Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Derby is Graduating!

Back when I was still involved with the annual Pets in Space anthologies -- before the series changed hands -- I donated toward the training of two Hero Dogs. 

Hero Dogs is a noble organization that raises and trains service dogs for disabled first responders and the Pets in Space volumes donated to the cause every year since inception in 2016. It was a great choice, IMHO, the perfect charity to be supported by limited edition volumes with a focus on "pets in space."

Both service dogs I sponsored had names that held meaning for me. 

The first was MITCH. 

Mitch is also the name of the hero of my as-yet-to-be-published novel, The Outer Planets, so picking out my first pup was an easy task. I followed him through his training and, as I was about to by a part of the second Pets in Space release, he graduated to become a bonafide service dog (not all pups make it, so I was very proud of him). This was the announcement I made on this blog on November 4, 2017:


As a participating author in both of the Pets in Space anthologies to date, one of the bonuses is being able to help support the Hero Dogs organization with a 10% donation from all preorders and first month's sales.
My Hero -- Hero Dog Mitch
Photo credit the Hero Dogs site
A year ago, while involved with the original Pets in Space, I "adopted" one of the Hero Dog trainees -- Hero Dog Mitch -- as a side project and made special donations to assist with his training toward becoming a service dog over the last year. (You can read Mitch's blog here.)
I am absolutely delighted to announce that tomorrow, November 5th, Hero Dog Mitch will successfully graduate the Hero Dogs program as a service dog and will be paired with a US Coast Guard veteran!
Much is asked of these dogs, and not every candidate has the right stuff to successfully graduate as a full-fledged service dog, so this is a very special occasion indeed. I received a personal invitation to attend from Hero Dogs, but will be unable to make the trip to Maryland this weekend to witness Mitch's graduation.
I want to take this opportunity to wish Mitch and his veteran a very long, happy, and successful partnership.

I was super proud of my boy, Mitch. :) 

After his graduation, I picked out a second pup to support for future Pets in Space volumes, and her name was DERBY. 

For those of you who are familiar with me, you probably know that we've been involved in breeding and/or raising Thoroughbreds for well over a decade, so "Derby" was an obvious choice. 

Today, I was notified in a newsletter that Derby is now graduating, also as a bonafide service dog. She made it! 

Her graduation ceremony will be on October 7th (which will be right around the time the latest volume of Pets in Space will released this year--but no, I haven't been involved with PISA in a number of years now). 

Here's Derby's class graduation announcement:

The graduation of Derby feels like the Pets in Space chapter of my authordom is now closing. Though I'm still planning to publish my last former Pets in Space story -- Courting Disaster -- later this year, and that will close the entire book on my involvement with the Pets in Space franchise which introduced StarDogs to my Inherited Stars galaxy. :)

StarDogs will be back in later stories (or at least, that's the plan) but Pets In Space now feels a bit like a booster rocket that's been jettisoned. It helped to get me where I am, but it's no longer part of the program. 

Best wishes to Mitch on his continued mission as a Hero Dog, and Happy Soon-to-be-Graduated Derby. It was fun sharing part of my journey with two very exceptional Hero Dogs. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Storytelling: Effective Villains and Believable Lies

Well, my posts have certainly become few and far between lately. I apologize for going dark. There's a lot happening in the background called "real life" but I won't bore you with the details because it's probably non-relatable. Let's just say, "It's been the best of times, it's been the worst of times." (Inspired by a quote from Charles Dickens.) 

Lately, I've been doing a lot of studying and thinking and applying it to my work.

I've been studying what has happened in the past, what is happening now, and what may lie ahead...and how those elements can be interwoven into fiction. (I won't go into a lot of detail because my personal experience "won't compute" for a large number of people.) 

Today, I want to just focus on one of the things I've been studying and that's the nature of lies....and people who lie....and people who use lies for their own purposes and gain. It's a pretty dark rabbit hole to go down in reality, so let's not do that. 

I'll just post a few memes on my philosophy on liars, which is pretty simple:


and especially...

In fiction, we often create characters who lie as a means to advance their own position, their own selfish plans or to defend themselves from being judged too harshly by others. A really effective villain can usually weave lies and deception that will fool and mislead a great many people. If they weren't capable of that, they'd be reduced to a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash. 

Old Snidely isn't very convincing, so a truly skilled villain learns three basic tactics: 
1) How to make lies sound like the truth, 
2) How to persuade a lot of other people to buy into his/her lies (usually with some sort of reward), and 
3) How to punish those who disagree with those lies.
"I'll get you, my pretty...and your little dog, too!"  

Number 3 may be one way to discern if someone is telling the truth. If they are telling the truth, and someone disagrees, they won't punish that person for not believing them or for being intelligent enough not to buy in to their deception. 

But the thing about villains is that in the end, they lose. Usually big time (...unless of course, the author is planning a sequel). 

If the story has no sequel where the villain returns, then the end is just The End. 

Justice is served. Judgement is rendered. The evil villain is doomed. Truth and goodness prevails.

These are the themes I'm working with in a current novel. The villain has credentials, power and influence and portrays himself as a good and decent man. He fools a lot of people and manages to convince them that he's their rightful leader, that his challenger is a threat to them and their way of life--and further, that his opponent is the one who lies and misleads. But beneath his shining white robes (literally) and his dark cloak of deception, he's not a righteous man, he's a self-serving and demented human being. (Okay, this is sci-fi so he's really an alien, but he's human enough to pass.)

But the thing about lies is they eventually ensnare the one telling them.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." 

That phrase is often attributed to Shakespeare, but it was actually said by Sir Walter Scott. According to the site No Sweat Shakespeare, it means: 
"...when you lie or act dishonestly you are initiating problems and a domino structure of complications which eventually run out of control."
Yes, he and his cronies make a pretty convincing argument. Jointly, they have a talent for taking the truth and twisting facts and circumstances to serve their own end game. You can fool many of the people all of the time...but eventually, the truth is going to win out.

I'm intentionally avoiding the name of the villain character because spoilers...but the current working title of the story is in the tags, if you're curious.

Have you read any books with a thoroughly convincing villain who cleverly manipulates the truth? Let me know the titles and I'll check them out. 

Until next time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Checking In!

Hi all, it's been a very busy and exciting summer, and I apologize that this blog has taken a bit of a back burner while I'm dealing with a lot of real life ups-and-downs. (I never was a big fan of roller coasters, but...here I am! :D )

For a brief recap, Courting Disaster is still in the editing phase. I hope to be making more headway soon, but as of now, the anticipated summer release is not likely. I honestly thought the story was as "perfect" as I could get it before submitting to my editor. My editor didn't agree. It's going to take a bit of time to work through her feedback. This story is crucial to the timeline going forward and as soon as my schedule allows, it will be priority #1. 

Luna, who was the inspiration for the Star Dog in Courting Disaster, has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and probably will be leaving us sometime in the next year. :'( We're doing what we can to keep her comfortable including regular visits to our vet. This has given me more incentive to get "her" story published and out there while she's still here. I'll try to do more frequent updates, snippets, etc. to keep you in the loop.

I did finish Linda Greenlaw's book, The Hungry Ocean. It was a good read, gave some great insights into the workings of a small crew (which may transfer in part to my future releases), and a ton of information on Swordfishing, which I've been a little fascinated with since first viewing The Perfect Storm many years ago. I'll be reading another of her books soon. 

I have to comment that it was a little sobering how huge the effort is in way of planning, supplies, groceries for a month, knowhow, ocean dynamics, instinct and pure luck go into a successful Sword boat expedition, and how little the payoff seems in comparison to the hardships -- sleep deprivation, high risk, and crises that arise from managing a 100-foot fishing vessel and a crew living in close quarters. A lot of this will filter into my next novel, Inherit the Vengeance, where crew troubles come in to play at the beginning of the story. 

Inherit the Vengeance is not close to going to the editor, but many scenes--and even entire chapters--have been written. The story opens in Captain Dava Jordan's POV. Ironically, she was first introduced in StarDog, and that story was inspired in part by the need to give her an origin story before she plays a major role in Inherit the Vengeance.

I'll sign off for now. Luna-bear and my three other Stardogs say "Hi." :)

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Perfect Storm Inspires Ideas

Recently, while watching an episode of Deadliest Catch (one of about three television series I follow anymore), I had a bit of a surprise in terms of the introduction of a new crew member to the show. 

It was a lengthy introduction and for good reason.

The new crew member was Linda Greenlaw. THE Linda Greenlaw. If you don't know who she is, and you ever saw the motion picture The Perfect Storm with George Clooney as the captain of a swordfishing boat, Andrea Gail, out of Gloucester, Massachussetts, that's the Linda Greenlaw I'm talking about. It was based on a true story about real people. And Linda Greenlaw was -- and still is -- one of those real people. The captain of the Andrea Gail's sister ship, the Hannah Boden

(theatrical release poster)
And that Linda Greenlaw had just joined the crew of one of the Deadliest Catch king crab fishing boats. She had somehow acquired a quota of crab and was looking for a boat to partner with. After some trial and error, including running into an old nemesis from her Hannah Boden days, she found a spot. 

In relating her backstory, they included some footage of Greenlaw talking about her life and about surviving the "perfect storm" (what they had always referred to as the 1991 "storm of the century") and how it had impacted her life. 

The motion picture had been based on a novel by Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea. There were a few things I gleaned from her story that spoke to Hollywood's version of the "true" story, such as the suggested romance between Captain Linda Greenlaw (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and Captain Billy Tynes (George Clooney) of the starcrossed swordboat, Andrea Gail

Apparently, they were never a "thing." Greenlaw related that they did work for the same man, and they occasionally shared info about the location of fish, but there was no tearful scene with Linda speaking at the Andrea Gail crew's memorial service. "I wasn't there. I was out fishing," Linda related. 

But that's not to say the disaster didn't impact her and her life. The owner of her boat did send her out to the last known location of the Andrea Gail, where they found a floating barrel with "A.G." painted on the side--debris from the lost ship. (Ironically, Mark Wahlberg's character, Bobby, is first viewed in the film standing on the bow of the Andrea Gail with several barrels marked "A.G." around him.) There was also a scene where a deceased member of Greenlaw's crew is carried off her vessel. That may have been based, in part, on a story she recanted on The Deadliest Catch of losing a crewmember. 

Here's an opening clip from the movie which highlights the Andrea Gail and Hannah Boden vessels and captains returning from the sea. Some of the elements I just mentioned above are included, but it's score only -- no dialogue. 

But what intrigued me the most was that I learned via her introduction and back story that Linda Greenlaw was also an author, and quite a successful one, apparently. 

A quick search on Amazon revealed quite a list of both fiction and non-fiction books, including The Hungry Ocean, The Lobster Chronicles, All Fishermen are Liars, Seaworthy, four books in The Jane Bunker Mystery series including Slipknot, Fishermen's Bend, Shiver Hitch and Bimini Twist, the non-fiction Lifesaving Lessons: Notes from an Accidental Mother and two cookbooks, Recipes from a Very Small Island and The Maine Summers Cookbook. Her books rank between four and five stars on Amazon, with at least one earning more than 500 reviews, and she was a New York Times bestseller, which seems to indicate she is quite a talent as a writer and has a few things to say that a lot of readers were interested to read about.  

It occurred to me, an author who writes many stories centered on small crews on starships, that her work might have a few inspiring ideas and "small ship environment" tidbits to lend to my work. (Wish I'd found her work a decade ago.)

So although I don't tend to read a lot outside my preferred genre, I'm going to give her books a try starting with The Hungry Ocean: The Captain's Story and Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea. If those are inspiring, I'll read on. 

I'll post a follow-up here on The Firebird at some point in the future.