Monday, June 30, 2008

Cover Picture

Here is the cover for the new issue of "Tales of the Talisman" that contains my story "The Great Basilisk Race." I also discovered that I'm sharing a table of contents with fellow Codex writer Gray Rinehart. Gray's story, "Above the Event Horizon at the End of Time" covers similar territory as my prize-winning story, "The Cosmology." It was pretty cool to see what somebody else could do with the concept.




David Lee Summer, who edits the magazine, is a professional astronomer. He has a soft spot for stories like Gray's that push the edges of cosmology and of the mind.

My story, as it turns out, couldn't be more different from Gray's. "The Great Basilisk Race" is my first real attempt at writing a fantasy story. I'll let the readers be the judge of how well I did. (I know at least one guy with a copy of the magazine.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sale - A Nice Day for a Walk

I learned a few minutes ago that I just made my fourth sale to Tales of the Talisman. As it turns out, I'm also appearing in the current issue. It's so new that I don't even have my contributor copy yet.

"A Nice Day for a Walk" involves a computer malfunction on a sublight interstellar spacecraft preventing the ship from flipping over at the mid-point of their voyage. Somebody has to go outside to do it by hand.

Some progress

I just finished the first draft of the most substantial short story I wrote this year. In fact, it's only the third I've worked on since January 1st. That includes finishing up the first draft of "Of Ship and Sail" with Ruth Nestvold. More recently I wrote a little boiler plate story called "Cex in the Sity."

The one I just finished drafting is called "Harp and Brimstone," and it deals with lucent dreaming, dream control, and some deep corners of the mind. The first draft finished at 5400 words. It may grow a bit as I put in some backfill.

I have another incomplete story on my hard drive that I'd like to finish, but I'm not especially excited about it. I also have that novel to get back to, which is what I'll probably go back to working on.

I think I wrote every day this week, which is a good start for getting back to my writing ways. It's nice to start being productive again. The novel sits just shy of 14,000 words. The target length is 120,000 words. Big disparity considering I started it in January. I can write with a lot of distraction in my life, but 60-hour high-stress weeks (even with weekends free) takes a toll on anybody. I hope November 07 to April 08 are the worst period I ever have to go through. I'd hate to imagine having a worse spell than that, though I'm sure it's possible. I've learned not to say that things can't get worse. I've experienced first-hand that yes, they can.

I still hope to finish the novel this year. That will be considerably easier if I work on it every day.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Ethan Fire

We don't typically get earthquakes here in the desert, though we'll occasionally feel ripples from California's. If a hurricane heads for us, we're far enough inland that we're thankful for the rain. We don't generally see tornadoes either. Our biggest danger here is wildfire.

Lightning from the dry storm that ripped through here a couple of days ago started a large fire on the Gila River Indian Reservation. I live at least twenty-five miles away, maybe more. Two days after the Ethan Fire started, here's how it looked from my balcony this evening just before sunset.



And zoomed a bit.



While we're in no danger, about twenty-five families have been evacuated.

Two or three years ago there was a fire maybe two miles from the house. Fortunately, that was put out in a few hours. Usually, it's difficult terrain that lets our wildfires get out of control. That seems to be the case with the Ethan fire.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Writers to Watch - Eric James Stone

From time to time, I want to take some space to introduce you to some up and coming writers to keep an eye on. Today, let's talk about Eric James Stone.

A few years ago, Eric won the Phobos fiction contest, and he is a Writers of the Future winner. His fiction has appeared in Analog and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Eric has a way of keeping tension high and ending with a bang. He's equally comfortable writing fantasy and science fiction. On the SF side, he gets the science right. He broke into Analog with his novelete "Resonance," which is a good example of how to write hard SF with characters that are more than cardboard cutouts.

Eric has a great imagination and a knack for pulling seemingly unrelated concepts together. I can tell you about him, but it's better if you read his work. If you go to his web site (linked above) find his bibliography. He has links to a number of stories available online for free. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Gift for her Birthday

On the topic of my wife's bithday, I suppose I should discuss my gift. She had one request. I'm supposed to sign up to compete on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader." Yikes. Not my thing.

Okay, so I'm filling out the forms, and they aren't trivial. "What is something most people don't know about you?" Aside from perhaps that I have a birthmark on my leg that resembles a paisely pattern, I dunno.

Now, I suppose it isn't completely weird that she wants me to sign up. On one occasion when they actually went into the million-dollar question, I did run the board. Lucky, I think, but they do tend to ask mostly easy questions. Usually, they have one question that isn't so straight-forward. For instance, they mis-categorize questions. One question I got wrong was filed under "astronomy," but the question would more appropriately have been labeled "spaceflight."

I can't stand a question about man-made satellites is categorized under astronomy. It ain't astronomy. It's a man-made satellite!

I'm grudgingly still trying to answer the hard questions like "name something of significance that you've done."

I did buy her a CD. Bee Gees, if you really want to know.

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Wow, so many music videos yesterday that I couldn't see putting one of my ugly plants in with that menegerie. Well, I'll make up for it today by posting not one, but TWO plants.

This is a sago. It's in a bad spot. No shade. It refuses to die.
I have a really good sago in the front. I'll show that eventually.



This is a pine tree. I can't remember the official name, but it rhymes with what I call it in practice, an Arpaio pine.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's Mom's Birthday

Today is my wife's birthday. She had the day off work, she took the kids to the movies, and in return they performed a Happy Birthday Mom concert. We begin with the famous song, Happy Birthday.

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Followed up by the locally famous Ms. Smith version.


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We had a few false starts.
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Russell gives his performance with a few bits borrowed from Peter Frampton.
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Here, we have the big original number, sung by Audrey. Unfortunately, I haven't purchased a microphone yet.

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No concert is complete without a drum solo.
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Then, we get the encore performances. First, a bit more Maple Leaf Rag from Reanna, this time on glockenspiel.

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And finally, we wrap up with an excerpt from the flute piece Audrey is currently practicing.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

New Windshield

One of the joys of living here in the valley of the sun is dealing with all the rocks. When you get on our freeways, you have to watch for them. They come off the road and fly into your windshield, leaving pings and chips. You can see some really nice photos of a big chip in my post from saturday. It's a real beauty, eh?

Anyway, saturday as we were driving home on State Route 51, a rock flew up and hit about 3mm from the top of the glass. Not only did I get a nice ping, I also got a 6-inch crack.

Yesterday, I took the kids to the library and when we got back to the car, I had a 12-inch crack. This morning, about 5 miles into my commute, I heard a great crunch from the windshield. Afraid of wearing glass, I turned off the air conditioner and drove to work with the window open.

It can be tough to tapdance around something like changing a new windshield while you're trying to attend meetings. Anyway, we got it done and I didn't die from the epoxy fumes.

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I know I said I'd take the camera today and film the freeway after the closure, but I wanted to scout it to see if it made sense. As it turns out, all they did was re-stripe. Nothing to see.

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Now, back to the plants. Where did we leave off? I think it was here.




Oh yeah! Scraggly Mexican Fan Palm. This guy replaced one that died in the big freeze two years ago.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pool Party

Yesterday the temperature reached 115 degrees. Today is only supposed to get to 113. Nice to have a cooling trend. Should drop to 109 later in the week. To fight the heat, the kids swim a lot. Here are some pictures from yesterday's madness.






Russell takes a dive.



Reanna takes the plunge.



Audrey goes for it.



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Watch for the dog!





Remember the desert spoon I showed a few weeks ago? Here is a new picture with the kids acting as a size reference. (And you thought they were acting fools.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Even More Armpit

I took advantage of a trip down State Route 51 to snap some photos. 51 is actually pretty bland for a Phoenix area freeway. No lizards or cactus paintings, just some nice landscaping.

This first photo is a lizard. This one is near the on-ramp that is closest to my house.



The rest of these are just photos from the trip. Don't mind the chip in my windshield. That's a gripe for another time.











Friday, June 20, 2008

More Armpit

Today, I took the camera with me and filmed 3 minutes of my commute. One reason I did it today is that this evening, 7 miles of the southbound freeway is closed, including the part I filmed. When I head into the office on Monday, it will be a massive construction zone adding a carpool lane. I think the carpool lane is project is one reason why the median wasn't really decorated. If the portion already under construction is any indication, the median will be just a concerete wall. I hope not gray.

As Kosmo noted in yesterday's comments, the first time you see the freeways here is an experience that isn't really captured by the film. Unfortunately, I was fighting a weak battery and I didn't quite make it to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. I wanted to show you the statue when you cross into their territory. It has the Great Seal, which you can find by following the above link.


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One of the bridges I go under is Cactus Road, the interchange with lizards in the aerial view. Later, as I go past Shea Boulevard, you can see one unit of Scottsdale's six freeway photo-radar installations. I'm told these were the first ever on a freeway.

The cable barriers in the median are not especially effective. There have been several accidents with a vehicle getting to the other side. Well, those cables were actually an afterthought. There was nothing there when the freeway first opened. The concrete wall after the carpool lanes are finished will likely save some lives, and probably take a few, too. Life's dangerous, eh?

I expect I'll take the camera again next week and film roughly the same stretch so you can see our lovely construction. It's everywhere you go out here. I guess that's the result of the inflated property tax revenues caused by guys who are now being arrested. (I'm waiting for oil guys to go to jail, but that's a story for another day.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Armpits of the World -- Not

My fellow Codexian, Floris Kleijne, recently blogged about armpits of the world. Those are the wasted empty spaces around freeway interchanges. Floris is European, and I have seen some European freeways. They resemble the Skyway in south Chicago. Here is his discussion.

Now, I've seen some pretty crummy freeway interchanges, but we do things a little bit different here in the valley of the sun. Our freeway interchanges are not armpits of the world.

Behold these pictures from Google Earth. Click on the pictures to enlarge them. You won't get the true details from the small photos. Key word is details.


Loop 101 and Cactus Road


Loop 101 and Indian School Road


Loop 101 and Thomas Road


Loop 101 and McKellips Road

This is how we do a freeway interchange (including a river bridge).

Loop 101 and Loop 202 near the Salt River.


Loop 202 and the Hohokam Expressway.

That's how freeways should be done. The ground-level details are really done nicely, too. I'll try to carry my camera around for a few days and snap some ground-level photos.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Really Big Truck

I didn't know a pickup truck could be this big. I saw an International CXT in the Costco parking lot last week. Take a look, this thing is a monster. My cell phone camera memory is full, so I had to scoop up somebody else's image. Our costco is not a stack of logs and a big pile of dirt (and I have no idea who the guy is.)



You gotta ask a couple of questions, the first of which is "Why?" A semi cab with a flat bed? What would you possibly haul in this thing that wouldn't be easier with an 18-wheeler, or more fuel efficient with a Ford F-150? A few cubic millimeters from a neutron star? Is this something you might buy instead of Viagra? Is this for hauling Barry Bonds or Hillary Clinton's ego? How many gallons per mile? I just don't get it.

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Today's plant -- yup, it's another sage.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Analysis Paralysis

Looks like we're paying for our mild spring now with all the heat we missed then piling up on us now. I don't really pay attention to the temperature once it gets above 110 degrees. It's just bleedin' hot.

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A couple of months ago I was turned on to Google Analytics. It analyzes your web traffic and, among other things, lets you know where your hits are coming from.

If you have a web site or a blog, I recommend using the service. There is no charge and the information is fun to look at. For instance, I've had 12 hits from Malaysia in the past 30 days. Seven of those hits are from a place called Ipoh. Two are from Kuala Lumpur. One each are from Melaka, Kuching, and Tawua. I've never been to any of these places (though I do interface with a number of Malaysians at work. If it's you guys visiting, **hi!**)

Of course, I have many more hits from the U.S. Most of the steady readers are friends (mainly other writers) and family on both my side and my wife's, but the overall trend is one of gaining readers since I started posting regularly. F'rinstance, the hits in Florida likely from somebody I've never met.

One of these days I'll figure out a way to capture the maps and post them here.

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So you say to yourself, how many sages does this guy have? Well, there are a lot of them in the back yard. The things grow with zero maintenance. No watering needed, ever. Purple flowers often. The only drawback is that they get really big, so you have to cut them back at least once a summer, usually twice.
The ones I've been posting were trimmed toward the end of last summer. I have one in the front yard that is ready for pruning, the thing is huge. I have a picture of that one, too, but it looks deceptively small. I may need to take another.

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's Hot, Baby

This is probably my least favorite time of year. The humidity is low and the desert kicked the baking gear into full throttle. It was 112 degrees here today and everything is hot. It's hot in the house, even with the airconditioner running. You have to wait until about 6:00 so the pool is in the shade.

I've been sleepy all day, but somehow I managed to pound out 759 words this evening at piano lessons today. The novel sits at just under 13K.

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Here's today's plant. This is something a little different. It's my oldest Mexican Snspalm

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Writing Contest Scam

If you are a writer, don't fall for this SFWA contest scam. You can read details here on the writers beware blog.

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Today, we get a look at the first sage on the west side of the basketball court.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another Sale

Sam's Dot Publishing sent me this email earlier this morning:

I'm accepting both Winter and Adjoa for publication in one volume under the title Winter. Winter btw is excellent! Very well done. We're going to publish this as a trade paperback book. It probably won't be until February next, though.


There are two stories in question. Winter is a 16,000-word novelette, and is the story of a relativistic spacecraft returned to Earth during the next ice age. Adjoa refers to The Adjoa Gambit, a story that first appeared in issue #3 of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. The setting for this story is a reservation in Antarctia for Earth's natives (us) after aliens invaded and took over the world. You can see a preview of the story by following the first link above.

I think the two stories with the common thread of a cold environment work well together. More news on this volume when I have it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sale

Looks like my strategy of getting my short stories back into the market has already paid off. I sold The Budget Hath No Mercy to a new Canadian ezine, The Random Eye.

It's not a big sale, but it is the first sale I've had since January. Amazing what getting my work into the market can accomplish. Heh.

This story was actually a project I undertook because I was unsatisfied with another story I wrote, At the Mercy of the Budget. I gave that one away to Planet Magazine back in 2002. That story covered much of the same ground, but really had no business being published. I wrote that version a very long time ago. The earlest record of submission for that one was in 2000, but I didn't submit regularly in those days.

I recycled the idea in 2005, under 6 months after I finished Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. I find file dates as early as November, 2005. The underlying idea changed little, but the story changed quite a bit. The execution improved a lot, too.

Understand that a writer in the stage I was in during June 2005 through about June 2007 advances very quickly. Every story I wrote was better than the last, and I learned something with each mistake. Once a writer reaches a certain level, you plateau. The advances in ability don't come as fast, and they seem to come in quantum leaps followed by another plateau.

I'm sure some of that plateau effect is universal, but I may be more susceptable to it due to the incredible demands on my time from things not writing.

Selling a story this old is always pleasant. It makes you look back and see how far you've come. It's scheduled to come out in January of 2009, so you'll have to wait a while to see it. When it does finally appear, you can take a look back at the writer I once was. While I could write the same story today, it would be written differently.

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They just had a feature on the evening news about a supposedly indestructable phone. I think it was called the "G phone." They tested it many ways and it lived up to it's hype. It worked after 10 minutes underwater. The news crew did, however, find a way to destroy it. It took the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, hurling it at the sidewalk to kill this phone.

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Today's backyard plant is ...a mesquite tree! Woo hoo! It's not a sage! This mesquite is the best trained and will be a wonderful shade tree in a few years.



If you like sages, don't worry. I have several more on the other side of the yard. Now that we've crossed to the west side of the basketball court, you'll get to see them soon.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Sad Story

It's been all over the news. If you haven't heard yet, you've been in a cave for two days. Despite the widespread media attention, I have to comment on the four scouts killed by a tornado in Iowa.

Certainly, this is a tragic event, and I can't imagine what the parents of those boys are going through. I don't want to discuss that, it's been discussed enough. What I wanted to discuss was the survivors.

These kids knew what to do. They were attending a leadership training session, so these were experienced scouts. They knew the first aid necessary to prevent any additional deaths.

Did you know that scouts are required to know first aid to advance? Did you know first aid merit badge is required to earn the rank of Eagle? They also have to earn Lifesaving or Emergency Preparedness merit badge for Eagle. The Potawatomi Area Council in southeastern Wisconsin has an annual first aid meet, where troops compete against each other in performing first aid in situations they do not know until the scenerio is read. I know this quite well because my old troop won first place in the late seventies or early eighties.

This tragedy in Iowa is a testament to the boys and to the leaders who trained them. That's what scouting is all about--being ready for whatever happens, serving others, and being prepared.

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You can tell that we've moved into the desert portion of my landscaping. We won't see much but desert trees and shrubs for quite a while, broken only by an occasional palm tree.

Here's the sage that grows a the left side of my baskeball court.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Recovery

I feel a little better today, at least the head cold is getting better. I don't feel better when I gas up the truck, or when I look at the price on the few tomatoes still on the shelves.

I get sick when I see who our candidates for presidents are. Can we have a do-over? Can we have nobody?

I actually finished that short story last night. 1700 words total. It's not a long story, but it's the first in a long time. It felt good to finish something again.

Remember the original "He brought the 'chucks" guy? He was replaced in those Alltel ads by the weird-looking guy with the wig. Anyway, here's what happened to him.

For those of you in a festive mood, here's a crude little reminder of the holidays.

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This is my pathetic baby palm tree. It's not dying, it's just challenged.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oooky

Stayed home from work today with a nasty head cold. Whenever I get sick it goes to my nose, and it's no fun. My teeth have long roots and when the sinus membranes swell, they press against those roots causing a nagging headache.

Still, I managed to get the remaining stories out into the market, so I'm now fully deployed. My short story idea engine started up also. I got about 500 words into a new short story before I was called for dinner. I may work on it some more if I have the energy. I slept quite a bit today, too.

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Today, a sage that isn't damaged. Wow, how exciting.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Books and More Books

Apparently, my experience with the freezing cold night at Geronimo came with a free head cold. I'm miserable and didn't have any concentration at piano lessons, normally my most productive time for writing. Instead, I did something that doesn't take much concentration and I've been wanting to do for a long time.

Several years ago, I reconstructed a list of all the books I read, that is, anything I can remember. It's incomplete for sure. Since then, I've tracked everything I've read and added them to the list when I closed the cover.

Since my HP iPAQ died, I finally converted the file to html and added it to my web site. You can see it here.

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Today's plant picture is another sage that our dog ripped up. It's recovering nicely, perhaps because it enjoys the company of an old basketball.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cleaning Up a Bit

Rather than writing today, I spent a couple hours getting my short fiction back into the marketplace. For too long, I've had 25-50% of my inventory sitting on my hard drive for lack of time getting them back out. It's easy to keep it out in the market if you turn them around within a couple days of rejection. If you delay, they can pile up. I think I submitted about fifteen stories and queried another six that had been out for an excessive length of time.

Right now, I have only two stories not in submission. One I'm considering using on the back of my business cards. The other is based upon the idea I worked at bootcamp. I'm picky where this might be published because I intend to expand it into a novel. It would have to be a major market or nothing for this one.

It feels good getting back to my normal status. 40 stories in submission. Hopefully my sales will pick up for the rest of the year. It's been very slow so far because it's hard to sell something that isn't being shopped.

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Today's plant is one of my jacarandas. It's the only one of my three that survived the nasty freeze during the winter of 2006-2007. The others I'll show in a few weeks are just babies.

I'm letting this one grow without training it for the time being. I want it to gain some more strength before I start hacking.

Jacarandas get clusters of purple flowers like the photo below, but this guy hasn't bloomed much since the freeze. I doubt my tree will ever get as big as this purple monster.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Back from Summercamp

I drove up to Camp Geronimo yesterday morning. Driving through the Sonoran Desert up highway 87, I took this photo out the window.



Here is an example of a forest of saguaro cacti, again taken out the window of my truck.



Once you hit Payson, you're magically transported from desert to woods. The road into Camp Geronomo is dirt and washboarded. The photo below doesn't do justice to the nasty ride you take driving in.



I arrive at the camp just before noon.





I found Russell in the dining hall (where the food was not fit for human consumption).



We did the Totem to Totem hike...



...then continued on the West Webber trail...



...to this crystal clear 5' deep pool.



Here is what a forest fire looks like several years later.



Of course, I had to go up for the one meal our troop had KP. Here's Russell dressed for action.



And yours truly.



We serve the food, and we mopped the floors.



We gathered for the friday campfire (this photo taken the next morning). Yes, there is a swimming pool for swimming merit badge. There isn't much in the way of lakes in Arizona. The one they use for the boating merit badges you wouldn't want to swim in.



Although the day was hot, after dark, it got cold fast. When the fire was finished, we walked back to our tents (photo also taken next morning). It was so dark you couldn't see anything without a flashlight.



Because it was that dark, there were so many stars visible that city folks have trouble identifying constellations. But man, it got cold at night. I was pining for my old mummy bag from my days as a scout back in Wisconsin. Even bundled, it was a miserable night.

I stumbled across one of our guy's Tote'n'Chip card in the trading post, so we got to watch a lovely song and dance routine of "I'm a Little Teapot" as we waited for the commissioner to check us out.

We tried to caravan back but got separated. The guy pulling the trailer and I left last, but we arrived back at the church first. We were not told everyone else was stopping at McDonalds. As it turned out, between the two vehicles we had 8 boys. The highest ranking boy was a First Class, most of the others were Tenderfoot or Scout. The little guys unloaded that whole trailer. By the time the older boys arrived, the trailer was already empty and the troop stuff mostly in the storage shed.

No yard plants tonight since this is already a photo-heavy post.