Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ewww...Spider Goats are real!

At the South by Southwest music, film, and interactive conference held in Austin, Texas recently, Al Gore warned that with futuristic technologies comes risk. One of those risks, he thought, might best be summed up in the form of spider goats.

What exactly is a spider goat?

If you're currently imagining giant, wool-covered arachnids with extra-long legs, a fuzzy snout and pink nose, you're least in that spider goats are the size of dogs and are the result of science combining those creepy eight-legged insects with real live goats. There are about 30 of these mutants living at the Utah State University farm right now. And every time one of them lactates, silk proteins are included in their milk.

I did a little research and learned that this Frankenstein program was the brainchild of the scientists at a Canadian company called Nexia Biotechnologies. In 2002, they announced that they were about to extract silk from a brand new animal. The world was dismayed, but sure enough Nexia came out with a product called BioSteel, a high-strength fiber made of the recombinant spider silk-like protein extracted from the milk of their own lab-grown herd of mutants. The company ultimately failed (thank goodness, some might say) and went bankrupt in 2009. But the herd lives on.

So why did they do it?

The point is that spider silk is one of the strongest materials known in nature. It is five times stronger than steel, yet is fully flexible and could provide the answers to everything from better bullet-proof vests to creating cables strong enough to lift enormous payloads. Unfortunately, there is one very real problem with getting silk from spiders: they cannot be farmed. If you put a group of spiders together in a single location, they eat each other.

More ewww!

It's also not practical or affordable to farm these creatures separately, because an individual spider does not have nearly enough silk output to be worthwhile. So the answer, of course, was to dress up a female spider--makeup, high heels, the works--and then invite a macho goat over to--

Okay, maybe it was more of a test tube process, but you get the point. We now have a breed of goats imprinted with spider genes. And I'm getting the willies just thinking about it. You will be relieved to know, however, that these goats at least do not look anything at all like spiders. They're, instead, more like Spider-Man, hiding their super spidey traits on the inside.

I agree with Al Gore on this one. There is something fundamentally eerie about the whole thing. Futuristic technologies are exciting and are paving the way to a magnificent human future...but I'd prefer that we have two--not eight--legs when we get there.

What other creatures do you think science should or should not combine?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Would you pay $30,000 to never buy gas again?

Elon Musk is 41 years old has already changed the world three times. And we're not talking about tiny little ripples in human history. No, Elon has done the equivalent of inventing fire, the wheel, and the first money, all in the span of about twenty years. Imagine what he might accomplish with his next forty.

By now, everyone knows that Elon Musk was a co-founder of PayPal, a company that created a form of online money exchange so revolutionary that, as a never-before-seen hybrid of money transfer and financial institution, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Banking Commission had to split oversight into two separate parts. PayPal was so effective and had such great customer service that its early customers were nearly as zealous as current-day Apple followers.

In 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for 1.5 billion dollars, of which 175 million was Elon  Musk's portion. He could have retired to the beaches of the unspeakably rich, but instead Elon set out to fundamentally change the world.

Let's stop and talk about this for a moment. There are some entrepreneurs who, after their companies are established and proven successful,  claim they did it for one exalted reason or another; in Elon's case, however, the philanthropy came first. He said from the outset that paving an optimistic future for mankind was his ultimate goal. To do that, he invested every last cent of his new fortune in three major companies, and all three nearly failed; SpaceX had early rocket failures that brought them to within a hair of utter collapse; SolarCity had almost insurmountable problems establishing bank financing to allow it to grow into profitability; and Tesla Motors had a long string of early design problems and delays that forced them to beg at federal doors. In 2009 Tesla Motors was approved to receive 465 million in interest-bearing loans from the United States Department of Energy.

Now if Elon was simply a business owner, you might say he was too much of a gambler, but if you look at him through the prism of his intent, which is not to make money but to change the direction of human society, those have been small bumps in the road.

Today, SpaceX has righted its technology and its accounting books and now has a long list of first-ever accomplishments that would require several blogs just to list them. SolarCity has not only a sound financial footing, it is already a major electricity supplier in both the residential and commercial markets, and their new no-money-down solar leasing program has virtually revolutionized the industry. It is also in the midst of building a network of solar changing stations for electric vehicles.

Regarding Tesla Motors, Elon said from the beginning that they had to create an electric car with good range. But he knew limited production capability would make the cost of that first model too high for the average driver. It would, instead, need to be built for a luxury audience. The 2008 Tesla Roadster had a price starting at $109,000, and more than 2,400 have now been sold worldwide. In mid-2012, Tesla began delivery of its four-door Model S sedan, a car starting at about $60,000. More than 2,500 were sold and delivered in 2012. The company expects to deliver an additional 20,000 in 2013.

Finally, let's talk about Tesla Motor's latest announcement, which came directly from Elon Musk via Twitter: "$30k in 2013 ... w 200+ mile range w some really cool tech that we can't talk about yet."

This means that a $30,000, fully-electric Tesla car has finally arrived, and with a one-charge range of over 200-miles, it's well ahead of Chevy's Volt (40 miles per charge) and Toyota's Rav4 (100 miles per charge). The price also ensures that demand will be strong.

It looks as though electric vehicles may now be here to stay. Chalk up another one for Elon Musk.

So I ask you again, would you pay $30,000 to never buy gas again?


Monday, March 25, 2013

What can Star Trek, Star Wars and J.J. Abrams teach us about setting goals?

Time for a little change of pace and today is going to be a short blog.

Did I just hear a huge sigh of relief? :-)

I saw a news article this morning where J.J. Abrams talks about helming both the Star Trek and Star Wars blockbuster franchises. In two words: he's excited. He's thrilled at being able to mold both fictional universes into visions that make him want to see the upcoming movies. As you all know, I blog about issues that inspire, excite and fill me with optimism. And what could be more optimistic than the human race spreading into the stars (maybe in a more Trek than Wars way :-)?

Imagine that. J.J. Abrams is in control of building both his real and imagined futures. If he does his job right, not only will he be able to cram even more money into his already bursting bank accounts, he'll also be able to enjoy the fictional realities that he creates.

Some day soon, I will get into production notes about both sci-fi extravaganzas, but for today I want to ask you one thing: don't you have the same control over your future as J.J. Abrams has over his?

A few days ago, I talked about what the new tech billionaires can us teach about choosing a life's direction and succeeding. It's not crazy, it's fact. Each of us is in control of his or her future, so why not make it one that thrills you and fills you with anticipation?

Sit down today and write down your wildest, craziest dreams...the ones that excite you, that make you wish somehow, someway you could be that person, do those things. And when chills are coursing up and down your spine and a smile is pasted across your face--

Promise yourself you'll do it!

Now, write down a step you can take today to make those dreams come true. Ignore your doubts, because you can find solutions to every challenge. You can find a way to make your own perfect movie.

Do one thing today. Do it!

Tomorrow? Just one more thing.

'See you in the theaters :-)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Interview with out-of-the-box author Jeremy Emling....



 Today, in the forum we have author Jeremy Emling. He has been doing some truly unique, out-of-the-box work with Memories Lost In Heaven’s Tears and his upcoming Diary of Destiny series. Let’s jump in and find out what it’s all about.
Tim Greaton: Did you have a relative who strongly influenced you?

Jeremy Emling: My first introduction into the world of literature was really from my Mother, who was and still is a huge Stephen King fan. As I became a teenager, her actions in my life enveloped into the main theme of my first book, “Memories Lost In Heaven’s Tears.” The negativity and abandonment she so easily gift wrapped and delivered to her youngest son ended up helping her become a character in my upcoming novel series, “The Diary Of Destiny.” I guess you can say it’s my way of thanking her for those devious actions, for if they never happened I truly doubt I’d be the writer that I am today, and for that I’ll always be eternally grateful.

Tim Greaton: Are most of your works available or do you have them hiding away? Do you think any of it will see the light of day?

Jeremy Emling: For the most part, “Memories Lost,” is a collection of my work and I’ve really moved on to living and breathing “The Diary Of Destiny” (TDOD). So as far as everything goes that I’ve done in the past, well, that’s just where it’s going to stay. TDOD is what my life is about now, and I am completely content on where I’m at…in the world of the UnKnowns.

Tim Greaton: Was there a place from your past that you’ll always remember? How do the memories of it influence your life/writing?

Jeremy Emling: The parental guidance that I had during my upbringing caused us to move a lot. Every year I was in a new town, starting a new school. Now as a child this always seemed to be such a traumatic event that I’d never make it through. Which in turn is probably the reason the life of my main character in TDOD, Destiny EverDream, is in such chaos and confusion, much like my own. But as I got older and started looking back on my life, I quickly realized that the robust amount of cultures I’ve met because of those yearly moves, are much more a blessing than something terrible. And once more is most likely the leading factor as to why the world of TDOD is filled with so many different personalities.
Tim Greaton: You often receive what compliment about your writing? Why do you think your writing stands out in that regard?                                          

Be sure to see the rest of Jeremy's fast-paced interview at the


Space agency readies robots to build moon base....

It seems that every week brings news of efforts to colonize or commercialize space, and this week is no exception. Today we're going to talk about unmanned robots being developed for the sole purpose of building shelters on the moon. It's important to note, these robots are NOT a whim or pie-in-space fanciful dream. They have already been commissioned and tested by the European Space Agency (ESA).

(Image: compliment of ESA)

So when would such a mission take place? Though no dates or time horizons have been announced, it seems we are talking about years not decades. If this concept moves forward, the moon base construction could conceivably be mankind's first permanent foothold on another world, a step that is being cheered by space enthusiasts around the globe.

In a moment, we'll talk about the specifics of not one but two types of automated moon-building robots that would take as little as a week to build a full-sized human shelter out of moon dust, but in the meantime let's talk about how this effort could fit into a much larger, much grander plan.

Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Solar City) has set his sights on colonizing Mars with 80,000 people starting in 2023. The reason he bypassed the Moon is because it lacks enough frozen water and proper sunlight for a self-contained colony to survive easily. On the other hand, Mars has both in addition to a high nitrogen atmosphere that could support plants in a basic greenhouse right now. NASA is actually working on creating tough hybrid tomatoes and other plants that could withstand the high levels of Mars radiation and drastic temperature swings. You can see more about NASA's efforts here:

(Image: compliment of NASA)

The reason I wanted to segue to SpaceX's hop-skip over a Moon colony is that no one organization has to do it all. As a matter-of-fact, the only way space will be conquered is if we have dozens, maybe even hundreds of programs, missions, and commercial endeavors working in concert to create a sustainable human infrastructure in space. There are now at least two companies poised to mine asteroids in space, with one main goal being to process ice into hydrogen fuel, which can then be marketed to other space missions. Effectively, gas stations in space. Two companies have serious plans to colonize Mars. Another is poised to send tourists whirling around the red planet before returning them to Earth. Russia, Japan, China, and the European Space Agency have all indicated a desire to create colonies on the moon. Bigelow Space and a smattering of less serious companies have talked about orbiting hotels, and we of course know that the International Space Station is already in orbit with lots of plans for future missions. These are all potentially symbiotic steps towards our future among the stars.

3-D printers are considered one of the most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st Century. These wonders use detailed 3-D computer scans to recreate anything from a machine gear to art sculptures. A few weeks ago, an 83-year-old woman received a complete 3-D printed titanium lower jaw bone. She was chewing food less than 24 hours later. You can see more about her operation here:

(Image: compliment of ESA)

Effectively, these printers take a 3-d computer likeness and stack layers upon layers of any given material to perfectly duplicate that object in all three dimensions. In January of this year, the European Space Agency announced that they had commissioned international engineering firm Foster + Partners to develop a robotic, unmanned 3-D printer that could create moon shelters. The chosen printer is called a D-Shape and, by combining simulated lunar soil and magnesium oxide then binding it with structural salt, it has successfully created a material similar to stone or concrete, which can then be used to construct honeycomb like walls that would shield a moon base from meteorites and radiation. At three meters per hour, this wonder could complete a structure within a week. Several of them working together could build an entire lunar city in just a few months.

(Image: compliment of ESA)

However, there is one downfall to the D-Shape process. We would still need to deliver not just the printers but large quantities of magnesium oxide and salt to the moon. It can, of course, be done at a massive expense but what if there was a better way?

(Image: compliment of International Space University)

Space architects from the International Space University in France believe they have an alternate solution. They call it Project SinterHab. This is a concept that they have been working on since 2009 and, like the ESA project, it has already undergone extensive testing and seems quite possible. Effectively, the SinterHab project would still use a 3-D printing head, which they propose mounting on a NASA rover. But instead of using binding products shipped from earth, they would use solar energy to microwave the dust, effectively creating a form of ceramic. The obvious advantage is that once the robots are sitting on Lunar soil, work can potentially continue endlessly.

Lunar skyscrapers and traffic jams, anyone?

Of course, no matter how we mold these lunar shells, we will still need to import all manner of equipment to make the empty domes livable, but thanks to this 3-D futuristic printer technology we may soon have permanent boots on another world.

Would you move to the moon?


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Real Dr. Frankenstein grows body parts in his lab....

Welcome back, everyone :-)

I'd love to say I told you so...but I never really said we'd soon be purchasing replacement noses, throats and ears, much like you pick up a pair of jeans at the local store. But that is exactly what's happening...AND. IT. IS. TRUE. Futuristic technologies are barreling down on us in every facet of life, and the world of medicine is no different.

In Madrid, Spain, Dr. Francisco Fernandez-Aviles has created a body parts factory. Lost a ear to an accident? No problem; we've already grown replacements. Had life-altering surgery that removed your windpipe? No sweat; we've replaced those several times. Missing a nose because of an ATV accident? Check aisle six, and take your pick off the shelf. Okay, so maybe we have to mold that nose to specifically match your old one and then implant it under your arm for six months (long enough for skin and blood vessels to properly form) but you get the point. Other parts already successfully built and implanted include bladders, coronary arteries, standard arteries and tear ducts. 

Most recently, Dr. Aviles and his team have been working on the holy grail of organ replacements: the human heart. And they are making surprising, miraculous progress. If you wandered through their lab today, you might find them staring at a gray mass that looks like something a hunter pulled from his last kill. That's because the flexible gray mass is an actual heart removed from a human cadaver. But unlike a live heart from a standard organ donor, this heart does not have to resemble its recipient's original organ in any way, except for maybe size. That's because this gray mass has already been soaked in extra-powerful detergents to eliminate the original cells. What remains is the scaffolding, formed mostly from collagen and other proteins that are 100% interchangeable without rejection from body to body.

Now, somehow, just like the fictional Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Aviles needs to transfer life to what is currently an inert organ. Fortunately, no lightning rods or medieval dungeon conditions are required. The next step in the process will be to use stem cells to restore the various types of cells, while a bioreactor mimics body functions including blood-flow, waste removal and electrical connections with a pacemaker at their core. This bioreactor should be ready in a few months. Something similar but more basic has already successfully created a pulse in a reengineered rat heart. If everything goes well with the process and approvals, human hearts will be available in about ten years.

In the meantime, need a good nose?

If any of the futuristic sciences have already changed your life, I'd love to hear about it :-)

A much more detailed article about Dr. Aviles and his team can be found at The Wall Street Journal, here:

Friday, March 22, 2013

X Lab releasing secret invention this month...

It's another beautiful day up here in Southern Maine. The heavy snow of two days' past is half-melted and glimpses of last year's field grass are peeking up--

What the hell am I doing?!

If I know one thing about my audience, it's that you're impatient like me. You're not here for long and boring stretches of personal exposition. Instead, you want to know what's up with this X-lab and whatever-the-hell secret invention they're talking about. So, let's get into it.

For those of you who haven't heard, the massively successfully and always-swimming-in-money Google has a real X-men style secret laboratory that's called Google X or Google X Lab. It was originally believed to be somewhere in the Bay Area of Northern California but recent reports suggest it may now be spread across several locations, all of which are under close supervision of Sergey Brin, one of Google's co-founders.

The new driverless cars under development and Google Glass, the company's virtual reality glasses, are both brainchildren of the X Lab. The lab also has the dubious distinction of having invented Google Maps' blue dot, which shows your location inside of a building.

A few days ago, at this year's South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Google spokesperson and "Captain of Moonshots" (I kid you not, that is his real title) Astro Teller (and his real name) made the announcement that the lab plans to unveil its latest secret product within the next month.

So what can we expect?


I have scoured the internet and conferred with all my secret sources (of which I honestly have zero) to discover absolutely nothing. Nada. Bupkis. Not a wisp, not a rumor is afoot about whatever those secretive X scientists are about to announce, which leads me to believe that this will probably be a relatively modest "blue dot." However, rest assured I'll have my ears to the ground.

Before we leave our X Lab discussion, however, I do want to mention that this blog is NOT about pseudo science or pie-in-the-sky, wacky possibilities. Unless I'm talking about a fictional work, the science we discuss here is real and underway. I do not chase UFOs or crazy Bigfoot theories. Our world is swirling with enough real discoveries and new technologies to make the science fiction of just a few decades ago seem quaint. We do not need to invent or exaggerate anything to be awestruck at the futuristic events taking place.
All of that said, I would like to talk about an X Lab rumor. In 2011, it was believed that the lab was working on a space elevator. Now, if that were true it would put the company directly in competition with  the Obayashi Corporation, which last year announced that in 38 years it planned to build a space elevator using carbon nanotube technology. The passenger and load delivery system would travel at 124 miles per hour for 7 1/2 days to reach a geostationary orbit (GEO) of at least 22,236 miles above earth, where presumably a receiving orbiting platform or space station would be positioned. 
The Captain of Moonshots, however, has completely refuted the notion that Google is working on a space elevator. I only mention it to illustrate what kinds of really huge ideas may well come out of X Lab in the future.
More secret laboratory news to come SOON!

If you've heard any great science news, I'd love to hear from you. Maybe you could become my very first secret source :-)


Thursday, March 21, 2013

What can tech billionaires teach us about success?

Hi, Everyone:

I want to talk with you about something that can change each and every one of our lives, right now, today. But you'll have to give me a few seconds of geekdom to explain the thinking behind this life-changing information. I've been blogging and spreading my optimism about the recent explosion of futuristic technologies for a while now. The emergence of viable space exploration plans, solar power, electric cars, Google's virtual reality glasses and Martin's real-life jetpacks are all going to change our lives...soon. Apple's iPads and iPhones and even Facebook have already changed the landscape of human life. Before that, there was the advent of the PC computer, video games and, of course, the internet.

But today, I'm not here to talk about technology. What I want to discuss is the mindset of the new technical entrepreneurs that have begun to push mankind's future forward at a much faster pace than ever before. And I believe that by sharing this mindset, we can all live and function like mini- or maybe even full-fledged billionaires.

First, let's start with my version of a series of charts that Peter Thiel shared at 2013's South by Southwest (SXSW) convention. SXSW is a music, film and interactive conference that takes place every spring in Austin, Texas. It has become a huge magnet for the tech geniuses of our time. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, was also the first outside investor in Facebook, way back when it was just a tiny startup. As President of Clarium Capital, Managing Partner of The Founders Fund and Investment Committee Chairperson for Mithril Capital Management, he is now involved with dozens of similar tech companies. In short, Peter is worth an estimated 1.5 billion dollars and, being only in his mid-forties, seems to just be getting started. Here's a version of Peter's chart from the convention:

(concept courtesy of Peter Thiel and SXSW)
I have been saying for a long time that these new tech entrepreneurs have a different worldview than the rest of us, and this is largely it. Let's talk about the text in the pink. For the longest time, the US and populations of other developed countries saw the world through a prism of everything getting better. Each generation felt the future was bright and getting brighter. They had optimism and a clear vision of good things to come. That can be found on the above chart in the upper left: "Positive with Direction." To US citizens, that was the way our world looked for most if not all of the 1900s and even into the early-2000s. People in this mode had a clear and positive view of the future and worked steadily toward it.
But then something happened. Our world economy began to sink, and today most US citizens have moved into the mindset in the upper right: "Positive but Aimless." We are still optimistic (largely because it's a habit, I suspect) but we aren't really sure why.
Bear with me, I promise the theory will be over in a just a few more words. Then we'll talk about changing our lives, right now!
According to Peter, most of the rest of the developed world, China, India, Europe, etc... feel much less positive about the future. They believe things will probably get worse, even if they're not exactly sure how. These people fall into the lower right hand category: "Negative and Aimless."
Now the worst category of thinkers would be in be the lower left: "Negative with Direction." These people are not only pessimistic about the future, they are also certain that it's going straight to doom and gloom. They have a vision...but it's for disaster.
The terms within the quadrants describe which types of companies/systems generally thrive in each of the four environments. Of course, we all understand that "Wartime Rationing" means that almost no company is doing well.
The "Insurance" section also makes sense. People that believe the future is bleak and uncertain will likely invest in insurance to cover those losses. In that quadrant, insurance companies will be the big financial winners. Peter Thiel believes this is why Warren Buffet's largely insurance-centric companies have done so well, because so many countries currently have a bleak outlook on the future.
The upper-right quadrant is for companies that are optimistic but lack vision. They tend to spread their product development out among many lines (think Sony) and assume that some percentage of their goods will sell well. In truth, those successes are not at all certain, and the companies earning most in this environment are the legal and financial firms in the background.
Finally (yes, we're near the end of the background stuff), companies that are "positive with direction" have a clear vision for the future and develop specific plans to get there. Pixar's and Apple's high-quality successes come to mind.
The exciting thing is that anyone with clear vision and direction can not only survive but thrive in any of the four environments. That means that simply by changing our mindset we can enjoy the same bright and definite futures as those positive tech companies.
I hate to complicate the issue, but there is one more key difference in the way modern tech entrepreneurs think. Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla Motors, SolarCity) says that his successes largely boil down to a single thing: he does not reason by analogy; he instead reverts to the scientific method. What that  means is that his companies do not look to the success or failure of any other company or product to manage their own plans. They instead assume a strong direction and then focus on solving whatever problems they need to to get there. Tesla Motors, for instance, doesn't care that GM's Volt can only travel 40 miles on a charge. Nor does it care that Toyota's RAV4 EV has a range of only 100 miles. Tesla started from scratch and built an all electric car that can travel an average of 240 miles on a single charge. One man traveling at 18mpg actually went 400 miles on a single charge, recently. The Tesla Company set out to solve the need for one-charge traveling range from the ground up. It created an all-new aluminum frame, new battery designs and the most light and streamlined chassis it could conceive.
What does this mean for us? Two things. First, there are companies--dozens of them--that are pushing the edges of science and are perfecting products previously believed impossible (aforementioned Martin Jetpacks and Google virtual reality glasses, are two good examples) so there is reason to believe that whole new industries with hundreds of thousands of jobs will continue to emerge.
More importantly, what if each and every one of us were to examine our lives? What if we decided to be in the quadrant of optimists with a clear direction for our future? What if we followed Elon Musk's advice and ignored all the outside evidence about what was possible or impossible and instead focused on the maximum possible that we can accomplish? You might be the next JK Rowling, Tom Cruise or Elon Musk. You might have the most amazing idea for creating a bakery, a garden or an industry that could change the world. What if you decided to unleash all of your talents in a planned and positive way and that you were not going to take 'no' for an answer? What if you could find a way to truly make your core dreams come true? 
I sincerely think you can. 
How about we both start right now?!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Interview with spiritual author Barbara Garro....



Barbara Garro is in the forum today to talk about her spiritual books and the fascinating and full life behind them. Please have a seat and join me in my discussion with this natural storyteller.

Tim Greaton: It’s great to have you here, Barbara. I know you have lived a full professional life. Could you tell us a little about your career before writing?
Barbara Garro: First, I had to make money to support my art, so as a teen, I went up the ranks in the corporate world, eventually became the Director of Risk & Insurance Management for Comcast Corporation in PA. Then, I had a life-altering accident and became the writer, producer and actor of “The Mother Goose & Gander Show” for children from 3-8, which ran up and down New York State during the 1990s and still runs in some markets. Altogether, I have had nine careers with the credentials to support them. For Risk Management, I have my Chartered Property & Casualty Designation. For my Personal and Business Coaching, I have completed Coach University’s Two-Year Corporate Coaching Program and Coach Training Institute’s Personal Coach Training Program. As an actress and singer, I have been trained by various singing coaches and for singing and acting by Joe Balfior who started The New York State Theatre Institute out of Troy, New York. For fine art, I have been taught by Master Artists Morris Blackburn at the Philadelphia Art Museum and Tom Vincent of New York City. I have my Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, and wrote my thesis on how children learn. I also create exciting sculpture, training currently under Patrice Mastrianni in Saratoga Springs, New York. I am also a professional storyteller and have been a Liturgical Minister teaching the Liturgy to children for over 40 years and still do it.

Grow Yourself a Life You'll Love
Tim Greaton: Wow. I’m tired just thinking about it. I know you work just as hard on your current writing career, too. Have you always been so self-motivated?

Barbara Garro: At five, I got picked up by the Police for soliciting on the street with my three-year old friend, Rosenn, the first and only time. When television was first coming into homes, I saw a beggar with a tin cup getting money from people. I had a tin cup, so I and my three-year old friend went up on Broadway in Camden, New Jersey, and said to passersby “Pennies, Pennies.” One lady asked me if it would be okay to give me a quarter. I couldn’t figure out how to divide a quarter in half, so I told Rosanne, I would give her an extra penny. I put one of the dimes we got into the gumball machine in Hurley’s Furniture Store and only one gumball came out. I complained. The clerk told me the machine did not know the difference between a penny and a dime and no, she would not open the machine and give me my dime back or nine more gumballs. After we left Hurley’s, a Police Car stopped and asked me if I knew where I lived. I told him I did and he told us to get in the car, he was taking us home. My mother sat me down and told me that, even though I saw a beggar on television begging on the street, it was not something nice little girls did and never to do it again. And, she took all the money in the tin cup, too. My friend’s mother came over and asked my mother if she had beaten me for doing such an awful thing. My mother said she had not, that I did not know I was doing anything wrong and we don’t beat our children. She had given Roseann an awful beating with the strap and told my mother she did not want to play with Roseann ever again. As a creative and curious kid, I had the perfect parents who taught me right from wrong and explained why something I did was wrong the first time I did it. Mother didn’t raise a fool, so I rarely did the same wrong thing again. Let’s just say I kept my parents and the angels on their toes the whole time I was growing up and as long as they lived. Anything I asked my parents about, they gave me information. Anything I asked my parents to help me do, they helped me. I learned to jump rope, ride a bicycle and do the Charleston by four, build a dinosaur at eight, tap dance and ballet at eight. Also at eight, I wrote my autobiography, albeit it was short. As a curious child with lots of freedom, I would go into the woods and see how things grew, how the animals lived, visit, feed the horses that lived on our Main Street in Maple Shade, New Jersey and ride horses when I got the chance. Once, I walked under the street through the sewer pipe to see where it went, and occasionally wander through neighbors houses who left their doors open-never got caught either. I saw a lot and did a lot, because I loved being outside, still do.

Tim Greaton: It sounds like you had a fascinating childhood and amazing parents. How have they influenced you over the years?

Barbara Garro: As a beautifully loved child within loving paternal and maternal large families, lots of people influenced me as a child, took exciting interest in me and everything I did and wanted to do. My parents probably influenced me the most, my father a successful entrepreneur who told me, “Babe, you can do anything you want to do.” At four, my mother sent me to the supermarket to buy Red Heart canned dog food at the supermarket several blocks away. I walked the wrong way on Broadway and finally realized it and turned around, found the supermarket, got the dog food and went home. My mother simply asked me what took me so long and I told her. At eight, I needed weekly allergy shots in Camden, a long bus from Maple Shade that was several big city blocks from the bus stop. I was really worried that I would not get off at the right stop, not be able to find the doctor’s office and not be able to find my way back to the bus. Yet, I did it all and both my other and I were really proud of me. My father owned a large service station and at eight it was my job to write up and sent all the reminders of service due on their vehicles each month. My mother, because my father worked long hours mostly seven days a week, taught me how to do carpentry, garden, paint, wallpaper, knit, crochet, cook, bake and create the most amazing arts and crafts. Both of my parents could draw well, just came natural. My father sang opera whenever he was home and could play by ear any instrument that he took in his hands. My mother and father were literary people and my mother recited the famous poets’ poems to me as a toddler and into my teens. My mother had an extensive library of the arts and the Master Painters and Writers influenced me greatly from before I could even read. I would draw, copying the masters whenever I was sick in bed, which was a lot, since I had asthma and allergies until puberty.

From Jesus to Heaven With Love: A Parable Pilgrimage

Be sure to see the rest of
Barbara Garro's interview at the

Flapping jaws: how to write sizzling dialog….

As writers, we are constantly seeking the perfect ingredients for that magic stew called the popular novel. What I mean, of course, is that we want the most possible readers from our genre or category to be so engaged, so smitten that they are willing to leave positive reviews, tell their friends and—dare I say it—buy the next book. As always, I encourage writers to follow their own instincts and their own voices, but maybe the following tips will give us all something to think about.

One of the easiest ways to captivate readers is to use authentic dialog in a gripping, tension-building way. I know, it’s easy to say something like that but doing it…well, that’s another thing entirely.

Or is it?

A few years ago, J.A. Konrath, bestselling author of the Jack Daniels series and other books, said that liberal use of white space was key to writing popular fiction. I read that line several times before I realized just how liberating and probably true that statement was. As applied to dialog, that might mean our characters should stop making long declarations of anything. No more tedious explanations, no more long history lessons or discussion about backstory, no more forcing our characters to bore our readers.

Instead, our characters should speak in short bursts like most of us do in real life.

Another great dialog teacher was the late Jack Bickham, professor  at the H.H. Herbert School of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma.  Jack wrote a number of how-to books for writers as well as 75 published mostly successful novels. He likened effective dialog to a tennis match. Each character gets her or his turn to hit the ball. Wait for the other character to hit the ball back, and so on. How long does a tennis ball stay in any player’s court? Not long, obviously.

Effective dialog is fast and hard, just like a good tennis match.

It’s also important to note that dialog should serve your characters and your plot ONLY. We have all been on that phone call that just wouldn’t end, where maybe both parties were passionate about one subject or another. You speak about it for several important minutes…but then it’s over. You’ve talked it out yet the conversation drags on and on. You look at your watch and are ultimately relieved when the last lame words are spoken.

You can’t let the lame part of conversations enter your fiction. Always start and end your conversations on the passion. Cut the rest…or better yet, never write it.

What about all those everyday moments, some of you are saying? People really do talk about pets, kids, hairstyles…blah, blah, blah. Books aren’t written about the boring parts of life. We live enough of those. A novel is supposed to show us snippets of the good stuff, the important stuff. If your readers want boring, they will find a family member and invite them over for coffee and fruitcake. In the meantime, you must keep them entertained.  

So what we have learned so far is that dialog should be limited to short bursts of important stuff, and should be quick like a tennis match. Now we’re experts, right?

Not quite.

Dialog should also reflect character and mood. Elmore Leonard has been known to visit police stations so that he can effectively mimic crime dialog. Todd Finley, Associate Professor of English at East Carolina University, advises his students to go out into the world and eavesdrop at coffee shops, restaurants, airports. The goal is to learn how to reflect the nature of a place, a situation and a character.

What that means is that a professor in your story will likely use very few contractions. A contractor will likely use a lot of contractions as well as clipped sentences using words of an Anglo-Saxon, guttural origin. While a young woman in love would more likely dip into the lyrical romantic phrases of a Greek/Latin origin.

Let’s say we ran into our contractor out on the sidewalk. He might say, “S'been great seeing you. Have to get back.”

Our professor might say, “It is so pleasant to see you, Samantha. I hope your work with social services is turning out to be everything you hoped it would be.”

And we see our young woman in love a few minutes later: “Oh, it’s so wonderful running into you. Did I tell you how amazing Stephen's and my last date was? The stars were out, and we strolled through Longfellow Greens. The flowers smelled like perfume and the warm breeze carried the sound of crickets from nearby fields….”

But remember, our conversations don’t just reflect people, they reflect situations. Let’s say we saw the same people during a low-level emergency:

“Steer clear of the north plaza.” Our worker points. “Just in case.”

While our young lady might say, “I have to contact Stephen. I’d be so worried if he traveled to this side of town. He’s in the city a lot for his mortgage work.”

And our professor: “I have often thought using those cranes was too dangerous for the inner city. More engineering studies should have been done before the deconstruction.”    

Okay, so we can see that personalities and situations will determine engaging dialog. But what types of dialog idiosyncrasies DON’T you want to introduce into conversations? Leave out the meaningless habitual words and phrases. There is no need for “Like, such as,” or “I mean” to be dotting your dialog landscape. Let’s try a couple of the above conversations with these lame additions:

“Like, yeah,” the contractor said. “Good talkin' and such. I, like, have to get back.”

And our young woman: “Oh, it’s so, like, wonderful running into you, Samantha. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to telling you, like, how great Stephen’s and my last date was….”

You get the point. It’s true that people really do talk like this. We, however, do not want to muddle our dialog with these clunkers. Of course, you can always flavor a character’s dialog with a few of these fillers, but do it sparingly and make sure not to bore your readers with too much. How much is too much? If you have to ask, you’ve probably already gone overboard.


Finally, let’s talk about content.

How do you know when dialog is important enough to show on the page and when it isn’t? This is an easy question when you start attuning your mind to the big picture. Let’s say you’re writing a novel about a missing dog. By all means, dialog pertaining to dogs makes sense.  But let’s say you’re writing a murder mystery and pets have nothing to do with the crime or the people involved. Would you then do this?

“Stacy, this is Detective Burns. He needs to ask you some questions about the bloody blouse you found in the bathroom yesterday.”

“Sure, Sam. I’m happy to help. By the way, how is your cat Lacey. She was so cute at the picnic last month. I just wanted to hug…”

Obviously, conversations sometimes do go this way, but not in good fiction. How about this one?

“Tabby, it’s your mom. I tried stopping at your house yesterday, and that sweet golden retriever that lives beside you came up to say ‘hi.’ He wiggled his tail and…”

Now this one isn’t quite so easy. It seems to fit. People say those kinds of things. You might argue that it gives depth to the character or the scene. But as a general rule, you would still want to nix that line. It would be better like this:

“Tabby, it’s your mom. I tried stopping at your house—”

“What’re you doing at my house? I don’t want to see you!”

So, now you can see the difference. Sharp dialog is easy to spot. It always goes straight to the heart of your story.

And that brings us to our final point of the day. Good dialog is not just about short, snappy comments whipping back and forth between well-imagined characters. Good dialog is more about choosing important moments. And important moments are almost always about conflict. Did you see how much quicker we were drawn into the mother-daughter conversation when we realized they were fighting? That’s always true.  

If you said to a literary agent that you wanted to write dialog between two people enjoying dandelions on a Colorado field, I’m guessing she would roll her eyes and make an excuse to move on. If, however, you mentioned you wanted to write a scene about two brothers fighting over a dead uncle, I’m guessing she will be pulling out her notebook and making arrangements for a meeting to learn more.

So let’s leave the speeches, the lame fillers and the boring stuff in general on our cutting room floors. Great dialog sizzles. It’s short. It’s important. And it encapsulates the personalities of your characters in brilliants bursts worthy of bestseller lists and Hollywood.

Do you have any dialog-improving advice?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Interview with author P.L. Blair about her Portals fantasy series....


Today, P.L. Blair joins us in the forum. She’s here to talk about her fabulous Portals fantasy series, in which there are already four books. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so we better get started :-)

Tim Greaton: It’s great to have you here, P.L. You and I have been hanging around the same writers’ circles for several years, and I know a lot of our common friends have known you even longer than I have. You must have a long background the literary world?

P.L. Blair: I've never really had a non-writing background. I decided early on – around age 7 or 8 – that I wanted to write books when I “grew up” (whenever that will be). Then around junior high school age, I figured I really needed to do something that would earn money, so I started writing for the school newspaper, took journalism classes in high school and college and graduated with associate's and bachelor's degrees in journalism. Then I started writing for newspapers – and still do, occasionally, but it's no longer a full-time job.

Tim Greaton: I have to believe that someone was behind your young literary interest. Am I right?

P.L. Blair: One of the most influential people in my life was my grandfather. I was raised by my grandparents, and Daddy – my maternal grandfather – taught me to read by reading to me. I can still remember sitting in Daddy's lap while he read stories to me about Uncle Wiggly (one of my favorite childhood literary characters) or the Pokey Little Puppy. Besides teaching me to read, those sessions were a wonderful bonding experience, and I really wish more parents had time – or would take the time – to read to their kids.

From Daddy, I learned about the wonderful, awesome worlds that books open. And I guess part of the reason I became a writer was because I loved the stories so much – and could never get enough of them – so it just seemed natural to me that I create my own.

Tim Greaton: What do you do when you’re not creating books?

P.L. Blair: I do have a few interests other than writing. I love history, paleontology, geology. I read every book on those subjects that I can get my hands on. I paint occasionally – nothing spectacular, but I enjoy doing landscapes and seascapes. Probably because I have animals, I prefer acrylics to oils – it's easier to clean up spills.

I'm also horse-crazy – have been since I was a kid. These days, I research American Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred pedigrees as a hobby.

Tim Greaton: You mentioned that you have pets. Could you tell us about them?

P.L. Blair: I love dogs and cats – have three of the former and one of the latter. All are rescues – a basset hound, a dachshund, a part-Jack Russell terrier (aka the jackrabbit terror) and a tortoiseshell cat.

Tim Greaton: When you’re not chasing your furry friends around the house, what genres do you read?

P.L. Blair: I read a lot of fantasy and detective novels (my Portals books are a blend of those two genres). But my reading tends to be eclectic – everything from biographies to romances, depending on what strikes my fancy at any given time.

Tim Greaton: What comment about your novels makes you smile the most?

P.L. Blair: I love when readers from Corpus Christi, Texas – the setting for my books – tell me that they recognize places based on my descriptions.

Tim Greaton: You seem to have gathered an unusual audience for a genre writer. Could you explain what I mean?

P.L. Blair: A lot of my readers say they don't like fantasy or detective novels – then they tell me that they like my books. I think maybe it's because my books are set in modern day, and I try to ground them in as much reality as possible. There is magic, of course, but I've established rules by which it operates. I kind of have a theory that, the more “far out” or impossible something sounds – such as magic – the more it needs to “sound” plausible. I think if I want my tales to be believable, I've got to give my readers a basis for belief.

I also like to make my stories fun. The subject is serious – I write about murderers, after all – but I try to inject humor where I can between my characters. I try to keep them real by giving them little idiosyncrasies … Kat tosses her trash in the back seat of her car, for example, and Tevis won't drive a car because he views them as 2,000-pound projectiles.

Tim Greaton: Do you have a lot of past works stacked up and waiting to be finished?

P.L. Blair: I do have a “couple” of projects that I've put on hold – half-formed ideas … books that I've put aside so I can focus on my Portals books … I don't know if I'll go back to them. They haven't called to me yet.

Tim Greaton: You have a fearless nature about you. Have you always been that way?

Be sure to see the rest of P.L. Blair's thought-provoking interview at