Sunday, July 31, 2016

More Jones Gap State Park Images.

It took a while, but here's the video from the Jones Gap State Park visit. I'll need to go back and hit the waterfalls there. The park is full of them.

Somewhere along the trail to Hospital Rock.

Jones Gap State Park Video.

Hiking back down.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mountain Bridge Wilderness

Andy, Carole and I took a brief trip to Jones Gap State Park. We had a picnic, played in the creek, and I went for a short walk in the woods, exploring the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. It's not that far from home and relatively isolated. As soon as I walked into the forest I left all of the people behind. I am not exaggerating when I say that there were no other people in the woods and I seemed to have the whole place to myself. I saw wildlife (a whitetail doe and a wild turkey hen). I got one fair photo of the doe but the turkey would not cooperate and I was unable to get a photo.

It was my second trip to the park. I'd like to go back when I can hike into the wilderness and spend a night and a couple of days exploring the place.

We found a nice picnic table by the creek.

The park office and store. Very nice!

Sunlight through the trees.

Not a very good picture, but the best one I could manage. I always am pleased when I see any animal in a wilderness where they are not accustomed to rubbing elbows with humans.

I liked the weird geometry of this tree and boulder.

A vast slide on the very steep slopes of the mountain.
Tomorrow I will have video of the park.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Compiling Videos

Today, a couple of newer videos recording one of our vacations to Florida to explore and kayak some of the large freshwater springs there. I'll be adding some more from this 2013 trip.

With the feral rhesus monkeys!

With the two humans only!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Writing Advice

I used to read a lot of blogs by writers. Not so much, these days. Because eventually most writers just don't have that much to say about the actual work of writing. Nor do they generally have anything truly interesting to say about writing as an art form. Most of the how-to stuff I see in modern times is actually material informing you how to be a salesman and not an artist or a craftsman.

However, when it comes to the best advice about writing, the basics that I learned from just about every writer I asked were these things: read a lot, and write a lot. That's basically it. By reading you learn the basic mechanics of putting an idea into words. Yeah, you can play with those mechanics, but once you see how it's done you can alter or moderate or create based on that bedrock. And if you are going to pursue writing--as a craftsman or as an artist--then you have to buckle down and by god do it. Don't hesitate. Don't be lazy. Produce the work.

That about does it. Navel-gazing isn't going to do you much good in the long run. So any crap about the inner workings of creativity you already know going in. You don't need a how-to in figuring out your own dreams.

Beyond that I have found that the bulk of writers blogs are massive displays of ego. "I did this. I did that. I'm so great. Thank you, very much. Yes, I'm the best." It gets very tiring very quickly. I don't look at them very often anymore.

So, if you settled here on me ol' blog for writing advice: read as much as you can, and write as much as you can--every damned day if you can possibly spare even just half an hour for it. Set a daily goal. Thousands of words, or just a few lines. As long as you're pushing forward.

As for that sales stuff? I generally avoid the company of shills and thieves. A pyramid scheme is still a pyramid scheme. Avoid those gonifs.

An artist. A craftsman. Not a bullshitter.
Try to be like Ray.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On Self-Publishing.

Several of my old writer friends have taken advantage of the self-publishing game to reprint their back list. These are novels that were published by way of the old system of traditional publishers. Books for which they were paid an advance and which earned them royalties. Later, as the years passed, ownership reverted to them once the boilerplate contracts ended.

So they took the old traditionally-published books that had been honed and edited to a fine point and which had good track records for quality and professionalism. And they self-published them. This has been one of the good sides of self-publishing.

When my novel THE FLOCK first came out I hit a few regional science-fiction and fantasy and comic conventions to promote my work. After a while I began to meet some writers who were self-publishing via Amazon. I didn't know much about the scene at that point and had no opinion on it and listened with interest as these folk told me of the freedom that it allowed them and I reacted with further interest as they boasted about how much money they were making. Some of these folk had subsequently quit their day jobs to write full time. Cool.

A few years later I bumped into several of these guys at another local convention (ConCarolinas). I sat and mainly listened as they spoke, since I was not a self-publisher. They were engaged in shop-talk and, as always, I was keen to listen. One of the guys who had told me that he had quit his day job a couple of years ealier to write full-time...he was not doing so well. His sales had plummeted. As soon as he admitted this fact, all of them coughed up the truth. All of their sales had plummeted. The market was glutted with self-published books. Worse, it was glutted with shitty self-published books. (Of course none of their books were crappy. Oh, no.) One fellow who had walked away from a good job was now desperately seeking minimum-wage employment. Somewhere. Anywhere.

Of course I feel sorry for them. Seriously. I'm not being sarcastic. I can understand the allure of what is touted as instant money. One sees the bragging of a self-published jackass claiming how he or she is a USA Today #1 best selling author, or how he or she is an overnight success or how he or she has hundreds of thousands of fans. It's tempting to try to follow them along. But the fact is that it's a real roll of the dice. And whether your dice are carved of pure ivory or of wormy wood makes no difference.

It is still just a roll of that mean ol' die. Only that die has a million-plus sides, and it has to come up with your number on it. Tough odds.

The good old stuff.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Undue Influence

I think because due to the influence of my current writing projects I had a really weird dream last night. In it, Santa Claus and Rudolph (the reindeer) were instead named "Superman" and "Kevin". And Kevin was green, but still had a red nose.

Carry on.


Monday, July 18, 2016

You Have to Go High.

Here in Charlotte it just doesn't snow that often. Fewer and fewer snow days down here in the Piedmont as the effects of human-caused global warming become more pronounced each year.

Carole and I enjoy the snow. We're big kids at hear and we like to experience a good snowfall from time to time. We like to play in it like all of the other children. There are a couple of sleds in the barn out back.

But since there is almost never an opportunity in the Charlotte metro-area to experience a good snowfall, we find that we have to head to the high country to find it. Fortunately, we have the highest mountains in the eastern USA not too far away, and so it's often just a matter of driving for a couple of hours to find the frozen precipitation and where we can look at the beauty of it, breath cold arctic air, and slide around on it like the overgrown children that we are.

When the north winds blow we see the clear, blue skies.

Let's hike in the snow!

At Carvers Gap on the NC/TN line.

On the Appalachian Trail at the summit of Round Bald, 5,826 feet above sea level.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Roadless Area

A few years ago I went on a hike in the Big Ivy Roadless Area in Pisgah National Forest. Roadless areas are just that...places in the forests that have no currently recognized and maintained roads. Man of them should be protected through Federal wilderness designation, but each time these are proposed there is always a battle against corporate interests who don't appreciate seeing new wilderness.

I posted about this hike before, but I've been recently gathering a lot of the moving pictures that I've shot over the past few years and packaging it all into short videos. Here, then, is one for the hike through Big Ivy in the Pisgah National Forest. It needs to be declared as wilderness and protected. Let's hope that happens.

You want waterfalls? We got waterfalls.

Wandering Around Big Ivy.

Big trees in Big Ivy!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Accidental Catholic

When I was a very, very young kid (six or seven years old) my two best pals were Catholic brothers of roughly the same age. One day they talked me in to putting red mud on my hands to join them in smearing tacky hand prints all over the doors of the Protestant church next door to their house. Why? Apparently it was to signify "the blood of Saint Paul". I didn't know what a saint was, much less one named "Paul". Also, I didn't even know what a church was since my parents had never taken me to one or had ever so much as mentioned religion to me.

Billy and Ernie took the fall for this and were made to wash off the red mud hand prints (remember...this was in Georgia where red clay is everywhere). One thing that impressed me was that they had not ratted me out, and I was as guilty as they were. I was never mentioned and was not punished. Which is a good thing because, unlike Billy and Ernie, I was never indoctrinated into their religion (or any other) and had been totally ignorant of things like sacrilege. But they did tell me how they had to clean up the church doors with soap and water and apologize to the pastor.

For their parents...shit. It suppose it was hard enough to be Catholic in a small Georgia town dominated by Baptists and Methodists and other such denominations. They certainly did not need the added pressure of their kids vandalizing the Protestant church right next door to their home.

Some years later, I found myself with my mom in Savannah. We must have been visiting my sister and her husband who lived there. And it would have been June 6, 1968, so I was ten years old, about to turn eleven three weeks later. My mom was upset and she was taking me into a big Catholic church near Savannah's downtown. I'd never been into a Catholic church. In fact, I don't think I'd ever been to any kind of church at that point in my life.

She took us in and my mom seemed to know what she was doing and was comfortable in the place, whereas I was nervous and a bit afraid. Bobby Kennedy had just been shot. At that point I don't know if my mom had heard that he'd died, but we did know that he'd been shot, much the same as his brother had been gunned down less than five years before. Maybe around the time my pals and I had been spreading red-clay hand prints all over the Protestant church door.

But being there...I found it all confusing--both the political situation and this sudden turn of events with my mom taking me into a Catholic church.

My mom was, as she used to say, half-Jewish. I could not recall her ever expressing any kind of support for Christian doctrine. But there we were, in a Catholic place of worship. And while I was confused about it all, I was still impressed with the building. It was very quiet inside, but there were a lot of people there. They were all praying. I watched my mom as she knelt. I recall that her head was covered that day. She was wearing a scarf tied over her hair. She turned to me and asked me to bow my head and close my eyes. I did so.

After a while we left the church. My mom was crying. I asked her why she had taken us to the Catholic church to pray.

"Because the Kennedy family is Catholic. And I came here today out of respect for the Kennedy family."

And Bobby Kennedy was dead. And that was that.

St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Savannah GA.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


The old subconscious works on us in our dreams, for sure.

I don't normally dream about the past, but I did last night.

I dreamed that I was back in high school again, in the midst of a football game. There I was on the field. Someone tipped the ball as the opposing quarterback threw a pass. The misdirected ball fell right into my hands. I hauled it in close to my body and began to run.

And then I suddenly realized that I didn't know which end of the field belonged to my team.

And so it goes...

I have to say...the old Gilmer High alma mater purple and white uniforms look cool, these days.

Monday, July 11, 2016


My online pal Michael Hodges, author and wildlife photographer, has now seen publication of his second novel, THE INVASIVE. Another monster tale, I can't wait to grab a copy and give it a read. If it's as good as his first book, PULLER, then I'm in for a great experience!

THE INVASIVE by Michael Hodges.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Failed State of Being

When I was a young man working to become a professional writer I would encounter many people like me who were also trying to capture the same goal. Back in those days there were a lot of independent fiction magazines where you could submit your work if stories failed at the more well known professional publications. These are the places where I met so many young writers. We'd see one another's names on the contents page and that's how I began to correspond with some of them. Keep in mind that there was no Internet in these earliest of days for me, and later on it was primitive compared to today.

I struck up a bit of a friendship with one writer. He will here remain nameless because, frankly, I haven't heard from him in many years. However, out of curiosity I looked to see what he was doing since his name was absent completely from the rolls of published authors nowadays.

Back in my youth, though, his stories seemed to be just about everywhere. Well...everywhere but in the pages of the top magazines. He never could quite crack the barrier of the bigger markets, despite the fact that many of his stories were pretty darned good. There was just something that kept him out of the higher paying markets. As I began to work in comics, and sell stories to magazines and anthologies he just stopped communicating.

Several years zoomed by. One day I saw his name pop up on the Internet and I was able to get in touch with him. In a bit of a coincidence we found that we shared the same literary agent. He couldn't quite sell a novel, and neither could I. Eventually, that changed for me, but not for him. Someone told me that he did finally self-publish some stuff, but if it was any good it sank into the vast sea of self-published shit from which it is almost impossible to escape.

Later, I heard he was trying his hand at poetry. Then someone told me he was making an attempt at doing pen and ink artwork.

More years passed and I heard nothing from him or about him. He seemed completely vanished from the world of creative writing. Someone told me that he had given up writing and had decided to try his hand at making movies, scripting and directing some short efforts. Self-promoted, of course, on YouTube. He seems to have hit the wall there, too.

The thing was, he gave up. And I don't blame him. Trying to get to a point where you can make your living solely from being an artist is damned near impossible. It's just a very difficult thing to achieve. Despite moments of professional success, I never have been able to do it, and I've been at it for decades. But in the case of my old pal, his problem seemed to be frustration that would end in fueling a journey down a different path of creativity that each ended in the same way as the first. I don't want to use the word 'failure', because I can't say that his work failed at what he was trying to say with it. But he obviously felt a failure because each time he met frustration he changed ships, not direction.

Writing. Illustrating. Directing. Acting. Painting. Sculpting. The faded friend seems to have tried them all. Few people can make their living at any of them. But in my experience you focus on one thing, or fail at them all.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Missing Megafauna.

Everyone is quite aware of the big animals that have gone extinct around us in historical times. And no one who is sane and reasonable would argue against the fact that it is humans who have destroyed so many creatures. Either through hunting or by habitat destruction, it is modern industrial-era humans who have wiped out a disturbing chunk of our own natural heritage. And, of course, we continue to do this at an alarming rate.

But what I often discover is that a lot of people I encounter refuse to acknowledge the fact that ancient cultures were also guilty of wiping out the large animals that once wandered across vast swathes of land in the paleolithic world. There are several reasons for this stubborn refusal to see the facts as they stand. One of these is a certain kind of inability to think of Stone Age people as being capable of wiping out large numbers of big mammals, reptiles, and birds.

But humans armed with stone tools, spears, darts, atlatls, and fire were quite capable of slaughtering tremendous numbers of big animals in a short period of time. And when you factor in that detail that people were spreading across the world and moving into areas where such animals had no experience with was a recipe for mass extinction. People with throwing sticks tipped with razor sharp spears were extremely efficient in slaughtering big animals.

The other reason I for resistance from people who won't seriously consider the facts is that they have a picture in their minds of ancient people being beatific, of living in some kind of perfect harmony with Mother Nature. The noble savage. The human who only takes as much from the Earth as it can provide, and who gives back as much as he takes.

This is bullshit.

Ancient humans were as rapacious as modern ones, albeit in a different way. If they were hungry and figured that they had to run an entire herd of horses or bison over a cliff to feed one hundred people, then they would gladly force a thousand prey animals over a precipice to their deaths, even if they were unable to consume but a tiny percentage of the tons of meat produced in such a slaughter. They thought only of their immediate needs, just as humans often do today. As Homo sapiens moved across the lands they discovered, they killed off many of the animals that they encountered.

People like to think that the Aboriginal people of Australia lived in harmony with the land. And this may have been the case of the tribes the Europeans found when they first arrived by ship to that huge island. It's quite possible that the Aborigine had learned after tens of thousands of years how to maintain something like a balance with the ecosystem that remained to them after killing off so much of it. But when you look at the fossil record you will see that the mass extinction of the megafauna of Australia coincided with the arrival of the native humans. As they sped across the land they killed off many of the big animals they found and cleared them out to the last individual. There were bellies to be filled.

Similarly in North America you see the arrival of the first people and then the demise of Mammoths and Mastodons and American lions, Saber-toothed tigers, Megatherium, Glyptodons, Castoroides, Camels, Horses, the Short-faced bear, and on and on. Humans had to eat. And eat they did. Only animals who could reproduce in sufficient numbers stood a chance.

Humans found New Zealand and moved across that island paradise that had been all but isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years. And as they settled it from east to west, north to south, sea level to mountains...they killed off all of the big animals that lived there, wiping out almost every type of giant bird that had lived there. Of this there is absolutely no doubt. There was no living in concert with the land and finding harmony with the natural processes. They found and killed and ate until all of the megafauna were dead.

And it's pretty much the same today. There's almost nothing that moves on the land or swims in the sea or flies through the skies that we aren't going to eat or kill out of a sense of competition or just plain old cruelty. Worse than that...almost no one cares.

Life-size statue of the extinct Moa of New Zealand.
The extinction of the Australian megafauna and the North American Pleistocene megafauna occurred just after humans arrived. This was not coincidence. Humans wiped out all of the big animals wherever they moved.

Organizing Video

Here are some recent video creations while I continue to work on the new novel. (Older trips, but recently created video from footage shot some time back.)

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Kayaking the New River.

On the last day of our short vacation to Stony Fork Recreation Area Carole and I took a kayaking trip down the New River. The New River is, ironically, one of the oldest rivers on Earth. It's also unique in that it flows north. Most of the rivers familiar to us flow to the south. But good ol' New River starts in NC, flows through Virginia, and then into West Virginia where it gets a lot more rough and offers some nice whitewater rapids.

We have done a fair amount of kayaking on the New River. And, except for some stretches we've rafted in West Virginia, it's a pretty tame river. We generally have to paddle a lot since there are long stretches of flatwater that don't seem to move much. This trip was pretty much that way, and we encountered only a couple of riffles and a single Class II rapid which was a little fun.

We didn't carry our kayaks with us. Carole and I have been debating on what we want to have in a tandem kayak and so we have been trying out various models. On this trip we used a sit-on-top kayak and we preferred it (slightly) to the traditional kayak style. So we'll likely end up getting one of those.

This is the way we'll probably tend to do the seating. Carole in front, me in back.

We passed several big cliffs like this one.

This was part of a big private estate. The owners had two picnic shelters like this one.

Passing under I-77.

This was taken as we passed Shot Tower State Park. It's an historical park. The shot tower above was used to make lead shot, which was then crafted into bullets. Molten lead would be pour from the top floor into a pool of water at the base where the drops of lead would cool into spheres suitable for transforming into bullets.