Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There Is A WHTTWOT Bookplate

I don't know how it happened so quickly, but it's again that time of year when I beg friends, family, fans, and random passers-by to consider picking up Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow as a Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Solstice gift for the Space-Age Boomer or curious kid in your family. The new paperback is a real bargain!

(Of course I also appreciate it when someone gives Mom's Cancer as a gift, but I can't bring myself to crassly flog it. That would be wrong. However, I have no such qualms with WHTTWOT. Crassly flog away!)

But wait, there's more!

As I have since the hardcover came out, I'm happy to offer a signed bookplate FREE to anyone who asks, giving you an autographed book without you and me going to the trouble of actually mailing a book back and forth. Just e-mail me your postal address via the "About Me" profile box at upper right, tell me if and how you want it inscribed, and I'll put it in the mail for you the next day. Stick the bookplate inside the front cover (or wherever) and you can have a signed book wrapped and under the tree in a week.

This offer is good anytime (not just Christmas) while supplies last, which at the rate I'm unloading bookplates will be about April 2037.

Just about the best compliment I can get is when a reader likes one of my books enough to buy it for someone else. My sincere thanks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I'm seeing little geographic clusters in my visitor count and have received a couple of e-mails that tell me some college students are reading Mom's Cancer in class. You might think I'd already know that, but I really have no way to track who's reading (or assigning) my book unless they tell me. My ignorance is fathomless.

Anyway, it's an honor--one of those neat honors I never get used to--and I just wanted to mention that I'm readily available to answer questions about my book(s). My e-mail link is in that "About Me" profile box at upper right, or you can leave comments on the blog. I won't write your entire essay for you, but I'll reply as honestly and completely as I can.

Thanks, and thank your teachers for me. I appreciate it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Drive to Obsolescence

To assuage my gnawing guilt for not blogging enough (day job, worked all weekend, etc. etc.), today I reach back to a little obscurity I posted to the Web in 2007. I did this comic for a website started by a friend in the hopes it would build a neat community where creative people could share their work. It didn't. Probably fewer than a dozen people have seen this.

This sketch of an actual conversation with my girls dates to their freshman year of college. They've since graduated (with honors!) and I wonder if they remember it at all. Regardless, it still holds true.


From now through the end of the year, I'll likely be huddled deep in the Work Cave. Just want you to know it's not you, it's me. BTW, I still have every intention of making a fun little zine of "The Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian" but need to string together a few hours to finish my last bits on it. Soon, I hope. That would be a satisfying accomplishment.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Breaking In Redux

I recently got an e-mail query that prompted me to look up and repost this piece from March 2010 on "breaking in." I think it's still a good answer. Best of all, the links and embeds still work.

This is just about all the advice I've got. Do whatever it is that only you can do; be persistent and lucky. If there's more to the secret than that, I don't know it.

* * *

Comic book writer Kurt Busiek penned a great essay on breaking into the writing business. His main point is that most successful people make their own paths without following the rules, many of which (like submission guidelines and such) exist to weed out people rather than usher in new ones. Also, that "overnight successes" usually aren't. He writes:

You don't need a map. You need to figure out what you've got and capitalize on that. Instead of bemoaning the fact that you can't mail in something that a publisher wasn't going to read and wasn't going to buy, try to figure out something else, something that builds off your skills or knowledge or contacts or whatever . . . Make comics, not just proposals—even making crappy comics that convince you that you never want to draw another background again in your life will teach you more about telling a story in pictures on paper than a zillion proposals in the slush pile.

Kurt's a zillion times more experienced and successful than I, but my observations match his. He offers examples of how colleagues of his got published--each unique, none following any formula. Same for the writers I know. When people ask me for advice, I sincerely don't know what to say. I can describe how I did it, but that's nearly useless because it's not replicable for anyone else in any other place or time. I'm reminded of Carl Sagan's line, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." If you want to do it my way, you're starting a few decades too late.

All I can suggest is: First, do the work. It's surprising how many "writers" never actually write and how many "artists" never draw. Having an idea for a thing is not the same as sitting down and creating an actual thing! The latter is orders of magnitude harder. Then get it out into the world any way you can. Print it up, show it to people, send it to editors, put it on a website. Find communities of people doing the same thing--easier than ever on the Internet--and share work with them. One of those people in your favorite web forum could be looking for a writing partner or content provider five years from now. Plant a hundred seeds and two or three will bloom--and they'll probably be the ones you least expect.

Also, don't take without giving back in return. Don't expect or demand favors. No one owes you anything. Few people are as tiresome as a newbie who pops up to announce, "Hey, everyone look at my great stuff," argues with well-intentioned critiques, insults pros whose work is obviously worse than theirs, and then vanishes into a billowing cloud of entitlement. Bad form, and people have long memories. If you're polite, thoughtful, professional, and take the time to show others you care about their work, some will bend over backwards to help you.

While determination is important and admirable, I'm not a huge proponent of the "winners never quit" school of success. Busiek writes about a guy he sees at every convention who's been trying to break in for decades and will simply never be good enough to make it. I know people like that. I've also had times when I've wondered if I'm that guy. It's a fine line, deciding whether to keep slugging away versus recognizing that maybe that brick wall isn't budging and you're better off trying another angle or something else entirely.

My criterion is external evidence of progress. At first, probably no one will respond to your stuff at all. Then maybe you'll get a nice note from a stranger. Then maybe some encouragement from a pro. Then maybe an editor invites you to send some material. You sell a little thing to a little client, then parlay that into selling a bigger thing to a bigger client. Look for signs of advancing toward a goal rather than running in place.

The last time I touched on this, Friend-of-the-Blog Mike Peterson replied with a quote by Mark Twain that I can't top (and Twain's entire essay on the subject of advice for aspiring writers is funny and worth reading):

Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers pay within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just One More, I Promise

After this, I'll give it a rest...

Saturday was Neil Armstrong Remembrance Day aboard the USS Hornet Museum. In addition to a full afternoon of programs, the event featured the reopening of the ship's Apollo Exhibit, documenting the Space Age and Hornet's service recovering Apollos 11 and 12. See the previous two posts to understand why I care.

I surprised my daughters, Laura (the museum collections manager) and Robin (Hornet volunteer and loyal assistant), by driving down for the big unveiling. The Apollo Exhibit was scheduled to open at 3 p.m. I showed up around 1 p.m. and poked my head in the door; they were startled and happy to see me for about 10 seconds and then put me to work. They still had a lot to do. We polished everything as best we could, grabbed a quick lunch on the historic carrier's Flight Deck while watching a series of impressive ceremonial flyovers by vintage aircraft, then ran back down for the ribbon-cutting.

Some of the ceremonies in honor of Neil Armstrong. The speaker is Apollo Flight Surgeon Dr. William Carpentier, who later did us the honor of cutting the ribbon on the Apollo Exhibit.

About an hour before the grand opening: Chad sweeping up while Laura, friend and fellow museum master Erica, and Robin caption photos, arrange artifacts, and clean cases.

The exhibit entrance, with the 8-foot Saturn V model in place.

Laura and Chad giving a pre-opening tour to a cameraman from one of the Bay Area TV news stations that covered the event.

Finally! Open to the public!
Some of the first real-life kids to try my Gravity Box, comparing the gravity of the Earth and Moon. Folks seemed to have fun with it and get the point. I kept waiting to hear a metallic "sproing-kaboom" as the box broke and possibly exploded, but it never did. Success!

Robin and Laura. The slips of paper on the octagonal case are artifact labels yet to be placed. Stop dawdling and get to work!
I shot two videos. The first is of the ribbon-cutting remarks by Museum Trustee Ken Winans (I missed the first few seconds). My favorite part is the audible gasp among the onlookers when the big doors open. The second video--worth watching only for those who really care, trust me--is a seat-of-the-pants tour of the exhibit I did 10 minutes before it opened.

I know one eagle-eyed viewer (sigh...Jim) will catch something that isn't in the video: the two iconic wood signs attached to the Mobile Quarantine Facility during the Apollo 11 and 12 recoveries (which I wrote about a while back). The custom acrylic case ordered to house them did not arrive in time. Those signs are in my opinion the Crown Jewels of the Hornet's collection, and will be displayed at the very back of the room so that visitors see them from the entrance. Just a bit disappointing, although the "Hornet +3" sign was on display in a case out on the Hangar Deck, so all was not lost.

Saturday was the exhausting culmination of months of work by Laura and her co-worker, Curator Chad, along with other volunteers and the occasional family and friends. The public seemed excited and satisfied, the museum staff and trustees I spoke to seemed ecstatic, and I'd say it was a total triumph. Especially impressive is that they did it all on a budget of about $600, so had to innovate and reuse as much as they could. As in all museums, their work will never be done, and a lot of great ideas will have to wait for more funding, but Laura and Chad created a foundation that the Hornet can build on for years to come. I'm very proud of her and proud to be a small part of it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Wee More Hornet

Came across a few more photos of our work on the USS Hornet last Sunday (see previous post) that I wanted to share. I know these may not interest everyone, but it's a topic that excites me on many levels: space history, creative expression, teaching, storytelling, parental pride--mostly, just getting to play with cool toys.

Did you see the recent episode of "The Big Bang Theory" with a mock YouTube video of Buzz Aldrin handing kids candy on Halloween? The set-up is that Howard (the character watching the video with his wife) just returned from a stint on the International Space Station and drove his friends crazy bragging about it:

"I walked on the Moon. What have you done?" I built a space museum on an aircraft carrier. What did you do?

The Apollo Exhibit gallery space as we received it, freshly painted. This view is from near the far end looking back toward the foyer through the open door.

Girl Under Glass.

Laura and Chad delicately repairing a Lunar Module model that had gotten some dings over the years.

Sorting and loading.

Laura (in back) and her friend and fellow museum master Erica laying out one of the display panels.

These three display cases hold (L to R) an Apollo-era astronaut survival kit, astronaut Tom Stafford's seat from Apollo 10 (as Jim noted in the last post's comments, one of the three fastest pieces of furniture in history), and those models Laura and Chad were working on.

If you're ever in the San Francisco Bay Area and have any interest in space or military history, I can't recommend a trip to the USS Hornet in Alameda enough. I obviously love the old gray gal.

Thanks for your indulgence.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Permission to Come Aboard, Ma'am

Sunset on the Bay

I hinted on Facebook that I'd spent much of last weekend "where they keep the nuclear wessels" which, as fans of Star Trek IV already know, is the former U.S. Naval base in Alameda, Calif., where they also keep the (non-nuclear) USS Hornet.

My six faithful readers may recall that my daughter Laura is the Archival and Collections Manager for the Hornet, an aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943 that served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before recovering Apollos 11 and 12 from the South Pacific in 1969. It was decommissioned in 1970 and became a museum and National Historic Landmark in the '90s. Several months ago, Laura asked permission to redo the ship's Apollo Exhibit, which was well-intentioned but not well-organized or -curated. The Hornet had some very neat Space Age material but didn't really explain its context or significance. Laura thought she could apply her master's education (not quite completed) in Museum Studies to build a first-class modern exhibit that would capture visitors' interest and tell the Hornet's Apollo story right.

First thing she did was call the dorkiest space nerd she knew: me. One of my tasks was to help her dig through the ship's collection to identify the coolest stuff. We started planning the exhibit in the space alotted to it, basically one long compartment and a small entryway off of the Hornet's Hangar Deck, while the ship's volunteers cleared, cleaned, and repainted the room. That took a couple of months. Meanwhile, Laura and I sorted, built and drafted, with the advice of the dorkiest space nerd I know, Friend O' The Blog Jim O'Kane. Our constraints: working within the given space without altering a molecule of it (after all, the ship itself is the museum's most priceless artifact), using five display panels already installed, and spending a minimal budget (supplemented by a generous donation from Seahorse Systems and its proprietor Jim O'Kane).

Sunday was Install Day. Or, as my wife Karen calls it, the Day I Got My Garage Back. We transported a lot of stuff from home to the ship, most significantly a display case I painted for Laura and a "Gravity Box" I built to let kids pull handles to feel the difference between the force of gravity on the Earth and Moon. Laura, Karen, I, and Laura's sister Robin, who volunteers aboard the Hornet in other capacities, gathered dockside in the morning to make a museum.

How you get stuff too heavy to roll up a gangway aboard an aircraft carrier. Laura's at the top left, I'm up there somewhere (not the guy in red; he's running the scissor-lift, which only a fool would let me do). 

A nice overview of the back half of the Apollo Exhibit space. Boss Laura poses with the Gravity Box I built: pull on the left handle to feel how heavy 24 pounds is on Earth, pull the right handle to feel what the same mass weighs on the Moon (4 pounds). All units also presented in metric. At center left is a neat octagonal display case Laura bought on Craig's List and I painted blue. Barely visible at right, leaning against the bulkhead, is a long skinny model I built showing the Earth, Moon, and distance between them to scale.
This is the entryway, or foyer, to the Apollo Exhibit. I designed the banner (based on the Hornet's mission patch for Apollo 12) to lure visitors in from the Hangar Deck. Four seats to the right give a restful view of historic Apollo news coverage looping on the TV at left. An 8-foot model of a Saturn V rocket will go about where I'm standing. The bulk of the exhibit lies through a passageway to the left of the TV.
Karen and Robin paint trim on a display board at left, while Laura scrapes old tape and schmutz off the inside of an enormous plexiglass display box lying sideways on the ground at right. That box fits over the metal chair-shaped thing reclining at the lower right....
...which was astronaut Tom Stafford's Command Module couch on the Apollo 10 mission! I include this photo only to permanently document the day I dusted cobwebs off a spaceship chair that flew around the Moon. Flew. Around. The. Moon. No, I did not sit in it.

Laura with her co-worker, Curator Chad, and a partially completed portion of the Apollo Exhibit. Among Chad's many invaluable skills is driving a forklift. It was a skill we used often.
We didn't get everything done last weekend. Laura and Chad have a few more days to work on the Apollo Exhibit before its grand reopening next weekend during shipwide activities in remembrance of Neil Armstrong. It'll be tight, but I'm confident they'll get it done. I know it will be well-received by the Hornet's staff, board, advisors and visitors. Can't wait to see it!