Author Archives: brennancm

About brennancm

I used to write fiction a long time ago and even published a couple of things, but then life intruded. I'm back. I write fiction. I submit fiction for publication or put it up in this space. Sometimes I blog about what I've been up to.

A Song For A New Day

I’ve been writing very slowly lately. 

The excuse for my sluggardly pace? I’m trying to get better at it, rather than just churning out substandard prose that will make me cringe later. 

One of the ways I’m working on improving is by reading more. I’ve read a few enjoyable novels lately—I’m finally reading some Cherie Priest, which I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages. I’ll never actually get around to everything I want to read, but I’m working on it.

Cover image from Penguin Random House website

One novel I’m excited to recommend is A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker. Maybe this isn’t a book for everyone, but I’m not the only one who thinks it’s terrific. A bit of praise:

A back cover blurb by Charlie Jane Anders reads, “You’d better keep a copy with you at all times, because this book will help you survive the future.”

The starred Kirkus review calls it: “a gorgeous novel that celebrates what can happen when one person raises her voice.”

For my part, I love the plausible, unsettling near-future feel of the world Sarah Pinsker has created. It feels like it could happen about ten years in the future, or maybe even sooner. I love how the novel eventually feels upbeat. I love its implied call to action.

But will you like this book? You might if:

  • You love music, especially live music
  • You enjoyed her 2016 Nebula Award winning novelette, “Our Lady of the Open Road”
  • You want to know even a few of the 173 ways to wreck a hotel room
  • You like thinking up terrible names for bands
  • You feel hopeless
  • You feel hopeful
  • You crave a feeling of connection
  • You want to change the world

It’s Been a Year

EilBethCB_Pre_Bikes2As usual, Cookie, Tiger, and I did the Bike MS Tour de Farms ride – June 22, 2019

And I’m still fundraising, but we’ll get to that later.

The fact that it’s taken me this long to blog about the ride this year is a testament to how wacky the last few months have been. There were times I wasn’t completely sure I was going to ride. We had some health issues in the family starting around February, so training was a greater challenge than it sometimes is. And then there was…

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

Okay, that’s been going on for a while no matter what the Big Oil Companies want to you to believe. I refer you to Bill McKibben’s scary book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

I know there are people in way worse shape than our family, but here’s how it hit us: This past May was the wettest in Chicago’s recorded history.

So there wasn’t much decent riding weather, which interfered with our training regimens.

The weather also meant that our yard (where the drainage has never been terrific) has pretty much been a wetland all spring and summer.

Deck
There’s been a lovely moat all around the deck

So in addition to trying to finish the novel I started in 2016, and dealing with the aforementioned health issues, we also had to find a solution to the standing water before the disease-bearing mosquitoes decided to make our yard their refuge.

(Talk to me later if you want to hear the horror stories about the neighbor who decided that somehow we caused the drainage issues and was threatening to sue us.)

Anyhoo. Just when I thought events could hardly increase my tension level, my beloved bicycle—the one I was planning to ride at the event—fell off the back of a bike trailer as we were on our way to a training ride. Poor Skippy.

Skippysm
R.I.P. Skippy

She was mortally injured and now has become an organ parts donor at Working Bikes Cooperative

I was inconsolable, but BK dragged me out immediately after the incident and bought me a new bike. And in more good news, it looks like insurance will cover the loss.

I’m calling her Summit after the late legendary University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach, Pat Summitt.

Summit
Summitt

Summitt is also an aspirational name. I’m hoping that it will encourage me to do better on ascents.

Summit did me proud on the ride. We went 35 miles! Not as good as a couple of years ago, when we were riding 50, but Cookie, Tiger, and I all had stuff going on this spring, so we opted to do 35.

Tiger and Cookie raised funds like champs, but I’m afraid I fell down on the job this year. 2019 is the first time in several years that I might not achieve Gold Spokes status.

So if my tale of woe has awakened pity in your breast and you’re wondering how to allot your charitable giving this year, I could sure use the boost. I’m still eligible to join the Gold Spokes until about August 20. Here’s a link to my fundraising page 

If that doesn’t work for some reason, please let me know.

Thanks again to Cookie, Tiger, BK, Rocky, the Raupp family, my cousins Steve, Cecelia & Brian, Mickey, Kevin, Ann, Emmi, Kurt, Randy, the White family, Katherine L, and the Musto family. Your generosity is so much appreciated!

In case you’re interested, here are a few more pictures from the ride:

Beth_Pre EileenPre CB_Pre2

EileenBeth_Post BethCB_Post2

BethEileenAfter NoPixPls

Lindens

LindenInBloom

The linden trees bloomed late this year.

Their flowers, while pleasant, aren’t particularly showy. They don’t pop out in April or May, when all the crabapple, redbud, magnolia, ornamental pear, and cherry trees are showing off. I wasn’t even cognizant of them the first 30+ years of my life. It was only when I was getting a certificate at College of DuPage and walked along a gloriously scented avenue for a few days in June that I finally asked, “What is that fragrance?”

Lindens. Now I seek them out every year and find them all over. Thank heaven. Which is what they smell like.

I understand they’re a popular tree in Germany and had the occasion to ask a German friend (Simone Heller, who is the brilliant writer of such stories as “When We Were Starless” and “How Bees Fly”) if she liked them as well.

She shared this story from her childhood:

There were three enormous old linden trees behind our house, and I used to get up on a ladder with my dad to “help” with harvesting – most important thing was to look out for bees also interested in the flowers. We harvested the flowers only. I have discovered some places that serve linden flower around here as a hot or cold infusion during the last years, and they have harvested the seeds, too (the parts with the wings). They look very nice and it doesn’t hurt to have them, but the aroma and the pharmaceutical components are mostly in the flowers. 

We used to gather them in a basket to not squish them, and then bring them up to the attic to dry them over a longer period of time, spread out on a big cloth. They should dry in a shadowed place is what I remember, not in the sun. They were used in winter then, because they are good against the symptoms of colds or to prevent colds. But when I rediscovered them a few years ago, I found they also taste very good, mild, slightly sweet, and a lot like the blooming flowers smell. I remember not being so thrilled by the taste as a child, probably because they were used as a medicine, more or less.

We have to do some major regrading and drainage work in our yard and the old tripping hazard of a silver maple that makes it practically impossible to mow will soon be removed. We’re thinking of replacing it with a linden tree.

I don’t see myself harvesting linden flowers and creating infusions from them any time soon, but I love the idea that it’s possible…

2019 Hugo Nominations Announced!

http://www.thehugoawards.org/2019/04/2019-hugo-award-1944-retro-hugo-award-finalists/

I was so excited to see a Hugo nomination for my friend Simone’s novelette, “When We Were Starless”!

This novelette has made Simone a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon award. It is also featured in many year’s best lists. You can read it here: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/heller_10_18/

If you’re eligible to vote for the Hugos, you really should give this story a read. Read as many of the nominees as you can, of course, but don’t miss Simone’s.

Do. Literally. Anything.

United_States_of_America_Flag_at_Half-mast_in_New_England_in_Summer_2015 (1)

By Adam S. Keck (Own work; click photo for Creative Commons license)

This blog was never meant to be a political pulpit.

I’m not eloquent when it comes to expressing my opinions, I’m not convinced you can really change anyone’s mind, and I’m uncomfortable with confrontation to the point of phobia. That said, I can’t stay quiet about the gun problem in America. But here’s my rationale for this post: most Americans are in favor of common sense gun control, especially when it comes to assault rifles and universal background checks.

I’m not expecting anyone to change their mind. I’m asking people to start speaking up for what they believe in. If you disagree with me on this, that’s your right. I’m hoping that the multitudes who want meaningful gun control policy will raise their voices to drown yours out.

You can post on social media platforms, but those who agree will already agree, and those who don’t will ignore you (at best) or attack you. You can try writing (or calling) the White House if you think that will work. To the best of my knowledge, the more effective tactic is to call your elected representatives. I use the site 5 Calls to help me keep track of the issues that matter to me, and I recommend it.

The following are some thoughts from a few people (more eloquent than I) regarding gun control.

Cookie:
If you feel the need to own a gun for self-defense or protecting your home, fine, get one; our current interpretation of the Second Amendment permits it. But you don’t need, and shouldn’t have the ability to obtain, a semi-automatic weapon. That is NOT your Second Amendment right. We have speed limits on our roads for public safety and need limits on guns as well. Our government put tight controls on buying decongestants when some clever person figured out how to make meth out of pseudoephedrine, but they can’t seem to manage to regulate guns that are used for mass murders on a frighteningly regular basis in this country. And it makes me sick.

Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune:
You want better. You want change. You want it to stop. You wanted it to stop after Virginia Tech. After Sandy Hook Elementary. After Fort Hood. After Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston, S.C. After Pulse.
You want your children to live in a world where it’s harder to slaughter people. You want them to live in a country that tries harder to stop the slaughter.
You want to believe one of these mass shootings will be the one. The one that makes us decide assault rifles don’t make us safer. (How can a good guy with a gun stop a bad guy shooting from 32 stories above the ground?)

James Corden, The Late Late Show:
I saw a quote from Robert Kennedy that stayed with me today. He said that “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”
Now is the time for gaining that wisdom. Somewhere, it has to stop. Maybe the time for the thoughts and prayers of Congress members and the president have passed. We need to look to them to actually do something to prevent this from ever happening in the future.

Jimmy Kimmel Live:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a number of other lawmakers who won’t do anything about this because the NRA has their balls in a money clip, also sent their thoughts and their prayers today, which is good. They should be praying. They should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country, because it’s so crazy.
Right now, there are loopholes in the law that let people avoid background checks if they buy a gun privately from another party, if they buy a gun online or at a gun show. So I want to show you something. These are the faces of the senators who, days after the shooting in Orlando, voted against a bill that would have closed those loopholes. These are the 56 senators who didn’t want to do anything about that.

Stephen Colbert, The Late Show:
(Addressing Donald Trump) Want to make America great again? Do something the last two presidents haven’t been able to do. Pass any kind of common-sense gun control legislation that the vast majority of Americans want. Because if we are facing pure evil, then by all means, offer thoughts and prayers. But think about what you need to do and pray for the courage to do it.

Again, 5 Calls. Maybe you’re already subscribed but if not, it’s incredibly easy.

If you have another (constructive) idea, I’ll share it in the comments.

 

Totality

TimeLapse_web

Bro has been talking about the 2017 total solar eclipse for at least three years. Nearly two years ago, he reserved hotel rooms in Perryville, Missouri. Just off the interstate, so in case it got cloudy, we could drive to a location with clear skies.

On August 21, Bro got up at 5 a.m. to check various weather apps and decide if a move was necessary, and where we should trek to. By 6:30, we were heading down to my Toyota Sienna (affectionately nicknamed Moby Dick) to load it up with telescopes, binoculars, cameras, chairs, tables, and coolers before wolfing down breakfast and driving to Eddyville, Kentucky.

Around 10 a.m, Bro and George, aided by Bro’s Bride, George’s wife Bonnie, and me, were setting up equipment, including Bro’s specially-fitted telescope and George’s mega-fabulous binoculars. Our hosts for the occasion were the lovely people at Eddyville United Methodist Church. Unlike the gougers in Hopkinsville, Kentucky ($200 for a 10’x10′ space in a WalMart parking lot? Please!), the Methodists’ expectations were modest and their hospitality generous. For $10 they provided parking, real rest rooms, a pair of eclipse glasses, water, and a box lunch.

And lest I forget, the box lunches contained:

MoonPie_web

According to Bro, a total solar eclipse is the most impressive natural phenomenon most people ever report seeing. I had my doubts. I’d seen partial eclipses before. They were nice.

He was right, though. A total eclipse is a whole other ball game.

FirstContact_web

Bro reported first contact around 11:55 a.m.

JustBefore_web
Almost total.
Prominences_web
During totality

Now. This is why you need to plan for the next total solar eclipse (for me, that will be in 2024). The above picture (taken during totality, when Bro was able to remove the filter from the telescope) is pretty nice. If you look really hard, you can see the reddish prominences at roughly the three- and five-o’clock positions. Sadly, this shot doesn’t approach what it feels like to look up just after you’ve whipped off your eclipse glasses (only safe during totality). The prominences were more…well, prominent, and there was one more prominence visible, which didn’t show up well in any picture I saw.

The barking dogs, chirping crickets, sudden darkness, temperature drop, and the delighted oohs, ahs, laughs, and applause of those around you just don’t show up your smartphone photos. And the diamond ring–the flash that occurs just as totality ends–can only be fully enjoyed in real time (even accompanied, as it was for me, by the little frisson of panic when I realized I’d better shield my eyes fast; I guess I looked away quickly enough because my vision remains undamaged).

There was real camaraderie among strangers. Bro and George were everyone’s best friends. People enjoyed Bro’s eclipse soundtrack and loved the telescope and binoculars outfitted with solar filters.

Two morals:

  1. Knowledgeable eclipse buddies can’t be beat. Make friends with an astronomer today!
  2. If you live in North America, start thinking about where you want to be on April 8, 2024.

Neko and Kiy

I’ve met several talented people through my local writing group, The Writing Journey. We’ve enjoyed putting story anthologies together, doing informal readers’ theater versions of Shakespeare plays, and going to see some of our members perform.

Neko Zujihan is someone I know from the group (mostly online) and he’s created something remarkable that I wanted to share:

His book is now available on severable platforms, and I hope you get a chance to experience the rich world he’s given us. Look for Kiy: Jumoku No Musuko (Son of the Forest) on his publisher’s web site, or on Amazon.