Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Learning From Others

Sometimes I edit for another publisher. These are manuscripts that they have already accepted, and it is my duty to make sure the grammar is correct, that there are no plot holes or inconsistencies.

I do it as an editor, but as an author, I have learned quite a bit.

For instance, one author – let’s call him Ace – usually writes historical (light) romance set during World War II. I have a few qualms about his writing style, but only one really made me impatient with the story line. I immediately recognized that Ace was telling the story of a couple - relatively minor characters he had introduced in his first book. The girl of this couple was raised in a different place from the others, and it was she he followed in this episode. What irritated me was that he didn’t introduce the male half of this couple until half-way through the manuscript!

Don’t get me wrong; Ace doesn’t write the usual, run-of-the-mill romance, and I don’t expect him to. Strongly interspersed among tidbits of romance are great explanations of the way life was during that time period, shown by what the characters do and expect. But I thought waiting that long to introduce the girl’s love – after spending so much time going through two earlier ‘boy friends’ – was a bit much. It may have me wondering about my own timing in my romances (which I write as Linda Joy).

And then there’s ‘Bill’, who writes contemporary romances. Or rather, one contemporary romance, which never seems to end. There have been five volumes so far, and he thinks the story line deserves at least another five. I find myself getting extremely irritated as I edit these manuscripts. Each one ends on what others would consider a ‘Happy Ever After’, and yet, during the next episode, the main characters immediately continue what they were doing before; jumping to conclusions, keeping secrets, not being truthful, and being super-jealous. They never seem to learn to not be stupid.

I can understand not wanting to set aside characters you’ve lovingly created and worked with for a long time. And many readers enjoy multiple volumes dealing with the ‘adventures’ of characters they’ve read about before. However, there is a reason why the typical romance novel is shorter than other fiction novels; there is usually only so much stupidity a person can tolerate in their love interest before they fall out of love, so to have an HEA ending, the couple needs to realize they are making mistakes and stop making them.

Is it possible to have too many volumes in a series of some other genre? Probably, although other genres offer a far greater variety of adventure types for the main characters to have to deal with and learn from. Still, when I decide to work on another volume for some series that I am writing, I will pause to consider whether the continuation makes sense, if it is significantly different in context from previous episodes, and if the main characters will be learning from it.

I thought I would be boning up on my grammar and punctuation. Sure, that’s happening, but I'm also learning so much more.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What I'm Doing

Merry Christmas! Hope yours is joyous!

Okay, Hubby and I are in the area of Orlando, FL, bouncing from resort to resort as we wait for the closing date on our new home. We've been here since November 1, and we don't get the new house until the middle of February.

We have annual passes for Disney World, but we've found the parks crowded and busy after 11:30 or noon, so we don't go every day. Half of Hollywood Studios is closed down while they build two new areas, anyway.

So, you'd think I'd be getting lots of writing done. Alas, no.

We've checked out 2 'maker spaces' in Orlando, tracked down the Tandy store, and a fabric store. Spent time with friends in Tampa, and visited another friend in Davenport. John's done 3 appearances as a sand trooper, and we've built him a new pair of pants and shirt(s) for his Darth Vader. These ones are actually made for him, not the previous owner, so he can sit down in them without splitting the seams.

I've fought off 2 illnesses in the last 3 weeks; a cold and I don't know what the 2nd one was; I felt like I was freezing, and I had no energy, so - a fever. Every few days, we run to the post office to pick up our mail. We've seen 4 movies (5 for me-I saw a movie during one of his troops). We've spent entire days doing paperwork, either to sell the old house, or to buy the new one. And we've visited our next mortgage holder several times, turning in paperwork.

Oh, yes, we went to the one-day Clermont Comic Con. John was with the 501st, but I was at a table, trying to sell some books and some other things I had thrown together in a few days. And I've visited a local dentist several times. (Shudder)

Yesterday, I got out the pattern I'd bought and started 'adjusting' it to my size to make the 'flight suit' for a Mandalorian costume. The helmet and armour are sitting at a friend's house in Tampa until we get our house.

And I've been editing.

I am SOOOOOO looking forward to having an office again!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Different Place

If someone mentions New Zealand, what tidbits of thoughts race through the back of your mind? Mine include ‘hobbit films location’, ‘weird landscape’, ‘two islands’, ‘south Pacific’, and ‘near Australia’. Of course, I don’t often think about New Zealand. It’s very far away, and I’m not likely to get there soon.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a headline about a recent earthquake NZ had. It took my head a couple seconds to realize, “Oh, yeah, it sits on the other side of the ring of fire.” So, just because my curiosity was aroused, I’ve been looking into the geology of NZ.

First of all, yes, New Zealand does have two large islands, but they are surrounded by a bunch of little ones. Islands tend to come in groups, right? Seems like it to me.

The south island is home of the Southern Alps, the tallest some 12,316 ft tall. These steep peaks and the deep fjords on the southwest coast indicate the glaciation that once covered the area. Makes me shiver just thinking of the ice that was once there.

The north island is not as mountainous, but does have volcanoes, which have formed a plateau. That plateau hosts that island’s highest peak (9,177 ft) and the country’s largest lake, which sits in the caldera of one of the world’s most active supervolcanoes. Okay, that’s a little too much heat for roasting marshmallows.

New Zealand is what’s left of Zealandia, a microcontinent (half the size of Australia) that long ago broke off from the super-continent Gondwana, and then slowly submerged. It also straddles the border between the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates.

The border of these plates is most evident by the Southern Alps, pushed up and contorted by the force of the 2 plates pushing against each other. In other places, the edge of one plate gets pushed beneath the other, producing deep trenches in the ocean, most notably south of NZ, east of North Island, and 2 others further north.

So, NZ has mountains and bays once scoured by glaciers, deep ocean trenches and volcanoes. What about earthquakes? Of course! It sits on a giant fault. In fact, Wikipedia says they experience 150-200 earthquakes every year that can be felt, and almost 14,000 more each year that aren’t felt.

The headline that caught my attention not long ago was about an earthquake in November of this year; a section of seabed that had been raised 6 feet above sea level on a beach. As I researched ‘New Zealand earthquakes,’ I saw another interesting headline, this one about 3 cows that were left stranded on a ‘land island’ after an earthquake. Apparently, that earthquake caused a lot of land to collapse, leaving dots at a higher altitude with sides too steep for the cows to navigate. And possibly some tourists were also trapped on similar ‘land islands’ and had to be rescued.

Just one more way New Zealand is ‘different.’

Thursday, December 8, 2016

From Giant Dinosaur to Tiny Hummingbird

So, the theory is that Tyrannosaurus Rex gave birth to today’s birds, right?

Well, not exactly. T Rex was one of the of the theropod dinosaurs. It reached 40 ft in length, stood 12 ft tall at the hips, and weighed around 10 tons. However, other members of the theropod family were of various sizes, all the way down to 1 foot in length and 110 grams (3.9 oz) in weight. And throughout the ages following the T Rex, members of the theropod family grew smaller and smaller, and their skeletons changed four times faster than the skeletons of other dinosaur families. However, the theropods had hollow bones, like birds.

From what I’ve been reading, it isn’t terribly likely that birds evolved directly from T Rex, but they are both considered members of the theropod family. The largest modern theropod is the ostrich, 9 ft tall and up to 320 pounds. The smallest avian is the bee hummingbird, just over 2 inches long and weighing less than 2 grams. Although the theropods have shrunk since the days of T Rex, they continue with a wide range of sizes.

Ever wonder where birds got their feathers? The flying reptiles that nature started with didn’t have any. But the last decade or so, scientists have discovered non-flying dinosaurs that had feathers. How did that happen?

If I understood what I read, the transition began when some scales elongated into a filament. Over time, the filament developed ‘branches’, which eventually became numerous enough to form feathers. Scales and feathers are both made of keratin, and scientists have found that embryonic alligators contain some feather keratin, but that this type of keratin is suppressed in later stages of development in favor of scale keratin. Oh, and by the way, T Rex is more closely related to birds than to alligators.

Actually, lots of dinosaurs had feathers. Perhaps they didn’t grow feathers in order to fly, they grew them as insulation against the cold. And to look pretty to the opposite gender. Only later did the feathers help some glide from tree to tree and feathers started to become part of flying.

Are you up for a story about a T Rex covered in peacock and ostrich feathers?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Visit Beautiful Downtown Caral!

This South American city was established around 2600 BC, and remained active and inhabited until approximately 1800 BC. This is about the same time that Egyptians were building their great pyramids. Caral is a contender for the oldest city in the Americas.
Archeologists found a quipas* (knotted rope) that may have been the source of the quipu used by the Inca civilization centuries later. They also have found reed and woven carry bags that allowed them to carbon-date the site with great accuracy, so the city’s date may be pushed back even further, since items from the oldest area have not yet been dated.
Caral is located in the Supe Valley in Peru, some 120 miles north of modern Lima. It has temples, an amphitheater and residential houses that could have accommodated a population of 3,000. This doesn’t sound big in our time, but Caral spawned 19 ‘suburbs’ in Supe Valley, which would have housed 20,000 when taken altogether.
Archeologists have found no evidence of warfare in Caral. They have found a number of wind instruments, such as flutes and cornettes (more similar to a flute than to modern cornets) made from bird and animal bones. They evidently traded with the coast and inland. Depictions of monkeys have been found, so perhaps they traded with people from the Amazon.
Caral was part of the Norte Chico civilization, possibly the first example of cities and organization in the Americas. The Norte Chico also inhabited two other arid river valleys in the area and downstream on the coast. Some have suggested that the cities relied on food from the sea, but irrigation ditches have been noted, so farming was known. They grew squash, beans, lúcuma, guava, pacay, sweet potato and maize. The coast supplied anchovies and sardines, with clams and mussels in a lesser amount.
The farmers also grew cotton. Although not edible, it was necessary to make fishing nets, fabric and clothing, bags, wraps and even adornment.
Although the government in Caral is not fully understood, there is evidence that some people could and did exert power to organize workers. For instance, the two main platform mounds (step pyramids) of Caral were built in one or possibly two phases of intense construction, while other portions of the city’s monumental construction were done a little bit at a time.
The Norte Chico did not have ceramics, so cooking would have been done over an open flame; they would not have been able to boil anything. They also did not carve or paint, except for a very few depictions, so the interiors of their buildings would have been bare… unless they used their skill with cotton and grasses to produce decorative materials that have not survived.
Are you ready to visit? Perhaps you want to check out Caral’s official website. Since Caral does not sit atop a mountain, you won’t have to take a harrowing bus ride up a too-narrow cliff-side road, but… it is in the desert, so make sure you take water.
This is the kind of history I like; no battle dates or general’s names in the entire bit of information.

*Quipas – An interesting note about quipas is that some scientists now believe they were not only a form of counting, but could also be used to record a type of shorthand.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How Black is a Black Hole?

Have you seen the Disney movie, Black Hole, from 1979? It was typical Disney fare; clueless good guy, camouflaged bad guy, comic relief characters… And all the action happened on a ship that sat in space, just outside the ‘point of no return’ of a Black Hole, which was depicted as a whirlpool of light.
Even then, I knew a black hole was ‘a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape.’ So that depiction of a black hole bothered me. If light can’t escape, then the black hole would not appear as a whirlpool of light. It should be black. Even light from stars beyond the black hole shouldn’t be seen; it would be bent and swallowed before it reached the observer. Right?
That’s what I was thinking, anyway.
These days, the idea of a Black Hole is not quite so… black and white.
NASA says a black hole is a place in space where the gravity is so intense, light cannot escape. In the same article, they say that if a black hole is located close to a star, high-energy (invisible) light is released. I suppose this is a special case, but I think they should have started by saying no visible light can escape.
Another NASA webpage states that black holes cannot be seen, because (visible) light cannot escape. But anything in the vicinity is effected. Dust bits will fall into the black hole, getting closer and closer until they hit that ‘point of no return’, when the light reflecting off them can no longer escape. The gravity will tug at any stars and planets in the area, making them wobble as they try to resist. Stars might even be pulled apart, and slurped up. As the star matter accelerates toward the hole, it emits x-rays, which can be detected by the proper equipment.
But something can and does escape from black holes, in a way. Some matter that is falling into a black hole ricochets off the event horizon (point of no return) instead of going through it. It bounces away at a speed so great, the jet of material can be detected relatively easily.
If that’s not enough for you, then consider a super-black hole that spins really, really fast. This spin creates a charge-separated magnetosphere, which forms parallel electrical charges around the poles. Particles accelerate to very close almost the speed of light and are thrown out into space as gamma radiation bursts. Bursts have been observed from the massive black hole at the center of Galaxy IC310. However, the description of how they are created is just a theory, since no one can see inside the event horizon to see what’s going on.
So, Black Holes are pretty black, unless something is escaping.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Let me Babyl on

Mankind’s history – particularly the really ancient stuff – fascinates me. Are Atlantis, Mu and Lemuria fact or fiction? When did our ancestors start domesticating livestock, tilling fields and forming cities?
Of those questions, researching ancient cities is probably the easiest to tackle. So now and again, I pick one that I’ve heard about and look around to see what I can find about it. This time, it’s Babylon.
Babylon was established as a small city in ancient Mesopotamia around 2300 BC. It was built on the banks of the Euphrates River and eventually, these banks were made quite steep, to contain the river’s annual floods. As Babylon grew, so did its importance and influence, until the southern portion of Mesopotamia became known as Babylonia. Its location is now inside Iraq, about 53 miles south of Baghdad.
Despite efforts to contain the river, the Euphrates eventually changed its path, and the western portion of this ancient city is now under that river. It is also difficult to find any traces of the truly ancient portions of the city because; 1) the groundwater table has risen, 2: it underwent several ‘urban renewal’ plans, 3) it was pillaged a few times by invading armies, and 4) it has been mined for building materials.
It is estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from about 1770-1670 BC, and again from 612-320 BC. It may have been the first city to reach a population over 200,000. The area it covered may have reached a maximum of 2,200 acres, which would be about 91 people (or more) per acre. I tried to compare that to modern cities, starting with a couple I’ve lived in, but even when I went up to New York City, my math came up with a density of only 44 people per acre. So either Babylon was almost twice as packed with people as New York City, or my math is off tonight.
Babylon is probably best remembered for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, supposedly built by King Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC) to appease his home-sick wife, and which may or may not have actually existed, or might have been located in another city.
Well, that was kind of disappointing. Most of what I found was ruler’s names, dates of battles, and so on… the kind of stuff one gets from history classes, but which doesn’t tell you anything about the people. What kind of businesses existed in this metropolis? Where did they get their food? What were the houses like? For instance, did the houses have doorways similar to what we use now, or did one enter them through a trap-door in the roof, like the Pueblo Indians? These are the kind of questions I would like answered.
Sometimes, I use bits and pieces from this kind of research to create different habits or a different ‘society’ for my stories. I don’t get that kind of springboard from names and dates, I get it from the daily lives of normal people.

What about you? Do you have anything about Babylon or some other ancient city that you would like to know?

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Well, I’m late getting this written and posted. (Sigh.) What a bummer.

I actually tried to do some quick research on ‘tardiness’ for this thrown-together blog. Google returned lots of sites where I could get the definition, but I already know that. The few sites that weren’t for the definition were mostly about students who were habitually late, and a few were about business policies concerning tardiness. Not what I was looking for.

I was looking for clues about the reasons why people are late with projects. I thought maybe I could share some insights about why I am sometimes late getting a blog done on time. But that kind of site didn’t show up, or if it did, it was so far down on the list that I never got to it.

THIS week, I know why I’m late. Our household has become a mad-house.

Last weekend, we got another storage unit and started packing up and taking boxes of stuff that we’d been using the last several months. Any effort to maintain some semblance of a ‘daily schedule’ flew right out the window. My hubby was so worried we wouldn’t get things done that there were times when he got up at 5 am to pack. Having finally gotten our new po box number from the Florida post office, I’ve been trying to notify everybody of our immediate change of address, which made Hubby mad, because I wasn’t helping him pack and take stuff to storage. So no, I’m not done with my list of businesses and people to notify.

Today, Hubby dropped me off to drive home the rental truck. He is off at dospace for one last session on the laser printer. The moving men are supposed to arrive sometime around noon to load up the furniture and take it to storage for us. Then I can take the truck back.

Almost everything is packed. We will take the tv to storage in the morning. I have a laptop and e-reader to throw in my suitcase, and we’ll do one last load of wash tonight. (The washer and dryer are staying.) So, without him ranting about ‘never getting it all done’, I can take a break and do this blog, at least until the moving men show up. I have to be careful with what they take, because we have quite a bit of stuff that we are actually taking to Florida with us.

So, no big insights into tardiness. Only the insight that I do better when life has some semblance of a schedule. And eventually, once we get a new home and get settled, we will develop something that could possibly be called a schedule. I will be so relieved when that happens!

What’s coming next week? Hmmm. Hard to say. We are attending Icon in Iowa City this weekend, on our way to Florida, so I won’t have a lot of time for research. I keep hearing tidbits about ‘Planet 9’ - not that they’ve found it, only that it has to be there. I might put that off a bit longer, see if they finally do find it. Possibly a report on Icon; we haven’t been there for several years. Or maybe not, because once we get to Florida, there are lots of conventions of all types for us to attend.

I guess you’ll just have to come back and see what I write!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Any More Out There?

Okay, did I manage to discover anything about more potential dwarf planets? With most (except Ceres) so far from us, scientists often have to piece together bits of information from several different sources. Even Hubble telescope doesn’t do them much good, because all it showed of Pluto (the biggest dwarf) was a fuzzy blob. So, let’s see what they’ve jigsawed together so far:
It doesn’t have a name yet. But those who discovered it think they are close to deciding on one.
The designation means it was discovered in 2007, but it was only recently discovered that it was much bigger than originally thought. It is the 3rd largest dwarf, right behind Pluto and Eris, at a diameter of 955 miles [1535 km]. Its surface is very dark (the better to soak up what little sunlight it gets?) and reddish, and it rotates slowly - one day there is just under 45 hours long. They think it might be covered in volatile ices of methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.
OR10 has an elliptical orbit, which seems to be in fashion, that brings it close to Neptune’s orbit, but it is currently twice as far from the sun as Pluto. How far out does it go? I don’t think they’ve figured that out yet. I found no indication how long it takes to complete an orbit around the sun.
But if you really want to know the weird part about OR10, NASA’s information page stated there had been a hint of vegetation on its surface. What do you think? Some kind of lichen or what? I don’t think palm trees would grow there very well.
2015 RR245
Again, no name yet. It was discovered in 2015. The animation I found about its orbit shows that it gets to Neptune’s orbit, but then skedaddles far, far away, taking 700 years to make one trip around the sun. Its size is 435 miles [700 km], so it’s not a huge dwarf. It will make its closest approach to the sun on this trip in 2096.
What little I found on Sedna was mostly from 2004. (You’d think they would have found out more by now.) When it was discovered, Sedna was 8 billion miles [13 billion km] from Earth, 3 times as far as Pluto. It’s red, thought to be about 1,400 miles [2,250 km] in diameter, and there is some evidence it has a moon. It takes 10,000 years to travel around the sun. It’s very bashful, though - maybe that explains its blush? It will get slightly closer in the next 50 years, but still won’t be anywhere near Pluto when it starts heading back for the Inner Oort Cloud. (Strangely, the Oort Cloud was described as ‘hypothetical’, but it shows up on all my star navigation charts.)
Discovered in 2002, Quaoar (pronounced kwa-whar, the name of a Native American god) lies 621,372,292 miles [1,000,000,000 km] beyond pluto in a circular orbit. Maybe it hopes to grow up to be a ‘real’ planet. It has a ways to go, with a diameter of 808 miles [1300 km]. Quaoar is also known as 2002 LM60.
I’d actually forgotten about Sedna and Quaoar, it had been so long since they had been in the news. That’s all I’ve got this week. If you still haven’t heard enough about dwarf planets, try the website , which is updated daily by Mike Brown, an astronomer who seems to be right in the midst of discovering a lot of them. Some of it may be over your head (it certainly was for me), but check it out: as of 10/16/16, he listed 10 nearly certainly, 30 highly likely, 75 likely, 147 probably, and 695 possibly dwarf planets.
Wow! What a big family!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

3 Blind Dwarfs

Okay, I’ve talked about Ceres and Pluto. That leaves the blind dwarves. I call them blind not because they can’t see (although they probably can’t), but because humans have not - yet - sent out a probe to get a good look at any of them. Our information on them is relatively skimpy, so this probably won’t take long.
Eris was originally (2003) thought to be larger than Pluto, and was submitted as our system’s 10th planet. Designated 2003UB313 (and nicknamed Xena), it is now named for the Greek goddess of discord and strife, which seems rather fitting, since it caused Pluto’s demotion.
Eris’ diameter is 1,445 miles [2,326 km], which makes it pretty close to the same size as Pluto. The motions of its moon, Dysnomia, shows that Eris is about 27% heavier than Pluto, which means it is denser - probably a large rocky body with a thin mantle of nitrogen-rich ice mixed with frozen methane. This surface may be a frozen atmosphere, which only becomes an atmosphere for a small portion of its 557 year trip around the sun. And unlike most of its siblings, Eris’ orbit sits far outside the plane the other planets inhabit.
One website stated that an Eris day lasts for 25 hours. Another stated that Dysnomia’s circular orbit around Eris takes 16 days.
First discovered in March 2005, its first ‘name’ was 2005 FY9, its codename was Easterbunny. I can pronounce Easterbunny, but what’s the proper pronunciation of Makemake? Is it Make-make? Mak-ee-mak-ee? Ma-kee-ma-kee? Well, never mind, let’s move on. Oh, wait, here it is. It’s pronounced mah-kee-mah-kee, which is the name of the god of fertility of the Rapanui, the native people of Easter Island.
Makemake’s diameter is 870 miles [1,400 km], which is about 2/3 the size of Pluto, and takes about 310 years to circle the sun. Its orbit is quite lop-sided, as it goes as far out as 53 Å* from the sun and gets as close as 38 Å, not quite far enough in to say hello to Neptune. Its day is 22.5 hours. It has no atmosphere, is reddish in color, and has been determined to have frozen methane, ethane and nitrogen on its surface.
Makemake has a moon. S/2015(136472)1 (nicknamed MK2) is approximately 100 miles [160 km] in diameter and lives about 13,000 miles [20,900 km] from Makemake. It’s the color of charcoal. It’s been suggested that MK2’s gravity is too weak to hold onto any ices that might have been on the surface, so they sublimated into space. Scientists are still watching MK2, trying to discern the shape of its orbit; if it’s circular, the moon was probably produced by an impact, but if it’s elliptical, MK2 was probably captured by Makemake’s gravity as they passed.
Even though Haumea was discovered in 2003, it wasn’t announced until 2005, about the time its 2 moons were discovered. It was designated 2003EL61 (and nicknamed Santa), then named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility. Its moons - Hi’aka and Namaka - are named for her daughters.
Despite being found before the other two dwarves, every website I visited had about 10 sentences on Haumea, most of it repeating what every other website said. So, here some sketchy details:
At its equator, Haumea’s diameter is about 1,200 miles (1,931 km), making it almost as wide as Pluto. But its mass is only 1/3 of Pluto, at least partially because the diameter from pole to pole is much less. Now, even dwarf planets are supposed to be spherical, so why is this called a dwarf planet? Well, they’ve cut it some slack because its ‘day’ is less than 4 hours. That speed has deformed it into something resembling a half-flat beach ball. There is speculation that an impact set it spinning so fast, as well as created its moons.
Haumea is believed to be a big rock with a coating of ices that takes 285 Earth years to make a trip around our sun.
Those are all the juicy tidbits I could find about the 3 ‘blind’ dwarves. However, as I was doing this research, I caught tantalizing hints of other discoveries that may be on their way to being named dwarf planets. If I can find enough information to make a blog, I’ll let you know about those, too.
There’s also been some speculation of a Planet 10 or Planet X, also located in the Kuiper Belt. I’ll look into that, too, but I’m not promising I’ll find much. I heard some hype about the possibility for a little while, and then it just seemed to fizzle out.
So, be sure to come back next week, kids! Same time, same channel. See you then!

*Å = Astronomical unit, the distance between the sun and Earth.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


I consider Pluto and Charon twins. They run around the sun, constantly together, and pretty much ignoring all their other siblings. Pluto was discovered in 1930, and was considered a planet until fairly recently, when it was demoted to dwarf planet.
Charon wasn’t discovered until 1978, and is usually considered Pluto’s closest and largest moon. However, there are scientists who (like me) think Pluto and Charon should be classified as a binary dwarf planet unit. For one thing, Charon’s diameter is slightly more than half of Pluto’s, which is very large for a moon. The relative sizes of a moon to its planet rarely approach that, from what we’ve been able to observe so far. Charon’s size is so large, compared to Pluto’s, that - strictly speaking - it doesn’t actually revolve around Pluto. Both of these twins revolve around a point somewhere between them. Kind of like 2 kids on a playground, holding each other’s hands and spinning around, laughing as they get dizzy and the world around them starts to look silly. And like those 2 kids, they don’t allow the 4 remaining ‘moons’ to join them. The tiny moons revolve around the pair, wishing they were part of the game.
Pluto’s diameter is 2,372 km[1,474 miles], making it the largest dwarf planet we know of. My quick research didn’t find Charon’s exact diameter, but it’s slightly more than 1,186 km[737 miles], which certainly makes it larger than Ceres (950 km)[590 miles].
While NASA’s probe thoroughly studied Pluto, it didn’t neglect Charon. Since it was there, why waste the opportunity? And aside from size, they do rather resemble each other.
Both Pluto and Charon are believed to have a rocky core surrounded by water ice, with other ices covering that. And at the temperatures experienced that far out, water ice is as hard as stone. I find that a little hard to fathom, but not impossible to accept.
Pluto and Charon are tidally locked, meaning each keeps the same side facing the other at all times. Rather like the 2 kids mentioned earlier. But they must have gotten so dizzy they fell over, because they travel around the sun on their sides - still revolving around each other. Maybe the twins got the idea of laying down from Uranus.
And like Uranus and Venus, Pluto rotates backwards, so that sun rises in the west and sets in the east. I found no mention of Charon doing that.
Both of the twins have some interesting features, like Pluto’s ‘heart’, which is a huge glacier made of Nitrogen ice, and Charon’s huge chasm that crosses its entire face. The ‘southern’ half of Charon is smoother and has less craters than the ‘northern’ half. The current thought is that when Charon’s internal water froze (and therefore increased in volume), the pressure forced some partially frozen water out as a type of lava. Remember Ceres’ cryovolcano?
For at least part of its year, Pluto has an atmosphere, or maybe it should be called ‘layers of haze’. And some of it is escaping into space, but not as much as scientists expected, and mostly methane, not the nitrogen they expected would be leaving. I thought I had heard that Charon also had some haze, possibly borrowed from Pluto, but I couldn’t find anything like that during my research, so I may have mis-heard or misunderstood what was said.

And now, I’m going to give a self-satisfied raspberry to those who decided Pluto was ‘just’ a dwarf planet. It (and Charon) were full of surprises and brain-twisting facts for the entire New Horizons team that studied the incoming data. Way to go, Twins!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cheaper by the Dozen

When I was young, our solar system had 9 planets. It was a nice big family, which seemed to be fairly popular back then. And then, not long ago, tragedy struck; Pluto was demoted to ‘dwarf planet’.
On the other hand, our solar system family grew, because several other ‘dwarf planets’ were also named; Ceres in the asteroid belt, and Eris, Haumea, and Makemake in the Kuiper Belt. So right now, our solar system has 13 ‘planets’. A baker’s dozen! This year, 2 probes checked out 2 different dwarf planets, and the stuff I’ve been hearing is absolutely amazing!
Let’s start with Ceres, because it’s the closest to us. It’s only a hop past Mars.
I’m not sure I even heard of Ceres before it became a dwarf planet. Discovered in 1801, it was named a planet, then other asteroids were found in that belt, and Ceres became just another asteroid. And nobody really paid the asteroids any attention. The most respect they got was when a science fiction author included a nail-biting scene when his space ship had to negotiate the asteroid belt on its way to the outer system. Other ships might meet their doom in ‘the belt’, but not the ship the hero was on.
How would a scifi author treat Ceres now? It’s the smallest dwarf planet/biggest object in the asteroid belt. Would it be mined, like some think the asteroid belt would be? Would there be a base there? Do we know of anything important about Ceres?
Yes, we do.
Ceres has water.
No, Ceres doesn’t have rivers or oceans. But it has water and some kind of salt.
Scientists know this because of Ahuna Mons, one of the bright spots that dots Ceres’ surface. On Mars, Olympus Mons is a huge mountain. Ahuna Mons is Ceres’ biggest mountain. The probe, Dawn, took pictures to map Ceres’ surface, and they show that Ahuna Mons reaches approximately 3 miles in height. If someone wanted to drill straight through, from one side to the other, they’d have to drill for 12 miles. Walking completely around this ‘big bump’ would be a trip somewhat more than 36 miles.
Its slopes are steep and shiny. The top isn’t a point—more like a plateau with cracks.
It’s a volcano. But it doesn’t spew out molten rock; Ceres is too cold. Evidence indicates it spews a thick slush of water, salts and mud. And it’s geologically new - only a billion years old.
There are other bumps on Ceres; older slush volcanoes that are eroded and pocked by collisions. Now, your word for the day is cryovolcano, which is a slush volcano.

Can’t you see it? Our space-faring descendants taking a road trip to Ceres for a refreshing salty mud slushey. Umm, Yummm. I can almost taste it now!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

To Do or Not To Do?

Yeah, I know I’m late getting this posted. Again. But only by a week. Or maybe two.
I find myself of 2 minds about continuing this blog.
     A.   Do I declare a hiatus at least until the new year (2017), and remove it from my to do list (and stress level) until that time? I am experiencing a lot of stress, caught in the tedium of trying to get moved, but – at this point - with nothing more I can do to get moved.
a.    It’s not that I have a lot to do, it’s that my choices of what to do are so limited. All my hobbies, like leatherwork and needlework, are in storage.
                                                i.    Without that relaxing time with a hobby, doing fairly repetitious stuff that doesn’t take much brain power, my subconscious doesn’t roam through various possibilities for my Work In Progress, so I don’t make any progress with my writing. Even a short blog once a week is difficult to accomplish.
b.    Also, with Hubby retired - and we immediately started preparing to move – we haven’t really adjusted to having all this time together. I wind up doing whatever he wants to do, and things on my To Do list get pushed aside.
     B.   Or do I tell myself to grow a pair, and keep doing my blog, hoping to work my way back to once a week? I am supposed to be writing regularly, if not every day.
a.    I don’t want to keep complaining about not being moved yet, so I’d have to do some research, find things to talk about.
                                               i.    Research would be more productive than games. (Somehow, playing games does not let my subconscious roam free.)
                                             ii.    There’s plenty of things to research, like discoveries made about Pluto or Ceres, or even the actual diet eaten by Paleo man.
b.    When the house does sell, I expect we’ll take a couple days to tie up things here in Omaha, put the rest of our stuff in storage and then head for Florida, which will take 2-3 days. That might make it tough to get a blog posted that week.
                                               i.    I could write a ‘spare’ blog ahead of time. Then I could upload it and schedule it to post at the right time.
                                             ii.    Repeat for the week that we come back, get our stuff out of storage and take it down to Florida.
Hmm. When I started writing this, I was strongly leaning towards a hiatus. Now I’m leaning toward ‘growing a pair’. J And that tells me that I’ve enjoyed writing this post, that I miss writing, which is much more interesting than ‘the usual’ games have become.
I also just finished an editing job, which took lots of my ‘spare’ time. The subject of the book, however, made me depressed, so it’s a relief to have it done.

I’ll try for #B. The next time I feel like doing a tough Sudoku, or order my Tribez to get to work, I’ll open one of my incomplete manuscripts instead. Or see what’s new about Ceres. Cross your fingers that I’ll post something next Wednesday.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Tell of Caution

It’s easy enough to do. But just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it. Especially when you are trying to establish yourself as an up-and-coming author.
I’m sure most working mothers know what I’m talking about: Spreading yourself too thin. Most working mothers are still expected to do (most, if not all of) the housework, get the groceries, do the cooking, take care of the kids, AND do their job. Even without adding any hobbies to help them stay sane, they are spread mighty thin. It gets to the point where you have to get sick, just to get some time to yourself.
Been there, done that.
When I took early retirement, I wanted my next ‘career’ to be ‘author’. I had been working at it for years. I had numerous short stories already written and polished, but none had found a home yet. I had a novel ready for submission, one in the polishing stage, and another drafted, besides several started, and many more ‘stewing’ in the back of my mind.
But suddenly finding yourself without a job to go to can leave you floundering. Without thinking about it, I dithered through my days watching tv, surfing the net, half-heartedly doing aspects of house cleaning I had never bothered to do before. (BTW, I hate housekeeping. It never gets done!) I signed up for six or a dozen newsletters on writing, and more on ‘promoting your book’. Anything to keep from actually writing, it seemed.
I even hired myself out as a free-lance editor. I told myself I needed to do that; I no longer belonged to a writing critique group, and editing would give me a chance to recognize ‘problems’ and try to solve them. Yeah, I can find other people’s problem areas, but I’m not sure I’m any better at finding my own.
I started new hobbies, took classes on leatherworking, theatrical makeup and making prosthetics, photoshop and illustrator… you get the idea. I volunteered for a position with Broad Universe ( And because I was frustrated with my pace in the writing world, I started my own publishing company. Why not? It seems like everybody else is doing it.
Somewhere in there, when I wasn’t paying attention, I got thin. Not physically, although I have lost a few pounds. But in terms of energy, I have none. In terms of organization, that’s pretty sketchy. I start each day with breakfast, doing my Broad Universe chore, and checking through my (main) email account. After that…
I have a loooong list of Things To Do. And unfortunately, ‘writing’ is not very high on that list.
How can I be an author if I don’t write? Why are all these other things coming before ‘writing’? I’m juggling a multitude of activities, but what I really want isn’t even in the mix.

I think it’s time to snap back and not be so thin.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

World Con 2016

Today was the first day of World (SF) Con 2016. The World con moves around from year to year. This year, it’s being held in Kansas City and is called MidAmeriCon 2. (Kansas City held its first World Con – MidAmeriCon – back in the ‘70s.)
The cheapest time to buy a membership is right after the vote that determines where the World con will be held TWO years from now. The votes happen at World con, so the members of this year’s convention get to decide what city will host the convention in 2 years. Of course, their choices are limited to those cities who have figured out how and where they would have the convention.
Worldcon 2017 will be in Helsinki. We didn’t buy memberships to that one, because we seldom follow the con outside the US. When the worldcon is held somewhere other than North America, there is a North AmeriCon held that year. That location for 2017 will be chosen at this worldcon. We might go to that, depending where it is. The choices are San Jose and New Orleans.
World cons last for 5 days. They used to be held over Labor Day weekend, but that made it difficult for parents to attend, because the school year was just beginning. So they have migrated to mid-August. North Americons are typically 4 days long.
Worldcons generally have a few thousand people. When they are held in large cities – like LA – they might have 8,000 attendees. So much larger than the 200 attendees at the first, held in New York in 1939.
Other conventions are larger; Dragoncon in Atlanta, Nebcon in Omaha are just 2. But worldcons are big enough to be daunting, especially to shy or introverted people. The dealer’s room is large, the art show amazing, the costume contest can be over the top. And the panels! LOTS of panels, on all sorts of subjects. As usual, I find 2-3 panels I want to attend, all at the same time, and probably at opposite ends of the convention center. It can be tough to choose which one I will actually go to.
Sooner or later, we run across friends at worldcon. Some are people we know from smaller conventions. Others we only run across at worldcon (or North AmeriCon). In either case, we take some time to chat and catch up.
If you’ve never been to a worldcon, a description really can’t do them justice. I suggest you save up your money - tickets can be $250 for 5 days at the door, and the surrounding hotels are high-end brands. If the WorldCon is close enough for you to drive, you could save some money finding a cheaper hotel further away. But you will have to pay to park somewhere near the convention each day. And don’t forget to have money on hand for food; WorldCons provide snacks (chips, veggies, crackers) and soda at certain times of the day, but not anything that could be considered ‘real food.’
Despite the expense, they can be fun and informative. However, they are not a comicon, an anime con, or a media con. They are a literary convention. They are aimed mostly at science fiction & fantasy readers. When we walked through the dealer’s room today, we saw 4-5 tables selling t-shirts, and at least twice that many selling books.

So if you don’t read, this probably isn’t the convention for you.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Not Exactly Writing

If you follow me on Facebook, then you know our house has been under renovation for two months. They were supposed to be done this past Sunday, Aug 7. I decided I’d better get busy with the outside work that we didn’t contract for them to do.
 Our lawn has lots of deep shade, so we have large swaths where nothing grows. Oh, an occasional weed might stick its head up, but not many. All summer, my husband and I argued whether we could get any grass to grow in these places. One of the workers recently suggested we cover these naked spots with mulch, which we thought was a great idea.
 So I measured these bare spots to figure out how much mulch we need, including in the front yard. Putting mulch in the one bare spot in front would provide a more ‘uniform’ look as a whole. As I measured, I couldn’t help but notice the terraces where bushes had once lived. “I’ve got to pull these weeds, too! They make the place look so… sloppy.” And that led my eyes to the house foundation, where the paint was cracked and peeling.
 So the chore of putting down mulch suddenly became the chore of ‘pulling weeds, scraping the foundation, painting the foundation, and putting down mulch.’ And in some areas, I also get to ‘find’ the sidewalk because dirt and grass have grown over the edges.
 I know a writer who puts out a newsletter every week. And it seems like almost every week, whatever chore she’s done could be compared to writing; whether she weeded her garden, fed the chickens, adopted a dog or played Guitar Hero with her son, it always bore a striking resemblance to writing.
 So as I’ve been doing this yardwork, I’ve wondered how it would compare to writing, if I were to adopt her perspective. And actually, I think it bears more resemblance to RE-writing. Once I have my rough draft, and I’m ready to make it ‘the best it can be’, I follow similar steps to this yard work. Let me explain:
 Weeding – Weeds make your garden or lawn look jumbled and keep your eyes from understanding what you are looking at. For me, draft 2 is when I go back and put in every explanation, every adjective and adverb and description I think a reader might need or want. Adding in all these things is different than pulling out weeds, but pulling weeds allows the reader’s eyes and mind to see what you intended for them to envision, and that’s what I’m trying to do with draft 2.
 Scraping the foundation – Scraping off loose paint lets you get down to a solid surface so that the final result is pleasing to the eye. In draft 3, I look at every word, phrase, sentence and paragraph with one thought in my mind; ‘Do I really need this? If yes, is there any way to shorten it without warping what I’m trying to say?’ Kind of like scraping off the paint that doesn’t want to adhere any more. I’m getting my story down to the basic core – the foundation.
 Painting & mulching – A coat of paint on a house’s foundation and some mulch can make the whole yard look prettier, cared for and cohesive. I call my 4th draft ‘making it pretty’. I check the grammar and punctuation, my use of pronouns, keep an eye out to make sure I haven’t overused some word or phrase.
 And finding the sidewalk? I prefer a clean, broad sidewalk, rather than one with dirt and grass covering half of it. In writing, this does not take yet another rewrite; it is incorporated into all my rewriting efforts. I try to find tired clichés (dirt & grass) and replace them with what I hope are new phrases that will get the thought across to the reader (more sidewalk.)
 No, I won’t say the 9 very hot hours I spent last week doing this yardwork was the same as if I’d spent those 9 hours writing. I will say that if you use some imagination, you can find similarities between them. And, since most of this yardwork is fairly mindless, I did get some thinking done about the next scene I needed to write.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

One Problem

After being retired for 6 years, I have found a problem with it. At first I thought it was just a glitch, something that would wear off once I got used to being at home every day, not racing off to work 5 days a week. It’s not quite as simple as that.

I can’t keep track of what day it is.

When I was working, it was easy to remember if it was Back-to-Work-Monday, Too-Long-Tuesday, Hump-Day-Wednesday, Terrible-Thursday, Finally-Friday, Errand-Running-Saturday or Sad-Sunday. Not so easy when all the days are pretty much the same. They all start blending into each other.

I used to keep a calendar on my office wall. It came down and got packed away, of course.

I do have a To Do list, along with what date I’m supposed to do each item. It’s a document on my computer, and my computer will tell me what the date is, if I just look in the bottom right corner of the screen.

That doesn’t seem to be enough. For example, I was so busy trying to figure out how much mulch we needed for our landscaping project that I neglected to consult that list. It wasn’t until I opened up the list this morning and was crossing off some things I had managed to do yesterday that I realized I had forgotten to write, edit and post this week’s blog!

Forty lashes with a wet noodle!

I obviously need a calendar and not just a date. I just haven’t figured out where to put it that wouldn’t mess up this new paint job. Guess I’ll have to add it to my To Do list.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Life In the Way

There’s a phrase I’ve used a few times during my life: “Life got in the way…” I don’t know where I got it, but I use it to indicate that I had a goal for myself that I really wanted to achieve, but for whatever reason, I didn’t accomplish it.
I don’t mean that I didn’t get the dishes washed last night because ‘life got in the way’. No, that was because something good was on tv. It applies to those really big goals, like getting my BS in math. I haven’t accomplished that (yet) because other (life) things kept distracting me. Things like marriage, divorce, marriage, having kids, raising kids…
There’s another phrase I’ve used about my life, and I’ve seen other authors use it for their characters; “My life resembles a soap opera.”
In a way, these phrases are similar. They both indicate that your life goals have gotten off-track. “Life got in the way” might mean you made a decision to take a slightly different road than you had thought, and it is (or was) taking you longer to get back on course than you anticipated. Or you may have gotten swept away by your emotions and then had trouble steering your way back. A soap opera implies that just after you make a choice, things start working out, and you anticipate happiness, something hits the fan to send your emotions in a tailspin and nothing is under your control.
Neither of these phrases indicates a happy, carefree life we all dream about. But think about your favorite book’s plot. Does one of these phrases – or both – apply to the life of the main character?
In John’s next book, his main character was a member of an elite fighting squad. He had trained hard for that, and he had achieved a bit of rank. But now, several years after his last assignment (which he can’t remember, not even How Things Went Wrong), his boss for his office job has ordered him to take a vacation. He decides on a space cruise, an entire month of wandering around the universe, enjoying a new and different experience at each port of call. It promises to be truly relaxing. But things happen. Little things at first; an accidental bump at the wrong time, the feeling that someone is watching him. And things keep happening, getting bigger and more threatening, keeping his frayed nerves at the snapping point.
I did the same thing in my fantasy, Cali. Things keep happening to Cali that shatter her piece of mind and leave her feeling unprepared to be on the journey she is on. She hasn’t finished her training, doesn’t know how the world outside her tribe works, and now most of her spells have been stolen from her, so how can she possibly succeed? It is only when she starts to make her own decisions that she finally reaches the end of her search.
So I guess, art imitates life. However, art tends to stick to the exciting bits; the problems, the attempts, the combat and strife. Plans that don’t work, plans that do work but have unintended consequences.
Life might have their counterparts to that (although the death of an entire planet might not lie in the balance), but it also has bits that art would only imply, not drag the audience through. Like six weeks of utter, mind-numbing boredom of living in one room while the rest of the house is renovated.
Okay, I think I might be ready for just a little bit of excitement now, okay, life? Maybe I could win the lottery? Or we could sell the house in one day, so we could get on with the next step… buying our next house?

There’s another phrase about life that comes to mind right about now: Be careful what you wish for.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

No Deadlines

I honestly don’t know which is worse:
  • A.   Having gobs and gobs of chores to do, all of them inter-related and requiring research and learning, with deadlines for some stuff, and the entire day, nearly every day, to work on these chores.
  • B.   Having limited chores to work on, because everything is packed away except for four flashdrives and a laptop with limited capacity; no deadlines; and the ability to go to a place and use their computer with a nice big screen (or two!) for a whopping 3 to 4 hours a day.

A is what I had before my husband decided to retire. It was mind-numbing. Every morning I would stare at that long list of chores and wonder, ‘Which one should I work on? Is there one that seems shorter, so I can feel like I’m making progress?’ (Inevitably, that short chore would turn out to be HUGE!) ‘Can I break this big chore into smaller pieces? So far, I’ve done research on X, L, and S, and now look, they all come together in this big knot, along with 6 other things I haven’t even begun to research!’ Over-whelming. Enough of that, and your mind truly goes numb. It ceases to function.
B is what I have now, as we wait for repairs and renovations to get done on our house. If you follow me on facebook, you know that we’ve been ‘living’ in one room for a month. To attempt to stay sane, we go out each morning to use those wonderful computers until lunchtime, then go home to check in with the workers. (At least they’ve mostly stopped finding more water-damage problems that need to be fixed. Now, if the carpet would just arrive…!) After lunch, we go to the gym for a couple hours, ending with 20 minutes in a massage chair before we go home to spend the evening watching tv, probably reruns from Netflix.
With everything we need to survive until the house is sold scrunched into that one room with us, there is only a path through the room, really. Only one of us can get up and move about at any one time, and unless they wander outside that room, they are probably blocking the other person’s view of the tv.
B is also mind-numbing. I start the day eager and happy to be working on a REAL computer, grit my teeth and put my body through its paces in the name of health, and then settle down to do… absolutely nothing.

Hey, something for me to research tomorrow! CPR for numbed brains! You know, for when we finally do get to settle into a new house and I start having deadlines again.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Rumors of My Death…

 …if you’ve heard any, have been premature and greatly exaggerated. I am alive, and (relatively) well, but life has been… complicated.

It all started getting messed up when my husband came home one day and said, “I’m going to retire.” Well, yes, eventually I expected he would, possibly even this year, so I didn’t think it was anything to worry about, because his 62nd birthday was still 5 months away. And then, a few days later, he added, “I can apply for social security 3 months before I turn 62. Let’s get the house ready to go on the market.”

In a nutshell, that pretty much turned our world upside down.

We knew we had to remove a lot of the personal stuff from our home, so we packed our book collection, our art collection, our video collection… We hired some young helpers to put these heavy boxes in our storage unit. He packed up everything in his office except his computer. I packed or threw out a lot of stuff from my office until I ran out of time.

We had a vacation scheduled for most of May. The paperwork for retiring was signed, and the day husband flew down to Orlando for that vacation was his last day of work. We spent a couple days in the parks and visiting friends while he tried to get his head around his new status. We checked out a few houses that were for sale while we were down there, and started the process of getting pre-approved for a mortgage.

And then… that infamous ‘hurry up and wait’ segment settled in. For the past 3 weeks (and probably for at least another week), the 2 of us have been living in 1 room while all the rest of the house gets fixed up and painted. While we are in that room, the only computer we have access to is the laptop we had in Florida, which I perch on a folding chair while I sit in an easy chair. Is it any wonder my neck, shoulders and back almost constantly ache?

It doesn’t help that I was surprised by a rush editing job just before leaving Florida; the 4th manuscript in a 5-book series. I got that one done and back to the publisher, but I’m wondering when #5 will appear in my mailbox.

At first, we spent a lot of time in that room, watching various tv shows. By now, we have opted to spend our mornings at dospace (If you live in Omaha and haven’t checked out dospace at 72nd & Dodge, you should –; several afternoons of the week we go to the gym and work out; and at least once a week, we go see a movie – or 3.

Being confined to 1 room is mind-numbing. Most of the time, I just can’t concentrate. Oh, and if you are waiting impatiently for me to add another episode to, don’t hold your breath. I will get back to it, but guess what? The notebook holding the original story got packed when I wasn’t looking. Actually, I found the notebook, but the 10-20 pages I had out, next to my desk-top computer, to be typed in and tweaked… also got packed, and has proven to be elusive.

Eventually, the work on the house will be done. Eventually, our Omaha house will sell. Eventually, we will buy a new house in central Florida (we’ve been told it takes a minimum of 6 weeks from bid acceptance to document signing/closing) and can get the household belongings shipped down there. But right now, as the days grind by at a snail’s pace, ‘eventually’ seems a terribly long time from now.