Let me entertain you: My fiction is free this weekend

I have a special gift for you this weekend, through the magic of Amazon’s KDP Select program for independent authors: All of my fiction available for Kindle is free for the asking.

That comprises four ebooks, two from a very long time ago and two from the very recent past. They will be free Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 9-10, so the time to introduce your Kindle reader to my work is now:

The Imaginary Revolution: The memoirs of Ray Kaliber, who, after a violent revolution on Sirius 4 merely replaced the old boss with a very similar new boss, showed the path to a nonviolent revolution and then asked the key question: “Why do we need a government at all?” Released Dec. 15, 2012, and usually available for an already reasonable $4.99. Today and Sunday: Free.

The Imaginary Bomb: The first of my novels set in the world of imaginary physics follows space truckers Bob Whelan, Pete Wong and Baxter Hetznecker as they are caught up in the struggle among the builders of a bomb as powerful as the imagination, the noble souls who want to stop them, and a gang that wants to use the bomb for its own purposes. Written in 1988, revised and released 2008, and usually a mere 99 cents. Even better, today and Sunday: Free.

The Adventures of Myke Phoenix: Paul Phillips walks into an antique store with his girlfriend and walks out as Earth’s best hope in the fight against evil. These first four stories in the Myke Phoenix canon were written around 1990, released for the first time in 2008, and currently available exclusively for Kindle for an astonishing $2.79. Today and Sunday represents the only time I expect to offer this seminal work for free.

The Song of the Serial Kisser: Someone is kissing the women of Astor City, and Myke Phoenix has to stop him before someone else does. Loosely based on the classic motion picture M except a tad less serious, this adventure released Jan. 17 is the first new Myke Phoenix adventure in two decades – but it won’t be the last. A quick read at less than 10,000 words, so it and its successors cost just 99 cents. Today and Sunday, the deal is even tastier: Free.

Monday the regular prices return, so the time to act is now. And keep an eye out for the next new Myke Phoenix story, Firespiders, coming soon to a Kindle-enabled device near you!

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They teach us, these fur-clad companions

 Written for the Door County Advocate, Feb. 5, 2013.

The most iconic picture of Hemi is the one where he’s sitting in the bathroom sink looking up at the world. His expression is, “What? I’m in the sink. It’s nice here. You should try it.”

That was Hemi. He sought out the nice. He was always the first one to try out a newly settled lap.
It’s a shame when good cats die before their time. Hemi was a little more than 8 years old.

Most of our cats have been shelter animals or abandoned or surrendered. Hemi is the only cat I ever bought at a pet store.

I was buying fish food, and Red stayed in the car. She’d been suggesting we get a kitten; I’d been suggesting we have enough cats.

There was a display case full of cavorting 8-week-old kittens and a display case with one remaining 12-week-old kitten. He looked like he would have been a tabby cat but they ran out of tabby paint and left the bottom half white.

He wasn’t acting lonely, all alone in that big case. He was playing with a small plastic ball with complete delight, knocking that thing around as if he enjoyed making the little bell inside ring for its life.

Wary of tiny claws, I poked my finger through the bars anyway and wiggled. He pounced at the opportunity and seized the finger — but instead of sinking his claws in, he just held on with his paw pads, as if to say, “Hello! Are you a toy, too?”

I bought the fish food, went out to the car and told Red, “You have to see this kitten.”

The clever salesperson let me hold him. He promptly settled against my chest, purred like a high-performance engine and closed his eyes.

A nearby shopper cooed, “Looks like he found his papa.” Yes, he had.

We’ve had a lot of cats, Red and I. Hemi stood out from the crowd — first to greet us, first to check out the lap, most willing to show his appreciation with a hearty purr and, of course, first to explore the sink.

Sunday morning he seemed fine, but Sunday evening he couldn’t use his back legs. Monday morning he was growing cold; Beeker, the motherly big fat cat, had crawled into the cat bed with him and sprawled over his backside to keep him warm.

I wrapped him in a blanket and set him on the passenger seat; the cat carrier seemed too mean. Driving to the vet, I drove with my left hand, reached out with my right and stroked him the whole way. My right arm got tired and sore, but I was pretty sure this was my last chance and he appreciated the reassurance.

The doctor said it looked like heart disease may had caused a clot and cut off the circulation to his legs, but whatever it was he was fading fast. We said goodbye.

These sweet fur-clad companions are only in our lives for a short time, but they teach us so much: From Hemi, the art of gentle greeting and exploring the opportunities. They leave a paw print on our hearts that creates a smile to ease the pain.

A key to making quiet time to plan

Here’s advice that’s counterproductive for folks like me, who produce stuff for you to consume online, but it’s essential for you: Spend regular time NOT online.

In his book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, Rabbi Daniel Lapin talks about the mesmerizing effect of constantly staring at a glowing screen – the unnatural light pointed directly into your eyes, and the fast-moving imagery, have a tendency to dull the senses; the pretty pictures and bright colors dull the imagination.

“In contrast, reading about ideas or things grants you the most freedom to absorb or reject,” Lapin says in his chapter about setting aside time to look into the future and make goals.

Lapin recommends at least 24 hours away from television and other glowing screens before engaging in the process of reflection and imagination.

In lieu of that for more short-term planning, I suggest postponing the flip of the switch first thing in the morning so you can start the day unplugged. I put a sticky note on my computer screen with the word “No!” (and a smiley face) on it, to remind my groggy early-morning self to reflect, read and write the daily plan before I subject myself to the LED light shining in my eyes. For longer-range planning, I also aim to have a “screen-free” day as Lapin suggests.

The goal is to remove all of the external distractions to the thought process. It’s easier to concentrate on the quiet when you envelope yourself in as much quiet as possible.

Regarding ‘The cliff’

I have told this story numerous times over the years; this is the version from my book Refuse to be Afraid.

I learned everything I need to know about fear on a steep hill overlooking Lake Champlain in Vermont. I keep coming back to this story whenever anxiety threatens to stop me in my tracks. Childhood lessons sink in deep.

To my younger-than-10-years-old eyes, it looked more like a cliff than a hill; my impression was informed by the shale-like formations that reached down to the beach and disappeared into the pine forest above. Seen from the cabin our parents rented for a week every summer, the forest appeared to grow to the edge of a steep, rocky incline that I wouldn’t be able to scale if I had to.

And one day, I had to.

I can still smell the pine trees, I can still feel the soft but prickly bed of needles against my chest, and I still have a dark spot in my heart from the terror as I lost my tenuous grip on the hillside and plunged over the cliff.

Somewhere around 1960 when I was 7, my brothers and I had gone for a walk through the woods near the cabin. Along this stretch the pines clung precariously to the side of the hill.

The pine needles were thick underneath, and I underestimated how unstable the footing would be, as I wandered far down that nearly vertical hillside, trying to peer over the edge to see the beach through the brush. Next thing I knew, I had slipped. The bed of needles was thick, so thick that I couldn’t really get a grip, and when I did try to climb, every move I made caused me to slide a little farther down.

I was clinging to the side of the nearly vertical slope and unable to climb upward.

“Go get Dad,” I heard my older brother say to my younger brother. “Hang on, War,” he called. Hang on to what?

It didn’t take long for gravity to do its work, and I slid to the edge and then fell, screaming, over the edge of the embankment to the beach below.

The drop from the edge of the cliff to the beach was four, maybe five feet.

When my brothers ran the long way around to the beach, they found me on the ground unharmed, laughing in relief, laughing at myself for being so terrified.

I think about that cliff a lot, when it seems that life has left me hanging by the fingernails. Fear of the unknown makes us scream. Taking on those fears makes us triumphant — perhaps it even makes us giggle uncontrollably.

This is a book about fear, the fear in your heart that makes you want to scream when you’re not hanging on to keep from sliding off the side of what you think is a high cliff. It’s a book about harnessing the fear long enough to take the plunge. You’ll probably find, as I did, that the paralyzing fear of the drop is a whole lot worse than the actual fall.

It’s a book that says refuse to be afraid and go ahead and take the leap.

Buy it for Kindle  or your bookshelf.

My Top 10 of 2012

My friend Wally Conger used to have a “Top 10 of the Year” list. It wasn’t the Top 10 songs or the Top 10 movies, it was just the 10 top things he encountered each year. Seems like a good idea, so, in no particular order:

Folks, this ain’t normal. Joel Salatin believes the world is turned upside down. People have lost touch with where their food comes from. Government food safety agents are the biggest barrier to safe, locally produced and healthy food. In the quest for a clean and even sterile environment, we’ve made ourselves sick. This remarkable book changed the way I think, and it’ll do the same for you if you dare.

John Carter. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of books 100 years ago that has influenced many many people, a number of whom went on to become scientists and science fiction creators. A century later, this film is one of the best science fiction movies ever made, and the second-best science fiction movie made in the 21st century. Watching it re-ignited my sense of wonder.

Marvel’s The Avengers. Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the best science fiction film made in the 21st century (Serenity), this year wrote and directed the best comic-book movie ever made. Full of character, good humor and of course loud bangs and crashes, this was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in recent memory. (Caveat: I didn’t see John Carter in the theater.)

A new home. Red and I have been a team for a decade and a half, and this year our partnership led to construction of a beautiful little house not far from the shores of Green Bay. The project occupied most of the year and is not quite finished, but by August it was finished enough. Love built this home, and I love it.

The Self-Publishing Podcast. This quirky weekly visit with authors Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt and David W. Wright is irreverant, informative and a heck of a lot of fun. I’ve begun to look forward to their weekly romp through what sometimes seems to be a stream of consciousness but always leaves me knowing a little bit more about writing, innovation, design and moving forward.

Scrivener. The SPP boys kept saying this software is the best tool out there for writers, and they offer a 30-day free trial so I figured, what the heck. By the 15th day I gave in and just bought the thing. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s every bit the great tool they said it is.

The Imaginary Revolution. I lost two of my surrogate mentors this year bookending the creation of my new science-fiction novel. Ray Bradbury showed me how to write and inspired me with his enthusiasm, and when he died I realized I’d been beating around the bush too long. A few days after I completed the novel, Zig Ziglar died, the guy who taught me not to get cooked in the squat. Between the house and the novel, this has been one of the most fulfilling years of creativity I’ve ever experienced. I hope Ray and Zig would be proud.

Men in Black 3. I found the first two MIB films with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones immensely entertaining, but you know, I only ever watched either of them once. They entertained me but didn’t make me care enough to come back. This installment made me want to go back to the beginning and pay closer attention, and I definitely want to see this one again and again.

Nancy. The comic strip that Ernie Bushmiller made famous has always been one of my guilty pleasures. It always was sweet and charming and a little goofy, but Guy Gilchrist has injected something more, by making Aunt Fritzi a music-loving child of the Sixties like, well, me. With the recent re-introduction of her old flame Phil Fumble, it looks like Gilchrist is poised to take the strip to a whole new level.

That’s Why God Made the Radio. The Beach Boys album of new songs marking their 50th anniversary of recording is better than it has any right to be. The harmonies are as crisp and supple as ever, the tunes linger the way their best stuff always has, and the project is a fitting finish if it does, in fact, turn out to be the core group’s last effort together. An endless summer, indeed.

Bubbling under the Top 10:

Christmas with the Annie Moses Band. You have to hear this band.

How to Be Legendary by Johnny B. Truant. Common sense advice about being as great as you can.

Thick As A Brick 2 by Ian Anderson. My first reaction upon hearing about this release was “Oh no!” But on actually hearing it, the reaction was “Oh yes!”

The Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. I asked for it for Christmas based on a brief mention in Folks, this ain’t normal, and after 20 pages I can’t wait to start gardening.

I know I’ll think of a half-dozen other cool things I encountered during 2012, but these are the ones that rose in my consciousness this evening. If the year ahead has half as many treasures as this year offered, it’ll be lovely indeed.

Thoughts on the end of the world

There’s a blizzard warning where I am. Right now it’s just pretty – a firm but so-far gentle snow blanketing the ground with a layer of white. The wind is blowing hard enough that there are spots where greenish and brown vegetation still shows through. But the people who know about such things insist the layer will be at least a foot deep in a few hours.

Tomorrow the world ends in a blaze of fire, according to some folks who have drawn conclusions based on an ancient civilization’s calendar. As one explanation I saw noted, the world did not end when we got to the end of the 2011 calendar, and so it’s likely that the day after the end of the Mayan calendar, life will go on for most of us. And if there are Mayans left among us, they’ll mark the first day of a new epoch.

Everything and everyone does end, of course, although probably not all at once. I’m approaching the end of my sixth decade here, and I’ve seen my share of confused and frightened people who were absolutely positive that the world was going to end on such and such a date.

Tragically, some of them were right in a way, as they decided to end their own lives on or before that date. It was indeed the end of the world for them. For the rest of us, the world went on.

You do need to wrap your mind around the certainty that your stay on this world is finite. It’s not a bad or a good thing, this dying stuff, it’s just the way it is. Understanding that lends a certain degree of urgency to doing whatever it is you believe it’s important to do.

It’s a source of freedom, actually; if you knew you were going to die soon, how would you choose to live your life? Well, sooner or later you ARE going to die, so why not live that way now? Go ahead and write that novel or build that house or preserve that marsh or do those good deeds you always wanted to get done. Start building your legacy today, and you’ll have that much more time to build a big and solid one.

I’m guessing that the world will not end in a blaze of fire tomorrow, and so later today I’ll head out with the snowblower. My bet is that the snow will not melt in a firestorm in the morning, and I will get to keep working and fulfilling my purpose. And so will you. Someday the world will end for both of us, but probably not today or tomorrow.

‘We’ can’t solve this, but we can

When something horrible happens, a clamor arises that “we” should do something to prevent something like it from ever happening again. And so it is with the unspeakable events in Newtown, Conn., where a disturbed individual killed 27 people including 20 young children and then himself.

The horror has been compounded by the decision by too many people to attempt making political points at a time like this. A great many have argued that “we” need new laws restricting non-police access to the kind of weapon used in this crime; a great many others have argued that “we” need new laws to allow schools and teachers to carry weapons to defend themselves.

This is what people have come to mean by “we should do something”: By “we,” they mean the government. By “something,” they mean new laws.

I would like to make the perhaps controversial suggestion that now – with emotions running high – is not the time to be passing new laws. The government has more than enough power, thank you, and “we” have more than enough laws to prevent the law-abiding citizen from committing an atrocity.

Besides, we don’t need new laws. And notice I took the quotations marks off, because now I’m talking about what we can do, as opposed to asking the government to do it for us.

What we need to do is pay attention to some old laws. I mean laws like “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The person whose birth we celebrate at this time of year proclaimed that the most important law of all, and yet we tend to disobey that law on a daily basis.

I mean laws like “Treat other people the way you would like to be treated.” This so-called Golden Rule exists in just about every world religion, I’m told, and yet each day we do unpleasant and even unspeakable things to others that would hurt badly if someone did them to us. Certainly, none of us wishes violence to be done to ourselves or our families, so a decision not to commit aggression against others would be a good first step.

Evil exists among us; it reared its ugly head again Friday in Connecticut. I’m not so naive as to believe that if we simply loved one another, evil would go away.

But we each carry the power to love and to hate within us, the power to reason and the power of violence. I dare say a new law or regulation passed by government will not defeat evil, but an old law observed by each of us could – if we make the decision to interact with love.