The cardinal in the Willow tree

It was at a funeral that I first heard the legend of the cardinals, how when you see a cardinal it’s the spirit of a loved one who has passed, come to remind us they haven’t forgotten us, as we haven’t forgotten them.

I have been prone to bouts of melancholy since we lost Willow The Best Dog There Is™ just shy of her 12th birthday in March — not crippling sadness like the first few days, just moments when I remember something sweet about her or a fond memory, and I miss her all over again.

I have been noticing cardinals, too. Now, we have always had cardinals about. We feed them in winter. The splash of red against the snow is a familiar and comforting sight during that most colorless season.

But they haven’t always perched on our back deck, as I saw cardinals do more than once after Willow left us. A time or two, we saw the cardinal back there and said, “There she is.”

Then there was the day a cardinal sat on the roof singing. I never knew exactly which song was the cardinal’s until that day, when the bird sat on the roof and I could see its bill moving in step with the song, chirping away.

The other morning I walked up to our mailbox to fetch the newspaper, and I noticed a spot of red near the top of our tallest willow tree. (our — Willow — tree.) I don’t ever recall seeing a cardinal that high, and certainly not precariously balanced on a willow branch.

As I started back down toward the house, the cardinal swooped down across the front yard, directly in front of me across the driveway and into the brush on the north side of our land. It was gorgeous — I could see every detail as it sped past me, the brilliant red of its body, its yellow bill, the black around its eyes. If ever I believed in the legend …

There may be a less supernatural explanation. Red suspects there may be a cardinal nest in one of the apple trees between the willows and the driveway, and so the bird may have been trying to divert my attention away from the precious new ones, never suspecting my attention was already fully on the adult.

I accept that possibility. I even embrace it because I love the idea that we are providing a safe place to raise new beauty for the world.

But I also like the thought that the cardinal atop the willow tree was saying, “Don’t worry, Daddy, I’m doing fine and feeling so much better — watch this, I can fly again!”

She was such a splendid dog.

Family album

Full is my tenth book. I don’t know why, but somehow, now that I’m in double digits, I feel like I can really call myself an author now.

It’s silly, really. I was always writing. I have always been authoring. And it’s not like I’m selling books like Steven King or even name-your-obscure-author-who-died-a-pauper.

But if you search my name at your online book shop, you’ll get 10 answers. You might get more than that, because I’ve published a half-dozen editions of great works in the public domain. Sixteen doesn’t sound like enough to call me a book publisher yet, but I’ll take author.

Most of them are short books, probably an outcrop of my career writing for radio and then newspapers. A thousand words is a long newspaper article and four or five radio news stories, and so I’m used to saying as much as I can as concisely as I can. My longest novel is 37,000 words, more like a novella. My largest book is a collection of 16 novelettes (10,000-15,000 words each) with a couple of short stories.

But there they are — my 10 books. I should say my “first” 10 books, and I’m excited to show you the next one. I’m always thinking about the next book. It’s what I do. I’m an author.

– – – – –

Read Full within seconds by buying the ebook, or pre-order the print-on-demand edition going live on June 15.

With great power comes great responsibility

No, fellow fans, I’m not going to write about Spider-Man today, but I am going to come to the same conclusion that Uncle Ben did.

Wednesday I banged out a blog post, as I often do, by copying from my journal and rearranging what I had penned onto the pages to form (hopefully) something more coherent. Among my points was this:

“I’m still a little amazed at the book publishing revolution, how an independent author can bypass an army of gatekeepers to march onto the virtual shelves.”

I read it over, posted the post here, and I posted a link on Facebook. An hour later, I checked to see if it resonated with anyone (we are such vain creatures) and noticed that I had typed “mark” instead of “march”:

“I’m still a little amazed at the book publishing revolution, how an independent author can bypass an army of gatekeepers to mark onto the virtual shelves.”

I fixed the typo, and only that first half-dozen or so readers ever saw it.

Then I got to thinking: Once upon a time, getting that little bit of writing to you would have taken time, to print it out and distribute, and fixing the typo would have taken even more time, and however many copies I had printed with the typo would always be out there.

That’s why the memory hole in Nineteen Eighty-Four always seemed a little unrealistic to me: No matter how many changes you made to history and how hard you tried to erase the past, there would always be a printed record somewhere. As disposable as newspapers are, you still can’t guarantee that you’ve destroyed every copy.

But now, the memory hole is nearly perfect: I can fix a typo in the time it takes to retype the word. It was a minute or two between finding “mark” and making it “march.”

Of course, anyone who ever regretted a stupid Tweet knows that caches and screen shots can preserve anything, but it’s much easier these days to make stuff disappear without anyone knowing. As someone who spent most of his adult life writing “the first draft of history,” it’s a little scary knowing how easy it is to delete a first draft, or any draft, or any finished product.

It’s a super power compared to print-based communication, and it’s another reason to advocate for keeping the printing presses going.

Any power, of course, can be used for good or for evil. May we always be vigilant to ensure we use it for good, and may we always be vigilant to spot when it’s used for evil.

Because, well, with great power comes great responsibility.

– – – – –

Read Full within seconds by buying the ebook, or pre-order the print-on-demand edition going live on June 15.

Little messages in little bottles

UPS tracking says my proof of Full will arrive before 7 p.m. today, and unless I find some deal-breaking flaw inside, the book will be in print-on-demand next Tuesday, June 15. (Available for pre-order or as an ebook now! Buy! Buy! Buy!)

I’m still a little amazed at the book publishing revolution, how an independent author can bypass an army of gatekeepers to march onto the virtual shelves.

This is my third little book of its type in a little over 14 months, enough material that someone might be able to figure out what I’m doing: throwing little messages in little bottles out into the ocean.

What messages might that be? You’re not alone. Life is short, be kind. Everything is possible. Do the work. They can’t enslave you without your permission, whoever “they” are, a boss, a mate, a shadowy evil force.

Gladness is infectious. Blue guitars play the same as any other color. We’re full of words.

LIFE IS SHORT, SO BE KIND, AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. I don’t need to be full of words: All I need is those ten.

My blurb for Full says, “Here are notes, aphorisms and poems in three mini-collections: ‘The Creative Soul,’ reflections on making art and the power of words; ‘Live Free Or Die,’ thoughts about liberty, self-expression and emerging from dystopia; and ‘You Can Do This,’ encouraging words of finding light in a darkening world.”

Yesterday, in my journal, I copied over the blurb and wrote that I need to finish Jeep, my novel in progress, and that I need to write more about liberty, self-expression and emerging from dystopia, and I need to write more encouraging words of finding light in a darkening world.

Light, in a darkening world — it’s there, you know, for all to see, if you just look.

About saying certain things

Ladies and gentlemen, honored dignitaries, and especially you graduates, I come to you as an emissary from another time, when men and women were free to come and go as they pleased.

“You’re free to go” — I remember those halcyon days when this was so. If someone were to say, “How can you let someone say such things?” the most likely response would be a shrug and “It’s a free country.”

Voltaire was once quoted as saying — although the evidence is scant that he said this exactly — “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I remember when people said such things. How long ago was that? It seems a very long time. When did speaking your mind become so dangerous? Or was it always dangerous to say certain things, and it’s only the certain things that have evolved?

The 21st century reaches drinking age

from Forbidden Planet (1956)

Here we are, in the 21st year of the 21st century. We have been in old-science-fiction-numbered years for as long as newly-minted adults have lived.

The 21st century! when all is either bright and shiny miraculous tech or long-feared dystopia and post-civilization. Can it be both? Surely. Much of what readers are reading these days is post-apocalyptic, stories of life after some manmade or natural-but-caused-by-man disaster that Earth is trying to heal from.

Of course, as all good science fiction always has been, the stories are really about who we are now, what 100-200-500 years from now will look like if we stay this course, and how humans will interact in that world.

No, not “will,” rather “could.” A wise editor once taught me not to declare that something “will” happen: If you write, “The county fair will be held next month” and the county fair is canceled for whatever reason, circumstances have made you a liar or at least inaccurate. Better to write, “The county fair is scheduled to be held on these dates,” and now your journalism is accurate.

So when we say the future “will” be a tech nightmare where people are oppressed and history is erased, or when we say the future “will” have books burning, or when we say the future “will” have spaceships with hundreds of people inside exploring new worlds and new civilizations — those are only things that “could” happen.

We have the ability to, well, accept the things we cannot change and change the things we can. Now we just need to muster the serenity and the courage and the wisdom to move forward. The real future will be somewhere between utopia and dystopia, as it always has been. Or should I say it “could” be?


Hot Sun © Mikhail Semenov |

Gonna be hot today they say well heck
it’s June it’s supposed to be hot so
bring it on heat bring it on

I hear some boob in Washington
got a new idea to inflict on us
and it’s about time somebody did something
about that it’s criminal just criminal

good thing we have people watching out
for us you know so many idiots in the world
they need to be herded of course not me
I’m more of a sheepdog but look at all
those sheep you know a good iron fist
is what we need

what do you mean who’s we
are you some kind of unpatriotic
pig don’t know how they let people
like you through the front door shut
the front door and call me Marvin