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January 2007

From the new and quickly cluttered desk and office of Darrell Bain.

Note: Responses to subjects brought up by this newsletter are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.

Good News, New Orleans, The "Kids", The Village, Attitudes and more.

Good News
We just had the best of all possible news about Betty's condition. The thyroid tumor was removed (along with half her thyroid gland) and it proved to be non-cancerous. Needless to say, we are both overjoyed and we're very glad to be able to relax a little now after two months of worrying and uncertainty.

The kids were just wonderful with their help. I say "kids", but of course they're really middle aged. Anyway, we couldn't have gotten through this without them. I'm unable to drive to Houston and back, where she had her surgery, and can't do some of the housework where bending is involved, so we were very glad for the help.

Yesterday I took the drain out of Betty's incision. Nowadays, the patient's family has to do many things that in former times would be done by nurses in the hospital. Now one-day surgery is the norm, even for some major surgeries, then the patient is sent home with instructions on wound care. The idea is to hold down hospital costs, of course, but I shudder when I think of untrained people doing things they really shouldn't have to. At least I've had lots of experience in medicine and Betty is a nurse, so it was no big deal for us, but others...? I wonder how many wounds get infected and so forth from laypersons doing the treatments? Oh well, it's just the way things are now, so suppose I may as well accept them. But I still don't like the idea.

More Good News

Eppie Awards

EPPIE Finalist
Best Action/Adventure   
Mindwar

EPPIE Finalist
   Best Children/Young Adult
White Oddyssey

   

I was pleasantly surprised a few days ago to learn that two of my books are finalists for the Eppie Awards, the most prestigious award for E-books. White Odyssey is a finalist for the Young Adult category and Mindwar is a finalist in the Action/Adventure category. The winners will be announced next March at the EPIC Convention in Virginia Beach. It's always nice to have your writing ability recognized by your peers. Both are available in E-book editions at eReader.com and Fictionwise.com. White Odyssey is not yet out in print, but Mindwar can be purchased at the following url http://www.lulu.com/content/169608.

New Orleans
The week before Betty's surgery, we sneaked a three day trip to New Orleans into our itinerary. I'm to the point now that long drives aren't much fun, but I wanted to do this one, if for no other reason than to take Betty's mind off the impending surgery and possibly bad results.

New Orleans had changed since the last time we were there, of course, due to the Katrina hurricane and flooding. The thing we noticed the most was how few people were on the streets of the French Quarter. We stayed at a hotel right in the French Quarter so we wouldn't have to drive (or so Betty wouldn't have to drive, I should say). We almost had a divorce right in the car before ever finding the blasted place--and we had been there twice before! Somehow we took the wrong exit, wandered around on one way streets and alleys, almost drove into the Mississippi, did drive into a parking lot (and the nice attendant didn't even charge anything to let us out), and after finally finding our place, Betty almost got run over while I was inside with a mentally challenged clerk trying to check in. However, after finally getting us and our luggage up to the room we managed to relax and start speaking again.

We didn't do much the first evening. The drive had taken most of Betty's energy since she did most of it, and my back was pleading with me to lay down for a while. Eventually we went out and walked around for a while, had a drink, ate dinner and came back to the hotel and bed.

The next morning we ate breakfast at Brennon's, our usual routine. It is very expensive but very good, the best breakfast (or brunch) to be had in the city (we thought). Betty's son and his wife joined us that afternoon and we all went out to eat and walk around. I had a bad day with my back and had to limit my activities somewhat. We mostly shopped and people-watched, the thing we enjoy the most. The French Quarter is unique and satisfying if you like that kind of activity.

Each morning we started the day at Café de Monde with coffee or hot chocolate and benoits, their version of a donut. Basically, it's deep-fried dough covered with powdered sugar to a depth of an inch or so. I don't want to even think about the calories. In fact, neither of us worried about calories, diets, diabetes, triglycerides, blood pressure or any other thing concerning our bodies the whole time.

The next morning we had brunch at the Commander's Palace (more like breakfast). The food was without doubt, the best I have ever eaten anywhere. I had caramelized banana buttermilk pancakes, wild gulf shrimp salad and their famous bread pudding for dessert (the pancakes could just as well served as dessert they were so sweetly scrumptious). While eating we had a three piece jazz band wandering amongst the tables, playing good snappy music and also taking requests. We really liked that part of the morning. The music wasn't so loud as to be overwhelming and was very good. That afternoon we toured the WWII museum (and before you ask, no I'm not old enough to have served in that war! I barely remember it, I was so young). On the way back to the hotel (and I walked a good deal that day since my back was treating me kindly) we stopped at Harrah's casino and donated a little money to their coffers. We took the kids out to eat that night.

The next morning, we got up early and headed back home. We really didn't do anything out of the ordinary, but enjoyed the three days in New Orleans. The most common comment we heard was "We're coming back". And we could see that they were. Give it another year or two and it'll be almost back to normal. However, I have my doubts whether we'll ever be able to return, but one never knows. We might, if someone else does the driving.

Santa Claus
How many of you couples still play Santa Claus? Betty and I do. Every Christmas eve, after I've gone to bed, Santa comes and fills my stocking and leaves it and all my presents on my favorite chair. And when I get up in the morning before Betty, I am magically transformed into Santa Claus for a few minutes and fill her stocking and leave it and her presents on her favorite chair. It's bunches of fun and we wouldn't stop doing it for anything. Even us big kids have to be asleep before Santa comes to visit!

Changing Attitudes
Attitudes and beliefs certainly change as a person ages--or I should say they ought to change. That's how a person grows. Medicare can serve as a perfect example of how I changed--as well as most of the medical profession.

Way back in the early sixties, the big debate was over whether or not to allow a big new government program to get started: Medical care for the elderly, those over 65 years old. At the time I was against it, the medical profession was against it, and so was a good part of the rest of the country. It struck those of us who didn't want it as a giant step toward socialism, but remember, this was back at the height of the Cold War, the historic struggle of Communism vs Democracy, or so it was represented. I've changed my mind since then, needless to say--and I didn't wait until I was 65 to do it. All it took was a few years away from the military, where I had spent the years from age 17 to 30. Seeing people hurting or sick because they were unable to afford medical care and were old enough to want to enjoy a few years free from work got to me. Actually, it took more than that, but no need to go into it. The point is, attitudes should change with age and experience, hopefully. The sad thing is that so many people seem to be unable to change or use reason and experience to modify their attitudes. They spend all their life as children, in that respect.

Book Report
The last month while worrying about Betty, I didn't want to get into any new books where I had to concentrate, so I read some old books--and very long ones. First was Herman Wouk's two volume fictional history of WWII, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Wouk is a very good writer and he does his research. Every event in his novels is historically accurate. He does a wonderful job in showing how the Germans ran their slave labor and concentration camps. It's not for the weak-kneed to read those sections, though.

I also re-read another old friend, The Pillars of Earth by Ken Follett. It is a long fictional novel of building the great cathedrals back in 1100 A.D. and afterward. I particularly liked the attention to detail of everyday life of both the nobility and peasants in the book. I've read it several times.

Next, I went back to The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I like a good philosophical novel and this one certainly fits the bill. I first ran across it in the early sixties and have carried it around since.

I did read one new book, Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer, the first book in a series, when contact is made with an alternate earth where Neanderthals became the dominant species. It's a good read. A few months ago I wrote a short story dealing with Neanderthals and modern humans titled Neanderthal Nemesis. You can find it either as a short story or in the collection, Back From The Bend, both as ebooks at Fictionwise.com or eReader.com.

Crossroads in Korea by T.R. Fehrenbach is a history of the siege of Chipyong-Ni by this fine military historian. It details the incredible fight where a brigade of 4,000 men of our army defeated almost a hundred thousand Chinese in February of 1951. This battle actually changed the course of the war.

For a good suspense/lawyer/detective/mystery try Immoral Certainty by Robert K. Tanenbaum. I had only read it once a few years ago. It's really, really good.

I'm in the process of reading four other books that I'll report on next time. Some people think I'm weird because I can be reading several books at the same time, but I do that a lot, especially when I'm reading long books.

Progress Notes
My latest novel, Warp Point is now live at Fictionwise.com. Its theme is how a normal, middle aged couple handle the event of a giant, unmanned spaceship landing on their property, then turning control over solely to them. How they handle the enormous military, political and religious pressure in choosing a crew and taking the ship back through the warp point from whence it came makes up the body of the novel. I had fun with this one, all 90,000 words of it. It will be in print later on.

Also, I have another short collection out, A Steel Trap Mind and Other Vignettes at Fictionwise.com and eReader.com. These vignettes are mostly humor but one story does relate an uncanny experience that happened to Betty and I that falls into the realm of either ESP or astounding coincidence. It also has a very short story which explains why women get to choose the furniture in the house and a couple of other humorous stories.

My wife Betty continues her venture into the writing field with descriptions of two cities we visited in the past, Damascus and Bangkot. Damascus is at Fictionwise.com, along with her humorous piece, Cooking 101 For A Newlywed (which somehow wound up in the mainstream category at Fictionwise).

I haven't started anything new. I'm still sort of coming down from the anxiety and uncertainty of Betty's medical problem, but I'll probably get back to the grind soon. I can't just sit around and read all the time. Curious. I can remember bygone times when I thought being able to read all day, every day, would be the height of luxury. Now that I can if I wanted to, I realize that the mind stultifies when it's not active. I don't think you challenge your mind all that much with fiction; after a time, if reading fiction is all that all you're doing, it begins to pall.

Writing for Money vs Writing for Pleasure
Most writers like to be paid for their work, just like any other craftsman or craftswoman. However, most writers also just plain like to write, whether they get paid for it or not. Else why this newsletter? I write it and spend quite a bit of time with it every month and don't make any money from it, but it's something I like to do.

Up until last year, I was writing more for money than anything else, in order to supplement our Social Security income. I made enough at it to continue our normal life style after Betty and I were both retired. However, to earn that money I was working at a furious pace, taking too many pain pills because I wouldn't stop and take breaks, drinking too much coffee, not exercising, and so forth, and wound up in the hospital. Since then, the peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes has worsened and the Veteran's Administration has increased my pension enough so that I don't have to write nearly that much--or at all. But I still feel the urge.

These days, it's nice to be able to pace myself, take lots of breaks and not force a bunch of words onto paper (or into bytes). My income is down, but I'm lots healthier! And best of all, I can write whatever I feel like, while before I was concentrating on science fiction and suspense/thrillers because that's where the money was. Now I think I may return to humor for a while since I like doing it most of all (but I like writing science fiction and suspense, too, so I won't abandon them).

The Village
A number of years ago, one of Betty's friends gave her a little model Christmas tree lot as a Christmas gift since we were heavily involved with the Christmas tree farm at the time. I added another little model, then Betty bought a model with figurines ice skating by means of a magnetic insert. The six figures move around apparently at random, but never bump into each other or into the wall of the miniature rink. She made the ice skaters the centerpiece of what she and others began calling "The Village". Friends and families are continually adding more models to it and now erecting the Village has become an annual event. Right now it takes up about a third of the newly re-modeled office. If we live long enough we may have to move into a bigger house, just to have enough room for The Village!

The New Office
The remodeling is complete but I still haven't quite gotten my two desks into their usual cluttered condition. Until then I won't feel really comfortable while working.

This will do it for now. Thanks to you all for reading.

Darrell Bain
Shepherd, Texas
January 2007

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