Saturday, December 31, 2005

Explosions in the Distance

We are currently in Breckenridge, Colorado, enjoying the snow and the scenery, and a little time with the kids. Yesterday I went out skiing and did pretty well for being away from it for three years. At least I didn't crash.

Breckenridge is getting a lot of snow this year. There is a boundary line, set up by the jet stream, that divides the wet and snowy parts of the country from the dry lands. Just over the mountains, the lands are cold, but bare. Here in Breckenridge, there is record snowfall.

Record snowfall means great skiing. It also means that the avalance conditions increase. Every morning, and many times through the day, the windows of the condo rattle with the sounds if explosions from the peaks. The crew is out there setting charges and keeping a dangerous buildup from happening. Yesterday, skiing while it was snowing, it sounded like thunder from the clouds. Buffered by the trees in all directions up there on the slopes, the rumble was gentle.

Today, the weather is interesting. Here in town, it's sunny. Snow melt is providing a muddy wash for the cars to splash through. There are dribbles from every roof. The air temperature was a comfortable 37 F as we walked over to MiCasa for lunch.

But on either side of the valley, mountains towered overhead, covered in clouds, with the snow coming down on the slopes. And the sounds of explosions continued.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wildlife is Out!

The March 2006 issue of ANALOG, currently on sale, has my story Wildlife in it, beginning on page 60. Since my paper mail is being delayed, I am not sure when it hit the bookstores, so if you want a copy, you'd better get it soon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Dash Home

I never intended to take the RV into the cold country during the winter. I didn't trust the winterization. But this trip to my parents was begun with no planning. We made the decision and were on the road within an hour.

So when an arctic cold front slammed into the Amarillo area with several days below freezing, and one night hitting -5, I wasn't too surprised when we froze a water line. It was a day or so later before the icycles began forming on the RV, where the water was leaking out, since the floor had to thaw enough to let the leak have its way.

Independently, my sister Martha decided to come up for a week's visit to help out, so it made the perfect time to take the RV south, where freezing water lines are a curiosity, not an inevitability.

Hutto had it's own issues, like a heating system that had burned out its motor. So, after a few frantic days, (three so far, maybe four) we'll be heading back north, hoping to see Mary Ann's museum exhibits, and to take a few pictures at the wild-life refuge before heading back to Amarillo.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Deer of Tanglewood

The days here in Tanglewood with my parents have settled into a new pattern. Mary Ann handles a lot of the daily chores as we work to help them settle into a new, if more restricted, pattern. My father's mobility is very restricted, limited to a few feet of travel with a walker. Mary Ann is doing her best to help my mother with meals and medicines and helping him.

Yesterday I got new telephones for the house. They had been making do with a couple of old dial phones, but the cords were too restrictive, especially now. Dad wasn't able to use the phone, because they couldn't stretch to the chair, and he was regularly getting calls from his children. Since then he's used the phone more than any time in the past couple of months. The only peril is that, of course, these new Panasonic phones have tons of menu items and there is always the risk of technical overload. One day, people will be able to custom order consumer electronics with only the features desired, but we're not there yet. Already we've already pestered Walter with several mistaken calls because I accidentally reversed his cell phone number with Mary's in the handset phonebook.

At nighttime, Mary Ann heads back to the RV parked a couple of blocks away at sister Mary's house, and I spend the night in the den in case of problems. When she returns in the morning, I walk over to the RV for extra nap time.

It's in these walks to and from the RV that I'm getting lots of close encounters with the deer.

Tanglewood is a gated community around a lake, down in a canyon. The deer and the turkeys are protected, and their populations have soared. On my regular walk, I'll see two or three deer every time. Groups of a dozen or more are common. This morning, when I came back to the house, the front yard was populated with turkey. Just before starting this blog, a doe walked past the rear of the house, and just this instant another one walked by.

For years, my parents had dispaired of gardening, since everything becomes forage. For me, a short time visitor, the deer are fascinating, but they are like guests, they wear out their welcome. I hope I can get my parents' elder care support systems in place before they start to think that of me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

We all came home

Yesterday, the population of the Heart Hospital went down considerably. My father Gene was the only one of us on the charts, but when he checked out, so did all the relatives that had been living in those visitor chairs for the past nine days. Evening at his house was a strange party, with visiting oxygen people, and a new party game of organizing all the new pills and getting rid of the old ones. I spent the night in the den, listening for any problems, ready to spring into action if I were needed.

But by morning light, nothing more dramatic than a couple of drinks of water had happened, and Sissy the dog was curled up in front of the heater, waiting for her people to wake up.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Circling the Floor

It's been a week now since Mary Ann and I threw some clothes into the RV and headed to Amarillo. My father, Gene Melton had suffered a heart attack and weakened kidney function, and it was time for some serious hospital sitting.

It's strange how tasks that normally would be intolerably boring can be handled fairly easily, if there is a real need. I suppose it explains a lot of human activities -- military service, going to work every day, and even parenthood. From the outside, it seems incomprehensible, but when duty calls, at least in my definition, it all works out.

We are finally reaching the point where he is getting to walk a few steps for exercise. I'm needing the exercise as well -- I just finished circling the 400 foot main corridor of this floor for a few minutes. The chairs are comfortable, but the sitting is deadly.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Lost Maples Deadline

It was a deadline to me. Mary Ann had scheduled a short trip to the Lost Maples State Park so that she could photograph fall colors in Texas. I had reached the waiting point in the latest novel "Roswell or Bust" where sample copies had gone out to my first readers and I won't be doing much on that project until the marked up copies come back. This was the time I needed to turn my attention to the business side of the business. I had several unsold manuscripts that were just sitting idle in my files. They needed to be out there on some editor's desk.

With the looming trip approaching, where my laser printer would be unavailaibe. I had only a few days to re-polish all my selling scripts, write the letters, and get the query letters and sample chapters out into the mail. There was quite a bit of writing to do. I find that I need seven different versions of each novel:

Working Outline: I use OmniOutline Pro to compose a detailed outline of what I intend to write. Sometimes this can be up to 25% of the finished length of the novel -- very detailed.

Manuscript: This is the real novel, in manuscript format, just as the editor will read it. Wide margins, Courier 12, one side of the paper, double-spaced, nice headings on each page.

First Reader Copy: I use a macro to reformat a manuscript to a reader-friendly format. Two columns, Times, single-spaced, both sides of the paper, underlines changed to italics. The finished result is comb bound and individually addressed to each First Reader.

Audio Version: I convert the manuscript into audio chapter files which I load into iTunes and play as I review the work.

Synopsis: This is an abbreviated outline, detailing all of the plot, which is part of most submission packages. I try to boil the whole novel down to five or six pages, formatted like the manuscript. This is a very hard job, and one most writers have problems with. How can you do justice to a zillion paged book in just a handful?

Pitch: This is a half-page introduction to the book, used in query letters to editors. I have to tell enough about the story to show how unique and wonderful it is, while not getting bogged down. If a five page synopsis is hard, this is too. You have to leave out characters, major plot points, all kinds of stuff. I try to make sure my query letter all fits on one sheet, and that includes salutation and headings, etc.

Hook: Write one sentence that captures a reader's interest. You see these all the time on the book covers. The idea here is that you have just seconds before your target's attention moves on to something else. Long before a book sits on the store shelf, it will have to be sold to editors, editorial boards, sales representatives and booksellers. Few if any of them will have read the whole book before hand. Your hook may just make the difference.

So, having polished up my synopsis, pitch and hook for each of my unpublished novels, I reviewed my market lists and composed the necessary query letters and submission packages. My laser printer churned away and on Saturday, I finally had a stack of submissions to be mailed. Off they went, and now I have more waiting to do.

Mary Ann wanted to leave for Lost Maples early Monday, but I was totally surprised when we actually drove out the driveway at 9:45 in the morning. That has to be some kind of a record.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I Found Myself in Google Print

Just on a whim, after seeing all the commentary and news releases on Google Print, I entered "Henry Melton" into the search engine and found that, indeed, one of my works has been scanned into the print search engine. They've been talking about all the public domain works that have been entered, but there are a few publishers who've authorized their catalogs as well. With all the writer's organizations up in arms against the system, I've been of two minds. More exposure can only be a good thing for my writing career, but I can understand the problems with unauthorized publications.

So, finding my copyrighted story "The Christmas Count" which was part of the anthology Christmas Stars, I immediately attempted to see how much was being shown. At first, all I could see were things like the table of contents, but hitting the "More results from this book" link, I found seven full pages (out of the eleven page story) and one partial page. This is certainly more than the 20% advertised, but chopped up like it was, it would be impossible to fully read and understand the story.

I await more evidence before I can make up my mind on this issue. The search engine approach to paper publishing is far too valuable to be blocked out of hand, but it's going to take some serious work to find the fair approach for all concerned. There's the old saying, "You can't grep dead trees." But it looks like that's all changing now.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Listening to the Novel

Before I can turn the novel over to first readers, I like to make several passes through the text to catch errors. One of my regular methods is to convert the novel into spoken text and listen to it. Lots of simple errors can be caught this way. Reading a novel can be done in a couple of hours, normally, but listening to the same story takes a lot longer. Eight hours this time.

So, at a four times slower pace, omitted and doubled words, simple typos, and awkward word use are very clear. Reading them silently, these kinds of things are just skipped over. They're invisible.

I use the Mac utility, 'Books2Burn' and convert a saved RTF version of the manuscript into a collection of AIFF sound files -- one per chapter. Then I shrink them using iTunes and play them in the background while I read the text in Word.

The only problem is that it does take a while to get it all done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

First Readers

When I finish a novel, at least in the early drafts, I need to run it past eyes other than mine. For several years, I've collected a few friendly souls who've helped me out. The problem is that I'm writing novels that I believe would be ideal for high school libraries, and all my first readers are ... definitely out of high school.

Today, I visited the local high school and talked to the librarian. As I was talking to her, it occurred to me that I needed a web form to help me connect with, and screen potential first readers. So, I fired up my trusty Dreamweaver (Version 6) and created the form. A little Perl cgi on the host side, and I'm in business. Now I just have to get the word out to the proper people to go visit that form.

So... If you know of a person, hopefully under twenty, who reads and has the inclination to be a first reader for an unpublished science-fiction novel, send them off to: my First Reader Form.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I sent off the Wildlife Galleys today

I sold a story to ANALOG some time back. Long time readers may remember me mentioning it when I signed the contract.

Well, they're finally getting closer to publishing it. So they've done the layout for that issue of the magazine and the last thing I have to do is a final proofreading. Not all magazines give you that opportunity, but Analog has always been good about that kind of thing. It arrived in the mail, five sheets printed out exactly as the story will appear in the magazine. The only difference was line numbers printed in the margins.

My job is to check for any errors and correct them, getting the marked up sheets back to the magazine quickly.

These days, after the story is sold and the contract signed, I email them a copy of the actual wordprocessing file containing the story. This eliminates tons of errors. However, nothing is perfect.

Today, I found three errors. Two were mine, probably in the orginal manuscript I sent them. Both were mental stutters, where the sentence changed after I'd begun typing it. In one, I wrote "only he or a perceptive critics ". You see, I changed from one critic to several in mid thought, and never caught the extraneous 'a' in all my pre-sale proofreading. So in the galleys, I marked instructions to delete the 'a'.

There was another mind glitch, but there was a third error that I didn't write, but was caused by the emailing process.

There is a funny rule in all the email systems on the internet. If the word 'from' occurs at the beginning of a line, then put a '>' character in front of it. This is because the standard email headers use the From line as the marker for a new email. The >From situation lets the software know that we're not beginning a new email half-way down the page.

Of course, all modern email software is a lot smarter about these things now, but the old rule is still there. So it brought a smile to my lips when I saw 'He frowned at the images >from his easternmost camera.' in the galleys. I had mailed the manuscript as an RTF file and somewhere in the chain of email software, that 'from' was noticed and 'protected'. That's why you have to proof galleys, even if you're 100 percent positive you sent a perfect manuscript to the publisher. Nothing ever happens perfectly.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hot Pavement

Today, I prepared the RV for the trip to Archon in the St. Louis area, as I've done for several years now. Usually, this is just one stop on an extensive journey through the state, starting in late summer and ending in late November or early December. This year, however, family events and hurricanes (plus gas prices) have conspired to keep the RV sitting in the back yard under one of the pecan trees. I hadn't minded too much, watching the various wildlife that lives on our property. In particular, I enjoyed sliding open the side window and yelling at the squirrels who were systematically removing every pecan from the trees before they were human-ripe.

But the clock was ticking, and in spite of everything else, I had to get to Collinsville on the eastern side of the river before my first event at the convention. Our scheduled departure day kept slipping, but it's 1000 miles to get there, and the RV can travel only so fast.

Sunday, Mary Ann apologized because she had to do some special shopping with Debra on Monday (it has to do with particularly elaborate white dress (I did mention family events, didn't I)) and so I packed my gear and cleaned the RV, expecting Mary Ann to frantically get her stuff together at the last minute, as usual.

But then she called. The Dress was more difficult than she'd expected. Mary Ann wouldn't be able to come with me.

We talked it out. It would be another solo trip for me, only this time with the RV -- we'd need it on the return leg.

So in Austin's 106 degree heat, I headed out of town with the generator running and both of the roof airconditioner units running full blast.

They weren't enough. I have a temperature and humidity gauge, and the air conditioners did keep the humidity down, but it was 6 pm before the temperature inside the RV dropped below 100.

Once I stopped for the night, I changed my weather widget to Collinsville. It predicts a high temperature of 75 up there. I can't wait.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

My Schedule at Archon

Henry Melton:

Thu, 7:00pm GC - Cahokian (Young Adult) Round Robin Reading & Discussion - Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 14; After Reading Aloud, Discuss Whether It Was Cheating (2 hours)
Fri, 6:00pm GC - Illini B (Young Adult) Patronizing Youth - Your Chance To Speak Up - Share Your Opinion With Someone Who Might Make A Difference
Sat, 10:00pm GC - Illini A (Writing) Research Makes It Work
Sun, 2:30pm GC - LaSalle Lobby Autographs (1/2 hour)

Archon in Collinsville, Illinois (St. Louis area) and begins on September 29

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Trashy Experiment

In a story I wrote some years ago, I blue-skied a computer system owned by a nomadic TV advertising guru. He roamed the roads in a custom RV, producing TV commercials, completely computer generated, and uploading them via a satellite link to his customers. Well the story was never published, but one detail of this wish-list computer system has stuck with me for a long time. The operating system kept the the trash away from the user.

Fast forward to this year, when I upgraded by laptop to a Powerbook 12" with a 100 GB hard drive -- a considerable increase from the 30 GB iBook I'd been using before. For the first time in memory ... for the first time ever, I had enough disk space.

My work is text documents. Yes I use photos and have tinkered with video, but until I have a bit more free time, I'm not generating more than a few hundred kilobytes per day. I found myself staring at that trash icon at the end of the dock and remembering the trash system I really wanted.

Like a trained rat, I've been conditioned to 'Empty Trash' the instant my eye catches the trash icon with stuff in it. Running out of disk space is no light matter, especially on a system that grows the swap space as needed. But here I was, deleting potentially useful backup items well before I really needed to.

So, I wrote a script that runs under cron to check how much free space exists on my system, and if it ever gets too tight ( I have it set at 2GB ) then it will walk the trash files and delete the oldest ones until free space is back under control. I'd never have to manually 'Empty Trash' again.

So I thought. However, there is the other situation when you need to clear out the trash. When I plugged in an external hard drive, like my iPod, I often had to clear up space on it. However if I used 'Empty Trash' it would delete old trash files everywhere. To fix that situation I wrote a script that deleted trash only on externally mounted drives, used Platypus to wrap a Application icon around it and put that on my dock.

It took six weeks or so to de-condition myself. I no longer notice the trash icon at all, and if I need to empty the external drive, I can just click on the other trash icon up in the application section of the dock.

It's worked very well. Currently I have half a year worth of old trash (1.54 GB) waiting if I need it. There's no penalty in my day by day operations. I'm much more likely to actually throw marginal things away, like old downloads, now that I more comfortable I'll have days, week, months, (maybe years) to change my mind. I've recovered a couple of things, much less than I would have thought. But should a Serious Fumblefinger happen, it's just one more safeguard.

Now I know that this philosophy is in direct contradiction with the current concerns about privacy. I have a few items I don't want public -- a few experimental stories that should never see light of day even if I die famous, for example. Those are created and kept on an encrypted disk image, with a pass phrase that exists only in my head. The very idea of creating a sensitive item in the clear and then counting on the trash system to get rid of it later is unreliable. People get hit by lightning, and at most inconvenient times, too.

So I intend to run my trash experiment until I find a flaw, or until I find something better. A couple of scripts is all it took.

Scripts follow. Errors are likely and I don't recommend anyone else duplicate my experiment unless they have a deathwish. I'm including them here just to show that it's not magic. Scripts are placed in the public domain.

autotrash runs under cron once an hour.

hmpbg4:~ hmelton$ cat /Users/hmelton/bin/autotrash
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use strict;

my $quota=2e6; # Keep 2gig free
# Check for free space on the volume containing the user's home directory
my $available=&df();
while($available < $quota){ exit if ($available == -1); # df error if (open(LS,"ls -at $ENV{'HOME'}/.Trash|tail -1|")){ my $trashfile=;
close LS;
chomp($trashfile);
my $command="rm -rf $ENV{'HOME'}/.Trash/$trashfile";
# print $command."\n";
system($command);
}
$available=&df();
}
exit;

sub df{
if (open(DF,"df -k $ENV{'HOME'}|")){
my $info=;
$info=;
my @parts=split(/\s+/,$info);
close DF;
return($parts[3]);
}
return(-1);
}

emptyext is the dock application for emptying the external drive's trash. Platypus wraps an application around it and I've added the option to display the text the script generates so I can see the external files being deleted.

hmpbg4:/Applications/emptyext.app/Contents/Resources hmelton$ cat script
#!/bin/bash
find /Volumes/*/.Trashes/501/* -print -exec rm -rfd {} \;
sleep 3

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I've Been Busy

With Mary Ann having done a few blog entries in quick succession, I feel guilty for not having done my regular Blog chores.

But when I'm in the middle of a writing project (actual writing, not just research) I tend to let everything else back up. I haven't been mowing the grass, cleaning my office, or keeping all my stories in circulation to the editors either. Only the hurricane has had the clout to knock me off my schedule.

For what it's worth I'm currently on page 115 of my 'first draft' of the new novel ROSWELL OR BUST.

For those of you who are interested in writing, let me show you one of my self-discipline tools:



This is a spreadsheet that I update each day with the wordcount of the project. As you can see for today, I need to write another 622 words to reach my official goal of 1000 words a day (green). I'm sufficiently in the groove that my weekly rolling average is above the 1000 word mark. You can also see that watching too much Weather Channel and CNN knocked me from from the healthy 1700 word range to barely functioning. I'm having to work my way back.

What I'd like to achieve for today is get the wordcount to near 21000. That'd make todays wordcount the highest in the last seven days (blue) and push my average word count ever closer to my preferred level of 2000 words a day.

I've got a lot to do, so I'll get back to work and quit blogging.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Home again

My odometer says I just finished 9,516 miles, but the GPS trip meter says 9,634 miles, and I set them at the same time. Personally, I trust the GPS. Every since I got new tires, the speedometer has read low. If the needle says 60, the GPS reads a point or two higher. It makes sense. New tires have a greater circumference than the old ones. More inches per revolution that the speedometer has no way of knowing about. Actually, I had expected more of a difference. Maybe since the tires are now ten thousand miles older, it's evening out. I suspect it's the older two tires, the ones that I had rotated to the rear that make the difference.

Roswell or Bust

Today I finished the last locations on my novel research loop ending up at the rest area north of Roswell that I had scouted out on the first days of the trip.

Driving to Show Low, Arizona, I passed within a stones-throw of Petrified Forest National Park. It was tempting, but my characters didn't stop, so neither did I. Scouting Show Low was difficult. There were three locations I wanted to review, but I could only get to two of them. The first, the airport, was easy, and looked much as I had expected from the aerial photos. They even had rental cars, which eased a minor plot point.

The second location was the Thunder Raceway, a stock car place I needed "Our Heroes" to drive into. The problem had been that fences never show up on aerial photos. Luckily, on weekdays when no racing is going on, the place is mostly deserted and the parking lots are wide open. I took some photos for color when I write that scene.

The third location is where the main character is captured, and I would have liked to have driven up that road, but the highway crew were re-paving the highway, and using that very road. It's the entrance to a gravel quarry in the aerial photos, so that's not very surprising.

Exiting Show Low, I took highway 60 east, and a couple of hours later realized another feature that should be in the story, but was missing from the outline -- the Very Large Array radio-telescope. That will be corrected.

North on I25 a few miles, I stopped and photographed a rest area, and then continued on 60 east. I don't think I had ever taken this route before, and was pleased that it provides just the right color for that sequence in the novel.

Ending up here in this rest area. Now all I have to do is worry whether the NM state police will come and bother me. It's confusing. It is clearly marked with camping features and areas, and also warns that there is no overnight parking in the truck area. I'm in a Jeep. I think I'm okay, but who knows. I'll be posting this in the morning -- no internet service here, so if anything interesting happens I'll add a postscript.

- Posted from the UFO themed McDonalds in downtown Roswell

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Kingman

When I left the conference, I debated whether to go immediately to my next research stop, Kingman Arizona, or return to the point where I left the loop several days before. Hmm. Sweltering desert interstate, or loop back through the Sierras on highway 120 again. Hard choice. Ha!

I took 405 and then 5 north, eventually climbing into the mountains. Before sunset, I had reached Yosemite and opened the top of the Jeep again for the scent of the forest and the granite mountains overhead. The route even looped through the valley and I refreshed my memory of Bridalvail Falls and many of the other vistas that make Yosemite so famous. Crossing over to the western side of the mountains, I spent the night on the shore of Mono lake. I'm really going to have to do a little research on that place. The rock formations in the water and on the shore look very strange.

Since I was up at dawn, and there were signs of rain in the distance, I took the familiar route on highway 190 down into Death Valley. I even stopped at the gas station that doesn't sell gas at Stovepipe Wells. For being off-season, they were doing healthy business. The guy behind the register remembered me from our previous visits.

The road out to Parhrump was completed and aside from the scoured look of the valley floor, the route out looked in good shape. The spring flowers were all gone, but there was a blonde fringe of grass everywhere from the rains. There was even water flowing down the valley. On the way out I saw a road crew scraping the mud off the new road, left from the overnight rains.

Once I reached Las Vegas, and attempted to rejoin the route my characters take, I realized a significant change I had to make. You can't drive trucks and busses over the Hoover Dam. I knew that, but I had forgotten while outlining the novel. I made the route change.

Rainwater was everywhere. Salt flats around Las Vegas were now shallow lakes, hundreds of acres in size. Part of Highway 95 was even closed because of flooding.

But I reached Kingman and attempted to locate the secret base. After a couple of false starts and checking the map again, I drove right up to it. It was perfect. I took some photos of the tall rock piles and headed down the road. I couldn't have chosen a better spot if I'd lived in the town.

The SCBWI Conference

Four days, packed. This wasn't like the science fiction conventions I have attended over the years. Starting at 8:30 every morning, there were back to back presentations. I have 15 to 20 hours that I have recorded on my iPod, and it will take a while to go back and cull the jewels from the talks.

The first morning, I walked into the LA Ballroom and I thought, 'Uh-oh.' It looked like a thousand middle-aged ladies, all listening raptly to another up on the podium. I suppose I knew that the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators was likely to be female dominated, but I hadn't given it much conscious thought. Through the events, I had to gradually change my first impression. They weren't all middle-aged ladies. There were some older ladies, and many younger ones. And if you looked very closely, there were a few men scattered through the crowd. The only time I attempted a sample count, I came up with a one in six ratio, but that was just in the area where I was sitting.

The first talk was a bit of a cheerleading session, and I had fears that this very expensive trip would be wasted, but that quickly changed. There were real professionals here, both on the writing and the publishing side of the fence, and this 30 some year old organization was quite well run. They handed out a lot of timely and useful information. I made a few contacts, and learned the personal preferences of some people who might buy my books. I also talked to an agent who is looking at my work.

But so much of the information didn't apply to me. My novels seem to be sitting on the fence. They are written with the language and length of a regular adult-level science fiction book, but the protagonist is high-school aged. Is it a YA children's book or not. I've gotten opinions on both sides of the issue. I guess the only way to tell is to sell a few of them and see which shelf they end up on.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Thornhill-Broome Beach

I've had a couple of nights at a campground on the beach, just 40 miles from Los Angeles, getting some of the road stress eased out. For the next few days I'll be at a hotel, being a writer with a bunch of other writers, so it is an entirely different environment than driving hundreds of miles and sleeping in the jeep day after day. The first thing I'll do after checking in is to scrub the road dust off me.

Yesterday I did a little scouting in LA, finding the hotel, buying a little food. It brought to mind one of the flaws in my GPS.

The GPS does road routing. Enter a starting point anywhere in the country, and tell it where you want to go, and it searches its massive database of roads and speed limits and calculates how to get you there the fastest. On the little screen is a map, with a gray line overlaid showing your route. As each turn approaches, it will notify you and give you a countdown in tenths of a mile and then feet, where you should turn.

The problem is with the map. As the map-makers composed this grand combined map of the country, they must have patched together many smaller maps, and sometimes, they don't get the seams straight. I've seen this a half dozen times in the few years I've used the GPS. Near my house, on the border of Travis and Williamson counties, there is a section of road that doesn't exist in the mind of the little gadget, so although you can see the road right in front of you, the GPS attempts to route you several miles out of the way to get to the next block.

It happened again yesterday. I was driving down Farfax toward the I-10 and suddenly, there was a very curious order to turn left. I checked the next turns, and sure enough, the GPS wanted me to turn off of Farfax for less than a block, and then turn back onto Farfax. There must be a little section of Farfax, no more than a couple of feet, that doesn't exist for the GPS.

I was onto it this time. The route on the little map display was at a bigger scale and I couldn't even see the diversion, so I drove right on through the dead zone. Poor little gadget, it took another mile or so before it could understand and go back to its business.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hearst and Denali

One of the reasons I began this trip so many days in advance of the conference was that, in addition to the novel research, I wanted to do a few things in California that I might not be able to schedule, now that Debra has returned to Texas. While she was in Malibu, we made several California trips a year. But, in all those trips, there were a few things I never got to do, like check on San Andreas Lake, or visit the Hearst Castle. Traveling with other people means adjusting your priorities to match. So, after driving the 120, and seeing the San Andreas lake, I drove the last stretch of highway 1 that I had missed.

In previous trips, Mary Ann and I had traveled the coast road from Seattle to San Diego, with one exception. Due to scheduling, we had never taken the section from San Francisco to Monterrey. It was always more important to get on a faster highway to meet some deadline in L.A. So this time, I took it.

The traffic was heavy, and while scenic, it wasn't anything more dramatic than what we had viewed on other sections. There was a nice photogenic lighthouse, and there were lots of windsurfers of various technologies, but if I had to do it again, I just might skip this section.

South was the Big Sur section of the highway, and I won't willingly bypass those high cliffs and long sea vistas. However, this time, the summer traffic was horrible. I was almost ready to chalk this time up as a failed experience, but daylight ran out and I found a nice section of cliff and parked for the night. Once the light went away, and the traffic dwindled, the charm of the place came back. The fog rolled in and I listened to the surf crashing below.

And then the seals called. I hopped up, grabbed my night-vision binoculars and, carefully, went to the edge of the cliff. I scanned the water below, but I couldn't see them. But, there was another sight that kept me watching. The surf crashing on the rocks growed. It was quite distinctive in the night-vision, but once I let my eyes dark-adapt, I could see it well enough without them. Luminescent plankton, I've been told. In any case, it was an entrancing sight.

Dawn came, with thick fog, and I drove on south to the Whale Watcher's Cafe. I had to park there until they opened, but I had a nice omelette and a chat with the gas station attendant. This place, from time to time, has the highest priced gas in the nation. Today, it was $4.09. We talked about how people reacted and he gave me a couple of examples. From the motorcyclist who bought $10 of gas and wanted to file a complaint, to the Englishman who put 56 gallons in his RV with a smile, and then tipped the attendant $10. Personally, I had filled up earlier, not wanting an empty tank so far from any other station. I just like to check the pump price for entertainment value.

Farther on south was another item on my list, the Hearst Castle. I had seen the movie Citizen Kane back in my early twenties and had always wanted to tour the real life estate that had been portrayed in the movie.

However, I stopped first at the Elephant Seal viewpoint. They are my favorites. This time of year the massive solitrary males were out in the surf, bellowing their calls that could be heard for a mile or so. The females were in packs on beaches a half-mile or so away. I watched and listened while I made a call home to check in with Mary Ann.

After that, I drove up to the Hearst Castle, now a California State park. I didn't even get out of the car. All that Big Sur traffic from yesterday, and more still from down south, had all arrived here, and I knew that I would have no luck taking a tour this time. What's sad was that the fog had turned into low clouds, and even in the parking lot, I could see nothing of the castle itself, just the fancy modern visitor center. It reminded me of our trip to Alaska, when we went to Mt. Mackinley National Park and although we were there for days, we never saw the largest mountain in North America, called Denali, because it was constantly shrouded in clouds.

So, I came back to the viewpoint and am quite content to watch the surf, and the seals. Hearst Castle can wait for another day.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

San Andreas Lake

For many years, on our family trips, I would drive and Mary Ann would navigate. Or vise, versa. Especially in cities, I like to have a navigator. The turns and the traffic happen too quickly to be bothered by a map. The past few years I've had a GPS unit mounted on my dash, just above the steering wheel. The latest of these, a GPS V by Garmin, has software that can navigate. It works pretty well, except when I need it most. When the turns come fast, and I can't spare a second to second guess the instuctions, I can still take the wrong turn.

Luckily, that was just what I needed. A couple of novels back, I wrote a scene where the driver was being directed to San Andreas Lake in San Francisco by the second character who was in a trance. That was just as I felt as the GPS told me to take this turn, and then that one, and I had to just react on faith that the navigator knew what it was doing.

I found it, but my original directions were wrong. But, since that novel hasn't sold yet, I fixed it up just a few minutes ago. One more error squashed.

HWY 120

Weather and circumstances had always kept us from taking California highway 120 on previous trips. It crosses the Sierra's and is closed in snow season. It also has a few stretches that discourage RV's. But this morning, I had my chance to take it.

After only a few miles, I stopped and opened the sunroof. After 240 thousand miles on my Jeep Wrangler, I've just gotten the third canvas top. This time I bought a Bestop version that allows you to fold back the first section of the canvas like a sunroof. It's a lot easier than folding down the whole top as I've done before. No stowing the zip out windows or door sections. It can be done in under a couple of minutes. And since it was still cool this morning, I could keep the windows in place and run the heater. I pulled out my tweed cap and was perfectly comfortable as I drove the twisty mountain road through the granite peaks.

The road was your typical National Park road -- two lane blacktop with 35-40 miles per hour the whole way. Being a Tuesday morning, the traffic wasn't bad, but I did see that every campground I passed was filled. There were lots of cars, but most were parked at hiking trail parking lots.

The land, with its peaks and forested lakes was plainly Mary Ann country. I'll have to get her back here with her camera gear.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Hot and Dry

Today was a long driving day, and most of it was in desert heat. Once I reached Las Vegas, NV, the first leg of my novel research was over. I'll pick up the rest of it on the way back from the conference. So, I took US95 north out of Las Vegas and cranked the air conditioning up all the way.

Several times, we've been in this territory, but usually on a photo excursion to Death Valley. I had considered taking that route, weighting the pleasure of seeing old favorite locations vs. taking the round-about route for speed and because I hadn't taken it before.

About the time I had to make my decision, whether to turn west and go down into Death Valley, the thermometer on my dashboard was reading 107, and the air conditioner wasn't quite making the heat go away. Now my elevation was about 2000 feet, and I know from experience that the temperature goes up as you go down. It would be even hotter down in the valley, and I have vivid memories of the long steep grades it takes to get out the other side. There are several road signs that warn you to turn off your air conditioner to keep your vehicle from overheating, as well as regular roadside tanks for radiator water.

So, I took the loop up 95, joining 6, and then connecting to California 120. The first two were just more hot and dry. The two times I stopped, once for gas and once at a roadside park to check my maps, the air-conditioner didn't restart immediately. I had to drive with it off for a minute or so before I could get it blowing again.

And it didn't help that Mary Ann was having car troubles of her own. I have a feeling that car troubles are a natural part of the order of things. Even when you spend the cash to get a new car, things still go wrong.

But California 120 was a refreshing change. Starting in the desert, I climbed over a couple of mountain passes to come out at Mono Lake in the forest. There was even a restaurant where I had a nice large grilled salmon salad for not much money. I'm stopped now for the night right next to a rushing stream, surrounded by tall pines. There's snow on the mountain outside the window.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Driving with One Shoe

Today I scouted the Rock Springs location, and it's lucky I did. Having never been here before, the maps gave me the wrong impression, and I tried to put a secret base smack dab in the middle of a recreation area. Not totally impossible, but not very believable either. When I drove into the BLM lands (that's Bureau of Land Management), I realized something was wrong -- there wasn't a building of any kind in the whole area. Then the flying rock from a passing pickup gave my windshield a brand new star, about five inches by seven.

So, I drove around a bit and located a couple of candidates, and chose the location that best fit the events in the outline.

Then on down the road. Although, being within striking distance of Yellowstone made it very hard to drive west instead of north. I could have done it, but visiting my favorite places would have used up all the slack time in this trip, and I've already done the 'visit Yellowstone for five hours' thing, but that's a story already in the archives, check 9/6/2000.

A couple of times today, I almost looked over to the passenger seat to point out a national wildlife refuge, or the wild horses tour, to Mary Ann, but of course, she isn't with me on this trip. While I enjoy my home in Hutto, and while I need these trips alone for tactical and emotional reasons, I'm happiest on the road with Mary Ann.

But finally we get to the title. While driving on interstate 80, I suddenly realized my left shoe had gotten tangled up with the clutch. The shoelace had looped over the pedal. I could no longer move my foot around on top of the clutch. I've been driving long enough I had confident that I could get out of gear and coast to a stop if I needed to, but I wasn't comfortable. There could be an emergency, and I wasn't about the reach down to try to untangle the shoelace while driving. Remind me to tell you about the Post Office Crash some time.

So I slipped out of the shoe and pushed it to the side until I could reach the next Rest Area. It was a hot time for the stocking foot, but everything worked out as planned. Time to re-tie that shoelace a little tighter. It's never worked right since that kitten got her teeth into it.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Scouting Northward

Today's job was scouting. Starting at Las Vegas, NM, I headed north following in the footsteps of the characters in the novel. Just as they did, I made many miles.

From Las Vegas, I had to locate the Hermit's Peak trailhead. This location, in addition to being in the outline, had some personal meaning for me. When I was young, maybe 12, I dug up the entire front yard to earn the $40 dollars it took for the camp registration. (Growing grass in that yard was a long time goal of my father, and it took many years to improve the soil enough so that real grass would grow.) If there was a high point to the camp session, it was the hike to the top of Hermit's peak. We took a big yellow school bus from the camp to the trailhead and hiked the ten miles or so to the top. I know I was ready to give up several times, but I made it. When it came time to send my own kids to Blue Haven, I scouted the area, looking for that trailhead, but never found it. Only while researching for this novel did I locate enough clues to identify it, and to visit it again. No hike today, though. That will have to wait for another trip.

I did locate a couple of new datapoints, however. One, my character will have to find a different telephone, that pay phone I imagined doesn't exist. Two, there's a large distinctive building visible from the road that the characters might mention. If it was there when I was 12, then I missed it.

Heading north out of Las Vegas, I located and photographed the perfect place for the automobile accident, not more than a mile or so from the location I chose using topo maps.

Eagles Nest, Angelfire and Taos were as I remembered, but unrelated to the novel, I saw again the strange community of buried homes on the far side of the Rio Grande. In an area of several square miles, there exist a dozen or more houses. These must have either been built by the same designer or share inspiration. Half-buried, these adobe structures bristle with windmills, solar panels and what have to be metal sculptures, and there isn't a straight line anywhere in the design. Some day when I'm not on a quest, I'd like to find out more about them.

In the San Luis valley, I'll either have to change the character's route, or change the dialog, because sticking to 285 will NOT get you close enough to the Great Sand Dunes to cause comment.

From there to Frisco is home territory to me, but once I headed north on 9 out of Silverthorn, I realized this was an unfamiliar route. I then joined US 40 and as sunset approached, I pulled off on a dirt road into the forest. I had brought a sleeping bag and whenever possible, I intend to avoid the motel bills.

Waiting in the light rain, I had to write this blog while the memory was fresh, but I'll have to wait to send it -- no Sprint PCS signal to connect to the net. Maybe in the morning, but I'll adjust the timestamp to match when I wrote it.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Validating the Internet

Although I have been in New Mexico so many times I'd never be able to count them, I had plotted and outlined my latest novel project using my memories of the locations, and fresh looks through internet mapping services such as Google Maps and Terraserver. I located all of the important locations that way. I would often pick a location based on travel times or old memories, and then refine my choices, once I had a satellite photo of the place. I located lots of interesting locales that way, such as the roundhouse in Las Vegas, New Mexico, or the road side park about 40 miles north of Roswell.

But when the opportunity came to make this trip and eyeball the locations first hand, in the back of my mind, I wondered just how good the internet mapping was. After all, some of the aerial photos and topo maps are twenty years old. A lot can happen in that time.

So today, when I saw the roundhouse come into view here in Las Vegas, I was gleeful. (People who know me may try to imagine what that was like. Anyone ever see me gleeful? Anyone?)

There it was, right where the satellite photo said it was, in just the exact condition I had expected ( and had counted on while outlining the novel). I snapped a few photos and located my motel, one that looked just like I had imagined.

Tomorrow, I have more scouting to do in this town, but for now, everything looks great.

Solomon Gallery

This morning, my sister Mary Solomon took me over to see her gallery. It was very nice, several rooms, tastefully decorated, with the walls filled with her paintings. She's selling quite a few of them, too. My understanding is that Sunset Center, in Amarillo, had lost most of its businesses and had become run down. The owner is attempting to create an art center by leasing galleries for a number of artists. There are quite a few galleries in this one location. Of course, My Sister's gallery is the best one. Brother-in-law, Walter, in addition to being a powerhouse at renovating the place, also has some of his artwork in the place as well -- a number of copper sculptures. Several years ago, I did some lobbying and got one of those myself, a miniature windmill.

Mary is becoming quite successful as an artist, and it sounds like she's got quite a number of jobs already scheduled. Be sure and browse around her web site and take a look at her work.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Lake Tanglewood

While it is a little bit out of the way, I decided to make the first leg of the journey to my parents home in Lake Tanglewood, a little place just south of Amarillo. I could have come by at the end of the trip, but lately, my excursions have not followed the original plans. So, just to be safe, I came here first.

The folks were just finishing the cleanup from some home repairs. There had been a hailstorm, which demanded a new roof, and some interior work due to water leaks.

I had a nice talk with my sister Mary Solomon, who is an artist. Tomorrow I hope to see her new gallery. It looks like she'll be busy for a while with all the new projects she has scheduled.

The Last of the Laundry

When the dryer stops tumbling, I'll be able to finish packing for the trip and click that item off the to do list. I hope to be on the road before noon. Until I get a few hundred miles away, anything could interfere with the trip. Indeed, since the moment I decided to take this excursion and committed a few hundred dollars to convention registration and hotel reservations, I've had several potential disasters crop up. For one thing, while my son Thomas was on a business trip, his house burned and we had to rush up to Carrollton to see what could be salvaged and to get the insurance ball rolling. Mary Ann is still up there. (I got lucky and had a couple of semi-resonable excuses to come back home -- like returning four still-sooty cats to their new residence.)

I feel guilty about leaving Mary Ann there, and gave her several chances to talk me out of this trip, but she was supportive every time and told me to continue.

Ah, there was the beep. Time to finish packing.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Upcoming Events: SCBWI LA

I had been delaying my registration for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators summer conference in Los Angelos because I wasn't sure whether I would attend or not. It isn't cheap. But today, Mary Ann pushed again, and brought up the idea that I could make it a Jeep trip. That was the final piece that convinced me.

Originally, we were going to begin a big RV trip with this conference as the first lap destination, but when Debra finished school this year instead of next, all that planning changed. We considered flying there, but I have lost a lot of interest in flying trips over the past few years. Airlines are great for places on the other side of oceans, but I would prefer to drive if I can. Air trips have a lot of paperwork and tight deadlines and rental cars.

But this way, I can turn a conference trip into a multi-purpose event. I have just finished the outline for my current book. Most of the events happen during a 2000 mile plus road trip. I had wanted to re-visit those locations prior to finishing the book, and now I can do just that.

An hour ago, I registered for the conference and made the hotel reservation. Now I can start filling in the targets for the trip itself.

And yes, the conference ought to be interesting too.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Traveling even when I'm not

Writing a novel, for me, isn't a process of starting at the beginning and continuing until the end. I start out with an idea, like a few words scribbled on a sheet of paper. This takes weeks. I think about it while, and the words become something like a drawing, with stick-figures in pencil. Somewhile later, after a little research, I begin the outline, and by then, my new world shifts again, over the course of a month or so, becoming like a charcoal sketch. With more research, and more outline, it stretches and fills. Color is added. By the time the outline is done, my new world is a pastel or a impressionist painting, with the subject and the background easily recognized. The actual first draft changes everything. Impression becomes photorealistic. The landscape stretches around me, becoming a wrap-around panorama. I can see the sky overhead and the dirt below. I can smell the flowers and feel the hot sunlight. And the characters, who were just stick-figures before, are people with fears and hurts, with love and hope. They stay with me, years after the story is done.

These past few weeks, I've been outlining, and as the story progresses, I've been traveling from New Mexico, through Colorado and Wyoming with my characters. I know that land. I've been there quite a few times. Just today, they are traveling down Interstate 15, through Utah. We just went through the canyon where I-15 cuts across the north-western corner of Arizona. The lights of Las Vegas, Nevada are up ahead, not more than a few outline bullets to go.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

And Now there are Two.

It's very quiet here. Yesterday, I buried Patches. At a ripe old age of 14 or 15, his health was rapidly going bad. It had been two days since I had last been able to feed him. Nothing told me more clearly that the time had come than seeing him unwilling to take a bite of that hot dog. He could barely walk, and he was getting weaker by the hour. Two or three weeks ago, about, after the vet saw him, the question of putting him down came up, but we gave it some time. Antibiotics helped a bit, until he could no longer keep down the food. He picked up for five or six days after I stopped the medicines, but then he weakened again.

But, for the past couple of weeks, he's had long lazy days. It's hot here, so he would walk down to the pond and wade into the water up to his shoulders, and then lie down in the grass. He would even tolerate the kitten when he came into the house. He would find a place on the carpet near where I was working, circle the spot a couple of times, and then settle down for a nap.

Today, the kitten was bouncy, chasing a housefly, trying to catch it. She had to entertain herself for most of the day, as I had to go into town to open the door for a plumber ( and yes, it took me from 7am to 3pm). However, Mary Ann's advertisements paid off, and someone was interested in the kitten. I drove her into Hutto and passed her over to her new family. They seemed to respond well to each other, and I'm glad she finally will have a stable home with more than an old dog and an old human to entertain her.

So back home, it's quiet. I fed the horse, and then Fluffy came to the door and looked in. He's the last dog standing, and I suspect he'll finally get more of the human attention he deserves. But, after wagging his tail at my attentions, he wondered off. I suspect he's still looking for Patches. In all this quiet, I think I am too.

Monday, June 27, 2005

How do Writers with Cats Write?


I'm trying hard, working on chapter 17 of my outline, visualizing the land around Angel Fire, New Mexico and doing my best to stay inside the head of Joe, but there's this kitten perched on my foot, trying her best to undo the double knotted shoe-laces. I've knocked her off too many times to count, but she keeps coming back.

Which brings me to my question. How to other writers cope with kittens? I've got two main options. Make her go away -- lock her up in the bathroom. Or, go away myself -- go out to the RV and work in the heat of the day. Neither is pleasant.

Anybody out there need a really cute kitten? Hey, I'm serious.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Mary Ann has her own Blog

Mary Ann just started her blog. Mary Ann's View People should also go look at her Photo oriented Site.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Spotlighting Changes

Are computer changes worth talking about in a blog like this? I guess so, sometimes.

Spotlight, the search enhancement in the latest version of Mac OSX "Tiger", is changing the way I use my computer. For those of you who aren't using it, let me give you a little example.

I have a smart folder named "RecentChanges" that dynamically shows all documents that have changed in the last week in my writing folders. It looks like any folder, with icons and names of the files. I can click to open them, just like a normal folder window. The difference comes in that I can end up with several identical looking Word documents with identical names. This is a real issue right now. I've spent the past few days re-working the 'hook' and the 'pitch' for my last five novels. Previously, there was a 'FallingBakward.doc' file in my 'opus/0093/Working' folder, a 'FallingBakward.doc' file in my 'Synopsis/Hook' folder, and still another one in 'Synopsis/Pitch'. It worked great before spotlight. Now, with the convenience of the 'RecentChanges' folder, it's too confusing, requiring an extra click to see the locations of each of the identical icons.

So, I've started adding more information into the filenames themselves. The novel manuscript is still 'FallingBakward.doc', but the hook is 'FallingBakward_Hook.doc'. I suspect that I will be doing much more of this; adding more descriptive terms into the filenames. I should no longer use the location path to describe the content of the file. It's additional work, but just a little. The benefits of dynamic smart folders more than make up for the effort.

As I get used to the process, I'll be adding many more smart folders. Another that's proving very handy is "RecentApps", a folder containing just the programs I've used in the last week. It's much easier to find a commonly used program in a list of 20-30, rather than in my main Applications folder, which contains 191 items, some of them folders.

Soon, most of my 'click through the nested folders' effort will go away. With Smart folders to consolidate the recent stuff, and using the spotlight search field to ask for hidden ones by name, I'll be able to put the details of my nested file storage out of my mind. I'll still organize things to keep them tidy, but I won't have to remember the details.

My biggest worry will be how to get by when I have to do some task on Windows or one of my older computers that can't run Tiger. That's always the case when something new comes along.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Black Kitten has a Home

I nerved myself up to take the kittens over to the Petco store where I'd seen other people with animals to place. Such a public activity wasn't my thing, but the kittens really needed a permanent home (before ours was destroyed). No one had called in response to Mary Ann's advertisement. I put them in a large cardboard box and drove over to the store. I parked nearby, and then rather than camp out on the store's front porch as I'd seen others do, I elected to stay in the parking lot, under a nice shade tree. I gave myself a limit of two hours. If nothing happened by then, then I'd bring them back home.

It was hardly five minutes before a car drove up, full of kids. The father was looking for a male, and was happy to take the black and white one. They had at least one other cat, and although I couldn't persuade him to take both of them, it looks like he'll have a good home.

So I pulled the calico out of the box and held her until she started climbing. For a little less than an hour, I stood there in the shade, while dozens of people pointed at the cute cat. Still, no one felt the urge to come collect her.

Finally a pickup drove up onto the Petco's porch area and started putting up a pet adoption sign. I had checked the website before coming and knew that there was supposed to be one of the pet adoption agencies there today. The lady glared at me, and when the manager came out to greet her, I suspect she complained, because he came over to tell me that they had a policy that only the offical pet adoption agencies were allowed to set up there. Although I was in the common parking area for the shopping center, I didn't complain. It's not my way.

So I picked up the box and headed back to the Jeep. Little tiny claws were firmly attached to my shoulder so I didn't attempt to peel her off. We rode all the way back home with her tail in my ear. Once home, she mewed awhile, looking for her brother, but she's settled down.

Only, I think she's going to be a lot more attached to me than she was before. I hope someone will answer Mary Ann's advertisement soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Just the Animals and Me

Mary Ann has gone to California to help daughter Debra pack up her things, now that she's graduated. Normally, I would have gone too, but due to a couple of factors I'm staying here.

Factor one, Patches, our elderly dog needs special attention for now. He may have cancer, and he is recovering from a very bad infection that had us expecting his death. Today was not his best, but not his worst either. He sleeps a lot, and moves slowly and unsteadily. On other trips we've had good luck with people caring for our animals, but not this time. If he does go rapidly worse, I need to be here.

Factor two is a pair of very cute kittens. I'm still not sure how Mary Ann let herself in for this. We've never had cats. She's allergic, and now that I've had a week in close quarters with them, I've discovered that I'm allergic too. We're just temporary caregivers. Mary Ann has a poster up, and I'll be setting up a free kittens stand at Petco this weekend if I don't hear from anyone. Take a look over at MaryAnnMelton.com for a look at the male. His sister has yellow patches. I'm fond of them, but I have to find a home for them. At least I've had this experience in cat ownership. I've had several instances of cat feet on the keyboard. One of Mary Ann's flower baskets is overturned in the fireplace ashes. The carpet is chewed. The table cloth is snagged and ripped. An antique vase has had a close call, and numerous items, including some of Mary Ann's camera equipment is covered in little ashen paw prints. They sure are fun to watch. Patches watches them too, although I'm not sure what he makes of them.

And of course, I've got the horse to feed, and our other dog, Fluffy is so laid-back he's no trouble at all, content with a few kind words and pat on the head.

Ouch. I've just had the b /.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Recovering from Writer's League of Texas Conference

This past weekend was taken up by a conference in the Omni hotel in downtown Austin. It was a strange event, for me. I've attended many science fiction conventions -- far more than I can remember. This was different. Take a large convention, chop off all the fans. Then chop off all the published novelists. End up with a couple of hundred aspiring writers, all with a manuscript ready and all unable to find an agent or a market. Now drop in fifteen real live agents and editors, all with the duty to be there and listen to the pitches. It was a stressful event. You could feel it in the air. Even though I have had modest luck getting my short stories and nonfiction computer works published, I've still got a large pile of finished novels that never seem to make a connection with an editor. I've also sent out fifty or so query letters to agents with no luck. An event like this could make a big difference in my writing career.

So, lots of potential, but also lots of people to meet. With everyone you meet just as hungry as you are. This wasn't a casual fun event.

Have I ever mentioned that I'm a hermit by inclination? I can be cheerful and pleasant with large numbers of people, when the event calls for it, but I'm never comfortable.

For three days, there were breakout sessions with talks on where the market is going, and how to write your query letters. Those were useful. I'll be re-engineering all my queries after I absorb all I've learned. The money to attent was worth it just for those sessions.

There were also a number of mingle times. The Agents and Editors had light blue name tags. All us wolves had white name tags, so the crowd consisted of clumps of whities circled around an isolated bluie. Of course, most of us 'wolves' were actually timid puppies, and some never got up the nerve to edge their way into the pack. I surveyed the page of bio's and selected my targets based on their professed interests, and I talked to some of them. Or rather, listened. Sometimes I can't make the push to inject my words into the conversations. I have a couple of agents who will receive my re-engineered query.

There was also the ten minute consultation. Each conference participant was scheduled a ten minute visit with the editor or agent of choice. Here was the moment for your practiced pitch. Here was the time you made your sale, or impressed your potential agent.

I flubbed mine. It was horrible. I'd never done a 'pitch' before, and although I'd heard the stories and knew what I was supposed to do, when it came down to talking to the lady, I just followed her leading questions, and never actually talked about what made 'Falling Bakward' such a good novel, nor why a publishing house would be lucky to have me as an author. The ten minutes vanished quickly, and her only comments just highlighed how badly I had expressed myself. She was left with a totally wrong impression. I was left with only a vague memory of what I'd actually said, and a severe loss of confidence.

Ah, well. I've known my faults for some time. I think deeply, but not quickly. A one-on-one, high stakes, encounter is my personal quicksand. Nobody will ever get much from me in ten minutes. This is one reason I became a writer. It is my only chance to actually express my thoughts and feelings with any clarity.

So now, I've got to regain my composure. I've got to take what I've learned and make better queries.

And maybe sometime, I'll try the 'pitch' again. But only after I've recovered.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Lightning

My morning alarm was a lightning strike. 3AM, and the rain was rattling the metal roof and both Mary Ann and I were shaken out of a deep sleep. "Henry ... is the Jeep?" I already had that same thought. "It's already too late." I wasn't about to run out into a raging thunderstorm to put in the driver's side window. It was probably already drenched. What would be the point?

Mary Ann was quiet for ten seconds, and then began struggling with the covers. I shoved them back over her. "You stay put." Okay, lightning strikes or not. I had to do this.

I found my sandals. I'd risk the lightning, but not walking on the gravel in my bare feet. On the back porch, Patches, our elderly dog joined me. We went out into the rain and I rushed to extract the upper door from the back seat and slip it into it's sockets. It went quickly, but I was soaked. I went back inside, but Patches, who has always been frightened of loud noises, lightning particularly, didn't follow me in. Oh, well. The back porch was protected enough, and I was wet and cold and didn't feel like coaxing a wet smelly dog in if he didn't feel like it. A couple of minutes later I was dried off and back in bed, if a bit chilly.

And I couldn't get back to sleep, and I needed the rest. I had an appointment early in the morning all the way across Austin to get the aged and ragged ( and very wet) soft top on my Jeep Wrangler replaced. I kept my eyes closed and my body still. That's one of Mary Ann's suggestions. Pretend you're asleep and maybe you will be.

But instead, I began blocking out this blog entry.

Scratch. Scratch. Oh, the tell tale sounds of a dog scratching at the door to be let in. But there were only a couple of them. Patches has been known to be very persistent when he want's in. I had to replace the back door metal doorknob because it had been dented and mangled by one of his previous attempts to get indoors.

A moment later Mary Ann whispered, "Is Patches in the house?"
"He was on the back porch."
She got up and opened the door from the bedroom to the back porch. "Patches! Patches!" But he had found alternative shelter, and wasn't coming.

But of course, now Mary Ann was wide awake, so she went into her office.

Maybe I dozed off, but shortly, there was a click, and the door opened. Patches had found a weakness in the door latch and opened it. He does that a lot.

Dawn. Mary Ann had come back to bed sometime while I was asleep. I rushed to take care of the minor chores before I could leave -- get the trash out, take my morning pills.

Patches was asleep in Mary Ann's office, wrapped in a towel. Ah, the dog's life.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Signing the Contract

In the old days, when I sold a story to ANALOG and some other magazines, they just sent a check. Now this wasn't an ordinary check -- it had a little contract written on it. So, when you endorsed the check to deposit it, you also signed the contract. Well, aside from the dodge of depositing it with only the phrase 'For Deposit Only' on the check instead of a signature, it wasn't a horrible deal if you were dealing with respectable markets. However, I suspect someone challenged the legality of the contract-on-the-check method, because it's more involved these days.

I received the envelope from Dell Magazines. I had been waiting for it, and once again, for just a second, I thought it was from Dell Computers. The last time this happened I was out of town and the person handling the mail for us made the same mistake and put it in the stack with the advertising flyers and other junk mail.

But I was ready for it this time. Inside were two copies of a contract. I had to sign both and send them back. After "four to six weeks", I'll get my copy of the contract and finally, a check. There was something to be said for the immediacy of the old way.

The contract was plain and simple. The was the dollar amount listed for their use of it, with my guarantee not to sell if for another use during the same time frame. There were additional options, just in case they wanted to use it for anthologies or foreign editions, etc. There was a little more cash offered if they did that, but that's not a given. If I were famous, I'd probably be wise to mark out those and charge more for my award-winning prose, but I'll worry about that later.

They also asked for an emailed copy of the manuscript. They need a nice paper copy for submission, but when it comes to composing the magazine, an nice text file certainly reduces the chances for errors.

Now, all I have to do is wait. A month for the check. Probably six to twelve months for the story to be published. After that, I'll file for the copyright. Ah! The hectic pace of modern publication.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Starting a New Book

There is a period of time after I've finished a project where I'm at loose ends. When I'm between projects, I'm most likely to be depressed and unsure about what I'm doing. But, I can't create the idea for a new book on demand -- at least not instantly.

Over the past three or four days, an idea has started to form about what my next book will be. Yesterday, I created the database entry (opus 0094) and set up the directory for the project on my computer. All I have is the template for my project file and a vague plot outline. Over the next few weeks, I'll be doing research and starting my outline.

Outline writing is my own private introduction to the story. In it, I learn who the characters are and what they want. By the time I'm done, I'll know what happens and the destiny of my characters. I don't know that yet, and it is an exciting time, the time of discovery.

Research has already started. Some things I don't even realize I need to know. I'll learn on the fly. But others are so critical to the plot and character development that I have to ask a few questions before I can even start to name my characters.

This afternoon, I drove over to Taylor, looking for small motels. That is my starting point. The main character in the story works at a family owned and operated motel in a small town. I walked into a little place, and the main desk was unattended. There was a bell and I could have slapped that button and the lady would have appeared instantly, but instead I waited, looking over the office, examining the photos and plaques on the wall, soaking up the paperwork on the desk between the phone and the machine that programs the plastic keys.

Images are starting to form. Ideas for events are starting to gel. It's a good time.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Changing the Icecubes

Mary Ann's laptop, a Mac Titanium, is a little over three years old. I noticed that the last time I checked the warranties. Apple only supports the things for three years. I suppose there are repair methods other than Applecare, but I had been looking to upgrade her system for the past few months anyway. She's always doing heavy Photoshop work on it, and she's always been filling the hard drive. She's got over a terabyte of external hard drive space for her photos, but only a little less than 10 gig at best for fresh photos before she burns them to DVD.

So, when I came back from the hardware store and saw her checking the web on my laptop, I was a little confused. She said her laptop was turned off because it was locking up.

I knew what I'd be doing for the next few hours.

First order of business, get a full backup. Her system booted was terribly, terribly slow. Not a good sign. I booted off the install DVD and attempted to check the hard drive. The system ran okay, but Disk Utility couldn't attempt a repair because it couldn't dismount the drive. I put her laptop in target disk mode and tried that way, no luck. Disk Utility couldn't make a disk image back up for the same reason. Carbon Copy Cloner was the best bet, but it doesn't yet run under Tiger.

So booting off of her defective 10.3.9 drive, I connected one of the external firewire drives and attempted the backup. It only got 44mb out of a 44gb disk. Same thing the second time. I suspected that the hard drive was failing when the temperature got too hot, and keeping the bottom cool with a wet napkin only worked a little bit.

The third attempt I installed 'Hardware Monitor Lite' on her system so I could watch the temperature of the drive, and then I rested the laptop on a tray of ice. I'm currently into 30 gb of the backup and as long as I keep draining off the melt water and changing the ice cubes, it seemes content to just keep running. I'm working hard to keep the drive temperature under 40 degrees C. I don't know what it's limits are, but 38-40 works. I know I'll be up late tonight.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Cinnamon is Empty

We woke up in a pleasant spot, with the birds calling. Of course this is an interstate Rest Area (you know, the blue signs?) so there was also the rumble of traffic noise and the throb of diesel engines. But those are noises we have come to accept as background. Mary Ann even likes the diesel noises. We passed up a Picnic area for our overnight stop for an Offical Rest Area because she feels comfortable parked next to all those big trucks. Safer, she says.

So waking up on a morning like this is a pleasant combination of things. We are in deep West Texas, with the nearest town of any kind far over the horizon. This rest area is a watereed oasis in an land much closer to desert than praire. I-10 follows a long river valley. There are cliffs to the north and south, off five to ten miles in both directions. Because of the unusual rains, it is green. There was a morning fog, but it has burned off now. Mary Ann checks her email and watches the birds outside. A ringed turtledove is this morning's star performer.

Out the front window, we watch as a tow truck has to rescue a stranded motorist. What was his story, I wonder?

While an 18-wheeler rumbles by just outside the window, I prepared my morning oatmeal, and checked my email. Today was the last cinnamon from the shaker. A good omen that the trip ( at least this one) is over. We have just under 300 miles to go, if the map program knows what it's talking about.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Together Today

Yesterday was an interesting travel day. Mary Ann had a few chores to complete in LA before heading out, but we had 1500 miles to make in two days. The problem was that we had never made that many miles per day in the RV. While I've done more than a thousand travel miles in one day before, that was in a car. RV travel is definitely slower. While I can get the RV up to 80 in a pinch, it doesn't cruise well at speed-limit+. A comfortable pace is more like 55-65. Sometime 70. In addition, we have to stop earlier. There is less flexibility about finding a good parking place for a large vehicle. There's less acceleration, harder hill climbing, and wind problems. In all, I've found that a good hard driving day on our RV rarily exceeds 600 miles.

1500/2=750. I had to start immediately to have any hope of getting to the business meeting on time.

So, Mary Ann took the Jeep. She attended to her exercises and other business. I headed east immediately. The theory was that she could catch up with me sometime during the day.

At first it looked like it would work. She was a hundred miles behind me. Then at another checkpoint, about 70. Then 61. Then 50. Then 60. Oops. There were problems. The RV has a huge gas tank, compared to the Jeep. Mary Ann was having to stop more frequently for gas, food, bathroom breaks, etc.

Then came the news. The meeting we were racing to attend had been rescheduled. We now had four days to make it. The pressure was off. It was nearing the end of the day so I just waited at the last fuel stop for her to arrive. I didn't like being apart in the dark, where it would be too easy for us to miss-connect.

We stopped, finally at a roadside park in Texas Canyon, after making about 600 miles.

So, today, we traveled together, the Jeep in tow. It was a pleasant day, with long straight miles, and less pressure. We even stopped before sunset, at a roadside park off I-10 in West Texas. We made almost 600 miles.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Heading Home

Well, it wasn't our first plan. We had moved up the PCH to Thornhill Broome Beach, where we could camp out next to the water, intending to stay for a couple of days before moving inland. It's a rocky beach, with sand next to the campsites, and then boulders (five to twenty pounders) down by the surf. Listening to the waves churn and tumble the rocks is fun. Plus, the water gets deep quickly, and the dophins swim by within easy reach. You can hear them blow.

The first time I walked down to the surf line, I met a man who had dropped in to the camp to rest on his journey. He was from South Korea, now a plastic surgeon in Boston, taking a loop vacation. He'd gone down from Boston to Key West, then actross the South to Texas, then on to San Diego. He was heading up toward San Francisco, then back through Salt Lake, Denver, St. Louis, and on back to Boston. All by himself in a car. Sounds reasonable to me.

But a business meeting popped up on our radar and we need to get back to Texas, immediately. It's a beautiful morning here north of Malibu, but it's time to leave.

Now to stow the satellite dish and get back on the road.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Several items

Hello Karen, I've turned on the comments section as you asked. I don't know how this works, so it's an experiment for me.

Today we got a new phone for Mary Ann. Her old reliable Motorola flip-phone flipped once too many times and the hinge broke. So now we're playing with the new gadget -- attempting to use Bluetooth. Unfortunately the LG PM325 phone we bought looks a little crippled as far as Bluetooth goes. It's a shame that Sprint has such poor offerings.

As far as Skype goes -- we have used it several times, especially in Death Valley where the only telecommunications is one very expensive pay phone. Talking to people over the satellite link takes a little getting used to. There is that long delay while the radio waves go bounce off the sky (metaphorically) and people on both ends have to get used to the uncomfortable pauses. In addition, the voice quality on the other end is worse than what we hear.

It was worse when I tried to access my cellphone's voicemail system. (no cell coverage in Death Valley). The voice cues to help you access your account, coupled with the satellite delay, made it nearly impossible for me to log in.

Now most of these problems go away when used with a cable modem or DSL since there is no satellite latency, so I could imagine that Skype would be very handy for international calls. It's pretty cheap to experiment. You buy phone time in 10 euro lots on the web and the per minute charge is minimal. I've still got 9.50 left in my account. Of course Skype to Skype is free.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Expensive Rock

We're back from the car trip to San Francisco. Debra has dropped back into study mode as she dives into her new class. Yesterday I picked up the Jeep from the dealer. If I'd dodged that rock back in Death Valley, I'd be $1500 richer. But, at least now we have our own car. Debra was nice enough to ferry us around, but having mobility on your own is nice.

I had intended to get a new soft top for the Jeep, while it was at the dealer, but the price quote for a factory replacement seemed too expensive. It would have doubled the bill, while the catalog prices for a Bestop third party replacement was under $500. Now if I can just find a place to do the replacement while I wait here in the LA area. Otherwise, I'll just have to live with the worn out one until we return to Hutto.

The RV campsite has a two week limit for this particular parking space, so unless we upgrade to a more expensive spot, we will be moving on in another day. The only things that are keeping us here are Mary Ann's photo flash repair, a bundle of mail forwarded from Hutto, and a perfect sunset photo shoot for Mary Ann.

By the way, I've sold another story to ANALOG. It's called 'Wildlife' and it's about a nature photographer on the moon.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Making Backups and getting Pills

I have a few hours by myself here in the hotel room, so I'm taking the opportunity to run a few backups to my iPod. Having a 40GB ipod, even though I only have 8GB of music makes perfect sense if you consider it just another expernal hard drive.

Earlier today, I walked a little through San Francisco after I attempted to get a perscription for my Diabetes medicine filled. It's an interesting place. Unfortunately, the good feelings I had from yesterday's walk have been tainted a bit by today's experiences. I guess every city has its good parts and its bad. Yesterday, I would have ranked San Francisco in the top five of the cities I like, based on my own experiences. Now its no more than in the top twenty. Still not bad.

Speaking of medicine, this has been a learning experience. I take Avandamet, to help me regulate my blood sugar. Over a month ago I went to the web site to request a refill. All my other medicines filled, but Caremark was out of Avandamet, and suggested I try again in a few weeks. Well, several days ago, I went the web site and discovered that none of my web browsers worked. After several attempts I called their customer service and learned that their web site only supports Internet Explorer 5.5 or better.

I use a Mac, and the most recent IE on the Mac is 5.2.3. Microsoft has given up making any improvements on their browser for the Mac. So to get a perscription, I have to have a Windows computer? I tried all the modern browsers, but none of the worked, not even Firefox on Windows. IE on Windows is so great a security risk that no one should use it for anything.

While expressing my displeasure to the customer service person as firmly and politely as I could, he offered to make the perscription refill over the phone. But, oops. They were still out of Avandamet. Now Humanna, which is my medical insurance people, prohibits me from using local pharmacies except under special circumstances, so why are the out of a relatively common medication for weeks at a time?

Traveling, it was difficult to find the time to call my doctor to get a replacement perscription, but yesterday, I called around and found a local Walgreens and asked it they had the Avandamet I needed. They checked and said yes. But by the time I called my doctor back in Texas, the office was closed.

This morning, I tried again, and after several calls I reached a Real Person. Yes, they had gotten my voicemail and were at that very minute calling the San Francisco Wallgreens with my new perscription. Oh joy!

So as Mary Ann and Debra went off to do their touristy things, I learned how to do Bus travel in San Francisco and arrived at the Walgreens. All went well, except they were nearly out of Avandamet. They gave me a partial fill and told me to come back tomorrow. Oh well. One more time to see the sights.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Blue as Far as the Eye can See

After days in the desert, it is very refreshing to be here and Malibu Beach RV. We're camped up on a hill overlooking the ocean. I'm pretty much stuck here for the most part. We dropped the Jeep off at the dealer in Thousand Oaks to get the damage repaired, but it won't be fixed for another couple of days. Debra comes by every day to take us to eat and she is enjoying taking Mary Ann off to their exercise place.

But I get to watch the ships and boats and kayaks making their way across the water. Down the hill, across a mountain trail, is Malibu Seafood, which is a great place for outdoor picnic table style fish. I even got the laundry done yesterday.

Upcoming: The three of us are going to take a little car trip up the coast. Since I'm a hermit, and I suspect my daughter is too, this ought to be interesting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My email to Seth

I honestly don't quite understand what you want, so I'll just ramble and maybe you can cull something out of it.

I've been fascinated by space for a very long time. I can remember the Ranger 7 spacecraft in 1964, which was just a rocket with a camera aimed at the moon. I had no way of landing. It just sent video frames as it crashed into the moon. I was 14 at the time and can remember that it was on TV that morning, and I was late or almost late getting to school as I waited for the images to appear on the screen. I still carry that last image, of a dimpled cratered surface, in my memory. The sequence of the last few frames, giving the mental image of approaching the moon has been one of the important points in my childhood.

As far as the presidents involved, and the politics, at that time, I could care less. I wanted to go into space, and as the realities crept in -- astronauts had to have perfect vision, and I wore glasses -- I just wanted men in space.

As the regular progression of space exploration happened, I was right there, watching TV, soaking it up.
I can remember Apollo XI and the landing. I can remember that, at that time, I had just been working long enough to have paid my income taxes, and feeling immensely happy that I had a tiny part in the events on the screen.

Nixon made a phone call to the astronauts, I think. At the time, I thought it was a little inappropriate. The astronauts were doing the real job and the politicians were just side issues.

The winning of the race to the moon, while not important to me, was the end of America's space program. I hadn't realized how the politics behind it all were necessary for the funding. When the Apollo missions ended, it was a personal betrayal. People didn't understand how important it all was.

I can remember watching the movie Apollo 13, and after walking out of the movie house, seeing the full moon overhead, knowing there was no one there, and maybe there wouldn't be in my lifetime.

I am a science fiction writer, and I wrote a novel that took place just the east of Mare Crisium. That was my claim to the moon. I mapped and plotted and lived on that one spot of the moon. Now, when I look up at the moon, I see my spot, my piece of the moon. It's probably all I'll ever get.

Death Valley

This was going to be "Desert Bloom -- Death Valley". The flowers were there, but it was a different jeep trip.

At the floor of Death Valley, there are flowers, but we arrived past the peak of the bloom. Mary Ann had done her research and knew that the flowers were still vibrant at higher elevations, so she charted us a course up out of the Death Valley Basin, through Nevada and back down by way of Scotty's Castle.

It was a good loop. Once we reached the 2000 - 4000 foot elevation, we were stopping every few miles for her to take more pictures. I even got some time to work on my story. On Highway 95, while she was lying in the dirt, trying to get some very close up pictures of some purple flowers so tiny that most people wouldn't see, I was watching a dry lake bed that was hosting a series of very dramatic dust-devils. Some of them were the most tightly formed and tallest one's I'd ever seen. They were carrying the dust up, easily 1000-2000 feet, based on what I could estimate from the mountain range on the other side. They reminded me of the ones seen on Mars. Very tight and well-defined.

The drop back into the basin going to Scotty's Castle proved to be the best flowers of all. Dramatic yellow flowers filled the valley.

But it was here that Mary Ann let me know she had more planned for us.

She had traced a route that left the pavement and headed up towards Eureka Dunes, supposedly a bigger dune field than the one near Stovepipe Wells, where we had camped.

The instant we left the pavement, I had to sigh. The road was washboard. I could barely go ten miles per hour before the wheels were bouncing all over the road. But, that's where she wanted to go, and we'd done crazier things before.

It was a long road. I started experimenting, trying to find the right speed and the right track to minimize the vibrations. We stopped a few times to get pictures of flowers that she hadn't seen in other places in the park.

But by the time we were 15 miles down the road, she gave me the chance to turn back. I should have taken her up on it.

At mile 17, I was trying a new trick, keeping the right wheels up on the shoulder of the road. It was doing a great job of minimizing the vibrations and allowing me to drive faster. The shoulder wasn't really graded like the main road bed, so it had some rocks that I had to avoid, but I was doing okay. Except for that last rock.

Bang! A hundred yards later, Mary Ann said, "We may be in trouble." I could smell it too. Oil. I stopped the Jeep immediately, but before I could turn off the key, I could see that the old pressure had dropped to zero. I got out and looked. Oil was spilling out on the ground. The rock had knocked a hole in the oil pan.

It was two hours to sunset, and this was Death Valley. There was no cell phone coverage, and we were in one of the most deserted locations in North America.

Surprisingly, I was up-beat. Yes, we were stranded, and it was likely no one else would be on this road before tomorrow. Yes, we had eaten our lunch. Yes, we hadn't planned for an overnight and there were no coats or blankets.

Still, we didn't do anything crazy. We reviewed our supplies. We had several water bottles, and cans of nuts to eat. I had left a sweater and cap in the Jeep, and she had a pullover jacket. If it didn't get too cold, we should be okay. I opened the hood on the Jeep as the universal sign of car trouble.

When Mary Ann started to worry, I went and found some more flowers for her to take pictures of. Once she had things to do, she was okay. I toyed with several ideas, from hiking back to the pavement, to taking the oil pan off myself and seeing if I could patch it, but those were clearly long-shots. I concentrated on going with the flow, being up-beat, and knowing that it would all turn out okay. Besides, it would make a good Blog.

Sunset came, and immediately it started getting colder. I bundled up, and waited. We were close enough to the commercial air lanes that jet noise would cause me to jump up and check for activity every few minutes. Most of the time I couldn't even see the jets. Mary Ann voted against staying out in the desert all night. I voted with her. It passed. We sat in the Jeep and waited, listening to the growing noises of animals and insects.

I have good hearing, and being so far away from any mechanical noise, I could hear things miles away. Perhaps I could even hear an occasional truck from over the mountains in Nevada. Maybe.

Finally, about an hour after sunset, I looked up, and there on the road ahead, I could see dust and headlights. "A car is coming," I told Mary Ann, while I turned the headlights on and off, signalling.

"Where is it?" she asked. The headlights had vanished. I looked and told her it was probably just out of sight. The road went up and own over the hills. But I was confused. I had heard engine noise before, but I couldn't now. I hadn't imagined it.

I walked a half mile up the road, and there was no sign of a car. Realizing I had walked off without the Talkabouts, I walked back and told Mary Ann that I suspected that the car had pulled off somewhere and that I was going to look for it. I took one of the radios and headed out. Just a minute later, she radioed that she had spotted a light. That was promising.

Down the road, I saw relatively fresh tracks in the dust. A vehicle heading towards us had stopped, turned around, and headed back. I followed, and shortly found a side road. The same tracks when that way, so I followed, and before too long, I saw a light. I radioed Mary Ann and told her where I was.

In a place as deserted as this. I realized it wouldn't do to pop up and startle people, so I called "Hello!" before I approached. Jim and his mother Janis were just making camp. I told them my problem, and he was glad to help, but I felt sorry that they were being put to this trouble.

After they had re-packed, and gotten Freckles the dog back in their car, they came up to where we were stranded. Mary Ann went with them to arrange the towing, while I stayed with the Jeep. It was either me or Freckles. There wasn't room for both of us.

As the lights of the car vanished into the distance, I relaxed, listened to the night noises and pulled all the available coverings over my head to conserve heat.

I was startled by a light behind me. It wasn't time for rescue. I climbed out and stared for a while at the rising full moon. I would have watched it longer, but it was cold.

About the time I expected, a light appeared on the far horizon. I turned on the Jeep's tail lights and waited. It was Mary Ann and the rescuers. Things hadn't worked out as planned. The tow truck wouldn't arrive until tomorrow and they were worried about me and brought a sleeping bag. But, as we talked Jim noticed the tow bar on my Jeep and offered to try to pull be back with his car. After some manual repositioning of the Jeep, we connected and Mary Ann and I rode in the Jeep while being pulled back over 17 miles of washboard road.

It was hard to keep my hands off the steering wheel, but I was dead tired. It was by now, 2 am. Jim drove us all the way back to Stovepipe Wells, where we could hook up the incapacitated Jeep when we left. Mary Ann talked them into staying at the Stovepipe Wells hotel and we all agreed we'd sleep late.

It was so nice to sleep in my own bed, even though I was starting to get a fever chill. (Better now).

Lessons learned? God does take care of you even when you're stupid.