Priming the pump

You ain’t a writer if you don’t write

Much to my embarrassment, the last time I wrote a real blog post for this blog–not a shameless advertisement for one of my books–was January 23 of this year. (My other blog is not much better. Last post: August 16, 2019. And that one was preceded by an eight-month hiatus.)

Mea culpa.

Once I completed The Endless Cycle (a four-book series for middle-grade readers (all installments now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions (I couldn’t resist (sorry)))) I decided to take some time off to regroup, relax, recover, rethink… and do some jigsaw puzzles.

Time’s up. I have to put something out here to prime the pump for my next large-scale project, one as yet to be decided. So here goes: A brain dump of random strange thoughts that have been piling up.

Lessons I’ve learned from my grandchildren, Part I: Any truly good book has stickers at the end.

I don’t think, therefore… am I?

I love Maine. It’s a beautiful state. My favorite spots are Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, or as we say in Boston: Bah Hahbah and Arcadier National Pahk. (Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t discard our “r”s, we recycle them.) I have one problem with the state, however. They need to put a moratorium on the use of the pathetic pun “Mainely” in their advertising and business names. Driving around the state, you’ll encounter “Mainely Lobster”, “Mainely Antiques”, “Mainely Burgers”, “Mainely Brews”, and Mainey more. Enough already.

Speaking of Maine, on my last trip there, I saw this bumper sticker:

I thought it was a souvenir, but then I noticed it was on Donald Trump’s car. Makes perfect sense.

It’s a shame that the common expression is, “sweat like a pig.” Two fun alliterative alternatives exist: “sweat like a swine” and “perspire like a pig.” Just sayin’.

Here’s some word weirdness that makes me say hmmm…

  • Overlook and oversee are opposites. As are “look over” and overlook. Yet an overlook (noun) is something you should look over rather than overlook.
  • Loosen and unloosen mean the same thing.
  • Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
  • Valuable and invaluable aren’t quite synonyms but they aren’t the opposites one would expect, given the spelling. Invaluable, in fact, means more valuable. Go figure.
  • A one-way mirror is the same thing as a two-way mirror. Good thing streets aren’t like that.

The English language was obviously created by committee.

The Endless Cycle is complete!

(Is that a contradiction of terms?)

Endgame…

…the final book in my series for middle grade readers, “The Endless Cycle”, is currently available. And it was delivered on schedule! (Probably a first for me after a long career in software development.)

This installment concludes the story of the cycling, baseball-playing, mystery boy who has spent the past month trying to figure out who he is, where he came from, and how to get back. When he does find his home and family, everything is wrong. Just as he had to help people on the road, he has to save his family at home.

But will he be in time to rescue them?

The four-book series, along with my other three books, is available now on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. Visit my author page to see them all.


I promise to write actual blog posts occasionally now, rather than this obsessive self-promotion that has occupied this blog for so long.

But don’t hold me to that.

[Note that the title of this book was decided on long before a certain comic book company released their latest bombastic exercise in cinematic junk food. No legal action will be take on my part.]

“Slipstream” is out!

“Slipstream”, the third installment of “The Endless Cycle”, my middle-grade readers series, is available today on Amazon in paperback and Kindle e-book. The adventure concludes in the final book, “Endgame”. (The Avengers stole the name from me! 🙂 ) Watch for it on Sept 1.

Visit my author page to see the entire series so far, as well as all my other books. †

It occurred to me that I never even mentioned book 2 in the series: “Blowout”.

(Sorry that book promotions are about all I’m putting on my blogs lately, but a guy can only write so much!)

 

The Endless Cycle: Book 1

I’m pleased to announce the reason for my recent absence from the blog scene: My new book, Breakaway, the first in a four book series intended for middle-grade readers, has just been published.

The description on the back cover gives you a good idea of what you can expect in the book:

A boy with no past finds himself on an endless bike trip looking for answers. What is his name? Where did he come from? Where is he going?

When he comes to town on the local bike path, he’s befriended by a compassionate single dad and his phone-obsessed daughter. But will that be enough to protect him from suspicious police, a crime ring, and a man with a gun, hot on his trail?

Join him in this first exciting adventure in the Endless Cycle: Breakaway!

I will deliver each of the next three books in the series separated by no more than two months, approximately May 1, July 1, and Sept 1.

If you know anyone in the 10-16 age range (or anyone else who likes a good story) who is looking for some good reading, please check out “The Endless Cycle”. You can find the paperback and Kindle e-book today by clicking the image above or by visiting my Amazon author page here.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this or any of my other writing.

Thank you for your support of independent authors.

Shots’n’thots

Working on a new book (actually five of them!) so the blog is lower priority. Hence the sparsity of posts lately. Here’s a quickie that’s been on my mind. A few thoughts spread among a few shots.


If that’s a seedless watermelon, folks, I don’t want to know what those little black specks are.

Try looking up “Funk & Wagnalls” in your Funk & Wagnalls.


This tag was attached to a stuffed, weighted dinosaur. So, this is a perfect accessory to any home’s decor? Yeah, it would look perfect at The Breakers or Fallingwater.

Welcome to a new year. In my younger days, I’d be writing the previous year well into March. Now it’s like a tick of the clock. I started writing 2019 on January 1 without missing a beat.


So, these are the essentials. No wonder my last party crashed and burned.

By my observation, people usually say more than they know yet know more than they’ll say. Some of us err on one side more than the other. But we all do it.


Since when is shopping a gift? I thought it was a chore. Not here in the United States of Walmart. I love the irony of this toxic message being on a kiosk that dispenses hand sanitizer. I don’t suppose it will protect against the affluenza virus.

Fortunately, we have…
Wow! That’s precision for you. Isn’t science wonderful? I only hope the 0.01% it doesn’t kill isn’t the aforementioned virus.
If sitting is the new smoking, as I believe it is, what’s lying-on-your-back-like-a-slug-for-hours-on-end-ingesting-mindless-drivel-at-close-range? Can’t be good.

I was in California not too long ago. I saw a truck for a local business called “Leadership Fumigation“. Do you think they’d do a job at the White House?


I can’t say for sure they named this place after me, but…
I can’t prove they didn’t.

Coming in March!!

Watch this space for the announcement of my new book series for middle-grade readers:

The Endless Cycle

Lies, damned lies, and Statcast

Baseball is my sport.

I enjoy watching or listening to it every chance I get. I also write about it a lot. Like here and here and here. Oh, yeah, and here and here. You get the point.

This year was particularly gratifying for me because I’m a diehard, lifelong Red Sox fan. Having grown up with Sox teams that couldn’t get out of their own way much of the time, I’ve reveled in the past 15 years of teams that often can’t lose. Especially this year. I’ve never seen a team like the 2018 Red Sox and I may never again.

The fact that I saw most of these guys when they were just kids playing pro ball for the first time with the Lowell Spinners in short season single-A ball (including all the killer B’s: Betts, Bradley, Benintendi, and Bogaerts) makes it that much sweeter.

Having said all that, this wouldn’t be a proper blog post if it weren’t full of griping. 🙂

My latest beef is with this goofy marketing tool disguised as meaningful data known as Statcast. It used to be we had to somehow manage baseball discussions with trivial stats: wins and losses, RBIs, average, ERA, triples, and the like. Thanks to Amazon Web Services, we can discuss crucial data such as exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit, and barrel, the last of which is a stat that takes an entire page of text to describe and is still as confusing as a knuckleball.

You’ll note one common thread connecting all these new statistics: None of them has anything to do with winning baseball games. Last time I checked, a home run is worth one run, regardless of its distance, launch angle, or exit velocity.

There are plenty of other more recently developed crazy stats like WAR and WHIP and OPS. I can live with these because, as convoluted as some of these numbers can be, at least they have something to do with scoring runs and winning and losing, which is what the game is all about, after all. Exit velocity is a stat for losers who need something tangible to back up their obscene contract demands. Sadly, this crap works.

Another one: Catch probability is just so much hooey. If a ball is caught, the probability is 100%, if not, it drops down to about, oh, zilch. I expect the probability of catching a ball depends mostly on the fielder. If it’s Jackie Bradley Jr. the catch probability is pretty darn high no matter where the ball goes. If Aaron Judge is plodding after it, not so much.

One final example: I read an article talking about how desirable a commodity Manny Machado will be as a free agent during this offseason’s hot stove league. Most of the argument was based on Manny’s Statcast “hard hit” data. Not surprisingly, there was no mention that this guy is likely to be poison to any baseball team. When a player doesn’t run out ground balls and stands to admire his “home run” that was actually a double but which he turned into a single through his arrogance, it doesn’t matter a rat’s turd how hard he hits the ball! That kind of player is an albatross on any team he plays for. Anyone who pays this prima donna big bucks deserves to be dragged down into the loser-gutter with him.

Which brings me to what might be the most tantalizing aspect of baseball. In spite of all the stats and data and computer models, it’s largely a game of hunches and gut feelings. That’s what makes it great. That’s how a journeyman like Steve Pearce ends up being World Series MVP. It’s how the ’67 Impossible Dream Red Sox won the pennant and almost the Series. It explains how a bunch of idiots won it all in 2004 and a band of bearded overachievers did the same in ’13.

I love this game. Let’s not ruin it in the name of Amazon corporate profits.

 


Note: For those in Eastern MA, I’ll be doing two “author appearances” at local venues. The first is at Chelmsford Public Library. The event is Saturday 11/3 from 1-3 PM, although I will only be there until about 2 PM. All the details can be found here.

The other is at a great little shop in Chelmsford center called Artisans Exchange. I’ll be hanging out there on Friday night, 11/16 from 7-8.

I hope some of you can come out to say hello and do some early local (author) holiday shopping.

Multiverse theory proved!

There’s tremendous controversy in scientific circles about “multiverse theory”, the contention that our universe is just one of many, possibly an infinite number of parallel or alternate universes. At first I was skeptical about this theory. While it makes for countless compelling science fiction plots, it seemed too far-fetched to be acceptable as scientific truth.

As a result of extensive and meticulous observation, my views have changed. It’s now obvious to me that there are indeed many, perhaps billions of parallel universes. Let me encourage you to use standard empirical methods to discover for yourself the undeniable truth that surrounds you every day.

Next time you are in heavy highway traffic, look around. The guy weaving in and out of lanes, endangering everyone around him? He’s clearly in his own universe. What other explanation could there be? His actions make no sense in this universe: He’s getting virtually nowhere and he’s merely aggravating an already miserable traffic situation. There is no other reason to drive so idiotically. There’s no connection with anyone else’s reality. He lives in a parallel, or maybe slightly skewed, universe.

More evidence? Take note of the following people:

  • The person with 15 items in the supermarket 6-or-less express lane.
  • The woman trying to stow a piece of luggage the size of North Dakota into a plane’s already cramped overhead luggage rack while the aisle fills with people waiting to get to their seats.
  • The fully able moron parked in a handicapped space right up against a van’s wheelchair entrance.
  • Donald Trump.
  • The kid yapping on his cell phone in the movie theater.
  • The motorcyclist revving his illegal exhaust system on a quiet street in the middle of the night.
  • The person at the front of a long line of customers, taking 15 minutes to decide what kind of cruller to have with a double latte.
  • The driver who considers the use of blinkers to be leaking information to the enemy.

All these people live in their own universes where they are the only inhabitants. They have no connection to or awareness of the reality other people occupy. It’s their universe, their laws, their morality, their “truth”, and no one is going to come from any other universe to interfere with their actions or disturb their complacency with meaningless concepts such as facts, civility, or selflessness.

Now that’s science.

Ernestine’s new gig

Many moons ago, in the 70’s, the brilliant Lily Tomlin created one of the most memorable characters in comic history. Ernestine was an operator (remember them?) working for the long-lost but never lamented AT&T (remember them?) back when they held a monopoly on electronic communications in this country. Back in the day, they were known simply and unaffectionately as “the phone company”.

 

Ernestine had an annoying (but very funny) habit of telling her customers, “We’re AT&T. We don’t care. We don’t have to.” Indeed that was the case until the monolith was broken up into little “baby Bells” by a decree made on Jan 8, 1982. Yes, that was 36 years ago. Since then, they’ve shriveled into less than a shadow of their former selves, as an also-ran cell service.

But in their heyday, they held all the marbles while we, the phone using public, lost ours. Things have certainly changed…

Or have they?

The good news is that Ernestine is still at work. Having been laid off by the phone company, she now works for a new firm whose power and grip on our society makes it a perfect fit for her particular brand of customer service. If you had a chance to eavesdrop on her workday, you’d likely hear something like this:

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies. Gracious me, hello. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking? This is Ernestine at Google. Are you the one with a problem with Gmail? Gmail is so much trouble, isn’t it? That’s why I always use the phone. <<snort, snort>> Goodness me, no, not an Android. They’re worse than email. <<snort, snort>> You want to know what’s wrong with Gmail? If you figure it out, let us know. <<snort, snort>> That’s what we call customer service. We let our customers do all the research and fix each others’ problems. <<snort, snort>> Better yet, once it’s working again, send the solution to a friend in an email. We’ll get it because we’re always monitoring your messages anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? Privacy? What’s that? <<snort, snort>> Oh, you’re a hoot, sir. In fact, we here at the office want to thank you. We all got such a charge out of the very colorful language you were using while you tried to get used to the buggy new calendar app we forced on you without your permission. What’s that? QA? Gracious me, who needs QA? What do you think we have customers for? <<snort, snort>> Oh, and we hope your UTI has cleared up. Don’t you hate it when streaming doesn’t work? <<snort, snort>> How did we know about that? What do you think that Google Home device you have on your counter is doing all day, meditating? <<snort, snort>> You don’t want us listening in to your personal conversations? We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re Google. Or Alphabet. Or whatever we want to call ourselves today. The stock will go up anyway. <<snort, snort>> What? You want to know how you can talk to my manager? Search me! <<snort, snort>> Get it? Search… Hello? Hello? Oh, my. Another satisfied customer.

Nice to know Ernestine’s core competency is still being effectively leveraged.

Meet Calandra

Hey, why write twice when I can recycle, reuse, regurgitate, oops, I mean repurpose a passage I’ve already written and in the process shamelessly promote one of my books? In the spirit of the aforementioned shameless self-(or, rather, self’s-book-)promotion, I hereby introduce you to someone who, despite her status as a fictional character inspired by a genuine human, is more real to me than many people I’ve met.

Meet Calandra, protagonist of my second book, A Song in the Storm:

ALTHOUGH CALANDRA KNEW the ancient walls surrounding her home city of Lucca had stood as they were for centuries, they seemed to be growing higher and closer, more constricting, more suffocating, with each passing day. She knew it was impossible—colossal earthen walls have a tendency to stay put—but she felt it all the same.

Barely 18, Calandra Agostini’s dark eyes burned with the intensity of her unfulfilled dreams. Lucca’s walls couldn’t contain those dreams. They were built to keep the city-state’s enemies out, but to her it felt as if the enemy had breached the ramparts and conspired to keep her in her place, a place in which she never felt completely at home.

Most people considered Calandra a beautiful girl. Indeed she was, but a photograph, had her family been able to afford one, could never have captured her beauty. In her presence, young men with smooth tongues stammered and suitors with shrewd tactics were forced to rethink their plans. Her allure was a revelation to those who knew her only from a distance. She was, in the most literal sense of the word, attractive, not because of her physical appearance alone, which was lovely in itself, but because of her strength and confidence tempered by an unaffected humility.

Then there was her voice.

The walls of Lucca today.

Belichick Bingo

With the advent of new NFL season upon us, it’s time to prepare. The players and coaches prepare, why should we fans not do so? It’s a grueling season. If we slack off now, we might be unable to make it to the end.

Of course, as a native of Massachusetts, my job is easier. I’m rooting for the greatest team in the history of the sport, the New England Patriots. If you favor a different team and hate the Pats, I fully understand. I’d hate them, too, if I were from, say, Philadelphia or Oakland. Or Denver. Or Indy. Or… well, you get it. Sour grapes is an unappetizing but necessary part of the diet of the football fans of those cities, just as it has been for baseball fans from Boston. Until recently. 🙂

Below you will find an important new tool in your appreciation of the sport. Post-game news conferences are about the least enlightening 10 minutes of our lives, filled with platitudes, generalities, and more evasiveness than a Dion Lewis run. Especially if the speaker is the inimitable Bill Belichick. He’s the best coach in the history of the game, but he’s the least forthcoming. Listening to him in a post-game news conference gives one the distinct impression he’d rather have his gums scraped than stand in front of a room full of reporters trying to trip him up. Probably because he would.

To help you pass that painful time, I’ve created the following game: Belichick Bingo. Print the card out and, as you and your family and friends listen to the coach respond to the inane questions reporters throw at him, mark off the phrases you hear. The first to get a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal row of five filled in wins!

You can even make your own cards with different common phrases from the Belichick post-game lexicon. Here’s a list of more possibilities to get you started:

  • turn the page
  • [player] has done a good job for us
  • good ball skills
  • ball security
  • they do/did a good job
  • doesn’t matter what we did last week
  • players win games
  • good effort
  • ready to play
  • gets better every day/week
  • have to do a better job
  • no question
  • there’s a lot of things we can still improve on
  • keep grinding
  • on a regular basis
  • have a lot of work to do
  • we’re just thinking about [next team]
  • everybody contributed
  • I don’t know
  • every week is different
  • situational football

There you go! The most fun you can have in the NFL without developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy!