Stealing Apollo – The Story Behind the Story

Frogronaut 1

Some years ago I wrote a film script that follows the shenanigans of a gang of men who steal an Apollo spacecraft from a display in a Vegas casino in broad daylight. Here’s a memory from my boyhood that says something about a guy who would write such a story three decades later.

As thirteen-years old Houstonians, my next door neighbor Ned and I built a piloted rocket ship. I use the word piloted loosely. Our astronaut had no control over his spacecraft, but then neither did Yuri Gagarin, who earlier that year became the first man to orbit Earth. Not being funded by a national space budget, we constructed our capsule from a shoe polishing kit and a three-foot mailing tube we filled with homemade gunpowder.

Yes, homemade gunpowder.

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Songwriting is the charmer’s art.


Songwriting is the charmer’s art. When I first hear a song that moves me, I become thoughtlessly rude. My senses shift from whatever or whomever held my attention to the source. I am instantly captivated by a voice. A groove. A line of melody, A wave of harmony. Songs like John and Paul’s A Day in the Life, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, Joan Baez’ version of Tom Paxton’s There But By Fortune, Pentangle’s version of Lord Franklin, Jackson Browne’s Our Lady of the Well, Jimi’s take on All Along the Watchtower.
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Eric Ode and John Skewes at Kit Lit Drink Night

Eric and John

Yes, Nancy. Children’s writers and illustrators do drink beer. But I assure you it’s only to lubricate the wheels of imagination and cooperation. This event was thrown by our very own Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators of Western Washington in Seattle. Illustrator John Skewes and author Eric Ode collaborated on these two new books from the nationally acclaimed local publisher Sasquatch Books.
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Songs, like antiques, are more valuable with a bit of provenance. Document your music with a piece of background.

What happens between songs on stage is important. As you check your tuning, tell a story about the next number. Draw the listener in. Be clear. Don’t rush into it. Allow the moment of the last song to fade gracefully. Then set the stage for the next one with a little bit of story.

“I wrote this about my wife during a trial separation.”
“I derived the next song from my great-great-grandmother’s diary written when she was a teenager in Northern Virginia during the Civil War.”
“This is about a certain day in the life of Sir Isaac Newton.”

Prefacing your songs in this way will help guide your audience into the moment you’ve prepared for them.

Pirates of Time – The Sailmaker’s Palm

Sailmakers Palm

Excerpted from my Pirates of Time manuscript. Erin and Sophie have traveled 300 years back in time. Disguised as boys, they have joined the crew of Swiftfoot Darkrunner’s pseudo-pirate ship Velocity. Their second day aboard,

they are assigned to the awful task of re-caulking the deck.

The hours crawled by. Caulking was hard work indeed. Despite Mr. Rumple’s declaration that Erin had “mastered” caulk removal, both she and Sophie struggled mightily with almost every piece of the rough, tar-soaked oakum they tore out and replaced. And miles of it still lay in rows between the boards before them. One of the most difficult part of the task was that much of the work had to be done on their knees protected by no more than the denim of the cut-off jeans.
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A film review of B. F. E.


Last Monday night I saw the Seattle International Film Festival premier of B. F. E., a very good low budget film by actor-writer-director Shawn Telford.  His first feature film,  the move demonstrates Telford’s gift for direction and complex storytelling in the vein of Robert Altman. Shawn is particularly adept at casting and getting the most out of a string of talented young actors and several older ones as well. Ian Lerch and Kelsey Packwood performed beyond their years as the principal lovers. Both Hans Altwies and Abby Dylan were very credible as well.
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Odysseus and Calypso

Odysseus and Calypso
Odysseus and Calypso.
Red-figure vase. Clay.
Paris, Louvre Museum.

I’ve been writing a lengthy middle-grade sci-fi novel for almost two years now that I think of as an odyssey. It’s the tale of a modern girl whose city has been horribly changed be someone stealing her parents’ time machine. When the machine returns to her, she and her best friend must use it to go back three-hundred years and undo the damage.
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A sabbatical with a month in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Door

Thanks to the generosity of my employer, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, I am currently in the final month of a three-month writing sabbatical. Half of the time I’ve spent at home in Seattle. My wife Springer and I have just spent the middle portion on a trip to Santa Fe.  I’m very happy we drove. The trip from the rainforests of the Northwest, through the Canyon Lands of Utah and the majestic Rocky Mountains of southern Colorado, to high desert of the New Mexico was an inspiring one.  A painter herself, Springer got as much out of the trip as I did.

We rented a comfortable house for the month of September in the Ft. Carson area of Santa Fe. Each day I wrote for two hours in the early morning. The two of us then had breakfast followed by a couple of hours experiencing the beauty and art of this remarkable four-hundred year old city.  After lunch most days I wrote for two hours, played my guitar for an hour then had a brief workout and walk through a lovely, shaded arroyo that runs through the city.

I chose Santa Fe, not only for its warmth and beauty, but for the successful coexistence between its native and immigrant peoples which has been an inspiration to my currently 108,000 word children’s novel. I recommend everyone visit this city to experience the hospitality of the kind people who live there. Anyone will find the cordiality and easy pace soothing.

By the time Springer and I left Santa Fe, I had made significant progress on my story, become a little better guitar player and wrote the beginnings of a song I plan to finish this month. I will post a link to some photos I took on the trip and eventually a link to the song I’m working on, appropriately named “Santa Fe County.”

Backstories of Backstories

Every story has a backstory. Every time machine story has two.

The backstory of the Pirates of Time, my current effort, is the love between pseudo-pirate Captain Swiftfoot Darkrunner and Blue Leaf, princess of the Nighthawk People.  This love is vital to my main character Erin Isabelle Spotsworth three-hundred years later.  Though only obliquely related to my tale, Pirates of Time could not have been written were it not for a number of fiction and non-fiction books I read as a child. This post is an attempt to honor these stories in enriching my story and indeed, my life.

Pocahontas and John Smith

The history of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith


Peter Pan and other related works of J.M. Barrie


The novels of L. Frank Baum


The rich literary history of forgetful professors such as Per Lindroth’s book.