Why I went (and go) to the woods

•January 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

THOREAU WITH WENT TO THE WOODS QUOTEYesterday I completed my longest mountain bike ride since my race in North Carolina at the end of July–just over 29 miles. I was happy with that–though the mileage or the dull, but enjoyable ache in my quads were not the largest factor contributing to my joy. That award goes to my thoughts.

I started my ride intent on taking my normal pre-sunrise start route at Starkey Wilderness Park–paved trail to power line road north to State Road 52 and then back south to the single track mountain bike trails–starting with Deliverance. I was excited as I hit the power line road–someone had done some work to one of the softer and wonkier sections. The new road bed of crushed/packed shell made for some quick riding on what had been a less-enjoyable road. But my excitement soon faded as the nice road bed turned into a super-soft, rutted mess–the result of the heavy equipment used to move and grade the shell. I toughed it out and in the process decided to explore the extensive network of old forest roads to the east instead of sticking with the original plan. Whim.

IMG_5434It was a cold (by Florida standards) morning, so I had dressed in layers. About six miles in I had started to warm up enough to stop and remove a layer. I consciously tried to pick a scenic spot as I had also noticed it was almost sunrise and (romantic that I am) I just had to take it in. It was during this brief break that I really started thinking about why I loved being out in the woods for my workouts and why I kept going back to the woods (or the water) time after time. The reasons weren’t quite Thoreauvian (though I do often feel a kinship for his primal thoughts) but they are important to me.

I thought back to my youth and the time I spent exploring the beaches and wetlands of Leonardo and Atlantic Highlands, NJ, with my old friend Jack Hueston–just enjoying the isolation, the water and observing nature. As a young shell collector I was particularly interested in watching live snails slowly do their thing in the shallow water mud flats. Jack was more interested in the fish. Those weren’t explorations that were physically demanding (typically) but rather “excursions” of observation.

I also recalled our family camping trips to Roger’s Rock Campground on Lake George in New York. It was a different kind of nature–mountains and rocks and cliffs around a huge fresh water lake. Still, I recall enjoying snorkeling around the “Flat Rocks” observing the perch, bass and small killifish more than I did patiently trying to catch them with my pole. It was also here that I started hiking–initially just to get to places like the Flat Rocks or Elephant Rock. Eventually, we made tougher hikes to Roger’s Rock or Tongue Mountain. As I got older, I would go off on my own or with friends. One summer Pat Kirk and I set off and made our own route up Roger’s Rock–from the lakeshore to the top–with some unprotected rock climbing and tree climbing that added to the adventure. I think it was here (and on later backpacking trips) that I really started to embrace the physical challenges that could complement being immersed in the natural environment.

I continued thinking as I remounted my bike and explored a portion of the land that I hadn’t been through previously. And though my main goal had originally been a workout, I took a couple of breaks every now and then to notice (and in a few cases photograph) some of the beauty along the way–the sunrise and rays reflecting on a pond, a flock of white ibis leaving their overnight roost, the color and texture of the shrubs near a cypress swamp and the running water of a small stream.

IMG_5454Eventually, I made my way to the single track mountain bike trails–and my mind focused a little more on the physical workout and my riding technique. Yet even while pushing my body a little harder I couldn’t help but smile–happy to have access to such an amazing natural environment and the life experiences that allow me to connect with it on so many levels.

The JUNK MAIL SAGA Continues…

•November 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s been almost seven months since my father moved from his house to a one-bedroom apartment closer to me. At that time, we had his mailing address changed to our house and individually contacted only a select few “institutions” and businesses to give them his real new address. Our hope was that in doing so that all the junk mail, junk mail charities and various scam sweepstakes wouldn’t find him at his new address AND that we could slowly start to eliminate the deluge from our own mailbox.

Initially, we were getting nearly as much mail as he had been getting before the move. Our mailman was often needing to master cramming it all into our normal-sized, street-side mailbox (though he did complain more than once).

My wife (LOVE HER) started making phone calls to each organization that he was receiving mail from at our address. You can tell how shady some of these groups are by how difficult it is to find a phone number on their materials. Many don’t have a phone number on their letterhead or their other materials. On many of their websites you have to really “drill down” to find one. On some of their websites there was no phone number. On some there was only an email. On others there was only an email reply form. The worst of the worst I could only try to contact through their Facebook page!

At the end of nearly seven months we have a spreadsheet of over 700 organizations we have called and asked to remove my father from their databases, mailing lists, calling lists and/or to add him (if they have such a thing–some do) to their “do not mail” and “do not call” lists. For some groups (because we are still receiving mail months after first contact) we are making second or third calls and sending follow-up emails. The “organizations” range from one extreme end of the political spectrum to the other and everything in between, from reputable charities to those who’s top Google search says “scam” and from products that promise to grow your hair to products that promise to grow other things (!).

NEW MAIL?!? On top of the frustration of the old mail, we continue to receive junk mail for my father from new organizations–even though I’ve put the maximum number of iterations of his name and address on the Direct Marketing Association’s “do not mail” list.





One of the reasons I write this is that I know many of my friends have parents who are getting older and I urge you to be nosey–do whatever you can to check out their mail, their checking accounts and credit card accounts to make sure they are not being taken advantage of by the persistent harassment that comes from this broad range of organizations making abusive use of the U.S. Mail. Get a handle on it early–save yourself some frustration. Save your parents or grandparents some money.


junk mail sweepstakes crap



Putting it all into the sequel

•November 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

DCIM108GOPROAfter returning from my paddling event in Chattanooga, I noticed that it had been some time since my last blog post. Bad Kip.

Honestly, I’ve been putting all of my writing efforts of late into my follow-up of Wendall’s Lullaby. I’ve got just over 20,000 words down and the story is starting to take shape nicely. While I have a very general outline down on paper, notes on my legal pads and post-its with ideas, themes and characters across the top of my desk, I am also somewhat of an organic writer. As I flesh out the actual story the connections and action grow and later become even clearer. Sometimes (as happened in my first novel) even the crux of the story comes to me that way.

manuscript and penYesterday I spent time editing the hard copy I had taken to Chattanooga and hoped to work on during my trip. It didn’t happen during the trip, but it was a great way to refocus and inspire me to move forward. And today I had a very productive day of writing.

The working title for the sequel is Delphys Rising. I’ll leave it at that for now.

The Rise of “Niche Media,” the end of compromise and the division of America

•October 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1It’s a dangerous and pervasive myth to believe that America was founded by men with unwavering principles–so passionate in their beliefs that they refused to compromise.

America was founded on compromise. Jefferson’s removal of all references to slavery in the Declaration of Independence allowed the colonies to unite in their separation from England. The U.S. Constitution as we know it was the product of vigorous debate and was only ready to be submitted to the states for ratification following The Great Compromise and the Three-Fifths Compromise.

Politicians used to be better compromisers. Americans used to be better compromisers. I think that essentially democratic characteristic has been lost. I think the ever-increasing access to compartmentalized/niche information sources is partly to blame.

There is simply less of a need for us to have to hear the opinions of others– it’s easier for us to tune into radio and TV or log onto websites that only support our own way of thinking. We can lazily stay in our ideological comfort zones–slowly morphing into rigid zealots and fanatics.

In the pre-cable TV, pre-Internet past, our choices were more limited. We were forced to see and hear more opposing points of view. It might have made us uncomfortable, but I think that discomfort was a great thing–sometimes simply the start of a vigorous conversation or at other times the prelude to a productive compromise.

How do we reinvigorate America with the spirit of compromise? First, we have to realize that the effort will not be comfortable. We will have to genuinely listen to opinions that will grate against our own firmly held beliefs. Second, we have to realize that it will take a sustained effort–it’s not something we can try for a week, post our efforts on Facebook, Tweet about and then move on.

With that in mind, I challenge everyone, everyday, to access one source of “information” that you perceive as presenting an opposing viewpoint or bias on the world. Some simple examples: if you watch CNN regularly, watch FOX News (really watch and listen) for 15 or 30 minutes; if you listen to Hannity or Rush, try NPR for an hour. Do it everyday and tell people what you are doing and why.

Why? Because America–as embodied in our Constitution, as visualized by our Founders, as manifested in its first 200 years–will only survive if we recapture the ability to listen and compromise. The other option is gridlock, stagnation and decay.


VISUALIZING LOCATIONS IN WRITING: augmenting with working graphics

•October 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As I was writing Monday afternoon, I realized I needed a better visual idea of what I was constructing on Midway Atoll in the follow-up to Wendall’s Lullaby. The vision in my mind was becoming too complex, too detailed to recall off-hand. I needed a cleaner image to reference outside of my mind. Consequently, I spent the better part of Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning creating a graphic representation of the top secret remake of Midway Atoll.


While the main focus of the remake is an advanced dolphin research facility, I also had to include the supporting infrastructure to bring the neglected and dilapidated island into (and beyond) the 21st Century. Of course the world in the follow-up novel is one in which the events of Wendall’s Lullaby have shaped the national security situation in the U.S.–including the black ops budget and some environmental concerns.

Militarily, the base has been rejuvenated–runways reconstructed, new hangers built, docking piers reconstructed. New structures are hardened against physical enemy attacks, cyber/electronic attacks and tropical cyclones. Historic features (buildings and memorials) have been preserved. Less-historic buildings have been refurbished for use–including the school, officer and civilian housing, gymnasium and fitness facilities, library, Navy Exchange (store), Captain’s Club and a small movie theater.

Environmentally, the new base at Midway is built to be self-sustaining/self-supporting and reasonably minimize the impact on the somewhat fragile atoll ecosystem.–especially following the initial construction phase. Main power is supplied via wind turbines, solar arrays and solar roofing panels. Human waste is recycled for the hydroponic farm and/or treated to a level compatible with release into the environment. Compostable solid waste is recycled on site while other solid waste is periodically shipped off the island for disposal. Overall solid waste production is minimized via the emphasis on procuring consumables in bulk–minimizing packaging.

While my vision of Midway is still evolving (even as I write this I’ve added a few details), having this graphic is a huge help as I move forward writing–allowing me to more accurately (and easily) create believable scenes.



•September 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I was rewarded during this morning’s paddling workout with some beautiful flat water and an early dolphin sighting. It was my first morning workout on the Dunedin Causeway since Hurricane Irma–a 1.5-mile run followed by a 5.25-mile paddle in my surfski.

morning on the causeway

Ever since I started writing more seriously again, I’ve struggled a bit with pulling myself away from my desk–often harnessing the energy I would normally put towards a workout for my writing. And that was great for getting me re-motivated and move me along with Wendall’s Lullaby and the follow-up to that novel. I still managed to squeeze in some workouts, but I definitely sacrificed my overall feeling of health and fitness.

Now that I’m a little further along and getting into better writing habits, it’s time to mix in my old, better training habits.

I have to remember one of the main reasons I do my workouts in the morning: it gives me a feeling of already having accomplished one thing for the day and that feeling of accomplishment leaves me supercharged to get more done during the rest of my day.

So, with today’s workout done it’s on to doing some work on my Endeavor Racing events, stopping by to see my dad to make sure he knows about his doctors appointment tomorrow, doing a little book promotion and then getting to some work on writing my follow-up novel.

BACKSTORY – My Nemesis?

•September 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

One of the reasons I love writing so much is the research it allows me to do–the tangents I can follow. I simply love learning and love the learning involved in creating a semi-fictional world like the one in Wendall’s Lullaby (and the follow-up).

file and notes and booksI do exhaustive research for my work–reading books, web searches, Wikipedia and flying around the world on Google Earth. I’ll even wade through scientific research papers when needed.

That research helps me formulate not just the plot, but what I would call the “back-plot.”

I put the same kind of exhaustive process into developing the characters and their lives. I need to know what they’ve been through in order to accurately write their reactions to the situations in which I put them. But I think that I put so much work–so much passion–into developing those stories that I chafe at not sharing them with the reader. That’s one of the reasons for the deep backstories of most of the main characters in my first novel.

I was prompted to think again about these aspects of my writing a bit more deeply today due to a new review of Wendall’s Lullaby posted on IndieReader (click here for the review). One of the critiques was that the deep backstories took away from the flow and speed of the story–and that while some of the backstory was necessary some was not.

That idea ties nicely into the simple definition of backstory I found on Wikipedia:

A backstory, background story, back-story, or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.

I have to learn that backstory is just that–backstory. It is not “the narrative of primary interest.” And I need to use that precept to guide me–both in my use of backstory and back-plot.

It was another reminder that writing is a process–a learning process. Developing as a writer is a process. And, I’d like to thank everyone who has reviewed my first novel for helping me improve that work, develop my craft and for the better novels I will write in the future.

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