Thursday, July 21, 2011

Apollo Son reflects on the end of the Shuttle Program

Growing up as the son of an engineer working on the Saturn V, I came to love the space program and everything that it represented. The risk, exploration, innovation and country pride during the early days of the Apollo program is unmatched in our history.

On Friday, July 8th, I took my family up to the Cape for the final shuttle launch. Regardless of only a 30% chance of a launch, we arrived to crawling traffic and cars parking wherever there was a sliver of land to view the launch.

This brought me back to the days of the Apollo missions. The throngs of launch watchers took to the shores of the rivers, lagoons, and the beaches. Sometimes we would arrive hours before the launch and spend what seemed like all day and sometimes into the night. Back in the early days, the launch windows were not of the ten-minute variety that we see today.

The sense of pride and accomplishment that made the Apollo program special infiltrated all who watched in awe at the spectacle. Thousands would gather with their picnics, battery powered televisions and radios. All around, the echoing of the launch sequence reverberated from the tinny sounds of transistor radios at each outpost. A chorus of voices joined the countdown adding to the excitement of the moment. At liftoff, the crackling of the five engines producing 7,650,000 pounds-force shattered the calm. The massive percussion assaulted our senses and the crowd would cheer the Saturn V as it climbed higher into the sky. 

Waiting for the final Atlantis launch, the crowd reminded me of the early days. It was good to see. I had witnessed other shuttle launches and the crowds were not impressive. People had grown complacent with the Shuttle program. Faceless astronauts, not the rock star explorers of the early years, piloted the Shuttle. The country had become an “event” crowd and the routine shuttle launches were not an event. Sure, they came back, after a tragedy. That always made the next launch an event.

I’d like to say that the Apollo program was not subjected to the same apathy, but that is not the case. In the waning years, the fervor of launches and the routine of going to the moon brought smaller and smaller crowds to the beaches. The Apollo program ended due to budget cuts and the lack of support to keep sending Americans to the moon. 

As we waited for the final firing of the main engines, the feeling of nostalgia and pride rippled through those that had gathered on the shores. However, it was eerily different. In this modern day of iPhones and technology, there were no radio’s belting out the launch sequence. Many people looked around wondering what was happening, was it going to go off on time. Thousands of launch fans stared at their web accessed phones, trying to get an update. There was an almost church-like hush amongst the crowd.

Suddenly and quietly, the liftoff occurred. The flash of the solid rocket boosters lit up the sky and the Atlantis climbed quietly into the sky. With the wind at our backs, it was as if a silent rocket had just shot toward space. The crowd started to point at the fireball climbing higher. The cheers and applause escalated and a chill went down my spine. Although much quieter, this Apollo Son felt the excitement and pride of the old days.

The man standing next to me looked up and shouted, “Godspeed.” The term used back in the early days of manned space flight, a Middle English expression, a wish for success and fortune for one setting out on a voyage, adventure, or travels. The Atlantis disappeared behind the clouds for a brief moment. As it broke out into the blue, the sounds of the its thrust finally reached the ground around us and provided a brief feeling of the power involved in sending humans to space.

Forty some years ago, I was a wide-eyed kid, watching us send astronauts to space with awe. It is my hope that my three-year old son will have a glimmer of memory about this historic launch. He knows his grandfather helped build the Saturn V and he loves everything “space.” He gets excited when he sees the moon and I can’t help but think that he might one day be able to venture back there. 

There is no question that the Shuttle fleet is old and very costly. I don’t disagree with the ending of the program. It just hurts that as resourceful and innovative we are as Americans, that we don’t have an alternative in place.

Life sends you down roads that you never thought would happen. I’m a author now. Writing stories about a teenager named Van Stone. He doesn’t have any magical powers or isn’t a vampire. He’s a real kid that uses science and determination to solve mysteries. Since I build his world, maybe one day he’ll get into space. The only problem is, we no longer have a manned space program. 

Let’s hope I don’t have to build an imaginary world for him to accomplish that task.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Card - A Van Stone Novel

Silence dominated our drive until Dad broke the ice, “I’ve got something for you.” 
“Something for me?” I asked.
The steel framework of the retractable roof soared across the sky as we approached the looming stadium. With every block, my heart pounded harder against the walls of my chest. A nauseous feeling rumbled in my stomach. 
“I hope it’s some Pepto-Bismol. I can’t believe how nervous I am.”
“C’mon, Van, you’ll be fine. I’m really proud of you.”
“I don’t even know what I’m doing. I had one afternoon of training that consisted of, ‘… here’s your locker, here’s where the bats go, don’t talk to anyone and never ask for autographs.’”
“Just relax and have fun. You went through a lot to get this gig. You beat out hundreds of kids to get this chance. You’re the first one in the family to make it to the big leagues. Go ahead, check the glove box,” Dad said as he pointed across the dashboard.
With a click, I whipped open the small door and inside sat a wrapped box. “What is it?”
“Just open it already.”
The traffic slowed outside the stadium. Through the open window, I felt the energy of opening day. After ripping open the box, I withdrew a lone baseball card. My puzzled look told the story. “Thanks, Dad. Who’s Moe Berg?” 
“A relatively unknown player that bounced around a little bit back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. I’ve always been fascinated by him. Who knows, maybe the card is worth something.” 
Sitting at a red light, I examined the card and looked up to catch Dad staring ahead with a distant look.
He snapped out of his daze and said, “You should always hang on to this card—it’s special.”
“Of course—I will,” I said as we pulled up to Safeco Field. 
“Mom and I will be back later for the game. Look for us, if you can. We can’t wait to see you in action.”
I placed the card in my backpack and stepped into the sunshine. I took a deep breath and looked up at the fa├žade. The glass and brick entrance yielded to the giant steel framework of the retractable roof, which squatted like a giant beetle over the rail yard. With no chance of rain, the rounded structure sat in an open position. I jumped at the blast of a train horn and started toward the gate. A few fans milled about with opening day optimism, looking at me with an expression of “Who’s that?”, as I approached the player’s entrance. 
Feeling uncomfortable with the attention, I hurried to the gate. 
“Hi’ya, Van. Are you ready for the big day?” Charlie asked. He opened the gate with his weathered hands and gave me a big smile, partially hidden by his white, bushy mustache. He acted as if he had known me for years, even though I only met him yesterday.  
“Uh, sure, I guess,” I said. 
“Ah, don’t worry. You’ll be fine. I’ve seen tons of kids come through here in the last fifteen years, and you’re the best of any of them. I can tell. I have a special knack for figuring people out. That’s what has kept me alive for so long.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, trust me. I met many a bad guy working as a Seattle Police officer for thirty years.”
“Wow, that must’ve been cool. I guess things are a lot quieter around here, aren’t they?”
“Oh, you bet they are. I’d probably do this for free, but don’t tell anyone,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’ve got to get inside. See you later,” I said, moving into the darker reaches of the stadium. Around me, people buzzed with activity, the kind that can only be associated with opening day. Workers stacked cases of giveaways by the entrance gates, a Cushman whizzed by with bags of ice dripping off the back and I walked through a crowd of new wide-eyed interns listening to instructions from their boss. 
With the excitement building, I picked up my pace. The pale yellow walls of the tunnel behind-the-scenes contrasted with the beauty that existed beyond the catacombs. I followed the natural curve of the hallway as the exposed pipes snaked along overhead.
Arriving at the visiting clubhouse, I pulled open the door. My nervous excitement grew as I walked down the long clubhouse to the far corner. The room was raucous as the players dressed for the game, with laughter and music filling the space. An Oakland Athletics uniform hung in my locker.    
Sitting down, I pulled out my iPhone and logged into the web browser. After typing in Moe Berg, I read the entries. Clicking on Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide, I entered Berg. There weren’t many listed and mine wasn’t a rookie card, so it was worthless. 
“No phones in here. I don’t want to catch you on your phone ever again or you’re out of here,” Greg Napolini shouted. The visiting clubhouse manager ruled over this domain since the beginning of baseball in Seattle.
 “Sorry, I didn’t know,” I said while throwing my phone and the card into the locker. 
Changing into my uniform, I pushed and felt the fabric stretch as my redheaded mop popped through. I guess my almost six-foot frame was a little bigger than most batboys. I laced up my cleats, grabbed my glove and jogged down a corridor leading to the dugout.
Trotting up the steps to field level, I caught a cleat on the last one. Stumbling, I quickly turned it into a walk, hoping that nobody noticed. The stands were almost full and a buzz of crowd noise filled my ears. The open roof squatted over the right field bleachers, casting an ominous shade. The rest of the stadium basked in brilliant sunshine, perfect for opening day.
I felt as if I had just won the lottery, all of this because I was lucky enough to have won an essay contest. During the many interviews, I never dreamed that I would actually get to be on the field. Walking toward the end of the dugout, I allowed myself a little smile.  
The shouts echoed from the crowd.
“Peanuts, programs.”
“Ice cold beer.”
“Freeze your teeth, give your tongue a sleigh ride—ice cold bea hea.” 
Around me, I watched the high fives, fist bumps and laughing from a hundred different people that included players, trainers, coaches, photographers and other media types. 
Interrupting my excitement, a man with a clipboard and headset walked toward me with his arms outstretched, as if he was trying to herd a flock of chickens. “Let’s get you in the right place for the introdu—” he stopped mid sentence. “Oh, you’re the batboy. Wow, you sure are bigger than most. I thought you were one of the players.”
He continued into the crowd, lining up the Oakland players. On cue, he sent them to the third base line, synchronized with the public address system introductions. 
The first few chords of the National Anthem brought a lump to my throat. I stood near the dugout holding my cap over my heart. As the music reached its crescendo, the crowd grew louder and my eyes welled up with emotion. The cheering fans muffled the final notes, then the fireworks erupted, the smoke dissipated and the sulfur smell of spent gunpowder drifted down on the most beautiful setting I had ever seen. 
The view from the field was a different one than from the stands. The crowd, perfectly positioned, faced directly at the infield. I realized that the 47,166 fans did not even know that I existed. However, it felt like I had all 94,332 eyeballs focused on me. A constant and growing murmur filled the stadium as the players came into the dugout from the pregame ceremonies. The starting pitcher sent the ball into the catcher’s mitt with a pop. The players prepared their bats with pine tar and rosin. The coaches met with the umpires at home plate. It seemed that everyone knew what they were doing—except me!
A few players stood around in front of the dugout, awaiting the start of the game. Isolated from the masses, I overheard one of the players conversing with two people at the fence. Dressed in black suits and sunglasses, the men did not fit the description of the typical fan. “We have to meet tonight.”
 “If the game doesn’t go into extra innings,” the player responded.
“It’s very important that you’re there,” the one on the left insisted. “The boss is getting concerned about your approach.” 
Scanning into the stands, I listened intently. I did not recognize the player.
 “Don’t worry about my approach. I’m getting closer and I don’t want to blow it,” the player said.
“Just know, this has been going on too long.”
The player looked toward the outfield. I read the name on the back of his jersey—Thompson. Before the opener, I had studied the team and I did not recall a Thompson. Suddenly, the three men looked in my direction. Looking away, I waved to an unknown person in the crowd.
Thompson continued, “You will not …” the crowd noise drowned out his voice, “… again, is that clear?” He turned and started toward me. I bent over and picked up a hot dog wrapper as he walked by, acting as if I did not exist. When I straightened up, the men in suits were gone and Thompson had blended in with the rest of the team.

Get your Kindle edition or hardcopy of The Card at Amazon
 Nook and other eformats at Smashwords

Only $2.99!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

We made it into the Indie Author Contest Finals

Thank you to everyone who helped vote THE CARD into the Finals of the Guys Can Read blog. We came in third place in the voting thanks to all of your help. Now it is out of our hands. The judging team is now reviewing the five finalists and will be announcing the winner on their podcast.

Guys Can Read is a weekly book discussion podcast from a guy's perspective. Each week they talk and review books from a wide variety of genres and time periods. They are passionate readers who believe that every Guy Can Read.

They will be announcing the winner on their show on July 26th.

Thanks again!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Sale at Smashwords!

You can get your copy of The Card - A Van Stone Novel at 50% off through Smashwords during their summer sale.

Through July 31, The Card will be available for 50% off the regular $2.99 price in all electronic formats. This includes Nook version, Kobo for Borders Books, PDF, and the Apple format for Iphone or Ipad. Click here to go to the sale page on Smashwords.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All the reviews in one place, including the Seattle PI's

I've updated the review page to include all reviews up through today. The total now is 10 five star, 6 four star and 1 three star reviews. The reviews have been retrieved from Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, and of course the Seattle PI.

Just click the link on the sidebar..."See what others are saying about The Card"

Thanks everyone.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Card hit's the top 100 in Kindle YA Adventure & Thriller Sales!

The Kindle Nation Daily "Ebook of the Day" The Card, A Van Stone Novel has helped propel the debut novel into the top 100 in Kindle sales for the Teen Adventure & Thriller category.

Sitting at #89 just ahead of the Kindle version of "I am number 4" and a James Patterson YA novel.

Thank you everybody for helping my book succeed, I couldn't have done it without each of you.

Kindle Nation Daily

This just in, the Kindle Nation Daily is featuring The Card A Van Stone Novel as the "ebook of the Day" Check it out here.

Guys Can Read Indie Author Contest

Hi Everyone,

I have a little favor to ask of you. Please go to:

and Vote for The Card A Van Stone Novel, the top 5 finishers continue in the competition. You do not have to sign up or log in to vote.

Thanks everyone and have a great 4th of July!