Downturn Abbey

This is the last season of Downton Abbey.

Thank God.

It has had, in my opinion, five seasons too many. The first season was bloody perfect, just perfect. I loved it. I’m a fin de siècle kind of guy because of the excellent manners, decorum, restrained behavior, even proper dress of that era. Heck, if we were serious about creating a more cordial society today, we’d consider bringing all that back. Men should wear suits for everything, even digging ditches; we’d all get along better. At least we’d look better.

And the Crawley’s were the perfect embodiment of those times: elegant and sophisticated and imbued with an aristocratic sense of noblesse oblige. But, they were also ferocious defenders of rigid class lines and stultifying customs and traditions that ensured their own primacy while keeping Daisy and Bates down.

And they’re doomed.

The storm clouds are gathering, and they do not know it. We do. We know what’s coming. Their world will disappear in blood and fire, in a manner they never expected. And it will not come back. So the way Season 1 ended, with the tides of that destruction rising off camera, was perfect. The men enlisted, stiff upper lip and all that. The women created the homefront, just close your eyes and think of England. And a world passes. Downton Abbey should have passed in the same way, with inevitability, not with a friggin’ cricket mallet across the knees.

Because that is exactly what the next five seasons were, a severe beating of the audience.  Julian Fellowes, hearing all the swoons of various trust-fund babies and people who actually go on Viking river cruises, rode the tide of sighs all the way to the bank. He gave them what they wanted: impossible romances, more murders in one household than is usually found in a small city, more deaths by deus ex machina, and one death that completely obviates everything that happened in the first two seasons, bringing us all back to square one.


And now, this season, so treacly and sticky that viewers are in danger of developing diabetes. Everything is being set up for the most wonderful and sweeping Happily Ever Afters ever conceived. More Lords Sticks-Up-Butts are presented as matrimonial matches than you can shake a butt stick at, and there’s even a Jughead for Daisy. Former Fenians come home with precious child in tow and declares this den of English kaniggits is family. A hard-working farmer and his wife who did the Crawley’s a huge favor are summarily dismissed because, because, well, we gotta do something for Daisy’s father-in-law! And Barrow is going to get away with everything.


No doubt, the last show will be a swoon of almost mortal consequences. And Viking river cruises will have a banner year.

So, then, why am I still watching?

Because Dame Maggie Smith has the best lines.

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My German family lives mostly in Heilbronn, which is an industrial city about 40 miles from Stuttgart. Some of the family lives in Schwaigern (in which there are no restaurants), but they’re outliers. Heilbronn’s the family seat.

Heilbronn’s a somewhat different place, fairly cantankerous and disputatious towards its fellow Germans. The residents became known as pirates for their habit of traversing up the Neckar to local towns like Mannheim and stealing ship cargoes. During the 1848 revolution, the army garrison sided with the revolutionaries, several of them ending up in America to fight mits Sigle. Helibronn disliked the Nazis and tried to kill Hitler (or someone that looked like him) when he visited the place. Despite that, the locals put up a ferocious resistance when the US 100th Division tried to take the city at the end of WW2.  Heilbronners are known as “knife-stabbers,” whatever the German slang for that is. It’s the Bronx of Germany, a bit of a rough place. My roots, people.

But it has its charms, like the Kilian Church above towering over the the Xmas market:

where I got some real German food:

which, incidentally, is hard to do. Usually you have to go to America to get German food. Yes, that’s gluwein, Yes, it’s good, knock-you-on-your-ass good.

Heilbronn is a place of chickens:

chicken ladies:

and conscripted labor:

Hmm. No wonder them chickens is happy:

It’s pretty in places:

grim in others, like here, where the casualties of the December  fire-bombing were buried:

The Neckar:

about two blocks from the house, which is the white one in this photo:

This is a coal plant on the north side of the city:

To the south out of view is a nuclear power plant. Think you’re gonna shut these down?

Uh uh. This is Heilbronx, bud.

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Back in the US…

…of A, after 17 days in Germany, about 2 days in Denmark, and around 30 feet away from Switzerland.

Gracie was glad to see us.

Where the hell have you been?

Everywhere, man. Like Heilbronn:


and Nuremburg:

among others.

So much to show you that I can’t do it in one post. More to follow.

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It. Is. Finished.

The Ship Finding God, that is. At 83,000 words, and some change.

Of course, that’s just the first draft, which is far from an actual finish. The wood has to be sanded and treated and then several coats of varnish applied before it’s ready for public use. If history is any judge, whipping it into shape ought to bring it down to a fighting weight of about 75-78,000 words. From boat building to fight training, how do ya like those metaphor mixes?

It is, for all intents and purposes, though, done. The frame of the story is right where I want it, which is somewhat surprising. Usually, about halfway through a first draft, I run into some unforeseen event that completely changes my direction. In the first Ship book, it was Otto’s rejection as a crew member. Up to that point, I’d seen his joining the crew as a given, and the rest of the book progressing through a series of engineering issues. But, one day, while I was minding my own business, the idea of Otto getting kicked out of Star City took over, and the book changed from Asimov to Tolkien. In the second one, I started out keeping the crew intact…and then, next thing I knew, crew members began disappearing. That changed it from Tolkien to Stephen King.

But, that didn’t happen this time. The original idea remained pretty much intact all the way through, although several unanticipated characters show up. What’s that original idea, you ask? That finding God may not actually be the point.

Which means the title is not a spoiler.


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Cool as a…

Seen these?

Being the maliciously sadistic and evil person that I am, had to try it with Gracie.

The result?

Too cool for school.

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Pitchforks and torches

I’m just a bit shy of 70,000 words for The Ship Finding God, and I’m expecting this:

or this:

which, yes, I know, no one expects.

That’s because I am addressing creation and existence in a manner that, well, doesn’t coincide with popular teachings. Not that I’ve got the answers, mind you, just some rather oblique views. And, no, nothing outlandish:


I’m still figuring another 10,000 words or so before it’s done, but that should go rather fast. I’m seeing my way clear. Then, you can judge.

Just not so harshly. Please.

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The Adventures of Gracie the Wander Cat: Indignities

So, there I was, minding my own business:

when snatch, grab,

and shoved inside the trunk of a car:

I’ve got a real bad feeling about this.

Got thrown in some outside waiting line. With these guys:

I am not happy.

Then, some clown in a smock reaches in, yanks me out by the neck and shivs me. I fly back so fast into the cage that I manage to bend the needle, but the guy who stabbed me said it was okay, the vaccine got in.

Okay? You think this was okay?

Got home, and that Krauss guy offered up some treats but, you know what?

Screw you.

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High. Ate. Us.

Not really. More like Dis. Tracted. From The Ship Finding God.

My editor at Rebel E Publishers, affectionately known as Jayne the Impaler, is in the midst of whipping Tu’an into shape. We had quite the lively discussion about the Britanization of certain words. See, I think that certain words should retain their Brit spelling: armour, smoulder,  etc., you know, that quite unnecessary “u.” Seems to me that it conveys the better sense of the word. I mean, armour is a tank; armor is a dog food company. But she, being an editor, demands consistency. The nerve.

Anyways, Tu’an is coming along nicely because Jayne is, well, good. For example, she pushed me to add  a little teaser at the end to give the two or three of you reading the series a bit of a come-on. So I did. No, it’s not the first chapter of the third book of the trilogy, which shall be named Colm, but something…else. You’ll see. That is, if Jayne lets it pass.


Not that Ship Finding has been lying around eating cold pizza or anything. We’re up to 65,000 words now, and I’m still projecting about 75,000 to 85,000 to finish it. Maybe 95,000, ’cause there’s some things happening. Like the Suits showing back up. Couldn’t just leave those guys circling the dark world, now could I?

Stay tuned.

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I didn’t do a pumpkin this year because none grew in my garden. The few plants that survived the Night of the Woodchucks didn’t bloom. Well, they bloomed, but produced no fruit. Suspect a dearth of honeybees caused that. And butterflies. Didn’t see hardly any of either all summer. Think it’s time to install a beehive in the backyard.

At any rate, I did grow some pretty good corn, and the stalks were lying around doing nothing, so:

Not bad. Enough to give the unwary ‘treaters a chill or two, so turned on the porch light, filled up the candy dish, and waited.

And waited.

And….no one. Just the kid next door, who ended up getting half the candy dish. And it was good stuff, Hershey Bars and things.  No jellybeans and toothbrushes from me, nosireebob.

Guess I shoulda had a pumpkin.


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Let’s play!

I love board games. I’ve got probably fifty or so, mostly tactical and strategic kinds like Squad Leader and Wooden Ships and Iron Men. I have a lot of the old Avalon Hill titles and some modern ones, like Fortress America, and several Lock ‘n Load‘s like Heroes of the Pacific and Eisenbach Gap. Board games are one of my many weaknesses: I can’t pass a game store or a game booth at a convention without buying something. So when Dave Fisher, owner of Your Hobby Place, one of the best game stores in the Shenandoah Valley (if not the US), let me know they were having another block party, I had to go.

I did one with them last year, and it was a hoot, buncha fun folks running around listening to a local band and eating. This was pretty much the same,

except it was actually a benefit to help pay the medical expenses of a local family.

My set up:

Last year it was hotter than Hades. This year it was windier than the floor of Congress. Two struts on my canopy snapped, and I had a lot of fun (a) keeping the whole thing from falling down on me and/or (b) blowing away. Who said writing isn’t hazardous?

Lots of truck traffic. From the truly terrifying:

to the not-so:

The band, Quasi Flannel:

Those guys are good.

I ran into Angela Souders and J.M. Dean, two of the coolest people in America, whose acquaintance I had the pleasure to make during ID4Con. I’d post pictures but, of course, my camera batteries crapped out. Who said writing isn’t hazardous?

It was a pretty successful event, raising over $3000 for the family. Glad to be a part of it.

I broke tradition and did not buy a game. Did buy a comic book, though.

Black Bolt. Cool.

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