Author Archives: Norm Brown

Return to the Scene of the Crime — by Norm Brown

Way back in May of 2000 my son and I took a long cross country trip in a rented RV. We camped in some awesome national and state parks and took in a lot of tourist sites along our trek from Austin all the way up to southern Oregon. As in all great vacations there was one moment that stuck most in my memory. It was an awe-inspiring scene, but not in the photo taking sense like Yosemite. In fact, relatively few people have ever seen this sharp blind curve where inches from the edge of a one lane road the mountainside drops away for thousands of feet. There was no guard rail and the worn asphalt actually sunk down toward the drop off. As I eased the 25 foot long RV around the curve, I was convinced we had made a serious mistake in taking this route through the Siskyou National Forest between Galice and Gold Beach, Oregon. It was hard not to vividly imagine what would happen if we couldn’t make that turn. What if I met an oncoming vehicle or something blocked the way in the middle of the curve?

If you have read my novel, Carpet Ride, you will recognize this situation as the opening scene of the murder mystery. All those years ago, this is where I got the initial idea for the plot. It was a real place and inspired real fear. We made it safely down to the coast, but I have always had a clear image of that remote spot in my mind.

 A couple of weeks ago I took another RV trip in Oregon, this time with my brother. Older and maybe a bit wiser, we flew to Portland where we rented an RV and a small car for sight-seeing. This was a much better arrangement than having to drive the big gas-guzzling camper everywhere we went. So when I suggested we take a day trip over the wilderness road to the coast, I was actually thinking that the route would seem very different, maybe even a little disappointing. After thirteen years, the road had probably been drastically improved and the steep curves wouldn’t be challenging at all for a small car. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

As before, we started out on a nice two-lane paved road through the tiny town of Galice. My GPS, which was something I didn’t have back in 2000, reported that we were quickly gaining altitude. By the time we were breathing thinner air at over 5,000 feet above sea level, the road had changed dramatically. Just as I remembered, the route rapidly deteriorated to a one lane, occasionally dirt, road. For me it was like stepping back in time. The only improvement I could see was the existence of a few warning signs along the way. At the highest elevations, the road literally sagged down toward the edge on one side and those drop-offs seemed even more spectacular than I remembered. Or perhaps my view just wasn’t as limited by the tunnel vision I suffered while steering an RV with overheating brakes. According to the GPS the entire white knuckled journey was only 46 miles as it roughly followed the Wild Rogue River through the mountain range. Averaging only 15-20 miles per hour much of the time, it took us well over two hours to reach Gold Beach, a seaside town on the Pacific Coast. I was only able to take a few photos along that beautiful stretch of rocky coast, which actually had been my main goal. The sun was quickly sinking and we had to turn around and do that whole drive again to get back east to our camp. Who knows, maybe traversing it in the dark would have inspired another story. I didn’t choose to find out. Luckily, the July sun sets pretty late in Oregon.

Oregon Wilderness Road

Oregon Wilderness Road

Somewhere along that trek, I guided the car through the exact curve that was seen through the eyes of the main character in Carpet Ride. But there were so many, each scarier than the last. I couldn’t point it out. As we came back down toward civilization, my brother, who just recently read the book, said, “You weren’t exaggerating, were you?” You know, before this return to the actual scene, I sort of thought I had.      

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Bikers Waving Etiquette – by Norm Brown

My brother and I took a long motorcycle trip a couple of weeks ago from Texas out to the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. It was a great trip with cool camping weather at the higher elevations, but we had to cover a lot of miles to get there and back home again. Along the way we encountered many other bikers on the road. There was a huge rally scheduled for that week in Red River, New Mexico. They were anticipating a crowd of over 20,000 bikes of all sorts. Since we were looking for quiet places to camp rather than a party, my brother and I veered away from the little town. So we passed many of the folks rumbling along the highway in the opposite direction. These frequent brief encounters got me to thinking about the rather unique “code of the road” that many, but not quite all, motorcycle riders observe when encountering fellow bikers travelling in the other direction.

It all has to do with waving—or not waving. I know, it sounds pretty trivial, just a simple friendly gesture toward a stranger out on the road enjoying the same recreational pastime as yourself. But surprisingly it involves some rather quirky decision making. The vast majority of riders you meet (and their passengers) wave with the left hand down low in a sort of muted “low five” with open palm toward the oncoming bike. It’s a sensible gesture that shouldn’t be misinterpreted by a driver behind you as a turn signal. If there is a group of oncoming bikers I simply hold that pose until they have all passed by.  

Wave 1

 

Occasionally you encounter the really enthusiastic rider who puts a lot more into it. These guys are usually flying along at a fast pace, hunched down over their gas tank. In this case the left arm is fully extended and blown back by the wind for a sweeping wave as he flies past.

Wave 2

 

And then, as I mentioned, there are bikers who for whatever reason choose to not participate. This is where the decision making part comes into play. As the bright single or double headlight gets closer, do I initiate the interaction myself or wait for some sort of clue? I actually feel a little bad when I decide not to acknowledge the other rider, but then notice too late that he or she did have a hand out down low. And of course I feel foolish if I give a big old obvious wave and the other person just looks away. In doubtful situations I sometimes do the “almost wave” as in the photo below. For this you just tentatively take your left hand off the handlebar. The advantage of this move is that the gesture could be interpreted as a small rather noncommittal wave, but you can also do something else with that hand if the other rider blatantly ignores you: flex your fingers like you were relaxing a tired hand, reach up and pretend to adjust your side mirror, or even pick your nose. Don’t try that last move if your helmet has a full face shield—you’ll look pretty silly.  

Wave 3

This usually all happens at high speed. So, how do you decide what to do in time to do it? Sometimes you can rely on the appearance of the approaching bike and rider. But stereotypes don’t always hold to form. The helmetless guys on choppers with loud straight exhausts do sometimes wave at people in full safety gear on a touring bike loaded with camping gear. I have noticed that riders on bikes with those high “ape hanger” handlebars usually don’t take a hand off. I think maybe their arms could be too numb from holding that awkward position. But stereotyping often fails. And that works both ways. I ride a Honda Gold Wing Motortrike rather than a two-wheeler. With more baby boomers returning to riding, these are becoming more popular with both male and female riders, but when I first switched to three wheels they were unusual to see on the road. Back then, as I was cruising along behind my brother on his high powered sport bike, I think guys would occasionally assume that I was a female rider. In cool weather, I wear a bulky jacket along with my helmet. I noticed that some guys would not acknowledge my brother’s wave at all, but give me a big obvious waggle of the hand. This never embarrassed me at all, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were trying to flirt a little with what they thought was something other than a sixty-something year old guy. Which raises the age old question: “Does a snicker inside a full face helmet actually make a sound?”

Wave or not, my fellow travelers, but ride safe.          

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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Book Club Meeting — by Norm Brown

With all the changes in the publishing world, it is comforting to find that there are still people out there who really love reading. At my high school reunion last October one of my classmates came up and asked me if I would be interested in talking to her local book club about my novel, Carpet Ride. The group meets monthly to discuss a book they have chosen to all read. I’ve done book signings and general writing discussions with potential readers, but never addressed a room full of people who have already read my book. I thought this might be really different.

And it was. Last Tuesday I made my way over to east Texas to the outskirts of the small city of Jasper. In Texas “over” can be quite a ways—in this case about 280 miles. Took a while, but it was a very pleasant and scenic spring time drive. My friend and one time classmate Laverne and I decided that she would ask me questions from the list that one of my fellow Second Wind authors developed for creating online interviews. I was expecting a very small group, but when the meeting began there were sixteen ladies seated in a semi-circle in front of me. Public speaking has never been a favorite pastime for me, but there was something very calming about seeing a copy of my book in the hands of almost every attendee. If there is one subject I know well, it’s the contents of the book that took me years to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I quickly discovered that I still really love to talk about my story and characters. I definitely wandered off subject on a particular question or two, but really enjoyed the experience. After the prepared questions had been covered, the members asked me some really great questions of their own, most beginning with “how did you?” or “why did you?” It was very different from your usual book signing event. Everyone had read the book; there was no fear of spoiling the story for somebody. And no carefully worded sales pitch required.     

As an author, I highly recommend trying to find book clubs that may be interested in reading and discussing your book. Not only did I get to feel like a minor celebrity for a little while, but discussing the details of the story brought back a little of the enthusiasm I remember feeling while struggling to bring it all together in the first place. At the end of the meeting someone asked the inevitable question: “What’s your next book about?” I’ve been struggling to make progress on the actual writing of a sequel for quite a while, but I do have a fairly complete plot laid out. I was able to tell the group who the main characters are going to be and described the opening scene of the story. The response from the club members seemed sincere and very enthusiastic. Maybe their encouragement can serve as a little kick in the pants to get me to dedicate more time to getting the next book done. It would be great to return someday to Jasper and see another book with my name on the front in the hands of those book lovers. 


Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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The Search for a Comet — by Norm Brown

When I was a kid I remember reading about Halley’s Comet. It is a rare short-period comet that is visible from earth approximately every 75-76 years. Throughout history it has often been visible with the naked eye. I can remember in my early teens looking forward to seeing it during my lifetime. I had a very small telescope and would sometimes spend hours out on our driveway squinting into the eyepiece at the moon or Jupiter. As it turned out, Halley’s Comet made its expected return in 1986. At that time I had just started a new job in Dallas. I did see some mention of the comet in the paper, but it apparently was much less spectacular than during past visits. I never caught a glimpse of it. I didn’t even own a pair of binoculars and my little telescope had met its demise years earlier when my little brother accidentally knocked it over on the cement driveway.

A couple of weeks ago I came across an article on the internet about the newly discovered Comet PANSTARRS that would be making its closest approach to the sun just after sunset on March 12. When that evening arrived I was out on the little second story porch on the front of my house with binoculars in hand and my digital camera on a tripod. The sky was perfectly clear. I knew the comet would be at its brightest as it approached the sun. Only problem—it was close to the sun. An internet article had suggested the best chance of seeing it would be to look near the new moon just after sunset. After the sun disappeared behind the hills, I couldn’t even find the moon until well after 8 PM, when it finally became visible as a tiny “fingernail” crescent. At first I was fooled by a number of contrails of aircraft heading west. The shorter ones looked a lot like comets. I suspect some of the planes were actually being used to photograph PANSTARRS. I scanned the sky all around the moon until it finally got dark enough to spot the comet itself. It was unmistakable with the little misty tail stretching away from the direction of the sun. Once located, I was able to mentally mark the spot above a treetop on the horizon. That night I succeeded in capturing several decent images of the comet before it followed the sun out of sight in the west. You will need to click on the photo below to see detail.

Comet PANSTARRS & Moon

Comet PANSTARRS & Moon

The next night I was determined to get some closer shots using my Nikon camera’s zoom lens. My son, his girlfriend, and her daughters had come over for a visit. So I had plenty of help finding the comet. It was no longer near the moon, but did appear only slightly to the east of the previous night’s location. In spite of having a cold drink splashed over my feet, I was able to get several long-exposure shots with the “help” of eight-year-old Emma. The exposures were more than two seconds, so she would holler “freeze” so everyone on the wooden porch would stand still just long enough. Lining up the shot was tricky since the comet was not bright enough to see in the camera’s viewfinder. Here is one of the better photos from that night:

Closeup Comet PANSTARRS

Closeup Comet PANSTARRS

As you can see, the high magnification shows the comet’s wispy tail and “dirty snowball” appearance. It was once believed that comets were composed entirely of the volatile ice forms of water, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. In recent years spacecraft have determined that they are mostly made up of dusty, non-volatile materials and only a small amount of ice. The tail is caused by the solar wind as the object passes close to the sun.

Another approaching comet has been spotted recently. It has been named Comet ISON and is predicted to be even more visible than Comet PANSTARRS. It hopefully will appear in November of 2013.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Nightmules — by Norm Brown

I very rarely have what I would call a nightmare, a vivid terrifying dream where someone or something is chasing me or threatening my life. I do, however, frequently have a particular type of dream that comes back to me in one form or another quite regularly. I think of these as “nightmules” rather than nightmares. In these recurring dreams there is an element of fear, but it’s more a fear of failing to do something I really need to do than a fear of death or injury. In these dreams I plod along more like a stubborn, thick-headed mule than a frightened horse. As far back as I can remember I have experienced a variation of these frustrating dreams on a fairly regular basis. I have always thought they must serve some sort of purpose in my subconscious mind other than simply a sense of relief when I awake to realize how silly and illogical the dream actually was. They are never exactly the same, but there are only a couple of basic themes.

One scenario always takes place back in college. I majored in physics at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas more years ago than I like to remember. This type of dream always starts on the old campus with me desperately searching for one of two things: an important math class session that I’m in danger of missing or my car to drive home. I haven’t actually been to the campus in decades, so I’m sure it has changed a lot. In either variety of this frustrating dream, the locale starts out familiar but then very quickly becomes strange, if not completely bizarre. I seem to always dream in color. I know in the dream that the math department was located in a red brick building. So, for a while my dream-state self wanders aimlessly through a couple such two story structures. But they are never the correct buildings. So, with the clock ticking toward tardiness, I wander farther and farther out until I end up in a totally unfamiliar maze of what appear to be apartment buildings, dorms I assume. All I can say for sure is that I never make my way back to the main campus from there. The lost car variation on this involves crossing the now unfamiliar campus and searching along a road that circles it. I have to warn you, this version of the dream can get truly weird. At times the sidewalk has abruptly come to an impossible to climb wall, forcing me to turn around and start over in frustration. But my favorite variation is one where I discover an amusement park complete with Ferris wheel and other rides at the far end of the campus. In real life that’s more or less where I remember a large parking lot. Pretty weird, huh?

The scene for the second major scenario is downtown Houston, where I once worked in a computer room in the basement of the Bank of the Southwest building. In these dreams I always get lost among the tall skyscrapers while either looking for a place to have lunch or trying to find my way back to the office after lunch. Again, it’s not a scary situation, just incredibly frustrating. I keep wandering around block after block looking for a familiar landmark. In the dream I seem to suffer a type of tunnel vision, as if I were in a maze. In real life you can usually recognize specific buildings from quite a distance. This goes on for a while and then, as in the school dream, things end up really strange. I have at times wandered so far that I found myself on a rural road looking back at the skyline of downtown on the horizon. Or occasionally (my Houston area friends can appreciate this version) I’ve suddenly stumbled onto a grimy gravel road inside a huge oil refinery with pipes and smelly steam everywhere. Houston is a huge sprawling city, but there are no rural routes or refineries right next to downtown.

There doesn’t seem to be a pattern or schedule as to when I have these dreams, but I’d say they come around every few months. There is no apparent connection to any real life events. The repetitive nature, however, makes me want to believe that these dreams have a purpose. Freaky as they may be, it seems to me the common thread in each form is a frustrating struggle to solve an unsolvable puzzle. Sometimes I awake in the middle and am simply relieved to discover that it was just a dream, but they more often end in an unbelievable and seemingly meaningless manner as I described above. Over the years I have come up with one possibility. No, I haven’t concluded that I’m insane. Instead, I wonder if maybe this is a way on some level for my mind to work out the notion that things can’t always be resolved. Sometimes you just have to shake off the frustration and move on. Maybe that’s why the amusement park ending is my favorite.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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History Down the Hill by Norm Brown

My home is certainly not a mansion, though I can see some from here. In real estate ads I’ve always heard that it’s all about “location, location, location.” Well, my place does have plenty of that. It’s situated atop a limestone hill overlooking one of the most popular biker roads leading out into the Texas Hill Country. What passes for my back yard is only a ten foot stretch of grass. Beyond that, the hill drops away abruptly in several steep tree covered steps. I like the privacy that the position provides. I also enjoy hiking around down below occasionally to get exercise and also to see what I can find. There’s a lot of history to be found on this weathered hillside.

On a warm spring morning during one of my first years of living here, I came across something that really got me going for a while. At the edge of a gravel trail, I spotted a half buried object. From what I could see, it looked like the ridges of a mammoth molar. These extinct creatures roamed this part of Texas tens of thousands of years ago. I remembered seeing a tooth for sale here in the Austin area for several hundred bucks. I knelt down and started digging, totally unaware that the small mound of dirt was actually a fire ant bed. That unawareness was brief as my hands were attacked by much smaller critters than the mammoth, but I snatched the fossil up and dusted away the ants. Back at the house I washed off my find and got a better look at it. Once I could see both sides, I realized I had not found a tooth. It was something much older: a chunk of sea coral, here on a hill at least two hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico. That seems odd now, but some 60 million years ago most of Texas was covered by a shallow sea. The white Austin limestone that my house rests upon was formed entirely from the shells of ancient sea creatures. The hill itself wasn’t here at that time. Later earthquakes pushed up the rough terrain. In places this exposed not only solid sedimentary rock, but also stretches of the actual sea floor as it last existed. About half way down the hill there is a band of oyster shells and seashells that look like they could have just been cracked open.  Here is a photo of some of the things I’ve found while “beachcombing” on a hill. The tiny sea anemone is my favorite find so far.

Sea Coral, Oyster Shells, and Sea Anemone

Sea Coral, Oyster Shells, and Sea Anemone

I have also happened upon evidence of more recent times in the past. So far I have found three arrowheads.

Arrowheads

Arrowheads

Two are small and almost perfect and the third is a fragment of a larger point meant to take big game. Where my neighbor’s house stands now is a round outcropping of flint that perfectly matches the material of the first small arrowhead that was laying a few feet away. Did the manufacturer throw it angrily away when the corner broke off after hours of sitting there working it? A couple of hills farther south of my place, Lake Travis follows the narrow contours of the Colorado River. People have lived in this area for a very long time, at least by North American standards. About four miles east of here, in the city of Leander, the remains of a very early resident was found in January 1983. Estimated at between 10,000 and 13,000 years old, she is affectionately called the Leanderthal woman.

Well, there are still a couple hours of daylight left today. I think I’ll put on my hiking shoes and go exploring for a bit.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Clever Twist or Unfair Trick?

In the spirit of Halloween, I like to watch a few scary or supernatural movies during the month of October. In past years, I was limited to scanning the cable listings for whatever offerings they had chosen for me. There were plenty of classics, like Halloween Part Whatever or the original black and white Wolfman. But now, with Web services such as Netflix, the choices are almost unlimited, ranging from decades of popular hits to the truly obscure movies I’ve never heard of (often for good reason). This year I downloaded an unfamiliar movie that definitely falls into that latter category. It was a fairly recent show and was promoted as a horror story about a supernatural being that regularly snatches children in a small rural town. Yeah, I know, sounds cliché, but hey it’s the season. I’m not going to name this movie. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but I’ll just say that, as the story played out, there was something about the plot that raised questions to me as a reader and mystery writer.

The story opens with plenty of dark, gloomy forested atmosphere. It follows a young woman who is a nurse and apparently the only medical person in the village. We quickly learn that everyone in the town is frightened and afraid to talk about the boogie man that has regularly taken away children, never to be seen again. In one scene the nurse offers to buy a coffee for a tragic red-headed woman who has recently lost her child to the monster. No one wants anything to do with her, apparently out of fear for their own children. The woman doesn’t speak and seems frightened and angry. Later the nurse arrives home where we are introduced to a housekeeper/nanny and a young boy. The boy says nothing, but the nanny tells the nurse that he had said he missed her during the day. The nurse seems oddly pleased by this, which seems to hint at some sort of family conflict between them. So far, pretty predictable stuff, right? I’m thinking, “Okay, here are our next victims.” And sure enough, when the nurse is called away during the night, the nanny is attacked and brutally beaten by a cloaked figure. The nurse arrives right on cue to see the boy dragged into a dark van, which takes off down the road. She manages to jump onto the vehicle and struggles valiantly with the cloaked person, eventually causing the van to flip on the deserted roadway. Pretty good action scene. I was really rooting for the desperate mother. As she struggles to her feet, she can only watch as the spooky creature carries the boy away into the dark woods. She limps after them, following boot prints through the woods until she comes to an abandoned old warehouse. She sneaks inside and searches until she finds the boy. Okay, we all know what’s coming next.

Well, no. As it turns out, we don’t. This is where the weird plot twist happens. The curly headed boy suddenly runs away from the nurse, screaming in panic. Hmmm…why would he do that? She pursues and encounters the shadowy figure, who is now shielding the boy. A violent fight ensues, involving everything from busted furniture to an axe. During the struggle, the hood falls away and we see the red headed woman. The boy is running with this character, not from her. I have to admit, I was completely fooled. It was almost like a slap in the face to realize that the supposed monstrous villain is actually the boy’s mother, fighting to snatch her kidnapped child back from the nurse. At that moment another character appears and mistakenly helps the wrong woman and then is also dispatched by the nurse in a tragic ending to this twisted tale. The nurse is the insane person who has been trying for some time to make other folk’s children her own. When it didn’t work out, she “disposed” of them.

Thanks for hanging with me through all this retelling of the story. Now, my question is, “Was that a fair plot twist?” The only character portrayed in the movie as a protagonist is really the villain. It was certainly effective, but I was left feeling misled, maybe even cheated a bit. Maybe it worked because this is a movie. The viewer is just that: a viewer. We’re not made aware of what the characters are actually thinking. If this were a book, could an author have pulled off this misdirection in the same way? As a reader, I tend to identify with the viewpoint character, whether good or bad. I may not be directly told what she is thinking, but I don’t expect the narrator to intentionally hide things from me.

Any thoughts? Would this be a clever plot twist in a novel, or an unfair trick?

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Plot Changing Gadget

A couple of months ago I decided to splurge and upgrade to a new LED television. Although my LCD flat screen cost more than $3,000 back in 2005, its technology has fallen way behind what is now available for less than a fourth of that. So I shopped around and settled on a Samsung model. The salesman told me it was a “Smart TV.” I thought, “Well, why not? Most things around my place are kinda dumb.” Turns out that actually means it has the capability of accessing the internet via my wireless router. Dumb as most of my possessions are, I do have one of those.

Once I got everything set up, I tried the Netflix application I had heard so much about. During my free initial month I got hooked on watching the old X-Files TV shows. I had forgotten how much I liked that imaginative science fiction series. Agents Scully and Mulder seemed like old friends reappearing from my past. Every show from all nine seasons is available, all the way from 1993 through 2001. I have been slowly working my way through them. I still find the plots creative and interesting, but what has also fascinated me is the evolution of technology that can be observed over that span of time. Nine years is a long time for any series of stories. Downloading each episode in order has been like exploring a time capsule. Things change. The “Smoking Man” would not be obnoxiously puffing away in the FBI director’s office these days. And not only does Agent Scully’s hair style change dramatically over time, so do the details and logic of the plots. What might have worked in 1993 could seem unbelievable in 2001, mostly due to new technology available to everyone. In regards to story plotting, I think the most dramatic of these changes has been the evolution of the telephone.

Necessary Equipment

As federal agents, the main characters always had the latest thing, but in the earliest episodes, even they didn’t have tiny phones in their pockets. It brought a nostalgic smile to my face to see Mulder in his apartment holding a gigantic cordless phone with a three inch retractable antenna up to his head. I once had one of those—seemed pretty cool at the time. As the years passed, they eventually acquired mobile phones of decreasingly small size. They could then call for backup or at least keep in touch with each other if suddenly separated. This is interesting from a purely historical viewpoint, but as a writer it struck me just how much the cell phone has directly affected story plotting in general. How many older books and movies, especially in the horror genre, began with a car breaking down, requiring the protagonist or victim to mosey up to a spooky looking old house to ask to use the phone? For that to work now, the author would have to explain a loss of signal or a dead battery. Both situations are becoming less likely all the time. People, even children, are more constantly connected now than ever before. Seems to me this has significantly altered the plot twists available to an author. I specifically remember being required to work out a get-around to eliminate a character’s cell phone in my own novel. If it had not been stolen, a future scene could not have logically happened. And it’s not simply the availability of a phone. Caller ID also complicates the use of the old anonymous phone tip in mysteries. The modern cell phone has added some new plot possibilities as well. I have read several mysteries in which the police track a suspect’s location through the constant locator signal emitted by his cell phone. Someday, we all may have the latest GPS app on our little unit. So, how will a character ever get lost?

Computers, the internet, and other advances have also affected story plotting, opening up new possibilities as well as complicating some common story lines of the past, but none so directly and noticeably as the telephone. Even Superman would be hard pressed to find a phone booth to change in now. And he thought Kryptonite was rare.

Tonight I think I’ll probably watch an X-Files episode from 1997, a good year I remember well. Things may change, but still, “The Truth is Out There.”

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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A Scary Couple of Days — by Norm Brown

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to discover a feeling of tightness right in the center of my chest. At first I tried to imagine that I had pulled a muscle or something, but by the next morning it had become what I could only describe as the “chest pains” that guys my age have good reason to fear. Several of my school classmates, as well as my older brother, have recently had to endure heart bypass surgery with varying results. I’m normally an optimistic, cheerful person, but I couldn’t help but fall into a frightened, depressed panic. It seemed to be my turn.

Having been fortunate enough to have never suffered from any major illness or injury, I’m not at all familiar with local hospitals or insurance procedures. Should I call 9-1-1 or drive myself to a hospital emergency room for tests? I wasted the rest of that day debating with myself about what to do. Yeah, I know, stupidly dangerous thing to do, but fortunately the steady deep soreness didn’t get any worse. I didn’t want to frighten my sons until I at least had some idea of the scope of the problem. So, I called my regular doctor’s office, fully expecting to be told to get to a hospital. My thinking was that they could at least advise me on which area hospital was best or refer me to a specialist. Unlike me, the receptionist was calm and undisturbed. She checked with my doctor and said he could see me as soon as I could get there.

Doctor King shares his office space with two pediatricians. So, as usual, there were a few parents in the waiting room with small children. One lady sat beside a baby carriage containing an unhappy sounding infant. Her daughter, probably around four years old, was standing over by the aquarium watching the tropical fish. I smiled at the little blonde girl when she turned to look in my direction. Before I knew what was happening, she was across the room and hugging me like her long lost grandpa. Her mom seemed surprised and called out, “Sarah.” I patted the little girl’s back and she happily headed back over toward the fish. Glancing over at the lady, I only managed to mumble, “Don’t worry. I’m not contagious.”

Right on cue, a medical assistant called my name and I went in to see the doctor. We talked about my symptoms and he pushed and felt around a bit. After a nurse gave me an EKG test, Doctor King returned to inform me that he was giving me a prescription for acid reflux disease and had scheduled a precautionary chest X-ray. I never would have thought I could be thrilled to be diagnosed with any type of disease, but under the circumstances I’ll take that outcome any day. Maybe it’s a bit overdramatic, but it seemed like the sun rose as I walked out of the building. If I hadn’t been afraid of breaking something, I would have jumped up and tried to click my heels. With my family history of heart disease, the risk of more serious problems could still be there someday in the future, but not that day.

Sometimes, all you really need is a hug…and maybe a little Prilosec.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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In Search of Covered Bridges by Norm Brown

Each spring for the last few years, my brother Curtis and I have pooled our resources for a week- long vacation to explore some part of the US that neither of us has ever visited before. We both live in Texas, but over 250 miles apart. So, we meet halfway between at our other brother’s home near Dallas and fly from DFW airport. At our chosen destination, we rent a large RV for our base camp and a small car for roaming around. This May, we decided to check out New England, a region I only knew a little about from American history classes.

On some of these vacations we have a national park or other specific destination in mind, but this year the goal was just to explore and see what we could find. In Boston we would tour the historical sites and we knew we wanted to make it a little ways into Maine for a Maine lobster meal within site of an Atlantic lighthouse, but for New Hampshire and Vermont I came up with a more general goal. These states are famous for their fall colors, but we were off season for that. So, I went with the next most photographed feature—covered wooden bridges. A recent hurricane damaged or destroyed a few, but there are still some beautiful examples if you’re willing to drive around the countryside to find them. But hey, that was our main goal all along.

Below is the bridge over the Pemigewasset River in New Hampshire. Well maintained, it was originally constructed in 1886. I’m just glad I don’t have to pronounce the name here.

Penigewasset River Bridge

In the small city of Bennington, Vermont, we were surprised to discover a museum dedicated solely to the subject of covered bridges, where we learned probably as much as anyone would want to know about these things. For example, did you know that local residents used to manually shovel snow inside the covered bridge in the winter? Otherwise, the horse-drawn sleighs of yesteryear would have had a hard time sliding through on the rough wooden surface. Also, some of the early covered bridges were intended for trains, until it became obvious that fire was a constant danger from the steam engines.

Here are two bridges still in use near the Bennington museum.

Paper Mill Bridge – Bennington, VT

Henry Bridge – Bennington, VT

I’ll include one more bridge in New Hampshire. This one is a foot bridge built over a river gorge in 1938 from a single huge pine tree called the Sentinel Tree, which once stood nearby. You can clearly see the sturdy inner structure of roughhewn timbers in the second photo. This latticework of wood is what gave these bridges their support, while the protective roof provided for a long existence.

Sentinel Tree Bridge

Sentinel Tree Bridge interior structure

The covered bridges alone were worth the trip, but searching them out allowed us to wander through some of the most beautiful countryside in the US and meet some of our northern citizens. Good trip.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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Filed under fun, photographs, Travel