Sunday, August 12, 2018

We arrived here on Monday and began the nine and one half mile hike through rugged country in the middle of the day--during the hottest week of the year. 

Part of the view from the first summit. The smoke from the nearby fires wasn't too bad that first day.

It was somewhere near here that we met two diminutive lads who mentioned something about being on their way to return a piece of jewelry that had been giving them problems.

I haven't succeeded yet in downloading the remaining pictures. The story of the death march and the successful plotting of a new book will wait until I can get the other photos--the much better ones-- included.

I did get back in time to attend a daughter's wedding. There are days that shine like the brightest stars in the firmament. Yesterday was one of those days. To see one's children gathered in an important place, doing the right things for the right reasons is a premium parental pay-day. I couldn't help but look upon them and say, "I guess we didn't totally mess up. We may have even done a thing or two correctly." Of course, the self-congratulations may be hollow. Probably, the material we had to work with had an innate resilience; the other influences, especially that of my wife, overcame most of my mistakes in the life lessons and personal responsibility department.

The wedding was a wonderful and simple affair followed by an excellent luncheon put together by the groom's family. Fantastic souls turned out to setup for the reception at our home in the evening.

The canvas of this daughter's life is painted in laughter. I'm sure that pattern will continue. Tears and sweat mark the canvas in vivid colors as well, but the dominant theme has been that of fun and good-spirits. She has matured much in the last two years. As she pushes away from the secure shores of youth to set out upon the windswept waters of adult responsibility, there is an air of expectation, an aspiration for life on a higher plane united with another heart. The waves will roll, the storms may rage, but their quiet confidence in each other and in the principles that have brought them together will guide them through the difficulties of life. Of course, it may not be the rolling thunder, banks of fog, or tumultuous waves that present the greatest difficulties. The doldrums of life where supports seem absent and progress stalls often try the soul as severely as any storm. Tenacious perseverance and steadfast determination in the face of the seemingly empty void, like the long, slow trudge across the desert expanse, may build more character and unity than does the fierce melee against the contrary elements. May they live long and prosper in love, laughter, and learning of each other and the many subtle secrets of success.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

While the saga of the war machine will continue, I prefer not to discuss that epic adventure today. Progress on Justice Resurgent is happening; just one more bend and it will be the home stretch at break-neck speed. I could finish it this month, but I'm having difficulty focusing on it because another idea for a fantasy series has possessed me. It's something that I've had in my head for years, and have made notes about from time to time--and now is the time to do it. Because I'll be away from civilization, I won't be able to write this week on JR, but I will be able to do some more plotting, characterization, and setting notes for the fantasy series using that centuries-old word processing system known as paper and ink.

I'm learning that when it comes to writing and marketing, I've pretty much done it all wrong. I've written in three completely different genres. Apparently, I'm supposed to pick a genre and stick with it, build a following and reputation within that genre because, according to Amazon--unlike me--most readers do not jump genres; they read within a single genre. Amazon's algorithms don't understand how to market my works when I do that. So I'm leaning toward making the fantasy genre my genre for a series--the first books will be in the swashbuckling, flintlock or gunpowder fantasy genre, but the prequels I've got in my head also cover the pre-Columbian. Of course, I haven't forgotten the Finding Jack series, also in the fantasy genre, that I'll finish.

(Of course, if anyone has read any of my books and can't live without more books written by me in the western or humorous noir mystery genre, let me know).

I've noticed that just about everyone thinks that they can write fantasy. Most of the stuff I've found that I wasn't previously familiar with isn't very good (that's just my opinion; lots of people seem to like it). Most of it seems like it was written by a fairly talented fifth grader, or is crammed with profanity in an attempt to create "gritty realism"--or it may just be a substitute for talent (that's my opinion). Of the recent fantasy that I've read, I've enjoyed Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive; James Alderdice's Brutal, and Ken Jorgensen's Kusunoki Chronicles. I can't say enough good things about the Kusunoki Chronicles. I previously reviewed the first book in the series, Pride of the Samurai. I've just finished the second book, Treachery of The Daimyo. Both are 5 star reads. Again, I'll say that there's something about Jorgensen's writing that resonates with me--and I don't think it's just because he writes above the fifth grade level. I may eventually post a review of the second book. I know there are at least 4 books in the series, and now I have to read the 3rd one. Back to my point, everyone seems to think that they can write fantasy, but few do it well; Jorgensen does it very well.


Have I seen any superhero movies? One might remember that I've been pretty clear in my overall distaste for that movie genre. However, there are 3 exceptions to my superhero disdain: The Shadow, The Incredibles, and The Ant-Man. I know there are many complaints about that first movie, but it is one of my favorites--and I have a few complaints about it as well--but a man redeemed from evil, sometimes on the brink of sanity who possesses the ability to cloud men's minds, AND WHO USES 2 POLISHED COLT M1911 AUTOMATICS IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME (here's a link to information about the actual weapons used in the movie). I like a hero with a backup plan. He's fallible, and often lacks confidence--and the movie wasn't all special effects. I've already gushed about The Incredibles, so I won't repeat myself.

As for The Ant-Man, we saw Ant-Man and the Wasp earlier in the week. First, the story--meh. Didn't really care for it, especially the after-credits tie-in to rest of the Marvel pit of infamy. I did like the characters, especially the characters played by Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Pena. These three make the film worth watching. Those characters have substance. They're flawed and funny, and make you root for them. The superheroism is just a part of that substance, a very small part. These are characters who would be fun to follow even without the superhero issue--the superhero complication is just the catalyst that has brought them to our attention and that accentuates their idiosyncrasies. So...great characters, predictable story heavy on techno-dribble, but lots of fun.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The day dawned, as it is wont to do, with the rising of the sun. A clear blue sky overlooked the estate. The day promised heat, and lots of it. I didn't have time to admire the azure canvas over head; I couldn't do anything about the promised heat; it wasn't my concern: I had a date with Destiny, and I was hoping that she would be wearing a clinging pastel number with some lacy frills. I was kidding myself; this was no date--it was a showdown. I was going mano a mano with the Craftsman war machine. I planned to tear into it without mercy, to strip its power source from its corpse, crack open that box of mechanical brain-works, and perform some compliance surgery on that metal crate before reattaching and reanimating the creature to do my bidding.

With might, power, and high hopes, I confronted the beast. I didn't give it a chance to talk. I had it jacked up and on the stands before it could even say, "Jack Robinson." Come to think of it, I've never heard it utter that phrase; it's a particularly difficult iteration for most mowing machines. The videos that I had watched indicated that the engine could be removed in about one half an hour. It was held to the frame by four bolts. Of course some other wires and assorted connections like the fuel line, a mystery hose, and the throttle cables had to be detached as well, but the four bolts, and the pulley below the frame were the primary obstacles.

When I set the wrench to the first bolt to begin the struggle in earnest, the mower struck back.
The end of the wrench snapped off as soon as I applied pressure. Round 1 to the mower. It was comparable to Napoleon falling from his horse at start of the invasion of Russia--not a good omen.

The half-hour engine removal took me two hours and included a trip to town for a particular socket and an angled section. The two front bolts resisted, but they were overcome. The two back bolts were more difficult to persuade. So the mower effectively delayed, but I won that round. In my defense, I don't have the fancy rotary tools the video guys used to zip the bolts out in a flash (refer to broken wrench above for the quality of my resources).

It looked rather pathetic with the engine removed. Some people have noted difficulty in removing the pulley beneath the mower; once I removed the bolt holding it to the engine, it practically fell off--no pounding was necessary.
Out of the mower and on the concrete, and then on the operating table. It was at this point that I began to congratulate myself on having completed the removal of the engine without the customary blood sacrifice to appease the gods of gasoline powered things. I began to think that I would complete the task sans such sacrificial exsanguination. 

"Hold on to your hemorrhage, Batman!" The mechanical ones demanded obeisance. My very next move resulted in the first incision of the operation. While attempting to loosen one of the bolts that held the oil pan to the engine, I ran the knuckle of my little finger across the head of another bolt. I noted that it hurt, but didn't realize that the bloodletting had begun until I saw the crimson drop upon the plate. My wife had a band-aid ready. Apparently, she remembered the process.
The operation proceeded without much else of note happening. The pictures below show the innards of the beast.

You might note that I had not drained the oil prior to beginning the surgery. For future reference, I recommend draining the oil first. I think that I managed to get oil on most of the exterior surface of the engine, as well as all over the work table and the floor. It spilled my blood; I spilled its blood. 

The camshaft is the larger wheel with all of the teeth. Below, one can see the old, damaged shaft on the right, and the new shaft on the left. 

One might notice that the mechanism on the left that sits against the center of the toothed wheel is missing from the shaft on the right. The missing piece (broken pieces), the ACR (something compression release mechanism), can be seen behind the two shafts. There is a close up of the pieces below.

 These were in the bottom of the pan. It is a fine testament to the quality of this product that this part fails so frequently--it ought to be a free part and repair. Some videos explain exactly how the part functions. Having watched those videos, I still don't pretend to understand it. Like Sgt. Oddball from Kelly's Heroes, "I only ride'em. I don't know what makes 'em work."

 One very important detail that I'm glad was noted in one of the videos was that the timing marks, the divot on the camshaft and the other shaft (crankshaft?), must be aligned in order to remove the camshaft; naturally, the new camshaft must also be so aligned for installation.

The most difficult part of the procedure was removing the old gasket. The rest wasn't too difficult. I made significantly better time in reattaching the engine to the carcass that I had in the removal.

Next time: What fruits do these labors bear?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Craftsman war machine has terminated negotiations. The tips of the tall grass wave jubilantly in the wind, defiant, unyielding, uncut and spitting stinging imprecations with each windy ripple (which sounds like a drink: Windy Ripple, now in your favorite pastel colors with an aftertaste that resurrects memories of treated lumber and burnt hair). Civilization as we know it teeters at the edge of the precipice; the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. What has brought us to this terrible state? What is the cause of this our dismay, this forlorn future, this fantastical fate?

Word is that it is something called an ACR--it's broken. I don't know what the A stands for, but the C and R stand for compression release. Maybe the A is for awful, or ain't working. The internet, which is never wrong--Oh, I know--says that this is a common problem with the Briggs and Stratton 21 hp engine (and others of the B&S make with the overhead valve setup). The progression of part replacement/adjustment is battery, starter, valves, camshaft--with the latter being the only thing that ever needed to be replaced. Having already replaced the battery and starter, and adjusted the valves, I am unhappily awaiting the new camshaft upon which the ACR is found. It's supposed to arrive on Wednesday. Oh, what fun awaits.

I was able to terminate another successor in the line of Claude Roowener, Earl of Clay. I expect to have the lifeless body of the next heir-apparent tomorrow morning.

A friend lanced me with a bit of sunshine today. He told me that he started reading Smoke this week; he's half finished with it and is thoroughly enjoying the read. He really liked Justice in Season, but is even more taken by Smoke. It's always great to hear that someone genuinely enjoys reading something that I've written. Nice reviews posted to the sales site and Goodreads are also nice. My wife has started reading Smoke and professed her pleasure with it--but she kind of has to say nice things about it; I'm sure she's sincere, but she's still in the early chapters--she has plenty of time to lose interest or otherwise be disappointed in the book, but she won't.

Here is the gratuitous Star Trek picture of the week:

It comes from a fb group devoted to TOS. The episode was "Elaan of Troyius" which was written and directed by John Meredyth Lucas. I consider it one of the finer episodes of the third season. Spoiler Alert: The green man with the bladed accessory protruding from his back actually survived the episode. The picture, which captures Elaan, Kirk, and the ambassador sporting the cutlery, is representative of the fine direction throughout the episode. This is one of the episodes that I like rather more as an adult than I did as a kid--when I didn't particularly notice creative camera angles and that sort of detail. When I saw the picture, I thought Kirk should be saying, "Is this a dagger I see before me?" --but of course, that line isn't from that episode. France Nuyen made a perfect spoiled barbarian brat of a princess. Jay Robinson (who played the spoiled Emperor Caligula early in his career) absolutely sells his role as the slightly effeminate Ambassador Petri who is completely out of his league in trying to deal with the strong-willed Elaan--which point the knife perfectly illustrates. It's a top tier episode in my opinion.

Did I mention that Smoke is available in paperback?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

There is a story to tell about the Craftsman war machine. The vast expanse of herbage remains unmowed; the story, therefore, remains untold. Instead, I might discuss the discussion that I led today after the regular instructor called to ask if I would take his class. The text message came while I was laboring with the latest mechanical manifestation of the war machine's taciturnity. I agreed. I enjoyed preparing for the discussion. It concerned a great story, a story of love and loyalty, jealousy and pride, friendship and fidelity, treachery and terrible carnage--I styled it as what we would've got if William Shakespeare had written Star Wars; it was just that good--meaning the story, not my discussion of it. I did have a terrific time leading the discussion; I can only hope the participants found it worth their valuable time. 

That's not what I'm going to write about. I promised a review of Pride of the Samurai by Kenneth Jorgensen. Let me do it now. I see that I can also loan that ebook to someone. I would be happy to do that if I knew how; and who would like to read it.

But first, here's a picture of a local building--I'm going to work this into the second book in the Finding Jack series. There are elements in it that I think will fit well in the story.

I should preface my review of PoftS with a brief synopsis of my expertise on all things Japanese. I've known several people who spent some time in Japan. I can locate Japan on a map or globe. I once had a Japanese roommate--mostly what I can say about him is that he bought a lot of rice--he bought it by the bag, the 100 pound bag. The primary source of my expertise is James Clavell's Shogun; I saw the miniseries, and I read the book--so I got that going for me. So, as you can see, my qualifications and expertise concerning all things Japanese, and particularly feudal Japan, are beyond question. I even remember several a couple phrases in Japanese that I learned from watching Shogun. If that doesn't convince you, then wakarimasen as to what will.

Fiction featuring fantasy in feudal Japan has never been something that I've pursued for pleasurable reading--until now. PotS begins an epic fantasy: The Kusunoki Chronicles, of which there are 4 books (so far). I've only read this first one; I can't say what the others contain. PotS begins the adventure of twin brothers, Akashi and Kanto. Akashi learns that he has the power to work the tama, a magical power that seems to emanate from the Japanese homeland--some might think of it like "the force" from another popular series which has some roots in a similar culture. The use of the tama is forbidden; it's not forbidden in the sense that a sincere apology and some meaningful probation time are demanded; it's forbidden in a way that a stirring of the innards with a short sword, or a permanent separation of the skull from the shoulders is mandated--and that also goes for the people who knew about it and didn't tattle. 

Anyway, in addition to the usual discovery of the forbidden power and the sort of apprenticeship that goes along with it, the story tells of the Kunusoki family and some of the politics of the time. The characters are almost all interesting and constantly developing. The dark side of the force in this epic comes from the foreign invaders. These viking-like enemies have a great magical power; they seem to go through the armies of the homeland like a shotgun blast through a screen door. Akashi, and other shinobi (users of the tama) may be the only power that can resist the invaders.

As I said in a previous post, PotS is the best book of fiction that I've read so far this year. I give it five stars. I am now committed to reading the next book in the series. 

On a different topic, I am also pleased to say that I got to sign a couple paperback copies of Smoke this week--I hope to sign more in the near future. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Your bum looks really nice."
"Get in the left lane and turn right, here."
Those were two of the many strange phrases that I heard my daughters say this week in Rexburg. That first phrase actually referred to fourth daughter's hair bun (b-u-n), not bum--which made it significantly less disturbing that what I thought that I had heard. The second sentence was given to me by 2nd daughter as she directed me to one of the finer haute cuisine establishments in the aforementioned burg--Little Caesars Pizza where we ordered the "Extra Most Bestest" but actually received something well short of that hyperbolic superlative; the pizza was good, it just wasn't of the kind represented by the box in which it was presented. And she may not have included the comma--in the sentence, not on the pizza as that would have been an additional topping requiring a concomitant cash outlay.

What took us to that city at the feet of the majestic Tetons? (Those familiar with the area will recognize the profligate use of poetic license in that description--which is exactly the sort of dissolute dereliction of descriptive device that can get one's poetic license revoked, or suspended for 90 to 180 pages). It was just the little matter of herding another daughter into the marriage chute preparing another daughter for launch into the starry realm of marital bliss. Lift-off isn't for another month, but certain preparations were required. She is about to slip the surly bonds of single life, to move the familiar "me" back two spaces on the hierarchy of concern...behind "we" and "he" as he is about to do the same for "we" and "she."

Why would they do such a thing? Who knows? Who can say what drives seemingly normal persons to discard the comfortable "me" for the more troublesome "we"? What is that peculiar mix of chemicals and cogitation that renders "me" so plain, dull, and undesirable that it can only be remedied with "we"? Of course, it's not just any "we," but a particularly desirable combination that forms the "we." A "we" so pressing that the very thought of it being left unrealized torments the heart and soul. It is a yearning so profound, a desire of such depths, an ache of such magnitude that the mind can almost completely deny access to reason and other distractions--including eating and drinking. Love reached, but not grasped, plows the deepest of all of worry's furrows; unremitting and relentless, the sharp blade scores the fleshy heartsoil to the tender core.

Fortunately, the hope and expectation for the attainment of the "we" conquers all, driving the loving pair to master, carry on, breakthrough, and surmount all obstacles. If both hearts are willing, flesh and blood can overcome. The worrisome torment of fear and failure is vanquished in the ecstasy and euphoria of love at last grasped, held, and attained together. The time spent apart, with its accompanying distress, renders more pleasingly and potently sweet the eventual union of two hearts and souls into the absolute "we."

And, for those who care, Smoke is now available in paperback:

I had to make some slight modifications to the cover for the paperback and tinted the title with a smoky fill while I was at it. There's no time like the present to get your copy. I'm in the process of preparing Justice in Season for paperback. Writing of the sequel Justice Resurgent is still in progress.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

As I contemplate that day that is the hub, the Ogygia of summer that separates all of the season that came prior to that day from the following day from which the final voyages of the season are launched, I remembered what I had written last year after the local July 4th festivities:

 I do it because I am minting memories. We take this hot summer day and put it beneath the steel press of patriotism, stamping upon it the indelible impression of our flag and national identity; we remember the blood and treasure spilled to obtain and to secure the liberty and inalienable rights upon which this nation was founded; we honor not only the founding fathers, but those still living among us who have served to secure the freedoms for which so many have given the last full measure of devotion. There is plenty of time for pleasurable pursuits, but short is the time to honor those who have offered more than mere lip service to liberty...

It still has meaning for me. I don't expect that there will be free hamburgers or a wondrous fly-by, but those who served will still march. We will still salute them. 


The sequel to Justice in Season is coming along. I borrowed an idea--to put it in the least reprehensible light, or engaged in a little literary larceny, to speak more accurately--from Shakespeare. In Hamlet, the Bard presents a play-within-a-play; that's the purloined provision--not the same play, just the idea for a play as a means of subtly communicating an idea to an audience, or a part thereof. Just a few more chapters for an important plot complication, and I'll be ready to blast toward the exciting conclusion.

Speaking of exciting conclusions. I recently completed Louis L'Amour's Passin' Through, and Guns of The Timberlands. I enjoyed both of these tremendously. I don't remember what caused me to read Passin' Through, but Rachel K's review of GoTT got me interested in reading GoTT

PT is told from the first person point of view. After writing Smoke (mostly) from the first person point of view, I relished a good read of L'Amour using that view. GoTT uses the third person narrative, allowing the reader insight into what the various characters are doing and thinking. I find the first person view more intense with the ability to draw me into the story like Apollo's hand in "Who Mourns for Adonis?" seizing the Enterprise.

GoTT actually strongly reminded me of The Mountain Valley War--which I discussed a few weeks ago. GoTT involves Clay Bell protecting his range land from a greedy baron bent on stripping the land for a quick profit. Eventually, six-guns and bare knuckles settle the dispute with an eloquence that mere words were unable to achieve. Both books use the same formula with a slightly different twist. Of those two, I preferred GoTT.

PT actually kept me wondering.  It's about a cowboy who needs to lie low after proving that he was no easy mark for a pistolero with connections. He finds himself at a ranch occupied by two women. They're interesting. There is some dispute as to the actual ownership of the ranch. Plenty of bullets fly, and several men irrigate the soil with their corpuscles before the conclusion. I found the mystery intriguing and entertaining, if not difficult to unravel. I also liked the horse with the death's head brand.

The protagonists in both books face difficult odds against opponents with connections and clout. They solve problems not only with physical skill, but with mental prowess as well. Both feature romances that end in the expected way, even though the characters have little if any time for romancing--they fall in love quicker than Kirk on an away mission. They're both good reads, but I savored PT just a little bit more.

As long as I'm mixing TOS references and Westerns, I better include this: