Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Life Gets In The Way

My apologies to everyone who may be a reader of this blog. However, every so often, for most of us, Life Gets In The Way, and that has definitely happened this winter. (And it isn't even winter yet!)
On top of holidays, cleaning my office and constructing a new website, several assignments landed on my desk at the same time; one manuscript to proofread and 2 to edit. And just to make things 'interesting', Winter Depression moved in with my Chronic Depression.
It became obvious - even with my brain drowning in depression chemistry - that something had to give, and I'm afraid Trudy’s Universe is one thing I'm putting on the back burner for a while. Check back for more of my musings around Feb 3, 2016. By then, these edit jobs will be done, the holidays over, the website mostly done, and I should be able to find my office. Best of all, all the things I’ve started to do to augment my antidepressant meds will have me back on an even keel.
In the meantime, entertain yourself with a good book. I could make suggestions, if you want, but... I’m probably biased.

I will be back. I hope you’ll rejoin me then.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


What does one do with a dead mouse?
I'm talking the computer variety, not the rodent.
For that matter, what does one do with a dead printer, because I've got one that's been taking up room in my office for... since before I had an 'official' office. Or a dead cell phone? (I've got 2 of those.)
In all these cases, it costs less to get a new one than to fix what you have. Here we go with planned obsolescence and adding to the landfill again. In my city, those who pick up the garbage & recycling don't pick up computers, computer accessories or other electronics like phones.
This is probably a good thing, because we don't need the various materials used to make electronic gadgets winding up buried. The minerals would probably morph into some kind of ore, given enough time, but does plastic ever break down? Would future archeologists dig down to find old printers and mice, smudged but still in the original shape? I don't think the plastic would even fossilize, no matter how much time was involved.
Now, I understand that computers need to be recycled. I just don't know how to do that. Wherever they recycle computers, do they take the accessories and things like cell phones as well? And do they charge me to let them recycle my dead things?
Recycling should be made as easy as possible, or people won't do it. I don't want to hunt down the computer recyclers; I'm not a private eye. They should make it easy for me to find them. Why don't the places that sell computers and accessories let their customers know where these types of things can be recycled? Why doesn't the city trash collectors include that information in the monthly newsletter they mail out?
As for paying somebody to do the recycling of my dead items... that rankles. I don't notice that I'm paying for my household recycling to be picked up, because my taxes help pay for that, and they won't go down if I don't recycle. But every time I have to pay for the disposal of a dead car battery, old tires, used-up oil... I pay the fee, because the law says I have to, but it leaves me feeling cheated.

But, to get back to the subject. Anybody know how I dispose of a dead mouse?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


By now, I'm sure you've heard there's water on Mars. Free-flowing, very salty water. The announcement came a day or two after I saw "The Martian", and I decided to dig deeper into this Martian water issue.
In the late 19th century, Giovanni Schiaparelli reported seeing 'canali' on Mars' surface, meaning channels. A few years later, Percival Lowell confirmed long lines on Mars' surface, and suggested they were an attempt by an advanced Martian culture to save their drying planet by moving water from the poles. Ultimately, these canali / canals did not exist. I haven't found any explanation for why or how they were 'seen' in the first place.
Most of Mars' northern hemisphere is fairly flat with few impact craters; the southern is covered in impact craters. In between is an area of mesas, flat-floored valleys with cliff walls, and other rough terrain. Some features imply that water was present in the distant past, that free-flowing water created paths through the stones. Where did it all go?
Some is still there. Surrounding the bases of those mesas and at the bottoms of those cliffs are what appear to be masses of rock, called lobate debris aprons. In Alaska, we saw a glacier that was so covered in dirt and rocks (picked up during its travel), it just looked like a muddy pile on the edge of the bay. That's what these debris aprons are... solid ice covered in rocks and dirt.
Recent reports from SPICAM, which is circling Mars to study its atmosphere, show that the Martian atmosphere is super-saturated with water vapor. Water vapor doesn't just form droplets when it gets chilled, it needs a speck of dust or something to condense around. If there isn't enough dust, the vapor keeps pushing upward. Eventually, that vapor gets so high, it splits into hydrogen and oxygen, which escape into space, but the article I read said even at 50 km, the atmosphere was super-saturated.
So, Mars is not the super-arid place we thought it was.
How would that have changed the survival techniques used in "The Martian"? In his attempt to produce water to grow crops, could he have 'mined' it from one of these rock piles? Devise a method to condense it from the air? Purified the salty stuff?

What do you think?

Friday, October 16, 2015

No Words

So, here we are, in the middle of October, and I have not written anything this year.

Oh, I've re-written parts of one of my stories, edited part of another, and I've edited, copy-edited and proofed stories for others. But I haven't worked on any rough drafts. NO words have been added to any of the stories sharing camping space in my mind.

Believe me, it's getting crowded.

I spent last night wondering why. Today, I don't care why. Why doesn't really matter; all the whys I came up with really boiled down to; I didn't bother to make the time.

Starting today, I have resolved to MAKE the time. One isn't a writer if one doesn't write.

It's not that hard to find the time; the tv gets shut off at 8 or 9 pm, and I don't go to bed until at least midnight, so that's 3-4 hours when I need to be quiet. I'm already in my office, on my computer, but I've been spending those hours playing games. 'Relaxing', I told myself, but if you've ever been stuck on Level 27 of Fritz for weeks at a time, you know that playing games is not necessarily relaxing.

When I was employed, those hours used to be prime writing time. I see no reason why they can't be again. Those hours are much better (for me) for writing than the morning, when my brain is still trying to figure out what day it is. I have never been a morning person, I have always been a night owl.

So it's simple. Use those hours for rough drafts. Why didn't I think of that before?

No, don't get distracted by 'why'. Just write!

Right! Now, which story idea should I start with first? Telepathic horses? Cali 2? Reincarnation & the NeverEnding War? Or maybe-

Toss a pair of dice! It doesn't matter; they all want to get told. Just write!

Okay. Will do. Ummmm, right after I tell my Little Men in Tribez how to keep busy for the next few hours.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How Many Hats?

Long, long ago - they tell me - all an author needed to do was write. And maybe go on a speaking tour from time to time.
Now, an author wears many hats. How many hats can one person balance on their head before their neck snaps?
First, there's the Writing Hat. You have to get that rough draft done, or your writing career will go nowhere.
At some point, you will probably need the Research Hat, even if you write fiction. If your story involves some military, how is it organized? What ranks does it have? If it's science fiction involving humans, you might research militaries throughout history, and extrapolate from what you've learned. If you're writing a fantasy about dwarves, you might study the tales about dwarves, and try to figure out how they might organize an army. (Hint: A dwarf army is not likely to have cavalry. At least, not a cavalry on something as big as a horse.)
Next comes the Self-Critiquing Hat. You go through your rough draft and make it better by smoothing out rough spots and inconsistencies, adding description and explanation where it's needed, making sure you've said what you intended to say. Actually, you wear this hat more than you wear the Writing Hat.
Next comes the Listening Hat. You ask for feedback on what you've written, and you listen to what they say. Maybe your hero's eyes changed color mid-book, or you use the same phrase over and over, or 3 out of 4 readers didn't understand the first half of chapter eleven.
Back to the Self-Critiquing Hat as you go through your manuscript, considering the feedback, whether or not to change anything, and if so, what's the best way to do that?
Many authors are opting to self publish, these days. Once they've gotten their manuscript as good as they think they can get it, they probably hire an editor, maybe a copy editor, possibly a proofreader, and some will even hire someone to format the manuscript into e-book and print templates.
Or maybe they don't. In which case, those are all hats they should make sure fit their head; the Editor Hat, the Copy Editor Hat, the Proofreader Hat, and the Formatting Hat.
If they are making print copies, they must wear a Deciding Hat (What company will I hire to print this? Where do I get cover art, and who can do the cover layout?), the Receipts Payable Hat (How did the final printing bill get 30% higher than the quote they gave me?), and the Signing Hat (I only ordered *** copies, so why are there so many big, heavy boxes on my doorstep?).
Think they're done? Oh, no, not yet. This part is for all authors, even those with a publishing company, whatever that company's size. Very few authors don't have to wear the following hats:
The Marketing Hat (How do I let people know about my book?) often leads to The Social Media Hat (How many times can I announce something about my book on fb, twitter, linkedin, goodreads...?), the Webmaster Hat (How do I get this shopping cart to work?), the Personal Appearance Organizing Hat (Did that bookstore ever respond about the reading I wanted to do?), the Merchant Hat (Step right up! Get your brand new red hot sf book by that upcoming new author, me!), which, of course, leads to the dreaded Bookkeeper Hat (I gave away 5 books. There's no money involved, so how do I put those in the bookkeeping records?).
I will be wearing the Merchant Hat this weekend. I have rented a table in the Dealer's Room at a Dr Who convention in Wichita KS. Tomorrow, I will be madly trying to wear both the Publicity Hat and the Organizing Hat as I try to design some way to 'decorate' that table and decide how many copies of each book to take with me. A full box of John's book, because, you know, I still have 6 full boxes to sell, 15 of my first book, 12 of the anthology I'm in (plus 6 of the companion volume for that anthology), and 12 of my latest book. Wait, will all those fit in the car with John's suitcase, my suitcase, the costume suitcase and my full make-up case?

Too many hats!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Shake & Rattle

Your dream has come true, and you are now living on the moon! You start your new job in the morning, so you should get some sleep, but you doubt if you can. After all, you're on the moon! Your suitcases aren't even unpacked yet.
Not that you've been sight-seeing since your arrival, although you have craned your neck to look around as you were hustled from one safety meeting to a technology overview to another safety meeting to... What was with all the safety meetings?
You were thoroughly trained before you left Earth, but these people treated you like a child, repeating the same mantra over and over: "If things start shaking, get into a spacesuit or a rescue pod - whichever you find first - and stay there until you are personally told you can get out."
Shaking? That tiny hint of vibration you felt travel up your legs during the last safety class? That was when the grizzled instructor lunged for a locker and tossed a spacesuit your way as he simultaneously shoved himself into another. He was locked inside his before you could stop gawking and start putting on the oversized thing. You were supposed to worry about that?
He stared at you, didn't even offer to help. Confused and embarrassed, you had just started inserting your second leg when a buzzer went off in 3 short bursts. You could hear it coming through the suit radio as well as the base intercom. You stopped to listen to the voice that followed. "Okay, this appears to be just the normal monthly deep quake, people. It should fade away eventually. But as always, be alert and ready in case it gets worse."
Sound like fun, living on the moon? There's no weather, so you don't have to worry about hurricanes, tornadoes or lightning strikes. There's no tectonic plates, so there wouldn't be any- Wrong! While it is true the moon doesn't have any tectonic plates, it does have quakes.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes the 4 types of quakes that happen on the moon. They have figured out 2 causes; the strike of a meteor sets off a quake, and the first thaw after a region has been frozen hard for 2 weeks is another cause.
The quake I spoke of in my little daydream was a 'deep moonquake'. They occur about every 27 days, and are apparently located 700km below the moon's surface. Scientists thought they were caused by the same gravity force that produces Earth's tides, but the computer models are not completely bearing that out. Deep moonquakes might reach a magnitude of 2, which few people feel.
But the ones that a lunar colony would have to watch out for are the shallow moonquakes. 'Shallow' may not sound like much, but the shallow moonquakes have reached a magnitude of 5.5, which can topple heavy furniture and crack walls, here on Earth, in the less than 2 minutes that it rumbles. A lunar colony would have to be built to withstand that kind of torture, because if a wall cracks, it could lose all its air in short order. And you couldn't just stand there and think, "It will all be over in a minute" because on the moon, a quake could last for hours! I think I'd be jumping for the nearest spacesuit or rescue pod for the duration.

And here I was thinking of building a colony under the moon's surface! For a story, of course.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Secret

This year's World Science Fiction Convention was in Spokane, WA. The layout of the convention center made absolutely no sense. You entered on ground level, only to take an escalator to the 2nd level, where you could find registration, the dealer's room and the art show. From there, you could do one of 5 things:
·       Take an escalator down to one set of rooms,
·       go down a few steps to a down escalator to another set of rooms,
·       walk down a long corridor, turn left, follow a hallway to an (inadequate) bank of elevators to get to the hotel lobby, which you walked across to another set of rooms (I never personally made this trip, although I did try, once.),
·       don't turn left but continue down that long corridor to a down escalator to another set of rooms, or
·       walk past that set of rooms to take an elevator up a floor to yet another set of rooms.
Rumor has it that there were even rooms in another building that one had to go outside to get to.
Even with a map in the pocket program book, convention center staff were stationed at corners so people could ask, "How do I get to X?" We got our exercise!
There were wild fires in Washington, one of them north of Spokane. The city wasn't threatened, but on Friday, the smoke was as thick as heavy fog. Even inside, you could smell it. Played heck with people's sinuses.
But the thing I will probably remember most was The Secret. I heard it in a panel given by authors, and one of them quite nonchalantly stated, "I hate to give away secrets, but we authors don't come to conventions to see our fans; we come to network with other authors and people in the business."
I was shocked!
Now that I have thought about it, I wonder, Then why do they attend the smaller conventions? I mean the smaller, regional conventions where they may be the only 'known' author attending. No editors, no agents, only small press publishers. What would local authors and small press people offer?
I suppose networking is networking, and you never know, the person who is completely unknown this year could the Big Item next year. But still, the fan is in that mix somewhere, right?
How can you sell books if nobody wants to read it? If fans aren't important, why are newbie and wanna-be authors advised to produce the most excellent work they can, because "Your first book is what sells (or doesn't sell) your next book."

Okay, maybe this 'Secret' doesn't say it all. Maybe it was just my personal wake-up to use conventions, not just to have fun, but to network with like-minded people. That's not an easy thing for me to do. But I can talk to people, one or two at a time. Time to give it a try.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Inspiration Everywhere

Sometimes, after sitting at my desk for weeks, my ideas dry up. This year, with the World Science Fiction Convention being in Spokane WA, we decided this was the time to take an Alaskan cruise. I wanted to see a glacier calve off some icebergs (before they retreat so far they can’t be seen doing that anymore).

Not only did I see that sight, I had lots of experiences and thoughts to tuck away in my mind’s corners to possibly be used in future stories. And the same happened to John; he almost daily stated he could use a particular experience in one of his short stories that he now hoped to turn into a novel.

For instance, our first excursion was ziplining through the tree canopy of the forest surrounding Juneau. Having an on-again/off-again fear of heights, it took grim determination to try this. Thankfully, once I started zipping along each line, the gear kept me from looking down, so I only had to ‘face my fear’ on the platforms in the trees, for the most part. Now I have a little bit of a feel for what it’s like to don a harness and ride along a cable; how the wind feels, how easy it is to get ‘off-balance’ and start rotating instead of facing forward. Not to mention how wet one’s clothes can get, how slippery one’s shoes can get, or how poorly one can see the rapidly-approaching platform one is aimed for when it’s raining.

The day started misty but calm, and it was a gentle rain by the time we finished. From that, I might be able to extrapolate what the experience would be like in a heavier rain or even snow.

The tallest point we reached was 185 feet above the ground. (“I did not need to hear that,” I told our guides.) I don’t think the platforms were any more than half-way up a tree, and for the most part, there were tree limbs around us. But the course came down the side of a steep hill, and the ‘training’ line started at a platform about 1 foot off the ground and ended at one about 10 feet off the ground. The 2nd line (the bunny slope) took us even further into the air. With some imagination, I could possibly figure out what it would be like to use a zipline between buildlings like a cat burgler, or across chasms, or from stony outcrop to stony outcrop on a mountain.

I’ve considered intelligent creatures traveling in this way, but only 10-20 feet off the ground. If they were on a steep piece of terrain, they would have to use ‘switchback’ lines or ‘tack’ their way down. I’m still working on how they would get up a hill. That might involve tree-climbing.

It was hard for me to get started with this adventure. By the time we finished, my knees were shaky and I was completely worn out. The other adventurers asked how I felt about ziplining now, did I enjoy it? I replied I wasn’t sure ‘enjoy’ was the word I would use; I would have to do it again to see if it was fun. And then, during the obligatory visit to the gift shop, I found THE t-shirt I HAD to have! It said,

I survived ziplining!

Well, I’ve spent this entire blog talking about ziplining. I thought I would quickly run through a catalog of our ‘new experiences’ from this cruise, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen that way. Yeah, I tend to ‘run off at the keyboard’.

So stay tuned for my further adventures! They’ll get written up and posted, mixed in with all the other stuff I find to write about here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Old Characters

Like real people, characters get old. Or should. If a book only covers a couple years of a character’s lifespan, then that isn’t a problem. But if the author is young, and they have an old-ish character, they seem to make one of two errors:
Either their older character is afflicted with every old-age problem known to man, and a few we don’t know about, or the older character only talks about being old, and otherwise is as energetic and healthy as any young character. An author needs to have experience and in this case, most young authors don’t know what ‘getting older’ feels like.
I am no longer young, although I reject the idea that I am old. Still, I am beginning to experience some of those ailments that creep into the bodies of ‘old people’.
Arthritis is frequently thought of as an old person affliction. Mine started as occasional sharp pains in a knee, sometime during my 30s, but it really started slowing me down (literally, I could hardly walk more than 6 steps) in my mid-40s. That could have been earlier than most people, while a few people might not start experiencing it until their 60s or 70s. My knees are much better now (they’ve been replaced), but now I’m battling arthritic bone spurs in the shoulders that reduce my range of motion. And every time a thunderstorm is coming, every joint in my body aches - neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, knees... I suspect my ankles and toes ache, also, but their message of pain can’t fight its way through the messages coming from so many closer-to-the-brain locations.
Also during my 40s, I started needing to use reading glasses. This included not only reading, but sewing, painting, computer work... The list is practically endless. I have slowly progressed to a stronger and stronger magnification. If your older character doesn’t have glasses, he/she might lean closer and/or squint to try to bring details into focus. On the other hand, my dad used to hold the newspaper at arm’s length and squint, trying to focus his eyes, and he died around 49. So your character might do it either way, but probably not both.
If your story takes place in the future, medicine might have cured these ailments, or delayed their arrival for decades, in which case, you don’t really have an older character. If your story is in the past, people died much younger, and these afflictions arrived much earlier.
Old people’s immune systems gets worn out, so they catch things easier and keep it longer. Gout is extremely painful and keeps that joint from bending for days. (These days, steroids send it packing quickly.) Do a little research on old age afflictions, and then pick a couple for your older character to deal with. Don’t load him/her down with every illness; it’s not only unlikely, they would be pretty useless. And don’t forget the common cold, flu, and all those other illnesses that even younger people have to contend with.

Make your character’s older age believable, but don’t make that character a burden to the rest of the war party. Unless, of course, that’s integral to the story.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More on Pluto & Charon

Last week, I made a prediction to a friend that, alas, has come true. My prediction was that by this week, NASA’s look at Pluto and Charon would have fallen out of the news as being too old, and the ‘news’ programs will have returned to dissecting and analyzing some politician’s speech or statement made last week... or even earlier. As exciting as the Pluto/Charon photos and info are, the people analyzing that information are scientists who want to be sure they understand what they have before making any big announcements like “Life found on Pluto!” or “Charon a huge alien generation ship!”
I find Pluto and Charon far more interesting than all this way-too-early political jibber-jabber we’ve been getting for what seems like the past decade. So I’ll take this opportunity to go through my reasons why I feel Pluto (& Charon) should go through yet another reclassification.
In my research reading the past couple of days, it seems there is no upper size limit to ‘dwarf planet’. One article actually said that if an object larger than Mercury were found in the Keiper Belt, it would be classified as a dwarf planet, because it has not substantially cleared out its neighborhood of debris. Can you imagine? If Earth were located in the asteroid belt, it would be a ‘dwarf planet’! 
The lower size limit of ‘dwarf planet’ is pretty fuzzy, too, but from what I gathered, the lower size for a rocky planet is about a radius of 372 miles.
Pluto’s radius is 1,430 miles, about half the size of Mercury, and definitely bigger than that lower limit. NASA’s new photos show it as round and rocky/icy. But look at this; Charon’s radius is 751 miles (about half Pluto’s size), also bigger than that lower limit, and it is also round and rocky/icy. So, why is it still considered by most to be a moon and not a dwarf planet?
Technically, Charon does not revolve around Pluto. Both Charon and Pluto revolve around a common point that is located outside Pluto’s body. If Earth and Mars were in the same orbit and both revolving around a common point, they would be a binary planet. Why not just jump in and classify Pluto/Charon a binary dwarf planet?
I have to imagine that Pluto’s ‘other’ 4 moons probably revolve around that same point, or run the risk of slamming into Charon. If they’re small enough, they could zip around Pluto inside Charon’s ‘orbit’, but from what I understand, Pluto and Charon are pretty close.
The European Space Agency referred to Earth/Moon as a binary planet, and the moon is 1/4 the size of Earth. Another website said that unequivocally, Earth/Moon is not a binary planet, because the moon does not orbit the sun, as set forth in the current definition of planet. Really? How does the moon orbit Earth and not go around the sun at the same time? By that reasoning, binary planets are impossible, because their primary orbit would not be around their star. So, what would they be?
To be fair, I did glimpse some websites that indicate there are others who - like me - think Pluto and Charon are a binary dwarf planet. I hope the idea spreads. Pluto deserves to be somewhat special, in my mind.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I was listening to the radio a few days ago - yeah, I do that, especially when I’m driving somewhere. It was a ‘news’ program, and one of the subjects that came up was emojis. They used to be called emoticons, now they are emojis.
Apparently, there is a social app (that is particularly popular in some parts of the world) where you type in your message, and the app converts it into emojis. These little emotion symbols have become so prevalent and so popular, that one man actually ‘translated’ Moby Dick into emojis. 😖
As I listened to this article, I pondered the meaning of this.
Way, way back in time, people started trying to communicate with other people by using pictures. These stylized pictures are called pictographs. These pictographs were eventually simplified into symbols, which then gave way to various alphabets, which were used to make words to convey ideas from one person to another. 🔁 
Now we seem to be going back to pictures. 🌲
Are we starting over? Has language failed us, somehow? Is this another of the cycles that seem to be a part of human history? Or is this just a blip, a fad that will fade out?
I don’t know.

Personally, I find words work pretty well... it’s my brain that sometimes can’t remember the word with the exact emotional nuance I want to convey. 😡

Well, this is embarrassing. All the cute little pictures and emojis I so carefully picked out for this blog showed up perfectly fine UNTIL I posted it! I'm too computer-illiterate to figure out what the problem is. Guess you'll have to imagine your own pictures.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Best Made Plans

Have you ever made plans that just didn’t live up to your expectations? Even vacations have bumps when things don’t go your way. Our last vacation ...
In Florida, every time I lay down, my sinuses immediately plugged up and I was soon mouth breathing. My cpap mask only covers my nose, so it was no help.
John had signed up to march in Disney’s StarWars weekend parades. He was up at 6 AM that first Friday in severe pain and unable to bend one knee. I took him to ‘urgent care’... which didn’t open until 8. He had to scoot in and out of the back, with the leg stretched along the seat. It was gout; they prescribed steroids and ice packs. (He did get to march the next day, and for the rest of the parades while we were there.)
To see the parade, I had to be at the gate by 7:30 (one never knew what time they were going to let people in), rush to one of the (2) benches along the parade route and park myself. The parade happened at 11. The humid heat did nothing for my stuffy sinuses.
I got a page written for my ‘Mac’ serial, but Open Office kept crashing and finally refused to open my ‘Mac’ file again. Unable to think, having no OO specialist to consult, I gave up. John, however, got his 2nd novel rewritten (2nd draft).
I finally let John take me to ‘urgent care’, and I waited 3 hours to see a doc. Then the pharmacy didn’t have the medicine! Augmentin was on back-order? The doc changed the prescription. To sulfur pills. My brother has to take sulfur pills. They work, but not quickly. Another week before I started feeling almost decent.
Friends spent weekends with us. On the last parade day, as everyone was getting ready, the wife fell and struck her head. The husband took her to urgent care, so John went alone to do the parade. Long story short, it was much more than a bump on the head; she ended up in the hospital for 2 nights before they could go home.
Wednesday, I started home, stopping to call my mother-in-law to say I was on my way. She had been taken to the hospital that morning. Frantic phone calls and text messages dogged me all the way home.
Thursday, the radio talked about severe rain and some flooding ‘in Missouri and along the Mississippi.’ I was in Illinois, about to turn west to St Louis. I called my son and asked him to research this, in case I needed to continue north and go through Des Moines. He said it was located south of I70 (the road I would travel).
East St Louis, Friday morning, heavy rain. Happily, the worst was over by the time I left St Louis. But EVERY river and creek I crossed was definitely over its banks! Like I wasn’t nervous enough.

NOT a good vacation. It wasn’t a bump, it was a series of steep cliffs the entire time. I suppose there’s bound to be a bad one every so often, right? But I haven’t given up; we plan to head for Washington (state) and an Alaska cruise in August. Hmm. Maybe it’s good we got this ‘bad luck’ over during this vacation.

Friday, May 8, 2015

What If?

Last weekend, I attended Demicon, a science fiction convention held in Des Moines, IA. While there, I gave 5 panels and 1 reading. So far, readings have not brought me loads of fans, but I don’t think I’ve ever given a reading where nobody has shown up, so those who do come get a taste of my writing style.
The panels were better attended. As I explained to the audiences as each panel broke up, I generally like to introduce a subject, and let the ‘talk’ turn into a discussion. In that case, the audience members might participate as much - or more! - than I do, although I will attempt to guide the conversation from time to time. I really like that formula, because being an introvert, I tend to sit at my computer for long periods of time, and that can lead to thinking in a circle... no new ideas. But when I get other people lending their thoughts and knowledge to a conversation, I wind up with a whole batch of new (to me) ‘what if’s to ponder.
One of these discussions was on planet building. This subject is not just for science fiction; I have one fantasy universe set on a world with 3 moons. But we tended to compare our ideas to situations we’ve heard about within our own solar system, and when the talk moved to dwarf planets, I mentioned that one of the dwarves living out beyond Pluto is not spherical, as the definition states, because it spins so fast, it has flattened itself. That brought up the question, what if you had an actual planet, roughly the mass of Earth, but also spinning so fast that it is flattened quite a bit. Would the gravity be different at the equator than the poles? What an interesting idea! Of course, nobody had an answer for that.
The side subject of moons - If you don’t have a relatively large moon, you probably won’t have tides in your oceans - brought the question, if your planet had rings like Saturn, would they exert enough gravimetric pull to effect your tides? Another stumper! If I had been giving out prizes...
These particular questions both came from James C Hines, who poked his head in the door half-way through this panel. I invited him to join us, without realizing who he was. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t put a name to the face until the talk was breaking up. Thank you, James. I now have specific questions to pose to my brother-in-law, the astrophysicist.

Every sf writer should have access to an astrophysicist.

Friday, April 24, 2015


I have this game I’ve been playing when my brain is fried and I need a break. I thought it was a ‘time management’ game; others have called it a ‘sim’ game. Whatever. It amuses me.
In this game, I am an outsider, washed up on some island. It is my job (apparently) to organize the natives to build houses, grow food, and such things. When I get a village on that island to a certain size, I take a few of the natives on a raft to another island, to start a village there. Communication and trade between the villages flourishes, and there always seems to be some new quest for me to take on.
All the natives are men, and they all look exactly alike. I add to a village’s population by having a hut or house built, and when it is done, another native comes running in to live in it. When I have them build a house that will hold 2 people, they are 2 men. Are there no women on these islands?
Yes, there are, at least on the original island, but let me talk about them later.
After I’d had a few huts built, and they were growing crops, they wanted some amusement; a bar, cafeteria and a hot tub. They wanted bonfires to keep the evil spirits away, benches to sit on, and paved streets. And then... an altar of emotions. I could not imagine what that was, but I had them build it.
And that’s where the women appeared. The altar of emotions seems to be a cross between a brothel and wedding chapel. When a man feels lonely, he goes there to see his girl friend (all of whom look exactly alike), although one quest was to perform 10 wedding ceremonies. And then it dawned on me that each time a man went to see his girl friend, he left money for the village coffers. So... what did that make the women? Because they never appear anyplace other than the altar of emotions.
That does not sit well with me.
But it is just a game, and we can’t expect the designer to make it lifelike.
I like this game because I enjoy imagining colonies in their first few years of existence on another planet. Was it a planned colony or a shipwreck? How many people are there, and what skills do they have? Do they actually have the equipment they need, or do they start out with a basic campfire and have to create or re-create any technology they remember? Are there any intelligent natives? Dangerous predators?
I have one colony I’ve ‘designed’ a number of times over the years. Usually because I lost my previous plans, or realized they would need plumbers, or doctors, or something I had forgotten. I get lost in the details of that colony for days or weeks. However, I don’t need all those details to write stories about that colony. Kind of like the game; keep it simple for the reader.

Real life, of course, is far more complicated. And somehow, far less entertaining.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

Years ago, people started talking ‘disposable’. We became a ‘disposable’ culture, in that whenever something didn’t work anymore, we were expected to toss it and get a new one. Shall we blame NASA for that mentality? After all, every time they sent someone or something into space, they had to build a whole new rocket, new capsule, and who knew what.
I hate to blame NASA. I believe in NASA, although I sometimes chaff at how slow their progress can be.
I don’t want to blame NASA, so I blame business. It’s a conspiracy, you know. Business figures that if they sell you something you want and need, but which quickly ceases to work, you’d be back to buy another. And then another.
How long does a ball point pen work? I’m not talking about expensive pens, I’m talking about the cheap ones you buy in packages of 10 or 30, that your workplace buys by the cratefull. They don’t last long. When was the last time you put an ink refill in one? You probably don’t; you just toss it and pull out a new one. They’re cheap, and you don’t even think about it, do you?
Well, pause right now and think about the hundreds, thousands, millions of dead ball point pens taking up space in landfills. Think about what remains of each one; a drop or two of ink, a tiny bit of metal, and the rest is plastic.
One or two million drops of ink would, I assume, eventually lose its ‘moisture’ into the surrounding compost, the color components forming bits of color. Millions of bits of metal would corrode at some point, possibly forming a metallic ‘lode’ for future people to dig up and use.
But what about the plastic? What’s the half-life of plastic? What does it form, if and when it finally breaks down? From what I’ve gathered, most plastics don’t break down in landfills. Some break down when exposed to sunlight for days on end, but when they do, they form nasty toxins. There are newer, ‘biodegradable’ plastics, but they don’t degrade well in landfills, either; they degrade in compost where heat is present. So, millions of plastic pens are thrown into landfills where they will probably remain dead pens for a heck of a long time. If they do manage to degrade, they will form toxins to sicken any plants or animals that ingest them.

Long after I’m dead and gone, all those ball point pens I’ve thrown away will be out there, forming toxins. That is not the kind of legacy I wanted.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Personal Appearances

These days, it is the responsibility of the author to do most - if not all - of the marketing for their book. One way to do that is to make ‘personal appearances’ - talks, readings, book signings, that sort of thing. For authors who write science fiction, fantasy or something fairly close to those genres, much of those activities can be done at science fiction conventions.
1) You can participate on ‘panels’, either alone or with other speakers. Panels are discussions or talks on a particular subject, and the marketing involved includes mentioning your (most recent or most known) work when you introduce yourself. 2) Readings are falling out of favor with some sf conventions, but others will still give you a time slot. 3) Most sf conventions have a ‘freebie’ table, where you can place fliers about your work. 4) The author or a group of authors can rent a table in the dealer’s room, where they can sell copies of their books. 5) Autograph sessions can be organized at that dealer’s table. 6) Get out there and mix with people! The more people have met you and had a conversation with you, the more they are likely to buy a copy of your work.
My first appearance this convention season is Willycon, held April 10-12. Held at the college in Wayne, Nebraska, it is the smallest convention we attend each year, but it is a good way of ‘easing’ back into the convention scene after a long winter of hibernation. John and I have been going since the convention got started, and a number of former students are now friends with us on facebook.
I like Willycon because I am not always at my best after that long hibernation, so a small convention lets me get my groove on, so to speak. I always take some fliers for the freebie table, and participate in at least one panel or workshop. This year, as lack-of-planning will have it, I am having a stubborn tooth root surgically removed the day before Willycon, so I have deliberately limited myself to one panel, but it will be fun!
“Well, this is it; We’re all going to die!” will be an audience-participation-expected panel, where we will compile a list of all the various ways humans (or at least most of them) could be wiped off the face of the Earth.
John Lars Shoberg has a few panels that he is giving, including the ‘flip side’ of my panel, which he calls “Surviving the Apocalypse”, or something similar. After I and my audience come up with a list of dooms, he and his audience will figure out how humans could survive each awful fate.

Hope to see you there, or at one of the other conventions we’ll be attending this year. More info on those other conventions in the future.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Names for Pluto

If you’ve kept track of the various space trips we’ve sent machines on, you are aware that New Horizons is approaching Pluto. Of course, that was launched some 9 years ago, and some of us have trouble remembering what we had for breakfast. But I saw an article in January of this year that the New Horizons was ‘waking up,’ getting ready for the closest fly-by of Pluto ever. So I’ve kept my eyes open for updates on that.
In the meantime, I’ve discovered that Pluto has not just 1, but 5 moons! I’ve known about Charon for a long time, and it’s almost as large as Pluto. But the others are mere specks in comparison, and are named Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx. I think I see a pattern in these names.
Recently, I saw an article asking people to submit and vote on names for when they start creating maps of Pluto’s and Charon’s surfaces, once New Horizons sends back photos taken close enough to show geological features. I hope they pick some good ones. I don’t want Pluto and Charon saddled with names like ‘Tom’s Mountain Range’ and ‘Smith’s Canyon’.
Again, they are looking for names for geological features. They don’t expect to find cities, villages or roads. Nor are they likely to find rivers, lakes or oceans... although I suppose there is some possibility that something may have frozen into long strings or blobs that might bear some resemblance to waterways. Mars has its ‘canals’, and now the bed of an ancient ocean. Even the moon has areas called oceans and seas, though it’s not likely any water ever sat in them.
So, do start coming up with names to propose for mountains, crevices, plateaus, craters and so on. The naming campaign is being promoted by SETI. You can propose names - and vote - at http://ourpluto.seti.org through April 7, which is only a few days away. The International Astronomical Union will decide which names will actually be used.

I wonder why there’s such a hurry to get a list generated? New Horizons’ closest approach won’t be until July of this year, the pictures won’t arrive here until after that, and then the maps will be begun. So, what would be your guess? A year from now, will that map be done and all the features named?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

New Moon

Have you ever come across someone who did not grasp a concept that you have understood since... as long as you can remember?
Recently, I discovered a friend knew there were phases to the moon, but could not understand that that meant the moon was not always in the sky at night. It’s true. Let me try to draw a picture.

(Okay, that’s what kind of drawing you get when you turn me loose with Microsoft’s ‘Paint’ for half an hour.)
I hope you can recognize the sun, Earth, and then four positions of the moon around the Earth. Each moon position shows what the moon would look like from Earth. So, when the Earth is ‘between’ the sun and the moon, we see a Full Moon; sunlight is reflected from the entire face that we see. When the moon is sitting roughly on the Earth’s orbit, we would see a Half Moon; sunlight is reflected from half the surface that faces Earth. When the moon is ‘between’ the sun and Earth, we see a New Moon; sunlight is reflected from the side we don’t see, and the side facing Earth is dark. We can all agree on that, right?
Now, to me, just looking at this picture makes it obvious that the New Moon is in the sky roughly the same time as the sun. Therefore, the moon is in the sky during the day, not at night.
You’ve seen the moon during the day, haven’t you? I’ve seen it many times.
But if you don’t want to believe me or this picture, here are some rising and setting moon times for Omaha NE I’ve looked up on the internet (Daylight Savings Time):
March 26, 2015      Half Moon, roughly      Rise 10:56 AM (morning)      Set 12:47 AM (after midnight)
April 4, 2015      Full Moon      Rise 7:18 PM      Set 6:08 AM
April 10, 2015      Half Moon, roughly      Rise 12:56 AM (after midnight)      Set 10:09 AM
April 18, 2015      New Moon      Rise 5:42 AM      Set 7:16 PM
Now, on April 18, 2015, in Omaha, the sun will rise at 6:40 AM and set at 8:07 PM, so, yes, the moon will be in the sky at roughly the same time as the sun.
So, if you are reading (or writing) a story, and in a scene set at 1:00 AM, the New Moon is not reflecting enough light to help the hero find his way down the alley... Of course it won’t. Not only is it a New Moon, and not reflecting light at the Earth, it’s not even in the sky at 1 AM! It’s on the opposite side of the world, appearing during daylight.

Any questions?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


There isn't a blog today, not really.

We attended our first convention this past weekend, and I am now dealing with a case of con crud. Who knew that when the doc said, "Rinse your sinuses every day for the rest of your life," he actually meant EVERY day?

Headache, drainage, coughing, sore throat, hoarseness. And that's today. Yesterday was worse, and that's the day I should have written and edited a blog.

I'm going back to bed, and hopefully will be even better tomorrow, when I can start thinking. About next week's blog, among other things.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Strangers vs Relatives

I do free-lance editing, and there are differences between editing the work of a stranger and editing the work of a relative, like a spouse.
Some things stay the same; I am always careful not to make changes just to suit my style. I haven’t written this manuscript; it belongs to somebody else. But I don’t have problems taking out unnecessary commas, or putting one in where it is needed; of keeping verb tense consistent; of changing ‘shuttered’ to ‘shuddered’ when a character is cold - of making sure they really are saying what they intended to say.
When I edit, I try to give some guidelines to help them improve as a writer, so I won’t have to work so hard with their next manuscript. If I want them to change a sentence, paragraph, or scene, I explain why, and give at least one example of how (I think) it could be improved.
Strangers, so far, have been pretty easy to convince. Relatives... not so much.
There have been other challenges when editing for a relative that - so far - have not happened with a stranger. Like the time I was editing a 400+ page manuscript, and asked my relative to clarify/change a paragraph on page 151. He had already changed that paragraph and had apparently given me the wrong version of his manuscript. I had to start over.
Another time, I explained to a relative that when a planet’s moon is in the ‘new’ phase, it is (relatively) between the sun and planet, and so would not be in the sky at 1 AM, the middle of the night. I don’t think he believed me.
The difference might be a matter of perception. To the author who doesn’t know me, I am an editor, one who respects him/her as an author, and they listen and return that respect, especially if they are fairly new. To the relative, I am a sister, cousin, parent, daughter, or even a spouse. Yes, I’m intelligent, but they are, too, and while they love me, they don’t necessarily view me as knowing what I’m talking about.

Despite the challenges of editing the work of either a stranger or a relative, I would rather do that than edit my own work! Because in that case, I turn into an idiotic despot... on both sides.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Help Wanted

Oh, the hassles of being a writer in this day and age! A couple years ago, I faced my growing frustration with submitting my work, only to get a “No, thank you” response. Everybody tells writers not to take it personally, but after a few years, you start wondering what is wrong with your writing. And the truth is, there might not be anything wrong with it, it’s possible you just aren’t hitting that market with that story at the right time.
A lot of authors - even established authors - were going into self-publishing, so... why not? Could it be any worse? A friend said she would help.
But then the novel we were going to start with (Cali) was accepted by a different small press. Great news! But it left us looking for a different novel to publish. I had a couple in the clean-up stage, but most were in the rough draft or 2nd draft stage. So we took on my husband’s sf novel (The Stone Builders) as our first publication. [Side note; since he agreed to this several months ago, he has finished a 2nd novel and started a 3rd. Apparently, he just needed some encouragement.]
I am no longer ‘just’ an author and free-lance editor, I am a publisher. I learned how to prepare manuscripts and format them, and I knew artists to hire for book covers. Editing can be time-consuming, but I was prepared for that. The big problem is the marketing involved!
We were trying to learn marketing even before we made this decision, because most marketing is left to the author anyway. But to be effective, we need to post on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and any other appropriate social media outlets. Unfortunately, trying to do all of this has left me with no time to write, and my friend is more technology-challenged than I am. Plus, it’s driving us crazy, trying to come up things to say and learn how post in various websites. Therefore,
Help Wanted: Social media handler. Someone to help decide what to post, when and where to post it, and do the posting. Knowledge and/or willingness to learn is more important than experience.
Help Wanted: Freelance Editor/proofreader. Knowledge of American English grammar, spelling, vocabulary and punctuation a necessity. I do not want to be the final editor of my own work.
The pay for either position is crummy, since we are just getting started. Both positions are ‘as needed’. If interested in either, contact Tommee@MoonPhazePublishing.com

I think we’ve tapped the talents of family members as far as we can. If you (or someone you know) wants to break into one of these fields, this just might be the opportunity!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bubble Colony

Now that we’ve visited the moon a few times, nobody is talking about setting up a moonbase. Everybody seems to want to move on to colonizing Mars. But you know what? Venus is a lot closer.
Earth’s orbit is 93,000,000 miles from the sun. Mars’ orbit is 141,600,000 miles from the sun. The closest Mars and Earth can get is about 48,600,000 miles, while the furthest away they get is 234,600,000. Venus is 67,000,000 miles from the sun, so the closest Earth gets to it is 26,000,000, and the furthest away Venus gets is 160,000,000. So yes, it’s about half the distance to get to Venus as it is to get to Mars.
Why is nobody clamoring to colonize Venus?
At first glance, Venus does not seem very welcoming. Oh, sure, it has about the same amount of gravity as Earth, but that’s the only thing that might be called ‘welcoming’. Its atmosphere is carbon dioxide and nitrogen, with clouds of sulfuric acid droplets. There may be trace amounts of H2O and HO in the atmosphere, but don’t expect to go outside without a space suit. The corrosive atmosphere is so dense, no probe that landed on Venus lasted longer than a couple hours. If the acid doesn’t get you, the pressure will. That pressure is the same as being 1.5 miles deep in the ocean. And that’s assuming you don’t land in a volcano, because the surface is highly volcanic.
The atmosphere is the cause of runaway greenhouse effect, and the surface of Venus is about 900°F. Venus rotates backwards, so the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, but it rotates so slowly, a ‘day’ (single rotation) on Venus is 243 Earth days, while it only takes 225 Earth days to complete a circuit around the sun. That would take some getting used to. And despite Venus’ slow rotation, the top lay of clouds whip around it in about 4 Earth days, at speeds of 225 (or more) miles an hour.
Ready to make it your home yet?
There are people considering how it could be done. They don’t see a colony on Venus’ surface, however; they envision an enclosed ‘station’ that floats 30 miles above Venus’ surface, where the pressure is about the same as sea level on Earth. The temperature would be about 160°F, but that would be relatively easy to deal with. And being below that top layer of clouds, it might be pushed around the globe, but not at hurricane speeds.
That doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe they could devise a way to grow plants on the outside walls to change some of the carbon dioxide into oxygen. If enough of that happened, the greenhouse effect could start to calm down, the temperature might lower, and those racing high-level winds would slow down. Who knows, maybe it would be possible to establish a base on Venus’ surface... in a few millennia.

Ready to ship out yet? Or are you waiting for the ship to Europa?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Here There Be Dwarves

I’ve been looking into this ‘Dwarf Planet’ issue. I was not happy to have Pluto no longer be a ‘real planet’, but decided maybe it made sense to have another classification for those items in our system that did not quite fit the definition of ‘planet’. Of course, they devised that definition so that it would exclude Pluto, because another body they did not want to consider as a planet was roughly the same size as Pluto. Or so it seems.
Still, it works, as long as they use the definition of ‘dwarf planet’ consistently, right? But, are they?
Mercury is a planet (now called a Classic Planet). It’s about twice the size of Pluto, so... They had to put the dividing line somewhere, right?
Eris is further out than Pluto, and may or may not be as large. The diameters for these two said Pluto was slightly larger, but each had a margin of error. So, if Eris is larger than they think, and Pluto is smaller than they think, then they could be the same size, or Pluto could be slightly smaller. Ergo, if one is a dwarf planet, it makes sense that the other is also.
I had never heard of Makemake or Haumea until I started this research, but they have both been named dwarf planets. Their diameters are each a bit more than half of Pluto’s.
One rule of the definition of a dwarf planet is that it must have enough mass to pull itself into a roughly spheroid shape. It has been postulated that these bodies would need a diameter of at least 400 km before that was likely. I was surprised to read, then, that Haumea was not a sphere - its diameter through the equator is much longer than its diameter through the poles. The explanation (excuse?) was that Haumea rotates so fast, it has warped into a flattened shape.
So far, Ceres is the only asteroid to be named a dwarf planet. Its diameter is less than 1,000 km, but it is the largest asteroid. There are at least 3 other asteroids that are over that minimum diameter of 400 km, and so far as I have been able to discover, they are at least roughly spherical.
There are also 10 or more heavily bodies beyond the orbit of Pluto that are currently under consideration for being Dwarf Planets.
And that brings us to Charon. Long known as - and even now considered - Pluto’s moon, I suggest it be named a Dwarf Planet. Charon’s diameter is slightly less than half of Pluto’s, considerably larger than Ceres’. Yes, there are plenty of big moons in our system, but none of them are so large in relation to the planet they circle. And, technically, Charon does NOT revolve around Pluto. With this division of mass between them, both Charon and Pluto revolve around a point that is between them.
At least one astronomer has suggested that Pluto and Charon be considered a double Dwarf Planet. I definitely agree.
Diameter (km)
# Moons
2007 OR10




2002 MS4

2005 UQ513

2007 UK126








* NOT spherical