Category Archives: May 2012

Astronomical wonders

I enjoy the night sky. I enjoy the day sky. The objects in the great overhead vault never cease to amaze me. I can usually recognize Jupiter and Saturn—always Venus and Mars—and I can identify a dozen or more constellations. Sunsets and sunrises are emotionally stirring and the milky way, our galaxy, sets my imagination reeling when I think of the billions of stars that comprise it.

Occasionally, some novel occurrence adds to the celestial splendor. A harvest moon swells two to three times its proper size. Meteor showers—the Perseids in August, the Leonids in November—add a different delight, keeping me from my bed until the wee hours of morning. More spectacular are the bolides, sometimes called fireballs, whose trails cover as much as half the sky. I can recall seeing two such objects.

There are other rarities. Lunar eclipses, sometimes called blood on the moon, are eerie specters. Then there are the comets. In 1997 there was the much touted Hale Bopp—overrated in my opinion—and Comet Hyakutake that loomed like a great heavenly ghost for several weeks.

This year offers two special blessings: the annular eclipse of the sun that occurred on May 20, and the transit of Venus that will happen next Wednesday, June 6. Here in New Mexico, where the air is some of the cleanest in these United States, the eclipse was spectacular. I have seen countless photographs of such events, so I wasn’t expecting much by way of excitement. Nonetheless, I was determined to actually witness one. I dug out a box that contains envelopes full of color negatives I will never make into prints, retrieved a dozen or so strips and divided them between my wife, Toni, and myself. We regarded the event through six or eight layers.

What was it like? I remember when, as a child, I first saw Steve Reeves, aka Superman, fly. I knew he was going to, yet when the actual moment arrived and wires hoisted him across my TV screen and away, I laughed and laughed, unable to contain myself. In much the same way, Toni and I babbled like kids as the orb of the moon devoured the sun, celebrating the moment when all there was left was the fabled Ring of Fire.

Next Wednesday’s transit will be an even greater rarity. Venus will be crossing directly between the earth and the sun. Depending on how early you rise and how clear the sky is, you may be able to see it as a small dot crossing the sun’s face. If you do, you will be among the last to do so for more than a century. Transits occur in pairs roughly eight years apart, then do not recur until between 115.5 and 121.5 years later. Although scientists calculate there was one interval of 169.5 year in BC 117,115. Boy! I bet they were on tenterhooks waiting for that one. 

Next week’s transit, visible just after dawn, is the second of an eight year pair, so if you miss it, there will not be another opportunity until December 11, 2117.



Research, beautiful research

Those of you who know me, know that I’m not a researcher – in fact, if anything, I’m what I would call an anti-researcher. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t KNOW things, because I do. As an avid reader of novels and non-fiction, of newspapers and magazines, as an avid watcher of movies and documentaries and news programs, I know a whole lot of things. But what I don’t do is say “okay, I’m going to write about X” and then research it. That would ruin my process, ruin my writing. It would make me a different writer – and not a better one.

But what I do is write about something that’s obviously – or not so obviously – been percolating in my mind for a long time. And because of what I write – about relationships, about people, about life – I’m not so worried about getting the details exactly right although those details might have been buried somewhere in my head for a long time. I’m more careful to get the feelings right because that’s what important in the type of story I write. Whether those feelings are sorrow or joy or passion, that’s what I focus on.

But I do, occasionally, do research – but it’s the kind of research I refer to as spot research. What does that mean? It means I might need to know the name of a street (though usually I make them up), the type of car (although, now that I think about it, I never need to know this because I love cars and know them pretty well), or the correct spelling of name or a particular date. It’s the kind of research that I can do it a quick internet search – and when I say quick, I mean less than two minutes.

But for the book I’m working on now, I’d have to say that I’ve done a little more than that. Though, again, I’ve done that little more because it’s an excuse to go to one of my favorite places – Granville Island Market – and an excuse to spend time doing something I love – browsing the market. And, of course, doing a little shopping along the way. Because, honestly, I know all the things I need to know about this character and her life and her work – all this research is just an excuse.

Because this book is about things I already know really well – the restaurant business and the effect of the recession on small businesses. One of my characters is a florist. I’ve given her a shop in the Market, and she’s preparing some centerpieces and arrangements and plants for a restaurant. And one of the characters owns a restaurant – not something I need to do any research on as I have many friends who work in restaurants, I eat out all the time, and have friends who manage or own restaurants. It’s part of the conversation of my life.

That’s the way my writing works – I write about things I know or things I can make up. Any research I do has ALWAYS been done (without knowing I’m doing it) long before I sit down to write about it.

Every writer works in a different way – this is what works for me.


Full moon rising

Wow – how about that full moon last Saturday May 5th – Cinco de mayo? My plan for that evening to was to go to the Biltmore to see Willis Earl Beal (check him out on YouTube) but the show was sold out and standing in a lineup for 2 or 3 hours in hopes of getting in just didn’t entice me.

Besides, there was Plan B: this moon that promised to be bigger and better than anything we’ve seen or will see in … how long? Hundreds of years? The best moon I ever saw was in Alberta one long ago winter. There was something about refraction or reflection or something – astronomers could probably explain – that distorted the image of this moon to gargantuan proportions. It seemed to take up the entire horizon. I was driving with friends and there it was, coming up over a frozen rise between Edmonton and Calgary. We had to stop the car and just gape. It was truly awesome – awe-inspiring, awe-inducing – gob-smacking awesome.

So when my friend suggested I photograph this cinco de mayo moon I was only moderately interested. I figured I’d seen the best moon that ever was, so how could this be better? But I have no photographs of that other moon, and even if my memory is accurate, it has become an anecdote at best, a hallucination at worst.

I decided to get up on my roof and – pardon the card-playing reference – shoot the moon. It was a cold night if you recall. Freezing cold. Windy. My building is only 3 stories high and the view to the east is blocked by much higher (and classier) condos. But I packed my gear and climbed a vertical metal ladder leading to the roof. When I pushed up the hatch that opens to the sky and had to climb over its raised edges I got right in touch with a bad case of vertigo. I was almost nauseated with – what is that feeling? Terror? Yeah. A visceral, gut-grabbing sensation that sometimes freezes me in my tracks, sometimes gets me laughing.

Hysterically. I have to talk out loud to myself and stay very very focused, keep away from the edges of the roof.

I set the camera on the tripod and prepared to wait. But it was so cold, so windy. And I’d drunk several cups of hot tea in preparation. So soon enough I had to go back down to my apartment. Repeat above procedures, sans gear. The moon was due at 8:35 PM. It may have appeared elsewhere, but I couldn’t get a decent shot of it until around 9:30 PM. By this time I’d had the chance to take some test shots of the horizon and my camera and I were in conflict; I couldn’t get a good focus and when I did the camera wouldn’t fire. Up on the roof, waiting for the moon, I sent love to my old film camera, a completely manual, responsive machine that, when you are skilled, gives the best results in most circumstances. And while I was waxing nostalgic and even contemplating going down to my apartment again, to retrieve my film camera, mother Moon was waxing too, and beginning to show herself on the urban horizon. I didn’t get much, but what I got I’m happy to share.

Did you wait up for the moon? Did you take photos?

Hedda Armour

Happy Mom

Something really cool happened this past week, and I can’t even tell my brat how much it pleased me, because she’s a teenager.

I wrote about reading the Robyn Carr series a little while ago, and I’m on book 16 (of 19) now. A few weeks ago, my daughter asked if she could read one. She has seen me reading them for the past five months and got curious.

She’s pretty picky, specific and eclectic about what she likes to read. She loves Stephen King, and will re-read his books. She reads any Chicken Soup for the Soul book she can get her hands on. She hasn’t ever really been into YA books, except for a trilogy about a girl who sees ghosts. She never liked Harry Potter or the sparkling vampires; she’d rather read an Anne Rice vampire book.

Anyway, we love the same books we listen to on CD when we travel…I pick up Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and one of our favorites is a Michael Crichton. She’s never shown any interest in romance, though. If we listen to one in the car, it has to have some action, suspense, death and/or destruction, for her to enjoy it. (The first short story she wrote in 1st grade was about a happy little bunny that got eaten by a hawk.) She’s a little darker than I am.

So, to my utter joy, she asks to read a romance that I love. So, I gave her book 1 in the series.

She’s always been ahead of her class when it comes to reading. She was a late bloomer, and I feared she had a “problem” when by the middle of 1st grade she couldn’t string a sentence together. See Jane run wasn’t working. Sometime over the summer between 1st and 2nd grade, something happened. She started reading. She wanted books and more books. She jumped into reading 4th and 5th grade level, then got bored in school. By 6th grade she got into my Stephen King books, and there’s been no looking back.

When she started reading Virgin River, it was really fun talking with her about the characters. She got sucked in just as fast as I did.

She is coming up to the end of her freshman year in high school, and she wants to go into Honors English next year. There are 70 kids fighting for 30 slots. She has to do a couple projects.

This was the biggest surprise… One of her projects, she has to make these baseball type cards for a book. The front has pictures of characters, setting, and things in the book, and the back little 75 word blurbs about the person or whatever. She picked Virgin River to do this project on.

It’s great. We now have something to share. I mean, we’ve always been close, but she is a teenager, and they run real hot and cold! I was planning to hand the series over to my mother when I was done, but the kiddo has forbidden that…she needs to read them first.

I’m a happy mom.

Anna Leigh

Another Life Lesson

I had no blog in mind this week—nothing to share I thought. And then my mind flashed back to the previous week and a phone call we received that one of our grandchildren was in custody—lock up, county jail. Next came the conversation about what shall we do. Our choices were put up bail money and get him out or let him stay there for the next three or four days until the court let him out. Right about here I should tell you the charges against him were not serious, the crime was more of an act of stupidity committed in a moronic moment. We decided the three or four days in the pokey would do him more good than harm.

I should also explain that Belva and I have had a hand in raising two of our grandchildren and when I say that, I don’t mean in the grand-parenting sense. I mean in the “roll up your sleeves and take command” sense of being a full-time surrogate Father and Mother. I will also tell you, it ain’t an easy job and I hope you don’t have to do it. Oh, sure, there are a lot of good times and feelings attached, but it is damned tough duty trying to wear both the grandparent-hat and the parent-hat—trying to decide which one to put on, and when. I do know, like any other hats, you can’t wear them both at the same time without looking like a fool.

Well, we thought all of that was behind us, until reminded by the phone call, we were being called back into duty and had to make the above mentioned decision. And it was not made lightly and without some trepidation. Belva worried about his safety, I reminded her that he is over six feet tall, pushing 200 lbs and 23 years old—and this was county jail not the penitentiary. But still she worried… and so did I.

I asked myself, “Where did we go wrong?” “Why did he do this?” After beating myself up and wrestling with my inner-guilt, I came to the conclusion that we had done the best that we could do. People do stupid things every day. Commit crimes everyday and we can’t and shouldn’t blame their parents. We all are faced with decisions daily. And some times we make the wrong decision. And sometimes we go to jail for it. And we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.

I remembered back to my first bicycle, and how proud my folks were to give it to me. How hard they worked at trying to teach me to ride it that first day—hours of pushing me down the sidewalk, only to crash in the grass. Showing me, time and again, how to get on and supposedly ride away, to no avail. Finally, they tired and gave into defeat, put the bike away, and left me to steep in my own inadequate defeat.

The next morning, at the break of dawn, when everyone but me and the paperboy were sleeping, I quietly slipped my new bike out of the house and walked down the street a half-block away, and faced off with my nemesis “the bike” vowing it would not defeat me today. I would break and ride this wild bronco-bike or die trying. It was up and down for about an hour but two skinned knees and bleeding elbow later… I did it! I threw my leg over the bike and launched myself onto the seat, while at the same time pushing the bike into motion. This time my feet found the peddles and I was riding the bike down the road. What a feeling! What an accomplishment.

When my folks got up, I greeted them by riding by with no-hands. The look of pride on their faces more than made up for the previous day’s failures.

What did that story have to do with me letting my grandson stay in jail? That’s easy. Sometimes you have to let kids skin their knee in order that they learn a lesson. And secondly, as a parent, you can’t learn the lesson for your children; they have to learn it on their own. We are all responsible for what we do and can’t blame bad decisions on someone else, only learn from them.


May 24 Includes a Trip to the Dump

The May Two-Four weekend in Canada is a bit of a misnomer. It actually falls on the Monday preceding May 25th and represents a statutory holiday—a long weekend to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday.

Informally, it’s also considered the beginning of summer in Canada, and if you’re a gardener, it’s a safe bet the frost season is over, so garden centers are booming.

Over the past few years, I’ve traveled up north of the city to cottage country. It’s the weekend most people open up their cottages. That entails putting in the dock, motors on boats, and clean up for the upcoming season. Aside from the flying ants, mosquitoes, and black flies, it’s great to get away from the city even for a few days. The lake is pristine and nature is vast. The fresh air away from the concrete jungle of the city is a drug for me, and I sleep better. A new favorite activity of mine is to kayak.

One of the more peculiar rituals of getting out of the city is not having garbage pick-up. Instead, cottagers store their garbage and go to a dump when they have to. It’s not a dreaded event either; it’s actually quite fun. I’ve seen retail stores less organized. I even showered and dressed up for the occasion! I jest, but going to the dump is part of the experience away from the city, just like seeing moose, bears and road kill.

May you enjoy all the unique wonders of your upcoming summer season,


Growing Pains of the Heart

This has been a time of transition, difficulty, and loss in our family. My older son is struggling to recover from hitting a major roadblock on his path to college. My younger son is working through the aftermath of his first great heartache after a breakup. I spent the past 48 hours on a marathon trip to and from the Cleveland Clinic with my father and sat with him as he made the very difficult decision not to treat a medical problem and to let the disease run its course.

There is no moving through this life without loss and pain. We have choices only in how we cope with it.

I grew up with a mother afraid of her own strong emotions. Perhaps her early personal losses, or the time she lived through made this so. Regardless, I have vivid memories of bringing her my own heartaches and losses and having them minimized.

“It’s not so bad.”
“You don’t really want that.”
“A year from now, it won’t matter anymore.”

While from a pragmatic standpoint, all of those statements may be true, that truth matters less than the underlying message I received: I couldn’t trust my own experience or emotions. It nearly crippled me.

It took me years of hard work to find and trust the core of myself. I still have to work hard at it. Long before I had children of my own, I swore I would never minimize their pain. Not that I would coddle them and go to that other extreme (‘oh, you poor thing, how terrible, let me make it all go away.’), but there is a middle path that acknowledges pain exists; pain of the heart as real as that of the bruised shin, broken bone, or burst appendix.

And another truth–you can’t compare pain. It’s all to easy from the jaded perspective of an adult to belittle those first experiences of loss. My 16 year old’s pain after his relationship ended is no less devastating to him than my experience of watching my mother’s dementia steal her from me. Loss is loss. Playing the oneupsmanship game only diminishes us.

I wanted my children to grow up experiencing both the joy of accomplishment as well as the desolation of failure. I ensured that we talked about both as a family. Along the way, in helping them navigate through their growing pains of the heart, I realized that my own heart had become more resilient, too.

I hope that I have given my children what they will need to move through their own heartaches, if not with grace, than a kind of balanced understanding.

I have come to believe we grow as human beings in facing the reality of loss and moving through it. I believe heartache stretches the container of our selves and leaves us expanded, with more room to feel. I believe this is our greatest strength, our greatest asset, and our greatest challenge.

Without the lessons we all taught one another, I would never have begun to trust my writing and my stories. I wouldn’t have been willing to risk failure or what I saw as the humiliation of rejection.

I wouldn’t have been able to sit with the terrible knowledge that my father will die, likely of the aneurism he has chosen not to treat. My heart hurts. I want to throw myself to the floor and kick and scream like a toddler in the grip of a tantrum. Instead, I gather up that toddler and hold her tightly. She will hurt, she will cry, she will rage, but she will be okay.


Villains and antagonists

We finally saw The Avengers on Monday and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Most of my enjoyment was because of the villain, Loki. I’m a complete sucker for complex villains and anti-heroes. Heroes are too heroic, too good for me. Unless done very well, they’re usually bland and blah in my eyes. They do good because it’s the right thing to do and that’s about it.

Villains, now villains make me swoon. And the writers of The Avengers did a wonderful job carrying Loki’s complexity over from Thor. They made me empathize with him. They hit my protective/comforting buttons and made me want to say “Somebody just needs to give him a cookie and a hug. And I’ll be the one to volunteer.” He’s not the villain simply because he’s evil; Thor gave him layers and complexity and reason.

Yesterday on Twitter, Del Rey Spectra asked: “Best sff protagonist and villain?” and CE Murphy replied with Gerald Tarrant from CS Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy and my heart went pitter-patter because he’s one of my top five favorite antagonists. His backstory is so powerfully complex and compelling. He knowingly chose his life and everything he does is deliberate and you shouldn’t be able to feel for a person who does the things he does, but you do. Or at least I do. If it weren’t for the end of the last book, he would rank as my #1 antagonist.

One of the absolute worst sins a writer can commit is redeeming their formerly unrepentant villain at the end of the story. This happens more often with female villains I think which I find doubly egregious. Let them be bad! And let them be so very, very good at being bad. If you feel you absolutely *must* redeem them in the end then you’re going to have to go above and beyond everything else to make me believe that it was the appropriate course of action.

Ana Ramsey


This blog isn’t about vampires. *grins* I confess I’m not a huge fan of vampires. There are a few who call to me, but mostly I find the idea of being immortal rather sad.

(I should also confess that I’m watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and drinking wine while writing this blog post. As Colonel Sheppard would say “Operation This Will Most Likely End Badly is a go.”)

Anyhow, I started working on a new/old project this week. It’s an old project because I wrote a whole novel with these characters, but then had a better idea for them. A far better idea and so I balked at epublishing the novel in hand and instead put it on a shelf where it has sat for several years gathering dust and occasionally whispering in my ear.

Some people might wonder why I turned down an epub offer. I could have probably started a pretty good career writing erotica. It didn’t have anything to do with not liking epublishing, or not wanting to write erotica (though it’s easy to admit that while I enjoy writing it on occasion, it’s not my first love) It was purely because the story, as much as I loved it, wasn’t right. Which means revamping the story, the characters, and everything in between is the only way for me to go. The only thing of the original that will hold through is the essence of the plot and the names of a number of characters.

Revamping the characters will be the hardest. Because I’m ripping them up and redoing them. I have to forget their original reactions, behaviors, and characteristics and forge a new path. Holding onto the original version will only cause confusion and slow down the plot.

Writers do this every day on big and small levels. Writing takes work, and the work isn’t about writing the story in the first place. It’s what happens after – when you rip down your carefully constructed story and make it better. This happens before you send it out on query (or it should!), it happens when your agent gets a hold of it and thinks your plot got soft around the middle of the novel. It happens when your editor sends you revision notes. The very essence of writing is about revamping and recreating this idea in your head.

If you want to be a writer – a for reals, serious writer – *grins* you have to be prepared for this reality. Writing is work, work that never stops. Luckily, I think this is the fun part and I can’t wait to start rebuilding my world again to see what happens!

K.B. Wagers

Treading the Line

For the time, I am immersing myself in crafting thrillers, although fantasy keeps rearing its head, beckoning me to return because in so many ways it is less demanding. First and foremost, fantasy requires little if any research. Even more important, it poses no liability issues. From the outset, it is obvious the characters and settings are entirely fictitious. Not so with thrillers.

This genre’s readers demand realism. The stories must be believable—the more so the better. They must be set in the real world in recognizable places, must pose real issues, realistic threats, and be populated with flesh and blood characters you might yet meet if you haven’t already. Herein lies the crux of the inherent problem.

While the city and State the story occurs in may be real and cited by name, naming actual businesses or recognizable privately-owned locations, especially in a context where bad things happen, can have real legal consequences. Consequently, when I set off a dirty bomb in a major sports venue, I had to take care to give the teams different names from the real ones, but similar enough the reader can identify with them. And while the stadium remains unnamed, the city makes it immediately recognizable. Fortunately, because I set my story in the future, I can argue that the home team, the visiting team and stadium’s ownership as well as team composition have changed by that time. They are certainly not the ones that currently exist. In fact, upon publication the book will undoubtedly have to be prefaced with appropriate legal disclaimers acknowledging the fictitious nature of the work and stating any resemblance to actual places or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Until now, I always wondered at the reason for such obvious statements, but my attorney wife has made it abundantly clear how much I would stand to lose without the appropriate boilerplate appearing immediately after the book’s title page. Naturally, if I find my way into print with a traditional publisher, their legal department will take care of all such matters. If, on the other hand, I decide to self-publish, I may have to retain an attorney with relevant experience to insure such disclaimers are properly worded. While this service will probably not cost an arm and a leg, it will be a real, necessary expense nonetheless. A small price to pay for a good night’s sleep all because “the times they are a-changin’ ” – Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music  J

Raymond Bolton