17 Things I Saw in Roswell

Just finished a trip to Roswell, NM, and I know there’s nothing more interesting than vacation pictures from the desert.

So, here they are:

1 – Alien-Themed Stuff

IMG_2301

It starts well outside of town, so as you’re driving through endless southwest desert (and trying not to pee in the car) you begin to notice a theme…

 

 

2 – Unintentionally Funny Signs

IMG_2302

If you can trust your stuff with Billy the Kid, then who can you trust?

IMG_2404

Someone call Mulder and Scully–we saw a Blockbuster sign.

I couldn’t (from the road) see a big dome made from Ramen, but that image will live on in my dreams.

 

3 – A Newspaper about a UFO

IMG_2330

I think this is gonna be a big story.

 

4 – Those UFOs under my eyes.

Eyes

Dear goodness, someone call a bellhop to help me check these bags.

 

5 – A Spot Where the Enola Gay Once Parked

IMG_2371

 

6 – Emilie de Ravin Making Out

118-38_zpsfb8c98f4

Okay, that might be something I remember from the show. It’s hard to keep it all straight. Who knows?

 

7 – Aleins. Everywhere.

 

 

 

8 – Aliens Who Have Given up on Life

IMG_2375

 

9 – Emilie de Ravin Moving Stuff with her Mindtumblr_ok1scvvlow1rerzc4o1_400Full disclosure: This also could be something I remember from the TV show.

 

10 – UFO Research

The UFO museum is a fun slice of Americana, but take a look around back and you’ll find a serious research library with every document a UFO researcher could need.

 

 

11 – The Iron Cross of Germany Embedded in a Creek

IMG_2358

Interesting story. Some German POWs were kept in Roswell during WWII, because it’s the middle of a desert and there’s no where to run. They built lots of stuff before being returned to Germany after the war…but these prisoners found that their homeland was not in good shape (for obvious reasons) and came back, sometimes with their families, to live in the New Mexico desert.

There’s also a lot of German culture in Texas (where I’m from), and most of it predates WWII. It’s a part of southwestern culture most people don’t know about.

 

12 – This Donut Shop with a Happy Alien Landing

IMG_2333

Yes, I prefer the Donut spelling. “Doughnut” takes longer to type and life is short.

 

13 – A Magical Mountain Community

 

Less than 90 minutes from the dry, empty desert of Roswell is a lush mountain community called Ruidoso, where it’s cool in the summer and often rains. (When we first got to Roswell, the temperature was 113 degrees. Ruidoso was in the 60s.) There is endless shopping and excellent coffee, so we felt like hobbits stumbling into Bombadil’s house.

It’s surreal to see such different climates right next to each other, with almost no transition between the two. You’re in the desert, then you blink and it’s the rain forest.

IMG_2427

This dog stood in the doorway of a candle shop. He stared and panted expectantly until we drew near, and then he retreated into the store. We followed him in and he ran to the back to join his owner at the register, apparently proud of bringing in some potential customers. I told you, it’s a magic village. The dogs work the shops.

 

14 – The local TV station and the Live and Amplified Show

Live and Amplified is a podcast run mostly out of Roswell, and since my wife’s a songwriter they asked us to play a few songs for them. I didn’t expect a podcast to have such a technically impressive setup, but these guys really know what they’re doing.

zzzz

(The episode isn’t out yet. I’ll let you know.)

 

15 – The Abandoned Air Force Hangar Where (I’m Told) they Kept the Alien Bodies

zzz1zzz3

 

16 – Emilie de Ravin was there Posing as Air Force Personnel

f8b1de789ebe89c4664b845710ae96c7.gif_w200

This one I’m pretty sure happened for real.

 

17 – A…Protest Horse?

IMG_20170619_104158

This horse is covered in newspaper articles in an effort to combat the official Roswell UFO story. I don’t understand any part of that sentence I just wrote, but apparently there was once a tradition of doing this sort of thing in the Southwest. This country is so huge that lots of American culture seems foreign to me.

IMG_20170619_104205

Just a weather balloon? Naaayyyy!

These Four Books Will Make You a Better Writer

I’ve read a lot of how-to books for writers. They tend to have grandiose titles, like How to Write the Next Big Book Everyone Talks About, and dispense obvious advice from writers who, curiously, are almost completely unknown. But a few have earned a spot on my desk, always within arm’s reach.

1 – Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup

9780321953308_p0_v1_s192x300

If you read one book about writing, make sure it’s this one. Style explains everything you need to know about making your words sound cool. Managing long sentences. Describing actions. Lyrical paragraphs. (Even successive sentence fragments.) Every chapter felt like a mystery being unlocked, showing me how to use writing techniques that had previously been out of my grasp. This book is the key to good writing, and older editions are so cheap they’re practically free. [Buy it.]

2 – The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White

elements_of_style_cover

A little obvious, but it’s surprising how many people haven’t heard of this classic (and remarkably brief) set of English lessons. It’s in the public domain, so read it online. It will only take a few minutes. Even though it is novice-level stuff that you’re supposed to already know, many authors produce poor writing because they never bother to brush up on the basics. Don’t be like that. Spend a few minutes with this book to make sure you’re not writing with a huge blind spot.

Still sounds lame? Well, I first heard about The Elements of Style from…

3 – On Writing, by Stephen King

onwriting

That’s right. Strunk & White’s plain book about grammar is championed by the Schlockmeister himself. King has a reputation for being edgy, but this memoir  is all about the discipline of the writing craft, like learning grammar rules and making time to write every day. He almost succeeds in making it sound boring, but this book is a must for anyone who wants to know how a writer should get things done. Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors ever, so his advice on getting through drafts and completing projects is invaluable. [Buy it.]

4 – Write Like the Masters, by William Cane.

9781599633411_p0_v1_s192x300

This one’s my favorite. I was skeptical about the title, but this little book, written by a rhetoric professor, will take your writing to the next level. William Cane explains the rhetorical devices of famous writers in such a simple, straightforward manner that you’ll soon be impersonating Dickens or Melville with ease. Write Like the Masters also explores the lifestyles and writing habits of these authors to demonstrate different approaches to the creative process. (Balzac’s use of coffee might feel familiar, while Faulkner’s absolute concentration on his projects will make you question your dedication.) Professor William Cane is a very encouraging teacher, and any writer who reads through to the end will feel a surge of energy compelling them to write, write, write like there’s no tomorrow! [Buy it.]

Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’ Shows Us a Better Way to Write Folklore

18160607_419363201774058_7674161922844917760_n

Who doesn’t have fond memories of curling up with an old copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology, curled at the edges and filled with countless (but brief) adventures of the world’s most famous heroes? Legendary stories don’t really get old, but Neil Gaiman has shown us how they can be re-told better than ever. With Norse Mythology, Gaiman has perfected—or at least advanced—the art of writing fables.

Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is bound with a common theme, a continuing story, and all of the Nordic fables in his book point to the same place: Ragnarök. The end of times. The apocalypse.

giphy
It’s different than the film (which appears to share the plot of Mortal Kombat).

From the very start, we are told about Loki’s children who will fight on the wrong side in the last war. It’s charming to hear about the origin of Thor’s hammer, but the tale ends with a stark reminder of that weapon’s final use. Loki’s pranks are enchanting and hilarious, but each a bit darker than the other, and eventually the reader cannot escape the conclusion that this trickster will be the architect of a tragedy.

I studied a bit of Norse literature in grad school (a bit, mind you), and I was impressed at how well Gaiman told his stories in the style of the Norse storytellers, with all of the unexpected cleverness and depth hiding behind short sentences and simple dialog. It’s quite a challenge for a writer to make a story come alive while embracing older narrative styles, but Gaiman nails it.

It would be great to see more mythology reinterpreted with a theme. Imagine a collection of Greek myths where the gods fear they will be forgotten as they watch society advance without them, until Zeus and his children quietly climb down from Mt. Olympus to live as men. Or a book of Native American folklore beginning with many faces staring out to sea for inspiration and ending with the arrival of strange ships. Perhaps the simple inclusion of a coherent narrative could make any mythological collection into an unforgettable experience.

Sherlock Holmes is not Quite Dead!

It all started when I saw a cool haircut on Twitter. I didn’t know Lyndsay Faye (shame on me, as I was about to discover), but when her picture appeared on my feed I couldn’t help but comment on her amazing hair. I went on to lament that my own locks would never meet such majesty.

Then I discovered she is a writer…of Sherlock Holmes tales.

And her name isn’t Doyle.

I’m a bit of a snob about Mr. Holmes. No literary character has given me such inspiration and solace as Sherlock; I think of him as a kindred spirit. I don’t like to hear any discussion of the world’s greatest detective from people who don’t know the deerstalker doesn’t actually show up in the books or from the troglodytes who don’t recognize the name Sindey Paget. (Go sit in the corner–especially if you’re still asking yourself what a deerstalker is.)

So, I’m a little touchy about Holmes. As a result, I hadn’t read any of the non-original Holmes stories. Pop-culture’s interpretations of Holmes tend to be irritating, mostly because they center around the most boring aspect of the tales: his sexuality. Honestly, people, you can get more water out of a stone.

I planned to live my entire life without reading from the multitude of “new” Holmes stories, until Lyndsay Faye, the woman with incredible hair, responded to me on Twitter. “You look slammin’,” she said, in an attempt to mitigate my previous lamentation.

c8f8xfaxkammw3r
You can see why I considered this a compliment.

I swooned, hit the floor, and blacked out.

When I awoke, I rushed to my local library (I still do that) and grabbed a book with her name in it: The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories.

The table of contents boasted familiar names. Some of my favorites, in fact. Stephen King. Michael Moorcock. Neil Gaiman. But did any of them ever compliment my hair? No.

wild
And, seriously, why not?

I poured some coffee into a cup, waited for it to find the right temperature, and then poured myself into The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness.

If you’re a Holmes fan, the opening line will blow you away with it’s familiarity and humor. Faye’s yarn contains the Watsonian lexicon of obscure English words that makes Watson such a charming storyteller, and every paragraph is brimming with the warm (but always peculiar) friendship between him and Sherlock. The mystery is a very good one and, just like I often did with Doyle’s work, I found myself stopping to lean back in my chair to go over the details of the case in an effort to solve it on my own. (I got close.) Flipping through those pages was like stepping back into the old stories for the first time, and I experienced a familiar elation I never expected to know again so intimately.

I’ve shed my prejudice. There are dozens more Sherlock Holmes stories in this little book and plenty more on the bookshelves. It’s time I quit avoiding them.

I might even write one myself.

The Only Woman Whose Picture Adorned My Wall…

Other guys had models in swimsuits. Or movie posters featuring leather-clad actresses. How low-brow. I scoffed at their barbarian ways.

I started to collect books at a young age. My family had loads of old books and no one knew what to do with them, but I was more than happy to keep them in my room where I hoarded these tomes like a dragon hovering over a pile of gold coins. I always made sure to keep them neatly arranged, and I didn’t like people touching the antiques. (These books were old.)

I noticed the other kids my age weren’t curating their own libraries, and I pitied them. How did they spend their spare time?

195df96f7395e5d3f9d527af98f4946a

So there wasn’t room for cheap posters of nude-ish ladies because my bookshelves were in the way, but I did make room for one picture. One woman’s face looked out over the placid study, someone who I would always admire.

330px-sally_ride2c_america27s_first_woman_astronaut_communitcates_with_ground_controllers_from_the_flight_deck_-_nara_-_541940

That’s right. Sally Ride.

One of my elementary school teachers tried to teach us about Sally Ride, but her lecture was constantly cut off by my interjections. “She made the robot arm that the shuttle uses!” “First woman in space? You mean first American woman in space, right? Those two cosmonauts…” “Did you know she plucked a satellite out of its orbit?” I wasn’t my teacher’s favorite.

Many years later, I had the privilege of hearing Sally Ride speak. To a group of girls. Really, really young girls. I stood at the edge of the crowd, pretending I wasn’t more excited than all of the children filling the huge courtyard. Sally Ride stood on a platform at the far end, a distant figure I could barely recognize. My stomach swelled with exhilaration.

I probably looked silly. Sure, I was a book-hoarding, scrawny nerd in the old days, but now I’m 6″6′ and 200lbs and I sort of stand out in a crowd of giggling children. Especially when I’m trying to pretend I’m not freaking out. It’s cool. I’m cool. Just Sally Ride, the only woman cool enough for my room. No big deal.

As Ride spoke, I noticed another man standing beside me and, if you can believe it, he was even bigger than me. “Did you know she invented the robot arm the space shuttle uses?” I whispered. He nodded and tried to suppress a grin. “Yeah. I knew that.”

So, there we were, two overgrown nerds joining a gaggle of preteen girls so we could get a glance of Sally Ride. It was time well spent.

There have been plenty of impressive astronauts, and I could have been enamored with any one of them, but there is something special about watching someone defy society’s expectations. Especially when you’re a dorky, young boy who is always told you’re doing things wrong.

Everyone expected me to enjoy baseball and swimming pools as a kid, but I only wanted to read old books and take long walks. For some reason, this made my peers distrust me and I was encouraged to change, to be someone else. I was obviously a problem that needed to be fixed, even though, as far as I was concerned, I was just fine.

People like Sally Ride remind us that it’s okay to be the different one. It’s even okay to be outstanding.

There is Some Good to Come out of this Mess

Trump’s travel ban has ignited in the nation into an unprecedented, bilateral protest. The situation is dreary, but, for once, most of us are on the same page.

statue_of_liberty_1917_posterIt was not surprising to see Liberals take to the terminals in protest. Since they are apparently planning to make picket lines every time President Trump blows his nose, this has become business as usual.

But they were quickly joined by others.

Members of different church denominations poured in with their support, often reminding parishioners of Jesus’ words about helping travelers, or His kindness with the Samaritan woman at the well.

Familiar Conservative voices joined the fray. John McCain explained why he thinks the ban will be disastrous for keeping the country safe from terrorists. The typically right-leaning National Review pointed out the lunacy of barring green card bearers.

It’s an amazing display, I think. People of various religions and political ideologies putting aside their disagreements to solve a bigger problem. Hippies and soldiers and church curmudgeons are all holding hands in the picket lines just to help a relatively small number of refugees find a home.

I realize the situation is still a problem, but when I see the majority of our country stand up and fight for the helpless I know I can afford to be encouraged.

carl_heinrich_bloch_-_woman_at_the_well

Old Favorites: Understanding Simak’s ‘The Visitors’

clifford_simakClifford Simak might have been a square. He once wrote, “My favorite recreation is fishing (the lazy way, lying in a boat and letting them come to me). Hobbies: Chess, stamp collecting, growing roses,” and every picture of him looks like the standard American Male from the 50s on his way to have his shoes shined and fight communism. But Simak gave us thought-provoking stories that still make me ponder and think.

He began publishing science fiction in the 30s, working regularly for editors like Hugo Gersnback and John w. Campbell. According to his friend, Isaac Asimov, Simak had a respectable “real” job, where he didn’t let on that he was a writer. (I hear there are still people who do that.)

He’s a foundational writer, to be sure, and what makes his work unique is his focus on ordinary, mid-western people. My favorite Simak story, The Big Front Yard, is about a country repairman who finds adorable aliens quietly fixing things in his basement. Rather than writing a Buck Rogers-esque hero, Simak tells us how an incredibly normal guy reacts to an amazing situation.

The Visitors is one of Simak’s last works, written in the 80s, and it gives an unusual take on alien invasion stories. After the opening chapters, the scenes start to become bare with little or (often) no scenery or setting described. Just a a page or two of exchanged dialog and then we’re off to the next chapter. You can almost picture it like a minimalist play, where characters step out onto a barely illuminated stage and say their lines in front of sparse props.

waiting_for_godot_in_doon_school
Like this. With aliens.

At the start of the story, a fisherman encounters an alien craft when he reaches back to cast and his rod snaps in half against a big, black box hovering over the river. The box sucks him up, stares at him, and spits him back out. Then the visitor, which appears to be a life form rather than a ship, begins eating trees and leaving behind strange “cellulose” blocks. The people of earth stand dumbstruck as more silent Visitors descend, eat more trees, and eventually to leave behind offspring in the form of small black boxes.

The visitors never directly communicate in any way, but they do start to create gifts for the people of earth. Strange cars that fly are left behind, seemingly as gifts in exchange for all the trees the Visitors devour. Sadly, the crowds that rush to get the free flying cars become too dangerous and the gifts must be guarded by the military for the public’s safety. Next the Visitors create houses, all identical and a little too perfect. The sight of a shadow moving inside of one of these houses tells us that the Visitors have even replicated humans, and our protagonists have no idea what to make of this development.

As the story nears its end, it becomes clear to the reader that no end is in sight. One of the characters even admits as much, lamenting that their story won’t have a neat Hollywood ending to tie up the loose ends. At the final page, the story ends with some abruptness while our characters watch the situation grow beyond their comprehension and control.

The purpose of this story remained elusive for me until, near the end, one of the characters mentioned a piece of plot from the beginning of the book, something I had forgotten: before the visitors landed, one of our protagonists, a reporter, was on her way to investigate a situation on a Native American reserve. The puzzle began to take shape.

Flipping back, I remembered that the story began with a conversation at the barber’s about Native Americans trying to preserve forest land that companies wanted to use for lumber. Our protagonist thinks the trees should be left alone, at least for the pleasure of looking at them, while his barber thinks it’s unfair for the Native Americans to keep industry from growing. (It’s a brave man who disagrees with his barber.)

As we watch the DAPL fight unfold once again, I find Simak’s book useful. The Visitors may not have a simple, explicit point, but it does give the reader some small insight into the point of view of modern Native Americans. No matter what Simak’s aliens do to smooth things over, they can’t undo the damage done, even if they never meant any harm. Though we think of them as visitors, and even while they come bearing gifts, it becomes clear that these strange beings from the sky can’t help but be invaders.

16179808_377557642618255_4956199151378241294_o