What I Did On Summer Vacation

2014-06-15 11.23.21

Flew a Stearman. Not just rode in it, mind you, I flew that sucker. With what looked like a hefty butter churn for a control stick, it was incredibly well-balanced and responsive (especially compared to the mushy Cessnas and Pipers I cut my teeth on). One should expect no less from a bird that took grand champion at Oshkosh, beechez.

Went whitewater rafting with the family through the New River Gorge. Highly recommended.

Spent a lovely afternoon and evening boating on a stunning mountain lake. More than two hundred feet deep in spots and surrounded by Appalachian cliffs, it’s the clearest inland water I’ve ever seen. Interesting side note: the dam which formed the lake would’ve normally been named for the town it was situated nearest, which in this case was Gad, WV. But since the locals didn’t care for naming their new landmark “Gad Dam,” they were content with letting the Corps of Engineers slide up the map and pick the next town in line, Summersville.

Again, all highly recommended. We’ve traveled through West Virginia countless times but this was our first visit as a destination, and our first real family vacation in far too long.

By now you’re probably wondering (at least I hope you are), “that’s nice, but when’s the next book coming out, slacker?”

Funny you should ask. Or that I should presume you’re asking. Whatev.

I’ll be blunt: the Perigee sequel is on hiatus because it’s a hot mess. It has the seeds of awesomeness, but the words just aren’t flowing like they should be. At this point, I’m just flailing around within the story instead of it carrying me along. A good story does that: even when you’re the one writing, it’ll surprise you. Bottom line is if I’m not happy with it, you guys certainly won’t be. Just know that it’s not dead, it’s resting.

This doesn’t mean I’m sitting idly about with a broomstick between my knees pretending it’s that gorgeous Stearman (here’s the WWI flying ace on dawn patrol, searching for the Red Baron). People often ask (not necessarily of me, but I’m sure they ask it of somebody), “where do your ideas come from?”

The answer is, they just happen. It’s the curse of a too-vivid imagination. Bottom line is I write because it’s the only way to make the voices in my head shut up. Sometimes the ideas hit you so powerfully that you have to drop whatever you’re doing and write it all down before they fly back to whatever mental crevice they came from.

Happily enough, that happened a few weeks ago. The story concept had formed much earlier, but I couldn’t think of a compelling way to connect the dots and close the circle, so to speak. It was just an idea…a really freaking cool one, but still just an idea. Without a “why should we care?” ribbon to tie the whole package together, it wouldn’t matter.

Until one day last month as I was driving home from work…it seems like the best ideas either come while I’m driving or sleeping. Either way, inconvenient. But the missing why should we care element, the keystone, all of a sudden exploded in my head. It was so compelling that I had to find a place to pull over and write it all down. After scribbling several pages, the story arc blew me away. I hadn’t been this excited about something in a long time, so when I got home I opened up a new file and banged out the first chapter that night.

It’s been like that ever since. At the rate it’s going, it’ll be a readable draft in a matter of weeks. The working title is Frozen Orbit, and I think ya’ll are gonna like this one. It’s straight-up science fiction (grounded in the present) and hopefully like nothing anyone’s done before. And I promise you won’t realize that until the end; not if I do my job right.

The idea came from a couple of “what if” questions (as all good stories ought to); one clearly fantasy, the other philosophical. I’ll share the fantasy one and keep the philosophy to myself, as this is a spoiler-free zone.

This time next year, a piano-sized probe called New Horizons will fly by Pluto on its way to the Kuiper Belt (which is where a lot of comets are thought to come from). How the mission came to be is interesting enough; there was a time crunch that not many people appreciate. Because of its eccentric orbit, it’s believed that Pluto’s thin atmosphere will freeze and collapse around the planet* within the next few years. Once that happens, it’ll remain that way for the next two hundred years. So you can understand the urgency: this will be our first opportunity to get close-up, high-def imagery of the tiny planet and our only opportunity for about ten generations to study its atmosphere.

The pictures alone will be enormously interesting. If you’re old enough to remember the first close-ups of the gas giants and outer planets from Voyagers 1 & 2, this will be our chance to relive that excitement.

What might make that even more interesting? What if New Horizons spies something that shouldn’t be there? Perhaps something artificial, hiding in orbit among Pluto’s tiny moons?

Cool as that idea may sound, it’s not even the one that blew up in my head and made me pull over and hack off all those drivers behind me last month. That one’s saved for the book.

*At least it was a planet when they launched the probe. Still is, far as I’m concerned.




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