Oh what to write next?

So In The Meantime, Part 2 . . .

(The continuation of what I've been up to since my previously last - April 2016 - entry on Live Journal.)

FEBRUARY 2020: By now Laurie and I are keeping an eye on Covid, which we're assuming has hit the United States even though there seems to be dispute about that - and, now famously, government officials, politicians, and pundits who have already started downplaying it. By the end of the month, when we hear the news about Lombardy being locked down, we take stock of what we would need if we end up getting locked down for (we optimistically believed) 6 to 8 weeks, and fill in the gaps of what we realize is missing. There's not that much missing; we live in a rural area and tend to keep a lot of stuff on hand anyway. But the gaps could have proven disastrous if we'd had to do without them for a long while.

This month I also went to see 1917 in the little local theater, which unbeknownst to me was the last movie I'd see in a theater until August 2021.

MARCH 2020: The pandemic heated up. Again unbeknownst to me, I ate inside a restaurant - the Bojangles in Rocky Mount, Virginia - for the last time till the Summer of 2021. The college I work for went virtual and into lockdown. All of my coworkers at the library became virtual workers, but I kept coming to the building every day. I had no way of working from home - no Internet connection, and I didn't yet have a Smartphone - so I became the one to take care of whatever the building itself and the things within needed, right down to watering the plants, while doing my job from within. I was also hearing bits and pieces of worry about the college's financial state from various people; we'd been having financial challenges already, and this vastly increased the pressure.

MAY 2020: Close to the middle of the month I got a phone call from the college that I'd been half-expecting: I was being furloughed till the beginning of August (which became the middle of August). I was extremely concerned about this at first, but after a few days that tapered off - I was able to get unemployment for the duration, which was life-saving, and in the meantime, especially with Laurie's counsel, I recognized this as an opportunity to make metaphorical lemonade. The main concern ultimately would become worry that I wouldn't have a job when August came around, which is to say, that the college might have to close its doors.

I did a Movie Night with my sister and her kids, aware that due to the pandemic, I wasn't sure when I'd see them all in person again. Ironically, the movie I brought was 1917.

JUNE - AUGUST 2020: The Furlough. This deserves, and will get, it's own entry. But I did everything I could to maximize all those open days. I did a lot of writing - adding 40,000 words to the college history book. I did a lot of reading, two or three books a week, including (what I thought appropriately at the time) John Scalzi's Collapsing Empire trilogy. I started gardening again, and discovered that as I'd hoped, my previous failures at gardening came not from me being a bad gardener, but not putting enough time and effort into it.

In the meantime, the unemployment was, ironically, paying me much more than I made by working, so I was able to save a fair bit of it in case there wasn't a job waiting for me at summer's end.

My only regret about the furlough overall was that Tucker, Hayes, and Nate weren't also there to spend the summer with me. However, at night I would grab dinner at Dairy Queen, go down to campus with a Chromebook - since I could get online while on campus - and use the computer while spending those evening hours with Elgie, the library cat I started feeding not long before my previously last entry in Live Journal.

JULY 2020: My Furlough days at home came to an abrupt end on the last day of July not from getting called back, but from Mom needing to go into the hospital. She's originally gone due to low sodium levels, but while there she stumbled and fell after being told she was told to go to a room in the ER waiting for her, but without a nurse helping her despite Mom being a fall risk. So while she spent the next week in the hospital - and then the following month doing physical therapy in a nursing home - I stayed at Mom's house, about 40 miles from my house, to house-sit and pet-sit. This was odd but also strangely nice as she still lived (lives) in the house my sister and I grew up in.

Little did I know, however, how long that stay would extend. In fact, Mom's stay in the hospital and nursing home drove home to me just how many medical issues she was having. Long story short, in an ongoing effort to keep her out of assisted living or even a nursing home, I'm still living with her more than a year later. My commute has gone from a third of a mile to 40 miles one way. As anyone who knows me well will learn to no surprise at all, the room I'm sleeping in (formerly my Dad's room, not my old one - my old one is where I do my writing these days) is now filled with books. Two full shelves, and a large number of stacks on the floor.

AUGUST 2020: I went back to work, in person. Things were not exactly back to normal - we wore masks, we had virtual classes, and the campus seemed deserted more often than not. But...again, we were back to work in person, which felt like a different world than the spring.

OCTOBER 2020: I turned 50 with some trepidation. The day was beautifully warm and sunny, so I spent a few hours sitting and reading at my favorite place, the stretch of the Roanoke River where it crosses beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway. Specifically I sat on a rock in the middle of the river reading Philip Jose Farmer's recently published eco-catastrophe novel Up from the Bottomless Pit. By the time I got back to Mom's house my sister had already been there for awhile preparing the place for my arrival in the form of black balloons hanging across the porch entrance, and more draped across the stairway railing and doorways, all wishing me a happy 50th birthday!

The balloons and well wishes are still on the railing, awaiting her 50th birthday this December.

NOVEMBER 2020: Our little dog Weezie had been slowly going downhill for a long while, though Laurie made huge efforts during that time to make life better and longer for her. I was only barely home, usually in jaunts of just a few minutes at the end of my commute and just before heading into work, but I always tried to see Weezie when I could. She'd always liked to go outside with me, stroll sentry around the yard while I watched, and then crawl into my lap when she was done, and for awhile she still did this during my too-short visits. When she quit patrolling the yard and crawling into my lap, wanting to just go back inside after she was done going to the bathroom, I knew she wasn't going to be with us much longer. Weezie was always a scrappy fighter - her previous owners abandoned her in a pen when they moved away, and she first got Laurie's notice from the story that Weezie bit the animal control officer who first handled her - but finally her fight ran out. We had to euthanize her, our last dog, on the last day of November.

NOVEMBER 2020 - JANUARY 2021: With the vacation I had banked before my furlough, which rolled over since I couldn't take it during my furlough, and with Christmas Break falling in this time, I actually would up having six straight paid weeks off from work, from before Thanksgiving to early January. As hard and as frustrating as Mom's health issues were making life for her, it was nice to be able to spend that much time with her, without having to leave most every day for work.

DECEMBER 2020: We may not have had our normal annual summer vacation, but the family did get together for Christmas, and I did my normal thing that I'd been doing since my brother-in-law passed away in 2007: I stayed with them Christmas Eve, to be up with them on Christmas morning (despite them all being aged late teens to 21 by this point), and for a few days afterward. For awhile all seemed well with the world, and peaceful, and normal.

MARCH 2021: With everything else going on, I'd been struggling to keep up with my work doing book reviews for Publishers Weekly. I'd thought about this for a long while, but finally decided to give it up when I had to rush through reading three out of my last four books, and only barely making my deadlines in time. I regretfully sent my note to my editor, Phoebe Cramer, telling her the situation and saying in detail that this had nothing to do with PW or anyone there, and that I'd talked to some people who might become my replacement. She thanked me for all of that, and helping smooth her transition to the editor's job the year before, and told me I was welcome to come back if I was ever in a position to do so.

I thought that despite everything else going on, maybe I'd have some more time to pleasure read now. Then . . .

MAY 2021: At the beginning of the month I had something you'd think would've happened by then, but never did: I dreamed the outline of a novel. I mean the entire outline, beginning to end. That fascinated me, and the book it was outlining fascinated me...but in spite of myself. Because the book was a spinoff from a famous novel now in the public domain that I'd always been ambivalent about at best. And more to the point, it was about the antagonist of said famous novel, whom I'd always hated, as the author intended. And what business, I thought, did I have starting a novel while I was still working on the college history?

Yet the dream's spin on the character had seized hold of me, and over the next few weeks I only grew more intrigued as my brain kept filling in details of the story that the original outline hadn't provided. And honestly, I needed a mental health break. This was one thing that was wholly mine, which it seemed like nothing else (including the college history by that point) was. I needed something fun and frivolous yet creative. Finally, especially with the prompting of author friends, I began writing the novel on the last day of the month.

I typically max out at spending about 4 hours per week writing the novel, but thanks to having the bulk of the book handed to me all in one go the writing is going quickly, and as I type this it stands at 96,350 words. Before trimming, the first draft will undoubtedly hit the 140-150,000 word range by the time it's finished. The college history, untrimmed thus far, stands around 150,000 words. With a few interviews still left to go.


I may add a part 3 to this, but there really isn't much to add.

I'm still living with Mom and getting home only in occasional snatches, but reminding myself that someday I'll look back happily on being able to spend so much time with her. I'm still commuting 80 miles per day. I'm still working on both the novel and the college history. I only did a little bit of hiking this summer, even though I wound up having 3 weeks off work total across the summer. An old friend I met years ago on Live Journal returned to the area after spending many of those years out west. Another old friend is coming to visit me from out west over this coming weekend, my birthday weekend.

In August I went to see a movie in a theater again, with friends. In September I helped my nephew Evan, the youngest of my sister's kids and the last of them to head off to college, move to school - specifically Hampden-Sydney.

The stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway containing my favorite section of the Roanoke River is closed till next spring due to the bridge being repaired and rebuilt, so visiting that stretch again anytime soon is out. I'm still eating too much fried chicken but am doing a lot better with not having too much ice cream.

I'm getting a little bit of pleasure reading done. I need to get a lot more exercise. I need to be spending more time outside, especially in the woods around my house, which I've almost wholly been away from since staying with Mom.

And I'm still seriously considering resuming my regular posts here on Live Journal and Dreamwidth.
Just Write

So In The Meantime, Part 1 . . .

Here's a semi-brief rundown of highlights and lowlights in my life since my April 2016 post here on LJ, mainly just as they occur to me. All of these were things I would've written about here on LJ if, you know, I'd still been writing on LJ.

JUNE 2016: I made a lifelong-dreamed-of trip to St. Augustine, Florida. This was my grandparents' favorite beach, and they'd told me for nearly as long as I could remember how much I'd love its combination of ocean and history. They were absolutely right. My parents rented a house on the beach on Anastasia Island, which they shared with my sister, her kids, and me for a glorious few days. This was also the last big family vacation we took before my Mom's COPD and other issues worsened - that fall - to the point where she could no longer make long trips.

I also started keeping an Amy Siskind-like daily news log I jokingly titled Chronicle of the Pre-Apocalypse Age. This became incredibly helpful in a time when the news cycle started measuring itself in hours rather than days or longer; I could look at entries from just 2 weeks before and realized I'd already forgotten everything posted then. Though admittedly the title has become less and less funny as time has worn on.

JULY 2016: My trip to FarmerCon in Columbus, Ohio to sign and promote my latest (and still most recent) novel, Dayworld: A Hole in Wednesday. The book was a Dayworld prequel started but never finished by science fiction master Philip Jose Farmer (also my great uncle), and which I finished through late 2015.

AUGUST 2016: A one-day visit from one of my oldest friends but who was living in California, and who I hadn't seen in ten years or so by that point, rekindled my long buried interest in spirituality and metaphysics. That ended a long dry spell in that deep interest of mine that had been damaging in ways I hadn't realized until said spell ended.

MARCH 2017: The passing of my much-beloved Aunt Isabel, Isabel Carmen Riley Briggs, at the age of 89. She was mischievous, forthright (to say the least), fun-loving, and a font of family history. She was the last member of my family anywhere nearby who was close to my grandparents' generation.

JULY 2017: My Maine Coon cat Nate the Fae Cat (so named because she saw many things we mere humans did not), aka Nate the Puddin Cat (because she was made of puddin), passed away at the age of 12. She and her twin sister Hayes the Baby Cat were my wife Laurie's and my first foster animals, and our first foster failures, after Laurie found them in a corn field when they were about 6 weeks old. Nate, among many other talents, had an uncanny ability to know when I was going to sit down before I did, and would be climbing into my lap before I was finished sitting. She was our first pet in 9 years to die. Her sister Hayes never got over losing Nate, and was lonely for the rest of her own life. (We have other animals, but she was never close to them - and some of them had been mean to her from early on.)

AUGUST 2017: I helped move my niece Alex to college, specifically Montreat in North Carolina. Alex was the first of the kids in the family to head off to college. I loved Montreat but alas, only made it back a handful of times.

AUGUST 2018: Through a somewhat convoluted process that I won't go into except to say it boiled down to thinking to myself, "Someone should write this book", then thinking "Why don't I write this book?", I began plotting out a new history book of the college I work for. Writing would be underway by October. The month after that I presented the idea to the college president, though with a great deal too much optimism said that I expected to finish the book in six months - because that's typically how long it takes me to write a novel. I didn't take into account how much longer I take with non-fiction (it could take me hours just to write a 200-word book review for Publishers Weekly), not to mention numerous other circumstances that would hit me starting in 2019, some of which I'll post here.

JANUARY 2019: Having realized that I wanted to do interviews for my college history book too, I did my first formal interview with Miss Faye Wood. She was an alumnus, class of '52, who came back to work for the college in 1956 and retired in the 1990s. During that time she served as both administrator and professor. I interviewed her for about 2 hours.

APRIL 2019: My father, Robert Douglas Adams, died of heart trouble at the age of 78, and just a few weeks shy of my parents' 55th wedding anniversary. Dad and I had a rocky relationship through most of my life - we hadn't even gotten along all that well until I moved out of the house - but his passing left me feeling strangely unmoored. At least I'd seen him shortly before he died - the night before he went into the hospital for the last time - and we parted on a good note. The lion's share of my vacation time for the rest of that year, including a week in June, another in July, and another around Christmas, was spent with Mom.

JULY 2019: My parents, sister, her kids, and I had taken an annual trip to Pipestem State Park every year since 2008, except for our 2016 trip to St. Augustine. This month, unbeknownst to us, would be our last trip to Pipestem thus far: Covid meant skipping it in 2020 and '21. I usually shared a room at Pipestem's lodge with my nephews; this trip I stayed with Mom.

AUGUST 2019: We lost Hayes the Baby Cat. She passed away in my car on the way to the vet to be euthanized, while I was singing the lullaby version of "You Are My Sunshine" to her.

OCTOBER 2019: After having him as my walking, hiking, reading, TV and all-around otherwise companion since October 2006, we had to euthanize our dog Tucker, who every year won prizes for Best of Dogs and Best of Hiking Buddies. On my birthday, sadly. Our walks and hikes had become almost daily routines no matter the weather, and he loved going in the woods more than anything. We always believed he lived as long as he did partly because he looked forward to going into the woods so much. I still remember the day in January 2019 when he walked to the edge of the woods, stared into them for a few moments, then looked back at me, and turned around and walked away from them, never to go into the woods again. I knew from that point on that Tucker wouldn't be with us much longer.

DECEMBER 2019: I went to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with friends and family at the Salem Valley 8 in Salem, Virginia, the theater where I saw the original Star Wars back in 1977. This would be the last time I'd be with anyone else in a theater for a long time, and at this writing I still haven't been back to a theater with a large group like this one was.

JANUARY 2020: I first heard of a mysterious disease burning its way through China that some people were speculating might have already found its way to the United States.

(To Be Continued)
Just Write

Places I Miss

Wow, look at me here on Live Journal again after 5 1/2 years.

At the moment, it links to a years-dead homepage, my "Forthcoming Publications" list on my bio page is from 2014, and my profile pic is from 2007. The novel mentioned in said list has come and gone (when the publisher went under), and that thirty-something guy in the picture - working on another novel then, as it happened - certainly often feels like he's long since come and gone.

My being back here, honestly, doesn't have anything to do with the latest Facebook debacle (though it didn't hurt either). I'm here because I was thinking of posting an entry over on FB that was the sort of thing I used to post here on LJ - just a "list" entry mostly to myself. But it's much easier to go back years later and look at old posts on Live Journal than it is on Facebook, so I decided to come back here and post it.

(And that whole thing about "Live Journal is owned by Russians"? Well, yeah, I know. But at the same time Facebook sells data to China and, apparently, any high bidders; TikTok is owned by a Chinese company deep in with Chinese intelligence - though really, there aren't many Chinese companies not in deep with Chinese intelligence - and so on.)

The idea was just a short visit, or a one-shot. But it occurs to me now that I'm here again that Live Journal is like a secret club these days. I and so many other people have been away for so long that I could post anything here that I want, and practically nobody would see it. I actually rather like the thought of that. Heck, I'm guessing most of the people I'm friends with on Facebook don't even realize I ever had a Live Journal account.

I'll write a catch-up post later (maybe even later today). In the meantime, here is the personal mostly-for-me content I came for:



I was feeling nostalgic these last few days for favorite places that are gone, or been seriously altered, and will never come back. This is a chronologically comprehensive list: some of these places vanished just this year, while others have been gone for nearly four decades.

Many of them are places I wish I could've taken the kids in my family when they came around. (Though happily, in some cases the places did stick around long enough for the kids to go to.)

These are all going to be businesses. I thought about including family homes that are now out of the family, or those family members have passed away, but that seems like it deserves its own post someday.

BORDERS BOOKS AND MUSIC (specifically the locations in Northern VA)
I loved Borders from the first time I saw one (in Sterling, VA) in 1996. It drew me in immediately by selling more niche books that I didn't find in bookstores anywhere else, like volumes from the Loeb Classical Library. I even worked at one once: The Frederick, Maryland location, from October 1999 to April 2000.

THE CAVERN (Roanoke College, Salem, VA)
The Cavern, the campus snack bar, is technically still there, though much altered. Arguably it's nicer than the one I remember, which was kind of dark (like, you know, a cavern), had old-fashioned wood paneling, was mostly snacky stuff like hot dogs, and included pool tables, an arcade (with pinballs even in the 1990s!), and so on. The new one is bright and airy, has an outdoor patio, more types of food, and so on. But it's not cozy anymore. YMMV.

COUNTRY COOKIN (various locations around Southwest VA)
Less the restaurant itself than the fact that it was a favorite place for my parents to take the family too, especially once they had grandkids. It was also a favorite of my Grandma Adams.

Probably more nostalgic than anything else, but it was tasty. It was the first buffet I ever went to, and the first place where I had get-it-yourself soft-serve ice cream.

Just a little country store near the highway exit to Rocky Mount, but it had all kinds of tasty stuff, including my favorite barbecue corn chips. They also sold various types of apples I like that don't show up in grocery stores, such as Stamens and Winesaps.

THE FRENCH QUARTER (Tanglewood Mall, Roanoke, VA)
A section of the mall that was made to look like a winding cobblestone street in New Orleans' French Quarter, complete with historic-looking shopfronts, streetlamps, and tiny lights scattered around the black ceiling to give the appearance of stars. Cheesy, I know, but a lot of fun and actually kind of cool. The whole thing was gutted to make room for a big box store.

A used bookstore I patronized from 1984 until 2016; it closed in 2017. You could go in at any point during those decades and it looked pretty much the same throughout. Some of the books on the shelves in the 2010s had been there in the 1980s. And the prices never changed either.

HILLS (Roanoke, VA)
A department store of the classic sort, and dating from pre-mall days. They had an extensive toy section (very important when I was a kid), and in the "foyer" between the doors and the main store they sold giant pretzels that melted in your mouth and were filled with giant salt crystals that seemed to be nearly as big as your fingernails.

An awesome bring-it-to-your-table country buffet that opened in the early 1980s in an early 20th century farmhouse tucked within the gorgeous rural Catawba Valley. While waiting you could sit on porch swings or hang out at the fence visiting the cows on the farm next door. It was a popular stop after getting off the Appalachian Trail nearby, which I did nearly every time I did any AT hiking; it was also a favorite place for my parents to treat the family after they had grandkids.

K&W CAFETERIA (Roanoke and Salem, VA)
Another restaurant I mainly miss for the sentimental value: It was a favorite of my grandfather's. My mother and I last ate at one just weeks before it closed.

An awesome little amusement park that opened in the 1920s and ran till 1986. Not only did it have a roller coaster and other rides, it had a music hall that somehow managed to attract all the top talents of the time, particularly among country stars.

This is an example of something where I know that what replaced it - in this case the Peoria Riverfront Museum - is far superior to the original. But there was just something intimate about the original museum. And I'll admit that I loved the fact that it included a used bookstore. And was next door to the public library.

Just a cute little greasy spoon that was only a few blocks from the Waterfall Campground.

A campground on Smith Mountain Lake where my family and I, and some family friends, spent the summers of 1976 to 1979. It was well forested, and the first place I ever went wandering down wooded trails on my own. There's still a Pelican Point Yacht Club there, and it's all owned by the same family as then, but the bulk of what had been the campground itself was long since bulldozed for a housing development.

A small bookstore that also sold more niche books that one might normally find in a chain store, and was the first bookstore I ever saw that also sold games and toys.

A three tube waterslide at Smith Mountain Lake. It was small as such things go now--you'd get to the bottom in just a few seconds. But it was great for kids back in the day, and they had great snow cones.

The Explore Park is still there, just much altered over the last few years. Whereas once it was a place for preserving local history, with historic buildings moved onsite, 17th and 18th century buildings reconstructed, and costumed interpreters to interact with visitors, plus some recreation like hiking and biking trails and fishing, it's now gone head first all into recreation, and the historical area is barely more than an afterthought except as a place for future campsites. The costumed interpreters were laid off in 2007, the 17th century Native American village left to rot and collapse, and the 18th century replica buildings were demolished a few months ago. I don't know what's to become of the original 19th century buildings rebuilt on site.

A little campground on Smith Mountain Lake where my family and I stayed during the summers of 1980 to 1987. Like Pelican Point, the campground is long gone, turned into a housing development; unlike Pelican Point, the neighborhood is actually really nice, and even managed to preserve the bulk of its trees (which were plentiful).


OK, I'm sure there are more, but this is a long enough list and I'm actually making myself a little melancholy again. It probably also doesn't help that today would have also been my father's 81st birthday.

Happier or at least more neutral post next time.
Just Write

Remembrance Of Dr. Denis Lape: A Falstaff, An Honest Puck, And Constant As The Northern Star

This is what I said yesterday - an extended version, as I trimmed a little bit as I spoke for fear of speaking too long, especially since I could have gone on for hours - at the memorial service of my college professor, adviser, mentor, and friend, Dr. Denis Lape. It seemed much too small for such a great man and one I had known for twenty years, but I hope it captured a little a part of the essence of who he was.

Denis Lape memorial, Antrim Chapel - April 23, 2016 (redacted)

I’m Danny Adams, Roanoke College Class of 1998, English major with a concentration in K-12 education, and presently a college librarian and a freelance author. Denis Lape was both my adviser and my mentor at Roanoke, and then my friend in the years since I graduated.

Jane, I don’t know if this is something that you and Denis planned, or this was something the universe lined up him, but today – this exact day, Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 – is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. I can’t imagine any better day to have a memorial for Denis Lape.

For those of you who were at Denis’ memorial during Alumni Weekend, I hope you liked what I said then, because you’re going to be hearing most of it again. It was the best way I could think to compress twenty years into five minutes.

Also, though it’s been nearly ten years since Denis asked me to call him Denis, he still made such an impact on me from early on that to this day, I still have to think a little bit before I call him Denis instead of Dr. Lape. If I bounce back and forth between the two, that’s why. He told me to call him Denis because he now considered us peers and equals—which I still have trouble believing, that I could be Denis Lape’s peer and equal, but he was never anything but honest with me, so I’ll try to take his word for it.

I started at Roanoke College late, transferring in just a few weeks before I turned twenty-five. I’d wanted to go to Roanoke for a long time, and in the meantime I’d been through quite a lot, so I was determined that nothing and no one was going to stand in my way. I decided to become an English major mainly because I’d been a writer since I was twelve, but knew I could be a much better one, and so I was hoping the major would improve my skills. Upon starting school I was given Dr. Denis Lape as my adviser, and my first class was one of his.

Other students met the news of this with what seemed like awe and trepidation, if not a little fear. “Dr. Lape!” It wasn’t exactly said like a whisper, but it might have been. There were stories about Dr. Lape. Stories and…legends. But I was determined. As much as I’d been through to get to Roanoke, I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a professor.

Then I got back my first paper from Dr. Lape – with a D. I think the class was American history, the paper about Thomas Jefferson or something like that, and I was convinced that it was a good paper. I knew it was! It was, I thought, well-written…concise…and all of my arguments were backed up by well-cited expert opinions. So I marched to his office barely containing my righteous fury, and demanded—well, politely, because this was Dr. Lape, and despite my resolve he was a little intimidating—why he gave me a D. I gave him my reasons, but when I got to the part about the well-cited expert opinions he stopped me short.

“I don’t care what they have to say!” he declared. “They’re not my students! You are my student. I want to know what you think about this. And I want to know why you think it.”

Whoa. He didn’t slam his fist down on his desk, but he might as well have for all the impact this on me. I think I stared at him for a moment, completely dumbfounded. My entire academic career up until that point had discouraged any notion that what I thought was relevant. If it wasn’t backed up by expert opinions, it didn’t matter.

But more than that, even after writing for a dozen years, I had never really developed a voice or a style of my own in my personal writing. I had a lot of literary heroes, people who had led me to writing, and my efforts were aimed at imitating the best of what they had to offer. Because—though I hadn’t realized it until that point—it never truly and deeply occurred to me that my own writing, as my own writing, might be important.

To use a phrase I first heard at Roanoke College from Dr. Deborah Selby, this shifted my paradigm.

And this wasn’t a one-shot occurrence from him, either. This was Denis Lape. He quickly became not just my adviser but also my mentor, but that encouragement was always there: to be a better student, a better writer, a better person. And I did need a lot of reinforcement, especially those first few months. He saw the potential people had and was willing to make a mighty effort to bring that out. Nor did it stop after I graduated, either, but continued in the years afterward when Denis and Jaine invited me into their home.

(It should surprise nobody in this chapel, by the way, that Denis never had a problem with the fact that most of my writing has been science fiction and fantasy.)

I’ve done pretty well at writing since then, and I’m indebted to Denis a great deal for that. He’s always been in the back of my mind as I’ve continued writing. When I finished what became my first published solo-authored novel, he was the first person—after my wife Laurie—to see it. When I published a science fiction sequel to Moby Dick—a book I own primarily thanks to him—again, after Laurie, he was the first person who saw a copy. When I made my first trip to the Globe Theater in London last summer, he and Jaine were the first people I sent a Globe postcard to.

As for the future . . .

I’m reminded of an interview that NPR did a few years ago with the former Poet Laureate, Donald Hall. Hall was in his early eighties, a widower, and confined to a wheelchair, but insisted that he wasn’t miserable at all. He could still wheel his wheelchair up to his table, he said, and write, and as long as he could do that, he would be happy.

That’s what I’m hoping for. If I’m lucky enough to still be writing in my eighties or beyond, if I can still wheel my wheelchair to the table and write, I’ll be happy.

And I’ll still be thanking Dr. Lape then, too.

Thank you, Denis. And thank you, Jaine, for asking me to speak today.
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The Slow Circle Road

Beyond the vegetable and animal foods we purchase shrink-wrapped from the grocery store, many of us no longer can call our fellow creatures by name. The naming of things is essential to our understanding of them and to our belonging among them, and there are costs to our ignorance. … Maybe it is significant that God set man the task of naming the creatures early on in Genesis as the first and necessary part of assuming our responsibility as stewards. What we have names for, we are more likely to notice and appreciate, less likely to ignore, abuse or consider of no consequence. We know our friends by name, and attend to them better than we do to rank strangers. I wonder if we couldn’t be better caretakers of the planet if we were on a first name basis with more of its inhabitants, and knew more about their families and their kin.

-Fred First, Slow Road Home

I used to know the names of my neighbors. I’m a lot less familiar with them now, even though I own a home on their doorstep.

I mean the wild neighbors like Fred First is talking about in the passage above. In my early twenties especially, I consumed whatever books I could about the natural world around me, always as a prelude to doing my own boots-on-the-ground and hands-on explorations. I hiked on and off trails for miles around the Blue Ridge Mountains. I drew what I found, or sometimes saved samples, particularly leaves and bark to look up later and teach myself what I was looking at. I memorized the different varieties of trees, and even researched their medical uses. I would follow animal tracks, figuring out what animal it was first, then what they were up to when they left the tracks—including, once, a mama bobcat with two cubs who stayed side by side nearby while she chased and took down a deer. I took note of claw marks on trees and stones. A few years later, had I been more confident in myself, I likely could have gotten a job as a park ranger when one was offered to me.

I’ve let myself get distracted since then.

Most of what I learned about my wild neighbors I’ve forgotten. I can tell you if something is an oak or a maple tree, but not specifically what kind anymore, and only by the leaf, almost never by the bark. I can tell you what many birds are on sight, but no longer by their songs. I look at those drawings I made twenty-odd years ago as if they were done by someone else. But I don’t like that at all. I want to learn about my neighbors again, especially since I’m now living on the edge of hundreds of acres of a mountain forest.

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I've been half-joking with the returning students that since this was the first Christmas Break in years that found me not working on a novel, I spent it meandering and not really knowing what to do with myself. That's (a bit of) an exaggeration. But not quite a month after sending Secret Project to the publisher, I have been restless in the writing sort of way since I am In Between in the activity that usually rules my days and mind. Thus my brain has been spinning out the next two possibilities:

(1) Short book that for the most part won't require research. This would be a science fiction young adult novel that I literally dreamed up a few weeks ago - not the ending, of course, since my brain apparently wants me to work for it at least a little bit. The premise is an already-happened alien invasion of Earth, but one where the aliens weren't coming willingly and most would scurry off as fast as their appendages would take them if they were able.

(2) The next giant historical novel, the one about the Mississippi River. Another one that's been in my head for a long time, like the Shenandoah and Arizona novels before it. Research intensive. I would prefer this be a large single novel, but I know how well that worked out (or didn't) for my Shenandoah and Arizona novels plural.

In a small writing note I discovered last night that the painting I would like to use as the cover of the first Arizona novel, should I ever self-publish it - a painting by Frederic Remington - is not only public domain, but at least one museum also offers up a free-use photograph of it. (That would be the sticky part in copyright - the painting may be out of copyright, but not necessarily online pictures of it.) The cover of the second book would likewise be a Remington painting, but I haven't found any free-use photos of it yet.

Semi-related, I have a large collection of pre-World War II postcards of places in Europe and Asia that were destroyed or severely damaged in the war, including Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Nuremberg, Rotterdam, and several places in Normandy. I've toyed with the idea of self-publishing a book of these - a "Here's what these places looked like before they were destroyed" collection, including text about the places in the postcards - but there might be copyright issues there as well. The oldest postcards would be public domain automatically, but the rights to a few might still be owned somewhere. Since some were photographed and published in the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan eras, that could be a thorny but interesting search.

Today was my first workout day of the new year, and actually the first workout I've done since October. I ended up not leaving myself time to do as much as I wanted, but I still knocked out an elliptical mile in 9 minutes and 40 seconds, along with some weight pushing (as opposed to weight lifting, that is). My only New Year's Resolution was to get to the gym at least twice a week, preferably three times; since I was going at least twice every week in the months leading up to my trip to Europe (so I could gallivant around Europe without giving myself a heart attack), I know it can be done if I just put my feet on the ground. Or the elliptical treads, as the case may be.

Now back to awaiting Secret Project edits, though now I will do so either listening to David Bowie or watching The Prestige again.
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Where Am I?

Oh, right. I was actually a little nervous logging back into Live Journal for the first time in forever - well, about ten months, with my last entry posted in mid-February - as if I was going to be met by a screaming mob at my threshold. Here I am, poking around, running my fingers along the walls, turning on the lights room by room, as if I'm going through a house I spent part of my childhood in but haven't been back to in years.

My being away wasn't due to not having anything to write about. As it happened, 2015 was a busy year.

I finished my For Fun Fantasy Novel, which eventually was named No Word In Death's Favor (a riff off of Homer), and despite being written for fun and as a multi-layered experiment, I did (probably inevitably) send it off to a publisher some weeks ago. A publisher that still likes large novels in hard copy, which is good since No Word In Death's Favor rounds out somewhere around 150,000 words. The second novel got underway in mid-September, after getting the go-ahead to write it in July; I still call it the Secret Project because I can't talk about it quite yet, but it qualified as another dream project. That one was finished and delivered to the commissioning publisher about three weeks ago. Lest Camelot Fall, though it did well in itself many months, disappeared last spring when its publisher, Musa, called it quits. I'm still debating about self-publishing it, and probably will, though there are a few small rewrites I want to do first. 2015 was devoid of short stories and poetry for the first time in some years; I didn't publish any new pieces of either, but I did have an older poem reprinted in the just-released volume 1 of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

I finished off the last major general item on my bucket list by finally getting to Europe, a trip I've wanted to make since I was a teenager, but one where every plan I'd made to go in past years fell through. This time, at last, was different, and the result was a 17-day whirlwind through the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and England, with a couple of all-too brief layovers in Iceland. Immediately before and after that trip was a total of a week spent in Northern Virginia visiting and catching up with friends that I hadn't seen in several years, an altogether too long of a time to be bereft of their company. I don't know when I'll ever make it back to Europe, but I would like to make it back to NoVA at least once every summer.

I continue buying books, which would be a shock to absolutely no one. It's a novelty having a living space that fits all of my books, which just mischievously encourages me to buy more. If only securing the shelves was that easy.

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Three times. Once in 3D. And I'm willing to go again if anyone wants to come with me.

Two people I'd been close to for a long time died towards the end of the year. The first was my college mentor, Dr. Denis Lape; strangely (though not so strange if you know my family's history), the day he died I'd spent awhile thinking that I hadn't talked to him in several months and really should get back in touch. Then right before Christmas, my aunt, my mom's sister, Diane Carpenter, passed away. We hadn't lived at all close since I was a little kid, but we'd always been close. Both of those deaths were shocks, and reminded me of the constant need to make certain that people you love should always know how you feel about them.

No new animals came into my fold in 2015, but there are still plenty in control of my house. Eight cats, two dogs. Add in a few thousand books and space gets a little tight, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

As much as I miss my niece and nephews being wee bairns, I do appreciate the fact that they're old enough that I can start getting them cool presents. My niece Alex, for example, was the recipient of a 5-foot tall Bear Titan recurve bow. She's proven herself adept at smaller bows, but ones that were all borrowed, so I thought it was time she have her own, and one somewhat more formidable.

Now, as for 2016...well, we'll see. The Secret Project will be out by summer, and this summer will also see me traveling to Saint Augustine, Florida in June and to Columbus, Ohio in July. Along with, I hope, Northern Virginia. I'm still deciding what book to write next - there are a couple of possibilities - and whether or not to finally take the plunge and self-publish my long-waiting Shenandoah and Arizona historical novels.

Beyond those things, I haven't the foggiest notion of what I'll be up to. But maybe I'll remember to blog about them.
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Keep Up With The Old Guy

I'll admit it: I'm one of these middle-agers who looks over the younglings in the gym with a bit of envy. I know I'm not the only one, and in my case, it's colored by the fact that aside from occasional walking and hiking when I was a youngling, I had a naturally high metabolism that meant I could stay skinny without trying hard. Nowadays moderate exercise simply means I don't gain weight, rather than losing it.

But until today it never occurred to me to wonder what was going on in the younger folks' heads when I came into the gym. Now I'm thinking of it as "Keep Up With the Old Guy" Syndrome.

I'd noticed flickers of this before but brushed it off, figuring I was imagining things: that sometimes when I was working out and I would periodically speed up on the elliptical or stationary bike, people of the half-my-age variety would speed up on their machines, particularly if I'd been going faster than them to start with. I saw that again today: every quarter mile on the elliptical I would increase my speed, and two people on treadmills a few yards away sped up too. (During the first two speed increases their conversation got more winded. After speed increase #3 they stopped talking altogether.)

I likely would have ignored and brushed this off too. But then after doing the weight workout I went to a cool-down on a stationary bike moments before another youngling got on the one next to me. The first half-mile on the bike I increase my speed at tenth-of-a-mile increments, then bring it back down for the second half. And I noticed yet again that when I sped up, he did too. That caught my attention because it's the first time this happened twice in a row during a workout.

Then, while I was staring straight ahead and listening to the Monkees burbling away in my headphones, I saw - not once, but twice - the guy next to me lean over and look at my speed. When he leaned back he sped up to go faster than I was.

I've got to say I was boggled. All this time being jealous of youth and strength and high metabolisms, and folks half my age or younger are trying to keep up with me? I don't mean out of jealousy - but maybe they felt like the old guy was showing them up.

Which made my day, I'm not too big to admit.

So take heart, those of you of my generation and older who are trying to keep yourselves healthy amid a workout sea of young faces. One way or another, you may be a better example than you realize!

(P.S. If they really were bothered by my workout, my leaving didn't provide any relief. As I was walking out a friend was coming in - a fellow who is a little older than me, in better shape...and an ex-Marine.)
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You Must Avoid Balance, Daniel-san

Amid my mostly futile efforts to try combining multiple fairly substantial tasks - like writing, exercising, and house-work - within individual days, I ran across a snarky astrology page that was a revelation. Libra, my sign, is described as "Indecisive. Tries to balance everything".

Trying to balance everything might be a good description of my problem here. Or rather, trying to balance everything in a single day. It struck me - particularly as I close in on the end of the For Fun Fantasy Novel, finally - that the analysis at the end of the day really should be qualitative rather than quantitative. I don't mean that stuff doesn't get done, but I need a better metric than 24 hour cycles. I may get 5000 words a week done whether or not I write every day, but if I spend a day devoted to writing, rather than a half-hour here and there because I'm trying to do other things too, and those 5000 words are better when I can devote more time in one sitting to them, then what sense does it make to do everything in pieces?

Likewise, for work on the house. One of my upcoming projects is to rip up a small section of carpet and put down tile, for instance. It makes less sense to do this in several chunks than doing it over one or two days, and like those 5000 words, the quality of the job would probably be better. I can concentrate on tile without thinking "But I haven't written today...", or writing without thinking "There's still a lot of bare floor..."

So I just have to somehow un-corkscrew myself from Libra-ness. I might have had an easier time learning to balance, but we'll see. Maybe it's just a matter of getting out of the habit of going to bed thinking "What have I done today?" and replacing it with "What have I done this week?"

The exception to this, though, is exercise. Some things I can put off, but I put off exercise at my peril. Three times a week would be enough, or has been in the past, as long as it's consistent. This is something I need to keep up regardless of what else is going on the rest of the day, for my own long term (much, much longer than a week) sake.

Another bit of time unfortunately just opened up for my next few weeks, too: Amazon has cancelled its Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest this year. I've been a judge for that contest since its inception in 2008, and figured that being annual and being Amazon, I could solidly expect to do it again this year too. Nope. I heard from my Publishers Weekly editor, rosefox, yesterday that it was being scrubbed, with the official notice arriving today. Ah well. I thought it was a great thing and I hate to see it disappear. Some of the manuscripts I read were real stinkers - one year all of them were - but there were others I thought absolutely brilliant, and I'll miss those. RIP, ABNA.

* * *

Anyway, as I said above, I'm closing in on the end of No Word in Death's Favor. I might even wrap it up in another two chapters and perhaps a small epilogue. Then I'll connect the dots from chapter to chapter so it flows better, and then eventually decide whether or not I think it's any good.

I went into it not thinking about publishing as the major goal but experimenting with things I hadn't tried before, or not tried much. Publishing or not will enter my mind more thoroughly once it's finished. I'll try not to let the fact that I spent ten months on it influence my decision; aside from the fact that much of that time was spent not writing while I worked on New House, the extra time was also built in from the start because of all the experimenting (and, yeah, playing around in the name of experimenting).

Then again, I might really like it. We'll see.

And after that...maybe a Secret Project. I call it that because it's probably something I'm not supposed to be writing. But offhand I can't recall any time such a prohibition stopped me.

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I Can't Move My Arms

That's not a reference to A Christmas Story (though I was tempted to take a picture of myself bundled under three or four coats), but rather that I finally got back to the gym today for the first time since before I moved (that is, before last April).

I'd been telling myself that I'd get back for...well, never mind that. But it was particularly intense over the past couple of weeks, except I let my time-gobbling duo of writing and doing house-related things (125,000 words on No Word in Death's Favor as of this past Saturday, by the way) gobble time that could otherwise have gone to working out. But today I was determined to get there, since I was starting to feel my resolve slipping again.

And more to the point, I have an active summer planned, which will include a maniacal amount of sightseeing involving an equally maniacal amount of walking, plus hiking with some treading up to the tops of giant rocks. I anticipate having a great deal of fun this summer, so naturally I do not want to cut it short in midstream with a heart attack.

At any rate, the hardest thing for me about working out is not the exercise itself, but making myself not compare where I am now to my 2009 peak of one hour workouts four days a week, when I dropped several inches off my waist, could run a couple of miles without breaking a sweat, and lift the highest settings on the campus gym's weight machines one-handed. That was after several months of intense exercise, and honestly I'm not sure if I could reach that level of intensity again. But what I would like to do is get rid of as much of the gut as possible, build back some arm muscle...and of course, not die of a heart attack (on vacation or any time in the next few decades thereafter, preferably).

I broke down today's workout into my old standard non-intensive plan:

I started with the elliptical, doing a mile in about 10:30 - no record-breaking there, but breaking the no-workout streak was all I cared about. I did another half mile in almost exactly five minutes, then a cool down.

Then the weight machines, and the titular loss of movement in my arms. While I was smart enough to not try the same weights I was doing even when last I worked out, I was naive enough to think I could do the same quantity. After seven ten-sets of pull-downs (with the machines set to 7 out of 12 on five of those, and 8/12 on two), I knew I was done with lifting for the day - especially when an 8/12 machine pulled me back into my seat on the last tug.

Then a mile on a stationary bike going 55-100 RPM, with a third-of-a-mile cool down.

This is the point where I pointedly tell myself not to remember that my original workouts would've added jogging three laps around the gym, a number of push-ups, an extra one-half mile to one mile on the elliptical, and at least twice as much weight-lifting. Right now I'm just pleased that I got to the gym at all, so I'll go with that.

What I need to figure out now is why I have so much trouble keeping up this exercise habit, while in 2009 I was kind of obsessive about working out and stopped only after (1) a doctor told me to quit exercising for a month after my nearly-lethal spider bite, and (2) my car died. I suspect if I can figure this puzzle out I'll at least get back to something close to fighting shape.

Or walking miles a day shape. Either way I'll be happy.
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