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Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I Write Space Adventure

On Saturday, NASA launched a super-size rover to Mars. This mobile nuclear-powered laboratory will search for evidence of life on the Red Planet in the past and whether it's conducive to life now. Wow. A giant step into space beyond our own planet and its moon. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm wild about space exploration. 

While that rover tries to discover if there was once microbial life on Mars, don't you wonder what else is "out there"? What about intelligent beings? Why not? Aren't we rather arrogant to think we're the only creatures capable of thought in this vast universe? To paraphrase a line from the movie Contact, wouldn't that be an awful waste of space?

Like Jessie, the heroine in Switched, I do not like creepy aliens. In my imagination, they could look like us. Okay, some have to be different if only for variety. What they look like and the science involved in interstellar transportation take second place in my stories to the adventure. I love a good adventure. Yes, we can have adventures in the here and now and I write them, too. But, it's so much fun to think about adventure in space. Call it escapism, if you will. Who doesn't need an escape—from dirty dishes, weeds in the flowerbeds, a nasty coworker, homework, loss of a job (or the fear of losing one), a dying relative. I can let my imagination run wild as I did in Switched and continue with the adventures in Switched, Too.

Creating a world that is different from our own yet similar enough for the reader to relate to is a challenge. A fun challenge. Gene Roddenberry, when pitching the concept of his TV series Star Trek, referred to it as "wagon train to the stars". At the time, the most popular TV programs were Westerns so that should have been an analogy the network producers could relate to. I like the concept of space being a new frontier. Like the explorers of long ago, we can set off into the unknown—if only in our imagination. Like those old Westerns, good always triumphs over evil. How escapist is that?

But, isn't that what we have to believe in? That good will triumph? That the bad guys will "get what's coming to them"? It would be very depressing otherwise. There's enough to be depressed about in real life. So, let's set off for the stars. We don't know where we're going, we don't know what we'll find when we get there, we don't know who or what we'll encounter along the way. All we know is that an adventure awaits.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Traditions

At this time of year, it's common to write about what we're thankful for. Instead, I'd like to tell you about a tradition in my family. It didn't start out that way. Like most traditions, this one happened once because of circumstances. The second time, circumstances again. The third and fourth times, it was a deliberate choice. I'm talking about weddings.

When my grandmother planned her wedding, she chose Thanksgiving Day because it was the only time my grandfather could leave his job. He was a milkman. For those of you too young to remember, bottles of milk used to be delivered to your doorstep every morning. I remember the Twin Pines milkman coming to our house when I was a child in his white truck with two green trees on its side. Grandpa drove a horse-drawn truck for a dairy in Cairo, Illinois.

My parents met at a roller rink in St. Louis. He was stationed at a near-by Army Air Force base and she was a teenager out with her girlfriends. Mom chose Thanksgiving Day for her wedding because my dad could get a four-day pass. It was wartime and those passes were difficult to come by. Even a one-day pass could be revoked, as happened with one of the groomsmen who was shipped out the day before the wedding. My mom's childhood friend (their mothers were best friends) happened to be home on leave and took the missing man's place. My folks' wedding picture looks a little odd with a sailor in the midst of all the Army guys. An interesting sidenote to this story is that the sailor married the bridesmaid he was paired with, my dad's sister.

Through the conniving of two dear friends, I went on a blind date and found the love of my life. After becoming engaged, talk turned to when we would get married. I mentioned that my mom and  her mother were married on Thanksgiving. He didn't mind. He said that would make it easy to remember our anniversary. (Such a kidder.) He worked in a steel mill and getting vacation time wasn't difficult. I was a teacher so I had the four-day weekend. Since our wedding was at noon, one of my students said he'd think about me at kickoff time of the Lions football game.

As mentioned above, this didn't start out to be a tradition. Without any encouragement from me, my daughter chose to carry on the tradition. Now, she's the most organized woman I know. She had everything in place—the church, the hall for the reception, cake, flowers—all well in advance. She had to. They wanted to get married in Kalamazoo where they met and fell in love. Her fiancé had just started medical school in Detroit and she was teaching there. To complicate things a little, her father and I were living in Chicago. With her superb planning, though, everything should have gone off without a hitch. That September, she got a letter from the owner of the reception hall saying he had retired and the hall was going to be torn down—before the wedding. After some long-distance panic and a little scrambling, her wedding was wonderful. It even made the eleven o'clock news as a unique way of celebrating Thanksgiving. (Too bad they didn't know she was the fourth woman in our family to do so.)

Will my granddaughter carry this into the fifth generation? In a way, I hope not. I don't want to even imagine the pressure. Not pressure from her mother or me but pressure she might put on herself to carry on what has become a family tradition. (Can you imagine the press that would get, though?) Since she is only four, she has a long time before planning her wedding—although, she does play "getting married" with her imaginary friend. Now for the reception, she could have turkey and dressing and... (Just kidding!)

When our family gets together on Thursday, we have a lot to be thankful for. Each other, good health, jobs, freedom. And one more thing. We'll thank God we found the wonderful men we married. Men who were willing to give up Lions football to walk down the aisle.
 

PS  I'm thankful, too, for wonderful friends who are helping celebrate the re-launch of my novel, Switched, in its revised and electronic form. If you haven't already, check out Nancy Gideon's blog  Last Friday, she showcased me and my book. Thanks, Nancy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Resurrecting an Old Book

It's alive!

Okay, I'm being a silly. I watched the Science Channel last Wednesday night about Mary Shelly and her book Frankenstein and thought the movie quote accurately describes my feelings about my own novel. A decade after its first publication (and several years after it went out of print), Switched has new life as an ebook.

Switched was my first published book. And, shh, don't tell my others works in progress but it's my favorite. Switched is the story of twins who were separated before birth. That's right, before birth. If you didn't guess that it's a futuristic by that description, I'm sure the cover confirms it. As you read in last week's blog post (about Pioneers), I'm fascinated by space exploration and love space opera movies (like, Star Wars and Star Trek). It seems natural to write my own space adventures. If you click on the Books tab above, you can read a longer description of Switched.

So, what happens when a book goes out of print? I thought that was the end of its life. Not so. Last April, fellow writers talked about self-publishing books where the author's rights had been returned. I was assured that it was easy. My first step was to dust off the old manuscript—actually, finding the digital file. As I read, I tweaked. I couldn't stop myself. (Those of you readers who are writers know exactly what I mean.) Then, ideas kept popping up on how to make good scenes better. You know what comes next. I edited some more.

In the meantime, I contacted the artist who designed the first cover for Switched, the marvelously talented Trish Lazarus. She outdid herself with the new cover. Then, I found a free book Smashwords' Style Guide: How to Format, Publish, and Distribute an Ebook which gave step-by-step directions. It scared me half to death. Holy cow. What if I make a mistake? It's going to spit back my manuscript and, maybe, I'll never figure out what I did wrong. I painstakingly followed each direction, reformatting the manuscript, hoping I didn't miss anything. I reread the revised manuscript until my eyes got bleary. Then, I reread the guide. This was so complicated. (I can see why some people will pay for a service to convert the manuscript.) But, I'm a do-it-yourselfer from way back so I plunged on.

I checked out how to publish on Amazon and thought "piece of cake". Better to concentrate on Smashwords. When I was finally ready—or as ready as I was ever going to be—I bit the bullet. Usually, I do the easy thing first to get it out of the way. Not this time. I entered all the information on the Smashwords site and uploaded the file. While the little circle-thingy went round and round indicating it was loading, I sat there and waited. Not really. I threw in a load of laundry. Checked the site. Not done yet. I checked email. Still not done. Lunch. Stomach in knots so that wasn't a good idea. Checked the site again and it was done loading. Wow. So far, so good. I didn't get a message saying "You idiot, why didn't you read our directions?" Then, they said it was up and it was! No errors. I did the follow-up checking and still no errors. Maybe this wasn't so bad.

So, I went to Amazon. If Smashwords was so easy, this ought to be easier. I have to say I was wrong. I made it through, though, and a day later Switched was up there, too. I breathed such a sigh of relief. So did my husband. After biting off his head for interrupting my concentration, he tiptoed around me most of that day. His only comment after I was done was "when do the checks start coming?" Is that a guy thing or what?

If you've gotten this far in this long post, you probably wonder why I even bothered jumping through all those hoops. I love that book. Would I do it again? You betcha. Switched has a sequel.

If you're interested in reading a free sample of Switched, go to:

Smashwords  For all ebook readers

Amazon  For the Kindle


Monday, November 7, 2011

Pioneers

This week, I'm continuing my observations gleaned during our road trip to Arizona. As we drove along superhighways in a comfortable, air-conditioned car, I thought about the pioneers who went that way back in the 19th century. Wow. What courage it must have taken to pack up a few of one's belongings, leave everything and everybody behind, and set off for a new life.

Why would anyone wrestle with horses or oxen pulling a flimsy wagon—covered with canvas, if they were lucky—on a barely recognizable track through harsh weather, getting stuck in mud, fording rivers, going long stretches without water across mountains and deserts?

Each pioneer must have had strong reasons for leaving their current life behind for the unknown. Freedom of open spaces as opposed to crowded cities? The opportunity to own land? Escape from something or someone pursuing them? The thrill of adventure? The reasons are probably as varied as the individuals who ventured forth into the frontier.

Today, there is no frontier, no new place to explore. On Earth. As each Star Trek episode began, we were told space is the final frontier. Fifty years ago, we were in a race to explore space. The U.S. had to beat the Soviets. That is rather ironic considering now if we want to send astronauts into space we will be using Russian ships. Anyway, back in the 60s, we marveled at each baby step the U.S. took to reach the ultimate goal—putting a man on the moon. We sat in front of our television sets riveted by the spectacle of a rocket carrying a man, and later more, as it blasted off, leaving behind a fiery trail. Then, it actually happened. We reached that goal set forth by a visionary president. Men walked on our moon.

Once upon a time, I knew the names of the original astronauts. They were heroes. They were given ticker-tape parades. All too soon, we grew complacent. Does anyone even know what a ticker-tape parade is these days? Another space mission? Big whoop. Oh, sure, we paid attention when disaster struck. Better call it off. It's too dangerous. I'm sure there were people back in the 1800s who said going west was too dangerous. People might die. And they did. Yet, that didn't stop others.

So, what about the new "frontier"? Space. How did we fall down on the job? We reached the moon over 40 years ago and then went nowhere else. Yes, we built reusable space vehicles (the shuttles). We built space stations—jumping off points for further exploration, yet we went nowhere. As a nation, we had no goals, nothing more to reach for. Nobody fired our imagination, gave us dreams. The benefits of space exploration were not touted—especially those inventions designed for our astronauts that save lives, things we use daily. (FMI, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off )

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. What would necessitate space exploration? Will it take our planet's dying to give us the kick in the butt to explore? Or, better yet, will private enterprise take over? Amazingly, while we were driving through New Mexico, we heard about the dedication of Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America in Las Cruces the day before. We were so close and missed it. That would have been exciting to see. They even plan space flights for next year. Of course, it would take a small fortune to go. But, imagine the thrill. Just like the pioneers of long ago. Maybe we'll get farther than our own moon this time.

I get a little carried away. After all these years, I'm still enthralled by what's "up there". That's probably why I write space adventures.