Renovation from Hell

“Renovation from Hell” will be the first single from my new band, Drywall Zombies. Now accepting applications for musicians.

I got cowbell covered.

But seriously folks, a zombie is nearly what I feel like after spending the last two weeks working on a room that was supposed to be an easy project: tear down peeling wallpaper, patch where needed, prime, paint, done.

Not so much.

It was little effort to remove the ancient wallpaper. No scraping was needed. However, it left dried adhesive behind that had bonded onto the blue painted drywall like cement. The amount of patching, sanding, priming—often multiple times on two of the walls—was arduous and frustrating to put it diplomatically.


Home Renovation Part One - Remove Wallpaper Home Renovation Part One - Remove Wallpaper Home Renovation Part One - Remove Wallpaper

Home Renovation Part Two - Wall TreatmentHome Renovation Part Two - Wall Treatment Home Renovation Part Two - Wall Treatment

As of two days ago, I was finally able to paint two of the four walls that were the least problematic.  There is something to be said for perseverance.

As of today, the final areas of joint compound on the remaining walls were sanded, the final coat of primer applied, followed several hours later by the first coat of paint. None of these walls will have a perfectly smooth finish. There will be rough spots and pockmarks here and there thanks to the damn adhesive residue, but I there’s no way in hell I’m taking another three or four days to patch and sand.

Home Renovation Part Three - Paint Ceiling and Walls Home Renovation Part Three - Paint Ceiling and Walls Home Renovation Part Three - Paint Ceiling and Walls Home Renovation Part Three - Paint Ceiling and Walls

I’ll live with the results and they’re actually not that bad. The room is brighter, with a warm, inviting decor thanks to the new color (Prairie Flower by Clark & Kensington–an ACE Hardware exclusive brand). The work should be done by Tuesday.

During my breaks, I’ve been crafting a new outline for a paranormal short story that I wrote in August and revised twice in September. I loved the concept, but was not happy with certain parts of the plot and the protagonist was rather flat. Earlier in the year, I had struck upon an idea for a different story about a young man who possesses an ability to predict death in a unique way. While renovating, it occurred to me that I could grant that ability to my protagonist in the current story-in-progress, which will imbue the character with much more depth and the plot with another layer of tension.

I look forward to working on this story once the Renovation from Hell is finally finished!


Book Review: 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin

It’s a rare occasion when I enjoy every story in an anthology almost equally. This is one of those times. All 13 tales in this collection are, as the title boasts, great.  I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise given the talent involved including Arthur C. Clarke, Ted Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Damon Knight, and others. However, were I forced to choose favorites, those would be…

“The War is Over” by Algis Budrys – Years after an Earth ship carrying an urgent message crash lands on an alien world, the inhabitants construct a vessel to return the message to Earth, though they’re not entirely certain why or even how they learned to build such a craft…

In “Allegory,” William T. Powers offers an entertaining yet frightening glimpse into a humanity controlled by computers and where independent thinking is considered a mental aberration.

In John Wyndham’s “Compassion Circuit,” Janet Shand, a fragile and fretful housewife, is forced to come to terms with Hester, an android servant programmed with emotions. It isn’t long before Janet begins to rely on Hester for her daily care—until she becomes convinced that there is a better way to live through robotics.

Arthur C. Clarke delivers a brilliant send up of corporate guile in “Silence, Please!” To get even with unscrupulous businessman Sir Roderick Fenton, a professor invents a portable sound-cancelling device and sells the patent to Fenton. The professor’s associates are mystified by his decision, until they observe how the devices are used when sold to the public, putting Fenton in the government’s crosshairs.

In Wyman Guin’s “Volpla,” a scientist creates a new, highly intelligent biological species with the ability to fly, speak, adapt, and reproduce. He fabricates a backstory that they had originated on another world and only recently came to Earth. Surely, this gag will spark the intended panic in the zoological community once the creatures are released into the wild. Unfortunately, the biologist’s plan backfires when the Volpla’s take a drastic course of action to preserve their race…

Alan Nelson’s lighthearted “Soap Opera” delivers the hysterical tale of a hapless young member of a soap manufacturer’s advertising team who experiments with skywriting as a marketing tool. “The words vanish too quickly!” cries the company’s owner, sending Everett Mordecai on a quest to find a more permanent solution—one that covers the entire city of San Francisco…

What happens when the government implants a second personality into its citizens, one that forces them to be docile, to be behave contrary to their natural tendencies? In “Analogues,” Damon Knight deftly presents us with this disturbing possibility…

When a homeless man named Ollie swallows what he think is a nut, he suddenly finds his appetite insatiable, no matter how much he eats. After winning an egg-eating competition by consuming over 100 eggs, Ollie is taken to the hospital to be examined. Shortly after, strange foreign objects materialize in Ollie’s stomach, causing intense pain and swelling. At the same time, two aliens arrive after realizing that their matter transfer device is inside poor Ollie. The question is… now what? We find out in William Morrison’s “Shipping Clerk.”

G.C. Edmondon’s “Technological Retreat” brings us the story of extraterrestrial technology run amuck when humans trade simple Earth goods for a device that can instantly repair damage to any surface by making it malleable enough to reshape. It isn’t long before the aliens begin disseminating the device across the planet, with devastating effects on human evolution.

In Ted Sturgeon’s “The Skills of Xanadu,” a haughty scout sent by an advanced alien race lands on the bucolic world of Xanadu. While reluctantly spending time among the primitive “barbarians” of this world, Bril marks them as ripe for conquest. Yet, he finds their manufacturing abilities beyond comprehension. When Bril finally discovers the source of their power in the form of polished stones worn as part of their clothing, he takes one back to his homeworld—where the true conquest begins.

13 Great SF Stories




On Providing Useful Critiques…

As Neil Gaiman said: “When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong.”

Just a gentle reminder for all of us who critique stories. Remember to always begin with the positives before delving into the criticism, and refrain from dictating to the writer how you think they should write their story and how you think their characters should behave.

If that’s the story you want to read, write it yourself. Don’t tell the writer what to do. It’s the writer’s story and the ultimate decisions are up to the writer. Respectfully inform them of what problems you found in the story and offer suggestions. Leave it to the writer to do the work.

I’m reminded of an anecdote shared by actor Lance Henriksen in his autobiography, Not Bad for a Human. While working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Henriksen offered an idea to Spielberg that the government team at Devil’s Tower should kidnap one of the small aliens at the end of the film. Spielberg replied: “That’s a different movie, Lance.”

Click here for excellent guidelines on critiquing from The Writer’s Loft. 



Afternoon at the Zoo

On more than one occasion this year, my wife and I had discussed visiting the Lehigh Valley Zoo since the arrival of Murphy the Giraffe. However, with the constant stream of disruptions that nearly consumed my summer, we could not make the time for it until this weekend—which also happens to be our anniversary.

I took comfort in the fact that summer has not yet left us, despite cooler weather moving in at the end of August. Today, we hit 81F degrees and I loved every perspiration-inducing minute of it. Of course, this meant that several of the animals decided to find a shady corner of their residences and curl up for a nap, but we were not disappointed by those that were active including:

  • African Penguins
  • African Spurred Tortoise
  • Alpacas
  • Auodads
  • Axolotl (in the reptile and amphibian house)
  • Black and White Swans
  • Blue Heron (a recurring visitor to the zoo)
  • Chuckwalla
  • Gila Monster
  • Camels
  • Zebras
  • Murphy the Giraffe (the zoo’s newest attraction)
  • Ostriches and Emus
  • Scimitar-Horned Oryx
  • Mexican Gray Wolf
  • Cocatoos, Lories, and Lorikeets in the bird habitat
  • Laughing Kookaburra
  • … and more!


African Penguin

African Penguin African Penguins  African Spurred Tortoise Alpaca Aoudad Axolotl Black Swan Camels in the shade Chuckwalla Cockatoo Desert Iguana EmuOstrich Murphy the Giraffe Murphy the Giraffe

Murphy the GiraffeBlue Heron White Swan Kangaroo Laughing KookaburraRed Lory

Lorikeet and Red Lory



Mexican Gray WolfScimitar-Horned Oryx

West African Dwarf Crocodile




Book Review: Galloway’s Gamble by Howard Weinstein

Told as a memoir written by one of the protagonists, Galloway’s Gamble is a story about hope, risk, and the indomitable human spirit. After gunning down her abusive alcoholic husband in 1850’s Texas, Cara Galloway becomes determined to create a new and better life for herself and her sons, Jake and Jamey. What follows is a rollicking, colorful, fast-paced adventure spanning nearly 30 years of the Galloway family. Weinstein takes readers on a delightful and honest journey of love, war, gambling, prejudice, greed, ruin, and triumph through a well-researched backdrop of the Old West. I enjoyed every word of this satisfying tale filled with a motley and endearing cast of wonderful characters. I reckon you will, too.

This latest release from NYT bestselling author Howard Weinstein can be found on Amazon.

Galloway's Gamble by Howard Weinstein