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

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Oriental Vagabonds


          I finished this book last night, and I have to say that I was blown away!  Set, as the blurb lays out, on a tramp steamer plying Far Eastern waters on the eve of World War II, the characters are richly drawn, and the settings evoke the scent of the trade winds carried on the muggy heat that only the tropics can provide.  Perhaps this book spoke so intimately to me because I have lived it, cruising the Orient on the deck of a tanker in the late 1960s, but whatever the reason, the reading was fabulous!
          Let’s first cover the problems with this book:  There are a few typos, and in one spot I found “you’re” where it should have read “your.”  This isn’t uncommon in indie fiction, but in some cases, it is so rampant that it renders the book virtually unreadable.  Not the case here.  A couple of hiccups, a raised eyebrow, and on with the wonderful story.  I’d rate this 4½  if Amazon allowed it, but I’m not knocking a whole star off for an issue that didn’t detract in the slightest from a magnificent tale of the sea.
          So, what do we have here?  Well, most importantly, we have characters.  From the time we meet Captain Rowden prepping the Oriental Venture for sea in Sydney to the moment he stands out of a nameless lagoon in the South Pacific, Bill Rowden is the undisputed engine that drives the narrative.  Matching wits with arrogant Nazis, slimy Soviets, the Chinese underworld, a Russian dancer turned English lady, and an Australian major who is a bit more than what he seems, Rowden and his crew of cutthroats maneuver carefully and entertainingly through the hazardous minefields of prewar Oriental customs, scams, and skullduggery.  It is my personal belief that characters are fiction, and no one in this cast, from the captain to the lowliest dock worker, disappoints.
          Now you put these characters into a setting as rich and romantic as the South Seas, and the finished product is a book that is an absolute joy to get lost in.  My recommendation is that you pour a mug of strong brew, add a healthy dollop of your favorite “creamer,” and settle back for an evening’s enjoyment that will be hard to match for entertainment.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Early Riser? Who is that helping?

"Early to bed and early to rise, and you never meet any of the regular guys!"
~ Anonymous

          So, are you one of these people who wakes up before sunrise every day to get a head start and "attack" the day?  Yeah, there's more and more of those.  I've never been one myself, but I met my share during the latter part of my career, and the one thing they all had in common was that they would unanimously criticize me because I didn't buy into it.  It isn't a coincidence that this became a "thing" at around the same time that leaving work at quitting time became an act of defiance.

          Now that I've retired, I've started to wake up at a time that would have placed your life in danger had you woke me at that time when I was working.  Now I use that time to do whatever writing I have planned for that day, or to read, or just play a video game before the routine of the day begins.  The point is, it benefits me, and it's been my choice to make that adjustment.

          Are you an early riser?  Do you do it for yourself, or do you just think you do?  Before you answer, read this brilliant essay by Rosie Spinx, a journalist with the courage to buck the trends and tell the truth about this insidious practice that is stealing your humanity.  No early riser should miss it!

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Elephant as a Person

          I've been straining to find something to use this blog for, and I may have found a good candidate.  This article appeared Aeon.co, a site purporting to bring thought provoking reading to a curious audience.  If this is any indication, they don't disappoint!  Oh, and I should mention that, while they do solicit donations, the site is free to use with no clickbait and no paywalls.  Check it out!

          https://aeon.co/essays/if-elephants-arent-persons-yet-could-they-be-one-day

Monday, September 10, 2018

Chameleon

          I have scratched my head and puzzled over what to do with this site. Jack's Hideout was my first blog, started back in March of 2011. My first post, the mission statement, is still up and ready to read, though the link it references is long-gone. In that time, I have posted scads of articles about some of the weirdest subjects ever brought together under one roof. I made some lasting friendships in the earliest days of this blog, the crew of Nerd Lunch, my favorite pop-culture site, Australian singer-artist-book reviewer Karen Finch, and journalist and sometimes Radio personality Nicole Vulcan, who chronicled her journey as a single mom as she made the world do the right thing by sheer force of will. I also "celebrated" the loss of my best friend here. I've welcomed over 30,500 visitors to date, and had some intense and interesting conversations with many of them. But now ...

          I am first and foremost an author. For many years I struggled to make it my profession, but that outcome wasn't in the cards, so I made it my hobby. It is now one of many things I do in an atmosphere of stress-free enjoyment. It's kind of ironic, then, that having declared writing a hobby, I've set up a "professional" author site on another platform.

          I was seduced away from Blogger by Weebly, a small-press blog provider at the time, whose main attraction was "what you see it what you get." See, on Blogger, everything you type or post goes into a big square box, and you don't know what it's going to look like when you post it, so you preview and preview and preview, making adjustments until you're blue in the face until you either get it right, or throw up your hands and run with what you've got. Weebly solved that problem for a couple of years, and you can see the gap in the archives here, but then they were bought by ScribD, who replaced Weebly's Terms of Use with their own, one of which was Clause Six.  Clause Six stated that as a condition of using Weebly, ScribD could utilize anything posted on the service for any reason as if it were their own.

          As you might imagine, I couldn't clear out of there fast enough. I came back here for the occasional post, and last February, I looked into an old WordPress account I had never used because it was so user-unfriendly that I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. But when I returned, it had been simplified to the point that even I could use it, and use it I did. I set up my author site there called Riding the Blimp, and that has become my scrapbook of all things writing where I have welcomed over 2100 visitors. But I've kept this site running in the background, and now I can't let it go because it is my proof of purchase, my credentials showing that I've been at this for more than the seven months that Riding the Blimp has been in operation. But Riding the Blimp is where it all happens now.

          As a hobbyist, I've taken to giving away my stories; I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to be rich or famous, so I'll settle for being read. Last Saturday I posted a complete novel there, Chameleon. Fans of dangerous dames and lethal ladies will find Colleen O'Reilly to be right up their alley, so click on over and enjoy the read, and maybe leave a comment or two along the way. There are other stories there as well, some excerpts from books for sale, some complete in their own right, but all eminently readable. Consider this your invitation to come over and get acquainted. I thoroughly enjoy meeting new folks, and hearing their views on my works and everything else, so don't be a stranger. Come enjoy a read, and while you're doing that, I'll start transcribing my crime drama, Broken English; and maybe seeking out new uses for this site as well.

          Y'all have a great day, and I'll see you around the stacks!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Being Joe


          I just read the creepiest little short that I've seen in quite a while, Being Joe, by Erin Lee.  This is only available as part of a collection, Carnival of Fear, which collects a sweet thirteen shorts and novellas that bring horror set in carnivals and circuses, places where behind the scenes horror is almost a given, right?  Fitting, since the very word carnival has its origins in the Old Italian carnelevare: taking meat away.  This one doesn't disappoint!
          I can't say much about a short story without ruining the whole thing, but let me try to set the mood.  Being Joe is told by the dominant member of a set of conjoined twins.  The subordinate twin, Moe, is little more than a head that has very little control or feeling of any part of the shared body; all he does is complain, and who can blame him for being bitter?  A one-armed baton-twirling dwarf named Cat is in love with Moe, and Joe can't stand her, not least because she may or may not have killed her last husband and fed him to the circus's big cats.
          And that's as far as I dare go without spoilers.  It is a ride worthy of a much longer work, bringing the horror and suspense advertised along with a healthy dose of sarcastic humor.  Reader of my other blog, Riding the Blimp, were recently treated to a rant about the rising price of e-booksCarnival of Fear, 13 complete stories with a print length of 537 pages, is available on Kindle for 99c, which is what I call a great price!  Erin Lee is a prolific author, and her work can be explored further at https://www.authorerinlee.com/  Come on...  Take a walk on the creepy side!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Third Daughter


          I've just finished a book so incredible that I don't know where to start, so I'll just put the wedge in somewhere and start prying.  I recently purchased one of those Kindle bundles where you get a dozen or so books for 99c.  This one was Gears & Goggles: A Steampunk Collection.  Right up my alley, so to speak.
          The Third Daughter was the first book in the collection, and one I never would have reached for had it been alone on its sales page; I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere.  Its author, Susan Kaye Quinn promotes it as a Bollywood-style romance, and it may be.  I know very little about the romance genre beyond the fact that it doesn't interest me a jot, but I think the author may have done herself a grave disservice by placing it in this category.
          The story takes place on one of those not-Earth fantasy worlds so common in the genre, and it is centered around the Kingdom, or more accurately, Queendom of Dharia.  Everything in the land works on steampunk/clockpunk tropes, and fits beautifully into the genre we all know and love.  The land is ruled by a widowed queen who has three daughters.  The elder two have been forced into arranged marriages to seal alliances, and the third daughter, Aniri, is nearing her 18th birthday.  She is a tomboy, more interested in climbing and fencing than jewelry and silks, and has been stealing away unobserved (so she thinks) to meet a lover, a courtesan from a foreign embassy.  Their relationship has remained non-sexual up to this point, and Aniri believes, rightly or wrongly, that they will wed, and enter into a life of travel and adventure that only the independently wealthy can imagine.  She has no courtly duties beyond looking pretty during state functions, and very few cares.  Life extends before her like a huge blank canvas.
          Until the fateful evening when her mother's personal guard, Janak, interrupts her supposedly secret dalliance to summon her before the queen without delay.  Her mother informs her that she will be introduced to a barbarian prince from the northern provinces in the morning, and it is hoped that her wedding to him will avert a war that would kill thousands.
          Aniri, as you might imagine, is devastated, then confused when, instead of an ape in bearskins, she is introduced to a charming and handsome young man who seems to sincerely want peace, and needs this wedding to solidify his hold on the throne before his warmongering generals usurp power.  What's a princess to do?
          At the first opportunity to get her alone, her mother explains that the foreign custom is for the prospective queen to live in the prince's palace for a month of courtship where they get to know each other, and establish how their arranged marriage will function.  The queen is in possession of troubling rumors of a flying ship that can wreak destruction on Dharia in the hands of the prince's kingdom, and her real mission is to confirm or dispell these rumors, and if true, discover some weak point that can be exploited to defend the kingdom.
          Aniri journeys to Prince Malik's palace to face hostile factions, assassins, and creep around behind this seemingly sincere man's back to try to ferret out the truth behind the rumors.  None of this is aided by a message from her lover, telling her that everything the prince says is a lie, and the dreaded war will be triggered by their wedding.
          There is indeed a classic love triangle in play here, but that isn't the book.  If you like court intrigue, political maneuvering, and steampunk gear aplenty, this could be the book for you.  It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me, and I am certain that this will join the Drizzt Do'Urden and Tarl Cabot of Gor series as Books I'll Never Forget.  I've been active in the world of steampunk for a good many years now, and I haven't come across Ms. Quinn's name as one of the giants of the genre.  It should be.  The Third Daughter stands head and shoulders above much of the material I've read.  Romance?  Yeah, it's there, and it's handled in an effective and satisfying manner, but don't be fooled.  This is the steampunk book for every reader, and the best thing is, it's the first book of a trilogy.
          Available on Amazon right here.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Den of Antiquity

          November of 2016 saw the release of the steampunk anthology Den of Antiquity, a project it gives me great pride to be associated with.  The brainchild of Bryce Raffle, a Canadian author of thrilling tales, it was meant as the joyous celebration of a group of good friends linked by our participation in Scribblers’ Den, a writers’ group in The Steampunk Empire.  This was the Den’s second anthology, an event which was becoming a traditional anniversary celebration for the group.  Bryce announced an open call for stories, I don’t remember, almost six months ahead of publication, a time frame that even I could meet.  The theme was to be a den.  Fitting somehow, eh?  Well, according to my trusty Funk & Wagnalls, a den can be a private room for relaxation or study, the cave or retreat of a wild animal, or a term for a place, such as a den of thieves.  As long as the story worked a den into the narrative, it was a go.  There were twelve stories collected for inclusion, and there were happy discussions of what next year’s theme would be.  And then four months later, we woke up, and The Steampunk Empire was gone.  Not a word of warning, not a hint of trouble, just a click on the shortcut to bring up the screen, and what appeared was not that beautiful Victorian wallpaper, but the dreaded “404” message:  “There’s no such thing as what you’re looking for.”
          The Steampunk Empire had been a stable home for punks of every stripe for at least a decade, for far longer than I was associated with it, and one day, poof, gone.  Twenty thousand members, including some big names in the genre, lost everything, photos, blogs, stories, how-to materials, contact information, everything.  I myself lost all but about a dozen of over a hundred contacts, and two sandboxes I had posted for other writers to play in, Port Reprieve and Cape Grief.  Cape Grief was just launching, but writers in the world of Port Reprieve lost a score or more of stories.
          Okay, that’s my rant for this issue.  It’s good to get it off my chest yet again and make my position clear, especially to myself.  With that done, let’s take a look at this book I’ve been raving about.

DenOfAntiquityCover          The link above will take you to its Amazon page, and it’s a purchase to consider for a multitude of reasons.  First, it’s cheap, only $2.99 for the Kindle edition.  Second, it’s a collection of shorts by some of steampunk’s up-and-coming lights, bite-size reads ideal for a lunch break or commute.  Third, it’s also ideal if you aren’t a steampunk aficionado, but would like to dip your toe in the proverbial water.  There are stories here of every ilk, and none of them too outlandish for the new reader.  And here’s the little cherry on top:  None of the writers are accepting a dime in royalties.  Instead, every penny earned is being donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.  So for any of those reasons, or one I didn’t think of, take the plunge.  You, too, can be a punk.  A glance at the table of contents may whet your appetite:

Brass and Coal by Jack Tyler
An Evening at the Marlon Club by Kate Philbrick
Dragon’s Breath by E. C. Jarvis
The Reluctant Vampire by Neale Green
The Complications of Avery Vane by Bryce Raffle
Hark!  Hark! by N.O.A. Rawle
The Jackalope Bandit by David Lee Summers
After the Catastrophe: The Lady of Castle Rock by Steve Moore
When the Tomb Breaks by William J. Jackson
All that Glitters by Karen J. Carlisle
Yggdrasil’s Triumphant Return by Alice E. Keyes
After the Crash by B.A. Sinclair

          Links to all the authors websites can be found at the end of their stories, so a few mouse clicks will open up a wealth of information on a group of fine independent authors who offer tales from the cutting edge, with no publishing house prodding them to recapture the Last Big Thing.  If you are a steampunk die-hard looking for some voices that you might not yet be familiar with, or a curious newbie wanting to try out the genre, thrilling adventures await at amazon.com.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Astronomer's Crypt (2016)

Supernatural horror by David Lee Summers

[Review of purchased Kindle edition] Rating: 4½ stars.

     I'm first going to tell you everything that's wrong with this book: The author uses too many commas.

     Mr. Summers' bio states that he is a working astronomer, and as the bulk of this novel is set in an observatory, I must assume that he got the atmosphere right. I live near Palomar, and can tell you that even in a daytime tour group, these domes are big, windy, cold, echoing cathedrals where every sound bounces around until direction and content are lost in transition, so high marks for setting.

     The book is unabashedly supernatural horror, so let's see what he offers.
          DRUG CARTEL THUGS: Check
          HUGE STORM: Check
          LOSS OF POWER: Check
          DISGRACED BUT CAPABLE SUPPORTING CHARACTER: Check
          LOVED ONE HELD HOSTAGE: Check
          MONSTER OF MYTH: Check
          SHADOWY VILLAIN: Check
          VENGEFUL GHOST: Check

     All are present in a single story, and all are tied together by as compelling a plot and as riveting wordcraft as it has been my pleasure to read in a good long time. If you're a horror fan, and you haven't read The Astronomer's Crypt, then there is a gaping hole in your cloak of fandom. Don't waste time arguing. Just get the book, ignore the extra commas, and enjoy the delightfully horrible thrill of your reading life!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Dark City (1998)

ADVENTITIOUS:  Associated with something by chance rather than as an integral part; extrinsic.

          Okay, so I'm a fan of noir.  Movies like The Maltese Falcon, Strangers on a Train, and Sunset Boulevard just blow me away.  As a body of work, there aren't a huge number of them, so I make it a point not binge-watch them; I don't want to use them all up in a week, and never have any more to look forward to.  After all, they stopped making these things back in the 1950s.

          Or did they?  A little while back I was in the mood to add a noir to my playlist, so I did a little research and discovered that a 1950 movie called Dark City starring a young Charleton Heston (his first starring role, actually) had some points to recommend it, not the least being the young Charleton Heston.  Also in the cast were Dean Jagger, Jack Webb, Ed Begley, and Harry Morgan.  The leading lady was Lizbeth Scott.

          Deciding that this might be worth a look, I brought up Amazon, plugged Dark City into the search engine, performed my one-click purchase, and settled back to await its arrival.  When it arrived, I took it out of the shipping container and put it in the queue without paying much attention to it.  It's been working its way toward the top of the pile for a few weeks now, and this evening it came up.  Imagine my surprise when, far from being a Charleton Heston black-and-white film from the Golden Age, this was a full-color production from the Recent Age starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt.

          Adventitious.  I couldn't find the exact word I wanted to describe what happened here.  I'm sure there is a word for the situation that occurs when you make a real dunce mistake, and it turns out better than you could ever have imagined.  The 1998 film checks all the boxes:  A man wakes up in a hotel bathtub.  He can't remember who he is or what he's doing there.  He gets out of the tub, gets dressed, and goes into the living room to discover a dead woman, and the bloody knife that killed her.  The phone rings, and a stranger's voice tells him to get out of there, that even now, some men are coming for him.

          He takes the stranger's advice and high-tails it, being narrowly missed by a hard-boiled police detective, and another group of men from a secret society with shadowy motives.  There ensues an hour-and-forty minute chase through one of the grittiest, darkest urban areas you'll ever see in a movie.  I'm serious, this place makes Gotham City look like Itchycoo Park.

          Rufus Sewell plays the amnesiac, and the man who called him, Kiefer Sutherland, claims to be his doctor.  He is later revealed to be a psychiatrist who is working his own agenda.  Jennifer Connelly plays the wife he doesn't remember, a torch singer in a two-bit nightclub, and William Hurt is the hard-boiled cop who's after him for murdering the woman in the hotel room, and five more besides.  I refuse to spoil any of this, so I won't even hint at what the secret society's aims are, but let me make a statement you may find...  intriguing.

          As I said, this film checks all the boxes.  Dark, gritty hero: check.  Hard-boiled cop:  check.  Femme fatale:  check.  Grimy backdrop:  check.  But this one adds a new box, and one I've never encountered in a noir of any era before now.  Science-fiction:  check.  As I said, there will be no spoilers here.  Suffice to say that this one is a stunner.  It's about the mystery, it's about the chase, it's about the convoluted, interweaving plot lines, but this one has another facet.  It's about what it means to be human.

          See this film, at least if you have a love of noir and a love of sci-fi.  You won't see them together that often, and don't say Blade Runner; Decker's character is a cop, which removes him from the being a suspect aspect of the richly layered noir that really brings the grit.  I found this film to challenge me as a viewer to keep up, and to try to get ahead of our victim in the quest to learn the secret, but it has given me a level of pleasure beyond that, as now I know there is neo-noir out there that is every bit as good as the original classics.  You can bet I'll be on the lookout for more!

*          *          *

          Just a reminder to new visitors:  I am primarily an author, and the vast majority of my blogging is done on my author's page at https://blimprider.com - Pay me a visit when you have a spare moment.  I love to meet new people, and you never know what you might find there.  Maybe a thought-provoking discussion...  Maybe a new friend.  Meanwhile, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Consolidaton

"All things in moderation, including moderation!"
                         ~ OSCAR WILDE

          I have been blogging since 2011.  That's not as long as many of you, but I came into it with no particular plan, and not much knowledge on the subject, and over the course of that seven years, I set up a dozen or more blogs with several different providers.  It seemed like the way to attract specific audiences to specific subjects [Note to newbies: it doesn't work!].  Having since published several works of fiction, and having more in the pipeline, I have found it distracting, to say the least, to have to support these books on all of these different blogs, including this one, so I am taking steps to consolidate.
          The vast majority of blogging that I do at the current time is to promote my writing, my friends' writing, and offer discussions of the Craft.  I have very little interest, and even less time, to invest in chatty blogs about the by-products of life today.  I don't see much of it, in any case, preferring to spend my time at home with my stories, my family, my Xbox, and my old TV and movies.  Accordingly, nearly everything I find to blog about can be described as some form of the writing Craft, and in the future, it can all be found at


          That site is about six weeks old, and after an initial flurry of posts to raise visibility, I now try to add to it every four days, alternating between discussions of the Craft, and promotions of my work and that of other independent authors of my acquaintance.  If you have gotten this URL from another source, maybe even one of my books(!), I hope you get around for a visit, and find something to enjoy.  I endeavor to keep it interesting and possibly even insightful, and would love to welcome a book lover, or a fellow author, for a long, comfortable ride.  So come on over.  Maybe you'll find an enjoyable hangout; maybe you'll even find some friends.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Kung Fu

"Moon above water.  Sit in solitude."
~ DENG MING-DAO

          The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things.  In this case, I am going to come clean about my personal belief system.  I identify myself as a Taoist to myself and to anyone who asks, though someone who has spent time in a temple under the tutelage of masters might consider me a poor substitute.  I began my journey in about 1970.  I can't fix an exact date because it was gradually being assimilated.  You see, my young adulthood coincided with the Bruce Lee era, and that of all the martial arts movies that imitated him, and I found myself led to dojos of varying qualities to join the ranks of the legendary badasses.
          That was my intention from the beginning.  I was small and shy as a kid, and was bullied probably more than most, though not as bad as some I witnessed. but from my first encounter with judo back before my navy days, I set out to become someone you'd be very sorry for messing with.
          Having no money, and no caregivers who ever let me do anything from Cub Scouts to Little League, my first martial arts instructors were professional wrestlers, especially the bad guys, gents like Freddie Blassie, Mr. Moto, and the Iron Sheik.  They may have been putting on a show, but when you jump off the top of a parked car and land with your knees in a bully's guts, their view of you as a target begins to change.  That was all I ever wanted.
          Then came my naval service, from 1965-69, and being stationed at a couple of shore installations, I had money and time, and began to get some training from local gyms.  I got out in late 1969 and moved back home, initially until I could find a job and get on my feet.  But great-grandma broke her hip and became an invalid, and for the next four years of my life I became one of her caregivers.  Her daughter moved back in and we shared the duties.  I walked the neighbors' dogs and did light maintenance on the local Little League field for pocket change, and spent that pocket change on training at the All-Japan Karate Federation learning the arts from a 35th generation samurai.
          This guy was the real deal, and incorporated into the training were helpful concepts like Do without doing, The value of the cup lies in its emptiness, and similar concepts that helped my mind realize that it was a valuable part of the process.  It wasn't enough to be able to kick, punch, or throw, your mind needed to be philosophically involved in order for you to be truly effective.
          I had at last found an instructor who wasn't teaching his students just for the money.  These concepts were my first introduction to Oriental mysticism, and I was fascinated!  All this time, I had been concentrating on becoming the most dangerous S.O.B. in the valley, and he was opening my eyes to the much greater world behind it.  Of course, he wasn't a religious teacher, I had had a more or less typical Western upbringing, and in any case, he was teaching me how to fight, nothing more.  I probably would have just caught the edge of it and never gotten deep into the religious parts, but by the most incredible stroke of serendipity, ABC Television added to its fall lineup an Eastern Western called Kung Fu.  Yes, the series starring David Carradine.
           The series came under much ridicule in later years, and was featured in derogatory memes and other forms of artistic dismissal, and a good portion of this may be that Carradine himself spoke of it in very derogatory terms, but without that show to bring fullness to those lessons I was getting in my combat training, I would be very much less a man than I am today.  Carradine described the series concept as "You have this huge problem that is threatening to ruin your life.  You have no idea how to solve it, but then this bum wanders down out of hills and takes care of it for you."  That's a paraphrase of a statement he made on the DVD commentaries, and I'm sad for him that he wasn't in a position to "get" what he was doing, but I was.
          I have heard throughout my life that Carradine was trained as a dancer, and as such, the fight scenes in Kung Fu were just so much choreography for him.  Many of his contemporary actors could have produced better fight scenes, and it's well known that Bruce Lee was considered for the role, but the thing that Carrdine nailed perfectly was the incredible serenity of this peaceful warrior who was complete within himself.  The flashbacks to his life of training in the temple were always the meat of the show to me, and I later learned that most of them were designed directly around passages from the Tao teh Ching, the original and most sacred text of Taoism.  It was fascinating to me to see how this man who could kill you with barely a move came to be the way he was, and seriously, can anyone imagine Bruce Lee being calm enough to play even one of those temple scenes?  By the way, did you know that David Carradine's real name was John, that he changed it to avoid confusion with his actor father, and that throughout his youth, he was known as Jack?  I like that.  In a very real sense, I have been striving to "be" Kwai Chang Caine my entire adult life.
          That amounts to about 45 years of my life, and I flatter myself that I have a pretty good handle on it.  I read extensively, and meditate when I feel the need.  I have a wide collection of the literature, but as an American, the only film media I have access to is Kung Fu.  Christians have a thousand movies to watch, I have this, and I watch it regularly.  Even though I can quote entire passages of dialogue, that isn't the point; most Christians I know can quote vast portions of the Bible, but they still read it.
          Regular readers will have noted that I quote frequently from the works of Deng Ming-Dao.  He is a contemporary Taoist who has written a number of texts on the religion, including two of my favorites, Everyday Tao, and 365 Tao, from which the above quote is taken.  It speaks of the perfection of stillness, and the futility of actively trying to achieve it; the act of trying destroys it.  To reach those moments of sublime peace, one must empty the mind and relax the body completely.  They are rare, but oh so beautiful.
          This seems a worthy offering for a Sunday.  Most religions seek to achieve peace, and this is one way to do it.  Most religions also set aside days for contemplation, and my largely Christian audience recognizes Sunday as that day, so here is my gift to you, my Christian friends, peace and a means to seek it.  I hope you find it useful.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Inbound to Reality in 3... 2... 1...

 "Washing at dawn:  Rinse away dreams.
Protect the gods within, and clarify the inner spirit."

                                                                                 ~ DENG MING-DAO

           I have been conflicted about this writing business for a year or more.  My friends have graciously put up with my fits and starts, even the folks at writing.com, where my conflicted feelings came to a head last week, hoping, I assume, that I would find the muse and continue the adventures.  Sadly, that hasn't happened, and reconciliation with that cantankerous creature drifts farther away every day.
          I can write articles about the abstract concepts of the craft or the characters, plots, and situations in my old books, but when I get out all my materials and try to produce new copy, be it outlining or words on the page, it fades into the background cacophony of things that are of much greater interest to me.  Those things include the constantly developing strategy for my ongoing XCOM campaign, what to do with my postage-stamp yard come spring, or what old movies Mama and I might want to cuddle up in front of...  Anything but writing!
          The facts are these:  I have a trilogy in print, and a short story that proved of sufficient quality for an editor to include it in his anthology.  Whatever shadowy point I set out to prove when I began my quest for publication has been made, and I feel no further pressure nor even the slightest urge to continue on that path.  I have been wasting hours a day pretending to be a writer, and that needs to stop; it stops here.  I'm sorry.  It looks like "Me" isn't coming back.
          In the future, this will be my blog.  Forget writing.com, forget WordPress, forget FaceBook even.  This will be the face I present to the world.  Will it be profound?  Absolutely not!  I'm not that person.  Over the years I have been masquerading as a "Perfessional Awther," I have made a number of friends.  Hopefully they well see fit to maintain those friendships with my post-writing persona, and this will provide an open door for those friendships, and maybe even some new ones.
          The last question to be answered, then, is what will appear here if not writing-related content?  Hard to say.  I might do a spread on my garden, visit a historic site, post new recipes I've come up with, or make a funny beagle video, I just don't know.  I'll endeavor to make it regular, and I'll certainly try to keep it interesting, but I'm not going to burden myself with planning.  As some of my writing friends say, I'll be flying by the seat of my pants!  I hope it goes well.

~ Jack

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dear Me...

"All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery."
                                   ~ GEORGE ORWELL

          Vain, certainly; lazy, probably.  But I seriously believe I am the most giving person you could ever hope to meet.  Just check my Writing.com activities for confirmation.  I spend at least as much time trying to help new writers find their groove as I do working on my own projects.  Vain?  Of course!  If I wasn't vain, would I keep posting to this blog that hardly anyone reads?  Lazy?  I have to cop to that, as if I wasn't lazy, I'd have my nose to the grindstone every day, producing usable copy.  Instead, I spend half my writing time blubbering about not being a writer anymore.
          And that brings me to a specific Writing.com activity called Dear Me.  Each year during December, Writing.com runs a contest that challenges you to write a letter to yourself as a writer.  It can be motivational, congratulatory, commiserating, anything you want it to be.  The theme, I guess, is what would you say to yourself if you were someone else?  I don't participate in contests (my muse isn't a trained circus monkey that performs tricks on demand), but I wrote one of these letters, from the heart to the brain, as it were, and it has really snapped me out of the doldrums.  I read it first thing when I sit down to write each morning, and then launch into projects with a clear head and a sharp focus.  It has worked so well that I recommend it to anyone who is having difficulty getting started on any project.  This is what I wrote:
 Dear Me,

          What is it that you think you're doing?  We joined WdC a year ago this month, and we came in like a house afire!  We had no sooner stepped in the door than we were setting up forums, starting a blog, forming a group, heck, we even posted a novel.  That novel, that blog, and our port itself were quickly nominated for Quill Awards.  But then something happened to you, something bad.
          I remember when, too.  It was August, five months ago, that you suddenly lost all interest in writing.  After six decades of putting words on the page, I can understand you being tired, but what did you replace it with?  Video games and shoot-em-up television?  Where's the reward in that?  What does that get you besides a few more dead brain cells?
          Me, you need to snap out of it.  I'm lost without you.  We've always been right there on the same page together, partners in crime, explorers of the unknown, two best friends making up new ways to tackle the fantasy that is life, but I can't do this alone.  It hurt me when you turned our group over to another member because you didn't plan to be here after our renewal date.  It cut me to the bone when you closed one of our forums because people weren't lining up to use it.  The pain was almost too much to bear when you asked Kittiara to remove our Quill nominations.  Even now, when you talk about reducing our membership to basic, the level that will barely keep the one remaining forum open, and that only for the handful of people who have begun to use it, I lie inside and cry.  What about the award we give every month?  Will that go, too?  How will the dozen fine people who have received it feel when their icons are replaced with the dreaded "Invalid Item" notice?  This isn't you, Me.
          Are you confused by all the different directions you could take?  Beyond the Rails is crying out for that fourth book.  I'm sure our friends in the crew are sad about the way we left them.  I am, too.  We could dust them off and get them back into the air.  Or, we could start the Darklighters spinoff we set up at the end of that third book.  Those two hooligans would be a blast to follow!  We could come home for a while, and lay down the rest of Stingaree.  Just imagine the fun of a steampunk adventure set right in our own home town, with famous personages as minor characters, and that book is halfway finished already!  Or maybe you're steampunked out.  That's understandable after three books.  How about that exploration of horror that we talked about?  Possession of Blood was well-received.  It could use some company in your port.  I think I see the problem; you have so many directions to explore that it's overwhelming you.  But we need to do something.  If you can't decide, we could set up a poll, and go with what our readers would most like to see.  Yeah, there's an idea!  I know how you dislike making decisions, so let those who would read our work make it for you.
          I miss you, Me, more than words can say.  Ironic, isn't it, for a wordsmith to be lost for words, but I am.  I love being a writer, Me.  I always have, and I want to keep being a writer, but I spoke the truth, I can't do it alone.
          When are you coming home, Me?  I'll wait patiently for as long as I can, but I hope it isn't too long.  We'll turn seventy in the fall, and we no longer have the luxury of time to waste.  I need you, and you need me.  We're at our best when we're together, soaring through fantastic worlds of our own creation.  Come back, Me, and let's do what we've always been best at.  I'll be here waiting when you're ready.

Missing you more than I can say,
~ Me
          To bring the story full-circle, I have returned to Stingaree as my primary project.  That story is simply too rich, layered, and dare I say fun to toss it on the scrap heap and move on.  My secondary project will be a follow-on story to the horror tale, Possession of Blood.  To support my new-found exploration of horror, I have joined The Dark Society, Writing.com's premiere horror group.  Keep your eye on this space.  To quote Dr. Betruger, "Great things are going to happen here, you just wait and see!"
          I've been down in the dumps for too long, and I don't like it.  The future looks bright, and I intend to keep it that way.  I apologize to all of you for dragging you through my personal doldrums, and I promise to bend every effort to not doing it ever again.  I'm treating this past weekend as a fresh start.  The ol' blimp is leaving the dock and setting course for the far horizon.  Join me, friends, on a journey to the real final frontier; the length and breadth of the imagination!

Read well, and write better,
~ Jack "Blimprider" Tyler

Monday, January 29, 2018

At the Corner of Loose End and No Way

          As reported last week, my muse's local seems to be on strike, and he's out walking the picket line (and hopefully gathering new stories for us to tell).  I'm still conflicted about writing, though I am penciling in outline material on both Beyond the Rails IV and the Darklighters spinoff I set up in Book III.  I don't know which, if either, might take off, or if anything ever will again, but while I wait, I'd like to present some material I put together for my writing.com blog yesterday.  It was fun to assemble, and as I don't really have anything else to show for a week's rest, I'd like to share it with a few more folks here.
          We've heard a lot over the past week or so about budget battles, government shutdowns, and the trillions and trillions of dollars being thrown around like we're talking about some kid's allowance.  Most people in the modern world have some idea of what a billion dollars is (if you don't, it's about 10% of an aircraft carrier), but a trillion dollars...  We might be talking about the distance to the center of the galaxy for all that means to the average citizen, so I decided to do a bit of research and basic arithmetic, and see what a trillion might be compared to.  Buckle up, you're going to love this!
          If Jesus had sued the Romans over his treatment at their hands, and the courts of the day had awarded him a billion shekels (or whatever they used back then) to be paid at the rate of one million per day, it would have taken them two-and-a-half years to finish paying him.  If he had been awarded a trillion shekels, to be paid at the rate of one million per day, they would be paying him until the year 2739.  Pretty amazing, huh?  But I'm not finished yet, not by a long shot.
          Let's say you won the SuperLotto or a settlement for $1,000,000, and it's going to be handed to you in crisp new $1,000 bills, crisp and new so they lay close together with no air spaces making the stack fatter.  How tall do you think that stack will be?  If you guessed 6½ inches, we have a winner!  If you win a billion dollars, you'd better bring a full-size pickup, because that stack will come in at 550 feet, about the same height as the Washington Monument.  A trillion dollars?  Ninety-five miles high.  The International Space Station will have an excellent view of the tallest structure on earth as it comes over.
          One more?  All right.  I particularly enjoy this one.  Approximately one billion seconds ago, John F. Kennedy was having his famous series of presidential debates with Richard Nixon; one trillion seconds ago, man was discovering fire.
          Okay, that was fun!  That's all I have for you this week, so take it with you and dazzle your friends while I try to sort out whether I'm still a writer, and what I'm going to do with this blog if I'm not.  You may have just gotten a sample, as I look to make it a Museum of the Weird.  At least the name goes with anything, right?
          Play nice, look out for one another, and get out there and live life like you mean it!

Luvya,
~ Jack

Monday, January 22, 2018

Okay, Now What?

         "The best-laid plans of mice and men are about equal."

~ PARODY OF OLD SAYING, possibly MAD Magazine...

         There's another old saying I just made up that goes, "You don't choose writing; writing chooses you."  If that is true, and I believe it is, then it must be possible for writing to abandon you and move on in search of fresh new voices.  I am convinced that that is what has happened to me, leaving me with 60 years of experience, and not the slightest interest in writing another word.  After careful consideration of my likely future, I have decided to spend my writing time encouraging those fresh new voices to reach their full potential.  This will take the form of reviews, and an occasional blog post discussing concepts and issues that have crossed my radar.  I never thought this would be the final destination, but then, who among us can predict his own fate? 


          Thus did I post on my Writing.com blog, Riding the Blimp, yesterday, because after all my big talk and big plans of the last couple of weeks, the "muse," whatever the hell that is, has deserted me again.  The candle of interest keeps flickering, and the periods when I can't write are constantly becoming longer and deeper.  I can only assume that it's going to get worse until the periods when I can write no longer exist at all.  Rather than torture myself and the few followers I have left with promises of great things to come, I've closed the public window to my works in progress.  There may still be times when I want to write, and the love of writing may return in full, but until it does, I'll be a supporter of the next wave; after all, leaving out my formative years, I had three decades to make my mark, and after those thirty years, there might be thirty people who know who I am.  Time to welcome the next crop of talented new voices to the field.
          That just leaves the question of what I'm going to do with this blog.  Photos?  Anecdotes?  Recipes?  Confrontational political rants?  Yeah, you know me better than that, but, speaking of butchered old sayings, here's a thought to take with you in these difficult times:  A penny saved is a government oversight!
          Play nice, look out for one another, and live life like you mean it.  I'll see you around the web!

~ Jack