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Merry Christmas

The temperature was -20 as we waited for the plane to arrive in Eek.

That was last Thursday.  The plane arrived on time, thankfully, for the flight to Bethel, Alaska.  I stayed the night in Bethel and then caught the morning flight to Anchorage and another plane to Seattle.  My youngest son was at the airport to pick me up for the hour and a half drive home.  It was a long trip, but thankfully, I arrived home safely late on Friday.

Connie and Caitlyn waiting for the plane in Eek.  Dirk in Background.

It is Christmas morning now and looking out the window beside me I see a few of the many evergreen trees near the house.  A light snow has fallen and the temperature is hovering around freezing, but blades of green grass still poke up through the snow.  It might be a good day for a warm fire.

I may be down in Washington State, but I still think of my other home up in Alaska.  Thinking of Christmas in Alaska led me to recall the Hallelujah Chorus video that the nearby village of Quinhagak made and uploaded just before Christmas of 2010.  It has gone viral with over a 1,555,000 views.  I hope you enjoy it.  Merry Christmas.

 

Christmas with the family

I plan to leave Eek, Alaska, on Thursday and with a little bit of luck, be home in Washington State for Christmas.

Leaving Eek during the winter is always an iffy proposition.  Since we travel in small bush planes if it is too foggy or windy we can’t fly, but, fortunately, the weather should be good on Thursday.  However, the runway lights are broken at the airfield and no one seems to be able to fix them so we must leave during daylight.  There isn’t a lot of day up here right now.  

The school closes for very few holidays and does not take a spring break so we are able to take a three week vacation for Christmas.  In addition to enjoying time with family, I’ll want to finalize plans for the release of Final Duty – The Alien War Anthology.  I’ll meet with the Micah Hansen, who is doing the cover design, and reviewing the last minute editorial changes.  Finally I’ll sit down my senior editor, my wife, and ensure we are both happy with the final product.  If we are I’ll set a release date at that time.

I’m hoping Final Duty will be available on Amazon in January.

Final Duty – The Alien War Anthology

Three stories all separated by time, planets and events, but tied together by war. 

That is the idea behind Final Duty – The Alien War Anthology, scheduled for release in early 2013.     

I’ve been working on a novella and two short stories that I wrote long ago, but never released.  I felt they were excellent stories, but I never knew what to do with them.  In the end, I decided to publish the stories, totaling about 27,000 words, in a single volume.  All are firmly set in the military science fiction subgenre.  Here is a synopsis of each.

Final Duty:  Twenty years after the death of her father during the Battle of Altair, Lieutenant Amy Palmer returns to the system as an officer aboard the reconnaissance ship Mirage.  Almost immediately disaster strikes and Amy, along with the crew of the Mirage, must face the possibility of performing their final duties. 

I wrote most of Final Duty while serving on the U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63) during the Gulf War.  I’m certain that writing this story while living in the confined grayness of a navy ship during battle gave it an added sense of realism.  While writing it I tried to take current military procedures and imagine them in a future spacefaring navy.  At nearly 16,000 words, Final Duty the longest story in this collection.

The Promise:  A young man will soon leave the planet of his birth with his wife and child, but his mother refuses to go until they visit an old war memorial.  The visit stirs buried memories or are they something else. 

This short story, of just of 5,000 words, includes a tale told in flashback within the main story.  Today, they tell writers not to do flashbacks, but I didn’t know that at the time and, regardless, I think it works.  This was written before Final Duty, while I was on deployment with the USS Sterett (CG-31) in the western Pacific and, I believe, it was also helped by the fact that I was onboard a navy ship at the time.  While it was my first venture into the military science fiction genre there is just a bit of romance.  At just over 5,000 words, it is the shortest story in this anthology.

Infinite Darkness: A young man wakes up and discovers he is the new guy in an army unit on an alien world.

While the previous tales were naval, this story uses a loop literary technique to examine one day in the life of a soldier caught in combat on an alien world.  I quizzed my youngest son, an Army veteran, for procedural details while writing it.  This story is just over 6,000 words.

I’ve finished my rewrites and edits this weekend and have sent them off for final editing.  I’ll start working on the cover design in the next few days.  Originally I thought this collection would come out in the spring of 2013, but now I believe we can have it out shortly after the new year.

A Tribute to Nikki

My friend and companion of ten years died today. 

Nikki was my dog, or perhaps I was her human.  Actually, I’m certain that it doesn’t matter.  She grew from a tiny puppy on our farm in Washington State.  These last few years work has taken me away from the farm more than I would like, but if I was there she was nearby.  Whoever was doing the most interesting task, from her perspective, that was who she was with, but she was always close.     

Kyle Pratt and Nikki at a better time, Christmas 2009

When it was time for me to wake in the morning, she would wander into the room and lick my face.  Then someone, usually my wife, would take her on a morning walk around the farm and nearby woods.  I guess Nikki needed to be sure that nothing had ventured onto her farm.  There would always be several more patrols as the day went on.  As the sun was sitting she was usually on the grass near the front porch watching.

 

In her younger years she would chase the shadows of swallows as they flew to and from their nests in the nearby trees.  She also loved to snatch Frisbees or balls from the air.  These last few years those things seemed to have moved faster though.    

 

Intruders, such as raccoons, deer and postmen were never welcome on Nikki’s farm.  The chickens would walk right up to her in the barnyard while she merely watched, but predators never ventured there.  Deer never ate in the orchard because Nikki was on the watch.  I never worried about the house when we were gone.  Nikki was there.    

 

She was always there for us, but I’m sad to say that in the end I was not there for her.  Both my wife and I are up in Alaska right now at the village where I teach.  On Friday, my youngest son, Robert, told us that Nikki was in pain and after a thorough examination we were informed it was probably cancer. Robert said we would know more soon, but it looked grim.  That night I sent him this message;

Robert,

If it is necessary to put Nikki down tomorrow I want you to remember that she was loved every day of her life, that she had room to roam and explore, plenty to eat and a warm and comfortable place to sleep. As dogs go, that is just about a perfect life. She has no concept of personal death so she is not afraid of it. Remember the good times we had with her and do what needs to done to make the rest of her life (however long that will be) as good as it can be. If you do that, you have done everything you can for her. Thanks for being there for her.

Dad

I am thankful that Robert was with Nikki when she breathed her last.  I’m grateful that the last thing my faithful dog saw was a loving friend.  As painful as it would have been, I wish I could have been there to share the burden that they both had to endure today.

Goodbye Nikki, old friend, I miss you already.

Chrome Experiments

Teachers don’t just work during the school day. 

The vast majority put in many more hours.  Yesterday I was working in my classroom for about six hours, updating grades, making lesson plans and photocopying materials.  While I was working I was playing a podcast about current technology called This Week in Google.  The name is a bit misleading as they talk about a wide variety of cloud technologies on the program.  One thing they just mentioned was a site called Chrome Experiments and some of the fun and interesting projects on display there.  I was intrigued and visited the site. 

Weird Kyle Pratt

This weird picture of me is taken using an experiment called Webcam Displacement.  Another experiment that I found particularly interesting is 100,000 stars.  It is an interactive star map of our neighborhood of the galaxy.  I can definitely use it while writing future science fiction stories.  There are currently 541 projects on the site.  While they don’t say it specifically, these are Chrome experiments and you will need the Google Chrome browser, which is free, to use the projects. 

Perhaps I would have finished my work sooner if I hadn’t paused to examine these projects, but I’m glad I did.

Current Project

Today, I'm rereading and editing three short stories that I wrote while in I was in the navy. 

I want to release them in 2013 as an anthology.  The first story in this group, The Promise, was written while I was on deployment with the USS Sterett (CG-31) in the western Pacific.  I’m certain that writing this story while living in the confined grayness of a navy ship gave it an added sense of realism.  

While it is set in the far distant future and in space, it remains a story of sailors, separation and homecoming.  Here is the opening paragraph of The Promise.

Do the souls of soldiers who die in war linger on the battlefield or do they return home with their body?  Do the spirits of the dead in space return home or drift forever between worlds?  No one can say with certainty, but I believe I now know the answer.”

Two of the other stories would be in the military science fiction genre.  

Final Duty is a novella length story set aboard a reconnaissance vessel stranded behind enemy lines when an explosion damages their Bias Drive. 

A young man wakes up and discovers he is the new guy in a army unit on an alien world in Infinite Darkness

I’m hoping to have this collection out in the first half of 2013.

Halloween Follow-up

Halloween was again a big day here in the village. 

Tim & Kyle Pratt "Peace in the Middle East"

I saw most of my students, between the ages of 5 and 18 out trick or treating, and a few people both younger and older, were out collecting candy. 

Unlike many schools in the lower 48, we have fun with the day.  Many, perhaps most, of the children dress in a wide variety of costumes.  This year I went dressed in a traditional Arab outfit.  This is the costume I mentioned in the previous post that Lorraine brought up and wanted me to wear.  Tim is the student with me in the picture.  He wants to be a Marine Corp officer after graduation and is dressed appropriately for that career.  We saw each other early in the morning and, he said later, “We both looked at each other wide-eyed and pointing at each other and laughed out loud. Peace in the middle east.” We both thought it would make a fun picture.

Kyle Pratt and ? - which one is posing?

A couple of days before this the principal had been up in the attic of the school cleaning and found this giant blowup pumpkin decoration. 

We have found many strange things stuffed in corners of the attic over the years.  In addition to old textbooks and novels there are enough old electronics to start a museum.  I’ve found sewing machines, lab equipment, and canned food.  I joke that the next thing stored up there will bring the attic down to the main floor.  Really, how much can you put in an attic?

Anyway, since we were going to a Halloween carnival the next day the principal brought it down and everyone had to have their picture taken with it.

Halloween and Me

It doesn’t matter how cold or snowy it is on that night, Halloween is a big event in the village.

Kyle Pratt - This is my costume

People don’t usually decorate their homes, but every child gets dressed up, even many of the parents.  One of the nice things about living in bush Alaska is that it is safe.  Kids can just be kids, get dressed up and run from house to house getting candy.  When you live in a remote village of 300 people, everyone knows everyone else and they watch out for the little ones.  Older teens find it hard to ignore a crying kid when their older brother or sister is in their class.     

If you need to talk to someone that night don’t go looking for them.  Just wait at home and they will probably come by with their children or grandchildren.

 

I had stopped observing Halloween until I came to Eek, Alaska, as a teacher.  Here it is such a big event that gradually I’m getting more involved.  As this picture from a few years ago shows, I don’t really get dressed up.  I wore this costume three years in a row and then the kids nagged me to change.  I’ll post a picture of my next costume tomorrow.  Lorraine brought costumes for us this year when she came up and has ordered me to wear it.  If anyone can get me to put on a costume, Lorraine can.

A writer’s Day

It was a horrid day to be outside; snow, sleet and that cold rain that seems to seep inside of you. 

So, I stayed inside and wrote.  I always feel that I’ve done well after a few hours of writing and this day was no exception.  I did some short story editing, but mainly worked on my upcoming novel. 

In a small bedroom at the back of our apartment behind Eek School I have a cheap particleboard desk.  The desk is old and broken, but it holds a laptop and notepaper at the right height for me to use.  It is there, away from distractions, that I write. 

My next novel starts on the night of the State of the Union address.  A terrorist nuclear attack that night kills the President, his cabinet, the Vice President, senators, representatives, Supreme Court Justices and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they gather for the President’s speech.  After witnessing the destruction of the capital city, Caden Westmore embarks on a journey to his boyhood home in Washington State, but over the next few days terrorists attack other cities and society starts to unravel.

The idea of determined terrorists striking a serious blow to the nation has concerned me for some time.  That concern became the premise of the next novel.  I’ve given the novel the working title TEOTWAWKI—The End Of The World As We Know It.  I’m currently writing chapter 19.

I expect to name the novel and release it next summer.

Luxuries in Rural Alaska

Running water is a luxury in Eek, and many other villages of bush Alaska. 

          I’ve known many students who have the daily chore of hauling water to their home or taking the honey bucket to the dump.  The first year I taught here I lived in a classroom at the end of the school.  The school is one of the few buildings in the village that has running water.  Unfortunately, to get to the school restroom, I had to go out one door of the building and back in through another door.  I was always afraid I’d walk out some night, forgetting my keys, and freeze to death. 

          On my first Saturday morning in the village I got up very early for a walk.  Image a place with no cars and only simple dirt roads.  The quiet was only broken by the rustle of the breeze or an occasional barking dog.  As I walked through the still sleepy village, an older woman stepped from her home with a bucket and dipped it in a nearby rain barrel.  I felt like I had been transported to a different time.       

          I’m thankful that I now live in an apartment behind the school that has running water, but it is still a luxury for most of the village.  However, cell phones are common and the students are very skilled with computers, ipods and other technology.  Kids will sometimes gather in sheltered spots to connect with the school Wi-Fi.  It may be snowing, but they’re using Skype to talk with friends or updating their Facebook page.

          The embedded video is a recent creation from Tuntutuliak, a village just across the Kuskokwim River from Eek.  The video shows how students are familiar with both technology and, thanks to television, pop culture.  Just today I heard that broadband Internet will be available this week in Eek.  That just seems incredible to me.  Can running water be far behind?

Bear Aware

 Living out in bush Alaska it's important to be aware of bears, wolves and other animals that might see you as a meal.

            Last year my wife and I were preparing to haul trash out to the village dump when one of our friends said they had seen bear tracks at the dump.  So warned, we drove the ATV out to the dump with a trailer full of trash keeping our eyes open for any movement.  Only ravens greeted us as we piled trash on the burning heap that is the village dump. 

          Today as I spoke with Caitlyn, a first year teacher at our school, I noticed this poster on the cabinet behind her.  It warns, “Don’t attract bears to your home,” and goes on to say people should close and lock all doors and windows that bears could climb through.  It also warns to protect smokehouses, beehives and chicken coops. 

          These are things that the vast majority of Americans never think about, but bear awareness is just part of life in rural Alaska.

An Email from Amazon

Computers and the Internet are a part of my daily life, but sometimes I wonder…

A few days ago I got an email from Amazon.com asking, “Are you looking for something in our Science Fiction & Fantasy books department?  If so, you might be interested in these items.”

Email from Amazon.com

The first book on the list was my debut novel, Titan Encounter.  At first I laughed that the company would recommend my own book to me.  Then I realized that this email was most likely created by a computer program that monitored my browsing. and thought, well, Titan Encounter is actually the perfect novel for my tastes. 

“Thanks for the email Amazon, but I already have a copy.  However, please send similar recommendations to thousands of other science fiction fans.”

A Trip to Bethel

Ready for boarding

Eek, the village where I teach, is out on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta of Alaska. 

          The village sits on a bluff just above the river Eek.  There are so many lakes, streams and ponds in this region that most are unnamed.  Where there is land it is often marshy.  Even in the village the ground can be spongy this time of year.  That is why there are no roads that leave the village.  The ground just isn’t firm enough to support a road and the vehicles that would travel on it.  The one dirt road that goes the length of the village is has numerous bumps, dips and pools of water.  Until freeze up, when all the rivers and streams are well frozen over, if you travel out of the village it will probably be by boat or air.

yle Pratt in the van with Julia and Joylene

                  Last week all the teachers in the Lower Kuskokwim School District were called into Bethel for training.  For most that meant flying by bush plane.  Eight of us from Eek crammed into one small bush plane for the trip.  The picture above was taken on the tarmac in Bethel as we were about to return to Eek.  The scene would be typical of anywhere in the delta region, except the village runways are dirt.

Caitlyn drew the short straw

                Once in Bethel the school district sent a van to pick us up.  Traveling in this region means learning to wait and becoming accustomed to cramped, cold conditions both in the planes and sometimes on the ground.  When the luggage was loaded on the district van there was not enough room for all the people, but no one wanted to wait for the next trip.  No problem, we kept squeezing. We’re all friends.  That is me in the brown coat. 

You know that space between a van seat and the wall of the vehicle, you can fit someone there, and I have photographic proof.  It does take a special kind of teacher to work out here, but we all arrived at the district training in one piece and in good humor. 

The Bear

Kyle Pratt - The Bear

As some of you know, this is my sixth year teaching in Eek, a rural Alaskan village.

          School up here starts early, we are already in our third week.  Every student in our small school knows me and I’m pleased to say that I have a good relationship with the students. 

          Earlier this week as I hurried from one class to the next, one of the students, Carlton, was following me saying, “Kyle can I take your picture?  Come on; let me take your picture, okay?” 

 

          At first I said, “Not now.”  However, he persisted, so I spun around intent on giving him a picture he would remember.

          Carlton was ready and took the shot.

          My expression has garnered many laughs around the school.  My fellow teacher, Dirk, titled it, “Kyle – The Bear,” when he sent me a copy.

 

 

The end of the world

A nuclear bomb explodes in downtown Washington D.C. on the night of the State of the Union address. 

          The mushroom cloud consumes the President, his cabinet, the Vice President, senators, representatives, Supreme Court Justices and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they gather for the President’s speech.  After witnessing the destruction of the capital city, Caden Westmore embarks on a journey to his boyhood home in Washington State, but over the next few days terrorists attack other cities and society unravels.

          The idea of determined terrorists striking a serious blow to the nation has concerned me for some time.  That concern became the premise of what will be my next novel.  I’ve given the novel the working title TEOTWAWKI—The End Of The World As We Know It.  I’m currently writing the first draft.

Now in India

The world of books is changing every day for both authors and readers. 

          I received an email today from Amazon.com informing me that Titan Encounter is now available in India.

           In the past, as an unknown author without a contract with a publisher, I would have to pay to print my books and then try to get bookstores to stock them.  Then I would have to somehow market them. 

          Today there are still expenses, but they are less and the potential readership is vastly larger.  Titan Encounter has been out for about a month and is available on Kindle in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and now India.  Later this year it should be available on the Barnes & Noble Nook. 

Not only m I able to market my books to a worldwide audience, but readers worldwide are able to find and enjoy Titan Encounter and my future novels.  The Internet is an amazing and powerful tool for both the writer and the reader!

The day has arrived

At long last the day has arrived. My book, Titan Encounter, is now available on Kindle.

From the Amazon.com page;

"Justin starts one morning as a respected businessman and ends the day a fugitive wanted by every power in the known universe. Fleeing with his ‘sister’ Mara and Naomi, a mysterious woman from Earth Empire, their only hope of refuge is with the Titans, genetically enhanced soldiers who rebelled, and murdered millions in the Titanomachy War."

Many authors say that their spouse is their biggest fan. My wife, Lorraine, most certainly is mine. This book would not exist without her constant encouragement and editing.  Thank you. 

I would also like to thank my friends and fellow writers, Joyce Scott, Robert Hansen, Barbara Blakey and Carolyn Bickel. They taught me so much about the craft of writing.