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Thomas Sullivan: ZIGZAG

My skinny skis just won’t behave when spring crust skiing arrives, and so when they whiz and wheel across the glorious glides of 7 states, I find very few moments for the keyboard.  But I’ve been meaning to post a Sullygram (my monthly newsletter) as a column for some time now and just never got around to it.  The Sullygrams began some years ago in response to fans and friends and sort of evolved into inspirational/motivational raves about nature in particular and life in general that are now seen by thousands of readers around the world.  They usually include a dozen photos.  A sample is below, minus the photos (this blog has maxed out its space limit for photos), but if you would like to see them, feel free to write me at mn333mn@earthlink.net and ask to be added to the monthly mailing list.  Sullygrams W/photos are also archived at this link:  http://www.thomassullivanauthor.com/sullygrams.htm  But give me a day or so to get the newest photos up after you read the following:

Snow is the Mother Church for my Gospel of freedom and energy – which is why I chased it across 7 states last month.  It was literally a journey of fire and ice the first couple days, as I passed a burning farmhouse in Wyoming and survived an ice storm in the mountains of Utah.  But then I was back in Hailey, Heidi-ho (Idaho), drinking blackberry malts at the Snow Bunny, nestled among familiar places with cool names like The Wicked Spud.

Not so familiar the next day.  “You can’t get lost,” my dear friend and host Bruce Norvell assures me when we hit the mountains on skinny skis.  Oh, can’t I?  With hundreds of miles of enchanting Nordic ski trails, getting lost is kind of the point.  You can leave your car at the base of a mountain, hitchhike up 20K or more, then ski back down to where you parked.  So maybe we overdid it a little by parking UP a mountain, skiing down from the 14K marker to the end of our run and then turning back up the mountain.  Bruce tells me to take off at that point for a solo run, which I do.  But somehow I blow past the 14K between Prairie Creek and Cathedral Pines.  When the trail peters out, I keep climbing and wind up on snowmobile tracks.  Finally, realizing I missed the car, I take off my skis and try to shortcut back through deep drifts.  Soaked, exhausted, cold, dehydrated, thoroughly lost in falling snow and carrying skis and poles, I slog along a line I hope is dead reckoning.

Only it isn’t.

My buddy and his dog never come in sight.  So now I’m thinking something happened to him.  Never mind that it’s me who’s gotten himself in trouble, the conviction grows in my paper thin skull that Bruce, who skis this stuff alone practically every day, is lying with a broken leg in some snowbank.  I’m like Don Quixote, and every story I’ve ever read or written about dying of exposure in the Yukon or on Mount Everest is coming back to me.  An adrenaline surge spikes my blood because this is really happening!  And how am I going to rescue my lifelong buddy when I’m shaking with fatigue and so out of calories I can’t find the road, let alone the trail?  I try calling, but my voice is just a frozen warble in my throat.  Hoping to pick up tracks, I begin zigzagging across the tundra.  Zigzag.  Bruce’s dog is Ziggy, and maybe it is that similarity between name and description which finally brings Zig the Wonder Dog and then Bruce hisself in sight, totally unscathed.  Too easy to get lost, too easy to get in trouble, too easy to imagine the worst, and I did all three.  But all’s well that ends well.  And it really ended well an hour or so later when I got another Snow Bunny blackberry malt through an IV.  Or maybe it was through a straw.

The great adventures from ensuing days defy capturing.  And how do you describe après adventure stuff like scintillating conversations about everything under the sun, or Bruce lighting a stove fire with a blowtorch as we kick back at his horse ranch for a Roku documentary on the fabulous Goran Kropp’s odyssey or the flick “Blue Jasmine,” or Sully cooking pecan chicken with clementines, or dinner at Dashi’s followed by dancing at the Duchin room in the lodge at Sun Valley where Bruce and friend Janice lit up the dance floor with world-class sashays, spins, dips and patented moves worthy of primetime, or the hikes and drives?  You had to be there.

Hopefully the few pictures at the end of this email will sharpen the focus: #1 just another mundane miracle of nature; #2 Bruce at Galena Lodge; #3 bulletproof rugged scarps like this surround you in the mountains; #4 not so bulletproof are these “natural” reminders that avalanches can start whenever you get near vertical snow; #5 me at the start of Gladiator Loop; #6 another dynamic thrust of mountains you won’t see me trying to ski; #7 starting a snowball fight with Bruce to work up an appetite for breakfast; #8 Walt Disneyesque scenery like this is my favorite part of winter; #9 a slightly more friendly snow slope; #10 Bruce and Janice dancing at the Duchin room in Sun Valley Lodge (had a great conversation with Joe Fos, a consummate pianist who studied at Juilliard and whose trio entertained us all night); #11 moi just as the snow starts to fly on a trail called Psycho Adventure; #12 another establishing shot for the day’s perspective in either the Sawtooth or Pioneer Mountains (don’t bother me with names – I just skinny ski ‘em).

And if you’d like to feel what it’s like more vividly, here’s a short stormskiing vid I posted on YouTube.  Watch this magnificent setting on a big screen with the volume up full.  You can hear the ice pellets pinging on the camera lens, and you will almost ski into a creek – hard to tell but the tail of one ski is over unsupported snow!  Wish I’d gotten the whole run, which was quite long, on video.  In fact, I was singing another great buddy’s hit – soul bro Glenn Frey’s “The Long Run” – to myself on the way down.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K729kS02TNI&feature=youtu.be

Nature kick-starts those pathetically scarce elements in my soul that have the power to redeem me.  And sometimes that’s all you need.  As I wrote in Facebook recently, hope already achieves its ends just by being hope.  And if you can get that far, you are only a little courage and a little imagination away from making dreams into realities.  Hope your dreams are becoming your reality.  My mailbox overflows with laments from people who feel life is passing them by, but virtually all of them are complicit with their own imprisonment.  Keeping faith with life’s contradictions, façades and disappointments shouldn’t keep you from finding yourself in inner sanctums, private sanctuaries and daily moments where magic still lives and you can be true to yourself.  As in my recent adventure recounted above, sometimes you have to zigzag through the storm in order to survive and find what you seek.

[Again, if you’d like to receive Sullygrams W/photos, feel free to write me at mn333mn@earthlink.net and ask to be added to the monthly mailing list.]

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:

http://www.thomassullivanauthor.com

http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1219261326

Then and now

I belonged to the Carl Sagan F1 generation. I saw the original “Cosmos” series, when first aired, at first sitting.

I was never quite the same again.

Decades later the theme music from the show still makes me come up in goose bumps. I own the book of the show, all the dreams and facts and pretty pictures, all the wonder of the universe. I see an image of Carl Sagan’s smile – that smile that somehow said, hey, kid, we’re all in this together – or I hear some snippet of an old interview, and I am young again, and the sense of wonder rises about me like a fabulous landscape which still belongs to me and I can lift my eyes to the Milky Way galaxy splashed across the night sky.

I saw the Milky Way in its glory back when I was at University, roughly at the same vintage as the original series aired, out in the trackless wastes of the Karoo, in South Africa’s Cape Province. It’s endless semi-desert, arid scrubland where you could drive for hours on an empty road and not see another soul, and where night comes hard and heavy and black and the stars are close enough to cut your hand on if you reach up to touch the sky. I have never forgotten that glimpse of eternity, it haunts me to this day.

Many decades later, when I had the opportunity of attending the Launch Pad astronomy workshop for writers in Laramie, Wyoming, and seeing the Milky Way rise again across an empty dark sky undimmed by bright city lights, I broke down and cried. For the joy, for the wonder, for the stars.

I came to that original “Cosmos” with the heart of a child, a huge sense of awe and of utter blind wonder that struck me as I learned all the amazing things that the universe was scattering before me. That Sagan “Cosmos” left me included, warm, whole, tucked into bed with the planets and the moons and the stars, their equal, their child, their friend.

I waited for the reincarnation of “Cosmos” with mixed feelings; there are some things that might not lend themselves to re-creation. But then again, how much MORE wondrous could things be now, with all the technical CGI widgets which could e used to make the universe come to life, with all the data that has flowed down from things like Hubble or the Mars Rovers in the intervening years. An entirely new generation  could have a chance to dream like I had dreamed once upon a time and to wish upon a star, or upon thousands of them. To own that glorious night sky. To believe, like I once believed, that we are all one, the Sun and I and Alpha Centauri and all those worlds we haven’t even discovered yet.

Maybe the weight was too much. I find myself detached from this version of “Cosmos”. Neil Degrasse Tyson never quite manages to ignite that sense of wonder that Sagan did so effortlessly.

I honestly couldn’t tell you any more if the original series indulged in animation or not, but if it did I have (perhaps thankfully) forgotten it. But the animations in the current version diminish it, bring it down to the level of those Disney True Adventures episodes from the fifties and sixties that treated viewers as children incapable of really understanding the wonders being shown them.

With Sagan, I was flying at his side, an acolyte to be sure but one whose childlike wonder could be shaped and forged into something else, something different, something greater. With Tyson, I feel like an undergrad shifting uncomfortably on a hard seat in an old-fashioned University lecture hall while a  very personable, intelligent and engaging lecturer  pats me paternalistically on the head and  tells me to pay attention because there will be a pop quiz at the end of the lecture.

So – maybe you just can’t go home again. And maybe this new generation will just have to deal with acquiring its own sense of wonder, wherever it can find it.

I’m awfully glad I got to grow up with the first “Cosmos”, the one which relied on the wondrous nature of its subject matter, and an uncanny ability of one man to make  me feel such an indivisible part of everything that ever was or will be, to make my heart beat faster and to make me strain my ears for the distant music of the stars.

And to today’s young minds, the ones who might one day get to swim in the deeper waters of that cosmic ocean which we are just learning to paddle in right now – I hope you do find the sense of wonder. I hope that on some dark night you will lift your eyes to where your galaxy beckons with its spill of stars, and, just like me once upon a time, that the sight of it will make you cry. There is no greater gift that I can imagine giving you than those tears.

 

FORENSICS SU 175: MASS SPECTROMETERS

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.

******

Fans of the forensic investigation dramas on television have probably noticed various instruments used in crime laboratories to analyze evidence. One has likely been used to identify constituents of various substances and is known as a mass spectrometer. Such instruments appear to be quite complicated, but their ability to perform their duty basically hinges on the simple fact that electrically charged particles moving through a magnetic field are forced into a curved path. Measuring the radius of the curvature provides information used to identify the constituents, and that is basically what the instrument does to earn its cost.

Readers who have had the good fortune to have had classes in physical sciences might recall that molecules are formed of two or more atoms. Classical physics describes most atoms as comprising nuclei containing positively charged protons and neutral neutrons. Negatively charged electrons dwell outside the nucleus. According to classical physics, electrons live in orbits and revolve around the nucleus much like planets circling a star. Quantum theory paints a different picture of electron actions that is more complex. If enough readers wish to tread on the probabilistic terrain of quantum theory, I might consider exploring it. (I don’t see any hands going up, so I will put that subject aside.)

Readers might also recall that, in addition to electrically charged particles, there are such things as electric and magnetic fields. An electric field may be thought of as being the force created per unit of electric charge. A magnetic field may be thought of in terms of a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The fields might also be thought of as the source of action at a distance.

A first step of a basic procedure followed when using a mass spectrometer to identify a substance is to vaporize a sample of it. The vaporized sample is then typically ionized by removing electrons from atoms and/or fragmenting molecules, leaving particles that are positively or negatively charged. A stream of ions are then accelerated by passing the stream through an electric field. The ions are accelerated by the field to a speed where the kinetic energies of all ions are equal. The stream of ions is then directed through a magnetic field, which causes the path of each ion to curve. The ions end their curved journeys when they strike various points on a detector. Where each ion strikes is a function of its mass and energy.

The position of each strike reveals the radius of curvature of each associated ions’ paths. From these values, the energies and masses of the ions can be calculated. A graphic plot of these values would typically display their characteristics as vertical blips of different heights. The patterns of these plots can be compared with previously recorded patterns in a database to identify substances and their constituents.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

For those readers long out of school: molecules are formed of two or more atoms. Classical physics describes most atoms as comprising nuclei containing positively charged protons and neutral neutrons. Negatively charged electrons dwell outside the nucleus. According to classical physics, electrons live in orbits and revolve around the nucleus much like planets circling a star. Quantum theory paints a different picture that is more complex. If enough readers wish to tread on that probabilistic terrain, I might consider exploring it. (I don’t see any hands going up, so I will put that subject aside.)
Ions are atoms or molecules having more or less electrons than protons, which make them negatively or positively charged, respectively.

An isotope is a form of an element that differs from a form of the same element having the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons. Although they have different atomic masses, isotopes of the same elements share the same chemical properties.

The hydrogen isotope, deuterium (also known as heavy hydrogen) has a neutron in its nucleus and tritium has two. Deuterium and oxygen combine to form heavy water, which is used in nuclear power reactors.

Thomas Sullivan: CABIN FEVER QUESTIONS

The Q&A’s used here borrow a lot from Sullygram correspondence – my monthly newsletter.  Sullygrams are basically an inspirational/philosophical email W/photos that you can get free just by request at mn333mn@earthlink.net .  Read by thousands of people around the world, interesting threads develop into a backlog of questions, some of which I include here.  Feel free to email me on any topic you like.  Writing and creativity can go in any direction, and they have over the years from the technical to the personal.  I think cabin fever added to the total this month – at least from the northern hemisphere.

Q [Sioux Falls, SD]: Who is your favorite female author?

A: Lots of excellent ones out there, but I’ve never read anything by Annie E. Proulx that didn’t impress me.

Q: [Beaverton, OR] Since you spend so much time exercising outdoors I’m wondering what you thought of the Winter Olympics?

A: Not sure what specifically you might be asking, so I’ll go for the most general thing that attracts me.  I deeply respect people who reach uncompromisingly for human perfection.  It really doesn’t matter to me how good they are or what they actually achieve.  It’s the attitude in the effort that matters – the spirit, the honesty, the pure courage to dream and hope and risk, because what is the great gift of life without that?  Olympic caliber athletes are people who already know that the only mistake or failure in life is to cower in conformity or fear of failure.  They trust their hearts, pursue their passions to the max, and their judgments are their own.  Nothing trumps their will to live, and there is no separation between what they think and what they do.  This is sheer reverence to whatever they believe created them.  So, I guess you could say that watching the Winter Olympics was a religious experience for me.

Q [Bethany, OK]: You wrote that you usually try to catch 3 TV shows.  Which ones?

A: “Nashville,” “Elementary” and “The Good Wife.”  Great character arcs in all three.  When my lad, The Boy, comes over for a home-cooked meal, he brings DVDs along.  I always try to entice him into an outdoor activity, but – alas – with no better success than I had when he was growing up and he and the rest of the family were anchored in front of the television.  Thus, we have also seen two seasons of “Game of Thrones” on DVD and are into the PBS Sherlock Holmes.

Q [Middleton, WI]: I finally got up the nerve to write you my own painful history after what you said about sanctuaries and I’d like to know how you think that settles anything?  For mostly practical reasons I stayed in a long-term loveless relationship at the same time I loved someone else.  I still don’t know whether it was the right decision but feeling constantly divided took its toll. 

A: If you still don’t know, then you made the right decision.  Wouldn’t periodic regrets have become certainties by now if you chose wrong?  And if your heart was in it enough to make it work, would a decision have been necessary in the first place?  Sounds like you were in a dead heat (no pun intended).  And if one man has your mind and another has the rest of you, alas, anatomical connections dictate that the heart stays with the corpus delecti (even if imprisoned behind the bars of a rib cage).  I think sanctuaries only work for people who are trapped in appearances and truly have no way out; not for people who have split feelings.  Love is usually self-proving.  But there are circumstances where a sanctuary is the only way to escape a life of quiet desperation or to be who you really are.

Q [Aarhus, dk]: Do you think I should work on improving my English in order to write novels?  Here in Denmark the market is so small.

A: It was a revelation to me the first time I received a question like yours.  English-only writers take so much for granted about the marketplace.  On the other hand, because there is intense competition and such a glut in the English speaking market, I almost think that in your case it would be easier to make your reputation first in smaller markets with an eye toward translations.  There are cultural niche opportunities in English-speaking countries like the US.  Multiculturalism and political correctness have created both an appetite and a need for translations.  And, who knows, with the current push for de-unifying the single official language in the US, a mono-lingual America may be a thing of the past relatively soon.  For the record – if you’ll permit my digression – that seems little short of insanity to me.  A unifying language has been a cardinal advantage in countless ways to this country.  It is beyond me why we would want to Balkanize ourselves out of political correctness when clearly multiple languages are the bane of many nations who suffer ethnic strife, polarization, and bloody language riots.  Call it the Tower of Babel syndrome.  In fact, I once wrote a satirical piece titled “Money Talks” that purported to overcome the world’s language barriers by only paying workers in the currency of the language they spoke but with the same numerical quantity.  E.g. 100 pesos = 100 dollars = 100 rubles = 100 drachmas etc. for purposes of paydays (I think Euros were only paid to polyglot workers).  The point of my little parody was just a fun way of motivating partisan separatists to share a single beneficial language.  So much for fiction.  The trend is the other way, however, so maybe building your legacy in your most fluid language is the way to go.  That said, only you can measure the trade-offs between your multilingual skills, your target audience, and where you want to market.  I would add that a bestseller reputation in a smaller country can certainly attract attention in foreign markets.

Q [?, VT]: You are very cagey sometimes, Mr. Sully, and I’m not interested in you (I’m happily married) but I’m still curious about your relationship status.

A:  My relationship commitments are a zero sum game.  Outgoing commitments exactly equal incoming commitments.  But those are practical considerations apart from romantic ideals.  :-)

Q: [Dayton, OH] I was just wondering what you thought of the movie version of Winter’s Tale after what you wrote on Facebook.

A: Actually, I wrote a short review about it on FB after the preview I posted.  Here ‘tis:  Have to say, about 70% of Winter’s Tale never made it to the screen. And of the 30% that did, about 50% of that was changed. That said, taken on its own terms, the movie had its magic moments, beautiful and arresting. Part of that enchantment is the fact that neither the book nor the movie made much sense and it didn’t matter. As the person I went with noted, you just go with the powerful moments.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:

http://www.thomassullivanauthor.com

http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1219261326

THOSE WHO KNOW, BUT DON’T KNOW THEY KNOW

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.

******

Scene 1
I first noticed an odd phenomenon after having played a guitar for several years during my teens. My folks had given me an acoustic guitar for my birthday, and I bought a pickup for it. I didn’t have an amplifier, but made do by installing a jack in a small radio to receive a cable connected to the pickup. During summer vacations, I would spend hours playing along with country-western music on the radio.

Scene 2
My playing ended when my guitar was stolen, and my time was spent on other activities. A decade or so later, I was at a friend’s house. There was a piano and a guitar in the living room. One evening, my friend played the piano. I picked up the guitar, but was disappointed to discover that I couldn’t remember how to play anything. I held the guitar anyway and was amazed to watch my fingers actually playing pieces I could not remember. It was like watching someone else play, and it gave me rather an eery feeling.

Scene 3

In a sparsely furnished, basement room, great attention was being paid to a man’s fingernails. The room was referred to as the “nail salon.” but the services performed there did not improve the appearance of anyone’s nails—nor were they intended to do so. The man voiced his displeasure with the service, but his protestations were ignored. Each was followed by a similar question that had something to do with a code the “manicurist” was quite interested in obtaining. The man eventually realized that the only way to end his increasingly unbearable pain was to reveal the code, and he did so.

There is a relationship between the foregoing bit of personal history, the description of the fingernail torment and the subject of this essay. The following reveal it.

The ability to play a musical instrument, to use a typewriter, to ride a bicycle and even to apply an algorithm while operating a Rubik’s Cube are examples of the results of what is known as motor learning or, simply, muscle memory. As the names imply, it involves melding certain movements into one’s memory so that the movements can be performed without requiring conscious attention. Such movements are commonly learned by practicing them. Surprisingly, however, they can be learned by merely observing them. Come to think of it, I unconsciously learned quite a bit about riding horses by, as a child, watching characters riding in cowboy movies.

Getting important and secret information from one location to another without it ending up in prying hands has been a problem faced by many, especially those dealing with military secrets. Specific motion patterns learned by a courier without his or her conscious knowledge of the learned pattern can be used to pass secret information such as the key to a code without fear of the key being extracted by enemy manicurists. Also, restricted areas can be made relatively quickly accessible to cleared persons who have unconsciously learned a pattern of motion representing a key allowing access.

To visualize a system using the features of muscle memory, imagine a two-dimensional illustration of a polygon such as a regular hexagon imprinted on a touch-sensitive panel. In addition to six corners, and six straight lines defining its perimeter, imagine that the illustration also has a straight line extending internally from each corner to each of the other five corners, amounting to a total of 30 lines. If anyone would like to make a quick sketch of the enhanced polygon, we can pause here for a moment….

To continue, let each corner represent a number, letter, word, phrase or the like, and let each straight line represent the motion of a finger being moved along the touch-sensitive panel, the finger being moved by a person desiring access to the restricted area. A specific sequence of motions—each made only once—and an exclusion of repeating numbers, letters, etc. can be required to establish the identity of the person seeking access. The required motions can be buried within a number of additional motions to increase the security of a significant pattern.

Reportedly, to secure a message, some have gone to extremes such as marking messages and formulas on the shaved heads of couriers. Such secrets were to be hidden by regrown hair and revealed by a subsequent shave. Anyone actually using this method must not have been in any hurry at all to communicate.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Whether or not human brains are genetically prewired has been a subject long debated. Some evidence has been found that indicates we have at least some motor memory genetically prewired. Examples include facial expressions, thought to have been learned, but observed in blind children.

United States security clearance classifications include three basic levels that dictate who has access to certain information. In order of the importance of confidentiality, these are: CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET and TOP SECRET. Subclassifications abound.

Thomas Sullivan: SOULMATE READERS

Psssst!  Personal question here (I’ll whisper).  Remember the first time you told a lie – the first fiction?  Probably didn’t earn you a spellbound audience, unless it was because they were amused on account of you were so young.  But it sounded good enough to you.  Plausible and all.  Probably you got better at it, even if your fictions were still transparently self-serving.  Maybe you even got a little tipsy with your own elaborations.  And if you had a knack for stringing adjectives together – the verbal gene – by the time you were a teenager you got stinking drunk on the mushroom cloud of words you could detonate.  Every listener became a Ground Zero.  You loved to kill your audiences with the radiation of your imagination.  Loved to leave them glowing.  And the glow was purple, as in purple prose.  Thus, writers are born.

So, through watching the effects of your words, you went from what purely satisfied you to what you could see also satisfied your listeners.  A writer grows in the same way.  At the beginner level a writer inescapably writes for self.  What else do they have to go on except their innate taste?  But as they gain experience they may chase the reader, inclining more and more to write for popularity (who doesn’t want fame and fortune).  All well and good.  Learning how to communicate is the very essence of wordcraft.  Learning what to communicate is the essence of relevancy in the marketplace.  But there are limits beyond which one ceases to be relevant to oneself.  A writer who is driven to commercialism for commercialism’s sake has become a hack.

I use the term “hack” without disdain.  Quit your day job, sit down at night with a spouse, four hungry children, a mortgage, car payments and a Bouvier with a dog dish the size of a bathroom sink and you may see nothing wrong with making a little money writing Lucile and the Flaming Barbarian or The Vampire Spleen Meets Honey Boo-Boo.  People want shoelaces and someone makes them.  Why shouldn’t someone write words others want to read?

But, of course, cranking out a product solely to someone else’s specs can become terminally limiting whether it’s shoelaces or words.  A writer who is growing in concrete knowledge and insight into the world, as well as expression, is likely to want the same reflected in their craft.  That’s implicit to the idea of creativity, isn’t it?  So, the preferred outcome in a career is to find your own voice, your own themes, and still have the reader chase you as much as possible.  But how do you have your cake and eat it too?

It’s a delicate balance of finding common ground in the dynamic relationship between you and your fans.  Just like that child outgrowing personal consciousness over time and with experience, a writer typically gains insights into what works with different readers, as well as how and why that is.  You come to know your own level, and those who match up with that are your target.

It’s like an intimate relationship.  You want a soulmate who can appreciate all that you are, whose eye for beauty and meaning goes to the bedrock of everything in you.  You want to find inspiration in them.  You want to feel motivated to show your stuff.  If you settle for someone who knows only the reduced or undeveloped you, you are constantly shrinking to fit their limitations.  Arrested development follows.  Boredom.  Not all that different for the writer who becomes stagnant.  Cultivating an audience is a work in progress.  You grow together.  Refining your work will refine your audience, losing some readers but gaining others.  And you will treasure that reader who gets it all, who has the eye for the totality of what you can do: A Soulmate Reader.

Which leads us to a paradox.  Just as that beginning writer wrote for his or herself, the fully developed writer also writes for self.  But it is now in an entirely different way.  Because the writer is different.  The writer has gone through a process of incorporating a readership compatible with their full voice.  Has learned to use the reader to grow, as in a soulmate relationship.  As you might imagine, it does not come without cost.  Popularity can be the antithesis of freedom.  The perfect balance may end up being something to visit – an ideal alongside other kinds of writing.  But that’s why there are pseudonyms.  Having more than one identity can provide a sanctuary that few writers find.  But then, few soulmates do either.

Speaking of cultivating an audience, a very nice thing is happening with one of my novels as I write this.  In order to gain exposure from those not familiar with me, the e-book edition of my novel DUST OF EDEN is being offered to more than 2 million readers at www.bookbub.com for only $.99.  They’ve put it in their Horror category, though it could just as easily fit under several others, so I’m hoping for broad exposure to new fans.  I pretty much defy categorizing, but if sales continue surging across the board as they are (#3 on Amazon, #2 on Barnes & Noble briefly a week ago), I’m reasonably certain I’ll be releasing CASE WHITE in the months to follow.  The $.99 deal is going to be picked up by http://www.bookblast.co/deals.php and other sites running at different times, but the price should remain steady from now to February 18 at Amazon (KINDLE) – http://www.amazon.com/Dust-of-Eden-ebook/dp/B008MQW9Z8/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_i – and at Barnes & Noble (NOOK) – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dust-of-eden-thomas-sullivan/1006198562?ean=2940014953320&format=nook-book .

Here is a brief critique by noted reviewer Tony Tremblay:

“Dust of Eden is a fantastic read. It gives readers chills from the first chapter right up until its last page. Sully’s characterization of all the major players is spot on, you will have no trouble getting into these people’s heads, feeling their fears and understanding their doubts. The author has penned Dust of Eden without resorting to tired clichés or tropes; the plot reads fresh and original. And the binder that holds all of this together? Sully’s writing…it is simply superb.

“If you enjoy intelligent horror and speculative fiction, I can’t recommend, Thomas Sullivan’s, Dust of Eden, enough. The novel is not a quick read, so give yourself a little bit more time with it than you would usually give horror tomes. Dust of Eden is meant to provoke thought while it entertains, and the author gives us plenty to think about.”

And a Valentine thanks to all who have downloaded already.  Enjoy, don’t sneeze in the breeze, and I’ll see you next month…

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:

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FORENSICS 173: CLICKING YOURSELF

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.

The following few paragraphs are included for the purpose of illustration and describe something that has likely happened or is likely to happen.

******

The parking lot that served employees of a number of nearby companies was full of cars, but devoid of employees, who were all at their work stations. While they were doing their jobs, Faren was busy in the back row of cars parked in the lot doing his. It was a cold, breezy day in a large, northwestern city, and Faren was wearing gloves and a bulky, dark-green coat with a raised hood. With practiced skill, he exchanged the license plates of a parked car with those of a van he had stolen earlier and driven to the lot. The owner of the parked car would be unlikely to notice the change in plate characters for some time, and anyone looking for the stolen van would be looking for a van with the plates now on the parked car. Had anyone chanced to notice Faren working on the cars, they would not have been able to describe his face because it would have been substantially obscured by the hood.

For some time, Faren had been following news articles about a woman named Mary, whose name occurred frequently in the society section of a local newspaper. From the articles, he had learned that her husband was the owner of a successful business. The large, country home they lived in and the vehicles they drove supported Feron’s assumption that the couple was relatively wealthy. By observing their house, Feren also learned that Mary jogged early every evening along a nearby road that was rarely used. During a Tuesday run, she came upon the van Faren had stolen. He had positioned it along the side of the road and, after raising its hood, pretended to be doing something to its engine.

Mary stopped near the van, and Faren explained that his van had stalled and would not start. When she came closer, he grabbed her, wrestled her into the van and secured her with clothesline and tape so that she could not move, see or call for help. He then drove for almost an hour to a small, secluded, summer house and pulled the van into an attached garage. After freeing her legs, he walked her into a windowless, basement room. Once there, he removed the remaining rope and tape. There wasn’t much for her to see. The room contained a small table, a chair, a lamp, a cot, sanitary facilities and a thick entrance door with a strong lock. Atop the table were a few books and magazines.

Faren told Mary that she would be held in the room for only a few days but would not be harmed in any way. He explained that he would be holding her just long enough to collect ransom money from her husband. He left her for a while, but soon returned with food for her supper. He also brought a tripod upon which he had mounted an expensive-looking camera having a remote shutter release that would prevent any of his movements being transmitted to it, blurring the resulting picture. He wanted the picture he was to take showing her face to be as clear as possible so that it would leave no doubt that the image it displayed was indeed that of Mary. As proof of life, he had her hold a newspaper so that its headline and date would be included in the picture.

Faren ultimately placed the resulting picture inside an envelope with a note demanding a ransom for Mary’s release and providing instructions for its payment. The envelope was addressed to her husband, and Faren drove well into a neighboring city to mail it. He had been careful not to leave any fingerprints on the picture, note or envelope. He returned from the city in time to provide Mary with lunch.

Upon receiving the ransom note, Mary’s husband immediately contacted a long-time friend who was a detective in the city’s police department. Police laboratory personnel quickly determined that the picture, note and envelope bore no useful fingerprints or material containing contact DNA. Nevertheless, the picture of himself that he sent to Mary’s husband, when compared by a computer with pictures in a law enforcement file of criminals’ pictures, was sufficient to identify Faren. That information led to his capture and prosecution.

Now, wait a minute. The picture Faren sent to Mary’s husband was of Mary. He certainly would not have included a picture of himself.

Actually, however, he had.

A human eye is capable of reflecting images like a mirror. The resolution of some modern cameras is such that, by magnifying and tweaking the contrast of a person’s tiny, reflected image in a picture, it can be enhanced sufficiently to be identified. This seems to be amazing because the ratio of the size of an average person’s face to that of an eye-reflected image of it is reportedly some 30,000 to one.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Full facial images of a person naturally provide the best images, but images taken from angles up to about twenty degrees can be useful for identification purposes.

The resolution of a photoraphic image is generally defined as being a measure of captured detail.

Thomas Sullivan: FROM KNIGHTS IN ARMOR TO NIGHTS IN AMOUR

Look the other way, please, while I smuggle some questions/topics in from my newsletter.  These mostly came in response to Sullygrams, but I can handle them better here in the Q&A format for StorytellersUnplugged.  Nothing grows faster than unanswered questions.  Especially since yours have evolved into a richly textured correspondence I value as both author and a student of life.  As usual, I’ve tried to select the most UNusual ones across the range of your interests from writing to relationships to philosophical stuff and trivia.

Q [Parma, OH]: Getting published seems hopeless.  If you aren’t politically correct, extremely liberal, or somehow dysfunctional you don’t have a chance.  Speaking not just for myself, I know a lot of really good writers who are in the same boat and yet there is so much crap on the market…

A: It is not hopeless.  And in a way it’s easier than ever – this is, after all, the Internet age.  But becoming legitimized to a broad audience is certainly much harder now.  And it was plenty difficult enough when the gatekeepers all lived in New York.  In some ways it has always been a closed shop where you either preached to a given choir that had a filtered point of view, or you were relegated to tokenism of some sort representing a different cultural, religious, political etc. identity.  If your point is that publishing today is agenda-driven and permeated with messages, again I think it’s only a matter of increased degree from the way it always was.  I agree that the arts and genres seem to have become colonies, specialized and sometimes narrowly extreme – villages in the process of creating their own idiots.  Perhaps the complexity of the modern age with its vast fast-changing dissemination of information makes polarization and fragmentation inevitable.  In any case, I don’t think you can escape it.  Blessed is the one who fits an existing blueprint or agenda.  You can join the trends, of course.  What are your priorities?  If you don’t want to channel whatever you feel is distinctive, unique or creative about yourself into the existing templates, you can at least create your legacy and put it online…

Q [?, NJ]: What are the most books you’ve ever signed?

A: “Novel” question.  I’ve signed upwards of 750 for special editions, but I think you mean in something like a single bookstore sitting or speaking engagement.  Not too impressive there.  I’ve moved somewhere between 50-100 hardcovers a few times (which sold out the store stock).  Done lots worse, though.  Whether you know this or not, bookstore autographing sessions are usually pretty modest – unless maybe you have something like a million mega-seller going called 50 SHADES OF CHARTREUSE.  But even then, you might be surprised how slow that can be.  I actually sat with Elmore “Dutch” Leonard (over 20 big movies including “Get Shorty”) one night when he didn’t sell any and I sold just two.

Q [Prior Lake, MN]: Your answer about a woman marrying a handyman, a poet, a philosopher king, or all three was interesting.  Which one are you?

A:  BAD HANDYMAN – last week I positioned a head cam to film skiing at night and ended up with a 48-minute video of my nose blinking on and off with the red light on the camera.

BAD POET – “Hickory, dickory, dock/the mouse ran up the clock/the clock struck one…and the rest got away with minor injuries.”

BAD PHILOSOPHER KING – If you find yourself dying in an elevator, “for heaven’s sake” push the up button.  Get it?  …never mind.

So, 0 for 3.  I do take credit, however, for not inflicting myself on any woman by committing marriage.

Q [City of Tacloban?, Philippines]: How do you make characters likable and interesting?

A: Lots of approaches to this, but for me it very often boils down to passion.  As in real life, characters that are incapable of real passion or of having passion instilled in them are pretty much nil sets – uninteresting and barely breathing.  You don’t have to be attracted to your characters in order to make them useful, though.  E.g. I don’t much warm to characters who allow their passion to be smothered by pride or fear or guilt, but I use them as a sort of life-by-omission representation.  What better way to show that failing?  Learning how to use characters – even uninteresting ones – can make them…well, interesting.

Q [New Ulm, MN]: What have you got against TV?

A:  Nothing.  As long as it doesn’t keep me from living.  If there was a faster way to watch TV – like speed reading – I’d probably do it.  And there are three shows I do try to catch, providing I can multitask while they air.  That said, if what people do on TV was always more interesting than my life, I’d know that I wasn’t living an interesting enough life. …  Recently posted this on FB: “I used to kid with my kid (Shane aka The Lad or The Boy Child) that I’d actually sit down in front of a TV to watch certain things.  So when he asked what ‘certain things,’ I glibly replied, ‘A compilation of knights all suited up for battle and, on the terrifying approach of the enemy, suddenly having to go to the bathroom.’  Would you believe, Hollywood has put this in the can – so to speak?  This must be why knights had squires – medieval version of orderlies.”

Q [Bridgeport, CT]: You have some interesting takes on relationships, but to me it’s pretty simple.  When a woman loses her looks her marriage grows cold.  Why are men so superficial?

A: What is beautiful?  So many women feel bad about themselves – especially how they look – but maybe a lot of that is needless.  Speaking as a male I can tell you that what registers with the right spouse – what bonds you and locks in your image – isn’t his daily assessment of your physical allure.  It’s his knowledge that you chose him to give it to.  Doesn’t matter what your superficial marketplace value once was.  Whatever your range of choices among men at that stage of your life, you passed them up and made him your soulmate – sole mate.  That decision never ages.  It was the gift of the total you and, yes, of your physical prime, or at least the maximum prime at the time you met.  Having confidence in the mutual spark of intuitive passion that was there in the beginning is itself attractive and affirming.  Sometimes women lose sight of that or underestimate its lasting impact on their mate.  Now I know, judging from my email, that a lot of women feel as you must have before you wrote off the male gender, that they’ve never picked the “right” man.  Maybe that’s so in our culture of shallowness and divorce, but that’s an entirely different subject and not a reason to gulp down poison.  If you want to keep your dreams alive, value the total man as you value the total you.

Q [Austin, TX]: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

A: Every year starting in December.

Q [Tempe, AZ]: Did you make a New Year’s resolution?

A: Yes.  [Drumming fingers…] OK, if you’re not going to ask, I’ll tell you!  Resolved: to give less of me to life’s façades and more of myself to truths behind the scenes.

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:

http://www.thomassullivanauthor.com

http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1219261326

FORENSICS 172: TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.

******

In view of possibly disastrous consequences that can result when tainted evidence is presented in court, many jurisdictions require that a chain of custody of evidence must be established and maintained between the time relevant evidence is collected at a crime scene and the time it is presented in court. To meet the standard of an acceptable chain of custody, a piece of evidence that is not unique or whose relevance cannot be proved until the evidence has been analyzed, must be proved by testimony of those who had it in custody that it is indeed what it is claimed to be, that it was in their continuous custody or in a secure location accessible only by him or her and that it is in essentially the same condition that it had been in when it was received from its previous custodian. Blood and fingerprints on a knife would be an example of evidence that would have to be analyzed before its relevance could be proved, and a chain of custody would have to be proved.

Evidence is to be identified, collected, placed in appropriate, labeled containers and , if there is no local laboratory available, delivered to a FedEx office for delivery to a distant laboratory, analyzed , stored and eventually presented in court. After that, if applicable, evidence is to be returned to its owner.

There are some exceptions to the requirement of proving a chain of custody in court. An example would be where physical evidence is clearly identifiable by a witness. Another exception might apply because the weight of submitted evidence generally has more influence in court than does its admissibility. Of course, a defendant may simply stipulate as to the chain of custody to save time during a trial.

******

In an exemplary situation, police officer Frank Pruit found himself to be an early responder when he arrived at the scene of a reported shooting. As such, he proceeded to secure the scene to make certain that no evidence was altered or removed from the scene and that nothing that might be mistaken for evidence was added. A man’s body lay dead with a bullet hole in its chest, and a bloody knife lay nearby. No gun was found. It appeared that the dead man had cut someone who then shot him and fled the scene. If this was actually what had happened, the shooter’s fingerprints and blood would likely be on the knife.

An evidence recovery technician who had no personal relationship with the shooting placed evidence including the knife and blood samples from the knife and from the dead body in approved containers bearing labels containing information required to accurately identify their contents. The containers were then given to an officer to deliver to a FedEx office. FedEx is often used to ship such evidence to distant laboratories for analysis. The officer carefully placed the containers on the floor of his car and set off for the FedEx office. On the way, he stopped at a gas station to use its rest room. Being in a rush, he inadvertently left his car partially blocking access to a gas pump. He left the keys in the car, and a station attendant moved it to an adjoining parking area so that an incoming customer could pull up to the pump. Upon leaving the rest room, the officer entered the gas station’s store, bought cigarettes and chatted with the store cashier for a few minutes. He then drove his car to the FedEx office, where he deposited the evidence containers. FedEx delivered the containers to the laboratory, where an evidence clerk placed them in a large container for storage. The clerk also labeled the storage container and filled out and filed a form identifying the storage container’s contents and all persons who had custody of the evidence and the times and locations of the evidence having been in their custody so that there would be a complete, unbroken record of custodies between the time the evidence left the crime scene and the time it reached the laboratory.

Unfortunately, in the present case, the evidence had been left for a short time not only out of the delivery officer’s control, but out of his sight. That broke the chain of custody, which opened the door for the defense to claim that the evidence could have been tampered with. This compromised the case of the prosecution during a subsequent trial of a suspect accused of having done the shooting at the gas station.

Regretably, in spite of the scrupulous precautions prescribed, there still exists some chance that evidence can be purposely or inadvertently tainted. Fortunately, an English company named Intelligent Fingerprinting Ltd. has developed a kit that holds promise of being capable of eliminating that chance. Also fortunately, rights for distributing the kit in North America have been obtained.

Fingerprints are formed of deposited fluids (sweat) exuded from a person’s fingertips. The kit not only enhances and records a persons fingerprints, whether lifted from a surface or taken directly from a person’s fingers, it also analyzes the fluids exuded. The analysis reveals constituents that can include drugs. A fingerprint not only identifies the person leaving it, but also proves that the drugs discovered were in the system of that person when the fingerprint was formed. Of great importance, since there is no chain of custody required between the collection of evidence and its analysis, using the kit essentially prevents any tampering with evidence revealed by it during this period.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

For readers who are science buffs, what drugs might be in fluids exuded by fingertips are determined by identifying their metabolites (products of metabolism) using antibody-functionalized nanoparticles. This provides proof that a drug was actually used by a person and not merely handled.

The End

All good things come to an end. All bad things, too, for that matter.

Although I thought I’d already reached this milestone, my re-count confirms that this is my 100th post to Storytellers Unplugged. So it seems appropriate that it will also be my last.

I was one of the original members of this blogging community. My first post, The Day Job, was published on June 17, 2005 and I have never missed the 17th of any month in the intervening 8½ years. Once or twice I reposted an older entry because of other deadlines, but there was always something on this site on that day of the month. Several times I even recorded my entry in audio as part of an initiative to expand our reach.

Alas, I note that this blog has seen better days. Where there used to be a new post every single day of the month in the early days, I now observe that, on average, there are four new posts per month. We haven’t had a really good month (five posts!) in some time.

Since my inaugural post, I’ve written somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 words, enough for a novel. In 2014, I’m going to do my best to write an actual novel, so I am narrowing my focus.

So, I bid you adieu — at least at this site. If you want to see what I’m up to, you can always find me in one of the many other places on the Internet that I frequent: