Snow Daze

Tags

,

winter-solsticeWinter is coming. Don’t bother, it’s here.

A week ahead of time I postponed my breakfast meeting scheduled for yesterday. Snow is coming, the weather report said. Expect 1-3 inches. Okay, just slippery enough to avoid going out needlessly in the middle of it. The breakfast would be rescheduled for the following weekend (which, sadly, now also has snow in the forecast).

The snow started almost exactly on the schedule provided by the national weather service. A few flakes, then a few more, then a nice steady snow. It was beautiful, in its own way. I figured to wait it out and start shoveling later.

Over the 24 hours leading up to the beginning, I noticed that the weather reports were slowly updating the expected totals. The 1-3 inches was changed to 3-5, then 4-7, then 5-10, then, what the heck? The snow started late afternoon Saturday and was going strong early Sunday morning. Then it seemed to stop.

“Forecast says it should snow until midnight tonight,” I told my querying neighbor, “maybe we’re in a lull.”

I was out shoveling mid-morning because the snow had stopped. Not even a few stray flakes. About 8 inches on the ground and it seemed done, but the forecast was saying more snow was on the way. I reminded myself that shoveling 8 inches of snow off my driveway now was better than waiting until that amount increased, if it indeed did increase.

Unfortunately, weather forecasting has become more accurate in recent decades. Usually this area falls somewhere near the line between snowmageddon and “snow, what snow?” This storm hit us dead on, no question we would get snow. That said, it seems to have been more than predicted.

In the end we totaled 10-12 inches. Not a lot of wind, so luckily no blizzard conditions or 20 foot snow drifts next to bare ground. Nope, this was an even layer all around. Yes, even beautiful.

This morning I again went shoveled off the driveway, the excruciating back pain from yesterday’s efforts rekindled at a slightly lower volume. I noticed my neighbor had bought an electric snow-blower, an extravagance that seems overkill for the small number of shovel-able snowstorms in this area. Then again, he isn’t walking around looking for the industry-strength bottle of Tylenol. I probably should become better friends with him, especially since the forecast currently predicts snow for this coming Thursday, the weekend, and even the weekend after, all of which I had plans that might be endangered by closed roads.

Oh well. Winter is here. It is beautiful.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

[Photo courtesy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac]

Advertisements

Reading Time – 2018

Tags

,

library-1Thanks to four sea days and a well-stocked library on my most recent Windstar cruise I was able to meet my reading goal for 2018. Barely. I had set my goal at 75 books and I read exactly 75 books. For most people that’s a lot, but it was a sharp drop off from my previous two years of reading – 106 and 116 books for 2016 and 2017, respectively.

I intentionally lowered my reading goal this year because I knew I would be traveling extensively, plus I wanted to focus more of my remaining time on writing. I certainly did travel, but my writing time was kind of hit or miss.

As I totaled up the genres read this year I noticed one big change – less Abraham Lincoln books. In 2017, Lincoln books made up 27% of my reading (31 books); in 2018, only 20% (15 books). While I only read half the books, there were some good ones: Lincoln’s Sense of Humor and Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, both by Richard Carwardine; Becoming Lincoln by Richard Kigel, There I Grew Up by William Bartelt, Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams, and Lincoln and the Irish by Niall O’Dowd.

Non-fiction still made up about 70% of my reading, spread across memoir (8), biography (8), science (7), writing (6), general non-fiction (7), and humor (1).

Memoirs included Dust in the Streets by Thomas Park Clement, a mixed-race street kid in Seoul who made it big as an inventor and entrepreneur after he was adopted in the United States. I met Thomas on my first Windstar cruise this summer and became friends with him and his wife Wonsook. I also read some of the big memoirs from recent years, including Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, and Educated by Tara Westover. Biographies included Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci and Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, my review for which should be published in the next Civil War Times magazine.

Science books included Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Spine by Juli Berwald, Robert V. Bruce’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Launching of American Science, 1846-1876, and The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. The writing genre included books by Randy Olson (Houston, We Have a Narrative), John McPhee (On the Writing Process), and Stephen Wilbers (Mastering the Craft of Writing). General Non-fiction included Dreamland by Sam Quinones (the opiate epidemic), Our Little Monitor by Anna Gibson Holloway and Jonathan W. White (about the famous Civil War ironclad and equally famous Battle of Hampton Roads), and The Soul of America by Jon Meacham. This latter book by Meacham looks at crises in American history and was used as a basis for a discussion of our current political crisis, the discussion being led by long-time radio host Diane Rehm during the Baltic Sea Windstar cruise I took in the summer.

I also read 23 fiction books in 2018. My fall 2017 trip to New Zealand (where the movies were filmed) inspired me to reread The Hobbit and all three Lord of the Rings books. I had read them all five times back in my college days but not since then; they remain impressive. I also found myself stretching my horizons and reading fiction from more diverse backgrounds: A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini (life in Afghanistan and Pakistan), My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (16th century Istanbul), and The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (Ivy League black family and intrigue). The longest single book I read this year was Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon at 1139 pages. The book largely takes place in the Intramuros section of Manila. Soon after finishing it I found myself in those very streets. I almost felt like I knew the place.

In all I read about 27,000 pages in 2018. I keep track of my reading on Goodreads, so feel free to check out my Goodreads author page where I also have links to my own books.

You can also join my Facebook author page for updates and links to interesting articles.

So how many books do I read in 2019? I’ve again set my challenge goal at 75 books, and for largely the same reasons as last year. As I noted in my “Year in a Writer’s Life,” I have several books I’m writing and will be working harder on magazine publishing in 2019. The 75 books should give me a high enough goal to capture at least some of the hundreds of books on my reading list (and dozens more I add during the year) while still leaving me some time to travel and write.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

My Life in a Fish

Tags

,

Jack DempseyYeah, that does sound kind of weird. But this fish is Jack, as in the admittedly unoriginal name I gave to the fish I had for many years, a Jack Dempsey. Yes, like Jack Dempsey the boxer. Jack (the fish) is a cichlid common to the tropical rivers of Central America, basically from Mexico to Honduras. The species gets its name from “aggressive nature and strong facial features” that reminded its discoverer of the 1920s boxer of the same name. The Jack Dempsey idea caught on, and given my inexperience naming pets (other than a white rabbit named Snowball that mysteriously arrived, then just as mysteriously disappeared a few months later when I was child, I never had pets), “Jack” was good enough for me, and frankly, just perfect for Jack.

The Norwalk Aquarium was Jack’s first home, though perhaps not his birthplace. The Aquarium is not actually an aquarium in the sense of the big public aquariums I so often frequent, so it shouldn’t be confused with the current Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, which didn’t exist until almost a decade after I left that area. I don’t recall the location specifically, but it may be what is today called Exotic Aquatics, on New Canaan Avenue. Most people would just call it a fish store. Not far down the coast from my undergraduate college in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Aquarium was the natural place to shop for some tropical fish to keep me company in the single dorm room of my junior year. Initially there were several small tropical fish, with Jack being only 2 to 3 inches long and the others about the same size or much smaller. The smallest unwillingly became bait for the largest, and eventually there was just Jack and a large Plecostomus, better known as a “giant algae sucker.” Massive and armored like a military personnel carrier, the Plecostomus confidently ignored Jack and everything else, at least until the morning I found it dried up on the floor, presumably having been chased over the top of the tank. Clearly Jack looked pleased to have the place to himself.

Unbeknownst to himself, Jack was a magnet for the girls in my Biology class (I was studying to be a marine biologist). Okay, some girls were not too sure about a guy who kept fish in his room, but that just helped weed out the clearly incompatible ones. Those that stayed to play with Jack were keepers. At least that’s the story I told myself at the time. (Many years later, not long after publishing my first book on Nikola Tesla, I saw a cartoon about speed dating. In the first frame the guy starts off by asking “Edison or Tesla?,” to which the girl responds “Who is Tesla?” The next frame shows the guy leaning back and saying to the person behind him, “Next!” Jack played that role.)

In any case, Jack clearly was a novelty and a conversation starter, even if the conversation lagged once they tired of the novelty of “the fish in the tank.” To me, Jack became a companion in a way that was somehow manly without being creepy. By the end of that junior year Jack had grown to a length of about six inches, but the real growth was in his breadth, depth, and attitude. As a young fish he came off as brash and threatening as the skinny kid trying to stand up to the neighborhood bully. But seven months later he had earned his pugilistic nickname. No longer merely bravado, he was now a force to be reckoned with. Bashing up against the tank wall (by this time he had moved from a 10-gallon tank with others to a 20-gallon tank all by himself), Jack was quick to introduce himself to anyone who walked within eyesight of the glass. And Jack had very good eyesight.

By now the tank was barren of anything remotely related to interior design. Live plants were unceremoniously uprooted, then shredded. Plastic plants simply were pulled up and allowed to float on the surface. The bubbling treasure chest? Turned over and disconnected. Nothing was safe. It was a chore just to keep the place aerated.

Jack also reflected my life’s interest in marine biology. Sure, he was a freshwater fish, not marine, but he represents for me my love of the aquatic environment. For several years after college I worked as a marine biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service, first on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and then at Sandy Hook, NJ, in the New York Bight. After the arson that destroyed my lab and changed my career path, I worked as an aquatic toxicologist and then environmental consultant. All the while I was buoyed by memories of Jack and the sea that still draws me.

Jack stayed with me for eight or nine years, growing larger and more assertive with time. Unfortunately, Jack passed away while I was on a week-long work assignment out of state, or at least that is the reason given by my then soon-to-be ex-wife for his absence when I returned home. Jack, even in death it seems, continued to play his role deciding who were keepers.

[See previous “50 Objects” stories, “My Life in a Book,” “My Life in a Brick” and “My Life in a Bust.” Or click on “50 Objects” and scroll down to see others as they are added.]

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

 

Writing After Traveling

Tags

,

writeWell, I’ve finished traveling for the year. I achieved my writing goal while on my last trip that took me away from home for all but three days over the last six weeks. Now is the challenge of getting back into a writing groove after traveling.

Before leaving for one segment of my travels – a two-week small yacht cruise from Hong Kong through five Philippine stops, two Malaysia-Borneo stops, Brunei (also on the island of Borneo), plus a few days in Singapore – I promised myself I would use the four sea days to write.

I’ll likely read on the flights, but at sea I’m prepared to carve out a spot in the forward Yacht Club with a view of the bowsprit, open up the laptop (yes, I’m bringing my computer), and write the first draft of a totally non-non-fiction historical science fiction novel, the outlandish idea of which popped into my head a couple of weeks ago. If that doesn’t go anywhere I have a short story idea that also involves a little science, a little iconic location, and a little magical realism (think Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Jacques Cousteau).

Much to my surprise, I did it!

The first sea day was actually the very first day at sea, between Hong Kong and Hundred Islands in the Philippines. The night waters had been rough but the day was slightly calmer so I sat in the yacht club as planned and wrote a rough draft of a 2000-word short, short magical realism story. Once I smooth it out, and possibly submit it to a writing contest or two, I’ll share more with you all.

On the next three sea days, which played out in the middle and near the end of the cruise, I focused on my historical science fiction novel. Starting from scratch with nothing but a vague idea in my head, I employed the “Stephen King Rule of Writing” – start typing until you have 2000 words for the day, whether that takes two hours or ten hours. Luckily, I was closer to the former than the latter each day. This is pretty rough stuff, but surprisingly, not half bad (if I do say so myself).

Now comes the tough part. Being away from home for so long, especially with no internet for much of that time, has left me with hundreds of emails to review and respond to, plus dozens of errands (including, most critically, filling an empty refrigerator). I’m into my third day back and I’ve been so bogged down, not to mention jet-lagged, that I haven’t written a word on any of my WIPs. On top of that, Christmas is coming. Fast. Given I started this travel spree a week before Thanksgiving, the end of the year’s arrival has come as a bit of a shock to my sense of time.

So today is the day. After waking up at 4 am for the third morning in a row (my biological clock is still in southeast Asia, apparently) and catching up on most (but not all) of my “to do” lists, it’s time to get back into a writing rhythm. This is especially important because in addition to my own Lincoln book in progress I have a half-written travel memoir, editing a Lincoln compilation, a couple of other research projects, and – what was I thinking – a short story to edit and a nascent novel that needs attention.

Merry Christmas to me.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Writing While Traveling

Tags

,

David J Kent, Science TravelerGiven my writing business is called Science Traveler, you think I would have mastered the art of writing while traveling.

You would be wrong.

It would be one thing if my style of traveling was to go to a location for several days, a week or more. There are people who love to go to the same beach and relax. They sit out on the deck of their rented beach house or sit by the pool of their ritzy 5-star hotel, with occasional forays to explore the local environment (aka, shopping). If they are writers, their vacation becomes a writer’s retreat of sorts. Not only do they return from their travels refreshed and ready to head back to the office, they have a first draft of their newest “great American novel.”

I’m not one of those people.

My travel goals are to see as much as possible. I rarely spend more than a night or two in one location, preferring instead to keep moving and experiencing the location in full, then moving on to the next stop. Admittedly, this makes it hard to “get to know” the nuances of any given spot, but it allows me to get to know more spots – and experiences – in the same amount of time.

What it doesn’t do is allow much time to write.

The lit hours are usually taken up with excursions into the locality of the day, mostly self-guided but sometimes as part of an organized tour. If it’s a road trip there may be several hours on the road moving from place to place. If centered in a city, there are museums, architecture, monuments, and the occasional protest (I’ve run into a few of these over the years). And of course, I’m always checking out the aquariums and science-based sites, including any local rainforests, deserts, barrier reefs, waterfalls, and iconic rock faces. My most recent “vacation” was a 2000-mile road trip in the Pacific Northwest. Before that a 3000-mile road trip in Illinois. Before that, a cruise. My next big trip is also a cruise sandwiched between two immense Asian cities, with a whole lot of islands connecting the dots.

The previous and next cruises are on sister ships, although a better descriptor is yacht. I’m not a fan of the big hotel ships with 2000-4000 passengers. If it wasn’t for the portholes you wouldn’t know you were on a ship at all. My upcoming cruise is on what can best be described as a mega-billionaire’s super-yacht. With only 200 passengers there is the opportunity to get to know people more intimately and build lasting friendships.

Writing on such a cruise is still a challenge. Days are again filled with excursions to that port of call, nights are filled with getting to know new friends and the more intimate lounge acts. Dinners become major social events if you choose to join a group table. For an introvert (i.e., most writers), the few hours in the evening can offer welcome downtime in the cabin or on the deck.

But these cruises also sometimes have days “at sea,” which can be a dream for writers. On the previous trip we had only one day at sea and I productively used it to edit one chapter of my WIP, plus scoped another chapter. This upcoming trip is longer and has four non-consecutive days at sea; fantastic interludes in the brimming busyness of the trip. I’ve already planned how to use these mini-retreats.

I’m mostly a non-fiction writer, which usually means having a ton of source material spread around my computer, all dutifully ready to be cited. That simply isn’t feasible on a trip that requires long international flights and time on a yacht. But those flights and sea days do open up opportunities. I’ll likely read on the flights, but at sea I’m prepared to carve out a spot in the forward Yacht Club with a view of the bowsprit, open up the laptop (yes, I’m bringing my computer), and write the first draft of a totally non-non-fiction historical science fiction novel, the outlandish idea of which popped into my head a couple of weeks ago. If that doesn’t go anywhere I have a short story idea that also involves a little science, a little iconic location, and a little magical realism (think Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Jacques Cousteau). The key is that neither is my usual non-fiction biography. Instead, it’s a chance to stretch my imagination – and stretch out from the writer I’ve become.

So this trip is not only a chance to experiment in a new genre, it’s a chance to teach myself how to write while traveling.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

How I Became a Writer…And the Writer I’ve Become

Tags

,

David-15Sept2012-v2Most writers say they’ve always been writers. I suppose I could say the same, although perhaps not in the same way. As my writing life expands I often look at others to see what their writing path looked like. Not surprisingly, there have been many roads taken.

Many writers pursued journalism degrees. Often they started writing for the high school, or even middle school, newspaper. They went on to study journalism or English in college, sometimes getting an MFA (as in, Masters of Fine Arts). After graduation they got jobs with local newspapers, then the bigger newspapers or magazines. They were born writers, so to speak.

Others pursued writing on the side. They may have focused on some non-writer profession such as government, the law, accounting, plumbing, woodworking, or as in my case, science. On the side they wrote poetry or short stories or maybe even novels, most of which likely never was seen by any other human’s eyes. I know literal rocket scientists who work at NASA while writing science fiction and fantasy in their spare time. Some eventually give up their paying careers and pursue their writing full time. I suspect John Grisham is one of the few who have made more money as a writer than he did as a lawyer. That’s an exception. Most professional whatevers write for the love of writing, not for the money (sorry to say, most writers are not paying the bills with their writing alone).

So where am I on this spectrum? Clearly not the first. Growing up on the coast made it almost inevitable that I would pursue marine biology. I eagerly worked in the field after college until an arsonist destroyed my laboratory and changed my career path. I then worked for a series of environmental consulting firms in New Jersey and Washington, DC. No stints as a roving journalist. No MFAs. No writer-born was I. At least on the surface.

I also didn’t secretly write poetry or fiction or whatever, neatly tucked away in hidden journals or clandestinely submitted to magazines. But I also didn’t not write (double negative intended). While I recall writing some sort of poem when I was young (and like my youth, lost forever) and I did write an occasional essay (e.g., Whale of a Tale), the vast majority of my writing was technical: term papers for classes, theses for college degrees, and analyses for my consulting clients. Hardly what most people call “writing.” In addition, I wrote copious material for newsletters put out by regional scientific organizations, Abraham Lincoln groups, and the companies that employed me. Emails became a work of art, tweaked and twisted to make everything clear and anticipatory of forthcoming questions.

Throughout I slowly began to realize my “voice.” Despite the technical nature of my writing, it was understandable to a wide range of readers, something many (okay, most) technical writers have never achieved.

Which gets me to Gather. In 2007 a friend introduced me to a now defunct social media site called Gather.com. Its structure was similar to what Facebook groups have since become, without the hostage situation Facebook creates to enhance “promote me” advertising revenue. On Gather you could write articles (essentially blog posts, with all their opportunities and abuses), onto which readers could comment. It was at Gather that I discovered both my writing voice and passion for writing. I still wrote mostly non-fiction, with only occasional dabbles in micro- and flash-fiction. Reality seems to be my realm.

And then there was a diversion when my last consulting firm sent me to work overseas for three years. I could still write for Gather but also, in addition to my full time job creating revenue for the already wealthy owners of the firm, I was in a position to travel. That cut into my writing time. I also began realizing the down side of social media, a realization that has become even more acute in the intervening years. Slowly my desire to enrich others waned while my desire to write waxed.

After returning stateside my urge to write grew. Tired of hearing me whine, my girlfriend encouraged me to attend a Writer’s Digest conference in New York. Long story short, I soon had an agent, a book contract, and a new career. I’ve since written three books for that publisher (all biographies for the general audience), plus published a couple of specialty e-books on Amazon. I’ve written several articles for specialty magazines and newsletters, both online and in print. I quit my job to write full time.

In my own mind I’m not a freelancer, per se, as most freelancers spend their time fishing for work writing articles for magazines, newspapers, or for companies. That kind of life is just a little too much like my old consulting career, constantly begging for new work and new clients. I prefer writing books, which requires long term research, a tremendous amount of organizational skill, and a willingness to be poor.

I do write for magazines and intend to do more such work, mostly as corollary to my book writing. I consider myself a full-time book author, so even with an increased element of freelancing in my career, I still won’t be a freelancer in the normal sense. I also write the blog on my official author website, Science Traveler (www.davidjkent-writer.com), this creative writing and memoir blog, Hot White Snow (www.hotwhitesnow.wordpress.com), and a science communication blog called The Dake Page (thedakepage.blogspot.com). I recently started a website for the Abraham Lincoln Bibliography Project (abrahamlincolnbibliography.wordpress.com), which is where I am just beginning a project to compile all the published books on Abraham Lincoln. And while I left the consulting firms behind, my emails for the Lincoln Group of DC are still a work of art.

All writers have WIPs, aka, Works in Progress. Mine include an epic book on a specific Lincoln topic, a travel memoir, and editing a compendium book for the Lincoln Group of DC. In the last several days I’ve had a rather outlandish historical science fiction idea that may become my first foray into fiction. In my own personal version of NaNoWriMo I’ll start creating the first draft from the humid air hanging over the South China Sea. If that wasn’t spreading myself thin enough, I’ve started the preliminary work on a future WIP, which will be the impetus behind an extended stay in Paris and Brussels next spring. If there is a reason behind fewer posts on my blogs, it’s because I’m busy working on longer term projects (and, maybe, just maybe, also a little procrastination and lack of focus). Such is my writing life.

Onward.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!