Saturday, July 31, 2010


When I was a kid I used to watch the television show, THE WALTONS. Mainly the first couple of years. I liked it for a lot of reasons, not least of which was the fact that the main character was a young fellow who wanted to be a writer.

And one episode that I always liked was one in which that young fellow lost all of his journals and fiction in a house fire. All of his work--all of those words--were consumed by flames. He was left with nothing but empty notebooks and had to start over. It was both a devastating and encouraging bit of TV drama.

My agent emailed me last week asking for an updated file of my novel BEAUTIFUL BOY. He was submitting it to an editor and wanted to ensure that he had the most up-to-date and fully corrected version. No problem, I thought. I'll just call it up and send it on to him. I generally make multiple copies in various places to make sure I don't lose my precious manuscripts.

I clicked on one which was titled "Final Version" and had the latest date. The book is a 105,000 word novel. I scrolled down. It didn't look right. It ended in a series of thick black dots that aren't on any keyboard I've ever seen. I did a word count: 67,000 words. Damn. This wasn't the whole novel! I pulled up one of four different versions of the novel on my hard drive. None of them was over 67,000 words.

It was at this point that I was feeling queasy. I looked in my portable hard drive. It, too, had the same versions as my desktop computer. I have a flash drive that I keep by the desk purely for backing up manuscripts. I plugged it in and took a look. Same deal as before. Now I was really getting scared.

I tried to figure out what had happened. From the state of the manuscript marked "Final Version" I can only deduce that it became corrupted somehow. Thus, those black dots at the end of that manuscript. Obviously the product of some pernicious glitch.

There was no way I was going to be able to produce those missing 40,000 words! Fuck John Boy with a crowbar! Where was the file?

And then I remembered that I'd last worked on the book on my laptop computer. So I went downstairs and booted it up. I checked the files and was getting the same results as on the other hard drives and flash drive. Now panic was setting in. I was totally screwed. This novel had been a bear to write. I worked on it sporadically for a very long time--two decades, in fact, before finally finding a way to finish the job while taking time off from work to write in the North Carolina high country. It was sickening to think that I'd lost all of that hard work.

However, I didn't give up. I recalled that this was the book I felt the need to re-title after the appearance of a non-fiction best seller called BEAUTIFUL BOY from a year or so back. I looked to see if I'd saved it under one of the working titles that had never seemed, somehow, to fit the book.

And there it was, on the laptop hard drive and also on another flash drive that I keep with my laptop. It was under the title THE LOST CHILD. I had found my full 105,000 words of hard won fiction. You cannot know the relief that flooded through me.

I immediately backed it up on the flash drive and took that upstairs to my office where I saved it on every drive I own. My wife is always after me to print out hard copies of everything I write and to make copies on DVDs. After this experience I'm going to heed her advice.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Swimming the Shark

A while back, Carole and Andy and I took a long vacation to the Florida Keys. We had a blast. One of our best vacations. One of the side trips we took while in Key West was a day-long excursion to the Dry Tortugas National Park. I had heard that some of the best coral in the continental USA was just offshore of the main island, and I was keen to see that particular reef.

Once we got there and we'd been swimming around the fort for a while, I found a ranger and asked her where the best reefs were located. So she pointed out into the ocean and said, "See those buoys out there? Between buoy #4 and #5...that's where the most impressive parts of the coral reef are found."

Shit. It was about a third of a mile out. Maybe farther. But the water was clear and calm and I'm a decent swimming so I figured, "Fuck it. I've got nothin' better to do."

I told Carole where I was headed and neither she nor Andy wanted any part of it.

That meant I was swimming out on my own. No one else seemed inclined to head out there, either, with all of the action going on at the fort and the beach around it. I have to admit I was a little queasy as I waded out and began swimming out toward Buoy #4 and Buoy #5.

The farther out I swam the more fish I began to see. Not that there was any shortage of colorful fish in closer to the fort, but suddenly the water was packed with colorful fish of many types and sizes. I continued out. Faster than I would have supposed I was more than halfway to my destination. And then I looked down directly below me.

I found myself looking right at a shark that was easily six feet in length. Right away I recognized it as a harmless species, but was longer than I am tall. I hovered there for a moment looking at the shark. The shark was nervous and kept trying to hide its head under a small chunk of coral. It was, apparently, more frightened of me than I was of him. Still...

I looked around. That fort and the main island suddenly looked a very long way off. The ocean around me was packed with fish. Right under me was a six-foot shark. I began to wonder what else was in the water waiting for my ass to come closer.

I snapped a couple of shots of the shark:

And then I turned around and swam back to the fort.

Fuck it. Better safe than sorry.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


The Uncorrected Proofs arrived at my house for the Tor Books version of my novel, THE FLOCK (pre-order your copy now!).

Because the book already appeared in hardcover (and is now out of print), I've been through this to some extent. However, the part that excited me was when I cracked the covers. There it was : "Books by James Robert Smith". Plural. True, the sequel won't hit the market until 2011 (or 2012 depending on scheduling), but there it was. Evidence of my second novel sale. This was very important to me and is the biggest milestone of my writing career (so far). This was part of a deal negotiated by my agent, Robert L. Fleck, so my hat's off to him.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Playing with the New Camera

I used the telephoto lens for this one. This bird was actually quite a distance away.

Same bird, slightly different setting, slightly worse results.

I'm still trying to figure out how to focus properly when I use manual settings. Once again, taken from a distance using the telephoto lens.

Macro shot. Until I get a macro lens there's no way I'm going to take any really good shots. Bugs and birds are notoriously busy critters who rarely hold still. This bumblebee was extremely uncooperative. And don't get me started about the huge butterfly that would freak out and fly away every time I got anywhere close to being able to take a good photo.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Wade in the Park

One thing about Reedy Creek Park is that it's so large that you can actually get away from the sounds of gas and diesel engines. With one exception: jets and propeller planes. I was down in the creek taking a video of the water and it was pretty peaceful and quiet except for the drone of a prop plane fading in the distance.

I've been told that there is gold to be found in the creeks here. I need to go back one day with a pan and see what I can find.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Osage Can You See

I took this stitched photo on my hike last week. Wherein I got jumped by about a dozen chiggers. Suffered for days with those burrowing, itchy bastards. Healing up now, but it'll teach me to hike trails in the Piedmont in summer without my DEET spray.

I was told by Ed Frank that this may have been a particularly large Osage orange tree. I need to go back out to the park with a tape measure so that I can give the figures to Ed. From what I've since read this tree was likely in the upper echelons of its species. Too bad it was done in by an ice storm.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Magnet

Taken about a week before Christmas. The kitties liked me that day. I suppose it must have been a bit chilly in the house.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wish I Was There

100 degrees here. Hauling mail through the heat and sun. Wish I was somewhere else. I even know the place:

My feet in the pool of cold, clear water at the top of North Harper Creek Falls near Wilson Creek.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

100 Degrees

I'm not kidding about having to neglect the blog. The novel takes precedent. I'm trying to get to "The End" before we leave for Yellowstone National Park. Until then...

Standing at the remains of the Rockhouse in Reedy Creek Park on Sunday. There really is a horrifying tale to go with this place and when I'm done with the current novel I'm going to tackle it with some fiction of my own.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Novels and Dreams

This is the largest fresh water spring in North America. We visited it last year (in Missouri). Every morning there would be fog hovering just above the very cold water issuing out of the spring. A tremendously beautiful spot.

The novel is coming along. I passed a bit of a landmark on it last night. Trying to hit the home stretch, now...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Got Yer Signpost Right Here!

That signpost up ahead. The Twilight Zone?


Not even Sassafras Trail.

It says "Finish the freaking novel already!"

Workin' on it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reedy Creek Hike

To take a break from the novel work I drove a few miles away from the house and went for a hike in Reedy Creek Park. It's a very large (almost 800 acres) park here in Mecklenburg County. I used to hike there a lot when I lived in that area, but I rarely go there anymore. I wanted to hike to a certain spot where there's an old farmhouse ruin and just get away for a couple of hours.

The park wasn't as crowded as I'd feared, perhaps due to the heat. And I ended up having the trails all to myself which was very surprising. At any rate, here are a few photos I took while on the trails in the park.

This is an old Osage orange tree that fell to the ground during an ice storm in 1987. It was cored and revealed to have been planted beside the farmhouse roughly around 1770. Even lying on the ground it's an impressive sight.

The ruins of the old farmhouse. There's a very horrible and creepy story about this place that I've expanded upon for a plot for a short story (possibly a novella or novel). It's one of the most disturbing stories I've heard, and I figured out how to make it even more frightening.

This must have been an impressive structure in its day. Built of the local stone.

I'm always on the lookout for big trees and I found this relatively large poplar along the Rockhouse Trail. It's no monster tree, but the biggest one I saw all day.

Deadline Approaches, Anger Abides

Still working hard on the novel.

And I'm still monstrously pissed off at the captains of industry and their political ass-kissers, so I'm posting this one again:

Joe Barton eat shit!

Joe-the bastard-Barton

This RepubliKKKan motherfucker dearly loves to kiss rich corporate ass! Fuck him and fuck the political party to which that traitorous sack of shit belongs.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Animal Babies

Baby animals. (Working on the novel for the next couple of days full-time. Not much leisure for blogging.)

Fawn in Missouri--2009.

Baby muskrat, Mammoth Springs Arkansas, 2009.

Cairo Kitty, looking for mischief, 2010.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Cats

I took some photos of the cats yesterday. I think the portraits are a bit nicer with the new camera than with the older models we've owned.
This is Sophie. She's a bit strange and has always had some emotional problems. We don't know why--she was like that when we got her at the age of four months. She was born into a household that had a number of kids. My suspicion is that children were constantly harassing her and this made her rather skittish and paranoid. Visitors never see Sophie, for she hides completely when any stranger enters the house. For whatever reason, she is attached to me.

This is Lilly. Queen of the household, for sure. Like all Siamese cats, she is extremely intelligent. For instance, she can get that halter she's wearing off of herself in about two seconds. She puts tension on the leash, turns around, ducks her head, and backing up peels it right off. She's brilliant.

Lilly loves to go outside, but she's so inquisitive that she tends to run off if we don't leash her and watch her. Thus, the somewhat impatient demeanor about her when I took this shot.

Our newest cat, Cairo. She'll be one year old in October. She's still a kitten, really. We just had her "fixed" and we took the sutures out today. She's very sweet. As with Lilly, we have to keep her tethered when she's outside, or else she heads for the timber.

Cairo stalking bugs and such.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Experimenting with the New Camera

I did manage to take a few macro shots while I was hiking. They're not very good, but it gave me an opportunity to try to learn how to use the new camera. Eventually I'll buy a macro lens, but for now I'll just use the one I have.

Some type of flower on a vine (and tiny red bugs) at Craggy Gardens.

I'm not sure, but I assume this is a type of lily. (Taken on the Big Butt Trail.) These are, I'm told, Tiger lilies--non-native.

I've been told what this flower is, but I've forgotten its name. (I also took this at Craggy Gardens.)

I think this is Queen Anne's lace with a honey bee. (Taken on Mount Mitchell.)

This butterfly was on the river above Lake Lure and at the base of Chimney Rock. (I have no idea what the flower is.)

Monarch butterflies at Tomahawk Lake in Black Mountain. (And Ed Frank informs me that these are Tiger swallowtails and not Monarchs.)

I wasn't as close to this colorful little duck as it appears. I made him nervous and he kept scooting away from me. Taken on Tomahawk Lake in Black Mountain.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Craggy Gardens

As I said in an earlier post, I wanted to get some hiking in. But because the trails that I chose were relatively very rugged, they were too tough for Carole. She had to wait at the trail heads while I went on my jaunts. So I had to speed things up. I did this by going light, taking only a camera and a bottle of water, and by basically walking very fast and, in several stretches of trail, jogging. This way I was able to cover a lot of miles in really short order.

After we left the Big Butt Trail we drove to the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area. The last five or six times I've tried to stop there the place was closed. Mostly because of the weather, but the last time it was shut down because of aggressive bears that were literally terrorizing the people who tried to use the picnic area. Yep, just like Yogi Bear.Now, though, the bad bears have apparently been removed or chased off. I did see one sign warning people not to feed bears or leave food out. It consisted of a simple printed poster with a color photo of a Craggy Gardens bear on top of a mid-sized automobile with the logo: A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR.

At any rate, I parked the truck and decided to run up the mountain to the summit area where Craggy Gardens is located. When the rhododendrons are in full bloom, the natural gardens there are fantastic. The top of the ridge is a classic natural heath bald with rhododendron patches interspersed with grassy fields and a few stunted trees. The views are often spectacular and when the flowers are out the place is stupefyingly beautiful.
But the blooms were all gone, so the only thing for me to see would be the mountaintop itself and the views from the ridge.

It was eight-tenths of a mile to the top so I took off at a very quick walk--almost a run. I went up the trail passing a few late-comers descending the peak and stopped here and there to take photos in the fading light inside the forest. Pretty soon, though, I reached the top and got ready to take some photographs. However, the views were somewhat disappointing due to the fact that the sun was beginning to set and clouds had rolled in all around the horizon. And it began to sprinkle rain. In the end, I just took a few photos, turned around, and dashed back down to the parking lot.

After getting back to the truck and drinking some water, I discussed our options with Carole. We had built in the time to spend another evening in the mountains if we felt like it. But both of us were really beat and we just wanted to get home. So we plugged our address in to our navigation device and pointed the truck back toward Charlotte.

The trailhead to Craggy Gardens, with the bear warning (due to last year's really bad bear troubles).

The trail was not really this dark. The flash went off and made it appear darker.

This shelter is at the top of the treeless ridge. I can see a huge need for it, especially if a thunderstorm suddenly appears. People would need a relatively safe place to retreat.

This patch of flowers was nice, but I couldn't quite get a good shot. More practice is needed.

The sun was going down, but the clouds looked spectacular above the mountain.

Heavy clouds passed over the top of the mountain and it began to rain lightly.

Another patch of those pretty flowers.

My last shot as I headed back toward the truck. For the day I hadn't hiked that many miles...maybe seven. But I'd done those seven miles in such a hurry that I was wiped out.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The East's Highest Mountain

The Black Mountains of North Carolina have the highest peaks in the eastern USA. Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig are the first and second highest bits of land on this side of the country. The drive up to Mitchell is always interesting because of the change in weather one experiences from the foothills up to the summit parking lot. In our case we drove up from temperatures of about 90 to the upper 60s by the time we climbed out of the truck at the top.

The Black Mountains also remain my favorite hiking destination, especially for backpacking. This is because the trails are relatively uncrowded. Sometimes I do encounter some people when I'm camping in the back country there, but generally I can find some real solitude and quiet. In addition, there's not a lot of this type of country in the South, so it's a very unique and precious area. The forests and the animals who live within it are all very delicate and fragile. I never get tired of the Black Mountains.
The entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park with Commissary Ridge in the background. A couple of decades ago the forests here were all but dead. You can still see the bleached trunks of dead balsam trees (the source of the range's name). But the trees have made quite an amazing comeback and now it's possible to hike in the shade again where the ridges had become sunny from the dying trees, killed by invasive pests and acid rain.

The park office and the road leading up to the summit area.

This is the new trail to the top. It's now paved and well graded so that access is easy even for the disabled.

Carole at the summit sign.

Carole took this of me on the top of the new observation platform.

I'm resting here on the tomb of Elisha Mitchell, for whom the peak is named. He was convinced that this mountain was the highest in the East and died climbing down after another trip to make readings to prove his position that it was, indeed, higher than any other peak in the eastern USA. He was right, but died when he slipped and fell from a waterfall on the way down the mountain.

Carole walks down ahead of me as I stop to take photos.

I enjoy walking off trail on Mitchell. The balsam forests here are so much different from the kinds of woodlands I'm accustomed to that I never tire of them.

Just a nice view I found while wandering around off the main trail.

Spruce trees.

This sign is at the parking lot. Even this point is higher than all but a few peaks in the southern USA.

From that point I took this shot of Mount Craig, the eastern USA's second highest mountain. It's worth the hike over to observe the exposed summit and the great views from the clifftops.

Next, the run up to Craggy Gardens.