Save Kepler!

I know being an independent writer is a struggle. It’s partly why I’m shopping Holland Bay to an agent. But the numbers and the reader feedback seem to favor Northcoast Shakedown and Bad Religion. Road Rules sometimes pokes through the crowd, but it’s normally the Keplers that draw readers. A spike in one novel tends to carry sales of The Compleat Kepler, the collection of Nick Kepler shorts up to and including “Lady Luck.”

But one novel seems to always lag behind. The reviews always seem to be good, but even Kevin Burton Smith, the genius behind Thrilling Detective, seems to have forgotten there was a book between Northcoast Shakedown and Bad Religion. Second Hand Goods is not feeling the love. What to do? What to do?

National Lampoon: Buy this magazine, or we will kill this dog.

And the dog’s name is “Kepler.” Think about it.

Well, I’m stealing a page from National Lampoon. Or rather a cover. Lampoon threatened to kill a dog if you didn’t buy their magazine. (And then PJ O’Rourke ran it into the ground. Come on, PJ. You’re better than that, even after you abandoned your subversive brand of conservatism to become a Tea Bagger.) We don’t have to worry about that because, once the novella Gypsy’s Kiss is done, the Kepler stories are done. Gypsys will be a reboot of the short story, with the setting changed to after the events of Bad Religion and an ending that…

Well, this is where I rip off Tony Hendra and PJ O’Rourke. I haven’t ended Gypsy’s Kiss yet. You’re going to decide how it ends. How?

Simple. I want to sell 50 copies of Second Hand Goods by July 31. This can be any combination of countries and formats. Fifty copies. If, on August 1, 2014, we’ve sold only 49 copies or less of Second Hand Goods, Nick dies at the end of Gypsy’s Kiss.

Yep. I’m holding Nick hostage to sell books. Gimmicky?

Sure is.

In conclusion, mwahahahaha.

And if you like the book, or any of the other books you buy, be a peach and leave an honest review where you bought it.

Friday Reviews: Hearts In Atlantis by Stephen King

Hearts in Atlantis

Stephen King

Following the pattern of Different Seasons, Stephen King creates four novellas. This one is different, however. It traces the lives of four children from a town in Connecticut: Bobby Garfield, Carol Gerber, Willy Shearman, and John Sullivan. The first novella, Low Men in Yellow Coats, is the story the movie Hearts in Atlantis is based upon. Ted Brautigan, an old man from parts unknown, moves into the apartment above where Bobby Garfield and his mother live. His mother dislikes Ted instantly, but Bobby and Ted forge a bond that has been lacking since Bobby’s father died. Ted, you see, is on the run from the Low Men, nasty creatures from King’s Dark Tower epic. Bobby learns what Ted believes to be a man and learns it well. While his best friend John Sullivan is away at camp, he saves Carol Gerber from a severe beating at the hands of some older toughs, one of whom is Willy Shearman.

Fast forward to the title novella, which refers to the narrator Pete Riley’s idea that America in the mid-sixties is Atlantis and that the war in Vietnam, which he soon finds himself protesting, is Atlantis slowly sinking into the sea. The titular “hearts” is a manic, almost 24/7 game of Hearts played in Pete’s dorm. The obsession causes many to drop out of school as their grades suffer, which means they will be dying overseas within months. Pete meets a girl, though, one who becomes a radical. Her name is Carol Gerber, and he considers Carol leaving school just as they become lovers to be the most serious loss of his life. Musing years later, when Carol has disappeared, believed to be dead, he wonders if he could have saved her.

Willy Shearman also wonders. The man who beat Carol as a child became a hero in Vietnam, saving the life of Carol’s high school sweetheart, John Sullivan. But Willy has seen where his original path was leading in a battle that resembles the My Lai massacre in all the wrong ways. So Willy does pennance. He travels by train from his home in suburban Connecticut to Manhattan, goes up to an office no one will ever visit, climbs through the ceiling to another office no one will ever visit, and changes into his disguise. He changes into another disguise as Blind Willy, the blind, wounded veteran. Willy chooses this disguise because, as he and Sully John (as John Sullivan is called all through the book), recovered from their wounds, Willy was blind. And as the blind beggar on Fifth Avenue, Bill Shearman does his penance for hurting Carol, wondering if she ever survived the manhunt that followed a botched bombing.

John Sullivan picks up the story, recounting the battle, those he fought alongside, and even some of Pete Riley’s former card shark pals. Sully John suffers from PTSD in the form of hallucinations. One of Pete’s dorm mates, the aptly named Malefant, bayonets an old woman to death, one of the horrors of war. The old woman appears to Sully John over the years, going from a reminder of the horror of war to an imaginary companion he knows is unreal, but has come to welcome anyway. She has not appeared for some time until 1999, when a fellow soldier’s funeral triggers her appearance. In a traffic jam, she even talks to him.

It is Sully John’s funeral that lures Bobby Garfield back to the story. He is shocked when a woman who “doesn’t know any Carol Gerber” shows up. Ted is mentioned. The Dark Tower is barely hinted at. And yet Bobby and Carol, each other’s first boyfriend/girlfriend, bring the story to a close by stashing something Bobby thought he’d lost in a hiding place they once used in a more innocent time.

I like that King wants to tell a story through five different novellas (Well, four and a short story). However, the crux of the story seems to be the sixties and its impact on those who lived through it. I don’t mind King injecting The Dark Tower into some of his work. It tends to unify his storytelling. However, most of Hearts in Atlantis takes place in a world where the supernatural is irrelevant. Otherwise, it was a beautiful sight watching these four people go from preteen to middle age in a way only King can write it.

Six Things Diabetics Are Sick Of Hearing

Oh face

Actually, other things make you go blind, too.
Gregg O’Connell, Creative Commons

Diabetes sucks. You can’t eat a lot of sweets. You have to prick your finger, which is not as much fun as fingering your prick. (Ahem)They might, yanno, chop off your leg if it starts rotting on you. (Always wanted a pegleg, though. It’d be a hit on International Talk Like a Pirate Day.) You might even go blind.

For some, like me, it’s manageable. Pop a couple of pills, exercise, and watch what you eat, and life is somewhat normal. Others have to shoot insulin several times a day, since their pancreas is basically just bogarting space below the liver. For those with diabetes that bad, life is an adventure. And not the good kind. However, there is one hazard of diabetes that even those with the mildest cases cannot avoid once it gets out that you pee urine sweeter than anything at Dairy Queen. What are they? Find out after the jump.

Go ahead. You taste it.

Go ahead. You taste it.

Continue reading

How Fast Do You Write?

I discovered not too long ago that morning is the best time for me to write. So I started forcing myself to get up at 5:30. Should be 5, but hey, anything before 6 AM is an achievement for me. With the new job closer and starting half an hour later than Medishack, I now have about 45 minutes to write between morning ablutions* and heading out the door. If I’m in the zone, I can bang out about a 1000 words, but I’m happy with 500.
There was a time when I was almost hypergraphic. If I was home, I wrote. If I had a few spare moments, I wrote. When I bought my first laptop, I’d spend hours at Starbucks writing. And I used to write at a pretty good clip.
But was it quality work? While I frequently was what Chuck Wendig calls a “pantser,” my biggest problem was writing so fast, I’d skip a word. Or three. Occasionally a whole paragraph. Even with an outline (which I cannot consistently do despite my best efforts), I write fast. Once, in the story about Himself, I spent an entire weekend just riffing and got 17,000 words for my trouble. Mind you, I was working on something that will never be read (and is up to 250,000 words as of the last thing I wrote in it. Wow!) Doing it for real?
Road Rules is about 55,000 words long. It’s original draft was roughly the same. Wrote it in 13 days.
13 days.
Stephen King wrote The Running Man in 72 hours (and says he’ll never be able to do it again.) Mickey Spillane wrote I, the Jury over a weekend. And yet Jack Kerouac spent months on On the Road. Philip Roth refuses to start a new page until the current page is perfect. Don’t know if he outlines. I’m guessing no, but that has to save a lot of editing time. John Scalzi writes 2000 words a day.
Yet most people can’t devote that time. I admit to being undiagnosed ADHD, which means when I focus on something, I have to seize on it like a poorly-raised pit bull because concentration is a rarity for me. But what if you’re not Stephen King? What if you’re not Scalzi or Spillane or, what the hell, even me (though I hope you’re more successful if you do write like me)?
Wendig says you can’t finish a novel if you don’t write. And if you do 350 words a day, that’s a novel in 9 months. George Pelecanos says if you write a page a day, you’ll have 365 pages in a year. That’s longer than most manuscripts.
You don’t have to do NaNoWriMo to write a novel. You don’t even have to try and get 1000 words out. Novels are about persistence, not production quotas. When your books start making money, then you’ll notice that it’s easier to block out time. Because, hey, those 50 books downloaded on Kindle will pay for groceries more than that unfinished manuscript that’s been sitting in a file cabinet for years.
*Oh, come on. Sheldon Cooper used the word. Deal with it.

Hitting The Trail

Abandoned rail signal on Little Miami TrailThis weekend, I start riding the Little Miami Trail, a different section each weekend. I began this ritual in 2007 when I would walk part of the trail. Took a lot longer since I could only walk so far, so I had to walk shorter sections. One afternoon, after walking into Loveland took longer than in previous years, I realized I’d be gone until evening if I walked back. There was a bike rental place in Loveland along the trail (which is one of that town’s biggest attractions), so rented a bike, through it in the back of our Santa Fe, and drove it back.

The trail is kind of a mental reset for me. I start in Newport, Kentucky, across the river from downtown Cincinnati. This is actually part of the Ohio River Trail, which has come together rather quickly. The completed section extends from the Levee, an entertainment and dining complex right on the Ohio River, to Lunken Airfield. In recent years, Lunken’s five-mile hiking loop has been extended to a park on the far side of the Beechmont Levee and also into a nature preserve across the Little Miami River.

There is a gap between Lunken and trail itself. I’ve improvised a route along the highway that runs between the trailhead and the airport. From there, the trail is 76 miles from suburban Cincinnati all the way to Yellow Springs, near Dayton.

The old Jeremiah Morrow BridgeIt’s been a year of change for the trail. One section is detoured in rural Warren County due to flood erosion. One of the trail’s most spectacular attractions, the 300+-foot Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, is being replaced with a new concrete bridge. One span is finished, and the trail was closed between Morrow and the tiny hamlet of Oregonia when the original northbound span was demolished. On a more upbeat note, Hamilton County has begun to extend the trail from the Newtown end to connect with another trail in nearby Anderson Township. Unfortunately, the date of construction on a section that would connect the existing trail to Lunken Airfield and the Ohio River remains “someday.”

I like being out on the trail. At one point, I would load up the iPod and ride all day. Last year, I was happy just to ride without sound. Normally, I start my ride on Easter Sunday. This year, the weather did not cooperate.It was not warm or dry enough until well into May. So naturally, I waited until this weekend, when temperatures are predicted to top 90 degrees and scattered thunderstorms are forecast. Hey, life is nothing without an adventure. My goal this year is to get all the way to Yellow Springs. However, in two years, I plan to start in Yellow Springs early in the morning and ride all the way to Newport, all 76 miles, part of a birthday week celebration I hope will include the Flying Pig Marathon.

With maybe a stop at the haunted factory near King’s Island.

Peters Cartridge Factory

Father’s Day

This Sunday is Father’s Day. I’ve been fatherless since 2004. I’ve been a stepfather since 2008. It sort of makes Father’s Day bittersweet for me.

When I think back on my dad, I realize who it was who gave me the tools to turn my life around. In the mid-1990’s, I was broke with no prospects, having dropped out of college with a ton of student loans to pay back. Then I realized my dad worked 60 hour weeks from the time he was 28 to let my mom stay at home with us kids. I always wished my father was around more, but I never resented him for it. When I hit my lowest point, it occurred to me that I could work 60 hours a week to turn things around if my dad did.

It was that mentality that got me out of debt. It was how I became a writer, went back to school, and even how I ended up marrying Nita. I used to worry that I didn’t measure up to my dad, whom my cousins all remember as being the nice uncle. Then I realized that any success I’ve had in life has had a lot to do with what he showed me.

One of my last memories of my dad was the first Father’s Day after we lost mom. We all missed mom badly, and my brother had us all up for the weekend. So on a sunny Father’s Day afternoon in 2003, my dad, my brothers, and my nephew sat around watching Porky‘s. Yeah. Porky’s, the same movie mom and dad swore we would never watch. And we laughed our fool heads off. We missed mom, but you could tell she was not around anymore when dad sat down with his sons and grandson to watch an R-rated teen comedy.

A few years after he died, I met Nita. I was single once again and, at 42, knew most of the women I would date would have children. Some, not all. I accepted this. I actually welcomed it. I had no children of my own, so if a new partner’s child or children accepted me on some level, I could have some of that experience.

Nita is extremely close to AJ. Even before her divorce, AJ stuck by his mother. The divorce hurt him, and having seen my nieces and nephews deal with such splits, I knew I’d be dealing with a lot of anger. But Nita made it very clear on our first date that they were a package deal. He was 13 at the time. I decided that, since he was five years (really less than that) from being an adult, I’d just treat him like one. I remember when I popped the question to Nita, I ended up begging AJ to let me marry his mom. (BTW, he thoroughly enjoyed watching us squirm while I blubbered like an idiot.)

I never insisted that I be treated as a father, but I treated AJ like he was my own. A lot of times, it’s left us figuring out what that means. I’ve never tried to insert myself between him and his father (whom none of us have heard from for years now). I’ve deferred to Nita on most parental decisions since I came about late in the game. Treating him as an adult seemed the best option. But AJ early on made it clear I was more than “Dude Who Married Mom,” which I would have been happy with.

This year, I’ve been informed I’m to do no yard work or housework this weekend. (Sounds like what we did for Nita on Mother’s Day.) And this year, for once, I’m comfortable with Father’s Day again.

Back That @$$ Up

backup plan cartoon

Maybe a bit extreme. From

This past weekend, I did a reread of the novella version of “Gypsy’s Kiss.” The ending is missing. It’s not the ending in the current version. There’s a really sweet scene where Kepler gives former call girl a dollar to formally end her career. The dollar was a silver dollar given to Nick by his grandmother.

And now it does not exist. I jumped on my tower, where I keep all my permanent copies. Nope. It’s gone. It’s not on my laptop. Not on the thumb drive, where everything I’m currently working on lives.

I’ve generally been pretty good about backing things up. Finish a story or an article, copy it to the tower. It’s saved my butt plenty of times. On the other hand, I’ve been good about not taking backup drives into work. Medishack would not have approved, and I’m pretty sure my new employer wouldn’t take kindly to it. Walking out with a portable hard drive in your pocket is likely to cause some suspicion. I could do this at BigHugeCo because I’d been there for over a decade and openly said I stashed my personal backups in my desk. No one was in a hurry to read the early drafts of Holland Bay.

Blue screen o' death

What could possibly go wrong?

They say if it’s important to you, back it up three times, at least one backup offsite. For some things, that’s difficult. Amazon and Dropbox give you a few GB of space for free, as does Google, but it starts getting pricey when you consider I have a huge music collection, having replaced much of my vinyl and cassette with downloads. Still, it’s something I have to rethink. I’m looking for editing work, for covers for hire, and to start building web sites again on the side. Clients have a right to expect their data is being stored somewhere safe and secure.

Back In The Old Days, Cars Came Only With AM And FM. And A Cassette Deck. And A CD Player. And We LIKED It!

Northland VW in Cincinnati, Greta's previous owner

Northland Volkswagen

This past weekend, I noticed a number of car ads featuring blind spot warnings, anti-collision systems that slam on the brakes, and, of course, the Cadillac’s that combine backup cameras with warning radar. What struck me is which models had this technology. While Cadillac is still a luxury brand, it’s often a harbinger for things to come for Chevy, Buick, and GMC. But the blind-spot warnings? Kia, the budget-priced line from Hyundai. Anti-collision braking? Subaru. Cars you or I might expect to own. I’m surprised Greta (the 2011 Jetta pictured left) does not have any of this yet, given that Volkswagen’s engineering rivals that of Benz and BMW (with the odd-for-Germany distinction of being easily reparable.)

But the Jetta has antilock brake that don’t feel like antilock brakes. My previous three cars had antilock that made you feel as though you were rolling over rough ground. I’ve had two occasions to slam on Greta’s brakes. The Jetta clearly has antilock, but it actually feels like brakes being slammed. The calipers and drums squeeze so fast that it’s clear the car is not going to go into a skid. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to send you flying through the windshield despite the seatbelt catching.

What struck me was how far we’ve come with cars. My first car, along with all the cars my dad owned up until the 1990’s, was a rear-wheel drive with no antilock (such things were about ten years into the future or only on expensive cars like Mercedes or BMW), no air conditioning, not even a cassette deck. My first car stereo was a boom box that I got very good with swapping tapes while flying down the freeway at 70 mph (long before Ohio had a 65 mph speed limit.) I didn’t own my first front-wheel drive car until about 1994. Every car I’ve since owned has had a tape deck or a CD player or both. Every car I’ve owned since 1999 has not had a spot of rust. Some of that is because I could afford newer cars, but at the 100,000 mile mark on the odometer, the cars had little if any rust at all on them. The body of my dad’s Taurus (a car I still miss despite its blandness) was still rust-free when I got rid of it.

57 Chevy

Photo by vegavairbob, Creative Commons

My dad’s first car was the classic 57 Chevy. A friend of mine in high school restored one. The car was a stick shift, which was standard up until the 1990’s. It had a heater and no air conditioner. Had the car been sold in the South originally, Detroit would have left out the heater. It did not have power steering. It didn’t have power anything. It would have reminded me of the Yugo had the cars not been so solidly built. Thousands of cars from that era still prowl the roads of Cuba fifty to sixty years later. But think about what came before.

Turn signals, invented in 1907, did not become standard until just before World War II. Between World War I and World War II, we had cars that had to be started by crank instead of key. The choke, a part that no longer exists on most modern cars (fuel injection, you know), had to be manually operated.

Softeis, Creative Commons

Softeis, Creative Commons

Before World War I? Cars were basically carriages with a primitive gasoline engine, sometimes electric, mounted underneath. The steering wheel? Sometimes it was a stick. Cars at the turn of the twentieth century were like PC’s in the 1980’s. There was no standard way to make one. No two looked alike. Even when cars began looking like the modern enclosed machines we know today, only the passenger seat in the back was enclosed. The driver, usually a hired driver since such vehicles were luxury items, sat out in the open., Creative Commons, Creative Commons

But if you really want to get primitive, you have to go back before Henry Ford, before the first Oldsmobile, before Daimler and Benz mounted the first gasoline engine beneath a horse carriage, all the way back to 1769, before the United States even existed. French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot mounted a steam engine, then an experimental technology much like today’s electric and plugin hybrid cars, on an artillery wagon, inventing the first viable automobile. There is evidence of a Jesuit priest building one in China about a century earlier, but the vehicle was too small for a passenger or driver. Cugnot built several for the French army. Two years later, one of Cugnot’s vehicles crashed into an arsenal wall, causing the world’s first traffic accident. Cugnot was fined for the incident, which gives him the dubious distinction of the world’s first traffic ticket.

Cugnot’s contraption needed to be constantly refired, had very little power – less than a lawn mower – and was hard to steer and brake. Now? Radar and self-stopping cars. Some parallel park themselves. Almost no one learns to drive stick anymore. Stereos, air conditioning, power steering, and power windows and locks are all standard. Some cars don’t even use keys anymore. And now we’re ten to fifteen years from hydrogen-powered cars and self-driving vehicles.