Drones (and an explanation)

Mea Culpa. I haven’t posted to this newsletter for a few months. It seems I had to have open-heart surgery (quadruple bypass and a valve replacement) and it has taken a while to recover. Interestingly, I healed pretty quickly physically. But it has only been in the last few weeks that I’ve been able to write anything other than snarky Facebook posts. Among OHS patients (we call ourselves the “zipper club”), there is a thing we call “pump head.” The theory is that when they stop your heart and transfer its activity to a heart-lung machine for a while, a lot of the subtler abilities of the brain start to erode. And after your newly stitched-up and sweat-soldered back together heart is once again thumping away, some of those eroded-away brain parts take a long time to restore themselves.

As for me, it seems like the ability to put a few words together in a meaningful way is returning. Let’s hope those creative impulses have moved back in and aren’t just stopping by for a visit.

In honor of the Halloween season, here is a grim little tale I put together last week.

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Drones

“This is Joe the Night Stalker on WXRB and we’ve been talking to George65. Thanks for giving us a call and sharing your theory that birds are not living creatures, but they are actually drones controlled by the government and sent to spy on us.”

“I didn’t say all of ‘em, just the bigger…”

“Well. It looks like we’re out of time for this segment; stay tuned because we’re going to get into the whole Sasquatch controversy.”

*****

George held the receiver out in front of his face and yelled at it. “And I didn’t say it was the government! It might be the damned CIA or even the Russkies, how the hell would I know?”

He slammed the receiver down into the phone cradle and growled at it. He went to the window, picked up the binoculars that hung around his neck, and put them up to his eyes. Although the sun had gone down, he could see the silhouette of a hawk circling slowly in the evening breeze.

“I see you, you son of a bitch,” George muttered. “Why are you casing the hospital? Is something going on over there I don’t know about?”

He studied the Tucker County Hospital just across the boulevard. Five years before, there had been a tobacco field over there, now it was all concrete and glass, high buildings, and paved parking lots. Unlike some of his neighbors, George hadn’t minded when construction on the hospital began. There were a few things that the government put its money into that didn’t get George hot under the collar, and hospitals were one of them.

Before he turned on his computer, he pulled down the shade on the window.

“No use in givin’ them damned drones a free look into my bidness, is there Rusty?” George said to his old Retriever.

He reached down and scratched the dog’s head and the back of his neck. Rusty didn’t get up; instead, he thumped his tail against the floor to show his pleasure. George slid into the chair in front of his laptop and within a few minutes was in a chat room on a shirttail website called Spybirds.com comparing notes with his friends Redram42 and Theydontfoolme.

*****

Two hours later, Rusty heaved himself up onto his feet, hobbled over to his food dish, and then looked up at George expectantly. The old man typed “gotta go,” signed out, and shut off his computer. After he had finished spooning out dog food into Rusty’s dish and had straightened up, he felt a slight sting on the back of his neck. He slapped himself in the back of the head and looked at his hand, but did not see the expected dead insect. Then he felt something whir past his ear.

Spinning around, George saw what appeared to be a giant mosquito up in the air near the ceiling. Rusty noticed it and began to bark. The old man picked up a newspaper from the coffee table and, without taking his eyes off the insect, rolled the paper into a tube.

“All right, you little bastard,” George said. “Get ready to die”

For the next five minutes, there was a chase around the room – George swinging his newspaper club and the bug just staying out of reach. Finally, the insect flew behind the curtain over the kitchen window. George, his newspaper ready for the death blow, jerked back the curtain, but nothing was there.

“Damn it, Rusty, he got away.”

He was reaching for the dog’s leash when his neck began to itch. He scratched at it idly.

“Hey, Rusty, want to go for a walk?”

The dog arfed happily as he came up and bumped the old man’s leg. When George reached out to pick up the leash from its hook, he saw that his fingertips were covered with blood.

“What the devil…” he muttered to himself as he ducked into the bathroom for a look in the mirror. The back of his neck was smeared with blood. As he watched, little blisters formed on the side of his neck, grew in size, and then split open causing trickles of blood to run down and stain the collar of his T-shirt.

“Poison,” George gasped. “I’ve been poisoned! That wasn’t no bug, it was a damned drone and it jabbed me with somethin’. What the hell can I do? Who can I call? I’ll be dead before they get here!”

He pulled up the window shade and looked across the street. The main entrance to the hospital was directly across the street, but to the South was another entrance that had big, bright red capital letters over the door – EMERGENCY.

“I’ll just run across the street. I can be there in five minutes. They’ll know what to do.”

George was halfway out the front door when he stepped back into the house and jerked open the drawer in the end table. He pulled out a Smith and Wesson 442 revolver and gripped it tight. He felt better with the cold weight of it in his hand. Safer somehow.

Jerking open the door, he stepped out into the darkness. Before the screen door could slam, Rusty was out and running down the drive. The old man tried to run too, but arthritis in his knees and hips kept him to a hobbling walk.

The itching that had started on the back of his neck had spread down to his shoulder and up the side of his head and was beginning to burn.

When George got to the end of the drive, he had to wait for a few agonizing minutes for a break in the traffic. A searing stab of pain lanced down his back and forced him into motion. With the dog beside him, he scurried across the street ignoring the sounds of honking horns, squealing brakes, and angry curses. George reached the far curb and fell to his hands and knees on the grassy verge. Rusty kept running.

The old man looked up and saw the brightly lit Emergency Room door up ahead and staggered to his feet. There was a drainage ditch that he’d have to cross before he got to the hospital lawn itself. Further down the street was the driveway, which would be an easier walk, but would take more time. Then he heard Rusty bark down in the gulley, then howl with pain.

“Rusty!” the old man yelled as he hobbled down the hill.

In the darkness, he could see something moving. When he got closer, what he saw made him want to retch. His dog was sprawled on the grass, dead, with his head split open. A large, black bird with glowing red eyes was perched on Rusty’s neck, plucking gobbets of meat out of the wound and eating them.

“You sonofabitch!” George screamed as he leveled the gun at the bird and pulled the trigger. He missed and with a rattle of feathers, the creature flapped its way up into the dark. George jerked the trigger twice more, but the burning pain in his arm made his hand shake and the shots went wide.

The old man ran to the body of his dog and reached down to stroke his fur one last time. Suddenly the dog’s eyelids popped open. Glowing, red pupils focused on George. In an instant the hound had the old man’s hand clamped in its jaws. The teeth broke quickly through the skin and the dog started ripping the flesh off the bones.

George screamed and tried to pull his hand away, but the pain only increased. In desperation, he pressed the pistol against the dog’s chest and pulled the trigger. His hand came free.

Weeping now, he cradled his mangled hand in the crook of his elbow and staggered up the hill. At the top, he paused long enough to see the emergency room entrance, and then shambled toward it as quickly as he could.

By now he was only twenty feet away. There was an ambulance in front of the doors. A wailing siren came up the drive and a patrol car, blue and red lights flashing, skidded to a halt. Two cops jumped out.

“Help!” George shouted. “Help me! They’re trying to kill me!”

Instead of running to his assistance, the cops scrambled behind their car and shined a spotlight into his eyes.

“Drop your weapon!” said an amplified voice.

“All right, but if I do they’ll attack me!” George yelled, “You have to shoot them before they get me!”

“Just drop the gun! Then we’ll take care of you!”

George opened his hand and the pistol fell to the ground. There was a screech and he looked up to see the big black bird diving straight at his chest. The impact knocked him backward and he fell. Just as he hit the ground, he felt the dog’s jaws clamp down on his throat. He struggled but it was only a few moments before sight and sound melted away like film in a broken projector, leaving only black silence.

*****

Mick and Larry, the two EMTs that were staffing the ambulance that night, had been hiding behind their vehicle. As soon as the old man dropped the gun, they picked up their equipment cases and ran toward him. By the time the cops caught up with them, Mick was on his knees pumping the old man’s chest in a CPR cadence while Larry pressed an oxygen mask over the mouth. After a few minutes of this, they looked at each other and shook their heads.

“I gotta tell ya,” Mick said as he re-packed his case, “I’ve never seen such a look of sheer terror on a man’s face before, living or dead.”

“We heard all that screaming about ‘They’re trying to kill me,” said Larry, “but look, there’s not a mark on him.”

Suddenly there was a loud rattle and flap of feathers as a large bird took off from the roof over the portico and flew up into the night sky.

6/8/2021 Titling Responses

In my last UpWord, I threw out a challenge to create possible titles of novels in different genres. I also gave a quick condensation of a plot for each of the titleless novels. And I did say that if I got some good responses, I’d publish them here.

Contemporary Fantasy – A Faustian musician who’s trying to resurrect a dead musician so they can jam together.

Romantic Fantasy – A knight who spends five years trying to break a spell cast on him by a witch, only to slowly fall in love with her.

Science Fiction – The first mission to land a human on Mars succeeds. The astronauts are exploring the planet for themselves, and they meet humans who landed thousands of years ago and have evolved for the Martian climate.

Romance – A student on a study abroad trip falls in love with the bartender at the pub down the road, and on the last day of classes before she leaves, she confesses her feelings.

Mystery – A woman researching her genealogy finds that several people from different branches of her family all died in the same mysterious location — of unknown causes.

First, here are some excellent titles from Brian Bettger;

  • Scenario #1
    • Raising Rachmaninov
    • Hell of a Jam
    • Bach From the Dead (my personal favorite)
  • Scenario #2
    • Realm’s Recompense
    • Camelot’s Curse
    • Spellbound Crusader
    • Templar Exemplar (my personal favorite)
  • Scenario #3
    • We Were Never Alone
    • Unexpected Gravity
    • First Cousin on Mars
    • The First Second Landing (my personal favorite)
  • Scenario #4
    • Last Round’s On Me
    • Passing the Bar
    • Foreign Exchange (my personal favorite)
  • Scenario #5
    • Fatality Family Tree
    • Dead Roots
    • Digging Up the Family Plot (my personal favorite)

I also received a nice little list of titles from Loryne Coffin.

Echoing

Eerie notes

The cave

The theremin

And a big thank you to person who sent the really gnarly titles. They made me laugh but they were just too rude to print.

I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.

Tim

5/26/2021 Titling the Tale

I am a member of several Facebook groups that are dedicated to writing. The people who post and the people who comment are writers, readers, novelists, editors, fans, and a few trolls. One of the more popular topics is the Choosing of a Title. A writer might be near the end of her first draft of a novel and still not have a name for it. Others may have little more than an idea, but need a title as a goal to lead them on. I rarely comment on these threads – not because I don’t have an opinion, but because I usually have a whole raft of opinions and I don’t think a long essay would be well-received.

But I would like to address the subject here. I decided to set a game for myself. I first went to several different sites that offer writing prompts and randomly picked out ideas in five different genres. Here they are:

Contemporary Fantasy – A Faustian musician who’s trying to resurrect a dead musician so they can jam together.

Romantic Fantasy – A knight who spends five years trying to break a spell cast on him by a witch, only to slowly fall in love with her.

Science Fiction – The first mission to land a human on Mars succeeds. The astronauts are exploring the planet for themselves, and they meet humans who landed thousands of years ago and have evolved for the Martian climate.

Romance – A student on a study abroad trip falls in love with the bartender at the pub down the road, and on the last day of classes before she leaves, she confesses her feelings.

Mystery – A woman researching her genealogy finds that several people from different branches of her family all died in the same mysterious location — of unknown causes.

*

I will try to come up with four different possible titles for each idea using my four Title Formulas. I will also try to keep in mind that there are words that are closely linked to each genre that can only increase the titles’ appeal to readers of that kind of fiction. I get to put in “The” or “A” whenever I feel like it. Here are the formulas:

Gerund  (verb + ing)

Adjective + Non-Matching Noun

Stand-Alone Adjective

Stand-alone Noun

*

Contemporary Fantasy (The musician thing) –

Synchronizing

Discordant Magic

The Cavalier

The Symphony

Romantic Fantasy (The knight and the witch thing)

Conjuring

Dangerous Enchantment

The Powerless

Spellcaster

Science Fiction (The astronauts on Mars thing)

The Seeking

The Freezing Warmth

The Abandoned

Crimson

Romance (The girl and the bartender thing)

The Comforting

In Silent Gardens

Overflowing

The Hawthorn

Mystery (The genealogy thing)

The Uncovering

Dishonest Blood

Erased

The  Document

*

How did I do? There are, admittedly, some real clunkers up there, but some others that I think are not too bad. What do you think?

When I was a kid, I was crazy for cartoons. My older brother Chuck would see me trying to draw something, take a look, and sneer some insult. My response was always, “Let’s see if you can do any better.” I was on safe ground then, because Chuck couldn’t draw his way out of a wet paper sack. With a little more trepidation, I’m issuing the same challenge to you.

Create as many or as few titles as you want for these five story blurbs. Use my Title Formulas or just put down anything that puts some elastic in your drawers. Send it to me and I’ll put it in the next newsletter.

Thanks for your attention and we’ll talk in a couple of weeks.

Tim

5/12/2021 – Headfirst is in the news

In his new novel Headfirst, indie author Tim Pelton invites readers back to the 1960s as he follows a group of college friends on their (mis)adventures involving sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. The novel is striking for its deep dive into this unique cultural moment, even when the novel struggles to find forward momentum. Pelton, who lives in Fairfield, answered questions via email.

Tell me about the origin of Headfirst. Is the book semi-autobiographical? If not, what led to this collection of characters and their adventures?

Much of Headfirst is a fictionalized version of what happened among a group of friends. In fact, the story is more about what happened among two separate groups of friends as I left one and joined another. Since those days, I have become the unofficial chronicler and storyteller of both. When we’d get together years later, someone might ask, “Hey, Tim, do you remember when those hitchhikers from New York came through?” And I’d be off and running, never letting the facts get in the way of a good story. After an hour or so of were-we-crazy-then-or-what, someone would say, “You should write all these stories down in a book.” But the stories were just stories. They had no spine to give them continuity.

Then one day, one of the old crowd asked me, “What did we do that for? Why did we dress up in funny clothes, let our hair grow out, get high, and mock our parents’ generation?” It was a good question. After a lot of thought, I realized that although I still didn’t know the answer, I had the spine I needed. I began to write, and ten years later, here we are. I’d say what happens in the book is one third the truth, one third the embroidered truth, and one third completely imagined.

Do you plan to write more about these characters?

When I finished the first draft of Headfirst, it was a whopping 145,000 words. I sharpened up my meat cleaver and began hacking away. By the time I had a second draft, it was a much more svelte 113,000 words. But among the trimmings, three sections were demanding a life of their own. So I rewrote each one as a short story and collected them into a slim book called 3 Orphan Stories.

If Headfirst is a decorative tree, then these stories are not budding branches showing new growth, but rather some ornamental cuttings that have been brought in and arranged in a vase. There is still a bucketload of the old stories, but what I’m looking for is a new dramatic through line to hang them on. I do think that Jamie Shipman’s story has been told. Quentin Rickman would probably be the main character of a sequel

Did you always intend to self-publish or did you shop Headfirst around first? What do you like about being an indie author? What do you find most challenging?

My original intention was to follow the traditional publishing path. . . . It didn’t quite work out that way. After being rejected by nearly 30 different agents, I did some serious self-assessment and realized there were three very good reasons I wasn’t making headway, all of them having to do with the fact that the whole traditional publishing system is there to make money. They are not there to discover new voices or to help entertain the masses. They are only there to sell books. And I had three strikes against me before I even stepped up to the plate.

Strike one: I was a debut writer with no name or following. Strike two: Headfirst is too long. . . If a customer is browsing and picks up two books of equal interest but one is thicker, she’ll buy the thin one—80,000 to 100,00 words is the preferred range. Strike three: I had written a book with no genre. If your book doesn’t fit neatly into a well-worn cubbyhole like “cozy mystery,” “urban fantasy,” or “Regency romance,” agents and publicists have no idea what to do with it. And I had written a sort-of historical novel with comic and romantic facets.

It wasn’t so much that I chose self-pub, but that Headfirst chose it for me. Rather than immediately run off to Amazon with my manuscript, I spent a year researching the process—how to build a platform, how to edit it yourself before giving it to an editor, how to publish with little or no money —before I made the plunge.

Do I like it? To continue the metaphor, it’s like jumping into a swiftly moving river for the first time. I’m excited, I’m still afloat, and so far the scenery is fine.

Do you think of yourself as an Iowa writer?

I’m not sure what that is. I have lived in Iowa for a total of about 13 years. Folks I know whose families have lived here for generations probably consider me a tourist. But there is something in the air or drinking water here that inspires a square-shouldered devotion to simplicity, to a confidence that things that were uprooted will grow again. And if someone should notice these qualities in my writing, then I would proudly say, “Yes, I am an Iowa writer.”

Do you have other writing projects on the front burner (or even the back burner)? What should readers expect from you next?

Two projects have been waiting for a long while for me to get to them—The Braided River and The Streeterville War.

The majority of The Braided River was written by my mother, Helen Pelton. In 1981, she began exploring worlds that she had not known even existed before. Starting with the help of professionals, then on her own, she took on the exploration of a multitude of past lives. She found, through almost nightly self-hypnotic regressions, that over the centuries she had reincarnated over and over—sometimes as a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes a hero, a victim, or a villain, but each time with trials to overcome and lessons to learn. For 11 years she made these explorations, keeping detailed notes. Then she wrote the stories of the two most dramatic and interesting lives she had led and collected them into a book. Once it was done, she put the book up on a shelf and never published it.

In 2018, 13 years after my mother had passed away, I took her book down off that shelf. When I remembered how well the stories were told—like little mystery tales—and how the lessons of each life were universally applicable, I took on the task of preparing the work for publication. This meant digitizing, editing, rewriting, updating, and adding a couple of chapters of new material.

One of the most surprising things she discovered is that in nearly every life she recognized the same familiar entities around her that had appeared before but in many different roles. Over the years, this group tried to teach each other the great lessons of life in the only way they are truly learned—in the School of Hard Knocks. The cold-hearted slave owner who works one of his captives to death finds himself in a later life to be a desperately unhappy slave who is raped by her owner. And that owner is, this time, the entity who was once that doomed slave. It is one thing to say, “As you sow, so shall you reap,” but it is quite another to see this law, time after time, playing itself out.

The other project, The Streeterville War, is based on the true story of Cap Streeter. In 1890, Cap ran his old wreck of a boat aground on a sandbar in Lake Michigan a hundred yards from the downtown Chicago beach. He lived on the wrecked boat and began to make a living selling bootleg whiskey that his wife, Ma, made with the still she had built using parts from the boat’s boiler. A year passed and he found that the boat was sitting on an island. The old hulk had changed the currents of the lake, and sand was being deposited like snowdrifts behind a board fence. Cap began to scavenge the city for wagonloads of trash that he could dump into the water. It took nearly eight years, but finally, Cap could walk from his home to Chicago and not get his boots wet. He named the new land Streeterville.

About this time the moneybags and robber barons of Chicago, among them N.K. Fairbank, Potter Palmer, and Marshall Field, decided to remove Cap Streeter from this land, level the ramshackle impromptu settlement of saloons, whorehouses, and shacks, and divide the whole thing up among themselves.

Getting wind of the plot, Cap loaded up his shotgun, dug in his heels, and got ready for the fight of his life.

For several years I have maintained a blog called The Pelton Chronicles, consisting of gently humorous stories about growing up in a small town in Wyoming. Once Headfirst was published, I decided I needed a landing site for all my writing endeavors, so I built the Tim Pelton Author Headquarters (TimPeltonAuthorHQ.com). The Chronicles are all there, as well as Headfirst, and a biweekly newsletter on writing called UpWord. I am also offering a free-for-the-asking digital download of 3 Orphan Stories.

4/28/2021 Welcome Aboard

This is the first UpWord Newsletter of what I hope will eventually be a pretty long list. I am also going live with my brand-new website Tim Pelton Author Headquarters, so if I seem a little giggly, it’s because I am!

As I was preparing my novel Headfirst: A Novel of the Sixties for publication, I knew I was going to need a new website. My good old blog, The Pelton Chronicles has served me well for the last 2 ½ years, but I was going to need a link to the novel on Amazon, an opportunity for people to get a free download of 3 Orphan Stories, a place for folks to sign up to get this newsletter as well as an archive of past newsletters, and a way that people can see what projects I’ll be working on in the future.

Luckily for me – and now you – There was just enough extra money in the proceeds from the Headfirst Kickstarter Campaign to allow me to hire a web designer. Her name is Iram Zeeshan, she lives in Pakistan, and I found her on Fiverr.com. All I’ve had to do is assemble graphic packages in Photoshop and send them off to her. She inserts them into the site and makes sure everything fits together. I’ve seen her portfolio and it is mostly very slick and clean-lined corporate stuff. I come along and toss her not just a curveball, but a brightly colored, frayed-around-the-edges curveball. She not only handles it but knocks it out of the park. I somehow doubt, however, that she’s going to set up a “Fun ‘n’ Funky” section in her CV any time soon.

Please have a look around, kick the tires, check out the cupholders made from banana skins. If you come across something that doesn’t work yet, rest assured it soon will. Take care of yourselves and I’ll talk to you in a couple of weeks.

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