Reminiscing …

HellcatI ride bicycles, and when I do, I tend to think about all sorts of things. Well this week, I was riding and realized that in November 1978, I took my father up in a private airplane. I had a pilot’s license and was flying the aircraft. He, on the other hand, had been a Navy fighter pilot in WWII, and hadn’t been in a small plane since just after the war.

As I continued riding, I thought about the stories he’d told me about being selected for the Navy’s elite carrier-based night-fighter pilot program. The stories were amazing, especially considering the airplane he flew — a Grumman F6F Hellcat — and the lack of instruments it had in the cockpit as compared to the Piper Warrior we were flying that November day. There was no VOR navigation radio system available back when he was a pilot, which astounded him with its ability to locate our position instantaneously as we flew along. He used charts and a sextant, while flying at about 400 mph — at night, when it’s real dark outside, and only about two hundred feet above the water to stay below radar. Talk about nerve. I think back when I used VOR and now I shudder, realizing that today’s airplanes have the luxury of GPS, all in living color and with all sorts of alarms attached. So nowadays there’s no need for nerves at all.

The one story he relayed that completely befuddled me was how a night-fighter pilot back then stayed on course. There was nothing to look at, no sight reference at all, only water, and lots of it. The aircraft carrier, or sometimes a land-based location, would send out a single sound wave. If the pilot was on course, the sound he heard through his earphones was a constant beep-beep-beep. If he veered off course to the left, the sound would change to a bee-beep, bee-beep, bee-beep; to the right, it would be a beep-bee, beep-bee, beep bee. Depending on how far left or right the pilot was off course, the sequence between each beep-bee or bee-beep would get faster and more intense. My father told me that the hardest thing to do was stay awake, since it was dark outside and the only thing you’d hear was the constant beeping sound, which was like an audio sleeping pill.

I was elated at his trust to go up and fly with me that day, considering the number of hours he’d flown during his career as compared to the hours I’d accumulated in my log book. As it turned out, that flight was the last time either of us was in a small aircraft. When we landed, I taxied the aircraft to the hanger and got out, never again to get back inside and fly. What a way to end my flying career, though, with my father at my side as co-pilot; a WWII night-fighter pilot at that.

Thanks for flying with me, Dad, and also all the stories you told me over the years, which I will always remember with fondness.

Writing A Novel … I Wonder How Long That Will Take?

Picture 1November is the National Novel Writing Month, and the quest is to write a 50,000-word draft novel in that time. Uh, I’m sorry, did I just say fifty thousand words in one month? Yes, that’s the challenge, and a formidable challenge indeed.

I remember having to write a one thousand word essay when I was in the seventh grade. When the teacher gave us the assignment, I sat there with absolutely no idea how long a thousand word essay would be. Then I realized, hey, it would be a thousand words. Astounding, don’t you think? Demonstrates how astute I was back then. But then my pondering continued. How many pages would that be?

Now I must tell you, this was to be accomplished during the two-week Christmas break back in 1957. And in 1957, in case you didn’t know, elementary school children wrote out assignments in longhand.

Still unsure of how many pages a thousand word essay would be, I started the following Monday. After deciding on my topic, I sat down with pencil and paper in hand and started writing. After what seemed like hours, I counted the pages. I gasped — there were only two! Now remember, as a twelve-year-old, I wrote in longhand and didn’t scrimp on the size of my letters. In other words, I wrote large words. For example, a six-character word would take up two inches of space on the page. Anyway, when I got done counting, I had a little over one hundred words. ONE HUNDRED WORDS! I anguished in total dejection, realizing the assignment would take me the entire two weeks to complete. I finished the essay and turned it in, all one thousand and eleven words of it. Wow, I remember thinking, I wrote over one thousand words! I was indeed impressed with myself.

Now let’s try to comprehend writing 50,000 words in one month. I managed a little over one thousand  in two weeks. That means I would have written a tad more than two thousand in a month. But let’s not forget my youth, inexperience, lack of attention, and absolutely no interest in the assignment whatsoever. I tell people who ask, that it takes me about nine months to write the first draft of a novel, which is usually three hundred pages in length, or about 110,000 words. I spend hours writing each day, but then I also edit my work as I’m creating the story, which takes time. But if I applied myself and just wrote without giving thought to structure or continuity, I imagine I could write a first rough draft in a month. But when I say rough, I mean really, really rough.

So, is writing a 50,000-word novel achievable in one month? Absolutely, and I’m sure there are a number of people who could do it in less time, and do it quite well, meaning the story would be sound and well conceived even in draft form. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people. But if you believe you are, then why not give it a go? I mean it is National Novel Writing Month, and the challenge awaits you. However, there is less than twenty days left in the month, so I suggest you get a move on it.

Ladies And Gentlemen, I’d Like To Introduce … Trotsky

IMG_6505Now don’t be confused, this little guy pictured to the right is not related to Leon, the Russian Marxist. He’s an eight-week-old black, male Labrador/Golden Retriever mix puppy, whose name just happens to be the same as the Russian theorist. I picked him up today at Canine Companions for Independence, and this cute little puppy will live with my family for the next eighteen months.

During that time, we will train him in the basic commands to become an assistance dog for someone who has a physical disability. But more importantly, we will socialize him to surroundings that he may encounter in his life as an assistance dog. This will entail taking Trotsky to restaurants and hotels, letting him ride on busses, trains, airplanes, and even boats, going up and down on elevators, plus going to department and grocery stores; every conceivable place his recipient would possibly go,

My family and I have been training service dogs for over five years now, and we love every minute of it. There are times when we lower our heads and sigh, and then clean up the mess, but that is no different than any regular puppy. But when you see what these dogs will ultimately do for a disabled person, it would astound you.

After the eighteen months he lives with us, he will then go off and be trained by professionals at Canine Companions, who will work with him for six more months in the commands specific to a person they feel he is best suited to assist. When you see these dogs at graduation, and the love the recipient has already developed for the dog after only being with it during a two-week training period at the end of the six-month professional training, it brings tears to your eyes. And believe me, Canine Companions definitely knows that’s what brings all us puppy raisers back to raise and train another dog. And we all willingly do it in order to help this wonderful organization provide someone in need of such care and love from a dog, no matter how many tears we shed when we have to turn them in.

I Wonder If I Have It In Me To Write A Romance Novel?

imagesI’ve been writing suspense stories for years, and enjoy it very much. Whenever I introduce myself as an author, I always say I write in the suspense genre. But a couple of years ago, I was doing some research on the Internet and read about romance novels and how popular they are. The statistics indicated that more romance books are written than in any other genre. This didn’t surprise me, just go to a local bookstore and peek through the isles.

Then I started wondering; could I write a romance story? I questioned myself further by asking, why would I want to? I mean it’s usually a story about a man and woman that fall in love and then overcome all of the obstacles that get in the way of their love. Where’s the true suspense … or any meaningful conflict that drives the plot? Actually, where in fact is a story at all?

Well, for some reason, the thought kept invading my mind, and one day I decided that I’d give it a try, for no other reason than to see if I could actually get through writing such a story. It took me some time to determine what age my lovers should be. I finally decided they should be relatively young, recalling what it was like to be in the early twenties and experiencing love for the first time. That, however, brought on another issue — young people are usually in school at that time. Not much excitement in describing going to class each day. But then it hit me — the theater. Talk about excitement!

For those of you that don’t know, my first degree in college was in theatre arts. But I thought some more and decided I didn’t want to get into all that goes on with theater students, or actually, what little really does go on. So I thought some more, and finally decided to deal in the music area. For certain, I wanted characters that were artistic, because the emotional levels inside artistic people from my experiences outweigh those of others. Now I realize that I could be way off base with that assumption, but being artistic myself and living in that world for a while, I have a knowledge base in making such a comment.

Anyway, I finally sat down and started writing my romance novel. And let me tell you, I’ve never had so much fun writing any other story in my life. It brought back so many memories of what young people go through trying to understand the feelings they are experiencing for the first time.

I’ll publish the book eventually, but for right now, I’m trenched in the suspense genre. However, if for nothing else, it proves that a suspense novelist can indeed have a soft side.

Using An Editor To Help Finalize That Killer Novel

Unrelenting_Nightmare_CoverUsing an editor definitely takes a strong personality as a writer. I’ve been asked about using an editor on a number of occasions, and I believe they are very useful if you know how to take their input. First and foremost, editors are not emotionally tied to your book. Therefore, they look for things that don’t work in the story, or don’t help move the plot along, or segments of the story that are repetitive, unnecessary, or completely out of place.

I had three difficult decisions to make subsequent to my editor’s review of Unrelenting Nightmare. The first was regarding Nomed, the antagonist in the story, who is a very cruel and ruthless person. David, my editor, told me I had to help the readers understand why Nomed enjoyed killing people. He told me, “As the author, you know why Nomed kills, but readers will question his actions unless you help them understand why.” I had a difficult time figuring out how to do that. I spent hours going over possible ways, because David was right, in my mind I knew absolutely why Nomed enjoyed killing. The issue was easily fixed with nothing more than a small flashback of his childhood. David liked the addition, and so did I.

The second decision involved how the story ended. David said the ending was weak and out of line with what readers would expect and want. I had a hard time dealing with this change because the original ending followed a particular theme that I had woven into the story. I thought long and hard, but ultimately made the change. And David was right once more. The new ending works much better, and I was still able to hold the intricacies of the characters together that I’d worked so hard to develop.

And last was the title. Originally, the book was titled A Lesson in Reality, but David said that sounded more like a how-to-book than a suspense novel. I spent weeks working on a new title, going over various changes until I came up with Unrelenting Nightmare, which I like because it ties certain segments in the book together. Many people have said they also like the title; some even saying the title was what drew them over to the book-signing table.

When David was assigned to edit my book, I was told he came highly recommended because of his background. After all that we went through, I thank him for all his input and knowledge about what would make my story and book come alive.

A New California Bicycle Law — And One That Was Certainly Needed

IMG_5579I first started riding a bicycle when I was six-years-old. When I was in college, I started riding seriously, but had to tail off when I began working. In my late forties, with my business career well established, I began riding again with a passion! I started competing in criteriums, road races, and time trials.

Now let me tell you, my physical stature is not what one would consider perfect for a cyclist, certainly not for racing. I have fairly broad shoulders, which act like barn doors when riding into the wind. And during my prime, I weighed in the high 160s, low 170s, with legs that honestly impressed people. But I often told them, “They’re all show and no go.” This, of course, was primarily due to my weight, which was certainly an advantage when I went downhill, but a severe detriment when I was going up. And guess what kind of cyclist usually wins races? That’s right … the lite ones!

Anyway, that was my background. Now I ride purely for pleasure and exercise. So when a new California law came about that required motorists to give three-feet of clearance when passing a cyclists, I cheered. I have, as a number of my fellow cyclists, been hit by passing cars. So this new law, along with many municipalities implementing designated bicycle lanes on streets with at least two lanes proceeding in the same direction, allowed us cyclists more room and ease of mind when we ride. What a lot of people don’t know is a bicycle is considered a moving vehicle and, therefore, must follow many of the rules of the vehicle code.

A funny instance happened to me once. An older woman driving by slowed her car, rolled down her window, and told me to get on the sidewalk where bicycles belong. I smiled and informed her that bicycles aren’t really allowed on the sidewalks, but thanked her for her input. This is a prime example of the misunderstanding and confusion that surrounds bicycles. Now there are actually cities that do allow bicycles on the sidewalks, primarily because the streets are not safe for a bicycle to ride on. But the main problem is we all need to understand what rights a cyclist has on the road. And this also requires that cyclists abide by the rules and don’t take advantage of them, which I often see them do. They applaud the three-foot safe zone, and enjoy the bicycle lanes, but then choose not to stop at stop signs, and often ride abreast when on a single lane road, which causes cars to creep along behind them.

If we all want to be safe when driving a car or riding a bicycle, then we must abide by the rules; not decide which ones we will follow and which ones we will ignore. So if you’re driving a car, consider the consequences if you pass a cyclist improperly. And if you’re a cyclist, ride safe, pay attention, and give vehicles the same courtesy you expect of them.

Dean Koontz Book Signing At Canine Companions For Independence

SWR_AskAnnaCoverThis Saturday, I will be helping at a special appearance event of Dean Koontz at Canine Companions for Independence in Oceanside. After addressing the audience at 10:00 a.m., Mr. Koontz will sign copies of his book Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn. The event is free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing by Mr. Koontz.

In addition to the signing, attendees can enjoy demonstrations by Canine Companions assistance dogs, tour the campus and more. You will find the facilities beautiful, and what the dogs are capable of will astound you.

What Dean Koontz has done for Canine Companions over the years goes beyond description. He has donated millions of dollars to the institution, and all his royalties from Ask Anna will go directly to Canine Companions.

I am looking forward to finally meeting Mr. Koontz. I have seen him on stage once before at a Canine Companions graduation ceremony, and we’ve conversed through letters, but have never personally met. He’s aware that I’m also an author, but from the extent of popularity and success, the gap between us is … well, to be honest, quite large.

So if you’re interested in meeting Dean Koontz, and live close to Oceanside, CA, please join us this Saturday the 11th. You can buy his book, get it signed, and have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped a fantastic organization provide an unbelievable service to those in need of assistance dogs.

Am I Harboring A Fugitive?

IMG_5541I have a “Brig Puppy” living with me right now. Canine Companions for Independence uses inmates at the military prison in San Diego to train assistance dogs — thus the term Brig Puppy.

Inmates who achieve excellent ratings during their stay at the brig can request to be allowed to raise and train a dog from CCI. There are usually four to six dogs at the brig at any given time. Each dog is assigned to a four-person-team of inmates for the eighteen months the dog is in training. The success rate of brig puppies graduating and being assigned to a person in need of a service dog exceeds the rate of those trained by the volunteers like me. The normal rate of graduating dogs is about 40%, where the brig program graduates about 60% of the puppies they raise.

Every four months, volunteers are asked to take a brig puppy into their home for two weeks. Because of the sterile surroundings of a prison, the dogs need to leave periodically in order to get socialized in real world environments. Simple things like riding in a car, going to a grocery store, or accompanying a trainer to a restaurant are learning opportunities that the puppy doesn’t get in the brig.

So that’s Balter in the picture above. He’s with me for TWO WEEKS. Hurray! And he is wonderful; the sweetest boy you’d ever want to meet. My daughter Stephanie is raising and training Belle, who is Balter’s sister. And then there’s our dog Tawny, who I’ve written about many times and is part of the 60% that didn’t make it. But you’ll never hear any complaints from me about that.

These three dogs absolutely love each other. They sleep together with paws draped over one another, their faces pressed against each other, and constantly play together. After they’ve been apart, even for only five minutes, you cannot believe the antics and frolics of their reunion. It’s a sight to see. Here is a picture of the three of them (Clockwise from top: Balter, Tawny, and Belle)

IMG_5578

Anyway, I thought I’d share these pictures and let you know how much fun I’m having with these beautiful dogs, especially Balter. I just hope the MP’s don’t come knocking at my door, though, with handcuffs!

An Exciting Toronto Book Signing

IMG_5460I had never been to Toronto before attending a book signing on that part of Canada last Sunday. I’ve often gone to Whistler, which is on the western boarder, but I’m telling you, what they’re doing in Toronto is remarkable. Looking at the skyline from my hotel room, I counted seven construction cranes towering above the buildings. The streets, for miles around, were dug up and under repair. Construction was everywhere; and what construction the city has already completed is beautiful.

The book signing took place in a large outdoor public area called Queen’s Park, which also houses a museum, a college, and other cultural institutions. It rained in the morning, but by the time I started signing books the weather was clear and warm.

Publicity material touts that 240,000 people attend the one-day book fair event. I’m not sure there were that many people, but there were certainly a lot of them. There was even a political rally being conducted at one of the many entrances to the park. Reminded me of the rallies I witnessed during my college days in the 1960s.

I signed 85 copies of my book Unrelenting Nightmare. Many people told me the title was what drew their attention to come over to the signing booth. One person wanted to know if the story was scary. I told her it was a suspense novel and not scary at all. She questioned me further, saying that the title Unrelenting Nightmare sure sounded scary. I persisted, and she finally took a copy. But the look on her face as she walked away certainly indicated that she still didn’t believe my assurances.

Anyway, seeing Niagara Falls was a wonderful way to finish off my free book signing tour. My next book signing will be at the Palos Verdes Library District Local Author Fair this Sunday at the main library between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm. So if you’re interested in buying a copy of my book for me to sign, then please come on by if you’re in the neighborhood.