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Aug 27 14

Marketing: Aligning Content to the Purchase Funnel

by Richard Sutton

Today, I’m pleased to be able to share a great overview of the sphere… or rather, the funnel, where marketing thought  is currently residing. This comes courtesy of Michael Barry, New_Rules_of_Music_Marketing_Coverauthor of The New Rules of Music Marketing. For authors this is must-know material, as those of us lucky enough to have contracts with publishers find out quickly: market we must. Mr. Barry is a principle in Princeton Creative Marketing. They provide cutting edge marketing service to a wide range of clients, including those whose products are their own creative efforts. Here is his article…

 

 

If you have been reading my newsletter you may recall an earlier issue in which I discussed the Purchase Funnel. It describes the various stages customers go through as they first become aware of your business and move towards purchase and hopefully advocacy. There are a few versions, and some marketers prefer to frame the process as the “customer decision journey” (also very useful) but the funnel usually looks something like this:


I want to give this a quick review because I’ve been getting questions from clients and colleagues about how content marketing tactics should align with the funnel. In fact, I love getting those questions, because it shows that they know that content should align with the funnel in the first place! So before we begin: a quick word about Content Marketing.

As marketers of all kinds are now aware (unless they’ve been hiding in a cave) content marketing is a huge part of the marketing mix these days. From newsletters and blog posts to white papers and videos, marketing your business with the aid of web friendly, customer helpful content allows you to become a trusted resource for potential and existing customers. Consistent output of new and relevant content engages customers and keeps your business on their mind, and that, coupled with trust, leads to revenue.

The term first became relevant not too long ago as web oriented marketers began to offer all types of information, or content, on the web for marketing purposes. Prior to the web, we used what we called Marketing Collateral (brochures, postcards, ads, flyers, etc.) as tactics in our marketing mix, but now Content is the term of choice and has grown past it’s web roots to include both online and offline tactics or collateral, as the chart below from Marketing Profs shows.

Source: Marketing Profs (http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2013/11759/2014-b2b-content-marketing-benchmarks-budgets-and-trends)

So this chart clearly illustrates how important these various content tactics are, especially in the world of B2B. As I mentioned, content is now a pretty inclusive term and you see from the chart that marketers are considering in-person events, books and even print magazines to be content. It makes sense because everything includes content of some sort, but it’s important to understand that there still should be a mix of tactics, including offline, and that by using the term Content Marketing we are not necessarily talking about an online only type of marketing. 

By the way, you may notice how highly e-newsletters rank on the above chart. Anyone who thinks they are a thing of the past is clearly wrong. You’re reading one right now! In fact, let’s use this very newsletter as an example of how content marketing should align with the purchase funnel. Understand that by using the term align, I am not implying that all marketing campaigns necessarily have to be undertaken in order from Awareness tactics down to Advocacy tactics, although that is not a bad structure to follow when you are a new business or introducing a new product or service.

What I’m really suggesting is that you take a look at any marketing initiative or tactic to see if it corresponds to one or more levels of the purchase funnel. If it doesn’t, make some improvements. Using this newsletter as an example, let’s see how it aligns with the purchase funnel.

Awareness – For the most part, this newsletter is for folks who are already aware of my business, so I don’t consider building awareness too much when writing a new issue. However, I do post it online and I do ask that you share it, so it does have the potential to make some new people aware of my business.

Consideration – If someone is already aware of my business, it is my hope that by providing useful information on how they can improve their own marketing they will then consider Princeton Creative Marketing when they need help.

Trial – By advertising a workshop that I am doing, I am offering people who have gone through the first two stages a chance to “try me out”. A workshop is a great way to do that with very low commitment. Most workshop attendees will just take home the info and put it to use themselves, which is great as well. Then my hope would be that they remember to refer me to their friends (Stage 6: Advocacy).

Evaluation – If someone reading this newsletter is already my client, they are always in the process of evaluating my services. Hopefully this newsletter reinforces some of PCM’s value above and beyond the contract relationship itself.

Adoption – I don’t think this newsletter facilitates adoption much, although similar to evaluation, I would hope that offering good info makes clients more likely to adopt my business as a long term service provider, or at least a trustworthy source of marketing information.

Advocacy – Hopefully, my clients love PCM and are willing to spread the word! This newsletter offers easy ways to share via social media or by forwarding to a friend. (Ed. note: re-tweets, and shares are very much appreciated.)

Once again, no particular marketing piece must cover all six stages of the purchase funnel. And in many cases (i.e. when you are a brand new business), your initial focus should be on awareness, so you shouldn’t  be asking people to advocate for you if they don’t yet know who you are. What we are really after here is more of understanding of how a tactic does or doesn’t address one or more stages, and what to do about it.

With marketing, there are no hidden secrets or magic formulas, and often simply examining a topic with a critical eye will lead to better marketing. And of course, if what you are offering is really valuable, all the better.

So hopefully this article gave you a good example of how a very common marketing tactic, an e-newsletter, aligns with the purchase funnel. I encourage you to examine all your tactics in light of the funnel. As always, feel free to send me comments or questions at mike@princetoncreative.com

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Aug 13 14

Cross-Genre Word Painter: Jim Williams Interview

by Richard Sutton

Today, I’m pleased to have both a respected author, Jim Williams, as well as his publisher, Mark Turner of Marble City Publishing on hand to discuss Jim’s writing and where the industry is headed. Williams came to writing fiction during a law career and while accruing enough academic achievement to fill a voluminous resume. He speaks five languages, more or less well, he says. He has three great kids with his wife of forty-five years. They are madly in love and go dancing regularly. Some of their passion for treading the ballroom boards shows up in some of his later novels. He’s garnered a well-deserved reputation following the publication of his first novel in 1982, as a novelist with an outstanding attention to detail and sense of place in his books. He was once nominated for the Man Booker prize and has received a wide range of accolades and notice in several genres, making the crossing apparently with little difficulty over the course of his literary career. He has twelve titles, including two non-fiction books currently available on Amazon and other booksellers.

When it comes to writing, Jim tells me that his work, has moved through four distinct phases, including, (in his words)…

  • Thrillers: The Hitler DiariesLast JudgementFarewell to RussiaConspiracy of Mirrors (The Gorbachev Version in USA) all under the name Richard Hugo. Two of them (The Hitler Diaries and Farewell to Russia) caused a stir because they were prophetic, being completed before the forgery scandal of the diaries and the Chernobyl incident. All were translated and published internationally. MCP is in the course of re-issuing them.
  • Historical Romance: The end of the Cold War was problematic for thriller writers and not all made the transition. I was approached by my agent to write a sequel to Dr. Zhivago. From the previous books he thought I had a strong sense of place and would be able to create a Russian feel. The book was published in England and Germany in 1994 and was briefly a best seller, but it ran into copyright issues and so the plan for worldwide publication was abandoned.
  • Literary Murder Mysteries: I began writing these with Scherzo in 1996. I was planning a detective series and had no intention of writing a literary novel, but my generally smart-arse and idiosyncratic character led me down the literary route inadvertently and I became interested in the formal properties of murder mystery and in writing parodies and pastiche. I had fun but it isn’t a course I recommend to others. The novels in this series are: ScherzoRechercheThe Strange Death of a RomanticThe Argentinian VirginTango In MadeiraThe English Lady Murderers’ Society. All have been published or republished by MCP except the last one.
  • Science Fiction: I was at a loose end trying to find a publisher for my later murder mysteries. It was a time when my existing publisher had gone down in an industry knife fight and my agent was dying of cancer. The Sadness of Angels is the result.

This links to his list of titles on his site

Jim Williams, Novelist, Linguist Attorney and Dancer

Jim Williams, Novelist, Linguist, Attorney and Dancer

Q: Jim, it’s a real pleasure to meet you today. With such a respectable range of historically inspired and literary mystery titles under your belt, how did you decide to write a Sci-Fi novel? Was it a stretch for you?

A: My decision to write a Sci-Fi came out of an interest in the issues posed by the prospect of human beings living lives that are extremely prolonged by our present standards. I felt that most Sci-Fi writers had never faced up to the problem that inter-stellar travel, even if technically feasible, is meaningless for short-lived human beings. Their plots are constructed on a psychology that is still essentially that of short-lived human beings, and the issues of time and distance posed by the vastness of space are avoided by devices such as space warps. I thought there was room for a new look at this.

As to the transition from historical writing, it isn’t as great as may be thought. Both historical fiction and Sci-Fi involve the creation of invented worlds. From a writing perspective, except in the research-requirements of historical fiction, there is no fundamental difference between the two forms of invention.

Q: Jim; what led you to write fiction at all? Have you always had the itch, or did you catch the virus along the way?

A: I’ve written fiction from childhood, which is linked in part, to my facility for languages (I speak 5 more or less well). Initially my career choices led me to become a court-room lawyer, but this is only a case of spinning fictions in a different context. What pushed me into taking the matter seriously was reaching the age of 30, which I thought of as a defining moment when fundamental life decisions had to be made. If I considered myself a writer, then I had to get on and write a novel. So I did. I was fortunate that I picked a good subject, The Hitler Diaries, and my timing was perfect because it was published in 1982 nine months before the famous forgery scandal. The result was that the book sold internationally and my publishers were interested in more of my work.

Q: Jim, your current publisher, Marble City Publishing, is a small press publisher, which has attracted attention with their ability to produce books with unique voices and deftly handled subjects. How did your relationship with MC’s Mark Turner develop?

cropped-logo-for-marble-city-publishing-1015-x-1301

 

A: A mutual friend, novelist Beverley Eveleigh-Bell, who runs a short story website, Multi Story, approached me to review a book that author Ruby Barnes had written as an easy guide to self-publishing, The New Author. I liked it a lot. I thought it was practical, lucid and well-written and it led me to read and review three of Ruby’s novels: The Baptist; Peril; and Getting Out Of Dodge. I admired all of them for the quality of the writing, the convincing psychology of the characters and general quirkiness. Mark Turner is Ruby Barnes’ publisher at Marble City Publishing. From our early exchanges I gathered that Mark was seriously interested in developing MCP, and to do this it would be useful if he had a base load of titles that he could bring out quickly and that might be a ‘draw’. He began with my unpublished novel, Tango in Madeira, and from there went on to my back list.

Q: I’ve read and really enjoyed all of Ruby Barnes’ books as well, having been first introduced to The Baptist through an online writer’s forum a few years back. The story of your introduction exhibits such a wonderful synergy of people and direction that  came though a natural channel. Perfect! Your back-list is so solid, I’m sure MC was anxious to get started!

A: I regard myself as exceptionally fortunate in my collaboration with Mark and Marble City.  Once he decided to publish my new works and bring out my backlist, he applied himself with astonishing energy and commitment, supported by his wife Adrienne.  Mark comes to business as an outsider, which is one of the features of the new publishing made possible by the technology changes which have reduced production costs and re-oriented marketing towards the Internet instead of the traditional forms of face to face networking.  He has a great desire to learn and a willingness to experiment with different approaches and this makes him a great collaborator for any writer who is denied the traditional outlets.  As a side note, but an important one, the quality of work produced by Marble City has been greatly enhanced by the brilliant cover designs done by Jane Dixon Smith.  I’ve thanked her before, but I think you should take every chance to thank people as a reminder of your good fortune in knowing them, and so I’m glad to be able to thank her again.

Q: The right people connections make all the difference. Mark, Small Presses are developing the reputation as the saviors of real literature. It seems to me that with the incredible risk of producing new titles from debut authors, you’ve had a pretty good run so far. Is there anything special in your approach to this difficult business that has paid back your efforts?

A: Our ethos at Marble City Publishing is to fully invest in each book we publish. We translate our complete belief in each Marble City title into a product development and marketing plan consisting of the following elements – editing, cover design, early reviewer copies, social media promotion, online reader giveaways and paid advertising. We take a medium-term view when it comes to the profitability of each individual book – unless a title is an instant blockbuster it may take time to gather momentum. Digital publishing allows that luxury. We’re not sitting on print runs of 10,000 copies which have to sell or be pulped.

Once a title is released, visibility is everything and we buy every piece of effective advertising we can lay our hands on. Marble City may sound like an author’s dream, but we only work with manuscripts we believe in, written by people we want to spend time with. We favor debut authors with a distinctive voice and established mainstream authors who have both new works and out-of-print titles deserving revival.

Our skills in digitizing, formatting and editing has breathed new life into Jim’s excellent backlist, as well as providing a platform for his two new releases Tango in Madeira and The Sadness of Angels. We also produce a very popular annual anthology of short stories (Knife Edge, Edge of Passion) to showcase competition winners alongside Marble City authors.

Q: Jim, as an occasional Sci-Fi writer and frequent reader, I’ve found there seems to be a choice of either meme-driven, serialized Sci-Fi in the requisite style; or work like your own, that is primarily character and setting driven. I prefer the latter, as I’ve been around long enough to know a new story when I read one and an old, well-used one when I don’t finish it. Do you tackle any ideas of form when you found your Sci-Fi muse on your back, or does it just flow from the telling?

A: Although I’ve never studied the subject, I have a longstanding interest in the formal properties of language and story-telling. It isn’t specific to Sci-Fi – in fact my most adventurous experiments have been in crime fiction, starting with Scherzo and culminating in The Strange Death of a Romantic. I like people and I have a feel for places. I think that is why I pay attention to character and setting. In the case of Sci-Fi I wanted to get away from using the trappings of technology and space to tell a cowboy story, but instead try to figure out what these changes would actually mean for real worlds and real human beings. That is why I took an apparently absurd idea of animals with wheels instead of legs and tried to work out seriously how such a creature might function in The Sadness of Angels.

The Sadness of Angels Cover LARGE EBOOKQ: I’ve gotta agree that wheeled living things were a new idea for me, but your human characters in The Sadness of Angels are really accessible, understandable folks. They had me recalling several of Tolkien’s characters in LOTR that seem to be,  basically, normal people who have stepped into something much bigger than themselves and adjust accordingly. I especially enjoy the confrontations between diverse cultures that you’ve crafted, very effectively. Is cultural confrontation something you enjoy exploring in your work?

A: I have a degree in sociology so I’m acutely conscious of the variability of social organization and customs within an overall framework, and also the importance of irrational social forces, myths and traditions in driving behavior. There’s no necessary reason why, in my book, the Ingitkuk should be attached to the figure of She Whom the Reindeer Love, but, given that attachment, they are driven to act in particular ways. Confrontation is a useful device for pointing out novelty and difference.

Q: Your character, The Mapmaker serves several important roles. To me, he seems to be akin to the ancient, Wandering Jew character from Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of my very favorite Sci-Fi novels. How did Mapmaker evolve?

A: Mapmaker derives from the basic premise of my story: that our motivation to act and the source of our joy come from the fact that we are mortal, and that it is immortality not death that is a curse. Mapmaker is an immortal who has come to realize this. Your take on him is an apt one. In a tale of wanderings – which this is – it is useful to have a guide; and similarly, if the reader is to be introduced to a deep history, it is useful to have someone who knows it. So Mapmaker acts as an integrating character, pulling the story together thematically, psychologically and structurally.

Q: I’ve also read your earlier historical fiction title, Scherzo. What a departure! This is a delicious romp through eighteenth century Venice complete with even the smallest detail of smells and sounds. Your skill with establishing a sense of place serves this story well. It’s particularly evident here by your grasp of the period tone, vernacular and structure of the writing itself. Did you find it a difficult work to write?

Scherzo Cover EBOOKA: Scherzo was enormous fun to write, but only because I decided to give it both barrels and dare the reader to follow me. I actually have some sympathy for those who think it’s pretentious unreadable nonsense, but all that means is that I didn’t write the book for them. I think it’s a difficult book to read if you have preconceptions, but I’ve noticed a lot of good reviews from readers who struggled… only to suddenly get the point and then have a ball. Scherzo means Joke in Italian and the solution to the murder mystery is a private joke that I explain in a note at the end of the book

Q: Well, it certainly kept me glued to the page with a big smile on my face. Jim, do you have a favorite kind of fiction to read? To write?

A: There are two kinds of fiction I particularly like. The first is American crime fiction, especially James Ellroy, Lawrence Bloch and James Lee Burke. The last is the writer who is nearest to me in my approach to writing in his lyrical language and attention to place and character. The other kind is English fiction that deals with the life of a character over a lifetime. The best examples are Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time”, Anthony Burgess’ “Earthly Powers” and William Boyd’s “Any Human Heart”.

Concerning writing, I am strongly attracted to writing in voices and from perspectives that are not mine. So, for The English Lady Murderers’ Society, I decided to describe the lives and opinions of seven different women, viewed from their perspective. My women readers love it. One commented, “You must have got in touch with your feminine side,” to which I answered that my feminine side did not so much get in touch as move in and change the curtains.

Q: I’m a huge Burke fan myself. His daughter, Alafair has a growing catalog of titles and teaches at a university right here on Long Island. With regard to trying different voices, I suppose we could all occasionally use some interior re-decorating from time to time. At least it helps keep my own cobwebs from growing. What’s next for your writing career? I’ve heard rumors that there may be a sequel to Sadness on its way.

A: I have two projects underway. One is a sequel to The Sadness of Angels, but the other is a humorous murder mystery I mentioned, called The Demented Lady Detectives Club. It follows from the novel I wrote for my wife on the occasion of our ruby wedding anniversary: The English Lady Murderers’ Society, which she loved.

Q: I’ll hope for a release email from Mark! Jim and Mark, where do you see the future taking writers and publishers? Is this becoming the Reader’s Choice World I’ve heard about, or will the Gatekeepers persist in creating the available choices?

A: (Jim)Historically publishers functioned as gatekeepers because the cost of publishing and the limited outlets necessitated the restriction of choice. These constraints have gone and in principle anyone can produce a book of decent technical quality at modest cost and there is no limit on distribution though the likes of Amazon may exercise a preferential filter through their search algorithms, though they would seem to have no incentive to do so. The downside is that the absence of a gatekeeper means that the clamour of voices wanting to be heard makes marketing difficult and probably a reduced circulation at reduced margins for most authors, as we see in the virtual disappearance of authors’ advances.

The arts generally – and not just writing – show an earning curve which is flat for the majority of practitioners and then spikes sharply for a few high profile earners: i.e. 90% of the money is in the top 1% (the number is hypothetical) and I think this tendency in favor of the few high earners will become more pronounced. If you think about it, a few hundred books per annum would probably satisfy the reading habits of the majority of leisure readers on a worldwide basis, and if all the rest of the authors vanished, their disappearance would be invisible to most of the population. We have the number of books that we have now, not because reader read but because writers write. Fortunately I can stave off poverty by cooking and eating my children.

A: (Mark) I’m sure that the Readers’ Choice World is here already. Mainstream publishers are re-releasing out-of-print titles (as e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks) for those authors who have a new potential blockbuster. Check out the older titles on your bookshelf at home, many of them likely out of print. They are most probably now available on Kindle if the publisher thinks there are bucks to be made. Micro-publishers (such as Marble City), author cooperatives and independent authors are continuously putting out new titles across all genres to suit all tastes. Choice is not an issue. The issue for readers is finding quality novels that will reward their purchase price and reading time investment. The issue for authors and publishers is book visibility – how to rise above the sea of heavily promoted mainstream new releases, digitized backlists and self-published titles (whose quality of output can cover the gamut of great to bad). The traditional Gatekeepers will continue to provide the available choices in bookstore windows and large-scale media advertising, but the savvy online purchaser is driven by search machines and e-store algorithms. Visibility in these searches is driven by the social proof of recommendation, i.e. how many other people have searched for, looked at or purchased the book. Publishers and authors crave this visibility and in this respect, online booksellers are the Gatekeepers.

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Gentlemen, unusual cuisine choices aside, your optimism gives writers as well as readers some powerful hope for the future of books in general. Thank you both for sharing your time with us and providing so much food for additional thought.

The rise of Small Press publishing and digital production is opening doors that have been closed for many decades. Readers’ Choice World is a good world, with lots of room for new ideas, new voices and entertaining subjects for every taste. Be sure to visit Marble City Publishing online, to learn about their growing roster of literary talents such as Jim Williams, with many titles you’ll love reading.

Aug 4 14

Hiding My Knickers…

by Richard Sutton

clotheslineA few months ago, my editor made an unexpected comment in an initial story conceptual report. She told me that in a couple of places, “my knickers were showing”. She went on to explain that my personal feelings about several of the issues in the story were being told in my own voice, not the characters’ voices.

I was embarrassed that I had been, completely inadvertently, preaching to the reader. It’s something I have been working on for years. I’m getting much better, but it isn’t due to my own grip of the situation. Rather, it’s because I work with an editor that has no trouble telling me when it happens. I always take her at her word, because most times, I’m so close to the characters, emotions and plotting I can barely let go long enough to surface for air, let alone actively preventing my own writerly voice intruding where it doesn’t belong.

I’ve frequently had a perfectly reasonable read (not my own work…) stopped almost cold from the intrusion of the author’s voice. Even excellent writers with huge cred are occasionally guilty. I can always find it when I see it (as long as it’s someone else’s) or feel it edging in. I believe that the problem of my own blindness, lies in being close to the whole point of the story and getting in too much of a hurry for the climax, or for the resolution. Not letting the characters take it where it needs to go, in their own time.

Their own time. Once I’ve conceived a character, I have to make sure I distance myself enough from them that the feelings and beliefs expressed are theirs, not mine. Or, if mine, then properly hidden from sight, within the character’s experience, motivation and nature. If they are, for example, scrambling across a talus slope, jagged debris skittering off with each foot placement, I need to connect that with something in their physical or emotional nature so I’m not simply replaying a loop from my own past. Maybe a taste of the fear of slipping on the next rock… oh, that would be my own memory anyway.

Fortunately, this falls into the realm of the rewrite, which is where the real work begins, for me. I enjoy research and I enjoy a first draft, romping through the pages on a spirited roll. Often completely oblivious to the outcome until it arrives, much to my own surprise. If my work was only for my own eyes, it wouldn’t need to go any further, but there are readers waiting, who will share this with me.

It’s taken me some time, but I’ve learned that often, making a strong point here and there in a draft may be less about moving the story along and more about stroking my own need to hear my own voice rattle on; so the alarm is hopefully raised. Once aware of it, I can get on with the task of turning a draft into something I can let safely out of my hands, with no knickers, boxers or other embarrassing parts on display. I owe it to anyone who reads one of my books, to present the story as devoid of these little annoyances as I can. My beta readers and editor are all that stand between me and… complete, ridiculous exposure.

Jul 31 14

Paying Attention in August…

by Richard Sutton

August will be here tomorrow. The peak of Summer and the beginning of its decline, even as a kid on my bike, August brought me mixed feelings. Warm, exquisite days gave way to listless, afternoons, waiting for September, The explosion of life I enjoyed exploring along the riverbanks near our house in June, was drying up and withering by mid-August. Blooms all gone, tall grass along the roadside gone to dry, yellow straw.

August Red Sky

August Red Sky

My feelings of endings being a big part of August were forever inscribed in my adult memory, some fifteen years ago. That year, August eighth began for my wife and I, after a sleepless night dockside. Our sailboat easily rode the occasional wake slapping us up against the float, but the air had been still all night. The temperature remained in the eighties overnight, and the V-berth sheets were damp with sweat. We decided to head out early, to find some breeze to cool off. Ten minutes later we were eating our cereal in the cockpit as we became aware of a faint Southerly beginning to fill in. We headed South, more comfortable as the boat’s forward motion added some six knots of breeze to the puffs meeting us as we rode across a mirror-still bay.

The sun had only been up a few minutes and the sky was a blazing red. It was so beautiful, that I ran down below to get my camera, and as we passed our harbor lighthouse, I got a couple of shots with the sun rising behind it, silhouetting the structure in the red-yellow light. So caught up in simply experiencing the moment, I began to neglect the focus on my job as skipper that I normally locked step with. Maybe it was the lack of sleep

After a half-hour, l had an idea to head for a small harbor on the South side of Shelter Island, where we could lay at anchor and catch the breeze through the forward hatch. Maybe even get back to sleep. The temperature rose fast, and soon, the motion of the boat and the slight breeze lulled me into a complacent state.

We were safely in our home waters, crossing a stretch of shoreline we knew really well. The only obstructions and depth issues were clearly marked and charted. In twenty feet of water, I checked our course towards a passage through a pair of sand spits, into an inner bay where that cool anchorage waited. Everything looked fine. I saw way up ahead, a white obstruction buoy we had been avoiding for more than twenty years in these waters and turned in towards the shore a bit to come to a faster course.

I checked the depth, and the bottom was still twenty feet under our keel, so I got another cup of coffee and returned to the helm to keep us on course towards the narrows up ahead. I pulled on a cap as the rising sun suddenly became uncomfortably hot. I sat down on the cockpit coaming holding our wheel to our course…

We hit the uncharted underwater rock at close to six knots. There are few sounds that I will retain in all their clarity, for the rest of my life. The hollow, echoing boom as our lead keel hit the reef and the sudden lurch as the bow went almost under water and the stern rose, were the most frightening combination I’d ever experienced to that point.

My wife’s face was ashen, as she climbed up out of the main cabin, where water was rushing in from beneath our floorboards. I instinctively looked at the depth, and it showed five feet forward. Another foot of tide, which I normally check carefully before leaving the dock, and we’d have skated over the top of that rock. But woulda, coulda, shoulda…

I throttled down, threw the gear into reverse and limped away, completely rattled and terrified for what I’d done to our boat. I didn’t even think about how we’d both missed injury or worse. Getting us back to the dock became my intense focus. She manned the bilge pump and we sloughed back over the course of an hour at reduced speed.

Once we were back, safely in the slings, it turned out the water rushing in was from a ruptured fresh water tank, not saltwater. Despite the keel having been forced up and into the hull, the hull was never breached and while the season had been ended early, the repairs went well, insurance picked up the $20K my inattention cost, and the next season, the boat as good as new, we struck out again. Maybe a bit more timid. I know I was many bits more aware of everything I could attend to. As many possibilities as my brain could hold.

That following season, two more boats hit that rock, and eventually the Coast Guard moved the obstruction buoy closer to the actual danger and eventually it became a regular red navigation buoy. This morning, like every morning, I now see the red sunrise image I shot that day. It hangs in the bathroom in a nice wooden frame. It reminds me to stay aware and focused, and I try. I also usually shake my head at my own stupidity, leaving the dock carefree all those Augusts ago, heading out into a deep, red sky.

If you spend any time on the water you’ve heard many of the enduring old mnemonic rhymes used by navigators well into the distant past, to remind them to keep their heads up for the task at hand. I always remember one in particular when I see that image…

“Red sky at morning, sailors take… warning.” Happy August, anyway, I tell myself. Pay attention.

 

Jul 29 14

Newer New Cover Design Reveal!

by Richard Sutton
Preliminary Book Cover: initial design

field Preliminary Book Cover: initial design

I began working on a cover design for my upcoming YA Novel, On Parson’s Creek, back before I had finished the draft last November! I know it sounds silly, but for some odd reason, it helps me focus on the story better if I have a visual touchstone. Now with the book in its final rewrites, I recently posted some alternate cover designs for some of my most trusted writer friends to discuss. Time to hone it down. There were variations between comments as expected, but one especially made sense about the action in the story occurring “on the ground, not in the treetops“. It got me thinking about finding another image more true to the situation. Another suggested swapping fonts.

To my extreme pleasure, I found a wonderful blogsite, In The Company of Plants and Rocks, operated by Wyoming based botanist, photographer, author and field-naturalist, Hollis Marriott for several years. The site features an in-depth look at much of our American Geology and Botany in such a way that it is accessible and yes, even fun to read. Not only is the site content really engrossing, but the photography is incredible. As I browsed through, my focus wandering all over North America… there it was! An image of a grove of old-growth Red Cedars in Montana, the protected Ross Creek Grove in the Kootenai National Forest, near Libby, MT. The foreground tree especially was such a ringer for my own teenage fave cedar tree in a small grove near our 1967 home, that I realized it should be the cover of the book. It also offered more light, and a pathway to tread between the trunks, drawing the eye right into the dark grove, beyond.

New Cover Design Preliminary Version Photo: Hollis Marriott

New Cover Design Preliminary Version Photo: Hollis Marriott

Hollis has granted me use of her image, Light Shade 2 for the cover of this book and I am truly overwhelmed with the serendipity of finding her site as well as her generosity. I encourage any of my friends and readers with an interest in the Natural World to make a visit, if only to see her breathtaking nature photography.  I also encourage any comments you may have on the cover artwork as well as any suggestions.

I haven’t given up on my original cover image choice. It was originally shot in black and white, and I’ll be using it with an appropriate quote as the frontispiece of the book when it’s released, this October.

 

Here’s the preliminary synopsis pitch short version:

On Parson’s Creek

A memoir inspired novel for YA readers…

The new kid in a small town, bored with school and living in his own head, discovers that there are dark mysteries in an ancient cedar grove near his new home. The story handed down several generations doesn’t tell the tale completely, nor do tales of lurking giants in the trees, an Indian curse, or the abandoned locomotive deep in the woods. As he asks questions of his teachers and local families, he finds himself pushed more and more into a corner from which there is only one way out. With the help of a local historian, his Physics teacher, a school friend and an old logger almost as old as the trees, he begins to put the clues together. The story unravels a community conspiring to hide the entire truth from the world. But, is that wrong? Maybe the world doesn’t need to know.

# # # #

If you need to know, you’ll be able to, in the safety of your own home, soon. Watch for my announcement.

Jul 27 14

The Gigantopitecus Hypothesis: A Layman Writer Approaches Ancient Human Migrations

by Richard Sutton

Note: I’ve always wanted to use those two words in a title. Please just indulge me my less than scholarly cred and less than scientific theorizing. It’s part of the writing process for me that I have no say over…)

I’ve always been drawn to horses. I’m not much of a rider, but I have cared for them, fed and watered them, and admired them. I’ve even gotten to “know” a few fairly closely. In the caves in Lascaux in France, where a rich treasure of prehistoric human artwork has been carefully preserved since its discovery, there are amazing murals of horses in many different poses. It’s suggestive of an artist who spent a great deal of time studying these animals. The thing which always baffles me when I consider it, is that this artwork comes very close to expressing love for this animal, which at that time, was hunted and eaten by our ancestors. Why did horses ever allow themselves to be domesticated by a predatory enemy, then brought into the mutually beneficial relationship we now enjoy with them? Don’t they bear grudges? Of course, there is no ready answer but it’s one that keeps circling in my head. This really does have a point.

13" sculpture by artist Jason Shanaman

13″ sculpture by artist Jason Shanaman

There are also many questions about the advent and migration of ancient hominids from one or more points of origin, but there are far fewer real answers. To complicate the matter, for armchair paleo-geeks like me, is the fact that recent discoveries and the newest data from genome studies can even contradict earlier theory accepted as fact. One emerging truth is we have a very diverse and divergent family tree. There were many different types of early man. Many of these co-existed during specific time periods and some even shared the same environments. Some interbred, as we now know.

What constitutes “Modern Homo” is still broadening as new evidence points to a much more gradual divergence as an end-point species. There are those who believe that the idea of a single end-point in human evolution is ridiculous, given the fossil and DNA record as we now know it. Our family tree has many trunks as well as many branches.

One branch of particular interest to me, is the Indo-European scion. The name applied to one precedent to modern man, at least in his travel East, is Homo Erectus or Java Man. There are also several possible offshoots of that scion alone, but they have enough in common that they may be considered cousins. We know now, from another very fragmentary fossil record — consisting entirely of one shoebox worth of teeth and jaw fragments and a couple of complete mandibles — that there was another potential cousin who shared the environment with Home Erectus in Southeast Asia. This cousin has been named Gigantopitecus. From only the teeth and jaw fragments, Paleo-anthropologists have surmised that this was a vegetarian, not an omnivore, as we are. They have also suggested that this cousin may have stood close to ten feet high.

There is also one more posited detail, determined from the surroundings of the discoveries, so far. Many scientists believe that Homo Erectus and Gigantopitecus were enemies. There is evidence that Home Erectus may have killed these creatures, possibly to eat them. Which, in the grasping mind of a novelist such as my own, makes a lot of sense and poses lots of additional questions.

If I may suggest that Giganto was the earlier to arrive in Asia, and there is some evidence to bear me out, then I can suggest that Home Erectus drove him from their shared environment, into ever more remote environments where Home Erectus would not assail the Giganto population, however small it may have been. Remote environments such as the once heavily forested plateaus near the Himalayas. Here, the retreating Gigantos would have found a rich, sustaining environment as long as they kept ahead of any Homo Erectus outliers.

I can also surmise, if this is correct, that some of them might have also followed the coastline route in their retreat. Bi-pedal movement is more efficient over distance, so they may have adapted to that form of movement exclusively. Over hundredes of thousands of years, all the while adapting more elegantly to their chosen, deep forest environment, they might have emerged from the treeline that ran across a broad, coastal plain to find themselves in what is now North America. Perfectly equipped for the arboreal forest, they slid seamlessly into a new range and were already well-established when the first Homo troupes made their way across Beringia and into the home of the evolved Gigantos. There is another theory that the North American forest primate may have evolved in South America and traveled north

The older proto-Hominid (for that is how I see them, not as Simians) had a long history of evading detection by their enemies, humans; they carried on in the tradition, staying completely off the radar except for occasional sightings or discovery of footprints, on into the modern era. The only remotely reliable indicators we have that they existed here at all are the oral traditions and stories passed down through generations of the people now referred to as Native Americans. In their stories, the descendants of Giganto are not considered a mythical being nor a beast, but a type of man who prefers the forest and does not want contact with other humans. As the human population has spread into the hundreds of millions, and as our habitation encroaches on even the most remote parts of deep forest, sightings have increased steadily during the past fifty years.

Today, there are hokey TV series, chainsaw wood statues of Bigfoot and footprint castings galore, but the truth doesn’t seem to be any closer than one hundred years back when stories trickled down from the Alaskan tribes to the Gold Rush miners barreling into the back country. Or from the Coastal Californian tribes to the crews of lumberjacks with their big, steel crosscut saws heading towards the giant Redwood groves. Fortunately for the Forest People, a name that seems most appropriate, humans tend to make a lot of noise and clatter wherever they go tearing up the land, chopping down the trees.

h1301-Gigantopithecus-Jaw

One of the Gigantopitecus Blacki jaw fragments found in Sichuan Prov., China, in 1958

These possible remnant populations, so adept at keeping hidden for so long, will probably never truly be known by modern science, but maybe that’s the way it should be. After all, our ancestors were predatory enemies that drove them from their homes. Humanity is known for our long memories and longer grudges. Like a long lost relative, I would welcome them into our world with open arms, yet I’m also able to understand why they probably won’t show up at the July Fourth barbecue. My hope for them is for them to remain as elusive as ever and for those who come into even the slightest contact with them, to respect their lives and protect them from our crazy world. That they even may exist is reason to celebrate life in all its diversity. I’ll raise my pint to ‘em, and wish ‘em all the best. While I’m at it, I’ll wish that they can safely keep their distance, whatever name we might call them.

Jul 7 14

“Meet My Character” Blog Tour Stop

by Richard Sutton

adarkermoonDark Fantasy author and poet Jacqueline Watts, has invited me to take part in the Meet My Character Blog Tour. Jacqui’s (writing as J.S. Watts) first novel, A Darker Moon was a thoroughly disturbing, yet completely engaging read as are her poems. Her first complete poem cycle, The Songs of Steelyard Sue is particularly compelling. This is a very talented wordsmith you can get to know better on her Goodreads Blog:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6620930.J_S_Watts/blog

I’m very grateful that Jacqui has invited me on this tour. Now it’s my turn, to choose one of my characters to introduce you to.

Selecting My Character

Through several books, I’ve had the pleasure (and the frustration…) to work with quite a few different characters. If I lined them up, they would make a really odd assortment, from Oxford professor, to astro-colonist all the way to Neanderthal youth; but they all have a few things in common, one of which is how ordinary their lives are until I begin messin’ with ‘em.

back2santafefrontcover2rgb96-smGrowing up, most of the stories that really struck a chord were those that thrust unsuspecting regular, every day people into impossible situations. Probably my very favorite character from literature is Samwise Gamgee from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Stolen through loyalty to a friend, from his garden and then put into a direct confrontation with overwhelming evil and its power, he gets to come home and tell the tale. In that spirit, I’d like to talk about another of my favorite characters, Sullivan Ortega, from my new book, Back to Santa Fe (writing as W.T. Durand). He has a few of Sam’s qualities plus, a huge bouquet of bad habits, misconceptions, and a terrible temper, to boot!

1. What is the name of your character? Is s/he fictional or historical?

He’s called Sully, or Hey! Ortega! He is a complete contrivance, but you’ll recognize his misplaced brethren all over the West.

2. When and where is the story set?

Back to Santa Fe is set in the present, in Santa Fe, New Mexico — The Land of Enchantment, according to the Tourist Board. Nestled in a mountain valley, it’s between 6,000 feet and 7,600 feet high, which might make a statement about how a lack of oxygen might affect logical thinking.

3. What should we know about him?

Sully is a man-mountain. Six-foot-five and all muscle… well mostly muscle. The product of a proud Irish bloodline mixed up with the very best of Mexicano genetics, he’s a relatively clueless guy who likes a beer or six. Deep black hair and bright blue eyes. He’s an arresting fellow alright, and he manages to get arrested himself with some frequency, since keeping a lid on it isn’t his strong suit. It’s quite a contrast to his meticulous skill as a cabinetmaker, which is the livelihood he inherited from his illegal immigrant father. He’s got a grip on his tools, but is usually between jobs, as sticking with anything seems to be something else he has issues with. Neither is getting down to knowing what makes him suddenly burst into tears, or rage with clenched fists. Sully’s a problem waiting to happen, and he’s faced with being the sole living member of his family who has to try and figure out what happened to his kid sister while he was off finding himself in San Diego.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

Sully has to return to the empty house of his childhood to lay his sister to rest after she’s killed in a strange single-car accident on a road she knew really well. One she drove every single day. He finds out all kinds of things about her friends, mostly stuff he doesn’t want to know about. He thinks he knows someone he can blame, but really understanding the situation is beyond him at the outset. Just when the mystery of his sister’s death consumes him… there’s the unspeakable thing his dog digs up in the backyard, which brings the police to his home and a girl he dumped back into his life. Main conflict? Why settle for just one when you can have a seven-course meal?

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Sullivan just wants to make things right. He wants some justice for his sister and some peace for himself, but the more he finds out about, the further beyond his reach they are. He has a lot to come to terms with before he can truly settle down in his home.

6. Is there a working title for this novel and can we read more about it?

Back to Santa Fe was released in both print and eBook formats this past April. It is available from Amazon and B&N and most other online booksellers as well as your local bookstore. You can read a bit more at your chosen online location or here, on my blog site under the Back To Santa Fe menu, where an interview with the author is posted. Serious reviewers in genre are welcome to request a reader copy.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Done. Grab one before the ink dries… better yet, grab six. They make wonderful gifts for the Southwest style collector in your life or just someone who thinks they have a grip on familial relationships.

…and the tour carries on

The writer taking this blog tour ever onwards, picking it up where I have dropped it, will be novelist Randy Attwood, whose great writing blog can be found here: Randy Attwood Blog

Jul 5 14

July’s Guest Storyteller, on Sarah Potter’s Site: Me!

by Richard Sutton

I was very honored to have been asked to talk about my current “Work in Progress”, by Fantasy, SpecFic and SciFi author Sarah Potter. My guest spot on SarahPotterWrites can be found here. I talk about On Parson’s Creek, my upcoming, YA novel that takes place in the deep forest of the Oregon Cascades. It deals with being the new kid, getting used to a new home in a small town that may or may not be all that welcoming to outsiders, depending upon how many questions you ask. Sixteen year-old Jack, unfortunately, asks lots of questions…

Preliminary Book Cover

Preliminary Book Cover

Jun 19 14

Interview with Best Selling Science Writer Brian Clegg …

by Richard Sutton
We’re speaking today with best-selling author Brian Clegg. He’s a well-known uber-geek, star academic and frequent television standout among the UK science set. He also edits the very popular site, popularscience.co.uk.  He’s gathered science Masters degrees from both Lancaster U and Cambridge and written really extensively on many subjects with a scientific or mathematical Nature. It’s resulted in awards and prizes galore and very loyal, appreciative readers. Probably the very best thing about Brian’s writing is his specialty: making really convoluted scientific theory understandable for us laymen. I’ve read several of his books, and have enjoyed each of them while learning a great deal more than I thought I had to!
We’re  also talking about his newest release, The Quantum Age, which argues how the twenty-first century has begun the quantum equivalent of the ages of bronze, steel and steam. All throughout the evolution of our society, human technology has risen to harness a variety of natural forces, using and developing  breakthrough ideas. Eventually, most of these benefit all of us even though they have all been strenuously resisted along the way. A few of them for good reasons.
I can just imagine the conversation…”Ogg, are you kidding? Why would I ever want to spend all those fur pelts for a knife made of that stupid, shiny stuff when I can just make a new flint one when the old one breaks?  You really fell for that one!” Ogg shrugs and backs off, his hand on the hilt of his bronze dagger, thinking, Baz is probably right… but I could never make one as sharp as this one anyway. I’ll get some use out of it before it breaks.
 
Brian Clegg head shot

Author Brian Clegg

Brian, are we getting some use out of this “new school” of Physics thinking, that utterly weird interactions at tiny, sub-atomic levels dictate our reality?

A: Some use is a bit of an understatement. It’s been said that about one third of US G.D.P. is down to products based on quantum physics. This is probably a made up number – I can’t find any good source for it – but it feels about right. At the basic level pretty well everything we do is based on quantum physics, (anything involving atoms or light, electricity or magnetism, for instance) but for most of human existence we’ve used it without realizing what we were doing. But everything based on electronics, lasers, superconductors – it’s all pure quantum technology that couldn’t have been developed without understanding the weirdness behind it. A smartphone, for instance, has at least seven different quantum technologies in it.
Q: Amazing. I guess quantum mechanics (a phrase I never expected to use…) provides the underpinning for the tools of the Information Age. It makes my head spin thinking about all those quantum particles racing around inside my computer processor! Then there is the whole probability thing. That’s so ethereal in concept, can it actually have some useful distillation?
A: We need to get on top of the way we only know probabilities about quantum particles to understand them, but some technologies do depend on that fuzziness. The memory in a phone or a digital camera, for instance, doesn’t lose information when you turn it off. That’s because they keep the memory insulated so it can’t leak away. But that gives  you a problem – how to access it or change it. The way it’s done is to make use of the way quantum particles don’t have a specific location after a little time – they become an array of probabilities, which can reach through a barrier like the insulation and have a chance of turning up on the other side, giving them the opportunity to interact with the memory.
Q: Stealth recall? Good thing I’m not a semiconductor. Too many choices tend to confuse me a bit.  Is that a pun? I have to ask, why a Lancashire schoolkid would be driven to investigate and expound on such high-brow theory in the first place? As I see it, from a semi-educated standpoint, writing science for public consumption must be a very dry and purely intellectual pastime; yet you persist, with more than twenty-two titles in science subjects alone, often releasing more than one a year.
A: It took time. When I was at school I was interested in science and English, but I had to specialize in one. I went down the science route, but the writing was always in there, bubbling under, and I started sending off articles to magazines. It’s been a gradual process, but the science writing has taken over my life. And no, I don’t think it’s a dry, intellectual pastime, because for me science is genuinely exciting and inspiring. It’s about how the universe works, for crying out loud! Why should it be dry and dull? Having said that, if all I did was sit at a computer and write I would start to bang my head against the wall. I do get to go and do talks both at schools and to adult events – just today I’m doing a talk in the beautiful city of Bath on ‘How to build a time machine’, and that opportunity to perform – which I love – is part of the attraction of the job for me.
quantumagecover

Brian Clegg’s Newest! eBook available now, hardcover coming in October.

Q: I see, then you must have near-constant brainstorms as the ideas swirl around inside. How do you make a decision as to which you’ll concentrate upon?

A: In a way I’m lucky compared with a real scientist, because they have to concentrate on a tiny piece of one aspect of science. I don’t think I could be a modern scientist – if I had been a working scientist I’d have liked to have been operating in the nineteenth century or earlier, when you could still work on all kinds of things. But as a science writer I can flit around like a butterfly, taking in all the shiny topics that excite me. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never yet run out of topics, and it’s really a matter of narrowing things down to something that has enough in it to make a book and that I think will interest my readers enough to buy a copy.
Q: I hope there are scores of scientists in training out there, discovering all those shiny topics! It brings me to wonder about education. Here in the US, the past ten years have seen a repeated collision between the need for more effective, more timely science education, with the costs of doing so. All our politicians are quick to agree that it is something absolutely necessary to prepare our children for the future world they will inherit, but few can reliably provide ideas as to how that can be accomplished while remaining affordable. During this period of time, salaries have been falling for the average family. From your informed viewpoint, can you make suggestions as to how kids like my grandchildren can make the cut into the new requirements for productive, skillful living if their education in the public schools doesn’t do enough?
A: I don’t think science education has to be incredibly expensive, but rather we have to support the natural enthusiasm for science younger children have. When I go into primary schools (up to age 11), pretty well everyone is excited and thrilled by science. But a few years later, it’s only the select few. I think in part this is because we only really teach high school kids things nineteenth century science, missing out on the most exciting bits that are more likely to keep the interested. A lot inevitably comes down to the parents and the children’s own drive – look at Einstein who didn’t get on well with education at all, and picked up most things outside school. I may be a tiny bit biased, but I think reading popular science books and articles is a good way for young people to get a better feel for what science is about and perhaps encourage them to make it happen for themselves.
Q: I can think of several young minds that would benefit from a gift subscription to PopSci,for encouragement. Thanks for the idea! I remember myself at their age, struggling to calm down all the interests, ideas and impressions in my head so I could find something to choose to hang onto. Are there specific areas that in your judgment, will give the current generation a good boost into the next big thing?
A: I’m not sure you can drive science or imagination through a search for the next big thing. Rather the process has to be driven by curiosity and passion – and if that produces something amazing, that’s wonderful.
Q: Encouraging imagination and curiosity then, is really the key. When it comes to writing, I’m in awe of your skill in simplifying and re-tooling theory into digestible bites. Do you have a specific process or procedure to achieve this? I can see how useful it would be to all writers.
A: No obvious process. I read a lot myself and I’m always tucking away stories in the news or science that catch my interest and that will contribute to making what I do more accessible. The big difference between writing popular science and writing a textbook is context – it’s easier to make science accessible if you can bring in history and people. In the end, it might seem very different, but I’m still in the business of storytelling. I’m running a Guardian Masterclasses workshop on science writing in London next month and I’ve invited a young adult fiction author, M. G. Harris to join the panel giving attendees feedback on their science writing ideas – and that’s because I think narrative is central to good popular science.
Q: I’m familiar with Ms. Harris’ work. Adding her knowledge and approach to your workshop panel is a brilliant move. I’m sure your attendees will appreciate her inclusion for the nuance of an additional viewpoint and writing voice. Every storyteller needs feedback to tell the very best story they can. It can get pretty complicated. In writing your most recent book, did you take any side-journeys, or was the trip pretty straightforward?
A: A non-fiction book tends to be reasonably well plotted out in advance, because it’s sold on a proposal with a chapter outline, so there are rarely any big surprises. (Any non-fiction author will tell you getting that proposal together is the most painful aspect of the job.) However there are always new and interesting aspects that crop up. I think what most took me off the expected course was discovering just how messy the development of the laser was, so I ended up writing significantly more on that than I expected. I was particularly fascinated by the treatment of Gordon Gould, who had dabbled with communism in his youth, and so was highly suspect in late 50s America. When the laser project was classified, Gould was not allowed to read his own notebooks because he didn’t have clearance. And I’m sure you would appreciate that a couple of his referees were discounted as they couldn’t be trusted because they had beards.
Q: I get that. Bearded fellows are certainly a group to tread lightly around (strokes beard, lovingly…). You must have amazing opportunities to meet and discuss things with some of the most incredible thinkers of our day. Among those, who has had the most lasting impact upon your own ideas?
A: I think the most educational has been my encounters with Nobel Prize winner Brian Josephson. I interviewed him over tea for my book on quantum entanglement, The God Effect, and found him charming, if a little eccentric. But since, I have had an email conversation where he has attacked a more recent book of mine without ever reading it – which I think is a useful reminder that however great a scientist may be, he or she is still human. For me, the most inspiring aren’t the big names, who typically achieved their great breakthroughs many years ago, but the current young scientists who share their enthusiasm for what they are doing – for instance the scientists I interviewed at the Diamond Light Source in the UK, an ultra-powerful light generator, who were using it to explore the possibilities of adapting white blood cells to attack cancer cells. These ‘coal face’ workers are the real heroes of science.

I’ll raise a glass to their efforts! Thank you, Brian for giving us your time today. I know that The Quantum Age will be joining your other titles on my own library shelves and I recommend all my readers take a look, put your fear of science away for a moment and dive in. The water’s fine!

masterclasses-header-new-medium

For writers tackling science subjects, the Guardian Masterclasses workshop is a must-attend event. Enrollment slots remain available.

Here are just a few of Brian Clegg’s best-known books. Your science library is not complete without a solid section of these. For more information and more writing, visit: http://www.brianclegg.net

diceworld garvity timemachine infinityhist UNiverseinside

Jun 15 14

Remembering Dad…

by Richard Sutton
Tom Sutton, c. 1950

Tom Sutton, c. 1950

He wasn’t always home for dinner, and we didn’t toss the football around much, but I can’t get through a single day without remembering him and his presence in my life. We moved a lot when I was growing up. I’d no sooner get to feeling comfortable in a place, then we’d be packing up for greener grass someplace else. I never really understood, but I think all along, I had the impression that he was jumping through hoops to keep us fed and sheltered. Money was always tight, but there was always enough.

There were quite a few big disagreements and shouting matches, but as first-born, I finally figured that one out, too. We began cutting each other lots of slack. We did spend a lot of time together, quietly in the woods, fishing on rivers and lakes and hiking around with rock hammers, looking for geodes in rubble, cliffs and talus slopes. He taught me how to walk through a forest without making any noise. He taught me respect for the regular tenants whose homes we were disturbing by just being there. He taught me to recognize trees, birds, animals and fish and all their names.

Dad had an artist’s eye for beauty of all kinds and taught me how to find it everywhere. His camera was a constant companion and he taught me how to compose through a lens. Later, I’ll admit that the darkroom lessons were wasted on me (thank the gods for digital imaging!) but I absorbed it all, from Persian poetry, to Edgar Kaysee stories and his deep respect for all kinds of spirituality.

He’d served in the Army during the Battle of the Bulge and was in the clean-up medical battalion after Bastogne. He spent several years traveling around Europe on a recovered German motorcycle after the war was finally over. He didn’t have many war stories when I was a small boy, but one that came out when I was older, had to do with spending time with a farmer they’d stumbled upon through a hedgerow in France. He raised hemp. Dad told me about the most amazing cordial liqueur he and his buddies were served. Very herbal. Very powerful. Spent several days enjoying the farmer’s hospitality.

The past few years I missed him, as our talks had gotten fewer and shorter as his pain med doses got higher. He was far away, across the country, but would still make the effort to call on birthdays and other events and we’d share things we’d read or music we’d appreciated. One of the last gifts I sent him was a portable CD player and a copy of Tom Russell’s recording, Hot Walker, which brought back his memories of a job as a Carnie Shill on the midway when he was still a small boy in Colorado. It all came out in an unusually animated phone call I’ll never forget. He sounded like he had when he was in his forties, not his nineties.

Soon after, he was gone. None of us gets out alive. I understand that, but when our Dads have to move on, it can feel like the world is a little emptier and a little scarier. I’m glad we became good friends when I grew up. His approval of my risk-taking and sometimes unexpected choices remains with me and I feel his hand on my shoulder all these years later, when I wonder if I’m about to make the right move. We all need guidance and help. Dads can do that when no one else’s words make sense.