Sunday, December 29, 2019

Yesterday I divested the curtilage of Christmas cheer and yuletide delight. In other words, I de-lighted the exterior of the grounds with a sortie to take down some enemy combatants the Christmas lights. Wife and daughter flew close air support. Wife gathered each strand as I defused it, one by one. Daughter a seek and destroy rescue mission on the strands around the deck.

For Christmas itself, we had sickness in a plain brown wrapper. Law Student and his lovely family came Christmas Eve. The little Manette girl already had something, and shared with our couch some of the things she had eaten earlier. Law Student felt as if he wanted to engage in similar sharing but avoided such ostentatious displays. Nevertheless, the Ice Queen and Thor declined to bring the Corsican Brothers to such an environment. The next day, after the joyous morn, with breakfast for some, Law Student et al abandoned us to our own sad company--like process servers who had fulfilled their commission.

That evening, the Ice Queen and Thor did bring the Corsican Brothers for a nice dinner starring an old, dead, piece of pig -- which was quite tasty. Wife cooked it in the crock pot so I had the holiday off from the usual (and time consuming) application of heat and smoke to raw meat products. We contended with one another via a couple new games. The Jumanji Jungle game and Monopoly for Millennials. Thor prevailed in Jumani, while daughter got us all in an early headlock in Monopoly and eventually forced us all into submission for the win.

By way of entertainment, I treated myself to a re-watch of The Incredibles 2 on Netflix. The overblown trumpet blast attacks are the best. I'm sure I mentioned that the first time I talked about the movie. Yes, I did--at least a little. I'm happy to report much fun in the re-watch.

Today I substituted for the teacher in Sunday School as we discussed the last half of the book of Revelation. I thought it went a lot like this:
Except maybe the train didn't get quite so far on to the bridge before it all collapsed. Nevertheless, there was a point during the lesson when I grasped a great truth--that made it all worth it for me.


With the new year approaching like a wrecking ball, it's time for resolutions. For me, I know that I will go back to writing a minimum word count on weekdays. I've simply been writing without worrying about how much I write. I'm going to want to complete books 3 and 4 next year in the Tomahawk and Dragon Fire series -- and books 1 and 2 are only 99 cents each until the 31st. I'm currently on chapter 6 of Book 3.

Of course, there is more to self improvement than augmenting the word count. While I was looking for a Christmas picture to add after the first paragraph, I came across the picture below from a quiz I had taken a couple years ago.

I'm not sure if I should resolve to go from moderate to high, or from moderate to mild.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Are there Christmas songs you hate? -- My answer is at the end.

There are a lot of Christmas songs. Most of them are great. Nevertheless, many are the opposite of great. Most Christmas songs are eggnog and cookies, candy canes and Christmas trees, angels and hallelujas. Others are gray, gritty snow and cold sores; frozen pipes and an ice-ball in the face. I just watched Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir featuring Kristin Chenoweth. It was very nice. I could have listened for another hour. I also heard some great music at the service this morning. I remember other music I had heard in previous weeks. Some of the choirs, small groups, and solos I've heard have not been so great. I suppose that mix of talent and quality of performance is a good metaphor for life. Our efforts are sometimes excellent; at other times they don't live up to our hopes. I have to admire those who perform and fall short of excellence. They are out trying. Maybe they'll get better with time and experience. Some will never get better; they'll never reach excellence, yet they continue to strive. (I hope they're striving, and not merely showing up for performances to inflict pain on my eardrums). They're the souls in the arena.

In my own arena, I continue to write, churning out books that few will ever read. Maybe they will make a difference for someone who does read them. If someone smiles, laughs, catches of vision of the world in one of my stories that lets them escape the daily grind for a time and forget their troubles, think about some deeper meaning, or simply enjoy a story, I'll count that as a success. However, as satisfying as that is, I would not resist a boatload of royalty payments sailing my way. Unfortunately, if no one reads and thinks to leave a review, I'll never know how much they enjoyed my work--and that boatload of royalty payments will never dock in my bank account.


One reason I didn't get much writing done this week was because of daughters. It was a 3 daughter week. I had to go visit a couple of my daughters and sons-in-law for a few days and couldn't do any writing. It was a small price to pay for the trip. One daughter and son-in-law graduated from college and set sail for Arkansas the very next day. They've arrived in that land of opportunity. They're worried that they won't fit in because they're not cousins. (My sincerest apologies to the people of Arkansas for that joke. It was uncalled for and cannot even redeemed by being original. It's an old joke. I would like to promise that I won't make such jokes in the future--but I know myself too well for that). While one daughter and son-in-law were graduating and embarking for the wonder state, another daughter and son-in-law continued the struggle, looking forward to the day when they too can don the black moo-moo and mortar board hat, and step up to the launchpad and rocket to a new place with promising careers. The other daughter involved came with us. She got to spend quality time (which is code for shopping and playing games) with the sister with whom she shared a room and everything else for so many years. Now she's alone at home with grumpy, old mature parents who possess all the excitement of a discarded work boot--or so it seems from her perspective. What that really means is that she benefits from parents who have already successfully raised several other children to adulthood. What incredible wisdom, knowledge, and experience they must possess! Could she possibly be any luckier? I'm sure her answer would vary from mine.

We had a great time with all three daughters and both sons-in-law. The latter are fine gentlemen who are great matches for the two daughters. While the last daughter is only 16, she did have an unexpected encounter with a male individual during the trip. The graduation ceremonies concluded so late that most of the restaurants in town were closed. That left fast food as our only option. We adjourned to a Swedish diner famous for the image of the red-haired girl with the swooping braids. At one point, a young man of college age stopped at our table and asked if we were here for the graduation. Then he looked at the 16 year-old and said, "You're the cutest girl I've seen. I've been all over campus and never seen a girl as cute as you." --or words pretty close to that. My daughter responded, as did we all, with awkward silence. He likewise replied with a witty, mute, awkward repartee before hurrying out the door. At least that daughter gained an interesting story from the trip.

For the record, I killed at Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I was much better at those than at the shopping activities. The bonus was the 28 mm cowboy figures one son-in-law printed on his 3d printer for me. Naturally, there's a lot more to tell, but I'm amazed anyone has read this far, so I won't add anything else about the trip. I won't go on about the songs we listened to on the way home and the memories they brought to the surface, or the minor car issue, or the premature departure and the call back, or the moving movie we watched, or the old friends encountered, or the... There's too much to include here, other than that it was great.
As for my answer to the Christmas songs I hate. Yes, I do have some, but it's simply not in my nature to dwell on the negative. (Maybe someday I'll be able to make that statement and believe it to be true. For now, I'm still working on that attitude). I would still love to here your responses.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Author Interview with Tamara Wilhite

Tamara Wilhite is a science fiction and horror author, engineer, and mother of 2 (humans). Check out Tamara’s Amazon Author Page and see her on Hubpages.

Please tell me a little about your current work in progress.

I have a weekly column with Liberty Island Magazine. I’ve recently been interviewing science fiction and horror authors for that publication. This year, I started publishing book reviews and author interviews with N3F or National Fantasy Fan Federation, as well.
Then there’s the steady stream of work for clients. I write everything from frugal living articles to real estate copy to “what do I do about this error message on my smart fridge?” Projects like that sometimes spawn ideas for my fictional works or my technical columns.

Where did you get the idea for this book or series?

In the case of Liberty Island Magazine, I asked if they were interested in speculative nonfiction articles. The editor asked for examples, and I literally sent him half a dozen. What are the hidden problems with self-driving cars that I see as an engineer? Why have we almost forgotten the entire genre set on the bottom of the ocean?
I watch and read sci-fi and wonder about things like this. They liked the variety and the fact that I could generate so many such pieces. 

Do you write in more than one genre?

I write everything except mystery and romance. Technical writing pays the bills. Science fiction and horror are a passion of mine.
How I ended up in technical writing is its own story. In college, I knew I could write and survive engineering. I chose a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. I ended up writing engineering reports or assembly instructions for a production line I’d designed.
The company I worked for at the time was rolling out shop floor data management software. I took it upon myself to read the 800 page manual. I took notes, too. I gave my opinion on software configuration for routers and work instructions.
It was a group joke that I had actually asked for the manual to take home and read in a weekend and had actually done so. After all, I had my notes to prove it.
The Monday of the software launch, I was besieged by shop floor workers desperate for help. “I heard you read the user manual. Can you help me?” I said I’d try. “Can you tell me how to log in to log my time?” Yes, I could do that. (The company spent so much time selling to stakeholders it forgot to ensure they knew the basics.) Then I wrote how to references for each job title.
A week later, an IT manager came in angry that I had released unauthorized software documentation. He was holding a print out of one of my references; they’d been forwarded across the company, and someone had called the helpdesk referencing it.
My defense? Work was at a standstill on the shop floor, and I was helping them do their jobs. Why hadn’t people called the help desk? They had, but it was overwhelmed with calls. My boss said, “Tamara, you’re in the wrong department. I’m reassigning you.” I worked there for a decade before becoming a freelancer.

Tell me about something that you believe makes your writing unique or worthy of attention.

Nearly every story starts with a headline or discovery. The story is my extrapolation of where it can and will go given human nature. If positive or neutral, it is science fiction. If negative, it is horror.

Is there anything about your personal history or personality that manifests strongly in your writing?

Barring my rare werewolf or ghost story, they are all a technical professional’s thought experiment - and thus plausible. 

What else would be helpful for readers to know about you?

Positive, uplifting science fiction led me to become an engineer. I wanted to help create that future I saw. In my professional opinion, one reason we have to push kids into STEM today is because of how dark and depressing most of the modern young adult science fiction is. Bring back “Ringworld”, “Foundation”, and “Dragonriders of Pern”. You’ll get working fusion and affordable nanotech in a generation. Just look at the list of real life inventions Star Trek led to – and give them more material to work with.

Excluding your own work, what underrated author or book would you recommend that more people read? Why?

A masterpiece of the science fiction writing craft is “In Conquest Born” by Celia S. Friedman. The interrelationships between characters and the evolution of the main characters as they wage a personal and empire wide war are amazing.

I’d add Octavia Butler’s “Xenogenesis” series. It is an excellent look at a truly alien species. You learn part of this from the aliens themselves, but you learn even more through its human hybrids. (We’re a captive species they’re saving from extinction, so we don’t have much choice in the matter.) Ethical quandaries, truly alien aliens and pushing the limits of what it means to be human, it pushes the limits of imagination.

Which of your books do you most highly recommend? Why?

“Humanity’s Edge.” With a dozen short stories, you’re going to like something in it. It is available as an ebook and audio book.  

Which break, event, decision, or fortuitous circumstance has helped you or your writing career the most?

I sent a dark sci-fi story to a horror editor by mistake. And he responded! The story is that he was looking at vampire stories, ghost stories, mundane stuff for him … and here’s a story about death by nanites. It got points for being different.
He asked if I meant to submit it to their science fiction magazine or if he could publish it. I said if you’ll publish it, I don’t care what publication it is in. I ended up in half a dozen or more horror publications that way. This is why many of my first published short stories are in horror anthologies, not science fiction ones.
All of this was before I began freelance technical writing for pay. That career path sprung from my day job.  

What question do you wish you would get asked more often?

What do we need to do to inspire more engineers and scientists? Alternatively, how do we turn science fiction into science fact?

Do you have a catch-phrase or quote that you like? What is it? And why do you choose it?

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. - Albert Camus. That quote often feels like a summary of my life.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Last week I had considered a humorous fisking of some comments from Greta's infamous meltdown in September, along with a bit of Jason Momoa's brief speech given a short time later to some UN group. However, after re-reading their comments, I realized a couple things. First, I really wasn't interested in rehashing either the accusatory whimpering of a pampered teen or the somewhat less dramatic--read transcendentally boring--rant of an overpaid actor/activist. Second, I imagined that anything I might say about it would be even less interesting than the original remarks.

That was last week. I didn't write anything last week because I was under attack--not from activists who were threatening to place me against the wall, but from invisible invaders. Obviously, I had gone out without my tin foil hat (check out the link and read the reviews) in a weak moment and was paying the price. Actually, I think it's merely a cold. I detected the presence of the tiny covert ops on Friday. They had not done enough damage to trouble me at the Friday night performance of the radio show. By Saturday morning the operatives had openly declared their war and had thrown wide the gates for their allies. I fought them off long enough to join some friends in helping another friend load her U-haul, and then I returned home to marshal my forces against the assault. I did most of the marshaling from a reclined position while I stocked myself with fluids, with frequent breaks to attempt clandestine naps (all of which failed) or to challenge my reflexes with a television remote control. 

Although my fluid stockpiling and all-out counter attack naps prevented me from succumbing completely to the invaders, I was nevertheless greatly weakened when it came time for the Saturday night radio show performance. I made it through, barely. A couple times I stood at the mic with a throat so dry that I suspected desert sand might fall from my lips. Each time I was pleasantly surprised to discover words in the appropriate character voice spilling out instead of a stream of Saharan sands. The show was a tremendous success in spite of my association with the other, more talented performers. I am sad to say that I was too ill to attend the after-party. I returned home for more fluids and no-quarter-sleep-sorties.

I stumbled through the week with a voice which seemed to issue from Malebolge, the eighth circle of the Inferno. Every time I spoke with the clerks with whom I deal frequently, they commented upon how terrible I sounded. So at least it kept the derogatory commentary confined to a single topic.

I did do a little bit of writing on Book 3 as I'm currently calling it. I think most of what I wrote was passable, but I did have to go back later to insert details that I had forgotten. I guess that's what I get for writing with half my brain trying to repel boarders.

I did finish a week or so ago, The Sons of Brabant, by Michael Bolan. 

I would like to post an interview with the author if I'm ever able to contact him. He had an author web page but it doesn't seem to be functioning at present. The book is available for free on Amazon.

I also finished The Two Towers. I picked up a few free books: Heroes Wanted, an anthology, as well as Paradise Lost, and The Faerie Queen for future reading. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

"Bridge at Chalons" is the first episode of season 2 of Combat! It wasn't the next episode on my list for viewing. I found it looking for an episode with the theme of blowing a bridge as I wanted to try some WWII action for my skirmish game. The game has already proved itself with musketeers, frontiersmen and Indians, Martians, Trek, and probably a western on which I'm still working--but I digress. I won't do a review or recap here of this Combat! episode. I merely wanted to note that it scores 2 out of 3 on the Combat! Excellence Scale: 1. It featured combat, including a German 2-man machine gun firing from a cemetery, and grenades and explosives. 2. It wasn't about the NPCs. The guest star, Lee Marvin, did not disappoint, but he did not become the show. He also helped bring out the prominent character features/flaws in the regulars. Saunders got to shine, overcoming all obstacles, including the guest star. Only on point number 3 did the episode fail to please--there was little-to-no French spoken in the episode. I give it 4 of 5 on the combat score, 5 of 5 on the character and guest star score, and 0 of 5 on the French score for a total of 9 out of 15. It's definitely one I could enjoy re-watching. I'll probably re-watch when I do a review so I can get some pictures.


On a more serious note, the well pump handed in its resignation last Sunday. I managed to put off acceptance for a couple days until Tuesday when I had the time to replace it. Two things stand out about the whole experience. First, a fine friend not only helped with the pump replacement, he also did all the driving as we went to get the new hire and the requisite accessories. My dad, and son, and boss also came to assist in the project. Second, the new hire cost two to three times what it should have. HR was all accommodating in providing the replacement and everything else but deferred telling me the price when I asked, indicating we would settle up when I brought back the lifting tool they had lent to me for the task. I had priced new pumps and knew the expected range. I suspected that this pump would be at the high end of that spectrum. I did not expect it to be double the anticipated cost. Color me soured. There is no doubt whatsoever that I would have gone somewhere else if they had not hidden the cost until after I had installed the pump. I hope that was the last repair of the year. For Christmas, we have water. I may put a bow on the faucet.


Thanksgiving came this year in that fashion to which we have grown accustomed. We had a small gathering of part of the family. The turkey I smoked didn't turnout as fabulous as had the one last year, but it was good. Thor, the Ice Queen, and the Corsican Brothers came for the thankful festivities. (Thankfestivities? Thanktivities?) I persuaded Thor to test my skirmish game. He chose a Federation versus Klingons scenario in which a mysterious tractor beam had destroyed a Klingon battle cruiser and threatened to do the same to the Enterprise. Thor ran the Klingons who, always ready to attach blame to the Federation, refused all efforts at cooperation. Chekov had the only working phaser. He had not moved from his beam-down spot before the enemy disruptor killed him. Kirk elected to forego the combat advantage he had and attempted to persuade the Klingon commander of the necessity of cooperation if they were to have any chance of saving themselves. That commander rebuffed his pleas and burned him down where he stood. McCoy met the same fate, and he was armed with nothing more than a nonworking tricorder. When the tractor beam crushed the Enterprise, Scotty was cornered by Klingons and a venomous wolf-like creature. He never even got a chance to disable the beam. Ironically, Scotty, the last crewman standing, was the only model wearing a red shirt.


Snow and lights provided the theme for the rest of the weekend. Snow visited on Friday and drifted to a depth of nearly a foot--by which I mean the standard measurement, not someone's particular foot--in front of my garage. The new snowblower--and by "new" I mean I have no idea how old it is as it came from the estate of a friend who passed away earlier this year, but it's new to me--started right up and didn't die until I tried utilize it for its designated purpose. It wouldn't start again. I left it and shoveled for only a few minutes before I decided to put fresh gas in the blower and try again. It then started right up and did in fact blow snow--much of which the wind brought back into my face. It also left about a quarter inch of compacted snow in its wake. So I still had to shovel that.

Saturday morning drifted in like a breath exhaled in cold winter air, but it soon warmed up. When wife and daughter had finished their errands, wife asked me if I was going to put up the Christmas lights. The thought had not crossed my mind. Last year my son and I had joined in that activity. This year my wife helped. I'm not exaggerating much when I say that we did an entirely adequate job of stringing Christmas cheer about two and half sides of the abode, and adorning the crab apple and dead maple with polychromatic yuletide hopes. I think Polly Chromatic would make a good character name. Would she be an artist? A paint salesman? A singer who can't hold a note? As you can imagine, the possibilities are finite.


Now for a note on the progress of Book 3 (I really need a good title for this one) of Tomahawks and Dragon Fire: It is exciting. I'm only 40 some pages in, and I can already tell that this book is even more exciting and action-packed than the two previous entries in the series. Friday and Saturday, while others were shopping, I digitally carved some characters in motion. The aftermath of the big ending in Power to Hurt is slopping over into the next set of plot complications and character advancements with musket fire, tomahawk chops, and some magic which may have been suspected by the more astute readers but which had not previously been revealed. I have revealed written it. Where it goes remains to be seen. Is there more magic to come? Get the books now and find out.