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I have made many past blog posts on my author page and group at Facebook. As I construct this site, I will be moving those posts to here, so that my visitors will be able to see all of my thoughts on being an author and on constructing the world of The Unit. – 14 June 2020
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September 2, 2022 •
We Have Seen the Future…
…and it is here.
My former tow vehicle for my RV is a 2013 Toyota Tacoma with a 6-speed manual transmission. It’s my “little beast,” and is still going strong with 120,000 miles on it.
The above picture shows my “big beast:” a 2022 Dodge Ram 1500 with the diesel option. It’s sure to have no problems towing my casita, but it’s giving me a view of just what we might see in the future.
The first thing I’ve had to get used to is not stomping on the clutch nor reaching for the stick shift. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve driven a stick shift with few exceptions ever since I learned to drive, though I learned in an automatic. Now I have to get used to an automatic transmission again. The worst part of this is that I’m keeping my Little Beast. Every time I drive it and then get back in the Big Beast, I’m back on the hunt for the clutch pedal. Sigh.
The other thing, though, is getting used to the new tech. A big multifunction screen shows me maps, what music is playing, how my comfort items are set (as opposed to my passenger’s, who gets to fiddle with his or her own), how the integrated trailer brake controller is configured, et cetera, et cetera. There are buttons everywhere: ones that adjust the seat, ones that adjusts the lumbar support in the seat, ones that save how the driver’s seat is set so if someone else drives it all I have to do is press a button and it goes back to my settings. A button starts the thing. A button shuts it down. Buttons change it from Reverse to Neutral, to Drive, to Park. A button sets the parking brake. Buttons turn on cameras and sensors that show me what’s behind me and warn me of what’s around me. A button on the door handle locks the truck as long as I have the fob in my pocket (no ignition key), and the truck opens if I just grasp the handle, again with the fob in my pocket. I can start it remotely with the press of a button on the fob, which has come in handy as we’re having a very wet monsoon season here in El Paso this year. The click of a button will also lower the tailgate. And that’s not all of them!
It’s all very distracting, and reminds me a lot of learning to fly what are called “technically-advanced aircraft” which can also be quite distracting in the amount of information the pilot is shown.
The Unit Gen2 takes place 25 years into the future. If there has been that much change in a truck since 2013, how much change will we see in 2047? I’ve told you how I’ve been needing to polish my crystal ball. I keep getting additional hints as to just how much polish to use. And the above is just stuff. What about how society will change? What will our cities look like? Our agriculture? Medicine? Politics? Techniques for solving crime are sure to change; how about the ability to circumvent the new technologies? After all, if there is no crime, then there is no reason to have a top-tier group of crime fighters.
It’s all a big challenge, which is why it’s taking me so long to get the first book of Gen2 out. Not only do I have to write the thing, I have to figure out all the new technology and new attitudes people have 25 years from now. My “Playbook,” the book I use to keep all of this stuff straight will be considerably larger for Gen2, I fear. Hopefully, though, as I build this Great New World of the Near Future, you, my readers, won’t get lost in the shuffle.
August 23, 2022 •
Picking Names for Characters
I’ve seen lots of authors stew over what to name their characters. I’ve even seen advice on choosing names that evoke some quality. “Daisy,” the girl who is innocent and sweet. “Bob,” the rugged guy swinging the hammer. “Skip,” the stud on the high school football team.
You get the idea. And no, I don’t subscribe to this.
Any casual glance at a newspaper will show you that just about anyone can hold a particular name. People come in all varieties, and their names seldom define them unless someone decides they have to poke fun at them because of their name, and they decide they’ve had enough and poke back—with their fist, perhaps. Let’s give an example. What kind of person would you think is a “Jeffrey?” Got that picture in mind? Now, how about we make him a Jeffrey Daumer. You know, the guy who killed, raped, and ate his victims… in that order. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
Another camp says to just choose names at random. I’m sort-of in that camp. I’ve made a list. Three, actually. One is male given names. Another is female given names. A third is surnames. I then use a random number generator to determine if my character is male or female (first digit odd, character is male; first digit even, character is female). I then use another random number to select a given name, and yet another to select a surname.
Fine, but I don’t choose which names go in the list by using a baby-naming book. Surprisingly, I have found that statistically the chance of a criminal being male versus female is roughly the same as a scientist in my particular field (biochemistry and molecular biology) being male versus female. Regularly, scientific journals will include an author list. That’s where I get the names from.
It gets interesting sometimes. For one of my books, the criminal turned out to be a woman named Wendy. Now you can get that picture of the little red-haired girl with pony tails at the fast food restaurant out of your head, because my Wendy was killing people with cyanide gas. Fast food can be bad, but not quite that bad.
I use a similar tactic for determining where characters are from. I start with a random number, count off five digits, and then use a reverse zip code look-up to find out what locale coincides with that zip code.
Only rarely do I pick a name and locale without using these means. Of course Vixen (Anne Banyon) and Tater (Spencer Banyon, Junior) have to be from Raton, New Mexico because that’s where their parents, Hank (now Katie Hank Banyon) and Spud (now Spencer Banyon, Senior) ended up. On occasion, a character is based on someone I know—in which case I corrupt the name a bit, especially if the person is someone I don’t like and they got pegged for the perp.
There will be many new characters in The Unit Gen2, and now you know how they’ll get their names and where the unit’s team of covert operatives will be going during this next journey. As I get back into the swing of my regular writing, expect to see the premier book of The Unit Gen2 make its way to publication.
August 8, 2022•
No, I didn’t Die…
…but it has been one busy period of time since I last blogged. Competitions, purchasing a new tow vehicle for my RV and everything that entails, practicing for yet more competitions (though one has been cancelled)… Time to cry WHOA!
So what should I talk about? Let’s try what’s happening in Gen2.
The story is moving slowly, mostly because of the other crud going on right now. (And I forgot about the crud. Try three days of food poisoning. It wasn’t my cooking.) However, Vixen (daughter of Spud and Hank of The Unit fame) has opted to be one of the team’s two K9 handlers, and has chosen her pooch—a Belgian Malinois—and named him Joker. She is now in the process of training him, and has discovered the hard way that although she can do the rope swing over the water hazard (a small pond full of goldfish and waterlilies) by herself that it’s a bit harder when you have a police dog strapped to your chest. She landed in the drink, dog and all, much to the amusement of Tarmac (one of the chief pilots) who was running the obstacle course with her.
Vixen’s main “issue” (if you want to call it that) is that she doesn’t quite feel like she’s part of the team yet. She’s the newbie, and her brother’s constant jabs at her aren’t helping matters. She’s isolated at the far end of the residence level in the unit’s underground headquarters complex, which also doesn’t help. The closest team member to her is Ghost, the other woman. Ghost sees her as a rival and though not overtly hostile, still conveys the vibe of I don’t quite like you to Vixen. Worse, she’s joined the team while they’re in the midst of preparing for a mission and is racing to get up to speed on not only how the team does things, but the upcoming mission requirements as well.
The mission entails determining how a religious nut (he thinks he’s a modern-day Jesus) is convincing his followers to go out and kill couples who don’t fit his idea of “chosen people.” Which brings up a topic that dovetails with this.
You know I read voraciously and review everything I read on Goodreads.com. I also take advantage of the Goodreads Giveaways for not only promoting my books but also to get books to read. I’ve won a handful of books and always move them to the top of my “To Read” stack.
Two recent books have dealt with racism in America. But you also know that I’m a scientist by training, and specifically a molecular biologist. I hate the term “racism” because there are no races among humans. Just genus Homo and species sapiens. Identical-looking Emperor penguins are more genetically diverse from one another than are a person with white skin and another with black skin. Plus, where do you draw the line if defining people by skin color when the transition from one skin color to another is a continuous spectrum? The scientist in me rebels, especially when I know that historically in the United States, people of Italian and Irish ancestry were once considered separate “races.” A phenotype such as skin color doesn’t define a race in the scientific sense, and applying the term to humans implies a separateness that doesn’t really exist.
However, our nut job nemesis in The Anointed, the Elect, and the Dead is targeting couples whose skin color differs by more than a shade or two. Oh, he doesn’t bloody his own hands, but he does convince his followers to do so. It’s a sort of mixture of Jim Jones and white supremacy. They will willingly “drink the Kool-aid” to avoid betraying their “messiah.” The team recognizes that you can’t kill this hydra by cutting off its tentacles. You have to get to the head.
So there you have it: a brief exposé of what’s going on in the first book of The Unit: Gen2. Stay tuned for more.
June 13, 2022 •
…for not blogging yesterday. But it’s been a busy time doing another home project: rebuilding a chicken run.
Right now, my hands are so sore that I’m having difficulty typing this. While swinging a 20-ounce hammer is tough on hands, doing it when the temperatures are above 100°F is even tougher. But if I don’t get the new chicks situated outside soon, I can kiss any performance on the first competition of my competition season goodbye. So swing a hammer I’ve been doing for the past five days.
The latest book I’ve been reading is called The Last Punisher, and is the recollections of a Navy SEAL during the Iraq War. He talks about getting dehydrated, and I can feel his pain as the sweat rolls down my face. Even more so when it stops doing so, as that’s the first danger sign that you’re about to succumb to heat prostration.
It’s this sort of thing that I draw on when writing about my own team. Much of what happens for those in war happens for those in the war on terrorism, the war on drugs, and the war on evil in general. We face greater threats on all sides, and it’s about those threats that I like to write. If my personal experiences fit in, it makes it easy to write about the experience.
Behind me, I have five 4-inch binders of papers I’ve downloaded and printed out to keep as source material for my series. That’s series, plural. I have two pages of links to other research articles that I haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve had to delay all of that, even working on the first book of The Unit Gen2, while rebuilding my chicken run and frankly I’m anxious to have that done so I can get back to work on what interests me more than putting 1/2″ hardware cloth on an 8′ x 8′ enclosure for “the girls.” They will give me some pretty eggs come September or October, though. The new additions to my flock lay light blue eggs, like a robin does. Hopefully, they will show their appreciation for their new digs by giving me lots of eggs.
June 5, 2022 •
My home is a continuous project. It’s a bit of an older home, having been built in 1988, and is in need of many upgrades. I’ve been playing Tetris with the items from a room to fit them into another room long enough for me to gut out that room and redo everything. It’s a top-to-bottom affair of redoing ceilings, ceiling fixtures, walls, and floors. At some point, it will require a contractor. I don’t think I can tackle a kitchen upgrade, nor bathroom upgrades. I can do tile (and have), but plumbing requires a license in my community.
The photo above shows a project that I did right here in my office: the installation of floating shelves to hold all of my trophies. Unfortunately, even three five-foot-long shelves proved to not be enough. As the caption says, this isn’t even all of the trophies I have! Somewhere around here there’s a trophy from the Texas State Lever Action Championships….
Above the shelves you can see a portion of another office project: a border of aviation-themed Christmas ornaments. Back when I had my flight school, I would put up a Christmas tree in my office and decorate it with these ornaments. People would stop in just to see everything on the tree. It made me feel happy to see how much joy they got out of seeing all the various airplanes, helicopters, balloons, and even spacecraft. My two favorites are right across from where I sit: a flight school hangar with a windsock atop of it, and an airplane carnival ride that twirls the airplanes around if you work a lever at its base. I have more of them to get up as well.
Once I get my great room gutted out, it will also get a wall of floating shelves 8-feet by 20-feet in dimensions. This will house my extensive collection of books, with the only fear that there might be additional space that I would be compelled, being a true book hoarder, to fill. That’s an especially big fear right now, as I just discovered that my local library branch houses the Friends of the Library Bookstore. They sell used books from the library and books that patrons donate from their own collections at prices that can’t be beat! My canvas book bag can hold about 40 pounds of books, and the last time I filled it up entirely I had to hand over $10.75 for all of the books in it. Gasp! Lee Child mass paperbacks for 25¢, anyone? Hard-bound books for $1? How about a hardbound copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for $3? That last one is one of the most expensive books I’ve gotten from my library’s used book store.
They put me on their mailing list to be notified of their upcoming half-price sale. I think I’m in deep trouble here, because I’m doing the math. If I can get 40 pounds of books for $10 when not half-price, I could get close to a half ton of books for $100 (800 pounds, to be exact) when they have this sale….
May 29, 2022 •
The second series I’m starting, called The Investigators, is going to focus on the crime scene technicians and forensic scientists that gather and analyze the evidence surrounding a crime.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before, but being a forensic scientist—specifically, a DNA analyst—was my first desire. I even talked with FBI recruiters while I was in grad school about working in their forensics lab. At the time, they wanted you to become a field agent for two years “before you can apply for the lab.” The message inherent there is that I might not have ever gotten into the lab, and a lot can change in forensics in a span of two years. A lot did change in DNA forensics in the two years after I talked to recruiters. Now they take forensic scientists in without a field agent requirement. Oh well.
I still love forensics, though. My personal feeling, and why I talked to FBI recruiters in the first place, is that the souls of crime victims cry out for justice, and forensic examination of evidence is the strongest witness to a crime available. It doesn’t lie, it doesn’t change its story, it doesn’t forget, and it doesn’t get the facts wrong. It is, as they say, what it is.
I would never have expected that doing forensic work would be easy. You have to have the evidence, have the ability to analyze it both in terms of training and laboratory equipment, and you have to have a mindset focused on exactingness and always but always doing the very best work you can do. You want the victim to be spoken for. You want the guilty to be punished. You want the innocent to be freed. You can’t do that if you’re sloppy or don’t care. In DNA forensics in particular, it is very easy to contaminate the evidence, as that evidence may already be in such tiny amounts that even a hint of contamination could make results meaningless.
I truly miss the lab at times.
On the other hand, there’s always the ability to put a little levity into things. I know how to do that, as I was the Chief Lab Prankster in grad school. I still take occasion to do something that will give me a sideways look, so here’s a recent story.
I bought some evidence materials to use in photo shoots for my books from an online retailer. One of those items was a batch of paper evidence bags. I had a trip I had to make in order to recertify for my Texas LTC Instructor authorization, and had a couple of the bags with me. My intent was to grab a few things from the hotel breakfast bar to take with me for lunch, as I would be checking out and starting for home right after the recertification class was finished.
I had arrived in the evening, as the drive to where the class was to be held is ten hours. The hotel had no restaurant, so I ordered pizza. I got my order, plus a mystery order of barbecue chicken wings. The delivery guy was long gone, so I shrugged my shoulders, wrapped the chicken wings in a piece of tin foil from the pizza box, and stowed them in one of the evidence bags for a stay in the mini fridge until the next morning when I’d head to the class.
I didn’t want to leave the bag in my truck during the class, as I felt the meat would get warm and go bad. So for eight hours, I sat at a table (in the back of the large room for reasons that should become obvious) with a clearly-marked evidence bag sitting in front of me. I also made every effort to not look anyone in the eye who may have noticed the bag.
However, afterward it occurred to me that I would have probably gotten way more attention had I decided to eat the chicken wings in class, given the barbecue sauce looked for all the world like congealed blood.
I stayed at a hotel midway home that day with bad weather on the horizon and fatigue being a combo I didn’t want to risk while driving. The evidence bag of chicken wings sat on the counter while I checked in, and I ate them for dinner that evening along with an apple grabbed from the other hotel that morning.
To this day, I still wonder what the maid thought when she emptied the trash. What would you think if you found an evidence bag with what looked like bloody bones in it left behind by a traveler?
May 22, 2022 •
GUESSING AT THE FUTURE
Now that I’m in the process of writing the first book of The Unit Gen 2, I’m having to put my imagination to the test. What will an elite and ultra-covert law enforcement team look like 25 years from now? What will the environment they operate in look like? What will the technology they use look like and what will it be capable of?
One of the first “upgrades” to Gen2 involves the technology the team members have literally implanted in their bodies. Where the original unit team had a “bum ticker” implanted that looked like a cardiac pacemaker (hence the name, as if it were discovered by someone not savvy to the unit, they would believe that it was a cardiac pacemaker and would thus believe the person had a bad heart [bum ticker]), the future team will still have a bum ticker device, but it will look like the new generation cardiac pacemakers that look more like a big capsule. Rather than having an incision in their chest to implant it, the incision is in their inner thigh and the device is threaded through a vein to position it. There is no lead, which created a problem for me as the bum ticker needs to communicate with satellites that communicate with Hal, the unit’s supercomputer. A little research revealed that antennas can be made of graphene, and you already know Voice (now Bennett Ito and working in Support) loves the stuff. Problem believably solved (I hope!).
Another tech device that gets an upgrade is the earpiece, which will no longer be removable. Instead, it’s implanted in the bone behind the left ear (the mastoid). It has been recognized for some time that sound is transmitted through the bones of the skull to the inner ear, and cochlear implants are already implanted in that location. Believable? Yes.
Yet another tech device that gets an upgrade is the enhanced reality goggles. They will no longer be required, as each team member will have an enhanced reality contact lens fitted to their non dominant eye. (Your eyes aren’t equal; one does more of the work than the other and is your dominant eye.) This will allow each team member to see an overlay of information on their environment, which will be sent to the eyepiece by Hal on demand.
A new item for both men and women is a small timed-release medication capsule that’s implanted in the lower pelvis. What are they being given? Birth control medication. Doc Andy is still alive, well, and a part of the medical team, and in the intervening 25 years has convinced the rest of Medical that although stress can certainly be relieved through self-gratification, it’s relieved even better when another human being is involved. Societally, I expect to see sexual freedom much more accepted as well. That isn’t to say that this won’t create unique issues for the team, or at the very least for Vixen. Not that there is any pressure to engage in sexual activity with anyone else in the unit, but for quite a different reason. To find out what it is, grab the book when I announce its publication.
Hal gets an upgrade as well. It is no longer using traditional parallel processors, but is a massively neural net quantum computer. Yes, Voice (Bennett) has been at work. Hal is not only blazingly fast in terms of computational ability, but nearly sentient. Why not fully sentient? Because Hal doesn’t understand emotions and can’t experience them. Hal, therefor, has no ability to hate or desire power. They now call Hal “he” as he interacts with them much as another human being would. He can analyze a person’s biometrics and behavior and conclude that the person must be experiencing an emotion (for instance, fear), but can’t feel fear himself. Hal no longer says things like “intruder detected.” Instead, Hal would say something more like, “I don’t recognize the person accompanying you.”
I run into some of the same old problems when finding images. Go ahead—search for images of SWAT teams. Notice something there? Invariably, they’re all male and usually all white as well! I hope that in 25 years we will have become more enlightened than that, but then the unit has always taken their talent where they find it without regard to any factor other than how well they can do the job and act as part of a team. As such, Gen2 will have one Black, one Hispanic, one Asian, and four White team members, with two of them being women. How I arrived at those numbers involved a bit of research. Tater and Vixen are necessarily white, given both their parents are. For the remainder, I looked at population demographics and demographic trends to determine what percentage of the population would be represented by the major race and ethnic contributors (white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and multiracial), set up a matrix, and then used a random number generator to select the racial background of each person. None turned out to be multiracial, but if one had, I would have used the same random number generator to pick the two or more racial backgrounds for them. For choices on men and women in the team, I again used a random number generator. If the number was odd, then the team member would be male; if even, female. I have to acknowledge that I’m a product of my time, so this is how I ensured I wouldn’t create a future team skewed in its racial or gender content.
That’s what I’m doing, as well as trying to guess at what slang might be used in the future. It’s going to be an adventure writing this one.
May 15, 2022 •
LIFE WITH CHICKENS
As many of you already know, I enjoy having an urban homestead. It consists of mostly fruit trees and vines, two Maine Coon cats, a feral cat colony of currently nine felines (all spayed and neutered—the only way feral cats can be controlled), and 21 chickens.
Yeah, you heard that right: 21 chickens.
In the past, I’ve bred my chickens, but in the past two years have had little luck getting viable chicks from mating my “girls” with my two “cock-a-doodle dudes.” Both because it appears my flock had gotten too inbred and because I had lost some of the color genes in the adult flock, this year I made a purchase of chicks from a hatchery. Fifteen Ameraucana chicks, to be precise. Why this breed? They lay a beautiful blue egg. Breeding them with a brown egg layer will also yield olive green eggs as egg color is codominant (both color genes get expressed, so the colors mix).
I have a small animal cage that I use as a brooding cage when the chicks first arrive. I keep them inside, with the cage in a bathtub I never use given I prefer to shower. Once the newly-arrived chicks get acclimated to the brooder, they’ll start putting on weight rapidly.
Yesterday was the occasion to move them from the small brooder to a larger grower cage, also placed in the bathtub. They aren’t big enough to go outside with the adult chickens, which would promptly peck them to death. When they’re bigger, I’ll move them into the main run and move the four older hens to a smaller run, then introduce the older hens back into the main run. I find that puts both groups on more of an even keel.
Of course, chickens aren’t clean birds. No bird is, but the bigger the bird, the messier they are. Needless to say, this has brought back to mind a children’s song I learned as a child. Here are the lyrics:
Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts,/ mutilated money meat,/ dirty little birdie’s feet./ Fourteen gallons of all-purpose porpoise pus,/ floating on pink lemonade./ And I forgot my spoon!/ And I forgot my spoon!/ Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts/ and I forgot my spoon!
Don’t you just love kids’ songs?
Will this end up in one of my books? You bet. I’ve just started The Unit: Gen 2, The Anointed, the Elect, and the Dead where the two children of The Unit‘s main characters join the unit 25 years from now. Their parents also have a not-so-urban homestead, which includes chickens.
Envision the following exchange, which will likely occur as the team starts out on a 10-mile hike out and back from the unit’s location on a farm in Nebraska. “Tater” will start singing the thing as they go past the chicken coops. “Vixen” will remark, “That song is disgusting.” Tater will counter with, “So are chickens.” Then Vixen will say, “You never minded eating the eggs.” And Tater will end with, “Yeah, but I hated those chickens. The only way I liked them was fried.”
April 10, 2022 •
Misery Loves Company
In one of my books, I write a lengthy scene in which my main character, Hank, is undergoing a typical bowel prep for a full-body baseline CT. This, because Doc Rich wants good images of her colon. I had no idea just how close I’d come to getting it right.
I’ve spent the last week back and forth to various doctors, with Friday being the icing (? maybe a bad choice of words, given…) on the cake with my first ever colonoscopy.
I am here to tell you: the colonoscopy is nothing. They knock you out for it. But the prep? Ohhhhhh… Quite a different matter.
I was spared the “gallon of goo” prep, having won the “only two liters of goo” prep spread over two days. In my book, Hank is admonished by Spud to just chug each glass of the prep. I will advise you to do the same, as it tastes AWFUL with a capital LIKE SHIT. But what do you expect when the main ingredient is PEG? Know what that stands for? Polyethylene glycol. If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, read the label on the container of antifreeze you put in your radiator. Yep—THAT stuff.
My prep was split between two days. That may sound like it’s easier, but trust me: the second day is far worse than the first. I found myself choking down that crap and regretting that I ever had Hank do so. She sat there laughing at me, saying, “Karma, baby!” I did learn late in the game, though, to have a supply of tart candies (I chose Lifesavers and Jolly Ranchers) standing by so that right after chugging a glass I could pop one of them (avoiding the red and orange ones which mess up the procedure) to get rid of the taste.
Still, I found myself once again in the same situation as Hank when, on the second day, I began to feel distinctly unwell. Contemplating yet another glass of goo, I wondered if it was the one that would make me heave. But remembering that Hank was also admonished to not do that because it would mean the prep wouldn’t be good and she’d have to do it all over again, I held my nose, got my lemon Lifesaver unwrapped and ready to pop, and choked down the additional three glasses precisely according to directions, all while perched on my white porcelain throne knowing what was coming next.
Hank had been heard to groan, “Oh gawd!” I heard myself groan the same phrase. More than once. And I can tell you what your greatest fear should be: sneezing during a colonoscopy prep when NOT perched on your porcelain pedestal. Thankfully, I was when I experienced what would certainly have been an embarrassing situation.
With the last half of the prep being the morning before the procedure, I also packed my pockets with an extra panty liner, given the trip to the hospital would take 30 minutes. Actually not needed, but it pays to be prepared.
The procedure itself? After the usual change into a gown conveniently open at the back, jabs, stabs, and pre-op EKG, they wheeled me into the operating room and got me positioned. The anesthesiologist said, “I’m going to give you some medication.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up back in the room where they had me originally. Not a single memory of anything that went on between those two points.
I note that on the report they gave me regarding the procedure that the surgeon said, “Prep was excellent.” You bet your ass, Doc! Or should I say, “You bet MY ass”? Because the over-riding thought I had all during the prep was, This better be good, because NO WAY do I want to go through drinking this goo again any time soon.
I do have to take heart, however. There was a gentleman in the pre-op area across from me who was having both an endoscopy (tube down the throat) and a colonoscopy (tube up you-know-where) who I overheard asking, “You don’t use the same hose, do you?” I would have laughed out loud if it wasn’t for having just too much empathy for the poor guy.
So, my advice to any of you who might be getting ready for your first internal photo shoot (yeah—I’ve got the pictures to prove I didn’t chicken out): 1. Do the prep exactly as ordered; 2. Make sure you have some clear, hard, tart candies on standby to mask the flavor of the goo they want you to drink; 3. Go forward to the actual procedure with confidence, knowing that you will have no memories of just where that camera went. Last but not least, 4. Weigh yourself before starting the prep, and then after getting home from the trip to the hospital. If you believe you aren’t full of shit, that will be the proof that you are.
March 27, 2022 •
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
I’ve already informed my Facebook author group of the fact that Lone Wolf will be the last book of The Unit series. The series has spanned 22 books, not counting the prequel, Before the Unit: The Recruiting of Kevin Banks that gives the backstory of the unit operative code-named “Spud.”
Readers of The Unit series know that the arrival of Kathryn Hanko, who takes the code name “Hank,” also heralds the arrival of changes in the unit. The most notable is that the former fraternization rule, which forbade field operatives from entering into romantic relationships, got ditched. With the growing attraction between Hank and Spud who literally fell in love at first sight, the remaining members of the field team insisted that the medical support’s team of three doctors change the rule, and even rewrote it the way they wanted it to read. Their “spousal relationship” was a first, and did nothing to affect the way the field team interacted. The only issue was the possibility of pregnancy, which was solved when both Hank and Spud agreed to surgical sterilization to prevent such an occurrence.
I wanted to continue their story, and will in the series that will be sequel to this series: The Unit Gen 2. The relationship between Spud and Hank will cause an additional change to occur in the field team: the first instance where two field team operatives are related by blood and have living relatives. How this can come about with both Hank and Spud being surgically sterilized is adequately explained in the first book of The Unit series, Camp Chaos. No need to rehash it here.
With their son and daughter both becoming a part of the field team, new ways the field team members interact arise. Think about it. What happens when two siblings engage in a single pursuit? A little sibling rivalry, perhaps? How does that affect the rest of the team? A little spoiler: in the opening scene of Book 1 of Gen 2, one of the other operatives remarks to no one in particular, “I know we all agreed to this, but this is going to be interesting.”
Now comes the fun part for me as an author, because this series will take place 25 years in the future. How will the world change? How will our society change? What sorts of new technologies will come to the fore? Will we go back to the moon? Make our way to Mars? Cure cancer? How will the workplace change? There are a million answers that I have to look into my crystal ball for. The toughest one for me to determine is, what slang will people use 25 years from now?
I read constantly, and have been trying to catch up on my scientific journal reading. I still have journals from 30 years ago, and have been reading and comparing with what we have today. Thirty years ago, DNA profiles were done by a method called restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), for instance. Now, DNA profiles are constructed using small tandem repeats in DNA (STR analysis). There are limitations, mainly in how much DNA is needed. Theoretically, the DNA contained in one cell should make an STR analysis possible, but we’re not there yet. Will we be there in 25 years? Those are the sorts of questions I ask as I read through these 30-year-old materials and compare what they have to say with what we have now.
So, The Unit Gen 2 will be written in a completely different manner. I have a 25-year gap to fill, which I intend to do by means of flashbacks and recollections of the team members. There will be more focus on the other members of the team as I have them relate their backstories so readers will have a better idea of why the team interacts the way it does. There will be a greater emphasis on the mission being accomplished, and how the world of 2047 helps accomplish it. There will be technological and medical innovations that will change the rules the team is subject to. Some of the people introduced in The Unit series will still be around, though 25 years older and some with different roles. There will have been other team members who have come and gone in that time period.
Yes, I agreed to this, and for me it’s going to be interesting. I hope the results will be interesting to my readers.
March 20, 2022 •
Spring Has Sprung…
Around this time of year, I’m reminded of a little poem:
Spring has sprung, da grass is riz.
I wonder where dem boidies iz?
Some say da boid is on da wing,
But dat’s absoid! Da wing is on da boid!
Yes, indeed, spring has sprung. Of course, it wasn’t but a couple weeks ago that we had freezing temperatures and snow on the ground. In mid-March. In El Paso, Texas, which is in the Chihuahuan Desert. Go figure!
Spring brings the usual spring cleaning efforts here at La Casa de Zoro, as well as some less typical activities. Principal among these is the Annual Cleaning of the Brass. This is in preparation for the following activity of The Loading of the Ammo, which will be followed by The Shooting of the Matches. The latter two activities have been more complicated of late due to the scarcity of primers for reloading, which just might prompt The Reloading of the Primers as well. (Yes, it can be done.)
I spend a fair amount of time on the range when not limited by ammunition shortages. So much time, in fact, that The Cleaning of the Brass is done in a full-size cement mixer. To the mixer is added two gallons of brass cases, 30 pounds of steel pins, a squirt of dish detergent, and about a teaspoon of citric acid—which I buy in bulk in 10-pound bags. Prior to the “washing machine,” the brass all needs to have its spent primers removed, which I do by hand. Doing it by hand allows one to feel if the primer pockets have gotten loose, in which case the spent case is discarded.
Before actually reloading all of this brass, I do “ladder loads,” which consists of trying different powders in different amounts to see which combinations of primers, powders, and bullets give the best accuracy. I guess that a lot of competitive marksmen in my sport don’t bother, but I consider marksmanship a science. I remained silent one day when a fellow competitor voiced the notion that because the target is large, one need not be all that accurate when making ammunition. My little voices (which are somewhat like Hank’s) were countering with, Errors are cumulative, meaning that each little error adds to all of the other little errors to make one nice, big error. This is probably why I’m ranked two classes above the fellow who asserted that accuracy isn’t required.
My competition season will start up again in late June, so hopefully by that time I’ll have ammunition made and tested, as well as have spent sufficient range time to check off another box in my list of marksmanship goals. My focus is always on my own personal achievements. Any awards won during a match are simply gravy.
March 13, 2022 •
Dealing with Doctors
My competition season runs from around July 1st of each year until about mid-February of the next year. That gives me a little over four months to address other needs, principal among which is all the routine health care items that my doctor likes taken care of on a yearly basis.
I am reminded of this both by reading my own description of Edge and how he doesn’t like needles, and recalling Hank’s intake medical evaluation. Trust me, I know how both of them feel.
Doctors always want bloodwork, and for most people it’s not a big thing. But you know me, I have to be different. I have one good vein to draw blood from. One. Just one. I always tell anyone wanting to put a needle into a vein which one it is and where to find it. If they listen to me, no problem. If they don’t? I do vividly recall one time when an anesthesiologist took fifteen tries at getting a vein in an arm that’s very uncooperative in that regard prior to a surgery. I did have to laugh when one of the OR nurses noticed him struggling with it on the way into the OR and then again when she came back out. She grabbed the needle from him and managed to find a vein in that arm on the first try. I also recall a medical evaluation that required many, many blood samples to be drawn, and having the phlebotomist eventually have to resort to finding veins in my feet. Trust me, you don’t want that!
I have had blood drawn once after contracting something mysterious that was making me quite ill with a number of odd symptoms. I think they ran every type of blood analysis in the book. What was it? It turned out to be Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, with my case not involving the usual rash (30% of cases don’t).
Because I both shoot competitively and reload ammunition, I insist on having heavy metal blood analysis done once a year. I forgot to ask the doctor to add it to the bloodwork this year, so I’ll have to be stabbed again.
Yes, I sympathize with Edge and Hank and the other members of the team as they go through this on a more frequent basis—so frequent that they make comments about being guinea pigs.
I’m well-prepared this year. I just finished reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Maybe I should take a mirror with me and see if the phlebotomist’s reflection can be seen in it.
March 6, 2022•
Sometimes, Fiction and Reality Come Together
As I continue to write the last book of The Unit series and prepare to begin work on the series that will be the sequel to this series, it stands to reason that it would be inevitable that someone in the unit would die. On the same day that I wrote the death scene, I got a call from the wife of a very good friend, informing me that he had passed away.
Earl Stevens was my last successful pilot candidate. As a student, he was very fastidious, and wasn’t satisfied unless he could perform each maneuver flawlessly. He often lamented over the amount of time he was spending gaining the perfection he desired, and I often bolstered his confidence by telling him that I, too, had taken quite a few hours getting my private “ticket”. Afterward, though, because I had a firm foundation in the fundamentals, I breezed through the remainder of the certificates and ratings I sought. I can’t recall his knowledge test score, but feel certain it was in the high 90’s, and he had no problem passing his checkride with the designated examiner.
Earl unfortunately was stricken with non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma, which both kept him out of the cockpit and eventually paralyzed him from the waist down.
I knew, also, that Earl was an excellent marksman, having watched him sight-in a rifle on a target set at 100 yards one day. He put five rounds in a single hole. Perfectionist? I guess that’s the proof. So it wasn’t simply convenience that I called Earl one day and asked him if he’d teach me how to reload ammunition. When he agreed, I warned him that I would be the same level of perfectionist when it came to learning reloading as he was when learning how to fly.
I shouldn’t have worried, as he turned out to be an excellent instructor. He was patient, and didn’t just say “now you do this” as another person I’d tried to learn reloading from had done. Instead, he’d say, “I do it this way because …” For that reason, the things he taught me about reloading stuck with me. He also didn’t balk when I asked him to first demonstrate what he was talking about, then watch me do it a couple of times on my own before I’d take it upon myself to reload ammunition without supervision. Make a mistake, and perhaps the worst that happens is the round doesn’t go “bang”. On the other hand, maybe the worst that happens is you literally blow up a gun and get yourself injured or killed. Not too unlike what happens when you forget to do a thorough preflight inspection of the airplane you’re about to fly and miss a critical problem.
I had spoken briefly to Earl a few weeks ago. He was just back home after being hospitalized for a heart attack. I told him I’d let him rest and recuperate before contacting him again a couple of weeks later. At that time, he said he was headed back to the hospital. My natural response was, “Oh, no! Not the same thing I hope.” He replied that no, it was something else. It turns out that he went to the hospital and never came home after his final three-week battle.
I always like to remember a story about a good friend who has passed. In Earl’s case, it was his recollection of something that happened during his duty time during Vietnam. Occasionally, some draftee would figure out that if you didn’t qualify with your rifle, you wouldn’t get deployed. The captain who commanded his company wasn’t born yesterday, so when someone displayed his desire to remain stateside by deliberately shooting off-target, the captain would put Earl next to the guy on the firing line and have Earl put rounds on the guy’s target. When the targets were brought forward, of course there was a nice, tight group on the fellow’s target, which usually got him protesting that he hadn’t even aimed at it. This would get the captain clapping the guy on the back and telling him that, “If you can shoot like that without aiming, then you can share a foxhole with me anytime!” Earl got a great deal of amusement out of this, and so readily accepted “helping” a fellow soldier to qualify for a tour in Southeast Asia.
I’ll be heading to Earl’s funeral next weekend. I know it’s not going to be easy, and will go armed with a pocketful of Kleenex. But who knows? Maybe heaven has both a nice airstrip and a great firing range, in which case I’ll bet he’s already tried out both.
In aviation, we say someone has “gone west”, a reference to someone flying off into the sunset never to be seen again. Earl has gone west, but I’ll never forget him, both for the student he was and the mentor he was to me.
February 27, 2022•
Sunday Is a Day of Rest?
That’s what they tell me at any rate, but you can’t prove it by me!
You all know I’m a competitive marksman. Because spring weather isn’t great for that, I get about four months to prepare for the rest of the year’s upcoming matches: two in July in Raton, NM at the NRA Whittington Center, one in September in Oklahoma at the Oklahoma City Gun Club, one in October in Arizona at the Ben Avery Shooting Complex (they say “range”, but it’s a complex of many ranges), one in December in Louisiana at the Fusiliers Complex, and one in 2023 in February back in Arizona at Ben Avery. Oh—I forgot a local match n October to defend my title as High Woman shooting bullseye pistol at Fort Bliss Rod and Gun Club, where I’m a member.
So it’s Sunday, and time to get some stuff done around the house, which at this point in time includes preparing rifle brass for reloading. Pop off the spent primers, and clean it. I shoot so many rifle rounds that the brass gets cleaned in a cement mixer. Yes, you heard that right: a cement mixer. Not one of those little ones you get at Harbor Freight, either. Then I need to make sure all of the steel pins used for cleaning are out of the brass, get it dried, lube and size, trim, deburr the necks, seat new primers, load with powder and a bullet, crimp, and get it packaged in storage boxes.
That’s just one thing.
Laundry also comes on Sundays. So does trying to get my house cleaned and organized. Renovating. It takes forever. Having moved around with the military, I have lots of nice… junk. Good stuff, but too much stuff for one house.
On top of that, I’m still working on Lone Wolf, which is going to be the last book of this series. It’s at a critical point. One of the characters is about to die, and I’ve challenged my readers in my Facebook group to guess which one. I’m betting no one will guess correctly. They’ll probably also not guess what’s going on with my main character, the female sniper on the team, “Hank”. It’s at moments like this in my writing that I find myself unable to stop working even after I go to sleep. The characters invade my dreams to let me know what’s going to happen next.
Worse still is that the characters of the next series, which will be a sequel to this series, are already invading my psyche. They’re pushing. Demanding. Insist that I tell their stories as well. “Patience!” I cry. “I’ve got to get this book finished first!”
The mundanities of life are hard to put aside: doing my taxes (ugh!), filing LLC paperwork, paying bills, waiting to hear when my new vehicle will be ready for me (it’s been three months; they told me a month and a half), etc., etc., etc. The life of a writer. With variations, I’m sure, the life of us all.
January 18, 2022
COMMON SENSE ISN’T ALL THAT COMMON
One reason I write crime fiction is that I have always been baffled by the criminal mind. My big question has always been, “If you’re willing to spend all that time and energy trying to determine how you can commit the perfect crime and get away with it, why don’t you take that same time and energy to develop the perfect business, rake in all kinds of cash, and never have to look over your shoulder?”
Seems simple, right? Just a matter of common sense.
But as the title of this blog post declares, common sense isn’t all that common. This is the likely reason, above all others, that there are presently 1.8 million people incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. Admittedly, that’s down from a recent high of 2.2 million, but that’s still a lot of people living at the expense of U.S. taxpayers because basically (if you ask me) they didn’t use common sense.
So I research crimes—real crimes— for inspiration for my books. I have to be careful when doing this sometimes to avoid “flat forehead syndrome”: that situation where your forehead becomes flattened from repeatedly slapping your forehead with your hand. Some of the tales of the common sense-challenged among us are truly bizarre! Of course, this means that some of the situations policemen find themselves responding to are also truly bizarre. This runs the gamut of policing agencies, from the youngest rookie on the local force to the most experienced agent in one of our nation’s federal agencies. Whole books can and have been written on the exploits of common sense-challenged criminals.
I love reading those books.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Many of those tales have ended up in only slightly fictionalized form in a segment of each intelligence briefing given in my crime novels that my team has dubbed You Just Can’t Make This Shit Up. Like the tale of the guy rollerblading on a city interstate wearing only his rollerblades and a panda head. Yes, they know the sex of the exhibitionist, but his identity remains unknown. When this report is given to the team, one of them remarks that they’ve heard that Panda Express now delivers via rollerblade. It sounds as plausible as a man rollerblading naked with a panda head on an interstate, doesn’t it?
Another of these accounts was told to me by a personal friend who is a former narcotics detective. He told of a case where they had been informed that someone was bringing in drugs through their airport. He and his partner stopped the man upon his arrival and asked if they could search his luggage. He consented, so no warrant needed. They found nothing. The guy then jeered at them, thrust his pelvis forward, and said, “Maybe you’d like to search this!” That, too, is consent—so they proceeded to do just that! It didn’t take much of an examination for my friend to determine that what he was feeling wasn’t the typical thing one would feel in a man’s crotch, which is the point at which—as he put it—the fight was on.
My remark? “You obviously misunderstood which bag he at first intended for you to search.”
Yes, the criminal mind is baffling, and sometimes quite amusing.