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I made it home

I’m back home again now, though I’m still recovering from the trip. I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry, then turned in early so I’d be rested for an early departure Tuesday morning, though I didn’t get as much sleep as I hoped (but then, I rarely do). Cousins Barb and Mark were kind enough to pick up groceries I could use to make a turkey sandwich for the road.

I set out during morning rush hour, but the westward route I chose toward I-70 enabled me to avoid heavy traffic once I got onto the highway. My plan was to take I-70 to the PA Turnpike so that I’d only have to be on it for a little while and not have to spend as much in tolls as I did on the way out. But Google Maps wanted me to go along I-68 through the Maryland panhandle and avoid the Turnpike altogether, and when I checked my weather app and saw there was rain heading north toward the Turnpike, I decided to follow its suggestion after all. I generally avoid that route because it’s so mountainous, which can be rough in bad weather, and because it’s less trafficked, so it could be harder to find help if something went wrong. But on a clear day with the car working fine, it made for a nice, quiet drive on an uncrowded highway. I did have a bit of a scare, though, when my GPS conked out, since I didn’t have any backup printed maps of the route I was using and was in danger of getting lost. Once I found a place to stop, I was able to reboot it, and also got out my folding state maps in case I had to navigate the old-fashioned way. The GPS stopped working a couple more times along the trip, but not until after I’d gotten past the tricky part, taking the US 40 state road from I-68 up to I-70. The last time I took that route was in the middle of a snowstorm, which is why I’ve avoided it ever since, but in clear July weather it was fine. I was even able to eat most of my sandwich while driving, since the road was so empty and uneventful. That saved me some time.

In fact, I got really lucky with the weather. The forecast called for rain on and off throughout the day, but either I managed to take a route around it or it just happened to go around my route. As I headed west toward Columbus on I-70, there was a big rainstorm heading northeast toward it from Cincinnati, so I figured I’d have to deal with some rough weather on the final leg of my drive — but by the time the storm and I converged, it had mostly tuckered out and I only caught a few moments of heavy drizzle along its fringes.

So thanks to all this good luck, I was able to get home via the quickest route with minimal delays and only the occasional moments of anxiety when my GPS conked out, and when I was unsure if I could find a gas station before running out. There was a moment when it seemed the gas gauge needle was dropping alarmingly fast on a steep uphill grade, but then it went up again once I was going downhill. I realized the changing angle of the fuel in the tank was lowering and raising the bob that connects to the gauge. There was also a weird moment later on where I was backing out a parking space (while turning) and the car kept going backward when I put it into drive, and the brakes were slow to stop it. That worried me, but it seemed to work fine after that. Maybe I was just on a steeper downhill grade than I realized. Or maybe the gears just didn’t catch.

I reached home around 6:30, about 10 hours after I set out, and I even stopped in at the local Kroger for some groceries, since I’d used up the last of perishable items like milk and sandwich fixings before I left. Then I spent the evening catching up on Killjoys and Dark Matter. My DVR failed to record them for some reason, but fortunately On Demand cable has nearly everything now. I still have Orphan Black to catch up on, though. (By the way, several Dark Matter cast members were at Shore Leave, and I got to have a brief chat with Jodelle Ferland, who seemed pretty nice.)

I just finished adding up all my receipts for the trip, and it turns out that the money I spent on the trip is only about 40 dollars more than the money I made, and that’s counting the gas and the car inspection I got shortly before the trip as trip-related expenses. So I didn’t quite break even, but I came close. Who knows — if the fans who said they might buy my books later actually follow through, I might come still closer to breaking even.

Shore Leave is coming up again!

Hey, everyone. Once again, I haven’t been keeping up with blogging… Other matters have been preoccupying me, including a side job I just finished for a little extra income, transcribing a book-length SF-fanzine memoir from the ’40s into a Word document for a colleague, which was rather time-consuming.

Anyway, I needed the extra funds because it’s getting close to that time of year again. The Shore Leave convention will be held in about 4 weeks, from July 7-9, 2017, at the usual venue of the Hunt Valley Inn in Hunt Valley, MD. This year’s guests include Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn! As usual, I’ll be on a few panels about various things, though the schedule isn’t finalized, and of course I’ll be at the Friday night Meet the Pros signing event and spend some time signing at the book vendor’s table. Whether I’ll have any new writing projects to talk about at the con remains to be seen; I’m hopeful something will break in the next few weeks, but there’s no way to be sure. At least my new DTI novella, Shield of the Gods, will be out by then. (Oddly, Amazon’s best-seller category trackers have it doing well under “Religion and Spirituality,” subsection “Personal Growth,” subsections “Men’s Personal Growth” and “Philosophy.” I guess they’re getting that from an overly literal interpretation of the title, and there is a reference in the blurb to the characters facing a personal challenge, so I guess this is the result of some kind of computer algorithm; but where do they get the “Men’s” part from?)

So that means there are things I need to take care of over the next few weeks. I need to get my car checked out to make sure it’s safe for the long drive. And I need to replace my laptop hard drive. See, when I got this refurbished laptop, the hard drive was making an intermittent clicking noise and sometimes wouldn’t start up, and I was told it might be damaged and unstable, so I contacted the refurbishers and they sent me a replacement. That replacement worked okay until a couple of months ago when it crashed, so I went back to the original, iffy drive until they could send me another replacement. I got that one weeks ago, but I’ve been putting off the switch because the iffy drive has been mostly working okay, and because I’ve had work I wanted to get done first. Mainly just because I hate going through the rigmarole of setting up a new hard drive, reinstalling and reauthorizing everything, etc., having to spend most of a day getting it all done. But on the other hand, the risk that the current drive might crash is a more long-term source of worry, so I should probably just get it over with. And I definitely should do it before Shore Leave, so I don’t have to worry about my hard drive crashing on me while I’m on my trip. (Assuming the second replacement actually works, which I shouldn’t take as a given considering how the first two turned out. If I could afford it, I’d just buy a whole new computer rather than gambling with this one.)

Getting back in gear

I finally got around to taking my car in to the shop yesterday morning, though I had trouble getting there. The car started up fine, but when I had to pause at traffic lights, I had trouble accelerating. That was unnerving, though fortunately it didn’t get bad enough to disrupt traffic or get me honked at, and I managed to make it to the garage under the car’s own power. This morning, I picked the car up. Apparently Uncle Clarence’s friend was right that the problem had to do with the transmission fluid — some sort of clip connecting an axle to the transmission was loose and the fluid was leaking. I’m not entirely clear on why that would only be a problem after the car had been sitting in cold weather overnight or longer, or why a loose clip that the garage guy attributed to an oversight in their previous maintenance work would explain the occasional sluggish starts I had before then. But it was a simple enough fix that he didn’t charge me anything, and the car seems to work fine again, for now.

And that’s good, because I finally got my last advance check for Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown, and now I was finally able to drive to the bank and deposit it, as well as picking up some much-needed groceries afterward. Though the car was almost out of gas when I left the garage, so I stopped to get just one gallon at the nearest station, to tide me over until I could get to Kroger and use my fuel discount to fill up the rest of the way. I probably had enough in the tank to make it there, but better safe than sorry.

Now that I’ve gotten all that dealt with, hopefully I can concentrate more on writing. I’ve just started a draft of a new Hub story, hopefully the first of several. And after that, I have a new Star Trek project to outline, but I can’t say much about it yet.

Followup on Cleveland ConCoction

Okay, the convention ended days ago, but I’m only now getting around to posting about it. Let’s see… My last panel on Saturday was about “Shaping the Short Story,” and I was hoping to pick up some tips on how to get better at coming up with short stories, but I don’t think I got the answers I was looking for. I think my problem is that my ideas tend to be big worldbuilding stuff that requires a longer format to explore. I think I’m better at coming up with ideas in universes that are already established and defined, like The Hub or Star Trek. Still, I got to hear from other authors on the panel, including another Analog author, Mary A. Turzillo. Afterward, I ran into Mary and Geoffrey A. Landis in the lobby, and we three Analog veterans hung out for a while in the con suite (a nice perk of the con, a dining area providing free food to guests).

On Sunday morning, I got checked out of my room before my 11 AM panel, “Best Worlds in SF.” I’d thought that would be a discussion of our favorite or most optimistic fictional universes, but apparently it was about “worlds” in a more literal sense, our favorite physical settings and the worldbuilding behind them. Geoffrey Landis was on this panel with me as well, and we both talked about our interest in real planetary science and how that could inform our fiction. There was also some discussion of the worldbuilding process, and I got to talk about The Hub and how pleased I am that its central concept is so simple and distinctive yet provides so many story possibilities growing out of its ramifications. Although that might actually have been in the short story panel the night before. They’ve kind of blended together in my memory.

(By the way, I’ve just discovered that the Internet Science Fiction Database lists my Hub stories under the series title “The Hub Gates.” I guess I can see why they’d think “gates” in terms of instantaneous interstellar travel, a la Gateway or Stargate, but I’m puzzled because I’ve never used that term for it myself — and there’s really only a single “gate,” the Hub itself. I’ve always thought of the series as just “The Hub.” Still, it’s neat to find out I have an ISFDb entry for my own original series. Though my main ISFDb page is in need of updating — it’s missing my non-Analog original stories, Hub Space, and my Star Trek Magazine articles.)

After the last panel, I spent an hour at the guest table in the main hall, trying to sell books, but that can be tough on the last day of a con, when people have spent most of their money already. Plus, I was kind of far from the other guests, since for some reason there was a live rabbit in a cage under the table and I had to move off to the side to avoid kicking it. So I was a little lonely. After that, I moved back to Author’s Alley for a last bout of giveaways and signings before the closing ceremony, and Larry Nemecek took that opportunity to interview me for a podcast. I think he said it was for Trekland, but there doesn’t seem to be a video up there yet.

So then I went off to the fairly brief closing ceremonies, and then I reclaimed my remaining books from the con staff — those from my own stock, at least, since we weren’t sure about the disposition of the remaining giveaway books. (That’s being worked out.) Anyway, it turned out that I didn’t need to bring both my boxes of Only Superhuman hardcovers, since I only sold 3/4 of one box worth. Still, I made a pretty decent haul, better than I’ve ever made at a single convention before.

And then the rough stuff began. First, I had trouble getting out of the parking lot. My car has been having problems accelerating after sitting overnight in cold weather; it takes up to a few minutes before I’m able to get the car moving to any useful degree, though it tends to clear up after that. I then had to endure a drive through heavy rain all the way to Detroit, and I wasn’t feeling too great after all the stress of the convention and lack of sleep, so I had to keep stopping to rest. Under other circumstances, I might’ve just found a motel for the night, but I wanted to get to Shirley and Harry’s home in time for the tail end of their “housecooling” party, as they called the gathering to commemorate their impending move out of their home of over 45 years. I got there in time to see cousins Barb, Mark, and Teddy before they left the next morning. It’s been a while since I’ve managed to see them, since I’ve had to miss the past couple of holiday gatherings at their home.

Unfortunately, their presence meant there was no room at the inn for me that night, so the plan was for me to go stay with Uncle Clarence. Which turned out to be a terrible plan, since getting there was a 40-minute drive through unfamiliar territory in the dark and the pouring rain. There were moments when I was driving on the freeway and could barely see the lane dividers, and it would’ve been so easy for me to have an accident. It was the most terrifying driving experience of my life. I should’ve just found the nearest motel to Shirley and Harry’s house, but I was too tired to think of it. I’m grateful to Clarence for letting me stay over, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the ideal choice in those conditions.

And I had car trouble again the next morning, this time with Clarence observing. He later called an automotive-minded friend, who suggested I might need the transmission fluid changed. Anyway, the car finally started moving, as it does, and I went back to Shirley & Harry’s for the rest of Monday. With things finally settled down and the weather improved, it was a good visit. There was good food and conversation, and we went to the local library and I checked out a collection of fun and zany Superman comics from 1958-9, the era when some of the most important elements from the Silver Age debuted, such as Brainiac, Kandor, and Supergirl. And I finally got a good night’s sleep on Monday night, so I was well-rested for my drive home Tuesday. The folks provided me with lunch for my trip, and also let me have a tea ball and a couple of mugs they no longer need.

The drive home was much nicer than my previous two long drives. The weather was great and I was feeling much better. I ran into a long traffic delay due to construction, but it was well-timed to let me eat lunch while traffic was completely stopped or inching forward, and it turned out to be a much shorter delay than the hour and forty-some minutes that Google Maps predicted. When I got home, I found a sticker on my door from UPS saying they’d tried to deliver a package from Simon & Schuster on the day I’d left for the convention — my copies of Live by the Code, of course, in an odd bit of timing. They’d dropped them off at the local bike shop, which I’d used once before to drop off a return to Amazon, so I guess UPS had it in their records as my preferred location. I picked them up the next day, combining it with a grocery trip. My car still seemed to be having some acceleration problems going up hills, so the transmission issue may be getting worse. I was going to take it to the garage then, but I decided I needed groceries first instead, and once I got home from that, I figured I’d wait until today. But today I had to do laundry, and was just generally too tired to do much else. So maybe tomorrow.

And hopefully soon I’ll be recovered enough to get back to that whole writing thing…

THE FACE OF THE UNKNOWN is done!

February 1, 2016 2 comments

Hey, all. I’m still here. I’ve been kind of preoccupied with a few things this month, mainly finishing up Star Trek: The Original Series: The Face of the Unknown, which I’ve just sent off to my editor. I think it’s turned out very well, especially considering that I had all those computer problems delaying me over the past few months. Fortunately the writing went smoothly for the most part; I actually finished the first draft early, but then I realized there were some additional story threads I needed to add, and it’s taken me until last night to get those sorted out.

As for my computer, it’s been working quite smoothly so far. I’ve got just about everything up and running as it should, and I haven’t had any trouble since I finished reinstalling stuff on the replacement hard drive. I’m thinking I should look into getting a backup drive that I can clone or image my drive to on a regular basis, so that it would be easier to restore if something else goes wrong. But I’ve never really figured out how to do backups beyond just copying my documents onto removable media. (Which used to mean whole boxes full of floppy disks, and now means a tiny plastic stick in my pocket. We live in the future!)

I’ve also been working my way through a rewatch of classic Doctor Who, as I mentioned before. I’m getting near the end of the William Hartnell era now, which means I’m going to be watching a lot of reconstructions of missing episodes for a while. Though I am getting the DVD of the restored “The Tenth Planet” through interlibrary loan. I’ve only just figured out how to extend my search to other Ohio libraries and request materials from them, which has let me track down some things I could never find otherwise. That also includes some of the non-Godzilla kaiju films I’ve been looking for, so you can expect the return of my Toho review series in the near future. (Sorry it didn’t occur to me to do Doctor Who reviews. I don’t think I’d have the time anyway.)

Now that I’m done with my Trek novel, I’m hoping to spend the next month or so working on original short fiction, hopefully including at least one new Hub story. Although I’ve already been delayed getting to that by my computer problems, so I hope nothing else comes up to divert me.

In the more immediate term, I should probably go for a walk today. We’re getting a spell of unseasonably warm weather hereabouts, after a bitter cold snap last week. Although in this age of climate change, we’ll probably have to throw out our past ideas of what’s unseasonable.

Speaking of which, I should probably take my car in for some maintenance soon. Over the past month, it’s had trouble getting started in cold weather — that is, the engine starts, but the car initially resists moving when I step on the gas. The first time it happened, I thought something must be obstructing the wheels, but nothing was. The resistance to acceleration gradually subsides, though it takes a couple of blocks to get back to normal. I figure some kind of lubricant must be depleted or in need of changing, though it seems to work okay in warmer weather or after a short enough interval of non-use. (I generally only drive once or twice a week.)

Shore Leave 2015 report

August 13, 2015 1 comment

Um, okay, I guess I’m nearly recovered enough from Shore Leave to finally get around to posting about it… if I can remember enough.

Let’s see, I set off relatively early on Thursday morning, since it was raining in southwest Ohio and I hoped to get past the weather as soon as I could, before the really harsh stuff caught up with me. Once more, the weather radar app on my smartphone was very helpful in tracking the storm. I did get caught in one pretty heavy downpour, but it was brief.

Oh yes, but before I did anything else, I went to the nearest Kroger gas station to use my fuel discount, and then I went to the Starbucks in the same mall to get coffee for the road. It took me a moment to spot the store, because it didn’t have its name on the sign, only its logo. I suppose that reflects how ubiquitous Starbucks has become, but it’s also a worrying sign that we’re becoming a non-literate society. (Even the New York Times crossword page has redesigned its format to be mostly pictures rather than words. I mean, a crossword page. Think about that.) Anyway, I asked the clerk (barista? I don’t know this arcane terminology yet) for some advice on picking a beverage, something mild and sweet and not bitter, and ended up going for a white mocha thingummy with whipped cream, which wasn’t bad. Still, I found I needed more of a caffeine boost on the road, so over the course of the day I had both of the iced-coffee drinks I’d bought the day before just in case. I’m starting to think that caffeine doesn’t have that much of an effect on me. But the other part of the problem was that I’m out of shape. I’ve been too busy writing lately, too sedentary, so my general endurance and energy levels are down. Driving may be a sedentary activity, but it’s a draining one. I’ll have to remember that in the future, and try to get in better shape before my next long drive. As usual, I had an essentially sleepless night in the motel where I stayed, but the coffee I had the next morning did help me stay reasonably alert for the rest of the drive. I got in to the hotel at just about 3 PM on Friday, and my room was ready promptly.

So anyway, my phone rang while I was on the road Thursday afternoon, but I couldn’t answer it while driving. When I stopped for dinner a bit later and checked my messages, I learned from my cousin Cynthia that our mutual cousin Scott, whom I’d never met, would be attending Shore Leave with his son and hoped we could get together. I was expecting him to show up at Meet the Pros on Friday if he didn’t find me sooner, but he never appeared that night. I contacted him later and found he wouldn’t be in until Sunday.

My first panel on Friday was at 5 PM, so I didn’t have time to rest much in my room, though I did shower and change and transfer stuff into my trusty but worn Shore Leave tote bag that I’ve had since my first visit over a decade ago. The panel was “Keeping it Real: Using Facts in Fiction,” and I and the other panelists, including my friend David Mack, had a pretty good discussion about incorporating real scientific and historical research into our work. After that, I tagged along with Dave and his wife Kara as they checked out the vending area, and then later we got together with a bunch of the other writers and went over to a sports bar in the mall across the way for dinner. We had an interesting conversation, and I had a pretty good chicken wrap with cheese sauce, but I had to step out early because I had an 8 PM panel. I took the second half of my wrap with me to have later, and I hurried back to the hotel on foot, expecting to be late for the panel. I managed to get there just one minute late — only to find that I was the first panelist to arrive, and that the auction scheduled for the previous hour was still going on. The panel I’d rushed to reach started over 15 minutes late, and I had enough time to wolf down the rest of my wrap. Fittingly, it was a panel on SF humor. I used it as a chance to plug Hub Space, but I didn’t have much to contribute beyond that. Fortunately, Peter David was on the panel, so I didn’t have to say much.

I stuck around briefly for the start of Marco Palmieri’s annual 9 PM panel announcing upcoming Tor books, but then I decided I needed to go back to my room and rest up a bit before Meet the Pros at 10. At MtP, I was seated between Dave Mack and a relative newcomer to the Trek line, John Jackson Miller, who’s already known for his Star Wars stuff. Of the three of us, I was the one who got the least attention, because I had the least to promote. Uncertain Logic came out months ago, and I don’t have anything new coming up for a while. I did print up a sort of flyer to promote Hub Space, just a single sheet that I had on display, but nobody took much interest. Maybe I should’ve printed up multiple cards and handed them out, but it was too much of a last-minute decision. Which is not to say that Meet the Pros was a disappointment for me. In addition to meeting my fans (and putting a face to the name of one of the regular commenters over on Tor.com), I got to catch up with some of my friends and colleagues, and talked a bit of business with one of them, which hopefully will turn out well, though I shouldn’t get my hopes up yet.

The new hotel management doesn’t continue the practice of putting preorder menus for Saturday breakfast in our rooms, so instead I just went down to the former Hunt Cafe, which is now yet another Starbucks, and got breakfast there, including another white mocha thingummy (I’m a veteran now!). I don’t remember doing much before my Sherlock Holmes panel at noon. I’m not sure I contributed much there, since the moderator, Kathleen David, wanted to focus on literary Holmes continuations and pastiches, while I was expecting something more screen-oriented. But there was some talk of screen adaptations, so I was able to contribute somewhat. Still, I made a point of seeing Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes beforehand, and I don’t think it would’ve made much difference if I hadn’t.

I lucked into a free lunch on Saturday, since I ran into Keith R.A. DeCandido, who brought cold cuts from New York City to provide his friends and colleagues with a less expensive alternative to the hotel restaurant and cafe. I had roast beef with mustard, and it was pretty good. Thanks, Keith!

At 2 PM was the sole Star Trek literature panel, where all of us Trek authors with books coming out in the rest of 2015-16 got together and announced our stuff, as well as the upcoming titles by the authors who weren’t in attendance. You can see the list of titles at Memory Alpha’s Upcoming productions page, including a TOS 5oth-anniversary trilogy by Greg Cox, Dave Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and a TNG trilogy by John Jackson Miller. My own announcements were of two upcoming projects: a 5-year-mission-era TOS novel called The Face of the Unknown, scheduled for January 2017 (released in late December, so just barely squeezing in as part of the 50th anniversary), and a second Department of Temporal Investigations novella, Time Lock, which is not yet scheduled.

After sitting in on the last half of Keith’s Stargate fiction panel from 3-4, I went to the book vendor’s table and did my hour signing autographs in the Author Chimney, the enclosed space between brick pillars where authors sit to do signings. Actually there were one or two non-Chimney spaces for writers at the table this year, but Dave Mack was already there, so I ended up in the Chimney. I actually found the enclosed space kind of comforting. After that, I participated in the annual authors’ ritual of the Saturday night mass visit to Andy Nelson’s Barbecue. I had the same thing I had last year — a pulled turkey barbecue sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread, because Nelson’s makes the only good cole slaw and cornbread I can ever remember having — but I’m thinking that maybe next year I should try something different.

While I was in the Chimney, Kara came up and told me where I could get a new Shore Leave tote bag, since my trusty old one isn’t as trusty anymore, getting kind of worn out and frayed. The vendor was closing up by the time I got there after my signing session, but I went back the next morning and got a new bag, which is fancier than the old one, with more pockets. Hopefully it’ll be useful for years to come.

Sunday morning was the usual authors’ breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve reconsidered that tradition and taken Kevin Dilmore’s suggestion to go out someplace less expensive for breakfast with him and his group. It used to be, back when Pocket Books had an official presence at Shore Leave, that the editor (Marco) picked up the tab for the authors, but these days we’re paying for it ourselves. Still, I’d already told the convention organizers that I’d be at the author breakfast, so I felt obligated to follow through. I had a double-sized breakfast to tide me over and to justify the expense. And I got to chat with some authors I hadn’t already talked to much, including a talk about Gilligan’s Island with Peter David. (Wherein I got to share my theory that Gilligan’s island is the last surviving piece of Captain Nemo’s Mysterious Island. That’s where the 6-foot spider in “The Pigeon” came from!)

I also touched base with cousin Scott and his son before breakfast, and then Scott showed up to watch me at the Orphan Black panel, even though he’s never seen the show. Afterward I showed Scott around the con a bit, and then we joined his son for the back half of John Barrowman’s talk, which was certainly lively — and meaningful, since Barrowman talked a lot about fighting for LGBT inclusion and acceptance, and said a lot of encouraging and affirming things to people from the audience. Afterward, at my suggestion, the three Bennetts went over to the Wegman’s in the mall for lunch — they had pizza, but I was still full from my big breakfast, so I just had a cucumber-blueberry-feta salad (yes, really!) and an iced tea — and then we went back to hang around in the corridor where the actor guests were signing autographs. I’m glad Scott was there, since I usually never get up the nerve to go talk to the actor guests, but I just tagged along with him and thereby got to have conversations with folks like Roger Cross and Jaime Murray. (It was weird getting home the next day and seeing Cross in Dark Matter on the DVR when I’d been talking to him in person just the day before.)

Once Scott and his son went on their way to see other convention stuff and said their farewells, I just hung around and talked more with whatever writer acquaintances were still around — which was serendipitous, since one colleague sounded me out on a very interesting business opportunity that I really hope will prove feasible. That was a good way to end my Shore Leave experience this year, and my mind was racing with the possibilities on the first leg of the drive home. Which is getting ahead of myself, since there are a couple of things I need to find out before I even know whether this is possible; but I always get ahead of myself with these things. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of a science fiction writer.

I left the hotel at 4:10 PM, which I know because I’ve discovered that my phone’s Google Maps stores a record of my movements — kind of creepy but useful for reference. One reason I’d stuck around was that I’d been hoping for a chance to visit my DC-area cousins Barb and Mark, and I’d texted them to find their plans; but it turned out they wouldn’t be home until late that evening, too late to make it feasible. So I just texted my regrets and headed for home. Given my late start, I was only able to make it midway through Pennsylvania by nightfall — but I had the idea that I should try to make it back to the same motel I’d stayed at on the way out, since I’d been fairly satisfied with it and I didn’t want to take chances with an unknown commodity. Plus, fortunately, I’d picked up two different motel-coupon booklets at a rest stop on Thursday, and thus I had two coupons for the same motel. It belatedly occurred to me that driving west around sunset was a bad idea, but fortunately the sky was overcast most of the time, so I never had to contend with glare in my eyes. I made it to the motel just shortly before sunset and parked in the same space I’d parked in on Thursday night. I even ended up in a room right across the hall from my previous one, and a single digit higher in number. I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t the same room, but missing it by one is almost as good.

At the motel’s complementary breakfast, I had two cups of coffee, and toward the end of the second cup, I noticed some grains that I thought were undissolved bits of sugar. It turned out they were actually coffee grounds. The coffee pot had only just been put in place when I filled my cup, so I guess maybe the grounds hadn’t settled. I just looked into whether there’s anything bad about eating coffee grounds, and it seems the only potential problem is the acidity. I didn’t swallow many before figuring out what they were, though.

I set out fairly early, hoping to get home by mid-afternoon, but as always, it took longer than I hoped, since I needed to take a number of rest breaks. I managed to cross into Ohio just before noon, though. I stopped for lunch at a Subway in a convenience store/truck stop in Cambridge, one that had a small dining area where the TV was playing a basketball game. It slowly dawned on me that it must’ve been a replay of a classic game, since I recognized the Chicago Bulls lineup from back when my father was a fan of them — names like Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and even Michael Jordan. Checking Wikipedia, it looks like that narrows it down to 1995-98. It was against the New York Knicks, but I can’t narrow it down any more than that. I generally couldn’t care less about basketball, but it was interesting to realize that it was a game my late father might well have watched and enjoyed when it was new.

My phone told me there was some rain coming in between Columbus and Cincinnati again, so I decided to wait it out at a rest stop east of Columbus — where I had yet another cup of coffee to stave off fatigue. I thought I’d stayed there for a significant amount of time, but my Maps timeline tells me it was only 22 minutes. Which it claims to be my last stop before reaching home, but I think I stopped briefly at another rest area on I-71, so I guess it doesn’t catch everything. (And maybe it was longer than 22 minutes at that.) Anyway, my timing was pretty bad, since it was rush hour when I got into Cincinnati. I’d just about decided to get off a few exits early and make it the rest of the way home by the surface roads (why do they call them that?? It’s not like freeways are underground or hovering in midair, usually), but the traffic started to clear off and I figured, hey, it’s not likely to crowd up again within the next three miles, right? So I stayed on the freeway. Only to spot another traffic jam — just five seconds too late to make it off onto the last exit before mine. Arrgghhh! I was stuck crawling forward for most of the last mile and a half before my exit. Really, really frustrating.

And then I got home to find a note under my door from the building manager. Turns out the downstairs storage lockers had been broken into while I was out. Fortunately I don’t keep anything valuable in there, so nothing was taken. But the combination lock I’ve had since high school was destroyed. I still have two others, from my gym locker and my shop locker, but that was my main lock! Waaaah!

I’ve spent the past couple of days recuperating and catching up on recorded shows, as well as getting groceries. At the hotel, they had “coffee pods” that were basically tea bag-like filter packets that went into the coffee maker’s funnel, but it occurred to me one could just use them like tea bags, so I took a few of them home with me for later use. I also checked the grocery store shelf yesterday and found actual coffee bags. I just tried my first one of those this morning, and it’s not very good, but at least it’s convenient. The quest for a good coffee option continues. Maybe I should just buy a small coffee maker and filters and get some good grounds from the natural foods store. They have some beans that are infused with sweet flavor and thus don’t need anything added.

So anyway, that’s my combined travel/Shore Leave/family visit post, only three days late. I had a good time this year. Although the long drive is still wearying, the weekend didn’t feel as rushed as it did when I flew last year. And I got to catch up with my friends, I got to meet another cousin, I got to talk to some actors, I got a new tote bag and some interesting meals, and I got a couple of iffy but hopefully promising work opportunities, both from conversations in the same hotel corridor (though at opposite ends of it). With luck, I’ll be able to say more about one or both of those in times to come.

More travel

I just got back from a visit to Detroit for my Aunt Shirley’s birthday, and got to see her, Uncle Harry, cousin Cynthia who’s staying with them to help out after their respective hospitalizations, and cousins Barbara and Mark who came in for the birthday too. I spent a nice few days there, had some very nice meals including some baked oatmeal that provided several breakfasts, and a vegetarian chili that ended up being only black-bean chili rather than three-bean (because the other beans took longer to cook than expected) but was still pretty good. I helped make the chili, in fact, which was kind of fun. I also got to go for a couple of nice walks in the sunny (but chilly) weather with Uncle Harry, who’s 90 years old and recovering from a bike-riding accident, but still quite active.

The drive up on Monday was pretty uneventful, except that it was the occasion on which I drank my first ever full cup of coffee. I’ve found that tea wasn’t always adequate to deal with fatigue on the road, so I decided I’d better try the hard stuff. But I’ve never liked the smell or taste of coffee, so I was hesitant. Partly on the advice of my new apartment manager (who used to work at Starbucks), I decided to try a pumpkin spice cappuccino (which I was pleasantly surprised to find in an I-75 rest area vending machine), since I love pumpkin. It was actually pretty good, and it kept me comfortably alert rather than anxiously buzzed. I was concerned I might run into some rain on the way up, but it turned out to be mild flurries instead, which are easy to drive through. I never thought I’d be grateful for sub-freezing temperatures.

Also, this was my first long drive with my new bifocals. At first, I wasn’t sure they were working well at a distance; I was concerned that the variable focus was making it hard for me to home in on the right part of the lens to see something clearly. So I tried switching to my old glasses as a backup. But they didn’t make it any easier to focus at a distance, and I realized that the problem was more with my eyes than with the frames. I guess they just have trouble acclimating to focusing at a distance after being indoors for a while, or something. Also, the old lenses made it harder to see the dashboard or my phone GPS. So I switched back to the bifocals, and they turned out to work just fine in the long run (or, well, long drive) and then afterward. So I’m much more at ease with them now. (Well, mostly — see below.)

My drive home yesterday was more troubled. I had a cup of instant coffee before leaving, but I found the taste unpleasant even with a lot of sugar and milk. Just as I was about to set out, I thought I’d left something behind and went back into the house, only to find it was in my jacket pocket. I was able to get underway okay, and I fortunately timed it so that I managed to stay just behind the storm front that was passing through the area. (It was diagonal, from southwest to northeast, and as it moved eastward, it cleared up progressively from north to south.) But about 15 miles north of the Michigan-Ohio border, I reached up to adjust my glasses with my left hand, and the left side of the frame just popped open and the left lens fell out. Thank goodness that’s my bad eye, which my brain largely ignores anyway, and it didn’t really make much difference to my vision. I kept driving for a while, expecting to find a rest area soon where I could stop and assess the situation, but apparently the rest area on that part of I-75 is only on the northbound side. So eventually I just pulled off the freeway in Toledo and found a parking lot, then looked up the nearest LensCrafters on my phone to get directions. I had to go back north on 75 a couple of miles before diverting to 475 to get to the mall. So they got me fixed up; apparently a screw had just come loose, and they put in a new one and made sure the screws were good and tight. Just the latest of the troubles I’ve been having with this new pair of glasses — and just when I’d finally gotten comfortable with them.

So my glasses didn’t bother me anymore after that, but I realized I was running low on gas. At the next rest stop, I used the app on my phone to find the cheapest gas along 75, but apparently it’s not a perfect app, since when I got there, I found only a deteriorating ruin that may have once been a gas station. Since it would’ve been too much trouble to reprogram my GPS while in motion, I got a little lost trying to get back to the freeway. Fortunately there were a lot of other gas stations in the immediate vicinity, and I found one at the next exit that was only a cent or two higher per gallon than the one I’d aimed for — plus it was next to an Arby’s, so I got a sandwich to have for dinner later. So things seemed to be back on track.

Except the coffee wasn’t working this time — perhaps it wasn’t strong enough, or perhaps I was just more fatigued this time. I stopped at a rest area and looked for some iced tea to have with my sandwich, but the vending machines had none. So I got some hot tea instead, but they were out of lids, so I had to carry it very carefully. Also, I’d put on my heavy coat over the lighter jacket I wore in the car, but I realized the zipper had come undone and the slider was stuck right up at the neck, and I had trouble getting it undone. And it wouldn’t zip up again without coming unfastened. So that coat may have finally given up the ghost. Lucky that it’s starting to warm up now and I hopefully won’t need to replace it immediately.

Anyway, the tea didn’t help — I was still feeling fatigued. But I didn’t want to just load up on more caffeine, since maybe it wasn’t helping as much as I’d hoped. Instead, at the next rest area, I just lay back in my seat and closed my eyes for ten minutes and did some slow, meditative breathing while listening to music on the CD player (Batman: The Animated Series: “Shadow of the Bat, Part 1” by Shirley Walker). And I kept up the breathing and the music once I resumed driving. It actually helped clear up my fatigue quite well. (Although listening to the car player while parked made me realize how badly the speakers have deteriorated. Maybe I should’ve listened on my phone instead, but I’m not comfortable driving while wearing earbuds, in case I miss an important sound.)

All these delays meant, though, that I wasn’t successful in getting home before sunset. Still, it was only twilight by the time I finally got home. Oh, and I almost left my phone charger cord in the car, but I remembered it before I was halfway to my apartment, and I went back to get it.

So it could’ve been worse. I’ve had worse drives, in fact — much worse. A lot of little things went wrong, but I managed to cope with them all pretty quickly. So I guess I should focus on that.

Oh, yes, and one other thing: The day before I left just happened to be exactly one (February-length) month after I started writing Rise of the Federation Book 4, and exactly three months before my deadline. So my goal was to be a quarter of the way through my target by then, or 25,000 words. I’d gotten 80 percent of the way there two weeks before, but I’d needed to divert to work on Hub Space and then do a lot of planning and foundation-laying for the next part I had to write, so I wasn’t sure I’d get those last 5,000 words in before my trip. But on Sunday night, I decided that I just wanted to get the scene done and out of the way, so I sat down and worked through it and ended up with a word count of 25,003 words. Deadline met! Another instance of a narrowly averted problem. And while I didn’t get much writing done during my trip, I did get the next scene started, at least, and I know what comes next.

Oh, and I took a few copies of Uncertain Logic along and shared them with my family, a day before the official on-sale date. One of the perks of being related to me. (The other main one being having to endure a lot of bad puns.)