Author Archives: Norm Brown

Life Through a Straw

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was a morning in March 1984 when I awoke on a wheeled cart following oral surgery in a Houston hospital. Can that really be thirty years ago? The memory is still so vivid. After a few moments of panic I figured out that I really could breathe through the little plastic tube in my nose. My groggy brain must have decided: “The hell with this.” The next time my eyes opened I was back in my hospital room. I could breathe, but that was about all my head could do. The dental braces that had pulled and pushed my teeth around for the last couple of years were snugly wired together as well as secured by a vertical wire that ran through the bone at the base of my nose. I noticed a small shiny pair of surgical wire cutters on the little bedside table. I still keep those, never used, in a dresser drawer.

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The surgical procedure I had undergone was considered a new innovation in the dental world at the time. I was told it was the only way to save my teeth from eventually being “pushed out of my head” by my misaligned jaw. I was born with a lower jaw that grew a bit too long, causing a fairly severe under-bite. With my jaw closed there was a gap between my front teeth, which explains why I hated baloney sandwiches when I was a kid. Unless I applied my tongue just right, the thin uncut lunch meat would all at once slide out of the sandwich and flop down my chin. I thought everybody had that problem. And just to add to the fun, nature threw in a slight cross-bite (the teeth on bottom sometimes struck a little to the left of my upper teeth). After thirty something years I was accustomed to my teeth moving around regularly. I’d chew on one side for a while and then have to switch because a molar was feeling loose due to poor occlusion. So, yes, I volunteered for the corrective surgery my dentist suggested. Basically, the procedure amounted to cutting my lower jaw bone on both sides and sliding it backward. Near the cuts the overlapping bone would naturally grow together in about six weeks. Today, this healing time is shortened by using permanent screws to secure the jaw.

After a couple of days of intravenous feeding, the hospital nutritionist brought in my first meal. I thought I knew what I had gotten myself into, but this was a shock. I had imagined being limited to mushy things like pudding, thin mashed potatoes, maybe even baby food. I was wrong. The little sections on that plastic food tray contained four tiny puddles of different colored liquids. They were all sweet and fruity tasting. There was no fork or spoon. I wouldn’t be using either of those for six long weeks. The nurse smiled apologetically as she handed me a plastic straw, the first of so many I would use over the coming months. The orthodontist had done an excellent job of realigning my teeth. The almost invisible openings between my clenched teeth were so tiny it required some effort to get even thin liquid past them and into my idling digestive system. A day or two later, they wished me well as I left the hospital. I had sort of expected some help with diet suggestions, but other than a few ideas from my Mom, I was on my own.  

It took a while, but I eventually got into a routine of having meals through a straw. It was always challenging to get any variety. The hardest part was finding anything liquid that wasn’t sweet. Even V-8 juice was too thick and pulpy. The folks at my local grocery store must have wondered about that depressed looking guy who was always wandering down the juice aisle muttering to himself without his mouth moving. Speaking of which, you’d be surprised how well a person can learn to talk with his mouth closed. I still can do that. Annoys the hell out of people.

During the first couple of weeks I lost around 15 pounds, but as the nutritionist had predicted, I regained almost all of that while still on the liquid diet. Your system simply adjusts, I guess. Then, at six weeks the surgeon decided to extend the healing process two more weeks, just to be safe. That was tough to hear. I don’t think he understood I might at that time have been willing to take out a contract on his life for a Saltine cracker. Both of us did survive the eight weeks however.    

At that time I worked as a computer programmer at Gulf Oil headquarters in Houston. My co-workers were great through this whole episode. For two entire months no one ate even a snack within my view. In fact I later learned there had been a group decision to never even discuss going out for lunch where I could hear them. Those were real friends. When the day finally arrived for me to have the wires removed, the whole department planned to take me out to eat at Fuddruckers, a favorite of mine for huge hamburgers. When I returned from my appointment with the surgeon, I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I could only open my jaw about a half inch. Unused muscles take days to recover to moving normally. But that was okay. At the restaurant I requested those now unfamiliar instruments, a knife and fork, and was able to slowly cut the hamburger patty into tiny bites. It turned into a rather long lunch.

I’ll never forget that time in my life. It was much more of a struggle than I had expected, but the surgery was a success. At the ripe old age of 65 I still have all my teeth and can bite through a baloney sandwich like nobody’s business.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Preserving a Moment in Time — Norm Brown

When my sister-in-law Anna downsized to a smaller house recently she passed along to me some of the collected memorabilia of the Brown family. Among the odds and ends accumulated by my parents over the years was a small box that has been stored in one closet or another during all of my lifetime. It contains an assortment of items from my dad’s time in the Army during World War II. Many of the items in it look like they were just casually dropped in there when he got out of the service. His uniform hat and tie could still be worn today. The medals he earned were in there, along with an old cigarette lighter that just needs fluid to work again. In addition to this box of stuff Anna also passed along one other item that I remember hanging inconspicuously in my parents’ bedroom closet when I was a kid. It is a plaque that was awarded to my dad when he received his Bronze Star medal. It wasn’t protected nearly as well over the years as the smaller items enclosed in the cardboard box. The thin wooden frame, which I suspect was purchased by my mother back in the 1940’s, was literally coming apart. When I pulled on one of the tiny nails she had used to mount the certificate, it disintegrated into a small pile of rust. All things considered, the little nail had done its job well. I know for a fact this plaque was hanging in that bedroom closet when Hurricane Carla flooded our home with briny sea water way back in 1961. As you would expect, the award certificate is slightly browner than it was originally and the ink from some ancient typewriter ribbon has almost faded away. Last week I took it to a local framing store and had it remounted in a UV protected frame. This is what it looks like now:

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As you can tell from the insignia at the bottom, this was from the 2nd Armored Division, known as “Hell on Wheels.” The description is still difficult to read in my photo. This is what it says:

“Corporal Ray O. Brown, 14042494, 67th Armored Regiment, for heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy on 10 April 1945 in Germany. Corporal Brown was commanding the lead tank of a small task force sent out to eliminate an enemy road block that was holding up the advance. After deploying his tanks, Corporal Brown dismounted from his tank to make a personal reconnaissance. After reporting the strength of the enemy block, Corporal Brown maneuvered his tanks to eliminate the enemy opposition. In the ensuing action, thirty prisoners were taken. The task force was then able to continue on its mission. Entered military service form Louisiana.”

I remember as a small boy being fascinated by this story. I still have a clear mental image of a young man sneaking along a mountain ridge to spy on the enemy position below. My brother and I often tried to get Dad to talk about his adventures in the war. The few times he did, you could tell this was such a memorable time in the life of a guy who grew up on a small family farm in northern Louisiana. Mother often politely cut him off when he got into some of the scarier events. Along with the Bronze Star, he also received two Purple Heart Medals. My dad had the dubious honor of surviving being blown up twice. Once by a German Panzer tank in their homeland and once by General Patton’s American Air Force in Sicily (oops!).

You know, when I stop and think about these moments in time, it amazes me how easily one of the close calls could have gone the other way. If so, I wouldn’t exist at all today, or at least I wouldn’t be exactly the person I am.

         

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Holiday Update — by Norm Brown

In March of 2012 I posted a blog about a visit to a prison near Bryan, Texas to see my “baby” brother. At the time we were hopeful he would soon be considered for release after serving time for a DUI conviction. If you’d like to read (or reread) it, the article is here:

https://secondwindpub.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/an-interesting-place-to-visit-but-by-norm-brown/

I thought this would be a good time to post a brief update. A couple of weeks ago most of my extended family gathered for Thanksgiving. This is our time to get together each year. We’re all pretty scattered during the Christmas holidays. This year my brother Larry was able to join us for the first time in quite a while. I am very pleased to say he was released last year. After spending a required period in a halfway house, riding to odd part time jobs on my son’s old bicycle, he now is back working as a pipe fitter in the Beaumont area oil refineries and has an apartment he calls home. It was a tough time to get back out there, but in spite of his troubles, Larry has always had a good reputation as a hard worker. It was great to see his smiling face at Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

 

Hopefully Larry has turned a corner. As he will tell you, “It’s all about living one day at a time.”


Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

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The Wedding “Crasher” — by Norm Brown

While leaning on the railing out on my back deck this morning, enjoying the fresh autumn chill, I couldn’t help but notice construction starting on two more new homes across the canyon. As I sipped my coffee, my mind wandered back to an earlier time when I first moved out here to my little hilltop oasis. The view was a bit different then. I remember being able to pick out only four distant houses hidden among the cedar and oak woods covering these hills that mark the eastern edge of what is known as the Texas Hill Country. Now it would be almost impossible to count the large and expensive homes that have popped up above the golf course over there. At night, the once dark country view has been replaced by a more urban view with twinkling lights. Not a bad view, just noticeably different.

When my gaze wandered over to the little cement bird bath I set up years ago in the small grassy area next to my home, I got to thinking about how my little world here on this hill has also changed in the thirteen years since I arrived. It’s nowhere near as crowded with homes as the hillside subdivision across the canyon, but I do have a few neighbors now. When I first moved here my place was the only home on the cul-de-sac. Where cement driveways now lead to three houses there were only two little dirt roads leading off into the woods down the hill. It was very quiet most of the time and a bit spooky at night. But odd as it may seem, there was actually more traffic on our one block dead-end street back then. At night the red glow of taillights would light up my windows as cars would turn around or even sometimes disappear down one of the dirt roads. After dark this was a popular place to hide out for a little under-age drinking and probably sometimes worse activities. During the daytime, it attracted a different crowd, mostly folks with dirt bikes and four-wheelers. The quiet countryside would often echo with the high whine of small engines. The worst part was that one of those popular dirt trails led right down the hill onto my property. I remember a couple of times hearing voices and looking out to discover off-road vehicles being rolled off the back of a pickup parked right out front. That was too much. I put up posted signs. They were mostly ignored. During that time, there was one particular neighborhood teenager that would most frequently speed down the road and roar right past me standing there on my porch glaring at him. He knew he could be long gone before I could do anything. But then one day our little confrontation took a surprising turn, and that leads me to my little story—you knew it would eventually, right?

At that time, my grown son lived across town. He came over one day and told me his best friend was getting married. I knew the young couple. They had visited along with my son a few times. They were looking for a place to have the wedding, but couldn’t afford to rent a large enough space to accommodate the bride’s large extended family and all their friends. My son suggested offering my place and I thought it was a great idea. The bride’s mom came over and checked things out and we were all set. I got a kick out of how excited and appreciative they all were. It turned out the date for the ceremony was set for a weekend when I had planned to be out of town. So, unfortunately, I missed the actual event. According to my son it was quite a shindig. The family had rented 150 folding chairs and every one had been occupied during the ceremony. They had even rigged lights and sound and danced on my driveway until two AM. By the time I got home, however, my son was alone at the house and everything had been cleared away. It was then, while I was making a quick scan for anything out of place, I found the wallet.

It was a plain brown leather man’s wallet. Someone in the wedding party must have dropped it on the small table upstairs or left it there while changing. I opened it and found a driver’s license. I glanced at the address, thinking I should be able to look up a number for the owner. Much to my amazement, the address was right there in my neighborhood, a couple of streets away. It struck me as odd that someone here knew the couple, but when I looked at the photo on the ID it really shook me up. Grinning back at me was a slightly younger looking version of the teenager with the four-wheeler. The smile wasn’t quite as cocky, but it was the same kid. What was he doing here, inside my house? Had he actually crashed the wedding party?  The more I thought about it, the more likely that seemed. From what I had heard there were beer kegs and a lot of food. Who would have thought to check anyone’s age? The nineteen year old wouldn’t have stood out that much from all the twenty-something’s at the party. I just could not believe the nerve of the young man. Before calling his parents, I asked my son to check with his friends to see if they had seen him. When he later showed the license around, the groom said he thought he did see someone that looked like the photo. He didn’t know the guy, but then there were a lot of the bride’s family there he would not know. All right—gotcha! The next night I put in the call and talked to the boy’s mother. My accusation that he had crashed a party of strangers really surprised her. She said he had lost his wallet, but she thought he had mentioned that a few days earlier. Still, as the parent of a teenage boy, she couldn’t be totally sure of what he had been up to. She promised me her husband and son would come by the next evening to get to the bottom of it all.

Early that next day, a few more facts came to light. My son called and said that one of his friends had told him he found the wallet on the trail down the hill. He was the one who quietly left it on the table in the house. He swore that he had not removed anything from it. I opened the wallet and counted fifteen dollars still inside. That made me feel pretty good about my son’s friend, but it also gave me a moment to look closer at the bills. They felt funny. Looking closer I could see a light coating of bluish mold. If the kid had dropped it outside during the party, mold was unlikely to have grown in just two days time. A couple of hours before confronting the teen and his dad, I was starting to rethink my theory. I walked down the dirt road to the area where the wallet had been found. Right away I spotted a small cheap bracelet on the ground. The teen usually rode alone, but I did remember about a week earlier seeing a girl on the back. The bracelet was a few feet away from a long narrow scrape in the gravel, which pointed directly back uphill to a familiar rather abrupt drop off in the dirt road. It was suddenly obvious what had happened. There had been some crashing all right, but not the kind I had imagined. The wallet had been there exposed to the elements for a while.

Once the boy and his dad arrived, we worked things out fairly quickly. I admitted that I wasn’t quite as upset as I would have been if he had actually crashed the party, but I had very clear evidence that he had been riding on my property without permission. The fact that he could have been injured added to my concern. Who knows now days? Someone might sue me for having a dangerous trail on my land. The boy seemed very pleased to have his license back, as well as the fifteen dollars. He said he really didn’t know when he had lost it and was having a hassle trying to get his license replaced. He and his dad both promised he would not ride down that particular hill again. We shook hands and he thanked me for returning his wallet.

After that evening, I only saw the young man one more time. Probably about a year later I was mowing weeds when I looked up to see a four-wheeler pull to a stop on the cul-de-sac. He waited for me to look up and recognize him and then waved. He must have been twenty by then and didn’t look so much like a kid anymore. When I smiled and waved back he turned the machine around and slowly drove away on the public road. That little smile was stuck on my face for a while that day.        

                            

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Behind a Waterfall — by Norm Brown

On our recent summer camping trip in Oregon one of the best parks my brother and I explored was Silver Falls State Park. As in so much of this beautiful state, the campground is forested with huge pine trees. It also has something that you just don’t find much in the southwestern U.S. where I live: waterfalls. If I remember correctly, ten are located along the hiking trails enclosed in this relatively small park. We didn’t have the time (or energy) to hike to all of them, but there was one waterfall that really stood out to me. The South Falls is not only the easiest to reach, but the tallest of the waterfalls. It also has some rather unique features.

South Waterfall

South Waterfall

 

The hiking trail approaches the falls from above and then curves sharply down and actually passes behind the waterfall, providing a viewpoint you don’t get with most natural falls. We were there during an unusual heat wave for Oregon, but the temperature dropped dramatically and the humidity rose as we approached the flow of falling water. If I were a plant, I think this is where I would want to be rooted. Colorful lichens along the rock wall are constantly bathed in the mist.

Lichens Behind Waterfall

Lichens Behind Waterfall


Behind the falls I also found a patch of some sort of strange looking mushroom (toadstool?). I’ve never come across this species before. They were shaped like small cups as if to catch as much of the mist as possible. 

Mushrooms Behind Falls

Mushrooms Behind Falls

  

The most intriguing discovery behind the waterfall was a series of small caves. I realized right away that these weren’t your usual caves. The region of central Texas I call home is littered with limestone caverns carved out by dripping or flowing water. These narrow caves in Oregon, however, were not formed from smooth weathered limestone, but hard jagged volcanic rock. But what makes them truly different is the fact that they are vertical.These caves go straight up.

Vertical Caves

Vertical Caves


In spite of the abundant water cascading just beyond the caves and misting my camera lens, it was obvious that they were not formed by water. Looking up into one of them I could see the opening narrowed as it poked some unknown distance into the solid rock.  

Looking into Tree Trunk Hole

Looking Straight Up into Cave


There was no sign explaining the phenomenon at the falls site, but back at camp I found the explanation in a pamphlet that we received upon entering the park. Long ago this area was formed by two huge lava flows, separated by a period of several thousand years. During that peaceful in-between era, soil formed and a dense forest of huge trees grew just as they do today above the falls. During the second volcanic eruption, the trees were engulfed in deep molten lava. The tall trunks of these trapped trees either burned completely or rotted away over time. Either way, each tree blocked the lava long enough for it to harden around the trunk, forming what appears today to be a cave that goes straight up. It is a stone mold of the ancient tree. The stream and waterfall we see today in fact had nothing to do with creating these wonders of nature.      

  

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Return to the Scene of the Crime — by Norm Brown

Way back in May of 2000 my son and I took a long cross country trip in a rented RV. We camped in some awesome national and state parks and took in a lot of tourist sites along our trek from Austin all the way up to southern Oregon. As in all great vacations there was one moment that stuck most in my memory. It was an awe-inspiring scene, but not in the photo taking sense like Yosemite. In fact, relatively few people have ever seen this sharp blind curve where inches from the edge of a one lane road the mountainside drops away for thousands of feet. There was no guard rail and the worn asphalt actually sunk down toward the drop off. As I eased the 25 foot long RV around the curve, I was convinced we had made a serious mistake in taking this route through the Siskyou National Forest between Galice and Gold Beach, Oregon. It was hard not to vividly imagine what would happen if we couldn’t make that turn. What if I met an oncoming vehicle or something blocked the way in the middle of the curve?

If you have read my novel, Carpet Ride, you will recognize this situation as the opening scene of the murder mystery. All those years ago, this is where I got the initial idea for the plot. It was a real place and inspired real fear. We made it safely down to the coast, but I have always had a clear image of that remote spot in my mind.

 A couple of weeks ago I took another RV trip in Oregon, this time with my brother. Older and maybe a bit wiser, we flew to Portland where we rented an RV and a small car for sight-seeing. This was a much better arrangement than having to drive the big gas-guzzling camper everywhere we went. So when I suggested we take a day trip over the wilderness road to the coast, I was actually thinking that the route would seem very different, maybe even a little disappointing. After thirteen years, the road had probably been drastically improved and the steep curves wouldn’t be challenging at all for a small car. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

As before, we started out on a nice two-lane paved road through the tiny town of Galice. My GPS, which was something I didn’t have back in 2000, reported that we were quickly gaining altitude. By the time we were breathing thinner air at over 5,000 feet above sea level, the road had changed dramatically. Just as I remembered, the route rapidly deteriorated to a one lane, occasionally dirt, road. For me it was like stepping back in time. The only improvement I could see was the existence of a few warning signs along the way. At the highest elevations, the road literally sagged down toward the edge on one side and those drop-offs seemed even more spectacular than I remembered. Or perhaps my view just wasn’t as limited by the tunnel vision I suffered while steering an RV with overheating brakes. According to the GPS the entire white knuckled journey was only 46 miles as it roughly followed the Wild Rogue River through the mountain range. Averaging only 15-20 miles per hour much of the time, it took us well over two hours to reach Gold Beach, a seaside town on the Pacific Coast. I was only able to take a few photos along that beautiful stretch of rocky coast, which actually had been my main goal. The sun was quickly sinking and we had to turn around and do that whole drive again to get back east to our camp. Who knows, maybe traversing it in the dark would have inspired another story. I didn’t choose to find out. Luckily, the July sun sets pretty late in Oregon.

Oregon Wilderness Road

Oregon Wilderness Road

Somewhere along that trek, I guided the car through the exact curve that was seen through the eyes of the main character in Carpet Ride. But there were so many, each scarier than the last. I couldn’t point it out. As we came back down toward civilization, my brother, who just recently read the book, said, “You weren’t exaggerating, were you?” You know, before this return to the actual scene, I sort of thought I had.      

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Bikers Waving Etiquette – by Norm Brown

My brother and I took a long motorcycle trip a couple of weeks ago from Texas out to the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. It was a great trip with cool camping weather at the higher elevations, but we had to cover a lot of miles to get there and back home again. Along the way we encountered many other bikers on the road. There was a huge rally scheduled for that week in Red River, New Mexico. They were anticipating a crowd of over 20,000 bikes of all sorts. Since we were looking for quiet places to camp rather than a party, my brother and I veered away from the little town. So we passed many of the folks rumbling along the highway in the opposite direction. These frequent brief encounters got me to thinking about the rather unique “code of the road” that many, but not quite all, motorcycle riders observe when encountering fellow bikers travelling in the other direction.

It all has to do with waving—or not waving. I know, it sounds pretty trivial, just a simple friendly gesture toward a stranger out on the road enjoying the same recreational pastime as yourself. But surprisingly it involves some rather quirky decision making. The vast majority of riders you meet (and their passengers) wave with the left hand down low in a sort of muted “low five” with open palm toward the oncoming bike. It’s a sensible gesture that shouldn’t be misinterpreted by a driver behind you as a turn signal. If there is a group of oncoming bikers I simply hold that pose until they have all passed by.  

Wave 1

 

Occasionally you encounter the really enthusiastic rider who puts a lot more into it. These guys are usually flying along at a fast pace, hunched down over their gas tank. In this case the left arm is fully extended and blown back by the wind for a sweeping wave as he flies past.

Wave 2

 

And then, as I mentioned, there are bikers who for whatever reason choose to not participate. This is where the decision making part comes into play. As the bright single or double headlight gets closer, do I initiate the interaction myself or wait for some sort of clue? I actually feel a little bad when I decide not to acknowledge the other rider, but then notice too late that he or she did have a hand out down low. And of course I feel foolish if I give a big old obvious wave and the other person just looks away. In doubtful situations I sometimes do the “almost wave” as in the photo below. For this you just tentatively take your left hand off the handlebar. The advantage of this move is that the gesture could be interpreted as a small rather noncommittal wave, but you can also do something else with that hand if the other rider blatantly ignores you: flex your fingers like you were relaxing a tired hand, reach up and pretend to adjust your side mirror, or even pick your nose. Don’t try that last move if your helmet has a full face shield—you’ll look pretty silly.  

Wave 3

This usually all happens at high speed. So, how do you decide what to do in time to do it? Sometimes you can rely on the appearance of the approaching bike and rider. But stereotypes don’t always hold to form. The helmetless guys on choppers with loud straight exhausts do sometimes wave at people in full safety gear on a touring bike loaded with camping gear. I have noticed that riders on bikes with those high “ape hanger” handlebars usually don’t take a hand off. I think maybe their arms could be too numb from holding that awkward position. But stereotyping often fails. And that works both ways. I ride a Honda Gold Wing Motortrike rather than a two-wheeler. With more baby boomers returning to riding, these are becoming more popular with both male and female riders, but when I first switched to three wheels they were unusual to see on the road. Back then, as I was cruising along behind my brother on his high powered sport bike, I think guys would occasionally assume that I was a female rider. In cool weather, I wear a bulky jacket along with my helmet. I noticed that some guys would not acknowledge my brother’s wave at all, but give me a big obvious waggle of the hand. This never embarrassed me at all, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were trying to flirt a little with what they thought was something other than a sixty-something year old guy. Which raises the age old question: “Does a snicker inside a full face helmet actually make a sound?”

Wave or not, my fellow travelers, but ride safe.          

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Book Club Meeting — by Norm Brown

With all the changes in the publishing world, it is comforting to find that there are still people out there who really love reading. At my high school reunion last October one of my classmates came up and asked me if I would be interested in talking to her local book club about my novel, Carpet Ride. The group meets monthly to discuss a book they have chosen to all read. I’ve done book signings and general writing discussions with potential readers, but never addressed a room full of people who have already read my book. I thought this might be really different.

And it was. Last Tuesday I made my way over to east Texas to the outskirts of the small city of Jasper. In Texas “over” can be quite a ways—in this case about 280 miles. Took a while, but it was a very pleasant and scenic spring time drive. My friend and one time classmate Laverne and I decided that she would ask me questions from the list that one of my fellow Second Wind authors developed for creating online interviews. I was expecting a very small group, but when the meeting began there were sixteen ladies seated in a semi-circle in front of me. Public speaking has never been a favorite pastime for me, but there was something very calming about seeing a copy of my book in the hands of almost every attendee. If there is one subject I know well, it’s the contents of the book that took me years to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I quickly discovered that I still really love to talk about my story and characters. I definitely wandered off subject on a particular question or two, but really enjoyed the experience. After the prepared questions had been covered, the members asked me some really great questions of their own, most beginning with “how did you?” or “why did you?” It was very different from your usual book signing event. Everyone had read the book; there was no fear of spoiling the story for somebody. And no carefully worded sales pitch required.     

As an author, I highly recommend trying to find book clubs that may be interested in reading and discussing your book. Not only did I get to feel like a minor celebrity for a little while, but discussing the details of the story brought back a little of the enthusiasm I remember feeling while struggling to bring it all together in the first place. At the end of the meeting someone asked the inevitable question: “What’s your next book about?” I’ve been struggling to make progress on the actual writing of a sequel for quite a while, but I do have a fairly complete plot laid out. I was able to tell the group who the main characters are going to be and described the opening scene of the story. The response from the club members seemed sincere and very enthusiastic. Maybe their encouragement can serve as a little kick in the pants to get me to dedicate more time to getting the next book done. It would be great to return someday to Jasper and see another book with my name on the front in the hands of those book lovers. 


Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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The Search for a Comet — by Norm Brown

When I was a kid I remember reading about Halley’s Comet. It is a rare short-period comet that is visible from earth approximately every 75-76 years. Throughout history it has often been visible with the naked eye. I can remember in my early teens looking forward to seeing it during my lifetime. I had a very small telescope and would sometimes spend hours out on our driveway squinting into the eyepiece at the moon or Jupiter. As it turned out, Halley’s Comet made its expected return in 1986. At that time I had just started a new job in Dallas. I did see some mention of the comet in the paper, but it apparently was much less spectacular than during past visits. I never caught a glimpse of it. I didn’t even own a pair of binoculars and my little telescope had met its demise years earlier when my little brother accidentally knocked it over on the cement driveway.

A couple of weeks ago I came across an article on the internet about the newly discovered Comet PANSTARRS that would be making its closest approach to the sun just after sunset on March 12. When that evening arrived I was out on the little second story porch on the front of my house with binoculars in hand and my digital camera on a tripod. The sky was perfectly clear. I knew the comet would be at its brightest as it approached the sun. Only problem—it was close to the sun. An internet article had suggested the best chance of seeing it would be to look near the new moon just after sunset. After the sun disappeared behind the hills, I couldn’t even find the moon until well after 8 PM, when it finally became visible as a tiny “fingernail” crescent. At first I was fooled by a number of contrails of aircraft heading west. The shorter ones looked a lot like comets. I suspect some of the planes were actually being used to photograph PANSTARRS. I scanned the sky all around the moon until it finally got dark enough to spot the comet itself. It was unmistakable with the little misty tail stretching away from the direction of the sun. Once located, I was able to mentally mark the spot above a treetop on the horizon. That night I succeeded in capturing several decent images of the comet before it followed the sun out of sight in the west. You will need to click on the photo below to see detail.

Comet PANSTARRS & Moon

Comet PANSTARRS & Moon

The next night I was determined to get some closer shots using my Nikon camera’s zoom lens. My son, his girlfriend, and her daughters had come over for a visit. So I had plenty of help finding the comet. It was no longer near the moon, but did appear only slightly to the east of the previous night’s location. In spite of having a cold drink splashed over my feet, I was able to get several long-exposure shots with the “help” of eight-year-old Emma. The exposures were more than two seconds, so she would holler “freeze” so everyone on the wooden porch would stand still just long enough. Lining up the shot was tricky since the comet was not bright enough to see in the camera’s viewfinder. Here is one of the better photos from that night:

Closeup Comet PANSTARRS

Closeup Comet PANSTARRS

As you can see, the high magnification shows the comet’s wispy tail and “dirty snowball” appearance. It was once believed that comets were composed entirely of the volatile ice forms of water, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. In recent years spacecraft have determined that they are mostly made up of dusty, non-volatile materials and only a small amount of ice. The tail is caused by the solar wind as the object passes close to the sun.

Another approaching comet has been spotted recently. It has been named Comet ISON and is predicted to be even more visible than Comet PANSTARRS. It hopefully will appear in November of 2013.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Nightmules — by Norm Brown

I very rarely have what I would call a nightmare, a vivid terrifying dream where someone or something is chasing me or threatening my life. I do, however, frequently have a particular type of dream that comes back to me in one form or another quite regularly. I think of these as “nightmules” rather than nightmares. In these recurring dreams there is an element of fear, but it’s more a fear of failing to do something I really need to do than a fear of death or injury. In these dreams I plod along more like a stubborn, thick-headed mule than a frightened horse. As far back as I can remember I have experienced a variation of these frustrating dreams on a fairly regular basis. I have always thought they must serve some sort of purpose in my subconscious mind other than simply a sense of relief when I awake to realize how silly and illogical the dream actually was. They are never exactly the same, but there are only a couple of basic themes.

One scenario always takes place back in college. I majored in physics at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas more years ago than I like to remember. This type of dream always starts on the old campus with me desperately searching for one of two things: an important math class session that I’m in danger of missing or my car to drive home. I haven’t actually been to the campus in decades, so I’m sure it has changed a lot. In either variety of this frustrating dream, the locale starts out familiar but then very quickly becomes strange, if not completely bizarre. I seem to always dream in color. I know in the dream that the math department was located in a red brick building. So, for a while my dream-state self wanders aimlessly through a couple such two story structures. But they are never the correct buildings. So, with the clock ticking toward tardiness, I wander farther and farther out until I end up in a totally unfamiliar maze of what appear to be apartment buildings, dorms I assume. All I can say for sure is that I never make my way back to the main campus from there. The lost car variation on this involves crossing the now unfamiliar campus and searching along a road that circles it. I have to warn you, this version of the dream can get truly weird. At times the sidewalk has abruptly come to an impossible to climb wall, forcing me to turn around and start over in frustration. But my favorite variation is one where I discover an amusement park complete with Ferris wheel and other rides at the far end of the campus. In real life that’s more or less where I remember a large parking lot. Pretty weird, huh?

The scene for the second major scenario is downtown Houston, where I once worked in a computer room in the basement of the Bank of the Southwest building. In these dreams I always get lost among the tall skyscrapers while either looking for a place to have lunch or trying to find my way back to the office after lunch. Again, it’s not a scary situation, just incredibly frustrating. I keep wandering around block after block looking for a familiar landmark. In the dream I seem to suffer a type of tunnel vision, as if I were in a maze. In real life you can usually recognize specific buildings from quite a distance. This goes on for a while and then, as in the school dream, things end up really strange. I have at times wandered so far that I found myself on a rural road looking back at the skyline of downtown on the horizon. Or occasionally (my Houston area friends can appreciate this version) I’ve suddenly stumbled onto a grimy gravel road inside a huge oil refinery with pipes and smelly steam everywhere. Houston is a huge sprawling city, but there are no rural routes or refineries right next to downtown.

There doesn’t seem to be a pattern or schedule as to when I have these dreams, but I’d say they come around every few months. There is no apparent connection to any real life events. The repetitive nature, however, makes me want to believe that these dreams have a purpose. Freaky as they may be, it seems to me the common thread in each form is a frustrating struggle to solve an unsolvable puzzle. Sometimes I awake in the middle and am simply relieved to discover that it was just a dream, but they more often end in an unbelievable and seemingly meaningless manner as I described above. Over the years I have come up with one possibility. No, I haven’t concluded that I’m insane. Instead, I wonder if maybe this is a way on some level for my mind to work out the notion that things can’t always be resolved. Sometimes you just have to shake off the frustration and move on. Maybe that’s why the amusement park ending is my favorite.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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