Many Happy Returns of the Day   Leave a comment

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A birthday cake of dubious function and flavor

Tomorrow is my birthday. Amazing how they creep up on you. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared or anything; February 16 seems to come every year, at least once. And sure, I’d like a cake like the one pictured above, although I think I’d stand a fair distance from it, should the attractive brunette choose to light it.

I’ve heard the expression, “Many happy returns of the day” said to me on my birthday. It sounds really nice, if you ask me. But what exactly is getting or being returned here? I did a little investigation, and here’s what I came up with:

  1. The Earth has gone around one time and arrived at approximately the same place as it did a year ago, so made a return.
  2. It’s the name of numerous television show episodes, films and songs.
  3. One’s birthday will be full of happiness and joy, necessitating a wonderful return on the “investment” of a birthday.
  4. As found in Wikipedia’s entry for the phrase:

    …by Lady Newdigate in a letter written in 1789 (and published in Newdigate-Newdegate Cheverels in 1898)[1]

    “Many happy returns of þe day to us my Dr Love”

    The letter was written in London on the 31st of May 1789 by Hester Margaretta, Lady Newdigate to her husband, Sir Roger Newdigate, 5th Baronet, and refers to a wish for their wedding day.

  5. Winnie-the-Pooh preferred using this greeting as he wished his friends a happy birthday.

Now, I’m not one of those who gets all teary-eyed when I’ve gained an extra year or two. I mean, I can’t help it, nor can anyone. I get more upset with circumstances surrounding my life than the actual years marking its passage.

But there is something I can do, and that’s celebrate. It’s an abbreviated vacation from all the woes, sufferings and stupidity that seem to fill my life these days, and it’s an excellent excuse to eat all of the things I shouldn’t be eating (except on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, National Potato Day, etc.). Plus, I get to hang with my friends and complain about things in general, all while overindulging.

So what will I do on my birthday? Get up, go to the gym, continue working on my second novel, eat, get dressed, go out, eat, have some fun, eat cake, drink and otherwise be merry.

Life is rough. Why make it any harder by not celebrating a birthday?

 

Driving the Geek Bus   Leave a comment

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Scenes from this year’s New York ComicCon, October 2016, at the Jacob Javitz Center in NYC

With all this talk of division these days, it’s important to consider what unites us. Brings us together. Makes us feel like we belong to something bigger. Accepts us for what we are, or who we might like to become. You know, all that feel good stuff.

That world not only exists, it’s growing stronger by leaps and bounds. I ought to know. I’m part of it.

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That world, my friends, is the world of geeks. These people unabashedly embrace who they are and not only that, want you to join them in their quest to conquer evil wherever it lurks. To triumph in the face of disaster. Build worlds and foster development within them. Laugh in the face of adversity, while secretly plotting to overcome the dark forces, regardless of risk, expense, resources, plausibility, practicality…never mind the rogues or plot twists that stand in the way.  Who cares what you look like or where you come from? Of course, that depends on what part of the universe one hails from, but no one will truly hold it against you.

 

It’s no wonder sci-fi and the geeks that create it/live it/love it is growing more popular with each breathing minute. It’s the ultimate unifier. Who cares if you’re 6 or 92? Bald or pencil-necked? CEO or clerk? Azerbaijani or Upper Volta (actually, that’d be pretty cool). It’s all about the costume, the twist, the particular world inhabited outside of the damned mainstream, the brutal reality we’re all forced to live in.  Geeks regularly meet up on the sci-fi bus and drive it out of ridiculousness and into the beyond.

It takes a lot of guts to put on a costume and convince the world you’re a superhero or fictional character of unknown origin. But once these cosplay characters meet up, man, it’s golden. We all get along, just fine, thanks, and sure, there’s jealousy and maybe a bit of resentment that your competition snagged an actual James T. Kirk standard-issue uniform from the November 8, 1968 Season 3 Star Trek, Episode 8:  For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. That only means at some point you’re going to have to dig a little deeper in your pocket and eBay yourself one.

Couples meet up because they engage in cosplay. I work with a guy whose alter ego is Superman and his girlfriend is Supergirl. Perfect pairing, if you ask me.

Most of all, science fiction shows us what’s possible, to anyone. In its best form, it reaches beyond the limits of the people we are and directs to to consider the impossible.

Maybe it is time for the geeks to drive the bus. After all, we’re out to conquer evil, wherever it lurks. Come with?

Immigrant American Superheroes   Leave a comment

Here’s a thought I had for today, since it seems there’s an element of American society terrified of the very portion of the Earth’s population that made the United States a successful nation. That, my folks, would be immigrants. It’s what made this nation great, and will continue to do so. It’s very important to remind ourselves of this, especially if one witnesses the horrific events taking shape in the United States today.

I’ll start off with one very important immigrant: Albert Einstein.

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This immigrant was born in Ulm, Germany and came to the United States in 1933, a direct result of the atrocities unfolding in Europe. Nazis were conducting nuclear research with the intent of creating military weaponry. Einstein realized the potential of the catastrophic forces a nuclear bomb would unleash, and wrote President Roosevelt about it. Though it didn’t stop the eventual creation and bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he remained a pacifist and spent the rest of his life active in humanitarian causes. Seeing the parallels between Jewish atrocities and the Holocaust and the battle for civil rights unfolding in America, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

No…he didn’t invent that car, but it’s named after him: Nikola Tesla.

Nikola Tesla American Inventor

Born in Croatia in 1856, he came to the United States in 1884. He’s responsible for inventing alternating current electrical system, or AC – the way electricity is delivered to your house. An early partnership with Thomas Edison didn’t work out, but a later one with George Westinghouse did. Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s patent and eventually AC triumphed over Edison’s direct current electrical system, or DC. AC enabled electricity to be delivered over long distances, while Edison’s DC did not. Tesla also set the groundwork for long-distance wireless communication, but Guglielmo Marconi ultimately beat him to the punch with his radio communication technology. Tesla’s also known for his famous coil, still used in radio technology today.

Here’s an esteemed Nobel Prize winning physicist who also came from Germany: Maria Goeppert-Meyer.

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Born in Kattowicz (now Katowice, Poland) in 1906. In 1930, she married American chemist and professor Joseph Mayer. Although it was difficult for a female scientist at that time to gain a foothold in the scientific community, she nevertheless published an important paper on double beta decay in 1935 while holding an assistant position at Johns Hopkins, where her husband worked. She also conducted early work in quantum sciences, and eventually came to Columbia University for an unpaid position, but during that time, she collaborated with Enrico Fermi, who tasked her to investigate the valence shell of the undiscovered transuranic elements. In 1942, she joined the Manhattan Project at Columbia  to investigate separating the fissile uranium-235 isotope in natural uranium. Goeppert-Meyer developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells. For this, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 (sharing it with J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Wigner) and became the second female Nobel Prize winner after Marie Curie.

There are many, many others, of course, who have contributed in science, art, literature, politics, education, commerce and more. Since this country came to be as the result of immigration, each and every person who arrives upon our shores has much to contribute in making this country an example of what can be achieved…if we allow it.

The Surreal Life   Leave a comment

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I’ve been asleep at the wheel lately. Dali’s picture best describes how I’ve been feeling as of late: melted, propped up, in a barren landscape far from any civilization save for a remote outpost of questionable value.

Life isn’t always fair. It splays out an awful lot of unwanted changes, blitzkrieg-style. For the past year, I’ve been caught in that proverbial rock-in-a-hard-place spot that makes it hard to go forward. Seems like I’m forever exhausted. Depressed. Unmotivated and uninspired.

Last autumn, I shared these sentiments with a fellow writer friend. He’d been thrown a horrible loss – his father was killed – and said that writing was the best therapy to work through his grief.

Took me a long while to sink in, but yes, he’s right. Absolutely right. I have to force myself to lose myself in dreams, not to sleep, but to write.

It’s been so long that I’ve created anything meaningful that I nearly lost faith in my abilities. What if my words amount to drivel? Shapeless streams of verbiage? Worse, an over reliance of adverbs?

I sat down with my second manuscript, still uncompleted, and gave it a good, hard look. It’d been months since I added anything to it, plus I have about two-thirds more to write before it’s finished. Sure, there’s a lot of changes I need to make, stuff needs to be tightened up and fleshed out. But you know what? It’s not bad. It’s not even a real first draft yet.

As I read through it, I gathered the plot’s flow in my brain. The characters arose from their long rest and seemed refreshed to resume their roles in my imagination. They even gave me a few clues as to how they’d like to beef up their storylines and get that action rolling once more. After going through it a few times, misty sketches became solid outlines. And here’s something positive: once I got that manuscript back inside me, the holes in the plot that dogged me so much are now filling in. No more potholes, but real patches to sketchy patches that vexed me.

My sister Gwen’s been egging me on, too. Said I need to get on with it. Claim my talent back from the dead and stop crying zombie. Get on with it already. Of course, she’s right.

Perhaps the best words of wisdom I found was from a friend on Facebook, yet another writer. He posted this link from Cracked.com – “How To Be a Better Person.” It’s REALLY hard to admit to the truths in it, but the short of it is that if you want to be a success, you’re going to have to work your ass off, accept failure as a learning opportunity, and expect to keep working until you either give up or shrug off frustration, obstacles, naysayers, pests, pessimists, and your own laziness and limitations in order to succeed. See, the longer you work at something – and it doesn’t have to be writing – the better you become. That, and all the losers quit, therefore opening your field a little wider. And that, my friends, is where an opportunity might show up.

Now, I need to take my own advice. I’ve been out of the writing loop so long that it’s a little scary sticking my feet back in the icy pool. It’s going to take a few dips before I get used to the numbness, but after a while I’ll get used to it again. And I’ll swim.

Here’s to 2017. My year of literary triumph, and yours too.

 

 

Writer’s Blah   Leave a comment

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I think we can all agree that life sucks on occasion.

Right now, I’m feeling about as grey as the picture above, my inspiration gone out with the tide. For reasons I won’t go into, once again, I find myself in a situation I hadn’t expected. As Nora Ephram’s mother famously told her, “Everything is copy,” That only works if you can turn that situation into a script.

So far, no dice. I can’t seem to wrest any collection of words from my brain.

Is it writer’s block? Absolutely not. I’d say it’s more like writer’s blah. I just can’t get excited about writing these days. And it’s killing me.

But hey, I’m coming up with some words for this now, aren’t I?

The other day, a writer pal I hadn’t heard from in quite some time dropped me a line. Asked what’s up and all that. Without going into all the boring details, I recited a washed-over summary of the dreariness invading my mental turf.  Gave the Gloomy Gus routine. Then I was set straight. That pal’s father had been killed recently and attached a newspaper article regarding his death.

Words failed me, but this time it was out of shock, sadness for my friend…and perspective.

Pal said the best therapy lies in the ability to wash out the living world and replace it with the fresh canvas a writer creates. It’s a place one easily loses oneself, especially when life’s events spin out of control. Those words are who we choose to be. There’s good company in the characters, even if you’re spinning their plot. They do appreciate it and will reward you with a story, if you stick around long enough.

And it’s not like I haven’t tried. I entered two short stories in a flash fiction contest. I thought they were brilliant. The editors believed otherwise. I didn’t win. But as every writer knows, rejections are a badge of honor. No one’s legit unless they pile up a a moving van’s worth. Receiving those cheered me up some. Now I had something to talk about…but not write.

So this weekend my sister and I planned to sell boxes of ungifted gifts my late mother never seemed to give. That, and the millions of other doodads she felt too compelled to keep over the span of her eighty-four years. We’d do Saturday and Sunday at the busy flea market nearby. Went to bed early and rose to a nasty storm with gale-force winds. The prospect of expecting to sell anything, including the idea of getting dressed and hawking in that misery, evaporated.

My computer often accompanies me, though I don’t always use it. It’s like a security blanket, ready, willing and able to help me get on with my writing, should I be up for the mission. My sister knew those typing fingers of mine seemed stuck in neutral, unable to rev up to speed. Over breakfast, as she dug into her oatmeal, she said between munches, “Why don’t you write today? Can’t do much of anything else. Too miserable.”

Oh, sounds so pleasing, so simple, so…so…oh, what’s the word again?

I opened the laptop and scanned the pages of my second novel that’s well in the works. Been so long, though, since I mustered up the strength to write I pretty much forgot half the plot. Once I got into it, though, the characters shook off their dust, revived their motives and jumped back into action. Pretty soon, I changed a word here, tightened up a sentence there, and before you know it, I ended up at the end…of where I left off. The wind lashed at the window and howled like crazy, but none of that distracted me. I managed to squeeze out at least four good pages before dinner.

At the crack of black undawn, my sister and I threw ourselves into the car and headed out to the flea market. The storm passed, so we headed out. Managed to wrestle two splintered grey tables (just like my moods of late) and set up shop. A parade of plot lines passed by, any one of them the makings for good stories. Even the guy next to us told good copy. If nothing else, flea markets are fodder for inspiration. Literally one of everything strolls down the lanes. Between 7:30 – 8:30 am, a Native American chatted to the person’s table across from us, a corpulent sixty-ish woman with stringy long auburn hair and stars tattooed to her browline remarked over a crucifix we had for sale, a Jimi Hendrix lookalike wandered over with his entourage of equally interesting partners, several dogs in baby strollers pushed by “parents,” and a persistent Chinese woman insisting on paying $1 for a lead crystal vase selling for $10 (she didn’t get it). And more, of course, but you get the idea.

When I came home, I sat and opened my computer, intending to pick up where I left off. For some odd reason, none of the four pages I wrote saved. I dropped my head in my hands, cursing. I sighed, shook my head and laughed. Typical.

Once more, I began to write. And this time, it was good.

NY ComicCon 2016 – Reading the Small Print   Leave a comment

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The Mad Geniuses Behind First Law of Mad Science, and Me

So I went to NY ComicCon on Saturday, October 8, 2016. And sure, I could tell you about all the mind-blowing, bigger-than-bejeezus and whammo-bap-biff sights that assaulted my senses during my visit, along with the claustrophobic cosplay crowded aisles.

But no, I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you about what everybody should be noticing, and that’s the large imaginations behind the smaller prints just waiting to be discovered.

Instead of jamming my way into the bigger, more crowded booths, I took the path less travelled – the Small Press section of the convention.

There, I found extraordinarily friendly, helpful, entertaining people, even if I didn’t make a purchase. All of these people readily shared their stories about how they managed to make it to NYCC 2016, what inspired their work, why they keep going and the sacrifices they made along the way. Clearly every one of these people are devoted to their craft, often a labor of intense love rewarded each time someone turns the pages of their works…or contributes to their Kickstarter project.

So it’s with that spirit I introduce to you some of the representatives of small presses that I met. I only wish I could write about all 40+ of them, but time and space only allows for these. Please support their works and visit their websites. I’ll guarantee you it’s time well spent.

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First Law of Mad Science, Written by Oliver Mertz and Mike Isenberg, Art by Daniel Lapham, Colors by Jeff McComsey and Oliver Mertz, Lettering by Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz, Cover by Ryan Brown and Issue 3 Inks by Lonny Chant. Published by Noreon Labs. Website: http://www.firstlawofmadscience.com.

I met the creators on a casual stroll, when I gazed up at the title of the first volume, “Work Until Your Family Is Sad” made me break out in laughter. Please forgive me if I get your names messed up, guys, but I think it was Oliver who gave me the impressive elevator speech that hooked me to buy this book. And while I didn’t have a chance to read it today (sorry, I had to go to work!), the bit I glanced through LOOKS GREAT! I also have a to get through FLOMS Science Club Mixtape. It’s a compendium of several artists’ works and stories.

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Man Vs. Rock, Volume 1, Written by Victor Detroy and Kevin Bieber, Art by Jared Lamp, Colors by Summer Fitzgerald. http://www.manvsrock.com

 I knew I had a winner yesterday when I walked up to this booth and one of the artists responsible for its creation acted it out for me. Obviously, I had to buy it. The creatives behind this project are a team from Maine and Texas who now live in Las Angeles but came to New York ComicCon. And as my personal dramatic reading demonstrated, this graphic novel features a strong female character AND a rock. While the female character is a strong as a rock, it’s the rock who’s the heavy hitter here. Don’t ask me to reveal all the severe consequences throughout history that the rock foisted on humankind, but if you get your hands on this book, you’ll certainly find out! Learn the truth and purchase, folks!

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Toolbox, Written by Kyle Gnepper (website – http://www.unshavencomicsonlin.com), Art by Kristen Gudsnuck (website – http://www.henchgirlcomic.com).

Another charmer of a work, this is a family-friendly graphic novel anyone can enjoy. It looks like fun and I can’t wait to read it! To quote the back cover, “Robot Justice Is Efficient Justice! Toolbox is about a future off world human settlement that reprograms a construction robot to protect them from bandits and dangerous wild life in the area. It’s equal parts science fiction and western adventure. At its heart it’s about technology, sisterhood, character and what it means to be a family.”

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Agent 81 and the Black Train, Written by Robert Geronimo, Illustration by Chilly Bliss, Ascalon Press, NY http://www.ascalonpress.com.

I spoke to the author, Robert Geronimo, for quite some time and his enthusiasm is infectious. He came up with a twisty take on World War II. I’m going to quote the back cover because it explains the plot better than I can remember. “AGENT 87 AND THE BLACK TRAIN – A true master of disguise, martial artist and linguist, Agent 87 is the world’s greatest spy. With the Second World War coming to its peak, 87 goes undercover to investigate a lethal weapons project in a Japanese-occupied region in China. With the help of a French weapons expert and a greedy mercenary, 87 unravels a plot filled with death and horror, discovering she must stop a deadly train carrying the destruction of mankind as its cargo.”

I must also add that Ascalon Press also has a division, Ascalon Games, and they’ve created an app called “Little Maia and the Lunar Express – a game where the player evades enemy rockets, aliens and a giant space monster.

Gone – Flash Sci-Fi   Leave a comment

 

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I struggle to find the words as my chilled body shakes.

Alone.

Hardly a whisper filters through these naked trees, unless one counts the soft murmur of the rill snaking along the rocks. Yet I find myself beaten and stabbed, alone here, but not without reason or purpose.

If only I hadn’t.

Funny, now, how a small attempt at pleasure erupted into violence. She neither presented no indication nor imparted any suspicion of her true nature. Yet I submitted myself to her attentions. A flirt, a taste, a wisp was all it took.

And now, look at me.

Of course, I’m less than innocent. I knew what I wanted. How to get it. Didn’t take much. All I needed was the will. All else’d follow. I heard the siren call, the claim of fulfillment, no judgment, only satisfaction.

Promising.

I’d never known such happiness. Beauty. The world and all its charms. I had it all solved, all squared, done up in a bow and sealed with a kiss. Power and glory, all mine for real.

Until.

Until it wasn’t, and by that I mean there’s a price for all that goodness. Gets steeper by the week, day, minute. Doesn’t take long to discover the beauty you had’s now the the demon you dread.

Now.

Got to conquer the beast. Can’t let it get into my head. But wait. No, I said now. Can’t. Oh yes you can. You will. And if you can’t, then get gone.

Over.

So I watched, bided my time. Dove in the cold water, expecting to swim. Discovered it’s easier to drown. Over my head in a flash. Two counted my days until they ran out.

And done.

That short journey took forever. Still, my hopeful self denied it’d ever happen. If the flesh didn’t do it, then certainly the steel’s finishing the job. My time is over, folks. The chilled air’s getting thin, and the light of day’s faded.

Gone.

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