Book Review: BEAUTY AND DYNAMITE by Alethea Kontis

If I’d had my wits about me, I would’ve posted this review four days ago, on Alfred Nobel’s birthday.* Since he invented dynamite, of course. But my wits are often everywhere except about me.

Not so with Alethea and her collection of essays, BEAUTY AND DYNAMITE. Her wits never seem to leave her, and the result is delightful.

(Full disclosure: Alethea is a most charming young lady whom I count as a friend as well as a colleague. If you think my review may be biased as a result, I can only say: you may be right. After all, she actually included the gibberish I contributed, giving me probably my only opportunity to be listed in the same table of contents as John Ringo.)

BEAUTY AND DYNAMITE is primarily a collection of Alethea’s essays for Apex Digest, with a smattering of poetry, blog entries, and “How I Met Alethea”-type entries from a few of the many, many friends she has made as a “genre chick.”

I could relate quite well to Alethea’s notes about Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp, since I went through the bootcamp experience a year after she did. My interview subject wasn’t nearly as interesting as hers: That lady felt free to share her remarkable story with Alethea, no doubt because she knew Alethea would appreciate the story she had to tell. That quality is one thing that makes Alethea such a perfect fit in the publishing world: she appreciates the stories and the act of story-telling itself.

And she tells good stories, even when she’s not the star. She was able, for instance, to shine the spotlight on Sherrilyn Kenyon as she wrote about their time together at a convention, and on the grand dame of science fiction, Andre Norton, as she wrote about visiting her home and library.

Some of the essays, because they deal with more heartache and hurt than happiness, are harder to read than others. But they all share a singular virtue: they express truth as the real world presents it to us, and growth as we deal with the world on our own terms. They are beauty, and they are dynamite.

To order a copy of BEAUTY AND DYNAMITE, visit Apex Books.

*Actually, if I’d had my wits about me, I’d have posted this review right after Labor Day. I finished the book while I was at Dragon*Con, after all — holding it up in front of me where a thousand or so people walked by and saw it. Oh, and Alfred Nobel was born October 21, 1833, in Stockholm, Sweden.

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Writing Again: The First 100 Words Are the Hardest

(At least, I hope they are.)

So last night I opened the file that is MARE NUBIUM, my novel-in-progress, and reintroduced myself to it after three weeks of family priorities and office (i.e., work-at-home) overload. I’m almost caught up with my university work, and still a little behind on my reading for Baen, but I want to start ramping up my writing again while I continue to catch up.

I was afraid that I would read something in my work that would make me involuntarily hurl my computer through the window, but I didn’t. I count that as a positive indicator.

And when all was written and done, I’d added 168 words to the manuscript. Not much, I know, but enough that I felt my time was well spent. Tonight I’ll try for a few hundred more, and we’ll see how it goes.

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A Little Nuclear Detection History, and a Big Gripe

Forty-five years ago today, the first nuclear detonation detection satellites, Vela-1 and Vela-2, were launched from the Eastern Space & Missile Center. Considering the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons, NUDET is as vital today as it ever was, and those spacecraft paved the way for the capabilities we have now. Just thought you’d like to know.

Now for my gripe.

It’s really not that big a gripe, despite the title above. It’s based on the trials of the write-submit-receive rejection-submit again cycle. I can’t gripe about the cycle itself; it’s part and parcel of the business of writing. But sometimes ….

Here’s the story: Back on August 23rd, I submitted for the first time an essay entitled, “An Unsolicited Proposal for the Next Secretary of Education.” It was rejected, and since then it’s been submitted and rejected two more times and is currently in review at a fourth venue. With every submission, I’ve tried to tell the editorial staff that this is a timely piece, and last night’s Presidential debate proved me right.

Referring to education, both candidates pointed out the difficult situation in the Washington, DC, school system. That’s great, but it irritated me because one of the central tenets of my essay had to do with establishing a model school in DC.

😡 Timing is everything, and once again it’s something I don’t have.

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Happy Discoverer’s Day … and A Publisher’s Public Slushpile

Those who know me well know that I prefer politeness to political correctness, so my personal reference to Columbus Day as Discoverer’s Day is not (I repeat, not) (I tell you three times, NOT) the usual anti-Columbian protest on behalf of the American aborigines.* Rather, when the government decided that Presidents Washington and Lincoln would share a holiday with all the others who have occupied that office, I decided that other holidays named after famous people should also be renamed to share with those with similar accomplishments. The obvious exception to this is Christmas, since I can’t find anyone else in history who has changed the world as profoundly as did Jesus Christ.

End of rant/sermonette, and Happy Discoverer’s Day to one and all.

In other news, I was pointed to what appears to be an experiment by Harper Collins to let the online reading public sort through their slush pile for them. Called authonomy, it’s “a brand new community site for writers, readers and publishers, conceived and developed by book editors at HarperCollins.”

From their FAQ page,

authonomy invites unpublished and self published authors to post their manuscripts for visitors to read online. Authors create their own personal page on the site to host their project – and must make at least 10,000 words available for the public to read.

Visitors to authonomy can comment on these submissions – and can personally recommend their favourites to the community. authonomy counts the number of recommendations each book receives, and uses it to rank the books on the site. It also spots which visitors consistently recommend the best books – and uses that info to rank the most influential trend spotters.

…. HarperCollins hopes to find new, talented writers we can sign up for our traditional book publishing programmes – once we’re fully launched we’ll be reading the most popular manuscripts each month as part of this search.

In a way, this is similar to the process on Baen’s Bar whereby short story submissions to Jim Baen’s Universe can be critiqued and catch the eyes of the editors. The electronic slushpile for Baen Books works a little differently — the submissions aren’t available to every member of the Bar.

I’ll be interested to see how the Harper Collins experiment works out.

*Disclosure: I may fall into this category myself, having a percentage of Cherokee blood; I’ve never gone the route of documenting how much to see if I qualify for tribal membership.

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I Finished Writing a Story Today

Between slush reading assignments and making progress on my novel, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing a short story for the Codex Writers Group Halloween Contest. Today I finished my first draft, which gives me a few days to let it sit quietly before I read through it and attempt any revisions. (The deadline is October 1st.)

The way the contest works, we’re randomly assigned to provide another person the “seed” for their story. I provided a story seed to fellow Boot Camp alumnus Oliver Dale; it wasn’t a very good seed, but Oliver’s the kind of writer who can make good things from bad.

I got the seed for my story from Meg Stout, with whom I wrote a story for the Codex Collaboration Contest and whose mom was in Dave Wolverton’s Writing Workshop with me — small, small world. Meg’s seed was elaborate but extremely good, in that it allowed for an incredible degree of flexibility. I did what I could with it, but I’m not sure I did it justice.

The story ended up being pretty short (the limit is 7500 words, so we aren’t too overwhelmed by reading and judging all the entries, but I didn’t come close to that), and I think I like it. But I always seem to like what I’ve written until people start pointing out the flaws; hopefully, letting it sit for a few days will help me see the flaws for myself.

And now, apart from the slush reading, I can turn my attention back to my novel.

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50 Years Ago In Space … and Writer Congrats

Astute readers might say to themselves, “Not much was happening a half century ago in space,” but something happened on the ground on September 17, 1958, that was important to U.S. space exploration: the NASA-ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) Manned Satellite Panel was formed.

According to THIS NEW OCEAN: A HISTORY OF PROJECT MERCURY, the panel recommended:

The objectives of the project are to achieve at the earliest practicable date orbital flight and successful recovery of a manned satellite, and to investigate the capabilities of man in this environment.

To accomplish these objectives, the most reliable available boost system will be used. A nearly circular orbit will be established at an altitude sufficiently high to permit a 24-hour satellite lifetime; however, the number of orbital cycles is arbitrary. Descent from orbit will be initiated by the application of retro-thrust. Parachutes will be deployed after the vehicle has been slowed down by aerodynamic drag, and recovery on land or water will be possible.

A. Vehicle
The vehicle will be a ballistic capsule with high aerodynamic drag. It should be statically stable over the mach number range corresponding to flight within the atmosphere. Structurally, the capsule will be designed to withstand any combination of acceleration, heat loads, and aerodynamic forces that might occur during boost and reentry of successful or aborted missions.
The document outlined generally the life support, attitude control, retrograde, recovery, and emergency systems and described the guidance and tracking, instrumentation, communications, ground support, and test program requirements.

I love the concise nature of the statements, and the fact that the whole plan consumed “only two and one-half pages of typescript.” These days stating the objective by itself would probably take almost that much space. (Maybe typewriters and carbon paper helped them get to the point.)


Congratulations to my writing friend and fellow member of the Codex Writers Group, Alex Wilson, for reaching the finals of the Writers of the Future Contest! I hope he snags one of the prizes, and that I reach the same point … or sell so much that I render myself ineligible. 😉

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ASPJ Article Available

My short article, “The Mission Matters Most,” is out in the latest issue of Air & Space Power Journal. It’s a short critique of a short critique of my 2006 article, “How the Air Force Embraced ‘Partial Quality.'”


The main point I wanted to make was that industrial and commercial quality improvement methods didn’t work well in the military setting because they were usually applied to support functions instead of warfighting functions.

Obviously I did not make that point clear enough in my original article, so let me reiterate that, in order for members of the rank and file to see Lean or any other improvement effort as vital to their service’s continued success, these efforts must be adapted to the core military mission as much as (if not more than) they are adapted to ancillary functions.

Statistical techniques designed to ensure that repetitive processes produce uniform results; continuous quality-improvement efforts that seek to improve “form, fit, and function” and customer satisfaction; and Lean initiatives that eliminate non-value-added effort and other waste are all highly effective, time-proven ways to make organizations better. But all too often they do not touch the military mission, and therefore they do not reach the military mind.

We’ll see if the point gets across any better this time.

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61, 62, 63, 64 … 65

Boy, those last 5000 words on the novel were slow in coming. I looked back in the archives to check, and am embarrassed to admit it took just over two weeks to make that progress. That works out to about 330 words a day. Shameful. 😮

I console myself by saying “Hey, part of that time you were at Dragon*Con, and for the last few days you’ve been sick, and don’t you need another cough drop?” (Thank you, don’t mind if I do.)

So here I am, at 65,000 words, still fairly happy with the way I’ve arranged the electrons in the file but hoping this month I can put more of them in place.

I’ve got to pick up the pace.

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Honorable Mention

A couple of people in the Codex Writers Group noted that I received an “Honorable Mention” in the latest Writers of the Future contest. This category of loser — :p — used to be called “Quarter Finalist,” but they changed it a few rounds ago. I guess QF sounded too similar to “Finalist” for someone’s taste.

Several other Codexians were listed in the slate of honorable mentionees, including Alethea Kontis (yes, THAT Alethea Kontis); Ami Chopine and Darren Eggett, who were at Dave Wolverton’s Novel Writing Workshop with me; Rick Novy, with whom I share a place in the recent Tales of the Talisman table of contents; and Pat Esden. Quite distinguished company, I think.

This is the second time I’ve made it this far in the contest, but the first time I’ve found out on-line through a writers’ group instead of getting notified through the mail. Oh, the wonders of modern technology.

Now, to search for a venue willing to publish my losing story ….

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Moving Ahead, Word by Word

Passed the 60,000-word mark on MARE NUBIUM tonight.

I’ve got one couple preparing to undergo a painful medical treatment to keep themselves in the lunar colonization program, and another struggling with whether to continue in the program after he was injured during initial setup operations on the moon. In each case, things will get better before they get much worse.

But it’s good to be creeping toward the goal.

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