Eliminating Was


Writing for the now, writing with action and verve, can be a challenge. Lets’s try that again: it can be tough to write good action sentences. Passive sentences certainly have their place in expressive, contemplative and descriptive passages. But they can spell death for an action scene.

Lothar was waiting behind the door, anxiously clutching the hatchet. VS Lothar anxiously clutched the hatchet on the other side of the door.

The second sentence implies action and shifts the focus to Lothar, where the first sentence describes what was on the other side of the door.

I issued this challenge to myself in the reworking of Phineas : eliminate the word “was”.

To accomplish it, I used Word’s Find feature to examine each instance of the word and come up with a better alternative. The word absolutely fits in some circumstances, such as in dialog. But, in most cases, a better word choice, and perhaps a more expressive sentence structure, can usually be found. I mean, you can usually find a better word choice!

Was is a pervasive word that can drop an anchor on your action passage.

The Exoplanet Mystery Continues

Image: NASA.gov
Image: NASA.gov

The readership puzzle surrounding exoplanets, those planets that orbit stars other than our own, continues to deepen.

My articles with the word “exoplanet” in their title have an immediate and extensive readership compared to those that do not, even though the article search terms are the same.

Readership numbers at Science Ray, my science article publisher, leap through the roof when an exoplanet piece publishes: my daily readership shot from 150 to 2,200 with this latest piece. The numbers are slowly declining as the piece ages, but the boost in the daily average remains mystifying.

I feel like Butch Cassidy: Who are these guys?

A New Cover for Phineas


The world of book publishing has changed with the advent of online publishers like Amazon and Smashwords. Those of us reared in the old school of agent/publisher/bookstore have to rethink our method of distribution.

Part of the online distribution involves attracting potential customers with an attractive, alluring book cover. Traditional book publishers have teams of artists that know what will sell, what will appeal to which audience.

When you shift the publishing burden onto your own shoulders, YOU are that team of artists.

A few caveats: first, and most important – I have every intention of getting this book published through traditional means. My sincerest hope is that one of the Big Five will like it and pick it up and one of these days I’ll be in a Barnes and Noble, and, hey, that’s ME!

Another caveat: I am no graphic artist. I’m a pretty good technical illustrator, but fine art and I are distant cousins at best.

Final caveat: this is not the final cover.

All that being said, the reason I’m presenting this cover here is to show you what can be done cheaply and on the slick. The ship is a 1/72 scale model, The Black Swan, by a Russian company called Zvezda. It’s not quite done yet. In fact, she’s the same ship as in the masthead of this site.

I lifted the ocean from a painting of an American frigate – I don’t think it was in the public domain, but I’m using so little of the painting I think the artist, who is probably long dead, would be able to identify his fine, fine artwork.

Phineas, here with longer hair than in the story, is actually my daughter. The image was lifted out of a shot of her and her mom at the Mission San Gabriel two years ago. I thought the pose was right, and, well, at ten years old, she didn’t have a female shape yet, so she could pass for a boy.

The pieces were all assembled in GIMP, a free image manipulation program available at GIMP.Org.  Once I got the image blended to where I liked it, I exported it as a JPG file. Then I opened the JPG with my old Illustrator 2.o, added the titles (which are in a font called Lithos Pro) and exported the completed file as a PNG.  I remember someone telling me that size is important in graphics, so I sized the PNG at 8 inches tall and 6 inches wide.

So, it’s not the final cover art, but it’s a good first shot. I’m hoping I won’t have to use it or its cousins because a major publisher and their team of artists will take over all of that.

Still, it’s amazing what you can do with a few easy graphic pieces, some software, and a couple of hours.

An Exoplanetary I Told You So


The Kepler space telescope recently discovered a planet orbiting not one, but TWO suns. This new exoplanet may not be a very nice place,  but conceptually,  it could be a fascinating place.

Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine may be in a binary system, which explains why there are two suns in the sky as he woefully ponders his future over the swelling John Williams score in that scene that every guy knows by heart: “the future awaits”.

The “I told you so” comes because I wrote a screenplay a long, long time ago about the beings on a planet that orbited a binary system. Their circumstances were not as wild as those on Keper 413-b, where the seasons change with a frightening unpredictability and speed, but there was one clincher: every few thousand years the icy planet’s orbit took it between the two suns, changing it from an ice ball to a fireball. The resident beings had been modified from simple lizardlike animals into highly intelligent, sensitive beings by consciousless meddling humans. Where before they simply dealt with the stunning climatic change at an atavistic level, now they had to face it with sentience. It was a good story, but a crummy screenplay.

Still, you can ignore the prescience, can you? The farther we explore the universe of exoplanets, the more we will find that our wildest fantasies  could actually be memories!

Crafting a Good Logo is not an Easy Thing


My daughter is raising market rabbits for 4H. Market rabbits? you ask. Yes, rabbits that will go to market to be weighed for their size, their fullness of body, and for their ability to provide good meat. Or, in our case, good looking rabbits that look like they’ll breed plenty of little ones.

To sell the rabbits after the county fair, my wife and I wandered back and forth over a landscape of names for our little rabbit raising empire: Reinhart Ranch? Reinhart Barnes Rabbitry? Barnes Bunnery? Like all good compromises, no one is ecstatic with the final choice, but all agree it has potential: Reinhart Hollow.

My wife is exploring the depths of producing a line of “delicious jams and jellies”, to quote Despicable Me 2. So, where else would you find these delightful comestibles other than the happy farms in Reinhart Hollow. See? It works.

For our logo, pictured above, we worked with what a hollow actually is…I had envisioned a gap between hills, but Suzanne saw it as a tiny place, perhaps a knock in an oak tree. Working with an older version of Adobe Illustrator, we pieced together the oak tree concept in the logo. The font is Juice ITC. Instead of the usual solid line, I tried using one of Illustrator’s artistic brushes for the font. I think the the final version is a chalk line.

We debated back and forth over centered text, right or left justified, box, no box, leaves, no leaves…days of making something so simple come out right.

In the end, a logo says a lot – it just has to be good.

Phineas Caswell, Chapter 16


I like this chapter: there’s a lot of imagery and excitement. Most of all, though, I like the way the wind underlines Phineas’ sense of urgency. I hope you enjoy it.  Phineas has gotten away from Red Suarez, Maldonado, and the man in purple, and reunited with Louise and Taylor. Following Louise’s advice, the trio has stowed away on a ship called the Marigold

Chapter 16

Phineas scampered, double quick, up the remainder of the rudder and through the dark hole into the ship itself.

“You made it just in time,” Taylor whispered. “Listen.”

“All hands,” a voice cried out on the deck above their heads. “All hands, prepare to make sail!”

“Make sail?” Phineas whispered in alarm. “Where are they sailing to?”

Read More…

Droppington Place – A New Neighborhood


I’ve often wondered, but have been too lazy to explore, the link between the words journey and journalist. Both have the same root word, which means “day” in French.

Root words notwithstanding, this site has taken a most interesting road to get here: Droppington Place.

It began as a blog about a garden railway. My wife and I bought a house that had a working G-scale railway in the backyard. It was pretty cool, but rough, and not very well designed, which made running it with our young kids a bit of a challenge. The kids grew older and lost interest, and dogs and cats and nature all took their toll.

The blog chronicled the restoration of the railway from its semi-buried condition to an operational railroad. Along the way I realized I don’t like G-scale: at 1/18th scale, more or less, it’s too big for my taste. I say more or less, because the actual scale of G-scale is rather ambiguous, ranging from 1/18th to 1/32nd. Give me HO, at a constant 1/87th scale.

The URL for the blog, called  PoolsideRails.com, was devoted to chronicling the conversion of a G-scale garden railway to HO scale. Experts shook their heads and clucked: you can’t do HO outside. Well, it turns our they are correct. I found out that I don’t have the engineering finesse to pull off an outdoor HO railroad because, really, I don’t like model railroading. I like the miniatures.

So, away went  PoolsideRails and in came a new URL called Papertecture – an exploration of HO scale paper buildings with a whole section devoted to HO scale vehicles: I like little cars.

While all this was going on, I began working on a novel called Droppington Place, about a disenfranchised twelve year old who finds himself in a paper world run by a homunculus, a paper alchemical copy of a human being. It’s a pretty cool book.

Papertecture didn’t go anywhere. PoolsideRails didn’t go anywhere. The blog didn’t go anywhere. Because they were meant to come together here: Droppington Place.

Your reward: according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, journey comes from the twelfth century French word for “a day’s travel.” Journalism has at it’s root the word journal, which is a French word for a day, jornal in the 14th century. Some time in the 15th century it became synonymous with the word “diary.” Go figure.

The Lego Movie is a Wonderful Surprise


We took our twelve-year-old daughter to see the Lego Move, fully expecting to see the same-old, same-old, same-old. Right out of the box, as in the first five minutes, the film sets itself up for a wild romp in a completely new direction.

If you enjoyed, as a kid, or enjoy, as I do now, Legos, this film is completely satisfying. If you like action movies, this film parodies the best of them. If you have kids of any age, this film will touch you. And, if you have a heart, this film will touch that, too.

Spoiler alert: the Lego Movie runs a wild line between Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Panda, and Toy Story.

The script follows a stunningly simple guy, whose favorite TV show is called “Honey, Where are My Pants?” (it features just that one line, over and over), as he gets swept up in a desperate race against an evil overlord planning to use a secret weapon, the mysterious KraGl, to change life forever. We plumb the depths of his soul to find that, in fact, there is nothing there – precisely what’s needed.

The story unravels like a fine mystery, dropping hints and clues that stand out like beacons but can’t be pieced together until the final moments, which come as a deeply satisfying and delicious finish to an exquisite meal.

Oddly enough, my daughter didn’t like it all that much. She thought it was funny and suspenseful, but couldn’t get past the huge number of cliches. She understood that the film is spoofing all those cliches (the girl reaches out her hand to the hero – “Come with me if you want to…not die!”…wink), but felt there were too many.

That being said, you will reward yourself richly by going to see this film. The imagery is so vivid that, even if you don’t find the film’s conclusion deeply satisfying, your eyes will thank you for bringing them to such a kaleidoscopic vision.

Beyond the sheer mastery of Lego-thinking displayed in every frame (when the bad guys shoot, their bullets are red Lego single piece tubes), the script is genui

The Curious Case of Exoplanets

Image courtesy of NASA.gov
Image courtesy of NASA.gov

I have discovered a phenomenon about expolanets that is quite beyond logical explanation. There exists a homogenous body of readers, anonymous and unknowable, that absolutely devours information on them.

Who Are They?

Here’s what we know about them: they are older than thirty years. They are men. They are of average income. They have bachelors degrees for the most part, with a small smattering of graduate degrees. Most curiously: they read about exoplanets from their homes.

In the world of other topics, most online readership of other kinds of articles occurs during the day, from work, which is where working people are during the day. Either these gentlemen don’t work, although it’s hard to explain the average income and college degrees, or they read at night.  Are they single? Are there that many single men focused on exoplanets that can’t read at work?

Some Numbers

In the last nine months, I have written and published 16 articles on planetary science. One of the articles was about the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. The rest were about exoplanetary discoveries. Between them, the 16 articles generated over 83,500 reads. The Titan article picked up just 66, while the rest went to exoplanets.

At first my thought was that the publisher of the exoplanetary articles did a better job than the Titan publisher: but they are the same company.

My readership numbers gently decline until I publish another article: then they leap through the roof. Older articles leap up in readership right along with the new one. This is a captive audience.

Who Are They?

My audience is focused like a laser on exoplanets, and won’t read anything else. My wife thinks they may be aliens from those exoplanets, looking to see what we’ve learned.  If I were Alex DeGrasse or Stephen Hawking I would think about it, but I’m not.

Is there something larger going on with the search for exoplanets? I’ve often wondered why we would search so hard for planets that might harbor life when we have no hope of getting there.

It ends like a ’50’s science fiction move. We have no hope of going there…or do we?