Invasion of the Turkey Vultures

Spring is here, although it’s been a bit of a stuttering start so far. We had sleet and snow Wednesday and Thursday, but today is a beautiful, sunny day and the the new accumulations are nearly gone. What was really interesting this week was a sudden influx of birds, which unfortunately coincided with the brief winter-like storm. There were white-throated sparrows everywhere, scrabbling around on the ice trying to find food. I put out some bird seed and they devoured it like a starving mob. Along with the several dozen sparrows, I also saw what I think was a rose finch sneaking in to grab some seeds. There was also a fat robin walking very close to the cabin — apparently too cold to fly, just sort of stumbling around, who didn’t even have enough energy to go after the seeds. If a robin can shiver, that’s what he was doing. I could just imagine him saying, “What the #$%^^&, they told me it was springtime up here!”

Toward evening on Thursday, we started to notice some eagle-sized birds soaring around the place. I got out the binoculars and looked at one perched in a tree nearby, and it looked just like this, complete with the bald, red, wrinkled-up beak-face:

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I looked in our bird book and concluded that it was a turkey vulture. (My phone isn’t good enough to get a close-up so I copied that picture off the internet.) He flew off to the west and settled in another tree, and I then noticed that there were several of them gathered in the general vicinity.

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You can see six of them in the picture above, but there were probably twice that many. They weren’t making any sounds at all, just sitting in the trees looking things over. They kept that up for ten or twenty minutes, and then they all flew off together toward the west and I didn’t see a single one again that day. I’ve seen a couple since, but not the big group. They fly very quietly and are graceful in an odd sort of way, kind of bobbing along on the air currents while barely moving their wings at all. The bird book says they are the champions of the bird world in terms of soaring ability. It also says that the bald beak-face is an adaptation for scavenging, since they are scavengers only and do not eat anything live.

So, it wasn’t actually an invasion, and I’m relieved to know that they won’t be attacking us up here as long as we remain alive and kicking. (I just called it an invasion to make the article seem more interesting. Sorry for the fake news — I must have been infected by our Tweeter-in-Chief.)

Anyway, I just though this sudden profusion of birds was interesting, especially the turkey vultures, which I don’t recall seeing before. Maybe they only hang around here in the early spring on their way to someplace else. In the past, we wouldn’t be up here this early, so this was just one more delight from our first full winter season on Lake Superior.

A Thousand Bingos! (Talk About a Dubious Accomplishment)

Way back in about 2011 or so, my son Brian invited me to play a new game called Words with Friends. I was immediately hooked on it, even though he lost interest after a few games. Since then, WWF has been a constant part of my daily routine – I constantly have something like 16 to 20 games ongoing. Here’s a tip of the hat to my family and friends who have done and continue to enable this addiction – the stalwarts, Matt, Mary, Ellie, Barb, Nick, Jerod, LeAnne, and John (also known as the evil Duckter J), as well as some random players I’ve connected with occasionally.

One really cool feature of the game is that it keeps track of your game stats. Thanks to that feature, I became aware that I was closing in on what I consider to be a fairly impressive accomplishment. As in Scrabble, the game that WWF was based on, there are bonus points awarded if a player uses all seven letters in a single turn. In players’ lingo, this is known as a Bingo. A while back, I noticed that my Bingo total had reached 900. Silly as it may seem, that really made my spine tingle as I began to dream of reaching 1000. After all, doing almost anything one thousand times seems like a really big deal, does it not? Well, maybe not, but if there is a sign or a web page that actually TELLS you you’ve done something a thousand times, that’s big, no?

OK, so most of you won’t get it. After all, what it really says is that I’ve wasted an incredible amount of time doing something really useless. But I don’t care. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and NOW I’VE DONE IT!!! A THOUSAND BINGOS!!!

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All you other WWFers out there, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Beat that, if you can! (I’m sure there are millions who already have, but I don’t really want to hear from you. I’m in dream land.)

I’ll post again when I get to two thousand. Three thousand may even get me into the Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing. If not, maybe I’ll invent it.

A Bridge to the Twentieth Century

For the last several weeks, I’ve been walking around in the front yard wondering what to do with the huge piles of logs and branches left behind by the men who cut down our unfortunate threat trees. Eventually, I hope to reuse as much of the debris as possible, either for firewood or some other useful things. As a start, I used some of the pieces as borders for footpaths while also collecting a lot of the brush into piles. Then I got the bright idea to use two of the leftover stumps as supports for a bench. I nailed three long pieces to the tops of the stumps to form the bench seat. As I continued to lay down borders in the newly open area created by the felling of the trees, the new path I was creating led itself directly to the west side of Paul’s Creek. Naturally, this led me to decide that I needed to build another bridge across the creek.

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Those who didn’t know my father, Paul, might think that these creative tree recycling ideas were coming out of my own brain. In fact, all I was doing was channeling my dad. He did a whole bunch of things just like these, using fallen trees and branches to build stuff rather than buying lumber. (He also bought a ton of lumber to build stuff, and also often saved used lumber when he had to tear down some of his projects. Guess who has a bunch of used lumber stored in the garage for future projects?) In other words, I am becoming my father, just as the old adage goes. Every day I seem to be more like him.

But anyway, back to the story. Why did I need to build a bridge across the creek? To get to the other side, of course! As you’ll see in the photos, some of the logs were quite large and required a great deal of effort to move. In true Paul fashion I had to do it all completely by myself. The only tools I used were a pry bar, relying on the ancient inventions of the wheel and the lever to get the logs in position, a hand saw to cut the bridge deck pieces, and a hammer and nails to hold everything together. (I also downed a fair number of Ibuprofen tablets to deal with the resulting aches and pains and put on a few Band-Aids to cover various cuts.)

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Once I built the bridge, I thought maybe I should give it a name. I just finished watching the Masters (congrats to champion Sergio Garcia!) and naturally enjoyed seeing the players walk across the famous Hogan and Sarazen bridges. I myself walked across the famous Swilcan Bridge at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, as documented elsewhere on this site. My new bridge won’t be so famous, of course. I thought of a few ideas, including Bridge to Nowhere, Bridge to the Other Side, Paul’s Bridge, Dave’s Bridge, Saari Bridge, but none of those seemed to capture the spirit of the thing. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks – this bridge is a connection to my dad, who was born in 1913 and died in 1997. It’s a bridge to the past, a Bridge to the Twentieth Century.

I have three fine sons, Matt (not to be confused with Matt Davidson), Nick, and Brian. If any of them are reading this, I’m sure their eyes are rolling. I used to roll my eyes when my dad was building benches and bridges out of recycled trees, too. But I have some advice for the lads – you might as well embrace this silliness, because it just may be your future.

Now, on to the rest of those fallen trees and branches. Maybe another fifty paths, twenty benches, a dozen bridges …

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Horror of Horrors — the Rules of Golf are Changing!

The two worldwide governing bodies of the game of golf are the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA). The two bodies have agreed on a proposed set of 100 changes intended to simplify the rules, and make them easier to apply, and update them to “meet the changing needs of the global game.” These changes, after a lengthy review period, are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019. I’m actually just joking with regard to the title – many of the rules as they currently stand are archaic, unwieldy, and confusing. Let’s face it, if the governing bodies can come up with 100 changes to the rules, the rules are too complicated.

U.S. Open - Round Three

Moving loose impediments in a sand trap will be allowed

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The procedure for dropping a ball is changing

I expect the true motivation for these changes is the fact that golf’s popularity among the masses has fallen off a cliff. Contrary to predictions of an explosion in the number of new players and the subsequent worldwide expansion of golf courses, it turns out the millennial generation just isn’t interested. Apparently, the youngsters would rather play golf video games than actually play golf. On the heels of the recent golf course construction boom, courses are now closing at an unprecedented rate.

Many theories have been put forth to explain this decline of the venerable old game. Some people decry the supposed exclusivity of the game and celebrate its demise as an overdue victory for egalitarianism. The historical and shameful exclusion of minorities by golf clubs supports this argument. I would argue that this aspect of the game is primarily an artifact of the private clubs preferred by the very wealthy, such as Tweeter in Chief’s Mar-a-Lago, and that the decline has more significantly impacted the public courses preferred by ordinary Joes like myself. Others point to the vast and wasteful amounts of land and water devoted to golf courses, along with hidden public funding in the form of tax policies. Yet the same critics frequently celebrate other methods for preservation of green space that are often no better in terms of resource allocation. Many argue that the monetary cost for playing the game has become too high, even as they spend far more money attending football games and concerts, dining out far more frequently than they used to, and buying expensive smartphones and other gadgets. There’s also a sizable contingent that believes the game is just too complicated – hence the proposed rules changes.

To me, the obvious reason for the decline in popularity is that the game is too slow, not that it’s too expensive or too complicated. Put another way, people now value their time far more than they used to. To play eighteen holes on a weekend can take an excruciating five hours on a typical course, or even six hours at the more difficult venues. That doesn’t even include the time for transportation to and from the course. Think of all the things a modern man or woman could do with those precious hours – countless tweets, posts, on-line games, a couple of movies, bringing the kids to several soccer matches or school activities, etc. etc. etc. Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t even have imagined there could be so many more important things to do with those hours. I think it may not have been so slow in the old days also, but I can’t be sure of that due to my failing memory. Older and retired folks like me have more time to spend on a game like golf, so older and retired folks like me are the ones still playing the game, while the younger crowd is abandoning it in droves.

I don’t play often during weekend prime time myself because I can’t abide the slow pace of play. I try to go on weekdays or off-times, and I can usually manage to play eighteen holes in three hours or less. If I get lucky and no one else is on the course, I can do eighteen in an hour and a half with a cart or two to two and a half walking. So why does it take everybody else so long? The typical player takes five or six practice strokes before every shot. He or she then stands at address, sometimes motionless, sometimes twitching and waggling, for a virtual eternity, before endeavoring to actually hit the ball. Meanwhile, the player’s companions stand together in a knot, offering sage advice or off-color jokes but making no effort to move toward their own balls. Finally, our erstwhile champion strikes the ball. The group then watches en masse until they think they know where the ball ended up, then moves off in a herd to the next player’s ball, where the scene is repeated. The wily Scottish sheep farmers who invented the game didn’t play that way. They simply hit the ball, went to find it, and then hit it again.

Mercifully, many of the new rules actually may actually result in a faster pace of play. For example, the time allotted to searching for a lost ball is shortened from five minutes to three. “Ready golf” is encouraged “when it can be done in a safe and responsible way” rather than strict adherence to an order dictated by distance from the pin. The penalty for striking the flagstick when putting is eliminated, so there will no longer be a need for the rigmarole associated with attending the pin. Do I think the changes will result in rounds being played in less than four hours? I doubt it. After all, hardly anyone actually follows the rules now, so why would I expect they’ll change their behavior after the new rules take effect?

At any rate, I’m fine with the rules changes. I think the net result will be a slight lowering of scores since several penalties have been eliminated, and possibly a quicker pace of play. However, there is one change that makes me very sad, indeed. As some of you know, I am the author of several golf-themed mystery novels with catchy names based on time-honored jargon of the game. My most recent effort is titled Lateral Hazard, just released in February 2017. Under the new rules, terms for some of the areas on the golf course are being changed. In keeping with those changes, I would need to retitle my book Penalty Area Allowing Lateral Relief. Somehow that doesn’t work for me. Wouldn’t you know it – I write a new book and the rules of golf, which haven’t changed in decades, have already made it non-compliant. Unless, of course, everyone buys it before January 1, 2019!

A Fine First Day of Spring — Open Ground, Eagles, Ice Cream, and Cookies

Yesterday marked this year’s occurrence of the vernal equinox, one of two moments each year when the sun stands directly over the equator. On March 20, 2017, there were approximately 12 hours of daylight everywhere on earth. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the hours of daylight are increasing as we optimistically enter the spring season, while those in the southern hemisphere see their days shortening into the melancholy of fall.

We had a beautiful, sunny day here on Lake Superior, with the high temperature soaring to a mild 43 degrees Fahrenheit. I went for a walk in the back forty, following the old snowshoe trail where I could still see it, and snapped a few pictures.

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Just to the north of our property, the snow is nearly gone as you can see above. The walking was very easy in this part.

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As I went further north, deeper into the woods, the remaining snow was more prevalent and the walking got a little harder. Without snowshoes, my feet fell through the top crust in a few places where the snow was still fairly deep — maybe 6 or 8 inches — but there were also patches of bare ground where the sun shone through gaps in the trees.

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I gave the eagles’ nest a wide berth so as not to disturb our majestic friends, but with my binoculars I could see the head of one of the birds, presumably sitting on some eggs. If you have really good eyes, you can see it in the photo above. (If I had a real camera with a telephoto lens I could have gotten a better shot than this smartphone snap. You’ll just have to take my word for it.)

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When I finished my stroll around the snowshoe loop I took this shot from our front yard. With the former threat trees gone, our view of Lake Superior has been improved, but unfortunately so has our view of the highway.

Earlier in the day, we went into town and discovered that the Grand Marais Dairy Queen was celebrating Spring by giving away free cones. Not only that, but the proprietor was selling the last of his daughter’s Girl Scout cookies, so naturally we had to buy some.

All in all it was quite a fine first day of spring. I’m clinging to the memory as I look at the thermometer this morning (currently 28 degrees) and note that the forecast low for tonight is a chilly 9 degrees (or – 13 Celsius if I want to be really pessimistic). But this may be our final cold snap as spring overwhelms the dying winter. I’m looking forward to sunny days and golfing, just around the corner.

The Sad Fate of Threat Trees

Last week, we traveled to South Dakota for the funeral of Bob Kjorsvig, my oldest son’s grandfather. Bob was an interesting man who accomplished a great deal during his lifetime. (At one time, he was the owner of the largest herd of Norwegian Fjord horses in America.) But time eventually catches up with all of us, and it was time for Bob’s final act in the circle of life. Bob will truly be missed.

In an ironic twist of fate, when we got back to our lovely home overlooking Lake Superior, we were shocked to see that seven or eight beautiful trees had been cut down during our absence.

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It turns out that these venerable old wonders had been designated as “threat trees,” since they were large enough to cause significant damage to the power line that runs parallel to the highway in front of our property. One of them broke off about half way up from the ground during a big wind event last summer and was being supported in mid air by some of the others. That’s probably what drew the attention of the threat tree inspectors.

Most of the trees were growing on the state highway right-of-way, but I think at least one or two were actually on our property. Nevertheless, I always thought of them as “our” trees. They’d been there since long before we bought the property, and it’s very sad to see them go. There are plenty of trees still remaining, but still, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss.

On the bright side, the removal of these trees has resulted in a clearer view of Lake Superior from our front windows. Also, they will provide a big boost to our pile of firewood and help meet our future cold weather heating needs. (That’s assuming I don’t have a heart attack from the exertion of sawing and splitting the logs.) And I know they needed to go — many people, including me, would have suffered hardship from a loss of power had one of them actually fallen on the line.

But these positives belong to a future, theoretical realm, whereas the downed trees are immediate and very real. Right now, all I can feel is sadness at the loss of some majestic creations of nature, cut down before their time, simply to safeguard humankind’s technology.

Farewell, old friends. You also will be missed.

Paul’s Creek

There’s a small creek that runs across a corner of our property. It’s one of countless nondescript waterways that run downhill from the forest into Lake Superior, known to the locals only as “No Name” creeks. It has a small waterfall that I like to look at every day. Here’s what it looks like today.

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Here’s what it looked like on Saturday (four days ago).

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And here it is back on November 28.

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During the summer, it generally looks more like the drip from a leaky faucet. However, during the spring melt or when it rains, the creek can swell to a raging torrent for a few days or even a week or two. Today’s rush of water is the result of an unusual warm spell that has given us several days in the forties and a few actually topping fifty degrees, compounded by a soaking rain on Monday afternoon and evening (two days ago). The December torrent followed a similar pattern of warm temperatures followed by rain. After that we had some more typical temperatures (and perhaps two feet of snow) until the current warm spell arrived last week.

Downstream of the waterfall, the creek passes through a culvert under Highway 61 and discharges into Lake Superior. Here’s what it looks like at the Lake entry point today.

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Normally there’s no visible channel – the water merely percolates through the stones, and you wouldn’t even be aware of water beneath your feet if you were walking along the shore.

My father, Paul, loved the little creek. He built a footbridge to cross it, about a hundred yards upstream of the waterfall, using fallen tree branches for support members and cross pieces. We called it his Flintstone bridge, because it looked like the little cars that Fred and Barney used to “drive” in the old cartoon show. It almost always washed away during the spring melt. Paul would recover the remnants from the downstream rocks, make replacement pieces for the ones that weren’t salvageable, and rebuild it. Once he passed away, I tried to rebuild it myself, but I gave up after a particularly heavy snow melt broke it into mere shards, tossed all the way downstream past the waterfall. (This fall, I built a little Flintstone bridge just downstream of the falls. When that one washes away, at least it won’t go too far.)

After my dad died, I decided the creek needed a name. With unanimous consent from the family, it’s now known as Paul’s Creek, although that name won’t be found on any map. In fact, all the maps I’ve seen actually show the creek in the wrong place, angling away to the east as it crosses our property, presumably passing through a non-existent culvert, and supposedly discharging into the Lake some 100 yards from its actual location.

As I was taking pictures today, I realized something. This interesting little creek, though invisible to most, is dearly loved by all who know it. It’s a bit misunderstood and hard to pin down (the mapmakers can’t even show it in its correct location). It regularly cycles through a wide range of behaviors, a meager trickle during the summer doldrums progressing to bank-bursting torrents of energy, then back again to the low energy state. To sum up: known to few; dearly loved though somewhat difficult; bipolar personality…

I couldn’t possibly have come up with a better name than Paul’s Creek.

Why is Golf So Hard (for some of us)?

It seems to be that time of year again. Around late January or mid February, I start to think about playing golf again. Golf is the accursed game that’s had an icy grip on my heart for over half a century. Every fall, the idea of ever playing again is banished from conscious thought by my wounded ego. But then, salved by the cold and snow of winter, fueled by watching the professionals on TV, the idea begins once again to percolate. I know it will once again consume me come the spring, though I still don’t fully understand why.

Golf has been described in many colorful ways, “a good walk spoiled” (Mark Twain) being one of the more famous. Most golfers will also say this, however: “A bad day at golf is better than a good day at work.” And Matt Davidson, in Slice, told his new bride that golf isn’t really better than sex, it just lasts longer.

Yesterday, I watched Jordan Spieth notch his ninth PGA Tour victory, becoming the second youngest in history to achieve that distinction (second by a month or so to the incomparable Tiger Woods). Spieth appeared frustrated as putt after putt failed to drop. Carding only two birdies, he still won by four strokes — a veritable cakewalk. He made it look so blasted EASY!  I know it wasn’t, but it looked that way.

For me, golf is anything but easy. I don’t have an official handicap any more, but at one time in my life I had it down to just under 10. I’ve managed to break 80 nearly a dozen times, most recently back in 2014, if memory serves. I have a million excuses for why I never get any better: I don’t play often enough, my clubs aren’t good enough, I never actually practice, I don’t take lessons, and on and on ad nauseam. But the deeply buried root of the problem is that GOLF IS HARD! As I approached the age of sixty, my game really started going in the toilet. If I were keeping a handicap, I’d guess it’s up to 17 or 18 by now.

Of course, this lousy golf also corresponded with a steady falloff in rounds played as I got incredibly busy with my final grand Rocket Science project. Just before retiring, I was down to playing about ten nine-hole rounds and five 18-hole rounds a year. Who could be any good with that feeble level of effort? (Excuse number one.)

My decline also corresponded with a remarkable decline in distance as I continued my transformation into a creaky old fart with lousy balance and limited flexibility. I gradually got rid of most of my trusty Wilson Staff woods and irons with stiff shafts and assembled a motley collection of hybrids and flexible-shafted irons, all used, mostly from Second Swing. Who could be any good with such substandard equipment? Look at these things — 13 clubs, 7 different brands! (Excuse number two.)

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Of course, I know I should be exercising and practicing, but what fun is that? But I do fully intend to put truth or lie to excuse number one. A retired guy like me needs to be out on the course two or three times a week, minimum. And I’m going to do it as soon as the courses open up here. Let’s see … that ought to happen by early June, for sure.

If (OK, when) that doesn’t work, I may finally pop for some new clubs. The golf club industry has become a juggernaut because most frustrated golfers do just that, and I know it rarely works, but what have I got to lose? Nothing but money, am I right?

I do also plan to do something I once thought unthinkable — move up to the Senior tees. (I suppose I ought to start exercising and practicing, as well. But who am I kidding? That’ll never happen.) I’ll probably just mope my way around the course, day after day, asking myself that age-old question: Why is this infernal game so insufferably HARD?

And yet, I absolutely love the game. (Maybe I should have asked Napoleon for some insight into that mystery.) I’ll keep you posted on how things go on the links as time goes by.

Twitter Micro-novels

Several years ago I came across a website or organization of some sort that was touting the concept of the Micro-novel. I’d provide a reference, but I haven’t been able to find one — my apologies to the originator(s) of the idea. The basic concept was to write an extremely brief piece of fiction — it had to be no more than something like 25 words — that would communicate something to the reader. I was intrigued by the idea and shared it with the Writing Wombats group I mentioned in my previous post. We had some fun trying to write Micro-novels, but then I had to go back to my day job and I forgot all about it for many years.

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Since then, Twitter has become a huge phenomenon. I recently joined Twitter myself but have been struggling to come up with anything useful to say in 140 characters or less (as you may have noticed, I am rather a wordy fellow). Our Tweeter-in-Chief is trying to rule the world through this medium. Who can compete with that? (Millions of people obviously can, but that’s beside the point.)

Then one day a light bulb went off. I remembered the old Micro-novel concept and asked myself a question. Why not write Micro-novels as tweets? Instead of a word limit, a Micro-novel would simply be constrained by the 140 character limit for a single tweet.

So, I’ve decided to begin writing Twitter Micro-novels. I challenged myself to write five of them as a start. I have put all five into this blog post, and then I’ll tweet out one a day over a five-day period, just to see what happens. If anything comes of it, I’ll do some more, but any future ones will be available only as tweets. Regardless of the outcome, this should be fun. Here goes.

Micro-novel number one, a tragedy:

The apex of Morgan’s career was the day she flew to Dayton. Agoraphobia struck as she entered the hotel room, where she resides to this day.

Micro-novel number two, a play on words:

Hope soared on Jim’s wedding day. Hope sank during the honeymoon. Hope endured thereafter, but she never went gliding or snorkeling again.

Micro-novel number three, a historical novel:

Albert’s thought experiment went very wrong. He thought he was immune to criticism, but the autopsy showed he’d actually been eating cesium.

Micro-novel number four, a psychological non-thriller:

Sometimes the past can be a door to the future. After many years on the couch, Myra learned that it can also just be a door to the past.

And the finale, another tragedy:

Harvey took a step back to admire his work. Later, he realized he’d once been the best window washer in all of New York City.

I owe the last one entirely to Eugene (Skip) Day, of Long Island, NY. Thanks Skip, I stole your joke and made it into a novel.

There they are. Maybe some other writers will seize on this idea and we’ll have an explosion of Twitter Micro-novels. Or maybe not. Let’s see what happens next week and go from there.

New Mystery Novel by Yours Truly

The moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived! Perhaps it can serve as an antidote to the tumultuous events of the past weeks by providing an escape from reality. After all, what is more relaxing than sitting back in your favorite chair – or couch, or bathtub, or wherever – with a new book? So, I hereby announce the release of my latest novel, Lateral Hazard.

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If you’re so excited to start reading that you can’t be bothered with the rest of this post, just click on one of these links and get to it:

Amazon Kindle Edition ($2.99)

Lulu paperback ($13.50 + shipping)

Otherwise, keep reading for a bit of backstory on how this book came to be.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but kept putting it off for the future. I realized I’d have a better chance of making a decent living doing something more practical, so I studied Aerospace Engineering in college and became, as my wife Pat likes to say, a Rocket Scientist. Though my engineering career was very interesting and rewarding, I hung on to the dream of writing novels. I took a couple of evening classes in creative writing, and one of the instructors encouraged me to send a book proposal to a number of agents and publishers. In the early 1990’s, I did just that and was rejected by all of them, as are the vast majority of aspiring writers who do the same. (The Huffington Post reports that 96% of submissions to literary agents are rejected. And then, even fewer of those 4% who land agents actually get a book published.)

So, I didn’t quit my day job, as they say. But gradually, the publishing industry began to change with the emergence of eBooks and self-published works. Encouraged by this trend, I attempted to take early retirement in 2006 to give my writing dream another shot. That resulted in the release of Snowman to the digital world. But I soon realized that an astronomical number of other people were doing exactly the same thing I was. Snowman was merely a spec in the new universe, and virtually no one discovered it.

I started work on my second novel, Slice, while making a few attempts at marketing Snowman. (Of course, I wasn’t willing to spend a nickel on those efforts due to my inherently cheap nature.) One of my no-cost forays was to sign up for a “First Chapter” novel contest on Gather.com, an early social media platform that has since gone defunct. Two books were chosen by the Gather community and awarded publishing contracts. Snowman wasn’t one of them. Though I didn’t win the contest, I did link up with a number of other Gather subscribers who formed a group called the “Writing Wombats” to share experiences, encouragement, and writing advice. One of the Wombats, a rabble rouser named Ken Coffman, sponsored a “First Paragraph” writing contest. That sounded fun, so I submitted an entry. Here it is:

Alexandra Williamson didn’t like what she saw in the mirror. The luminous, sable-colored hair cascading to her soft shoulders was not the issue; that was perfect. Makeup was not the problem either – artfully applied blush accentuated her regal cheekbones, while shadow, liner, and mascara made her eyes the envy of a cover girl. Nor was it the smooth, toned skin, nor the exquisitely firm breasts reflected above the neckline of her monogrammed silk gown. No, what bothered Alexandra was the knife at her throat, about to spoil this pretty picture with ordinary, commonplace blood.

Amazingly, I won the contest. Just to keep things in perspective, I have to admit there were only a dozen or so entries, but a win is a win, am I right? It was the first time I’d actually won a writing competition of any kind. I decided that the winning paragraph, exactly as written, would be the start of my next book. Filled with enthusiasm, I had decided on a title and a premise for extending the paragraph into a novel by the end of 2007.

Then real life intervened. In 2008 I was back to being a Rocket Scientist, to support the family after Pat became a victim of reorganization. Again, I found the work interesting and rewarding, and writing returned to the back burner – something to do in the future.

Finally, in July of 2016, worn out from my forty years as an engineer, bent but not broken, I retired for real. By October, rejuvenated by a trip to England and Scotland and by taking up residence on the North Shore of Lake Superior, I had finished and released Slice. It was finally time to get going on the third book. And now, Lateral Hazard has also been released. Here’s a synopsis.

Samantha Williamson is taking a respite from her quest to become a star on the LPGA Tour, with a stint as an Assistant Professional at the Snake River Golf Club. She has the talent and the will to make it on tour, but an unexpected distraction – the handsome Snake River Pro – throws a monkey wrench into the works. Little did she know that her estranged father is the club chairman, or that his beautiful trophy wife would end up dead. When the Sheriff can’t solve her stepmother’s murder, Sam decides to investigate on her own, leading to disastrous consequences. This is a tale of lust, infidelity, blackmail, murder, revenge – and the redemptive power of love.

For the moment, it’s only available as an Amazon eBook (for $2.99) or a Lulu paperback (for $13.50 plus shipping). Additional paperback channels will be available in the near future. Watch for updated links on the Books page, or just use the author links in the sidebar for Amazon and Barnes and Noble – the Lateral Hazard paperback versions will show up there in due time.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoy reading the new book. If you do, I won’t be upset if you add a review to the Amazon and/or Lulu sites, or if you pass along a recommendation to someone else who may be interested. Thanks in advance!