Back in the early 2000s, I got involved in the quixotic task of historic preservation. During this period, I met a film director named David Schler, who is still a good friend. Through subversive methods not yet understood by modern science, Schler was able to convince the county commissioners that history was just as important as the newest cookie-cuter subdivision. For the space of about two years, we were actually paid to make videos about history. The catch being that we had to make do with what was on hand. Some of our work is still floating around, such as this Heartland Emmy-winning episode of Legends and Oddities, entitled Search for the B-17. The amazing thing about this video is that Schler actually owned all of the props used. The much lighter Kingdom for a Star is also still around. The actor who played the reporter in Kingdom had an awesome voice, perfect for the part. And once again, Schler seemed to have an endless supply of props. The only thing I would add is that I did write ‘magnate’ instead of ‘magnet.’ You’ll know it when you hear it.
Working on these videos was a fantastic experience.
My childhood ambition was not to be an astronaut or fireman. It was to be a chemist. Mostly this was due to an older brother’s ancient Gilbert chemistry set, which included experiments that were incredibly dangerous. In 2004-05, I was blessed with an opportunity to write about science for Mental Floss. I got to discuss vital questions such as: If you put a lit candle in a jar, and put the jar on a record player (remember those?) and turn the player on, which way will the flame point as it revolves on the player. (You’re gonna get it wrong…) I also wrote articles dealing with Tycho Brahe’s drinking problem as well as Shangri-La and Timbuktu. Alas, I became sidetracked by life and allowed my relationship with Mental Floss to lapse. In the business, this is called “Being an idiot.” (The answer is, the flame points toward the center of the record player. Welcome to centripetal force, you newb.)
Back in 1993, I had one of those dreams that seemed to last all night. It was so long, it took me months to get it down on paper. When I finally had it all written out, I sold it. Iapetus is no longer in print, although enterprising folk might still be able to dig it up. Reviews were generally positive, and looking back it was a good attempt at a first novel. Sadly, it was penned by someone who wasn’t ready to do all the stuff that comes with writing, which means conventions, networking, and following up with, you know, another science fiction novel. Twenty years ago, Science Fiction bigwig Ed Bryant referred to me as Denver’s most secretive science fiction writer. Yeah, not what you want to be. Still, beginnings can be tricky times, and to this day, I am very happy to have written the book.
I understand that in these days of instant Internet access to everything you’d want (and so many things you don’t want) it must be hard to believe that once upon a time, there used to be actual, hard-copy magazines that contained static pictures of naked people. Sounds stone-age, I know. It was possible, way back then, for writers to actually pen the type of fictional accounts one would expect to find in such magazines. You know the genre: Unemployed man down on his luck calls for a pizza, and the delivery is made by two stunning women who (apparently) can’t get any dates outside of schleps who order pizza. I will admit to having written such fiction, with two caveats. One: These days, the stories I wrote would be laughed off as strictly PG-13. There was, for example, actual love involved. Two: On a per-hour basis, I made more money on these stories than I have made on anything else. In fact, my take was on par with what my systems engineer wife makes. Alas, such writing gets very dull, very quickly. (There are only so many different toppings you can put on a pizza.) And these days, well, the market is filled by video game designers. See, for example, this ad for a game, photographed in the Taiwan Metro. As I understand it, the female pictured is a great and fearsome warrior in the game. I’m not sure I understand how her armor is supposed to protect her, but I gotta admit, being a warrior is more glamorous than delivering pizza. (As an aside, I am aware that there is growing objection to the portrayal of women in video games. Looking at the picture, I get–and agree with–the point. However, I prefer an ancient game called chess, and in the immortal words of Murray Head, “The queens we use would not excite you.”)
Just prior to World War I, my great grandfather helped found a small newspaper called the Estes Park Trail. Somewhat later (around 2000) I was given the chance to write a column for a small paper called The Douglas County News-Press. You know what? It was a blast. I got to write about whatever I wanted to, from pronking on the moon to digging up legendary treasure.
I recall, quite clearly, a writing acquaintance telling me, “I am so glad you got a chance to write for that little paper out there south of Denver.” (This was the first time I understood on a visceral level why so many writers are not invited to so many parties.) But you know what? I’m glad I wrote for the paper too. Deadlines and keeping track of billing and making sure I got my facts right was a great lesson in the business of writing. It was an experience I will always take pride in.