21 Years Ago Today

It was a cold Tuesday morning at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. I had attended an early morning honors class synthesizing history, economics and science, and was heading back across campus to hang out in the music lounge between classes. Elsewhere in the world, Space Shuttle Challenger had embarked on STS-51-L, notable because civilian teacher Christa McAuliffe was on board. Chicago was still celebrating Da Bears‘ Superbowl XX win the preceding Sunday.

As I walked by the campus library, I noticed that the flag was at half mast. Odd, I thought. Something big must have happened. At that time, I was also part of the news staff at the campus radio station, KDUR, so I changed direction and headed for the practicum studio.

When I walked into the studio, the Teletype machine (those machines that make the clunking sounds behind the music at the beginning of news shows) was ringing almost non stop and continuously spitting out lines of text in all capitals. In the days of the Teletype, five bells indicated either a bulletin or an urgent follow-up to a prior bulletin, and were very rare. Even more rare was a ten bell flash; these were reserved for cataclysmic events, such as the assassination of President Kennedy. I learned later that the Teletype at the radio station had received one ten-bell flash, and all the subsequent updates were five-bell follow-ups. I entered in the midst of the follow-ups.

Only one person was manning the station at the time, and he was frantic. I asked what was going on, and he said, “The space shuttle blew up.” I started grabbing slips of the Teletype paper and organizing them by time stamp so I could see the sequence of events and hand the most significant ones to the deejay.

After things calmed down a bit, I started thinking about what angle I would take on my news story about the disaster. The basic facts had already been covered repeatedly by all the news outlets, and I wanted to do something different with my story. Having been a fan of the space program for most of my life, I thought back to prior space disasters, and wondered if there were any similarities to the Challenger disaster.

I found no significant similarities in the causes of prior disasters, namely Apollo 1 and Apollo 13, but I did find that the Apollo 1 disaster took place on almost the same day as the Challenger disaster. Apollo 1 burned on the launch pad during a January 27, 1967 test, nineteen years (almost to the day) prior.

Little did I know at the time that the space program would be derailed for nearly three years after the Challenger disaster. I fully expected that they would be back in full swing within a few months, as NASA had been after Apollo 1. In the three years following Apollo 1, NASA launched numerous missions, culminating in the ultimate goal of landing on the moon in July of 1969. After Challenger, shuttles would be grounded until the launch of Discovery on September 29, 1988 and mission STS-26. (After Challenger, NASA returned to the original Space Transportation System numbering scheme that they had used until the 1983 Columbia STS-9 launch.)

All of the astronauts on STS-51-L knew the risks inherent in space flight, including Christa McAuliffe, and they chose to fly anyway. I think that was noble, and I choose to remember them as heroes and explorers who died in the course of expanding human knowledge.

Apex Digest Needs (and Finds) Help

UPDATE: (2/13/07) Thanks to an amazing grassroots campaign, Apex Digest is alive and well. Read the Louisville Courier-Journal article about Jason Sizemore and the magazine’s success at this link.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post.

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Original Post: (9/20/07) Apex Digest, the critically acclaimed science fiction/horror magazine started by writer and editor Jason Sizemore in 2005, needs our help.

Jason’s story is much like mine, in some ways. We were both unemployed for four months last year, we’ve both had bad dealings with commercial printers (though in different ways), and we both have had a long standing dream of starting our own speculative fiction magazines. Of course, Jason did it, and I didn’t. The closest I came was editing the Fort Lewis College literary magazine, Images, in 1987.

The loss of Jason’s job last year put Apex Digest in jeopardy. The magazine was receiving good reviews and starting to break even, but when Jason lost his job, he could not afford pay the debt he had accrued in starting the magazine. The commercial printer for Apex Digest, which had been understanding about late payments, suddenly lowered the boom, and now the magazine needs 200 new subscribers to stay afloat.

Apex Digest is a quarterly; it puts out four issues per year. Some big names have appeared in its pages in only six issues: Tom Piccirilli, Ben Bova, Poppy Z. Brite, M.M. Buckner, and James P. Hogan, to name a few. Apex Digest is something of a rare breed; a professional, printed, perfect bound market for science fiction and horror stories. Sure, there are other digest-sized SF/F/H markets, but there’s room for more, and we need to encourage the quality of fiction that appears in Apex Digest, not allow it to fade away.

A one year subscription costs $20 (for U.S. buyers, $24 for Canadian buyers, and $34 for all other international subscriptions.) I wanted to subscribe last year, but my own unemployment precluded that. I’m employed now, and I don’t think $20 is too much to pay for a year of good writing delivered to my mailbox.

How about you?

Apex Digest Subscription Page

Folding Paper Cranes

My first writing mentor was Leonard “Red” Bird, a professor at Fort Lewis College. In the second half of my freshman year, another professor recommended, based on the strength of a story and paper I had written for her class, that I take Red’s Creative Writing class. Creative writing was a senior level class, and normally required a couple of prerequisites, including Advanced Composition, which I had not yet taken. But the other professor talked with Red, and convinced him to give me a try.

The first day of class, he made a point of stating that Creative Writing was a difficult senior level class, and that everyone in the room should be at least a junior — with one exception. He looked at me when he made the exception, so everyone immediately knew I was the young ‘un of the bunch.

I did well in Red’s Creative Writing class, as I did in every other writing class that I took in college. I was struck by the power of Red’s writing, in particular two poems from his book River of Lost Souls, “Walter Mitty” and “The Mourning Dove.” Last night, over twenty years after he personalized a copy of that book for me, I did a Google search for “The Mourning Dove” appearing with “Leonard Bird” and found that the poem has evolved.

“The Mourning Dove” is about Red’s experience as a young Marine in 1957 at Yucca Flats, Nevada, the site and date of an above-ground atomic bomb test. The Marines were told to huddle in a trench only four thousand yards from ground zero as a seventy kiloton bomb was detonated and the shock wave rolled over them. I remember Red telling us how the Marines were asked to line up after the detonation, and they filed past a Geiger counter. If they clicked too much, their uniforms were dusted off with a broom. If they still clicked, they were told to destroy their uniforms.

I know that even in 1985, nearly thirty years after the event, Red was still haunted by it. But evidently he found peace in his third trip to Japan, when he visited the International Park for World Peace in Hiroshima in the early nineties.

He chronicles this in a new book of prose and poetry, Folding Paper Cranes: An Atomic Memoir from the University of Utah Press. Evidently, a documentary has also been made by Kurt Lancaster, which includes Red reciting some of his poetry.

I find it interesting how the story of a young Japanese girl folding paper cranes has become such a source of healing for so many people. Of course, in Hiroshima, I’m sure the story holds the greatest power, because it was a symbol that helped the city rebuild. But it offers healing for other tragic events, as well. Paper cranes were also an important part of the healing for Oklahoma City after the bombing in 1995. Lannette and I have a golden crane hanging over our bed as a reminder of our trip to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and of how the city has healed in the ten years since the bombing.

Lannette was two blocks away from the Murrah building when the Ryder truck exploded in front of it, and she moved away from there only a few months after that, before the city had built the memorial. As a result, her final memories of Oklahoma City were of chaos and destruction, rather than peace and rebuilding. Until she went back, nine years later, she was not able to see the results of the rebuilding effort. Until she went back, she was not able to start healing, and the crane in our bedroom symbolizes that healing.

I’m glad to see that Red has found his own source of healing in the cranes, as well. Though I have not read the memoir, I know the man’s work, and I’m sure the memoir is well worth having.

MileHiCon 37

In my e-mail box today were a couple of documents from the MileHiCon planning committee. I’ve been selected to participate in a couple of panel discussions on Saturday and Sunday, which sounds really cool.

As much as I’ve always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy, and have always wanted to go to MileHiCon, I have never been able to attend. In recent years, that has been because it was held on the same weekend as the manager meetings for my former company. This year, that’s not a problem, and I’ve been selected to actually participate, not just attend. That’s pretty cool!

I’m not sure it’s okay for me to list the panel topics or other panel members yet, so I won’t do that. But I can say that I will be on panels with a couple of Guests of Honor, as well as a couple of local authors. I guess I qualify as a local author now too, since I’m publishing regularly in ComputorEdge. Cool, eh?

Since one of the panels on which I’m supposed to participate runs in the early afternoon, it looks like I will have to sit out the first part of my PokerStars blogger tournament, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

The last convention I participated in was the World Horror Convention 2000, for which I played guitar in the opening ceremonies. Before that, I have to go back all the way to 1987, when I helped organize a science fiction literature conference at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Come to think of it, I’ve never actually gone to a con as a fan; I’ve always attended as either an organizer or participant in one of the events. Of course, that doesn’t mean my inner fanboy doesn’t get a chance to come out. 🙂