Science Fiction, and Other Genres – What are They?

Personal thoughts and comparisons:

In reality they (genres) are the window dressing for a standard story you’ll find within any book. In a sense we could carry this further and say stories written are about the interactions of the characters in the story, and what and how it transpires determines the genre. Meaning that by changing this window dressing (genre) we can move any story to any genre at any time. So if we look at the mysteries or crimes that are solved in the Robot series by Asimov, it would easy to move these to the hard-hitting detective series written in the 40’s that were so popular, with R. Daneel becoming a different sidekick. Or if we were to look at the Honor Harrington series by Weber, we could change this to reflect the historical novels that dealt with war and intrigue of the times leading up to and into the great wars.

One of the things that makes many in “the know”, turn their noses up to the science fiction genre is the fact that they see it as a cop-out using tricks of an unknown future to solve issues within a story. But in truth this isn’t necessarily the case at all. While it is the circumstances that drives the story, it is the window dressing that places it in a particular genre. If we think about it, we today use our own technology and don’t think twice about it, or even think about how it works. Only that it does – well most of the time anyway. And so it is in any of the stories that we read. If one really thought about it, it would seem strange if a character, within the fictional world created by an author, should begin performing acts outside of the history or period that is that world.  Once this happens the immersion would fail as would the story. To continue from this point, make a change of direction, and explain what I mean, all we have to do is simply make a few minor changes to that story or any story to move it from the present genre to a different one.

In other words, we could take that warp drive as the space travelers move through space to explore, and change the mode of transportation to horses and wagons and there you have it. We now have a western. But wait there’s more! By changing it to automobiles and such we could be exploring the vast reaches of this world, and simply by making these changes, the speech used, and the environment of the world or worlds we have now simply and quite easily changed genres. Again, it’s that same basic story that’s been told across the centuries, and will continue to be told until we are no more.

Write a brief or short story devoid of the environment and then one could easily insert the window dressing at this point and the same story now spans across all the existing genres. But back to one of the original subjects for a moment – what makes science fiction, well science fiction? Supposedly it is based on projections of where science could be going – speculation for want of a better word. It doesn’t necessarily reflect what the future will hold but it is surprising how close many of the writers of science fiction have accurately predicted this future, which is our present.

While not all stories are of a positive nature, in a sense all science fiction is positive (and I’ve stated this in an earlier blog post). Since it reflects, even when we deal with the negative subjects that are presented in such books as, 1984, or A Brave New World, or the positive future that the Star Trek universe seems to reflect, it all comes down to the fact that we as a species survived our youth and have expanded outward. Even in stories where we have alien races that are far ahead of us technologically as in the Star Carrier series, we find ourselves triumphing and overcoming those impossible odds.

So if we want to look at this genre honestly, this particular window dressing, and realize that almost all of the stories written within this genre could be written in any, then it really comes down to a way to project a view of the future, depending on trends of today, and seeing how these particular trends and inventions might go well into that unknown future. Interestingly enough as one reads across the many authors of this genre one can find almost infinite views of what the future could hold. And in many cases the stories explain how we came to this point in our future. Infinite futures for sure, and that’s because at any point in time the future is unwritten, unknown, and while some ideas of what it might be does come forth, truthfully this or any future hasn’t arrived yet.

To be honest, it’s far easier to project well into the future because there’s really no way for any of us to live long enough to know if this or that particular view or future is really accurate. Yet some writers do and did take a chance of writing about the near future, and again it is surprising how close they came. They may have had the year wrong, but that is minor in the overall scheme of things.

And since science fiction deals with future events, what transpires doesn’t even require advanced technology to make it so. If it deals with the future, then this automatically makes it this genre. So if we are dealing with a post-apocalyptic world where mankind is starting over, not having any of the technology of today, let alone anything of what the future might give us, then it still qualifies (the Mad Max movies comes to mind).

In fact my unreleased Discovery series (3 books at this time) deals with that very situation. If we were to look at their technology level (in this series) it would be somewhere between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Placing this at the end of the horse and buggy era, and heading towards the beginnings of the industrial revolution. In truth we have no idea or no way of knowing if our civilization has ever been destroyed, or if it had how many times we’ve had to start over. One thing is known for sure is that there is a great possibility that we would be much further along than we are presently if that great library of knowledge in Alexandra hadn’t been destroyed by fire.

One of the things we always hope is that with the advances in tech that our world will become better. There’s only one problem with these hopes and thoughts and it is us. If we were able to look back into all history how would we see ourselves? Or better yet, how did we act? I suspect that much that has existed within man’s heart, his motivations, his selfishness, his needs, the want of power and control, and such are still with us. And unfortunately little has changed since our beginnings. It may be dressed up, be a little more sophisticated, but wipe that away that sophistication and you find the same wants, desires, needs, and selfishness.

And this is what pushes the conflict in our stories universally across all the genres – every last one. And it has a universality that goes across all time. From deep into the past to our present, spanning all time including that unwritten future. Change the language to something modern and those old writings would seem fresh and new. Same themes, same weaknesses, same heroes and villains.

Personally, I write mostly in this genre – the genre of Science Fiction. And because I am only one of many, my view of the future is, well, my view. And in truth I will not live to see if my vision is accurate or not. But hey, it’s no fun unless one tries.

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And while on this subject I’ll attempt next week to prove this to you. No I’m not going to present a book or a series of books. So if I’ve piqued your interest I’ll see you here next week. Have a great week – God Bless. (fdbrant.com)

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A Personal History – Looking In

Have you ever walked into a home of a relative or friend who has recently passed away? As you work you way through their personal home you see it as it was the very last moment that they were still among the living. With it giving the appearance that the one who is no longer with us has stepped out for a moment and will be returning to continue on with his or her life. A moment frozen in time as the owner, going about their life, had expected it to continue. Only it will not be happening. And if we want to be honest, this is probably the way it will be for any and all of us.

What you see before you, in those humble surroundings, is that person’s personal history for all to see. Everything that was important to them; the “to do” list, the unfinished projects waiting patiently for the hand to come and complete them, their favorite chair still remaining vacant, and maybe their favorite window that they loved to stare out, is all there, all before you. It’s like those museum scenes where a room is set up to look like something from a past decade, to give one a feel for how it was. Fictional, overall, but still allowing one to see how it might have been. Yet here, the story is not fiction, because of what has transpired, what is seen here is all from the past – the recent past for sure, but it’s still the past – someone’s past. And because they will never return, it becomes static as that room in that museum.

If you were one who had visited often, carried on the many conversations, loved the individual who occupied these spaces, it can leave you with expectations of seeing them again. Heart says so, but the mind knows better. As you wander the rooms, different rooms within your own mind open and reveal things to you that happened here, leaving feelings that can warm your soul waxing of nostalgia. Yet, they do not return, cannot return, so what is observed is frozen in time, and soon all that this one held dear will disappear among the family members and friends, much heading to the thrift stores, and many small treasures from that person’s life heading for the dump. Because these treasures were only precious to them, and hold no value for any others. Yet, in your mind the stories of shared times exist with this one who is no longer here.

And as the house is disassembled, one room at a time, what made it special slowly disappears. And as all personal items are handled, searched through, and given to the ones that these items should go to, the home changes. And as this happens the space within that home becomes less personal, less important. Until at the end, after all has been removed the home simply becomes a house. One of the many that are empty, with no special personality, and for now with no loving care. Waiting, until someone new moves in and begins their own personal history, personal memories and stories, and personal touch. Changing forever what was.

In a sense, all of us are like those homes, those houses, with our personal history written within our minds, with the many hallways, many doors, and many rooms where we store our memories. Some not so nice, with others filling us with joy and happiness. They all lie there waiting to come to light when the moment is right, when something similar reminds us of those past events. Other than heredity it is what makes us, well us. It is those scars, experiences, hopes, failures, and yes successes that form us. And for many those years are written on their faces, as well as their bodies.

One of the things we do not consider, in our youth, is the abuse we put our bodies through. But when one reaches those senior years, if one is so lucky, then these abuses come back to haunt one with pain and stiffness that makes what once was simple and easy, very difficult indeed. In many cases we see the elderly confined to wheel chairs, giving up the mobility and freedom that walking gave them. And probably this is one of the sad facts of aging, or any point in your life really. In a sense it means that mentally that you’ve given up, allowed another frailty to win out taking us further from our true potential. Yet, we can only fight the good fight so long before one gives in.

In the game Bioshock Infinite, one of the protagonists  states that what she faced wasn’t the cause of giving up, or the loss of her freedom, or confidence that she would be rescued, or the pain she was facing – it was time. It wore her down until there was nothing left, nothing to fight with, nothing to look forward to. And while this is a fictional story what is stated here is quite true. In the end it is what our past, our history says about us that will determine when we finally give in, finally give up, allowing whatever it is to win.

In many of the fictional stories that we read (and I write) we are always pulling for the heroes in the stories, even though many times they are battered and beaten. And unless the story is a tragedy we like to see our protagonists win. Because in some ways we hope to take some of the positives, the lessons presented, away with us to apply in our own lives. After all, even though these stories are there to entertain, like the storytellers of old, there a lessons in life within those stories. Sometimes we apply them, and sometimes not. Still all of this becomes our personal history, our personal past. Another layer where those milestones pass unnoticed until we look back in surprise and realize all that we’ve given up.

Many times we would love to be able to go back and make changes, but we will never have that chance. We only get one go around, one chance to make our decisions and move on with our lives. In many ways it is unfair, and as it has been stated oh so many times, “Life is unfair”. Still as experience builds, and our personal history grows, our thoughts and views change – sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the bad. Yet no matter how it goes, it, in the end, is our choice or choices that have put us where we are. Yes there are always outside influences that play on those decisions, but if we want to be honest it is still ours. So if we want to be true with ourselves then we must own each and every one of those decisions.

And when it is your time, the time when you don’t return, what will your home say about you? Will it reflect a loving person, or a hateful one? Will family and friends come willingly,  or will what you’ve left behind be ravaged by others who could care less? It all comes down to your personal history, and your personal legacy. And those decisions both in the past and in the present that are always being made by you. And no matter the unintended consequences, in the end, it is your choice that put you there. None of us are allowed to see beyond that time, but with the personal experience of loss, it is easy to see how it can be, when they gather to remember us.

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August, the time where the traditional times of summer vacation ends, and many are preparing to return to school, to face a new set of instructors, to look for old school friends, to reflect on that nervousness that all face in that first week as we work to get back into the routine. And for the rest of us who are well beyond that time we can see it through the eyes of our children, and remember ourselves back in that time. And, of course, think about those summers off. Can’t leave out that hectic time of school shopping and expenses that are too high but necessary. With these thoughts have a great week, if that is possible, and see you all here next Saturday.

Liability to Asset

Many times the materials left from any conversion to another product as in manufacturing, mining, and such become liabilities and leave the owners scratching their heads as to what to do with the waste. It has been a problem since the beginning of time as mankind learned to work the very rocks and minerals to this present time where such work is now performed on a grand scale. Or what to do with the wastes that are generated from the manufacturing of goods and products that cost the manufacturers money to remove. Yet, with a little creative thinking what is stated below can be the result:

Sea Salt is the first to come to my mind. It is the waste left over from processing sea water to produce usable fresh water. If one really wants to think about it all salt has been deposited by the drying up of ancient seas. And even though the deposits are deep in the earth, and as in all things are of different qualities or grades, well, it’s all sea salt. Yet, we see, in advertising, the advantages of using “sea salt”. And products that use sea salt tout the fact that they are using the very same thing.

We can see the same thing happening within the diamond industry. Of course here we are a bit more diverse. And what I mean by that is the markets, which are dealing with natural verses artificial diamonds. Diamonds are rated on the 3 “C’s”. Color, cut, clarity, and sometimes a 4th known as craftsmanship. The natural flaws within a raw diamond stone determines the resulting gemstones that can be cut and marketed. As the color of the stone, blending towards the chocolate, the value had traditionally decreased, and many ending up in industrial applications. Since diamond is the hardest mineral discovered there are many uses for these less-than quality stones. Yet, in the recent past there has been an upsurge in the selling of the lessor colored stones, raising them from the lowly status that they’ve always known, to ones that can rival the blue-white stones in price and value. In other words, taking something that was of lesser value and making it more valuable. And when we are dealing with artificially grown stones it is becoming more difficult to tell the difference, raising the bar on the value of these artificial stones. Even though, in this case, at the present time, these artificial stones do have a lesser value overall.

If we were to go back to the 1800’s and the Nevada gold rush – yes I said gold rush, there was a lot of complaining about all that worthless blue rock that had to be mucked out of the mines to get access to the gold that had been discovered. It was such a nuisance that they were running out of room to dump the stuff. Out of curiosity, someone decided to see what this waste product was, and had it assayed. And to his shock it came back almost pure silver. And the Comstock lode became a reality. During that whole time the miners were throwing away a fortune in silver searching for the gold. So what was a liability – that worthless blue rock – became an asset when it was identified as silver.

In many ways it is Madison Avenue that has turned these liabilities around to assets by trying to find some way of unloading these items on an unsuspecting public – us. Because of their imagination, they can see applications or uses for these liabilities that weren’t apparent or obvious to the ones who had originally created the liability. Or someone who decided to think outside the box and take a chance and have something tested to see if there might be added value to something that had been treated as waste.

So as those new trends come forth, new products seem to arrive, maybe it is time to really look beyond that advertising. See where these items may have originated, and smile if you find out that it was something that the original creator couldn’t get rid of at all, costing them time and money to see it removed. Only to kick themselves later when that someone else had removed their entire stock of whatever it was, got paid to do it, then found a use in the marketplace for that very waste or liability.

I guess if we think about it we can come up with many examples of this: 55 gallon steel drums becoming, well, steel drums. Pet rocks – who could forget that fad (It’s all in the packaging, right?)? Even though this isn’t known everywhere yet, but there is a process where biological waste, things like the guts of food animals, and other such things are being converted into crude oil. And think of that shale that is impregnated with oil. Or the use of the matter left after harvesting that’s being converted into fuels. All of these items were waste products in the past taking up space and costing money to remove. I guess we can now add all of the recycling that we do because it has created its own industry that takes our waste and makes new products from it, instead of filling landfills. And there are so many more.

So as I think about this I wonder what the next major liability will be that will become an asset. Many times some of these attempts happen before the world is ready and it fails. An example of this would be those convertible laptops and tablets which are so popular now. If one wants to remember, this was tried probably 10 years ago and failed. So the lesson in all of this is probably just because an attempt to change a liability to an asset failed, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will fail in the future, or that there will be no other such successes.

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Have a great week and I hope to see you here next Saturday. And who knows, maybe you will be the one who will discover the next asset coming from that liability.

Aging

The largest of the generations that this nation, and probably the world has produced is beginning to enter the senior citizen time of their lives. And I know that the question that is generally on our minds (since I qualify) is this: “How the hell did I get here?” At least for me, and the others I’ve talked with over the years is the question, of how from their youth to now in their later years, that this time flew and flew so fast. Yet time, at any particular moment, did not do that. So how can you go from those days that just drug, and seemed to be never-ending, to all of sudden realize that your family is grown and on their own, and you have now become the grandparents?

I can remember looking at my parents when they turned 40 and thought that was old. (All from one’s perspective at the time of the observation. And yes, now that seems young.) Yes I was a teenager at that time – 16 if one wanted to know exactly, and most of my life was still ahead of me. I had my ideas of my life direction, the lack of confidence that exists in all of us during those years, and expectations of how my life would be. But without any real life experience I had to admit that I really didn’t know. Some thoughts like, I’d probably be married by my mid-twenties (didn’t happen), I would have a good career (nope), probably be purchasing a home early on (good luck on that one), and I’d be working my way to a good retirement (Mine is okay, but not necessarily a great one financially.).

There were many days and weeks that seemed to go on forever with one problem after another continually arriving making one wonder if this was going to be the way of it. And finding that the career path that one had chosen was not to be, so having to make changes in the middle. Being drafted and serving in the military at a time in my career that was one of the contributing factors of having to leave it later after returning from Vietnam. I was in my 30’s when I married – so different from what I believed would happen, and I ended my time in the workforce in a career that I hadn’t even considered or was interested in.

And when that day arrived I, in a sense, was surprised. Not the idea of retiring, but that I was suddenly there. What happened? It seemed that just yesterday I was looking towards that time where it might happen, but that was so far into the future that it was even less than a dream. Then suddenly I was there. What happened to all those intervening years? What was I doing, and how did I get here? It is said that time flows constantly and only gravity and the speed of light as one approaches its limits has any influences on the passing of time at all. And for us, the living, we have to admit that these influences really have no outward effect at all since we cannot travel at the speed of light or that the influences of gravity is so minor that it is virtually unnoticeable.

Everyday everything around us ages. I found it unusual that it is one of the laws of thermodynamics that determines this. The atrophy that affects everything in this universe predicting a day in the future where time will cease, and there will be no more future. Only the present, and a dead universe and all that lies within. This includes us if we are fortunate to live as a species until that time arrives. With this knowledge it would be easy to become depressed knowing that whatever we learn, however we advance, what we accomplish as a species, in the end, will mean nothing.

You see the universe is a closed environment. One so vast that it is almost beyond our finite comprehension that it is so. Again for the short time that we live we have no way of truly experiencing the vastness that is our universe, let alone the vastness of passing time. So it could easily seem that it would go on forever, never-dying, always expanding. Giving us and other life forms a chance to taste forever, and to grow beyond our youth. To fulfill our potentials that lie before us. Yet with what is known in the scientific community this is not our fate.

For you who are young out there, understand that sooner than you think, you will be where I am presently. Wondering where the hair loss, gray hair, and all the too many aches and pains came from. This generation, the largest one, the one known as the baby boom generation, came from what is considered the greatest generation. Whether that is true or not time will be the deciding factor. And only by looking back, looking at the history of our times will it be revealed and possibly understood.

There are many treasures that all of us chase. And probably the most valuable, and yet the one we put the least value and thought into is time itself. All of us are only given so long to be here, and each second that passes is one we will never see again. Yet all of us waste it like it is infinite, and it, truthfully, is anything but. And once it is lost it is gone forever never to return. So as this time gets by you and you reach my time in life, I hope that you can look back and see your past life and know that it hasn’t been wasted, and what you set out to do with your life did work out. For most, including myself, I’ve wandered far from what I envisioned in my youth. Is that a bad thing? A good question for which I have no answer.

The one thing I’ve learned is that life never goes as one plans, and it becomes more so as we age. I have so much I’d love to accomplish in my life but know that what is left of it will probably mean that it will not happen. Frustrating yes, but reality always is. What we fantasize or imagine is not real, as those many fictional stories we enjoy reading. All of us would like to be the hero or heroine in life, but it is rare indeed that such happens. So in the end we can only do what we can. And age robs us of our abilities, our mind, our strength, we can only hope that what we have done in our lives has a positive effect on this world. Then one day, like this universe, it will end for us and all that we tried to do, tried to accomplish, will be gone forever, be in the past forever, with absolutely no way to retrace and try again.

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Thank you for stopping by and taking a moment, a second or two of your precious gift, those precious seconds and spending it with me. Have a great week.

A History Lesson

Many years ago (and I do mean many), I read a short story with this title. It was written by Author C Clark in 1949 the year of my birth, not that this is important to others, just to my family and myself (Not the story, but being born). I had the short story in my personal library, which was destroyed in those wildfires of 2003. Here is a link to the wiki – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_Lesson_(short_story)

As in this short story absolutely none of us know what will survive the ravages of time. There have been many attempts to create time vaults, some successful and others not so, to allow a future generation to look back to that time when the vault had been created. In many ways this is both a nostalgic attempt, and an attempt to say, “look I am here, and I really did exist”. A way maybe to extend one’s presence well past the time of living, to become closer to immortal, if not in life, but in memory.  Yet what is often viewed in that future time is only a name, and holds no true meaning for anybody. In fact once a time vault is opened, the curiosity wanes and is generally forgotten as life presses in on all of us. Again here we face too many issues because of what time does to a society, let alone what a society does to itself. And there’s no guarantee that this society will even exist at that future time.

In a sense when we read the Foundation series by Asimov, in the first book we see a time capsule that opens periodically during a crisis to allow the citizens to know if they are on track to eliminate the time of chaos – that entropy of the vast galactic empire that over time destroyed itself. And Seldon, a social mathematician, had developed the system that led to the creation of the Foundation. Yet, when the ones who would be present to see what would be stated, the answers were never as expected. The society had changed as well as the expectations.

An example of the changes that society dumps upon itself became clear as I watched a commercial dealing with that first period in a young girl’s life. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NEcZmT0fiNM)  While they made fun of it, keeping it light, the commercial made its point and presented their product. Now, if we were to go back a few years, such a thing was never mentioned, whispered between girls – yes, but out in the public – no way man! And now this is so out in the open that there can be such commercials for public viewing. It leads to the fact that what was once taboo is now in the open, so the understanding, and the culture, when it was taboo would not be understood. With this present openness the past views would make no sense at all. And, of course, even language and specific words change.

The attitudes, the cultural pressures, the atmosphere would have been so different (from those earlier times) that it would be beyond understanding, let alone seeing and feeling the emotions that would have existed. This makes it almost impossible for anyone to be able to look back to an earlier time, to understand it, and to be able to actually come up with the written word, saying that they are the expert on this time period in history and then presenting it. Because we are so wrapped up in our own time, our culture, and the views and attitudes of the world at the time that we live, it is almost impossible to look back and attempt the see the world as it existed from that past time.

Oh we try. But I would say that most of the time we are unsuccessful. And there are many reasons for this lack of success. First off it is because it is difficult in removing one’s self from the environment that one is immersed, and secondly the ones who then read what has been written will always project their own views into what is written. We cannot get away from it. So no matter how accurate the writings, it will immediately become inaccurate the instant someone else reads it. Does this mean we shouldn’t attempt any of this? No, we must. To understand where we are we need to know where we came from.

With this knowledge we now go back to the question of what is it that survives time? Not much really. And if we were to disappear tomorrow, and the earth continued, eventually, thanks to plate tectonics, everything that man had ever created would be destroyed and recycled and returned to the earth leaving absolutely nothing to show that we ever existed at all. Can time vaults survive? At least that’s the hope and some from the past do and some don’t. And like in the story, A History Lesson, what survives, many times, is the most unlikely of objects. And because so little does survive it leads to a misrepresentation of the times when the object was created.

It means that we build a fictitious world supposedly based on fact, and what has been discovered. If you were to look around the room that you are presently in, what do you see? Think about all the everyday objects that surround you and how you use them. Then consider the fact that with the passing of time most if not all would be lost and destroyed, leaving no hint of what they were or what they were used for. If, for example that monitor that you are using to read this survived, without a computer, or power what would it appear to be to a future culture who doesn’t have the ability to operate or understand what they are seeing. What would they think it would be? One thing for sure, it wouldn’t become what it really is, but probably some type of decoration with no value at all. While they were poking fun in the Disney animated movie, Little Mermaid, the object, which was a fork, was identified incorrectly, until later under the proper circumstances its true use became known. And this is very true of many recovered artifacts from the deep past.

And remember, in many cases, politics play an ever-increasing role in what an artifact could be. And the ones on top, the ones in power, use their influence to identify things, and whether the identification is accurate or not does not matter. It is as the ones in power want it to be. And while we may make the extra effort to be sure something survives for a future generation, most of the time these aren’t the particular items that survive, but some of the common everyday items, things that one would suspect wouldn’t. And many times, as in the story, A History Lesson, what is seen, what is interpreted, what becomes another society’s view of the past, is tainted. Tainted because without the understanding behind such an object, the interpretation will always be wrong.

And yet because of this lack of understanding it becomes the truth, until something comes along to modify that truth, changing it once again until something else is found. In a way it is almost laughable because each new find changes the understanding and direction, and yet each past find is now from the past, making it doubly difficult to understand. Since we are looking at the earlier interpretation of a far greater past, adding a new interpretation, all claiming to be accurate only to be proven to not be. While we as individuals as well as a species have memory, and thankfully because also we learned to write, thusly giving us a chance to see that past time through words written at that time, still, the results from these discoveries are and always will be inaccurate, and tainted.

So I leave you with this question: With the many cultures that exist at this time we cannot get it right or really understand in the present, so how can we expect to get it right with the past? And maybe this is the lesson we should take from all of this, a lesson in history, or A History Lesson.

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And, of course, the moment you read this it is the past. Woe is me, when I look at time as an immediate thing, the past comes about too quick, and there’s nothing I can do to change it. Maybe this is why the idea of Time Travel draws us in. We do only get one chance at anything including these posts. And next week the post is titled, Computing in the 21st Century. This isn’t going in the direction that seems obvious with the title, and I’m not giving away anything here. So if you are interested you’ll just have to come back next Saturday. All of you out there have a great week, and I hope to see you here next Saturday – making this present post, by the way, history.

Looking Back

Is this something that is important for us to do – looking back? Whether it is or not, it is something that all of us do. It can lead down that nostalgic path, as I posted in an earlier post, show us the error of our ways, as in our workplace, when a boss points out our failings, or it could easily be a way to see how far we’ve come and if those changes have been good. However you look at it, because we do have a memory that is longer than just one day we do have a tendency to continually look back.

In this post I’m looking towards this more as a writer, and what a writer has released in the past. If you have been around a published writer – writers in fiction who have written a number of novels – you can hear, in their conversations, their views of their early (as in their first) work. And I have to admit that I’m no different. So I guess the question becomes – is it important for a writer to look back on these beginnings, or should he or she let it lie? And I guess, again like so many things in life, each writer, each individual will give a different answer. Yet, personally I feel that it is very important to look back, to read one’s earlier works, and to see where one is presently.

In anything that we do, be it work, a hobby, or life, we should be improving. Since experience gained should allow us to perform better, understand what we are seeing, and applying those learned lessons to what we need to do. By not looking back one cannot have a beginning point to measure their personal growth, and as a result what is being seen in the present has no basis in fact, and the improvements or experience gained could and can be imagined. It is only by seeing your beginnings can you truly see your personal growth. When you do look back, how do you see yourself in your mind’s eye? What is the image of yourself that is there? Interestingly for me, when I’m looking back, in general, I see a picture of me at about 5 years old. This represents, in my mind, the innocence and inexperience that became a starting point of who I became.

Usually the first books published by authors are generally not the first books written. In fact, many times it’s at least 3 or more novels out that becomes their first published work. So one would think, incorrectly, by that time they would have their craft down and the stories would be perfect. Ah, if only that was true. If it was, then all of we writers would have many successful stories and books, and be living the imagined luxury that ones who do not write think that we have. In truth, if an hourly wage was attached to what we earn, it wouldn’t generally be enough to make minimum wage. If fact it could easily fall to a few cents or less per hour. (The term – Starving Artist – does come to mind.)

As in all fields of endeavor only a very few at the top make those kind of figures that all of us strive to reach. Most, even with the ability to self-publish, never reach the point where anything that they write reach the public, and if it does, with what is available out there for the reader, they never break even financially. So for most it becomes more of a hobby, and like most hobbies, it can be quite expensive. Still if one considers it a hobby it is still important to gain the experience, to see improvements, to overcome those obstacles that are in the way, to find ways of doing something better, to learn from others, and to be proud of the experience gained. And most importantly to be proud that you’ve completed that novel. Many try their hand at writing but very few, and the percentages are in the single digit, ever finish.

Yet, in every case, to see that experience gained we must see our beginnings, otherwise it is dust in the wind – imagined, with nothing to show for the effort. And this is especially true in writing. For me this has become painfully clear as I edit, and revise those first two books that I wrote. Again, because I consider it a good story (both are part of a series), and the characters within that story are strong, I want to see the series out there where readers can enjoy their fictitious lives. In the near past, with a posted excerpt of the 6th book that I’ve written, I talked about the joy of editing that story, and also earlier, had talked about the pain of working those first 2 manuscripts. I had reached a point in them (the first 2) that I was heading for my final edit, but discovered that more – much more – work had to be done before I could enter this final edit. So once again they have been pushed back so that I can make these corrections.

And for me, my first released book was The Woman in the Snow. And this is my 3rd book written. It took a minimum of 8 edits and revisions, with my wife doing the 9th to get it in print (metaphorically, since it’s an E-book). Yet, when I’m looking back and reading the story now, and after writing a full 7 novels, I’m almost embarrassed by what I see. Love the story, again love the actors within the story. What happens and how it happens work fine, the descriptions and scenes are good, but if wrote it now it would be a better story. No it isn’t horrible. In fact I’ve received 5 stars on it from a reader. Yet when I compare it to the way I write now, the difference is night and day. And another sign is comparing the edits, which has steadily reduced as each new novel is written. Presently I find that I need only half the edits of book 3, and probably could even cut one of those if I desired.

The important thing that these 3 early works show me is my personal growth in my writing. And for me, as I look back to my earlier works, I can plainly see the improvement in all aspects of my writing when I compare my present writing to those beginnings. While my characters and their actions in those first books were as they should, they were 3 dimensional, and seemed real – someone you might like to meet, yet in the present time all of who they are (all my fictional characters across the 7 novels, especially the last 4) are so much stronger in those later works. They have become more real, as has their adventures. To me the progression from those early works to now is easy to see.

And because the improvement is there, and is obvious not only to me, but my wife, then it means, even if nothing ever comes of what I send out into the world, it was a good direction for me. If those later works were no better than the early works, then I would only be fooling myself, trying to convince myself that writing is a good direction. And if any of us really think about it, if we are not improving in whatever endeavor we have decided to tackle, then it probably wasn’t a smart move on our part. And if we are smart enough and not allow our ego to get in the way, we will move on to something that we are really good at doing. Putting this particular failure behind us, and marking it up as experience. Adding a new thread to that personal tapestry that is you.

I guess, in a way, that I can apply this to the posts that I’ve been making. Over time and as I approach my 200th post I can see improvements in these short presentations. From the eclectic subjects, to the short stories, and of course the excerpts of my books, and even the length of the posts, have grown more consistent and stronger over that time. Back when I began in 2011 never having anything to do with blogs, and having no idea where this would lead, or even what I would be talking about, the future was a clear as mud. As an author it was pointed out that blogs were important, critical really, so that you the reading audience would know who I am. So with some trepidation I began, and to my surprise over 3 years later am still here, and still writing. Again, like last week next week’s post is open. As most writers will tell you the well of creativity sometime dries up and leaves one scrambling for a subject. While not quite that bad I can say that it is close. I’m presently working on a short story which will be posted in the near future, but it isn’t ready for prime time or completely written, so it is for the future. And I have a few other posts sitting in the wings, but they are not complete as of yet, so it will be a surprise, not only for you, but I guess I can say for me also. Let’s remember that we are approaching the 4th of July, and if you haven’t studied that time in our history, it leaves one to not appreciate what transpired. Remember those sacrifices, and celebrate the freedoms we have. Have a great week and see you here next Saturday.

I am a Conservative

Being a writer this might come as a surprise that I should be this way. After all, it seems that this field is filled with liberals and they appear to be shouting all the time that their way is the only way. In a sense, it shames me, to find that this chosen field is so full of liberals. After all, one would think, and I’m one who does, that by being a writer and with all of history to study and research, the failures of liberalism time and time again, would make the ones who are, really think about their position, their politics, their zealotry. If nothing else, history shows that such positions always fail. Yet, they always return to try again.

Unfortunately, along the way to that failure, liberals have a tendency to destroy. Not only to destroy, but to attempt to change everything to their way of thinking. This includes the way history is taught, social interaction, views and actions dealing with each other, and the world. And if you do not agree with their narrow view, expect to find yourself under suspicion for almost anything. I can almost come to the conclusion that it was a liberal who coined the phrase – “My way or the highway”.

Before I continue, I need to put some things into perspective. First off extreme anything is a bad thing. So when I say I am a conservative it means that I lean a little right of center. Sometimes a little of either side of the question is a good thing. But when it becomes, as the phrase describes above, then there is no room for debate, no room for compromise, no room for change. And if any present a different side than what the liberal sees, the attacks come out in full force. Using whatever there is at their disposal to not simply state their position, but to utterly destroy the opposing view. We are seeing this clearly with this liberal administration.

They are using everything at their disposal to shut up the opposing views, including illegal use of the departments within the government, such as: The IRS, NSA, CIA, FBI, and others, to go after any who may have a difference of opinion. It seems that while liberals have a tendency to shout foul play if anything is brought forth to accuse them of anything, anything at all, yet they have no qualms of using whatever means, whether legal, illegal, lying, taking as much out of context as possible, and raising such an uproar over nothing that they force their will, their ways, their narrow point of view, on all. After all, everybody had better understand that they, as liberals, are free to use everything, but all others must play by the rules – their rules.

We, as a society, pay dearly for their excesses. And if nothing else, history repeats, and what we are facing now, even though it is more extreme, and more out of control, is similar to another administration who attempted the very same things that this one is doing presently, although that administration did not have the support of the press as the present administration seems to have. While this post seems to reflect politics, it really isn’t the intention. But when you start identifying where you stand – to the left (liberals), or to the right (conservatives), politics just naturally come up. So, as I write this post, some of what is here will reflect that aspect.

Maybe my conservatism comes from experience, and my time in this world. Or it could be the simple fact that I was raised that way, growing up on a small ranch deep in the backcountry. Where you learned early on that you could only depend on yourself, your family, and the abilities gained to make things work and continue to work. That lifestyle taught you the value of life because you saw death a lot. As animals died that you tried to keep alive, and because of the difference in life expectancies, your working dogs would pass on leaving a hole in your heart. It leads to a belief in yourself and in God. Such things have a tendency to move one in the direction of just right of the center.

And most Americans can say that is where they are. They have no time for the games, no time to worry about how the government will be run. Their time is spent on providing for their families, to do the best they can, and when the day is complete, the children safely in bed, they can take a few moments of downtime before they head off to bed, so that they can do it all again the next day. They know that it is God, and family that is the most important things in this world. They expect, from their government, an understanding of this, and not the intrusion that liberalism brings into their lives – trying to control every aspect of their personal lives. They expect the government to respect the Constitution, to uphold the laws, and to not change this country to their (liberals) personal view of how it should be.

Yet, when it is learned that the biggest breaker of these laws is that same government, they lose faith. And when it gets right down to it, liberals could care less. After all, no matter how it comes about, if they get their way, it’s as it should be, and who cares what damage is done, or who is hurt along the way. After all the results are worth it, aren’t they? I’ve heard it say that liberalism is a mental disorder, and the more I see it, the more I witness it, the more it seems to be fact. So many things that liberals do defies logic, and makes absolutely no sense.

I guess in many ways I can say, because of my age; been there, done that. I’m one who is usually willing to let things go, and allow others their freedoms. But with the damage that has been done, and is still being done by the liberals, I have to admit that I will be glad to see them out of power. I do not know how many generations it will take to repair the damage that they have done, but it will be more than one – if it can ever be repaired. So with what I have seen, both in the past, and in the present, I will remain a conservative, because the other side of this coin is much too costly.

Published in: on March 22, 2014 at 8:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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Personal Thoughts on Publishing

Again this is just that – thoughts on the subject. Presently I self-publish, which means I’m responsible for everything. So when one wants to consider which route to take there’s much to consider. For example, when you self-publish you can see higher margins versus what you’d see through a publisher. But on the downside is the fact that you will probably sell much less, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So let’s consider both sides.

Starting at the top, when you have a publisher do your work there are many demands right up front, and the fact that they may not like parts of your story and thusly require changes. Not that making changes can be a bad thing, but with the clout that they wield it isn’t unusual for a writer to give in, hoping that when this is finished that they will see enough sales to make it worthwhile. The problems I see in it personally is, I as the writer, have a vision of how the book, story and direction is to go, from beginning to end, and it is my vision not theirs. So when someone else grabs my work they see it their way, and that can easily clash with my vision, my way.

Now let’s really think about this for a moment – If we as writers really consider this honestly, the question arises as to why would we seek such publishers in the first place? After all we’re the ones whose spent the time, effort, sweat, and fortitude in creating this work of ours. Yet it is we who push our works onto the publishers continually to, please publish this, and for that privilege and all the hard work that we’ve put into this we’ll, oh I don’t know, take maybe 25% of the net profits, listen to all the issues you think are there, and, gasp, make changes that could ruin the integrity of my book, my story! And, in the end we still have to give a percentage of that margin to an agent if we are fortunate enough to have one. As Goofey said in one of Disney’s Cartoons, “something’s wrong here.”

At one time going this route probably made real sense. Because a publisher would take your work from your manuscript all the way through the publishing, advertising, and everything in-between. So they had much cost involved in bringing a work to the public, and could rightly claim the costs involved in doing just that. But times have changed, and now it appears that you, as the author, must not only write your novel, but be the advertiser, create a on-line persona, do all the fan site work, run a blog, social media, twitter, Facebook, and be your own secretary in answering all incoming questions, setting up of interviews, and whatever else is deemed necessary to get the word out. So why is the pittance that we receive still the same? After all you are now doing almost all of what the publishers used to do for your story, your book.

So somewhere along the way we became convinced that after all this hard work and time we’ve put into our projects that publishers were the only way to get the story out into the reader’s hands, and for so long that was really true. But with the advent of computers and the internet, followed by electronic books or e-books, it is now much easier for a writer to self-publish. Of course without the clout or the advertising dollars that the big houses have your growth in the industry is normally very slow, but it is also a long-term proposition. With budgets being what they are for publishers there is only so much time and effort that they will invest in a particular book, and if it doesn’t work, they move on, because there are more available than they could ever publish or want to publish. So they can be demanding, they can be choosy, and they can tell you no, which they do quite often.

Now, looking to the opposite is you doing everything. The downside to self-publishing is that there are now a lot of really bad books out there, and with the amount of material that is published each year and with the electronic revolution, so to speak, the numbers can only grow. So by not being a known author, and with all that is out there for a reader to find, you become less than that proverbial needle in the haystack. But in this case this haystack is the size of the Himalayas. And add to it the multitude of free books it becomes increasingly difficult. There’s all sorts of suggestions, help sites, and such to assist one. But, in the end, it still will come down to word of mouth, the best advertising out there. Now, it’s just getting your work into the hands of readers, and if anybody really knew how to do that, then they would be millionaires over and over a number of times. So as a self- published writer, and an indie, you have to look to the very long-term and use whatever sites are available out there to help – sites like goodreads, bookdaily, storybundle, and such, that help promote your works as an author. Many are free, but others do cost. After all, they require income to stay in business as well as the rest of us, otherwise the site will disappear heading for the graveyards of the internet.

So, in the end, it still comes down to you and your choice as to which way you’ll go to publish your work. Either way you go, the road ahead is difficult. Neither promise success, and even all the hard work, time and effort, you put forth guarantees nothing. Readers can be fickle, and no matter how good your novel may be, if it hits the market at the wrong time it will not matter. Writing, in many ways, is a thankless, lonely job with little or no guarantee that all the time and effort will even allow you to recoup what you’ve invested. But we, as writers, are always hopeful, always looking to those few, and it’s those few, who have been successful that pushes us ever onward. Hoping that someday, we may be able to join those few, and get our stories out to those hungry readers. So the challenge is simply this: Your choices are few – traditional, or self’ publish. In the end only you can decide, and one further thought on this; you do not necessarily have to stay with one or the other, but try your hand at both and find out personally what works best for you. And as any writer would say, good luck and good success.

Twists , Turns, and Influences

Think a moment and try to view where you are right at this very moment in time. What was it that got you here, even if you happen to be reading this blog? After all, something within yourself has drawn you in this direction. Of course if one was to start at the very beginning it would be when you were conceived by your parents. And from that moment on your personality was set, even though no one really knew you, or truthfully knew about you – even your parents. It would be a while before your mother realized that she was pregnant and that miracle and wonder would start. And even here, at your conception, there was many chances that it would not happen, or that you would make alive it to your birth.

Life is precious, but unlike other aspects out there, we only get one chance to get it right. Life is full of twists, turns, and influences, many times not even recognized until later in life. When one looks back many become obvious, and yet while we were embroiled within these twists, turns, and influences, they were not that visible or understandable. While it is a proven fact that heredity has a great influence over who we are, it truly is only the template that we must build upon. Yes it influences how we see things, how we’ll act and react, how our health will be after some traumatic incident, and so many other incomprehensible responses and results. But like a great fictional story when it is yet to be written, it generally is only an outline, which is a very long way away from the finished story.

Even though here at the beginning of our lives, we don’t see what is really happening as we try to understand this new world that we’ve joined. Yet, maybe here, are where those greatest influences on your life begin. Were you from a loving home, or one of disregard, distrust, and abuse? One thing for sure, at this time in your life one has no personal choices, as all of the choices available were made by someone else. And so begins one’s personal journey, education and early influences. And those family influences remain with us through all those formative years and throughout our lives. When we finally begin to make friends and visit them in their homes we find things generally different from what we are used to or understand. At first such things are a shock, after all this is so different from what we expected others to be, not realizing that other homes, and other lives would be different.

As our horizons expand, through schooling, media, and the places we visit and see, so does the way we begin to see others and the world as a whole. Yet we are making judgements from that narrow beginnings that is our core. There’s nothing wrong with this because all of us need a foundation, a starting point ,to which we can anchor ourselves. Again, as time continues to move, which it inevitably does, we change because we grow, become part of the society that we were born into, and attempt to see others beyond ourselves. This is neither good or bad, it just is. As family gives us our foundation, our society gives us direction, and again a way to make judgements about the rest of this world.

The problems begin here because not all information we receive is accurate, true, or it is tinged by how media, and a government can twist the facts. And let’s be honest here, media and the government are very good at doing just that. And even here our views are now colored by our past and who we are. Then as life moves on you attempt to set your realistic goals only to have life throw a curve at you. Maybe it’s a health issue, a close relative dies, you have a traffic accident, you witness a crime or are a victim of a crime, or so many other things that can happen to completely change your life direction. All of this, unknown, and unplanned, and this twist or turn now moves you completely away from your life path, those set goals, and directions.

Now you hit that bend in the road, that fork where both look just as promising or just as ominous. So one attempts to make the best of a bad situation and has hope that their decision is the right one. But, in the end, who can say? Once we start down that particular path or fork or bend our future is set and we cannot go back and see where that other direction or path would have led. And each step we take towards that future, which eventually becomes the past, we change, we see the world differently, and we become different. Is this a good thing, or is it bad? There’s no real answer because we can only see the now and what we’ve become. We don’t necessarily see those twists, turns, and influences that have led us to this moment, to this decision. Yet, behind all of this lies your history, and many times it is only when we take the time to look back and really see what has happened to us that we understand why we made such a decision, or decisions.

It really comes down to the fact that everything that happens around us and too us in life has an effect, leaves a mark, visible or not, upon us, and leads us into unknown directions and consequences. We may personally feel that this isn’t true and we are really very good at isolating ourselves from these influences. But if this is how we are viewing these events then we are only fooling ourselves, and how we are truly seeing the world. At this point you might take a hard look at yourself and see if you are wearing those blinders that leads you to these beliefs.

As a child we have a tendency to want to be this or that when we grow up. Again there’s nothing wrong with this. Yet even here there may be unintentional consequences that one did not consider. For example: I wanted to be, at different times in my life as a child, a fireman, a milkman, a mailman, and other careers that exists. So what does my past include? I’ve been a milkman, a firefighter, and I was a mailman. In my life very few of my goals were ever reached. The reason mostly was because life did get in the way and those many twists, turns, and influences changed me, and changed my direction. Yes I had my goals and plans but those twists, turns, and influences, made sure that they would not come to fruition. So be careful what you wish for, you might just get it, and you may find that it really wasn’t something you wanted in the first place.

Thoughts on writing.

As a writer it is important to understand what has been stated above. When we develop our characters in our fictional stories they are born the moment you put pen to paper, or use your word processor or however you create your fictional worlds. But our characters are not new-born with no history. To be real they must have a history, must have a back story as to what made them who they are, and why they are where they are at this very moment. Many times as writers we learn about our characters as the story develops. And until that moment you, as the writer, did not realize this or that about your character., until it is revealed. And like the real world that has left its influences upon you, so does that fictional world that you create influence your fictional character. So remember to give your actors a history even if it is only in your mind, because it is only then that the reader will consider these actors as real, as someone who they want to care about, a person that deserves their attention and many time sympathy, and others their scorn. But if there is nothing there for the reader to see, then they will not care, and even if the story is outstanding as is that fictional world you created, they, the reader will care less and put your book aside for one with true three-dimensional characters even if the story is much less compelling than yours.

What is a Story?

As I was re-reading “The Lonesome Gods”, by Louis L’amour for at least the 6th time I realized that this is a book, even though it is written for the Western genre, that any should read. I have quoted from this author in the past and part of what he was discussing is this book. I say for any out there, give this book a chance as it deserves it. Still, what is a story anyway? Some say a story is about life with the boring parts cut away leaving the exciting action, something to hold our attention. Others say that it is a way to learn to pass on knowledge. After all there has been story tellers in the tribes and clans for as long as there has been tribes and clans. In stories you see the cultures, the way people think, and yes even the times that they were written. A good example of this is the recent animated movie by Disney, “The Emperor’s New Groove”. The story is full of cultural references, innuendos, and events that make it timely for this period in our own history. But, a century from now will it elicit the same laughs, the same humor, or will there be a complete lack of understanding to what is being viewed? Leaving the audience, in that future time, wondering what made this so popular and funny when it originally was aired for the first time.

We can see much of these cultural and scientific changes with our own favorite authors if they’ve had the opportunity to be around a very long time. In the Science Fiction genre, authors such as Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov are great examples. During their lifetimes much changed and their writings reflect these changes. Reading early books by these or any of the authors who remained active as writers throughout their lives, you can see the changes in society, the advances in science, the changing moral fiber, and the era that it was written – with all of this influencing the writers, and the stories that they produced. And because the writer is tied strongly to who and where they come from, at times even the region where it is written becomes obvious. Remember each and every language has its own way of thinking. Because of its structure, the way it must be spoken, it forces the ones who speak it to think specifically within the bounds of that language and culture. So what is humorous to one culture leaves another scratching their heads trying to see what was so funny.

So again, what is a story anyway? It seems that most deal with ordinary people, but even when you deal with superheroes you find that behind their facade are the same issues, same problems, same conflicts that the ordinary everyday person has to deal with. For example, since he is popular right now, let’s look at Spiderman. Peter Parker has family problems, trying to support his aunt, has to deal with a boss that is overbearing, has no self-esteem when dealing with the opposite sex or life, is always second guessing himself, never has enough money to cover the daily needs, and has secrets, hmm, sound familiar? And if we were to look at another very popular character, Batman, we would find similar, albeit not all since he is rich, problems, secrets, and issues in his background.

That leads one to  see that most stories deal with the human condition and while most writers allow their hero to survive the stories, other do not, and we know these stories as tragedies. Because of the times that these characters live, they are bound by the laws and conditions of the worlds that they are created in, limiting what they can and cannot do – much as it is for us in the real world. Many times these special few are able to see what the future holds, referring to both the writer and the characters in his story. And as such the writer uses the story to convey what he believes. Stories can be for entertainment, for teaching lessons, to put forth one’s views on utopia – a perfect society, and to give either the listeners or readers a view inside of the story teller’s head.

One thing stories do for all of us is to allow us to live lives that we could never live in our own existence. We take a cheap vacation into these fictional, and sometimes factual worlds as seen through the eyes of the author. On the factual side it can bring the past alive, or some recent event that was only briefly covered in the news. Giving one insight into the overall situation and the results of either the successes or failures that moved it into the realm of news worthy. Again an example of this would be those fires that burned us out many years ago, and of course, we were not alone. But for one of those days we had a news crew follow us around, asking questions filming as we tried to recover what little we could. In those many hours of work and filming the news crew cut it down to less than a minute of air time. Giving one a quick view into our lives at a specific moment. Yet, the obvious question would be; did this really show everything? And of course it did not. Had there been a book or a followup, then any who would be interested in such a thing could have then gotten more of the story but obviously, even here, not the full story.

Again the problem with any story is not necessarily the writer, although there are many really bad one out there. But us, the readers, the ones listening to the stories created by the story tellers. While we may have a rich imagination that allows us to see the stories in pictures within our minds, anyway you look at it, this will not be an accurate interpretation, since it will be colored with our own experiences or lack thereof, views, the way we think, and the way we view this world, making our conclusions and pictures different from any other who had enjoyed the same work. And is there anything wrong with this, no not really. So what is a story? It is about life, about overcoming difficulties, it is about learning, it is about us and our species dealing with all that we are, good or bad, and if the story is well written or well spoken then it can touch us, give a sense of pride, and even change us. After all isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t a story something that allows us to look at ourselves, to see things differently than we normally would – of course. So here’s to the story tellers in our lives, the ones who enrich us, fill our lives with wonder and adventure – may they always be there.

Published in: on November 3, 2012 at 8:16 am  Comments (1)  
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