Still here…working on book

No, I haven’t died, though it might seem that way. There have actually been a number of things I’ve wanted to write about, but haven’t had the time. Ah, most of the ideas have fled now. I should give one update, though—my friend got out of Lebanon pretty early on and in good shape, for which I’m deeply grateful. She got a ride out on a U.S. Marines helicopter, so a big thanks to all of you involved in the evacuation. (No connection, but shortly after that, I got a nice email from an army sergeant who discovered one of my books while stationed in Bosnia, of all places. He said that later, while stationed in Iraq, he was always looking for good SF to read. That gave me great encouragement.)

I’ve been working hard on Sunborn, trying to beat down a group of chapters that just wouldn’t shape up. I think I’m getting a handle on it now. Also, it’s summer musical time at Arlington Children’s Theater, which one of my kids is in, and for which I’m once more helping out on the sound board. We’re in dress rehearsals for Damn Yankees right now, and have performances starting this coming weekend and going right through the next. (Fortunately—given that we’re in the middle of a heat wave—the theater has upgraded its air conditioning!)

Listen, I’d love to stay and have a drink and chat, but I’ve got to get back to the book! See you later!

Danger in Lebanon

There are a number of things I’ve been meaning to write about, including progress on my book, but right now my thoughts keep going to Lebanon. I have a friend named June, who traveled to Beirut last week, in fulfillment of long-laid plans to reconnect with separated relatives. Shortly after her arrival, Israel started bombing the city—starting with the airport, cutting off travel.

It is a testament to the internet—and email—that I know as much as I do about what’s happening. With the city in upheaval, there’s not much she can do except go to internet cafes and let people know what’s happening.

At first, she felt reasonably assured of her safety, being in the same neighborhood as the British Consulate and American University. And then a lighthouse two blocks away was bombed. It is her belief, and, she says, that of everyone she talks to, that these air strikes have nothing to do with trying to keep the captured Israeli soldiers from being moved out of Lebanon and everything to do with an intended much larger war. She is not even confident that the U.S. Navy, if and when it arrives to evacuate U.S. citizens, will be immune to attack by either side. Hezbollah has Iranian missiles, and Israel has deliberately attacked U.S. ships before (U.S.S. Liberty, 1967, in an incident that is shocking to read about even today).

And so, she waits. No doubt the situation is much worse for many innocent Lebanese people who are being targeted, intentionally or not. (And, presumably, for many members of Hezbollah, who are not innocent at all.)

I’m not going to get into a big discussion of who is right or wrong in the Arab/Israeli conflict. Both sides seem ready to seize any excuse for war. But I am worried about my friend, and wondering why it’s taking so long for the U.S. military to get our people out of there. According to June, the Italians and French have begun evacuating their citizens already.

I’m also wondering why, according to the Boston Globe, the State Department “warned that citizens would have to pay the cost of their own evacuation.” What, are they going to sell tickets to get onto Navy choppers? Really—is this how we take care of our people? As a taxpayer, I say this is one of the things I willingly pay taxes for—to help people when they’re in bad straits. These people have enough to worry about with bombs raining around them, without wondering if they can afford the bill to be airlifted to Cyprus.

New Friends

Before the memory of the Young Writers conference fades, I want to mention a few of the interesting people I met there, and what they’re up to.

Philip Baruth is a novelist and teacher in Vermont. But he’s also a political blogger, and runs a blog called the Vermont Daily Briefing. Though a lot of what he talks about is Vermont politics, some of it is pretty funny even for outsiders. Try this entry about Senate hopeful Rich Tarrant, who chose Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” for a campaign song. It’s hilarious, sort of in the same way Dan Quayle was hilarious.

Marjorie Ryerson is an astoundingly articulate and energetic woman, who walked away from a tenured faculty position because she felt she had more important things to do with her life. (The fact that these other things didn’t necessarily pay was an annoying side effect.) She’s an author, which is enough for many people, but one of the other things she did was found an organization called Water Music, “an international, non-profit project designed to help the earth’s waters” through the arts and music. Her book, Water Music, is a spectacularly beautiful collection of photographs combined with poems and mini-essays by musicians, who are helping the cause by putting on benefit concerts. She’s working with the UN (UNESCO, if I’m remembering correctly), and in addition to trying to raise awareness among Americans of the importance of protecting our water heritage, she’s working overseas to help provide clean drinking water to populations who (unlike many of us) cannot take it for granted.

Doug Wilhelm has written a young adult novel called The Revealers, which deals with bullying in the middle school years. The book has been so successful in raising consciousness about the issue that it’s being used in many middle schools as a resource for focusing attention on the problem of bullying. Doug recently adapted the novel as a play, and that has been successfully put on in several middle schools. (My family is reading it right now, to see if it might be something our local theater group might be interested in trying.) The other thing you should know about Doug is that he’s about 8 feet tall, and you can pick him out of any crowd. (Okay, okay, 6′ 10″ — close enough.)

Finally, the director of the workshop, Matt Dickerson, is not just a teacher of computer science, but a writer of nonfiction literary analysis—his latest book being From Homer to Harry Potter, with another one coming on the subject of Tolkien and environmentalism—and the author of a historical fantasy novel. He also has a son who’s a budding SF writer. He’s also a hell of a nice guy, and he puts on a whopping good conference.

Taxes Done! And Other Stories of Astronomical Importance

Well, I got those pesky taxes done and out of the way with time to spare! (Let’s see, about a hundred hours to spare, I figure.) So I sort of, almost, kept my New Year’s resolution to not fall behind and do my taxes at the last minute this year. We wound up owing a bit, so it’s not like we lost out on getting an early refund.

And having finished that, I’m now back to wrestling with a far more challenging problem: making sense of Chapter 13 in Sunborn. (It didn’t come out so well in the first draft. I think I’m getting there, though.)

Astronomically speaking, I just read a couple of interesting stories. Venus, that greenhouse hothouse of a planet, has a new visitor—the European Space Agency’s probe Venus Express, which entered orbit around the planet just yesterday. Here’s to Venus Express [takes a swig of Winterhook Ale].

Out at the other extreme of the solar system, Hubble scientists have taken a look at Xena, aka 2003 UB313, considered by some to be (maybe) the long-sought 10th planet. The Hubble people put its diameter at 1490 miles, rather than the original estimate of 1860 miles. That would make it almost exactly the same size as Pluto. Says Space.com: “Since 2003 UB313 is 10 billion miles away not even as wide as the United States, it showed up as just 1.5 pixels in Hubble’s view. But that’s enough to precisely make a size measurement, astronomers said.” If they can really do that, that’s…impressive.

And finally, consider RS Ophiuchi. It’s a binary star system, a white dwarf and a red giant. Like many such pairs, it’s also a source of fireworks, as matter falling from the giant onto the white dwarf periodically causes the smaller star to explode. What’s different about this star is that it blows up inside the atmosphere of its larger buddy. This is something new, never seen before.

And if you periodically worry, as I do, about what’s going to happen to the Earth a billion years from now when our own sun blows up into a red giant (incinerating us), some astrophysicist types named Fred Adams, Gregory Laughlin, and Don Korycansky have an answer: use carefully aimed asteroids to give Earth a gravitational boost and move it to a safer orbit! It’s a sort of long-term project, with each pass of the asteroid (every 6000 years) nudging the Earth a little farther from the sun. (“Captain, our orbit is decaying!” Nope—not anymore!)

Happy Birthday!

Lest I seem all dark and gloomy, let me hasten to add that today was my wife’s birthday! (Well, it’s yesterday now, but it still feels like today to me.) We’ve been together for over 20 years now, and it was a joy to celebrate with her and with the girls. She’s a supportive and trusting wife, an intelligent and funny companion, and a bedrock to the raising of our daughters. And the best friend I ever had. Happy birthday, Allysen!

Boskone, and News about Galactica

Well, I had a thoroughly pleasant time at Boskone. This took me a little by surprise, only because I was feeling all grumpy and not really in the mood to go out. I had to, though, because I was scheduled to be on panels. And once I got there and started seeing old friends, and making some new ones, I got into the spirit of it. I also thought this was the liveliest and most interesting Boskone I have seen in a number of years.

One pleasant result was encountering some fans who had already read Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries. The feedback was all good. Perhaps the nicest was from a young woman who happens to be a Commander in the US Navy, and who is about to become captain of a guided missile destroyer. She said she thought I’d captured the feel of the story very well—and I took that as significant praise, coming from someone who actually knows what it’s like to run a military vessel. (The only ones I have ever been aboard have been museums, rather like what Galactica was scheduled to become before the pesky Cylons interfered.)

An encouraging sidelight was hearing from one of my writing buddies that he’d met with his editor and confirmed the sale of a new trilogy. Earning a living as a writer is not easy for any of us, and he’s no exception. I don’t know if I should mention his name here, so I’ll just say that it rhymes with Craig Shaw Gardner, and his writing style is very similar. I’ll let him announce the details once everything’s been inked.

And finally, I came home to see an email from my editor, telling me that Galactica has sold to a British publisher and has had a book club sale. Given that my biggest rationale for writing the book was to get my name back in front of the public (I didn’t know then that I was going to enjoy Galactica so much), this is very good news indeed. More readers, and—who knows—maybe even a little more money, in the long run.

(Which reminds me of something I want to write about—readers versus money. But later. Remind me if I forget.)

Battlestar Galactica Audiobook

I have finally received my copies of the audiobook edition of my novel Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries. It’s read by Jonathan Davis, and it sounds good! (Well, the first ten minutes sound good, which is what I’ve listened to.) If you enjoy audiobooks, you might like to give it a try. (It is abridged, I should point out.)

This is the first of my books to be put into audiobook format, so it’s a new experience for me. It’s also the first time I’ve had one of my books abridged, and that takes a little getting used to. The method was not, as I expected, to go through and remove phrases and shorten sentences. Instead, they simply removed entire sentences, probably about one in every four or five. I think it works okay, though to my (prejudiced) ear, there is something lost. Still, it’s instructive how much you can cut and still have it work. I don’t know who did the cutting.

Note, I’m still calling the novel “the Miniseries,” because that’s what it is, notwithstanding the fact that someone along the way—certainly without asking me—took that informative subtitle off the cover of the book. At first they changed it to “the original hit series,” and when I pointed out how misleading that was, they took it off, but didn’t restore “the Miniseries.” I hope no one is confused by the packaging into thinking that the novel reflects the series that followed. It doesn’t. Some future novel might, though.

Galactica Questions

I was asked to come online at a place called Galactica Station/Ragnar Anchorage and answer questions from BSG fans about the miniseries novel. I’ve gone into somewhat greater depth about the novel there than I have here, so if you’d like to read my comments, you can view them at Ragnar Anchorage.

You don’t have to be registered to read the posts, as far as I know.

Galactica, Bye Bye Birdie, and Joint Compound

Between being busy at play performances, and being up to my elbows in joint compound at home, I think I forgot to mention that Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries has been approved by the studio—so I think I can say with reasonable confidence that it’s on track for publication by Tor Books in February of 2006. (That really means January, in case you’re not familiar with publishers’ calendars.)

The girls were on Channel 4 TV here in Boston Friday night (late night news), only we didn’t see it because we hadn’t gotten the word about when it was running. We heard about it from friends who happened to watch the news. It was a short piece about online learning through the Virtual High School, and their experience taking month-long courses this last month. Hope we get to see it sometime.

Galactica One Step Closer

I finished correcting the proofs for Battlestar Galactica today. A book always feels different when you see it typeset, and I’m happy to say that it I was pleased by the way it came out. I enjoyed reading it (not always true of reading my own stuff), and I got excited in the right places, and felt for the characters in the right places. So my hopes are high. Still no official word from the studio yet, but assuming nothing goes wrong there, it’s in Tor’s schedule for February 2006. If the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.

At the same time, life just got busy on another level: we started dress rehearsal for Bye Bye Birdie at the Arlington Children’s Theater, and as I’m the head sound guy, I have to be there a lot, trying to get the sound to work out right and training a couple of new people—other parents who want to learn sound. That’s going to take up a lot of time for the next two weeks. My own kids are in four performances of the blue cast, plus there are four other performances by the red cast. It’ll be fun, but tiring.

I haven’t forgotten that I promised to write about rewriting, per Harry’s query. Just haven’t had time to do it yet.

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