fiction readers, Elks societies, writers’ groups, and so on. The biggest laugh I get when talking with a senior citizens’ group inevitably comes when I describe walking into a Radio Shack and having no idea what half the stuff on the shelves does.

Not exactly what you’d expect from a science fiction writer.

 Yesterday’s special occasion was my birthday. April 14. It was the anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, the Titanic, and Black Sunday, when a giant storm all but swallowed the Midwest. I was born on that latter day, in 1935, and my father later commented that it seemed to be a special date for catastrophes.

Approaching that birthday, I’d realized that, for the first time in my life, I was older than the reigning pope. And I wasn’t approaching the event in a celebratory mood. But then the avalanche of greetings started coming in. Turns out it was the most upbeat birthday I can recall.         

 

 

 

                                                       JOURNAL #160

                                                          May 2, 2014

 

            Maureen and I attended the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green last weekend. Book fairs are always enjoyable, but this one was special. Two local supporters of the event, Chrystal and Ed Mills, treated the writers to a Thursday evening party, and the organizers, from Western Kentucky University, went to considerable lengths to make everything work.

          My assignments included a panel on science fiction, and a presentation explaining how to ensure that a writing project gets rejected by the publisher. Techniques include overwriting, explaining too much, using unnecessary characters, starting with a weather report (Charlie Brown’s celebrated “It was a dark and stormy night”), and so on. That one filled the room, which underscored my longtime impression that there’s hardly a reader on the planet who doesn’t also want to see his or her name on the cover of a book.   

          I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of the possibility. I think it started when I discovered the Big Little Books in our local five-and-ten. The books were small but, as best I can recall, thick, with alternating pages of art and text. They featured Tom Mix, the Lone Ranger, Alley Oop, Batman, Captain Midnight, and other heroes of those early years. I knew immediately what I wanted to do with my life.

          An event like the book fest often gives me an opportunity to look at the work of people who want to start a career. Several efforts were quite good, and the writers ranged in age from senior citizens to a sixteen-year-old. There’s a point to be taken from that: You can start at any time.

          We went by car, which gave us a chance to listen to a few Jean Shepherd recordings of broadcasts from the sixties. Shepherd, for those who don’t know about him, was the creator of A Christmas Story, but more importantly was a unique radio entertainer. Garrison Keillor, Jerry Seinfeld, and a host of others credit him with having had an inspirational effect on their lives.

          We came home on I40, through the Appalachian Mountains into North Carolina. It’s a dark, winding, low-speed-limit highway. At about 10 p.m., we had Shepherd on. It was just about the time of night that I used to listen to him back in the sixties.

          He was talking about how unplanned incidents affect our lives. A guy looking for work as a stagehand walks into a theater, demonstrates an ability for acrobatics, is hired and added to the cast, and a few years later wins an Academy Award. Lyndon Johnson might have missed the White House had he not, as a student teacher with a long record of abysmal failure, been assigned to an impoverished Hispanic school where he excelled in inspiring students while simultaneously acquiring a sense that he could have an impact. There were similar examples in the lives of others –Herman Melville among them—in which greatness arrived because someone had been in the right place at the right time.

          How many Melvilles and Johnsons, Shepherd wondered, never showed up because the life-changing moment never happened? How many of us would have achieved some ultimate dream had some minor incident simply gone another direction?

          I couldn’t help thinking of George Washington as a prime example. Early in his military career, Washington applied for a commission in the British army. The Brits declined because they apparently didn’t favor colonials as officers. Had he been on the other side during the Revolution, would his name ring any bells with us at all?

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          For anyone who would like to learn more about Jean Shepherd, try Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd by Eugene B. Bergmann.  

                            

                                                 JOURNAL #161

                                                   May 15, 2014

 

          The current (May 17) Science News is running a story about the effort to figure out a way to penetrate the ice sheets on Europa so we can determine whether a relatively warm ocean exists on that distant moon, and, if so, whether it harbors life. At this point, of course, it all sounds pretty speculative. I would not have believed, in 1947, when the first UFO reports came in and got everyone excited, that 67 years later we would not only have no idea whether life existed anywhere else, but that the USA wouldn’t even be able to get to the space station without help. 

          In any case, it can be painful to go back and read Golden Age science fiction, which often imagined interplanetary flight being very close. With World War II disposed of, and the sense that the USA could accomplish anything we set our minds to, we thought we were on our way. Certainly we’d be headed for Venus and Mars by the 1970’s.

          We might have moved the barriers back a few years when the Cold War took over and technology was diverted to weapons development rather than pure science. But even then, surely, we would be heading out by the end of the century. Think Arthur Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which gives us a manned expedition, Discovery I, bound for Saturn. And, for those who only saw the movie and think they actually went to Jupiter, the voyage was shortened for the film, apparently because Saturn’s rings would have been an expensive challenge for the special effects unit.

          I can’t imagine anyone reading SF back during the early days of Heinlein and Asimov would have believed that, 14 years into the 21st century, we’d have been to the Moon, but forgotten how to manage it.

          The bottom line is that in 1940, when science fiction arrived for a lot of us via the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers movie serials, the world was vastly different. My parents let me buy the pulps a few years later, and dreamed of the kind of planetary exploration that Murray Leinster, Leigh Brackett and Doc Smith were writing about. During the fifth grade, more or less, I started my first novel, The Canals of Mars. I picked up The Martian Chronicles as I hit high school, and that finished me. I was going to be around when the big discoveries were made. Maybe I’d even make it onto that first flight to Mars. One of the more serious disappointments in my life came when those Mariner images came back revealing only a lifeless landscape.

                                                       #

          I’ve been thinking about life in other places a good bit recently. I cleared 65,000 words yesterday on the first draft of Starlight Station, a sequel to Ancient Shores. Anyone who’s read the original book will recall that a life form emerges from a 10,000-year-old star gate that has been discovered in North Dakota. The creature is experienced only as a combination of light wind and a soft glow. And maybe the presence of sentience. 

     Everyone knows it’s out there. It has caused no harm, and even assisted a few people in trouble. The glow shows up at night. The question I’ve been asking myself: How would we respond to the presence of such a creature?

                                                     #

     I’ve been fairly negligent about posting stories. The intent now will be to post a different story every month. The present one, “Auld Lang Boom,” grew out of a lunch I had with a friend, who also happened to be my boss, in D.C. back in the early 90’s. We were enjoying ourselves, probably talking about the Cubs, when we noticed that the restaurant had grown quiet. One of us –I don’t remember which—leaned over to the next table and asked whether something had happened.

          The answer: “We just bombed Baghdad.” Or something along those lines. I had “Auld Lang Boom” plotted and ready to go when I got off the plane.                                    

                         

                                                          JOURNAL 162

                                                             June 1, 2014

 

     Sgt. Bergdahl seems to be at the head of the news this morning. After five years as a Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan, he was released in a trade deal in which we turned loose five prisoners from Guantanamo. This has apparently stirred some outrage, primarily because the United States does not deal with terrorists. Given the nature of the Taliban, that seems like a perfectly reasonable policy. But we also don’t want to leave military people behind.

          I have a compromise arrangement that might satisfy everyone. We do not release terrorists under any circumstances, but, for American prisoners, we will exchange politicians who wave the flag and get in line to support pointless wars. Maybe if we set that kind of system in place, we’ll be a little less reckless about jumping into these things.

                                                                      #

          The copy-edit manuscript for Coming Home arrived (electronically, of course) this week. I’ve begun going through it, and the experience reminds me of a basic truth: People can’t be trusted to judge their own work. The draft I submitted several months ago was, I thought, close to perfection in every detail. I’d gone through it carefully, made sure the events described were consistent with each other, that the language worked, and of course that the spelling and grammar were correct.

          You can guess what’s coming. And I’m not sure why it’s still such a surprise that so much has gone wrong. It’s always that way. I can’t say whether everybody has this experience. It’s not something we normally like to talk about. But the truth is that I’m not sure where I’d be without my copy editor. Currently, there are two of them, Sara and Bob Schwager, who have been of immense help over the last few years. 

          It’s hard to understand how, in the fifth (or eighth) draft of this book, I could have missed so much. I think what happens is that in producing the first draft, which is inevitably the brute work, I tend to let a lot of the details go. I don’t record them. Don’t want to break the mood that has me rolling forward. When passion takes hold, as it normally does during the early construction period, I don’t want to stop to record that a character arrived at a space station in, say, November, on the 11th, shortly after dinner time. But it creates a problem when, a hundred pages later, I mention that, when he went in the front door at home, he walked into a Christmas party.

          So what’s the big deal? I can pick all that up in the second or, surely, by the third draft. Right?

          Apparently not. By the second draft, I’ve almost literally lived inside the book for several months. Everything makes sense. I don’t remember the details I put aside and there’s an assumption that I wouldn’t say something if it contradicted the fictional reality. That’s the best I can do by way of explanation.

          Despite all efforts, we still seem unable to find everything. Mostly, that consists of stylistic issues, which are not usually matters that concern a copy editor. Still, problems can persist.

           There’s a famous story about a bet between a British editor and someone else –I don’t recall the details (ahem)—that the editor could not produce a perfect book. And they were only talking about grammar and spelling and so on. The editor presumably gave it more than ordinary attention. But when the publication date came, the title had been misspelled.

          If it seems as if this is only an issue for writers, I’d argue that it’s something for all of us to think about. The last person who can be trusted about the validity of an opinion, or a product, is probably the individual responsible for it. That’s okay if we’re only talking about baseball teams or what constitutes the best pizza topping. But when we’re in a position of authority, as a boss, a teacher, a parent, it’s prudent to establish a climate in which those over whom we have authority are given free rein to voice their opinions as well.

          This is not about encouraging rebellion. But a smart boss will want his subordinates to say what they think. If he’s about to make a major blunder, it’s better to hear it from one of your own people than from the manager you report to. Moreover, people, kids, students, whatever, will always respond better to us if they understand that we are willing to listen to what they say.                                                  

            

            

                                                           JOURNAL #163

                                                             June 16, 2014

 

          I’ve been enjoyong Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. The action is set in Chicago and New York in the closing years of the nineteenth century.  One of the take-aways from the novel is a sense of how much life in America has changed. The technology, for example. It’s hard to imagine having no electronic communication. No telephone. No radio or TV. No link whatever to the outside world. A world war could break out and you wouldn’t find out about it until the newspaper arrived next morning.

          The social side hits home as well. Carrie is an attractive young woman, but she consistently finds herself in difficult situations because she does not have an adequate income. For that matter, she generally has none at all. This makes her dependent on people she would probably otherwise not want to spend time with. And there’s no easy solution. There’s no unemployment payout to get her through a bad time. For older people, social security does not exist. It’s years before the New Deal.

          When you’re traveling around New York, you either walk, or do it by horse and carriage. There are no refrigerators. If you want light, you’re talking about gas. 

          I’m not sure yet how this is going to end, but Dreiser is keeping me on the edge of my seat. Or maybe under the table.

                                                                 #

          Our book club met Friday. We’d read Jonathan Sacks’s The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning. It dealt with questions like whether God actually exists, whether His presence is necessary if humans are to matter in any significant way, and the degree to which science and religion both have to be part of the mix if we are to have any real chance of understanding the world. One question that inevitably arises in this sort of discussion: If there is no God, why is there anything?

          It strikes me that, if He is really there, He’s a remarkably good engineer. Without quantum mechanics, nothing would work properly. Yet how does a quality like that occur naturally? And of course we need gravity, so He resolves that by providing space that bends.  

          Studies show that people with strong religious faith tend to live longer than doubters or those who completely write off the spiritual world. They are also less likely to have to deal with depression. The primary problem for believers, though, is explaining why bad things happen to good people. How does one account for a Holocaust in a world governed by a compassionate God? Or the South Korean ferry that went down last month with all those kids on board? And there is the sheer size of the universe. I think it was Richard Feynman who commented that the stage is just too big.

          It was an interesting discussion, with participants holding views that weren’t so much contrasting as simply differing. That happens, I guess, when the reality is that nobody’s really sure of anything.

                                                                     #

          One of the advantages of a good book club, by the way, is that the participants generally don’t cling to certainty in areas that cannot be shown to be true. Imagine what the Middle East would look like if people there would accept the fact that they are fallible, and that whatever opinions they hold might be dead wrong.     

                                                                    #

          I had planned to attend Libertycon in Chattanooga in two weeks. But unfortunately one hip gave out yesterday and immobilized me.  I’m surprised that I’m able to sit at the computer. In any case, there’s no way I’ll be able to make the convention. I’m disappointed, but I recommend attendance for anyone in the area looking for a good time. 

                                                     JOURNAL #164

                                                        July 1, 2014

 

          Our book club will be reading The Federalist Papers this winter, and I thought it would be a good idea to prep for that by reviewing the problems that developed between the end of the Revolution and the drafting of the Constitution in 1789. I dug a couple of books out of our library, and got especially involved with Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of the American People.

I wasn’t aware how desperate the situation became during that period, when we were not really a single nation, but a group of states pulling in different directions. The philosophy behind the Articles of Confederation, which had been adopted shortly after the shooting stopped, was that things would be run exclusively by the legislature. That would keep tyrants at bay. No Caesars here. The idea was to keep the government weak. Anyone who thinks that would be a good idea might want to take a look at how it worked out in post-Revolutionary America.  The only power the federal government had was to make war. They couldn’t make laws about commercial operations, couldn’t establish federal parks, couldn’t even impose taxes. If that sounds like a good idea, ask who you’re going to call when the bad guys come? Or who will build highways and maintain bridges?

If you’re wondering how people at the time responded, it’s probably sufficient to point out that the Congress got kicked out of Philadelphia by a group of Pennsylvania soldiers, led apparently by a couple of sergeants. They were tired of not being paid. That happens, of course, when the government can’t raise money.

I’m from Philly, and I can’t imagine anything like that happening. In the Philadelphia I remember a crowd would have gathered outside the State House, where Congress was gathered,  and booed them.

                                                               #

One of the lighter moments described by Morison comes during the Constitutional Convention, also held in Philadelphia, in 1789. Gouverneur Morris had a reputation for being outspoken and for, in modern terms, getting in people’s faces. Alexander Hamilton bet him a dinner that he would not slap Washington on the back and say “How are you today, my dear General?”

Morris took the bet. Afterward, he reported that, after the look Washington had given him, he wouldn’t do it again “for a thousand dinners.”

                                                           #

I was an English teacher more years ago now than I care to think about. One year I was asked to fill in and do an American history class. I said sure and reviewed every book I had available. (There was no internet then.) We talked about battles and political fights and set dates for everything. And I was probably near the end of the school year when I realized there was a better way to teach history. Rather than concentrate on the facts (which tend to bore students) I should have done the same thing I tried to do with literature studies. That is, concentrate on getting my students interested in the topic. Create an approach that would send them out talking about the events, and hopefully raiding the library to find out more.

How do you do this? I can’t really speak as a history teacher, so I might be dead wrong. But if I had it to do again, I’d be inclined to ask questions like where would we be today if George III had been smart, and tried to run a cooperative operation with the colonies? George Washington tried early in his career to join the British army. But the Brits didn’t think colonials were good enough, so they turned him away. How would things have gone in 1776 had Washington been on the other side?

Robert E. Lee was reportedly torn by which side to support in the Civil War. What happens if he goes with the Union? (Hint: Much shorter war, far fewer casualties, and possibly Davis elected to the White House in 1868?)

If the assassination of Ferdinand never happens?

If Adolf Hitler succeeds in his ambition to become an artist?

If the Democratic leaders do not torpedo Henry Wallace as the VP nominee in 1944, and he succeeds to the presidency with FDR’s death, might the Cold War have been avoided?

Leo Tolstoy, in War and Peace, suggests that history is like a very strong ocean current, that individual humans have no real effect on the direction the tide takes. To illustrate this, he uses the image of Napoleon sitting in a rowboat with a line connected to the bow of a large warship. Both are being pushed in the same direction by the tides. From the vantage point of the boat, Napoleon gets the sense he’s pulling the ship behind him. But it is, of course, an illusion.

I’m sorry I never got to try it.

 

                                                     Journal #165

                                                     July 15, 2014

 

          If everything goes according to plan, the first draft of Starlight Station will be finished this afternoon. The first draft is always the brute work. It will be unreadable, and I don’t allow anybody to see it. The objective is to determine whether the story line comes together and the pieces fit. I try not to go back and do any rewriting during this part of the process, because whatever gets rewritten may eventually get tossed anyhow.

          This one was particularly difficult to handle because it’s a sequel to a book written almost twenty years ago. That was at a time when I had no plans to continue the story. But over the years a substantial number of readers commented that there was more ground to cover. And I gradually came to realize they had a point. But I couldn’t really take the plunge until I knew where Ancient Shores was going to go. That became a struggle, but I finally figured it out somewhere around this past Christmas.

          Anyhow, we’ll probably do what we always do at this stage: Go out this evening and celebrate.

                                                     #

          I was surprised to see a familiar face on Scarborough this morning: Steve Berry, who writes thrillers wrapped around historical mysteries. His latest novel is The Lincoln Myth. I first met Steve at a book signing about ten years ago. He was seated beside me, and he had with him copies of his first novel, The Amber Room, which traced a hunt for artistic treasures stolen by Nazis during World War II. Within a short time, he rose to the top of the New York Times best seller list.

          Cotton Malone is a continuing character through many of these novels. Cotton, a retired fed who now owns a book store in Denmark, has a passion for history and finds himself regularly confronted with strange events rooted in the distant past. The mysteries are intriguing: In The Jefferson Key, e.g., Cotton pieces together a connection between our four presidential assassinations and Thomas Jefferson. In The Emperor’s Tomb, Cotton tried to understand why the Chinese government refuses to allow anyone near the tomb of its first emperor, dead over 2000 years. Why? Steve’s website: http://steveberry.org/                                              

                                                           #

          Watching the cable news networks has become painful. The Middle East is imploding; desperate kids are piling up along our southern border; Russian has grabbed Crimea; destructive weather systems are hammering sections of the U.S.; shootings continue on a massive scale; cruise ship captains crash into rocks and grab the first life raft. And jet liners vanish.

          Newscasts must have been painful during WWII, but that was a time when my only real connection with the fighting was watching Bud and Lou in “Buck Privates.” The first newscasts I can recall were on the radio, during the final days of the war. I recall the reports of the atomic bombs without having any sense as to what they really were. The only thing I knew about nuclear weapons was that somebody had once thrown an atomic hand grenade at Buck & Wilma and he warned her to duck.

I suspect most other people didn’t really have a handle on it either. We lived a mile and a half from the Atlantic Richfield refinery. After the Cold War started, one of my relatives admitted to me she was concerned the Russians would drop an atomic bomb on the oil company, and if that happened, the refinery would explode and heaven help us.

          The easiest way to describe my disconnect with WWII in general is to mention that my dad was an air raid warden. He had a helmet which I loved. The sirens went off on a regular basis, he grabbed the helmet and hurried away, and we turned out the lights. But I was always disappointed when the Germans didn’t come. I think I expected to be rescued by John Wayne. 

                 

 

 

                                              JOURNAL ENTRY #166 

                                                     August 1, 2014

   

In the early summer of 1953, I was playing second base for the South Philadelphia Quakers in a one-run game when the batter lifted a fly into short center field. I took off after it, watched it settling in over my right shoulder, and woke up in the St. Agnes Hospital on South Broad Street. I’d collided with Windy Boykins, our centerfielder. Windy was only mildly injured, fortunately. It was the centerfielder’s call, and I’d lost focus. I came out of it with a concussion. The odd thing about it was that I couldn’t remember any part of how I got into my hospital bed. Not only did I not recall the game, I couldn’t remember anything for the previous five or six days. My memory came back eventually, one day at a time. Though that final afternoon remained elusive for weeks. I remember lying on the field, but cannot recall the ride to St. Agnes.

I would not visit another hospital as a patient until last week. My right hip had begun making trouble and I was informed that replacement was my best option. So okay. Let’s do it. I didn’t want to go limping through the rest of my life.

My stay at Brunswick Medical, according to my doctor, would last two or three days. And I was actually looking forward to it. Take some light reading, relax, and turn it into a vacation. Scott Ryfun, a local talk show host, was aware of the long friendship I had with Clark Kent, so he’d presented me with a copy of Tom DeHaven’s 2005 novel, It’s Superman! I’ve been a lifelong Holmes fan, so I also took along The Secret Cases of Sherlock Holmes, just in case I ran through the Superman book too quickly.

I went in Wednesday morning, July 23, got some advance medication, was wheeled into the operating room where several doctors and nurses said hello. Then the lights went out again, although fortunately there was no accompanying bump on the head. Then I was back in my room with Maureen telling me everything had gone fine. I’m not sure I knew what she was referring to.

As promised, they released me Friday.

During those two days, I was medicated, and can’t recall much except that at one point when I tried to get out of my bed and onto a walker, it hurt. Turns out nobody was surprised except me. The books never got opened. I was able to watch the TV news reports though of the ongoing battle in Gaza, which reminded me again of the things we take for granted. Like being able to undergo surgery without worrying that someone will drop a rocket on the hospital. The TV scribes are a bit more divided this time than they’ve been in the past over who’s at fault. I can’t help thinking that, as I’ve mentioned before, we might possibly be able to solve the Middle East problem by putting mothers in charge on both sides. That question aside, I can’t help wondering how many of the weapons being used in this struggle were manufactured by U.S. corporations.

Anyhow, I’ve been back home for a week. Healing nicely. A fair amount of my time is taken by exercise routines. I still have a way to go, however.

I’ll finish the Superman book tonight, which I enjoyed far more than I expected to. Have read some of the Holmes collection. And last night I ordered Lyn McConchie’s Sherlock Holmes: Repeat Business from Amazon. Lyn’s a good friend with a deft writing touch and I’m anxious to see what she’s done with the great detective.

In case anyone thinks I’m really just taking it easy: I’m also working on the Ancient Shores sequel, and the Coming Home proofs arrived yesterday.

Also, I’d be remiss not to say something about the numerous readers and friends who took time to wish me well during this period. It helped me get through with a minimum of discomfort. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when so many people are cheering for you--        

 

 

                                                    JOURNAL #167

                                                   August 15, 2014

 

Two interesting science stories are in the news this week. When NASA’s Stardust vehicle passed Earth in 2006, it dropped off a couple of cannisters containing particles that scientists now believe to be interstellar dust. If so, they are unique, the first time we’ve been able to collect such particles. They may have been formed in a supernova millions of years ago, and they may give us some insights on the formation of the solar system.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/14/dust-solar-system-earth-stardust-interstellar-space

The other story: The European Space Agency launched a vehicle in 2004 which, they hoped, would rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gernimenko. So far everything has gone according to plan. The spacecraft has gotten within range and should be able to carry out the final phase of its mission in November. It will dispatch Philae, a lander, which will set down on the comet. If all goes well. That will also be a first. The landing will probably not be as easy as it sounds because the comet’s surface is composed mostly of cliffs and large boulders.

In any case, we are now within sixty miles of 67P, and getting the best pictures ever of a comet.    http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/aug/07/space-probe-pulls-up-to-comet-67p/

                                                      #

Also, sodium is grabbing headlines. I cut my salt intake back several years ago, all but eliminating it from my diet after reading that even small amounts can bring on serious heart problems. (I’m not sure if there’s any such thing as a heart problem that isn’t serious.) A number of organizations, including the American Heart Association, have been maintaining for years that people should limit themselves to a very low sodium level. Somewhere around 2300 milligrams perday. The AHA has dismissed the new report, and still says we should stay away from salt.

But the Institute of Medicine, which set up the current study at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says there’s no compelling reason for anyone to impose a limit at that level. They maintain that there’s new evidence and that the previous study, completed in 2005, has been superseded.

                                                           #

When I was in the fourth grade, our South Philadelphia school took us to watch a President Roosevelt motorcade. We were waving as he went by, and he waved back. It was a big moment, one of the most memorable of my time in grade school. FDR had by then been in the oval office for thirteen years. Everybody loved him, and there was no question that he’d be reelected in 1948, and whenever else he chose to run. He seemed a permanent part of the landscape, more or less like Independence Hall. A few months later, he died during a visit to Georgia.

The reaction was overwhelming. We had no TV, of course, in those years. But you could hear the emotions on the radio. People were in shock. Arthur Godfrey, covering the funeral a few days later, broke down in tears. My father commented that if FDR could die, anybody could.  That’s not a direct quote, of course. I don’t recall precisely what he said, but the sense of it was clear enough. The remark, and the overall experience, has stayed with me because it was the first time I’d heard people talk seriously about death. Until then, dying, at least when mentioned in the presence of little kids, was strictly about spreading wings and rising to a better world.

But on that day, I got a different message. Like my father, I became aware of my own mortality. And Heaven seemed a bit farther than it had.

I suspect something similar may be happening in some homes around the nation with the loss this week of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. My perspective has changed, of course, with the passing years. I’ve been face to face with mortality for a long time now. But watching those two pass reminds me that the world continues to change. That the place I live in now is utterly unlike the nice comfortable world of 1945, when a sailor hugged a young woman during a Broadway celebration, and we were looking forward to a time of peace. The world evolves. Some of it has been in the right direction. The discrimination, which I was unaware of in the mid-40’s, is at least illegal. And people can marry whomever they wish. Sometimes though the change is painful. The economy breaks down. We get into wars. We lose people we love all the time. Which is one more reason to make sure that those who matter to us are aware of our feelings.

The only constant seems to be change. 

 

                                                        JOURNAL #168    

                                                         August 31, 2014

 

          In 1960, we were living at the height of the Cold War. Nuclear tests were being conducted around the planet, films like On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove were enormously popular, and nuclear war seemed inevitable. I was stationed in D.C. We all had instructions on alternate duty stations in the event of an attack. Oh, yes. Good times. I did not expect that I would ever need to worry about funding my retirement.

          In the late fall, A Thurber Carnival opened in center city. It was a live show, not a movie. I’d read a couple of Thurber’s stories. They were funny, and I jumped at the opportunity to break away to something lighter. Several of us went. It was hilarious, and within the next couple of days I picked up a copy of the collection on which the show was based. Whenever life got a bit rocky after that, whether it had to do Soviet threats or women who rolled their eyes, I could break the mood by diving into it.  Thurber always provided good laughs and a sense of balance.

          Since then, I’ve watched for books that I could dip into, and that could bring me out of a sour mood. Novels never worked. It took something short and to the point. So I picked up Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth. I’d always thought of him in terms of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. And sure, they’re pretty good novels. But I discovered that if you wanted to get to the heart of Mark Twain, find him at his uproarious best, you needed his essays. Eventually, I picked up the Library of America collections.

          Sam Clemens was also a talented speaker. If I had a time travel capability, one of the first things I’d do would be to show up at one of his performances. Since I couldn’t do that, I went for next best, and bought a copy of Mark Twain Speaking, edited by Paul Fatour, and published by the University of Iowa Press. This is not a collection of the speeches as actually delivered. That’s not possible. Though Clemens wrote his speeches in advance and committed them to memory, he was just too good to deliver them verbatim. But Fatour thinks his versions are close. He’s probably right. The voice that comes out of the book sounds very familiar.

                                                                    #

          I don’t know what led me to Leo Rosten, but I picked up, in that same turbulent 1960, a copy of The Return of Hyman Kaplan. These are stories, originally from The New Yorker, in which a guy attending a night school tries to master the English language. That description doesn’t sound especially funny, but the stories are hilarious. As are the stories in an earlier collection, The Education of Hyman Kaplan, originally published in the 1930’s.

          Another book that I picked up in that same era was The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel. Archy and his friends originally appeared in newspaper columns by Don Marquis during the second and third decades of the twentieth century. Archy is a cockroach who, in an earlier life, was a poet. Mehitabel, his friend, is an alley cat. Archy lives in a newspaper office and emerges at night to write stories about his life.

There is, for example, Freddie the Rat, who encounters a poisonous spider that threatens all the local animals. Freddie, to save the others, deliberately eats some poisoned cheese and allows the spider to bite him. Both die. But archy reports that they dropped Freddy off the fire escape with full military honors.

Mehitabel remarks at one point that if anything ever happened to her kittens, and she found out about it, she’d feel just terrible.

Archy, by the way, has to jump up and down on the typewriter keys to make them work, but he’s just not heavy enough to manage the shift key, so everything is in lower case.

                                                              #

A college friend, Joe Chapman, recommended Damon Runyon to me. I picked up his collection, More Guys and Dolls. Anyone who hasn’t met the clothes-horse Miss Beatrice Gee and Nicely-Nicely Jones and the rest of the Runyon crowd is missing a great deal.

I’ve also gotten a lot of laughs over the years from The Uncollected Wodehouse. And from Stephen Potter’s Three-Upmanship, which is an instructional on getting the upper hand. “If you’re not one up,” explains Potter, “you’re one down.” An example on good tactics, when playing tennis, always arrange things so your opponent is facing the sun.

And for those of us who enjoy poetry but need an occasional bash, go with Ogden Nash. Well, he could have done it better, but you get the point.

                                               

 

 

                                                     JOURNAL #169

                                                   September 15, 2014

 

          Our book club will be reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning in a couple of months. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was seized by the Nazis at the height of the Holocaust, separated from his family, and imprisoned at Auschwitz. It’s not a book I’d ever have chosen on my own. I don’t have much taste for books (or films) that deal with painful topics. No terminal illnesses, please. No slavery or discrimination. And certainly no Nazis. Unless we’re sending in Indiana Jones, or Charlie Chaplin’s playing Der Fuehrer.

          Although I never had any known connection with people who had personally survived the Nazi extermination camps, there’s a film clip on the topic, about twenty seconds long, that altered forever my view of the world. In 1945, when the war ended, I was ten. My notion of scary movies at that time was limited to Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and other similar horror films.

          We didn’t have TV in those days, of course. The only visual news consisted of stills in the newspapers, and a news report at our local movie theater. It was called something like News of the Week. Anyway, I walked in one Saturday afternoon, looking forward to watching probably the usual double feature, which would have been something like a Boston Blackie movie and a western, and the serial. The big draw for the kids I hung out would have been the serial. Probably Don Winslow or Spy Smasher.

          On that occasion, though, we had just reached the extermination camps and the first pictures were being shown. I won’t go into any detail except to say that there has been no distressful moment in my entire life that has been so burned into my memory. I’d known, of course, that a war was going on, and that a lot of cruelty was happening, but I don’t think the American public had any idea until then about the depths of Nazi depravity. That humans could be capable of such barbarism. I came away that afternoon with a sense that the world was a far darker place than I had ever believed.    

          I’m glad I didn’t miss this book. Frankl lost his family. He describes his experience, analyzes it, and makes a number of crucial points. Life can become exceedingly cruel, he says. Misfortune can take away everything we value. Except one thing: It cannot deprive us of the ability to choose how we will respond.

          He argues that it is critical to recognize what really matters. Family, spouse, kids, and friends. And a career that provides a sense of accomplishment, of having an impact on the lives of others. Doctors, teachers, police officers come immediately to mind. But also people who make it possible to enjoy an evening in a restaurant, who do the paperwork when we have to go get a blood sample taken, who run cash registers in supermarkets. The point, Frankl makes, is the way we look at our work, that we recognize it for the service it provides, and not exclusively, or even primarily, for the paycheck. Paychecks are fine, and they keep a roof over our heads, but they don’t provide a sense of accomplishment. At least, nothing like a fireman who receives a thank-you card from a grateful family, or the computer techs who helped get us to the Moon.

          Frankl recommends that we recognize the contributions we make to those around us. (And I’d add, to take some pride in knowing that other people’s lives are at least a little bit better through their connections with us.) Enjoy the company of those who matter to us, and keep in mind that we don’t have them forever. Which is why lunch with friends is the secret of life. Anyone who doubts that might think about those we’ve known and loved who are no longer with us, and how much we would give to be able to sit down again with them and simply share a pizza.       

 

 

                                                        JOURNAL #170

                                                        October 1, 2014

 

          Coming Home will be released at the end of the month. I can’t recall that writing any novel ever provided more sheer pleasure and, simultaneously, more of a challenge. Alex and Chase live 10,000 years in the future. This time out, they return to Earth in an effort to learn what happened to a collection of early space age artifacts, dating from the first manned orbital flights to the development of an interstellar drive, that were lost during a dark age. The challenge derived from making some reasonable guesses about how the future might develop.

          Alex lives in a universe in which humanity has developed a culture that allows people to pursue their dreams, to engage in professional careers if they wish, or to lead lives of leisure if that is their preference. If you want to just hang out for a lifetime, read, watch TV, and take naps, it’s okay. War is effectively abolished. People get along. Crime is almost nonexistent. We’ve learned to tolerate whatever political, cultural, and religious differences exist among us. There is no racial disparity because there are no races. Thousands of years of intermarriage have taken care of that. So the issue became, what does Earth look like when Alex and Chase return to it?

          To begin with, did climate change really occur and did it disrupt things? I couldn’t find any climatologist who was willing to predict how long the conditions we are setting the stage for would continue. Would it be just mild temperature changes and higher tides for a few centuries? Or would rising seas submerge Moscow, London, Washington, and half the other major cities on the planet? There’s apparently no way to know. But anything’s possible.

          What remains from our own age? Have any films survived? My first thought was “The Great Dictator,” with Charlie Chaplin. But it didn’t survive the cut. Chase is surprised to discover that a song she grew up with, and in fact still loves, is a product of the 20th century.

                                                                      #

          Taking on the future can be a sobering experience. I first became conscious in 1939 or  thereabouts, and lived the next six years in a world torn by war. When I was in the first grade, I can recall being at a family event when everyone suddenly got quiet. I asked what had happened, and an aunt told me the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. I’d never heard of Pearl Harbor and I certainly had no idea who the Japanese were. But during the years that followed, war seemed the natural state of things.

            I discovered Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder shortly after all the shooting ended, and realized that stories about flights to Mars and Moonbase seemed to be placed in the ‘60s and ‘70s. (In 1948, that was the distant future.) In 1957, when the Russians put a man in orbit, and a year later a newly-formed NASA was looking for astronauts, it looked briefly as if it might all come together. Of course, we all know how that turned out.

          What happened? What went wrong? I won’t pretend to be able to answer that question, but I can’t resist admitting that, in 1945, I assumed that there would be no more combat for the U.S. in my lifetime. Now, I can’t help wondering how things might have gone had we sidestepped the Cold War. (That might actually have been possible.) Follow that by declining to get into Korea and Vietnam. And stay out of the Middle East. George Washington advised us to “lead by example.”

          Most of us assumed for a long time that the United States would go on indefinitely, that western civilization was the future, and that we would continue to improve technology in various fields. And maybe, eventually, we’d even get to Mars. But there’s a fair amount of pessimism in the air now, as we embark on another Middle East struggle. We don’t need to worry about our military. But nobody’s talking much about the real problem: how we pay for still another war. And that is where we are probably most vulnerable. We’re already trillions of dollars in debt. If we’re serious about taking out ISIL, I hope the President will raise taxes to pay for it, and not just “kick the can down the road,” if I may borrow an expression that became too familiar ten years ago.                                                                                   

 

                                                      JOURNAL #171

                                                     October 15, 2014

 

          For those with an interest in the sciences, we live in an intriguing age. Neurologists claim that we are close to reversing the ageing process. Not stopping it. But turning it around and sending us all back to being twenty-five again. For me, going back a few years wouldn’t be that big a deal, but for a lot of people, it would be a mindbender. And I’m not sure what it would do to the human race if people stop dying. And I’m not even thinking here about the potential (!) for a population problem.

          Where would American society be if all the people who were born at the beginning of the twentieth century were alive again? These would be the same people who disapproved of anyone who’d been so thoughtless as to be born with a different skin color. Or who subscribed to the wrong religion. Or, for that matter, who simply came out of a different culture. In my old neighborhood, we disapproved of everybody who wasn’t Irish. We have people today who are convinced that Adam lived with dinosaurs, and who will never concede that there’s a climate change problem. Evidence doesn’t matter. We’re not good at changing our minds once they’re made up. Hence Max Planck’s famous comment that the human race advances one funeral at a time.

          Do away with the funerals and where does that leave us?

                                                              #

          Meanwhile the Mars One project, headquartered in the Netherlands, announced that 200,000 people have volunteered for its plan to send a team on a one-way trip to Mars. I don’t know any of them personally, and I will admit that my initial reaction is to wonder what they’re thinking. We’re not talking here, after all, about Ray Bradbury’s Mars, with its pleasant small towns and Ohio-style houses with green lawns and wide hedges, where you can walk around and hear someone on the piano playing “Beautiful Dreamer.” There was a time when I’d have signed on to go there in a minute. But I can still remember seeing the first images of Mars coming back in –I think—the early 1970’s. The place was flat and sterile and gray. We’d known by then –or at least been reasonably sure—that we weren’t going to get any surprises. But seeing those first images come in constituted one of the major disappointments of my life. And if that suggests maybe I should get one, I won’t argue the point.

                                                               #

The October Scientific American reports, in its cover story, that the discovery of gravitational waves from the early days of the universe might give us a handle on the Theory of Everything, uncover the connection between gravity and quantum mechanics, and maybe even determine whether other universes exist. It’s one of those stories that gets into talking about a billionth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. That sort of thing usually loses me pretty quickly. But the author of this one, Lawrence M. Krauss, has managed to get the account into clear English.

Other universes? Holy cats.

                                                          #

I’m sorry to report that Hattie’s Book Store in Brunswick has closed. In future, anyone requesting signed copies of books should simply contact us directly.

I went down a few days ago to say goodbye, and picked up a book that would be of interest to readers who enjoy alternate history fiction. It’s What Ifs? Of American History. A group of historians look at various turning points and speculate what might have happened had things gone differently. For example, had William Pitt, who led Britain to victory in the French and Indian War, still been in a position to lend guidance, the American Revolution would probably not have happened. Or Robert E. Lee’s “Lost Order “ gotten to its intended recipients instead of General McClellan, Antietam might have run a completely different course. 

Years ago, there was a radio program, “Stroke of Fate,” that delved into counterfactual history. They did one in which Lee sides with the Union instead of the Confederacy. The war is shorter and far less deadly. And ultimately he becomes a U.S. president.    

            

         

 

                                                             JOURNAL  #172

                                                            November 1, 2014

 

          Our book club will be reading The Federalist Papers in the spring. These are of course a collection of essays that originally appeared in newspapers in 1787 and 1788, after the Articles of Confederation had failed, and we were trying to decide whether we wanted a strong central government, as would be created by the newly-devised Constitution, or we would instead allow the individual states to wander off on their own as independent entities or members of confederacies. The American people had had enough of authoritarianism, but the carefully limited government put in place after the Revolution wasn’t getting the job done. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were among the champions for a strong central government, and they took to putting their reasons in print, writing under the pseudonym Publius. Fortunately, they carried the day.

          Madison, starting in Federalist #18, discusses the history of groups of small states that tried to function as confederacies, but never really became united, and consequently failed to survive. His first example provides an intriguing scenario for a science fiction writer who enjoys doing alternate history. The Greeks of the classical era, as we all know, were light-years ahead of the rest of the world in science, mathematics, and philosophy. They had indoor plumbing, democratic governments, and a sense of liberty that would have left them feeling perfectly at home in the Arkansas. But they had one problem, which they never overcame. The Hellenic world was composed of independent city-states that were never able to get together. As Madison adroitly points out, they couldn’t cooperate, even where everyone stood to profit. They couldn’t unite against foreign enemies, and when those were off stage, they tended to go to war with each other.

          Eventually, their weakness was exploited by Rome, and they were absorbed into the Empire. Madison doesn’t ask what might have happened had they survived. But it’s an interesting question. Imagine a world still dominated in the second century B.C.E. by the Greek  thirst for knowledge. By people who already knew the world was round. Who were inventing geometry and delving into math. If the Hellenic world survives, we sidestep the Dark Ages. We probably have a printing press a thousand years before the Chinese showed us how to do it. (That would be about the year One.)

          My guess is that we get electricity no later than the fourth century, and land on the moon around 550 C.E. If events actually played out that way, where do we suppose we’d be today?  Enjoying lifespans that run into centuries? Living in colonies on worlds orbiting nearby stars? Or maybe gone because we weren’t smart enough to initiate controls when we first developed artificial intelligence?     

          Our first inclination is probably to think that the Greeks were unfortunate not to have Hamilton, Madison, and Jay living among them, to show the way politically. But their arguments probably carried the day, not because they were persuasive writers. The Federalist Papers, in fact, are pretty tough going. But the arguments themselves make sense. And they had a substantial number of historical examples to back up their claims. For all that, we still have people today who try to tell us the government is the problem. They’re coming for our guns. Or whatever. But fortunately, in 1787, what the Federalists had to say made enough sense that we went ahead and approved the Constitution.

          I can’t help thinking that had they been born in the classical worlds, the Federalists could not have saved the Greeks anyhow. They wouldn’t have had two and a half millennia of Germans and Dutch and Chinese and a lot of other would-be Confederacies, to hold up as examples. Even imperial Rome, at the height of its power, was consistently trying to get by with multiple emperors, representing different areas of the Empire, whose primary purpose for existence inevitably had to do with making war on one another.

                                                                          #

          Writing alternate history is a pleasant pastime.  My first attempt at the genre, “The Tomb,” came as the result of an invitation in 1991 from Marvin Greenberg and Gregory Benford to contribute to the anthology What Might Have Been. “The Tomb” is now posted at the website.

                                                                         #

          Alex and Chase will be back with the release of Coming Home on November 4. 

          

 

                                                      JOURNAL #173

                                                     November 15, 2014

 

          I joined the Navy in March 1958 and served until July 1962. As far as I can recall, the only U.S. serviceman shot at during that period was Francis Gary Powers, who was flying a U-2 in Soviet airspace. That sounds from a distance like a quiet time. But it was the height of the Cold War, with massive numbers of nuclear weapons on both sides. The possibility of any agreement between us and the Soviets seemed out of the question. There was a sense that catastrophe was inevitable, and it was only a matter of time. I suspect it’s why, a few years later, the country loved The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and Dr. Strangelove so much. They got us laughing during an era when we desperately needed it.

          But it wasn’t just veterans who were at risk then. A nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would have taken everybody out. We were all in it together. One of my most vivid memories is sitting in my car outside the Philadelphia Library three months after I’d come home, listening to radio reports of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

          As unsettling as that was, it was a completely different experience from the one that most veterans go through now, fighting wars in strange places against an enemy that doesn’t wear uniforms and sometimes seems to think getting killed has a serious benefit. I signed on at a time when the choice was join or be drafted. Since the Reagan administration, our military has been comprised exclusively of volunteers.

          We just celebrated Veterans’ Day. Around the country, that involves parades, ceremonies, speeches, and sometimes concerts. I had never joined any of the parades because I’d always felt they should be reserved for people who’ve actually been in combat. But this year I was asked to participate. So I did.

          The parade took place on St Simons Island in Georgia. A young woman with a convertible offered me a ride and I was happy to accept. (I wasn’t sure about the length of the event, and I don’t do three-mile walks anymore.) It’s the first parade of any kind I’ve been in since by Boy Scout days.

          We had a substantial number of veterans, a marching band, a police escort, boy and girl scouts and a cub pack. And crowded sidewalks. We started and people immediately began cheering and waving flags. At one point we were asked to stop so a girl who was about nine years old could hand me a home-made card, with a flag drawn inside, thanking me for my service, and signed with love. It continued that way throughout the event. A unique experience. 

          And I learned something: Veterans’ Day isn’t just about the men and women who put their lives on the line. It’s about their families, who are also at risk. And the rest of us, who care about them and the nation. I’ve never heard a shot fired in combat, but on Tuesday that didn’t matter. We’re still all in it together. And I should admit also that I was proud of the company I was keeping.          

      

                                                                         

                                                           JOURNAL #174

                                                           December 1, 2014

 

            Joe Myshko was my teammate on the South Philly Quakers back when we were both in high school. He was remarkable for at least two reasons: He was the guy you wanted at the plate when the game was on the line. And he lived on the other side of the city. He traveled by bus and subway for maybe an hour and a half to get to our home field. Something else that stayed in my mind: His name had a ring to it. So, decades after the baseball had ended, I found myself using it occasionally in my writing. There's a reference to a Myshko in The Cassandra Project, and, as best I can recall, there's a galaxy with that name elsewhere.

            Joe and I had gone our separate ways somewhere around 1954. So I was surprised a few weeks ago to receive an email from a Joe Myshko, asking whether I knew his grandfather. There was of course no way Joe could be somebody's grandfather. He was too good at tracking down line drives and running bases like a cat. But of course a few years had passed.

            I said sure, I knew him. And the result was that when Maureen and I traveled to South Jersey last week for Philcon, we were able to meet Joe and his wife Angela for lunch at the Pub, in Cherry Hill. They both looked good, though Joe might be a bit slower getting down to first. It was an emotional hour, filled with reminiscences and so much laughter that we drew attention from other diners. And there also came an appreciation for what matters in life. Moments like that….

                                                                                               #

            Philcon allowed me to participate in a writing workshop. Editors have been telling me for years that the most common mistake they see in submissions from people trying to break into the business is that they overwrite. They use thirty words where eight will do. There are too many adverbs. (Look out for anything that ends in –ly.) Some even start their stories with weather reports. Like Bulwer-Lytton and Snoopy: "It was a dark and stormy night."

     Hemingway commented somewhere that the smart thing to do is to let the nouns and verbs carry the freight. Use adjectives sparingly, and adverbs only at gunpoint. It's probably worth keeping in mind that a three-thousand-word story is easier to sell than a novelette. (I wanted to say 'automatically easier' but that just demonstrates how easily we can go wrong.)

            Something else I've noticed over years of panels and workshops: Aspiring writers, when asked what a writer does, will almost always say that she tells a story. That misses the point entirely. The objective is to create an experience. The reader should become one of the characters in the narrative, and should live through the fictional events. When Lisa tells Will it's over, that she's sorry and it's not his fault, but that the chemistry simply isn't there, when she does that and walks away, the reader should be left in tears, much like Bogart standing in the rain in Paris. Anything that pulls the reader out of the experience, that reminds him that he's sitting in a chair at home, and that it's all right because Lisa doesn't really exist, detracts from the power of the narrative. Maybe destroys it altogether.

            What sort of writing reminds us that all we're doing is reading? Getting the science wrong. The author breaking in to explain stuff. Misspellings. Wooden dialogue. Wooden characters who, for example, never feel a qualm about dangling from the face of a cliff. And so on.

                                                      JOURNAL #175

 

                                                     December 16, 2014

 

 

     Recently I spent several very pleasant evenings with Jane Lindskold’s Artemis Awakening. It is, as I mentioned on Facebook, my kind of book. Griffin Dane lives in the far future, in a time when humans are spread across a variety of worlds. He has an interest in historical mysteries, and goes looking for what really happened on Artemis, a planet that had more or less dropped off the timeline five centuries earlier. I’ve known Jane for a long time. She’d recently read Coming Home, so a conversation or two was probably inevitable. Here’s the one about AA. 

 

 

 

     1. Jane, it’s obvious from your work that you have a fascination with mythology. What prompted that?

 

I can’t really say “what” because I’ve been fascinated by mythology since I was quite young.  By the time I was nine I’d read The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid all in adult versions, because I was already familiar with most of the characters and that provided a framework for the larger, more complicated, epics.

 

The fascination has continued lifelong, though.  I keep reading and re-reading.  I don’t know why.  Maybe “Truth” is hidden in between the various tales about how we (humans, the world, the rest of the creatures) came to be.  Maybe it’s just because they’re good yarns.

 

     2.  The other kids in the fourth grade must have just loved you. The giant really had only one eye? Are you kidding? You also enjoy using intelligent animals as characters. What advantage does this provide?

 

I’m not sure it’s an “advantage.”  So many people automatically discount anything with animals in it as “not serious” or “fable.”  Never mind that beast tales and fables have a long tradition of being very serious indeed.

 

Intelligent animals as characters…  Well, the idea that animals are not intelligent is a relatively modern view, one strongly colored by the hierarchy that puts God (or some divine element) at the top, angels (or some spirit/supernatural) next, humans next, then animals, and lastly plants.

 

Maybe it’s all that mythology I read, but I tend to think of all animals as intelligent, just differently intelligent than we are.  In my stories, rather than getting all pedantic, I provide whatever justification is needed, whether the “Royal” beasts in the Firekeeper books or the genetic engineering in Artemis Awakening or none at all.

 

 

     3.  You clearly have an affection for cats. I’ve killed off a few major characters over the years, but the death that seemed to seriously irritate readers was that of Chase Kolpath’s kitten, carried off by a hawk when she was a child. Honor Harrington and Adara both have large feline companions. Is there a back story?

 

Coincidence, though Weber and I both have (or are owned by) domestic felines.

 

When Weber asked me if I wanted to collaborate with him on prequels to the Honor Harrington novels (the “Star Kingdom” novels, which feature young Stephanie Harrington),  I’d already been thinking about doing something with felines.  I might even have already written the proposal for Artemis Awakening and my agent was shopping it.  I can’t recall precisely.

 

Anyhow, the two projects came “live” at right about the same time.  Fortunately, treecats really are aliens, not felines.  They have prehensile tails like monkeys, are six-limbed, and owe as much to a weasel as to a cat.  They also aren’t really that large, about two feet in the torso, though their long tails double that.

 

Sand Shadow, the puma in Artemis Awakening, is much larger.  Although she has a few tricks, she is closer to the real animal.  Making the transition between books wasn’t all that hard.

 

 

     4.  Sand Shadow and Adara constitute a couple of characters you want on your side. Griffin Dane was lucky they were there when he needed help. Will we see these characters again?

 

Yes.  Artemis Invaded (which is NOT military SF) is scheduled for late June of 2015.  Sand Shadow is in it and Honeychild the bear has a much larger role.  Oh, and there are some humans, too…

 

     5.  I got drawn into Artemis Awakening from the opening lines with Griffin’s crash landing on a world lost to history. It’s the kind of science fiction I especially enjoy. Why do we love SF so much?

 

I don’t know about you…  I love SF because it’s the literature of possibility.  That’s why I get frustrated when I see a novel that is a thinly veiled allegory for some current problem.  Thank you for not doing that!  Even when Hutch is fighting for the budget for the space program, we get to go to new places, see new things…  That makes why we want a space program so much more intense.

 

When I was in college, I discovered Larry Niven’s “Known Space” tales.  I wanted to be an asteroid miner, mix with Puppeteers and Kzinti.  Great stuff.

 

 

     6.  Jane, you must have some fascinating secrets. Tell us two things about yourself not generally known that would be of interest to your readers.

 

Nope!  I’m a very private person, actually….  I can’t imagine anyone would be interested in my quirks.

 

     7.  I think the most common question writers hear is how did they get started? Especially since the chances of success seem so remote. What prompted you to begin writing?

 

Writing was a means of sharing the stories in my head. Although I love the art and craft of writing (for my sins, I have a Ph.D. in literature), I think of myself as a storyteller, not a writer.

 

     8.  And of course writers are all passionate readers. What are you reading now?

 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, the third book in her excellent “Raven Cycle.”

 

On audio – I always have at least one print novel and one audio going at a time – I’m listening to Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I think I read parts of it when it was first released – maybe in Analog? – but I never read the full novel.

 

 

     9.  Visit an SF writer and the house is inevitably filled with loaded bookcases. One tends to be SF. But readers are frequently surprised at the range of interests possessed by people who write about the future. How about you? Outside SF, what do you read? Who are your favorite non-SF writers?

 

I love classic mysteries: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, Rex Stout.

 

I read a lot of history, mythology, folklore.  Oddly, I rarely read fictional treatments of these.  I’d rather read the source if I can.

 

 

    10.  Speaking of things to come: What can you tell us about future projects?

 

Well, let’s see…  I dipped my toe into self-publishing with Wanderings on Writing, which is based on something like four years of posts on my Wednesday Wanderings blog.  I’m in the process of putting together a collection of short stories.  I’ve published something over sixty, most of which were in anthologies that are hard to find now.  I was pleased and surprised when a poll of my readers requested a collection.

 

I have a couple new short stories either recently released or forthcoming.   (There’s an updated list on my website.)  In fact, what I’m working on now is a short story which I hope will be in the Shadows and Reflections anthology in honor of Roger Zelazny.  Roger was very important to me.  The story is set in the same general “universe” as Lord Demon, one of the two novels I completed for him, at his request, after his death.

 

     Thanks. Jane. I’ll be watching for Artemis Invaded.