Friday, August 31, 2012

The Last Day

For the last day of my writing retreat, I opted to spend the afternoon at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Communing with the ocean where the waves meet the shore has always been, for me, a great way to center my thoughts and find perspective. A great way to remember that I am something small (not unimportant, but small) in a reality much greater. A great place to listen for the whispers of God.

When I'm away from the ocean, I forget how beautiful it is! And today I found possibly the greatest beauty in a place I'd seen before—stopped and looked at briefly before—but never taken the time to walk around and absorb. That's the salt marsh estuary behind the National Seashore Visitors Center.

There's something about the peacefulness of a salt marsh that's almost spiritual. It's God-breathed, teeming with life, a biologist's dream, and a remarkable buffer between land and sea that has elements of both. Grass, fish, birds, amphibians, fresh water and salt, the open ocean just beyond the protective spit of sand. You can almost close your eyes and see the millions of years of geologic change and biological evolution that brought you this place of quiet ferment, this thing of beauty that helps clean the sea and protect its young, and at the same time shields the land from the sea's fury. On this occasion I didn't see any charismatic birds or other animals, but in quiet contemplation I did feel the hint of divinity, and of the deep works of time.

Interestingly, I also perceived more clearly some things that have been eluding me, details that might well be important to The Chaos Chronicles, and to the story behind The Reefs of Time. In the salt marsh I saw some things I needed to know about the translator (this will make sense only if you've read at least one of the books), and even about the enemy that makes life in the galaxy so fraught with danger in this new book. I also realized I probably need to add a couple of new chapters in the next draft, chapters set way back in deep, deep time. So you see, sometimes the quiet, personal times like standing and contemplating the ocean's edge are exactly what the writer of far-flung futures in space needs. I'm grateful to have had the chance.

Here are a few more pictures. The open ocean over the dunes was pretty wonderful, too.

(And considering that I was holding my cellphone camera at arm's length and aiming blind, I thought the "self portrait of the artist" came out pretty well.)

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Writer, Hard at Word

By request, for the doubters. Here I am, actually at work on The Reefs of Time, while on my retreat.

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Images from a Writing Retreat

No, not of me writing. How boring would that be! Here's some of what I saw and did during break times.

A few shots of my surroundings at the motel, with kibitzers:

Ducks, who later started grouping casually around me,
as they discovered my M&Ms

Geese (but you knew that)

A lone hen
Rollerblading along the Cape Cod Canal, after a hard afternoon of writing and relaxing:
Sagamore Bridge from bike path

Looking toward eastern end of canal

 The Cape Cod Central Railroad's scenic lunch train:
Train in Hyannis station

Going the distance on rollerblades, to the other end of the canal, 13 miles roundtrip. Followed by an excellent meal of fish & chips & local IPA.
Bourne Bridge from bike path
Railroad Bridge near west end of canal

Alas, I must pack up today and bring it to an end! It's been great!

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Going Alien Goes Live!

Drum roll, please. Thanks, you can stop now. I said, thanks, you can... thank you. 

It's official; it's live; it's up for sale! My second of two short story collections, Going Alien, has just launched. Look to the east, in the sky. In the sky. See that bright spot of light? That's Going Alien, on its way into space, where the aliens are!

Here's what it looks like when it's not a spot of light in the sky. It's up now in the Book View Café store. It'll be up momentarily at Amazon, too—and Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. It'll be up, as the world turns, in all of the other stores, like Apple and Sony and Kobo.

About the stories. I'm always leery about rereading my own stuff. I mean, what if I don't like it? What if I find it amateurish and derivative? What if I hate it? Well, to my own delight (and relief!), none of that happened! I actually really enjoyed reading through these stories, published over most of the years of my career. All of them, by the way, have bona fide aliens in them. And all have accompanying introductions with my reminiscences about the writing of them, and how they fit into the general scheme of my career.

Here's the list of stories, most of them appearing for the first time since their initial publication in places such as original anthologies edited by Roger Zelazny and Orson Scott Card, and in magazines like Galaxy and Galileo.
  • Shapeshifter Finals
  • Love Rogo
  • What Gods Are These?
  • Life-Tides
  • Alien Persuasion
  • Though All the Mountains Lie Between
If I may offer a review quote from an editor I asked to look at them: "These stories are great! I'm really enjoying them!" And, "This illustration is beautiful!"

Okay, the editor, Allysen Palmer, is technically also my wife, but still. She's a genuine professional editor. And she seemed really objective as she said that to me.

Why not give it a try? No aliens were harmed in the making of this ebook, and it's affordably priced at $2.99, wherever fine ebook story collections are sold. Right alongside my first collection, Reality and Other Fictions.

Going Alien at
Book View Café | Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Writing Retreat, August 2012

This week finds me once more on Cape Cod, holed up this time in a motel (B&B too expensive), hoping to log some serious writing time on The Reefs of Time. Actually, at least half the goal is to give myself some solitude for a few days, so I might start hearing my thoughts over the already-fading din of everyday life. Mental restoration is the first step, and at least as important as the words I hope to get written. If you're hoping to see the finished book (as I am), thank Allysen for arranging for me to come down here and press Reset.

I don't expect to post much online while I'm here, but coming soon is an announcement about my new book of short stories. The work is done, and the announcement is already written, coiled, and ready to strike at the preordained moment.

Now, if you'll excuse me while I look for the Reset button...

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, 1930 – 2012

A giant of a man died today, and I feel great sadness, even as I celebrate my own birthday. Neil Armstrong has left us.

I remember it like it was yesterday: July 20, 1969, holding my breath as the Apollo 11 Lunar Module finally landed on the Moon, with Neil Armstrong at the controls. And then, some hours later (late at night in Huron, Ohio), watching the grainy black and white TV images of Armstrong, and then Buzz Aldrin, stepping onto the surface of the Moon. I knew then that the world would never be the same, and that history would forever be divided between the time before humanity walked on another world, and after.

Neil Armstrong steps off the Eagle

Neil reads the plaque declaring that Apollo 11 has come on
behalf of all Mankind.

A defining moment for humanity, but also one for me personally. Many of my friends lost interest in the space program soon after, but I never did. To me it was, and will always be, one of mankind's grandest adventures.

Others will write more knowledgeably of Armstrong's life and career. But I'm pretty sure of one thing: a thousand years from now, if we're still around, the name Neil Armstrong is one that people will remember.

One small step... and another, and another. Godspeed, Neil Armstrong.

Bootprint on the Moon

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Return of the Cyclist

My daughter Lexi has returned from a bicycle ride that took her from Boston up and over to southern Vermont, then down to Bard College (her alma mater) not all that far north of NYC, and finally back home to this suburb of Boston. She's one tired athlon. I didn't lift a finger, but a tip of the hat to the friends and strangers who helped her or put her up en route. 

She has started a blog of her own, by the way. It's called Of Chains and Grace. It's about her walk with God and the Spirit, and if you're open to that way of thinking, you might enjoy it. She doesn't hold much back, and I find it beautiful and moving. (But of course I'm her father.)

Yes, this is the same daughter who used to be on her high school wrestling team. She's now in graduate school in mechanical engineering, building on her undergraduate degree in math.

Kids these days!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

An Even Shinier "The Chaos Chronicles: Books 1–3"

If you're one of the excellent people who have bought a copy of my omnibus ebook of the first three Chaos books, I have good news for you! (At least, I hope it's good news.) The book has gone through a complete reformatting and general steaming and dry cleaning, and the new, vastly improved version is now up in the Kindle store, the Nook store, Smashwords, and eventually will also be in the Book View Café store, the Apple and Sony stores, Kobo, and wherever Chaos Chronicles books are sold. No actual prose was harmed in the making of this new ebook! It's the same thrilling story, unchanged except it looks way better on your reader now. (If it's a Nook, the centered text will actually look centered—not a slam-dunk certainty on a Nook, as it turns out. Or in Aldiko on an Android, for that matter.)

Please be my guest and go back and download the updated version. I'm reasonably sure you can do that without cost, though if you ask me the actual mechanics by which you do it, I'm suddenly going to go all vague on you and excuse myself to go get more coffee. But let me know if you have trouble.

If you haven't yet sprung for the ebook, well, pay no attention to me; I'm just going to sit in the dark, mumbling to myself about lost opportunities. ($6.99 for three books, are you kidding me?)

By the way, the individual novels, Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea are also going to get an update—coming soon, as soon as Ann (who's doing most of the actual work) finishes up. I'd love to give them new covers, too, but that must be a project for another day.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

What's Up with My Writing Projects?

It's been a while since I reported on what I'm doing, writing-wise. Here's the short form:

Chaos 5: The Reefs of Time — Yah, it's coming; it's coming. Piece after piece keeps falling into place. It's long and it's complex, and there are a lot of things in it  that I could not figure out beforehand; I could only discover these things by pushing at the story and the characters—that is, by writing and sometimes taking wrong turns into blind alleys. That process involves many hours of pounding my head and pulling my hair. Hell of a way to run a railroad, but there you have it. The train called The Reefs of Time will come in.

Audiobooks — Production at Audible has already begun on the books they've licensed for audiobooks. These guys move fast; I'll give them that. I've recorded pronunciations of character and place names and like that for three of the books. And three narrators are now at work on From a Changeling Star, Down the Stream of Stars, and The Infinity Link.

Going Alien — My second short story collection is near to completion. I just have to put final touches on the new introductions, and finish proofreading the stories. My able assistant Ann has already done the lion's share of the formatting work, so the conversion to ebook will be quick. The launch is planned for August 28. I'm enjoying rereading the stories, some of which I have not looked at in many years. Good sign. Here's what it's going to look like.

And that's where I am in the writing projects!

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Blue Ocean Summit

This week I attended my first Blue Ocean Summit. This is a conference sponsored by, a group that got its start at my own church, and now brings together faith leaders and interested individuals from all over the country (and I think at least one person from Ireland). The focus of the group is to explore new ways of approaching faith within the secular world, in a way that leads to conversation and listening, rather than preaching and selling. What drew me in particular was a focus on the arts, and how the arts might help to catalyze thoughtful conversations about faith, spirituality, and secular culture. The conference was held at our church.

Several program items were of special interest to me. One of the invited speakers was the writer Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog and Townie: A Memoir), a riveting speaker who makes no bones about the fact that he regards religion as bullshit and the Catholic Church he grew up in as irredeemably corrupt. At the same time, in describing some of the events of his life, he remarked on a nudge from "the Divine" that got him started writing one night. He also retold an event (described in Townie) that occurred on a blacker night, when a terrible dream seemed to presage his coming death as a result of his own violent nature. His desperate attempt to find something to read in the lightless room to take his mind off the dream led to his being able to make out just three words in the darkness, as though lit by a splinter of light: "Love one another." He had picked up his wife's pocket New Testament in the dark. That stayed with him, along with the dream, and marked a turning point in how he dealt with potentially violent situations soon after. (It didn't alter his views about religion, but he noted the seeming contradiction with charming humor.)

A second point of interest was a talk by a Vineyard pastor from Minnesota about churches' relationships with the GLBT community. His thesis in a nutshell: Do people of faith really want to be in the business of judging people instead of welcoming them? How does gay marriage conceivably threaten hetero marriage—especially when among Evangelicals, the divorce rate is over 50%? And does the Bible even address the question of monogamous gay relationships? (Arguably not. Close examination of the generally quoted passages suggests that they quite possibly were condemning temple prostitution and abusive sex, rather than loving relationships.) Perhaps more to the point, reasonable people can disagree on these questions without making them a litmus test on whether one is "in" or "out." Indeed, the whole notion of "in" or "out" is antithetical to the building of a healthy and supportive community.

The third, and most entertaining, event was a stage reading by a team of local actors of the play Revolutionary, written by our own pastor Dave Schmelzer. To my surprise it was a science fiction play, involving baseball players, time travel, and Visigoths and Huns. It was funny, engaging, thought-provoking, and a delight to watch. On some levels, it did exactly what I try to do on some levels: It talked about faith without being even remotely religious, in the form of an entertaining story with engaging characters. Dave asked afterward how people thought it might speak to the question of faith intersecting with popular culture. My wife Allysen offered what I thought was the best comment: "It made us friends. It made us laugh together so we could start the conversation as friends."

That in itself was a fine summary note to the conference, I thought.

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Curiosity Descent Caught on Camera by Mars Orbiter

I can never seem to catch our animals, or for that matter, my family members, on camera when they're in the act of doing something interesting. I always get something blurred, or dull, a few moments later. But NASA does a better job. The Mars Orbiter, with split-second timing, caught this photo of Curiosity on its way down to the planet's surface.

The inset is a close-up of the landing craft hanging from the huge, supersonic parachute that helped slow Curiosity to a safe landing speed. If this doesn't win an award for best action photography, I don't know what will.

  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Details here and here.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Curiosity Safely Down on Mars!

And sending back pictures! Including a picture of its own shadow on Mars. That unbelievable Rube-Goldberg system of landing worked. Brilliant! What a happy looking crew at JPL. Well done!

(Screen shot from NASA TV)

A Time-Lapse Video of the Southern Sky

Something to watch while you're waiting for Mars to grow to full size in the viewscreen. Set it to full-screen mode and turn up the sound.

Nocturnal - Scenes of the Southern Night, Western Australia and Chile. from Colin Legg on Vimeo.

Tip of the hat to Astronomy Picture of the Day for this one.

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Mars Landing in an Hour and a Half!

I'm in my office, working. But Curiosity lands on Mars at about 1:30 a.m. Eastern time, and I don't intend to miss it. It doesn't seem that it's going to be carried on any of the two thousand channels Comcast offers, so I have NASA TV set up via several different URLS, in different browser windows.

In Firefox, I've got a feed paused at and another at

In Chrome, I've got set up. At least one of them ought to work!

Just to get in the mood, I rewatched the Seven Minutes of Terror

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