Last year my friend and mentor Howard Weinstein floated me a call for submissions for an anthology. Then untitled, it was to be published by Five Star Press, who published Howie’s excellent first Western novel, Galloway’s Gamble. The deadline was short, but it was a good opportunity. I dropped everything and wrote “Boxcar Knights,” a story set shortly after the civil war, in which two Confederate orphans hop a freight to go west in search of their fortunes. I love railroad stories, and I got to do a lot of cool research on hobo culture. I’ll never be able to listen to the folk song “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” the same way again.
Well, my drop-everything effort paid off. The story was very well-received by Senior Editor Tiffany Schofield. Within days, it was slated for publication in Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories, ably edited by Hazel Rumney. I had an overwhelmingly positive experience working with them, and now it’s shipping in glorious hardcover! Please buy a copy or ask your library to order a copy. And, once you’ve read it, review!
April 2, 2019
So much has happened in the last six weeks, it’s been hard to keep up. Mother was in the hospital… Jim Heller died… Christian got a car… Tax season hit…
I already talked about Jim. That was a blow, and really got me thinking about my career and what I want out of it. Still thinking, so I won’t say a lot about that.
Mother’s hospital visit and aftermath… I wrote about her homecoming already. Since she’s been home, things have been stable, but our lives have changed a bit. Mother’s more forgetful than she was before. A severe urinary tract infection can do that to someone who’s 92 years old. They affect the brain, sometimes permanently. Mother is very aware of her short-term memory loss, and very frustrated by it. She asked me the other day why she had lost the ability to focus on something like doing her taxes. “I always did our taxes,” she said. “Your Daddy never did. Why can’t I do them anymore? I try, and it just frustrates me. I get exhausted just looking at them.”
I explained to her that the human short-term memory is like a table. When you’re young, the tabletop is big enough to hold, say, three rows of five index cards. Everything you can write on those cards, you can think about, all at the same time. As we get older, the available space shrinks–the tabletop has to hold our pills and our eyeglasses and our hearing aids. And photos of our grandchildren and the parents we lost a few years ago. After a while, maybe there’s only room for three index cards, and that’s all you can think about at once. If it takes seven index cards worth of information to do your taxes, well, you don’t have space for that anymore. You need to put them on another table, namely someone else’s brain.Continue reading
March 6, 2019
A friend asked me recently, “You’re under a lot of stress, right? Like, all the time?”
I had to say, “Yes.”
I am under a lot of stress all the time. Maybe it’s been that way my whole life. Maybe I do it to myself. I used to ask Ethan, when he was little, “What’s the going rate on trouble?” To which he would respond with a blank look in his little, blue eyes. And then I would explain, “Because you’re borrowing a lot of it.”
My little future economist would not then ask me to explain usury, because, of course, he knew it inside-out by the age of two. He would, however, ask me what it meant to “borrow trouble.” It’s a high art form for a lot of us, imagining all that can go wrong, stressing over it, planning for how we’ll handle it. It’s the natural state of a lot of science fiction writers, of which group I am (quite) nominally a member. It can be a valuable skill, anticipating what could go wrong, so you can prevent it from doing so. It can also drive you batty.
I also used to tell Ethan the tale of the three Sillies, the fairy tale about the man who went out in the world to see if he could find three examples of people stupider than his fiance and future in-laws. The deal was that, if he found those three, he would marry into a family of idiots.Continue reading
He pulled the legs off crickets, just one per customer. The crickets would hop in circles, suffering.
He would torture, but not kill, a mouse; and he usually let it escape. We had maimed rodents in the walls.
He would sleep on top of books, because a book with a body on it was less likely to be picked up. A book not picked up was less likely to siphon attention away from him.
If a book was in active use, he bashed his head into its corner rhythmically, until threats of exile and violence ensued.Continue reading
October 17, 2019
You get that feeling that you’ve heard this story before…
Almost two years ago–shy five days–I posted that Lazarus (the scruffy, orange fellow pictured above) had liver cancer. And then he didn’t. He had pancreatitis. Still, we were told he was going to die. Soon. And then he didn’t.
Two days ago, we were once again told that Lazarus probably had liver cancer, and we began mourning all over again. And now he doesn’t have liver cancer. Honestly, I think the boy’s liver was a gift from Loki, or maybe Anansi. It likes to f**k with us.
I also think that I’ve found cause to deny Harlan Ellison’s claim that “Let me help” are the three most important words in the English language, even up against “I love you.” I think “It’s not cancer” are those words for me. This is not the first or the second time I’ve heard them, about a cat or a human, and their emotional impact simply cannot be described.Continue reading
At 1701 hours on September 26, my old friend Lewis G. Aide, West Point graduate, IT Wizard, Convention Magician and actual magician, first responder, senior center volunteer and NeighborRide driver, left this life.
And he left it better than he found it.
I met Lew in 1986, probably at a committee meeting for our Star Trek convention, ClipperCon. I don’t recall the exact circumstances or what we talked about. I know I first heard his name on a phone call with Marion McChesney. I was doing the con program book and needed to verify the spellings of all the staff and guest names. “Oh, there’s two people you haven’t even met yet,” she said. “They’ll get a kick out of being listed as committee members.” Marion played fast and loose with formalities. She had met these guys somewhere, and just decided they should join us. Lew Aide was taking over my old slot as “assistant film chairman,” also known as the poor schlub who threaded the 16 MM films and, more and more in those days, popped the VHS tapes in and out. Marc Lee was the other new “hire.” He was filling the new committee position of Being Marc Lee.Continue reading
February 21, 2019
It snowed yesterday, and pretty much everything shut down. I suppose, if you could plan a snowstorm, this one would count as being pretty well-planned. It started before rush hour, on a day just cold enough to keep the snow from melting. Roads had been salted, but snow accumulation out-paced the chemically induced melting, and my street, which is normally kept plowed clear throughout a storm, was snow-covered for most of the day. Because of the timing–we were expecting the snow as early as 1:00 in the morning–schools and offices had already decided to close the night before. And now, the day after, the roads are clear, and, at 36 degrees with an expected high of 51, the snow is melting.
I realize that having to close costs businesses money. Full-time employees still have to be paid, and no revenue is coming in. Howard County must lay out about 1.5 Million for those eight lost hours, but having the decision made and having it all over with in a day seems pretty low impact. Even the trash was picked up on time.
Of course, some people still have to go to work. The staff at Mother’s nursing care facility all came to work. All of my colleagues in the Fire service came to work. The Emergency Operations Center was activated for the County, and everyone who supported it was working. Also of course, having every location connected to the Internet, as we certainly do in Central Maryland, means you can go to work without going to work. I wound up working five hours yesterday. Were you able to work from home? I don’t recall you ever doing it while I was growing up. You had an office, and all manner of papers and equipment around, but I don’t recall you working.Continue reading
Dear Daddy —
I wrote this entry in a time of turmoil. Your house was suddenly ours. Mother was still in the nursing home. My employer was still settling into a new office building and adjusting to a new leader. There were frustrating family issues. As I publish this, a good friend is in the hospital, dying, there are still work frustrations and family frustrations. There are still bills that I’m trying to figure out how to pay. In all of this, a friend of mine wrote today, it might be best to “go full Vulcan.” That is, to turn off our feelings, like Mr. Spock could on Star Trek, and just make all the right intellectual choices. I think you would have considered that an attractive option. Well I wrote this response to you seven months ago, and I still think it stands.
February 20th, 2019
I remember you, red in the face, angry at me about something, demanding “What’s so damned wonderful about having feelings?” I was probably 15 or so. I didn’t know what to say at the time. Now I do.Continue reading
January 23, 2019
Dear Daddy —
We’ve come to a crossroads. Is that the right turn? Maybe it’s a fork? Anyway, we’ve decisively chosen a path.
The document begins, ” – Witnesseth – That for an in consideration of the sum…”
It continues on to say a lot of other things, including, “Beginning for the same at a nail now set in the center of a thirty-foot-wide right-of-way of the county road known as Simpson Road… “–a description of the landmarks and boundaries that define the 13 acres that you bought 53 years ago, we believe for sum of $18,000.
In short, it says that Renee and I, as of yesterday, own the house on Simpson Road, with Mother as holder of a life estate, meaning that she enjoys the use of the property until her death. Well, sometimes perhaps “enjoy” is too strong a word…Continue reading
January 2nd, 2019
Dear Daddy —
Our first full year without you has come to an end. 2018 was, well, an adventure, I suppose, as every year is. It’s become popular on social media to declare an entire year a “fail,” or an “epic fail,” meaning that that year is somehow cursed, and that either the population of the universe should be given another year to replace it (the logistics of this are not discussed), or that it should be wiped from the history books. Such declarations usually begin on about the 2nd of January. I’m sure, somewhere on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, someone has already deemed 2019 to be a dud which should be cast into the waste bin reserved for products that failed quality control testing.
Facebook, Twitter, Instragram… you probably don’t recognize those terms, although they were invented during your lifetime. You would have had no time for such foolishness. You also, I’m sure, never participated in water cooler conversations in the office. I’ve no doubt you considered water coolers unsanitary, to begin with–sharing water with all of those other people, whose mouths had been Heaven-knows-where doing Heaven-knows-what! I know you didn’t drink beer or whiskey with the rest of the boys on Tinian. Indeed, you gave all your allotment of whiskey to the flight crew–a year’s worth at one time–and they burned down a Quonset hut.Continue reading