In coming weeks, I will be working on a project relating to the Bonampak Murals.
In coming weeks, I will be working on a project relating to the Bonampak Murals.
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently reading and transcribing log entries for the steam tugboat Baltimore. Yeah, fascinating – if you like that sort of thing. Not so much if you like your history condensed, slicked up, and pre-packaged already.
When I started out trying to write history books, I had to learn that the good stuff – the information I was most interested in finding and possibly using in a book or an essay – was not already published. A lot of what I was finding published was the product of some other writer who’d already been through the information, or had at least glossed over it, and had taken a little of this and a little of that, but mostly had just researched from the writings of others. But the results were not pleasing to me because it didn’t bring anything new. For instance, when reading and researching the American Civil War, I discovered that many writers were depending on the same sources already written about third and fourth-hand. They were copying one another, rather than returning to the original documents, and rather than finding documents that had not been quoted or drawn from in the past.
Aha, I thought – that is the road I want to take. The one that has all the bumps and wends its way going across the field and into the deep weeds. The road without a track already made by the wheels of the previous follower. Through the weeds and into the woods, where you have to peel back the bark and look underneath for the juicy grubs of facts.
This winter, my book partner on the steam tugboat Baltimore project suggested I look into the log books of the tug. It was an excellent suggestion that horrified me because I hadn’t already done so, and thought I was done with primary document research on that project. Well, now I’ve gone through them, and learned a lot. I’ve incorporated some of it into the manuscript, and hopefully, Bob Pratt and I can now finish the layout of the book. He’s the graphic designer and layout artist for this book. I merely write the text.
It’s time for this book to sail. Soon, I hope. – DW
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.
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)
I’ve been working on a history of the steam tugs Baltimore for several years now. It’s been rough sledding in many ways. I’m still working at it, but presently I’ve taken the book manuscript apart, and I’m trying to compress the book into an article to submit to a historical journal. Whether that will work remains to be seen. Compression is a good way to discover one’s problems in a work, however. I’ve come to recognize the book manuscript should be reorganized. If that improves the end result, then it is worthwhile.
I’m sorry to say that I feel pressed to get the article, and book published because the steam tug Baltimore is in such sorry shape that her days are numbered. She will never sail or steam again; she lacks Coast Guard certification, and isn’t likely to receive that again. The Baltimore could perhaps be lifted out of the water and moved to land, if she had the right kind of experts to do that for her, but even that seems to be beyond the Baltimore Museum of Industry to organize and carry out. The museum has good volunteers, but it takes money for materials, and to hire experts to get things done. The volunteers can’t do it all out of their own pockets.
I’d like to at least publish my history of the Baltimore, and her predecessor before she finally sinks into the mud at her dock.
(A Still From The Forbidden Planet, 1956, from The Paris Review, Sept 13, 2016)
Hey, Wait a Darn Minute! You there, in the government. You’re screwing up the plot of my latest science fiction novel, the one I’m in process writing. What the hell do you think you are doing? You’re the Trump government. You guys can’t…
Back up. Breath, David, and seek your center.
Meditate. And try telling the story from the beginning.
There I was, well into writing my science fiction novel about alien first contact. I was turning it into an interstellar love story that didn’t involve an Independence Day type of war scenario.
My imaginative aliens are good aliens (for the most part), if a bit greedy, but some of them are good scientists.
The text was into the second round of beta reading, which is something you have to go through if you are writing a novel these days. You call on those friends with a sense of humor, and enough time to plow through your half-baked writing in an attempt to help you turn it into good writing. They must be people who care about good story telling, and want to help wanna-be writers by combing your novel text for mistakes, illogical assertions, and stoopid stuff.
But back to my science fiction novel text. Part of the plot centers on our Federal government not being prepared to deal with alien first contact. And imagining what would happen in the Trump administration if a friendly group of aliens arrived, and wanted to do business deals.
Of course, no one would be dumb enough to tell the President. Because he’d just want to deport them. Because the out-of-this-world aliens would not have any money to stay in Trump hotels, so what use would they be?
Then Bam! I see a headline in USA Today that says the White House is looking for an interplanetary protection officer.
The pay is pretty good, over $100.000, if you need a job and qualify. You must have the ability to negotiate favorable trade relations with the critters from another planet. You must have a top, double-sekrit security classification, and know a lot about space. It must be someone who knows the hazards and bio-risks of sucking up to Congress, the White House, and the generals at the Pentagon. It must be someone not afraid, who will protect the country from alien cooties. Because, someone in government seems pretty sure the aliens will have alien cooties. And that just ruins the plot of my novel. (Not really, but hang in there with me, will you?)
I can envision an alien Ellis Island situation, with the arriving aliens brought into holding pens to fill out visa and immigration forms and answer questions. If you’ve ever entered the US accompanied by someone with a foreign passport, you’ll understand how it can go.
“Sir, please state your name, and home address.”
“Zryxigantsa. Home world D95724.”
“Right. I don’t find that world on my National Geographic map. Must be fake. We’ll call you Pedro. You have no visa, and have attempted to enter the country illegally. Therefore, you have no rights, and will be interned interminably in Guantanamo.”
(This photo is allegedly in the public domain, according to Wikimedia)
But the prison in Cuba will fill up quickly, so some will be put in those private, for profit, prisons down in Texas and other parts of the south. The ones where the human aliens are being warehoused so the private prisons can gouge the federal government for inflated prison prices. Then we’ll have a comingling problem of mixing human aliens with non-human aliens. Inevitably, some Congress critter from ‘Bama is sure to want an alien bathroom bill, to make sure those with or without human parts are not using the same place to…
It’s all in a day’s work for a speculative novelist, however. A word changed here, and a changed sentence there, and I’ll add that planetary protection officer to my book. Sure I will. And it will make the novel all that much better.
I just have to ask – who is going to say “no” to the Trumpster when he wants to grab one of the alien women by the crotch? Because, sure as donuts in the morning, the government is not going to grant out-of-this-world aliens any kind of rights under the Constitution. He’ll want to do the nasty with them. You just wait.
That job of interplanetary sheriff is going to take some big cajones.
(Is there an emoji for satire? Where’s my tongue in cheek typeface?)