AVIANS is now an audiobook

The audiobook of Avians is finally here, and Grace Hood’s narration is excellent. I know because I proofed it on the way to Calgary this summer, in my spare hours there, and on the flight home. I’m sure the WestJet flight attendants thought I was the weirdest passenger, because whenever they’d offer me a drink or a snack, I’d have to pause my phone, wipe the tears from my eyes and take my earbuds out before answering.

Anyway, I figure the audiobook format is great for Avians, because the scenes are fairly short, so you can listen to one or two, or you can listen for an hour or more.

AVIANS First Edition Cover

Actually there’s nearly eleven hours of entertainment here, and apparently you can have it for free through Audible’s 30-day trial offer.

Links: Audible   Amazon   iTunes will be coming soon, and I’ll update when I have a link.

Oh, and if there’s anyone out there who reviews audiobooks, I’d love to hear from them, especially if they specialize in SF.

Drive: Portland

No need to travel today, so we took a scenic drive and visited a winery we know.

Plan A was to visit Multnomah Falls, but the signs were not auspicious. The digital signs on the interstate, that is. They were advising the overflow parking lot and shuttle at 11:00 this morning. Weekend, hot, holiday.

When we dithered over the time required to shuttle both ways with half-hour waits, a helpful park staffer recommended taking the old Columbia River Highway and visiting some of the other, less popular waterfalls. We did. It was lovely.


We caught up to bumper to bumper traffic at the Multnomah Falls area. Cars were parked all over the shoulder, and police were towing those that infringed on the white line at the side of the road. There were lots of these, as the shoulders are narrow, rocky and steeply sloped. We ate sandwiches in the traffic jam while we waited for the tow-truck to haul one off.

Then up the Columbia River to to cross the toll-bridge at Hood River, to pay a quick but pleasant visit to the Jacob Williams winery. For a change, we came back towards Portland on the Washington side of the river, and crossed back at Bridge of the Gods. Love the name.

Returned for a second dinner at Bistro 23. We perplexed the staff by eating on the patio despite the heat. At least we didn’t have to worry about the pizza getting cold.

Tomorrow, back to Seattle.

A to Z Challenge Afterthoughts

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]I stumbled across the A to Z Challenge this year through one of the blogs I follow. I immediately realized it was a perfect opportunity to try out my SF Writer’s Glossary of Alternative Aviation. I’m planning to take The Glossary to some SF conventions as a presentation, and I wanted a chance to refine and run through my topics. The A to Z Challenge was ideal for that, and I found stronger entries for many letters of the alphabet. For instance, I only hit on Nuclear Powered Aircraft and Rotastat as I prepped for the Challenge.

Because my posts were short, I didn’t have a lot of headaches getting ready. I knew nearly all my topics ahead of time and I had most of the posts roughed out before April began. Then I just I touched them up a day or two in advance. That usually included adding external links for the curious to see more info and pictures of each uncommon type of flying machine in the glossary.

As a newbie, I made two mistakes: I forgot to include a topic code in my entry’s title listing, and I missed the deadline for the theme reveal. Either of those could have cut into my potential traffic.

On a day to day basis, the Challenge sent a steady trickle of visitors my way, but where it really made a difference was in the monthly stats: they took a big jump for April. I also got a few nice comments, and a lot of likes. Special thanks to AJ Vosse, who read and liked all 26 of my Challenge posts. That kind of support made it fun every day.

I have one or two ideas for next year. I’d quite like to do famous aviators. I love the idea of starting with Alcock and Brown, who flew across the Atlantic before Lindberg, although I don’t know how I turn that into two posts. I’m stumped for X, so it may not happen. Or I might do SF Worlds: Arrakis, Bajor, Coruscant…  we’ll see.



Titanium Hiking Staff II

Back in March, I constructed a titanium hiking staff. Click here to see the original post. Basically, it’s a five foot length of 1″ titanium tubing from Online Metals, filled with survival equipment and first aid supplies and capped at the ends. I’ve put a lot of miles on it since then and I recently stripped it down to make some minor improvements.

On the end that hits the ground, it had a simple rubber cane tip from the drug store. Those wear out occasionally, and the last time that happened, I was a long way from the car. By the time I made it back, I had packed quite a lot of dirt into the end of the tube and soiled the triangle bandages. It was time for some maintenance.


Adobe & Chocolate paints

Repaint: the original paint job was too dark. I had used a red oxide primer and chocolate acrylic for the graining. The faux wood grain looked vaguely like teak, but only in bright sunlight. Indoors, it just looked brown. I went looking for a lighter base coat and settled on this adobe colour. Only the primer changed; the chocolate acrylic used for the grain is the same, and so is the clear coat.


Repack: no need to change the contents, except to replace the soiled bandages with clean ones. Some later additions like the emergency whistle had been kind of jammed in, so I took the opportunity to stow them properly.

Regrip: when I originally frapped the grip area, the only cord I could find was  a rather random mix of colours, and rated for just 200 pounds. I had always wanted to use  paracord, so I ordered some three millimeter cord from Canada Paracord, rated at 425 pounds. A multicolored pattern shows the grime less, so I went with a camouflage pattern called Canadian Digital.

Recap: The first time around, I capped the ends with a 1″ rubber cane tip on the bottom and I made a wooden knob for the top that screws on to a broom handle thread, so it could be swapped out. Now I turned the whole staff over, so the threaded end and the metal band are on the bottom. The end has a smooth face to reduce wear on the rubber, and I backed up the tip’s thin steel disc with a loonie. That end is watertight even if the rubber gets perforated. I wanted to carry a spare cane tip, so I put a second one on top, and that’s the one you pull off to access the contents, starting with the first aid stuff. The rubber foot is not as pretty as the wooden knob, but if you fall on it, it won’t go in your eye.

Last time I did the faux wood finish with a nubbly rubber glove for a broad grain. This time I used a push-broom with stiff bristles and it turned out better, with a finer grain. It’ll pass for hardwood at first and second glance.

What’s inside?

  • Latex gloves, triangle bandages and safety pins.
  • First aid booklet, band-aids and aspirin.
  • Fire starter sticks, tinder, flint and steel.
  • A tiny compass. (Titanium is non-magnetic, so a compass is not affected.)
  • Duct tape and an emergency whistle.
  • Fishing line, hooks and sinkers. Staff can be a crude pole.
  • Water purification tablets. (The empty staff will hold 650mls of water)
  • A space blanket, orange on one side.

With all that inside, and about fifty feet of paracord wrapped around it, it weighs 1.1 kilos, or 2lbs, 8oz. Most people are surprised at how light it feels. Titanium is cool that way.

Update from August 1, 2017. During repacking, I discovered that the latex gloves had compressed into a tight rubber ball that was jammed in so tightly I had to dig them out with a wire hook. In their place, I found room for a small amount of first-aid adhesive tape, and a little pocket knife with a locking blade.


That’s National Novel Writing Month, if you didn’t know. It’s a huge affair, with thousands of writers pledging to write a 50,000 word first draft in 30 days. This year, I’m one.

For a while now, I’ve been holding off on writing the sequel to my novel, Avians of Celadon. Avians is unsold, and it seemed to me that any agent or publisher that took an interest in it would likely want me to change stuff. Hey, it’s my first novel- I’m sure there’s ample room to improve it. I let this get in the way of the sequel. If I had to make major changes to Avians, those changes would have to follow through in Bandits of Celadon (yes, I’m going alphabetical. Sorry, Sue Grafton. By the time I get to Zombies of Celadon, I’ll be either stinking rich or heavily medicated.) The idea of revising two books seemed daunting.

Aanywaay. No more procrastination. I’m actively outlining. I’ve laid out the bones of the plot, I know how it will begin and end, and I’m crafting scenes in my head. I go for long walks and use the voice recorder on my smartphone to make sure I don’t forget my best ideas. I have half a deck of file cards tacked to my Scrivener board.

Can I really do it? On the plus side, I have ample time to write. On the minus side, I’m a slow writer. I can type like the wind, but I agonize over every sentence. NaNoWriMo may be just what I need to think less and pound the keyboard more. We will see.

I’m fortunate to have found an in-person critique group. Lindsay Kitson, a self-described dieselpunk author and fellow writer of aviation-themed SF brought one of her group’s members to my recent reading at the Winnipeg Chi-Series. A bunch of us went for food and drink following the readings, and soon afterwards, I was offered a chance to attend a group meeting in Winnipeg. Best of all, at least two of the five are also NanoWri-ming, and have buddied me. That means I will get encouragement. Or nagging. I will probably need both. By the way, the group gets some of the credit for my new ambition. They collectively urged me to write and let the chips fall where they may. Massive revisions? Suck it up- it’s part of the process.

Speaking of the Chi-Series reading, one of the other readers that evening was Kate Heartfield, and I see on her Twitter feed that she’ll be moderating a couple of panels at Can-Con in Ottawa. I’m stunned by how many people I will know there this time around- last year I knew only one before the con began. I’m looking forward to seeing chair (and author) Derek Künsken, Can-Con afficionado (and author) Brandon Crilly, publishers (and authors) Hayden Trenholm, Gabrielle Harbowy, and Sandra Kasturi, and authors Fanny Darling and Rob Sawyer, to name a few.

I won’t be doing a lot of pitching this year, because I have already pitched and/or submitted to most of the relevant parties. I will not be getting drunk and whining “But why?” to the publishers that declined. Two reasons: One: they might tell me the truth. Two: I plan to get rejected by everyone before I quit, and I’d like to have some friends left over!

PVR 5.0

Back on schedule. Caroline was hungry this morning, so for the first time we were downstairs for breakfast at 0700. The coffee was a bit better, so I took that as a good sign.

We tried to walk to the Marina today, but it was further than we thought. After half an hour, we were within sight of the statue of Neptune that marks the entry, but there were still several blocks of bad sidewalk between us and him, and much further to go to reach the boats, so we turned back. The cruise ship docks are just a couple of blocks from our Hilton, and Holland America’s Veendam was in port today. We did find the hair salon that the staff here attempted to direct us to the other day, so Caroline set up a noon appointment to get her hair washed and straightened there. She liked it better than the last place.

After catching up on blogging and sunning, there was napping.

We decided to dress up for dinner, as Christmas Eve is when Mexicans do most of their celebrating. Sure enough, the hotel staff staged an abbreviated version of the ritual of Joseph and Mary seeking an inn. If you are curious, I’ll follow this post with a full account of a Christmas we spent with a Mexican family here a few years ago.

The dining room menu was a mix of two cultures, with both seafood dishes and turkey on offer. We split, with Caroline going for poultry while I focused on fish. Our instinct to dress well was a good guess, lots of the children at dinner were wearing their best clothes. There were preparations for a Christmas pageant in the lobby, but we headed upstairs.

Locked Out of Trip Advisor

My recent change of email address has made it impossible for me to log in to Trip Advisor. I should have changed my address with them before I closed the old email account. All links to their ‘Help Center’ take you back to a login page, and they don’t give an email address for tech support anywhere. Frustrating, but not as annoying as creating a new account would be.

Hill City, SD to Cody, WY

A longer than average day. Breakfast at the hotel was early, so I hoped for a nice walk, but we were unable to find the trail that the front desk clerk gave us directions to. We ended up doing 45 minutes on suburban hills. It was fortunate that traffic was light, as there were no sidewalks. Saw a doe and a fawn, but we have those at home.

I found a novel way to cut myself shaving. As I shook the water off my razor, I scratched my leg, about where my right shorts pocket would be if I had been wearing them. Could have been worse, I suppose. Still, it left twin tracks a couple of inches long that wouldn’t stop seeping blood.

Had a strangely frustrating visit to a gas station. The pump said you could pump first and pay inside, but you couldn’t. (there was a large notice taped to the pump, contradicting the instructions on the screen) Then it wouldn’t take any plastic, so I had to go in and pay in advance. Then it still wouldn’t give me any gas, because they were out of the lowest grade and that note had gone missing. Then I went to put air in one tire that was down a pound, but the space by the air compressor was so tight that Caroline couldn’t open her door, so we couldn’t get our stuff organized. Deep breaths.

Once we got on the highway, things improved rapidly. We found a really nice picnic area just in time for our morning snack. The mower crew was just packing up when we pulled in, so the lawn was immaculate.

Our main stop today was Devil’s Tower. Since we only did a short morning walk, we walked around it. This takes about forty minutes on a paved path. I overheard a kid say that the top of the formation is about the size of a baseball field. It would be a great place to hit a home run – how hard are the outfielders going to try with that two hundred foot drop where the fence should be? 

On the way out, we stopped for lunch, so our total stop was longer than planned. 

That left us with an ETA for Cody of 1830, and we still had to stop at least once for gas. Not to mention the small matter of the Bighorn Mountains. Caroline is working on making me drive up and down every mountain road in western North America. In fact, I caught her looking at Utah in the road atlas, because we haven’t done theirs. Yet.

None of our photographs really show how steep and winding the road actually is. If you look closely at this picture taken on the climb, you can see a little of the road that lies behind us and far below. But it was the trip down the other side that was the steepest. We dropped from 9000 feet to 4500 in fifteen or twenty minutes. We saw three vehicles that had overheated trying to make the gruelling climb.

After that, it was plain sailing into Cody. We did go for dinner, but that write-up can wait for morning.

Bismarck, ND to Hill City, SD

This is one of our longer driving days, so we had to put some effort into ‘time management’, even though we’re on vacation. Mostly this consisted of trying to be at the hotel’s restaurant when it opened at 700. We almost made it.

After breakfast, we went looking for the riverfront trails. The directions we got from Bob the shuttle van driver were a bit vague, but you can’t really miss the Missouri River. We ended up doing the right walk in the direction opposite to what we had planned. Bismarck’s trail is more studded with historic sites and large artworks than Grand Forks’.

Steamboat Park was my favorite, but the ‘keelboat’ was also cool. Walkers, joggers,cyclists and a skateboarder all enjoyed the tarmac path. In contrast to our hilly hometown, where the cyclists tend to be iron-man types in spandex and aerodynamic helmets, the riders here were casual, and traveled at a more relaxed pace.

We were able to start our day’s drive at around 0930, which is as good as I dared hope. We wanted to see the badlands again, so we did not take the most direct route. Instead we let Dingbat take us east to travel south along the east side of the river on US83, which looked like this:

moments after we took this picture, we actually saw a couple who had stopped their car to photograph themselves standing by one of the hay bales. Must have been from a big city. We found ourselves in Pierre at lunchtime, so we had a picnic in the State Capitol Park by the river.

Made it to the badlands loop (a half-hour detour off the Interstate) by mid-afternoon and on impulse, stopped to check out the helicopter rides just before the park gate. We decided to splurge, and ponied up for a 15-20 minute jaunt in a Robinson R-44. Compared to this flimsy contraption, the King Airs I fly for a living are built like Sherman Tanks. Like all helicopters, there’s a lot of window and not much airframe. Also, the front doors had been removed, so the sensation was pretty close to sitting on a lawn chair suspended from weather balloons. Should I have mentioned that the badlands are hot in July? For hot, read bumpy. On the plus side, rattlesnakes can’t fly.

Mario must have been using the natural horizon – he gave us a lovely flight. We both enjoyed it immensely, even though Caroline is afraid of heights. (She sat in the back, which is enclosed by doors) I recommend this tour. Prices start at $49/head and go up to $199 for the longest flight. Ours was in between.

We then drove through the park and took short strolls at several of the scenic trails to give the rattlesnakes a fair chance. The winding roads are a big hit with bikers; we saw scores of them. It looked like thirsty work, riding in that dry heat. I’m guessing many of them were looking forward to a beer or six.

After the badlands, we motored to Rapid City for dinner before driving the last half hour to Hill City and our hotel.