Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lunar Eclipse and New Writing

I wasn't able to see the August 28 lunar eclipse, but Jerry Oltion—SF writer, amateur astronomer, and member of our Launchpad astronomy team—sent us a photo he took. I thought it was so beautiful, I asked his permission to put it here on my blog:

Photo by Jerry Oltion

Seeing the photo reminded me of one of the NASA pages I read prior to the eclipse, suggesting that we imagine what it would be like to stand on the moon during an eclipse, surrounded by that incredible copper-glowing landscape. I think it would be a pretty mind-blowing experience. And as Jerry said, "Imagine what the Earth would look like from there. A dark hole in the sky with city lights glowing in it, surrounded by a ring of blood-red atmosphere."

Here's a montage Jerry put together, of the phases of the eclipse:

Jerry has larger images on his website, and they're worth a look; these smaller reproductions don't do them justice.

Meanwhile, I've been putting finishing touches on a short story (my first in many years!) that I hope will find its way into print eventually. More on that when I have something to report. (The name of it is "Dog Star.")

Starting a new book is often just about the hardest thing in the world for me, and I've been having a devil of a time getting anywhere with the beginning of the next Chaos book, to follow Sunborn. Tonight, I decided to take Buckbeak out for a spin after dinner, in hopes that the night air would clear my head and bring some inspiration. It worked, at least a little bit. I came home with a couple of new thoughts on how to make this beginning work, and I've started putting it down in pixels and electrons. Feeling more hopeful, and now let me get back to it!

"Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art." —Leonardo da Vinci

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Buckbeak and Dragonbreath

I haven't posted for a while, and the reason is I've been cleaning my garage. Really. Well, at least partly. It all started when we bought Dragonbreath. Dragonbreath is a Honda moped we bought secondhand for my wife to ride to work—the big idea being to save money on gas and car repairs, and make the commute a little more fun. Well, she has been having fun riding it—and furthermore, I discovered I liked grabbing it for a ride when she got home.

We had no intention of buying a second moped. But when someone posted to our town email list that she had a low-mileage Tomos moped that had sat in a garage for about seven years, and now she couldn't get it running, and a hundred bucks or best offer would take it away...well, we went to look at it. Not sure if it was a good idea. Who knows if we could get it running? I bought it. Named it Buckbeak, after the hippogryph in Harry Potter.

Much tinkering ensued. Here's what I wrote at the time, beginning a blog post that I never finished: "I gave Buckbeak its first real road test yesterday, and experienced a couple of "soft seizes," as they refer to it on the moped owners' forums. Abrupt engine stoppage. Turned out the oil-injector pump wasn't working, and I was running with basically no oil. Not good. Doesn't seem to have hurt it too badly, as far as I can tell running it today in the driveway. (I've now filled it with pre-mixed gas/oil, after reading the widespread opinion that the oil injectors are junk, and best disabled or removed anyway.) However, I must wait for Allysen to come home from work with our one helmet, so I can road test again. (She's getting me my own helmet for my birthday.)"

Yeah, I seized the engine. And got it running again, anyway. It's running great now, and as promised, I got a helmet for my birthday. And I love taking it for rides around town, running short errands that were annoying and seemed wasteful of gas in the car. (Too soon to be sure, but I think I'm getting over 100 miles per gallon.) And those Slovenians make a pretty tough little moped, for it to have survived my resurrection blunders. (Yeah, the Tomos is made in Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia. We used to joke about wanting to own a Yugo. And now we do.)

So what's this have to do with cleaning the garage? Well, part of the agreement to buy Buckbeak was that we had to clean the garage, because that was the only way we could possibly fit both bikes into it (along with various regular bicycles and work benches and lawn junk and, oh yeah, a camping trailer). We have never even aspired to actually fitting a car in our garage. To give you some idea of the magnitude of the job: about two years ago, we rescued some kitchen cabinets a neighbor was throwing out, thinking they would help us organize the garage. They sat piled in the middle of the garage like Richard Dreyfus's "Devil's Tower" in the movie Close Encounters, ever since. A year ago, we bought a hammer drill at a yard sale, thinking, this will help us put those cabinets up on the cinderblock walls of the garage. This year...we're actually doing it! A few more weekends, and I think we'll have it done.

So that's why I spent my birthday weekend cleaning the garage—so that Dragonbreath and Buckbeak could have a nice place to stay.

I'll post a picture when we get one.

"The writer's way is rough and lonely and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say, cleaning ferryboats [or garages]?" —Dorothy Parker


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Lose

A few days ago, I got an email from a reader, telling me she and her family had informally named their dog Lopo Lupeko, and she thought I'd like to know. I sat there scratching my head for a little while, thinking, why did she tell me that? Did she confuse me with another writer?

Finally a tiny bell starting ringing way in the back of what passes for my mind. Something...but what...? I opened up the directory on my computer where all my book files are kept and did a search for "Lopo." Sure enough, what popped up was my novel Down the Stream of Stars. As soon as I opened the file and found the spot, it all came back in a rush. Of course! Lopo is a dog-like creature who lives in the circ-zoo on the starship my heroine Claudi is traveling on! Lopo helped save everyone from the Throgs! How could I forget?

In my defense, I did write the novel over 15 years ago. But still, you'd think a writer would remember his own characters, wouldn't you?

Maybe not. The next night I took a short story I'd just drafted to my writing group for vetting, and Richard says to me, regarding the main human character, "Didn't you have a villain named Jarvis in one of your novels?" I sit scratching my head, willing to believe anything at this point. Then I remember: Jarvorus, the false-iffling in Dragon Rigger. Close enough!

I wonder if it's time for me to reread all my own stuff, so I won't keep redoing it.

"Write a wise saying and your name will live forever." —Anonymous

Labels: , ,

A Star That Sheds Like Our Cat!

By now, you've probably seen news reports about the star Mira (pronounced my-rah), in the constellation Cetus. It's barreling through the galactic medium at unusual speed and as a result is shedding a trail of starstuff. In the ultraviolet pictures from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, it looks like a comet:

The Star

Our cat

You might not have seen the cool animation NASA has online, though, along with explanation of how it is probably a bow-wave effect that's causing the tail.

There's supplemental material on another NASA page.

I can't believe how much great astronomy has been coming our way in the last year or two.

"It is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn." —Robert Southey

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Off to College!

It finally happened, and we survived it. We took our older daughter Lexi to begin her college career. She was nervous, her mom bore up but not without traumatic pangs, her sister was quiet, and I was shell-shocked. (Well, what with one last-minute preparation thing and another, we managed to only get about an hour or so of sleep before getting up at 5:30 a.m. to hit the road. So once we were there, and she was moved in, and Allysen and I were attending presentations for the parents, a certain amount of nodding off was taking place.)

Anyway, she's there and we're home, and we hope all is rolling smoothly toward the beginning of a great college career. I have great faith in her, and my only concern is how we're going to manage here without her. Here's a picture she took of herself and me a couple of days before leaving:

"I'm scared all the time, which is always good. You have to be scared or you're not working hard enough." —Sue Grafton


Monday, August 06, 2007

Sunborn Pub Date—Finally!

I'm happy to report that Sunborn (Chaos Chronicles #4) finally is firmly in the Tor schedule. I'm less happy to report that it's been pushed to Fall 2008! (As I recall, I went all-out to get it finished so it could make the 2007 schedule. However, revisions and delays and various back-and-forthing has resulted in its being pulled and reslotted several times. So, Fall 2008. To those of you who have been waiting so patiently and understandingly, thank you and please stick with me just a little longer. (Now, don't mind me while I go off in the corner here and quietly scream: "Aaaaaiiiiiiieeeeee!")

The good news is, there's now more lead time to solicit quotes from influential voices—not so much, as you might think, to adorn the cover, but more to generate enthusiasm within the sales and marketing halls of the publisher. Yes, expectation is everything, and if those responsible for selling it are excited about it, chances for a successful promotion go way up. (Now, that's all assuming it gets good quotes. Let's not put the rocket before the nosecone.)

Anyway, there you have it: Tor Books, Fall 2008.

"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words." —Mark Twain

Labels: , , ,

Masters of Science Fiction

I was probably the last on my block to hear about it, but thank heavens I did. ABC premiered a new, not-quite-series called Masters of Science Fiction last Saturday evening. Fortunately, I saw something in the paper in time to set my DVR and catch it. It's an anthology series (or not-quite series, since ABC hasn't committed to continuing it beyond a few episodes) featuring adaptations of short stories by noted SF writers, including Kessel, Heinlein, Ellison, and others. Each story will be intro'd, and I guess outtro'd, by the voice of physicist Stephen Hawking, ala Rod Serling.

I quite enjoyed the first episode, "A Clean Escape," based on a short story by John Kessel. Well written and acted, and pretty powerful.

Who knows how long this will last, so watch it and support it (Saturday evenings at 10, Eastern time). Maybe if it gains an following, ABC will see that there's an audience for more than one intelligent SF show on TV! Wouldn't that be great?

"The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write." —Gabriel Fielding

Labels: ,