Ca11igraphy

She has the most beautifully rounded font
I have ever beheld
And I caress every curve
Of her W
With my eager gaze
Her M and her Y
Give me a capital I
Even her E and her 3
Really do it for me
She has the most beautifully rounded font
It is my favourite.

First Draft: Finished

I typed “The End” on this bad boy this morning, after writing the last chapter and part of the epilogue at my local pub last night. I was actually at home trying to finish the epilogue after I got home but I fell dead asleep at the desk and woke up at 2:30AM, stared at the bizarre mishmash of semi-words I’d apparently typed in my sleep, and shrugged and went to bed.

This morning, armed with a double-strength coffee and a banana, I cleaned up the epilogue and typed “The End.”

This doesn’t mean the book is done, though. I’m going to work on something else for a month or so, then come back and do a rewrite.

Seriously, it’s in the rewrite that the magic happens.

Trip Without Destination

She calls out his name
The brown sedan keeps driving
There shines no brake lights

She sits, cold concrete
Does not want to move or talk
He is gone for good

Motor sounds, smell of exhaust
Many shoes crunching endless paths
A bus pulls up, stops

She looks, driver smiles
Doors open and then breathes warm air
Standing, life goes on

Leaden feet carry her
Up three steps, walk down the aisle
Bus seat is grimy

Long hours pass the day
Trip without destination
She stares out window

Familiar streets now
She gets off the bus, walking
Shock, his car is home

Running to the door
He meets her in the doorway
The love is still there

The Tracks

We were boys trying to fathom the mysteries of women.

Summer morning, and I’d awaken and jump out of my bed, eat a bunch of sugary cereal, and then jam on down the street toward the train tracks to meet my friends. I had a Stingray bike with a tiny front tire, a banana seat, and a tall sissy bar. 5-speed, straight shift. Front wheel had a drum brake like a motorcycle.

The bike was “boss.” It “burned rubber.”

I’d race down the dirt of the levy road, dodging shadows and fallen branches, then leap over a mound of dirt and rumble down a rocky trail to the tracks. Turning north I’d follow the tracks to the second bridge where the creek was wide and deep. Usually I was the first one there, but not every time.

Randy would show up, sometimes with his neighbor Philip. Sometimes Larry would be there. Other friends came and went; I don’t even remember their names. All us boys were in-between the 4th and 5th grades. Lizard hunters, proto-motocross riders. Creek swimmers. Train challengers.

This was the lost Tom Sawyer boyhood of my youth.

The railroad bridge was a quiet place. Overgrown with trees and brush, the creek ran gurgling at a good pace. There were mini-rapids both upstream and downstream, but right around the oily, wooden bridge supports it was almost a pond. Deep enough to swim in, and if I stood it would come up to my neck. Because of broken glass, swimming with shoes was mandatory.

There were always new things to see or find. We’d catch at least one snake a day, but rarely do anything besides hold it for a while then let it go again. Only exceptionally cool snakes would be taken home so that they could escape and scare the bejeezes out of our moms. But there were also alligator lizards, and skinks (with really pretty red or blue tails), dozens of bluebellies, massive bullfrogs, and the occasional swimming turtle. They had the tendency to bite, though.

The really fun stuff was more dangerous. One of our favorites was to jump our bikes into the water. I only did this when I brought my second “junk” bike out. We would zoom down the short hill from the tracks, up a big lump of dirt, and fly 15 feet through the air and into the creek. Another favorite was to huddle under the bridge as a train went by. There was talk of actually lying down the middle of the track and have the train go right over us, but thank God no one actually tried it.

Then one day we found the hiding place of a genuine railroad hobo. Abandoned during the day, apparently this hobo returned at night to sleep in a corrugated metal pipe that ran under the tracks. There was clothes, cans of food, bottles of water, blankets, and a pile of really nasty, dirty magazines. They weren’t like our dad’s Playboy magazines. They were lurid and sleazy; wide open and shocking. We were fascinated, like deer unable to look away from oncoming headlights.

We didn’t know what to do with this forbidden treasure. We were afraid if we simply left it, it would disappear. But no one would dare take it home. We could all imagine the nightmare of it being found. So it was decided we had to find a new hiding place for it.

We searched the surrounding area for a likely place. There were piles of old railroad ties, and boards under grass, and areas where there were piles of concrete. We were surrounded by farmland, and we found what we thought was a perfect place: another corrugated metal pipe on the other side of a barbed wire fence, right below a small tree. It was perfect. It was about a foot wide and hidden by tall grass.

The next day we came out and yes, the treasure was still there. We’d all pour over it, joke about it, ask each other question which none of us truly knew the answer (though it didn’t stop us from bluffing and stating our guesses as fact). We were boys trying to fathom the mysteries of women. We were trying to integrate our knowledge of our mothers, sisters, and girls next door with what we’d learned from the dirty magazines. It was difficult and ultimately frightening.

I think we were all a bit relieved when several days later we came out to find the pipe holding our forbidden treasure was under water. As it turned out, the field was a rice field, and the farmer had come and turned the valve, flooding the area with water from the creek. The water had carried the magazines out into the acres of rice paddies and they were obviously ruined and lost. Our only consolation was that the next day we were treated to the joyous show of a biplane flying right over our heads, dropping sprouts into the fields of water. The daring of the pilot earned our undying admiration, especially after he waved at us from about ten feet off the ground.

After that it was back to normal at the bridge. Snakes, lizards, bicycles, and swimming. Seeing how long we could stand on the train tracks while a train bore down on us. Stupid boy things like that. I’m sure we spent the whole summer out there, but when school started again and the weather grew colder, the place wasn’t as much fun. Things changed, bulldozers pushed things around, and the old wooden railroad bridge was replaced by a new, modern, concrete one. And for some reason they cut down all the surrounding trees.

It was over. The next summer the tracks didn’t hold the same magic, and it took many years to find a place like that again. By that time I was a teenager in a different crowd of friends, and girls were involved, and there was not much innocence left. People had jobs and responsibilities. Car payments had to be made. It was different.

Like Tom Sawyer, we were doomed to grow up.


This has been an excerpt from Jerry’s book All This and a Bucket of Toads. If you enjoyed it, there’s more just a few clicks away! Available in paper and ebook at Amazon.

Eternal Summer Dream

Creatures of shadow, light and dark,
Weighing nearly nothing
Drifting like wind-borne mist
Past the fitted stone and ancient archways
The long grass under the tangled branches.

When the afternoon sun beats down
With the pressure of a dry August heat
They rest in a quiet summer dream
Of past years and childhood games
Of restless yearnings and the touch of someone fond
A time spent long ago.

When the sun drifts down, finally
They stir in the evening twilight
And wander aimlessly, sleepwalking
Dimly aware of who they were
And what they are now.

When footsteps quietly come
To them it drums like thunder
All still, they watch
As a young couple wanders
Arm in arm through the courtyard
Hardly more than children

There’s a hush as they pause and kiss
There’s a rush of life and joy
Then as the two walk aimlessly along, they follow,
They follow along, just follow, watching,
Watching, the night itself watching,
Just watching

As the sun brightens the sky
And as the lovers sleep
They pause to wistfully touch the life
So fresh and so warm
Then drift past the cold archways
And etched stone
To the place they lie dreaming
Just dreaming, holding onto what they’d touched
Until the sunlight melts it away.

The Hole in the Field

Little did we realize that we’d created the perfect tractor trap.

We didn’t mean any harm. Seriously. We were just kids.

I think I was about 10 years old when we first moved to Stockton, California, and our first house was right on the edge of town in an area being developed. Directly across the street was a large empty field, a perfect place for us neighborhood kids to play. With this huge field of dirt, all we needed was a shovel. I provided the shovel, and we took turns digging. We all wanted to see just how big a hole we could make.

The project took weeks. At first we called it “The Hole,” as in, “Let’s meet at The Hole after school.” “Mom, we’re going to go play out at The Hole.” “I did more work on The Hole than you did!”

The Hole became quite large, and then someone came up with the coolest idea. With all the construction going on in the neighborhood there was plenty of wood around (scrap and otherwise) so day by day we were able to start covering The Hole with a roof. As the roof was built, dirt was piled on top of it so that it couldn’t be seen. It was at this point it stopped being The Hole and became “The Fort.”

With The Fort in place amid all the weeds and tall grass, it was the best place on Earth to play Army. We armed ourselves with cap guns, squirt guns, plastic battle axes and swords, and the filled that field with wars, insurrections, rebellions and general free-for-all mêlées. The Fort was a nexus for our little battles until summer, when a rival gang of kids, older and meaner, took it from us. Our interest in it waned, as we’d discovered new places to play (a creek with a railroad bridge, God help us) and so we finally gave up on The Fort.

We let the bullies have it.

Then I remember the day we spotted a farmer’s tractor out in that field, lumbering and squeaking through the tall grass. I stood on my front lawn with my friends, watching in fascination as the tractor pulled its plow back and forth across the field, edging closer to The Fort with each pass. Then there was this magic moment when the entire tractor suddenly disappeared from our view. From across the field came a terrific Wham!.

Little did we realize that we’d created the perfect tractor trap.

The tractor driver came up out of that hole hopping mad, and we ran. Later someone came door to door, inquiring about whose kids had dug a big hole in the field. My mom kept her mouth shut, no doubt fearing a lawsuit. Later it came out that the bullies who’d taken it away from us got blamed, and were in big trouble.

Ah, karma.

It took a huge semi-truck looking rig to pull that tractor out of The Hole. We stood on my front lawn watching that, too. Come next summer, they’d started building more houses there and soon the field was a block of brand new triplexes. It didn’t take five years for the whole area to deteriorate into a low-rent slum.

Frankly, I liked it better as a field.


This has been an excerpt from Jerry’s book All This and a Bucket of Toads. If you enjoyed it, there’s more just a few clicks away! Available in paper and ebook at Amazon.

Snake Alley vs. Lombard Street: Which One is More Crooked?

Last Summer, during a meandering and somewhat aimless road trip with my sweetheart, we came across “Snake Alley” in Burlington, Iowa.

It reminded me so much of Lombard Street in San Francisco that I had to do some research. Which came first, and which one is more crooked?

Well, having been built in 1894, Snake Alley existed 28 years before Lombard Street. And below I’ve put together the two using Google Maps images. I will let you be the judge of which one is more crooked.

May I Take Your Order, Please?

Something I wrote to get my head around a scene that I was working on in Eleven Days on Earth.

A waiter walked up to the table
Wearing a suit jacket that was far too small—
There was no way he could button it, and the
Sleeves came halfway up to his elbows
He sported a overlarge red bow tie
Black curly hair with oil in it, and
A large, obviously fake mustache
Which curled in waxed spirals at the ends.

“May I take your order, please?” he asked.

Before we could answer
A nude woman holding a pomegranate, with a
Bayoneted rifle slung over her shoulder
And flanked by two huge yellow and black tigers
Complained that she had been stung by a bee
And wanted her money back.

We sat for eleven minutes waiting
Then realized that ants were eating the silverware.

Evidence that Life Began Before Earth: Good Fuel for Science Fiction

Now, before you get too excited, there are plenty of arguments that this is wrong — but for the sake of Science Fiction let’s suspend any disbelief and take this paper by Alexei Sharov and Richard Gordon at face value.

Here’s the idea: if you apply Moore’s Law to the demonstrated exponential rise in genetic complexity over time, it suggests that life as we know it formed roughly ten billion years ago. This is significant as the current estimated age of Earth is only 4.5 billion years.

Origin of Life (Graph borrowed from a MIT Technology Review)

This suggests all sorts of intriguing possibilities. For one, in this scenario, Panspermia is a foregone conclusion. Life did not form on Earth

Sure this is not a new idea, but now Science Fiction as a genre has some numbers to play with. One of them is the possibility that in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, we’re not the backwards baby intelligence in a galaxy teeming with far more advanced races. We could very well be the ipso facto advanced intelligent race.

How so?

Consider this: We’ve always assumed that it takes at least 4.5 billion years for an intelligent race to develop. Now there’s evidence it might take as long as 10 billion years. Sure, we are leaving out a lot of factors, such as asteroid strikes and other mass extinction events – that you’d think would throw off the time table – but we’re not looking at that kind of physical history. We’re looking at the uniform rise in complexity of genetic material. 

Information. 

The assumption is that it somehow endures through these disasters and continues progress. After all, it somehow migrated through interstellar space through untold and unimaginable disasters – possibly the destruction and reformation of solar systems – to take root on this pretty little blue orb of ours.

And so, this theory argues, thus explains the Fermi Paradox: We’re not hearing from any other intelligent species because they’re either close to, or behind, our own sophistication. That’s why we’re not being invaded by bug-eyed-monsters, or grey hive space aliens, or multi-trunked Pachyderms from Alpha Centari. If anything, we’d be the invaders, a la James Cameron’s Avatar.

But beyond that lies the really intriguing questions:

  • Where, exactly, did life begin roughly 10 billion years ago?
  • Was it localized, as in a star that existed, and then perished, and the material reformed to become our current star and set of planets?
  • Is it spread through our entire galaxy, which means it permeates space and seeds all other hospitable environments such as Earth?
  • Are there other, wholly other alien forms of DNA-like substances which formed in a different time and frame, and that seeds other sections of the galaxy?

The premise leads to endless conjecture – which is fuel for good Science Fiction – but more importantly it gives a more solid jumping off point, as – despite the inconclusive and tenuous evidence – it’s really the best we have right now. It’s something, other than nothing. Because before this paper came out, that what there was: nothing. Wide open nothing.

This gives us something to test. Now, if we do finally find conclusive samples of life beyond planet Earth, we can see if it fits this model.

That’s what science is about.

And that is the best fuel for good Science Fiction.

Sources:

Randomness is Not What We Think It Is

I’m writing a series of realistic fantasy books and one of the characters is the god of chaos. Because of this character, I’ve been studying chaos theory in order to write the character with some intelligence, and I’ve been led to an amazing fact:

We all spring out of complete and total randomness.

Everything that is us and our world, and even our thoughts, are the product of complete and total randomness.

If you can wrap your head around this, you begin to understand that we have a general misconception of what “random” truely is. Apple Computers had to come to this conclusion, oddly, because when they first had a “random” setting on their early iPods people complained that it couldn’t possibly be random because it kept grouping songs together. They had to tweak their “random” algorithm to not be truly random so that it actually seemed random.

What we consider a rational, coherent universe is, at its very heart, complete and total random chaos … and yet, out of it springs order and, dare I say, meaning!

I find this utterly fascinating.