Free Advice for Writers, Worth Exactly That


I posted on Facebook yesterday that it was the 10th anniversary of my first book, Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story, with a picture from the day I got my first copies.
And I looked at that picture of a thinner, darker-haired version of me proudly holding his first copy of his first book, and I thought:
“I’m glad that kid wrote a book and put my name on it. ‘Cause I sure couldn’t do that.”
For people who say they want to write a book, or even just write more, it’s easy to think there will be a better time.
My life is different because the guy in that picture knew better.
I wrote an actual post once of My Bad Advice On Book Publishing, but I’ll add two bits of worthless free advice for writers:
1) The only way to do it is to do it.
2) There will never be a better time than now.

Another Draft Done


20121219-122830.jpgThis is one of those things that I included in the “when I start blogging again, I should blog about this” list, but I have no idea what I intended to say about it.

During the time I was offline, we finished another draft of the space shuttle book, “Bold They Rise,” that I’ve been working on for, what, six, seven years now? In fact, getting the book finished was one of the motivators for taking a break from blogging in the first place.

That said, there’s really not a whole lot to say about the latest milestone, other than the fact that writing a book can be a long, complicated process.

The latest revision mainly makes some stylistic changes to the book, changing the way it reads somewhat, and I think we all agree that it makes it much better. Next it goes to peer reviewers and the editorial board to see whether they concur, and then it comes back to us at least another time or two to make more revisions to make it publication-worthy. If all goes well, we’ll be looking at a spring 2014 publication date.

Still, even if the latest submission is just another milestone in a long string of them, a lot of work went into this one, and it was quite a relief to have the book off my plate for a little while.

Review: “Constantly Craving” by Marilyn Meberg


More.

The desire for “more” is seemingly an inescapable part of the human experience. It comes in many, many forms — the desire for more “stuff,” the desire for a new relationship (or one better than what we have), the desire for deeper friendships or purpose. Why? Why does this desire seem to be a universal part of being human? Where does it come from? What do we do about it? That’s the focus of Marilyn Meberg’s new book, “Constantly Craving.” Meberg, a professional counselor, examines both how these desires manifest on the surface, and what the deeper needs are that fuel them.

For the lay reader, “Constantly Craving” is an excellent introduction to the relationship between counseling and spirituality. With an accessible, personable tone, Meberg takes a counselor’s approach to examining and explaining a common driver in human behavior, the desire for more and better in life. Then, taking things a step further, she relates these counseling concepts to relationship with God — providing the answers to the questions of why humans are this way, where those needs come from, and what we do about them. Humans are constantly craving more, Meberg explains, because we are looking to meet an innate desire for the ultimate “more” — the perfect fulfillment of relationship with the Almighty Father. Veteran students of the link between human behavior and spirituality may not find much new in Meberg’s book, but for those seeking an understanding of why we are wired the way we are, “Constantly Craving” provides an excellent first step toward that knowledge.

(I received a review copy of Constantly Craving” from Booksneeze.com)

Spacecraft Past, Spacecraft Future


So about two weeks ago, I went and gave a talk in Decatur. And it was fun.

The Friends of the Library group for the Decatur Public Library invited me to come talk about my book, Homesteading Space. Which, in large part, I did. However, I gave the short version of the Homesteading lecture that I put together when I spoke at the International Space Developers Conference earlier this year, and which turned out not to be all that short.

It was short enough, however, that I was able to use the audience as guinea pigs to update my talk a bit, jumping forward 40 years from Skylab to talk about the current and future state of human space exploration. As a member of the policy committee of the National Space Society, and just as someone who is passionate about spaceflight, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the topic of “now what,” and I now have a bit more freedom to discuss that openly than I have before.

What surprised me was how much fun it was. In retrospect, I just don’t have as many opportunities to have in-depth discussions about space as I used to, and I think I’m in a bit of withdrawal. I hadn’t been having a terribly good day, to be honest, before the talk, but I was in a great mood by the time I finished it. I’d gotten my fix.

Point of all of this being, I’ll be doing it again on Saturday at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Davidson Center at 1 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and I’ll have a few copies of the book to sign. And this time, I’ve actually practiced the new part of the talk, so it should be even better.

Join me, won’t you?

Author-y Stuff


Various and sundry author updates:

• I recently had the opportunity to buy several copies of my first book, “Homesteading Space” for $15, and would be glad to sell a few at that price. A few people have contacted me already, but if you would be interested in one, let me know. (Out of town folks would have to pay shipping, also; I would be glad to sign/inscribe books per request.)

• I will be giving a couple of “Homesteading”-inspired talks in the next few weeks; one at the public library in Decatur on July 28 at 6:30 p.m., and the other at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on August 13, time TBD. I would love to see some familiar faces in the audience. I’m planning on revamping my standard talk a bit, after giving an updated version at ISDC in May, to tie history in to the current state of American human spaceflight.

• On Monday, I reviewed the new index which will be included in the forthcoming paperback version of “Homesteading,” which will be published this fall.

• We’ve gotten notes back on the manuscript of our early-space-shuttle history book, “Bold They Rise,” and are working with the publisher on how best to address those. God willing, we’ll be able to begin work on those edits before too long and get that book turned around as well.

Kind Words


I was flattered recently to see this exchange on Twitter:

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As an author, it’s pretty hard to see that as remotely merited, but it’s also hard not to be very flattered by it.

And speaking of Homesteading Space, I’ll be giving a brief talk inspired by the book at the ISDC conference in Huntsville tomorrow.

Congratulations, Bo Bobko


Because I’m woefully behind on blogging (and, yes, we will get back to that eventually), this post is coming about two weeks after I should have written it. Apologies.

Earlier this month, Bo Bobko was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

If you don’t know who Bobko is, follow the link to the collectSPACE article. Long story short, he’s one of the early shuttle commanders who flew on the maiden flight of two orbiters.

He’s sufficiently accomplished that a few years ago, talking to him, I made the faux pas of assuming he was already inducted. I’m glad that oversight has finally been rectified.

On a personal note, I’m glad to see Bo recognized, since he helped me with both of the space history books I’ve co-authored.

Back when he was still a fairly new astronaut, long before the shuttle commander stuff, he supported the Skylab program in several ways, including, most notably, as a participant in the SMEAT “simulation,” where he and two other rookie astronauts spent almost two months locked up in a altitude chamber testing Skylab equipment. It was a singularly unrewarding task — a full-duration space mission without leaving the ground — but vital to the success of Skylab. I got to sit down while working on the Skylab book, Homesteading Space, with Bo and SMEAT-mate Bob Crippen and have a great conversation that turned what on the surface might have been on of the drier chapters in the book into an entertaining and often hilarious story.

Bo helped me again with the space shuttle book Heather and I recently submitted to the publisher — at one point, he was going to serve as co-author of the volume. That fell through, but he was a huge help in shaping the book early on. In particular, as a pilot astronaut, Bobko gave me a perspective that was very key to understanding the development and early flight program of the shuttle. I’d always thought of the space shuttle orbiter primarily as a spaceship. To Bo — and, it turns out, others of his background — it was “the airplane.” Despite it’s very unusual flight profile, particularly during development it was just the latest and greatest airplane he was going to be flying. He talked to me less about the microgravity operations than about the avionics (pronounced with a short a). The discussions with him provided me with a foundation that proved hugely helpful later on in understanding the experiences of the astronauts involved in the early shuttle program.

So, Bo, congratulations on a well-deserved honor, and thanks again for all your help!

Remainders of the Dave


I’m not really big on the whole having-goals-in-life thing.

It’s not that I’m lazy or unambitious.

It’s just that I’m not creative enough.

There’s rarely been a period of my life when what I could have hoped for would have been better than what actually ended up happening. God’s more creative than I am.

Instead, I believe in working each day to put yourself in the best place possible that day. That way, when the doors open, you’re ready to go through them. And the doors are more likely to open in the first place.

And I believe in smaller goals. Not the “what I want to do when I grow up” type stuff, but the “I want to go skydiving” type goals.

BUT …

If …

Just if …

If I were to admit to having a real goal in life, and I’m not saying I do, I’m just saying it’s something that seems like a good candidate for the job …

… save for the fact that I don’t know I could accomplish it, which seems like an important factor for a life goal …

… it would be this:

I want to be remaindered.

I want for somebody to be able to go into their local big-box chain bookseller, and go to the discount book section, and find, there, with the markdown sticker on the front and the black marker line on the pages, a book by David Hitt.

A bit silly, perhaps, but it requires something on my part — writing more books — and is somewhat of a measure of success — Homesteading Space didn’t print enough copies to be remaindered.

I’ve been saying for a while that I like the idea of this goal, so it was very cool to me when I went into my local Books-A-Million and saw the sight in that picture.

A book that includes something I wrote,on a remainder table.

I just wrote a few words for the book. In fact, arguably, just one.

And it fails the main requirement of having the name David Hitt on the front.

(Even if it does say David.)

But, hey, it’s a start, right?

Everything I Need to Know About Rescuing Chilean Miners I Learned On Skylab


I wrote this a while back at work, but it wasn’t really an education feature, so I shopped it around a bit to see if it could find a home. For a while, it looked like it had, but now it’s looking like it’s not going to be published, so I’m sharing it here.


Photo: Gabriel Ortega/Government of Chile

From the capsule that was used to rescue 33 Chilean miners trapped underground to the food they ate while awaiting help, NASA provided expert advice to the Chilean rescue team.

The miners spent over two months trapped almost half a mile underground after an access tunnel caved in. NASA sent a four-man team, including an engineer, two doctors and a psychologist, to Chile after the Chilean government approached the United States Department of State seeking assistance. The agency provided consultation on the design for a capsule that could be sent down a small shaft to return the miners to the surface. It also advised in areas  such as diet and exercise to keep the miners healthy while they awaited rescue. (NASA wasn’t the only space agency to contribute — the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency sent specially designed “space underwear” designed to alleviate discomfort and reduce odors.)

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said that the agency’s contributions to the rescue effort were a great example of an Earth-bound application of lessons from spaceflight. “For decades, the people of this agency have learned to live, work and survive in the hostile environment of space,” Bolden said. “Our expertise in maintaining physiological and psychological health, and our technical and engineering experience in spacecraft design all proved to be valuable in a situation that is far from our traditional scope of work. I am proud of the people of this agency who were able to bring the experience of spaceflight down to Earth when it was needed most.”

One person who saw a strong parallel between living space and the experiences of the miners was Skylab II astronaut Owen Garriott. Failures in two of the thrusters in his crew’s Apollo command module during a 1973 mission to the Skylab space station called into question whether the vehicle could be used to return the astronauts safely to Earth and led to a rescue investigation into how best to bring them home.

Garriott said that several aspects of the mine rescue operation echoed aspects of his Skylab experience, and provide a good blueprint for dealing with similar crises:

–Establish communications with home. A communications link used to allow each miner to talk to loved ones on the surface was similar to a system used on Skylab. Garriott said that this provided a “very positive connection to things at home.” In the case of Skylab, it was a turning point in space-to-ground communications, which in the past had been more tightly controlled. “Now, it is a very obvious positive morale booster and also keeps the control center very ‘honest,”” he said.

–Establish a leader. Strong leadership is invaluable in dealing with a situation like this, Garriott said. The NASA training and military background of many astronauts make this a natural process in the agency, and Garriott said the role of leaders both in the mine and on the ground was important in the Chilean rescue operation.

–Provide good food. “The miners were just about to run out of the stored rations, and topside rescuers very promptly started sending them down more and better food, eventually even hot meals,” Garriott said. “On Skylab, all meals were planned beforehand, but were very positive for morale and well-being. Skylab [had] the best food ever flown!”

–Give everyone responsibilities. Rather than focusing on the concerns over their spacecraft, Garriott’s crew, which also included Apollo 12 moonwalker Alan Bean as commander and Jack Lousma as pilot, poured their energy and attention into their work. Upon their return, they were dubbed the “supercrew” for accomplishing 150 percent of their mission objectives. Similarily, Garriott said, shifts were set up in the mine so someone was always working, and miners were given tasks like cleaning, preparing the tunnels for the rescue and exercise, vitally important when activity is limited. “Everyone needs real work to do,” Garriott said.

–Train a medical officer. “I was it on our Skylab mission, but everyone wanted to participate and was trained for it,” Garriott said. And, also as on Skylab, Garriott said the medical miner was helped by the communication link providing “telemedicine” connections with experts on the ground.

–Pay close attention to the morale. “Seems like they did this well, following much of the ‘common sense’ procedures first employed on Skylab,” Garriott said of the Chilean rescue.

Things I’m Going to Do When The Book Is Done


The plan now is that Heather and I will ship the manuscript of our book to the publisher on Friday, either finished or very close to it. And when that happens, we get our lives back. And that will be nice.

Things I’m going to do when the book is done:

• Read. For pleasure. For long periods of time at a sitting. Without feeling guilty. One time, months ago, Heather and I went together to a coffee shop and each read our own books. That was fun.

• Watch movies. That picture at the top of this post? Those are Blu-Rays I’ve bought and haven’t even opened yet. We’re going to watch some.  The nice thing will be that, compared to the last few weeks, we could put the boys to bed and watch an entire movie before I left and it still be an early evening, relatively speaking.

• Play a video game. I blogged back in August about the fact that I’d bought Dragon Quest IX. I still haven’t opened it either. I don’t play a whole lot of video or computer games. It’s kind of waste of time. But that’s exactly why I want to do it. I like the idea of having time to waste.

• Lose weight. I’m going to start exercising more. I promise. I mean it. Of course, just not being sedentary working on the book and engaging in bad eating habits will help, but I wrote about that this morning.

• Walk. Which kinda ties in to the exercise thing, but I miss walking for pleasure. I miss hiking for pleasure. I look forward to that.

• Sleep. I’m getting to old for the hours we’ve been keeping lately.

• Do something fun with Heather and the boys. Maybe multiple somethings. We’ve worked really hard not to neglect them, working in a bowling outing here or a trip to Toys R Us there. But we’ll have to do something that’s not constrained to the hour or so we can spare.

• Go on a date with Heather. You know, the whole babysitter, dinner, theater sort of thing. I can say this with some certainty because I know Valentine’s is coming up, and I know plans are being made.

• Clean the house. Gotta be done at this point, as much of a shame as it would be to do away with the impressive archeological record of the time I’ve worked on the book that’s been developing in my home.

• Get more serious about my devotional and prayer time. Heck, as long as this list is turning into belated New Year’s resolutions, I might as well put that on there.

• Work on some writing or creative projects with no deadlines. Things that serve solely to make me happy. I don’t want to completely lose the momentum I’ve developed, but I’ll be very glad to take the pressure off me.

Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ll have to keep that in my head the next couple of days, huh?