My Favorite Book: Pixie Dust

Pixie Dust

Pixie Dust

Pixie Dust was actually written earlier than my young adult novels that I began to market under the Small Towns, Big Ideas umbrella, but it shares some of the same ideas. When I re-read the book after letting it sit for several years, I decided that with some changes, I could be happy with it.

With more writing experience, I decided that I needed to trim it down a little.  I cut out the first chapter or so and deleted a whole section in the middle that I loved, but caused the pace to drag.

The main character Jenny, was raised in Amarillo, loved comic books and went to Austin Texas to get her degree in Physics.  I was raised in Amarillo, loved comic books and went to Austin to get my degree in Physics.  I put her apartment over in the same neighborhood where I lived while going to school. Of course I’m male and 6 feet tall while Jenny was female and tiny, but I wasn’t trying to write an autobiography.

The comic book theme was strong in the original version, so by the time I made my changes, I decided to smile and make the most of it.  Instead of chapters, the table of contents reads like this: Issue 1 — Origin Story, Issue 2 — I Can Fly!, etc.

During the time I wrote the story originally, I was still working at Motorola, but often on weekends, I would take long drives all over the state, particularly into the western areas.  The second part of the book, where Jenny was on the run and joined a traveling carnival, was set in a number of those towns I drove through.  Research was fun, including visiting a carnival and making interview recordings with people who lived that life.

But the most fun I had in the story was the flying, creating the physics problem that Jenny had to solve to keep from losing all her weight, forcing her to build her costume and learning how to use her dwindling weight.

Marketing the book has been difficult, since it isn’t quite a YA, and isn’t quite a mystery, and never quite fit any of my categories. However, the cover and the blurb manages to attract readers and it’s one of my top five sellers.

So, since I can’t draw, this has been my one chance to do a comic book story — to take a look the whole progression of initial disaster to costumed-hero-saving-the-day — I loved this book and Pixie Dust is my favorite.

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Next up — My Favorite Book: Bearing Northeast

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My Favorite Book: Follow That Mouse

Follow That Mouse

Follow That Mouse

I love to travel, and long lonely roads are sometimes the best times to think about stories and to plug ideas together.  One long drive on I-70 through the empty miles of Utah, the only distractions were the very infrequent roadsigns.  But I noticed that “Ranch Exit” happened frequently, all on signs just like the exits for towns.  With a smile, I considered the possibility that there really was a small community named “Ranch Exit”, but if that were the case, then something reality bending would have to be going on to see all those signs, dozens of miles apart, all leading to the same place.

That was the germ of the idea, and the rest was researching the maps to find the place to set my fictional Ranch Exit community.  Reality bending was more in the realm of fantasy than science fiction, but I tried to put as much logic behind the process as I could, writing the story as if it were science fiction, even if that weren’t really possible.  It also gave me the chance to look at some of our cultural givens, like credit cards, from a quite different perspective.

But the characters came alive for me, and that’s the important part.  The first scene was easy, since it was from my life.  We have a horse than has to be fed every day, and it’s not unusual to spot a mouse loitering around the barrel that contains the feed.

And as long as I was bending a little reality in the story, I was inspired to copy the quirky signs and outdoor art that is part of real life in Amarillo, Texas.

But once the story started rolling, keeping my own reality straight in the story-line was quite an exercise.  If reality changes for your characters, you have nail that down to get it written correctly.

The cover on this book showed up with a whimsical twist that was just right for the story.

So, with a smile that always comes from a quirky story, Follow That Mouse is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Golden Girl

Golden Girl

Golden Girl

We were traveling with our RV along the Mississippi River one trip, and camped at the water’s edge at the Delabar State Park.  When we went into the little town of Oquawka, Illinois for supplies, I was enchanted by the small town with its boat dock, charming little churches, and the park where it celebrated the Elephant Graveyard. It was a place small enough to walk around, and as I saw a few high-school aged people doing just that, I realized I needed to set a novel there.

Oquawka was a place where its most important days were long past, and I supposed that’s what led me to tackle a time travel story. I also wanted to explore some ideas about time travel itself. Most stories treat time shifting as a simple magic trick, with little cost or side effects. I’d written a short story “Making It Fit” that dealt with limits on time travel, and I had other ideas as well.  I also had fond memories of “The Seesaw”, part of A. E. van Vogt’s Weapon Shop stories, which influenced how this kind of time travel worked.

The title of the novel “Golden Girl” evolved during the writing of the tale, where the main character has to learn how her time travel works and use it in order to save the world from an asteroid impact.

The asteroid sequence is one where I had to create an elaborate spreadsheet to calculate what the characters would be able to see during the event.  That was fun as well.

One of my favorite reasons for writing time travel stories is that it touches on a primal question.  Are we predestined to act out our lives only one way, or will each and every act cause a new future — does free will control our lives?  This story gave me the flexibility to touch on these questions and suggest that there are more ways of looking at this than we’ve considered before.

So, from asteroid calculations to odd side-effects of time travel, all taking place next to the Mississippi River, Golden Girl is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Falling Bakward

Falling BAKward

Falling BAKward

The pieces of this novel came from a couple of influences.  In my back yard, there is a place in the yard where there is a clear mark of a former small building, long gone, but having left its outline in the soil.  I’ve often wondered what it could have been, and if there might be some structure even deeper that I might discover if I ever tried digging for it.  That thought stayed idly in my mind for years until we were on a trip, traveling I-90 through South Dakota.  We stopped at Chamberlain for something and I was struck by how pretty the place was, on the banks of the Missouri River, and also by the extensive sunflower fields in the surrounding farmland.  What could be hidden under those fields?

A little research led me to realize that this land was formed as the muddy residue caused by the melting of the ice from the last ice age ten thousand years ago.  Since I was already in the habit of looking for science fiction themes in small towns, it came naturally to think of a buried flying saucer, trapped there by that ancient mudflow. The TV series Stargate made it natural to consider an active wormhole inside that saucer, but of course with my own brand of speculative physics.

The idea of a spacecraft with an always-open portal to the home world (Bak) gave me some ideas to play with — like a simple rocket-like propulsion that could travel the great distances between stars with ease simply because it didn’t have to bring fuel.  It could be constantly refueled from home.  Even the crew could commute home, and if a disaster happened when they arrived at their destination (Earth) then they could simply lock the doors and go home.

The farmers that had been growing crops above the buried saucer for generations were in some sense based on my own family.  They were lightly psychic — just ordinary people who occasionally had things happen to them, like picking up the phone right before it was going to ring.  Just ordinary things that could hardly be called psychic — unless they tended to happen all the time.  Just coincidence — that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The cover is also one of my favorites, with lots of extra detail the artist included to reward anyone who looks at it closely.

So with a backyard alien invasion and ordinary farmers holding the line, Falling Bakward is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Lighter Than Air

Lighter Than Air

Lighter Than Air

On one of my California trips, I visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they had a sample of aerogel on display.  This substance is like Jello with all the moisture pulled out of it, leaving a stiff solid that is mostly air. It is very light. I speculated about what it would take to go the next step — make a solid where even the air was pulled out, leaving it so light that it was in fact a solid that was lighter than air.

While these thoughts were going through my mind, we were on a trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  This is very much a land of its own.  Even people who live in Michigan tend to forget it’s there.  On the shoreline of Lake Superior, there is a lovely little town, Munising.  While we toured the surrounding forests and took the tour boat along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I was constructing this story of a garage inventor with his lighter than air foam, and the next door kid who is given access to his device.

This novel is slightly different than most.  While the character is in high school, he was younger than my typical character and more like me when I was that age — not quite interested in girls yet.  He also had a best buddy that was modeled after a friend of mine — the guy who knew tools and could build anything.  The hero could build model planes.  The buddy could build the engines.

It was fun working out the design of the fake flying saucer the two were going to use to prank their school.  Let’s be honest, it’s the kind of thing I’d like to do if I were given the opportunity to play with a gadget that grew lighter than air foam.

It was also intriguing working out the more serious threat that swept up his little sister into a dangerous situation.

So, with the satisfaction of working out how to build a flying craft to the memories of the lovely lake port town, Lighter Than air is my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Extreme Makeover

Extreme Makeover

Extreme Makeover

During the years when my daughter was attending Pepperdine University in Malibu, it was the perfect excuse to make numerous California trips.  We’d visit her for a while, then extend the trip to places all over the western states.  One of my favorite spots was Crescent City at the extreme northern point on the California coast.  This was real Northern California with giant Redwood trees.  We stayed there many times.  What triggered the moment when Redwoods and nanobots came together is a mystery to me, but I had all pieces in mind when I was there, watching a group of students walking through the forest, one of them using a Disney-print table-cloth to keep the dripping moisture off her.

This was hardly ground-breaking science-fiction.  Nanobots and aliens who infiltrate humans in order to take them over were used by many other writers before me, but I like to think things through.

Why would alien nanobots try to take over a human?  For transportation, of course. A microscopic being can’t travel very far on it’s own.  And how would the needs of the nanobot be expressed in human senses and human actions?

Add to that some real human story elements, like being overweight, having an overprotective mother, and then add the guy’s own storyline, mix well with the scenery of the Redwoods and add in a trip to Malibu, and the story came together well.

There’s a couple of personal preferences I should mention.  I collect coins.  Not particularly in the common way.  I have a drawer right below my keyboard where there’s foreign coins from my travels, National Park medallions, odd coins like silver coins from before everything went sandwiched, and even a wooden nickel.  I would dearly love to have a trunk of gold coins. If I can’t have one, then how about one of my characters?

The other item was the fond memories I have of science lab in schools as I grew up.  There was the Periodic Table, the microscopes, the rows of chemicals in jars — if I could have fit an explosion in, I would have.  You know, just for fun.

The cover art went to my son-in-law’s sister and she rejected all my suggestions.  People like her version, so I don’t complain.

So, from the idea of superhuman powers to the satisfaction I always feel walking through the tall tree forests, Extreme Makeover always brings a smile.  That’s why it’s my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Roswell or Bust

Roswell or Bust

Roswell or Bust

Fresh from the euphoria of writing a novel, Emperor Dad, just for fun, I decided to do it again.  So I had to pull an idea out of my hat — any idea.

Aliens!  That’s always a good science fiction idea.  Better yet, since this was just for fun, rather than a serious deep science fictional analysis, Roswell Aliens!

Now, I have been going to New Mexico all my life.  Blue Haven is a summer camp where I and my children attended over the years, in the mountains outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Many trips delivering the kids made me very familiar with the town, much more so than Roswell, which I had visited a couple of times, but wasn’t really my stomping grounds.  So, the idea of a road trip came to mind.  Roswell Aliens (1947), still alive in the current day.  We’d have to have MIB, but by now there’d be in the second and third generations.

So, a girl, daughter of a MIB courier, is hunting her missing father, and linking up with a motel kid, who knew her father as a regular traveling salesman who stayed at his family’s motel.

I had to deal with the alien language problem.  So why not a universal translator, and what better person to demonstrate that than the girl, mute from a cancer surgery.

The story came together naturally, and I threw myself into the research.  I dug into the alien mythos and discovered more tourist info about Las Vegas than I’d ever imagined.  I even drove the 2000-mile road trip path myself, finding places of interest that I added into the narrative.  Finding the sites of secret MIB bases in various towns was interesting, and I wonder what people thought when I walked around their property, identifying where the official and hidden entrances would be.

As I realized they needed a bigger vehicle as they added more aliens to the party, I took my own RV and added it into the mix.

Eventually, the story was done — and I needed another cover.  This time, I had a niece who was making a name for herself with her artwork and I decided to give her a try.  I had her make it look ‘cartoony’ to go with a poster in the book.  It’s been a good fit, catching a lot of people’s attention of the years.

So, Roswell or Bust was a fun book, which tapped into a lot of my fond memories of New Mexico and traveling by RV. That’s why it’s my favorite.

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My Favorite Book: Emperor Dad

Emperor Dad

Emperor Dad

It was shortly after I took a severance buyout package from Motorola that I had a little more time to write than before.  I had written other novels, but the number of New York publishers that would even look at an un-agented novel was shrinking rapidly.  I remember the decision to write a novel just for fun — not because I thought that was the most responsible novel to write at the time to advance my writing career.

There was an old story from 1995 that I had struggled with, never getting beyond simple outlines or a first chapter, but that seemed like it would be fun.  I toyed with the idea of the garage inventor inventing teleportation, and the sphere concept that was its core.  But as I toyed with the story, I came to realize that just maybe, it wasn’t the inventor’s story.  It was the son’s.

Now, friends of mine had commented that I tended to write young adult stories, but I hadn’t really believed them.  Now, with this idea, I went into it whole-heartedly.  This was to be fun.  The son was the main character, although some of the details had to be from the father’s perspective.  I even made the story more personal — setting the family in my town, in roughly my house, and borrowed bits of my son’s life to round out the main character.

The story came together well, with a detailed outline and a story that I was able to write quickly.  I packaged it all up and starting sending queries to the last few NY publishers that I thought might take it.  I even queried an agent or two with it.  There was no interest.  Once again, the major publishers and my writing style were heading in different directions.

But then, I had an idea.  Why not publish it myself?  I could save it as a PDF file and peddle it online. I chose $5 as a random price and set up a page on my website where I could take PayPal.  It was just an experiment, and I had little expectations of massive sales.  My brother bought a copy, as well as a couple of friends.

Time passed. Lulu the self-publishing website caught my eye.

I’d been writing for decades.  I’d had mild success with short stories, but now I was writing novels and I liked the scope that the longer format gave me.  If the big publishers were never going to like what I did, then why not give self-publishing a try. It was a hard decision, more than selling a PDF off my website was.  Still, I had tried the PDF experiment.  Why not try a Print-On-Demand experiment?

I would need a cover. I passed the word, and Scott Cupp introduced me to his nephew, Wes Hartman via email.  He asked for ideas and I sent him a few to choose from.  He put them all into the very busy cover — but I liked it.

I researched what a book format was supposed to look like and laid it all out in my aging copy of Word. (Insert whole book about what I learned about publishing here.)  I printed a few dozen copies and tried to peddle them at science fiction conventions.  Again, my sales were infrequent, but people liked it.  That was enough.  It won the Darrell book award, and was a finalist in the Next Gen Indie Book awards.

I did have trouble placing it in bookstores, and with a few typos showing up, I decided to make a second edition with all the formatting lessons learned and typos corrected.  That’s what I’ve been selling since, although I still have a handful of first editions left if anyone wants them.

The e-Book world exploded.  Emperor Dad was my first experiment there.  Just recently, my first audiobook came out, Emperor Dad was my trial experiment in that media as well.

So, Emperor Dad was a fun book that was my first steps into publishing and proved that people actually did like my books. That’s why it’s my favorite.

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My Favorite Book

As a writer sitting at my table, showing off all the books I’ve written, I frequently get asked, “What’s your favorite book?”  That’s a very hard question to answer, because I have very strong feelings about all my books.  I wouldn’t have written them otherwise.  None of these are commissioned works designed to meet somebody else’s order.

So, instead of answering the question, I usually try to read the person talking to me and try to figure out what they would like best.  That usually works.

However, I’ve decided to write a little introduction to each book, telling you what I feel about it.  In essence, I’ll describe why every book is my favorite.

I’ll be posting these little descriptions every few days, and then collect them all on my website archive for future reference.

If you read them all, you’ll probably be able to make your own judgement about which book is my favorite — at least from your perspective.

Black Friday – Cyber Monday

Yielding to the culture of the season, I’ve decided to have a little Black Friday sale of my own, right here on my website.

Friday through through Monday, the discount code 201425 will work to give you a 25% discount on everything you purchase from my market website. This is in addition to the free shipping (in the USA).

Here’s how it works.  Go to and select the books you want (Add to Basket).  The more the merrier because I am giving you free shipping and its cheaper for me to ship multiple books at a time rather than a bunch of singles.
When you (Go to Basket), enter any special information in the notes.  For example, if you want a book signed, say so.  If you want a special note to someone who is going to receive the book as a gift, spell it out for me.
Once you click (Checkout) you’ll see the summary of the charges and (Add promotional code).  Click there and enter the code 201425.
You should see the discounted price. Select your payment method and I’ll be notified via email that an order is waiting for me.  I’ll sign the books as you specify and mail them out as fast as I can.