Monday, January 16, 2017

Last Man Out

"Son of a bitch!" Apollo 10 Astronaut Gene Cernan, in orbit around the Moon, May, 1969.

Noting the passing of Gene Cernan, Astronaut.

LM Pilot Cernan's words were broadcast over an open mike 240, 000 miles, from the Moon to Houston to our living room. He and his crew mate Tom Stafford were executing a maneuver in the Lunar Module, the spidery craft designed to land on the Moon, that would reunite them with John Young, piloting the Command Module in orbit forty-ish miles above. Suddenly, the machine pitched out of control.

Eugene Andrew Cernan was a typical early-era NASA astronaut. Engineer, military test pilot, cool customer. He had a master's degree and 200 "traps" aboard Navy carriers. He had three space flights - one in the small two-person Gemini, and two aboard the more sophisticated Apollo moon craft. 

His first trip to the moon - Apollo 10 - was a dress rehearsal for the landing made two months later. The space agency already had ten years of experience with the super competitive, profoundly confident fliers they employed. Apollo 10's LM, called Snoopy, had intentionally been shorted fuel. If Stafford and Cernan had "accidentally" landed, there was not sufficient fuel to depart.

So they played by the rules, flipped a few switches and... Chaos. In low (50,000 feet) orbit around the Moon, out of control. What would you say in similar circumstances? 

They were all test pilots, familiar with how experimental technology can suddenly turn a good day, bad. They got things back together, took a few deep breaths, and finished the maneuver. And took some not too gentle criticism for the salty language.

Captain Cernan went on to walk on the Moon as commander of Apollo 17, the last mission. He holds the official "Land Speed" record in a rover (about 12 mph) and along with Dr. Harrison Schmitt (Harvard-educated geologist) brought back about 250 pounds of rocks.

His parting words echoed those of the first landing. 

"And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus–Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

With profound thanks and immeasurable respect, Godspeed Captain Cernan.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Little Notes, Big Idea

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.
– Ray Bradbury

Out of Ideas wasn't my first published work. It wasn't even the first novel I finished. It, in many ways, was an accident.

My friend John and I had traveled to Wisconsin, pulling a pop-up behind his SUV. We'd been friends for almost twenty-five years. He was a pilot, in addition to being a police academy classmate - he had, more or less, taught me to fly, if one broadens the definition of that skill to someone who could keep the plane flying straight and mostly level. We were in Oshkosh to witness AirVenture 2005, the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual fly in.

One need not be a total airplane geek to appreciate field upon field of flying tin that descends on tiny Wittman Regional Airport. Row after row of new planes, old iron, warbirds and military might are crammed into every nook and cranny. We spent over a week there, and never really saw the same thing twice. Vendors, static displays and everywhere the jocks, the pilots.

One night the weather descended, the skies opened up and drenched the festivities, the airfield, the stage tent (where Harrison Ford was speaking) and us. The following day low clouds led to some changes in the program; the Mustangs flying by were at a lower altitude. 

The Mustang is an amazing aircraft, flown at the show mostly by amateur pilots with enough money to pursue an explosively expensive hobby. They roared past in formation, or one after another. John's portable aviation radio picking up exhortations between the fliers as shows, or ad hoc fly-bys, took place overhead. On one occasion, several of the jocks seemed a bit miffed with a cohort whose flying was less than precise. They finally prevailed on him to land.

The next day, reading the local paper (which was hardly the New York Times) I discovered that, during one of the afternoon events an airplane had crashed off the airport property. The pilot, a dentist by profession, was killed. We had seen the aftermath of one accident the first day we'd arrived, so the tragic news was also not a surprise. With all of the activity there was no way things didn't break.

The end of the week came, unfortunately, and we headed home. Then... My mind burst into overdrive. What if?

I had written a manuscript called A Parasol in a Hurricane, urged on by my wife, and by a friend at work who offered insights into my main character I'd never thought of. The experience was energizing. I love to write, even as the ongoing business of publication gives me some trouble.

What if the pilot was an imposter. What if this was a murder? What if a tall, attractive woman was my main character and I could say, in as many words, abuse a woman and pay a price? I wanted to create a main character that was tough and tender, stand-offish and passionate... A warrior who crawled into bed with her soulmate and made him forget how to walk.

I was off. John had a little note pad that I scribble on until three AM. Yes. True story.

It became Out of Ideas, my first published novel. I had a lot of help, together we made a lot of changes (read the "Thank you" pages where I name names) and it was published.

Alas, the publisher has retreated for a while, leaving me sole owner of this property. After a short break, it's available again.

Adam and Karen. I promise they will come alive for you.

UPDATE: Out of Ideas is now available in paperback. 


Monday, January 2, 2017

In Print

I felt that I had to write. Even if I had never been published, I knew that I would go on writing, enjoying it and experiencing the challenge. Gwendolyn Brooks

Over the last ten years I have had the privilege of working with Marci Baun and her imprint, Wild Child Publishing. The first time a writer reads the words "We'd like to talk to you about publishing your work" it matters little who, or what...or where.

Wild Child has taken a break, falling...not quite victim, but finding the landscape nevertheless the rapidly evolving world of publishing. It is all too common to see good work, done by talented writers, failing to find an audience. There are myriad explanations, but no cure.

Marci is a warrior. She will win the fight.

In the meantime... If you would like to purchase my novels, they are (a bit at a time) available on Amazon. The Heart of the Matter, which I consider my best writing, is now in print form.

Print form. Two readers - one fabulous friend and one daughter - have Facebooked pictures of them, a novel I wrote called A Miracle of Zeros and Ones that is the only other book in print, and the beach. It was an amazing thing to see.

Heart is ready for your beach.  

A Thing Brought Home

If one finishes a work read to them on Audiobooks, have they, in it?

My downloaded copy of Miles Gone By, an anthology of William F. Buckley, Jr. essays previously released, was intended by him to be autobiographical. The work was read in whole by the author, at a time in his life when the ravages of age and lifestyle choices rendered his stentorian tones and New England-esque elocutions uncertain. There were moments when he seemed to be running out of steam, but he would rally - other sections, he had regained his voice and verve. It is wonderfully written, and haunting, for in the end the listener knows that Mr. Buckley, having lived a charmed and profoundly eventful life, has been dead for nearly ten years.

Having finished listening, I searched the house for my print copy. The book had been around - I found it in a second hand store in Lahaina, on Maui, in 2010. I'd read almost all of it already, but... I had to hold it in my hand.

The word is personification. I attributed the human characteristic of experience to this book. It had been with me in Hawaii, in Mexico. It was a faithful companion aboard airplanes, and at my late mother's condo. It was Mr. Buckley telling me what it was like to have common experiences with uncommon people, to sail the oceans and then somberly give up his sailboat forever. He'd skied Utah, visited Antarctica and descended in a cramped submersible to see HMS Titanic with his own eyes.

I couldn't put the book down, but could not bear to read a page.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Our Finest

Tough year. 

This is the enduring image - a Dallas Police Officer shields a citizen during the shooting that left five other officers dead. Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it.

Stay safe, brothers and sisters. You did it right this year.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Editorial Page, or Funnies


My attention was directed today to a column on the editorial page of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Inasmuch as my late brother and I delivered said newspaper in the late 60s, I thought I might avail myself, for old time's sake. Oh boy.

The eye candy attraction was a snow plow, apparently going about it's grim, mundane but entirely necessary business of clearing a roadway. Upstate New York is fertile ground for such endeavors - in my first year of law school at Syracuse we received one hundred sixty eight inches of the white filth in one interminably long winter. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the evolving technology of winter snow removal, written during a visit to the National Snow Removal Convention (or some such) in...Syracuse, of course.

In any event, the editorial was a celebration, of sorts, of camaraderie and selflessness in the face of deep political divisions. Wait... Don't go, it gets better. One of the townships, ahead of a particularly nasty storm, had lost a significant number of plows in a fire. How, the writer did not share. But, fear not!

The victimized town, largely Democrat in voting patterns, was the recipient of succor at the hands of Republican enclaves in surrounding jurisdictions. No, really. The D's and R's set aside their differences, shunned the sort of Gallup poll algorithms that are the bread and butter of pundits and...lent the poor Dem souls some plows. We, as a society, are rising mightily from the ashes.

For the love of God. I have never read such utter nonsense.

Me, to the Denver officer I am assisting: "So, Denver almost always elects a democrat as mayor, huh?"

Her: "Pretty much."

Me: "That's okay. We can still work this call together."

It is the stock and trade of civil servants. It is called "Mutual Aid." Firefighters, cops, paramedics, snow plow operators, mechanics... Nobody cares what political party usually runs your town. Get the job done, be there for each other.

Who writes this shit?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A New Hope

[the Millennium Falcon, under siege, won't start]
Princess Leia: [sarcastic] Would it help if I got out and pushed?
Han Solo: [also sarcastic] It might...

Noting the passing of Carrie Fisher - actor, writer, advocate...icon.

The Boston Herald American newspaper (circa Spring 1977) had a small article about a new sci-fi flick coming out in May. Called Star Wars, it represented the next generation of the genre - good graphics, a decent script and something missing from most 50s and 60s space movies...charm.

Most of us who had entered our early twenties (barely) by then had grown up with the usual stuff. There was the cockpit of the rocket, long levers everywhere, lights blinking haphazardly, windows huge and flimsy. The outside shots of the rocket often revealed the wire upon which it slid, exhaust plume shooting out of the tail and then...raising up (!?) in the micro-gravity of space.  

Women crew members - they tended to be window dressing, there primarily to be a eye candy for the inevitable space monster, the distressed damsel dressed in tight-fitting "uniform" and often requiring multiple rescues per movie by the male lead, usually played humorously by an actor of modest talents. Star Wars, bring it on.

It was, of course, awesome. Epic. The spacecraft actually looked substantially like...well, spacecraft. The villain looked like a villain, talked like a villain and had the nasty habit of crushing things that displeased him - rebel troops, insurgent planets. His own commanders.

The good guys were good. Pure. Luke was a talented kid stuck on an isolated planet. The Empire killed his aunt and uncle, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Obi Wan, a sort of zen master put out to pasture, is there ("These are not the droid you are looking for"), or maybe not. Roguish Han Solo steals the show - he is handsome and dashing, with just the right bit of larceny in him. Even the robots are fun times, C3PO's dashing off some of the wittier lines.

There was, of course, Princess Leia. Fisher played her as brash, no nonsense, able to command the respect of rebel warriors while effortlessly parrying Solo's chauvinistic advances. Diminutive in stature, brassy in everything else, she could be hard...and then soft. She was beautifully, memorably, sensually played by a talented actor not yet twenty.

Ms. Fisher had a busy life. She wrote books, did voices for animations. She worked a lot in movies. Her relationships seemed not to last very long, complications always tugging at her sleeve. She battled illnesses, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her forthright public statements, her advocacy for better treatment of mental health concerns and addictions, lent hope to others suffering in anonymity. When she revisited Leia in 2015, hers was a face, a voice, a heart, who had seen a lot and overcome it all.