Category Archives: Random Life

TN G&L Episode 1: The Legend of Sadie Baker

Tennessee Ghosts & Legends Podcast

Show Script

Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast. My name is Lyle Russell, and I love a good ghost story. On today’s show, I’ll share with you the Legend of Sadie Baker.

In the 6th Civil District near modern day Manchester, Tennessee lived the Sheltons, a large and prominent well-to-do family who was blessed with multiple healthy children. Their daughters were well-known in the area for their beauty and the sons were handsome and strong. All had many prospects for advantageous marriages until one day, when a beautiful stranger came to town. This legend focuses on the youngest Shelton daughter, a kind-hearted soul named Olivia.

All the Shelton daughters were sought after by many handsome and prosperous suitors, but none were so prized as Olivia. She was the most beautiful maiden in town, with flawless olive skin, curly raven-colored locks, and crystal blue eyes. Young men far and wide vied for her affection and she was the toast of the local gentry. Her parents knew and used that to their social advantage, especially her mother.

One afternoon after a day in town, Olivia encountered a sad-looking beggar girl on the dusty streets of the Manchester shopping district. Olivia had never seen the girl in town before and asked other passers-by about her, yet no one could say who she was or where she came from. The poor thing was a pitiful sight, draped in threadbare rags under a dirty cloak and smelled repugnant, causing the townsfolk to ignore her, or at least avoid walking near her, but not the kind and curious Olivia. She approached, kneeled in front of the sad-looking stranger and asked her name. The girl would not reply or even look up at her. She only extended a dirt caked hand, gesturing for a coin or anything else of value Olivia might be willing to part with. Olivia asked again for her name or if she needed help, but the beggar remained silent, only staring down and holding her hand out. Olivia asked a final time, but as much as she tried, she received no response. Through her boundless sympathy and pity for the downtrodden, and now a strange curiosity about her identity, Olivia pulled her up by the hand. “That settles it then, “she said. “You’re coming home with me, and my family and I are going to help you.” And off they went toward the Shelton house at the edge of town.

When Olivia arrived home with the young girl in tow, her sisters were giddy with the thought of a makeover project, but her mother was not so enthusiastic about Olivia’s new friend. Nevertheless, after all the girls begged to let her stay, Mrs. Shelton finally relented. Olivia and her sisters went to work straight away on cleaning her up. As the grime was slowly wiped away, they were all taken aback by the incredible beauty underneath it all. The girl had flowing golden-white locks, flawless pale skin and bright green eyes. Her slight frame fit into Olivia’s best dresses too easily. It is said that the sisters became insanely jealous of this new diamond in the rough, but none so much as Olivia’s mother. Mrs. Shelton saw this silent street rat’s beauty as a threat to her own daughter’s place as the most beautiful girl in Manchester, and that simply would not do.

Her fears were proven true later that day, as Mr. Shelton and his sons arrived home from a hard day’s work. At dinner, they barely spoke or ate as the gob smacked Shelton boys were enthralled by the stunning beauty of this young girl. She had probably not eaten in some time, and voraciously yet gracefully ate her fill without ever speaking a word.

In the following days, Olivia’s brothers are said to have fought with each other for the beautiful stranger’s attention, though she paid them nor anyone else any mind. The quiet girl just kept to herself and never spoke. Her lack of enthusiasm toward the boys didn’t stop them from bragging around town about the stunning new resident at the Shelton’s house. As word spread through the small town of her presence, the usual gentlemen callers that normally came to see Olivia and her sisters lost interest in them. Instead, they all clamored for a glimpse of the beautiful stranger behind their door.

Olivia was not jealous of the girl like her sisters were. In fact, she made every effort to be the girl’s friend, even though she never got any response for her efforts. However, all the unnatural devotion from the Shelton boys and the other male townsfolk was not lost on the keen eyes of Olivia’s mother. This mysterious girl became the talk of the town and left Mrs. Shelton facing a southern societal conundrum. She could not kick the girl out on the street for fear of appearing to be a less-than-gracious hostess, and surely someone else in town would scoop up the young maiden for their own benefit, creating even more of a suitor rivalry for the Shelton girls. Her only option was to forcefully keep the girl as a captive house guest. Mrs. Shelton would lock her away from the town for as long as it took until marriage proposals for Olivia and her sisters could be negotiated. She forbade all the Shelton men from speaking to anyone about her presence anymore. She then sat the girl in their parlor and explained that she was not safe outside, and that great harm would befall her if she left the house.

The girl did not protest her imprisonment. She just stared at the floor and never uttered a word.

Olivia’s world came crashing down one Spring afternoon when her most eligible gentleman caller, a handsome young man from another prominent family and Olivia’s sweetheart, called on their blonde house guest for a stroll about town instead of her. The visit sent Mrs. Shelton into a rage, and a crying and heartbroken Olivia pleaded with her mother to throw the girl back out into the street or at least send her away to some other town. She could not be consoled about the loss of her sweetheart, locking herself in her room and crying through the night. That’s when her mother decided to act.

She called on the local minister and insisted the only explanation for all this strange behavior was that this enigmatic girl must be a witch. How could a common beggar girl who would not speak a word and hardly left the house have captured the attention of every man in town? The minister needed little convincing, since he, too, had witnessed his congregation’s strange infatuation with her grow since her arrival. He sent word to convene the town council for a trial. Mrs. Shelton demanded the council pass judgement without the girl’s presence, as the council were all men and they, too, could be bewitched by her devilry. The minister agreed, and the council convened for judgement without allowing the girl any representation or a chance to defend herself. The trial commenced, and the fiery speech of the minister and scandalous accusations by Mrs. Shelton whipped the town into a moral frenzy. That was all they needed. Within moments, a verdict was passed.

They declared her a witch without any further evidence and immediately debated how to proceed with ridding the town from her spell. After debating the options of traditional punishments for witchcraft, such as hanging, drowning, or burning at the stake, a vote was taken that she would be buried alive and covered with large rocks so she could not escape the grave. A mob was dispatched to the Shelton house to retrieve her, and the rest were sent to the cemetery to find rocks and hastily dig a deep grave.

The silent girl was drug from her bed in the middle of the night by her golden hair. She was stripped, bound to a pole, and roughly dragged through the dirt streets where Olivia originally found her. The townsfolk spit on her and cursed her as she was shoved mercilessly toward the fresh hole in the Earth where they would bury her, yet through the horrible shame and torment, she did not resist and still said nothing.

Olivia suddenly had a change of heart, feeling responsible for this cruelty after seeing the rage of her neighbors carried out on this poor girl whose only crime was being prettier than her. She ran into the fray to try and stop the procession, placing herself between kicks and punches and pleading with them to stop, but she was unsuccessful. When the mob arrived at the cemetery, they stood the girl up at the edge of the hole where she looked around at the angry torch-lit faces of the men who were once smitten with her and the women who cursed and despised her. She suddenly locked eyes with a distraught Olivia; her bleeding and swollen face flew into a rage as she shouted the only words anyone ever heard her speak.

“I am Sadie Baker!”

They pushed her in and took turns throwing down the rocks, burying the helpless young girl under a small mountain of stone.

Several months passed, and life returned to the normal that the Sheltons were accustomed to. All of the sons and daughters were now married off to start families of their own.Last to marry was young Olivia, who ended up marrying the sweetheart she so adored. At first, there was bliss in their house. Olivia’s husband worked hard and provided a wonderful living, and they talked regularly of grand plans and having children. All seemed right for a while until one night, while preparing for bed, Olivia’s husband found her sitting and absently staring at her reflection in the dressing mirror. Her raven locks were clutched tightly in her clenched fists. When he asked her if she was alright, she screamed and accused him of wanting a family with Sadie instead of her. She then cried herself to sleep, and every night thereafter.

The strange paranoia continued for several days as she cursed her long dark hair and olive skin, hating how she looked. She told him she wished she looked like Sadie so he would love her again. He assured her he loved her now, but her fury would not let her hear him. Olivia would not eat or sleep. She sat and stared blankly into the mirror and pulled at her hair. He begged the town doctor for help, but no balm or tincture would calm Olivia’s mind. He then went to the minister, who declared that Sadie’s final words at the grave had bewitched Olivia, and that it must be Sadie’s spirit trying to take over her body. He desperately wanted to ease his wife’s pain, and out of desperation, he allowed the minister to treat her. A violent exorcism was performed, among other religious rituals to expel the tormented spirit, but nothing worked. Olivia’s condition worsened by the day.

One evening, Olivia’s husband arrived home to find her in front of the mirror again with a wide-eyed and wild stare. Her head was a mess of chopped and jagged tufts, and small bleeding cuts from the garden shears she used to cut off all her hair. Her long, raven-colored locks laid in clumps on the floor. All Olivia would say is that the ugly dark hair did not belong with her new beautiful blonde hair. She repeatedly asked him if he liked it. When he tried to calm her, she attacked him again, throwing him to the floor and pouncing on top of him with a feral snarl. She screamed into his face, “I AM SADIE BAKER!” then sprinted out of the house and into the darkened woods, never to be seen again.

Around the cemetery where Sadie was buried, reports persisted for many years after of a woman’s maniacal laughter and blood-curdling screams coming from the surrounding woods. They believed it to either be Olivia suffering the guilt of causing Sadie to be buried alive, or it was the spirit of Sadie Baker herself, returned to find her body under the stones. It was said until Sadie found her body, she would curse those who came to her grave and not leave a coin, just as Olivia should have done when they first met in the dusty streets.

I do not usually make a habit of debunking myths, however, in my research, I cannot corroborate the story in any capacity and must relegate it to local word-of-mouth folklore. The last official witch trial in the United States was held in 1918 just over 100 years ago, and, ironically, happened in Salem, Massachusetts. There is a possibility that an incident like this could have occurred in Tennessee, as many people were falsely persecuted as witches in many places throughout world history.

As for this legend, there is little known about the life of the real Sadie Baker, but this grave and the story that is attached to it that has stirred so many minds to think the grave belongs to a beautiful witch that was buried alive, when it definitely does not. The evidence I have found about the real Sarah ‘Wileman’ Baker in that grave is that she was born in Georgia around 1804 and was the widow of a Samuel Baker who was killed in 1838 during the Seminole War in Florida. By the 1860 Census, Sarah, at the age of 57, lived in the 6th Civil District of Coffee County near Manchester, along with eight various other Bakers as young as 1 years old, likely a grandchild. On that same census, there are several records of the Shelton family and their children living in the same district, but I could not find any named Olivia. Though an exact date isn’t certain, it seems she died in or around 1865 right after the end of the American Civil War. Based on property records, she was the only Sarah Baker in Coffee County at that time. Since Sadie is a derivative nickname of Sarah, this is most likely the Sarah Baker that passed in 1865 at 61-ish years old, and not a young girl thought to be a witch and buried alive.

The Sadie Baker story is well known in the paranormal world, and no new ground was broken by my investigation. However, even though it appears this legend is easily debunked, an air of mystery still surrounds the grave site. Many modern-day visitors have reported unsettling feelings of dread and fear even after just a brief time at the cemetery, and of being watched, particularly around Sadie’s grave.

Believers who make the pilgrimage to Sadie’s final resting place still leave a coin atop her stone, homage to her first encounter with Olivia begging for spare change and a hope the coin will placate Sadie’s restless spirit. I decided to see for myself what the fuss was about and visited her grave at the Concord Cemetery in Coffee County, Tennessee on April 7th, 2022.

It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon, just over 50 degrees; sunny and breezy. I wandered around the gravestones alone for about 30 minutes to get a feel of the place, trying to recreate the experiences others have reported. I’m happy to report, I did not feel any of those things. I’ve spent a lot of time in cemeteries hunting for my ancestor’s graves and have always found peace while walking among the dead. Concord Cemetery was no different. Though only 200 yards from a busy highway, it was remarkably quiet and peaceful. The only noticeable sound was the sway of the tall cedars on the property from the gentle northerly breeze.

After a time, I visited with Sadie at her stone. I never once felt uneasy or the sudden urge to glance over my shoulder. She is interred right at the front of the cemetery near the small redbrick church building that stands sentinel over the hillside plots. Her carved marble block stands low, just about ankle high; her infamous nickname emblazoned in bold black letters. Not Sarah, but Sadie. There are no dates of birth or death, no words of inspiration. Just a cold piece of marble marking the final resting place of a local legend, and her name is all that remains.

Other visitors had left pennies on top of her stone, as well as a small horseshoe, unlit candles, small crystal stones, some artificial flowers and a small green bottle marked “unfiltered poison”. While I’m not sure of the significance of the other items, I understand the coins and their attachment to the legend. Before I departed, I left a coin of my own on top of her stone. Though I’m not a believer in the legend, I still felt it appropriate to pay my own respects to the woman’s name that adorns the title of my first podcast, and just in case the story is true, I’d rather be safe than sorry!

Thank you for listening to the Tennessee Ghosts and Legends Podcast inaugural episode. I am your host, Lyle Russell, and remember, the dead may seem scary, but it’s the living you should be wary of. Until next time.

Listen to this episode here: The Legend of Sadie Baker

The Call of the Sea: An Essay

I’ve always been at home on the water. Any water, be it a river or a fishing pond, a trickling brook or the vast oceans. While the eyes of many explorers look to the heavens and the far away stars, my heart has always dreamed of the deep places beneath the waves.

As an orphan growing up on the wharves, I wander the dock under the bows at port trying to guess their country of origin by what flies on the jack staff. As the ships roll in, I sit among the barrels and listen to the sailors talk in between the cries of the fishmongers about cockles and mussels for sale. I revel in the tales they spin. They tell me of treacherous sirens and beautiful mermaids, of cutthroat pirates and buried golden treasures. Some are lies, for certain, but those make the best tales. One even claims he saw a kraken. I may be ten, but I am not that gullible. There’s no such creature as a kraken. Some teach me knots while others toss me a tuppence for directions to the nearest ale houses and brothels. I learned my ropes and took many a coin for helping them navigate the town, but I would trade all the knots and coins I’ve earned for a berth on the next ship out. I dream only of the sea.

One particular night, down past the rocky point where the gulls won’t fly because the water roils there with some black evil in the depths, a great storm brewed up. It raged for three whole days wreaking havoc on the local fisherman’s haul. Ships are stranded in port while the sea rages on in unrivaled fury. On the second night, a sloop-of-war hobbles out of the blackness and into my port, her rigging looking a fright after her tempest-tossed lashing from the waves. The captain, a Dutch fellow by the name of Homburg, expertly pilots his battered oaken beast, Hollandia, right to the offing. I’m certain at launch, her lines were clean and her hull ship-shape and Bristol-fashion. This brutal storm, however, has made her a right mess. The sailors debark in a heap of ragged humanity, some vomiting, some kissing the dock as they file off the gangplank and cross themselves like some water-logged priests at an oceanic mass. Their survival is a miracle for sure, and they all credit the captain with saving their souls.

I stand there, my maw gaping open like a cracked barnacle, as the bedraggled men stagger past. Captain Homburg is last off, limping and bloodied at his left eye. The sailors take no notice of me, but the captain does. Even with one eye, he is observant of everything. “You there, wharf rat,” he calls out. I can’t answer. My voice rasps like a weak breeze as the old salt gimps toward me. His remaining good eye looks me over, then he flips me a silver piece. “None among us have the legs left to stand watch tonight, boy,” he growls with a rumbling Jutlandic tone. “See that my Hollandia remains undisturbed ’til morning and there’ll be ten more of those for ‘ya.” Eleven silver pieces! I’ve never seen so much money in my life! I puff out my chest and salute smartly like I’ve seen so many sailors do when addressed by their officers. “Good lad.” He hobbles off into the night as I take my first watch with glee.

The bright streaks of morning warm my face as I stand on the abaft railing facing east to greet the sun. My first watch is a grand success. All supplies are accounted for. Not only did I fend off imaginary bandits through the night, but, in my moon-lit boredom, I also untangled and re-lashed two running backstays. I contemplated climbing them up the mast myself, but decided against it in case my imagined saboteurs scaled the anchor ropes while I was away. Captain Homburg is most pleased with my efforts as were the sailors. Two of them hoist me on their shoulders, parading me around with a cheer as if I am the hero of the day. Soon after, they go about the rest of the work, refitting planks and hauling sails with block and tackle larger than my whole body. The deck is a bustling hive of sailors preparing to go back to sea. For a moment, I am one of the crew. Oh, how I long to be one of them forever!

For two days, I man the bottom of the gangplank under Hollandia as she becomes seaworthy once again. The sailors jeer and joke with me as they pass to and fro, tussling my hair and giving a wink and nod. The ship’s carpenter, Billy Fleet, thanks me for my expert advice on which planks are ridden with woodworms and which are not. I learn all the sailor’s names. There’s Salty Jack, Paul the Butcher, Mister Killingsworth, Hatchet, Helmsman Reed, Bosun’s Mate Peterman, and One-Eyed William Hastings, the scourge of the Black Isles. I have never heard of the Black Isles, but he must have done something terrible there. He is missing a hand and has a patch over his eye. It appears he earned his moniker the hard way. All of their names are as colorful as the men who wear them. Salty Jack enlists me to freshen up the paint on the prow figurehead; a life-size nude likeness of Eirene, the daughter of Poseidon.

“Carved her meself, I did!” exclaims Salty Jack with his jack-o-lantern toothless grin—which is also how he got his name. “With Eirene on the prow, the god of the sea always favors us. Paint her up right, and don’t be touching her breasts now. They may be wood, but I did carve them mighty nice and tempting!” His guffaw turns my face every shade of red in the paint palette. The other sailors join in having a laugh at my innocent expense. It’s all in good fun, however the last laugh is mine. When no one was looking, I gave them both a good squeeze.

At long last, the morning arrives when Hollandia must depart, bound for service off the Spanish coast. Admiral Nelson is assembling the fleet and taking the fight to Napoleon. I listen as Captain Homburg reads the orders to his sailors, that Hollandia will join the blockade forming near Trafalgar in hopes to starve out the French and their allies. The crew cheers at the prospect of action. I look on as they make ready to weight anchor, and I long to haul the rope alongside Mister Killingsworth. I swell with pride as Bosun’s Mate Peterman hoists the Meteor Flag of Old England boasting the King’s Colors at the canton. The banner catches high in the morning breeze, snapping crisp like the gnashing teeth of a lion ready to pounce.

Though my heart is full for the experience, I am saddened to stand at the end of the dock on that grey, foggy morning knowing that was as far as I would ever go to sea. A single tear rolls down my cheek and I steel myself for the hard goodbyes I will have to say. As Hatchet and One-Eyed William roll the last barrels of salt pork and dried fish up the gangplank, Captain Homburg limps to my side. “You’ve done us a great service, lad,” he tells me in a soft voice; softer than I thought possible out of the old seaman. “Your jolly countenance has lifted the hearts of these old sea dogs, myself included. Me and the crew like the cut of your jib.” He places his rough and reassuring hand on my shoulder. “We lost our last cabin boy in the storm that brought us here. Useless as he was at sea, he was good for a shanty and divvying the rum rations, and the men miss him. You’ve got some wits and decent skills with a rope. What say you, boy? Will you join us in his stead?”

An hour later, I am standing above Eirene’s freshly-painted likeness on the prow of the Hollandia while the brisk salty air whirls around me in a tempest. The gulls dive and soar through the sails as we cross into the deep blues and blacks of the channel. The mist breaks, revealing the sun glittered-waves sparkling like so many diamonds adorning the Crown Jewels. Their brilliance stings my eyes with their shimmering brightness. I howl and hoot like a wild dog filled with sheer joy of a fresh kill. There is no sensation to compare with this. The whole world could end after this day and I would not have a care. At long last, I am at sea. I am at home.

By nightfall, my elation is cut to the quick. The gentle rolling waves of my first day turn into the stuff of nightmares as Hollandia goes headlong into the teeth of another raging storm. Captain Homburg has lashed himself to the helm as the roiling black where the gulls dare not fly does it’s level best to take us under. I can hear his laughter through the cracks of thunder. He spits curses and dares the sea to take him. The crew below decks whispers of the ship being overwhelmed, maybe even cursed. They vomit and cross themselves as I saw them do before. Others bail helplessly against the ocean’s onslaught as plank after plank gives way to the icy north Atlantic waters. The salt spray stings my nose and throat. All the while, Hollandia tosses bow to stern and port to starboard, testing the strength of good English oak past its limits. Eirene, in her wooden and naked glory stands her silent vigil as the roiling black swallows us whole.

I still stand at the prow above her from time to time between the coral heads, but now it is the tides that swirl about me instead of the winds. Eirene is my constant companion. Salty Jack would be proud that I keep his wooden masterwork clear of barnacles and seaweed. Even my paint is still visible on a clear day. Sometimes I ask her why her father forsook us to the waves. She never answers. Her visage smiles back at me. Unchanging, wooden and stiff, yet warm and inviting as the day I painted her.

Sometimes I will stand my moonlit watch again on the gangplank and defend my ship against the imaginary saboteurs haunting the depths. Captain Homburg would be pleased to know I’ve kept them at bay these great many years. To my astonishment, I’ve even seen a kraken. That old sailor was telling the truth after all.

I stand abaft on clear days and imagine I can still feel the warmth of that morning sun as it crests the horizon, but the sun and moon appear different down here. The deep is cold. There is no sun here. I pass my days watching the modern metal hulls pass overhead, witnessing the change from sails to steam to ships that now travel beneath the waves. Such a marvel! I’ve even visited a few ships at anchor. I envy those who still sail above me, but I don’t begrudge them. All my life I’ve always been at home on the water, and now the water has become just that. I am home. I am where I belong, and here I will remain. My eyes will look to the heavens and the far away stars, but my heart still dreams of the deep places beneath the waves.

Author’s note: The oceans and the age of sail is a fascinating time that captured my young imagination on the first pages of Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and the first time I read Melville’s opening words, “Call me Ishmael.

As an adult, that fascination translated into a love for Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series, Gene Hackman’s The Wake of the Perdido Star, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, among many others. Everything about the ocean is a wonder. If I couldn’t sail on it, I wanted to swim under it. I fondly recall the nights laying under the coffee table in my Great-Grandmother’s living room eagerly awaiting the commercials on her console television to finish for the start of the next edition of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I suppose that’s a condition that comes from being born under the sign of Pisces.

I’ve always been at home on the water. While the eyes of many explorers look to the heavens and far away worlds, my heart has always dreamed of the deep places beneath the waves.

Lifeboat: A Star Wars Fan Fiction, Part VI

The Emperor’s Lambda-Class t4-a Shuttle,
Great Gran Run Hyperspace lane, Tashtor Sector, 4 ABY

Krest was furious. She paced the short distance of the stateroom in stuttering, angry steps. Meera placed her finger on the mute button, suspending the Shaaridan bounty hunter’s face on a blinking pause. “Krest, I have an idea.”

“As do I, and it involves scattering that creature’s atoms from here to Velusia.”

Velusia, Velus System – Galactic Core

“There may be another way to play this and I think I know how to do it. You said the crew of the Stargazer would defend themselves, how many are there?”

“The last time the Emperor brought us here, Aloo had his own private army of aboard that ship. Surely they have heard about the disaster over Endor by now. Anyone coming close to it will have quite a fight on their hands.”

“How loyal are they to Aloo?”

“As much as we are, or were, to the Emperor. They are not conscripts or mercenaries. He cultivated the greatest warriors from Oktaria as his personal security, and there’s no telling who—or what—else they have on board.”

“How do you think they would feel about you if they knew you killed him?” The glare Krest shot back said more than any words. “If we’re going to get out of this and get what you want off the Stargazer, I need you to do exactly what I say or we’re all going to die.”

Krest stared at her with a long look of distrust, but she knew Aloo’s soldiers would cut her down without mercy for killing him if they found out she did it. “Alright, Lieutenant. Let’s hear your plan.”

“We need to get everyone on the same page or it won’t work. Gather the troops in here. We don’t have much time.” Krest opened the door and spoke quietly to Sergeant Marillion. In moments, the sergeant was back with Majors Deshken and Andalor along with Technician Vel. The six of them filled the small room to capacity, so the others crowded outside. Krest gestured to Meera. “Let’s hear it, Lieutenant.”

Meera looked around the room and gave a reassuring nod, though she wasn’t even sure herself that this plan would work, but it was all she had. “I need you all to trust what I am about to do. You need to put aside loyalties and feelings about the Empire and follow my lead.” She picked up a datapad from the table and tossed it to Marillion. “Sergeant, have one of your men get Aloo’s code cylinder and a photograph of his face on the double if you please.” He shuffled through the others out of the room. She took a quick deep breath and removed her finger from the mute button. The blue static image of Gekko sparked back to life. “Here we go.”

“…inal warning. You will be taken. How you are taken is your choice. The Guild pays me either way. Power down your engines or be fired upon!”

“Gekko, this is Meera Dyre. Please don’t fire on us! I was a prisoner on the Death Star. We are not Imperials. I repeat, we are not Imperials. We are refugees and wish to negotiate. Please do not fire!”

“Your claim is weak, Meera Dyre. The Imperial code your ship is transmitting tells me you are not only Imperials, but you travel aboard the shuttle of Emperor Palpatine, himself.” The guttural, reptilian tone of the bounty hunter’s voice sounded sarcastic and unconvinced. Meera cleared her throat to respond as a cannon blast seared across the bow of the shuttle in warning.

“We are not Imperials, I said. Hold your fire!” She muted the transmitter. “Sergeant, I need that picture. Krest, tell the pilot to power down the engine but keep his finger on the button. If this works, we’re going to need to get out of here quickly.” Sweat broke out on her brow. She needed to convince Gekko to stop firing on them before the Stargazer noticed the skirmish and got involved. Timing was everything. She unmuted Gekko again and altered her voice to sound panicked.

“We were prisoners of the Empire but escaped aboard this shuttle. We overpowered the guards and took a hostage. He’s an Imp, or he was. Looked like someone important. He was killed in the skirmish but we still got out. Please, don’t fire on us. We just want to live.”

There was a long silence. At first, Meera thought the holo-projector stopped working, but the Shaaridan monster turned his head. At least he stopped firing on them.

“Gekko, did you hear us? We are not Imps—”

“Who is your hostage? Speak now!”

Gekko the Bounty Hunter, art by Aubrey Eden Dukes

She pressed the mute button again. “Sergeant, where is that picture?” The datapad was passed forward through the throng. The contorted face of Sim Aloo stared back through the screen. At that moment, the rhythmic thrum of the ship’s engines stopped as the pilot powered down the engines. She looked at Krest. “Tell the pilot to be ready. As soon as we offload Aloo’s body, fire the engines and hail the Stargazer with a mayday. We’ll be coming in hot.”

“Just what do you have in mind, Lieutenant?” Major Deshken appeared to not like this part of the plan. “Going down this path will get us all killed. You heard the bounty hunter. He has us dead in the water!”

“Lieutenant Dyre is in charge of this plan, Major,” Krest stepped in front of him. “Accept it or find your way to the airlock. I’m sure the Shaaridan will welcome the extra profit from your surrender.” He acquiesced, but the look on his face screamed that he was not happy about it. Meera punched in a code on the datapad, sending the digital death mask of Aloo through the comm channel. She watched as the progress bar painfully crawled across the screen like a wounded womprat.

“Check your datapad,” she said into the holoprojector. “It looks like the shuttle computer recognized him, too. He was an Imperial adviser named Sim Aloo. He resisted, so we had to kill him.”

Again, there was a long silence. She could see the Shaaridan looking between screens to verify Aloo’s identity. Finally, he spoke. “What was your crime, Meera Dyre?”

“What?” she asked, confused.

“You were a prisoner of the Empire. What was your crime? I warn you, do not lie or I will know it.”

She knew that the Shaaridan species had a pheromone sensitivity that could sense deceit. Something in their reptilian nature gave them abilities some would consider unnatural. If she continued to lie, he wouldn’t know it now, but should be board the shuttle, they could not hide it from him. That’s why she decided to tell a partial truth.

“My father stole something from them,” she said, not making eye contact with anyone else in the room. “And I hid it. When I refused to give it back, they killed him and took me.”

“What did he steal?”

“If you’re trying to find a puck on me—” She wasn’t expecting any further inquiry. Meera suddenly regretted bringing everyone in the room to hear this.

“I will not ask again. What did he steal?”

“It was a Kyber Crystal.” Deshken gasped, but everyone else remained silent.

“Do you still possess this crystal, Meera Dyre?” Her hand went to her neck and felt for the familiar bulge of it at the end of the leather thong, always hiding in plain sight under her Imperial uniform.

“There is a ship, The Stargaz—”

“I am aware of Aloo’s vessel. They scan us as we speak. Again, do you still possess the crystal? Is it on your person?” She reached into her shirt and pulled out, the room’s light refracted in tiny rainbows as it spun in her hand. She held it where he could see its reddish brilliance shine through the holoprojector.

“I do, and I will make you a deal.”

Speak.”

“We will place Aloo’s body and my crystal in a cargo container and drop it out of the air lock. You can take it and collect the reward for him from the Republic. The crystal is yours as a gift.”

“And in exchange for this generous gift?”

“You will fire warning shots at us for effect, after which you will jump to hyperspace and let us go our own way.” Meera kept the crystal dangling in front of the device where she knew Gekko could see it spin and refract. The shuttle pilot comm interrupted and she quickly hit the pause button.

“Stargazer is hailing us. They are transmitting Advisor Aloo’s personal docking codes. They must have been expecting him. Your orders, Captain Krest?”

Krest looked at Meera with urgency in her eyes. “Wait,” she said to Krest, then tossed her necklace to Major Andalor. “Major, take another and prepare to jettison Aloo’s body. Double time please, Major.” He nodded in agreement and one of the Storm Troopers followed him out. Meera then turned back to the projector. “Gekko, do we have a bargain?”

The projection flickered and refocused on the bounty hunter’s masked face. “We have a bargain, Meera Dyre. I sense you speak the truth, yet still hide much. I warn you, should you double-cross me, I will assign you the Death Mark of the Shaaridi. My kind will not rest until you are destroyed.”

“I understand. You are most gracious and deserve your reward. Stand by for cargo offload.” She cut the projector and looked at Krest. “Once the airlock reseals, tell the pilot to answer the hail with a distress call. Have him report the Bounty Hunter captured and killed Aloo for the reward and that his body is now aboard his ship, then put him in our wake and run for the Stargazer. If they believe us, we won’t have to worry about the bounty hunter anymore.”

Krest smiled in return. “You’re more useful than I thought you would be, Lieutenant.” She looked at the rest. “Look alive, rebel scum. Battle stations, and prepare for close-quarter combat!” They scurried out, leaving Krest and Meera alone for a moment.

“How did you know the bounty hunter would accept your terms? He could have captured us all any time he wanted.” Krest asked.

Meera smiled back. “My father had dealings with Trandoshans once. They are as bad a Jawas when it comes to shiny objects. Since the Shaaridi are close cousins of Trandoshans, I took a gamble.”

“That ‘shiny object’ is property of the Empire,” Major Deshkin walked back in after hearing her last statement. “You stole from your Emperor and then hid your father’s crime. Now you give your ill-gotten gains freely to this beast and take foolish risks with all our lives. You should be executed for this insolence. Your father was no better than the rebels we fight against!”

Major Karlov Deshken, photographed as a captain, Imperial Loyalty Bureau

Meera shot from her chair and charged at the Major. Krest intercepted her before she crashed into him, holding her back. “My father paid for that crime with his life!” Meera screamed back. “The Emperor got his justice when his Storm Troopers came for us and murdered him. Despite all that, I am still loyal to the Empire. How dare you!” The Major was taken aback by the ferocity of her response, but composed himself for a reply ripped straight from the pages of an Imperial Training manual.

“None of that matters. I will be adding your most irregular behavior to my report for the fleet and requesting a full inquiry. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be below assisting Major Andalor.”

Meera struggled against Krest. Rage and anger coursed through her marrow. She reached after him and missed by some distance, but a sensation in her hand felt like she had grabbed him anyway. The Major stopped in his tracks and grabbed at his throat, gasping like he was being choked. Meera strained against Krest’s grip, but focused her intense feelings of hate on Deshkin. She could feel her hand around his neck and squeezing the life from him, though she was still several feet away. Her fingers slowly clenched into a fist while he turned shades of red, then blue. With a flick of her wrist, his neck spun in an unnatural twist and his corpse collapsed to the floor.

Krest flung Meera down into the chair and quickly shut the door. “My, my, Lieutenant Dyre. What other forbidden secrets do you harbor in there?” Major Andalor’s voice crackled over the intercom before she could answer.

“Payload ready for launch, Lieutenant Dyre. Awaiting you order.”

Meera was exhausted. Her lungs could barely take in enough air to speak. She did not know what just happened, but it drained every ounce of energy she had. The anger overtook her senses and she couldn’t control herself. Krest sat and pressed her finger to her lips, indicating for Meera remain quiet. “Dyre has been attacked by Major Deshkin. Send Marillion and his troopers to the conference room immediately.” She then pressed the cockpit comm. “Keep your finger on the button, Lieutenant Cearza.”

“Aye, Captain Krest. Standing by.”

She stared at Meera again with a look of wide wonder and calculating calm. “When Marillion arrives, follow my lead.” She stood, drew her vibroblade, and plunged it deep into Deshkin’s chest. Just then, the door swung wide and Marillion’s red-armored form filled the entrance without his helmet, but blaster at the ready.

The Imperial Crimson Storm Trooper Battalion

“What happened here?” he asked.

“It would seem the good Major was angry that Lieutenant Dyre stole from his precious Empire. He moved against her and I ended it. Take his body below and toss him in with Aloo. That should earn us some goodwill the bounty hunter.”

Marillion looked at Meera with confusion. She sat sprawled in the chair, panting like a Lothcat, barely conscious and drenched in sweat. All she could do was nod in agreement. Marillion and one of his men took Deshkin’s arms and drug him out. The door swished closed behind them and Krest sheathed her deadly talon.

“I cannot have the crew see us as equals, Dyre. I control them because they fear me. If they know what you are capable of, I no longer control that fear. Loyalty becomes divided, and I cannot allow that. Something has awoken within you. You possess the very skills the Emperor scoured the galaxy for, but be mindful. Just because he is dead does not mean you are safe. There are others, and the Emperor still has reach far beyond the grave.”

“I am…I’m no one…I am just a …medical off…icer. Nothing more.” Meera struggled to reply.

“Silly girl. You are far more than that now. I’ll keep your secret and you will follow my command until this mission is complete. If you’ll agree to that, I swear to you I will help you discover these abilities you have. Earlier I gave you a choice, so I ask you once again: Join me and live or oppose me and die. We’ll speak on this again after we’ve taken the Stargazer.” She reached over to the comm. “Major Andalor, is the secondary cargo prepared?”

“Yes, Captain. Prepared.”

“Good. Activate Aloo’s code cylinder and jettison the package immediately.” She quickly pressed the button to the pilot. “Captain Cearza, once the cargo doors close, give a twenty-count, then fire engines. Plot intercept course with Stargazer and request fire support. Distress signal Zeta-Omicron-Six-Six. Give me some distance between us and this bounty hunter heathen.”

“Aye, Captain. Orders confirmed”

“Stay here and recover, Dyre. You’re going to need your strength for what comes next. We’ll handle the rest of your plan from here.” Krest swept out, leaving Meera alone.

Over the last twelve hours, Meera’s body endured a myriad of brutal trials, from the relentless thrashing aboard the failing Death Star, to the stresses of the situation aboard this shuttle, her lifeboat, and now whatever supernatural transformation was happening to her. The moments of quiet washed over like waves, making her limbs and eyes heavy. It felt like days since she slept. As her head lolled to the side, a tiny blue light flickered on the holoprojector. She swung her arm up as if it were tied down with stones and pushed it. The Shaaridan’s face in a blue holographic triangle erupted upward.

“Meera Dyre, my patience wears thin. You have—”

“Run.”

“Repeat your message?”

“They’re calling Aloo’s ship to destroy you. Take your bounty and run.”A grinding sound could be heard through the durasteel walls as the cargo doors swung open to space. They were sending out the bodies.

“I fear no luxury cruiser. My ship is—”

“There’s an army aboard it, loyal to the Empire. Take what we have offered you and run. You only have a moments to live otherwise.”

“You speak truly, Meera Dyre?” The grinding sound started again. The cargo bay doors were closing.

“I do. You have twenty seconds. Collect the payload and run.”

“You have earned the respect of Gekko. I will not forget this.” His visage wavered and disappeared. She didn’t know what happened after that. Her eyes closed and exhaustion took her.

Coming Soon in Star Wars: Lifeboat, Part VII…

Krest leads a boarding party onto the Stargazer seeking the holocron manual and her missing son, and ends up finding more than she bargained for when Aloo’s guards unleash an unexpected and powerful enemy against the shuttle crew. Meera struggles with her new-found abilities and what they are turning her in to, and Captain Vario finally wakes with a warning for her. Tune in next time!

Disclaimer

The preceding is a work of fan fiction based upon and utilizing locations, characters, and/or plot points from the Star Wars universe, originally created by George Lucas and trademarked to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The author makes no claim whatsoever of ownership of the Star Wars name, characters represented, or the Star Wars universe generally. This work is created of the author’s own imagination and is intended for entertainment purposes only. It does not purport to be an “official” Star Wars story or part of existing Star Wars canon in any way. The author is not profiting financially in any way as the result of the creation or publication of this piece of fan fiction.

The Day I Became a “Rocket Boy”

I received a message out of the blue today from a dear old friend. It said:

“Just getting ready for Wood Badge this morning, preparing my presentation and my thoughts turned to you. Wondered how you were doing and hope all is well!”

Wood Badge Beads: Two is a participant, Three is a staffer, and four is a Course Director (Scoutmaster)

For those who don’t know what that means, Wood Badge is the penultimate (in my opinion) adult leader training in the Boy Scout organization. Over the span of seven days, sixty-four participants and twenty-eight staffers become a whole new family to you that you will never forget. I went through as a participant in course #MT-61 back in 2014. Then, for MT-63 in 2016, I was a first-year staffer when I met Liz and her husband Ren, and during my second stint on the Wood Badge staff for MT-64 in 2017, Liz and I were both staffers and Ren was a participant. I could write another entire article about this amazing training and the wonderful friends you make along the way, but that’s not why I write this today. I’ll sum Wood Badge up for you with this description: As a participant, you are in for the time of your life during the most effective servant leadership training course you have ever experienced. When you are invited to be a staffer, you are given the enormous honor to deliver the most effective servant leadership training course you have ever experienced. But again, that’s for another article. Let’s get back to that text message.

As a Wood Badge staffer, you get assigned presentations to do throughout the week that make the program so exemplary. My first year on staff, my assigned presentation was “Coaching and Mentoring.” I worked hard on perfecting it, and to this day, some five years later, I still receive the occasional message about it from random MT-63 participants. The text I received above from Liz, a MT-63 participant from five years ago, still remembered my presentation and my chaplain’s message from MT-64 about the “Lower Lights”. It goes to show you that you don’t realize how much of an impact your words can have on someone, and how long those words will stay with them.

Her kind message today found me in a strange mood. There is some tumult going on with me these days that I’m wrestling with. Of course, I responded with warm regards and that I’m great and all that good stuff. But the truth is, I’m not. The reasons why don’t matter. What matters here is that the universe knew I needed a kick in the pants, and delivered it wrapped in twenty-seven typed words from a good friend. The universe is smart. It knows things and has an uncanny sense of timing.

What that text message did was remind me of those days back in Wood Badge that inspired me so much. When you’re a staffer, your whole job is to inspire the participants in any way you can within your assigned role. I was a Troop Guide and Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and also had the Chaplain duty during my second year to boot. I like to think that within those three titles, I did my best to deliver whatever inspiration I could. These occasional messages from my Wood Badge family are evidence that I must have done alright back then. But sometimes the well runs dry. That message this morning found me lacking inspiration, but it also reminded me of the day I became a “Rocket Boy.”

October Sky poster

One of the presentations in Wood Badge centers around the movie October Sky. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean when I say “inspirational.” It’s a heart-warming tale about a group of boys from a small coal-mining town that do extraordinary things in the arena of aerospace and rockets during the time of Sputnik and the start of the space race. That’s a terribly poor description on my part, however, the unmistakable message of the film is the three P’s of success:

Passion.

Planning.

Perseverance.

You may know this already, but October Sky is based on the true story Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. (Trivia moment: October Sky is an anagram for Rocket Boys.) If you haven’t read the book, I cannot recommend it enough. I read it shortly after it came out, but the messages in the story didn’t resonate with me as much until I went through Wood Badge as a participant. Going back as a staffer, it put a whole new spin on those three P’s above and what they really mean. So after my first turn on staff at MT-63, I reached out to Homer Hickam to ask a favor. I decided to go to the source of all that inspiration and see what he had to say. Lo and behold, he replied.

Book cover for Rocket Boys

When I was invited back for my second staff gig, I wanted to bring with me something that conveyed how much the message of this program and his story can change your life. I wanted to give the participants of MT-64 something they would never forget. I asked Mr. Hickam if he would write them an inspirational letter that I would deliver on his behalf, and he did. Here’s what the letter said:

Homer Hickam's Letter to MT-64

I got to read this aloud to the ninety-one other people of MT-64 at the end of our third day together, right after watching October Sky, and there was barely a dry eye in the house. I struggled to get through it without breaking up. It’s not sad. Not at all. But those words—they hit you right in the feels, don’t they? It doesn’t matter what condition you happen to be in at any given moment. Pick up a letter written like this, and, well, like it says—

“A rocket won’t fly unless somebody lights the fuse.”

O’Dell, Rocket Boys

I framed the original as a gift for our Scoutmaster, Michelle, and made copies for everyone else. I hadn’t forgotten about that letter, but it was also not at the forefront of my mind. However, when I received that text message this morning, it reminded me how kind words can make such a difference to someone. It reminded me of the lessons I learned from Rocket Boys/October Sky.

The fuse was lit.

When I came home this evening, I went to the book shelf and pulled down my hardback copy of Rocket Boys for a quick browse. Ironically, a folded copy of that letter was neatly tucked in the dust jacket. I read it and re-read it, then I read it again. I’m not ashamed to admit my eyes leaked a little bit. I was transported back in front of those ninety-one people again; reading it aloud and sending my feels on a tempest-tossed ride one more time. I folded it back the way I found it, nestled into the cover until the next time I forget it’s in there. Then, I flipped a little further to the bookplate page and my eyes leaked—again—when I read this:

Homer Hickam's inscription to me in my copy of Rocket Boys

I was honored that my words so many years ago still inspired one of my participants, who turned out to become a dear friend, and how her preparations to be a staffer this year hearkened back to something I said all those years ago. I’m proud that she’s going back now for what I believe is her third or fourth time as a staffer, and that now, in twenty-seven typed words, our roles have reversed. Then to top it off, THE Rocket Boy himself, Homer Hickam, counts me among his pantheon with this inscription. Boy, I needed that.

The universe sure is smart, ain’t it?

MT-61 Bear.

MT-63 Owl Troop Guide. (The Bear with Owl tendencies…)

MT-64 Assistant Senior Patrol Leader and Chaplain.

Servant Leader for Life.

What Happens When You Run Up Against a “Box-Checker”?

I’m going to brag on myself for a moment and say that I am pretty damn good at my day job. Could I be better? Sure, all of us can benefit from improvement. But where I’m at, I do pretty well. Properly managing staff is one of the greatest responsibilities a manager could ever have in the working world. I care about my employees and the people who utilize my services like they are family. I care about my employer’s money like it was my own, and I am very conscientious about image and public perception of those I represent. My attitude, skills and experience have put me in some sort of management position since I was 22-years-old.

But now, let me tell you how that all came crashing down.

Leonardo DaVinci’s ‘Renaissance Man’ sketch

I had a boss tell me one time that she thought I was the textbook definition of a modern renaissance man. She told me because of the wide array of hobbies, skills, interests, knowledge and experience I have from my 36 years on this planet (at that time), she felt like anything I was asked to do would be done well and on-time. That may have been the highest praise I have ever received from anyone, bar none. While I try to be humble, that puffed me up a bit. It made me glad that I was recognized as a go-to employee. I am proud of what I can do and what I bring to the table. So this one time when I worked for the Federal Government, I was put into a civilian mentorship program and I was paired with our highest-ranking civilian leader. I was excited because this guy had it all going on and was a businessman’s businessman. He was smart, educated, friendly and had all the qualities of a good leader. When we finally got to sit down for our first discussion on my future career goals, he dropped a mega-ton atomic question on me that I still feel the fallout of to this day. He looked me right in the eyes and asked:

“What is your degree in?”

On the surface, that’s a benign question for most people and fairly easy to answer. It was not easy for me. Do you know why? Yep, you guessed it: I did not go to college.

I had a relatively poor upbringing. I started working at 15 and rode my beach comber bike all the way through my senior year of high school. We weren’t destitute by any stretch, and many others had it worse than me. But we were poor enough that when high school graduation came, I had already been working part-time for three years to save for a car. College wasn’t something I ever thought I could afford. In that part of my life, the thought of a college degree was hardly even on the radar. No one else in my family had gone to college either. It just wasn’t something I set as a serious goal. Of course I knew how important education was, but I also knew that if I was ever going to get out on my own and be my own person, I was going to have to work and work hard for it. No one I knew was handing out money so if I wanted it, I had to earn it.

To this day, I do not regret my decision to enter the workforce instead of going to school. In reality, the decision was truly made for me. I would not trade the knowledge and experience I have for anything. It would have been cool to go to school, but that wasn’t in my cards.

So, back to the mentoring session— my reply to him was short. I said, “I did not go to college. I don’t have a degree.”

The only part of that answer that made me feel good was the shock on his face. He told me he couldn’t believe someone with my skills and knowledge did not have a college degree. He also said that he applauded how well I had done for myself in the government system with that limitation. Then, he looked me in the eye again and dropped a second atomic knowledge bomb on me. He said:

“Lyle, you have to go get your degree. Make it a priority, because one day, no matter how qualified or talented you may be, you’re going to want a job from a box-checker. And when they can’t check the box that says ‘Has a Degree’, you’re not going to get the job, even if you’re the number one candidate.”

I walked out of his office after that a little bewildered. We had a fantastic discussion on career goals and steps to move around and up within the department we worked for. But there was a nagging, grinding feeling pulling at my soul. At 36, did I really need a degree? I got every job I ever applied for. I had already done so much and come so far without a scrolled piece of parchment hanging on the wall. I was not in a job that required specialized training, so why should I spend four years of my life trying to work, take care of my family and enjoy life while adding the crushing debt and time-consumption of college homework? After all, the School of Hard Knocks had served me well so far. I made it a long way on my experience, so nah. I’ll keep going as I am. Everything will be alright.

And now, at 47 and one career move later, his advice that I ignored came home to roost.

You see, I like to fix businesses. That’s one of my working joys is to walk into a dump and start turning the ship around. I know how to do it, I have done it multiple times, and I am damn good at it. I relish walking into a place that everyone says will never amount to anything and proving them wrong. I suppose it’s somewhat of a mimic of how I see myself. I may not look like much, but I know how to make something from nothing. It’s a skill I had to learn at an early age and continue using to this day.

About a month ago, opportunity came knocking. In my current recreation career field, a Department Director position in a neighboring town started accepting applications. I am not unhappy where I am, but I always look for opportunities to better myself. This particular Director position was a troubled and much-maligned post that was plagued with other’s good intentions but also with their bad execution. I visited the department incognito to see what I would be up against, and boy, did they need serious help. But the idea of taking over a struggling department and making it into something to be proud of again was chicken soup for my weary soul. I salivated at the chance to once again take a pig, scrub off the lipstick someone else tried to put on it, and turn it into gourmet ham sandwiches for all involved. It would have been a serious challenge that I would welcome with open arms. I updated my resume, spoke to my current boss about a recommendation and I applied.

And… crickets. No call for an interview ever came.

I didn’t understand what the problem was here. Had they decided to scrap the position? Were they waiting for more applicants? Because I thought for sure that others would see this pile of mess and run the other way. Did they lose my contact information? Surely there was some nefarious game afoot.

And still, my phone never rang.

I emailed their HR department and their Administrator with more information to make sure they received what I sent. I ensured I had crossed every “I” and dotted every “T” they required. I did get an email back that said, “Yes, Mr. Russell, we have received your application. We’ll be in touch.” Two more weeks went by.

And still, no call.

Two days ago as of this writing, I received a letterhead in the mail that said, “Mr. Russell, thank you for your interest in the position of Department Director. At this time, we have chosen a more qualified applicant and wish you the best success in the future. Sincerely, HR.” They couldn’t write down that check mark. My old mentor was right. It was my Thanks-But-No-Thanks reply. I had finally met my box-checker.

I got some inside information that they found an applicant that, even though they had been out of the industry for a few years, has a Master’s Degree where I don’t even have an Associates. They chose him over me because of that. For the first time in my life, my high school diploma and endless enthusiasm was not enough.

I’m not bitter. I’m sure he was a very qualified candidate. I wish him the best and hope for his and their success. We all succeed by lifting each other up and one day, because we work in the same field, we could be working together on some project or program. I look forward to that. But what sticks in my craw over the whole thing and that they missed out on me, who would have been an awesome director, because of one, little blue check mark that didn’t show up on a piece of paper.

I do not lament any decision I have ever made about my career or experiences. I am rich in many other things besides money, and things happen for a reason. You don’t always know what that reason is. I still do not feel I would be overly successful in a college environment and honestly, I’ve met new college graduates that can’t find their way out of a wet paper bag with a hatchet and a weed eater. I am definitely not that guy, and I have a hard time working with people like that, but it doesn’t mean I won’t. And don’t misunderstand me as slighting the college graduate. If you have your degree and are living life, by all means, live life and know that I am happy for you. All I know is the universe still has plans for me and it does not always care about little blue check marks.

But for the record, I am now registered to start my A.A. in Recreation Management this fall at our local community college. That sage advice finally hit me. In two more years, that box will get checked.

Until next time!

Would You Want to Know When it’s Your Time to Die?

If you could know the appointed date and time of your demise, would you want to?

Or, would you prefer the random, “when it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go” philosophy we humans abide by now? Perhaps just embrace the concept of YOLO?

Or what about this: what would you do if you knew the exact time and date of death for another? Would you tell them or keep it a secret?

July 27th, 2020. 4:30pm CST.

That was the knowledge I was doomed to carry for two whole weeks.

I lost a family member that day and I knew exactly when and where it was going to happen. I even knew how they would die. How would you feel if you were burdened with this knowledge? For me, it was absolutely crippling.

Anything you say (or write, in this case) in an emotional heat of the moment can have unintended consequences, so I tend to bottle up until I can make better sense of what I’m feeling before I speak or write. I’ve waited until now to pen this post in an effort let some of my raw emotion simmer down. I know it’s always going to be there but after time it settles into the fabric of my being. Now that I’ve had time to process, I feel I can write this with a small bit of coherence. As best an effort this will be, it will fall short of the eulogy this family member deserves.

Allow me to introduce you to Tinker Bell. Tink was our 14-year-old Akita/Pyrenees mix that, sadly, had to be put down after a long bout with hip and knee problems in her back legs. It wasn’t the standard dysplasia larger dogs are typically plagued with. A couple years ago, it was discovered she had damaged both meniscus in her hind legs at an early age. She never outwardly showed signs of injury, so it went unnoticed until it was too late to repair. As she got older, the problem manifested and robbed her of any remaining quality of life. She became almost immobile. The simple task of getting up from the floor to go outside was a painful chore that required human assistance, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed she could get up anyway. She was hurting, and we just couldn’t let her suffer anymore.

Let’s talk about that phrase for a second: quality of life.

Most people give context to that phrase at the end of a life as opposed to the beginning or middle. Think for a moment about what that phrase means to you right now, today. For humans, it might mean the amenities of your home or car, your decor and furniture, your bank account or investments. Most (but not all) younger folks only consider it as a material reckoning. I think very few in the human realm contemplate what “quality of life” means to them or that it applies until they’re at the end of it. Why wait til then?

Tink has her Doggles on!
Tink has her Doggles on!

I have found a thread common with some other friends of mine: J.J. in New York, Greg in Indiana, Mary Jane here in Tennessee, and my youngest son Eian. What do we all have in common? We were dog dads and moms who have all lost our beloved fur babies this year. Back in March, J.J. lost his Boxer, Memphis. In July, I lost Tinkerbell. Earlier this week, Eian lost his mixed-breed, Shiloh. Mary Jane lost her rescue dog, Simon, and Greg lost his beloved German Shepherd, Scarlet, just today as I write this. When they leave us, there is a chasm that even time struggles to fill. For me, I’m a better person because of my dog.

Something else we all have in common is that our dogs were a major part of our quality of life considerations, even though we may not have thought about it that way. They are our family. I feel it safe to say I speak for them when I say that our dogs, probably much like yours, provided some of the happiest moments in our lives as well as saved us in some of our lowest. There is no greater unconditional love on this earth than a dog’s love for their family. My friend Mary Jane even wrote a book about Simon: Life Lessons from a Rescue Dog.

If you want to see a grown man (or woman) cry, wait until something happens to their dog. I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I had to take Tink for her last ride, I bawled like a newborn baby that was just smacked on the butt. I mean I ugly-cried. I was a wreck and so was everyone else in the house. The vet could not have been nicer or more gentle, and gave me all the time I needed with her both before the deed and after she was gone. I’m terrible with goodbyes, but I stayed and made this one meaningful.

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. - Josh Billings

I say this often as a joke, but I mean it with some level of sincerity when I say the more people I meet, the more I like my dog. Sometimes people just plain suck. But dogs? Never. I’ll say it again: Never on earth has the unconditional love for people been seen in a greater host than a family dog, and Tink was no exception. I know I am not the first one to say it, but we do not deserve dogs. Cat people, I know you’re scoffing right now. You might argue that cats are the same way, but I will argue back that no greater love exists than that of a canine. None. Anywhere. Search your feelings… you know it’s true.

Tink's last photo. I'll always remember her this way, with a smile on her face
Tink’s last photo. I’ll always remember her this way. Even when she was hurting, she had dirt on her nose and a smile on her face 🙂

Read more about J.J.’s dog, Memphis, here: Goodbye, My Memphis

So, I go back to my original question to you: If you could know the appointed date and time of your demise, would you want to? Personally, I don’t. I can tell you from my experience with Tink that knowing for two weeks about her final appointment tore me apart. And even though we spoke different languages, I never told her. In the end, I didn’t have to. I think she knew, and I think she was alright with it. Godspeed Tink, Shiloh, Scarlet, Simon, Memphis, and all the other fur babies out there who left us too soon, with memories in our minds and aches in our hearts. Enjoy that big dog park in the sky until we can get there to throw sticks and tennis balls for you again one day.

What Rush’s Song, Cygnus X-1, Can Teach Us About The Current Political Climate in America

While driving home from a baseball game a few nights ago, I had my iPod (yes, I still use an iPod) in my car set to play Rush. I wasn’t even out of the parking lot before Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres cranked up. I love that song and I know the lyrics well. However, for some reason, this time they painted a picture I had not considered much before. But before we get into that, let me bring any unfamiliar readers up to speed.

The Black Hole known as Cygnus X-1 - Artist's depiction and photograph
The Black Hole known as Cygnus X-1 – Artist’s depiction and photograph

What is Cygnus X-1?

The real Cygnus X-1 is a black hole in the constellation of Cygnus, The Swan. The constellation is also called the Northern Cross and is visible all across the northern hemisphere. In 1971, the black hole was discovered as the first source of X-rays within Cygnus (hence the name X-1). Neil Peart read a newspaper article about it and, using his brilliant imagination, penned a nearly 29-minute progressive rock epic about it.

Cygnus X-1, Book 1: The Voyage is from the 1977 Rush album A Farewell to Kings. It’s about an explorer that sets his space ship, The Rocinante, for the heart of a newly discovered black hole. Our hero knows this is probably a one way trip, but undaunted, plunges on. Book 1 of this prog-rock epic goes on for about 10-minutes, and ends with The Rocinante spiraling into oblivion. Our hero expects his demise and the song ends. It’s in Book 2 from 1979’s Hemispheres that got me thinking about the parallels between the song and politics.

Political commentary is a dangerous minefield these days, but art does imitate life. This song is no different and was a prophecy before its time. I’m going to make some broad-brush generalizations in here about followers of the political left and right, so before you send me responses like I am a so-and-so and that’s not what I believe or My party believes in this platform, not that, just calm down and digest the core basics of what I’ve interpreted here. I’m going to ask you in advance for grace, and ask that you consider what I say with introspect. However, I always invite thoughtful discourse if you want to voice your opinion on it.

Disclaimers in place? Check. Now, let’s launch into it.

So what does a song about Cygnus X-1 have to do with American Politics?

Let’s examine the lyrics of Book 2:

“When our weary world was young, the struggle of the ancients first began. The gods of Love and Reason, sought alone to rule the fate of Man. They battled through the ages, but still neither force would yield. The people were divided, every soul a battlefield…”

This first part just sets the stage, reminding the listener that since the beginning of time, humankind has struggled with how best to govern their affairs between the boundaries of love and reason. The Rocinante emerges through the black hole to find it was a gateway to Mount Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are engaged in epic battle over the fate of mankind. Will they be ruled by Apollo’s wisdom and reason, or Dionysus’s love and emotion? Each god makes a plea for their case while our hero observes.

Apollo’s Plea for Reason

Apollo gets to go first:

Apollo, God of Light with Urania, Muse of Astronomy is a painting by Charles Meynier
Apollo, God of Light, with Urania, Muse of Astronomy is a painting by Charles Meynier

I bring truth and understanding, I bring wit and wisdom fair,
precious gifts beyond compare. We can build a world of wonder,
I can make you all aware. I will find you food and shelter, show you fire to keep you warm through the endless winter storm. You can live in grace and comfort in the world that you transform.

I would contend Apollo’s vision falls more to the right side of political ideology. Typically, Republicans see through the lens of numbers and logic, placing a lower value on feelings and emotion. Apollo offers to share knowledge, the basics of food and shelter, and to show you how to make fire, but it is up the individual to take those tools transform their world for their own grace and comfort. Again, it’s a broad brush approach, but one of the party platforms of the right is deeply rooted in the idea of each person being the captain of their own destiny. Apollo’s offer was accepted, and here’s what happened:

The people were delighted, coming forth to claim their prize. They ran to build their cities and converse among the wise. But one day the streets fell silent, yet they knew not what was wrong. The urge to build these fine things seemed not to be so strong. The wise men were consulted
and the Bridge of Death was crossed, in quest of Dionysus to find out what they had lost…

My interpretation of this is knowledge, numbers, and logic is only going to get you so far before you run out of creativity. In a simpler term, this world feels like a minimalist black and white painting; probably beautiful in it simplicity, but devoid of color and personality. It’s cold and hard there. In my observations, Republicans can get caught within their own versions of reason and take a narrow-minded world view; very much like a horse with blinders. The mind needs expansion or it will die.

I think the key statement in here is crossing the Bridge of Death. Curious wording, don’t you think? I would liken this to the idea that you sometimes hear out of right-wingers warning you don’t go over there by those lefties… it’s dangerous! You’ll be in peril unless you walk this fine line! Don’t cross that bridge of death! It’s a group-think idea that once you try a forbidden fruit, you are a lost cause.

Dionysus’s Plea for Love

When humankind crossed their Bridge of Death seeking out Dionysus to see what he could offer, here’s what he said:

Dionysus, God of Wine by Caravaggio
Dionysus, God of Wine by Caravaggio

I bring love to give you solace, in the darkness of the night; in the heart’s eternal light. You need only trust your feelings, only Love can steer you right. I bring laughter, I bring music, I bring joy and I bring tears, I will soothe your primal fears. Throw off those chains of reason and your prison disappears

It’s not a stretch to see Dionysus is taking the political left approach. He’s playing on your heart strings and telling you that only love can make things right with the world. He’s ready to give humankind everything they need to fuel a creative fire – joy, laughter, music, solace. He promises a spiritual freedom of they will abandon reason and pursue their heart’s desire. Where the kicker comes is the line that he will soothe their primal fears. That line begs a question: What are your primal fears?

The answer will be different for everyone. For some, it’s eliminating loneliness and finding their soul mate. For others, it’s financial stability. Others might argue for spiritual or physical well-being. The bounds are endless on what people fear. Dionysus is telling them he’ll take all that away for them. The Democratic platform sometimes claims to have government provide everything people would fear to lose. I contend, however, that no god or government can possibly provide for everything a person needs. No one. The people, in this song’s case, decide to take him up on the offer. Here’s how it went:

The cities were abandoned and the forests echoed song. They danced and lived as brothers. They knew love could not be wrong. Food and wine they had aplenty and they slept beneath the stars. The people were contented and the Gods watched from afar. But the winter fell upon them and it caught them unprepared, bringing wolves and cold starvation, and the hearts of men despaired…

The romantic notion of throwing all logical caution to the wind and living your best Bohemian life—Y.O.L.O., if you will—is popular among younger generations today. But there are consequences to an ideology that only lives and loves in the moment without logical planning for the future. There’s even greater consequence for depending on someone else to provide everything for you. A day will come where the well dries up. In our song, the winter falls upon the people who lived only for the summery moment with Dionysus, thinking all they needed was love to sustain them. The wolves and weather had a different idea.

The Great Battle for the Heart and Mind of Humankind

The heart and mind, the greatest assets of a human being.
The heart and mind, the greatest assets of a human being.

In modern politics, this same metaphoric battle rages today as I type this and as you read it. There is a deadly competition for your vote without your voice, and each side knows exactly what string to pluck to get it. One side preys on fear of losing all reason, while the other preys on your fear of losing all hope. Many good people are entrenched in one side or the other and will not accept any olive branches offered by the opposition. In the song, their battle goes like this:

The universe divided as the heart and mind collided, with the people left unguided for so many troubled years; in a cloud of doubts and fears. Their world was torn asunder into hollow hemispheres. Some fought themselves, some fought each other. Most just followed one another, lost and aimless like their brothers. For their hearts were so unclear and the truth could not appear. Their spirits were divided into blinded hemispheres.

There has never been a more poignant description of today’s Left vs. Right political ideology than that stanza right there. The whole of the United States lives in a cloud of doubt and fear because many have buried themselves so far into their beliefs that no one will budge. People fear each other. They don’t trust each other. They prey on each other. And many who are not clear on their own thoughts blindly follow others to fit in to one of these camps just for the sense of belonging. More importantly, no one wants to admit their side is wrong. Not on one single thing. The faithful are so blinded without sound judgement that they can’t see a bitter truth in front of their face: That the opposition is truly not their enemy. In the song, a select few were blessed with discernment:

Some who did not fight brought tales of old to light. My Rocinante sailed by night on her final flight. To the heart of Cygnus’ fearsome force, we set our course. Spiraled through that timeless space to this immortal place.

Our hero is not yet sullied with the ideological dilemmas of Apollo and Dionysus, and encounters people I would call the Neutrals. These are people who haven’t fully decided their fate yet and observe the battle before them between the heart and mind. They tell the sordid tales from both sides, taking on traits of each. Some may call that not choosing a side. Sometimes it’s necessary to choose, but in this case, I think the Neutrals have created a third option to consider.

Cygnus, the Bringer of Balance

A depiction of Balance
A depiction of Balance

Enter the hero of our story, which in my mind is you. Yes, you, who sit here and have read to this point. Here’s your grand entrance:

I have memory and awareness, but I have no shape or form. As a disembodied spirit, I am dead and yet unborn. I have passed into Olympus, as was told in tales of old, to the City of Immortals; marble white and purest gold. I see the gods in battle rage on high, thunderbolts across the sky. I cannot move, I cannot hide, I feel a silent scream begin inside.

This stanza is chock full of metaphor. The U.S. Capitol is loaded to the gills with white marble buildings and monuments gilded in gold leaf. For an every-day citizen or political outsider, the halls of government might feel like an Olympus. A place where the gods of elected government rule from on high. You could even stretch to think of it as a City of Immortals.

United States Capitol Building east facade - Washington DC United States
United States Capitol Building east facade – Washington DC United States

You enter the halls of Congress to see and hear the “thunderbolts” being hurled from the right and left sides of the aisle; the nonstop bickering over how you will live your life. It’s messy, complicated, drowned in a legalese few laymen can understand. Who would enter that fray, and upon seeing the ridiculousness of it, would not want to scream? What if you actually did it? Here’s what the song says happened:

Then all at once the chaos ceased. A stillness fell, a sudden peace. The warriors felt my silent cry and stayed their struggle, mystified. Apollo was astonished. Dionysus thought me mad. But they heard my story further and they wondered, and were sad. Looking down from Olympus on a world of doubt and fear; its surface splintered into sorry hemispheres.

In reality, if you walked into a Senate or House session, or the Oval Office, or the Supreme Court chambers and screamed in bloody frustration at them, they are going to have you escorted out. Probably with prejudice. But imagine what would happen if you did and they actually stopped and listened to you? I know what you’re thinking: Lyle, seriously, government stopped listening to the people a long time ago. You’re right. But that’s not my point in all this. Now this next part, this is the true science fiction of the tale:

They sat a while in silence, then they turned at last to me. ‘We will call you Cygnus, the God of Balance you shall be.’

Just think, for one moment, if you had the chance to be the arbiter between the left and right ideology, and they had to abide by your final judgement on their argument. Who would you side with? Always the Left? Always the Right? Some might, but the majority of us would not. We would invoke the third option of the Neutrals, and that brings me to the conclusion of this extremely long political rant.

The Hemispheres United

If you’ve stuck with me this long, I have to think you’ve got at least a foot in the camp of the Neutrals. In my mind, we the Neutrals are the centrists. I would argue the centrists live with the mantra that if you can’t do what is right, then you do what is fair. We are the ones in the middle that see merit and fault on both political fronts… the ones who political parties have abandoned for the warm and fuzzy fringes of their followers. We in the middle are left in the political cold and both sides are making a fire to warm us. We are the ones those governing gods fight over. We are the ones they hope are afraid of being alone so we can get pulled in to their fold.

It is us who pilot the Rocinante into the black hole of politics and scream in frustration at Apollo and Dionysus for their limited vision and schoolyard pettiness. It is us who seek the peace in an arena that only knows war. But not war in the traditional sense. Oh no. They don’t want to kill you. It’s the war for your heart and mind. They are the most precious bastions you can ever protect. The day we once again realize we are not enemies is the first day of our freedom. There is a way to reconcile our trespasses against each other, and Rush sums it up nicely in the final stanza:

We can walk our road together, if our goals are all the same. We can run alone and free, if we pursue a different aim. Let the truth of love be lighted. Let the love of truth shine clear. Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty, with the heart and mind united in a single, perfect sphere.

While I am not naive enough to think those who govern will stop and hear us when we scream, I am hopeful that, outside of their influence, we will hear each other when we scream. Maybe then we can once again come together—those with love and those with logic—and make our country a better example for the world.

Chewbacca: The Best Friend We All Wish We Had

Chewbacca from Solo: A Star Wars Story
Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Ask any Star Wars fans, or even those Moofmilkers who have maybe just “seen the movie once”, what they think of Chewbacca. I’m willing to bet every single one will say they love him. In fact, I’m willing to bet the Millennium Falcon that not one of them will have a negative thing to say about him. Even in this hyper-critical moment Star Wars fans find themselves in over the franchise, the one constant we can all agree on is a universal love for the Wookiee, Chewbacca.

Why do you think that is? Why has this character touched so many hearts without ever saying a word we can understand? I have a theory, and it comes with a deep personal meaning.

Chewie: The Ultimate Wingman

Han didn’t know how lucky he was to have a best friend like Chewie. Let’s be honest… he would never have survived even half of the junk he pulled, and the trouble he got into throughout his adult life, without Chewbacca.

Han Solo and Chewbacca, from Solo: A Star Wars Story - photo: Lucasfilm/Disney
Han Solo and Chewbacca, from Solo: A Star Wars Story

Need something fixed on the Falcon? Chewie’s got it.

Need to borrow a Bowcaster when your DL-44 Blaster isn’t up to snuff? Chewie’s got you covered.

Trapped at a blast door on Endor by the Empire and an Imperial Walker? Chewie has your back, with a little Ewok help.

Pulling a heist? Chewbacca calls shotgun. Any time Han needs him, he is there.

One thing I wish they had delved into with The Rise of Skywalker is the connection that had to exist between Ben Solo and Chewbacca. Imagine as a child growing up with “Uncle Chewie”. There could be no better babysitter. Even when Ben became Kylo Ren, there had to be a twinge in his black heart somewhere of how his turn to the dark side would affect Chewie. He could hate mom and dad all he wanted to, but I’d bet the farm there were some strong attachments to the big furry oaf. And imagine how much it did affect Chewie? After all, he is a sensitive Wookiee. Just look at what he did with the Porgs in Episode VII!

Chewie: The Great Protector

Something that always stood out to me in Star Wars is C-3PO being the butt of a lot of jokes. Sure, he could be annoying, but he always meant well. Goldenrod, the professor, mindless philosopher, and whatever else R2 called him in his squawks and squeaks—C-3PO took it all in stride. He could dish it out, too. In fact, he could be quite a jerk about it. But on Cloud City, when he ran afoul of some Storm Troopers and was blasted apart, it was the kind-hearted Chewbacca that fought off the Ugnaughts for his parts and put him back together.

Chewie pieces Threepio back together again - Photo: Lucasfilm/Disney
Chewie pieces Threepio back together again – Photo: Lucasfilm/Disney

And who did Han trust to look after his love before going into carbon freeze? It sure wasn’t Lando. When Chewie was ready to rumble over it, Han calmed him down by charging him to take care of the princess.

Chewie takes his fair share of zingers, too, and he never complains because that’s just who he is. He’s been called a walking carpet, flea-bitten furball, overgrown mop head, a big hairy thing, big furry oaf, and probably the worst one… “he’s only a Wookiee.” All things you could only say to your best friend and get away with it. Even with the knocks, our ever-faithful sidekick always plunges on. Plus, you know he could remove all your limbs if he wanted to.

What Chewbacca means to Star Wars fans

“It’s a privilege unlike any other. With relative anonymity, you can bring joy to so many, and at the same time you’re giving people the opportunity to reminisce about their childhoods — and giving people big, hairy hugs. So it’s a wonderful job.”

Joonas Suotamo, on what it means to him portraying Chewbacca
Speaking of big, hairy hugs... - Photo: Lucasfilm/Disney
Speaking of big, hairy hugs…

The now-Legends book, The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime is a difficult book to read, because in it, Chewbacca dies. It struck me hard knowing he died in the Extended Universe. Chewbacca dead? I am not sure I can handle that! Even more profound is that Han starts a dark spiral after losing his long-time best friend. Something we could probably all relate to if it happened to us. His death was taken so hard by some fans that the author even received death threats over it.

The death of Chewbacca in R.A. Salvatore’s Vector Prime
The death of Chewbacca in R.A. Salvatore’s Vector Prime

In doing a little more research, I found out this book is rumored to be one of the primary reasons the EU/Legends was cut from Star Wars canon. To quote the Hollywood Reporter article, it says:

“A new Star Wars films without Chewbacca just wouldn’t feel like Star Wars, because the character is so much of the series’ heart. It’s impossible to take for granted that there’s an emotive quality to Chewbacca, an undeniable sense of personality that transcends the costume. As much as we’d like to imagine that if we lived in the Star Wars Universe we’d be a Jedi like Luke or Rey, a diplomat like Leia or a cocky pilot like Han, the truth is that we’d most likely be like Chewbacca; dependable, empathetic and just along for the ride. That’s an honorable position to be in.”

…and that is truth. A Star Wars movie without Chewbacca is like one without R2-D2. They may be the most influential supporting characters in film history. Being a supporting character brings around the point of all this. Why is Chewbacca the best friend we all wish we had?

Be Someone’s Chewbacca

August 2020 will be the two-year anniversary of the death of someone I knew who took his own life. His name is Miguel. We were co-workers at the rec center in my town. His mom works there with me, too. Miguel and I weren’t best friends. We saw each other when he would come in to work the pool cleaning crew, or when his mom would bring him after school to play basketball. We talked sometimes about little stuff, always nice to each other. He was 15-years-old.

In hindsight, nothing anyone could have said or done was going to stop him once he made this decision. Stars help me, I’ve thought about it constantly. Was there something I could have done differently that would have given him pause? Is there more I could have done? Could I have been nicer to him? Would he still be here if I had? Did he have a Chewbacca? I see his mom every day at work and it breaks my heart for her.

Miguel was born the same year as my youngest son. We both share a love of Star Wars. We play Star Wars games together, like Battlefront II and Galaxy of Heroes. We tag-teamed Jedi: Fallen Order on the PS4 to face Vader. I could not imagine being a Star Wars fan, or a life, without him. I’ll always be his Chewbacca, as I would to any of my kids and grand-kids.

My now-16-year-old at Machine Falls, Short Springs State Natural Area

My challenge to you: Be a Chewbacca to someone. It just might be the tiny Force push they need. Alternately, If you need a Chewbacca, we’re out there. Look hard and find us. We might be in the bottom of a muddy pit, labeled a beast and trapped in chains of our own. Help us out of there and I can promise you, we’ll be friends for life.

Lyle’s Sketch/Project of the Day: Fenrir-themed Viking Shield

I thought it would be fun to do a literary art/wood project, so I started brainstorming. While wasting time browsing Amazon, I found a place that sold a shield boss (that’s the round metal part in the center). Well you know I just had to have it. Now, about 4 months later, my Prose Edda literary art/wood project is complete! Here’s the stages of the project in photos. Enjoy!

My shield boss from Amazon
Next, I went to Lowe’s and bought a round tabletop blank and cut a hole in the center and routed out the sharp edge.
Once the boss was dry-fit, I marked out the hole
Shield boss pattern for later
Then I gave it two good primer spray coats
After finding the circumference center, I split the top in half with tape and a board to catch the overspray and painted half white.
After that dried, I repeated the process for the other half in green. The colors were simply ones I liked. No particular meaning.
In the end, I came out with this split-color shield blank
Then came the design elements. I decided to theme this project on Norse mythology in honor of my Finnish and Norwegian ancestry. I chose the great wolf, Fenrir, for the theme. This is the sketch pattern for the design of Fenrir.

In Norse Mythology, Fenrir is a wolf born of Loki and giantess Angrboda, the mother of monsters. Fenrir grew at an alarming rate to the Norse Gods and frightened them. Odin was particularly interested in seeing something done about this great and terrible beast when it was prophesied the wolf would devour and kill him during Ragnarok. The Gods tricked Fenrir into a game of strength by binding him with different strengths of chain to see if he could break them. He broke them all.

Little did Fenrir know that Odin went to the greatest craftsmen among the dwarves for a binding that could not be broken. They had just the thing: gleipnir. The super-strong silken bands were an enchanted concoction of a woman’s beard, a fish’s breath, root of a mountain, bird spittle, sinew of a bear, and the final ingredient, the sound of a cat’s footfall. Mixed together, they made an unbreakable bond.

Fenrir was wary of the God’s enthusiasm for this game, so when Odin proposed he try to escape a gleipnir binding, Fenrir demanded Tyr, the Norse God of Justice and Fenrir’s only friend among them, place his hand in Fenrir’s mouth while he tried to escape the gleipnir. They bound him up and as expected, he couldn’t break the binding. Fenrir bit off Tyr’s hand as he struggled to free himself but the binding grew tighter with every thrash and twist. Before long, the great wolf was trapped.

Fenris faces Thor concept art.

From there, Odin had Fenrir imprisoned on the isle of Lyngvi where the beast would be kept until Ragnarok. While Fenrir was free, he had two sons; Hati, the one who hates, and Skoll, the one who mocks. The white wolf, Hati, would forever chase the moon while his brother, the black wolf, Skoll, would chase the sun. Once the brothers succeeded, they would devour the heavenly bodies and herald the coming of Ragnarok. They would then free their father to take his revenge on Odin and bring about the end of the world.

The valknut symbol, often associated with Odin and Fenrir. Three interlocking and never-ending triangles.
The pattern for Hati and Skoll.
I cut them out to stencil onto the shield below.
I traced the outline of my design sketches to paint.
Four coats of black laid the foundation for the detailing to begin.
Laying in and painting details for the valknut, Hati and Skoll. Then came Fenrir. I used paint pens and acrylics for the details.
Once the designs were fully transferred, detail work was underway. Here’s my final detail on Fenrir.
Detail for Skoll, who chases the sun, with his binding rune.
Detail for Hati, who chases the moon, with his binding rune.
A leather band was added to the edge for a more authentic look, and the names Hati and Skoll were added in runic letters.
And the final product. Hati and Skoll are bound to always chase, but never catch, the sun and moon to try and free their father.

I hope you’ve liked this. I truly enjoyed making it and learning my ancestor’s mythology. It was a fun challenge that taught me a few things. In the end, it gives me a wonderful conversation piece I am proud to say I made. That’s something I love about hand made items: they aren’t perfect. They are just the work of a simple artist doing what they love. Now it’s your turn. Go make something awesome!

The World According to Me: To “Ma’am” Or Not To “Ma’am”. That, Sir, is the Question

C'mon, you think I'd write anything and not reference Star Wars? Anyway, where do you fall in the argument to use or not use honorifics?
C’mon now, you think this geek would write anything and not reference Star Wars? Anyway, where do you fall in the argument to use or not use honorifics?

I have reduced myself to a mere spectator on social media any more because of the ugly and divisive forum it has become. However, when I get the chance to peruse the feed, a nugget will pop up that’s too juicy to ignore. Recently on my feed, an acquaintance posted a meme that states the following:

“Biggest pet peeve: ‘Don’t call me sir or ma’am, I’m not that old’ – Listen, I got too many whoopings growing up to not call you sir/ma’am. Just let me respect you, ok?”

Facebook meme

My acquaintance proceeded to talk about how they do not condone the criticizing of children that don’t say sir or ma’am, and they do not teach their children this because in their upbringing, it was not done out of respect but from a place of control and dominance. It is their opinion that returning a yes or no to a question is acceptable and doesn’t need to be followed by sir or ma’am. It caused me to ponder a question: Do these honorifics need to become a thing of the past?

The No’s vs. the No Sirs

Any time you share a strong opinion on the internet, Newton’s third law of motion becomes a gob-smacking reality. It says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This situation was no different. Acquaintances of my acquaintance began choosing sides. The great Facebook debate had begun. I read the responses with great interest, which ranged from a simple “I agree”, to “that’s bull____”, and everything between. Some spoke of their own upbringings and how they did or didn’t suffer the same punishments as my acquaintance for omitting or using the familiar form of address.

A rare photo of a real-life Facebook argument - (woman yelling at brick wall)
A rare photo of a real-life Facebook argument

I consumed them all with gusto. It was an extraordinary glimpse into human behavior over something I considered a non-starter. I know which camp I fall into, or at least, I did, but the great debate had me questioning my feelings on the subject. One particular exchange of ideas stood out, and forced me to ponder my own stance on an issue that I never realized was an issue. My best paraphrase of the exchange is that saying these formal terms are a sign of respect, to which the reply was respect is earned, not given. That phrase became the lightning rod for me.

My Own Upbringing and Experience

I was raised in the south, but I would not call my childhood a proper southern rearing. Florida is a mighty collection of transplants, so it’s hard to say Florida is truly southern. However, aspects of being raised by my dad and two grandmothers from Iowa allow adjustments for anything. While I was never forced to say ma’am or sir as a child, I always found it a better way to communicate with people older than me because using the words elevated me above the old saying children should be seen and not heard. By using these terms to address my elders, I was given the same amount of respect I was giving conversationally by people much older than me. And the interesting part is I learned that on my own without parental coercion.

Me and my dad, circa 1985
Me and my dad, circa 1985

The phrase respect is earned, not given is a conundrum. While it’s a true statement, respect is a red herring people chase endlessly and sometimes never catch. In hearing that phrase, my mind goes instantly to a newly-minted MMA fighter that feels like they have to trash talk and beat the baddest fighter in their ranks to get respect; that they have to go in and force it from their peers. Perhaps in that world, that is how respect is quantified, but in the everyday, non-MMA world, respect should never be forced from anyone. At the same time however, it shouldn’t have to be forced. Respect should be given freely until some reason arises where it can no longer be given.

I would go so far as to contend a lack of freely given respect is a major source of societal woe. In my day job, I often work with staff much younger than me. I respond to every one of them with sir or ma’am at the end of a greeting or statement. It is not always returned, and I don’t require it. But what I aim to do is show them I will give them all of my respect until they give me a reason not to. In the end, my staff usually hums like a well-oiled machine because they know where I stand with them. I may be the supervisor, but I respect the job I have trained them to do and their ability to do it, and treat them accordingly. By giving my respect freely to them, they, in turn, give it right back. For some, it takes a while for them to figure out how this mutual respect dynamic works, but in the end, they all get it.

If you have to earn respect, how do you do that?

"What you do has far greater impact than what you say." - Stephen Covey

I can only use my personal method on this, as I’m certain methods will differ based on the personalities you are working with. If I feel I have to earn someone’s respect, there’s two ways I attempt do it:

1 – Leading by Example

My staff knows there is not a single job in my purview that is beneath me. If it happens to be cleaning toilets, washing dishes, or any other job no one really wants to do, I’ll be right there shoulder to shoulder with them doing it. That does not mean I’ll do it for them (if that’s their job), but I am willing to help them if needed. No task can be beneath you. That is the price of being a good leader.

2 – Servant Leadership

My goal as a leader is to train my replacement. I’ll say that again: My goal as a leader is to train my replacement. I am not here to show my employees how to do everything and then watch them do it. I am here to teach them to be better versions of themselves. It is my responsibility as their leader to develop my staff into my business equals. It is my responsibility to ensure they are properly trained and to push them farther. It is my job to learn their goal and help them achieve it. It’s a job I take seriously.

Commanding respect with an iron-fist approach of do as I say and not as I do is a certain guarantee of disrespectful anarchy. Put these two principles into practice and I promise you will have no issues with respect, and you won’t ever have to ask… they’ll call you sir or ma’am of their own accord regardless of any upbringing.

Using Sir/Ma’am as a Sign of Dominance?

I can’t say taking these formalities as a sign of dominance is untrue because everyone’s experience is different. From the description, it would seem my acquaintance had a difficult time of it. It’s not for me to judge how someone was raised or the trials they faced. I spent eight years working as a civilian for the military. While no one ever told me (as a civilian) to address officers or enlisted soldiers in a specific way other than by rank, I still used the formal address when speaking to them. It wasn’t the product of any southern rearing or demand from anyone. It was just the right thing to do. Again, everyone’s experience is different, but I wouldn’t go up to my commander at the time and say “Hey Bobby, how’s it going?”. While I did become friendly with many of my military co-workers, I never felt dominated in any conversations with them. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

One of my old business mentors told me a saying I’ll never forget. Familiarity breeds contempt. The basis is, the more you know about someone, the less you respect them. Business superiors are not your friends. They are in those positions for a reason: to run the business. You can be professionally friendly with them, but the more you know of them personally, the less of a supervisor they are and the more of a buddy they become. Does this mean you can’t have friends at work? Of course not. Does this mean your boss doesn’t care about you? Of course not. I care a great deal for my staff and their personal well-being. You spend more waking time with your co-workers in a week than you do with your own family. It is a word of caution, however. Keep business relationships professional and above board. Freely give your respect while it is deserved.

Societal use of sir and ma’am has another consideration among gender identity politics. Folks who identify themselves as different genders other than their outwardly appearance are requesting not to be categorized by these terms. What some would see as a sign of respect is viewed by others as a sign of disrespect if you get it wrong. Whether you believe in a person’s choice to choose gender or not, at least in this argument, is irrelevant. If you’re going to use honorifics and you can’t be sure of who you’re addressing, it may be incumbent on you to find another way.

What’s my point in all this?

In the end, I can only govern myself and be responsible for my actions. I don’t think the mandatory use of ma’am or sir should be required by anyone except within your own parenting structure or within a military environment. While I can see both sides of the “dominance” argument, I do not require it from my children or staff. I’ll let their own respect-o-meters determine what honorific they use.

Where the world could use some improvement is when someone gets it wrong. Attacking a person for an attempt at respectful dialogue is wrong in any arena. Even minor corrections, like “I’m not that old, don’t call me ma’am”, or “My father was sir, I am not” are unnecessary. Even if those are said in jest, it creates an awkward situation that can have lingering effects. Allow the person to use their own judgement of you and practice their own culture. If you must make a correction, do it politely and quietly and move on.

While my theory on this is far from scientific, I will make you one guarantee. If you ever meet me, I can promise you I will grant you the utmost respect right out of the gate, and will likely call you sir or ma’am. Please don’t take it as a sign of dominance or a remark on your age. I say it out of my well-full of freely given respect.

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day! May the Fourth: Star Wars Edition

Along with the rest of the fandom, I celebrated Star Wars Day with a couple sketches of my own while taking a break from writing Star Wars: Lifeboat. I suppose I fall into the category of fans that watched Episodes 7, 8, & 9 but wasn’t overly thrilled with them. However, I feel Disney is on the road to redemption with their direction of the franchise on Disney Plus.

The Clone Wars finale was outrageously good, The Mandalorian is phenomenal, and the slate of upcoming Star Wars projects (Obi-Wan, Cassian Andor, and more) looks great. So, in honor of May the Fourth and Revenge of the Fifth, here’s some Star Wars sketches. I even tried to learn a little Aurebesh. Enjoy!

Now that The Clone Wars is over, the best chance to see more Maul is if they finally make a Solo 2
“The Child” eyeing the biggest chiccy nugget in the galaxy!

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day! – April 11th – Heroic and Villainous

Feeling heroic and villainous today, so here’s a little of both! First up, in honor of the return of The Clone Wars final season, Ahsoka Tano – the best Star Wars character to not be in a film (so far). I prefer the black and white, personally, but here’s colored and uncolored. Okay, perhaps Thrawn is the best character not to be in a movie yet. We can fight it out between him and Ahsoka. Maybe Thrawn will be my next sketch of the day! (Oh, and I learned to write my name in Aurebesh!)

Then, poor Spidey has run afoul of Venom. I’m not thrilled with the final result, but not bad for an amateur! I haven’t seen the Venom movie yet, but I really do hope they eventually get these two on the big screen together. Tom Hardy’s Venom with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man would be sweet. Morbius looks pretty exciting, too. That would be an epic movie trio!

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, stay safe, and stay healthy. Practice, practice, practice!

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day – Unfinished Sketches… Finished! – April 1st

I was thumbing through my sketchbook and was disappointed in myself for having a bunch of outlines with nothing finished. Tonight I decided to start trying to knock off some of my better starts and ink a couple. Sadly, there were too many to complete in one night, but here’s three I’m pretty happy with so far. I might even color the Dr. Strange. If I do, I’ll update the post. Enjoy!

Dr. Strange - I think I'll color this one later on.
Dr. Strange – I think I’ll color this one later on.
Still have more to go on this Hulk. I want to put in more cracks and damage under him, and maybe a smashed car or something above him.
Still have more to go on this Hulk. I want to put in more cracks and damage under him, and maybe a smashed car or something above him.
Poor Batsy... Ivy has him all tangled
Poor Batsy… Ivy has him all tangled

Bonus Sketch: Puff, the Magic Dragon!

I drew this a long time ago in a class (I should have been paying attention, but I wasn’t). It hung in my son’s room for a while until we moved. I found it in a box the other day and rescued it from certain doom. The very first song I ever performed live in front of an audience was Puff the Magic Dragon when I was about 9-years-old. I sang it with a friend of the family who was doing a solo gig at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa, Florida. He even paid me $5 for my part! I love this drawing.

I hope you’re all staying safe and keeping well in these troubled times. I’ve got plenty more unfinished works to stay busy on. Keep your pencils sharp and practice, practice, practice!… from 6-feet apart. 😀

Lyle's Sketch of the Day – Judge Dredd – March 28th

Judge Dredd statue figure (not a drawing!)

The famous law man of Mega-City One. Judge Dredd has always been a favorite of mine. It can be dark and funny at the same time. His world is a dystopian nightmare, where crazy villains and daily waves of criminals are the norm.

It’s an unpopular opinion in the pop-culture world, but I liked Stallone’s 90s take on Judge Dredd. I liked Karl Urban’s updated movie more, but Stallone’s was decent. I especially liked Max von Sydow as Judge Fargo and Diane Lane as Judge Hershey. In Karl Urban’s updated film, I felt like it was closer to the intention of the character, mostly because Stallone’s Dredd took his helmet off. Dredd never removes his helmet! All that said, I think Urban’s Dredd deserves another movie. There’s so much more to the 2000A.D. universe to explore with him. In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for the comics.

When drawing Dredd, the uniform is key element number one. It has a lot of parts and detail, especially the shoulder pads and badge. I need to do better detail on those. The second feature to get right is the frowny, scarred chin and helmet. Dredd never takes off his helmet, so the chin is a paramount feature since it’s the only part of the face you see.

Keep drawing!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day – Spider-Man – March 26th

Spider-Man

By far, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is who I have drawn the most, and who I have the largest collection of comics from. He’s had so many great artists through the years. My favorites are Todd McFarlane, John Romita (both Sr. and Jr.), John and Sal Buscema, J. Scott Campbell, and Erik Larsen.

The first Spider-Man comic I ever picked up was Spectacular Spider-Man #178 The Child Within: Part 1. My collection now holds the entire 263-issue run from 1976 to 1998. Even though I haven’t drawn many of his villains, my favorites are Kraven the Hunter, Vermin, Tombstone and The Lizard. Looks like I’m drawn to the darker, crazier ones. Coincidence? I think not! I’ll have to do some sketches on those guys at a later time. For now, here’s some Spidey. Enjoy!

I think on my next Sketch of the Day, we’ll lay down the law with some Judge Dredd! Until next time, practice, practice, wash your hands, and practice some more!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – Tomb Raider – March 24th

Lara Croft – Tomb Raider

One of the rare times I colored a drawing!

When I was struggling with drawing women, I practiced heavily on one of my favorite video game characters, Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series. I remember the sickest I ever have been was this one three-week period where I got bronchitis and was stuck at home. This also happened to be aroud when the very first Tomb Raider game came out on PlayStation, circa 1997. I binge-played for three weeks and still couldn’t beat it (the game or bronchitis!) but it was fun trying, and I was hooked. Lara became my muse for a time and a drew her a lot.

I think this is the first one I drew of her.
The only thing that separates us from animals is our ability to accessorize, and Lara has some accessories. I wanted to do just a fun “What’s in the bag” sketch of Lara’s gear.
This one started out as just a mountain scene but no mountian scene is complete without Lara Croft!
I guess this is how she got to that mountain scene earlier.
I had such high hopes for this one but it didn’t pan out the way I wanted.
Lara has outfits for all occasions.

Speaking of illnesses, please be safe out there amid this current virus problem. I wish everyone the best of happiness and health as we ride this out. If there is a silver lining, at least we can write and draw in our spare time!

The book on the right is a sketch by artist Andy Park from Top Cow back in the day when I was big into collecting. He and Michael Turner are two of the best, in my opinion, to draw Tomb Raider.

There are actually a lot more sketches of her in my sketchbook, but the others are pretty cringeworthy. After these, I worked a lot on making my scenes more dynamic and trying to use more perspective. In a couple days, I’ll share some of those I worked on with another one of my favorite muses, Spider-Man! Until then, ‘Nuff Said True Believers!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – The X-Men – March 22nd

The X-Men

Ah, who doesn’t love Marvel’s elite team of mutants? Er,… I mean… students from Xavier’s School of Gifted Youngsters?

I’ll admit, the movies had their hiccups. But the comics… those were always gold! I tap Jim Lee as my favorite X-Men artist and I love his drawing style. Here’s a few of my favorite X-Men drawings. I have several more I’ll share at a later date. There were some storylines I struggled to follow in the books. It was superb work, but X-Tinction Agenda and The Muir Island Saga were deep X-Men doctrine. I had to read them a few times to get a good grasp. Until then, I hope you survive the experience!

Wolverine – always a fan favorite
Storm – the mutant who never has the same hairstyle twice!
One of my early high school-era drawings, Iceman
I always enjoyed the bickering between Wolverine and Cable (before Deadpool was cool). This is another high school-era attempt at a less-than-static fight scene.
Magneto – one of my favorite of all time villains

A character I haven’t drawn yet that I really liked from the comics is GambitComics have captured the imaginations of young people the world over and are bastions of excellent art and story-telling. The X-Men captured the complications of human relationships on the pages of comics, and I loved it. Until next time, Excelsior!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – Batman and his Villains – March 20th

Batman and his Villains

My George Perez commissioned Batman sketch

Batman comics have always been a favorite of mine. The Caped Crusader has lasted decades, and kept readers and artists enamored since day one. I met Justice League penciller George Perez at a Comic Convention several years ago and commissioned a Batman sketch from him. He told me whenever you draw Batman, he’s known as the “Sharpie killer”, so keep a box of black markers handy! His sketch for me is shown above. It’s still one of my favorites, so I did a few of my own, as well as a couple of his villains. Enjoy!

Joker is unfinished, but the Clown Prince always has something up his sleeve.
Also unfinished, but the Joker here grew out of another idea. When I drew it, it was originally going to be someone completely different. However, it already looked like Joker so I went with it.
This one also started out as something different but this was what it turned in to. Catwoman is a fun character to draw. Her positioning is never static, so you have to find ways to contort her.
I intended to color this one, but never did.

Batman has always been a draw (pun intended!) to me because he’s a super hero without super powers. What he does have, however, is a super bank account and that makes up for a lot of shortcomings! In the comics, I’ve always preferred the darker Batman stories. I think The Long Halloween by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb, Brian Bolland and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and the crossover one-shots with Judge Dredd are some of my favorite Batman stories. Hush was pretty good, too, but I liked the artwork more than the story.

Cityscapes are hard to draw because they can be tedious, but they make compelling backgrounds. This one is also unfinished. Are you sensing a pattern here?

I realize this will make hard-core Batman fans mad, but I didn’t like Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. They didn’t appeal to me that much, but they are definite fan favorites. What’s your favorite Batman story arc?

Until next time, practice, practice and practice some more!

Lyle’s Sketch of the Day! – March 18th

As promised, I dug around through my portfolio from back in the day and found a couple sketch-outs of a character I made up. She has no name or backstory, just happened to come to mind. Due to work schedules, I didn’t draw anything new today, so you’ll have to settle for another archive entry from 2002.

Sharpies can be your best friend with a black costume!

For the longest time, I struggled drawing women. So, I did what every other aspiring teenage artist would do; I studied them! Medical anatomy books helped, and I also practiced in the style of a couple of my favorite comic book artists: Michael Turner, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and J. Scott Campbell. Their figure drawings and muscle structures are superb. I learned a lot just by studying their work and seeing how they did it.

Character positioning sketch
What should her name and origin be?

Another thing that helped, especially trying to draw heroic figures both men and women, were fitness magazines. I’m sure to the Barnes and Noble clerk I looked like a pervy little creep buying women’s fitness journals, but they really were for research! I’m also not ashamed to say I made copies of some comic splash pages I liked and traced them as a training tool. It helped to condition my hand and give me a better feel for where curves and shadows should go.

What I use

A kind person sent a message asking what equipment do I use to draw. (Thanks for the question!) I use .07 and .05 lead mechanical pencils. I like Pentel, but the brand isn’t as important as feel to me. I like these mechanicals because they have metal parts and feel heavier and sturdy in my hand. For bigger marks, I use a regular #2 lead pencil, and then I have full graphite pencils for large areas. My only preferences for those are round instead of hex cut, and I prefer solid wood instead of compressed fiber.

I also do not use the erasers on any of those pencils. I use these click erasers exclusively with white refills. The red and black Rotring Tikky you see below has been with me since high school and has seen a lot of work cleaning up my mistakes. The blue one is my back-up in case ol’ “Tikky” breaks down, but she’s been going strong for almost 30 years!

For inks, I haven’t found anything I am partial to necessarily. Sharpies and their equivalents are good, but will fade and brown over time. There are specific art pens with India ink professionals use that won’t fade, but I have found many of them run out of ink quickly or dry up if you don’t use them that often. Plus, they can be expensive. For casual sketching, plain old black markers and ink suit me fine.

Until next time, practice, practice, and practice some more!

Lyle's Sketch of the Day! – Dragons – March 17th

Instead of catch of the day. See what I did there?

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a comic book artist, Ever since Middle School, I felt a draw to drawing. I’d like to think I’m pretty decent, but after visiting a few Comic Cons and meeting the people who do this for a living, well… I learned I have a long way to go. So for fun, I’ll post a couple sketches each week that just happen to come to my mind.

Today, my mind was on dragons. Don’t know why. I haven’t read or watched anything particular bringing them to the forefront. I just happen to like the overgrown lizards. Here’s a sketch I did today, just to pass some time:

Dragon sketch, 2020
The sketch of the day!

I feel much better about my abilities after drawing this one. I haven’t drawn much in years but today, the mood struck. In between writings, I’ll plan to draw a few times just to brush up on the old skills. When I dug through my archive, I found this gem from, wait for it… 17 years ago! We’ll call him a throwback dragon from 2003.

Dragon sketch, 2003

I’ll rummage through the archives and see what else I can dig up! I never learned to do any digital drawing or color. I do everything in simple pencil with a soft gum eraser and a black art pen. If I ever color any, it’s with colored pencil.

For my artistic friends: practice, practice, practice. Enjoy!

Legend of Zelda: The Blood Moon Fan Film Goes Above and Beyond Epic

Children raised on Nintendo, rejoice! The videography group Devin Super Tramp has produced an amazing fan film titled Zelda-The Blood Moon from the Legend of Zelda franchise. I am biased in my opinion on this, since it was written and produced by my nephew, but even if that were not the case, it’s still amazing work. So what’s it about?

“We’ve always been intrigued by what Link would look like/become as an old man. What would happen if he was to lose Zelda in battle?

Devin Super Tramp, from their YouTube channel

Cool concept, right? Fans on YouTube agree that this film is the standard that any Zelda film should go by. Here’s what other fans had to say:

“Your fight scenes are BEAUTIFULLY choreographed and executed. They looked and felt amazingly perfectly. Kudos to your fight lead and to your fighters. They have great skill!!!! This was just…a wonderful surprise find in my recommended feed.”

YouTube Commenter

“This is actually the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I was in tears the whole time, could not look away.”

YouTube Commenter

“This is SO AMAZING!!! You captured everything Legend of Zelda is but with real people. The settings are perfect. I cannot believe this is fan made- You guys did an amazing job!”

YouTube Commenter

So what’s all the fuss about? Made by fans for fans, the Tri-Force is strong with this one. Check it out below:

Fans of the Legend of Zelda franchise will appreciate that Link remains the silent hero, however, the one who steals the show is the Witch. That laugh and the curse she drops is pretty wicked (pun intended). This gem was written and directed by Team Super Tramp member Zane O’Gwin and photographed by Devin Graham.

Legend of Zelda: Blood Moon – Go Behind the Scenes!

If the film itself wasn’t enough for you Zelda fans, they also did a featurette of the making of the film, from location to cast, and filming to fight sequences, see it all right here:

As I’ve said in other reviews, when someone makes something like this from a fan perspective, it’s instantly better simply because they love it. It’s not a big budget studio with an expected return-on-investment. It’s a story from the heart, and there is no better place for it to come from.

What do you think?

Was that awesome or what? Being a fan fiction writer myself, I appreciate projects like this more than most. When you love a project as a fan, it always bleeds through the work. Zelda fans have got to be digging this one. To check out other videos from Devin Super Tramp, click their website here: DevinSuperTramp.com, and their YouTube channel here.

I walked one 1 mile on the Appalachian Trail (and why it matters, too) Part II

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29 Dec 18 – Not long ago, I met a lady that summited Lobuche in Nepal. Lobuche is a mountain on the Everest Base Camp trek. Yes, that Everest. Mount Everest… the Roof of the World. She, along with her cousin and some climbing friends made the long trip halfway around the world to take the peak of that 20,075-foot mountain. And they did. I learned after hearing her Lobuche story that prior to that, she took a trip to Africa to the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.  It was fascinating to hear her stories of how she would choose her destination, set her climbing goals, plans her trips, and then conquers whatever mountain is next on her list. Those feats are impressive, at least to me anyway.

I mention her story not because I want to do what she has done. As I said in part one of this blog, I am not that ambitious. I can live out my days not having climbed over 20,000 feet up a snowed and iced mountain of death and be perfectly content with that decision. I tell you about her because I admire the ambition she has to hit those goals. The desire to go and see and do something you might not ever get the chance to again. Those were items on her “list”. That is the type of goal-setting I’m trying to achieve for myself. The goals I want to accomplish before it’s time to punch my ticket… my bucket list.

I whetted my appetite for the Appalachian Trail in Vermont right before Christmas. Even though those initial 100 yards checked off an item, it just felt incomplete. Like my inner-Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was grunting at me for stopping there. About four hours from where I live is the peak of Springer Mountain, standing at 3,782 feet above sea level. She’s nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia.  Believe me when I tell you it is in the middle of the area that is formerly known as the middle of nowhere. At least it felt like it. Oh, and did I mention that it is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail? How convenient. Now I can make a bigger check mark on this bucket-lister!

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After talking my youngest son into going on this adventure with me, we grabbed a few items for the trip and off we went. He was a little reluctant at first, not knowing what he was about to get in to, but finally relented. We got a late start that morning, leaving home about 9:30am. Sunset was at 5:02pm that day. With the distance and time zone change, we would be racing the sun to reach the peak and get back off the mountain by dark. Time was against us, but wasn’t going to stop us. Again, undaunted, our heroes plunged on!

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After a long and winding drive through the beautiful Chattahoochee National Forest, at long last we finally arrived at the trail parking area about 2:45pm Eastern time. In the six mile drive up the mountain you gain about 1,200 feet on hard-packed dirt and gravel called Forest Service Road 42-3. I will give credit where it is due… whoever maintains that road does a marvelous job. It’s somewhat daunting, being just wide enough for one vehicle the majority of the way with occasional pull-offs where you could let cars coming down the mountain go by. We met a few on the way up, and the conditions were wet and muddy. I wouldn’t call it “white-knuckle driving”, however, there were some unsettling moments. In the end, we made it to the packed parking lot and were ready to start our trek to the peak. I was excited… I was getting ready to be on the AT once again!

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From the parking lot to the peak is about one mile. One of the websites I researched this trip on gave the trail to the peak a moderately strenuous rating, however I did not find it to be that difficult other than just going steadily uphill. It was wet and muddy in parts, but that wasn’t going to stop us. The peak was our prize and wet socks were but a penance to be able to say we conquered this mountain! At the beginning of our ascent, a group of about thirty college-aged people passed us on the way down. They were talking and carrying on as we passed by, but once they got out of earshot, I noticed something that I became aware of the rest of the entire time we were on the trail… the quiet.

Whatever noises you would hear up there were the ones you brought with you. The day was cool, with temperatures in the mid-’40s, slightly overcast skies and a light breeze. That breeze is the only thing you could hear. There were no birds, no planes, no sounds of civilization, just the light breeze making its way across the hillsides and giving the trees a gentle sway. It was a deafening silence, and it was amazing.

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We passed a few other people on our way up. Small groups of two or three, and some families, all out enjoying this beautiful day just as we were. The occasional friendly greeting was the only sound we heard making our way up. After about 30 minutes of our steady uphill climb, we passed two young ladies on their descent who kindly informed us we were about 100 feet from the top, and no one else was up there right now. We stopped for a quick water break and I looked out into the horizon through the leafless trees. I introspected on how Benton Mackaye and Myron Avery determined this place to be the southern terminus of their trail. What I had first thought of as just the middle of nowhere was becoming the perfect place to end it, and there was no better place on Earth to be right then other than where I was standing. I had to imagine they thought the same thing when laying out this amazing trail. The peak was within sight, so up we went.

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Throughout our history, man has created some amazingly beautiful spiritual buildings. Each is unique and beautiful in its own way, and many of the older ones have long and storied histories. I’ve been blessed to see inside several different ones of all shapes and sizes, and of different denominations. One thing I have not been to, however, is the top of many mountains. If I can be so bold to make a comparison, the top of a mountain has to be nature’s most spiritual place. Though this mountain is not the highest or most difficult to climb, none of that takes away from the feeling you get in your soul to sit quietly at the top and look out onto the world.

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At the top of this particular mountain, I was experiencing another feeling. I wasn’t just checking off another item on my bucket list. I was feeling closure. I didn’t realize, nor fully appreciate, how the research work I did on this historic landmark had opened up a need to experience it. I’ve always wanted to hike it, and for weeks this trail and its stories consumed my entire work life. I would compare it to a lifetime Red Sox fan getting to go to a game at Fenway Park for the first time. You just can’t describe it… you have to feel it to understand. It’s not just pictures on a screen or words on a page. It’s a real place and I’m here, and in this moment, there is no place I’d rather be.

We had the peak to ourselves for about 20 minutes, just taking it in. Sitting on the rock at the center of the overlook, I happened to notice to my left this little trap door. Inside was a visitor log book. Not uncommon throughout the entire AT. They can be found at almost every trailhead or shelter along the way. I started looking through the pages to see what others had written. Several were just signatures and dates, where they were from. Some had encouraging or spiritual messages, birthdays, even marriage proposals as you can see below. I sat and read through some of it just to see what others had to say. Suffice it to say, there were some neat things in there. The book was full so I went back a few pages to leave our mark. Nothing prophetic or poetic. Just a little something saying we were here, and we loved it.

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The sun was sinking quickly and it was time to head home. We took a few more pictures, gathered our things, and started back the same way we came for the journey home. At about the same spot we stopped for our earlier water break, we passed three guys coming up. We conveyed the same message we had received earlier, that they only had about 100 feet to go and they would have the peak to themselves. From there on out, we only saw two other people. Now we had the trail to ourselves. It was just as tranquil on the way down as we made our way to the car.

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Now I have officially hiked 100 yards plus one mile on the Appalachian Trail.  There’s a bigger check mark on my bucket list I’m dang proud of it. My son asked me on the way home if I was planning to hike any more of the trail. I thought about it for a little bit before I answered. I’m sure the opportunity will present itself again. I told him I probably would and maybe next time we’ll bring gear and plan it as an over-nighter or maybe we can do part of it over spring break. He jokingly said if you’re going to do that, why not just plan to thru-hike it. I laughed. I like his way of thinking, but I’m not that ambitious.

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I’m not normally a selfie person, but in this case, I made an exception.

I walked 100 yards on the Appalachian Trail (and why it matters), Part I

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Dec. 21, 2018 – Everyone has thought about, at some time or another, what would be on their “bucket list”. At the ripe old age of 44, I have yet to make one on paper. However, I have a few ideas swirling around my head of certain things I’d like to accomplish before my time on the third rock from the sun is up.

One of those swirling bucket ideas is to perform the American National Anthem at a major sporting event. I would gladly do it anywhere there is an opportunity, but I’m a big hockey fan at heart. I’d love to belt one out on center ice. I even hedged my bet and learned the Canadian National Anthem as well, just in case I ever get the chance!

Another long-time item on my list is to become a published author. That’s a goal I work towards every day, even if it’s only a little tiny bit. I try to write at least one thing daily and I set regular benchmarks for myself. I tested those goals in 2017 when I wrote 51,055 words in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. I’m still proud of that one!

Recently I was fortunate enough to accomplish one item on my list. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I do quite a few short day hikes or overnighters with my Boy Scout troop at nearby State Parks, and they’re great, but to trek the AT… now that is some real hiking! Up until now, I would have classified this as a passive bucket-lister. It was on the periphery… one that I wanted to do but I didn’t actively seek to check it off. It was more like a target of opportunity should the occasion arise. Then, one day, it moved from passive to very active.

For my day job, I am a programmer for my city’s Parks and Recreation department (writing doesn’t pay the bills…yet!). One of my 2018 programs was a “virtual walk” of all 2,158 miles of the AT. The southern terminus is at the peak of Springer Mountain in north Georgia, and continues all the way up the eastern United States, with the northern terminus at the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Teams of six people would sign up and count all their miles collectively toward the goal of “walking” the trail. In the end, over 300 people teamed up for the walk, covering over an impressive 50,000 miles as a group, and fun was had by all.

During the program, I had to do a lot of research for the weekly e-newsletters on the trail and some of the better highlights of its history. Each week of the walk, every participant received an email with the current standings, trail facts, silly hiking memes and stories from the trail. Over the course of my work, I caught the bug. The more research I did, the more I wanted to push the needle from this is something I’d like to do over to this is something I have done.  Not the whole trail, mind you. I’m not that ambitious. But hiking a small section would satisfy my curiosity and put a checkmark on my mental bucket list. Then, suddenly, it happened. While perusing a trail-finder website one afternoon, an opportunity appeared like a distant ship on the horizon.

My oldest son currently lives in Woodstock, Vermont, which also happens to be an AT “trail town” along with Barnard, Vermont. Woodstock is to the south of the trailhead, and Barnard to the north and the AT passes right between them. It just so happened that my wife and I were planning a visit to Woodstock right before Christmas this year.

Do you hear that?

Hear that sound?

That would be the soft  knock of opportunity!

I had a six-day window to answer that door. I packed my hiking boots and some halfway decent winter garb, hopped on a plane, and off we went. Upon arriving in Woodstock, I waited for a some decent weather and set out to find the trail off of Barnard Road/US-12.

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A few days before our arrival, a snowstorm passed through the area dumping about a foot of snow. The day before we went in search of the trailhead was rainy and warmer, causing a lot of snow melt and high water everywhere. Suffice it to say, I did not have high expectations with the weather conditions of what we would find. This was truly meant to be a “let’s-just-say-we-were-here” kind of stop. After passing it a couple of times (we didn’t have a GPS), I noticed this little sign (above) behind the guard rail. We finally found it!

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A small wooden bridge crossed a raging creek, through a gate, out into an open field and up a low hill. After eight weeks of researching and newsletters and pomp and circumstance about the Appalachian Trail, I was finally walking on part of it! Now you can tell by the photos that I wasn’t joking about conditions. Under that snow over the bridge is about an inch of solid ice. The snow was packed and crunchy. Every step was like walking on a floor that gave way under each footfall, about eight inches down. Then you had to try not to slip while taking your next step. The temperature was sitting right about 35 degrees, and I forgot to bring a jacket with me. But undaunted, our hero plunged on!

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I’m sure to most, these just look like 100 yards worth of tracks through the snow, and it could be anywhere the white stuff falls, in any field, in any part of the world. However, these were my tracks on this national treasure of a trail fulfilling one of my bucket list items. My wife and son were in the car watching me tromp through the snow and ice, probably thinking, “Look at that idiot going off in the snow, and without a jacket even…”. It could have been waist-deep and I still would have done it. It could have been below freezing and I would still have gone up there. All the maple syrup in Vermont would not have kept me from walking up that hill, just so I could say “I was here, and this is what I did”.

As I’ve gotten older, I am more of a mind that material things are less valuable to me than experiences. I’d like to think I’m not alone in that thought process. That meager 100 yards was meaningful to me. It took all the reading, research and effort I put into that AT walking program and made it a real, tangible thing. It’s a real place in this wide world of ours and not just something on the other end of a keyboard.

If you haven’t thought about your bucket list yet, I encourage you to do so. Not as some sort of race against the grim reaper to see how much you can get in before he comes knocking, but as a scorecard of sorts. To give anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to encounter a chance to be realized. Go somewhere and experience it, even if it is only 100 yards at a time.

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My AT journey doesn’t end here!

My trip to Springer Mountain is coming in Part II.

To be continued…

Researching your book when you don’t realize you’re researching your book.

Research can be a daunting task, no matter the subject. Whether it’s 16th century art or whitewater rafting or current political climate, every subject requires some knowledge and occasionally putting your boots on the ground to get dirty doing it. A couple years ago, an idea for a fantasy story came to me when I learned the lyrics to The Trees by Rush. (Songs can be a great source of inspiration by the way, but that’s a topic for another thread!) I jotted down some notes on the idea and filed them away for a future writing session.

The idea of being a life-long learner was instilled in me long ago. I was a terrible student in high school, so I attempt to make up for that in my adult years by taking more than a passive interest in all the things I find to be “cool”. Most recently, I enrolled in the Tennessee Naturalist program offered through our wonderful State Parks here. My intent was to learn a little more than I already do about my local natural surroundings, but there was another benefit I did not intend.

The most recent class I attended was on forestry and tree identification. The group met at the Fiery Gizzard trail head in Tracy City, Tennessee. It is a very popular hiking trail (evidenced by all the other hikers we encountered that morning) and has some beautiful scenery to take in. We met under the pavilion on the well-kept grounds of the small park and began our induction into forestry.

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We started our 2.2-mile tree identification trek here. I found it comical that “hazzards” is misspelled, but I don’t judge!

Our instructor for this class was a forestry professor from University of the South at Sewanee, a very knowledgeable guy that could name most every tree we passed with a quick glance. Over the entire hike, I really did learn a lot that I didn’t know. I came into this excursion with a good working knowledge of most trees and found some of the information to be gee-whiz nuggets I did not already possess. Then suddenly, we stopped to admire a very healthy stand of Reindeer Lichen and he said something that put me in book research mode.

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The gnarled and intertwined root systems you find on almost any forested trail in the United States.

While looking at the lichen, he asked us to look at our feet. We were standing on the trail in a large mass of twisted roots from several different species of trees that were exposed above ground. Years of hikers stepping on them had worn down the bark and left woody scars with every footfall. His next sentence was very profound. He said, “The best way we can diagnose the health and wellness of a forested area is not what is happening above the ground, but below it.” He said that recent research on some western forests in the U.S. have been able to prove that trees with these types of entangled root systems share the limited water and nutrient resources across species. He continued to tell us that younger trees are able to tap in to the older tree roots and help supplement their growth in the under canopy.

In Rush’s lyrics, The Trees tells a story through song of a short battle between the oaks and the maples for sunlight. On the surface, the lyrics seem to be giving a warning about some political strife. According to Rush’s drummer Neil Peart, he wrote the song after seeing a cartoon depicting trees acting like people with no particular message in mind other than he thought trees acting like people was interesting. Here’s the full lyrics of the song:

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas
The trouble with the maples
And they’re quite convinced they’re right
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade?
There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream ‘oppression!’
And the oaks, just shake their heads
So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
‘The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Now there’s no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw.

It wasn’t long into this hike that I realized it was serving a dual purpose for me. Becoming a State Naturalist is a passive goal I would like to accomplish, but becoming a published author is an active, passionate goal that I work on daily. I was startled at how easily the two goals meshed into one purpose with very little effort. There are many things we all do on a daily basis that can fire up your imagination. The difficulty sometimes comes in recognizing it.

Where my thoughts finally crystallized was a stop to see a small white oak, which wasn’t quite yet a sapling, growing under a shady canopy of two red maples. It was like the song says, but in reverse. The whole time I listened to the forestry professor talk about this research of trees sharing resources, I kept playing the song over and over in my head and thinking about my original story idea when I first heard the song. By the end of the hike, I had worked out a decent plot, and idea of a few beginnings, a solid ending, and even a few of the characters, all because of these amazing trees and what is now proven to be their natural behavior. It was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable (and productive) research session I’ve ever had!

I’ve included some other photos of the beautiful scenery that day below. Enjoy!

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Welcome to the home of LSR Books!

Thank you for visiting my page. I’m grateful you’re here. This blog is a large first step toward the realization of my lifelong goal to become a published author. That goal grows nearer by the day!

Here you’ll find several creative outlets I enjoy; writing, drawing, music, books, and the occasional rant. I have several stories outlined and at various stages of completion. I also post a ‘Sketch of the Day’ when I can sit down to draw, and an occasional glimpse into my favorite musical artists.

Below is a list of stories in-progress that you’ll find on this site. If you’d like to read more about them, click on the image or the cover within the heading to go to that page. Thanks again for stopping by. If you’d like to keep up with my antics, I’d be grateful if you’d follow me by entering your email at the bottom of this page. I’d also love to hear from you, so feel free to drop a comment or a message any time. For now, sit back and enjoy these previews of what goes on in my mind!


Debut Novel – Code Name: Augustine

My first book is planned to release in late spring of 2022, titled Code Name: Augustine. It’s a Revolutionary War-era historical-fiction adventure based on the true story of Sergeant Major John Champe and his attempt to capture the traitor Benedict Arnold.

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Currier and Ives publication of the escape of Sergeant Champe at the request of George Washington to retake Benedict Arnold from New York.

The idea first came to me when I read Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade. In it, he mentions a plot hatched by George Washington for a continental soldier to defect and get close to Arnold so he could capture and return him for trial. I was fascinated with the idea and astonished no one else had written anything about it. Over the last few years, I’ve been researching and writing on it, and am happy to announce it is almost ready for publication. This book is a labor of love and I cannot wait to share it with you.

Due in late Spring 2021!

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“What do you think would be my fate if my misguided countrymen were to take me prisoner?”
—Benedict Arnold, 1781

Reportedly asked to a captured captain from the Colonial Army, as quoted in The Picturesque Hudson (1915) by Clifton Johnson; the captain is said to have replied, “They would cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and the rest of you they would hang on a gibbet.”


Other stories in progress


The Man in Cell 41

This horror novel is set in the early 1960s, and tells the story of Dean Talbot and a family curse he cannot escape. Accused of a murder he’s not sure he committed and sentenced to prison on Alcatraz Island, Dean finds himself facing a supernatural foe he never dreamed could exist, and that he’s connected to it in an unimaginable way!

Click the cover to read more and see my self-produced book trailer.

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Cover art

Star Wars: Lifeboat – A Fan Fiction

Another labor of love. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd.

Set at the end of Return of the Jedi, Lifeboat tells the story of a group of Imperial survivors after the fall of the Empire. One carries a grudge, another carries a secret, and they all carry the scars of galactic civil war. They hurtle towards a destiny none of them could fathom aboard the deceased Emperor Palpatine’s shuttle; their life boat.

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Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part I

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part II

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part III

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part IV

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part V

Star Wars: Lifeboat – Part VI … coming soon!

As this is a work of Star Wars fan fiction, I do not own or claim any rights to this story as mine or my idea. No printed copies will ever exist, and is available for free to read on this website for entertainment purposes only. Click the links above to start the story.


H.A.M.R.s (working title)

In the year 2307, man-kind faces extinction at the iron hands of their own mechanical creation, until a divine savior comes to their rescue. Click the picture below for a full outline of the story.


Fear, Itself (working title)

Set during the early 17th century witch trials of colonial America, a young boy discovers a dark secret within his humble home, but can’t tell anyone about it without casting suspicion of witchcraft on his family. He would soon discover the secret isn’t such a secret after all, and his family’s lives are all in danger from an unimaginable evil!


The Crimson King

In a time of medieval plague and strife, an unlikely hero sets into motion a chain of events to resurrect the legendary Crimson King, a monarch of ancient myth prophesied to save the kingdom in her darkest hour. However, many in the realm do not desire the return of the king and race to stop the prophecy from being fulfilled. This fantasy thriller is based on the music and lyrics of the 60’s progressive-rock band, King Crimson.


The Book of the Damned (working title)

During the Black Plague of the 1300’s, a disgraced English Nobleman returns from a long exile with an ancient and magical book of alchemy to exact revenge on the man who exiled him, King Edward III. He discovers an unlikely ally in 12-year-old Alice, and that his mystical book can give him a supernatural army to carry out his plan.

Scottish Knight Sir Dannag McColl is trying to find his place among the hostile English nobles at Edward’s court. Disliked and mistrusted by them because of his father’s traitorous legacy, Sir Dannag accepts a task that no one else at court wants: to investigate reports of a sickness in the village of Weymouth believed to be caused by witchcraft. Accompanied by a disgraced court physician and an ale-brewing friar, the trio embark into a dark world of betrayal, revenge, and witchcraft that will push them to the limits of sanity.


Down to the Crossroads: The Legend of Robert Johnson

Legendary bluesman Robert Johnson is a musician wrapped in mystery. It is said that one night, after being run off from a juke joint, Johnson took his guitar to a south Mississippi crossroads and there met Lucifer, the devil himself. Legend says he traded his soul to become the greatest blues player in the world. The devil tuned and played a bit on his guitar, granting Johnson’s wish and the rest is history.

One of the two known photos of Robert Johnson. This portrait was taken by the Hooks Bros. Photography Company in Memphis, Tenn., circa 1935.

Being a blues fan myself, Johnson’s story is fascinating to me and I’ve always wanted to write about it. One day, an outline came to me out of the blue (pun intended) for a different take on the legend of the man many consider to be the godfather of rock-n-roll. I’m looking forward to penning this historical fiction piece about love, danger, betrayal, music and a little bit of the supernatural and I can’t wait to share it with you!


Dear Satan Claus: A Christmas Comedy

Every 1,000 years, God challenges Lucifer with some menial earthly task for the chance to redeem his fallen son. God hopes above all hope that if Lucifer would see it through to completion, that he will be welcome back to Heaven with open arms.

Since his fall at the dawn of time, Lucifer has yet to complete one of these tasks. He finds them boring and mundane, and he’s not really sure he wants to go back to Heaven. But this time, the Devil will be handed the most challenging task God has ever charged him with: working at the Post Office on Christmas.

Colleen Critchlow is about to lose her job. In her decade with the United States Postal Service, her dyslexia has led to countless sorting errors and undelivered packages. As a final chance to stay employed, Colleen is reassigned to the USPS Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia, formerly known as the “dead letter office”. On her first day, she is assigned to sort this year’s “Dear Santa” letters and finds a few with misspellings to “Dear Satan”. Her new co-worker, “Lucien”, is very interested in these particular letters…


Thank you for visiting my site, and I hope you’ll consider following me for email updates on new posts and releases when they happen. All the best!