Friday, September 30, 2011

Can terrorists use model airplanes as weapons?

After the recent arrest of a man in Boston who has been accused of planning terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, plenty of questions have been raised. Which is always the case. But in this particular case, a lot of the questions are about model airplanes. Apparently the man arrested was planning to strap explosives to model airplanes, then fly the planes into buildings.

Headlines similar to the one with this article, "Can terrorists use model airplanes as weapons?," have become common during the last couple of days. I can't count the number of times I've read, "Could model airplanes become a terrorist weapon?"

I hate these types of headlines. I was a newspaper editor for 20 years, so I've got plenty of experience writing headlines. And frankly, nearly all of these questioning headlines are bad. For one thing, they are questions, not answers. For another thing, such headlines tend to lead readers in a particular direction. I only use a similar headline here to make a point.

If one reads down into the articles concerning the potential use of model airplanes as weapons, the truth is yes, model airplanes could be used as weapons, but not very good ones. Why is this? There are two reasons: 1.) Because model airplanes, even the really big and expensive ones, cannot carry much weight, which means the explosives that could be used would have to be quite small and not very powerful. 2.) Even for experienced experts, flying model planes is not a precise science; it would be difficult to fly a model airplane directly into a small target, such as a door or window or person, which would be needed to cause damage using smaller explosives.

If you don't believe the articles, check with a local model airplane club. Such clubs, though sometimes small in number of members, are practically all over the place. Go to a gathering and ask those present what they think.

But what really irks me about the questioning headlines for such articles is that their use is basically fear mongering, often caused by lazy headline writing. Please understand, I understand what headline writers are dealing with daily. Nearly all of them are overworked and underpaid. Nearly all of them do not have much time to write excellent headlines. Often enough headlines are slapped onto a story as quickly as possible, without much thought given to them. Plenty of people within the news media will not admit to this, but it is the truth.

What can be done? Honestly, probably not much. One could scream about holding the news media responsible, especially the corporations who create over-stressed work environments, but the truth is that would likely not help. The bean counters and the marketers aren't really going to pay much attention because they are too busy trying to figure out how much money they're going to make this quarter, how they're going to survive just a few more months or weeks because of the bad economy and the growing unwillingness of advertisers and consumers to pay for advertising and news content.

It's tough for the media right now, but that should not be an excuse.

So, back to the original question, can model airplanes be used for terrorist weapons? Well, of course they can. But just about anything can be used for a weapon. A stick. A rock. A balled-up wad of paper jammed down someone's throat. Anything. Even a newspaper.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The worst part of being a fiction author

Every fiction writer is different. Each of us has our own complaints.

Of course we shouldn't be complaining. We sit on our butts and make up stuff for a living, which is far easier and more fun than most of the working world gets to experience on a daily basis.

But still, we complain. It must be something to do with us being human.

Some fiction authors complain about their editors. Others complain about readers. Some will complain about the writing process itself, or the editing process, or having to do self promotions. It's becoming more common for fiction writers to complain about one another, especially in the seemingly never-ending indie publishing vs. traditional publishing debate.

I think writers just like to complain.

And as a fiction writer, I have my own complaints, of course.

When is it toughest for me as a fiction writer?

When a project comes to an end.

I hate that time period, especially if it's a long project that has kept me occupied for a few months.

It's not so much that I'm in love with my last project (though I usually am to some extent), or that I'm completely tied to it. My feelings are more like a lost traveler looking ahead at a blank desert that seemingly has no end. There's this empty canvas before me, and I'm not sure what direction to take. It's not that I have absolutely no direction. No, not at all. It's more like there are too many directions I could go.

For instance, just a couple of days ago I finished the first draft a 16,000-word young adult dark fantasy novelette. That's a bit long for most magazine and anthology publishers, and much too short for book publishers, but I'll spend the next year or three sending this story out to the handful of publishers I know who take stories of that length. My guess would be in the end I'll have to self publish this story, simply because there is not much of a professional market (or any kind of market, for that matter) for novelettes.

But I finished this story. It had taken up my time for a couple of weeks. Now I'm floundering.

I'm keeping busy, of course. I've set aside that novelette for the time being, but I'll get to it again in a month or so after I've given it a little breathing space; then I'll come back to it with fresh eyes and give it a couple of edits. I've spent the last couple of days doing a little editing work on one of my novels for my print publisher, and I've got an article finished for a heroic fantasy website that should be available in about a week.

Still ... that vast desert stretches before me. What project do I start next? Where do I go from here?
That is the part I hate most about being a fiction writer. The unknown of knowing what project to proceed to.

In hopes of reaching a decision, I sat down last night and updated a computer file of potential projects. I have ideas for a dozen or so short stories in that file, and for about 50 or so novels or novellas.

My ongoing epic fantasy series will eventually be about 40 novels, if I live long enough to finish it. But I'm not sure I'm in the mood to get back into that universe at the moment.

Then there are a handful of horror ideas I've been contemplating, but I'm not really in the mood for that either.

I might be in the mood to pen a more literary tale, a mood that hits me from time to time, but in my experience these novels just don't sell. Not that sales have to be the only reason to write, but they do help to give one a nice push.

I've also recently found a fondness for novellas, works in the 15,000 to 40,000 word range. That's my own definition of a novella. Other writers and editors and publishers have their own definitions, but most are somewhere in the ballpark of my own numbers. I like writing novellas. They don't take as much time to write as a novella, and they are longer so the writer still has room to explore a little.

So what do I do? Write a novel? Or a novella? Or a short story?

Do I get back to work on my epic fantasy series? Or do I start on a stand-alone tale? Horror? Literary? Even science fiction?

I'm not seeking a real answer, of course. Eventually I'll make a decision. Sometimes that decision comes easy; I'll wake some morning and be in the mood for a particular project, and I'll start it. Other times the decision comes with much difficulty, with me having several small starts on various projects before finally settling on one.

Yes, this is the part I hate most about writing fiction. The unknown. That blank slate. The empty page. Worlds unexplored.

Gosh, it sucks to do this for a living. ;-)

Related links
What do you need to publish your e-book for Kindle?
100 Days of Fantasy: Day 1, The Hobbit
Horror and fantasy author's blog

Saturday, May 21, 2011

So you think you know books? Try this quiz about literature

  1. Who wrote The Raven?
  2. What was the name of the real-life sailor whose story influenced the writing of Robinson Crusoe?
  3. How many books did author J.R.R. Tolkien originally envision The Lord of the Rings to entail?
  4. What was the title of Ayn Rand's first novel?
  5. In what year did the murders in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood take place?
  6. Name one historical figure, who is also a well-known literary figure, who was a friend of Cyrano de Bergerac?
  7. What is the name of Leonato's daughter in Much Ado About Nothing?
  8. What famed city is the location of most of the events in The Iliad?
  9. Which writer has a character who said, "M-O-O-N spells moon?"
  10. What is the name of the largest rabbit in the main group of rabbits in Watership Down?
  11. What is the name of the son of Alexandre Dumas?
  12. What was the title of Jane Austen's first published novel?
  13. What name does Dr. Frankenstein give his monster?
  14. What is the title of the sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea?
  15. The first book published in the Lonesome Dove series is titled what?
  16. Who wrote The Road?
  17. What is the name of the main character in Franz Kafka's The Trial?
  18. What is Lady Chatterley's name before she marries Clifford Chatterley?
  19. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a critical, literary outline of the history of what country?
  20. What are the first three words in Moby Dick?
  21. What is the name of the street where sits the house in The House of the Seven Gables?
  22. During what war does For Whom the Bell Tolls take place?
  23. Who is the main character in Gone with the Wind?
  24. Don Quixote was originally written in what language?
  25. Who wrote The Time Machine?
  26. Who does Satan try to tempt in Paradise Regained?
  27. To where are the pilgrims traveling in The Canterbury Tales?
  28. In how many novels does Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer character appear?
  29. James Joyce is from what nation?
  30. Beowulf is a hero of what northern Germanic tribe?
  31. Who is the narrator of The Great Gatsby?
  32. John Gardner wrote an existentialist novel about a famed monster. What is the monster's name?
  33. The word "grok" comes from what famed science fiction novel?
  34. In what country do the majority of events in War and Peace occur?
  35. In Great Expectations, Pip discovers the escaped convict on what holiday?
  36. What is the name of the Russian ship that runs aground in England in the novel Dracula?
  37. Who is the lord of the castle in The Castle of Otranto?
  38. Who is considered the author of The Republic?
  39. Who wrote The Prince?
  40. What is the name of the school from where Holden Caulfield is expelled?
  41. In what U.S. city do the events of A Confederacy of Dunces take place?
  42. Who is on trial in To Kill a Mockingbird?
  43. How many chapters does Candide contain?
  44. The Red Bade of Courage takes place during what war?
  45. Who is the main character of All Quiet on the Western Front?
  46. What is the name of the wastelands where McTeague concludes?
  47. In what super-state/nation/continent do the events of Nineteen Eighty-Four take place?
  48. What is the name of the only published novel by Oscar Wilde?
  49. What is the name of Beauty's mother in Black Beauty?
  50. In John Steinbeck's The Pearl, what item is discovered that leads to so much misery?

For the answers to this quiz, go here

Self-publishing writers still need good editors

Let's say you've written a book.

Then you edited it. Maybe even did some major re-writing, moving around chapters and retyping whole sections fresh. You've straightened out the characters, tweaked your dialogue, all the stuff you think needs being done so that you have a professional quality book ready for readers.

Perhaps you've even designed your own cover artwork, and maybe you've even written your own blurbs for the back cover of the book.

A few years ago all this would have been frowned upon, but today more and more book writers are going the self-publishing route.

But why until recently has self-publishing been frowned upon so, and continues to be in some circles?

For one simple reason.

The truth: Most self-published books are garbage.

Yes, it can hurt to hear this. After all the months and years and hard work you've put into your book, it still might not be very good. It's your baby. You love that book. It has to be good.

But what you consider good might not be what a majority of readers will consider good. And unless you've only got one book in you, which is rare for most writers, you will want readers to come back and read other books, articles or stories you might write in the future.

So, you need your material to be top notch.

What to do?

Get an editor.

That might seem like a difficult task, but it's not. With economic and technological changes in the print industry, more and more editors are going freelance. Sometimes these editors used to work at a publishing house or a were literary agents. Sometimes the editors are new, or have been freelancing for years. There are plenty of editors out there. Just do a little searching on the Web.

Then you start to think about how much it might cost to hire an editor. Here, again, you are worrying way too much. Many editors will edit an average novel-length project for $500 or less, which really isn't that much money considering your book is your baby, right? Still, if you can't afford that price range, there are other options. If you have some editing skill, find someone else who needs a book edited and offer to swap with them, you edit their book and they edit yours. You could also check at a local college in your area, and perhaps you will find a student with an appropriate degree who will be willing to edit your book for a lesser price. Remember to think outside of the box. There are options.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Answers to literary quiz

For the quiz itself, go to this link.
  1. Edgar Alan Poe
  2. Alexander Selkirk
  3. One
  4. We the Living
  5. 1959
  6. D'Artagnon, though Cyrano also knew of Richelieu and likely the rest of the famed musketeers
  7. Hero
  8. Troy
  9. Stephen King
  10. Bigwig
  11. Alexandre Dumas
  12. Sense and Sensibility
  13. He does not name the monster
  14. The Mysterious Island
  15. Lonesome Dove
  16. Cormac McCarthy
  17. Josef K, or simply “K”
  18. Constance Reid
  19. Colombia
  20. “Call me Ishmael.”
  21. Pyncheon Street
  22. Spanish Civil War
  23. Scarlett O'Hara
  24. Spanish
  25. H.G. Wells
  26. Jesus
  27. Canterbury, more specifically the Shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral
  28. four: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad, and Tom Sawyer, Detective
  29. Ireland
  30. The Geats
  31. Nick Carraway
  32. Grendel
  33. Stranger in a Strange Land
  34. Russia
  35. Christmas Eve
  36. Demeter
  37. Manfred
  38. Plato
  39. Niccolo Machiavelli
  40. Pencey Prep
  41. New Orleans
  42. Tom Robinson
  43. Thirty
  44. U.S. Civil War
  45. Paul Baumer
  46. Death Valley
  47. Oceania
  48. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  49. Duchess
  50. A pearl

Monday, March 7, 2011

10 ways to tell if a guy likes you

  1. He tells lots of jokes around you. Little jokes, not big jokes like you'd see from a stand-up comedian. Most of his jokes likely will also be lame, and he'll laugh at them himself. If you laugh back, he'll probably get the idea you're interested.
  2. He'll tell you. Yes, guys generally don't tell a woman he likes them unless he really does like them. Of course his long-term motives might not be well intentioned, but at least he still likes you.
  3. If he asks you out, he likes you. It's quite simple, really.
  4. Is he flirting with you? You know, batting his eyes, making semi-funny small talk, stuff like that. If so, he likes you.
  5. Are you female? Is he speaking with you? If you answer "yes" to both of those questions, it means he likes you. Unless you're taking his order for fries. Then he just wants fries. Probably.
  6. Does he babble when trying to speak with you? If he does, that's a sure sign that he likes you.
  7. If in his conversations with you it seems that you and he have a lot in common, more than likely he's into you. This is especially showing if he keeps working into the conversation ways in which the two of you are similar.
  8. He's sharing stories about his life with you, probably little, possibly slightly embarrassing things. That means he trusts you, and likes you.
  9. Has he given you his phone number? His e-mail? His Twitter user name? His Facebook user name? Yeah? Guess what? He likes you. Don't think on it too hard.
  10. Does he seem to hand out the compliments to you? Yep, that's a sign he likes you.

Dating-related links
100 ways to show I love you
10 reasons not to date your boss
100 ways to have better manners

Saturday, March 5, 2011

10 tips for becoming a faster writer

  1. Don't worry about the first draft: The first draft of almost any writing project, whether an article or story or blog post or book or whatever, is not going to be very good. Don't worry about that while you are writing it. If you worry about it, you'll keep trying to correct yourself by editing and reworking. Don't do that. Get that first draft done. You can always go back and edit to your heart's content afterwards.
  2. Learn the basics: Grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. This might seem overly simplistic, but it's not. If you know these basics well, you will be able to incorporate them into your writing without even thinking about them. The better you know these basics, the less editing you will have to do.
  3. Shorthand: If you write in longhand, meaning on paper with pen or pencil, consider taking a class or studying a program about shorthand. Most shorthand writing styles will teach you various symbols that can take the place of some words. Something as simple as using an ampersand while writing in longhand can help to save a little time writing. Of course this means your typed drafts will take longer to input.
  4. Software: There are a few computer programs that can help you write faster by allowing you to replace certain words with shorthand of your own creating. One such piece of software is Texter. Think of it as shorthand writing for computers, which is what it is.
  5. More software: What about instead of using a pen, pencil or keyboard to do your writing, you could just speak and your words would appear on paper or on a screen. Well, actually, that can be done, at least the onscreen part. Consider using speech recognition software, such as Dragon, for your writing. Basically, you speak, and the words appear on the screen.
  6. Outlining: Outlining isn't for everyone, but if you are a writer who sometimes finds yourself becoming lost while writing, you might consider outlining your projects before you begin writing them. An outline not only can help keep you focused, but it can help you save time with that focus.
  7. When you write, write: This is easier said than done, but try to gather all your research or whatever other material you need for a project before you sit down to actually write. If you have all your material together and organized, you won't have to go looking for it or sifting through it while trying to write.
  8. Avoid the time sucks: What is a time suck? It could the the telephone. Or the TV. Or the Internet. Stay away from them. You'll never get anything done if you're constantly distracted.
  9. Write through it: Writer's block is a common enough malady for many writers, but don't let that deter you. If you're a writer of any experience at all, if you are truthful with yourself then you will know when you are facing a block. You might even see it coming. Sometimes a writing block is there because the writer doesn't know what to do next, where to go, on a particular project. Fight through this. It's easier said than done, but just keep writing. Eventually you'll work your way through this type of block, and even if much of what you wrote isn't very good, you can always edit later.
  10. Don't read what you are writing: Yes, you read that correctly. While you are actually writing, do not read what you have written. Do not look back on paragraphs or at the beginning or your project. Just don't look back. Keep writing. You'll do your rewriting and editing later.

More writing links
There's nothing wrong with writing for money

Writing for a Living, a blog for online writers
E-book indie author's blog

Friday, March 4, 2011

50 tips for becoming a better writer

  1. Read every day.
  2. Write every day.
  3. Then read and write some more.
  4. Read aloud what you have written.
  5. Surround yourself with quality writing friends.
  6. Such as those in a writing group, whether online or in real life.
  7. Take a class on writing.
  8. Send off that article, short story or book to a publisher, agent or editor. You'll never be able to test the waters until you do, and you might get back some solid feedback even if your material is not accepted.
  9. Hook up with a small-press magazine and offer to read from their "slush" pile for at least a month. Most likely they'll take you on. You will learn a lot. But you will also be quite bored and frustrated at times.
  10. Once you have completed the first draft of a writing project, set it off to the side for a while, perhaps a month, perhaps six months. That way, when you come back to it, you will be doing so with fresh eyes.
  11. Study spelling.
  12. Study grammar.
  13. Study punctuation.
  14. Whenever you read something you really enjoyed, go back and read it again, but this time with a critical eye. Try to figure out how and what the author did that you felt worked so well.
  15. Interview an author.
  16. Or editor.
  17. Or publisher.
  18. Or anyone related to the publishing field.
  19. Get a job at a newspaper, even if it's only part-time and/or at a smaller newspaper. It will open your eyes to a lot.
  20. Look for inspiration in the mundane. There are story ideas all around us.
  21. Work on developing a thick skin. You're going to need it. Writing and publishing often comes with letdowns.
  22. Study great authors. Maybe even make a list of authors whom you have enjoyed, and read them. Study them. Learn them, and how they do what they do.
  23. Turn off your television for a month.
  24. Maybe the Internet, too.
  25. And the cell phone or PDA or whatever gadget that sucks up your time. At least for a while.
  26. Study the markets. I'm talking short magazines and book publishers for the most part, but newspapers and online venues should also be considered. Learn what is selling to editors and publishers, and learn what people want to read.
  27. But try to be original. What's hot today might not be hot next week.
  28. If you feel you are in a rut, step outside your comfort zone. Try something totally different, something you never thought you'd do. If you write mostly fiction, try to put together a non-fiction article. If you write mostly romance stories, try your hand at a Western.
  29. Also, read outside your comfort zone. If you're a science fiction fan, pick up a historical novel. If you read mostly fiction, pick up a biography. Try something different. Story ideas and techniques can come from all over.
  30. Study a different kind of writing, something you never thought you'd try. If you've never written a poem, give it a try. If you only write novels, consider working on a screenplay.
  31. Self-publish an e-book online. You will learn quite a bit from this process. Just make sure you have quality material before doing so, of course.
  32. Pretend you are a potential reader or customer. Would you buy your story or book or article?
  33. Visit a good book store. If this doesn't whet your appetite to write, nothing will.
  34. Start a blog. It might get you to writing every day.
  35. Start your own magazine. You'll definitely learn from this process.
  36. Go for a walk. It will give you time to think about your writing projects.
  37. Don't whine.
  38. Don't forget to promote yourself, but try to do so withing being annoying. Promotions is often the key to being a successful writer.
  39. Be patient. It can take time to become good at your craft.
  40. Spend time thinking about what you want out of your writing. Do you want to write for a living? Or is writing a hobby for you? Nothing is wrong with either choice, but thinking through this stuff will make you better prepared for where to go with your writing.
  41. Have a plan. Especially if you want to write or already write for a living. This will allow you to keep deadlines, whether set by someone else or by yourself.
  42. Pay attention to others when in public. No, don't become a stalker, but listen in on chatter at restaurants and such. This will not only help you with studying dialogue, but it might give you some great story ideas.
  43. Stop looking for shortcuts. There are none. It takes time to become a good writer.
  44. Try to be objective about your own writing. Far too many writers can't do this, or they don't want to. Which is a waste of time. You have to be realistic about your own writing, and its weaknesses, if you ever want to succeed.
  45. Learn to blank out the world. This is a tough one for many people, but it can be done with practice. Some people can't write unless they have absolute quiet and a perfect little place to write. But that's not realistic. How often is it going to happen? For most people, not very often. So learn to write when there's noise, when you're around other people, etc.
  46. Write to your personality strengths. Are you funny? If so, try to write comedic stories and articles. Are you a dark, dour sort of person? Then write some horror short stories. Is religion prominent in your life? If so, write articles related to your theology, or even consider fiction based upon your beliefs.
  47. Writing can be lonely work, especially if it's your day job and you spend a lot of time doing it. Make sure to socialize! Otherwise your mind will dull down on you, and that's not good for writing.
  48. Don't worry about whether your book or story or article sells. Thinking about this can drive you crazy. Instead, go on to the next project. If a particular project doesn't sell, send it on to another editor or publisher. Or consider reworking it some, if you've heard feedback from others and you felt it was correct.
  49. If you write for a living, keep it professional. Don't complain to editors. Don't mouth off to readers. Yes, you will get a bad reputation. And yes, this will effect your ability to make sales.
  50. Remember, there are no rules in writing. If someone tells you otherwise, they are wrong. Any "rules" in writing are meant to be broken. Though maybe not by you. Maybe by someone else. But still, the "rules" of writing are broken all the time.
More writing links
The Importance of Editing Your Writing

Writing for a Living, a blog for online writers
Horror and fantasy author's blog

Friday, February 25, 2011

10 reasons not to date your boss

  1. The most obvious reason not to date your boss is that if the two of you ever break up, your boss might fire you. Sure, that's illegal. And yes, you could probably take your boss to court and you would most likely win something. But do you really want to go through all that? Avoid the headaches.
  2. Nepotism is a concern. Your boss might start showing you special treatment, or you might start showing your boss special treatment on the job. While this might not seem like a problem for you, it really is. The other employees will most definitely notice, even if you and the boss think you're being discrete. If nothing else, this builds bad relationships between you and your fellow employees, and that can make your job all that much harder.
  3. But even if nepotism doesn't truly exist, your co-workers are likely to bear some grudges, at least some of them. Even if special treatment isn't involved, some employees are going to believe it's going on anyway. You don't need that kind of trouble.
  4. What about your next raise? If you are dating your boss, it will be impossible for him or her to properly decide upon what level of raise you should get. Even if you have done a fantastic job, the boss might not want to give you too much of a raise because he or she could fear it will look like nepotism.
  5. Or just as bad, the boss you are dating could give you a great big raise, one you might not deserve. The money sounds great, but other employees will find out. Believe me, other employees will find out. Even if your boss and human resources department promise and swear that employees can't find out what one another makes financially, don't believe it. People talk. Word gets out. This could be more trouble brewing for you on the job.
  6. What if you and the boss break up and you go on a hunt for a new job? Would you feel comfortable asking him or her to be a reference? Most likely not. Think the two of you will never break up? Maybe not, but don't bet on that. It might happen or it might not, but it's best to play it safe.
  7. What if you and the boss break up but you remain on the job? Do you think it will be a pleasant work environment? Do you think your boss and former girlfriend or boyfriend will be able to treat you fairly? Think about it.
  8. He or she might be your significant other, but they still are your boss. That means there will be times they will have to put the company before you. In fact, there might be a lot of times they have to do this, and they might be more willing to do it since you work for the same company. Are you ready to handle being second at times?
  9. Most places will have a policy concerning inter-office relationships. If you are going to enter a relationship with your boss, or even another co-worker, make sure you know those rules. Nowadays most companies won't outright disallow such behavior, but they'll still likely have some sort of policy. You don't want to break that policy. It could get you in trouble at work, even if your boyfriend or girlfriend is your boss.
  10. What if you and your boss/lover have a workplace disagreement? Will it then boil over into a personal argument? Can you set up strict boundaries between work and your personal life?
Related links
10 signs you should dump your boyfriend
100 ways to annoy your boss
100 ways to show I love you

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One man's encounter with Bigfoot

While traveling in North Carolina recently to visit relatives, I got to talking with a fellow I have known for years. He and I are not exactly friends, but he is a friend of the family. I was surprised to learn he supposedly had a run-in with a Bigfoot creature about 10 years ago. We talked for a while and I asked him if I could interview him for an online article. He agreed as long as I did not use his real name. For sake of the following tale, I'll call him Bill. Here is his story, retold by me from notes I made while talking with him.

"It was about ten years ago when I run into the Bigfoot creature, or whatever it was.

"At the time I lived in a trailer up near the Virginia line, not too far from South Boston. I was going to college at Duke University in Durham at the time, and it was about an hour's drive to get to campus every day. Thank goodness most years I only had classes two or three days a week, because that's not the most exciting drive to make.

"For morning classes, I had to get up real early, usually by about four (a.m.). First thing I usually did was get a shower and eat breakfast. Then I had to feed my dog, she was an old beagle, and then I would take her outside for a good walk before I would have to leave for school.

"One morning I was out walking her, I guess I must have been about four thirty or five o'clock, when we heard something tearing through the woods behind my place. Now I know even a squirrel can make a lot of noise, especially in the middle of the night when there's no other sounds, but this was a lot louder than that. There were tree limbs cracking, and whatever it was sounded real heavy as it stomped through the woods.

"Now I've heard stories of black bears in that part of the country, even seen a few pictures, but I've never personally seen any. My thought at the time was that it must be a black bear. So I rushed my beagle inside because I didn't want her to get hurt.

"I was standing there in the trailer door unleashing my dog when the sounds from the woods got closer, as if something were tearing through the trees coming toward me.

"I didn't think. I shoved the dog further into the house and reached for a rifle that was hanging in a rack in a little closet across from the washer and dryer. I should have just gone in the house and shut the door, but that didn't occur to me for some reason.

"I grabbed the rifle, it was only a .22, a Marlin I think, and pulled out the clip to make sure it had ammo. It did, so I put the clip back in and jacked in a round. Then, as that noise was getting louder and closer, I stepped out onto the back patio and kicked the door closed behind me. If it was a bear or something, I didn't want to chance it getting in the house and I didn't want to chance my dog running outside to attack this thing.

"I didn't raise the rifle to my shoulder, but it just sort of hung from my right hand, ready in case I needed to bring it up.

"I think I walked out to the end of the patio where there was a short wooden fence, and I stared into the woods. I couldn't see much because it was so dark back in the trees, but there was one of those big lights that the electric company provides up a pole over the trailer.

"Then suddenly there it was in front of me, no more than twenty yards away. It tore out of the trees and came to a standstill right there, not moving, just staring back at me. It's chest was heaving up and down a little, as if it had trouble breathing or something, but other than that it did not move.

"I don't rightly know how to describe it. It was huge, taller than me, and covered in hair from head to foot. For a second the idea of it being a grizzly popped into my head, but I knew there weren't any grizzly bears in that part of the world. But I had seen penned grizzlies in Cherokee, North Carolina, and this thing was every bit as big as they were.

"It's fur was a dark brown, and it's face was sort of like that of an ape, but it didn't have the big mouth of an ape and its eyebrows protruded more than that of an ape. It's eyes were the scariest thing. They were real human, just like somebody looking right at you.

"But the thing didn't seem mean or angry or threatening. It just stood there staring at me, sort of as if it were sizing me up, but not as if it were going to attack. More like it wanted to make sure I wasn't going to attack it, be a threat to it.

"I couldn't move. I just stood there staring at it, frozen.

"Then it turned and walked back into the woods, slow this time, not making near as much noise as it had earlier.

"That's when I noticed my dog was howling its head off inside the trailer. I stood outside a little longer, but soon I couldn't hear anything in the woods, so I went back into the house.

"I was pretty shaken up. I didn't go to Duke that day, but stayed home. Part of me didn't want to leave the house because I was afraid that thing might come back and break in and hurt the dog. But I never saw it or heard of it again.

"I've asked around a little bit, and no one else around here that I know of has ever seen such a thing in these parts. But I don't like to tell too many people what I've seen, because then they think you've gone crazy or you were drunk or high when it happened."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

10 ways to use a pencil other than writing or drawing

  1. Chewing stick: Bored? Got your head in the clouds? But there's no gum about, and gum is important for daydreaming and other through processes. Well, it's time to stoop and use your pencil. You remember how to do that, right? From back in grade school? So gnaw away. Hopefully you have a clean pencil.
  2. Stabbing: I'm not advocating physical violence or anything, but if you ever get attacked by vampires (or by anybody, for that matter) and a pencil is all you have at hand, then stab away! Yep, a pencil can be used as a weapon. I've got a small chunk of pencil lead in my left hand from second grade as proof.
  3. Erasing: Yeah, this is an easy one. At least if your pencil has an eraser on one end. But if you don't feel like writing, and you've got that eraser, feel free to do some erasing. Just don't tear through the paper, at least not if you need that sheet of paper again.
  4. Throwing into the ceiling: You've probably played this game at work on a slow day. You find one of those drop ceilings that aren't too stiff, and you throw the pencil with the sharp end facing upward at the ceiling. You have to have a little skill to do this correctly and to get the pencil to stick into the ceiling, but with practice it can be fun. You could even get a few co-workers together and have a contest. Or even keep score.
  5. Spin the pencil: Remember playing spin the bottle in junior high school? This is just like that, except you are spinning a pencil instead of a bottle. Just make sure to pick good-looking friends to play this one with. And alcohol can help.
  6. Measuring: This is a fairly simple use of a pencil, and it's somewhat practical. Let's say you need to measure something, but you didn't bring a ruler or measuring tape with you. What's a handy substitute? Your pencil. Don't worry, because you can always measure the pencil itself later on and multiply that number by the number of pencil lengths used in your original measurement if you are in need of an actual unit of length like inches or centimeters or something.
  7. Kindling: Is it cold and you don't have any source of warmth? Well, in that case, hopefully you've got some matches or a lighter and a whole bunch of pencils. Because yes, pencils burn. At least the wooden ones do. I don't want to think about trying to keep warm by burning a bunch of plastic or metal pencils.
  8. Back scratcher: Don't you hate it when your back is itching ... right ... there ... in ... the ... middle ... where ... you ... can't ... reach ... it! Thank goodness for pencils, because they can give you that extra bit of length that can allow you to reach those tough spots.
  9. Modeling: Okay, you've got to be a real pencil lover to do this one. First off, you're going to need hundreds if not thousands of pencils. And probably some glue. Once you've got all those pencils and glue, you can get to work building a model. What kind of model? Your choice. But I'll suggest something rectangular, like a building, because of the length of pencils. Who knows? You could maybe do a model of a famous building, like the Empire State Building or the Tower of London.
  10. Stress relief: Sometimes there's nothing that can do away with your stress like breaking something. That's where pencils come in handy. They're cheap. They're easy to find. They're usually one around somewhere. And, most importantly, they're relatively easy to snap in half. So if you're having a bad day, get to breaking some pencils!
Other useless links for your amusement
10 reasons there ought to be a Constitutional Amendment banning flip flops
5 odd roadside buildings in America
5 weapons to have for a zombie apocalypse