View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Monday, December 25, 2017

My Christmas Wish

Absorb the grace and generosity of Christmas.
Carry it wherever you go.
Dispense it for others wherever you are.
What a wonderful world would result!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The First Day of Winter

A homeless man dies in the gutter.
A tree cracks in the cold: A shocking sound.

          The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has profound effects on the hemisphere at large.  Plants are deep in their protective dormancy, animals have gone to ground, using the minimum energy possible, venturing out even to forage only in desperation.  The complicated brains of humans do not go unaffected, either.  The shortening days, perhaps subconsciously associated with the dwindling days of life remaining, bring on bouts of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It's a real thing; look it up.
           The colder weather also brings flu season.  Not sure why, perhaps the lower temperatures suppress the immune system.  Not a doctor, can't address that, but I am in the end-phases (God, let us hope!) of a truly nasty one.  I don't know how it got past my flu shot.  Must have been some errant strain that no one saw coming, but that's neither here nor there.  Last Saturday, and continuing through Monday, I probably slept twenty hours a day, an hour of lucidness here and there broken up by three-to-four hour naps.  I still have congestion, difficulty regulating my temperature, body aches, and a real bad case of cancer of the ambition.  TheraFlu is a remarkable product, and you can tell them I said so!
          But people don't read this blog to hear about my health problems.  Most people following here know me as a writer, and that's really what I'm here to talk about.  First, a brief history of Jack the Writer.  My fifth grade teacher turned me on to the joys of writing to entertain others in 1957, probably around this time of year.  It's now 2017, which means that right around now, I've been writing to entertain others for almost exactly sixty years.  I went through a thousand phases and never achieved the sort of success gained by King or Rowling, but I had a good time and achieved a respectable level of proficiency; there are books out in public with my name on the front and my picture on the back,  and there are a couple of dozen reviews extolling my skills, so while I am not a millionaire, neither am I dissatisfied with the outcome.
          But what has been brought home to me with agonizing certainty over the past four months, with this crippling flu serving as the exclamation point, is that I have no further interest in writing at all.  I've been trying to spark it for the last four months.  I post writing days on the calendar, psyche myself up to write, then on the morning, I get out the notebook, fire up the computer, and... nothing.  So I try to improve an outline instead of actually writing; ain't happening.  I daydream scenes starring characters of my own creation the way some of you probably remember favorite scenes from movies, but when it comes time to put words on the page, the muse is conspicuously absent.
          So be it.  At sixty-nine, I don't have time left to fret over something I can't do anymore.  I can't run track anymore, either, and I don't let that bother me.  It's time for me to view writing in the same light.  You should note that it is almost impossible for a writer to make the conscious decision that he is through with writing, even if that's what he wants and intends; all he has to do is pick up a 10c pen and start scribbling.  In my case, I don't want to quit.  What I have to recognize is that I already have, want to or not.
          Recognizing, then, that it could start up again at any time, I have to face the future in the assumption that it won't, and decide what, if any, public face I'm going to present if not that of a writer.  I've seen so many people succeed with those little "slice of life" blogs that it makes me nuts!  They talk about feeding the squirrels on their back porch, and garner three, four, five hundred followers.  I've been blogging on this site since 2010.  I have 26 followers, and probably half of them are inactive.  I don't think of myself as pigheaded, but that particular statistic suggests otherwise.  Should I talk about my religion?  Nobody wants to hear that, and besides, that just invites attacks from the "you're wrong" crowd, and I have no interest in dealing with them.  Maybe I'll just become a person who comments on other peoples' blogs.  Or maybe I'll just close the door and turn out the lights; conventional wisdom suggests that I'm not really all that interesting in the first place.  I'll probably take another shot or two between now and New Year's, but just to be safe, anyone who wants to wish me goodbye better take care of that sooner rather than later...
          Play nice, watch out for one another, and live life like you mean it!  I'll see you around the web.

~ Jack

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Emancipation of Blimprider

          "When I hear about writer's block, this one and that one, f**k off!  Stop writing, for Christ's sake; plenty more where you came from."

           Much like Mr. Vidal, I've never put much stock in writer's block, because I never got it.  See, I plan in such great detail that I'm generally considered some sort of outlying freak by other planners.  Sure, the muse decides to sleep in once in a while, but as far as the dreaded Block goes, all I've ever had to do was lay my hyper-detailed outline beside the keyboard and flesh out the scene.  It may not have been my best writing, but it was always going to be a first draft, subject to revision anyway, and I had the scene on the page and was ready to move on; what is this "Block" you speak of, kemo sabe?
          So you might be able to imagine the turmoil I've been going through since last August, which was, with the exception of two days, the last time I was able to produce anything remotely readable.  In my last post, Back on the Horse, I talked about how I was going to haul the muse out of the sack and beat on him until he produced some usable copy.  That was a week ago.  I did that, and he came across with a scene for The Secret Society, a steampunk spy story I've had in the works for a while.  Following that success, I scheduled last Monday on the calendar to write again.  I figured that gave me three days to prepare, to psyche myself up, to do some research on the history of the location it was set in.  I did those things.  Monday came, I sat down to write, and... nothing happened.  Turned out this much-vaunted horse I thought I was riding turned out to be a worn out old mule who sat down in the road with me on his back, and dared me to make him stand up again.
          As I said, I don't have much experience with writer's block, so I don't know precisely whether that is what I'm experiencing.  At the age of 69, what I do have experience with is a wide array of hobbies.  From the sedate, detail-intensive construction of plastic models to the adrenaline-donor excitement of extreme off-roading; from the campaign planning of tabletop wargaming to exploring the mountains and deserts of the back country on foot, I've experienced a lot of widely varied pursuits.  As you might guess, I've also experienced the demise of a good number of those hobbies.  Take plastic modeling as an example.  You have all this paraphernalia, a thousand shades of paint, a dozen different kinds of glues and cements, all the tools for applying all the various forms of camouflage that the world's military forces have used on their weapons throughout history.  You've done this for decades, and know through long experience that you love it.  You visit a hobby shop and see a kit that just blows you away.  You must have it, so you risk not being able to pay a bill, and bring it home.  You examine the parts, decide which variant you're going to make, set up your work table with all the tools, paints, and associated equipment that you're going to need, and start spreading out parts...  At which time you realize that this is about the dumbest, most uninteresting thing you've ever encountered, and it almost makes you physically ill to look at it.
          That happened to me, and it was actually that sudden.  I was making an S-3 Viking, an anti-submarine aircraft used by the navy, for my office.  I worked at a naval air station where several dozen S-3s were based, and thought that would make an excellent display piece for a space on a shelf in there.  It was about 80% completed when I sat down at the table on my day off, and found that I couldn't stand to look at it.  I did eventually force it to completion, displayed it in my office, and it did get a lot of nice comments, but I've never made another one, and that was on the order of twenty years ago.  I got a model of Jules Verne's Nautilus for Christmas three years ago.  I'm looking at the box of parts from where I'm sitting, waiting in their packaging for the magic touch that will bring them to life.  I'd love to have that completed and on display, but not enough to actually build it, at least not yet.
          Wargaming faded away a bit more slowly, and I still fantasize about those good old days.  I have a few of the games left deep in my closet, and I still get one out now and then and look it over, but there's no thought of playing one.  Understand, if you're uninitiated, this isn't Risk I'm talking about here.  These are games like Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, Breakout Normandy, and Pax Britannica.  The rule books are thicker than many mainstream magazines, and maybe that's part of what drove me away.  Regardless of that, the sudden and profound loss of interest is familiar and chilling as I look at the prospect of writing now.
          All of which brings me to last Monday.  I tried all day to write.  I had material to type.  I had free time to type it.  There was no reason for not doing it, other than that I couldn't generate the slightest interest in the notion of actually spending two or three hours at the keyboard.  My daughter, the youngest child, finally took the time to put it all into perspective for me, and she was able to do it without Mr. Vidal's resort to foul language.  I'm going to paraphrase the conversation here; obviously I wasn't recording at the time, but this is pretty close to what was said:
          ME:  "Boo hoo hoo!  I can't write any more.  It's the end of the world!"
          DAUGHTER:  "Why?  Do something else."
          ME:  "You don't understand.  I need to write!  I put it on the calendar and planned for a day of writing, but now I can't get any work done."
          DAUGHTER:  "You don't need to get any work done.  You worked your ass off for fifty years providing a safe and loving home for half a dozen people.  This is your time.  You don't need a schedule, and you don't need a production tracker.  All you need to do is enjoy the time that's left to you.  If writing doesn't bring you pleasure, don't write."
          ME:  "But my friends all know me as a writer."
          DAUGHTER:  "Friends who like you for who you are will always like you.  The hangers-on who just want to be able to say they know a writer weren't your friends anyway.  If it brings you pleasure to explore Skyrim for the rest of your life, then that's what you should be doing."
          All this time, my wife is sitting in her recliner, smiling and nodding.  Has anyone ever had two better friends?  A better daughter?  I challenge you to show me one!
          And that's where things stand with the ol' Blimprider at this moment in time.  I will continue to put Writing on the calendar every four days, and I will continue to prep for it.  If it comes, it comes, and I'll be pleased to tell you a story, but if it doesn't come, I will no longer stress over it.  I've made my point with three books and a story in an anthology.  I have nothing left to prove to anyone.  Would I like to continue writing?  Of course I would.  Am I going to lose any sleep if that isn't what's in the cards?  Not any more.  I have a wonderful family to enjoy.  That ought to keep me busy enough for one man!  As for you, dear friends, play nice, take care of one another, and I'll see you around the Web.

All the best,
~ Jack "Blimprider" Tyler

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Back on the Horse

Now I sit me down to write.
I pray the Muse that things go right.
Three months off is quite a rest.
Time to dream, and do my best.

          I've been blocked for three months now.  Haven't written a word.  Oh, that's not entirely true.  I've written reviews by the score, established a forum, had some conversations, and commented on the work of others.  None of these things is writing, and it's been so long since I've produced anything that some of my readers may not know that the main thrust of this blog is to support my activities as a writer.
          This morning I determined that I would use the time until my grandchildren's visit, which starts in about an hour, to hold my cantankerous muse by the nose and kick him in the ass until he either coughed up a story or died.  In the end he coughed up a story, and I have a good amount of raw material ready in the form of a novella about half-completed and unedited.  Nonetheless, I am so thrilled to be back at it that I have opened it up to anyone who wants to read, comment, or offer suggestions.  The link is The Secret Society.
          Today was an important first step.  The mission now is to continue the momentum I've established, and if you have any encouragement to offer, that would certainly help.  That said, it isn't your job to keep me going, and you couldn't do it if you wanted to.  I'm just really happy to be doing what I love again, and eager to share.  I hope it's to your liking.  In any case, I'm blogging as a writer again, and I'm not shy about letting my friends and supporters know about it.
          I hope you've had as productive a day as I have, and many more to come.  I have to go now and prepare for the grandkids.  Have a great day!  I sure am, and I'll check in again next week to let you know how things are going.

All the best,
~ Jack

Friday, December 1, 2017

Thanksgiving, Belated.

          Last week I offered an essay about Thanksgiving as a holiday celebrated in several countries, but ignored by many more.  Or maybe not.  As a formal holiday sanctioned by national governments, Thanksgiving tends to get short shrift, but as a celebration of a bountiful harvest, I'm sure it's been observed and participated in by people close to and dependent on the land since the dawn of time.  Here at Chez Ty, it is a day we set aside to acknowledge that, despite any little squabbles we may have had during the previous year, we still unconditionally love each other, and none of us is facing the world alone.
          I mentioned in last week's post that we would be celebrating a week late.  Our son and daughter both work in big-box retail stores, and yesterday was the first day they've had off together since before last week, so this was the evening it happened.  Father Time has not been kind to wifey's knees and hips, and she just can't put in the full day in the kitchen that the traditional feast calls for.  Not a huge problem though, as daughter has declared Thanksgiving her favorite holiday, and was willing to do it all, although she didn't have to, as her mom dragged an elevated chair over there and produced a couple of dishes.  In the end, we had our son and daughter, and four grandchildren over, plus a cherished family friend who we consider one of us, no matter what her last name is, and a bountiful feast was enjoyed by all.

          The dishes for the meal took up our whole little dining table, which wouldn't have been usable with nine of us here anyway, so we ate on couches, in recliners, and on chairs, and we are all refreshed and recharged, and ready to face another year knowing where the love is, and where to find support if we need it.  And then, with the food demolished and the platters in the sink, dessert was presented.

          I was down for chocolate cream pie (I don't why they do anything else), deciding that if it killed me, well, try to name a better way to go!  Unbelievably, my blood sugar was down a good ten points this morning; I can only guess that my body saw that coming in, and put the whole crew on overtime.  I have a weigh-in Sunday morning, and I'm guessing that's where I'll find those missing ten numbers!  Not a problem.  I've started over a thousand times; once more isn't going to matter one way or the other!
          So, yeah, we ate enough food to sustain us for a week.  Yeah, we'll all have to start keeping a critical eye on the scale again.  So what?  We're all reaffirmed, our love is once more formally renewed, and who's going to let a scale interfere with that?  Not us!
          We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, however you celebrated, whatever the date, and wish you a fun month of shopping for just the right gift for those special people in your lives.  The next thing we celebrate here is Christmas (well, after two birthdays...).  As my regular readers will be aware, I am not a Christian, but I join my Christian friends and family in this wonderful celebration of love and giving because I don't want to throw a wet blanket on their enjoyment, and Christian or not, what's wrong with celebrating love and fellowship?
          At the same time, I recognize that between November and January, seven of the world's major religions celebrate twenty-nine of their biggest holidays.  I don't believe that mine are the only ones that count, so I'll close by wishing you Happy Holidays from The Tyler Gang to Your Gang, wherever you may be and whatever you may celebrate.  Play nice, watch out for one another, and look for the beauty in all things; it's nearly always there, and it will certainly make your day go nicer!


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks

"When you drink water,
remember the source."
                                                     ~ DENG MING-DAO

          Today, for those of us residing in the United States, is Thanksgiving, or our version of it (many are celebrated), commemorating, depending on which version you accept, that momentous fall day in 1621 when English colonists in the New England area harvested the native crops that native American Squanto had taught them how to cultivate earlier that year.  The colonists spent the next four hundred years showing their gratitude for that act of kindness, and the celebration remains with us to this day, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.
          While the date of the first true American holiday, by which I mean not that we "own" it, but the first holiday that wasn't brought from elsewhere, such as Christmas or Easter, has been remembered and celebrated continuously over centuries, what it means has been harder to pin down.  To some, it is a fully religious, specifically Christian day for worship, and although that wasn't the intent, the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled New England would certainly have included thanks to the Almighty for the bounty that sustained them.  To others, my childhood family included, it was a time for scattered relatives to gather for a day of feasting, stories, and companionship that overshadowed Christmas, unless you were a small child hoping for legendary toys a month down the road.  I knew four generations of my birth family, my great-grandmother dying when I was 25, and the house was overrun at the end of November with relatives of every stripe and temperament.  Once "Gan" passed beyond, though, the others followed quickly, until these days, our "extended family" consists of our adult son and daughter, and our son's four children, one of them an adult himself.  This year our celebration will be held on the 30th, as they both work in retail, and that's their next coordinating day off.  We don't mind; it isn't the date, it's the love.
          While everyone who is willing to keep a civil tongue in his or her respective head is welcome to read and comment, this little blog is written mostly for and read mostly by friends, and it is my hope on this day of celebration that you all have something positive in your lives to be thankful for.  Whether it's cherished loved ones, security, a decent job, or a loving home to come back to at day's end, find something to warm your heart, and take joy in it.
          My childhood Thanksgivings sometimes included two turkeys, or a turkey and a ham, and side dishes brought by everyone, showpieces of their culinary skills.  These days, with the smaller numbers involved, we usually buy a couple of turkey breasts and broil them, basting them in their own juices.  Delicious, waste is minimized, and everybody likes the white meat, which is all there is this way.  But no matter what you make, traditional or non, no matter where you are, surrounded by loved ones or far away, take a moment to give thanks for the things that make your life a positive experience.  They have value we often take for granted.

          I did say no matter what you make, and those with an adventurous bent might like to whip up this delightful bit of fowl, or should I say "foul?"  The roast facehugger comes from the devious mind of Helen Die (yep, that's her name), and consists of a whole chicken butterflied out to make the body, snow crab legs, and a chicken sausage for the tail.  She writes the incredible NecroNomNomNomicon blog where this lovey is a featured recipe.  Surprise your guests this year with a Thanksgiving they'll never forget!
          But whatever you do, don't forget to include the love...

'Til next time,
~ JT

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dawn, Moment of Infinite Hope

                    "This is the moment of embarking.
                         All auspicious signs are in place."
                                   ~DENG MING-DAO

          Last week, I was blessed to be able to bring you a beautiful sunset.  This morning, the Lords of Beauty presented me with a sunrise of stellar proportions, and the Gods of Coincidence allowed me to be up to photograph it.
          Dawn, whatever form it takes, is that moment where all things are possible.  At the dawn of a new day, you don't know what it might bring, but you are filled with hope for the possibilities.  The beginning of a new job,  the first day of school, opening day at the ball park, when every team is a contender; all are dawns, in one form or another, and all are overflowing with hope.
          I hope we all find the fulfillment of our dreams today, and every day.  Decide to be decent today.  Just today, decide you won't snap back at that snotty cashier, you won't blow your horn and show your finger to the asshat who cuts you off in traffic, that you won't look for opportunities to snarl, but rather opportunities to smile.  See what kind of day you have; maybe you'll decide to do it again tomorrow...
           I don't face the daily challenges that most of you do anymore, having retired over a year ago, but even I have choices to make, and the easy one is always not to fight.  Now go forth and, not conquer, but embrace your day.  You might be surprised at the difference it makes!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Moment in Time

          "Sun shines in the center of the sky.
                    All things turn their faces toward the light."
                    ~ Deng Ming-Dao

Gift from Heaven, November 8th, 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Having a Bad Day, Are You?

          "There is only one trait that marks the writer.  He is always watching.  It's a kind of trick of the mind, and he is born with it."
                              ~ MORLEY CALLAGHAN

          You know, some days are more entertaining than others.   Also more instructive.  I don't get out much these days.  It's strictly by choice; I've spent most of my life "out," and I'm enjoying the home that I put together over my working life.  I don't miss it out there.  It's too "peopley" to suit me, but I get plenty of stimulation at home.  At this very moment, my son and three of my grandkids are over for a visit, and things have taken a turn for the exciting.
          It's fairly well-known that I live in a mobile home park.  It's the 90210 of mobile home parks, and I have it on good authority that Jerry Springer has not recruited one guest from out community.  That doesn't mean the place is without its moments, though.  Our neighbors up the hill sold their place and moved a few weeks ago.  Over the last week, a crew has been here preparing to move it somewhere else.  Don't know, don't care, but earlier this afternoon there was a bit of a commotion, some unexpectedly loud noises, a ripping sound, a couple of booms, and I stepped out onto my porch to see this:

          Apparently, they got the wheels under it, and it started rolling.  They had a pickup truck hooked up to the end that you can't see, and of course it got dragged right along with it.  It stopped when it slammed into the hill hard enough to lift the wheels at this end off the ground.  The picture was taken about 5:00 PM, and if you look closely at the little pole lamp at the top of the retaining wall, you can see that it has just come on.  It's 8:00 PM as I write this, and it hasn't moved an inch.  This is a dead-end street.  There are two houses on the other side of that train wreck, and one of them belongs to the community manager.  What she thinks of this I haven't heard, but her assistant doesn't live in the park, and her car is trapped on the other side of this.  If they haven't gotten that moved by about 10:00 (and I don't see how that's possible), I'm going to offer her a spot on my couch.
          And people wonder where I get my ideas...  I don't have to "get" anything, they come to my door unbidden!  Now, I'm not one to make light of another's misfortune, but it's uncanny how, no matter how bad a day you're having, you don't have to look far to find someone who's having a worse one.  I don't know how these things get started.  I don't know why two guys with a pickup truck thought they could move a double-wide mobile home, and I don't know how they convinced the owner that it was possible.  But maybe that's my superpower; I've always been able to look at a job and accurately assess whether I would be able to do it, or if I needed to call in a professional.  It's hard for me to understand how other people can't see it, but it's our differences that make it interesting!
          Anyway, this little drama fell out of the sky today, and while I'm sure it didn't happen solely for my entertainment, don't fault me for finding the humor in it.  That said, I wouldn't be one of those guys for all the tea in China!  I wish them luck, and they have my sympathy, but I do appreciate the snicker.  Now, I'm off to play a little bit, and I hope your day tomorrow goes better than these guys has today, but if the roof does fall in on you, no pun intended, look around.  It won't be long before you realize your troubles aren't so big after all.
          Read well, and write better, and have a great weekend!

All the best,
~ Jack

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Time to Rest

          What a great thing is this retirement business!  Having invested one's entire adult life in labors great and small, one then reaches a point where, unable to carry the burdens he or she has been asked to bear any longer, one is put out to pasture to enjoy a few good years free of alarm clocks, time clocks, rush hours, meetings, bosses, impossible projects, and unmeetable deadlines.  I never expected to retire, but I can truly say that if changing circumstances hadn't forced me into it, I would have gone to my grave not knowing what life was!  Presented here for your consideration, a few snapshots of my weekend.
          Last Fathers Day my son got me what is billed as a "steampunk blade," a short sword or long knife, as your preference decides.  The graceful blade is set off by rosewood grips and decor, there are two catch-slots in the blade to snag an enemy's knife and twist it out of his hand or snap the blade, and the hand guard makes a credible knuckle-duster if you're crowded.  If you look closely, you can see where he had "Blimprider," my sobriquet in the world of steampunk, engraved at the base of the blade.  The non-functional pistol, which is a Very-type launcher, is one of four I have received over a couple of years, and the only one without a stand, so I've been casting about for some sort of display.  The two items came together with a nice plank salvaged from an old TV stand we were showing the door, and this is the result.

           Looking at this has inspired a possible story about a meek bookish type with a secret life as some sort of goblin hunter.  Nice set of tools, I must say.
*          *          *
          My other great acquisition this weekend was XCom: UFO Defense, the greatest game ever made.  For those unfortunates who haven't had the pleasure, XCom is an old DOS game first released in 1994 for the PC.  It's available on emulator sites such as, and sells for a song.  The premise is that UFO abductions are real, and becoming more aggressive as a coalition of aliens prepares to invade.  You are the commander of a world-wide organization formed and funded to oppose their activities.  You decide where to put your bases for optimal coverage.  You decide what goes in them.  You hire staff, conduct research, and build new equipment, the fruit of that research.
          Once your base is up and running, and you can have up to eight, assuming you can produce the cash flow to support them, you manage every aspect from this screen while watching the radar for uninvited guests.  Here you can monitor your research, manufacturing, buy and sell equipment, and manage your all-important assault squads who will meet the invaders wherever they can be engaged.  Each soldier is rated in a number of categories, from the typical strength and stamina to accuracy with guns and grenades, morale, personal bravery, and reaction time.  You then have to compare all these factors to decide who carries the heavy gear, who scouts, who snipes, who kicks doors, and who handles the demolitions.
          With all these decisions made and your base construction underway, you will sooner rather than later sight an invader on the radar screen, and dispatch an interceptor to bring it down.  This usually succeeds (wouldn't be much of a game if it didn't), leaving you with a crashed UFO to deal with.  So you saddle up the troops, and send them off to war.  Arriving at the crash site, you'll have to find the UFO, and beat the bushes for an unknown number of little ragamuffins who are eagerly waiting to ambush you as you come off the transport.
          Sometimes you haven't shot down the UFO.  Sometimes it has landed to pursue some nefarious project, your satellite spots it on the ground, and the squad has to go break up the party with all of them healthy and fully equipped.  You'll find them on farms, in the suburbs, in cities, and out in forests, jungles, and deserts.  Oh, and on the frozen tundra at both poles.  They'll hide anywhere, in caves, storage sheds, stables, and on rooftops, and you have to ferret them all out, because the battle doesn't end until you get them all.
          One thing you can generally rely on is that at some point, you'll have to have to enter the alien craft to get the last few guys, and that never fails to be an exercise in tension.  Notice the black areas on these battle screens.  When you first arrive, the whole screen is black, except a narrow cone that you can see from the door of the transport.  Everything is hidden until you scout it.  Want to know what's behind that hedge?  Send somebody to have a look!  Their ships can range from simple scouts like this to four-level battleships that look like wedding cakes.  The aliens know every inch, and will use that knowledge to great advantage.  You can expect to have your fun meter pegged frequently, as is the case with that fellow with the yellow arrow over his head, who's just rounded a corner to come up nose to nose with a hostile Gray.  Later in the game they'll build bases that have to be found and eradicated.  Sometimes they'll send an assault team to try to eradicate your bases.  Eventually, if you're successful, you'll learn to interrogate captives and learn the location of their off-world base in the Solar System, which you have to destroy in order to win.
          But that comes much later.  As your squads battle the invaders and bring back more and more alien equipment, it needs to be researched, and the useful discoveries implemented in new and more effective gear.  Bases need to be expanded, newly developed facilities added, and all the while, the cockroaches just keep showing up to wreak more and more havoc.  Small wonder that one of the PC game magazines back in the day said, "If you don't play XCom, you aren't really a gamer, you're just some guy with a computer!"  I couldn't agree more.
*          *          *
          And that's what went on this weekend.  Two days.  And virtually every day has been a version of this for the last year and a half.  Retirement suits me.  I may be going to hell, but at least I'll have had this time in heaven!  So, how was your weekend?

Semper audax esse,
~ Jack

Saturday, October 7, 2017


"You're as young as you feel."
                                   ~ SOME IDIOT WHO DIED YOUNG

          Today was, and still is, as it turns out, my birthday.  Having survived 69 trips around the host fireball with only a few really close calls, I feel like I've almost accomplished something.  It's next year that will be the test!
          I had a wonderful day, even considering the nap I took.  Two of my local grandkids made it over for a day of celebration, and to partake of the fabulous dinner the girls are preparing.  The granddaughters are at homecoming tonight, Venus's last and Angel's second.  Angel has to go, of course; she's one of the cheerleaders!  But my son, their dad, will be over as soon as he gets off work.  Family can't be beat!
          Breaking from the steampunk tradition of past years, there was a strong Viking theme to the presents this year.  They gave me a leather wristband with a copper battleaxe inlaid into it, a beautiful lacquered box with a Viking dragon tile set into the lid, and a shirt with a big Viking warrior holding up someone's head, and the legend, "THAT WHICH DOESN'T KILL ME...  SHOULD RUN!"  There were other things as well, but mostly what I got was love, just like always.
          Looking back over the journey, I see a life well-lived.  Some of the people I grew up with might say wasted, because I never reached the pinnacle of success.  I built plastic models for thirty-odd years.  I learned some good techniques, and presented in a few shows and competitions.  I had a set placed in the old San Diego Aerospace Museum.  I never became "America's Top Modeller," and had a photo spread in Fine Scale Modeller magazine, but you know what?  I had a good time.
          I was a wargamer for thirty years, cutting my teeth on Avalon-Hill's Gettysburg, and progressing through the hobby right up through the same company's Squad Leader.  I lost more games than I won, but some of those wins were spectacular, and made it all worthwhile.  I''ve led the Army of Northern Virginia up Cemetery Hill, the Afrika Korps across the Sahara, and ships of both sides into the dangerous waters around Midway, and I have to say that, win or lose, I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.
          I've been an author of various forms and at various levels for 59 of those years.  I never achieved the success of a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling, but I have books for sale on Amazon, and strangers have bought them and reviewed them favorably.  To me, that's success, and just the right amount.  I've proven I can do this thing that I love, and do it well, yet haven't had to give up any substantial portion of my personal life or private time.  Perfect!
          For fifty years I worked, nearly all of it in service to America, first in the Navy, then as a civilian employee of the Navy.  I am proud to say that I was loyal to my country when it was cool to burn draft cards.  Again, not the huge career that would cause you to find my name in the history books, but I always gave my best, and my only regret is that I couldn't do better.
          Most importantly, for over forty years I have been a husband and father.  I had to fight a street gang for my children, and a horrible, debilitating disease for my wife.  Together, we succeeded.  My children are successful members of society, and my wife is the respected matriarch of an extended family that spans half a continent.  You can do a lot worse than that.
          So here I am, not famous, not rich, not noteworthy for any particular accomplishment, yet I stand here proud and say I have had a very good life.  There have been heartbreaks, there have been setbacks, there have been tragedies, as there are in all lives, but we have met them all with courage and a sense of humor and perspective, and we have persevered and triumphed.  One thing I've learned through it all is that tomorrow's going to be another day, and all you have to do is be there to enjoy it.
          I could go on like this for hours, but a nice monologue slides into a boring sermon with startling suddenness, and I've made my point.  Be honorable, courageous, and seek the joy in all things, and though your life may not be perfect, you'll find plenty to appreciate.  Now that you all know the Great Cosmic Secret, go forth and conquer!  I'll see you next week.

All the best in all things always,
~ Jack

Friday, September 29, 2017

Games and Dames

          "I find myself enmeshed in conflicts I do not understand, where both sides seem equally wrong."
                              ~ DRIZZT DO'URDEN

          Good morning, friends, and I hope this finds you well.  It's been a week since I posted anything here, and I feel like I should keep things current, even if I don't have much to say.  This is my oldest presence on the world-wide cobweb, having been in my possession since the spring of 2011, sometimes active, sometimes dormant, always reflecting who I was at the time.  Right now, I'm in another transitional phase.  I don't do much besides write and play games in my retirement.  Having worked for a solid fifty years, I'm tired of being "out," and my idea of a long trip is a walk to the mailbox.
          I blog extensively on my page, and those who have come here for my views on writing and writers should go there for that sort of insight.  It's linked here.  If you're more interested in my fiction, click on the Portfolio tab at the top of the page, and you'll find everything I share laid out for you to read.
          As to this page, what can I do to make it interesting to friends and inviting to strangers, strangers who might accept that invitation and become acquaintances, and dare I suggest it, friends?  As I said, I'm enjoying my retirement by being a hermit, but I do some things, just mostly at home.  You might say my retirement is taking the form of a long staycation.  What I can offer here is a view of myself, and an invitation to converse, to join me in a judgment-free atmosphere and learn something I know, or teach me something I don't.  So, let's get started!

The Legend of Drizzt

          Drizzt Do'Urden came into being in 1988 when R.A. Salvatore was pressured on the spur-of-the-moment to create a sidekick for the giant barbarian Wulfgar, hero of his proposed series of novels based in The Forgotten Realms universe of novels based on Dungeons & Dragons.  The outcast dark elf Drizzt struck a chord with the primarily teenage audience, and Drizzt took over the series that has spanned 29 years, and is still being written today.
          The Legend of Drizzt is a boardgame, part of a series of Dungeons & Dragons boardgames, that seeks to capitalize on the popularity of Salvatore's creation.  It is a cooperative experience for up to five players.  Each player assumes the role of one of the characters of the core group from the books, a band of heroes known as the Companions of the Hall.  They are Drizzt, a magnificent dark elf swordsman, Wulfgar, the aforementioned barbarian, Bruenor, an axe-wielding dwarf, titular king of a lost kingdom, his adopted daughter Cattie-brie, an accomplished human archer, and Regis, a sneaky little halfling, which is a non-trademarked way to say Hobbit.
          All the action in the game takes place in the Underdark, a system of caves far deeper than ordinary caves, where the main dark elf society dwells, as well as a number of others, plus a wide assortment of monsters; most things found there, intelligent or not, are pure evil, and must be dealt with as the game system throws them at you.  Therein lies the game.
          There is a very cool mechanic in which the players build the board as they go.  The board consists of a stack of three-inch tiles which are shuffled and placed to the side.  The party begins the game on one double-size tile, and each time a player moves off the edge of a tile, the next one is drawn from the stack and attached to the edge, causing the map to grow as it is discovered.  Each time a new tile is placed, a Monster card is drawn, and the corresponding goblin, troll, drow, or whatever is placed on the new tile, and attacks using the tactics specified on its card.  The card is added to the hand of the player who drew it, and each time it is that player's turn, he first plays his own character, then the monster as if it were his own character.  There are a number of scenarios that correspond to the stories in the early novels that are triggered by including Special Encounter tiles in the board deck, and when they are drawn, the real fun begins.  As well as fighting monsters, the players can find treasure, heal a limited number of wounds, and have other, non-monster based encounters.  And thereby hangs a tale.
          We played this game two or three months ago, and got our asses handed to us.  We literally had a dead character, which is the condition for losing, by the end of the third turn.  Everyone was content to put this abomination away, and write it off as a ripoff trading on a famous name.  Everyone but me.  I am a huge fan of Drizzt; his books are my favorite stories of all time, so naturally, I was determined to make this game playable, and if no one else would play it with me, I would solo it.  Not much different than reading a book, really.
          So I got it out and began to tweak the rules.  I tried various things to balance it, but nothing heavy-handed.  Sure, I could have weakened the monsters to the point that they might as well not have been there, but there's no satisfaction in a game like that.  I wanted a razors-edge balance where the players would usually win, but come away feeling like they had really done something.  I experimented with each character making a dice roll at the beginning of each turn with certain numbers recovering a point of health for the character.  I considered making the healing potions restore all of a character's life instead of half of it.  I tweaked the monsters' attack dice.  But at the end of the day, the game fixed itself.
          In each scenario, the party starts with a number of healing surges, usually two.  When a character's hit points, usually between eight and ten, reach zero, you spend a healing surge and that character regains half of his starting total.  Once the party is out of healing surges, the next character who reaches zero hit points dies, and ends the game in a party loss.  This was happening with alarming regularity in our first games, and I suspect, though I don't remember, that we were doing something wrong, probably allowing every monster to attack on every turn instead of only on the turn of the player who drew its card.
          Whatever it was, I found a suggestion in the back of the rulebook that if the game is too difficult, give the party an extra healing surge.  I decided that before I tried some tweaked system of my own creation, I would try that, so I set up a scenario with three characters and played it solitaire, following the printed rules meticulously.  What do you know, it worked beautifully!
          So last Sunday we played two scenarios, the first where Bruenor rediscovers his lost kingdom, and the second in which he and his formidable friends drive out the dragon that has taken it over.  We allowed three healing surges, and found that you can easily estimate the quality of your victory by the number of surges you haven't used by the end of the game.  We used two in the first, which I would call a minor victory, and all three in the brawl against the dragon, which I have to say is marginal.  Still, in the immortal words of Bill Cowher, "So what if we won ugly?"
          My conclusion is that if you have obtained what by all accounts looks to be a quality boardgame, and it doesn't play well, don't give up right away.  Examine the rules; you may have made a tiny mistake that ruins the balance.  If that doesn't fix it, consider your tactics; you may have adopted a losing strategy.  Think about what you can do differently, and try that out.  You may find a shining jewel beneath what you thought was garbage.  I know I've learned a valuable lesson that I'm trying to pass along here, and given what people charge for boardgames these days, it is literally a valuable one.
          I would finally like to point out for those who play their games solitaire, by choice or through lack of local players, that this game lends itself very well to solitaire play.  The first scenario is a one-player depiction of Drizzt's escape from the great Drow city of the underdark, and is an excellent learning vehicle.  Be cautioned that when using one character, every monster is going to play in every turn, but that is not the norm, and it's easily possible to learn a very bad habit there.  Once learned, though, the game plays very well solitaire by simply setting up the scenario and playing each character to the best of your ability.  You won't have to fudge the monsters, either, as the tactics of each are dictated by their card.  You can have a wonderful time reliving the Legend of Drizzt either with friends or without!

Downton Abbey

          If you have been living under a rock for the past six years, Downton Abbey was a period piece set at the beginning of the 20th Century that concerned itself with the lives of an extended family of British landed aristocrats, and their interactions with each other and their servants.  I did not watch Downton Abbey in its first run.  I was present in the room for the trailers, and what I saw was a deep, rich period piece whose characters had such earth-shaking problems to contend with as which cuff-links to wear for dinner, and who might be the most profitable aristocrats to marry their daughters.  If I were designing a film to show in prison to torture the inmates, I'm pretty sure it would be close to this.
          Oh, how wrong we can be!  It is our custom to watch various television series in order, one episode per night, over dinner.  My lovely daughter got this as a gift last month, and it went into our rotation.  It came up last week, and we will be watching the final episode of Season One tonight.  Now, don't get me wrong; I still prefer Steve McGarrett racing to dump a hydrogen bomb out of a helicopter off the coast of Waikiki, but Downton Abbey is a different kind of animal.
          First of all, it is filled with intrigue both above stairs and below, as the British say.  The servants jostle one another constantly for position and prestige, sabotaging each other's work, and going so far as to try to get rivals fired or arrested.  Above stairs, the series begins in 1912 when this lifestyle is going into its final phases.  The Titanic has just sunk, taking with it the presumptive heir to the Crowley Estate, and setting in motion a desperate scramble to put new safeguards in place.  Scandals, blackmail, jealousy, and sabotage abound, all those things that make life in the aristocracy worth living, and the result is a show that keeps you hanging on every word and nuance.
          The Lord of the Manor, Robert Crawley or Lord Grantham to use his title, is a decent man who tries to be fair with everyone below him, but with this seething hotbed of intrigue playing out at every level, he is often caught behind the curve.  There is the Lord, his wife, their three daughters and the various suitors, and close to a dozen servants, all with their own agendas.  Add to the mix Lord Grantham's mother, the Dowager Countess, who has no real power but does have a real compulsion to meddle in everything she's aware of, and the recipe is complete.  What I really appreciated was that with all these characters getting substantial time on center stage, they made no effort to tell you who to root for.  Nearly at the end of the first season, I have gravitated toward Mary, the eldest daughter.
          Mary is headstrong and self-willed, things a woman is not supposed to be in that day and age.  She is in many ways a symbol of the coming changes.  She is the future of Downton, as with no male heirs, whoever she marries is likely to become the next Lord of the Manor.  I'm not a Brit, and I don't know if I have that part right, but a lot is riding on her.  To her parents chagrin, she has rejected every suitor they have pushed at her, and done it in such a way as to preclude any chance of changing her mind later.  Mary is a flawed character, sarcastic, and unappreciative of the way society treats her, and yet it seems the only way for her to rebel is to choose to live and die an old maid.  She began the series being really nasty, but we have gotten into her motives, and I now have great sympathy for her, and am fascinated to see whether she can lay claim to her own life without giving up too much.
          The actress playing Mary has also caught my attention.  Michelle Dockery brings a visual elegance to the role that makes you instantly believe that she is a titled heiress.  You would never believe her as one of the servants, but as the eldest daughter, she absolutely shines.  Her voice is deep and rich with vibrato undertones that rivet your ear and make you listen; I've not heard an actress with a voice like this since Lauren Bacall.  I don't know who trained her, but I wish he or she could train every actor on the screen.  Her facial expressions and body language are absolutely appropriate to every nuance of every scene, and she can change the tone of any scene she's in with a simple shift of her eyes, or a curl at one corner of her mouth, making you wonder what unspoken underplot you've missed.  She is magnificent.
          This is not to detract from the other actors.  All have been carefully selected for their appearance and skills, and the production values are spot-on in every regard.  You'll believe you are living in an English country house in every way possible.  Here is my final testimonial:  We are wrapping up Season One tonight, and will this weekend be moving on to another season of New Tricks, a British police dramedy.  I like that show very much, but I will be looking forward to our next visit to the spectacular Downton Abbey.
          So, until next week, Play nice, watch out for one another, and take the time to watch some great TV!

~ Jack

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Friday Funnies, Sep. 22nd

          "Excuses, excuses!"
                                   ~ EVERY BOSS I'VE EVER WORKED FOR

          This week my plan was to add the long-awaited Chapter 13 to Stingaree, my novel of a Victorian San Diego in a steampunk universe.  As with most chapters, four scenes go to make up this one, and thanks to the pinched nerve in my neck, I only got two sessions in.  On the idea that that is a convenient excuse to duck a project I'm a little tired of, I'm going to shift gears next week, and work on my other work-in-progress, The Secret Society.  That is a novella, and not arranged in chapters, but I'm looking to add four scenes to it, and it's set up so that you can view the progress and comment in real time.  This is very much the first draft, and your comments could affect the story, so don't be shy!
          On the pinched nerve front, everyone knows that I'm getting older, and these things crop up.  In about an hour, I'm leaving for an appointment with my physical therapist who I hope is going authorize a home neck-traction device for me.  I have gotten considerable relief during the treatments I've received in his office, but it only lasts for a couple of days.  With my own device, I could use it at-will, meaning every time this thing flares up, and while it will never be gone, my hope is that it will become something I can live with, like my dentures and my pre-diabetes.  I'll add a footnote should there be anything worthy of reporting.
          And that about does it for me as of this week.  Basically, I did a lot of video gaming, as the Big Comfy Couch allows me to assume any position I need, and the in-game story keeps me from lying in the fetal position and concentrating on how badly this hurts during a flareup.  With any luck at all, I'll be relieved of all that soon!  Meanwhile, I am first and foremost a writer.  To explore my view of The Craft, join me at my "technical" blog,
          Talk to you soon; have a great weekend!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sorting through the Chaos

          "One hates an author that's all author."

          And yet...   And yet, in the face of such wisdom, this is what I strive to be.
          I've been having some indecisiveness lately over whether I want to be a writer any more.  So I took yesterday off.  Just, off.  There are a number of things I do regularly on Saturday.  I most generally write at least one review on, as well as promoting my group, the Punk Fiction Library.  I also post links to the most recently active of my friends' blogs and pages on a daily basis, and I also routinely share a few items on Facebook, and comment on at least a half-dozen posts, and often many more.  Yesterday I did none of those things, and as nearly as I can tell, nobody even noticed!  For a certainty, no one commented.
          But the reality of it came home to me in the wee hours of this morning.  I couldn't get to sleep last night.  I tried.  I laid in bed for an hour and studied the ceiling, the night light, and listened to the little owl that lives outside my window, and I finally gave it up.  Taking my own advice that I give when this happens to my wife, I got up to make use of the time.  Sitting down with no clear plan of what to do, I found myself working on Stingaree.  It flowed so naturally that I actually invented (well, for myself, at least) a new way of outlining that gives me much more flexibility than my old notebook method.  But that's neither here nor there; the point is that I want to write.
          I've been thinking about this turn of affairs, and what I've come to believe is that what I don't want to do is all those things I've obligated myself to over months and years, one little thing here, another little thing there, until all those little drops have added up to a sea.  A sea of groups, forums, and social media that consume my writing time.  I wake up early now that I'm retired.  Don't know why.  Maybe it's because there's nothing to dread after I wake, I don't know, but I have the house to myself for two-to-three hours when I first get up, and that is time that I want to write.
          But I have these other demands.  I established a Facebook group, the Punk Fiction Authors Guild.  It exists to help all its members, 25 right now, down from 31, and this means reposting their promotional material everywhere I frequent.  Time off of my three hours.  My daily scouring of friends' pages, then copying and pasting the links on  More time.  Reviewing.  Promoting and maintaining The Punk Fiction Library and Twenty-Five Words or Less.  All time deducted from that immutable three hours.  This blog.  Riding the Blimp, my blog.  Who knows what I'm forgetting in my sleep-deprived state?
          The point is that I have dug a crater with a teaspoon, and now I can barely see over the edge.  The next thing I have to do in my writing life is to decide whether I'm going to be a writer, or a social media gadfly, posting, commenting, and pontificating on what it's like to be the writer that I'm not any more.  I guess you can tell from the tone which way I'm going to go, so let me stipulate what you will and will not be seeing going forward.
          First of all, I will maintain everything I've started to benefit others.  This specifically means the two groups and the forum that were mentioned above.  I will maintain them.  Don't look for me to be hanging out there every day, and commenting on everything that passes the gate.  That isn't likely to continue.  Reviewing and critiquing the work of others helps me keep my own style in focus, so I will continue to perform all my reviews on the weekends.  There is one friend for whom I have agreed to critique her entries for a contest that is testing her skills over the next twelve weeks: I'm in.  When I give my word, I keep it.  Riding the Blimp will continue to appear each Monday, as preparing that helps me examine my Craft and I believe makes me a better writer.  This blog I will continue to service when I think I have something to say, as I have done here.
          And that's it!  Don't expect to see me all over Facebook or any of the other social media sites on a daily basis.  I'll check out the things I started, and if they're running smoothly, I'll be moving on.  What you will get in return is better, and more writing from me on such projects as Stingaree, The Darklighters, and The Nexus Chronicles.  They will be offered up on for everyone's entertainment and opinions, and I hope you offer up those comments, because feedback makes you better at everything, and that includes writing.
          And on that note, I'm going to start my day, probably with a several-hour nap.  Some of the grandkids will be over today, and I'll be engaging with them when I get up, so probably the next thing you see from me will be my Riding the Blimp blog on  I'll put up a link when that's done, and Tuesday I'll be launching back into Stingaree; that's been under construction for far too long!
          Until we meet again, play nice, watch out for one another, and above all else, get out there and live life like you mean it!

~   Jack

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Saving a Carnivore, Part II

          Okay, I am back from my appointment, and as anyone who knows me already knows, there were problems.  They used the home version of the traction machine to stretch my neck today, and trained my daughter and me on its use, but they want to do another week of observation before they actually let me take it home.  That's all right, I can live with that, but we're here, of course, to talk about my little bug-eating plant...  There were problems.
          The lousy soil these things live in in the wild is approximated by a 50-50 mix of peat moss and perlite.  We stopped on the way home only to find that both these items are sold in 2-liter bags, one of which retails for $9.95, and the other for $6.95.  $17.00 and tax seems a little steep to provide life support for a $3.00 plant, so it was determined to work with what we have for now.
          The first thing I did when I got home was to get him out of his mailing tube and trim the dead bits; there will always be some after shipping.  With that done, he looked much happier, even being in his little plastic pot, which is a good thing, because he's going to be there for a while.  He does have plenty of healthy traps, and by happy coincidence, we have plenty of healthy fruit flies this fine summer season.  What we need to do is introduce the two, and that seems as easy as bringing them together.
          The next issue is the terrarium globe that I have available.  Due to the height of the pot, it is, at five inches, just a speck too small for him to spread out in comfort, and you will see in the picture that the tallest stalks inside are touching the roof.  I'm not about to mess with the pot, and the soil provided by the original seller, so the globe will have to be replaced with a larger one.  I'm thinking an eight-inch to allow room for him to grow.  I have a birthday coming up in just over three weeks, and I added a globe to my wish list.  I'm thinking that will be done, because everyone wants to see this little guy make it.
          In the meantime, I have put the pot in the globe I have, surrounded it with model landscaping material, and hung it under the bar with the open side toward the kitchen.  I fully expect him to be fine until I can get him a bigger house, especially after the flies find him!  Which may have happened already.  Two of the traps are closed.  I can't really tell if there's anything in them, and I don't have an  accurate fly census at this point.  It's possible that I set them off during the move, but I'd swear they were open when I hung him up.
          Anyway, time will tell.  I'm going to do everything in my power to help this little guy thrive, 'cause there's just something about a meat-eating plant that seems to compliment my personality.  You might say that I've found my perfect pet!  I sure hope he makes it.  We have plenty of heat here, which they like, and being this near the ocean, the humidity is high enough most of the time.  Bugs to eat?  Check!  What could go wrong?
          I'll keep you posted.

~ Jack

Saving a Carnivore, Part I

          Today I'm back here to blog.  You may be thinking that I said I wasn't going to do that anymore, but what I said was that there would be no more daily blogs about the minutiae of my writing process; it's time to get this back to its origins, fun stuff that I get up to.
          So, almost two weeks ago my four local grandkids, including second-in-command Venus, were over, and during the course of the day, a bunch of them made a store run.  They returned with a Venus fly trap.  There is some question about whether her dad or her aunt bought it for her, but that isn't the issue; I now have a meat-eating plant living in my house!  What a simply horrid idea, right?
          Actually, deranged Victorian sci-fi lover that I am, I find them amazing, and totally cool.  Venus, though, apparently doesn't share my enthusiasm, for despite several repeat visits since that particular purchase, and being reminded to take it home several times, it is still sitting on my dining room table.  Her dad gave it some tap water (which they apparently hate) yesterday, but it's still here!
          Well, since the thing has been abandoned at my house, I perceive that there is nothing for me to do but adopt it.  As luck would have it, I have a small hanging terrarium bowl whose resident plant died some time ago, and I have never done anything with it.  As Venus fly traps don't get very big, it seems to be a natural fit.  That will have to cleaned up inside and out, and some peat moss and perlite obtained for potting mix.  Oh, and a bit of pea gravel for the bed.  These little monsters have learned to eat bugs because the swampy soil they live in is too poor in nutrients to support a proper plant, and if you want them to do well in a terrarium, those conditions have to be duplicated.  As luck would have it, I have a medical appointment for my pinched nerve today, and there are at least two nurseries between here and the office, so I'll be looking into that.  Once I have this little guy settled into his (her?) new home, I'll post the pictures in Part II.
          Finally, if you'd like to open your own Little Shop of Horrors, this one was born at Rocket Farms, Inc. located at Half Moon Bay, CA.  They may be a wholesale-only seller, but they also may be able to put you onto a local retail outlet.  You can read all about them at
          That's it for now.  Things to do, places to go, you know how it is.  I hope to get our guest situated this afternoon, and Part II will land tonight or tomorrow morning.  Be watching!

~ Jack

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Daily Grind: 12 Sep 17

          "When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation."
                                   ~ JORGE LUIS BORGES

          In my constant bid to streamline my activities, get more use out of my time, and eliminate pointless activities, I am going to stop the daily gabfest here.  I just clicked over to the dashboard and looked at the numbers.  They don't tell me how many people read the words I leave here, only the number who land on the site.  That number wouldn't tax a public restroom, so I'm going to put the time I spend on these daily entries to better use.  If you have a copy of one of my books, and the web address in the foreword has brought you here, you have my thanks, and my welcome.  Follow this link to my new home:

          Likewise, if you are one of the small number who follow my demented ramblings, that's where you will find my public writings in the form of stories, books, a wee bit of poetry, and my weekly blog about the writing Craft, Riding the Blimp.  You will find that there is much more to me over there, so pay me a visit, I'd love to hear from you!  Oh, and take note, membership in is free, and members at any level have access to much more of my material than a guest on the site.
          And that about wraps it up.  I may still post the occasional item here if the subject matter seems relevant, but anything I do in the way of daily activity will appear there.  Well, I guess that does it.  Hit the link and join the party!

~ Jack

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Daily Grind: 11 Sep 17

          "A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining."
                                   ~ GEORGE W. BUSH

          This is The Day, and before we go further, let's set aside our regional, political, and racial differences and take a moment to remember the victims and the heroes of that fateful day.  I guarantee you that none of the firemen, policemen, and private citizens, some of whom gave the last full measure in those ruins, were looking at skin color or asking about someone's political leanings before pulling them out and heading for the exit.  Is that what it takes for us to come together?

          Moving on to news of the writer, not much is going on today.  I've designated Mondays as a day away from writing, a day when I catch my breath and refocus my thoughts before launching into a writing binge from Tuesday through Friday.  I write a blog post on various aspects of The Craft to sort of clear my mind and explore my thoughts in those areas.  Today I looked at using fear to enrich characters.  Come have a read if that sounds interesting.
          Tomorrow, I'm going to throw away my outline for the last half of Stingaree, and rewrite it from scratch.   I read somewhere that when a book seems to write itself, that is a dangerous indication that you are piling cliche on cliche, taking the easy solution to every question, and writing what will be a transparent and predictable plot.  That is what has happened with Stingaree; I hereby promise that no matter what happens with my writing down the road, Stingaree will be finished, and it will be the best product I can produce.  It may take a while longer, but I think it will be worth the wait.

Friends in the Biz

          Let's start with a big party.  Our favorite little steampunk elf Stephanie Kato attended the Long Beach Comic Con, and took a few pictures while she was there.  I didn't count, but she says there are over sixty.  A fun read indeed!
          William Jackson returns with Episode Three of his Atoms and Shadows movie review series, and believe me, that is always a ride.
          Immerse or Die looks at A Very Short Collection of Shorts by Rebecca Welch, while David Lee Summers announces upcoming book signings in the southwest this coming weekend.
          Finally, Metapunk has posted a thought-provoking article on how being a Dungeon Master has made him a better teacher.  All of these items are worth you while, so it looks like you've got some reading to do!
          Play nice, look out for one another, and above all, keep safe, and I'll see you back here same time (more or less) tomorrow.

~ Jack

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Daily Grind, 10 Sep 17

Riding the Blimp

          This is my 100th post.  Most bloggers try to do something dramatic to mark their "century" posts, and while I don't have some grand publishing milestone to offer up, I think this will qualify.
          I feel better today, physically, than I have in months.  My arm pain is insignificant, and I don't know why; my last treatment was Wednesday, and I don't have another until next Wednesday.  Mentally, though, my old demons are back in force.  You will see below one of my writer friends talking about procrastination and writers block.  This isn't normal block, where I could change it up by working on a different project.  This is the nagging belief that I am wasting huge chunks of my life pursuing something I have already failed at.
          Do the logic:  Next month I turn 69.  I began writing to entertain others in fifth grade.  In my twenties I polished my skills. In my thirties, I developed my voice, style, and presentation.  In my forties and fifties I sought publication through every agent, editor, and publisher who would provide an address to send a query to.  There were no takers.  I became an independent author in my sixties, but that has the feel of going to a fantasy baseball camp; I may be able to show some of the other wannabes some tricks, but it ain't The Show.  Now, leaning hard on 70, the question becomes, how much longer do I begin every day with three to six hours of intense and solitary work on something that is never going anywhere that matters?
          The simple fact is that if I was going to be a major "successful" author, it would have already happened.  My wonderful daughter, who has never been one to mince words, and is a savage defender of what's best for her aging daddy, tells me, "This is your time, and no one knows how much you have left.  You didn't retire to take on another job.  If you don't feel like writing is filling a need anymore, then stop!"  Even as a child, she had a way of cutting through to the heart of the matter.
          So I don't know what's coming.  I was going to start another Nexus story tomorrow, but I've decided not to.  I'm going to push through to finish Stingaree, the San Diego steampunk project that is dear to me.  The Darklighters is underway, and I will use that as my alternate project to keep it fresh, but after that, I can't project anything further out.  The demons will give up, or I will.  My long-time motto has been, "Never fight a battle that you don't have to win."  The fact is that I don't have to win this one.  Stay tuned...

Friends in the Biz

          Karen Carlisle has run into a bout with procrastination, which you can take from me is just another form of writer's block.  She has chosen to combat it by offering a short story from her archives.  She's an excellent writer; take a look!
          Richard Schulte, the awesome photographer, is also a pretty decent author in his own right.  Visit his story site and enjoy The Dog's Tail free of charge, and be sure to leave your thoughts; he's very deserving.
          S.K. Quinn offers a page of magnificent advice on how to launch yourself as a new author; yes, it involves spending some money, but I have yet to see a better plan.
          Also, Sarah Zama is interviewed by Book Shelf Fantasies on the suspension of disbelief, while Jonathan Fesmire offers Episode 11 of his Wild Steampunk Podcast.  There's a lot of great material here, so settle in and enjoy your Sunday, and I'll see you tomorrow.
~  Jack