Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The ARCs are here

Advance Reading Copies, that is. These are paperbound uncorrected galley proofs that are sent out well ahead of publication date (December 16 in this case) to review media, library venues and the like. Their arrival is a regular milestone in the life of a new book, and the beginning of hopes that it will be widely noticed—and bought. For more info, visit

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Radio-controlled flight

After a heart attack and ensuing triple bypass in 2009, I sold my little Cessna 150 two-seater and hung up the goggles and scarf. The impulse to fly, however, never quite left me, and last year I gave in to it by taking up radio controlled model aircraft, and now I go out and fly them at every opportunity.

The aurhor and his Apprentice S 15e training airplane.
(Photo by Deborah Abbott)
There was no need, of course, to relearn the principles of flight. On a much smaller scale, R/C airplanes obey the laws of aerodynamics in the same way as the real thing.

Piloting a model plane from the ground, however, is completely different from flying a grownup aircraft, and the learning process is tricky, strenuous and full of crashes. 

It’s easy enough, for instance, to guide an airplane from the ground while it’s flying away from you. 

When it’s flying toward you, though, things are backwards. When the plane starts to drift to your left (or right, from the plane’s point of view), your pilot’s muscle memory wants to counter the turn by telling your thumb to push the joystick to the right, in the opposite direction. But that just makes the plane sharpen the existing left turn. Quickly you’ve got to push the stick to your left. The resulting maneuver—first sashaying to the right and then pulling sharply to the left—looks like drunken overcorrection.

There’s also the size of control inputs. In a real airplane, using hands and wrists to push and pull the stick or turn the yoke is measured in inches. In a model airplane, thumb inputs on the joysticks of the transmitter are measured in millimeters. Micromillimeters, even.

A sharp turn in a real airplane requires back tension on the stick, using the elevator to keep the banking airplane from sliding downward in obedience to gravity. Soon your arms learn the right amount of pull so that the airplane neither gains nor loses altitude in a turn.

With a model plane, on the other hand, accustoming your thumb to a turn takes a lot—a lot!—of practice before you learn to avoid an upward or downward spiral.

I suppose it’s my advanced age, but it took me many, many flights finally to master the radio-controlled turn. It took many crashes, too, but fortunately the training airplane I use is built of foam and is easily fixed with a little epoxy glue. Eventually the airplane looked as if it had been run through a wood chipper and I recently replaced some important and much-repaired parts, such as the fuselage, wings and tailfeathers.

Those weren’t expensive at all, less than half the price of a new airplane. Radio-controlled model flying is a lot cheaper than the real thing. (And you get to walk away from a crash.)

I won’t claim that radio-controlled flying from the ground gives a pilot the same airborne exultation of soaring aloft through three dimensions. But learning those new ropes has given me the same satisfaction in accomplishing a fresh new venture that acquiring a private pilot’s license did.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

At last, the cover

The jacket for Tracking the Beast, coming from Five Star Mysteries on December 16, is at last ready, and the book is available for advance order on both and

It's the fifth Steve Martinez mystery and is set, as the others are, in a fictional place called Porcupine County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Five Star publishes primarily for libraries, so don't look for it at brick-and-mortar bookshops. Rather, Amazon and other online booksellers will be selling it to the public.

For more descriptive information, visit my website at

Monday, June 1, 2015

December 16

That's the official pub date for Tracking the Beast, the fifth Steve Martinez novel. And that means I'll have to arrange library talks and signings in January and thereafter: two or so down in the Chicago area, half a dozen in Upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin. Writing a book is only half the task; the rest is getting out there and selling it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Going to the dogs

It has been three years since Hogan, our somewhat eccentric half-Lab, half-pitbull, departed this life. Only recently have I mustered the courage to get another dog. Losing Hogan had unmanned me, and I just didn’t want to go through that heartache again.

But you can't take the dog out of dog people. Other folks’ pooches have always been a delight, and often I’ve wished I could take one home. In January I decided it was finally time, but thought perhaps that in the 75th year of my life a new dog ought to be useful as well as companionable. I am deaf, and maybe a dog trained to alert me to environmental sound—the doorbell, the landline phone, my cell phone, the smoke and CO detectors, the oven timer, the calling of my name, and so on—would be a sensible idea. 

Hearing dogs alert their people by bumping their hands (or, if they are small dogs, jumping up on them) and leading them to the source of the sound.

Such a dog would become a companion closer than any other dog we’ve had. It would sleep on the bed and lie at my feet all day long, and because it is a certified service dog would go everywhere with me—the library, restaurants, aboard trains and planes, to the movies and even swimming pools (although it would have to stay out of the water). We would be joined at the hip.

Debby could leave me alone to my devices without having to worry that advancing age was adding to my isolation. Service dogs with brightly colored working vests always attract friendly attention and help break down unseen barriers between the the able-bodied and people with disabilities.

And so I started the search, applying to several providers of hearing service dogs. One highly regarded outfit sounded very good, but it trains only Labs and golden retrievers that it has bred for the purpose. We have been Lab lovers, but in our mid-seventies big dogs are less practical, especially since we have moved from house to condo. Another source was also promising, but I heard of several failures among dogs it had trained. Finally I settled on an Oregon-based group forthrightly called Dogs for the Deaf. (Their web site is

Dogs for the Deaf seeks out and rescues smart, lively and highly trainable young dogs, usually terrier sized, at animal shelters and works with them on obedience and service tasks for approximately six months before the ones who make the cut are ready to be placed with their new people. (The ones who don’t are put up for local adoption; they never go back to the shelters.) 

Meanwhile, Dogs for the Deaf also does due diligence with prospective clients, reviewing complete medical records as well as sending volunteers to interview applicants, judge their personalities and capacities, and scope out their living arrangements. The idea is to train a dog to match a particular client’s needs as closely as possible.

Just a few days ago Dogs for the Deaf informed me that at last I had been accepted into the program, and as soon as they receive my good-faith check, the official waiting period would begin. That can take up to a year before a trainer finally appears at my door, dog in tow. The trainer would stay in town for up to five days making sure dog and new client bonded, and that I myself was taught not only to provide for the dog but also keep its skills sharp.

This will be an adventure.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Steve Martinez in large print

Now available on and its allied booksellers (and soon to be available on are the first three volumes of the Steve Martinez series, done in large print for visually challenged readers.

They're print-on-demand paperbacks produced with a 17 point Century Schoolbook font and published by

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Scene of the crime

This is a covered hopper car. Covered hoppers provide the scenes of the crime in the next Steve Martinez novel, Tracking the Beast, coming in December.

Now why would covered hopper cars be useful to a serial killer? You'll just have to wait to find out.

Meanwhile, I am buying that hopper car above to use in library and bookstore presentations. It's a G scale model, about two feet long. That ought to be useful for an author with murder on his mind.