Category Archives: Writing

BUILT

Here is a recent (2018) and wonderfully interesting book about structural engineering.  Yes, that topic is interesting – HIGHLY interesting when it come to skyscrapers!  The author, a structural engineer involved with notable projects including London’s towering new skyscraper, the Shard, shares her wonder at bricks and concrete, spider webbing and wind loading, bridges, and  the sorts of calculation that are crucial to the structures of civilization.  She takes the reader around the world to see notable buildings from ancient to modern times. And she looks into the American past to salute Emily Warren Roebling, the defacto chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Recommended!

Lenten Sacrifice

 

Some of you may know that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort. I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead. … I myself have written, “If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

–Kurt Vonnegut

A quarter century ago Peter Menzel published his remarkable book, Material World.  Subtitled A Global Family Portrait, it portrayed statistically average families representing thirty nations.  The most memorable feature of the book was a series of photographs of each family’s worldly goods:  they’d emptied their homes for the photographers and deposited all of their material possessions in front of the homes so that these fascinating collections, meager or extensive, could be photographed.

Think of all of the objects you have in your home.  Almost  every one of those items arrived with the promise that it would in some way make your life richer, fuller, better.

And almost without exception, every one of these items ended up with you taking care of it:  you have to wash it, wax it, renew its registration, dust it, change its oil or its batteries, update its software, or otherwise service it in some way.  Possessions we acquired to make our lives better now possess us instead.

It is the season of Lent when many liturgical Christians give something up.  I once worked with a woman who faithfully gave up chocolate for Lent every year.  A friend of mine – a Lutheran minister – gives up Facebook  for Lent.  Imagine that – more time to interact with flesh and blood friends and family in person!  (Wasn’t Facebook’s original premise that it would help us stay connected?)

It occurs to me that giving up whatever promised to make our lives better, but doesn’t serves us as intended, is worth doing. For example:  fear’s original purpose was to help us human beings survive in a dangerous world.  But some fears we may own now are, like snowmobiles and salad shooters, far more trouble than they’re worth. What if we gave up some of our fears for Lent?

Suppose we gave up our fear of being found out for who we really are?  The fear of being different,  unlovable, hopelessly inadequate, or too strange for anyone to like us? Jesus emphatically said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Meaning we are worth being loved by ourselves. And what if we gave up our fear of our neighbor? You know, the one whose skin color, foreign origins, socio-economic class, politics, or sexuality prompts useless, burdensome fear.

We might find that once Lent is over we don’t need to resume these fears. Or at least that they wouldn’t stick to us quite as stubbornly after Easter Sunday.

Today, April 11, is the twelfth anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut’s death.

THE WHOLE STORY OF CLIMATE

 

This is a remarkable book with lucid, approachable geological science. It’s written in a way that shows the author’s passion for geology and for teaching. She also folds in memorable vignettes about the lives of figures whose discoveries paved the way to what we know now about climate science. This is a very, very good read, and equally thought-provoking.   It methodically builds a case that the Earth’s climate is more unstable than we knew:  it can – and has, in historical eras  – drastically changed in less than a lifetime.  

Highly recommended.

SHAPESHIFTERS

Following the example of a professor who always finds really interesting nonfiction books in the Rice University library, and who checked this book back in, I just read Shapeshifters by Gavin Francis, MD. I’m glad I did. This book is an expertly guided tour of how the human body is fundamentally changeable through both natural development and different diseases. Dr. Francis tells these medical tales with fascination, compassion, and strong, clear, evocative writing. This is highly recommended reading for writers of science fiction, fantasy and mystery – there’s so much good material here!

Earthrise

Recently the short documentary Earthrise was posted on Youtube.  It’s an exploration of the emotional impact on the first humans to ever see their—our—lovely world in the rear view mirror.

The crew of Apollo 8 journeyed to the far side of the moon and back.  They became the first in human history to go far enough from the good Earth to see it dwindle into a blue marble.  Curiously, there had been no advance recognition of the emotional impact of seeing what may be the most hospitable place in all of Creation from a distance,.

The Apollo 8 mission is today remembered for the iconic photo of a crescent Earth rising above the lunar horizon.  In photographic terms, however, what was to be one of the most reproduced images in all of humankind’s history was a “grab shot”:  William Anders had been recording lunar craters on black and white film when suddenly  Earth rose above the bleak horizon.  He asked for a roll of color film—tossed to him, in zero gee—and caught the image in the nick of time, because nobody who’d planned the mission had anticipated the wonder of this.

In Anders words, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

Mission Commander Frank Borman’s take was equally poignant:  rather than astronauts, he said, we “should have sent poets.”   Poets, as well as visual artists and writers can with capture how the wonder of the universe intersects the human spirit.

The wonder of Creation, the incomparable value of our home planet, and what it means to be human:  these are some of the reasons I write science fiction.  Maybe these are some of reasons you read science fiction, too.

 

 

Writing a Caticorn – Guest Post by Pauline Baird Jones

Once again this year I’m delighted to be a part of the science fiction romance anthology Pets in Space.  In this guest post, fellow Embrace the Passion:  Pets in Space 3  author Pauline Baird Jones talks about she invented her pet.

 

One of the hardest (for me) parts when starting a new Pets in Space story is picking a pet. You’d think I was picking a real pet, not a fictional one. For the past two anthologies, I’ve picked the pet and then they drove the story and revealed to me the human they owned and sometimes they told me bits of the story.

They were quite helpful, though there were times I wondered what the pet had been drinking. lol

So this year I decided to be more organized about this pet selection process. I made a list of animals that caught my eye (mostly on my Facebook feed scrolling by) and then I tried to winnow it down. Here’s my “short list” for Pets in Space 3:

Pandas

Harpy Eagle

Turtle

Hedgehog

Flying Squirrel

Blue-footed booby

Boa

Cat

Dog

White mice

Gerbil

Hamster

So which of these animals did I pick for Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3?

Well…kind of none of the above. Lol!

I created a caticorn—a combo cat with a small horse body and a single horn in its forehead.

So technically I picked a cat and then did some fictional genetic engineering. (Don’t feel bad for the pets not picked. Somehow most of them managed to force their way into the story in other ways.)

I did have good reasons for going with a caticorn.

I needed a pet that would help, but not be high maintenance for my heroine.

And I needed a pet with secrets. Let’s face it, cats always look like they are keeping secrets—when they aren’t giving you the Puss’n Boots “give me what I want” look.

And I needed a pet that could sneak on board the ship, because the caticorn did not get an invite for this trip.

I did mention some other animals managed to push their way onboard my space ship, didn’t I? Here’s a little snippet from Operation Ark:

***

The Emissary’s capabilities had tipped the scales on the mission from bat crap crazy to this might work. City had volunteered without hesitation. She’d worked with Kraye and Bull. Kraye was good in a fire fight, and Bull, well, he was a robot who had been designed as a super warrior—a super warrior with a flying squirrel for a pet, but still a robot with fighting creds.

She heard a plaintive half whinny, half meow.

“There you are.” She made the mistake of meeting his big, ‘I feel so neglected’ gaze. With a resigned sigh, she knelt down and ran a hand down his back. It arched like a cat’s and he purred when she scratched around his ears and horn. “You know you’re not supposed to be here.”

The purring increased, and she sighed again. A Marine was not supposed to be owned by a cat, even if it was a caticorn.

“Good thing I got your dietary needs programmed into the system.”

Tiger angled his head, his gaze meeting hers. The look was odd enough to make her wonder—but the Puss’n’Boots look came back. She felt its power, but let Tiger see her skepticism. At least she didn’t have to worry about his claws in her back. It didn’t seem like it should be possible for Tiger to increase the soulful, but he managed it. She chuckled, moving her fingers around so she could scratch his chin. “You win.” She said the words, not sure what he’d won, and she’d lost. It all felt a bit paranoid. Though a little paranoia never hurt anyone in a galaxy far, far away.

***

Rocky the flying squirrel is a pretty awesome buddy for Bull but you’ll need to order the book to find out which other animals found their way into my story “Operation Ark.”

And here’s the blurb for “Operation Ark”:

She’s a USMC Sergeant deployed to the Garradian Galaxy.

He was raised by the robots who freed him from slavery.

It’s a match made nowhere anyone can figure out.

They clashed as enemies but joined forces to defeat a common foe. Now they’re tasked with returning some freed prisoners to their home worlds. In the next galaxy. With an alien, a robot, and a caticorn. It was a bar joke without a punch line, though Carolina City has a feeling it is out there—like the truth.

Kraye isn’t eager to return to his galaxy where the dark secret of his past lays in wait, but he’s willing to risk it in hopes that Caro can teach him what the robots couldn’t: how to be human.

Together they must face a dangerous journey, a lethal enemy with a score to settle, their unexpected desire, and an uncertain future if they make it out alive.

Can Caro and Kraye navigate the minefields—both emotional and space based—to land a happy homecoming for the sentient animals in their care? Can the man raised by robots learn how to kiss the girl while the starchy Marine decides if she is willing to bend the rules for a happy ever after? Don’t miss Pauline Baird Jones’ newest Project Enterprise story!

Please join us for the next round of adventures with romance, danger and pets! All of it happening in space!

USA Today Bestselling author Pauline Baird Jones never liked reality, so she writes books. She likes to wander among the genres, rampaging like Godzilla, because she does love peril mixed in her romance.

 

 

 

The Blessing of the Animals

St Francis and animals

Yesterday my church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Houston, honored St. Francis of Assisi by blessing the animals.

Whether pets or predators, tame or wild, animals remind us – as St. Francis proclaimed but Western civilization too often denies – that we are not alone in creation. It isn’t us or them, isn’t us not them; it’s us and them in the fate of the Earth. 

So St. Stephen’s had much emphasis on ecology in the hymns and prayers, and many pets in attendance. Twenty or so dogs, two turtles, a lizard, and a cockatiel came to church. Our priest individually blessed each pet right in front of the altar. It was a surprisingly powerful ritual. People love their pets. And everyone needed hope and healing after the news that filled the national media last week.

Pets can be incredibly empathetic when humans are hurt, sick, or sad. One of the dogs was a trained therapy dog. Therapy animals mean so much to students in finals, the elderly in assisted living and nursing homes, and other places. My friend Lila’s PTSD therapy dog, Rinnie, makes all the difference in the world for Lila. 

Rinnie

Ritually and intentionally blessing our pets once a year in church reminds us of how we are blessed by them

As a writer of science fiction with real science in it, it’s a little out of character for me to have stories in the Pets in Space Science Fiction Romance anthology (2016 – 2018). But so far, just about every author’s Pets in Space tale has –  amid adventure and mayhem, with sex ranging from hinted to hot, and without using these exact words – shown pets being blessings to people. One reviewer was bitterly disappointed that there was no sex with pets (!) but that isn’t what we’re about. It’s pets rescuing, finding, helping, defending, matchmaking, and making a happy ending. 

That’s a good thing kind of story to write. I’m happy to have a story in Pets in Space:  Embrace the Passion!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

St. Francis sketch credit <a href=”https://clipartxtras.com/”>clipartxtras.com</a>

Meet H’tch and K’mi – Guest Post by Kyndra Hatch

Once again this year I am privileged to have a story in the science fiction romance anthology Pets in Space.  In this guest post, fellow PISA3 author Kyndra Hatch introduces us to her pets.

Meet H’tch and K’mi, the curious fun-loving pets from my Pets In Space 3 story, “After The Fall.” H’tch and K’mi are moghas, which form a one-time lifetime bond with a Korthan biped. H’tch already has a master companion, but K’mi is still waiting for one at the start of the story.

If it were possible to get a cross between a wolf and a fox of Earth, that’s what they generally look like, except that they have long antennae sticking up from the tips of their ears with feather-like tufts on the ends. It is thought that these antennae help facilitate their bonds with their alphas, pinpointing frequencies to help them communicate with their master companions through the mind.

Moghas have retractable fingers in their front paws that help them dig for ground-dwelling creatures to eat. They also use these fingers when climbing the numerous trees that cover their home world. There are some Korthan accountings of seeing moghas swinging from vines between the trees, but these claims cannot be substantiated.

The following snippet features K’mi. Lyra, the heroine of the story, has a thought about the mogha being a hellhound. Moghas got the nickname “Hellhounds of Korth” during the long war between the Korthans and humans of Earth.

***

Soft snoring sounded from the end of the raised ice platform. Curled like a housecat, whiskers and paws twitching, soft feather-like fur caressing her toes, the blue and white mogha was asleep at her feet.

Lyra could see where the fingers would extend from the paws and she remembered a drawing from a veteran of the war, an image of a ferocious hellhound standing over its victim, its fingers around his throat, blood dripping from its fangs. She never experienced the deadly impulses of a hellhound first hand, but it was hard to see this snoring, cuddly housecat harming even a fly.

She resisted the urge to curl her toes into its fur while simultaneously resisting the urge to rub its ears. Feeling a strange sort of kinship with this creature, she felt responsible for it, the need to help and protect it winding through her heart.

Had to be the bond. Why else would she want a sentient creature she just met to follow her everywhere she went?

***

Kyndra Hatch writes action-packed paranormal, science fiction, and fantasy romance stories when she’s not watching for falling stars and avoiding mischievous raccoons at her cabin in the woods.

http://kyndrahatch.blogspot.com/

 

Meet Fiend – Guest Post by Anna Hackett

Once again this year I have a story in the science fiction romance anthology Pets in Space.  In this guest post, fellow PISA3 author Anna Hackett talks about her pet whose name is Fiend.

 

I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3. I often have plenty of nasty beasties in my action-packed sci-fi romances, so it wasn’t too hard to find one who wouldn’t bite anyone’s head off (well, at least not the good guys!) My story, Desert Hunter, is set in my Galactic Gladiators series, on the distant desert world of Carthago. It also stars Fiend.

Fiend is an alien canine of dubious origins. He’s a big, scruffy ball of tangled fur and he’s rescued from sand pirates in the desert by our hero and heroine, Bren and Mersi. He has a barbed tail, a lolling tongue, and doesn’t like baths…and watch out when he gets riled, because he’s very protective of the people he claims as his.

Here’s where we first meet Fiend:

Bren was scowling down at…Mersi blinked at the tangled lump jogging at his feet.

The beige-colored animal looked like a big ball of matted fur.

“What is that?” she asked.

The thing lifted its head and looked at her. She couldn’t see any eyes through the snarled fur, but a large, pink tongue was lolling out. The beast also had a long tail, with wicked spikes on the end of it, that was currently wagging in a friendly sort of way.

“It appears to be some kind of canine,” Corsair said.

“I’ve never seen an animal like it before.” Bren frowned at the canine sniffing at his boots. “The pirates were trying to capture him.”

“Capture him?” Mersi crouched down and the animal moved toward her. “Not kill him?”

Bren took a step forward. “Careful.”

“It’s fine, Bren.”

“He stinks and he’s wild. He could be dangerous.”

That giant tongue licked at Mersi’s face. As the creature exuberantly shifted closer, he almost knocked her over. She laughed. “Yes, he looks very dangerous.”

Anna Hackett is a USA Today bestselling author who loves action romance. She loves stories that combine the thrill of falling in love with the excitement of action, danger and adventure. For more info on Anna and her action-packed romances, visit www.annahackettbooks.com

Hurricane Moon

This was my street when Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston. Yes, there is a street – in fact two wide boulevards – under all that water, which is the bayou usually channeled between the boulevards.

Hurricane Florence has now done to the Carolinas what Harvey did to the Texas coast last year – slam in from the sea then dawdle, dumping immense amounts of rain to result in flooding, destruction, and death.

And Astronaut Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station just photographed the eye of the super-typhoon in the Pacific saying, “As if somebody pulled the planet’s gigantic plug. Staring down the eye of yet another fierce storm. Category 5 Super Typhoon Trami is unstoppable and heading for Japan and Taiwan. Be safe down there.”

What with this summer’s hurricanes, Western wildfires, some strong tornadoes surprisingly far north, and entrenched drought in some parts of the US, individuals and institutions increasingly look either foolish or blinded by self-interest and greed as they deny climate change, or even accelerate it.  They’re denying and accelerating it anyway and not just in the US. As a result, industrialized civilization may well tip the Earth’s climate into a slow but inexorable catastrophe.

That’s the background of my novel Hurricane Moon. 

In the late 21st century, with Earth wracked by climate change, an ambitious private foundation launches a starship to find a new world. Aboard the starship Aeonare Catharin Gault, an idealistic astronaut-physician, and Joseph Devreze, a geneticist as brilliant as he is irresponsible. Aeondiscovers two Earth-sized planets in orbit around each other. Planet Green has abundant plant life. Planet Blue is an oceanic world covered with hurricanes. The green world with its bright blue moon seems like a perfect stage for the drama of civilization to begin anew and turn out better this time. But the journey took too long. A millennium of cryostasis—cold suspended animation—has caused insidious genetic damage. Now Catharin must rely on the irresponsible genius Devreze to help her repair the human genome if there is to be a future for the colony on Planet Green. Their mutual attraction ratchets up even as their conflict escalates. Together Catharin and Joe must decide how they can face, and embrace, a future utterly at odds with Aeon’s planned mission and their own expectations.   

In the sense of naming times of the year for full moons – I’ve seen Harvest Moon, Hunter’s Moon, and Moon of Cold-Exploding Trees – a Hurricane Moon has to be a season of crisis. It happens that way in my novel. And it seems to be unfolding on 21st-Century Earth, starting with everyone in striking range of monstrous hurricanes, super-wildfires, and record-setting droughts and heat waves.

Crises indeed.