Celebration in Isolation

In my post one week ago, I mentioned that my family was celebrating numerous anniversaries and milestones. It should come as no surprise that these celebrations had to be adjusted in the wake of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we did our best to mark the occasions in a suitable fashion.

Before I continue, I note that as I write this, the death toll from COVID-19 approaches 100,000 in the United States. I’m very sorry for those who have lost loved ones at this difficult time. At the same time, I’m grateful to all those who take social distancing guidelines seriously so that we don’t find ourselves in an even worse situation.

Last week, my wife and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Looking it up on line, the thirtieth is the Pearl Anniversary. Because my wife and I are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, this brought to mind Dr. Pearl Forrester, the evil genius who sent cheesy movies to the Satellite of Love during the show’s SyFy Channel years. With this in mind, my wife and I decided to get each other Mystery Science Theater 3000-themed gifts. We ended up getting the two Netflix seasons of the show along with a 1000-piece puzzle to work on together.

Although it wasn’t technically an anniversary present, the same day as the puzzle and movies arrived in the mail, my wife bought me the code to upgrade my copy of Microsoft Word to the 2019 version. I discovered that the software has a feature that will read the text to you. I’ve long been an advocate for reading your own work aloud when you edit, but this is a nice additional tool. It has already helped me find unintended commas or wrong words in documents I’ve edited. This looks like a nice feature for an author to add to their toolkit and I likely will say more once I gain more experience with it.

Normally we would go out to dinner for our anniversary, and while there are some restaurants opening up with some seating, we decided this wasn’t the time to do that. We grilled steaks for our anniversary and then ordered a to-go meal from one of our favorite restaurants two day later when our daughter graduated from high school.

Las Cruces High School held a “drive-thru” graduation. Parents drove the graduating seniors through the line in cars. My daughter wanted me to drive her through in my Smart Car with its airship pirate logos. A masked and gloved staff member handed out the papers and flowers. I drove the car, so this marked the first time I went through a graduation procession since my own university graduation.

I wrapped up last week with another interview at Las Cruces Community Radio Station 101.5FM KTAL-LP. “All About Books” host Lynn Moorer interviewed me about my novel Firebrandt’s Legacy. Even though this was an in-studio interview, we maintained good social distancing. We sat well over 6-feet apart and she made sure to clean the chair and microphone I used. In the interview, Lynn was especially interested in the jumps ships in my universe use to move faster than the speed of light. My means of faster-than-light travel was an idea I came up with while studying General Relativity in grad school at New Mexico Tech. You may listen to the entire interview at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/archives/all-about-books-david-lee-summers9615141

You can learn more about the novel, read a sample chapter, and find out where you can obtain a copy of your own at: http://davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html

A Puzzling Sunday

When I was a kid, I asked my parents for a Star Trek puzzle I saw in the toy store. I think the image was taken from one of the Gold Key comic book covers. I don’t remember how many pieces it was, but it wasn’t an “easy” puzzle because a lot of the pieces were black with stars. Even as a kid, I was obsessive enough that I stuck with it until it was finished.

From that point on, every time a distant relative or family friend asked what kind of gift they should give me, my parents would say jigsaw puzzles. As a parent myself, I can see why. They often have nice pictures and they’re relatively inexpensive, so it doesn’t feel like you’re imposing on those relatives asking for suggestions. The problem is, after doing that first jigsaw puzzle, even though I stuck with it and completed it, I discovered that I didn’t especially like doing it. What’s more, many later puzzles I received had pictures I didn’t even like that much. Oh, they were often pretty enough, but I’d rather see a mountain valley than put together a puzzle with a photo of one.

My wife, though, loves puzzles. She does tell people that she wants puzzles with photos or illustrations she likes, but she is very good with any jigsaw puzzle. Even without looking at the box lid, I’ve seen her pull out random pieces and start putting them together and I’ve seen her put 500-piece puzzles together in under two hours. My daughters have also inherited some of this puzzle skill. So, when our local comic shop started having puzzle tournaments, I suggested to my wife that she should enter. Up until a week ago, she competed in four tournaments with one of my daughters and a friend or two on the team and they’ve won all four. So, it surprised me this past weekend when my wife asked me to join them for the puzzle tournament.

The way these tournaments work is that every team is given the same puzzle. The team gets two hours to work on the puzzle. The first team to complete the puzzle wins. If no one completes it, the team with the largest number of assembled pieces wins. We were given a 1000-piece puzzle featuring an illustration based on John Carpenter’s The Thing. The illustration was largely shades of red and gray. On the team with me were my wife, my youngest daughter and a friend of my daughter’s from school.

Although I’m not altogether a fan of assembling jigsaw puzzles, I’m not bad at them. I’m a sufficiently old-school astronomer that I had to become really good at pattern matching to identify star fields in a telescope eyepiece or on a computer monitor. That old Star Trek puzzle way back probably helped me hone that skill. As an editor, I look for misspelled words and bad grammar. I can see how things fit together from seemingly random patterns. I went along to the tournament for the sake of family together time.

At the end of two hours, we had 261 pieces assembled, a little over a quarter of the puzzle and we were the tournament winners. Our prize—another puzzle. This one was a Scooby-Doo puzzle, that looked a little more to our taste. My wife is now five-for-five at the local comic shop’s puzzle tournaments. She plans to return for at least a couple of more rounds and will compete in the final round at the end of the year. Whether I go back and compete again will depend on how the tournament days line up with my schedule.

This was probably the most fun I had working on a jigsaw puzzle and from what I saw, all the teams had fun. I think for me, the most fun part was spending time and collaborating with my family. I did come away realizing that the obsessive part of me that sees a puzzle through to completion (or until a time limit) is a necessary part to me being a writer. When I start a story, I need to see it through until it’s finished. Stories are not unlike jigsaw puzzles for me in that they often start with flashes of scenes and moments of characters doing something and I really want to see how they all fit together. I think the reason they satisfy me more than puzzles is because I’m the one who created the picture that appears when it’s all finished.

Another fun thing that happened on Sunday is that author Stephanie Kato interviewed me at her blog. Click here to read that interview and learn a little more about me.