Archive for September 2017

Fall Back   Leave a comment

Feel the chill in the air?

How can one tell it’s the changing of the season? Just look at all the Christmas decorations filling the shelves at your favorite department store. Yes, it’s that time of year when we start picking out what’s going to twinkle twinkle on our boughs of poly. After all, who wouldn’t want to squeeze out the waning days of summer any other way?

Wait…what’s that you say? We have several other intervening holidays? Like Three Day Weekend in October, Overpriced Candy & Costume Day and the Day Before Black Friday? Oh, them.

As for me, well, it’s autumn when the sun crosses the celestial equator, known as the ecliptic, and enters the constellation Virgo on or about September 21-22 each year. As I labor at my job tomorrow, oh, let’s say around 20:02 UTC, the season will officially change. Day and night won’t exactly be equal, but they’ll be close enough.

Looking for some interesting ways to celebrate the season? Here’s a random list of suggestions:

  • Hold your own MST3K party and dig out the film “Barb Wire.”  Shot in 1995 and set in 2017, it stars Pamela Anderson in the lead role (she tacked on her married last name “Lee” in this film), it’s an utterly unwatchable film wherein our leading lady won a Golden Raspberry award for the worst new actress of 1995. Crack open something cold, chow down on Chinese and let those comments rip!
  • For a much better nightmare, why not check out John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”  Filmed on a minuscule budget and panned by critics, it marked the debut of a vastly talented actress, Jamie Lee Curtis and went on to launch a highly successful franchise. It’s considered a classic these days.
  • If you’re passing through the Hudson Valley of New York, check out Sleepy Hollow, formerly known until 1996 as North Tarrytown. It’s the legendary home of Washington Irving and his headless horseman. Visit his grave and say hi to his fellow cemetery mates Andrew Carnegie, Brooke Astor, Walter P. Chrysler, Elizabeth Arden and more. Fun facts: Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” is a native son. Caityn (“Bruce”) Jenner went to high school here. It’s also the setting for many a film and TV series, notably “House ofDark Shadows,” “Curse of the Cat People” and an episode of “Property Brothers.”
  • Can’t make the drive? Go gaming! Sleepy Hollow is also the location of 2014 game Assassin’s Creed Rogue.  Why not explore its dystopian milieu?
  • How about looking upward on a dark clear night? Spectacular meteor showers await. On October 21, the Orionids peak after midnight. And if the weather cooperates, this’ll be a grand night for viewing – it’s a new moon and unless you’re near a city or other bright lights, it doesn’t get better than this. For other meteor shower activity, visit Sky and Telescope’s web article.
  • Dress up on Halloween, no matter how old you are, just for fun. Throw on your taco costume with a unicorn head and freak out kids coming to your door for treats and trick them, instead. Then give them a pile of processed packaged sugar products.
  • Instead of cheating Thanksgiving out of the respect it deserves, gather your friends and family together, cook up your best free grocery-store bonus turkey and pig out. If holding dinner parties isn’t your thing, go volunteer. Share some kindness. Be a pal and visit an old friend or family member you haven’t seen in ages, or better still, invite them to share a plate at your dinner table. Don’t worry about catching bargains at War-Mart and standing out in the cold to be the first to get a 55″ LED screen for $199. Memories aren’t made of that. Sharing your time and opening your heart will do the trick much better.

So, what are you waiting for? Go out and celebrate! After all, nature’s tossing all of its leafy confetti just for you. Run under its shower with flailing arms and live!

Rough Passages   Leave a comment

I’ve lost track the amount of times I’ve rewritten passages in my manuscript. I slave, I toil, I backspace…only to create something that’s not quite there, yet. It’s as if I’m skipping through daisies, only to fall in a wet, steaming pile of cow plop.

Ugh. I know.

Beta readers all love my story. An actual librarian thought it was terrific. So did an editor. Even someone working in a related industry praised my work. Talk about confidence building. Surely my words are all that…

…or not.

For a great perspective, compare sending out your manuscript to dating. There’s this terrific person, filled with depth and action, with a healthy splattering of romance tucked inside, seeking to meet that perfect partner. After meticulous grooming, advice from friends and lively rehearsals in front of the bathroom mirror, it’s time to face the scene. Step out and seek. Shake a few hands, make introductions, even sip cocktails. Hearts beat faster, breath quickens, a few beads of sweat pearl up around the hairline. A card is passed along, hopeful wishes and tempered optimism dare blossom in one’s heart.

Days pass.

Nothing occurs, not even a text.

Your worst fears are realized, in the form of rejection. It might be that your hopes drowned in a vast pit of slush piles, or forgotten email attachments, or ignored – ghosted – and forgotten. It’s as if that spiffy new dress or snappy hairstyle did nothing to convince Mr./Ms./Mx. Prospect you’re perfect. Great, even.

So what was it you did? What did I say? Or not say? Or do? In the dark of the night, as you ponder for the billionth time, nerves fray and frustration builds. Your abilities feel as if they’ve drifted out to space.

Some might even give up altogether.

Well, look. No one’s perfect. Not even geniuses get it right on the first try.

Sometimes a writer gets too close to the manuscript and perspective skews. Or too many people have said too many contrasting things and you, the writer, can’t figure out what to do any more. The story’s muddled, the characters are unlikable, the plot’s unrealistic, the dialogue’s way too formal.

So here’s a suggestion: seek professional advice.

I’m not saying go out and find a book doctor. Sure, they might help put your story back on track, but they’re expensive and offer no guarantees.

Instead, seek out an honest-to-goodness writer’s group. There are many, but not all have professional writers with published works at major houses (and before you say anything, self-publishing doesn’t always count). Attend workshops they hold. There, you’ll be shown how to strengthen your skills on a variety of topics, from developing compelling characters, shoring up a sagging middle or crafting a dynamic opening line. See if they have a critiquing group where your work can get an honest evaluation. Maybe even a member might be willing to give your manuscript a thorough review. Tell you all about the rough passages and plot lines.

Writer’s groups often meet at libraries, book stores or other public places. Next time you venture into one of these places, don’t hesitate to ask.

Search the web for writers’ conferences. There are many, but legitimate writer’s conferences don’t charge thousands of dollars and promise that your book will be published. A typical writer’s conference will be held in a hotel, with representatives from industry leaders, such as literary agencies and publishers. There’s a roster of known authors attending who’ll give workshops on skill development.

Here’s a great place to start: Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity.  It’s a terrific blog filled with all sorts of links, contacts, industry news and conferences. Bookmark it. Check it often.

And most important of all, have faith. After slogging through all those rough passages, you might just discover how to sail through smooth seas. Besides, you never know…you might meet a great date!


Otherworldly Saturn   Leave a comment

Few places capture our imagination like Saturn. With its myriad of rings and moons, it shines above us in the night sky as it travels along the ecliptic.  It’s always been inspiration for sci-fi fans too. Anyone who’s ever glanced at pulp sci-fi fiction covers might have noticed ringed planets hovering in the background as a elongated oval-shaped finned spaceship rocketed past.


“Tommy Tomorrow,” created by Jack Schiff, George Kashdan, Bernie Breslauer, Virgil Finlay, and Howard Sherman, DC Comics

Take, for example, our friend Tommy Tomorrow. Created in 1947, he roamed the heavens in his futuristic 1988 space jet, zipping past a rather featureless Saturn-like planet, as illustrated above, while another Saturn-ish red planet with gold rings spins in the distance.

Systema Saturn

Early drawings of Saturn. From the Systema Saturnium (Fig. 67)

Early astronomers struggled to draw what they’d seen through primitive telescopes. While they seemed to understand that its appearance changed in relation to its orbit around the sun and the earth, they couldn’t always account for its rings. A quick glance tells the viewer that something’s going on with Saturn, but just exactly what, they couldn’t be sure.

As telescopes grew more sophisticated, astronomers were able to recreate more accurate  images of Saturn.

Antique Saturn

19th century Illustration of Saturn


And photographers capabilities grew, so did their ability to capture Saturn.

1879 Jupiter and 1885 Saturn

A composite photo of  Jupiter (1879) and Saturn (1885)

In 1973, NASA launched Pioneer 11. Its mission included photographing Saturn. While previous photos of this planet taken from the Earth resulted in blurry, yellowish images, Pioneer 11’s photos revealed tantalizing clues about its nature, as well as its moons.

Saturn Pioneer 11

NASA image, Saturn and Titan as seen by Pioneer 11

None, though, can compare to the 20-year mission of Cassini. Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative partnership between NASA and ESA to conduct an exhaustive exploration of the ringed jewel of the solar system. The images sent back are like none other.


NASA, Cassini-Huygens mission image of Saturn

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini mission will come to a fiery end, as it crashes into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending a glorious 13-year run. It’s been an amazing journey, and without a doubt, its legacy will continue to fascinate astronomers and ordinary folk like me. You’ve done well, Cassini!



%d bloggers like this: