Minutia and Writing Updates

No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:

A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:

Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.

Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6 CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.

Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….

The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.

So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…

Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:

  • no sex
  • no swearing
  • not too much gore

Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…

Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.

Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.

Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.

B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.

On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :

  • secure VPN
  • secure website hosting

Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…

C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.

Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.

D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.

E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.

One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.

So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.

And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…

Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.

And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.

Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.

Picturesque old wheelbarrow, with lots of freshly stacked bricks in the background. Those with sharp eyes can perhaps spot the much too long bolts where the handles first encounter the tub, and even the thick wire crimped on them; the gratifyingly straight struts connecting the wheel to the tub. Yes, I took a picture of my wheelbarrow. At night. Just to throw up on the blog. Yep. Really did that.

F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.

Yes, I am freaking INSANE.

  1. Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.

Family Life

Beloved younger daughter got up today at maybe 5:00 a.m. to make conchas in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Happy, holy, and blessed feast day, BTW.)

Mexican Conchas: The Cookie-Topped Bread With a Mysterious ...
Conchas. Traditional Mexican treat.

When I got up just before 6:00, she was rolling out dough on the table, and explained that something had gone wrong with the dough. She couldn’t fix it fast enough before work, and would I please bake the cinnamon bread she was winging from the dough she was rolling out?

Sure. Now, she’s a fabulous baker, I have no idea what made the dough unacceptable to her, but – I let the cinnamon bread rise, popped it in the oven, and it is delicious. Her mistakes are better than what most people, me most definitely included, can pull off when we do it right.

So this information is being relayed to the family as we come in from Mass to a delicious smelling house. Some minor confusion over the story arises; I attempt a quip along the lines: best not to try to think about it too hard, as the cinnamon bread is un-conchas. Unlike the bread, the joke fell flat.

16 year old son deadpans: that joke had a lot of potential.

Put in my place by the Caboose.

Home “Improvement” Micro-update

Remember my recent follies with garden hose repair? Which resulted in this?

Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson are appalled….

…which failed within seconds of trying it? Good times.

So I did eventually run down to Ace and pick up hose repair items. There was another hose to repair that I didn’t show the first time around, where I assessed the problem, got the right size/wrong direction (needed the female, got the male), BUT! after that small diversion & an exchange, patched it up in 2 minutes, back in use, no problem since. So, I can, in fact, do this, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

No, really.

So: the abomination up above had no such easy solution. Ace didn’t carry the exact kit I needed – this funky spiral hose is smaller than the standard sizes, so I had to get one just a *tiny* bit too large. This meant I couldn’t get the hose to slide cleanly on, so had to try a number of things…

Eventually, maybe 3rd? fourth? try, I used a lighter to heat up the hose, softening and expanding it, and was thus able to wrestle it onto the little nub, and, well:

There you go. What I should have done the first time. Except for that whole “is this cheap old hose even worth repairing?” question, with the implied “it will only break somewhere else if I fix it here” niggling concern….

It seems like it was only yesterday – because it was only yesterday – that I got the initial problem solved satisfactorily, after giving the tangled hose a pull and popping the hose off the repair shown above. Heated it more, wrestled it farther on, clamped it down good, looked/worked good.

Watering the plant on and around the patio this morning, the hose started leaking audibly from the connection to the faucet. In keeping with this comedy of errors, the picture I took of the problem also failed somehow – a first for this phone camera.

Sooooo – I’d need probably a little tiny pipe clamp to fix this. Or I could, you know, get another hose.

But that would be too easy….

Monday Mish-Mash

A. This scrap of flash fiction seems somehow relevant.

Minchinhampton Common: where the cow is king but only just ...

B. At first glance, I thought Amazon was trying to sell me bulk shotgun shells:

“Your go-to Solution” seemed a little dark for corporate America.

C. Is that, is that – Caleb Jones?

D. On a less light note: the recent Supreme Court ruling giving those confused about their sex cover as a protected class is, ultimately, the final puzzle piece in the 200+ year effort to bring all schools completely under the control of the state. As usual, the stated goals are a smokescreen: the champions of this ruling were talking fairness, discrimination, and mean old bigots, not ‘we can now sue private schools out of existence and lock up homeschoolers and take away their kids.’ But that is what this is about.

More detailed post when I can stomach it.

Home ‘Improvement’ Update: Hosed

When we last checked in, like, yesterday, I had tried to MacGyver (for values of ‘MacGyver’ where he’s suffered debilitating brain aneurysms) a leaky hose. For reasons lost to the mists of History – yes, capital ‘H’ – (and shall remain so enmisted). I deployed a plastic sleeve, about a gallon of Shoe Goo, a few feet of nylon cord, thus:

After allowing the Shoe Goo to cure overnight, I applied some electrical tapea. A LOT of electrical tape:

I’m sure you all are dying to hear how it worked.

Time to failure: about 10 seconds. Slow drip. Then, over the next few minutes as I watered the patio plants, we reached this appalling state:

That would be a fail. A big fat dramatic fail mocking my insane yet evidently pathetic repair efforts. Geysers and puddles level fail. When I start getting cocky, y’all can remind me of this.

It isn’t stupid if it works. This is stupid. I sense a trip to Ace in my immediate future.

Rube Goldberg & Home ‘Improvement’

And now for something completely different….

From my farm boy entrepreneur father, I inherited the can-do attitude of simply thinking an awful lot of problems can be solved if you just go at it. In general, this has served me well. For example, I am generally willing to pay people to work on our cars or plumbing – I can do, sure, but lacking the expertise (and all those nice tools!) it’s better to have the pros do it. *How* I came to realize this involves, not some abstract considerations, but rather, flooding a bathroom and lying on my back outside on the asphalt in the dead of winter under a VW bug pulling on an accelerator cable. Among other equally, um, memorable, experiences. So, unless it’s pretty straight-forward, I’ll call the plumber or electrician (don’t ask) and take my cars in for service.

Plus I’m cheap. I don’t like throwing broken things out, and do like jury-rigging solutions out of stuff lying around. This leads to thing like the compost box that took several *days* to build out of an old oak futon frame, leftover wainscoting boards, and wire mesh scraps, among other things. On the plus side, works OK and it’s still there 3 years later; on the down side, I’m never getting that time back and could have made something at least as functional out of a couple sheets of plywood and some 2 x 4s in about 2 hours – which I will need to do in the near future anyway, as the needlessly complicated present one is falling predictably apart. .

So, got up early today, and was watering plants on the patio. The hose for the patio is one of those spiral stretchy ones that’s quite a few years old. A while back, it sprung a leak near the middle.

Do I say: old cheap hose, we’ve got our money’s worth, toss it, as the first leak is generally a sign of more leaks to come? Or: I’ll see if they have the appropriate hose patch kit at Ace?

OR: do I grab some electrical tape and have at it?

So the tape held for a short while, then started leaking, then spraying. Next, I tried slathering on some Shoe Goo and covering with duct tape. That was – not good. So, this morning, I decide to give it one more go. Because I’m kinda stupid that way.

I’m thinking the Shoe Goo wasn’t a bad idea, I just needed more and a longer cure time. And that the rapid failure of the duct tape effort might have something to do with goopy, lumpy terrain due to the previous attempts…

So, I cut out the bad section entirely, find a plastic sleeve thing that fits over the hose, slather on the Shoe Goo in a manner intended to cause the sleeve to spread it out when I shove it over the ends. And I stick it together…

Then I start worrying that there’s not enough strength along the length of the hose, that this patch will pull out when I drag the hose around. Soooo – looking around for something handy, I spy some nylon cord. Hmmm. Cut a few lengths longer than the patch job, and Shoe Goo them on. That doesn’t look right…

So I wrap the length of the repair in the cord, and Shoe Goo *that* on. Then decide that, after it dries, I’ll wrap the whole thing in electical tsape, extending a good 6″ on either side of the repair…

Did I mention that, while fiddling around with all this, I pulled the hose out of the sleeve at least 3 times, and, ramming back in means I’m also putting Shoe Goo on the *inside* of the hose, where it will not help and may very well clog the hose.

So, instead of throwing an old hose away, instead of looking for a repair kit next time I’m at Ace, I wasted spent a half hour doing this:

I wish I were confident that this is the most ridiculous repair job I’ve ever attempted, but I can’t actually be sure. Which is a little scary…

And then I’m going to waste a hundred feet of electrical tape to cover this monstrosity up. Any bets on how fast it springs a leak somewhere else, in the unlikely event this doesn’t just fail out of the chute or that I ended up clogging it up with Shoe Goo, or both?

Sheesh.

Big Fish

“A Submarine.”

“And a motorcycle. Indian, by the looks of it.”

Edgar nodded, then returned his gaze to his heavily bandaged hand. His scrambled eggs, slathered with half a bottle of hot sauce, were half finished.

“Barge operator saw it, too. Tried to avoid it.” Bill shook his head, and stared into his coffee cup.

“Shame about the old bridge.”

“So the barge operator ran into the old Vicksburg Bridge because he was trying to avoid a submarine? In the Mississippi?” My orange juice sat untouched.

“And a motorcycle.”

“Stars and bars on the sub,” Bill added, “12-pound Napoleon mounted on the nose, look like.”

“Like that one they used to have down in the park in Success?”

“Yep.”

Bill and Edgar fell silent. “So, this submarine, surfacing in the Mississippi near the old Vicksburg Bridge, had a Confederate battle flag and a Civil War era artillery piece mounted on it?”

“Snagged the Indian.”

“Nice bike, just wedged there under the barrel.”

I soldiered on. “And the barge operator lost control and rammed the bridge piling trying to avoid it?”

“That, and the catfish.”

Bill rolled his eyes. “Nobody saw that but you, Ed.”

Ed glared and raised his bandaged hand. “This look like imagination to you?”

“Probably cut it on that old water heater.”

I must have looked confused. I certainly was. Bill explained.

“We was noodling in the shallows.”

“Had ahold of a big old flathead, musta been 100 pounds at least.”

Bill looked unconvinced. “We’d dropped an old water heater down there last year, ’cause the big catfish’ll take up residence in ’em sometimes.” He looked away from Edgar. “Not every time.”

“Had my arm up to my shoulder down that old boy’s throat, grabbing at his gills, came up for air, dragging ‘im out, right when the submarine surfaced. ”

“I must’ve missed it.”

“You was looking at the sub!” Edgar looked hurt. “But the bargeman saw it!”

“Right. He’s looking right past a Confederate sub at some catfish. Sub’s old hat. Don’t see catfish everyday.”

“Confederate sub?” I was trying to piece this together.

“Beauregard Forrest Jones. Of an old family hereabouts.”

“Always a bit crazy, the Jones.” Edgar shook his head.

“1861. Jones gets a look at Hundley’s American Diver.”

“Old Jones was not about to let some dandy from N’Orleans show him up.”

“Has to one up him.” Edgar shoveled some eggs. “Confederacy had a $50,ooo reward for a working submarine.”

“Greybacks. Worth about a buck fifty.”

Edgar and Bill chuckled.

“Then Hundley drowned and the war ended on him.” Bill sipped his coffee.

“Union woulda taken it, if they’d a known it was there.”

On display beside Bayou St. John, 1890s

“Jones was a proud man.”

“And crazy.” Edgar finished his eggs, pulled a handkerchief from his pocked, and wiped his face.

“We’ve established that.” Bill put down his empty cup, and waved off a thin, older woman in a plaid apron who was coming to refill it. “No thanks, Velma, honey.”

“So the story goes Jones hid the thing in some backwater around here.”

“Took it out at night, once in a while, when the old rebels would get together to reminisce.”

“Would fire off that cannon.”

“Yep. The South did occasionally rise again, if only from two fathoms down.”

They laughed again.

I tried to process this information. “So a crazy old man had a home-built submarine from the Civil War hidden in the Mississippi, that he took out at night for old time sake – and nobody noticed?”

“That’s what I heard.” Velma cleared the formica table. I put a hand over my still-untouched orange juice.

“Left it to his son, who left it to his, and so on down the line.” Bill mopped his brow. The day was growing hot, humid, and still.

“Asked ol’ Caleb Jones about it, one time, he weren’t sayin’ nothin’.”

“Last time anybody owned up to seeing it was maybe, what, ’87?”

“Until last week.”

“The barge pilot will confirm this?” I asked.

“Hank? Hell, no.” Bill asserted. “It’s his barge, he’ll want to pretend nothing happened rather than own up to running into a bridge like the damn fool he is.”

“Maybe he’d confirm that catfish,” Edgar mused. “A big ‘un. Huge.”

“Right. That somehow disappeared just as I turned around.”

“Couldn’t hold ’em! I got distracted by the submarine!”

Opening Crawl

It is a time of crisis.

Bad things have happened.

We messed up. Greed, stupidity, the usual.

It is about to get worse.

Only a few of us remain, huddled and desperate.

They are out to get us.

One man has been thrust into a situation not of his choosing.

Only he can stop them.

But he needs to get this thing.

With this thing he can stop them.

This thing is in a place hard to get to.

This is a story of a guy getting this thing that is hard to get to save us from them.

(cue: gunfire and explosions.)

(Been watching more YouTube sci fi shorts. Think I’ve seen them all now. )