Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 187: Let's Call This Research

          I made the decision one day after staring in frustration at one of my manuscripts. See, I'd just written my protagonist into a bit of a corner, and now he was engaged in a high-speed chase down a partially-blocked street. There was no way his car could fit through the gap.
          Ugh, I hated doing that. After a moment's thought, I decided on a logical conclusion. I'd just change out my protagonist's car for a motorcycle. Perfect. I could even do that without much editing to the scene! (The thought of rewriting the surroundings somehow never occurred to me.)
          There was only one problem. I had no idea how to ride a motorcycle, and I liked making my scenes as realistic as possible. I shrugged and pulled open my internet browser, searching for used motorcycles. Hmm, they were a lot cheaper than I expected. Time for a trip to the DMV!
          When I walked in, the DMV was actually fairly deserted (fortunately; I hate lines!). I went up to the counter and politely inquired how I could go about getting a motorcycle license.
          The DMV official behind the counter shrugged. "Well, do you have a permit?"
          I shook my head. "No. Do I need one?"
          He gave me an odd look. "Well, yes. You have to take the written test first; if you pass, you get your permit. Then you come back later with a bike and you can take the driving test. If you pass that, you get your motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license."
          "Ah." I thought for a moment. "What classes do I have to take?"
          "Well, are you over eighteen?"
          I fought back a laugh. He was the fifth guy that week to ask me that question; the other four had included a couple of very skeptical bouncers who had been fairly convinced that I had a fake ID. "I just turned 26."
          He blinked. "Okay. Then no."
          "How much to take the written test?"
          "First three times are free," he explained. "Fail three times, and we start charging you ten dollars per attempt."
          "Fair enough." I handed him my driver's license on a whim. "Sign me up!"
          After a heroic effort to not roll his eyes at the wildly unqualified nuisance, the DMV official took my driver's license and assigned me a computer. I sat down, fully prepared to fail but amused at my own audacity, and...passed, ten minutes later. Reflecting on the wisdom behind the old saying "fake it until you make it" and wondering if there was a "BS clause" somewhere in there, I returned to the counter. "Okay, got it!"
          The DMV official handed me back my license. "Well, you can come back and try again later--"
          "Actually, I passed," I informed him.
          He checked his computer. "Oh. Um...well...good job. Here's the paperwork?"
          I filled it out as quickly as possible and left with a permit before the DMV could change his mind and reevaluate the permit requirements. A week later, I'd purchased a cheap motorcycle of the "crotch rocket" variety (I'm informed they're called "sport bikes," but I think the other moniker is funnier) for testing purposes.
          Bear in mind, I'd still never ridden one before. Much less started one. I got it to my house via trailer and pushing. By the time I'd pushed the bike off the trailer, parked it in the garage, and returned the trailer, it was too late to try my first ride. I decided it would be the next day, when I went to Taekwondo. (Needless to say, I'd be taking back roads.)
          The next day got crazy busy, but I somehow managed to finish up work with an hour to spare before I had to leave to Taekwondo. I grabbed my helmet, wheeled the motorcycle out of the garage, and turned the key to start it.
          Click. Nothing happened.
          I flipped the key again. Still nothing. Hmm. I examined the labels around the key hole. Off, On, Lock. Must not be a Start option up there. I switched it to on and started looking for another button to start the bike. A small thumb button near my right thumb looked promising, so I pushed that. Still nothing.
          Okay, I knew this bike worked, since the previous owner had driven it around for me. Why wasn't this thing starting--oh, wait...the big red rocker switch on the right handlebar had two pictures on it: one with an engine and one with an engine with a big red X through it. The rocker switch was currently pushed to the side with the X. I switched it back and tried the thumb button again.
          The bike started.
          I grinned triumphantly and tried to kick up on the shifter to get it in gear. The bike lurched and stalled. After a few seconds of thought, I remembered that motorcycles are manual vehicles (there had been a clutch question that I'd somehow successfully guessed on the DMV test) and that I'd forgotten to pull in the clutch. Oops. I grabbed the clutch lever, pulled it in, and downshifted back into neutral before I started the bike. Then, after I started it, I pulled the clutch in again, kicked the shifter up, and slowly released the clut--
          The bike died again.
          Fifteen minutes later, I was still not grasping this whole "shifting" thing and was getting annoyed. I stomped into the house to grab my computer, reflecting on the inadequacy of the DMV test for actually determining readiness for motorcycle driving, and googled "How to Shift a Motorcycle." I almost smacked myself. According to the article, neutral existed between first and second gear, which meant you had to shift down to get into first, then up to get into second. I'd been trying to go straight to second like a complete moron. (I was way too used to the four-wheeler I'd driven growing up, which also had a foot shifter but had all the gears lined up, neutral-first-second-etc.) I was also a little mad with myself for not figuring that out, because of course you don't accidentally want to put the bike into neutral on the road. Duh.
          Man, I was really getting my money's worth out of this experiment. And just for one scene in my book...
          I went back out for another try. After forgetting about the stupid clutch on my first try, my second try had me rolling out the driveway and down the street (about thirty minutes later than I'd expected to leave the house, but hey--I gave myself an hour for a reason). I burned the remaining thirty minutes getting to Taekwondo via the most remote back roads I could find, only killing the bike three times at stop signs because I kept forgetting about the friggin' clutch. (It's worth noting that, on the trip back, I didn't stall it at all!)
          I didn't quit practicing, though. After a few weeks, I was comfortable enough to begin training for my book scene as well as my motorcycle endorsement test...
          ...but that's another story.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 186: It's a Fort! It's a Cave! It's a...Hammock?

          "Guys, I'm booored," Quill blurted out.
          "You're just mad 'cuz you're losing," Radar shot back, reaching over to help himself to the rapidly dwindling pile of cash in front of her.
          His sister swatted his hand away. "Hey! Quit it!"
          "Then pay up," Radar retorted, pointing at the Monopoly board. "You owe me two thousand dollars for landing on Boardwalk."
          Nemesis smirked, knowing full well that Radar was coming up on his half of the board and would likely be turning all that money over to him shortly. Quill's jaw dropped. "It is not, you cheater! Last time it was only six hundred!"
          "Yeah, like, ages ago--before I put the hotel on it," Radar said, sticking his tongue out.
          "When did you do that?"
          "Right after I landed on his railroad," Nemesis grumbled, smirk vanishing into the memory of lost cash.
          Quill held out her hand. "Let me see the card!"
          "Sure, but it's not going to--"
          "Oh, just gimme!" She snatched it out of his hand and studied it. Then, with a huff, she threw it down. "I don't have that much."
          "You lose!" Radar said cheerfully, scooping up all her cash.
          "Can we do something else?" Quill begged as her incredibly competitive brothers started trying to stare each other down.
          Nemesis blinked first and tried to disguise it by counting his money. "Like what? Mom said it's too rainy and cold to go outside, and I don't wanna anyway."
          "We could asked Mom if we could watch a show," Squirrel suggested, wandering back over. (She'd been knocked out of the game a while ago; her age and her general distaste for math dictated an early loss.)
          Radar snorted. "Yeah, good luck with that. She'd in a mood."
          "She wouldn't be if you hadn't messed up the kitchen!" Quill retorted grumpily.
          "Hey, at least I was trying to help!" he protested. "What were you doing again? Oh right, sleeping."
          Squirrel made a move towards the stairs. "Well maybe she has some ideas--"
          "DON'T!" her three siblings chorused in unison, stopping her in her tracks. She blinked and looked at them quizzically. Radar sighed and elaborated. "She'll make us do chores. You want to clean the bathrooms?"
          "Oh." Squirrel sat down on the couch and grabbed a quilt, throwing it over her head. "Quill, want to play house?"
          Quill made a face. "Again?"
          Radar snapped his fingers. (Well, he tried to. Didn't quite have the technique yet--he wouldn't get that down until he was about twelve, but he still liked the affectation.) "I know what we can do! But first--Nemesis, how much money do you have?"
          His brother eyed him suspiciously. "Why?"
          "So we know who won," Radar reasoned, looking down at his huge pile of bills and comparing it to Nemesis's relatively tiny pile.
          "Oh, sure." Nemesis started counting.
          It turned out that Nemesis had actually won--he'd been slyly converting his stacks of cash into five-hundred-dollar bills when no one was watching, allowing him to lull his lazier brother into a false sense of security. Since he also had one more property than Radar, he was declared the ultimate winner over his brother's protests. Radar promptly declared winner cleans up to sooth his wounded ego and departed the room in a huff.
          "What was your idea?" Quill yelled after him.
          "I'm getting it!" Radar's voice came echoing back from the general direction of his bedroom, voice slightly muffled.
          There were a few confused looks exchanged by the siblings before a general consensus was reached: Radar probably didn't have any good ideas and he'd just retreated to sulk and try to buy himself some time. He'd probably come come back out with a Lego set or something--
          A loud crash prompted some recalculating. Nemesis and Quill decided not to go check up on him, though--if he'd broken something, it would be better for them to not be in the immediate vicinity when the hammer of justice came down. They had the Monopoly set mostly put back in the box by the time Radar appeared, weighted down with all of the blankets from both his and Nemesis's beds.
          "Hey, I just made the bed this morning!" Nemesis complained.
          "So?" Radar reasoned, tossing a blanket at him. "Let's make blanket forts!"
          There was a brief pause while everyone considered the proposal; then, with a speed that would rival a cheetah's, the other three disbanded to raid every single closet and bed in the house. (Except for the parental unit's bed, of course--that would have triggered the hammer of justice.) Radar, rolling his eyes at their inefficiency, promptly confiscated all of the quilts off the downstairs quilt rack and disassembled the sofa, removing all the cushions to make a house with. By the time everyone reconvened, he'd also stolen the small picnic table to use in his creation and would have gone after the little playhouse in the corner if the girls hadn't threatened to tattle on him for hoarding.
          "Fine," Radar sniffed. "But I get the train table." (Currently cleared off, it was normally where they played with their wooden train sets.)
          "Only if I get the picnic table," Nemesis bartered, knowing full well that there was no way his brother would give that up (it was the superior fort-making table, since you could make levels in the fort with the bench seats). Radar surprised him, however, by accepting the deal. His siblings snickered at him and they all got to work.
          Since the eldest had a slight time advantage, he was done with his fort first--without using the train table. The table was a top that was set inside a wooden box frame; Radar removed the top, draped a blanket over the frame, making sure that three sides were covered, then replaced the top. It fit very snugly. He was forced to jump on the table top a few times to get it to seat properly. Then, he started filling crates with books and putting them on the table. This was not normal fort-making behavior, so his siblings began gathering.
          "What's that for?" Quill asked.
          "I'm making a cave," Radar explained. He draped blankets over three sides of the table and tucked them under the crates. Then, he stretched a blanket from his main fort over to the uncovered/untucked side, securing it. "Check this out!"
          Curious, they followed him inside. Radar proudly showed off his fort, leaving the train table for last. When they finally crawled there, Quill pointed to the blanket that was pinned above them on three sides, the weight of the table top and the assorted crates above pinning it firmly to the frame. "Cool. You made a ceiling!"
          Radar grinned smugly. "No, that's my cave!"
          There was a chorus of "Huh?" Radar reached up and pulled on the free end, opening it up so there was a little pocket created between the table top and the blanket. Then, to the astonishment of his siblings, he crawled up and inside. The blanket sagged considerably, but no further than half the distance to the floor, leaving Radar suspended in a hammock of sorts. There was a collective gasp, followed by a series of demands to be allowed to try it out. Radar reappeared at the opening to block the wild attempts to clamber in, reasoning that it wouldn't hold that many siblings.
          "How did you think of this?" Nemesis asked enviously.
          "Remember when we were at that hotel and we both rolled off the sides of the bed and ended up tucked in the blankets on the sides?" Radar asked, grinning proudly. "Well, when we made the tunnel for the trains last week and I tucked the quilt in on the side of the train table, I got this idea!" He wrinkled his nose. "I just forgot until now. So now my cave has two stories!" He flipped over on his back and tapped the underside of the table. "Three, if you count the outside."
          "Neat," Squirrel said enviously, crawling under Radar's rump to the back of the cave.
          "Quill, you're next," Radar decided, wanting to stay in but acknowledging that more praise would be forthcoming if his siblings got to try out the "second story of the cave" for themselves.
          He wasn't wrong, either. The cave was a hit.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 185: Deer Me!

          Some kids are born troublemaking, some kids achieve troublemaking, and others have troublemaking thrust upon them. I was of the last category, but only because Dad wouldn't let me borrow the ax when I was twelve.
          "Nemesis! Wanna go make some forts in the woods?"
          My brother looked up from his car book. "I dunn--"
          "Well, Mom's going to kick us outside anyway," I added as an afterthought. "She's kinda mad." I neglected to mention that I was the one who ticked her off by more or less destroying the kitchen in an unsanctioned attempt to make muffins.
          Nemesis didn't bother with any follow-up questions. No one messed with Ma when she was on the warpath. "Sure, let's go."
          "I'll get the ax," I volunteered.
          "Dad says--"
          I waved a hand airily. "Oh, it's fine. He just doesn't want you getting hurt. I'll go down and check on the chickens--" I made some air quotes, "--and hide it in the woods over behind the barn. We can go in the woods behind the house and circle around to get it and no one will know!"
          Nemesis acquiesced, secure in the knowledge that it was my kiester--literally--that would be in the line of fire should our parents find out I was messing with the ax. I departed the house via the downstairs window before our enraged mother could hunt me down and made a beeline for the barn. Ax safely hidden in the woods, I met up with Nemesis and took twenty minutes to retrieve said ax because we insisted on having swordfights with every downed branch we found in the valley.
          The valley was in the woods. There were a lot of downed branches.
          Now, everyone knows location is the most important aspect of fort construction. Nemesis and I crisscrossed the woods, trying to figure out the best place to place the headquarters of our path to world domination. (We got a little ambitious. Something about that forest...) Eventually, we settled on a spot that would later turn out to be the location for some tree houses. However, we weren't time travelers, so we didn't care. Also, all our forts inevitably fell apart with the first good wind.
          We didn't mind. 80% of the fun of a fort was the construction process.
          I got to work with the ax, chopping up the longer deadwood littering the area and making a small pile next to me for use in future ramparts. Nemesis located smaller wood chunks that were already suited for walls. At least, that's what he was supposed to be doing; in reality, he kept getting sidetracked by cool stuff he found. I eventually got used to him wandering off and just kept working with the single-minded determination of one who knows that he's gonna be the one to name their creation.
          After a while, though, I heard a lot of crashing coming from behind me. I initially assumed Nemesis had slipped and fallen down the hill (we were building on a plateau in the hillside), but the crashing continued for far longer than I though it really should've. I mean, my brother was clumsy, but he wasn't that clumsy. Also, the noise was getting closer. I put the ax on my shoulder (you know, like a real lumberjack would) and turned around to see what was going--
          I came face to face with a deer.
          No joke. There was a giant buck, antlers and everything, about fifteen feet away from me and closing fast. It was fairly obvious that he would be all up in my kool-aid in about two seconds, so I let out a decidedly un-heroic squeak, dropped the ax, and dove to the side. The big guy thundered by, almost hitting me with his shoulder as he passed. Seemingly oblivious to the small child he'd almost flattened like a pancake, he disappeared over the ridge.
          I watched him vanish into the forest, part of me still keyed up from the sudden wildlife encounter and part of me disappointed that, when my life had flashed before my eyes, I still didn't know where I'd lost my favorite remote-control truck. You'd think with my highlight reel being that short, there'd be more useful information contained within.
          It took me a moment to remember that I'd come out here with a brother. When the realization hit me, I spun around to try to locate him.
          He was fine--he was standing behind and uphill from me, mouth open as he stared at the spot where the buck had dropped out of sight. He caught me staring at him and closed his mouth with some difficulty. "Radar! Did you see that?"
          "See it?" I demanded. "I almost got hit by it!"
          "I know! That was so cool!" Nemesis yelled.
          "Why didn't you warn me?" I yelped.
          He closed his mouth and shrugged. "Forgot."
          I thought about yelling at him, but decided that it would be wasted breath. Besides, now I had a great story to tell everyone. I pushed myself up into a sitting position...and promptly discovered that the story would need some editing.
          I'd dropped the ax on my foot. Blade down.
          "Ow," I muttered, examining the gash. Fortunately, the ax had landed across my foot, so the bones kept the blade from penetrating too far; also, I wasn't that tall yet, so there wasn't much time for the ax to build up speed. Still, I was leaking a lot of blood.
          Nemesis wandered over. "Oh. Ouch. Did you hit yourself with the ax?"
          I glared at him. "No, I dropped it on my foot when I almost got run over by the deer that you didn't warn me about!" I pushed the ax away, wiped my hand off on my shirt (a wasted exercise; my t-shirt was dirtier than my hands were), and slapped my hand over my foot. Then I looked at Nemesis' feet. He was wearing boots. (Not a member of the "Forever Barefoot" club like me. Something about "splinters and thorns"...) "Are you wearing socks?"
          He shook his head. "No."
          "Ugh, fine." I took stock of my situation. There was only one thing left to do.
          I'll leave my solution out of this, because it was a little gross even though it was effective. Let's just say I hopped home; that's sort of true. Nemesis and I bragged about the deer all the way back, too. After I stashed the ax in the woods, I washed off my foot in the mudroom, forgetting that I would also be washing off what little clotting happened. Needless to say, I tracked blood through the entire house. Ma was not pleased with me.
          I did manage to get my cut hidden under several band-aids and told Mom that I cut my foot on "something" while "dodging a giant deer!" There was some skepticism until Nemesis backed up my story. He also left out the ax part; I'd impressed upon him the importance of keeping that part of the story secret, pointing out that the ax was technically "something" and the deer portion of the story was more interesting anyway.
          Especially since the deer had antlers. Nemesis claimed there were "fifteen! Like at least fifteen antlers!" I claimed twenty, and informed him that "I was closer, so it was easier to count!" (Neither of us were very good at math yet, apparently.)
          Anyway, we successfully distracted Mom so she didn't yell at us for the mess. We did have to help clean up, though.
          Still one of the coolest things that ever happened to me! I bragged for years...you've almost hit a deer? Well, I almost had a deer hit ME!
          Note: Now that I think about it, there probably weren't "twenty antlers" on that deer. Probably closer to "twenty-five."
          Just sayin'.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Captain's Log, Day 184: A Log of 2017

          As is tradition, here is my recap of--huh? What's that?

          Well, apparently I forgot to make a recap for 2016. In my defense, it was a weird year.

          THIS year, however, I'm doing my duty for future generations and summing up 2017. I know people will be so interested in what I did before I got famous (and, future generations, I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume it's the exact same stuff I'm doing now, with fewer gadgets). Read on for a snapshot of my life!

          January: I completely neglected (as I mentioned) to provide a recap of 2016, possibly and erroneously assuming that my update on the Midway family would suffice for a recap. Even if that did count, that was kinda cheating on my part, since I only wrote about a fourth of it. January was kind of a busy month for me; I finished releasing Off the Radar and I decided that I was getting a little bored with my current job. I decided to shop around for new jobs on the offhand chance that a) someone wanted to hire me and b) there was a job that I was actually interested in. I put my new resume up on a couple job-hunting sites and...

          February: ...got flooded with interview requests. Didn't get any writing done, unfortunately; I was attending interviews. Oh, and house shopping, in case I wanted to stay in the area. And running; for some reason, there was a 70-degree warm spell, which was freaking PHENOMENAL! (I hate winter.) Not much to report there.

          March: Interviews were halted abruptly when I found out a company I'd really liked was hiring. I promptly sent in a resume and crossed my fingers. While waiting, I got some work done on Lost, finishing that book up, and started on Voidwalker. I also took a break to make a small report and display some cover art before getting to work on cleaning up Deadman Switch for publication. And all that work stopped when I got hired by the company I was hoping for!

          April: I spent about half of this month on the road, driving from South Dakota to Minnesota and back. I was still working at my previous company, but I timed my two-week notice out so I only had three days off to move all my crap. I managed to find an apartment in record time, but (since I was moving pretty much by myself) I had to take four or five trips back and forth to complete the move. In a 48-hour period, I spent about 30+ hours on the road. Kinda sucked, but the Dodger took it like a champ. I was also finishing up the Deadman Switch book cover, programming myself a website and working on my boat, so I slept maybe three hours. That month.

          May: Same thing: boat, book, and...um...what's a word for "website" that starts with "b"? I got nothing. I was also thrown headfirst into my new job and seriously enjoying it. Much less travel this month, though. I was grateful for that.

          June: I finished up the Deadman Switch book cover, as well as my author website, Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter. (Figured I'd hit the big three there.) Once that was done, I published my novel...and got my first feedback not even 12 hours later. Five stars! Guess someone liked it! With that completed, I got into an argument with someone of stature little and started writing about college stuff in order to win a bet. (I'm still working on it, but I WILL WIN IT. Just have to finish writing these stories down! You're gonna lose, Shorty!) Additionally, I started a new series called "Off the Top of My Head" for my author site, publishing the first post right away so it looked like I had some content up there.

          July: Work on my boat proceeded apace; I finally got the last piece in to make the Panama functional (the motor) and proceeded to spend a lot of time out on the lake. Shout-out to Rach for helping me install the engine! I mean, I had to install a new one a few weeks later when I blew a piston rod in that one, but hey--we had fun. Seriously, if you only click on one link in this, click on the Panama one. That boat is beautiful. I'm really proud of it. I also wrote another story about my college years, crossing two out of the seven stories for the bet off my list.

          August: By this point, work was getting easier (I was starting to understand it a little better now) and it was getting cold. Seriously, too cold for boating, even. I was irked, but there was nothing I could do about it. I started attending Taekwondo again, since I was back in the area of my original school, and played games with and pranks on other people. Sometimes simultaneously. I had no regrets. I also started reorganizing my files and stumbled across a really old siege engine design, so I wrote down a story about why and how I'd designed and built it.

          September: Taekwondo kicked into high gear; I started preparing for the Interschool Tournament (a Taekwondo tournament, FYI) and really began working on a few other projects I had. I also started winterizing the Panama, stopping when it got super warm so I could take her out on the lake a few more times. I also started thinking ahead to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and what I wanted to write about for that. I also added to "Off the Top of My Head" when I was a little sleep-deprived. It shows.

          October: I broke a rib a week before the Taekwondo tournament. Sadly, I resigned myself to...um...leaving the sparring (fighting) match signup, but competing in everything else--patterns, team patterns, board-breaking, and weapons demonstrations. However, once at the match, I was informed that there was a higher belt there who had signed up for sparring (he was a third degree black belt, I was a second degree black belt) who had no one to compete against. I decided to suck it up and put on my sparring gear. I somehow managed to win, despite the repeated impacts to the damaged side of my ribcage. Afterwards, I chose the smart path (for once) and took a break from Taekwondo the following week to heal. OW. I used the time to prep for NaNoWriMo and write down some advice and strategies for the month. I also reminisced about possums in a different story. Maybe you're better off not knowing.

          November: Oh gosh, check Instagram. I documented my progress with pictures. You can see exactly where I snapped and desired to edit my new book with archery. (It's not that bad; I just had an interesting day.) That's pretty much all I did, though; work, write, and...what's a word for "Taekwondo" that begins with "w"? Dang, I'm really batting zero on the alliteration tonight.

          December: I opened up the month by testing for my next rank in Taekwondo on the first. I also broke my hand because I'm an idiot sometimes, but hey--still passed (possibly because I refused to admit that I broke my hand until after the test). Perihelion bought one of my short stories, Timelock, and published it that month as well. That was my first commercial short story sale! Heck, the story about how I got it published is kind of funny all by itself, but you can read about that on my website. I also considered taking up photography, but decided that Ma pretty much had that covered.

          And that pretty much wraps up the year! Tune in this next year for:
          -at least two, potentially three new book releases
          -more short stories, both of the fictional and non-fictional type
          -insanity (probably)
          -winning that bet with Shorty
          -the story about how I bought my first property (haven't yet, but it's GONNA HAPPEN)
          -and a partridge in a pear tree. (Hey, it's still the Christmas season!)

          To all of you who've followed me through the creation of this blog, to the publication of my first major novel and other writing-related endeavors...thanks for sticking with me and believing in me. Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!