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Category: A Writer’s Desk

No ghosts here

Posted in A Writer's Desk

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Typically one speaks of being surrounded by ghosts. Where I live, however, the ghosts are surrounded by us. So are the ghosthunters.

We live in an log cabin, built by Christian Baughman. In 1812 he took out a warrant for a hollow tucked into the base of the Allegheny Front in central Pennsylvania. To convert a warrant on a piece of land, you needed to survey it and make improvements, and the cabin was part of those improvements. He patented the property in 1812 and Baughman Hollow Farm came into being.

Baughman Hollow Farm was originally about 400 acres that started at the head of the hollow and spread down to the south and east. In the next generation, the farm was divided among the children, and then Dr. Robert Piper (1865-1936) began reassembling pieces of it in the late 19th and early 20th century before he passed it along to Cosmo Mannino, the “Banana King” (1879-1965). By the time we acquired the place from the Mannino estate, in the early 80s, and did a bit of reassembly of our own, it was back to about 300 acres, though no longer a working farm.

The road originally ran up the hollow on the west, turned to the right to run along the base of the Allegheny Front, past the cabin and the barn, and then turned right again to run back down the hollow, to Van Scoyoc road, at the site of the famous circus train wreck. In 1840, John Baughman, son of Christian, donated a bit of ground just above that last turn, at the head of the hollow, to serve as a cemetery. Baughman Cemetery is currently run by an association founded in 1926, and it's still active despite its small size.

It's a tiny cemetery, dominated by the names of local families who are still in the area. Their relatives come by to visit on holidays or just to pass the time, some on ATVs from the adjacent hollows down the old part of the Baughman Hollow Road which is now an internal farm road.

Our farm surrounds it entirely, on all sides. The little patch with its slumbering graves is raised above the surrounding land and sheltered by the Allegheny Front. The cemetery is closed from dusk to dawn so that everyone can rest in peace. It's a quiet, tranquil, private place, as little country cemeteries tend to be.

Or it would be, if it weren't for the ghosthunters. Or the teenagers desperate for a place to party or make out. Or the transactions in illicit substances. Some weekend nights, it feels like we get all three simultaneously.

I'm not sure which is worse, but the ghosthunters are high on the list. You see, Baughman Cemetery is famous in the community of credulity.

    • Tyrone Ghost Hunters — note that this features both ghosthunters and teenagers, so it's a twofer.
    • Haunts of Blair County — it makes all the lists.
    • The Pennsylvania Ghost & Paranormal Research Team — I can't tell you how often I've wished we'd installed some microphones and speakers from the cabin so that we could respond to the flashing lights of the ghosthunters with some spooky wails from hidden locations. I know that my dogs who wake us up in the middle of the night to tell us about the shenanigans outside would agree.

      (We may do this yet…)

I have some sympathy for the teenagers — I was that age once — though I have to wonder about the sensibilities of bringing a hot date to a cemetery to make out. Drunken parties are more reasonable.

But I have to draw the line at vandalism. The maintenance shed was destroyed recently, and that requires real money from real people to repair. And then there was the sit-around-the-campfire-and-tell-spooky-stories party that ended up with a burning car in the midst of our woods. We were lucky it burned slowly.

Nope, haven't seen a single ghost. All the lights, moans, and hiccups have human origins.

 

 

That dreaded event — a new computer

Posted in A Writer's Desk

Two connected laptops. Computer network. Computer generated image.

I'm a techie. I made my career in building and running small to medium software products and services companies. I've written code at the operating system level, analyzed performance in mainframes, and helped many large firms transition to the internet.

Back in 1976, contemplating a job offer, I can remember thinking to myself “Ya know, I bet computers are going to be interesting…”

So I'm not a computer illiterate, even if I'm no longer hands-on in current programming languages. I think of myself these days as a leading-edge computer consumer.

And every time I swap to a new computer, I have to remind myself of this.

I've had high-end business laptops ever since there were laptops, and I've continued that practice in the freelance world. I have a specialized workstation for photography (very big storage, fast processing), and another one just for writing (old, no unnecessary software to distract me), but like many people all my day-to-day ordinary work is spent with a big honking laptop. I buy them new, and run them until they drop, typically 6-7 years.

My long-past-warranty Win 7 Dell laptop has been crashing more and more lately, and I've anticipated the final failures by picking up a new Lenovo Win 10 system (Thinkpad P50). I splurged on disk (1 TB) and screen resolution (3840×2160) but otherwise kept it close to off-the-shelf.

I have a lot of software and many specialized tools. The essential tool for moving from one PC to another is a product called LapLink which allows you to copy everything from the old machine to the new, where most of it will end up running properly without further attention (a minor miracle). This process takes hours (or days), depending on whether you spend money for a special LapLink cable (recommended) or try to tough it out across a (much slower) local network. I have occasion to swap to a new machine every few years and, like time-lapse photography, I appreciate how much more convenient the process gets each time.

High-resolution screens and font-size management

So, what am I complaining about? Fonts. The inability, more than a year after Windows 10 was released, for many products to accommodate the font sizes needed for their internal menus in a high-resolution situation. As I do research into my problems, I discover this is not just a Win 10 issue, but has been around ever since the hi-res monitors have. And it still isn't fixed. The products blame Windows but I don't know who's right (yet).

It's not just an issue of hi-res. Windows 10 also allows you to amplify the native text setting to accommodate higher resolution. And that's where the problem seems to lie. The ordinary navigation menus in programs respect that text resizing. But products that have complex internal menus, often with icons rather than text, do not seem to respect the text resizing, so they shrink in a high-resolution situation, and don't resize.

I use four expensive and critical programs that are so complicated that they have internal menus: Photoshop and Lightroom, and Quicken and QuickBooks. And here's what they look like in Win 10.

Four years in the business

Posted in A Writer's Desk

woman-climbing-tall-mountainD'ya know what today is?

Four years ago I published my first novel, To Carry the Horn. Since then, there have been more than a million words, seven novels (the eighth should be out in November), and a handful of short stories and a collection. That's two fantasy series, and a third in the wings coming up.

It's sixteen titles. When you count up all the different formats and combinations (print, epub, mobi, audio) and bundles, I make it fifty-five published editions, and there are more titles going the rounds of story submissions not yet published.

It's been a wild ride, but I'm just getting started. I've got a science-fiction series in mind after this next fantasy series (The Affinities of Magic). That's eight novels in four years so far, but this year alone I will have published four novels, so I'm ramping up my game.

In terms of the business side, I've just scraped the surface of serious international distribution, and you're all going to be hearing a lot more from me in terms of marketing in the upcoming year, an area too long neglected.

pulling-boulderI enjoy the writing enormously, but novels are marathons, not sprints, and the daily discipline of sitting down and doing the work is always a challenge.

Sometimes it feels like this.

But it's always worth it when I get to the top and release the next book. Love the view from up there!

There’s a bit of the author in every character

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and Characters

BearFeederWe're in the middle of a war right now, at my log cabin, and war often brings insight.

Let me explain… You see, Pennsylvania is one of those states where the black bears graciously allow a few humans to live, as long as they're good providers.

Over the last couple of years, the score has been roughly even, between the bears stealing birdfeeders and me trotting out in a nightgown with a flashlight yelling “Git outta here, bear!”

Just a couple nights ago, one of my dogs did his “that ‘possum must be back at the birdfeeders” routine at our family room window, and when I went to check, there was a black bear, wondering why we were shining a flashlight in his face. He'd already claimed those feeders — by god he wasn't going to give them back.

I prevailed upon my husband to fire in the air rather than pepper his rear with birdshot, and he levitated into the nearest bushes and kept on going. We slept the sleep of the righteous, and smiled all the more when we heard of his predations on our neighbor's feeders, on the other side of the ridge.

BearGarbageBut, no, one loud noise in the air was apparently an insufficient deterrent. Early this morning he returned and thoroughly trashed all three of our standing feeders and, to add insult to injury, pried open the lid of one trashcan, leaving the bungie cords that held it closed in place, and demonstrated his dexterity on three garbage bags.

The fang puncture marks in the still-closed plastic container of chocolate ice cream were particularly eloquent.

As I destroyed my back picking up every little bit of foil, there was plenty of time to realize just how much of my diet was bear-friendly. We clearly both enjoyed sweet rolls, chicken, and especially chocolate (hence all the little foil wrapper bits). The manifestations of me (my diet) were what my (food) fan, the bear, wanted.

And that's how it is with a writer's characters. There's something of me in every character, even the murderous villains and the walk-ons. I have to believe that's part of what my readers enjoy. Bears find their banquets, and readers find their authors.
Finding a book

Perkunas

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and Language

perkunas(triumverate)My books are published by Perkunas Press, and every now and then someone asks about the origin of the name “Perkunas”.

In the picture above, he's the guy in the middle: Perkunas, the Baltic god of, well, many things. In this instance, he represents maturity and power, vs age and death on the left, and youth and fertility on the right.

More commonly, Perkunas is shown with a thunderbolt.  He is the champion of good, feared by all evil spirits. He rights wrongs, and upholds the balance of the world.

PerkunasminiHis clear counterpart in the Nordic countries is Thor, and there is a long and tangled relationship between them. The details are buried in lost history and intriguingly suggestive Indo-European etymology.

The root for “oak” in Indo-European is *perku (the “*” indicates a reconstructed form, IE being unattested except by its daughter languages). We see that word reflected in Latin: quercus (oak), and there is a general association of oak trees and lightning in Indo-European mythologies. Gods of oak trees are gods of thunder, and they wield thunderbolts (with emphasis on the pounding aspect of lightning rather than the flash).

perkunas_In Norse mythology, there are two tantalizingly references to obscure gods: Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn. The former (female) is mentioned briefly as the wife of Odin and mother of Thor, and the second (male) is mentioned as a byname for Odin. Etymologically, Fjörgyn is related to the same Indo-European word and seems to be another form of Perkunas. Lots of speculation exists about what this means in the relationship of the Norse with their Baltic neighbors.

Need more fuel

Posted in A Writer's Desk, and Plot

So, it's like this, see…

There's this scene that has to be written next, and you kinda know how it's gonna work. This person's gonna do this thing, and that other person, he's gonna do that thing, and then someone's gonna find the whatsis and then…

So you go to sleep on it and your good old subconscious cranks away and, wouldja believe it… when you wake up, the scene in your head's got all sorts a details it didn't have before.

So you write it all down, and it's all good, and you reread it, and you're happy.

And then you look at the word count. One scene, not even a thousand words. And your daily goal is a thousand, hell, two thousand or three sometimes. So you need at least another scene, maybe two, even. And you're all outta puff.

So whaddaya gonna do? Go take another nap and get some more material?

Richard Dadd - the Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke (detail)
Richard Dadd – the Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke (detail)