As is our habit, the dog walk is in the evening. Oz and I head over to Novitiate Park at dusk. In clear violation of Santa Clara county ordinance 11.5 stroke whatever-whatever, we enter the grounds after sunset and stroll on the dirt trails.

These days the stars are bright. Some nights you can see the Milky Way through the light pollution.

Since my Lasix surgery my night vision is pretty bad. I rely on Oz to keep me on track. She's closer to the ground and as an official member of the animal kingdom has senses heightened in areas I lack.

While I was admiring the negative magnitude and appropriate juxtaposition of Sirius, Oz touched my hand with her nose to alert me to the presence of some big black shapes in the brush around us. I was only slightly startled by the horse-sized blobs because my cortex kicked in and neutralized my hind brain to assure me the danger was nil. (Or, maybe I was too bored to worry.) When the shadows scattered I thought of this story:

"Earl was the kind of guy whose eyes were perpetually focused at a distance so that he seemed to be looking through whatever it was that was in front of him. It made people think he wasn't paying attention.

But he just needed reading glasses."

When the deer fled I went back to looking at the lights in the sky, which to me are blobs or splashes against the black of instead of pinpoints. This is due to my eyes having been cooked by lasers.

The good news there is that I can see in the daytime just peachy. But night is quite a different story. I might as well be taped up inside a cardboard shipping box, FedEx'ed to Alaska for all the good my eyes do me on earth at night.

On the return path of our dog-walk-loop I stumbled into one of the gates they close at night to keep you from going into the park after hours. And we can spend a whole day talking about what "after hours" mean when speaking of an undeveloped mountainside, and the whole concept of private property comes to mind as well in that conversation. As in - mortal beings can't actually "own" anything because the whole "it doesn't go with you when you die" thing invalidates the entire notion. "Yours" is only yours because you get enough people to go in with you on the idea, and no matter how many people agree not to mess with the pieces of earth you say are "yours" there's still the time element because it's pretty certain 10,000 years from now nothing is going to stay yours. You cannot close what is not yours. The Caesars had to give up the palaces, so the idea of "closed" is about as idiotic as you can get when discussing a geological structure that has been there since before humans.

Such are the mental digressions of a dog walker.

After stumbling into a gate I could not see I decided to embellish the story of the presbyopic guy to make it more interesting as it bounced off the interior walls of my cranium. Now it goes like this:

Earl never looked people in the eye when they spoke to him. For him, it was the sky.

He tried to make sure he was outside whenever Mr. Oosterhout confronted him. That way he could see the sky quite clearly.

"Did you hear what I said?"

Oosterhout confronted Earl several times per day. Usually the words were accompanied by little flying puddles of spit that hit Earl on the face. (Earl would wait till Oosterhout left before wiping his cheek with his sleeve.)

"Yes. Face the shelves," Earl would reply. Or "Yes. Sort the screws." Or "Yes. Unpack the new saw blades." He could answer before questioned, because Earl did the same thing at the same time on the same day of the week.

Earl had never missed completing a single one of his tasks in seventeen years of Ace hardware store employement. Yet, the owner reminded him of every task on every day -- and the irony was apparently lost poor Mr. Oosterhout who could find Earl every weekday in the same place at the same time, performing his assigned task with celestial regularity.

"Earl, are you listening to me?" Oosterhout had just said, catching Earl in the parking lot between the warehouse and the store, the latter having just come from stacking bags of decorative redwood bark chips as was always the case on Tuesday mornings between the end of May and beginning of September.

"Yes. Untangle the wire bin," Earl said, staring intently at the light blue above, struggling against his instinct to wipe a drop of Oosterhout's spittle from his cheek.

Now as is customary in such stories, the action here comes from a change in unspoken human policy. For you are asked to believe that our characters have behaved habitually for the entire lifespan of an American teenager and that during that period not one blessed event occurred outside the realm of what had become usual for the hardware store proper and these two people. Stories must be about change, and it is indeed a change in the owner's behavior that triggers these life events.

What was it that caused Mr. Oosterhout to vary from his life's course? While we can never be certain it wasn't a bad dream, and angelic epiphany, or a sudden concern about his own mortality, we can be sure that once again human events are altered absolutely through the application of individual free will. And we must presume this is the case for Oosterhout this day.

For the first time in seventeen years, Earl's boss asked him a new question.

"What's up there, son?"

"UFOs," said Earl.

"Really? You see them?"

"No. But I'm trying to."

"For God's sake, why?"

"I'm hoping."

Mr. Oosterhout sighed. He put his hand on Earl's shoulder which made Earl flinch. He took his hand away.

"Is there something I can do to help you out? Is everything okay?"

"I'm pretty good," said Earl. And then after a long uncomfortable silence it was Oosterhout's turn to stare at the sky.

"What if they're really there?" Oosterhout asked.

"Then, it's different."

Earl took off his Ace Hardware smock and handed it to Mr. Oosterhout who accepted it without comment. And for the first time in seventeen years instead of heading into the store to untangle the mess of wire left by customers in the electrical aisle, he got into his car and drove west to the Pacific Ocean.

On a beach in Santa Cruz he took off his shoes and socks, stuck out a foot, and felt the cold Alaskan current on his toes.

"Um. That was sweet," says the blonde haired girl, "but those two paragraphs in the middle have to go. And the 'looking at the sky' stuff doesn't work for me."

"If I take out the two paragraphs and the looking-at-the-sky stuff, there's like, two sentences left."

"Maybe you should write something different."

"I threw in Alaska," I say. "I figured you'd like it."

"It was gratuitous."

"I could have said it was the Mexican current."

"Ok. The Alaska part was good. It was the last sentence, though. Maybe it should be the first sentence. We should go back to Alaska."

"And I could go back to spec'ing billing systems for the government and directing cruise tourists to the old Russian Orthodox church. I need to find less mind-numbing work in Alaska before I go back there."

"But we had more eagles."

"There are indeed more eagles in Juneau than Silicon Valley."

"And bears."

"Not to mention the fact it's just plain cool to be from Alaska. The Discovery channel has a whole week of programming on Alaska. They call it, 'Alaska Week'."

"How come we're not watching it?"

"Because every day is Alaska day for us and there are still Alaskan plates on the jeep. I figured it was redundant."

"I want to see Alaska on TV."

"That will just make you homesick. You're already too homesick. I don't want to exacerbate it."


"Yes. Indeed. And the story."

"What story?"

"The one I wrote."

"You try too hard to sound like Kurt Vonnegut."

and so on.

Our house is full of ghosts.

Some people think this is a plus. There's a website called "Haunted Los Gatos" that highlights the haunted buildings in the town. It's maintained by a realtor, who specializes in selling Los Gatos real estate, and especially haunted houses.

I did not buy my house through her.

And I suspect the "haunted" part of her sales pitch means: max-fixer-upper. After all, we all know ghosts like to live in buildings that are or should be condemned. And while nearly condemned buildings should be cheaper than more easily inhabitable spaces, this industrious realtor has found a way to: pump up the value.

There are people in this world who assure me the meaning of life rests in the pumping of value. It sounds fine to me.

We don't know the name of our ghost but we call her Elizabeth because the prior owner, Elizabeth, died in the room in which we now sleep and so we presume she has something to do with our haunting.

But there's really no way to know.

Our haunting works like this: stuff appears in places different than where you remember.

"How come those weird yellow plastic pointy Dutch shoes are on the kitchen table?"

"Didn't you put them there?"

This could be just bad memory on our part.

Our haunting also works like this: "Elizabeth, please find me my 14-gauge romex stripper."

"How come there's a wire stripper in the coffee pot?"

Which could also be some sort of nearly-a-senior-citizen brain fart.

The blonde haired girl says she hears Elizabeth during the day, but I have spent many days and nights alone and with her in our house and have never heard a peep which could be attributed to a ghostly presence. This may be due to our proximity to a major traffic artery. Elizabeth would have to generate some serious sonic pressure to be heard above the road noise. The typical ghostly, "ahhhh," or, "woooooo", is drowned out by the sound of passing 18-wheelers.

One presumes.

"You should have your Monroe Institute friends over for a seance," says the blonde haired girl.

The words come to my head, "Oh, they don't do that kind of thing," but I stop myself. I've never had a seance. Maybe they're fun. Maybe we could get to the bottom of the, "where the hell did my $70 iPod auto-aux connection cord go to?" problem. Maybe I could pump up the value on the whole ghost issue and sell tickets. Maybe then I could go back to Alaska. I would be known as the rich guy who doesn't have to work because he's figured out how to make ghosts work for him.

Or maybe I would go back to writing specs for websites for the Alaskan Department of Motor Vehicles.

On the other hand, perhaps I could find another way to introduce arrhythmia into life's heartbeat. That's what we're looking for, after all. All these UFOs and ghosts and Mythbuster explosions - it's all about variety. We want that things aren't really as repetitive as they seem. We're pumping up the value on life. We hope that before our own time runs out we get to experience something that hasn't happened before because the same old thing grows stale or rusty, but in all cases, cheap.

We know the habits that we call "home" and give us comfort eventually kill us. There needs to be an explosion louder than a popping cranial artery.

Thus I have purchased several EMF detectors, the same type used by the Ghost Hunter guys. Thus I have procured a geiger counter from E-bay, and have the plans for a gravitometer I will construct as soon as I can figure out how to obtain a perfect 2-ton titanium cylinder. I will detect the spirits and speak to the dead and note the location of the last UFO landing.

Aliens beware. I am watching the skies.

You are capable of more than you know

Don't mean to brag - but today, without thinking, I cleaned a jug of water by the neck with my non-dominant hand off the floor, flipped it in midair, slid my hand to the handle, caught it, and put it on the water cooler machine while carrying on a conversation. The guy I was talking to was goggle eyed, and it hadn't dawned on me that I'd just manhandled about 50lb of water with one hand in a practically effortless motion.

If I'd been thinking/known it was 50lb, I wouldn't have tried.

I've had that happen in the gym, too. I've lifted weight and gone wow, that was tough - and then realised that I'd miscalculated and moved about 65lb more than I thought I had on that bar, and a weight I never would have moved had I known what it was.

A while back I had a bit of paralysis when looking at a blank canvas. What if I screw this up? And then I started painting, and it started to take shape. Better than I thought it would. As one of my one-time teachers told me, "the important thing is to begin".

Of course, the inverse holds true. It's possible to completely mess up someone's life with some ill chosen words. Thankfully I'm not aware of having done that, but I've come to realise, in talking to someone, just how much a casual detail can hollow someone else completely out.

So on the one hand, it's a good, positive uplifting thing - you are capable of more than you know. But then again, that's also a warning - you are capable of more than you know.

In other news, I've asked a new group to be formed - E2Arts - for anyone interested in fine and applied art, or a fine and/or applied artist of any skill level and style. See you there!

Okay, so my agent tells me they announced the deal on Publisher's Marketplace today, so I can finally give y'all the big news.

Del Rey (an imprint of Random House) has purchased my novel Spellbent and two of its sequels. I believe their tentative plan is to release Spellbent in early-to-mid 2009 and the other books in the trilogy will of course come later (first I have to write them!)

I'm entirely geeked about this. I got into science fiction and fantasy as a result of reading Del Rey authors such as Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, so I'm pretty darn happy to have become a Del Rey author myself.

Y'all probably want to know what the book's about, right? Okay. Here's the semi-official book blurb:

Spellbent is an urban fantasy adventure set in Columbus, Ohio. Jessie Shimmer is a young, Talented woman who studies wizardry under her lover, Cooper Marron. He's a roguish practitioner of ubiquemancy, the art of finding the magic in everyday things. When the pair go downtown to call a rainstorm for local farmers, things go terribly wrong. A hellish portal opens, and Cooper is sucked through.

With only her ferret familiar to help her, Jessie must find the dimension Cooper's trapped in and bring him back alive before dark machinations make both of them vanish for good.

This, really, tells you practically nothing about the book. Blurbs are like that. The novel has a lot of humor to balance out the gritty bits, and I'd like to think it has the sense of wonder that's missing from a lot of current urban fantasy. I tried to write the kind of book that excites me as a reader who enjoys a wide variety of genres.

rootbeer277 says: Out of curiosity, since I've never had a book published but would like to some day, what's the delay? Why would this be printed in 2009?

I reply: There's a lot that goes into making a book. A big publisher like Random House buys titles well in advance ... the book has to go through line editing, final editing approvals, I have to approve the galleys, the cover art has to be commissioned and created, they have to decide how it fits in their marketing schedule, the book and its cover have to be designed and laid out -- and the people doing these things are also doing them for many other titles at the same time. All things considered if they have it out before May 2009 (and that would surely fit with the early-to-mid part), that will have been less than 12 months, a relatively speedy acceptance-to-press cycle. Gary's sold books that took several years to get to bookshelves. My collection Sparks and Shadows took almost exactly one year between acceptance and coming back from the printer, and that was the only book the small-press publisher was working on. These things take time.

There are "instant books", but these are generally nonfiction titles produced to try to take advantage of some popular trend, and they're deemed lucrative enough that they can have the staff drop everything to get them into production.

I should have started daylogging my master plan earlier. I have been a long time fan of long walks, and have visited many of the scenic and not-so-scenic areas around Portland, Oregon and the Willamette Valley in general. Recently, I have started to do it in a methodical way, using public transportation and my feet to knit together all the different walks until I have covered scores of miles, north and south, east and west.

Today I decided to go to Crown Point, a famous scenic attraction in the Columbia River Gorge. I had always considered it quite a ways east, but looking on a map, it is only six miles out of Troutdale, the eastern most suburb of Portland where you can catch a bus. Of course six miles can translate into many different things when walking on rural roads in the hilly country around the Columbia River Gorge, and that is why I went on the walk in the first place.

I wasn't disappointed. Oregon is rich in microclimates, especially while traveling between the plains of the Portland area and the West Cascades. Some of the differences in geology and botany would be noticable to anyone, but many would only seem interesting to the careful observer. There was also obvious differences in culture. What I found interesting about Corbett and Springdale is that they are two of the remaining towns I have been to that are truly rural towns. Most of the rural towns around the Portland area have been turned into bedroom communities, with the usual assortment of big box stores. but these two towns are still small rural communities. I do wonder what will happen to small towns like this, where the residents must commute into the Portland area for work, or even for groceries, as the cost of gasoline continues to increase.

As for the famous Crown Point itself, it was almost anti-climactic. I have been there before, and its reputation as one of the more beautiful spots in the United States is indeed well-deserved. I felt almost pressured to enjoy it though, expecting a rapture at the panorama that never materialized. It was on the way back, as the day started to get gloomier and darker that I started to feel something different. Even though it was getting late, and I didn't know which way the road led, I decided to take a slightly different route back. This led me into a narrow, deep hollow where a ditch quite quickly became a quite loud flow. This was the road to Springvale, which, according to a sign, was fed by a number of springs in the surrounding hills which always maintained a temperature of 37F. The valley had a cold, dark feeling that seemed to offer a different texture and feeling that the expansive, picture perfect vista of the Columbia River did not.

So that was my walk, besides having a car swerve to threaten to hit me; and the fact that after eighteen miles of walking, I will probably not do much tomorrow.

There's an unwritten rule about jobsite radios. He who brings the radio calls the tunes. Or talk as the case maybe. A few weeks ago I arrived to do rough in (basically the pulling of wire and setting of boxes/raceways). The electrician had a clock radio going, and he was listening to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. You know, two of radio's support groups for cranks.

Osama, Obama

But I'm really getting to old to argue. I want to get my work done, not fight. And ideological conservatives aren't particularly interested in reality. That's why they watch Fox and listen to guys like Limbaugh. They don't want information, they want their prejuidices reinforced. They want to be sure they're better and wiser than we are. Don't want to hear they might be wrong. Don't really want a clue. There's really no point in debating. So I concentrated on work.

On Friday I returned for rough in. This time the radio is playing Morning Edition, on NPR. Actual news. Content. I breathed a sigh of relief. The same electrician is there, but also his boss an electrical engineer from Bulgaria, now pulling wire just like I am. We speak a bit in Russian, and the rust flakes off my grammar. But then I hear another voice in the background.

Osama, Obama

It's the other electrician, the guy who likes Glenn Beck, the guy from the hard right.

Osama, Obama

He recited those two names, over and over again like a catechism or a mantra. Quietly, but loud enough that everyone can hear.

Osama, Obama

It's nuts to me, insane, almost like he's building up for something, reciting the two together over and over like they really were related. But in his eyes, the two men probably are. They aren't conservatives. One bombed America, the other wants to lead it in a direction away from the one he would choose. Both are destructive acts.

Osama, Obama . . . .

What's he buliding up to? What's he wanting to do? Is he just doing this to annoy us? Or is he really losing it. And then I remember the right wing tracts I've seen, the angry rants ad calls for money with too much bold type.

Osama, Obama

He's probably not the only one out there, and then I realize he can't be the only guy out there doing this. There must be thousands of them out there, reciting their bloody mantra. And I realize they're going to try and kill him. That when Obama recieves the nomination they have him so associated with Evil that they can't see this as a political assassination, but an act of positive good, the dethroning of a tyrant who would ruin their McCarthyite fantasies.

Osama, Obama

Probably they won't succeed. Hopefully they won't succeed. So far as I know no one has taken a shot at Dubya, and it isn't because everyone likes him. I wonder if the Secret Service has become so thorough that getting close enough to him is all but impossible. Of course I do remember at least one attempt on Clinton where another right wing crank tried to crash his light plane into the Oval Office. He failed of course, but there were plots. Surely they won't stop trying, particularly if a black man rises to lead our nation.

Osama, Obama

But it takes only one slip. And the right has something we don't, most of the ex-military types, the most hardcore. When he blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City Timothy McVeigh wore a t-shirt with a picture of Abraham Lincoln on it with the motto Sic Semper Tyrannis right below, a shirt right-wingnuts bought in droves following the bombing.

Osama, Obama

And I begin to wonder if the man pulling wire in the next room might not be the guy with the rifle.

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