Monday, April 30, 2012


Well, here we are, on the final day of the A to Z challenge.  This year, we'll wrap things up with a bit of irreverent humor from my late Uncle Stephen.

Stephen Kirton, Circa 1965

Stephen was always good for a joke, and he was the sort of amiable fellow that could get away with just about anything.  He could tell an off-color joke or two no matter what company he was keeping without causing much offense because he just had that certain air about him; a unique charisma and empathy that let him off the hook for saying things that would get other people crucified.

One of the odd jokes he liked to tell was about the "zacklies," and he often varied the story to suit different people.  In the joke, someone would go to some doctor or psychiatrist, complaining about people avoiding them.  The doctor would say, "You've got a case of the zacklies."  The patient would ask what that was, and the punch-line went: "It's where your mouth smells zackley like your ass."  Obviously, this joke could be considered quite offensive on several levels, though it was the kind of humor my uncle excelled at telling (or retelling most likely).

Though, he was far smarter than such childish humor might lead you to believe.  He was an accomplished Chiropractor who always sought to expand his knowledge, even as he struggled with inner demons and various addictions.  I recognize now that much of his flamboyant, extroverted behavior was a cover for the hidden pain that lurked within his soul.  As so many people tend to do, he hid his emotional scars from the world behind a veil of jocularity.

Uncle Stephen was someone who could get along with anybody, and often did.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yeager's Second Book

Last year, I did a brief review of Yeager, the autobiography of General Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the Sound Barrier.  He has led an incredible life, from his humble West Virginia upbringing to his days as a fighter pilot in World War II, onward through years as a test pilot for the latest and greatest aircraft, and he even ran an Astronaut training program.  He is quite a fascinating and inspiring character, something of an "everyman" who downplays his own greatness at every turn.

A few years after the success of his autobiography, Yeager put together a second volume, with new details and stories about his life.  Press On: Further Adventures in the Good Life is more of a supplement to the first book, filling in gaps in his life story and they're not always told in-sequence.  While the first book was pretty straight chronologically (starting with his childhood onwards), this second volume is more a collection of stories that are interspersed throughout his life.  They are fun and entertaining to read, just as the first book, and they're told in a very non-literary manner.  It's like listening to an old flyboy telling you about himself in a laid back, cozy manner.

For those who want to learn more about this incredible American, I highly recommend this book and its predecessor.  Read them as a pair, and get a full dose of Yeager!  You will not be disappointed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Xenon Power!

The Ion Drive or Ion Thruster is a fairly old development in space travel that shows a lot of promise.  The basis of the current engine utilizes Xenon as a propellant.  Basically, the inert gas is bombarded by an electrostatic charge, causing ions to be ejected at remarkable speeds.  The future potential for this propulsion is exciting, and could lead to easier manned travel through space someday.

When I was writing The Guns of Mars, the Ion Drive was the main source of propulsion for the USS Plymouth, the spacecraft that ferried people from Earth to Mars.  However, during the reviewing process, a friend of mine was dubious about the Ion Drive's speed and reliability, and thought it sounded downright boring.  With a little discussion and creative revision, the Humboldt-Greyson Drive® was born, utilizing a more exciting albeit theoretical form of propulsion that utilizes unstable wormholes and hydrogen.

There are still some hurdles to making Ion Propulsion more commonplace and efficient.  Current engine designs have a relatively short lifespan, but as I said the technology shows a lot of promise.  Assuming we don't run into a new dark age, this sort of drive could take us on our next great forays into space exploration, and could pave the way for colonies on the moon, Mars, and beyond!

So, here's to Xenon.  It sure is a noble gas.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writing Workshop at Washington Academy

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I had the opportunity to teach a workshop on writing at one of Maine's most prestigious High Schools, Washington Academy.  It was a learning experience for me, as well, for I had never done anything like this before.  Preparing the lesson plan and standing in front of a group of students was intimidating at first, but I managed to get through the first day well, and by the second day I was in fine form.

I entitled the workshop "The Mysteries and Trials of Freelance Writing," and it was basically a 4-hour crash-course on being a writer.  We went over some pointers about creating fiction and marketing it, as I intended to give them a basic understanding of what to expect if they pursue a career in fiction writing.

The students were very receptive, and they did a great job.  During the lesson, I had them write story plots, query letters, and they read "A Dwarf at High Noon," which they seemed to enjoy.  Some of the plots they came up with were quite detailed and interesting, even though they only had half an hour to write them.  I would not be surprised to see some of their stories in print someday.

As I said, this was also a learning experience for me, and it has given me a renewed sense of confidence in my own abilities.  I hadn't done a lot of public speaking, and never drafted a lesson plan before, so I was really working from scratch.  I drew upon my own knowledge and experiences, though I had no idea what to expect or how long it would take to go over the material I had prepared.

Based on student feedback and teacher comments, I believe I can place this workshop in the "success" column.  Despite my nerves and inexperience, I pulled it together and gave a worthwhile presentation (twice) that served its intended purpose.  Now I have a better understanding of the process, so any future classes will run even smoother.  I've already looking forward to next year, and have plans to augment my lesson plan in new and exciting ways.  For certain, I won't shy away from such an opportunity to impart my knowledge in the future.  We'll see what comes along.

There is a certain thrill in teaching young minds, and after spending two days in front of a class I can picture myself in some alternate reality as a teacher.  Though my current temperament and educational status preclude me from ever doing it on a professional level, it is nice to dabble on occasion.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Very, Very Tired

This may seem like a shortcut or a cheat, but I am very tired right now.  I'm so tired that writing a V-post for the A to Z challenge is impossible for me, so I must insert this filler for the day.  This is not to say I didn't have a V post planned.  In fact, I was planning to write something about Star Trek "Voyager," but such a post would be far too extensive to just be thrown together off the cuff.  I hope to give it more thought, so I'll have to pass this time around.

The reason for my exhaustion and inability to create a very exciting V-post will be revealed tomorrow, with my W-post.  I'm sure you'll see why I had to punt this day's column.  It's not like I'm throwing the entire match.

I think I've rambled quite enough for now.  See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Urban Myths You Ought To Know

Over the years, I've heard my fair share of old wives' tales, and assorted misconceptions.  What disturbs me most is how some of these are actually ingrained into our society to the point where they've been widely believed, even when science and common sense has debunked them.  In my continuing quest to help people live rational lives, I hereby debunk the following erroneous suppositions.

Myth #1: Don't swim for an hour after eating.  You'll get cramps and drown.
This is the biggest fraud perpetrated against society as a whole. It's something I'm sure you were told growing up, and something that people for generations have accepted as fact.  The truth is, you are not any more likely to get a cramp one minute after eating than you are an hour (or ten hours) after eating.

Myth #2:  If you want a cherry tree to produce sweet fruit, soak the pit in sugar water before you plant it.
This is actually something professed by the Agricultural Gurus of the USSR.  It is as fake as it sounds, and it just goes to show the sort of backward, superstitious thinkers that ruled behind the Iron Curtain!

Myth #3: If a woman eats a lot of sugar while she's pregnant, her baby will be addicted to sugar.
Okay, this one is very much akin to the previous myth in the realm of superstition.  It is totally bogus.  Sugar isn't crack cocaine.  You don't get "addicted" to it, and a mother can suck down as much sweet stuff as she desires while pregnant.  It won't make the baby any more or less loving of the white granules.

Myth #4:  Your blood is actually blue inside your body.  It only turns red when it is exposed to the air.
Well, if you are a Smurf this might be true, but for those of us who are more than three apples tall, our blood is red, even in our veins.  I heard someone try to justify this position by explaining that the blood turns red when you get cut because of the oxygen in the air, but this makes even less sense.  One of the blood's functions is to haul oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body, so it already has plenty of oxygen in it.

So, there are four really erroneous myths that should be exposed for all to see.  Do your part, and spread the word.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Too Many Tuckers

Last year, when I needed a "T" for the A to Z challenge, I put together a post about my Tucker line, which I hadn't thoroughly researched.  Now that I've had a little more time to pick through the available data, I have found possible inconsistencies, as is sometimes the case with data over 200 years old.

The line that follows my 5x great-grandfather James Tucker appears to be undisputed, and many other descendants have laid his line down with reliable documentation.  However, his alleged marriage to Sarah Angell Tucker on November 5, 1795 is probably incorrect.  Having now identified the siblings of Simeon Tucker, it is obvious that James and Sarah were married before this date.  No doubt, there was another James & Sarah Tucker who got married in 1795 in Charlemont, Massachusetts, and this may lead to the other disputed data, concerning Sarah Angel Tucker.

The Grave of Sarah Angell Tucker

The data I had received from a cousin about Sarah Angell Tucker's line asserted that she and James were cousins.  However, I was recently contacted by another cousin who had data showing that James Tucker's wife was actually Sarah "Angell," and that she was the daughter of William Angell & Christian Church.  Digging deeper, there appears to be some evidence to suggest this is the case, as explained by researcher Diana Todd.  A note she wrote concerning James Tucker and Sarah Angell's family has been circulating, which disputes several erroneous claims that I hadn't encountered before (such as James having two different wives named Sarah), and also lays out a pretty convincing case about the Angell line, that Diana has apparently researched thoroughly.

While I feel inclined to believe in the Angell connection, the sands of time have eroded the history enough to leave uncertainty.  I feel fortunate I have only run into such ambiguity a couple of times in my research, and that many of my other lines are more concrete and proven.

I still have a lot of work to do on the Tucker line, and I hope to find more time to research it when time permits.

Before I go, here are the children of James and Sarah Tucker, all born in Halifax, Vermont:

Lydia Tucker (b. 15 January, 1792)
Stephen Tucker (b. 19 February 1794 /Died 17 February 1882 in Jackson, PA)
Sarah Tucker (b. 4 November 1795 –Married James Niles on 23 April 1818 in Charlesmont, MA)
Amos Tucker (b. 13 June 1797 /Died 22 February 1855 in Halifax, VT)
Mary Tucker (b. 9 July 1799)
Cinthey Tucker (b. 22 April 1802)
Simeon Tucker (my 4x great grandfather, b. 22 February 1804 /Died 17 June 1867 in Harford, PA)
Joseph Tucker (b. 26 April 1806 /Died 9 September 1883 in Halifax, VT)
Esther Tucker (b. 22 May 1809)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Short Story Contest (Often Inspired)

Here's something for my fellow writers.  The folks over at Often Inspired are running an ongoing Short Story Contest.  All genres of fiction are accepted, and once they have a dozen entries they'll go through a round of judging, picking 1 of the entries to win.  The winning writer will receive $100 and get their story published in OI's online zine, and possibly in future print anthologies.  It is a good deal, and I invite all of my fellow writers to give it a shot.

Register on their forum and submit your story to their contest here!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Remember the Sultana

It's one of the most deadly steamboat disasters of all time, yet there are few people today who could tell you about it.  While everyone knows about the Titanic or the Lusitania, who ever heard about the Sultana?  It's a very interesting, albeit tragic, story that must be shared and expounded.

The Sultana was an old paddlewheel Riverboat on the Mississippi back in 1865.  The Civil War had just ended, and Union POW's were being released by the thousands from Confederate prison camps.  Many of these men were sick and starved, many barely able to walk in their weakened state.  The victorious Union Army now had the lingering job of returning these men to their homes in the North.

On April 24, 1865, the Steamboat Sultana stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, where a swarm of former Union Prisoners of War were brought aboard.  We're talking somewhere around 2,000 of them, and the Sultana was only legally rated to carry 376 people, crew included!  Two additional companies of armed Union soldiers also boarded, bringing the total compliment upwards of 2,300.  You do the math; that boat was overloaded!  The thing was literally packed to the gunnels, standing room only.

The Sultana photographed from Helena, Arkansas
the day before its destruction.

In addition to being over-capacity, the ship was having boiler trouble, which was apparent as early as Vicksburg.  The crew did what they could to patch it, but there was only so much they could do.  If that wasn't bad enough, the river was at flood stage, with a harsher current than normal, so the overloaded steamship with a leaky boiler had to be pushed to the limit going up-stream.  Still, they made it to Memphis, Tennessee by April 26, where they stopped to unload cargo.  While at Memphis, a bunch of soldiers got off to see the sights, and a few failed to get back to the ship before it pulled out around midnight—lucky bastards.

The Sultana chugged upstream for two hours, but had only gone a few miles upstream when the boiler exploded.  The sound of the explosion and the giant plume of flame could be witnessed from miles away.  The ship was blown half-apart, and hundreds of men were thrown into the chilly rushing water of the Mississippi River.  As the ship continued to drift and burn, many more men joined them in the water, many of whom were too weak to swim, or just didn't know how.  Hundreds of others burned aboard the ship, many of them trapped below decks.

About 600 people were rescued from the river, but around 200 of them died from burns and exposure, leaving approximately 400 survivors.  There is no way to know the exact number of dead, for the muster rolls were not taken prior to the soldiers boarding the ship (as was standard protocol).  Instead, in a bureaucratic snafu, the soldiers were to be counted on board, so any list of soldiers aboard the Sultana went down with the ship.  Estimates peg the number of victims somewhere around 1,600, but possibly as high as 1,900.

At the time of the disaster, there was little said of it.  The country was going through a lot, trying to rebuild the South and coping with Lincoln's assassination, and the military wasn't eager to brag about this horrendous tragedy.  Besides, the victims were mostly just Midwestern men that none of the Eastern papers cared about, so few people bothered to take notice.

Today, 147 years later, we should all take a minute to acknowledge this disaster, and the brave soldiers who died, just trying to get home!  These men fought bravely for their country, and they went through hell in prison.  They deserved better than to burn or drown on the ship that was supposed to take them back to their families.  It's just not right.

I'm tempted to write a story about this little-known incident in history (perhaps something in the West of the Warlock universe) to help bring this to more people's attention.  This would also make a really poignant scene in a movie, perhaps adding some flavorful back-story to a period character.  There are some very compelling possibilities to explore here, and it's time someone did.

Spread the word, and remember The Sultana!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quarterly Up-tick

I'm pleased to report that things are looking up for the Fantasy Western.  West of the Warlock saw a definite rise in sales last quarter (January-March 2012), and I'd like to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who chose to invest in this work of fiction.  I hope you enjoyed reading the complete story, and will read the forthcoming sequel, The Curse of Selwood.

There is an obvious trend toward e-books, and West of the Warlock is showing great increases in that regard.  Kindle and Nook sales are dominating the market, and it only makes sense.  With the Kindle version being only $2.99, more people are going to be willing to spend such a trifling sum for a quality work.  The paperback isn't too shabby at $12.00, and there are still some fine people who are buying this traditional book format.  It's worth buying in either form.

I can't wait to see how the next quarter goes, especially with my Birthday Book Bomb sales added to the list.  If you haven't had the chance to check out the original Fantasy Western, head over to Hall Brothers Entertainment and read the first 8 serialized episodes for free.  If you enjoy it, be sure to stop by and give a brief review of the work (to help other people to discover it), and consider buying the book, which contains additional content.

Together, we can make the Fantasy Western a real phenomenon!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Personal Regrets

Everyone has something that troubles them, a missed opportunity or a life decision that they'd like to change.  Anyone who says they have no regrets are lying, either to you or to themselves, with rare exception.  The vast majority of people can point to something in their life and think, "I wish I'd done that," or "I wish that could've been different."  Some are our own choices, and some are simply the way the cards were dealt.

Most of the regrets in my life seem to have been beyond my ability to change them.  The things that happened were influenced by those around me and my own personality, and it was next to impossible to create a different outcome.  Such is the way with regrets; they are often inevitable, but we would like to dream of what might have been.

In my own life, the greatest regret I have is not knowing my extended family better.  I had only limited contact with my father's family over the years, and while I did have a few insightful conversations they were far too infrequent, and I never really got to know these people.  Much of what I know comes from my father's stories about them, and in some respects I realize it might be better that I am left wondering, for to know these disparate people better could mean liking them less.  Dispelling the myth and mystery would probably destroy the more romantic concepts of familial bonds.  Still, it leaves a regret that I didn't have the opportunity to find out.

I suppose some of this regret comes from growing up in a community where there are a lot of big families.  In Robbinston, you have several sizeable clans, each with dozens of cousins and many more distant connections.  Growing up, I was very much alone around here, and it left me with a lingering wonder about my own ancestry.  I suppose that is the main impetus behind my genealogical research.

There are other things I regret, to varying degrees, though this is the only real constant.  Other things are more curiosities, or feelings that only crop up every now and then.  So, here's to absent family, and those I'll never know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obsolete Names

There are a lot of names that aren't really used anymore; names that were quite common or at least fairly well-known in the past.  While there may still be a few people with these fine monikers, at present they are a rarity.  Of course, there's no telling what the future holds, and names have an interesting way of coming and going with the passage of time.  There may be a resurgence in popularity for one or more of these, but at present they're virtually extinct.

Ebenezer:  Here's a name that was all the rage in the 17th & 18th Centuries, and I have more than one ancestor named Ebenezer.  There is a whole string of Ebenezer Inghams starting with Uncle Ebenezer born circa 1661, going 5 generations until the tradition was finally ended.  We're all very familiar with this name thanks to Charles Dickens, but that may also be its downfall.  After the popularity of "A Christmas Carol," nobody wanted to name their kid after Ebenezer Scrooge, though it's really a shame.  The whole point of the story was about Ebenezer becoming a good man in the end, so maybe people missed the point?  Well, whatever the cause, Ebenezer is a name that has been put into retirement, and might never be used again.

Effie:  During the latter half of the 19th Century and into the early part of the 20th, this was a fairly common lady's name.  One of my father's grandmothers was Effie, and my mother's grandmother had an Aunt Effie.  It has since passed into obscurity, and it is doubtful it will return.  One reason that may keep it from becoming popular again is its similarity to the term Effing that people tend to use when they don't want to come out and say the F-word.  "It's an Effin' shame that Effie is no longer a common name."

Elsie:  You still see this one on rare occasion, mostly among those over 50, but it seems this name is on its way to the museum.  My wife's middle name is Elsie, because her grandmother was Elsie Merle Henry, though I don't know of anyone else with this as a first or middle name.  A lot of people seem to call their cows Elsie, too, so that might be another deterrent to giving it to a child.

Erastus:  At the time of the Revolution, this wasn't such an uncommon name.  There were several Inghams named Erastus, but time has pretty much wiped the name out.  You don't see it used much after 1800, and I don't know if there's a man alive today with this name.

Gaylord:  While never a very common name, it was widely used even into the 20th Century, but thanks to modern slang I fear this name is on the way out.  Since "Gay" now means homosexual, it is doubtful that many people are eager to make their children the target of ridicule or controversy with this old stalwart.  Gaylord is another sad victim in the culture war.

Grover:  Not since President Grover Cleveland has this name been really popular, and these days it seems the only creature to carry the name is that blue Sesame Street Muppet.  Grover isn't really a bad name, it just sounds a little old-fashioned.  Maybe it'll come back someday.

Jemima:  For most Americans, the first thing that pops into their mind is the lady on the pancake syrup bottle, but throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries it was a pretty standard name for a lady, black and white alike.  Now, it's pretty much a joke thanks to commercialism and stereotypes.  I don't see a resurgence of Jemimas on the horizon.

Mehitable:  Sometimes spelled Mehitabel, this is another classic from the 18th Century which has faded into disuse.  You don't see it much after the early part of the 19th Century, though I have used it for a character in West of the Warlock.

These are just a handful of names that I've noticed, and that's not to mention the many rare or obscure names that I've discovered in my genealogical research, like Alzina or Marsilva.  Of course, I have nothing but respect for these names I've mentioned, and do not suggest that there is anything wrong with them, only that they are currently out of vogue with the mainstream of society.  If you happen to be named Grover Erastus Gaylord, the fourth, please take no offense from my words.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nutrition and Individuality

I had an egg for breakfast today.  People tell me they're not good to eat, and I'm going to die a slow and painful death for making such a reckless choice.  There's no real nutritional value in that egg, they say, but I scoff at them and eat it anyway.  Of course, it was a Cadbury Creme Egg, not one a chicken laid, so maybe they were right.

Yes, I'm joking.  I didn't eat the Cadbury egg for breakfast... not today, anyway.  No, that was Saturday.  Today I had my usual bowl of ordinary bran flakes, which are fortified with all sorts of vitamins and minerals to nourish the body.  It is important to eat properly, and candy is a rare aberration even for me.

Once in a while, we end up indulging, and I've had more than my fair share of snack items through the years, but I'm working to curtail that.  Will power is something I have in abundance when it comes to most things in life, but everyone has their Achilles Heel, and food has been mine for far too long.  I think a lot of it has to do with the types of food I eat, and I think if more people had the proper amount of essential nutrients in their diet, we would all be thinner and healthier.  Yet, when I try to take vitamins or other supplements, I find they make me sick.  Obviously, my body doesn't need the overabundance, so what is the right amount?

Throughout history, human beings have not eaten a balanced diet, and to be fair the "experts" keep changing the definition of balanced.  When I was a kid, they said you had to have a majority of grain items in your diet, yet today they say you need to eat mostly vegetables.  Once they said eggs were deadly, then good, then deadly, then good again, etc...  The doctors can't make up their minds, so what are we to eat?  Plankton?  Perhaps we should just switch to Soylent Green and be done with it!

I think the true answer to the whole "balanced diet" debate lies in our genetics.  What one body needs of one nutrient might be too much or too little for someone else.  I expect that someday soon doctors will come to the natural conclusion that each person's genetic coding determines what their body needs for fuel, and be able to give them a better idea of what they should consume.  The more science uncovers about the genome, the more accurately we'll be able to determine the ideal diet for each individual.

When it comes to our bodies, each individual is unique and different.  What is good for you isn't necessarily good for me, and vise versa.  This is not only the case with nutrition, but medicine as well, though far too often we are all treated as a single organism.  Cookie-cutter medicine doesn't always work, and the further we progress, the more we understand that.  The more we look into the building blocks of life, the better we will be able to treat ailments, and the healthier each unique person will be.

Of course, I don't think anyone's genome would call for a Cadbury Egg breakfast, but it still tastes good.  What's the point of being grown up if you can't be a little childish sometimes?  And that leads me to my concluding caveat.  The further we progress, the more the scientists and experts want to dictate what we do, what we eat, and how we live.  Be wary of those who would use scientific discoveries to control your life and force you to eat whatever they decide you need.  If you want to be as healthy as can be, and want to take their advice, that's very good, but it must remain a choice, no matter what.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Moody Blues Experience

I discovered the Moody Blues in my late teens, and it was only by chance.  I found one of their records (In Search of the Lost Chord) in a bunch of old LP's that someone was throwing out, and once I put it on the turntable I found something worth listening to.  My early musical interests were heavily influenced by The Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, The Doors, and various other classic rock groups, so The Moody Blues fit right in.  In fact, they quickly became one of my favorite groups.

It was only after I'd become enamored of the Moody Blues that I discovered that they were one of my father's favorite groups.  Apparently, he'd given them up because my mother absolutely hated them for undisclosed reasons (she said it had something to do with her mother, but never elaborated further).  So, for over twenty years, my father had gone without hearing a single Moody Blues album for my mother's sake, only to be reunited with the music thanks to me.  For several years before my mother's departure, he would listen to them in private, reliving memories of his youth and enjoying the newer albums he'd missed.  Now, he listens whenever he desires, since there's nobody around to offend anymore.

I have all of their regular US release albums on the original vinyl (minus the extremely hard to get Keys of the Kingdom).  I have most of the albums on CD, and my father often borrows them for extended periods.  It's a good thing I have a decent supply of fresh diamond needles, so I can still hear the records when the discs are absent.

The Moody Blues have a sound that is uniquely appreciated around the world, by people of all walks of life and all philosophical persuasions.  Their music was some of the only western rock allowed in Communist China for years, and they're a perennial favorite of radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, just to name two far-disparate examples.  Their music really transcends all barriers.

So, that's what I have to say about the Moody Blues.  Before I go, my top 3 albums:

And Top 3 Songs:

So, Moody fans, what are your top 3's?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lost in Time

Time is an unstoppable force in many ways, something that at present cannot be challenged.  Once something has passed, it is over forever, and there are so many people and events that will never be seen again.

Photographs are the lingering echoes from the lost past, little bits of memorabilia that can give us insights into the imagery that cannot be reclaimed.  People long dead will live on forever in the pictures we have of them, though over time even those can be forgotten.  That is why it's vitally important that we keep them identified.

Mary Alice (Nelson) Kirton,
holding son, John Julius Kirton

Almost everyone who lived during the latter half of the 19th century onwards has had a picture taken of them at some point, though a great deal of those older pictures have been forgotten.  So many unidentified faces may lurk in plain sight, simply because there is nobody left alive who remembers them.  Younger generations often ignore the past, and sometimes fail to care until it is too late.  This is how ancestral lines and family photographs can be lost and forgotten.

It's always fortunate to find a photograph with an inscription on the back.  Those who have the foresight to jot down something as simple as a name help to assure that these faces and places are not forgotten.  Those who know must leave more than the picture itself, but also some key to identify the people and places, lest they become little more than an odd curiosity.

As many unidentified photos as there are, I fear there are many more still that have been destroyed by the ravages of time.  How many family photos have sat in a damp basement, or steamy attic, and become faded beyond recognition?  How many have been burned in house fires, or simply thrown in the trash?  Too many.  With today's technology, it's fairly easy to scan and copy images, so hopefully the worst of the damage has been done, and we will not lose anything further to disaster.  Backup those old family photos, and spread them around to keep them alive!

Those of us today who care about the past must work vigilantly to preserve what is left from bygone eras.  We must take special charge of our family lineage, and make sure to preserve it for future generations, or our children will be left wondering in vain.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I'd like to take a moment to introduce you to a good friend of mine:  Madam Cuddles Killingsworth.

In January of 2011, a tragic accident took the life of our family cat.  On a moonlit night, Gene wandered over half a mile to the highway and got hit by an oncoming car.  His lifeless, frozen body was lying by the shoulder the next day, and it was a hard thing for the children to lose him.  He was a very personable cat, friendly to a fault.  He was such a kind animal, he could sometimes be seen petting mice.  Yes, I'm serious.  He wouldn't hunt them; he treated the vile vermin as his own pets.  As a friend, he was the best, but as a mouser he was worthless.

Last summer, a new cat came into our life.  She was free, an extra animal that nobody else wanted.  The previous owners had called her "Cuddles," and she was already five or six months old by the time we got her, so the name stuck.  When she first arrived, she was very calm and scrawny, and we quickly discovered the reason for her weakened state.  She had tape worms.  A quick stop at the pet shop and $15.00 worth of deworming medicine later, and she was suddenly spry and active.  Literally overnight, she became an active, happy cat, and she has since grown to be a very productive addition to our family.  When it comes to killing mice, she is the best, hence her official title, Killingsworth.  Our house is mouse free once more.

I have had many cats in my lifetime, and I hope that I won't be hunting for a replacement anytime soon.  I hope she has many children, and that Clan Killingsworth comes to dominate the land for catdom!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Julia's Story

A fresh idea came to me the other day, as it often does, concerning a future story I should write.  It involves Julia McCain, the long lost sister of Zachary McCain.  Zachary is one of the main protagonists in The Rogue Investigations, and his sister Julia is mentioned (and she does make a brief appearance, as well).  In the forthcoming sequel, Rise of the Rogue Fighters, she'll play a more significant role, and I have come to realize she has an amazing back-story that could make an exciting "prequel."

Julia's story is one of fortune and tragedy.  Born to affluent parents, she and her older brother Zachary grew up in the lap of luxury on the family estate in rural Maine.  Shortly after her twelfth birthday her parents die in a mysterious car crash, and Julia is subsequently yanked from her home and thrown into the foster care system, which is highly irregular.  With her family's stature in the community, and her own brother being a legal adult (albeit away at college), there is no reason for the legal system to toss her into government care, yet there are clandestine forces at work.

Taken into "the system," Julia is questioned by a creepy old lady who seems keenly interested in her.  After their meeting, Julia overhears the creepy lady talking to subordinates, and discovers that she is to become a lab rat for experimental brain surgery.  Rather than waiting around for agents from a shadow government to cut her up, Julia flees.  Managing to give her captors the slip, Julia makes her way to the train station, where she slips aboard a freight car full of potato sacks.  There, she runs into an enigmatic hobo, and she passes herself off as a boy, fearful that the man might have perverse intentions toward a girl.  The hobo, a washed-up newspaper reporter and obvious drunkard, is her first teacher on her long journey that will teach her how to survive on her own, and eventually lead to the truth behind her parents' deaths.

I'm thinking of writing it as more of a young adult story, a real coming-of-age tale that eventually leads back to her adult appearance in The Rogue Investigations.  In it, we'll explore her trek around the country, and expose the mysterious "Zeta Directorate," a government agency which will be a thorn in the side of Zachary McCain later on in the series.

Work on this fascinating story will have to wait, though.  At present, I have several other stories I'm working on, including the aforementioned sequel to the Rogue Investigations, and the fourth book in my Fantasy Western series.  Perhaps I'll write Julia's story as my National Novel Writing Month book this November.  It's another in a long list of possible candidates.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Innovative or Idiotic?

I'd like to take today's post to point out my concerns about Genetically-Modified Food (GM or GMO).  I will preface this by saying I am not completely sold on anything, but I am certainly worried by the prevalence of patented foodstuffs that currently make up a stunning majority of Corn, Soybean, Sugar Beet, etc... grown in America.   I'm no alarmist, and conspiracy theories are sometimes exaggerated, yet I'm starting to think that the GM food issue is being underplayed severely.

Scouring the internet, you will be hard pressed to find articles praising the Genetically Modified food that is now dominating the American market.  Yet, you will quickly see dozens of articles from highly educated and respected individuals who are shouting out a warning about the detrimental impact these artificially-manipulated crops are having on human health and the environment.

One of the more frightening and compelling articles I've come across is this one, which details the concerns of Dr. Don Huber.  He details the deleterious effects of GM foods on plants, humans, soil, and basically everything living.  Are these just more eco-freak conspiracy theorist ramblings, designed to push us back to an Amish level of living?  Obviously not, but it does point out that the current use of Genetically Modified Food poses some serious risks.

Science is very much a double-edged sword, and there are more than a few mad scientists who are eager to play with fire, and damn the consequences.  Worse still are their financial backers, who are blinded by their own portfolios.  These wealthy businessmen often pander to the "green" movement, while ignoring genuine environmental threats.  They'll promote their new "green initiative" to cut CO2 levels and plant a few trees, while altering the very genome of our sustenance in potentially toxic ways.  It's sticking out the right hand to hide what the left one is doing.

This doesn't even go into the true money-grubbing behaviors of some firms like Monsanto, who wantonly attempt to control our ability to grow food.  Take the Schmeiser case, for instance.  This case sets a most dangerous precedent, and this sort of behavior is a threat to any and all lovers of freedom.  When a company can own exclusive rights to the very seeds we need to feed ourselves, they essentially own us!

It's important that people educate themselves about the issues concerning GM foods, or we might sow the seeds of our own destruction.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hollywood's out of Ideas?

It was bound to happen.  We all knew it was inevitable.  Yes, I'm talking about yet another movie remake, this time of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, Total Recall.  Apparently, the original movie isn't good enough anymore, so they're going to redo it.  Of course, after the remake of Footloose last year, I guess anything is up for grabs.

Get The Original
When it comes to Hollywood remakes, I have mixed emotions, and to be honest I can't think of many "new" versions that I prefer to the originals.  With a few rare exceptions, an updated version of a movie is rarely an improvement.  The story is already known, and when they try to mix things up by rewriting various scenes, I'm often left thinking, "I liked it better the other way." It can also be jarring to see today's actors trying to recapture roles that were previously defined by another cast.  Come on; Colin Farrell as Schwarzenegger, are you kidding?    Maybe that's just me.

There are economic motivations behind the slew of remakes as of late.  If a Studio does a new version of an old movie, they know there's a pre-existing fan-base that'll come out of the woodwork to see the new flick, even if it sucks.  (That used to be what sequels were for, but apparently that's too much work now.)  It is often more of a sure thing to remake a pre-existing movie than to create something entirely new that might or might not pique the interest of movie goers.  This is creative punting, plain and simple.

I can think of so many stories that would make great movies, but sadly they are passed over in favor of recycled ideas.  I don't fault Hollywood for trying to make a buck, but I feel they'd make a lot more money if they spent more time looking for fresh concepts and new, entertaining material.  Yes, they still do that to an extent, and maybe I'm being overly critical because of my own obscurity in the field, but I think the remakes are a waste of good screen time.  It's just an opinion, and if you enjoy the "new, improved" Total Recall, bully for you.  As for me, I'll stick with the classic version.  "See you at the party, Richter!"

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Getting Satisfaction

It's important that we each find something to satisfy us in this life, or else we run the risk of becoming bitter and discontented.  Whether you find your satisfaction in simple pleasures, like having a good home, a good job, or that special luxury item that you always dreamed about as a kid; human beings need their mental salves.  Yes, it may sound all too worldly and materialistic, but that's the truth.  People need something to look at and say, "It's mine," or "I accomplished that."  When it comes down to it, they need to give their life meaning.

The world we live in is often filled with hardships and disappointments.  Most dreams are simply that, fanciful ideas that remain nothing more than a figment of our imagination.  How many aspiring actors never see the silver screen?  How many childhood athletes fail to get a professional sports contract?  How many amateur writers linger in obscurity?  Millions, surely, and those unfulfilled dreams linger to define us.

It is necessary to find something to fill the void, to supplant the ambition of our dreams, or at least dull the pain of falling short.  The religious among us will no doubt point out the value of God in this struggle, and as a believer I most certainly agree, to a point.  However, sometimes it helps to have something more, a purpose or prestige that augments one's own existence.

While many Christian purists will tell you that God should be the be-all, end-all of one's attention and focus, the nature of that service is what I dispute.  I don't agree our job in life is merely to read the bible and worship like a penitent peasant, waiting to die and be taken up.  As Galileo said, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use."

I'm not discounting religion, or denying that one should seek to understand God.  What I am saying is that the nature of your search and worship need not be confined to simple subservience and monkish attention to scripture.  God gave us great gifts of mind and body, and he intends for us to accomplish something with them.  This leads me back to my original point, about satisfaction.

Within each of us is the innate desire to better ourselves and the world around us.  We are tasked with understanding the nature of our existence, and furthering mankind's knowledge of the universe in all its forms.  It is implanted deep within our very souls, the desire to know God, and the first step toward seeking God is to understand the truth of his creation, which is everything.

Of course, it is a slow and arduous process, and something that none of us can seek to achieve in total (at least, not in this life).  Yet, we have a need to learn, and beyond that we have a desire for meaning.  We are compelled to do something of importance, but in many cases we are incapable of achieving that.  We go through our ordinary lives, seeking to make up for our inability to impact society, dreaming of being something more than we are.  That is why we need material things, to give us the illusion of improvement.  So long as we can look at something that we're doing or have done and say, "That's my contribution," then we can feel better about our mortal existence.

Perhaps it's all in vain, a failing of our human emotions, but it is something we truly need at this stage of human development.  Make sure that you do something to impact and benefit the future in some small way, and you will find a greater contentment.  Be careful of your chosen tasks and always seek the truth, no matter where it leads.

(*I was born at 3:36 AM on April 7, 1980, which means the minute this post goes online, I will officially be 32 years old.  Bully for me!)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Free Fiction Friday (and everyday)

As the blog sees more and more followers and visitors, I'd like to take today's post to direct your attention to West of the Warlock, most of which is available to read for free.  Just head on over to Hall Brothers Entertainment, and download 8 of the "episodes" in .pdf format.

This project was the product of an idea I'd had for years, about merging elements of Sword & Sorcery Fantasy into America's Wild West of the 1880s.  The first foray into the new, unexplored field of "Fantasy Western" was a short story called "A Dwarf at High Noon," which was published in the Hall Brothers Anthology "Villainy."  After accepting that short, the Hall Brothers were so thoroughly impressed with the unique concept that they asked if I'd be interested in writing a longer story based around the same characters/universe.  I was more than happy for the opportunity, and West of the Warlock was born.

The end result turned out to be one of my better works, which includes some crafty world-building, while clinging to the historical background of the American West, just with some magical flourishes.  The story follows Warlock Sheriff James Doliber, his dwarf deputy, Ron Grimes, and an independent elf widow, Joella Talus, and has a wide array of supporting characters.

Since the initial success of the first published volume, two sequels have been written and are under contract for release later in 2012, and a fourth book is currently in the works.  Get started with West of the Warlock, and get ready for more adventures in the West the way it wasn't!

If you happen to enjoy the 8 free parts of West of the Warlock and want more right away, you can always buy the complete book in either print or kindle format.  There is quite a bit of extra content in the printed version, including a short story featuring Ron Grimes fighting in the Civil War.  But save that for later.  Right now, just enjoy the freebies!

For some extra insight into the creation of the first Fantasy-Western, visit my own West of the Warlock webpage.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Europa Universalis III (PC Game) –Review

Here's a game that I've had sitting on my shelf for over a year, but I didn't get around to trying it out until a few weeks ago.  I'd played the previous versions, having picked up a copy of EU-I many years ago for only a few dollars at Mardens.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game series, EU is something of a historical conquest game akin to Risk.  There are different timeframes and scenarios to play, including The Grand Campaign (starting 1399), Age of Exploration (1492), Age of Revolutions (focusing on the American & French Revolutions), and several other times and events in-between.  While the starting points and nations are all historically accurate, your decisions during game-play can change fate considerably, making it fun and unpredictable.

Getting to Europa Universalis III; this game has several improvements over the previous versions, including a Court of Advisors, which gives you different bonuses to your research values, military prowess, and financial stability.  The military units are now more diverse and varied.  We also see the introduction of "National Ideas" which help to shape and direct the course of your nation.

Colonization and exploration are now more accessible.  Once you reach a certain Naval Technology level, you can pick a National Idea that lets you recruit explorers and conquistadors, where in previous version of the game you had to wait to get such a unit either at random or due to a real world historical event (which means in many cases you simply didn't get one).  Without a naval Explorer, you can't venture beyond known sea-lanes, and without a Conquistador, you can't explore unknown land spaces.  So, this is a major improvement in my opinion.  There is a new "colonial range limit" that can be frustrating at times, but it does keep things realistic and challenging.

Another great improvement in this version of the game is the ability to play any nation.  In previous versions, you could only select from a certain group of "primary" countries in any given scenario/timeframe.  In EU III, you can pick any nation in existence, even some North American Indian tribes, only you do remain hindered by historical reality.  In other words, if you're playing a primitive tribe, they remain primitive, and their technological advancement is slow to non-existent.  Still, it is nice to have the option of variety, and it is fun to pick from the hundreds of different countries found across the globe.

One thing that I dislike about this new game are the "sprites" used to represent the different armies and navies.  In previous versions, you had a little ship or a soldier to represent a unit.  In this game, you have a flag.  Yes, just a boring old flag!  This sadly gives it more of a board-game look, and this is the one feature I find truly inferior to the previous games.

The only other thing that I'm not real keen about are the North American territory boundaries.  While the basic geography is recognizable in most cases, the territories are chopped up into unrecognizable blobs that don't resemble the provinces, states, or even the old colonial territories in many regards.  That, and the names are mostly unpronounceable and hard to remember (generally based on some old native settlement or a single county in the area).  They still need to work on their representation of North America a bit.

If you enjoy complex strategy games, Europa Universalis III should pique your interest, and allow you to wile away hours of valuable time.  Overall, I'd give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dismal Star: The Original Flash

Long ago, at the dawn of my writing career, I wrote a short story called Dismal Star.  It was my first foray into the field of flash fiction, before I was even familiar with the term "flash."  It was something off the top of my head, based on a much larger premise that I'd like to share.

Putting this down on paper, I envisioned the life of a young man who has grown up alone, trapped within the wreckage of a crippled space station or outpost.  Some kind of great battle or cosmic catastrophe killed off his parents and everyone else, but he has survived, thanks to the lingering amenities and machines.  Perhaps it's not the most original concept in the world, but certainly one that hasn't been played out entirely.

I still think about the possibility of writing more about this lone man, and seeing what happens when he is finally discovered again by his fellow human beings.  What sort of universe will he discover beyond his isolation, and what sort of life will he make for himself in it?  That could be a very powerful tale if done properly, so I will wait for inspiration to call me to write the story.

Now, on with our bit of flash:

I stumble out of my sleeping alcove at a quarter to seven in the morning.  Another dismal day in this place I've learned to call home.  I'll never get used to it, the cold concrete and tarnished metal walls of the research station.  Whoever could?

It's only a short walk from my alcove to the food repository, and I grab a nutritional supplement pouch from the shelf as I pass on my morning jaunt.  I bite into the grainy package that reeks of artificial flavors.  When was the last time I had a regular meal?  I can't quite recall, despite my extensive memory.  Decades, perhaps?

A brief jog around the station, all fifty feet of it that's still inhabitable.  An easily-traveled circle in my small, isolated corner of this place.  The gloomy ceiling lights are always on, except in my sleeping alcove.  The light diodes will continue to shed light into this technological tomb for a thousand years, wired into the limitless power generated thirty thousand feet below me.  The limitless power harnessed from the core of a half dead planet.  How?  I could not tell you.  I know it's a fairly simple concept, and an easily accomplished feat, so long as you're a sci-tech.  I'm not.  My parents were, but I haven't seen them since the accident.  That was twenty years ago, according to the ever reliable computer.

The cold metallic companion whose voice has long been erased still speaks to me.  Through words on the screen it can answer my questions and respond to my constant queries to the best of its programmed abilities.  Some days I'll prattle on for hours through the keyboard, recording my dreams, or asking it about the other worlds it knows.  Much of the information is spotty.  There are many data holes, extensive damage to the entire station's network.  Despite its shortcomings, I'm fortunate to have such a friend, or I would surely have given out of mind and body many years ago.

It was much harder at first.  Being a ten year old boy, the isolation was unbearable, and here I am completely alone, separate from the rest of existence; the only living soul on this accursed orb of dust and vacuum.  All that protects me is a thin layer of metal and a great deal of debris which stacked itself in such a way that it prevents harm to the tightly sealed section of this dead fortress that was once rocked by some deadly bombardment all those years ago.  I once thought someone else might someday find me here, but after two decades, I have come to terms with the truth; the inevitable, inescapable truth.  I am never to be found, an isolated victim of time and space.

Alone is no way to spend your entire life.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Calendar Quandaries

The way we recognize the passage of time is an interesting study in and of itself.  Over the centuries, we've slowly shifted toward a more unified system for determining the months and days, though there are still some old traditions and religions to keep different systems alive.  Today I'd like to go over an interesting element concerning an issue that may arise with reviewing historical documents, most notably those of English origin.

When the Gregorian Calendar was adopted in the late 16th Century, a lot of countries, including England, refused to "adapt" for quite a while, and those who had changed over called us fools for sticking with the less precise calendar we'd always used.  Part of it was a political game, as Protestant countries didn't want to follow the new Catholic Calendar, but that's a whole other story.

Doing genealogical research, the disparity of the two calendars becomes quite apparent, with the "dual date months" that start to appear.  When you run across birthdays, anniversaries, etc... that take place during January, February, and March in years prior to 1752 in the English speaking world, you have to keep in mind that the year of the event is actually incorrect, for they continued to recognize the first day of the year as March 25th.  Say you have an ancestor born February 5, 1690 in Salem, Massachusetts.  If they were truly born in 1690 by our current standard, the birth record would list their birth as 1689, because the "New Year" wouldn't have happened yet by their record.  This is something important to remember if you ever have access to a time machine.  You might show up a year too late for an event!

Of course, if you run into Russian dates, it's even worse.  They didn't switch to the Gregorian calendar until the Communists took over.  Imagine that, it took the Commies to adopt a Catholic creation!

I suppose all these calendar quandaries will be null and void soon.  After all, the Mayan calendar is about to end on December 21, so we're all doomed.  Doomed!  Well, maybe not.