Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Some Thoughts That Maybe a Few Will Read

Sometimes I feel like we’re entering end-times, here. The planet is reaching the tipping point to no return, with all the glaciers melting, the oceans rising, the climate changing, and species disappearing from existence on a daily basis. As if that weren’t enough, we now have a new illness in our midst, one that no one has immunity to as of yet, and one that has left entire nations scrambling for the best way to keep their citizens safe while taking care of those who have fallen victim to this pandemic.

Scary times, to put it mildly.

And current headlines, while informative, do nothing to make me feel any better. News across the board seems frighteningly negative, from what the stock market is doing and all the way to what government is (or isn’t) doing to get a handle on the situation. And if that weren’t enough, there are all those pandemic-related stories that illustrate the darker side of our species. Stories about hoarding, about those who would scam frightened citizens, those others who would hoard vital supplies or gouge people who might have need of them. Read enough, and one can begin to understand how the Salem Witch Trials could happen. When panic sets in, logic, reason, and apparently, compassion, all go out the window.

On the other hand, there are also some very heartening stories. There was the nice lady who grocery shopped for an elderly couple who were afraid to go into the store. There are the donations certain celebrities have been giving to local food banks, knowing that the loss of future paychecks while we try to flatten the curve will hit so many people in the worst way. I’m sure there are people everywhere doing nice things, kind things, that are helpful and life-affirming.

And it occurred to me that in all this craziness, in this high tide of bleak and frightening events, maybe we have a chance for a system reboot. Maybe out of necessity, people around the world will start to remember that in the end, we’re all just trying to do the same thing: have a safe and peaceful life, raise healthy and happy children, and then grow old getting to spend time with our grandkids—and maybe even great grandkids—before stepping peacefully out of this life ourselves. It’s really the bottom line of human existence. And then we let things like, oh, greed, selfishness, desire for power, fear and ignorance, get in the way.

But right now, if we want to survive (and if we want our planet to survive), we really need to pull together, put the differences aside (since most “differences” are a perception thing anyway), and work to save ourselves and our planet. So that our kids and our grandkids can grow old in peace themselves.

That would be the hope. That would be the prayer. And that would be the dream. We’re kind of on the brink, no? I’m too frightened to think about what could happen if we don’t pull ourselves back from that precipice. So I guess I have to focus on hope, instead.

I know not many people read this blog. I get stats on how my posts are doing, and when I look at them, the numbers drop severely on Blog Thursday. Probably because most of my pieces might seem too long to read, and I get that—time is short, these days. In light of that, I decided to post something completely different this time around, since there aren’t that many people reading this anyway. But I think it would have been dishonest of me not to talk about what’s happening right now, even for just this one post. For those of you who actually read this, thanks for bearing with me. I hope to be back to my usual beat next week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Earning My Next Book

I write in series, not in parallel, if I can borrow an analogy from physics. When I write a book, that’s the only book I’m working on. Some writers (looking at you, Isaac Asimov) can write multiple books at a time, working on one in the morning, and another in the afternoon, or setting up some kind of alternating schedule. If I did that, the chaos that would ensue from mixed-up plots and worse, mixed-up characters, would be fierce. So I write my books one at a time.

This does not mean, however, that ideas from the next book in the series, or even from a completely different story line, don’t creep into my writing mind. Of course they do. In fact, part of my struggle with writing anything is figuring out what belongs in the current work, and what is really meant to go into a future story, whether in the series or not.

I once asked Terri Reid if she had that problem and she knew exactly what I was talking about, so that was a relief. I’m not the only writer struggling with this kind of problem. Unfortunately, she never did tell me what I could do about it. I guess we all have to figure it out for ourselves.

So when I have these ideas pop up, whether they’re scenes, or snippets of dialogue, or even a plot line, I write them down in one of my notebooks for future reference. And that’s the best I can do. Because if I tried to follow every new shiny object that caught my interest at that moment, I’d never get anything done. Does that make me ADD? Maybe when it comes to writing.

Thus, the idea of having to “earn” my next book. It’s not unlike the concept of finishing all my vegetables so I can have dessert. When I’m trying to get something done—for instance, how I’m trying right now to finish BPC series book 7—I need to put all future story ideas into safe storage until the time arrives to take them out and look at them for a new work. But in the meantime, I need to finish what I’ve started. And that’s how I earn the future project.

It’s a discipline, of sorts. It’s like keeping my eye on the ball/road/prize. If I can finish what I’m slogging through, I get to play with the new toys. Sometimes it’s just enough to keep me going. Sometimes it helps me rein in my focus because I want to frolic around with something new and different. Of course, writing life being what it is, by the time I get around to working with the new things, they become familiar and broken-in, and then I’m ready to be distracted by the next bunch of new and shiny objects.

As a corollary, it turns out I do this with reading, too. Sometimes, I have to earn the next book I read, whether by finishing the book I’m writing, or by finishing a book I’m reading that’s good, but is not as attractive as the next one in the queue. I do this with library books all the time. I borrow multiple books so I can try out new authors, but also among that stack of books are some of my favorite writers, and I save those books for last. Earning the right to read those books. Eating my vegetables so I can have what I’m really aiming at.


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Dream #1

Dream #1

Deep in the Amazon jungle, Dr. Beverly Clegg and Dr. Marianne Brooke were hard at work on a highly-classified project. Dr. Clegg was predominantly a microbiologist, although she also had degrees in anatomy and pathophysiology. Dr. Brooke was an epidemiologist. They hadn’t known each other before being hired for their current jobs, but found that they got along well, a lucky break since they were sequestered in what looked like a military camp in the middle of nowhere.

The laboratory that had been built for them, to both of their specifications and requirements, was state of the art and perfect. Dr. Brooke frequently thought of her colleagues back at both Johns Hopkins and The Center for Disease Control and how much they would have given to have the equipment and the budget she now work with on a daily basis. She hadn’t any family at home, being an only child who had already lost both parents: her father while she was still an undergraduate, and her mother after she finished medical school. Her colleagues at her former places of employment had become the closest she had to a family, and she still missed them all despite the exciting work she was doing.

Dr. Clegg had left behind her sister, a brother-in-law who was as close to her as a brother could be, and a pair of beloved nieces. She had a picture of the family tacked up in the cabin she shared with Dr. Brooke. Perhaps the word “cabin” didn’t do justice to their living quarters. They had a small concrete cube that looked like a miniature factory, as their home, but inside, it had been divided into a sort of duplex, with Dr. Clegg on one side, and Dr. Brooke on the other. They had independent entrances, and a retracting wall that could be extended from one side of the cube to the other if they wished to separate their living spaces, or left pulled in like an enormous pocket door, if they wanted to share the entire residence. Most of the time they left the expanse completely open, except for the one week when Dr. Brooke had come down with a cold and had insisted on separating their abodes until she was well again.

The routine they followed—being escorted to the lab by an armed Marine who met them at their front door in the morning, and then at the lab door again at five pm sharp, Monday through Friday—had become so ordinary that they no longer thought about the group of military personnel who shared their posting. All of the soldiers were armed, all the time, and neither woman went anywhere in the compound without a rifle-toting escort. They even became accustomed to that.

So when they opened the door of the lab precisely at five pm that Thursday evening, they were surprised to find that Corporal Andrew Mack wasn’t there to meet them, rifle in hand, with his customary serious nod for greeting.

“I doubt he forgot,” Clegg said.

“Of course he didn’t. He’s assigned to us.” Brooke looked around the grounds but failed to see their usual escort. “Should we just go by ourselves?”
“I guess. I hope he doesn’t get in trouble if we do.”
“He’d already be in trouble anyway,” Clegg observed. “He’s late. Come on. It’s too hot to stand around out here.” She began leading the way back to their little domicile, all the time looking for Corporal Mack.

“What’s that?” Brooke had stopped suddenly and was pointing at something lying on the ground a few yards away. They went to investigate and were surprised to find a combat boot. “Could that be his?”
“Why would he have removed a boot?”

“Why would he have removed a sock?” Brooke was pointing again, this time indicating a sock that was a few yards away from the boot.

The women walked in the direction of the sock, soon finding another boot and sock. The ominous discovery was a few yards beyond the second sock: Corporal Mack’s cap, upside down on the ground so that his name on the inside lining was visible. And just beyond that was his side arm.

Brooke put a cautioning hand on Clegg’s arm. “Listen,” she said, voice soft. “Do you hear anything?”

Clegg tilted her head, concentrating. “No.”

“Exactly. Nothing. And I mean nothing. Where’re the sounds of the other soldiers? Where’s the smell from the mess hall? No one’s cooking anything? No one’s working in the motor pool? Where is everyone?”

Clegg felt something cold run down the length of her spine. “This isn’t right,” she said.

“No. But let’s go a little farther. Maybe the corporal is up ahead somewhere.”

“Okay, but we have to be careful. If we’ve been invaded…”

They continued beyond the discarded gun, crouching a little as they scurried forward. And then they both stopped in shock.

Leaning against the tree was Corporal Mack’s uniform. It was positioned as if to give the illusion of someone sitting with his back against the trunk. There was the khaki shirt, the fatigues, and inside the clothing—

Neither woman was a screamer, but Brooke put her hand over her mouth nonetheless. Inside Corporal Mack’s clothing was what apparently was left of Corporal Mack. There was no blood. There was no mess. What they saw was flesh. Skin. The hollowed out face was tilted back against the tree and stared at them with eyeless holes. Two flaccid arms drooped out the ends of the sleeves, and two equally flaccid feet were visible at the cuffs of the pants.

“It’s like…” Brooke began.

“I know,” Clegg agreed, shock in her equally quiet voice. “It’s like Corporal Mack somehow shed his entire skin.”

This is what my brain does when I’m not working on a book…