New Year I suppose.

Looking back over the year just past always strikes me kind of like carving notches on your gun for each time you've been shot--you don't necessarily want to be reminded. Like Satchel Page, I think I'd rather look ahead. Of course this is tempered by the suspicion that while hope spring eternal, stupidity is forever.

The placement of New Years, at least in the West, is counterintuitive. Instead of walking out into the warmth and light of the new year the morning of 1 January, the door opens, a blast of cold air rolls in followed by the four horsemen in the shape of ice, snow, rain, and wet cats. Wouldn't it make a heck of a lot more sense to kick the year off on, say, Easter morning? It's sunny, warm, baseball season isn't that far away, and, best of all, there are bunnies! You got to admit as an opening sequence, Jesus' rising from the dead comes pretty close to equaling that of Star Wars IV: A New Hope.

I realize that our present New Years comes from the Romans. Their god Janus ushered it in looking both forward and backward. Now I ask you, would you really trust someone so two-faced? That was one of attractions of the Christians' God--he didn't kid you.

Moving New Years to the spring could even be seen as trying to meet the government halfway. After all, theirs starts 1 July.

Over the Fence

Speaking of baseball, from time to time, I'm going to include short pieces from Homer Smute, who bills himself as the world's oldest minor league baseball player. He lives in Virginia and plays Short Stop for the Fox Run Stump Busters in the Blue Ridge League (not to be confused with the two leagues that disbanded in 1930 and 1950).

Homer is one of the few people I know these days who communicate by letter. He has a child-like faith that if he addresses it correctly, puts a stamp on it, and puts the flag up on his mailbox, the U.S. Postal Service will safely deliver it to my door (so far, he seems to be right).

I figure the more he writes, the less I have to.


I remember my greeting from the Busters' manager, Bill Hoarwell, the first day I showed up. When the manager's first words to you are, "Don't unpack your bags," it ain't a good feeling.

Looking at major league scores (2-1, 1-0, 4-2) and minor league scores (8-0, 16-12, 14-2), consistency is not necessarily a minor league virtue.

Around the Busters, you don't tend to hear the same things you do around the majors when the subject of money comes up:

"Much much will I sign for? That depends."

"On what?"

"Whether the rehab works and what happens with the lawsuits. Drugs and alimony, palimony, and child support ain't cheap."

Oh for the problems of the majors.

Watching baseball on TV, I think I've got to the point where I prefer to watch a game between mid-level teams. There's no real pressure or players strutting around convinced of their value as deities (despite the fact many are complete losses as people) and you can settle in just for the game.

"Washington: first in war, first in peace, last in the American League." Well, the league changed anyway.

Fellow down in the Valley said he'd put our play-by-play online for us if we'd call it in to him during the game. But we couldn't get passed Miz Friddly and Miz Deal on the party-line.

Looking back over my record so far, the fact that my daddy named me "Homer" shows the perversity of the man. Him with second sight and all.

Catholic Writers Conference Online Provides Practical Help

World Wide Web--This year's Catholic Writers' Conference Online, which will be held February 26-March 5, 2010, will focus on the practical things the writer needs to succeed.

The conference is held via chats and forums at Sponsored by the Catholic Writers' Guild, the online conference is free of charge and open to writers of all levels who register between October 1, 2009 and February 15, 2010.

"We've always concentrated on workshops and chats that teach the writer skills or provide information in the areas of crafting, publishing and marketing their works, but this year, we're adding critique workshops and some incredible opportunities to pitch to leading publishers," said organizer Karina Fabian.

This year, publishers hearing pitches include well known Catholic publishers like Pauline, large publishers like Thomas Nelson, and smaller presses like White Rose. Thus far, eleven pitch sessions are scheduled, running the gamut from Christian romance to Catholic theology.

In a new program, at least fifty attendees will have the opportunity to have pieces of their work critiqued by successful editors and writers. In addition, there will be forum-based workshops and chat room presentations covering topics from dialogue to freelancing to how Catholic fiction differs from Christian fiction.

"Even in good economic times, it's hard for writers to attend live conferences," said Fabian, "but this year, we think it's even more important to help careers by utilizing an online format. We're so grateful that our presenters are willing to share their time and talent."

Early registration is recommended. Although the conference is offered free of charge, donations are accepted; proceeds will go toward future conferences. Non-Catholics may attend, as long as they respect Catholic beliefs and the conference's Catholic focus.

To register or for more information, go to

1 January 2010: Solemnity of Mary-Mother of God, Emancipation Proclamation takes effect in Confederate territory (though not in Federal) 1863, Ellis Island opens 1892, "Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring"- Germany 1934, Navy SEALs established 1962.

"New Hire"

This is what will probably be piece of a story I'll be working on in the future. It comes from an assignment I did for a workshop at the Muse Online 2009 writers' conference.

New Hire

O'Tool's bad leg ached with the morning fog. It was times like this he hated the plantation. He hated even more the thought of sitting behind the huge desk.

Wesa Ryan held out the first of many cups of tea the director would drink over the next twelve hours. The tall man nodded his thanks to the matronly secretary and limped into his office. His Assistant for Procurement, Mac, sat in a chair in front of O'Tool's desk with a reader. He popped to his feet with far more agility than was proper for a man of his gray hair. "Good morning, Colonel."

"Morning, Gunny." O'Tool placed his palm against the lock plate of his desk. The various systems embedded within its Bayern mahogany came to life as he seated himself. His glance swept the readouts and the holos hanging behind the gunny--nothing immediate required his attention. He leaned back in his high-backed chair and smiled up at Mac as the other waited at parade rest. "Well, Gunny, what have you got for me?"

The heavyset man returned the smile. "I've got a peach, sir."

"Oh? How so?"

Mac's smile widened to a grin. "He's the little man who wasn't there. You know, sir, the sort that disappears while you're looking straight at him."

O'Tool steepled his fingers. "Interesting. Does this paragon of invisibility have a name?"

"Sean Murphy, sir."

The director inclined his head as he mused, "A nondescript name for a nondescript person." He paused a moment, then asked, "Where did you find him?"

The older man pressed a button on the reader to link with his superior's system as he answered, "On Tara, sir. Doing his Imperial service in the Coast Guard."

"How did he come to your attention?"

"He was caught sneaking some equipment out of Marine Headquarters."

O'Tool squinted an eye at the other. "If he was caught, why are we interested in him?"

Mac chuckled. "It was his twenty-fourth trip, sir. Apparently, he and his mates were living a very high lifestyle. As I understand it, a case of the Commandant's scotch had vanished a couple of weeks before."

"And where is he now?"

Mac's grin was at full strength as he answered, "Outside sitting next to Mrs. Ryan's desk. You walked by him."

O'Tool looked at his assistant sharply. He realized he had only been aware of his secretary's presence in the outer office. He was a bit taken aback that he must have looked at Murphy without it registering. The director found it daunting as he considered himself a very observant man. He cleared his throat and smiled at Mac. "Alright, Gunny, please show Mr. Murphy in if you can find him."

Mac ushered in a small colorless man. It occurred to O'Tool that the man, with slight changes to his hair and skin, could be from practically anywhere in known space. With a little work around the eyes, he might even pass as Yamoto or Xenese.

The director stepped around his desk as much to have a closer look as to shake hands. "Mr. Murphy?"

Murphy's grasp was neither soft nor hard. He smiled slightly. "Sir?"

"Have a seat, Mr. Murphy. Do you know what we do here? What are your impressions?"

Murphy replied, "Well, sir, the sign at the road said this was a recycling center. I assume the materials recycled are rather valuable considering the reinforced guard shack and the two bunkers sited in the edge of the forest covering it."

O'Tool regarded him with growing respect. "You noticed them, did you?"

Murphy nodded. "Yes, sir. I saw a man moving through the trees suddenly disappear. That gave me one. I figured if there was one, there mostly likely was a second on the other side of the road."

The director shot a look at Mac. The elderly man had that expression that promised someone over at security a fanny-wapping.

Murphy continued, "I also found interesting the faint sound of small arms fire to the north and the scent of burning vehicles on the breeze from the east."

"What exactly did you do in the Coast Guard, Mr. Murphy?"

"Contraband search, sir. I was aboard the Point Comfort."

O'Tool nodded. "You were a 'ferret.'"

There was neither pride nor shame as he answered matter-of-factly, "Yes, sir, I was the boarding party's 'ferret.'"

O'Tool was unable to place Murphy's accent. "Tell me, Mr. Murphy, what planet did you grow up on?"

"Actually, sir, we moved around a lot."

The director raised an eyebrow. "Military?"

Murphy shook his head. "No, sir. My daddy was in construction."

O'Tool was struck by Murphy's choice of words; not his "father" or "papa" or "da"--but his "daddy." He decided he looked forward to reading the background file on Mr. Murphy. He turned to to Mac. "Gunny, please escort Mr. Murphy to intake and start his processing."

He drained his cup of its tea and buzzed for a second as his door closed. Pulling the right lower drawer out, O'Tool eased his leg onto it and absent-mindedly cursed the Xenese sniper for the umpteenth time. He settled back and called up Murphy's dossier with a feeling of satisfaction.

29 December 2009: Feast of St. Thomas Becket, USS Constitution takes HMS Java off Brazil 1812, Texas statehood 1845, Irish Free State becomes Ireland 1937, Vaclav Havel first president of Czechoslovakia after Warsaw Pact collapse 1989.

Christmas y'all!

It's Christmas Day--not Winter Holiday Day, or Sparkle Season Day, or even Big Bunches Sales Day. No, this is Christmas Day. And I expect folks to wish me a Merry Christmas as I wish others a Happy Chanukah, Happy Solstice, or a Happy Tet on their proper days.

For those of us who profess to follow the Prince of Peace, aka: Jesus, the Son of God, this day commemorates His birth in Bethlehem in the Roman province of Judea somewhere around 4 BC. Doing the counting from the dates given in the New Testament, I get His birthday as falling around March/April. My reaction to this? So what? My math may be off, possibly (but pretty unlikely) a scribe dropped a VII somewhere along the way--decimals being a little uncommon in the Roman Empire except when punishing legionaries--but what the hey? The main point is He got born. That the Church picked the same day as the Saturnalia to celebrate probably drove the Roman officials straight up the wall, leads to the charitable thought: "Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch."

So here we are. We're Christians. we're in your face, and our hands are raised to bless you on this, the birthday of our CO!

Now, Mass is over, the tree is lit, the presents have been exchanged ("Oh, yeah, Honey. An electric earwax melter is just what I was hoping for...just out of curiosity, is the receipt still laying around here somewhere?"), and George C. Scott is scaring the bejabbers out of Bob Cratchit. It's Dr. Pepper time! Oh, alright. Please pass the eggnog, then.

And remember, there are those out there who are cold, hungry, and lonely. If you're really a Christian, do something to make it better.

Signal to Task Force: Formation Foxtrot 4--Engage!

25 December 2009: Christmas Day for Western Church, and I'm not going to get into the stupidities that humans have committed on this day through history. After all, it's Christmas y'all.

On Dating in the Empire and the Writer's Predictability Habit

Marine Corps Schools

Apergis Barracks


Dear Tango,

Dating is a problem in the Empire and throughout known space. As you can see in lesson 2, no one has a good handle on how much time has passed since man first left Earth and the present. It is known that this took place in the 21st century by Earth reckoning. But, along with the loss of the location of Earth amidst "The Collapse," no one can agree how many years have passed since.

Each culture keeps its own calendar and counts time from a different point. In the Imperial Forces, dating is set by Tara, but each man and woman is allowed to add the date according to their people. This is a small consideration, but it brings home to us that, while we are servants of the Empire, the Empire is made up of our peoples.

As an example (let me call up the calendar), the date here at Apergis Barracks is 349 I.D./532 B.D. This stands for the two-hundred-and-forty-ninth year since the founding of the Empire (Imperial date) and the five-hundred-and thirty-second year since Royal dating began on Bayern with the ascension of Erwin I as King of all the Bayern at the Battle of the Mead Meadow. Now for my bunkie, Ikati, it's 349 I.D/221 Z.D. Bantu when they came into the Empire had a small problem. "B.D." was already taken by the Bayern. It was agreed in council that Bantu would use "Z.D."--Zulu Date. Ikati has remarked that it might have been simpler to blow up Bayern. I'm not sure how they set their date, I'll ask him. He says, "The Bantu date from the "Washing of the Spears" at Hondehok Knop and to please leave [him] the [Hades] alone, he's having enough trouble concentrating on a logistics assignment without answering my [dang] fool questions!" Me thinks we will have to take a break and frog-march said gentleman over to the geedunk shop. Sounds like his Dr. Pepper levels have dropped to a dangerous point.

I hope I've helped you understand the dating problem. Rest assured, it confuses us quite regularly and we live with it!


The Writer's Predictability Habit

There are a number of writers I love to read for their characterization and "McGuffins," but, Lordy, the way their plot sequence runs drives me up the wall. Mostly, these are mystery writers. After a couple of their series books, I know for a fact that the hero will get his lights punched out at the top of page 78. How do I know this? Am I a seer, a prophet (looking at my bank balance, it's cinch profit ain't involved)? Nope. The author had his/her/its hero get his lights punched out at the same place in the last four volumes. (I'm not sure why, but this seems to only happen to male protagonists.) After a while, one starts to get the suspicion that the author is using an algorithm to churn these things out--basically just filling in the blanks for "villain," "place," and "love interest" and hitting "run" (or "enter" if you wish).

I can immediately think of four writers who do this. It doesn't seem to matter whether the author is male of female (that's going by the names--which really doesn't mean a dang thing), their guy suddenly gets punched in the jaw or stomach or hit over the head (oddly, never in the 'goodies"--that would really take him out!) at the top of page 78. He wakes up sometime later and the whatzit is gone. Even though he has a concussion, he immediately pitches back into the investigation with only a sore whatever. Humphrey Bogart could do this in "The Maltese Falcon" and "Across the Pacific" but you got the idea he was one tough hombre and, even then, he wasn't hitting on a couple of cylinders for a while.

One of the things that made Tony Hillerman, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, and Dorthy Sayers great was you never saw it coming.

As a writer, we should at least try to mix it up a bit. I realize a lot of mainstream publishers don't seem to care about repetition at the moment, but you should. If nothing else, it shows you respect your readers.

Okay, end of sermon. Now, who brought the popcorn and potato chips?

DVDs for Christmas (Note to FTC: I bought this dang DVD myself!)

Walt Disney's Classic Cartoon Favorites volume 9: Classic Holiday Stories. Disney. 58 minutes.

Just when you're up to your fanny in plastic Santas, reindeer, and Sugar Plum Fairies, a cartoon shows up about the "reason for the season." (No, not a solar-powered bun warmer for Aunt Myrtle!--who let this clown in? I told you we need to get that screen door fixed.) In this case, the cartoon is Disney's "The Small One." This is the story of a boy and the donkey who carried the Virgin to Bethlehem--and I absolutely refuse to mist-up over it, do you hear? Blast! Where did I put those tissues?

Ahem. Also on the DVD is "Pluto's Christmas Tree" and "Mickey's Christmas Carol." The first is one of the best Pluto cartoons (Chip and Dale don't hurt) and the second is fun, though Uncle Scrooge does lack a bit of George C. Scott's depth.

22 December 2009: Feast of St. Zeno, Winter Solstice, Savannah captured by Gen. Sherman 1864, Gen. McAuliffe in Bastogne tells surrounding Germans "Nuts!" 1944, first flight of Lockheed "Skunk Works" SR-71 Blackbird 1964, Brandenburg Gate reopens in Berlin 1989.

Lessons from the Muse Online: Part 4

The following is the fourth assignment for the World Building workshop at the Muse Online writers' conference:


Apergis Barracks


Officer Candidate Gunnery Sergeant Lew Diamond Puller

Assignment 56A

The officer candidate shall give a short explanation of languages and their usages within the empire.

A number of major languages are currently in use within the Erin Empire.

The standard language of inter-system trade, government, and military coordination is Imperial Standard. The present thinking on the origins of Standard is that it was a development of either American or English, two early languages. At the moment, there is great disagreement over which of these languages is the true root (several academic duels are fought each semester with occasional loss of life in addition to maiming over this subject. Conrad of Bad tolz being the most famous because of his defense of the proposition that, at one time, the two languages formed a single unitary language he called "Canadian"). Until a few years ago, it was the fashion to include High Brazos' Texican within this family. There is at present a symposium in Blood Rivier on Bantu headed by Dr. Shaka Retief to settle which of these two root languages is included in addition to Zulu and Afrikaans that make the creole that is Bantu. The form of standard normally spoken on Tara is sometimes hard for offworlders to understand and between representatives of remote regions of the capital planet, Imperial Standard is used as a trade language.

On Yamato, a form of Nipponese is spoken and a semi-pictographic written language is used. There are certain similarities between the written Nipponese and the Xenese used by the CPM. There is aslow shift from the pictographic to an alpha-numeric written language in motion among the younger Yamato. a new fad for a mixture of Nipponese and Standard called "Yamard" is fashionable in Eto.

The Bayern of course speak Bayern. Here also is argument among language scholars. The two sides maintain Bayern is an outgrowth of one of two ancient languages: Bavarian or German. Conrad of Bad Tolz refused to involve himself in the discussion as he believed that the matter was trivial when compared to his thoughts on "Canadian."

As a note, next term, I will begin instruction in Arkmese in preparation for my possible posting to that planet. This will, of course, depend on the course of the insurgency referred to as the "Nipo rising."

DVDs for Christmas (Note to FTC: I bought this dang DVD myself!)

Dr. SEUSS' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (staring Boris Karloff) and Horton Hears a Who! Warner. 26 minutes each.

I ran into the Grinch back in fourth grade. Our school library had a bunch of these slightly off-center works of Dr. Suess (aka: Therodor Suess Geisel) and many of us were scarred for life. As it happens, the Grinch was the first of his books I read. Rather than Santa and plastic reindeer, it posulated the subversive idea that Christmas isn't a matter of getting, but giving of oneself. When you think of it, it's a story of conversion sparked by the Grinch witnessing the whos' living their faith. Instead of the unfortunately common plot of the sinner realizes his mistakes and imediately begins to preach the good news, the Grinch quietly joins and is accepted by the whos. Dr. Suess was a good writer because he could be subtle.

When How the Grinch Stole Christmas appeared on TV in 1966, Boris Karloff not only narrated but was apparently the model for the Grinch's facial expressions. When the green one gets his wonderful, horrible idea, it's purest Karloff (think Dr. Scarabus in the 1963 movie The Raven). As he carves the roast beast with his new friends the whos, the Grinch smiles beatificaly (no one could smile as saintly as Karloff--also think Dr. Scarabus).

This is the true Grinch. On the same DVD is Horton Hears a Who. And the joy is Jim Carrey--who the heck is Jim Carrey?

18 December 2009: Feast of St. Winebald of Wessex, Hannibal wins Battle of the Trebia - Second Punic War 218 BC, Mayflower lands 1620, Piltdown Man found 1912, Operation Linebacker II 1972.

Lessons from the Muse Online: Part 3

This is results of the third assignment from the World Building workshop from the Muse Online writers' conference:

Arkm is an Earth-type planet orbiting Cogswell's Star (Type G0--coordinates: 231.4 X, 354.2 Y, 127.9 Z). As Arkm's orbit is to the outer edge of the star's habitable zone, the climate tends toward the cold. Of special note to Spacers and ground forces, Cogswell's Star is rather active in production of charged particles and, thus, frequently interferes with electro-magnetic communications in the RF band.

Cogswell's Star was first surveyed eighty-five years ago by the Bayern survey vessel Alfred L. Wegener. Arkm's existence was noted but as it was on the far side of its orbit was not closely studied. Thirty-three years later, the fact that Arkm was inhabited was discovered by the ore-carrier Tau Ceti Maru when it picked up spark-gap signals while passing near the system.

A full planetary survey was completed by an Imperial Erin Naval Survey party from the destroyer Todd Beamer (a Hero class FRAM I) a few months after Tau Ceti Maru's report (see section 41.3 of Admiralty Court Reward Proceedings). It was found that Arkm has rich deposits of Tantalum in easily mined areas. Arkm was opened to exploitation ten years later with the first Imperial Covenant to Combine Metals, I.C. of Tara. Since then, two other mining concerns have been awarded covenants: Rujio Metals and Smelting, I.C. of Yamato and KwaZulu Mining and Production, I.C. of Bantu.

Because there is no planet-wide government, Arkm is a Class III Imperial Protectorate and is administered through the Imperial Ministry for Colonies headed by Prince Ewald von Bayerlan-Wurzburg (Bayern).

To date, it has been impossible to discover the origin-group of the original settlers of Arkm. The most commonly spoken languages appear to belong to the Urdic family, though shot through with features of the Romance family.

The main religion is a form of goddess worship having no set hierarchical structure. A notable feature is the belief that a sacred flame must be kept burning at all times in villages and towns. (Note to Imperial Forces: The Arkmese believe that when killed in combat, the soul of the fighter becomes a lover of the goddess. A second belief that keys into this is that the soul can ascend only as long as the sacred fire is burning. To make themselves more appealing to the goddess, fighters smear themselves with a strong smelling spice also used in cooking.) There is some mission effort under way by several faiths.

Recent developments:

The Imperial Erin destroyer Kevin Barry (a Hero class FRAM II) is presently on station in orbit around Arkm with a Platoon Landing Force of Imperial Marines. Presently dirt-side because of the Nipo rising is one battalion of Bayern Fallschirmjagers, a regiment of High Brazos cavalry (both mounted and vehicular), Imperial Marine and Naval Air Groups at NAS Bad Water, and a company of Imperial Marines as Governor-General's Guard at Quigali.

DVDs for Christmas (Note to FTC: I bought this dang DVD myself!)

The Nutcracker (staring Mikhail Baryshnikov). Kultur. 78 minutes.

On Christmas eve, visions of sugar plum fairies dance in my head (which probably explains why I tend to wake up the next morning feeling a little less than Christmasy until the second glass of Dr. Pepper). I put this down to all the lousy versions I've suffered through in my young, innocent years of The Nutcracker (contrary to Jeff Foxworthy, this is not something you do off the high-dive--I only wish it were).

When CBS first broadcast Baryshnikov's version of The Nutcracker in 1977 (it moved to PBS later), I didn't expect a whole lot. The production knocked my socks off! The guy was one heck of a dancer and actor as was Gelsey Kirkland as Clara. Unlike many, Kirkland's Clara looks like a kid (a rather tall kid admittedly--but a kid). Alexander Minz as her Uncle Drosselmeyer, the inventor/sorcerer, is one spooky dude. And best of all, there ain't a fairy in sight!

Our copy was my daughter's Christmas gift years ago. This the one to have (though Maurice Sendak's 1983 version is interesting).

15 December 2009: Feast of St. Mary Di Rosa of Brescia, Belisarius defeats Vandals at Ticameron 533, U.S. Bill of Rights ratified by Virginia and becomes law 1791, Battle of Nashville 1864, Battle of Mt. Austen - Guadalcanal 1942.

Lessons from the Muse Online: Part 2

This is the results of the second assignment in the World Building workshop at the Muse Online writers' conference. We were to set down the rules around which we built our settings.
In my writing universe, there are a set of rules to which the story happenings and setting must conform:

1. Humans exploded out from earth with the discovery of relatively inexpensive star flight sometime after the mid 21st century. Most of the history of this time was lost during "The Collapse," thought roughly to be in the hundred years after. A number of Earth-type worlds were settled by various national and ethnic groups searching for "living space" in which to build their ideal societies. As with most things involving humans, matters tended to go in directions unforeseen by the majority. Things fell apart.

Dawn came some decades/centuries/millennia later (academics have been killed in arguments about the timing). Eventually, power blocks arose once more. Imperial Erin is one of these.

2. Most of the action takes place within the Erin Empire. The capital planet is Tara. Among the member planets mentioned so far in the cycle are Bayern, High Brazos, Yamoto, Bantu, and Arkm.

3. The technology available to the empire includes star flight, interstellar communication, and that expected in the near term. I have refrained from explaining the inner workings of the technology because the knowledge isn't germane to the characters' lives (does one really think about where the electricity comes from when one flips a light switch in the middle of the night?--besides, most of the stories that try this tend to have high MEGO factors [see below]). All they care about normally is that the Navy gets them between star systems and the "signal floozies" aboard ship keep them in contact with their respective headquarters. How the Spacers do this is their problem.

In Part 3, I'll talk about the history of Arkm and its people (what there is known of it).

MEGO: My Eyes Glaze Over

Words of Wisdom from Gunny Fluellen

Boot: "Why the enemy is loud; you hear him all night."

Gunny: "If the enemy is an ass, and a fool, and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass, and a fool, and a prating coxcomb,--in your own conscience, now?"

King Henry V
Act IV, scene I
William Shakespeare (I'm not sure whether he went through Parris Island or San Diego.)

Catholic Writers Conference Online 2010

The Catholic Writers Guild will be hosting a free online writers conference from 26 February to 5 March 2010. Last year's was truly excellent. It is a combination of chats with authors and editors, workshops on various facets in writing, and the opportunity to pitch the project you've been beavering away on to representatives from a number of Catholic publishing houses. While the conference is Catholic, others of good will are welcome (last year Frank Creed--author of the Underground series and the role playing game Flashpoint and a Protestant gentleman--lit a fire under my writing with his workshop). As a certain gunnery sergeant I used to know said, "The only way you can beat free is if they pay you." (Sorry, we're too broke to do that.) Here's the link:

Hope to see you there!

DVDs for Christmas (Note to FTC: I bought this dang DVD myself!)

A Christmas Carol (staring George C. Scott). Fox. 100 minutes.

If your DVD collection includes the Alastair Sim version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1951), you have good taste. If you also have George C. Scott's version (1984), you have good taste indeed. Though made twenty-five years ago, Scott's performance is still striking. His Ebenezer Scrooge is a deadly serious Type-A executive. He takes the "Christmas--bah, humbug!" line and delivers a chill with a contemptuous laugh and "Christmas...humbug." to his nephew, Fred. Scott is powerful but controlled and makes his conversion at the end believable and satisfying.

If you have neither, get this one first!

Report from the Front:

Tuesday night, I witnessed the broadcast of what around here will be a family Christmas classic. This was the ABC broadcast of Disney's "Prep & Landing."

It is the story of the covert force of elves landed ahead of Santa's visits to clear and prep the LZ. Obviously, these guys are some unknown detachment of Force Recon. Just as obviously, Santa is an aviator. His COD--I mean sleigh--even uses an arrestor system. You can almost smell the JP4 around the reindeer team. I know these guys.

It didn't hurt that ABC ran the animation right after "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

Major Note on "A Charlie Brown Christmas" broadcast:

An open letter from Leon to ABC on their broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was put up over at Dork Tower this morning. I admit I came in on the tail-end of "Charlie Brown," so I can't say one way or the other, but I trust the guys at Dork Tower so here's the link:

11 December 2009: Feast of St. Barsabas of Persia, tomorrow is the first day of Chanukah, Byzatine Emperor Nikephoros II assasinated by wife and her lover - later Emperor John I Tzimiskes 969, Llywelyn, last Welsh prince killed 1282, King Edward VIII abdicates 1936, Germany and Italy declare war on U.S. 1941.

Lessons from the Muse Online: Part 1

I attended the 2009 Muse Online Writers Conference this Fall. This is part 1 of the work I did for the workshop "World Building in Science Fiction and Fantasy." We started off with a Q & A in which we had to ask ourselves a series of questions to help us develop our settings.

Q. You're writing about the military mostly from the view from the grunt up to the battalion commander (usually a major or light colonel). Why?

A. That's the level I have the most experience with.

Q. Are you writing about armies?

A. No, smaller types of organizations. so far, Fallschirmjagers (drop-troops or future paratroopers who drop from orbit) from Bayern, horse cavalry from High Brazos, Imperial Erin Marines, and the crew of an Imperial Erin destroyer.

Q. Why smaller groups?

A. Camaraderie is usually higher and 'characters" are more likely to end up in such units ("You're asking this of a man who leaves a perfectly good spacecraft to drop from orbit in an egg just so people can shoot at him?").

Q. What kind of situation could a series of short stories be written about?

A. Insurgency tends to be best written about in small chunks, invasions often need a novella, and campaigns require a book. The bigger the operation, the larger the canvas.

Q. What sort of POV?

A. Probably 3rd person limited is best. If you go for 1st person, your narrator has to be everywhere action is taking place. Besides, with 3rd limited, you can occasionally (very occasionally) do a little head-hopping--It's always fun to look at the problems the guy on the other side of the hill is having.

Q. Who's the good guy?

A. That depends on the situation. Normal people tend to think of themselves as the "good guy" (George McDonald Fraser's Harry Flashman doesn't count). It's my job as the writer to limn the characters and their actions in such away that the reader can understand them.

Q. how close to real life can you fly without people reading into the situations and characters commentary you don't intend?

A. as I'm writing about a counterinsurgency, I figure I should make the setting as different from the settings of those going on in the real world as possible.

In my stories, "Words of Rust," "Electronic Propagation," and "Marine Diplomacy," Arkm is described as an "ice world" or "ice ball." In the area my stories are set, the terrain is mostly low-relief. The only heights that have shown up are a dormant shield volcano. As the stories are told from the view point of soldiers fighting an insurgency, the actual science of the planetology hasn't really come up. I see it mostly in this case as something I have to be aware of so nothing jarring jumps up and smacks the reader.

One of my reasons for Arkm's climate and geomorphology was, because I am writing about a counterinsurgency, I wanted to disconnect the stories from things going on at present as much as possible. Because of the subject matter, there will be commonalities. Soldiers have been pretty much the same for the last 8,000 plus years. By definition, insurgency-counterinsurgency has features that don't change (otherwise, it would be some other form of mutual mayhem).

I'll develop Arkm more in part 2.

Review (Note to FTC: I bought this dang book myself!)

Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay. by Don Rickey, Jr. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

I've always been a sucker for John Ford's cavalry trilogy: "Fort Apache (1948)," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)," and "Rio Grande (1950)." While the cavalrymen were a little better matched in their uniforms when out on patrol (I believe it was Remington who remarked that no two were dressed alike normally), they gave the "right" impression of the soldier's lot--dirt, sweat, exhaustion, and the chance to die in a nameless little clash.

Don Rickey, Jr.'s Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay looks at the life of the frontier Regulars from 1865 to the mid 1890s. Unlike many books on this subject and period, it concentrates on the enlisted man's experience. Officers, of course, appear throughout, but it is their interaction with the man in the ranks. The book begins with the enlistment and, almost immediately, one learns what anyone who's been around the military knows, there are the regulations and there is the way things actually work as the recruiter works his magic.

The soldier was often hungry and a look at his diet--dry bread, black coffee, salt beef, (if he was lucky) beans, and hard tack (this was a hard, heavy, plastic-like cracker allegedly made from wheat--men have been known to be killed when hit by a thrown one)--lend convincing proof that our ancestors were a hardy lot. When combined with the knowledge that a private made a princely $13 per month, the fact that the enlistees looked upon such a life as an improvement over that of a civilian is frightening. After reading this section, one may never look upon MREs the same way again.

One also learns of a Sixth Cavalry captain's three lights of the morning--peep o'day, break o'day, and broad daylight, that the first sergeant would be wise to quickly give Private Waller the password at night at 1889's Fort Sill, that General Sheridan knew the difference between Buffalo Bill and buffalo chips, and that rifle cartridges and carbine cartridges could be mixed up to the amusement of all present.

The book finishes with a look at what happened to the survivors after they mustered out.

Shot through Rickey's account is death waiting for its chance, whether through accident, stupidity, sickness, bad water, worse food, heat, cold, homicide, ennui, the unexplained, and, occasionally, action by hostiles.

Read Robert Utley's Frontier Regulars for the campaigns, S.L.A. Marshall's The Crimsoned Prairie for the battles, and Rickey for the soldiers' lives.

DVDs for Christmas (Note to FTC: I bought this dang DVD myself!)

The Birth of Christ: A Christmas Cantata by Andrew T. Miller. Sony Classical. 85 minutes.

On the night of 18 August 2006 in Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral, the Catholic and Protestant choirs used by Handel to premiere his Messiah in 1742 combined to perform the premiere of Andrew T. Miller's The Birth of Christ: A Christmas Cantata. Narrated by Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Liam Neeson, this is a relatively new Christmas classic. There is also a CD (to which I'm listening as I write this) available. Definitely good stuff.

8 December 2009: Feast of St. Romaric, Pope Pius IX proclaims Immaculate Conception as dogma 1854, Battle of the Falklands 1914, Japanese invade Hong Kong 1941, U.S.S.R. dissolved and Commonwealth of Independent States established 1991.

Of "Chained Dogs" and females.

Here is another chunk of Chained Dogs.


My father, Dr. Wilhelm Kluge, died in a traffic accident in the American city of Phoenix while on his way to take part in a study of dark matter at the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) at Mount Graham in the southeastern part of the State of Arizona.

Among his papers was found the following story. It speaks of a short period during Germany's war in North Africa. My father, like many veterans rarely spoke of his experiences in World War II. The most that he shared with us, his wife and children, were a few happy, often comic, interludes.

Reading the story while going through his papers, I found the answer to a few questions raised in the mind of the family by some of his actions. One was why my father named our older brother "Conrad," a name that appears on neither side of the family. A second was why he occasionally used phrases and terms more usual in Upper Bavaria. A third was his habit of going to Munich's Catholic Cathedral, the Frauenkirche, each Friday to light a candle though a confirmed Lutheran. And, fourth, his amassing a large collection of English and American books between the end of the war and his death that had nothing to do with his profession.

My father's writing was clear and crisp. I have had to make very few editorial changes. Thus, it speaks with his voice.

I am indebted to my Canadian wife, Sally, for help with the translation of his story from German to English. If there are mistakes in the manuscript, they are wholly mine.

Manfred Paul Kluge
Munich: 24 December 2008

Is the female of the species, Homo sapiens sapiens, a mammalian ectotherm?

It has come to my attention during the well over half a century I have been observing (including the thirty-four years of my marriage) that the female of our species is apparently a form of mammalian ectotherm [see below]. Through the period of observation, the women in my life have generally complained of low-temperature environmental effects at any temperature below 32 degrees C (90 degrees F). The affect of these declarations is the adjustment of thermal controls to a temperature level incompatable to comfortable survival for the male of the species. This leads to any number of coping strategies such as standing on porches in sub-zero weather for purposes of thermal regulation rather than more normal activities of smoking a really good cigar, or removal of outer coverings to achieve the same outcomes (which explains why, as usual, the writer is sitting in his skivies as he types this).

Professor Jeffrey M. Foxworthy has this noted this, to females, common feature. In his academic work, he points out that ice cold feet in the small of the back at oh-dark-thirty is the norm. He further reported that the men observed sitting in statiums in freezing temperatures stripped to the waist are not, as commonly thought, drunk. Rather they are escorts of significant others who have stripped them of their clothing because "I'm cold."

All this leads to the possible explanation that the female Homo sapiens sapiens is indeed an ectotherm and, thus, unable to regulate her internal temperature. Rather than controlling her internal temperatures, she instead controls her climatic environment, often to the detriment of the males of the species in the immediate area.

Note: An ectotherm is an animal that is unable to regulate its internal temperature independant of its environment. An endotherm such as the male of Homo sapiens sapiens regulates its internal temperature independant of the environment.

4 December 2009: Feast of St. Osmund of Salisbury, Crusaders capture Sidon 1110, Suttee outlawed by Raj 1829, Mary Celeste found abandoned 1872, Marine Raider Long Patrol - Guadalcanal 1942.

Sweetening the pot (okay, baiting the hook).

From time to time, I'll be posting bits and pieces of works in progress. This one is from Chained Dogs:

On Heinzelmannchen

The Heinzelmannchen is a house spirit that oversees such things as household and barn cats properly controlling the local mouse population, the farm 's dogs keeping rabbits out of the garden and protecting the chicken coop, and keeping matches out of the hands of children. He is generally described as a small, fat man with brown or gray hair and may or may not have a beard. He accomplishes large amounts of work without appearing to seriously labor. He is generally friendly and very fond of beer (as one folklorist from Potsdam put it, "He's a damned Bavarian!"). He is one of the few such creatures to marry. The Heinzelfrau is a buxom female version of her spouse. Interestingly neither the Catholic nor Protestant Churches have taken a stand on the Heinzelmannchen.

Dr. Wolfgang Adalbert Murtz. Folklore of the Germanys: An exploration in rural belief. trans. Maria von Kurtz-Gunther. Munich: University Press, 1954. 397-398.

A number of characters in the Conrad Ritter cycle, of which Chained Dogs is a part, describe the sleuth from Upper Bavaria as a "Heinzelmannchen." (In my own case, a number of people, who should know better, have also referred to me as such.)

Review: (Note to FTC: I bought my own dang copy!)

Quest for Kim. Peter Hopkirk. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Peter Hopkirk is one of the premier writers on the Great Game during the period of the Raj. For those unacquainted with this subject, this was the period roughly between 1830 and 1914 when Great Britain worried about Czarist Russia's encroachment on Central Asia. The fear that kept the lights burning late in White Hall and Simla (in the dry season) and Calcutta (in the rainy season) was that Russia would conquer Central Asia (the "Stans"), then conquer Afghanistan, build a railroad across them, and invade British India. The Great Game was the term for the intelligence war (a lukewarm one) played by both sides.

In his book, Quest for Kim, Hopkirk attempts to follow the path of Kipling's beloved hero ("protagonist" is much too weak a word for this adolescent) as depicted in Kim. He finds that while somethings, such as the people and the countryside are much the same, others such as the railroads and telecommunications have changed greatly. As a small example, in Lahore the gun, Zam-Zammah, on which we first meet Kim is still on its pedestal across from the "Wonder House," as the museum was called in the vernacular, to which Kim and the lama go (the lama to view the art treasures and Kim to eavesdrop). A fragment of the horse market where Kim takes the lama to meet Mahbub Ali, the Afghan horse dealer and master spy, still exists. On the other hand, Hopkirk discovers, in Pakistan, no one from president (or general) down to station master knows when the train leaves for the border or even if one runs there at all. Only one man in Lahore actually knows--the single ticket seller. This worthy is also able to tell Hopkirk why the phones in 1995 only ring but never answer in the Lahore railroad station--the phone bill wasn't paid by the railroad (a part of government) so service was turned off by the telecommunications system (also part of the government).

Quest for Kim is a wonderful mix of travel writing, history, and geography laced through with Hopkirk's general good humor. This is one Englishman who joins the mad dogs out in the noonday sun and provides great entertainment.

1 December 2009: Feast of St. Edmund Campion, actual bear Winnie the Pooh was named after by Milne donated to London Zoo 1919, opening day for Tundra Swan east of I 95 & south of Prince William/Stafford County lines.

When good vegetarians turn bad.

Being a connoisseur (stress on "sewer") of giant monster movies, I have been struck by the great acting wasted in many of them. In "Night of the Lepus," (1972) Sheriff Cody, played by Paul Fix (see below), manages to deliver the following line in a dead straight, no nonsense, policeman doing his duty manner: "Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention. There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way." This man should have gotten an Oscar for being able to get that out with a straight face. In the gang my wife and I hung out with when we were first married, trying to equal Fix's performance was a test no one was able to pass. Most of us were okay until we got about to the word "herd," then we fell apart. It's still a great party game for science fiction/fantasy fans.

Which brings to mind a question: Why would giant herbivores turn into carnivores in a desert? According to the plot of "Night of the Lepus," the rabbits, growing to gigantic size, switched from vegetation to meat as a food source. This also shows up in the movie "Them" (1954) when Joan Weldon, playing Dr. Pat Medford (the pretty one), remarks about the giant ants, that with the lack of forage, "...they'd have to turn carnivorous." Huh? Looking at the American Southwest's deserts, there's a heck of a lot more biomass available in vegetation than large prey species (well, yeah, there is Sun City). Most likely the dedicated herbivores would have died of starvation before they developed into dedicated carnivores if the situation was that dire. Of course, they could have gone only half way and joined us and bears as omnivores (would you care for a small steak with your salad, sir?). Being multi fueled is a pretty good strategy sometimes. One could consider carnivorous rabbits as something of a throw-back when you figure mammals started out as a bunch of bug-snatchers (this might explain why some of my relatives, as Jeff Foxworthy's wont to suggest, consider a six pack and a bug-zapper as a fine evening's entertainment). I realize for the sake of the story the giant whatevers have to chow down on people (that good old chill up the small mammal's spine) and the desert is spooky and handy to Hollywood, but for the biology types a little cringe comes with it.

For more on this, you may want to get a hold of a copy of: Fudd, R.E. "Giagantism as displayed in some specimens of Oryctolagus cuniculus from the Basin and Range Province, Western North America." 1973. Extracts in Papers on Late Holocene Mammals from the American Southwest. Ed. B. Bonnie, Oswald Rarebit and Fr. R.A. Hare, S.J. Berkeley: University of California, 1996. 337-452.

Paul Fix (1901-1983) appeared in 350 roles in movies and TV starting in 1927 (he appeared in 27 John Wayne movies alone). He started as a smooth heavy then moved into character roles such as Marshal Micah Torrance in the ABC show, "The Rifleman" (1958-1963), starring Chuck Conners.

Christmas Gift Idea:

Bird Watcher's Digest.

This bimonthly digest-sized magazine kind of snuck up on me. I tripped over it for the first time at the supermarket. The pictures are nice and the writing is well done.

A story that jumped out at me from the November/December 2009 issue concerned the rediscovery of a forest owlet thought to be extinct 100 years in India. Mixed up in this was the Richard Meinertzhagen affair. This was gravy to me as Meinertzhagen (remember the staff officer and his trick in the movie "The Light Horsemen?") and his doings are of especial interest to me.

26 November 2009: Feast of St. Conrad of Constance, Thanksgiving (U.S.), blizzard of 1896-North Dakota, Note: Tomorrow it becomes legal to play Christmas music in 23 states.

The desert and the story teller.

For the teller of stories, the desert is often the place of the other. A place outside the world of settled man where strange and dangerous things and men move just on the edge of perception. It is seen as a place where anything can happen because the laws of normality don't apply there. The desert is a dimension from which monsters and raiders come. This still holds true for story telling today. It is probably no accident Stephen King set a large part of The Stand in the desert or that Michael Crichton placed the "Wildfire" lab in The Andromeda Strain there. Hollywood loves it as a setting. It's close, spooky, timeless, and relatively cheap in which to shoot a movie.

The thing that really hits you about the desert is the silence. It's not just quiet, sometimes, when there's no wind or flies, sound hasn't been invented yet. This affects people in different ways. Some try to be as quiet as possible. As if the least sound they make is deafening and may lead some doom down upon them. Others go the other direction. They try to fill up the silence all by themselves. They sing, talk, and make music much louder than is their wont when in civilization (or what passes for such). They seem to fear that the silence will suck away the sounds, so they must supply a surplus to even it out.

The desert blasts not only objects, but people also. It sometimes seems that anyone who lives alone long enough in the high desert ends up either a saint or a mass murderer.

For the writer, the desert is always there waiting. It would be terrible to waste it.

Review (Note to FTC: I bought this dang book myself!)

Buck Fever: The Deer Hunting Tradition in Pennsylvania. Mike Sajna. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.

Late November is special to me. Three major events in my life collide at that point in this month: my birthday, Thanksgiving, and deer season west of Blue Ridge. The week of Thanksgiving meant I would get to miss school for a week, much to the shared relief of both student and teachers (back before school administrators were under the impression that children belonged to them, it was sufficient that my mom sent in a note saying I wouldn't be in school the next week). Season opened in Virginia's Rockbridge and Augusta Counties the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving. So my daddy and I loaded the truck when he got home Friday afternoon and, after dinner with my mom, the two of us would head southwest. We'd get to the camp about 22:00 [10:00 pm] and be unloaded and in bed by 23:30 [11:30 am]. Ah, to sleep (like that was going to happen with deer season opening at daybreak). During the rest of the dark hours, the rest of the family, in-laws, and outlaws straggled into camp making sure to be in time for breakfast. Then, gray in the eastern sky, we headed for our spots on the mountain where we'd take that six, eight, or--can it be?--the thirty point buck.

Mike Sajna writes about one deer season at his family's deer camp in Warren County on Pennsylvania's Allegheny High Plateau. We meet the various members of his own platoon of the "pumpkin army." The hunters depicted are recognizable to everyone who has hunted with good hunters as opposed to the game hogs, drunks, and hunting slobs one hears about all too often. The Yoopers they ain't.

The reader also learns that deer hunting was destroyed in Pennsylvania by market hunting in the 19th century. How a group of hunters got together and started the state's first conservation organization, the Pennsylvania State Sportsmen's Association, which led in turn to the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 1895. Sajna tells of John MacFarlane Phillips who, horrified at the thought that he had killed the last deer in the state, set out to put the matter right. And put the matter right he did. Through his and his fellow hunters efforts, deer were successfully reintroduced to the state's woods. Upon his death at 92 in 1953, The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph called him the "Grand Old Man of Conservation."

Best, Sajna limns the relationship between he and his father as hunters, men, and father and son.

Buck Fever is not a book only for hunters; it will show the non-hunter what goes on in and around a proper deer camp. This is a book that works on many levels as Sajna blends the several interrelated story lines in such a way that each compliments the others and builds a strong and enjoyable whole.

24 November 2009: Feast of St. Andrew Dung-Lac & companions, publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species 1859, my birthday (you win some, you lose some).