Riders of the Storm?

So there I was, flying east over central Nebraska at 5,500 feet above sea level, on one of those early summer days when no one in their right mind is flying into Denver or across central Nebraska. I’d dropped my passengers off near North Platte, so I could come back my own way at my own pace. Getting home entailed skirting a massive storm complex that was dropping large hail and the occasional tornado from Grand Island north into South Dakota, with an additional line between Denver and everywhere. It got so tight that at one point the Denver Center air traffic controller came on the radio and announced, “Everyone on Denver Center. Stop asking for different altitudes and courses. There is one hole into Denver and we have to fit all of you through it. We can’t grant any requests at this time.” With an unspoken so just shut up and listen in his tone of voice. I was on a visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan at the time, so he didn’t have much to do with me, other than occasionally inform me of traffic.

I was enjoying watching this massive white, blue and black monster beat up on other people for a change, and limited my radio calls to those necessary. At last, after flying due east for longer than I normally would have, I got switched to Minneapolis Center and  swung east-northeast. I could see the edge of the storm very clearly, and knew that I’d be able remain outside of it. I’d tied down or stowed anything inside the cabin that might turn into a missile if I hit turbulence, so I felt pretty comfortable. The blue and white 6-passenger airplane handled rough air fairly well, but so far the ride had been no rougher than the Great Plains on a June afternoon usually is.

The plane curved northeast, out of the sunny-side of the storm complex. Here the different layers and bits of the storm floated in shadow, changing from brilliant white with dark-blue rain below into wedgwood grey, grey-blue, navy, and shades of shadowy grey. I banked the plane to the right and glanced up to make certain I wasn’t under the edge of the anvil. That’s where hail hangs out some days, and you can get turned into a 250 horsepower golf ball by flying through those harmless-looking wisps of cloud below the anvil. (Stay away from green areas, too.) Nope, the winds had blown the anvil more to the north. So the plane and I cruised along, sun-washed corn fields to the right and a monster to the left.

And then I looked into the storm. I’ve never experienced anything like it since. The lowest clouds formed a pale grey, almost white, shelf or floor extending to the north beside me. Small pillars of cloud, clustered like people, rose from part of that base. Behind them gaped the blue-black maw of the storm, with tatters and wisps of scud below and behind the figures. I was struck with the overwhelming sense of seeing something I wasn’t supposed to, of watching a judgment or trial not meant for human eyes.  The rational part of my brain knew  the convection patterns and outflow causing the scene, but the rest of me wanted to run, to get away, out of sight of whatever power lurked in that “courtroom.”

I fled. I banked away, more to the east, and added a little power, scooting along on the edge of the first outflow winds until I felt safe, then turning north. I didn’t say anything about that I’d seen to the controller, or later to my boss.

I’ve flown around mesoscale convective complexes since then, but never have I had that sensation of trespassing. I’ve danced through tornadic storms,  flown through glories and punched holes in the veils of sunset, but never had that sense of awe and doom that I felt from the storm in Nebraska.

7/19 Update

Two miles and a bit walked, Colplatschki short-story finished for addition to novella (out in early August), 2000 words on Peaks of Grace.

After the Flames

Crimson and yellow tongues lick the tall grass, dancing and flaring up the long stems, then devouring the crumbles as the grass collapses, a tube of ash that shatters, returning to the dust. The flames race on, driven by the wind, nibbling around tree trunks, turning bunch grasses into smoking lumps surrounded by strips and twists of ash-colored bare ground. Young mesquite and cedar trees turn into burning bushes, and a gust of wind lifts a burning cow pie, turning it into a hellish Frisbee that sails over the fire line, dropping to roll on edge, scattering the fire even farther.

Recycling the tall grass of Texas. Photo by Frank Heinz at nbcdfw.com

Recycling the tall grass of Texas. Photo by Frank Heinz at nbcdfw.com

Tallgrass, the six-foot tall tawny, waving wall of big bluestem and Indian grass, ignites with a whoosh, flames dancing among the long stems, burning them down to reveal the scenery beyond and soil below. Short grass burns lower but just as fast, flames racing over 60 miles an hour if the wind cooperates. Black, smoking ground remains behind the flames, while the wind snatches up the white and grey ash, spinning them into dust devils and coating everything around with stinging white that leaves black tracks behind. A few yucca stubs smoke for days afterward, sullenly refusing to give up their red ember hearts.  Continue reading

7/17 Update

Started the Elizabeth von Sarmas short-story to go with the novella that will come out in August.

Am finalizing the stories to include in the upcoming Cat story batch.

3000 words on the next Colplatschki novel. Walked 2 miles in cool, misty air after major storm system passed last night.

Not Seeing It: Editing and the Solo Author

There’s a steady back and forth about authors and editors, specifically over do all authors need all editors. Setting aside series editors and acquisitions editors, the debate focuses on the value of style/content editors and copy editors. One of the arguments for publishing with a “real” publisher, such as “Random Penguin House” or “Simeon and Shooter” is that they provide vital editorial services, and without their polishing and improvements, what authors turn out is rough on the edges at best and an unreadable mess at worst. Continue reading

Book Review: Walls, Wires, Bars, and Souls

Peter Grant’s fascinating account of his work as a prison chaplain and his observations about the US penal system provides a well-written, though-provoking view of an area most people try to avoid. Although the reader may disagree with his conclusions and prescriptions for fixing some of the chronic problems with criminal justice in the US, Grant’s prose will keep the reader involved and reading until the end of the book.

Walls, Wires, Bars, and Souls follows a day-in-the-life pattern. Interspersed with chapters marking the hours of the author’s duty shift are sections describing the larger world of the US penal system, notably the federal system, and letters from inmates to the chaplain. From the time he arrives at the main gate until he turns his pickup for home, Grant shows how time passes in the prison, with activities and checks, moments of excitement (thankfully rare) and periods of not-quite boredom, assisted by coffee and leavened by humor. And it’s hard not to laugh at the “exploits” of Sam the (self -proclaimed) Sex God and a few others. Or to wonder about forgiveness and redemption in a county hospital ER.

Grant writes very well. The book flows, with just enough detail to keep the reader involved but not enough to bog things down. The characters are composites, as you would anticipate, but anyone who’s dealt with the darker side of the real world will recognize the types that Grant (and the reader) encounters. I found the details about the gangs and religions in prison fascinating, and had to nod and smile a little as Grant described some of the “ritual items” the prisoners insisted they needed (but were denied).

Despite the humor, this is not a book for someone looking for a soft-focus fictional read. This isn’t a Father Tim of Mitford, NC, type of clergy story. There’s violence and sodomy, cursing and anger, and the hard reality of hard men. But Peter Grant shines a light into a place most people look away from, and offers suggestions for reducing the prison population.

As mentioned above, readers may disagree with some of Grant’s suggestions. But they come from someone who has seen the inside of the system and the men who move in and out (and all too often back in), unlike some of the better known, fuzzy-bunny ideas floating through discussions about crime and justice in the US. Peter Grant’s book is a well-written, highly readable work that encourages discussion about and serious appraisal of the world it describes.

FCC/FTC/ whoever else disclaimer: I purchased this book. I received no compensation from the author for this review.


Cover Art: The Good and the Good-Bad

There’s a round robin discussion going on about cover art and book covers. I’ll include links to the different blogs at the bottom, but much of the discussion is about what works vs. aesthetics. The short version is that fine art doesn’t always sell books.

I am NOT a cover designer or artist, as a quick glance at my short-story covers shows. They break almost all the rules-of-thumb for sci-fi covers, the font is too small, and they are probably not helping sales. However, I also work with Saul Bottcher of IndieBookLauncher, who does know covers, and the two of us have come up with some pretty decent designs, and one that is a great image but doesn’t help the book. Here’s some samples and comments, so you can see what goes into coming up with the picture on the front of the book. Continue reading

YA: Young Adult or “Yaaaakkk!”

There’s been some “warm” debate among those who write, and who write about, books for the young adult market. How adult is too adult? Can a gore filled slash fest with bouts of semi-detailed sex be a book for young adults? Alas, it can.

I’ve stayed out of this fight because I don’t write for the YA market. My books, with the exception of the first Elizabeth book and the opening chapters of Blackbird, are all about adults, and are intended for adult readers. The Cat books can be very grim, even though I tend not to go into long, loving descriptions of violence or sex. I’d call my work PG-13 at best. Continue reading