Primary Research is Slow

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Steam tugboat Baltimore, photo copyright David W. Wooddell

I’ve written before about working in archives, and doing primary research. These days, I’ve been back at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, digging through their original documents. It’s fascinating stuff, but so time consuming. Slow is the enemy of the freelance writer. I’ve been on this project for five years, and I’m still working on it. Will it make a million dollars? I don’t even think it will make a million pennies. Yet, I persist – because I’m thorough. I don’t want to walk away from five years of hard work.

During the time I’ve been on this project, one of my other projects fell through as my main source became disgusted with my slowness and withdrew from the exclusive agreement we had for me to mine his documents and write about his big project. Of course, that was a story of a sunken ship and the important legal case over ownership of millions of dollars worth of silver.

My current project concerns a boat that has not yet sunk – but may well sink at her dock because of lack of maintenance. I desperately hope my book project is published before that happens.

 

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Berylium’s Slow Death

A few decades ago, while on a research assignment for National Geographic books, I met Herb Anderson, one of the builders of the atom bomb. He was living in a ranch house just outside of Los Alamos. Despite all the success that he and his fellow scientists had in nuclear physics, recievi9ng awards, and congratulations of his peers and high government officials, one thing he didn’t have was good health.

Anderson’s breathing was difficult and labored from berylliosis, which he’d gotten during his work as a scientist. He was on oxygen 24 hours a day, walking around his house on what seemed an endless tether connected to his oxygen tanks. If he went out, which was rare, he had to take a portable tank with him.

Dr. Anderson told me that he’d chopped beryllium by hand on the day the news of the discovery of fission had been hand delivered by Niels Bohr to the laboratory of Enrico Fermi in New York’s Columbia University. Working as Fermi’s laboratory assistant, they reproduced the fission experiment that day — the first fission to be created in the US. From there, the eventually went to Chicago and created the first nuclear pile. That, by the way, was the subject of Dr. Anderson’s Phd dissertation, the official report on building the first nuclear pile.

Beryllium is a terrible poison to all humans. Compared to asbestos it is much stronger, and more of a killer. Which is why it must surely be a sin to expose more workers to such poisons today. It’s one thing for a scientist in his lab to experiment with such materials in the hectic days of science of the 1940s to defeat the Nazis.

It’s something else to ruthlessly expose workers to beryllium today in order to save money for the corporations and their stock holders. That is what the Trump administration is trying to do, abettors of the crime of exposing workers to deadly illness.

So why is the Trump administration bent on doing exactly that? What is it, Mr. Trump? Do you think the world has forgotten what it is to poison workers for greed? Will that make America great again?

Flounder

 

55575691_2551350338269823_9118965148575334400_oIn the 80’s, I spent some time in Florida where my parents lived. St. Petersburg was a town built at sea-level. When the tide was high with a full moon and the wind coming from the wrong direction, the streets would flood; and if there was a storm during those conditions, the manhole covers would fly into the air from the pressure in the storm sewers. The water had no place to drain. That didn’t make me want to live there. However, there was some pretty good fishing there, and occasionally I caught a pretty one. I caught this flounder from the dock behind my brother’s house, on the bayou that faced the mangrove islands.

Mysteries and Suspense

 

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Mysteries and Suspense. The novel I’m crafting has all kinds of fun stuff in it. Secret messages. Escapes on dirigibles; a gunfight in a snowstorm. I’ve been honing my knowledge of mystery and spy fiction in preparation for writing this book The works of Eric Ambler, though not read a lot these days, ought to be read more often. Helen McInness, the same. “Above Suspicion,” and “Assignment Brittany” were two of my favorites. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the fascists get their asses kicked, one way or another in her wartime novels. As is right and should be.

 

Forward Momentum

 

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Steamer B. S. Ford

Forward momentum, as one of my favorite fiction characters says, is vital. I’m happy to say that this morning I passed 30,000 words in my historical fiction manuscript.

The adventure and suspense builds as my characters ride the steamer B. S. Ford from Queenstown to Baltimore, arriving on a very cold December night after a harrowing journey that began on a dirigible departing New York City, landing at Cape May, New Jersey, and then enduring a grueling steamer passage across the mouth of the Delaware Bay in a snow storm.

Maritime historian Jack Schaum wrote about the B. S. Ford in an article a few years ago. She was a handsome vessel, one that I’d have loved to experience as a passenger.

Here’s a link to Mr. Schaum’s article

Adventure Fiction Writing

 

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Electric Cabs in New York Photo from the Museum of the City of New York

 

I’m having great fun writing an adventure novel set in 1897. It was such an interesting time when technology was starting to serve more people in more inventive ways. The telephone, for instance. The horseless carriages was being used as taxi cabs in New York city, powered by eleictricity!

Researching the background for the story, I’ve been learning many fascinating details. For instance, the great steamship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the first of the four funnel luxury liners, was decorated with art throughout, including friezes that were made of colored, pressed plastic-like material.

I was also amazed that the spy camera had already been invented by then, using rolls of film that were cut down the middle from the roll film used in the Kodak early box camera!

(Electric Cabs in New York Photo from the Museum of the City of New York)

Book Projects: EC Stories and other titles

ECStories Cover

In September I served as editor and publisher of Kat Forder’s EC Stories: Flood, Recovery, and Community. It’s a wonderful look at the people who helped restore Ellicott City after the flood of 2018.

Life moves on with relentless pressure, and I forget to update my page here about my writing and photography. This year, I’ve published a couple books of my own creation, and one by Kat Forder.

In the spring, it was Steam Locomotives: Nineteenth Century Engineering, a heavily illustrated book with original drawings and artwork from the best engineering of the century.

Followed by a small book of my family stories, mostly as told by my grandfather, Harper S. Wooddell, railroad detective and skilled hunter in West Virginia. “Here’s Another Story: Wooddell Family Tales” It’s also available on Amazon, for those with an interest in such material.