Of Bluejays and Titmice

9 01 2017


It’s cold outside. The temperature plunged into the negative overnight and this morning is not much improved despite a bright sun rising. I was out first thing to haul water to the ducks and hens. I filled the wild birds’ feeders last night, so they’d have breakfast waiting for them. I ought to be getting ready for Arisia, the SciFi/Fantasy convention in Boston next weekend. I’ve got a new book to plug. I’m presenting a workshop on “Reading Your Work Aloud.” I’ve got several panels to prepare for. I have half a dozen emails in my inbox waiting to be answered.

Instead I am sitting here lingering over my coffee, watching the jays quarrel over bread. They make me think of the Municipal Budget Committee meeting I have to attend tomorrow night.

I suppose most small towns are like this. Combative factions with different agendas plot and accuse and gossip and grandstand righteously. Saner heads try to calm everybody down and talk sense. It doesn’t work. Trouble-makers and self-appointed white knights strut and lecture, stoking the fires of controversy. They love a spotlight.

And I’ve gotten sucked into it.

I really did try to keep my head down. But I work for the town and with the public. I’ve been involved with the Historical Society, and when a difference of philosophies and a clash of personalities forced me to quit in disgust, I wound up working for the Heritage Commission (the latter being a town organization and the former being a private organization; they don’t play together well).

My boss, the Library Director, is retiring. When she announced her intentions a while back, the Library Board of Trustees unofficially approached me, hoping I’d take over. At first I said no. It’s a bit more responsibility than I really want, and my boss leaves very big shoes to fill. She’s a town institution, been in the position for as long as most folks can remember, and a damn hard act to follow. But then I was suddenly left on my own, with a mortgage and a house to take care of, and an income of $10K per year. Now the director’s position looked a tad more appealing.

Well, this has sucked me even further into the machinations of town politics. Naturally the job of director has to be posted, and there is no guarantee I’ll get it. But the Library Board of Directors is favorably disposed towards me. If a better candidate comes along, they must consider them, but given what the town is willing to pay, a competing highly qualified candidate is unlikely.

Oh yes, what the town is willing to pay. That brings us back to the Municipal Budget Committee and the annual sturm und drang of the budget process. Remember the political adage about making sausage?

What makes this whole thing even more “interesting” is that I have stirred the animosity of the one person in Deerfield that no one want to upset. It’s a long story, but this individual has been notorious for years, both in our and surrounding towns. This local icon is a self-styled authority on The Correct Way of Doing Things. Woe betide anyone who has a different opinion on the matter. Icon has a good working knowledge of the RSAs regulating town government, and quotes chapter and verse. The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

Anyway, I’ve been following the antics in various public meetings over the budget, and both witnessed and heard reports of what, in my humble opinion, is sheer arrogant ignorance. I was mentioned on a couple of occasions, but mostly I was furious at the way good people trying to do their job were being maligned and attacked by Icon and the members of Icon’s gang. I wrote a scathing indictment of them for the local online newspaper. The next thing I know, Icon is emailing me threats.

The subject line was “Do you know what LIBEL is?” Icon listed all my offenses, real and imagined, accused me of having no honor or scruples, and said I’d better be ready to “legally prove your writings.”

I am not surprised. Folks go in terror of saying a word against Icon that might be overheard. Icon has sued the Town on multiple occasions. The most recent one was thrown out, but still, every lawsuit costs the Town money which it can ill afford. Icon knows how to make trouble for anyone who dares to speak against Icon or that which Icon judges to be The Correct Way of Doing Things. In short, Icon is a bully, and all the kids have been handing over their lunch money out of fear of getting beaten up.

Bless them, there is a group in town which is fed up with this bullyshit. A growing number of folks are ready to go public in united opposition to Icon and the gang. The result will no doubt be loud, nasty, and litigious. I do not wish to be a part of it, but here I am.

The blue jays have gone off, taking their shrieking and squabbling elsewhere. The feeders are now being visited by chickadees and titmice. They politely take turns, flying up, grabbing a seed, and going to a nearby branch to enjoy it. It is a pleasure to watch. It brings joy to my heart. I’d rather be a titmouse than a jay.


2 01 2017
Micheal Cook - Weary Traveller

Micheal Cook – Weary Traveller

Happy New Year. I am weary.

I am weary of the steady parade of problems to be solved; too often the solution is beyond me.

I am weary of the constant barrage of outrage, calamity, and impending doom: the incoming administration, global climate change, incendiary international politics, pollution, poverty, and social injustice. I have no power to change any of it. Yet I am scolded for not “doing something about it”, for not “fighting back”, for “giving up”. I am supposed to at least “care”. But I am too tired to care anymore.

I am weary of causes and calls to increase awareness of everything from breast cancer (as if I am not painfully aware of it already) to all the variations on the mental norm: autism, depression, PTSD, etc., etc. I am exhausted from trying to be sensitive to a dizzying array of “triggers” and possible sources of offense. And I am beginning to resent the guilt trip that is laid on me for not being sympathetic enough. When I read about the shocking abuse children have suffered—starved, beaten, sexually assaulted—it is difficult to feel a lot of pity for adults who cry abuse because their childhood and their parents were less than perfect. When I read about the persecution—shunning, death threats, beatings, shaming, and horrific “cures”—of people who are not mainstream male or female, it is difficult to take seriously righteous crusades over pronouns.

I am sick of people who act as if everyone around them should treat them like pitiful victims, brave survivors, fuss over them, lavish special treatment upon them, when really the only thing that has befallen them is Life. We all struggle with some inner pain or another, unique to us; we’ve all been back-stabbed and gut-punched. We all have to do things we hate, deal with people and situations that make us miserable, cope with unbearable losses and the death of treasured dreams. We turn to friends and family for sympathy and support and then we pull ourselves together and push on. It is not up to you to declare yourself worthy of pity or preference, a tragic martyr or a noble hero. That is for others to judge.

I am weary of people who think their opinions are a valid argument against facts. I am tired of echo chambers and circle jerks and people who reduce complex issues to memes and soundbites. I am tired of those who pass single-issue judgements on others, who hold grudges, who think anger is a productive strategy, or that rage-quitting is a reasonable response. I am worn out dealing with those who crave drama and search for excuses to cause it, who use criticism and contempt as a way to feel better about themselves, and who loudly level unfounded accusations, seize upon gossip, persecute with innuendo, and always suspect the worst of people. I am frustrated by those whose response to a disagreement is to unfriend, block, ban, slam the door, shut down communication with anyone who doesn’t see things as they do.

I am saddened by all the misfortunes that have occurred to those around me, by the suffering, terrible luck, losses and heartache. All the misery I feel helpless to do anything about. I am battered by my own struggles, wounds, and failures. I am disappointed in my shortcomings, that I am not strong enough, clever enough, determined enough, to overcome this adversity. That my compassion has become so fatigued, my optimism exhausted. That I am so tired.

I have no confidence that 2017 is going to be better than 2016; reality does not recognize our calendar. I do what most of us do, get through each day, take care of those I love and who depend on me, and try to be cheerful about it so I don’t bring down everyone around me. 2017 might not be better, but it will certainly be different. Everything changes, everything passes away.

So perhaps, one day, I will not feel so weary.


31 12 2016

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.
This is America, dear Liza, dear Liza, dear Liza,
We don’t fix things, dear Liza, we throw them away.

Because buying new instead of fixing is better for the economy, and
the economy matters
more than

Eloise and Avalon released

7 12 2016


Greetings fans and readers! I am very excited to announce that my new novel, Eloise and Avalon, has been released from Double Dragon as an ebook and as a trade paperback.  The ebook, including a Kindle version, is available here for purchase.  Here is the gorgeous cover designed by Angi Shearstone from artwork supplied by Michelle Bouchard. Michelle also did some lovely sketches which appear in the text of the print version, which you can order from Amazon here.

Eloise and Avalon is part romance, part science fiction, part social commentary. In other words, pretty much what my readers have come to expect from me. To summarize the story, Eloise Smith is a history geek. She rebels against her family’s plans for her to devote herself to the subject she loves. In doing so, she finds herself drawn to the brilliant and reclusive Peter Avalon, an iconoclastic professor of history (and damn near everything else). She develops the classic student crush, devoting herself to him as his assistant, and kicking herself for succumbing to a cliché case of unrequited love. Eloise eventually discovers that not only is her love not unrequited, but Peter Avalon is not at all what he is supposed to be.

Pi-Sigma Avalon is indeed a historian, but from a world eleven hundred light years away and twenty-two thousand years into Eloise’s future. And he isn’t supposed to be there at all.

The prototype time/space transport device developed by the Thalesians has been judged by their scientific and philosophical councils to be too dangerous to risk using. But Avalon cannot resist the temptation. Just one quick jump, back to Old Earth, the lost world of their past, shrouded in mystery. No one need know. But he stays much longer that he intends, and comes back profoundly changed.

Eloise returns with him, and she confounds Thalesian expectations of what primitive humans are supposed to be like. So does the information Avalon brings back, blowing the carefully crafted theories about his people’s origins completely out of the water. The consequences of Avalon’s unauthorized expedition threaten to throw the peaceful, orderly society of Thales into chaos. And if the philosopher monks of Eden are correct, Avalon and Eloise face an unimaginably challenging future which cannot be avoided, because it has already happened.

I’ll be at both Arisia and Boskone promoting my new book (look for me at the Broad Universe Dealer’s Table), and hope to have copies in local independent bookstores. And, of course, it will be available at my local library. If it’s not available at yours, ask for it. Please!

The Old and the Useless

30 11 2016


We have a new member appointed to our town’s Municipal Budget Committee. He’s a piece of work. Last week he showed up to the meeting pumped up on liquid courage, and he told the committee and citizens in attendance what was on his mind. He’s going to shake things up and call people out, get rid of the fat in the budget and save the taxpayers money. Sound good? One of his first proposals was to eliminate all printing costs (a whopping $25) since, as he put it, “It’s 2016 and we don’t print things anymore unless you’re an old, useless person.”

After a moment of incredulous silence, it was pointed out to him that the various committees and boards in town are required by law to post their meetings in public places. Documents like the voter list are required by law to exist in printed form. In fact, before them on the table, was a copy of the budget they were reviewing. Printed on paper. Because it is easier to work with a printed document than trying to scroll back and forth on a device. But maybe I think that because I am old and useless.

During a discussion about how to make police officer salaries more competitive with surrounding towns so we don’t lose so many good officers, our man dismissed the supporting data as “irrelevant” and called a fellow board member an “asshole”.

Like certain other celebrated individuals in the political sphere, he does speak his mind, unfettered by respect, decorum, or an understanding of the facts.

He won himself several reprimands during the course of the meeting for dropping F-bombs. And there were more moments of stunned silence as he displayed his utter lack of understanding of how the law affects the budget. For me, the most telling moment was when he proposed eliminating the Heritage Commission (saving the town a grand total of $600). His justification? “It’s 2016, people. We don’t need history anymore.” I kid you not. Exact quote.

Our vocal advocate for frugality at all cost read a statement at the beginning of the next meeting, at which he grudgingly apologized for his behavior, but went to great length to justify it, waxing righteous and defensive about his tough upbringing, and how he pulled himself up by the bootstraps. He has a thick skin and presumed others wouldn’t be so sensitive about his brutal frankness and honesty. He’s fighting for the taxpayers, and after living here for a whopping ten years he knows everything he needs to know about what’s good for the town and what the taxpayers want.

And besides, he whined, this was an adult meeting, so he naturally assumed that adult language would be no problem.

One hardly knows where to begin.

We live in a culture that worships youth and treats old age like a fatal disease that no one ever wants to admit they have contracted. This culture is obsessed with novelty and innovation. It applauds celebrity and delights in seeing authority figures torn down and humiliated. Impatient, angry, self-righteous and self-obsessed. All flaws of the youth it idolizes.

What use has youth for history? It doesn’t involve them. Rules just get in the way of what they want. And what they want is what everyone should want, and anyone that disagrees is an asshole. Especially old people who try to explain to them why youth doesn’t always know what it is talking about.

Don’t misunderstand me; youth also brings energy, fresh ideas, challenges and courage to a society. We older folks often get set in our ways and need a bit of shaking up. But youth undisciplined, with no respect for the past and those who have lived it, is a forest fire.

Age brings experience. When you have lived and made mistakes and seen bright ideas go wrong, seen what works and what doesn’t, it gives you a measure of wisdom (glaring exceptions acknowledged—they are often those old enough to know better who emulate the worst qualities of youth). The older members of a board or committee tend to know why there are rules, how to work within them, and the unfortunate consequences of ignoring them. Living in a community for many years, especially when your family grew up there, gives you insights into how that community works, the variety of viewpoints and the different kinds of people. You learn (one hopes) how to respectfully disagree, to remain on friendly terms in spite of differences, and to find common ground.

When you know the history, you understand the present. You neither have to reinvent the wheel, nor rediscover fire. Those who fail to remember the past and who do not learn from history get to make the same disastrous mistakes over again.

Looking back at that committee meeting it is clear to me who are the old and who are the useless. They are not the same people. But perhaps our mouthy, yapping, young puppy will mature and understand better how to be an effective member of the community—if he is willing to learn from his mistakes and listen to those older and more experienced.

Old dogs don’t have to learn new tricks; they already know the best ones.

Worth a Thousand Words

21 11 2016
Eloise works as the lowly assistant to History Department secretary Genevieve Hague while she waits for the reclusive Prof. Avalon to return from sabbatical

Eloise works as the lowly assistant to History Department secretary Genevieve Hague while she waits for the reclusive Prof. Avalon to return from sabbatical

But what’s that worth in dollars?

This new novel over which I have been laboring long and mightily is called Eloise and Avalon, a work of science fiction, philosophy, and time travel. The time travel stories I have read have always left me feeling dissatisfied. Either the author pleads us to don the suspenders of disbelief and just enjoy a fine tale, or they try to box up the paradoxes with convoluted explanations that raise more questions than they answer (at least for me). I applied myself to the problem and this is the result.

The heroes are scientists, philosophers, and history majors. It’s about a geeky woman who gets the classic crippling crush on the brilliant professor, kicking herself for falling into the same old tired cliché. Unrequited love. Pathetic. Then she finds out it isn’t unrequited. And the professor isn’t your garden variety bachelor academic. He isn’t even properly human. He’s a historian, all right, but from a world eleven hundred light years away and twenty-two thousand years into her future. And he isn’t supposed to be there at all.

When Avalon goes back to his own time and world, he has to face the consequences for his illicit expedition. Eloise complicates things by returning with him. Neither of them are prepared for what ultimately arises out of their relationship with each other, the experimental vehicle Avalon absconded with, and a future that has already happened but must still be fulfilled.

The ebook will be released in January, and I’ll be crowing about it at Arisia. The print version will be out in time for Boskone in February. It’s the print version I’m truly excited about. Because it will be illustrated. Okay, not glossy full-color panels, but black and white images that will bring the story and characters to life.

It was pure serendipity.

As much as I would have loved having Angi Shearstone do the cover again (she did the artwork for Awake Chimera), in my present financially challenged position, I couldn’t afford her. She’s a pro, and, like the rest of us, deserves to be paid what she is worth, which is plenty. (That’s a whole different blog). We did work out a deal for her to do the graphic design for the cover, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

So I asked Michelle Bouchard if she would be willing to do the cover for me. She’s an emerging artist, still building her portfolio and perfecting her own style and works. She’s worth a whole lot more than I am paying her, but then again, an awful lot of us are in the same boat. Landing the big contracts that get you paid what your work is really worth is like playing musical chairs in a stadium full of people with only five seats. (Yet another blog.)

I sent Michelle the ms so she could look it over and get an inspiration for the cover (to be revealed at a later time). I got a printed copy back with some very useful feedback and suggestions. But something else as well—Michelle had doodled in the margins. I was delighted by these offhand sketches. I got inspired myself.

I contacted Double Dragon and worked out how I could include illustrations. The ebook won’t have them, but I am excited to announce that the print version will. Michelle turned the sketches into several finished pieces that will grace the pages here and there. I hope this is a gateway for her to get more work as an artist because damn, she is good. Wait until you see the cover.

I’ll be keeping you all posted throughout the process and include links to purchase here on the site. In the meantime, I have other books which you may not be aware of, and a short story in a newly released anthology called Live Free or Ride.

Books always make a great gift. Buy early and often, and help support your friendly neighborhood author, and artist.

The World has not ended.

9 11 2016


I ignored the news last night and binge-watched West Wing until bedtime. Got up this morning and avoided going on line for as long as possible. I puttered around, made coffee, let the dogs out and gave them their breakfast, got the dishwasher loaded, filled the bird feeders. I was in no hurry. The election results would wait until I was ready to address them.

When I sat down with my laptop and a fresh cup of coffee, I checked our local news source to see if the results were posted. There was a race for State Rep I was particularly interested in. Disappointing news. A pity. And of course I could not avoid seeing the results of the Presidential election.

Well, it looks like the DNC backed the wrong horse.

I remember back in primary season how the polls showed that voters had a marked preference for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton to beat Trump. And in fact, Clinton lost to Trump by a margin eerily similar to the one predicted by that very early poll. If the DNC and the media had treated both Clinton and Sanders as equally viable candidates, and given equal coverage to both instead of pushing Clinton, the news might be very different this morning.

But that’s neither here nor further. It is what it is, a reality we must accept.

I went onto Facebook, and my eyes watered from all the heat and venom spewing out. HRC supporters pointing the finger at third party supporters. Third party supporters shouting back. Everybody wringing their hands and rending their garments. Never have I seen so much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Which gives you an idea of the general political persuasion of most of my FB friends.) I suggested that this might be just the kick in the pants that the country needs, to get out of its complacency and start paying attention. We need to work to get a Congress elected that can put a collar on this monkey.

A few people “liked” my comment; the rest shouted me off the stage.

Okay, I get it. The nation (at least the sane, progressive, and moderate segments of it) is in shock. This is their worst nightmare. They need to process it by having a meltdown and pounding the pillow in futile protest. They need to scream and find scapegoats. They need to indulge in emotional hysterics for awhile before they can settle down and think rationally again. I get it. I felt that way when Sanders lost the nomination to HRC. I’ve already had my period of despair, hopelessness and grief. This development is just the logical next step in our march towards disaster.

I even think this might be a good thing. If HRC had been elected, Trump supporters would have had a tantrum, and then crawled back under their rock to plot their next attack. The rest of the country would have sighed with relief and settled into the status quo, accepting without a squawk our continued slide to the right into never-ending-war and ever-growing-income inequality. The frog would sit complacently in the gradually heating pot until it scalds to death. Oh, and yay, feminist victory, a vagina will be sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office. Totally worth it.

Trump’s victory is like the temperature of the water in the pot suddenly soaring upwards, and the frog reacting by jumping out. Holy shit, people, we have to do something!

Yes, the flying monkeys have landed in D.C. There will be havok. They will lob their foul droppings around the White House. It will be a gawdawful mess to clean up. People will get hurt and fear will run rampant. Thugs will consider this the green light to enforce their ignorant prejudices with violence. It will be ugly, no argument.

But we can’t just fall back on our fainting couch and resign ourselves to being ravaged. We need to fight back. Big time. We need to trade our lattes for strong black coffee and take a good long sniff. No more complacency. No more grumbling over the news and then changing the channel and reaching for another nacho. We need to pay attention to who is running for congress, including the local races that “don’t matter.” Because now they do. We have to strengthen local government by electing people of conscience and dedication, because these folks will move up the political ladder and start challenging the fat cats in the big offices. We need to support them when they do that. Unite behind moderate and sane candidates at all levels. Vote every two years, not every four. Spend less time on entertainment and celebrity intrigue and educate ourselves in the way government and politics work so we can effectively push our own agenda of tolerance, equal rights, peace and compassion.

We need to fight for the principles we believe in with the same monomaniacal, quasi-religious fervor as the other guys. That is how a democracy is supposed to work. It is participatory. That means citizens have to participate. Not sit back and let somebody else do the heavy lifting.

And if it shocks us into action, galvanizes good people of conscience and ethics into participating in politics again, then maybe a Trump victory isn’t such a bad thing after all.