Elkins, West Virginia

In September of 2016, I traveled to Elkins, West Virginia with a half-finished novel. It had no ending and no real sense of place, so I knew a visit was in order. With the help of Russ Collett, then-principal of Elkins High School, I gained a sense not just of the school and the students, but also of the town and people.

A tour of Davis & Elkins College furthered my understanding of my main character’s father, a theater professor at that college. It’s a magical place with mansions of the namesakes, donated to the college decades ago, adding to the grandeur of the academic setting students occupy.

Driving around the airport, which has a high school, technical school, and elementary school nestled in the criss-cross of the runways, I also found a quaint cemetery overlooking one of those runways with a church telling me stories of a fire from its condition.

Above are photos I took of the natural beauty of Elkins. Below are photos I took of some important locations key to my book.

My Novel is Done. Again.

Young Mister Tim: Past Imperfect, my YA novel about a high school senior who inadvertently slips into an alternate version of his past–and it’s done again!

This morning at 1 a.m., just past the witching hour on Halloween, I finished my major revision of the book. It is 15% leaner and what is left is, I think, much improved. No work of art is ever perfect in the eyes of its creator, but I do like it. The story, the characters, and the sci-fi element all make me happy.

Could it be better? I’m sure my critique partner and any future editors and publishers will suggest improvements. That sounds fun, though, since working on this novel has started journey I hope I never have to stop. And my most consistent critique partner–Dr. Amy Sayle of star party and storytelling fame–supports thoroughly yet doesn’t spare ego. I confess I am ready, however, to get onto the next book in the series (with three sequels planned).

I understand awards programs where winners cite family. I don’t expect awards or even nominations, but I think any artist whose family sticks around is an ego-maniac if he or she doesn’t recognize they had familial support.

My family made this book possible. With their blessing, I shut myself in an office to write, met with critique partners to gain insight, and talked about characters and plot points incessantly. A child running into my office for something they felt important was never turned away. My wife asking for help wasn’t either. During the last two years, though, they accommodated my writing bursts during evenings, weekends, holidays, and vacations.  I owe this success to them.

This weekend, I cross my fingers and bring copies of the manuscript to a writers’ conference. I’ll let you know if anything interesting happens. Whether it does or not, there is surely plenty more for me to work on.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


(Image of Young Mister Tim making a wish, Copyright 2017)

My New Home

I try to stay busy, but this summer I completely overdid it.

Not only did I continue working hard for my day job, give the occasional planetarium show, walk the dogs most mornings and nights, give my children attention and love, and engage my wife of many years in as much loving kindness and romance as she deserves (Note: she deserves quite a lot more than I can ever give her), we also undertook to move across town. Below is the picture of us having closed on the house, awaiting the moving trucks with all our stuff.


If you haven’t heard from me recently, I was packing, closing, moving, unpacking, and still doing the job/shows/dogs/kids/wife/and-oh-yeah-the-eclipse-trip-I-planned.

I’m back. Expect more posts soon.

Meantime, check out the eclipse trip involving twenty-five of us on a weekend deluxe cabin stay in western NC.EclipseCrew

Weekend Star Flights

Next week, I travel to California and will experience two cosmically-driven institutions: Griffith Observatory and The Museum of Planetarium Projectors (above, courtesy Owen Phairis).
Three planetariums engaged in astronaut training. Morehead was the trailblazer and chief among them, claiming all but one of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts on our list alumni, with fifteen years’ of contracts with NASA to back up the claim. The other two planetariums include Griffith Observatory’s Samuel Oschin Planetarium  and the Burke Baker Planetarium in Houston. (Where else?)
This trip affords me the chance to visit one of those: Griffith. I’ll interview historian Tony Cook to put their astronaut training program in context alongside Tony Jenzano’s innovative program at Morehead. Already noteworthy from phone discussions with Cook: Griffith Observatory trained Chuck Yeager and his squadron, plus dozens (hundreds?) of other World War II pilots.
My second stop is The Museum of Planetarium Projectors, but why? See the picture above? It’s only two hours’ drive from Griffith, so how could I not? And it’s for sale, so investors should take note.
After both visits and interviews, I’ll be sure to report the most interesting discoveries I unearth. Meantime, wish me luck with my fifteen-hour driving day.


Under the Dome Again

In April, Jonathan Frederick, Michael Frederick, and I ate lunch at Top of the Hill with Captain Jim Lovell (above, center). Jim Lovell was the commander of Apollo 13, CMP on Apollo 8, and astronaut on both Gemini 7 and Gemini 12. Upon my recommendation, Captain Lovell had the Lizard Chips, a spicy and tangy appetizer. When the spice got to him a bit at one point, he pointed to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “If I can’t do my lecture tonight, it’s your fault.”
I also spent time with my latest buddy later that day, Carol “CJ” Jenzano (above, left). While she is known in education circles as an advocate students with disabilities, from the Philippines to Germany to right here in North Carolina, most people in this context will know her as the daughter of Tony Jenzano. He was the man who pitched the idea to NASA that the astronauts should know the stars in case of spacecraft equipment failure; a contract that led to 14 other contracts for a total of 15 years. That training helped nearly all human space flight missions from Mercury mission through the first few shuttle missions, especially on the ones where electrical systems shorted out or systems had to be shut down.
In the 1960s, Jim Lovell came to Chapel Hill eight times and visited the Jenzano home most or perhaps all of those times. CJ remembered Jim Lovell as “kind of a Daddy Astronaut,” meaning that even among astronauts, he exuded calm authority that made others turn to him for answers or for a sense of feeling grounded.
I felt honored to be in the presence of Captain Lovell and CJ when they met again after fifty years. While the rest of the month involved my talking to planetarium historians at other facilities, an astronaut who flew six space shuttle missions, and others from Morehead Planetarium past, this moment stood out. I was in the dome with a man who trained to reach for the stars and the then-teenage girl who used to sneak into that dome to listen quietly, in the dark, to that training.