A year ago I was working on my military sci-fi series when on a lark I started putting together some notes on a hobby of mine: collecting antique Tiffany Studios pieces. I certainly can’t afford lamps or the high-end pieces, but I inherited a small collection from my parents, which I have occasionally added to. As time has gone by, buying antiques has shifted from estate sales on dusty yards in front of rundown houses to online auctions.
Buying antiques online, though, is fraught with danger.
As I began to buy online, I decided to document for others how to do it safely. One thing led to another, and my notes turned into a book. As it turned out, it is about 80% buying guide, 10% history of Tiffany and his various enterprises, and 10% personal history.
I’m very happy with it, and it has been well received. As I worked on it, I also added chapters on Tiffany Favrile glass, and Tiffany Furnaces pieces. I plan to update it a bit from time to time as I own (at least briefly) new pieces. You can see it on Amazone at this link: Tiffany Studios Buying Guide
Lots of good reasons, but good reasons are just more excuses.
In fairness I DID publish a book, stayed employed, lost 15 pounds, and taught my daughter’s service dog how to play frisbee…so I’ve not been dead on my ass.
More on the book I published later. That is a long story. For now, check this out…
This was simple. After having wanted to make a map of Kira’s Village — where much of the Lonely Hunter story takes place — I stumbled upon www.inkarnate.com today and within 90 mins was able to learn enough to use their free version to create Kira’s Village as you see it above.
It’s been stuck in my head (and on my hard drive) for 5 years now, so I know it pretty damn well. I’ve tried hand-drawing and PowerPoint and they all look like crap, so had all but given up. Once I mastered Inkarnate, I was able to knock it out quickly.
With a bit of luck and a lot of self-discipline, I hope to get back to fiction shortly.
Lonely Hunter continues to be 95% done, so I probably ought to finish that soon. It is now the second novel in the series.
IrSaa’s Prelude (now the first book in the series) continues to delight and challenge me. The first draft is nearing completion, so still needs to go through Critique Circle and a lot of editing.
Bright Universe (now the third book in the series) is still effectively done short of going through CC and being professionally edited. I continue to be pleased with this book even though it is brutal and without hope.
The 4th book (which will remain nameless at the moment), continues to sit at about 70% done.
The 5th and 6th novels are each at about 20% + a rough outline. Occasionally — rarely, to be honest — I jump into one and tweak a paragraph or two, but that is about it.
I don’t really anticipate making any more maps for any of them…just seemed like something I need for Lonely Hunter.
We went to our first film festival this last weekend, the Lake Travis Film Festival. My wife and I had all-day passes to one day of the three-day event hosted by the cities of Lakeway and Bee Caves, which are suburbs of Austin.
We had no idea what we were doing, so we learned a lot about such things.
We saw about 10 films of various forms as we bounced back and forth between three venues that were showing student shorts (they weren’t so good), documentaries (which were very good), and an art gallery with static displays. We skipped the venue showing music video shorts.
One of the beauties of it was being exposed to things I would have never ever gone out to see otherwise. Three that most impressed us (with trailers for the interested):
The Act of Reading — Ostensibly about a quirky young man who decided to complete a book report on Moby Dick for his teacher after she flunked him for not doing it 11 years earlier. Strangely structured, but very engaging.
Motorcycle Man — A polished and emotionally engaging look at an old guy who can’t give up racing — living — motorcycles.
A Cut Above — And from the world of competitive Lumberjills, a clever look inside a sport and culture I’ve never thought about.
Listening to the directors after each documentary, it was fascinating to hear how much they each focused on the story, and the struggle to figure out what the story was they were trying to tell. Sometimes they did not realize what the story was until all the filming was already done. Though there were differences, much it sounded familiar.
Turn out was light, but I hope they have funding for a few more years so they can become better established and grow their attendance as well as draw in strong candidates.
They really need to step up their student entrants. I wanted to see them because though I knew the average quality was going to be worse, I had hoped for that rare gem from an unsung talent on the rise. Unfortunately, that one did not show up in what we saw.
Sales of my novel have ceratinly slowed — only 307 copies this year — but that still allows me to donate $100, which my employeer (Dell Technologies) again generously matched. So the total is $200 for the year, which brings the total to $2,500.
If your’re curious, the other half of the money I collect goes to marketing, advertising to be precise. I have a very modest spend of about about $6 or $7 a month for pay per click advertising with Amazon.
Not a huge donation, but more than I thought my little book would ever do, and happy to help.
As it is for many families, it’s been a busy December. Business trip to Germany and London, then work deadlines and Christmas. Several family members in and out of hospitals.
The trip to Germany was a mad dash through Heidelberg, Hannover, and Frankfurt, and then a quick trip through London to visit two customers there.
Though my phone’s battery had died and I was not able to take any photos, one of the most remarkable nights was a business dinner in the Heidelberg Castle. We got there late (in the dark and a light rain). In the court yard stood a single, huge Christmas tree, and the castle was dark and deserted. It was gorgeous and it was silent.
In London, my Uber driver took me home after a company dinner, and we spun by Buckingham Palace, so I took a photo with my phone. Again, the scene was deserted. And beautiful.
Back home, and after getting out of work, had some family time, and time to write again. Both have been nice. 🙂
One of my seeming multitude of WIPs is the first novel I ever wrote. It is a gritty, tactical depiction of an infantry squad leader in a “Light” infantry division deployed to the Persian Gulf war. Through the four days of fighting he winds up the Platoon Leader. Much like Youth In Asia, it is not so much about heros doing superhuman things. Instead, it is about young men trying to accomplish their mission and stay alive.
Work on that novel has been a multi-decade, on again, off again exercise. Over the last ~9 months I’ve decided to revisit it. Though I still enjoy the story and the characters, and I think much of it is good and engaging, it has its flaws and is need of substantial work.
One area in which it needs work is more accurate setting details about the daily life of soliders in Desert Shielf and Desert Storm, more details on the terrain and weather, etc. Which brought me to this book. It has very mixed reivews on Amazon, but not because it is not accurate… Below is a copy and paste (with a few tweaks) of the review I posted to Amazon.
I’ll start with the blurb: “Alex Vernon with Neal Creighton, Jr., Greg Downey, Rob Holmes, and David Trybula with foreword by General Barry R. McCaffrey, retired (commander of the 24th Division during Desert Shield and Desert Storm) Winner of the 1999 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award: A highly personal account of the day-to-day experiences of the five platoon leaders who served in the same tank battalion during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm…”
Though not without its shortcomings, this book is an exceptionally personal presentation of the thoughts, fears, triumphs, and mistakes of young lieutenants in the US Army preparing for and in combat. Its strength is the deep – and honest – exploration of what young officers feel and experience as platoon leaders. These officers’ dedication to their country and especially their men is beyond question and rings true through their sharing.
To emphasize what the authors call out a number of times, this is their view of the war they experienced, and there can be no one, all-encompassing view of this or any war. The actual war is – as it was historically – brief and one-sided. The five platoon leaders share great detail of their race across southeast Iraq and the immense combat power they helped unleash on the hapless and inept Iraq military. The combat prowess of the US Army, of which these five lieutenants were a material part, is impressive. But in all cases, this is five unique and personal views of what they experienced.
Though a scholarly work that is well documented and organized, it is arguably too long. A significant portion of the book covers the many months the 24th division spent in Saudi Arabia preparing for combat. Though the color of daily life in the various platoons is interesting and provides deep historical detail, it becomes tedious.
The war, such as it was, is depicted in a relatively short portion of the book and consists mostly of relentless driving and short, profoundly one-sided destruction of the few Iraqi units that actually tried to fight.
The final section of the book is an honest, personal sharing by the lieutenants, reflections on their experiences and how it helped shape their decisions to leave the Army. In many ways, it echoed my own experience.
After earning my commission in 1985 and graduating from the Army’s Airborne and Ranger school and serving in the 7th ID(L), I also opted to leave active duty after completing my Advanced course…and the Berlin wall came down. I was on orders to join an armor division in Germany managing a battalion motor pool. I could not imagine a worse fate for a light infantryman: 3 years of turning in equipment as America extracted most of our military out of the reunified Germany.
I separated from the Army and was on terminal leave hanging out with my friends in Europe before I was to start graduate school when, while wandering around Greece, an endless stream of C-141s began flying over, headed southeast. The war had started, and the first American military units were heading to Saudi Arabia.
Similar to the experiences shared by these young men, though I was never in combat, I had been the platoon leader for infantry, anti-tank and scout platoons, as well as a company executive officer. In various ways, the authors of The Eyes of Orion note there is no greater job in the Army than being a platoon leader. I will quibble and say that being a company commander of a combat unit is equally exhilarating. After my time on active duty, I joined the National Guard and commanded an M2 Bradley company of an Enhanced Readiness Brigade.
So much of what these officers shared in the final section of the book echoed my own experiences and thinking. Being a platoon leader is an exciting time, but it is also incredibly daunting and lonely as these men described.
A young lieutenant’s experience and perception of the Army is greatly influenced by his platoon sergeant and his company commander. This is triply so in combat, I’m sure. There is no officer’s club to retreat to on Friday nights to learn from your peers in an informal setting, there are no roommates to compare notes with in the evening, there are no siblings or parents to call when you need a sounding board. As a young officer – learning the ropes of what it really means to lead in combat – you can find yourself very much alone, and often the enforcer of unpopular and sometimes idiotic orders. You constantly think: Mission first, men always. You fear you won’t bring them all home. You fear you will fail them when they need you most.
Overwhelmingly, the writers of this book depicted competent and insightful leaders above them and dedicated, trusting young men in their command. There were some exceptions, which I’ll leave for future readers to discover. On the whole, though, they were well-led, well-equipped, well cared for, and they took their responsibilites seriously. So much so that at times their own self-doubt became almost debilitating.
As detailed in the book, the coalition brought to bear overwhelming weapon systems and withering firepower. Frightening not just to imagine being on the receiving end, but frightening because of how close together the units operated, and how often that ended in fratricide or near fratricide. On this count, what these leaders shared is both tragic and disheartening.
I highly recommend this book especially to young officers and those about to earn their commission. The first half can become tiresome, and the combat scenes are short and one-sided, but the flavor of life as a young officer, and what can be learned to help you prepare for your first years as a leader is of tremendous value.
It has been a hard couple years for professional and family health reasons, though I’m not going to detail it all here. The good news is that (knock on wood) things may be settling down a bit.
I’ve started writing again. That is the good news. The bad news is that with 7 different novels in flight I’m all over the place…working on one for one week, and then jumping to another for a week then off to the third and fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh all in random order and for random durations.
One of my major failings of late is not being able to focus. Needless to say I’ve not been able to stay focused for the last several years for more than a week or two at a time on any one writing project.
As an aside, my first novel — Youth in Asia — continues to sell surprisingly well given that it has been four and a half years since I published it. The novel has sold about 4,200 copies, and I’ve donated well over $2,000 from sales. Frankly, it is embarrassing to admit how long ago I published it.
On a completely unrelated topic, my attempt at growing Giant Sequoias continues…
The Giant Sequoias
Of the thirteen seeds that came in the little kit I bought on Amazon for $7, we have three sprouts. I’m not sure if any more have started but are not yet visible, so I will prep six pots. In addition to what you see above, I added a healthy helping of sand.
As you can see in the photo below, the small tube in front of my computer is where the seeds started. I laid out a sheet of aluminum foil to empty the contents of the tube into so I don’t make a mess or lose any of the seeds.
We only found three seeds that had germinated, but we did find the other 10 seeds. As you can see below, the sprouts are small and very fragile. We are trying to keep as much of the original dirt around their root as we can.
We got the three sprouts into the pots. The other ten seeds we put on the top of the fourth pot and sprinkled the dirt that they came with over them. I marked each seed with a small white rock. Odds are low that any will grow at this point, but thought we’d give them one more shot.
I started this project on a lark, but now that they are growing I’ve been giving more thought to where to plant them on our property when the time comes. Though they reportedly can grow in central Texas, when full grown (long after I’m dead and gone), they can consume more than 500 gallons of water per day. Though we have a ‘wet weather’ creek behind our home, and I’m assuming the water table is not too far below it, and though I can plant at least one in reach of where our sprinkler covers, I can’t imagine pumping 500 gallons of water at it a day. I’ll let my descendants figure that out if it lasts that long…
I’ve bought seeds for Giant Sequoias. I was impressed with how very small they are, and of course, how very big they become. Assuming they out last me and grow to maturity, they will still be early in their lives when I’m an enfeebled old man.
I’ll provide periodic updates on how these progress. I figure they will be in the house for at least a year. If they get off to a good start, I’ll have each of the four in its own pot within a few months.
At some point, probably in about 18 months, I’ll put them in 2 or 3 gallon pots on the deck. After that, maybe 10 gallon pots on the porch or along the driveway for a few more years. After they get to 10′ or 12′ tall they will proably will be ready to go into the yard.
We live near Austin, and along a “wet weather” creek. That is to say of the creek that it runs when it rains, of course, but if the ground is fully staturated, it can run for a a couple months after the rain ends…but it can also be dry for several months in late summer.
So I’m going to have to be thoughtful about where I plant these on our property. We live on 2/3rds of an acer on a bit of a slope in a rural area with lots of critters, to include deer. So figuring out where to plant them is about both making sure the soil and mositer is right as well as making sure the deer don’t eat them.
Of cousre we have something else in the house that is small…but growing. Our latest dog: a Lab that is now up to 28 lbs. This picture makes it look like it is all in his head, but he is really well proportioned and growing fast. He is happy and healthy and energetic. Never had a lab before. They are fearless and smart…dangerous combination.
As to writing…slowly but surely grinding along…growing…and I’ll leave it athat for now.
Love this photo of the Milky Way. I’m not an astronomer or a scientist of any flavor, but these kinds of photos — which have been improving every year — have always fascinated me and helped fuel my interest in Science Fiction.
Reportedly about 2 billion stars in our galaxy alone. The numbers are incomprehensible..