Friday, July 02, 2021

Stuff

 We've been busy lately. Carole retired from her job and is only working part time (she'll take full retirement in less than two years). We continue to visit state, national, county, and forest parks with our travel trailer serving as our base of operations. We're planning two big trips to round out the year, but have found we have to make a list and never get our first choice of destination due to campgrounds being full. From what we read the reason for full campgrounds everywhere is because people went stir crazy during the lockdown and vast numbers of those people have purchased tents and travel trailers and are hitting the roads to travel in record numbers. I believe it.

For years we've talked about taking the Casita trailer to Pennsylvania. That's where we'll likely end up going next. And we want to take a decent Autumn vacation somewhere to view the Fall colors, which we tend to do around Halloween every year. We'd like to continue that tradition as long as we can find a place where we can park the trailer for a few days. We'll likely avoid the Great Smoky Mountains National Park considering the nightmarish traffic we encountered there in 2019.

On the personal front I went to see an insurance planner referred to us by my wife's financial adviser. I switch to Medicare in twelve months and needed advice on supplemental plans to cover the things Medicare does not. She helped me pencil in the basic path I'll follow in one more year. (Nine months, actually, since you receive your Medicare card three months prior to your birthday and have to act at that time.) I remain pretty healthy for a man of 64 and want to stay strong enough to hike, kayak, and backpack for at least another decade. We'll see. I've already lived longer than my dad did, so there's that.

My second WORKING CLASS HERO novel inches closer to completion and the third book is completely plotted. After that I have a new writing project on which I have been tinkering for years. It's something that I very much want to see finished and which I wish to be able to market to a traditional press. Going the traditional route is getting to be tougher--it's almost as bad as trying to crack the professional circle-jerk comic book industry of the 1980s. I wonder if there will even be an independent traditional publishing industry in a few more years, or if we'll see Amazon as a privately held publishing monopoly.

Well, on that happy note I'll take off till next time. We have a kayak trip down the New River planned for this coming week. That's always a pleasure. The extended weather forecast looks promising.

This video is from a family trip we took last week to Damascus, VA to bike the Virginia Creeper Trail. Andy had never done that so we all headed up early last Saturday to rent bike and take the shuttle van to Whitetop Station for the ride down the mountain back to Damascus. We had a blast! However, this video is only of Beaverdam Creek at the nearby Backbone Rock Recreation Area which we visited after the bike ride. My old video editing software won't work on the new desktop computer I bought this week, so I have to use a new program. This video of the creek is my first experiment with that software.

 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Working Class Writer.

I'm getting closer to completing the second of the Working Class Hero superhero novels. I was well into the book when the previous publisher refused to promote the first one and wouldn't commit to the second book. I also, at the time, couldn't get him to relinquish the rights to the first book so I essentially stopped working on the sequel. Then, unexpectedly last year, the publisher returned to me the rights to all of my books and I could proceed.

My  Working Class Hero novel has been selling consistently well for several months. Learning how to advertise on my own has been a learning process, but I've gotten the hang of it.

When the publishing rights were returned to me, I reworked the second book and moved it in an altered direction from where it had been headed. I'm getting a kick out of creating new characters, and adding additional backstory to many of the heroes, villains, and assorted folk from the first novel. My idea all along for Billy B and his cohorts was to emulate the periodical comics of the Silver Age. I want to deliver continuing tales, sometimes with cliffhangers, sometimes wrapping the narrative neatly with a satisfying conclusion.

I've set myself a deadline for BILLY B VERSUS THE TROUBLE BOYS (WORKING CLASS HERO #2), and hope to announce a publication date in the near future. The third book (tentatively titled WORKING CLASS HERO: A BAKER'S DOZEN) is already plotted and outlined. I hope to get both books published in 2021.

 

WORKING CLASS HERO: The Autobiography of a Superhuman.

Monday, May 24, 2021

A Rare Event.

 A couple of days after we got home I walked into the sunroom and looked at something in the front yard. At first I couldn't tell what it was--a brownish lump sitting in the shade under our willow tree. It was moving and I soon realized it was a big bird of prey and seemed to be injured. After a second I saw that it was a red-tailed hawk. The bird's back was to me and the red tail obvious against the green grass. The wings were out at what looked to be an unnatural angle and draping the ground.

Well, the raptor center where birds are rehabilitated is less than two miles away so I figured I'd best survey the situation in case I needed to toss a blanket over the hawk and drive it to the experts.

The second I stepped out the hawk stood up and began to wobble off and I realized it wasn't injured. It had just killed a squirrel and had been using its wings to hide and guard its kill. After a couple of steps it stopped with its prize so that it could turn and face me. I realized this was a rare chance and ran back into the house for my camera, pausing just long enough to fix a telephoto lens. In a few seconds I discovered that the hawk didn't care when I crouched down about seven feet from her and began to take photos.

Since the bird was a large one I reckoned it was a female, who typically grow much larger than the males. As I watched her she began to devour and dismember the squirrel. In much less time than I could possibly have imagined she had consumed about 90% of its corpse; fur, skin, bones, flesh, guts, and all. By the time the rodent had been reduced to the tail, some uneaten muscle tissue, and a bit of spinal column she gathered the remains and herself and launched into the sky, carrying away what tiny bit of the squirrel that was left.

When I walked to the spot where she'd had her lunch I couldn't find even a shred of meat or a drop of blood. A rare sight and event that afforded me some killer photographs.



I doubt I'll get a chance to take a closeup of a wild hawk like this again.

She was busy tearing that squirrel to bits.

I wish I could have anticipated this move when she spread her wings.

Giving me the stinkeye and hovering over her kill.

About how she looked when I first spotted her, only her wings were closer in to her body. At this point she was dragging the squirrel closer to the driveway to move away from me.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Spring Vacation 2021

We just returned from our first vacation of the year. As we often like to do, we journeyed down to Florida to swim, kayak, and snorkel in some of the huge freshwater springs that are peppered across the state, mainly in the panhandle and north-central area. Generally, we like to explore springs we've never encountered, but this time we chose to revisit five that we'd seen in past years: Salt Spring, Wekiwa Spring, Rock Springs, Silver Glen Spring, and Alexander Spring.

My favorite of these is probably Silver Glen. The water clarity there is among the finest I've seen, and it's full of fish and other aquatic life. Basically, it's perfect for photography. The area around the springs is also heavy with wildlife and you never know what's going to come gliding in from the sky or ambling out of the nearby forest.

So, today, here are a few photos from Silver Glen. I'll post some more photos and information about the other places we visited as I unpack and process the 1000+ images and video we shot.

I have to say that this was one of the most perfect, most relaxing vacations we've taken since we bought out Casita travel trailer in 2005. The weather was perfect, and the modifications we made on the trailer before we left proved to be brilliant for us. In the week before leaving we replaced the old carpet with plank flooring and added an eight-inch memory foam mattress to the bed. Both improvements were far better as far as overall comfort for us than we could have imagined.


Our campsite at Salt Spring Recreation Area, a National Forest facility.



 

 

GoPro photo as I snorkeled toward the main vent at Silver Glen Spring.


Striped mullet in the main vent.


The shallows.


The view toward the head spring.




Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Stone Mountain Park, North Carolina.

Lately I haven't had a lot of time to go hiking. I've been helping my son a lot, plus the responsibility of having to be around the homestead to care for my wife's elderly mother. In late March the pressure should slacken and I can go back to hiking and camping when I choose.

That said, I was able to get away for most of last weekend. One of those three days I spent hiking in Stone Mountain State Park. I like that park because it has a lot of exposed rock, decent forest cover, a number of impressive waterfalls, and an excellent network of hiking trails, a few of which I still haven't hiked.

So on Saturday I got a very early start and drove up. Another plus for me is that it's a genuinely mountainous area and only a little over an hour from the house. If traffic is light I can get there in under an hour.

I ended up getting there just a tad later than I like to, which meant that I missed seeing the roving deer out browsing for breakfast, and the wild turkey that seem to like to accompany them in the early light. But that was tempered by the fact that I got to hit the trails before all but a few of my fellow humans. I spent the main part of the day hiking a six-mile loop that took me from the parking area, over the summit of Stone Mountain, down the other side, along the base of the peak to the upper Stone Mountain Falls and then a return to the ridge line and back to Andy's car (which I borrowed because my truck uses a lot more gas than his Santa Fe).

Here, then, are some images and video of my main hike from last Saturday.






On the summit. Said to be the most photographed tree in North Carolina.



The stairs alongside upper Stone Mountain Falls.


A rock climber on the face of Stone Mountain.

A stitched panorama of the face of Stone Mountain.



Saturday, February 06, 2021

Interview, and a sneak preview.

Recently the nice folk at the very excellent House of Mystery Radio interviewed me. The interview is still up and can be streamed online HERE.

I'm hoping to have the second WORKING CLASS HERO ready for publication very soon. In just a few weeks (knock on adamantium). So I'm posting a sneak preview here. The working title for it is: BILLY B VERSUS THE TROUBLE BOYS. As with the first book, I'm having a blast writing it. Superhero comics plus pulp fiction...a match made in Heaven.

BILLY B VERSUS THE TROUBLE BOYS (sneak preview)

By James Robert Smith


It was roughly ten in the morning. The sun was out. The air was cold and a wind was blowing. That wind was especially rough where I was standing on the roof of the Drake Building in midtown, thirty stories above the street. I had managed to scramble to the top without entering the building at all, having made my way from a seventh-floor parking deck to a section of wall that was uniquely suited for a man with super-strength to make his way up, floor by floor, leaping like an impossible red ape along the rough concrete exterior.

I’m sure some people must have seen me, but if they had I was such a boring sight these days that no one had appeared on the roof to bother me or to ask for an autograph or to take my photo or to ask me not to freaking do that anymore.

And so, of course, idling away the minutes and just standing up there watching the flow of traffic below, I was actually surprised enough to flinch when my best hyper-friend Shylock Holmes spoke up from behind me.

Have I mentioned that he has perhaps the most gratingly annoying voice known to humankind? Well, he does. It’s like a staccato assault of gravel fired from a machine gun directly into the ear canal. Keep in mind that I hear about fifty times better than the most gifted of people.

“Figured I’d find you on a mountaintop,” he said, voice like a teenaged girl’s fingernails across dry slate.

“Goddamn it, Shylock,” I said, turning to face him. I stuck a gloved finger roughly where my ear would be if I hadn’t been wearing that helmet with its space-age amazing perforated fabric allowing egress to all sounds, especially his monstrous voice.

Whenever he did that I always expected him to apologize, but he never did. I think he likes doing it; scaring arguably the toughest hyper between Atlanta and the Big Apple. But, old Shylock didn’t decide to gift me or surprise me with the apology then, either.

He was baiting me, so I waited before asking him why he’d appeared once more in such a way as to get the maximum rise out of my hyped-up sneakers. A few seconds passed. The wind blew. I wondered if I’d grab a sandwich later. I blinked.

“Okay. You must have some nugget of wisdom to impart, or else you wouldn’t have come up here to startle me.”

He drew in an audible gasp of pure sarcasm. “Oh! Did I startle you? Heavens! It was not my intention.”

For a guy with borderline Asperger’s Syndrome, he had a pretty good grasp of cynicism and humor. I waved him off.

I knew he was smiling beneath that ridiculous mask of his. “I just figured you’d like to know that they’re bringing in some new talent,” he said.

We had all wondered about that. We figured that they would. Gila had been killed. Amber Ember was in Denver gestating a baby courtesy of me in an episode of bad judgment by way of (apparently) an honest-to-Jovian god’s asshole assistant. Flitter had pretty much filled the empty peg left by Amber, but the folk who paid us would also want us to have someone to serve in place of poor, departed Gila.

“So…what are you hearing?” I asked him. The thing about having Shylock for a pal was that there wasn’t much that got past him. Because of the nature of his hyper abilities, he was a pure conduit for the answers to mysteries that hadn’t crossed our minds yet. And if someone was hiding something, they’d better hide it pretty damned well or he would show up with the solution in his pocket.

“What I’m hearing is Fido and Timmy,” he said.

“Fuck me,” I replied.

“Well, when you figure…we had a guy like Gila…they’re going to give us something similar.” He began to sing that old Sesame Street tune. “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t…”

“Enough!” I held my left hand palm out. He thankfully shut the fuck up.

“Look at this way, Billy. Gila was a nine-foot tall beaded reptile in roughly human form who had to be kept inside most of the time because he was just too damned scary-looking for the hoi-polloi. The Agency has a number of hyper-folk around who are similar to our old pal, and they need a place to store them.

“We had one that we were taking care of for them. And now we don’t have one. So…” He left it hanging.

“We get two for the price of one.”  I sighed in resignation. Because I was the one who would have to deal with them whenever there was some action. Also, I had always been the man to talk with Gila, to do my best to make him feel better about his situation. Because they need a man with Level Seven strength, speed, and durability to serve as a sounding board for a half-ton lizard with armored skin who can lift an Abrams tank and toss it across a parking lot. I was their lion tamer.

“Fido and Timmy are…different,” Holmes said.

I looked down at him. He was now sitting on the edge of the cover to an air vent. It was pretty much the right height to be a chair for him. “I met them once. About two and a half years back. Right before you came to head the team here,” he reminded me. “They work so closely together that it’s hard to figure out where one of them stops and the other starts.”

“I don’t dig you,” I admitted. I shifted and little rocks crunched under my feet. A 737 roared overhead on its way out of Douglas International toward some point west.

“Well, there’s a mental connection going on with them. I mean…one of them is like a bull mastiff that stands ten feet at the shoulder, and the other one is a little kid who looks like a real-life version of Dennis the Menace.” He paused. “He even has a slingshot in his back pocket. Did you know that?”

I shook my head from side to side.

“I saw him use it once. Knocked that chick…” he snapped his fingers a few times, reaching for a name. “Bella Bella, that was her. He cocked back with that crazy slingshot and bounced a rock off her skull at fifty meters. Knocked her out. Cold. Game over.” He was grinning under that plastic mask.

“Okay. What was your original train of thought?”

“The kid. Timmy. Overalls. Sneakers. Slingshot. Blonde hair. Freckles. Ten years old, maybe.”

I motioned with my hands, drawing for more information and a little faster, please.

“Those two are bound, Billy. I mean, they are so tight that I can’t really read either of them. I probe at their minds and they’re almost merged completely. Not exactly. One of them is thinking and making plans and formulating tactics. And the other one is mainly just some basic emotions and wants and desires without much in the way of complications.” He seemed to be finished.

“Okay. One’s a giant dog and one’s a kid. So?”

“So I can’t read either of them the way that I should because they’re telepathically communicating with one another so well that I can’t really get inside. I’m stuck talking to the kid the way I would if I were anyone else.” Meaning, of course, if he couldn’t read minds and influence enemies where those two were concerned.

“I’ve never met them,” I said. “But I’ve watched video. Fido is just fucking scary. Looks like he could bite through concrete.”

“He can.”

I nodded, believing. “And the kid…Timmy. It’s like you said. He looks like Hank Ketcham drew him or something.”

“He never ages, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. He’s been around now…what? Twelve years? He was a ten-year-old kid when they found him, and he’s still ten years old.” I shivered.

“They’re not sure Fido ages, either,” Shylock said. “He carries a few scars, but pretty much seems the same elephant-sized canine who walked up being led on a rope leash in Timmy’s hand over a decade back. “He gets testy when they get too close to him with probes and needles,” Shylock added. “So they’ve been willing to let him ride.”

There had been other animals that had been victim to AOHD. Of course with animals they called it Adult Onset Mammalian Hyper-Development Disorder. They settled on AOMD for the sake of simplicity, having chosen not to want to add too many letters to the anagram. But there had been only a few examples of it and most of those creatures had either been captured and penned up, or had died quickly because they burned themselves out, or had been killed by The Agency or the military.

“The AOMD…do you think it effects anything besides mammals?” I was curious what my all-seeing friend thought. “You ever see anything that made you wonder?”

“Billy…since the first of us appeared some time back, the whole world wonders. I know you think I’m an extra smart guy, but I’m here to let you know that I’m not as sharp as all that in matters animal, vegetable, and mineral. Yeah, I know some basic chemistry and can crunch numbers better than some, and you know I love history. But genetics….who the hell knows? We have seen some strange shit.”

“Yeah…look at poor old Gila. He was about one quarter human and three fourths reptile.”

“And Gorilla Jack,” Shylock reminded me. “You went toe to toe with that guy. Looks more ape than human. And yet…human he is.” He slapped his hands on his knees and stood, his deerstalker cape rolling with the motion. “You never know. It gave us some false human/animal hybrids, and a mutated dog. Maybe there are hyper-birds up there.” He pointed into the clear, cold, February sky. I looked up. “And the ocean is a mighty deep place, too. It may be that there’s stuff swimming around in it that has been affected. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“So. Tell me,” I said. “When are our two new playmates supposed to arrive?”

Down on the streets far below, something was going on. I could hear horns blaring and even from almost thirty stories the voices were coming to us loud and clear as men yelled and women screamed.

“Right about now, I’d say,” Shylock told me. By then my back was to him and I was standing on the edge of the roof looking down.

The street was now home to a monstrous dog roughly the size of an Indian elephant who was strolling down the right hand sidewalk and clearing a path through the intimidation of sheer, hairy mass. In front of the beast, holding a length of what I knew was a flimsy hemp rope was a kid, maybe ten years old, maybe seventy pounds, leading that monster canine. Some people were cowering aside, cars were honking their horns, other people were running from the scene, and, I knew, a lot of Charlotte folk were soiling themselves.

“Time for me to do my thing and maintain order,” I told Shylock as I turned to address him.

But of course the asshole was gone.

 

Until the new volume is published, you can get your WORKING CLASS HERO fix at Amazon. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook. Just click HERE.




WORKING CLASS HERO: The Autobiography of a Superhman.


Monday, January 04, 2021

Peepers

In case you don't know, peepers are a type of small frog that come out of hibernation every Spring to begin a new year and to breed and otherwise enjoy their lives. If you live even in suburbia you've likely heard their call when they pop out to announce to us that their long sleep is over. It's something that I have experienced all of my life, except for the years when I've lived in an urban environment.

For the past three years, generally around this time in the midst of winter, we will have a very powerful warm patch (we don't even have a prolonged winter anymore) and the peepers will emerge and begin to call out, letting us all know that they're here. And for the past two winters I have worried--apparently needlessly--that doom will befall them all. My assumption has been that the next cold snap will catch our thin-skinned amphibian pals by surprise and that they'll all freeze to death and the local population of peepers will become extinct.

But I'm not going to worry about the tiny frogs anymore. It's not as if I don't have enough to worry about. I don't need this yearly burden to bear. The way I figure it now is that they've survived two warm winter thaws and refreezes with no diminished ability to crawl up to fresh air and fill our neighborhood with their pleasant songs. Winter of 2018/19 they did it. Winter of 2019/20 they committed the same act. And here it is Winter of 2020/21 and once more they're singing their itty-bitty lungs out and serenading me.

This year I'm not worrying. They did A-OK the past two winters and avoided a mass die-off. I figure they'll do it again and continue to repopulate the local ecology. My little friends are going to be fine. Maybe that's a good tiding for the rest of us, too.

It's 50 degrees out, headed for the mid-60s. The peepers are singing in the back yard. We're good to go.

 

Hey, Mr. Peeper!