Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Times, They Are A-Changin'...

Okay, I never thought of myself as "old." But looking back on my life, it seems I've seen a few things.

I was born in 1962 in the Middle of Everything: The middle child of five kids, in a small industrial town in the middle of the country, just off the southern tip of the middle Great Lake (okay, maybe not the dead center lake, but not on either of the ends, anyway).

My earliest television memory was the man on the screen saying that President was dead. For some reason, I thought they were talking about Lincoln. What does an eighteen-month-old know, after all? My second memory from TV was watching police dogs and fire hoses being used on Americans for the sole reason of their skin color. I grew up watching war come into my living room as teenage boys huddled behind earthen berms in rice paddies far away, occasionally rising to fire blind bursts of automatic fire at invisible enemies.

And I saw my country turn its back on its heroes. Soldiers returned home from jungles and paddies to a nation of people who spat on them for doing the job they were sent to do.  Journalism transformed from the reporting of facts and the chronicling of the events of our time, to agenda-driven, passive-aggressive, scandal-rag grandstanding for the purpose of pouring gasoline on whatever fires the media could find to further an editor's views and garner ratings.

I've seen changes in me as well. I transformed at one point in my childhood from an outgoing, confident little boy to a painfully shy introvert. I went from candid and open to silent and withdrawn, and that picture dictated my life for years, internalizing until it exploded in my teen years to make me an angry, depressed and destructive young man. After my term in the Air Force, I bottomed out. You know you've bottomed out when you grieve for road kill. I was ten minutes away from my appointment with a bridge when God intervened, in a way that told me in no uncertain terms that 1.) He exists and 2.) He actually cared enough for me to call me by my name when he spoke to me. That has a way of getting a person's attention.

My family went through a mountain of change too. When I was little, I saw my world through the rose-colored lens of innocent childhood. That got shattered when my mother left, and Dad had to raise all five of us kids, plus a granddaughter, all on his own, in a house on the East Side of La Porte, Indiana. I was ten when the divorce became final, and thirteen when we moved from the nice, sheltered neighborhood on the north side to literally the other side of the tracks. When I was sixteen, Dad was diagnosed with cancer. Nine years later he died, and the lynch pin of my family disappeared. We were never quite the same since, never as close-knit as we once were.

I guess the point of this post is that we all see things, behold history, share experiences that change us fundamentally. No one can honestly say they are the same person they were when they were three, and I suppose that's a good thing. Hardships make us more independent. They also shape us into people who can be there for others going through their own mill. I don't have to have a police dog grafted onto my leg to know it hurts. I don't need a fire hose turned on me to know it's wrong. I can reach out to people who have, because I have seen their struggles and rejoice in the progress made, all the while thumbing my nose at the race-baiters who derive their power by making others believe that Martin Luther King's dream is no where nearer its fulfillment that it was in 1968.

I guess it's a matter of perspective, from an older pair of eyes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Coming to Print: Critical Mass!

Great news, fellow Castaways:

The Third (and NOT final) installment in my award-winning series The NADIA Project is going to be available in time for Christmas! I just finished proofreading the galley proof for my publisher and sent the final corrections in to my fabulous publisher, Lea Schizas at MuseItUp Publishing.

Now, I'm not going to go on about why books make awesome gifts, but it's something cool to remember ;-)

I feel like ahsring a bit this week, if that's okay with everyone. So without further ado, let me introduce Critical Mass:

Critical Mass

"On their own, they're deadly. Together, they could save the world—or destroy it."

Jenna Paine is a super spy, genetically enhanced to be more than human. Nadia Velasquez is a living weapon of mass destruction. When the secret organization who built them both decides they are no longer useful, two enemies are thrown together for the only purposes they could have in common: survival and revenge.

There's only one way out of The Pinnacle, and that's on a coroner's slab. Jenna lives through a treacherous attack vowing to exact her vengeance on the people who trained her to be the most deadly agent on the planet. 

Wounded and on the run, she turns to the man who's sworn to make her face charges for her involvement in The Pinnacle's nefarious schemes.

After years spent hiding from The Pinnacle, Nadia runs into the one thing she never counted on: Shelf life. As her body breaks down, she realizes it's only a matter of the short time she has left to redeem her existence and give her daughter a chance to live free.
In the final showdown, the two transhumans join forces against a common enemy, and The Pinnacle come to know the deadly significance of…

Critical Mass


 Consciousness sifted back into Jenna’s mind along with the searing pain in her
abdomen. The fire grew in intensity as she became more aware, drawing an
involuntary moan from her lips. The pain became a monster, feeding on her body
bite by bite until she began to writhe in spite of her best efforts to control it on her
own. Her wrists and ankles came up short against stops. In her semi-conscious
state, fear shook free from its bonds in her mind, and the writhing turned into
thrashing. Every movement made the pain worse, and every twinge of pain brought
on an involuntary jerk of an arm or leg.

A woman’s voice reached through the torment; a hand on her shoulder pressed
her down into the bed. “Jenna? Jenna, stop. Listen to me!”

The sharp order got Jenna’s attention, helped her to focus. She stilled, sank into
her training, and opened her eyes. After fighting the pain tiger back into its cage,
Jenna ran down her checklist. First, evaluate your surroundings. The light in the
concrete block room was dimmed to a comfortable level. A faint musty odor stung
her nostrils. I’m underground. A basement…?

A plump, freckled woman in her thirties with curly auburn hair hovered above
the bed, both hands on Jenna’s shoulders. Wrinkled blue scrubs rustled softly as
she turned her attention to prepping a syringe filled with an amber liquid. “Do you
need something for pain?”

Jenna forced herself to remain calm. I was with Jon. I’m still alive; they didn’t find us. Unless they did, and I’m going to just lay here and take a needle like a dog to be put down. No way in hell—

The other woman seemed to know what was in Jenna’s mind. She held up the vial from which she’d taken the serum so Jenna could see. “It’s okay, just morphine. Please, let me help you.”

Jenna didn’t look at the bottle. She stared at the woman’s face, reading everything she could. All she saw was open sincerity. Jenna finally nodded and sagged back against the mattress, sweat beading on her brow. The trembling in her limbs stilled as a warm sensation crawled up her arm. Seconds later, a fresh blanket was pulled up to her chest. As the painkiller took hold, she managed a weak “Thank you.” That was when she noticed how dry her throat was. She could barely croak, “Water, please?”

The other woman stepped closer. The look in her eyes betrayed a mixture of relief and fear. “Y-yeah, sure, hang on.” She stood and rapped on the door twice, paused, and then rapped once more. Jenna heard a man’s voice on the other side, old and hoarse, but strong. The freckled woman said, “She’s awake. Get Jon,” before pouring some water from a pitcher into a glass and inserting a straw. After she helped Jenna to a few sips, she sat back down. “How do you feel now?”

“Better, I guess. I suppose it’s out of line to ask where I am?”

The woman smiled a wide, nervous grin and said, “Why don’t we start with some introductions? I’m Beth.” She took Jenna’s hand in her own. Beth’s fingers trembled, but her smile was sincere.

“I guess you already know me.”

“You’re Jenna.”

“Why am I tied up like a pig in a poke?”

“I’m sure you can guess. You’re in a safe place, though.”

“How did everything come out?”

“We worked on you for quite a while. You had a couple close calls. You lost a lot of blood. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Is it okay if I plead the Fifth for now?”

“Sure. More water?” Beth held the straw to Jenna’s lips. Jenna drained the cup all the way down to the slurp at the bottom before she let go. “FYI, I’m not a cop. I used to work at the hospital in Twin Oaks Spa. On a scale of one to ten, how’s the pain?”

“Three,” Jenna lied. It hurt like hell, but she didn’t want to be all drugged out anymore. She would need a sharp mind from here on out.

Beth looked into Jenna’s eyes and stared at her for a few disturbing seconds. “Uh-huh.” She nodded and pushed a syringe into Jenna’s IV line. “I’m just going to give you a bump, anyway, to stay on top of it. Don’t worry. I’m halving the dose. You’ll still be reasonably sharp.”

“For what?”

A knock came at the door. Beth spoke loud enough for the person on the other side of the door to hear. “We’re good. Come on in.”

A deadbolt slid back, a second lock opened, and the door swung in to admit Jon Daniels. He closed the door behind him, and the locks clicked back into place. One nurse, Jon, and whoever is beyond that door. Probably a couple more upstairs. Outside, who knows? I might be on an Army base for all I know. Not that I’m in any shape to escape. A toddler could tackle me right now.

Jon stepped up to the bedside, placing his hands on the side rail as he did. “Hey, Jenna. Sorry about the straps. I’m sure you understand.”

“Under different circumstances, I’m sure it would have been fun. I guess I should thank you.”

“I guess you’re welcome. Thanks for agreeing to meet me.”

Jenna stared at the ceiling. “Not like I had any other choice at the time.”

“Who shot you?”

What do you care? “I was cleaning my gun and it went off.”

“Nice try. The hit didn’t quite go as planned, did it? Who was the target?”

“Is that what you wanted to talk to me about? Because the last I heard, you were a special agent for the FBI. As in, anything I say can and will be used against me—”

“You’re not under arrest, Jenna. That’s not what this is about.”

“Then what’s with the straps? Why am I being held underground? And who’s outside that locked door? I know when I’m being held prisoner.” Jenna tried to sit up. A spasm ripped through her torso. She squinted and flopped back down with a moan.

“You haven’t exactly proven that we can trust you yet,” said Jon, “and the stakes are too high to take any chances right now. Just take it easy and get better. We’ll have time to talk later.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Jon turned and left the room, leaving Jenna alone with Beth.

Beth checked Jenna’s IV, and then drew the covers back. “Let’s have a look at your incision.”

“Can I at least have my hands untied?”

Beth looked at Jenna, and in her eyes, Jenna saw fear akin to a bird looking into the eyes of a cat.

“You know what I am, don’t you?” asked Jenna.

Beth’s hands trembled as she lifted up Jenna’s gown and checked the dressing on her abdomen. “What you are doesn’t worry me. It’s what you can do that frightens the hell out of me.”

“Does it look like I can do anything in my condition? Believe me, if I don’t want to be tied up, I won’t be for long.”

“Did you kill Mark Boyle? The man who was holding us?”

The question took Jenna off-guard. She tried to find some safe way to answer, but couldn’t think of anything to say that couldn’t be taken the wrong way. Damn painkillers.

Beth broke the pause. “Because if you did, I’d say thank you. He…” Her lips clamped shut for a second. When she continued, her voice cracked. “He blew my friend’s brains all over the floor, right in front of me. And he was going to kill us, too. Nadia said it was you. I… I don’t want anyone to die. But he needed to die for what he did. So thank you.” She covered Jenna back up. “Dressing looks good for now. We’ll check it again in a couple hours.”

So what do you say to that, Jenna? “Sure, no problem. Anyone else you want wiped out? I happen to be between jobs right now, rates cheap.” Yeah, right. It was an order, plain and simple. He was being cut loose. Just like me. The only difference is I made it out alive.  “Okay.” Jenna closed her eyes and took a deep, slow breath, focusing all her energy on calming her pain receptors. With the added boost from the drugs Beth administered, she was able to quiet the spasms down, and drifted off into a fitful sleep.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

And Ne'er The Twain Shall Meet

Good day, fellow castaways.

This week I want to expound just a little on something I said in my last post, just to reinforce a point. It occurred as I was writing that post that handing off our responsibility to the needy to a faceless government agency, isolates us not only from our duties, but from our fellow man. There are other factors as well that further isolate us one from another, and I think we can agree that isolation is not good for humans.

Credit: Isolation, by Neriak, posted on Deviantart

It's been said that Humans are communal animals. In this case, I do refer to humans as animals, because even though we are unique among all creatures on the earth, we in our basic definition, are animals as well. Which means certain conditions are so much a part of our nature that we cannot thrive without them. Interaction is one. Placing a prisoner in solitary confinement is considered among the worst punishments that can be inflicted upon a human. In fact, many studies have shown that a person can only be alone for a certain amount of time before their mind breaks, and death follows shortly thereafter. NASA even has numerous experiments on file that prove humans simply cannot survive long periods isolated from others. So at this point, I don't feel any need for posting evidence. You can simply google it and come up with page after page that prove my point. People need people. Period. Even teenagers.

Teens are strange creatures. I still remember when I was one, I sought isolation from my world. I hated being a teen. Hated being the awkward, shy boy who suffered panic attacks at the mere thought of asking a girl out on a date. Hated being bullied by those who sought to better their own social position by making others feel inferior. Hated being singled out  and ridiculed for speaking out of turn or saying the wrong thing, always a day late and a dollar short. So I sought isolation in my books. After all, a good book never judges, is always there for you, takes you away into into world
where you get to be the hero and save the day, instead of the kid in the back of the class that no one understands.

I did have two friends, with whom I hung out as well, and what did we do? We spent our time roaming the woods in Soldier's Memorial Park or out back of Fix Park, riding our bicycles around Pine Lake, and shunning society as a whole.

Anyway, teens are odd critters, who seem to seek isolation in every way they can. They use their cell phones, iPods, and the internet to remove themselves from a cruel society that they create themselves every day in the school halls. A teenager would rather text with their friend down the block than to actually go see them. A teen would rather spend hours on Facebook than spend a minute with a real person, and it shows in the collective society that we've created online in the circus that passes for social media. Unfortunately, those patterns of behavior become habits, and habits follow us as we get older. So we become hermits in our own families, virtual recluses living together, yet alone in our own little worlds.

Credit: Sylvia Hartman, 2010

We say things online that would get us a fist to the face in person, and we get away with it because that other person isn't there to confront us. We have Usernames that further remove us from accountability. We can create personae that aren't even us at all. How many Facebook pages have names like "Stupid Things People Do" or "I Hate Democrats?" There are people behind those pages, and they refuse to be held accountable to anything they say, so they get away with saying stupid, hateful,  and false things that get spread around the world in a mater of minutes. The more outrageous the claim, the faster the poison spreads.

In addition, look at what happens on our highways and streets. People in their cars, removed from direct interaction, tend to drive like idiots, in spite of a common belief on the part of most of us that we're doing just fine, and the other guy is the one who's wrong. Increased incidences of road rage bear this out. We feel free to gesture and yell and make ourselves a brain-dead zombie, because we're in our car and they are in theirs, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

So we have now officially created the most hostile, isolated culture in the world, two feet in front of our faces, and we're so ingrained in our habits that we can't break loose without intervention. We no longer feel the need to be civil with our communication, because we aren't interacting on a personal level anymore. You wonder why the internet is going crazy? Seriously, Sunshine, take a look at yourself.

So where do we go from here? How do we fix this? How can we come together as a united people once again, and do away with these factions, these divisions, this polarized isolation? I'm open to suggestions. Maybe just take an extra moment to consider the possibility that hitting "share" on that hateful rant in the form of a meme is helping or hurting. Maybe exercise the the right of other people to be wrong, and you don't have to correct everyone or everything that doesn't agree with your sensibilities.

To quote that able philosopher and all-around weird guy Floyd (I know, just go with me here), "I mean, good manners don't cost nothin' ya know."

Maybe the best thing we can do is stand up from our computers, put down our phones, and actually place ourselves in personal contact with someone on a regular basis. In a restaurant with friends, stack your phones in the middle of the table. The first person to pick theirs up gets to pick up the whole tab. Quit playing Clash of Clans long enough to share kindness with someone down your street who has a need. Rake their leaves, shovel their walk. Breathe fresh air.

We can do this, people. Make kindness a priority, and maybe we can all start getting along again.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Whose Job is it, anyway?

Greetings, fellow castaways.

I have summed up the conflict of conservatism vs liberalism in one phrase. Yes, indeed, everything that everyone has been fighting for and over, every little squawk and squabble from the left to the right and back again, can now be stated in one simple question:

"Whose job is it, anyway?"

There is a wide difference between the European model of government and the American model. European governments, in almost all cases, are derived from monarchies or dictatorships. In those models, "Government" is "Mom," who makes sure everyone is fed, clothed, housed, and supplied for. And maybe that works okay for Europe. Okay, except for Greece, who went bankrupt. And maybe England, who had to cut way back on social spending or they were going to go bankrupt. Or Germany, who went bankrupt. Or France, who went... You get the idea.

Now, let's compare that model to the representative republic model upon which the United States was founded (not a democracy, as some have led you believe): Old Tom Jefferson said, "Government at its best is a necessary evil, and at its worst, an intolerable one." Westward expansion (whether you believe it to be a crime or not) left many communities in situations where there were no government programs for the destitute. In fact, most of the immigrants moving west were destitute, which was why they were moving. To get away from their poverty and circumstances, and make a fresh start for themselves and their families.

Let's look at our rule-book. It's called the Constitution. The preamble, if you recall, says, "We the people of the United States, (Why?) in order to form a more perfect union, (for what purpose?) establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, (do what?) do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America." In other words, "We, in order to accomplish these things, do this."

The Constitution, in other words, lays out the jobs of the government. None of those jobs is to provide any assistance for anyone. I know it sounds cold, but hang with me here, and let me clarify, please.

In the old day, there was no government help for the destitute. But there was help. From whom, might you ask, did this help come? It came from charitable organizations funded by private parties. In other words, "We the people" provided for our own needy. So guess whose job it is to provide assistance? It's OUR job, NOT the government's. Which, of course flies in the face of the European model.

Now, before we travel too far down the road, can anyone (I present this as a challenge), and I mean ANYONE show me in our constitution the part where our federal government has the responsibility to set out "safety nets" for the needy? Please, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

No, it's our job. It's the job of everyone who has the means to voluntarily give to organizations who provide food, clothing, and housing assistance to our needy.

I firmly believe that the programs initiated in the '30's should have gone away a long time ago. They were instituted partially as a means of keeping people dependent on government for their daily livelihoods.Maybe there was a need, on a temporary basis, to provide some help, as jobs were nearly non-existent. One of three people eligible to work in 1933 had no job, and had no way to get one. My grandmother used to go out with her 10 brothers and sisters and round up rotten apples from the ground in the neighbor's orchard, cut off the bad parts, and keep whatever was left for their apple pies. Their uncle Mark raised all eleven of them single-handedly after their parents died within months of each other. Believe me, I know hardship. I've had plenty of my own.

But it wasn't a government program that helped me climb back. I borrowed from friends, took jobs as I could (burger flipper, janitor, drywaller, roofer, day by day, week by week) until I could get a steady job that turned into a career. I've been homeless, hungry, and living in borrowed clothes. I've started over more times than I can count. I collected unemployment for about six weeks in all that time.

I believe it should never be the government's job to provide those "safety nets" because in abdicating our responsibility to a faceless commission or agency makes us lazy. We lose touch with the needs around us, and become harder people when we aren't directly involved in helping the needy. Some nameless, anonymous "them" has the issue, so we get to forget all about it and go our catatonic way down the road.

But that's not what happens, is it? Because we still encounter the needy all around us, but now we don't see anyone helping, mainly because the agency in charge of giving assistance is absorbing 70% to 90% of your tax dollars for its own employees and bureaucrats. So now, we have to blame someone, and in most cases we blame those who have more than us: "The Rich." Oh, hell let's just blame them anyway. It's their fault that homeless people don't have their own houses, because they aren't sharing from their wealth. So along with all that self-righteous indignation that comes from having poor people all around us is compounded by the anger at rich people for daring to have more, to earn more, to keep more than anyone else.

And we all know who throws gasoline on that fire: Our own wonderful news media, who have forsaken the art of journalism for their agenda. Which agenda, you say? Why, to make America more like Europe, of course.

We'll go more into that in future posts.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Challenger, Continued

Greetings, Castaways on the raft in space we call Earth. This week, I want to continue in the same vein we started last week. What follows is the scene in Unalive that involves the aircraft type we discussed: The Challenger 604.

Real quick, here's the cover art for Unalive, my second novel. Feel free to click on it to find out more about the book. I'll let you buy it if you want. More about the cover: The Model (I've had many of the mechanics at work ask) is Danielle Harris, the Hollywood scream queen who gained her name in Rob Zombie's Halloween movies. I sent her a copy of the book. Let's see if she's sufficiently impressed to land me that movie deal, eh?

So, without further ado, Unalive, featuring the Challenger 604 jet.


Phil Baterson looked up as the Challenger jet’s galley door opened. A plump brunette in a
black and gold attendant’s uniform stepped through. “We’ll refuel in Hanoi and then Moscow. If
you need me, just press the crew call button in the VIP armrest. Dinner will be at seven. Can I
get you anything now?” A couple of hands went up; the attendant took some drink orders and
receded into the galley to prepare them.

Anna Spielberg rested, drowsing on the divan on the right side of the 604’s spacious forward
cabin. Her wounded arm was suspended in a sling and secured to her torso for further support.
Her face betrayed the drug-induced stupor and fatigue she must have been feeling. Sofi sat
quietly next to her mother, watching a movie on a small video monitor mounted on a swing-arm
from the drink ledge. Two other beefy men played cards at a foldout table. A sour-looking,
middle-aged woman lounged in another seat, reading.

Jenna came out of the office in the rear of the cabin and slid the door closed behind her. Phil
could tell she wasn’t in prime shape herself. He’d seen others coming down off of combat
stimulants, and it was never pretty. But Jenna looked like she would drop any second.
She’d sent her report upline, but he wondered how coherent it was. He knew she needed to
get it sent while the details were still in her mind, but still…if they had any questions, they could
always ask them later. Phil was sure there would be questions, judging from her current

He had seen Jenna Paine before, in better times. The dark circles under her eyes, and her
pale, sweaty appearance, the way she slogged across the carpet, told him these were definitely
not better times. How is it she’s still conscious?

Jenna flumped down into the leather seat and a sigh escaped her chest.

“Hey, you.” She lifted her head toward the source of the voice. Anna smiled at her from
across the aisle. “Thank you.”

“I’m so sorry, Anna,” said Jenna. “I should have…done something before—”

“Jenna, you saved our lives.” Anna sat up higher in the divan, straining from the effort. “My
daughter and I owe you, twice over from what I understand. Don’t sell yourself short. I don’t
believe anyone else could have seen that coming and taken the actions you did. I can’t even
begin to thank you enough, my friend. You are an amazing woman. Now, get some sleep; you
look like hell.”

“I’m all right, Anna. I’ll see you through to Prague, and then get some rest when we get
settled in. The hospital gave me these,” she said, and pulled out the bottle of stims.

“Let me see those.” Anna held out her good hand. Jenna handed the bottle over. Anna took
out one of the small blue tablets and examined it closely. “You shouldn’t be taking these, Jenna.
With your metabolism, there’s no telling what these would do.”

“I only took one, Anna, but if I have to, I’ll dose up again.”

“Phil,” said Anna, “Relieve this woman so she can get some rest, please?”

He laughed and shook his head. “I tried twice, Doc, but she don’t listen real good.”

Anna glared at Jenna. “I think we’ll be all right now, Jenna.” She gave the bottle to Phil.
“Now get some sleep; you’re worthless to me in your condition.”

He leaned over and whispered in Anna’s ear, just above the noise of the engines. “Just keep
those uppers from her and give it another ten minutes. She’ll be out like a light.”

“If she does drop off, I want a pulse and respiration check every ten minutes,” she whispered
back. “Seriously, Phil. Understand?”

The good-natured smile faded from his face as he comprehended her concern. “Yes, ma’am,
I get you.” He set the timer in his watch to repeat a ten-minute countdown before settling back
into his book. About a minute later, he looked up. Jenna’s eyes were closed. Her head lolled back
against the headrest of her seat. He slowly got up and approached her, watching for any sign of
awareness. Finding none, he pulled the release lever on the seat and reclined it all the way back
with his other hand. Jenna never even twitched.

Phil looked over at Anna. She nodded. He checked Jenna’s pulse. Finding a beat, he nodded
back at Anna, who closed her eyes and sank back under the influence of her painkiller. He
opened the cabinet at the back of the cabin, pulled out a blanket and spread it over Jenna, and
then sat back down.

* * * *

When Jenna opened her eyes again, the plane was on its final approach into Prague. Her
sweat-soaked blouse clung to her body, and her skin was clammy to the touch. “Anna? Sofi?
What the…” She twisted around in her seat and almost fell out. When she tried to stand up, her
vision closed into a tunnel in front of her face. She couldn’t find her balance. “Anna!”

Hands supported her as she fell in the aisle. They laid her back into her chair, and her head
began to clear. Her entire body tingled. Someone belted her in. She tried to get back up, but a
hand pushed her back down. She heard Phil’s voice reassuring her. “Miss Paine, just relax, okay?
We’re landing. We have an ambulance standing by, and we’ll make sure everything’s secure.”
Jenna didn’t remember the ride to the hospital. In fact, she barely remembered Phil carrying
her down the Challenger’s air stair. The ambulance waited on the ramp between two black
Mercedes sedans.

Another team of four waited in scattered array while the ambulance crew loaded Anna and
Jenna. The sour-faced woman carried Sofi’s sleeping form down the steps and placed her gently
into the backseat of one of the security sedans. The team members split up between the cars. Phil
jumped into the back of the ambulance, and the caravan took off across the ramp toward a chain
link gate leading out onto the highway toward Trebenice State Hospital.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Aircraft of The NADIA Project: Challenger 604

Greetings, fellow Castaways.

This week, I'm doing something I've been meaning to do for some time. I have an opportunity to share some visual details from my series, and in addition introduce readers and writers alike to some overlooked items that tend to slip through the cracks, mainly those little technical doodads that some people always notice, like that scene that starts on the ramp next to a tiny little Citation jet that suddenly has the interior space of a Gulfstream. And just the fact that most of you don't even know what I said tells me you're in the right place.

"So what?" you ask. "Why should I even care about details like that? They don't make a difference as long as the story is good. It's fiction anyway, right?"

And to an extent, you would be right. By all means, go ahead and write in whatever kind of airplane you want you characters to ride in. But those technical details all add up to the difference between bringing readers into your world, and holding them at arms' length.

You could apply the same logic to the scene where the bad guys gun their 400-cubic-inch Yugo and peel off around the corner while the good guy watches helplessly from the driver's seat of his AMC Gremlin. It's about being believable, folks, and being believable means research.

Fortunately, I happen to work in aviation as a trade. I've always been a big fan of airplanes, and my books feature some. I want to cover a few of those with you, just for the sake of putting a face with a name. So, may I introduce you to: (Drum roll, please)

The Challenger 604
Let's go inside, shall we? The bar just above the stripe line releases from the side of the aircraft and when one turns it, the air stair swings down on balanced springs.

At the top of the steps, our flight attendant waits, in impeccable uniform. The pilot and copilot are already in the cockpit, going over their checklists. This is after their pre-flight visual inspection, where they do a detailed walk-around of the entire aircraft, checking tires, control surfaces, wings and stabilizers, antennas and sensor probes.

When we enter the aircraft, we pass the galley.

 Make no mistake. It looks like koa wood, but it's actually a veneer over a light honeycomb structure. Remove the drawers, oven, microwave, and coffee maker, and two men can lift out that entire cabinet to remove it. Weight makes a big difference to an airplane. Notice on the right, the drinking glasses rest in cutouts so they don't slide around in flight.

Okay, so our friendly flight attendant ushers us back to our seats.

This cabin is not your average airliner, is it? The seats are comfortable and soft, and there is plenty of room to lie back if needed. These flying offices stay in the air for a long, long time (the official stat sheet for the 604 cites a range of over 4,600 miles!), so comfort is a premium.

Now, if we're going to be in the air for that long, we probably need some kidney relief. So that little room farther back is the lavatory. Seat, sink. Nothing special. Notice the monitor screen on the left side of the doorway. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so movies (and yes, video presentations) can be shown on the monitors. There's one on the forward bulkhead (wall) as well, so two different video sources can be playing, with the passengers watching with headphones. But these babies have some killer audio systems as well, so if everyone wants to watch Air Force One, they can make the crew sweat pretty good.

Now, this one is not sub-divided. But some of these aircraft do have separate little micro-offices where Mr Big (or Mz Awesome) can sequester themselves for private conferences. The planes have WiFi, fax machines, and phone systems that allow instant contact all over the world. Like I said, flying offices.

So now, let's look at the "driver's seat."

Now, I will try not to get too technical here. If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me privately, and I'll do my best to answer you.

There's a lot of information a pilot needs to fly his aircraft safely. In your car, you need to know speed, fuel quantity, coolant temperature, engine rpm, and maybe you have a GPS so you don't get lost. A pilot needs all that information, too, only the highways at 40,000 feet are invisible, laid out by radio navigation systems on the ground. So our pilot has to know where these highways are, so he doesn't put himself and his passengers in danger (this is not to slight the female captains and first officers out there. I use "he" and him" generically here).

So, from left to right, we have Display Units 1 through 6 as follows:

DU1: Pilot's Primary Flight Display (PFD). Which way is up, how high are we, how fast are we going?
DU2: Pilot's Multi-function Display (MFD). Where are we going, what compass heading are we on, where is the highway line?
DU3: Engine Indicating/Crew Alert System #1 (EICAS). Engine readings, system alerts, warnings, etc.
DU4: Engine Indicating/Crew Alert System #2. Whatever doesn't fit on EICAS 1. Also, look at control surface positions, hydraulic systems, electrical systems
DU5: Copilot's MFD
DU6: Copilot's PFD

Notice there are at least two of everything. Sometimes, there are three of a certain sensor or radio,so failures don't mess up anyone's Sunday. In addition, the screens can swap information, or call up information from other sensors.

The row of dials above the dispays is the standby instrumentation, Left to Right: Airspeed (how fast), artificial horizon (which way is up), altimeter (how high are we), and the cabin pressure indicator (how much air pressure between inside and outside)

Here's another look at a fully functional display pair (PFD/MFD)

Notice the blue/brown horizon display. It's really important to know which end is up. Blue means sky. Brown means dirt. Dirt is bad for an airplane that is doing its best to stay away from it. Notice also the blue label in the MFD that says "TERRAIN." It means that screen is set to tell the crew when dirt is getting too close to the airplane. That system (Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, or EGPWS) wasn't invented when Reba McIntyre lost her entire band in a wreck in California. Now, it's mandatory equipment in all charter aircraft.

One more thing to look at, down between the pilots:

Don't worry, I'm not going over every switch. I just wanted to cover two items. In the top pic, those two screens are the controls for the Flight Management Computers (FMC). The pilots use this to plan the flight, find the highway lines, and keep them informed on "the Big Picture" of the flight. In addition, the FMC can automatically tune the radios to the next navigation beacon on the route, tune the communication radios to the air traffic centers along the way, and keep the compass systems honest.

The bottom picture shows the Radio Tuning Units (RTU), the display controllers, and some of the other functions that make the flight smooth and safe for everyone.

A performance datasheet for the Challenger 604 can be found here.

So that's this baby in a nutshell. Hope it showed you something new, and helped to introduce one of the "toys" that I feature in my books. Feel free to use it in your own.

See you next week with another random act of writing.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Free Excerpt time!

Greetings and salutations to all my steady castaways, and everyone who's finding me here for the first time! You're welcome here, to just come on in and be yourself. No need to grand-stand or make any points. You are you, and you are welcome here.

I passed a milestone a month ago that I totally forgot to announce: My 10,000th page view. As of writing this, 12,571 people have reached out to touch us. Okay, so a few of those were the same person more than once, but that's still pretty cool. So join me in a libation to celebrate: *pours coffee/hot chocolate/tea  for all* Wassail!

Anyway, this week I need to announce something else: My publishing house, MuseItUp Publishing, has established another deal with a new, established vendor who is helping us reach a whole new level in helping folks to see what we have to offer. At this precise moment, iBooks is running a package special for four complete novels in one volume, for 99 cents! So, check this out: for one ridiculously low price at the Apple bookstore, you can get four top-notch sci-fi books.

I get to join the likes of Rosalie Skinner, John B. Rosenman, and Joanne Elder for our first-ever package deal in The Prodigies of Science Fiction. 

Click on the cover to go there. I'll let ya.

 Prodigies of Sci-Fi

 As for my part in this project (for you new fans), I wrote the EPIC-Award-winning Best Thriller of 2012, Becoming NADIA.

And now, the promised Excerpt:

“I'm not me,” Nadia moaned, curled up in her seat. She wrapped her arms around her knees. Her hands shook. “I'm somebody else, and I'm not me anymore. I never was me, was I?”

Jon leaned over to touch her on the shoulder, but a hand shot up and she writhed away. “Don't touch me. Don't even come close to me,” she cried. He could see that her cheeks were already wet. She cried softly to herself, “If I hadn't known, I could have gone on. If I hadn't known—”

“If you hadn't known,” Jon interjected, “You'd still be wondering who Phillip was. If you hadn't known, you'd still be in their hands.”

She looked up, indignant. “Those people saved my life, Jon. They said it took more than twenty surgeries, just to save my face. They put that much into me so I could have a life again. They even had Jenna move in with me so I could adjust—”

“Or be monitored,” said Jon.

“What are you talking about?” Her eyes flashed angrily.

“Have you ever, at any time, been left alone since you woke up?”

“Of course,” she snorted. “I went to work—”

“To be with the people who just tried to kill you.”

“I went shopping by myself. There was a little grocery store just around the corner.” She stopped and went back to hugging her knees.

“What happened there? Alicia, what happened to you?”

“Don't call me that!” Her voice lowered threateningly and her eyes flashed. “Don't you call me by that name.”

“Then who are you? What do we call you now?”

“I don't know.” She sat curled up on the seat, her eyes locked on the lighting control panel by the cabin door. He watched her for a while, her chest wracked with silent sobs.

Jon got up and rummaged through the tiny galley behind the copilot's seat. He opened a drawer and took out a couple of small bottles. After he opened them both, he sat back down and held one out to Nadia.

“Peace?” he offered. She said nothing. “Nadia, I'm sorry. I should never have said that. I don't think I can ever understand what you're feeling right now. But maybe we can relax a little and figure some of this out.”

Nadia didn't respond at first, but after a few seconds, she released her knees and dropped her feet to the floor. She took the bottle of Scotch and sipped it. Her face wrinkled in disgust and she almost spat it back out. Holding the bottle up, she tried to read its contents through watering eyes. She couldn't seem to make words come out of her mouth.

“It's Scotch,” Jon offered. “Don't tell me you've never drank alcohol before.”

Finally, she found her voice. “I can only answer for one year. And the answer is 'no.'“

“I can get you some water, if you want.”

“What does this do?”

“It relaxes you.”

“I think I need this more,” she said, tossing back the bottle in one swallow. She squinted hard and gulped once, then lay back in her seat, feeling the warmth radiate from her stomach. “Let me know when we're there, please. I want to close my eyes for a little bit.”

“Sure, Nadia.”

Jon picked out a magazine from the rack in front of his seat and tried to read it, but couldn't concentrate. He kept stealing glances at the petite figure of the woman across the aisle. Her blonde hair poured in a golden, curly waterfall past her shoulders. Her squarish face complemented the slim build. From first appearances, it didn't seem as if she wore any makeup, but as Jon studied her full lips, he noticed a subtle shade of lipstick, and just a trace of makeup around her closed eyes. Brown, he remembered. Captivating, almond-shaped, brown eyes. A guy could fall into those eyes and never want to come back.... He admired her figure for several seconds. Give it up, Daniels; she's work, not play. And besides, she's way out of your league, something inside him whispered. The flight continued, silent save for thedrone of the engines and the muffled conversation in the cockpit.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

They Said WHAT????

Greetings, fellow Castaways.

Yes, it's been a while since you've seen anything new here on the Distant Shores. I can only apologize. There has been a bit of a maelstrom going on in the Keith Household lately, but to put it blunt, I simply missed some opportunities to post.

This week, I want to highlight some of the frustration I'm feeling with the general media. Call it liberal, call it conservative, call it an ostrich egg, labels no longer matter. Journalism is dead.

One case in particular highlights it: Ferguson, Missouri.

You notice it's always referred to as "The police shooting of an unarmed black teen?" You never see it as anything else. The newspapers, radio, television, nothing says anything different.

Now, I'm not making any judgement here. I'm not indicting Michael Brown, nor am I leveling accusation against the man who shot him. My job at this point is simply to highlight what the press has been doing that should enrage any reasonable person reading this. It has very little to do with the actual facts of the incident, and a whole lot with how it's being reported to us, who also were NOT there when it all came down.

First off, look at the entire scope of the incident. The news outlets rushed so fast to be the first to report the story, they never even stopped to ask what really happened. And why should they? "The police shooting of an unarmed black teen" fits right into the sensational, ratings-getting scandal-rag reporting that's become such a habit in the last fifty years. It also fits into the race-baiting agenda the press feeds on. So once again, the press never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

First off, "witnesses" at the scene, and media reports, said Michael was shot in the back. The coroner's report said he was shot all in the front.

Yes, Michael was unarmed But that doesn't make him harmless. What makes anyone think an unarmed man is somehow less dangerous than an armed one? Look at this video of what happened when a armed police officer pulled over an unarmed man for a traffic violation:

 "Unarmed" doesn't mean harmless, by any stretch. But of course, that's not what the press wants you to hear, so that fact slips through the cracks and falls to the editor's floor. The policeman who shot Michael was treated for injuries to his face and head, inflicted (possibly) by Michael Brown.

Someone has been lying to us. Who, is the question.

To look at a case of contrasts. How many of you have heard of Dillon Taylor? In case you haven't, here he is:


 Dillon was shot to death by a black police officer on August 28th, 2014. Micheal Brown was shot on August 9th, which should have made Dillon's story even more relevant. But for some reason, most press outlets chose to ignore Dillon and concentrate on Michael. So was Dillon's life less important because he wasn't black?

I don't care if you're black, white, or purple. A death is a death, and it's a crappy shame anyone has to die. But police officers are armed for a reason. One prime example is the North Hollywood Shootout:

As long as bad guys like this get hold of heavy weapons to rob, kill, and destroy, then our cops need to be able to handle them.

A cop has a split-second to make a critical decision when the situations goes fluid. He doesn't always make the right one, and that's a shame. But instead of questioning a cop's judgement, the press seems to have painted him as a cold-blooded murderer, and a bigot to boot.

So thanks to shoddy, irresponsible reporting, we've had several nights of rioting and looting, more people injured, businesses destroyed (not huge box stores with insurance like Walmart, but "mom-and-pop" stores which may never recover). We have race-baiters making this all about a white man killing a black man, supposedly because he's black. And we have a nation polarized even more because some people just can't stand the thought of Martin Luther King's dream coming true, that a man would be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. And it seems to me, the ones screaming the loudest about racism in this country are themselves the most guilty by the the way they tell us their slanted little fairy tales.

So rather than joining in on the dogpile on a cop who may or may not have made the correct decision, Can we stand back from the conflict a little bit, long enough to sort through the actual facts, and not someone's snap judgement for the sake of sensational ratings?

Let's face it, ABC and CBS are too busy trying to beat NBC and Fox to care that what they report may in fact inflame the situation and cause more damage than would otherwise be caused if they would only back off on the rhetoric. And the talking heads get to sit back in their swivel chairs in front of the cameras and affect their self-righteous little scowls as all hell breaks out at their beck and call. And then they have the gall to play dumb and act like they're all so innocent, like there is no blood at all on their hands.

But we feed them, don't we? They poke our sensibilities, and we jump. It's a reflexive nerve they have found through  diligent practice, and they won't be letting it go any time soon, as long as they can exercise influence over their audiences through their propaganda. They specialize in character assassination and influence peddling.

But if we start questioning them, do you think we can start holding them accountable? The John Bowmans of the world?

It might be a good idea if we did.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Coming Soon to Print: Critical Mass!

Good day, fellow castaways.

It is with immense pleasure I announce to you that I've confirmed with  MuseItUp Publishing's rockin' editor-in-chief Lea Schizas, the coming print release of my third novel Critical Mass.

Now, I do appreciate everyone's patience in waiting, as the delay has been longer than what everyone involved was anticipating. But believe me, Lea has been working her little Greek tuchus off keeping up with a hundred different things, and she also was working hard getting our print books to compare in appearance and quality with the top-line editions on bookshelves (cause that's where we all dream of ending up, you know...well, not just on the store's bookshelves, but on readers' bookshelves, where they can be read over and over by awesome fans).

So, to celebrate the upcoming release (sorry, no firm date yet, but it's COMING, I promise!), I'm posting this, from Critical Mass (if ya wanna see more, click the book cover!):

Jenna Paine is a super spy, genetically enhanced to be more than human. Nadia Velasquez is a living weapon of mass destruction. When the secret organization who built them both decides they are no longer useful, two enemies are thrown together for the only purposes they could have in common: survival and revenge.

There's only one way out of The Pinnacle, and that's on a coroner's slab. Jenna lives through a treacherous attack vowing to exact her vengeance on the people who trained her to be the most deadly agent on the planet. 

Wounded and on the run, she turns to the man who's sworn to make her face charges for her involvement in The Pinnacle's nefarious schemes.

After years spent hiding from The Pinnacle, Nadia runs into the one thing she never counted on: Shelf life. As her body breaks down, she realizes it's only a matter of the short time she has left to redeem her existence and give her daughter a chance to live free.
In the final showdown, the two transhumans join forces against a common enemy, and The Pinnacle come to know the deadly significance of…

Critical Mass


 It had been dark for some time. The rain had moved on, leaving the pavement
with a sheen that whispered with every passing car. Scud clouds overhead trailed
the thunderstorm like remoras behind their shark. The moon cast its wan light
between them, a pitiful challenger to the flickering neon of the street below.
The city’s diurnal population was at home and in bed. That left the nighthawks,
those who thrived in the hours between sunset and dawn. They worked, played,
lived, and loved in dark hours. And some of them died there.

The crowd at the Tap Tavern began to thin out about one in the morning. By
ones and twos, they filtered through the front door and into the street, fanning out
to home, to work, or to other purposes known only to them. By two o’clock, only
the closing crew remained, a couple of vague shadows moving beyond the frosted
glass of the large windows flanking the door.

A small brown coupe sat parked across from the alley mouth in the dark of the
early morning. Traffic was lighter now than it was at eight o’clock, but was still
busy enough to conceal the lone occupant seated behind the wheel. With stubborn,
unhuman will and deadly purpose, the figure waited for the rest of the lights to go
out in the tavern. At ten minutes after three, patience was rewarded. The glow
behind the picture window extinguished. A side door opened and shut, and a
shadow separated from the building and shambled down the alley.

The coupe’s door opened, and a compact, athletic figure emerged into the
dimly lit street. The young woman glanced both ways and trotted across, following
the figure up the alley. With silent skill enhanced by superhuman agility, she
sidestepped cardboard boxes and cats alike. Despite the deeper darkness, she could
see as if the way was lit by a full moon. Her hearing, finely tuned on top of her
superior talent, picked up every whisper of paper, every scuttle of tiny feet, every
rustle of a wing. She didn’t have to see her quarry; she should be able to hear him,
as long as he didn’t suspect—

Halfway down, she stopped. Something wasn’t right. She turned her head,
tuning, homing—there it was! Someone breathing—

He broke from behind a dumpster and took off at a dead run, scattering rats and
garbage across the wet pavement. Even with Jenna’s enhanced reflexes, he had a
modest lead before she could take up the pursuit.

Block after block he led, dodging and darting to avoid her grasp. But she
wasn’t that eager for a fight. Not yet. She would wear him down a bit first. She
changed her breathing to maximize endurance and followed for a while, not
catching up but not falling back, either.

He showed some gumption, that was for sure. That, and training. She gave him
a little more room to test his evasion technique, and no surprise, he showed her
some tricks that she already knew, most likely picked up from the same instructor.
She lost view briefly, twice, but picked him up again just as she had the first time,
flushing him like quail from a thicket. No human could have picked him up, but
Jenna was no human; she was better. The deadly chase went on, block after block.
The man breathed in ragged gasps as desperation overtook him. A hand clutched at
his side. There was no way he was getting away again.

An angry flash came over her at the thought of the betrayal that put them both
in this situation, and Jenna put on a burst of speed. After three years, every
suspicion was confirmed. This was the man who’d tried to kill them. Time to play.
Drawing a telescoping baton from her pocket, she caught up to him as he tried
to duck down another alley. He spun with a snarl, a hand darting for his pocket.
She closed in before he could draw his pistol, and went to work with the baton.
Jenna broke his wrist with the first blow, and the second knocked him senseless.
Stabbing out with her free hand, she grabbed his shirt and hauled him down,
dragging him into the shadows.

He lay panting, whimpering in pain and fear as Jenna brought her face down
close to his and hissed, “Let’s talk about Tahiti, Hamet.”

His eyes shot wide, and he began to gibber in a Middle-Eastern tongue. She
placed a knee on his broken wrist. His complexion paled and he fell silent, teeth
clenched in agony. “In English. I know who you work for.”

“I didn’t know it was you,” he blurted, a grimace pasted on his features. “None
of us knew. We just had orders—” He moaned as a spasm gripped his broken arm.
She grabbed it and gave it a light twist. She was rewarded with a howl as the man
bucked off the pavement.

She shoved him back down, brandishing the baton in his face.
“Orders from whom?”

“You know as well as I.” He moaned. “You get orders. You follow them. You
don’t ask questions.”

“Is that right?” She snapped the baton down on his hand. A satisfying crunch
echoed off the wall, accompanied by a shriek which was cut off by her wadded up

It got worse before it got better. Jenna didn’t like that part of the job, but two
things drove her on: justice, and vengeance. Jenna had to find out why The
Pinnacle wanted one of their own dead, and Anna Spielberg deserved payback.
Now, after three years, she was damned well going to get it. Occasional shadows
drifted by the end of the alley, but at this hour and in this neighborhood, no one
was going to get involved.

Hamet was tougher than she gave him credit for. By the time she got the
information she wanted, there wasn’t much left of him. But the answers came.
They weren’t what she wanted to hear, but the truth needed to be told. When she
finally snapped his neck with a sharp twist from a rear naked choke, it felt anticlimactic.

The trail she’d followed on her own for the last three years had finally
come to its end. And with that end came the realization that Jenna had been trying
to avoid for longer than that. Not all was well with her employers.

There were divisions among the Council. Not on the surface, for outwardly
they still seemed to operate as united as ever in their cause for world peace. But
underneath the placid veneer were machinations and plots. Whispers of sabotage
and power plays chased each other through Jenna’s mind as she strode from the
alley and back up Seventh Avenue.

Somewhere in the power struggle, someone upline had made a mistake. They
issued a kill order on the wrong person, and not just because of who Anna was. Dr.
Spielberg had dedicated her life to the purpose of world peace. She saw it
happening within just a few more years. It wasn’t even that they tried to wipe out a
seven-year-old girl as well. Sofi was as harmless as they come, a sweet, shy little
thing with as much deadly potential as a pink frosted cupcake. Their worst mistake
was in messing with someone assigned to Jenna Paine’s protection.

As Jenna stalked away from the body, one thing hung in her mind: she would
find out who on the Council issued the kill order on Anna. And when she did, they
would face the full fury of a woman scorned.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Carpe Diem

 Greetings, fellow castaways.

Lately, doesn't it seem as though the world in general is becoming more miserable? Doesn't it look like Politics, News and  Social Media has devolved into a mire of agendas and bashing, of strife and turmoil? Just look at the kinds of posts you see on a daily basis. It's enough to make Marvin the Paranoid Android look downright peppy, in spite of the diodes down his left side.

In looking at the situation, (and touching on last week's post), I think many have lost track of their own story. Remember, Jesus told Peter to quit focusing on John's story and to just focus on his own

("What business is he of yours? You do what I'm telling you to do, and don't worry about John. So what if I make him live forever? It's not what I want you to concern yourself with.").

So now we have people who worry about how much money someone else is making and not about simply making their own ends meet, about how other governments treat their citizens and subjects while they themselves heap derision and insult on anyone who disagrees with their opinion or worldview, about what decisions parents make for their own children, and about how or wheteher a man may defend his home and family.

Of course, these folks know more than everyone else how much a man or woman shoudl be allowed to make for salary, and they're happy to share it with everyone else. They know how foreign governments (and our own) should be run, they know how to parent our children, and they of course know whether we deserve or need to own the means of defense for our homes. They know more about what other people in their neighborhood (or town/city) than they do about what happens in their own household. Doesn't that seem a little out of touch?

Rather than allow anyone to excel (and make someone else look/feel bad), they would rather take what the successful earn and give it to those they deem worthy or needing, "from each according to his ability to each according to his need"--Karl Marx. "No one gets a Cadillac until everyone owns a Prius."

I swear, some people just aren't happy unless they are offended at someone else. And we just let them drone on and on, and we all become less happy, more stressed, and more miserable because of it.

How about we all just back off and take a breath? I can see what you're all offended at. But may I ask what you've done about it other than spread some hateful Facebook Meme? Can you say that you've minded your own story at least once today? "What is 'my own story?' you may ask? What about the Greatest Commandment? "Love your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul and will, and love your neighbor like you love yourself." What about the Golden rule? "Treat others as you would have them treat you." What about what God requires of each of us? "Live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." Have you visited anyone in jail? Fed the homeless? Been a Big Brother to an orphan? I'd suggest that before you tell me how much I'm allowed to earn before you confiscate my wages, that you spend some time doing those things first.

Am I saying then that we should ignore injustice? That we should be passionate about nothing? God forbid! But we need to temper our passion with action, channel it to a constructive, not a destructive purpose. No man has ever been lifted up by tearing another man down. He only spreads misery. Lift up your friends, and even your enemies, and you lift yourself up as well. Honor every man more than yourself (by "man" I mean "mankind," not just the male of the species), and together we lift up and honor the whole, and become more honorable as a race. Can we do that?

One of the main themes of my series The NADIA Project is how we live our lives worrying about all the wrong things, failing to see what's right in front of us. What follows is an excerpt from Becoming NADIA that lays open the heart of the book (and you thought it was all about bullets and bodies, cases and conspiracies, didn't you? ;-) ).

I'll let you read it, and let that be my final statement on the matter. Let's all be about the business of our own stories, and let others work out their own.

Anyway, feel free to click the cover if you want to know more.

And enjoy the freebie.

Nadia walked north out of town on Hank's Lumber Road, skirting the upper lake on a
narrow, winding road that led up into the mountains around Klamath Falls. She breathed
deeply of the mountain air, refreshing her lungs as she stepped out, hands jammed in her
pockets. The aroma was clean, the air rich with life. She heard birds in the trees all around.
A bear snorted and shuffled across the road ahead, hardly giving her a second glance. A
gentle rain began to fall, and it wasn't long before Nadia began to feel the chill in her bones.

As she walked along, she wondered if the people who lived here appreciated the beauty
that surrounded them. She wondered if they woke up and simply went on with their lives,
not living each day to its fullest. How many people never heard the birdsongs in the trees,
never saw the sky painted with so many beautifully sad shades of watercolor gray? They
would call this dismal. They would write today off as dreary and depressing, and never
bother to look out their windows to see the beautiful, clear raindrops gathering like a million
tiny, silver-gilt diamonds on the leaves of the trees all around them. They wouldn't bother to
smell the clean scent of the air, feel the coolness in their lungs. How many never really
tasted the food they ate, or smelled the scent of the morning air in the mountains? How
many people never really felt the other people in their lives, never appreciated the love that
could be theirs? Deaf, numb, and blind, they existed only to exist. She took an extra deep
breath of cool, moist air and felt it cleanse her being. Breathing. They could start by being
thankful they could breathe, and enjoy every breath because it meant one more that they
could take.
How many more breaths would she be able to call hers?

Here, even so close to the end, she was thankful. Thankful for the few real friends with
whom she'd shared time and laughs, thankful for this short time that she'd been given. At
least she'd known friendship; she'd known love.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

If John Lives Forever

Greetings, fellow Castaways of Starship Earth.

Before reading on, I might recommend a glass of your favorite relaxant.

This world is full of grief, pain, and misery. Evil men in some places are going around hacking people to death in the streets. Others are killing their way across the country, killing woman, children and men alike for no other reason than that they desired to be free, to live in a place where they could determine their own destiny apart from a despotic tyranny set on ruling every aspect their lives. Children starve. People kill people. People kill animals. Did you know in India it's a common practice when a girl is born, to take her into the street and shove an unhusked rice kernel into her throat so she chokes to death?

My first point is, that anyone who wants to be offended by something only has to log in to Yahoo and read the headlines. And it seems that these days everyone is just begging to be offended. A company makes a corporate decision, and the world goes bonkers with rage, calling it "A War on Women." A cheerleader hunts, and people are screaming for her blood. Good people are enraged over injustices all over the world.

 Now, is it wrong to be offended by these horrible things going on? I might suggest not. "He has shown you, O man, what is good and what The Lord requires of you: To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your god." (Micah 6:8). But let me ask you if the responses flying around the internet are seriously warranted, or if the rage and vitriol everyone seems to be aiming around is a general over-reaction of a mob flogged up by a minority of trolls who are leaning back in their office chairs, laughing like fiends for all the trouble they are starting.

One thing I might suggest is that we all step back and take a breath before responding to what we may perceive as apparent injustice. One story that comes to mind is one where, after the Resurrection, Jesus was seen by the disciples as they went out one morning to fish.

Jesus took Peter off to the side and asked him, "Simon, Son of John, do you love me?" See, for the last three and a half years, he had called Simon by the name of Peter. But here, Jesus calls him by his given name. That was his way of getting Peter's attention: "Dude, stuff's gonna get real here."

After telling Peter what he expected of him from here on, Jesus gets up to leave. Peter notices John, "The disciple whom Jesus loved" hanging out and eavesdropping. So he asks, "Lord, what about him?" and here, Jesus says something  that stands out to me as key in today's world: "If I want John to live forever, what's it to you?"

In another passage, Paul tells us that each person needs to work out his salvation with God on a one-on-one basis. So your story is your story. What isn't your story, isn't your story.

Now I know it's easy to get worked up when we see news stories about the latest beheadings in Iraq, or when Congress can't get their stuff in one place. But look at this: What's your story, is your story. What's not your story, you need to drop and let go. You have enough stress as it is without worrying about something that's simply none of your business.

In other words, what you can do something about, do it. Give to humanitarian causes. Vote for the candidates you want in office without leveling accusations against men and women you don't know, based on information you're getting from paid trolls who just want to pour gasoline on a little coal to start a huge fire.

Honestly stop to pay attention to both sides of an issue. We used to do this when I was a kid. it's called listening to the other side, and giving them credit for having a stand as well, even if you don't agree. Usually, we found a good medium ground to stand together on, and we didn't forget our manners. It's all of our responsibility to get along with others in our culture.

Even if it means clamping our mouths shut for the time it takes to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Internet Civilization?

Greetings and salutations, fellow castaways, and thank you for your patience. I have now  graduated three out of the four offspring from our illustrious and tradition-rich high school, and all the shockwaves are settling down to a steady, rolling sea instead of rogue wave city. And now, it's about time I got back to work.

Chapter Thirteen of Tempus Fugitive has now succumbed to my fingers and aching brow, and I am now only one year and six months past my (self-imposed) deadline for preparing the manuscript for the submission process.

But that's not what I want to talk about this week.

Lately, I have heard a record level of vicious howling and screaming on the Web over two particular issues: Big Game Hunting, and Hobby Lobby.

I don't need to weigh in on my opinions of either here, as Facebook has heard about all I need to say on these two points. What I want to call everyone's attention to is the way the Internet seems to encourage rage-baiting. And let's face it, it's about time we all sat down and took a personal inventory.

Because most of us, if not all, see ourselves as perfectly reasonable people.We honestly can't see wen we've crossed the line into hysteria, even when those around us cringe and run away.

Let's all agree before I go on that a society must be civil within itself in order to survive. I didn't say we all had to agree on all the same points, I said we all need to be civil with each other. Without civility, there is no discourse. Without discourse, there can be no agreement. Without agreement, there is no peace.

Now, let's look at "agreement" as a word, because to some it may mean something different. The World Book Encyclopaedia Dictionary says this: "1. To have the same opinion or similar opinions. 2.  To be in harmony; to be consistent; correspond. 3. to get along well together. 4. to say that one is willing; assent; consent. 5.  to make a bargain; come to an understanding. 6. (In inflected languages) to have the same gender, number, case, person, etc."

Look at all those different definitions. No wonder everyone is spending so much time screaming and threatening each other. To have the same opinion is not necessarily to be in harmony, nor does it mean we have to share the same opinions in order to get along. Definition 5 says it means to come to an understanding. I like that one, so let's use that from here in in my house (to be meant "here on my blog") from here on. I don't have to share the same opinion as you in order for us both to understand each other.

What we need to do is stop accusing each other. A cheerleader goes to Africa and legally hunts big game, and she's called a murderer. The Supreme Court decides a law violates another law (previously signed by a president of the party who's doing the most screaming about it), and all of a sudden the entire country is a theocracy. Parents teach their children from the Bible, and are being accused of child abuse.

People everywhere are crying, "what's gone wrong with our country?" I might suggest that the relative anonymity of the internet is at least partly to blame. We can now hide behind the comfort of our computer screens and usernames, and we no longer have to be accountable for what we say. I'll tell you what, some of the things that have been said to me in the last six months would have bought someone a quick punch to the mouth if they'd been said in person. I can only turn my cheek so many times until I run out of cheeks, folks.

So what I'd like to do here is introduce (or re-introduce) a concept known as the Personal Inventory. A personal inventory is something that should be taken every time we're engaged in a discussion. What it does is help us to see when we (meaning "I") need to steer the discussion back to more civil ground. If you find yourself doing any of these, you are probably too angry to have a reasonable discussion, and you need to take immediate measures.

  1. ARE YOU TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TO GET YOUR POINT ACROSS? You're screaming at the other person. Stop it. The same goes for speaking in a raised voice. If your voice is raised above the level you would use to order a steak from your favorite server at your favorite restaurant, you need to back off and take a deep breath.
  2. Are you calling anyone else a name you wouldn't want to be called? Whether they are there to defend themselves or not, you are in the wrong on this.
  3. Did your last statement include a personal threat? "She ought to have that gun shoved up her *** and the trigger pulled" is a threat. You have no business saying that to anyone else, or about anyone else. If so, you have forfeited the right to call yourself "civilized." They make the DELETE key for sentences like that. Feel free to use it. If you feel you MUST write it out, write it on a Word Document and save it in your hard drive only until you shut down for the night, and then send it to your recycle bin.
  4. Did you just try to "mind read?" Here's my example: "Republicans hate women." Dude, get real. You aren't psychic enough to read every single Republican's mind and tell me with all honesty that all Republicans "hate" anything. The very statement in itself is idiotic and inflammatory. Did you seriously bother to ask any Republican if he or she hates women? I doubt it. "Democrats just want big government." That's another one too stupid to answer in one sitting. I don't know what every Democrat wants; I haven't asked them all. So don't tell me what I want, or who I hate, or what I'm for or against; I can tell you all of that myself.
  5. Did you just exaggerate to make your point? Really, did you just stretch the facts just a wee bit? Stop it.
Now, after your personal inventory, which you should be doing with every post you make, if you find yourself stepping over the Civil Line, then erase your comment, take a moment, and try again, only this time show your counterpart in the conversation who the better person is by the respect you give them and their point of view.

Who knows, maybe we can all start getting along again?