It’s complete

I know, I know.  I’ve been working on this manuscript for ages.  Anyone who’s followed my blog for several years knows that the novel, Dreamdarkers, grew from “Darkness Comes to Kingswell,” an experimental short story I wrote ad hoc, each evening sitting down and pounding out the next installment in real time and posting here on my blog.  Though the whole of the idea already existed in my mind, the details were filled in as I wrote each post.  That was in 2006 (but don’t look for the actual story since I removed it in preparation for its offspring, the novel).

Well, after four years and many rewrites, I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve submitted the first chapter, along with query letters, to a plethora of potential literary agents.  This is no small feat and no small undertaking.  And I don’t recommend it for those sensitive to rejection and disappointment, hard work, or the threat of more of both.

Still, it’s off my plate in one sense, awaiting reaction and response, simmering on a back burner so I can focus on the next two novels in the series, both of them parts of one story entitled End of the Warm Season.  Then I’m on to the next installment of what I’ve lazily called “The Kingswell Chronicle” for the time being.

Does this mean Dreamdarkers is bullet-proof and ironclad?  Nope.  It just means that I’ve tinkered with and manipulated and worked on the story long enough to feel it’s ready for the next step.  Which I assume to be more rewriting.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the first part of End of the Warm Season is already a few hundred pages in progress.  But it will need to grow from there since it will need to encompass a vast history and a vast present.  I intend to keep it limited to two books if at all possible.

And though I might well have to remove this as part of any publication agreement, let me give you a wee taste of Dreamdarkers by presenting here the first few paragraphs of the prologue[1].  Without further ado, I give you the start of “The Kingswell Chronicle” (or whatever in hell it’ll be called later)[2]:

I wrote this thinking it important to share our experiences with you.  Now I fear there is no one left with whom I might share our experiences.  You’re trapped in this with us, aren’t you?  All of you are here somewhere, just more pieces of meat suspended in this infernal cold, more carrion painted with dark so complete that nothing can be seen of you.  Yes, you’re all here.  I can feel you.

I’m sure everyone is gone by now.  Carr Beholden has been vacuumed clean already, and I see no reason to think differently about the rest of the world.  The beast has arrived, the Dreamdarkers, and the end of the era of humankind is finally upon us.  How often we pondered what might bring about our extinction.  Would it be an asteroid strike that ends us like the dinosaurs?  Or a plague, especially one milled on the stone of human advancement?  Or would it be some cosmic gesture to prove our insignificance, like a wandering black hole or an unforeseen supernova in our galactic neighborhood?

But it will be none of those things.  Rather, it is none of those things, for the end of Homo sapiens has arrived as a mistress dressed in black, a black so deep that no darker hue exists.  She wants to be with us only so that she might consume us.  And consume us she will if what I’ve seen is any indication.

And—Surprise!—here are the first few paragraphs from the epilogue[3].  Because I’m thoughtful that way.

How could we have known?  I keep asking myself that question as though it provides an answer.  I’ve always hated it when someone answers a question with a question.  Still, I find myself using that same cheap exit strategy in an attempt to explain the unexplainable: How could we have known?

We all did it because it was part of who we were.  A common ancestor tapped into that realm and passed down the ability through evolution.  It was no more an intentional act than it was a violent one.  So how could we have known?  Honestly, we’d grown up doing it, so how could we have possibly known that our actions were inflicting such horrific violence on others?  I can’t see that we could have known.  And as dream-Beth said, even had we known, the experience had grown so overwhelmingly delightful so early in our development that it became part of a shared genetic heritage passed down as part of our collective being, a fix the body grew to need rather than desire.  We didn’t decide we wanted to do it; we just did it because it happened on its own.  And we wanted it, grew to need it, evolved a mind that required it.

Yet had we known what I’ve learned—what we’ve learned in the last 48 hours, could we have denied ourselves?  I doubt it.  In the lush forest or wide-open field that only he sees, chasing the prey that so entices him, can the dog deny his own nature?  Offered the opportunity to lounge in never-ending sunshine meant to warm it to just the right temperature while insects buzz lazily about, can the lizard deny itself the opportunity?  With prey aplenty and always willing to give just the right amount of chase before yielding the ultimate prize, the final catch, can the great predator felines refuse to slip into that world at every possible opportunity so they might enjoy flourishing savannas and always-comfortable trees where appetites are satisfied as quickly or as slowly as one wants?  Given the opportunity to fly without wings, to be young when our bodies are old and feeble, to once again sit by the fire with a loved one long since dead, and to see the wonder and beauty of great mystery, can humans turn away from the chance to escape into that world?  I don’t think any creature who’d experienced it could so easily give it up even if they understood the repercussions that eventually would follow.  It’s just not our nature; it’s just not like the living to deny what is so desperately desired and readily available.

But even these considerations fail to define where I now find myself.  In two days on a single planet in an obscure corner of a single galaxy, we’ve discovered the hard way precisely how much such indulgences can cost.  And we’ve likewise discovered that we are not alone.  That realization also carried a horrible truth: we’ve never been alone, and in that regard we are responsible for visiting horror on the world of others, terror we carried to their shores day and night, over and over again, and always with the same selfish intention.  We would take from them what we wanted.  We would enjoy their world as though it were ours, and we would do with it as we pleased.  We would leave it in mayhem wrought with destruction made by our own hands.  We didn’t think about it.  Why should we have thought about it?  It was ours for the taking.

So we took.  From them.  And we visited upon them great suffering.  Now, much to our chagrin, our world is theirs for the taking.  What a horrible change of positions.  And what a deserved hell we now find ourselves in.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] I have redacted both excerpts for publication here.  The edits are minor and do not significantly change what you see, though the original versions would reveal more about the story, especially in the epilogue, than I want revealed at this time.  Also, I changed these pieces with haste, so there might be some pedantic errors from the edits.  Oh well.

[2] For anyone who’s followed me on Facebook for the last year, you’ll recognize the first paragraph of the prologue.  I posted it without explanation as a status update just to see what you would say.

[3] A dear friend of mine already knows that she is the basis for the Beth character.  We go way back—decades.  Our friendship is important to me and she—the real Beth—is an inspiration to me.  She plays a pivotal role in the novel—in the entire series—just as she has played a pivotal role in my life these many years.  (For those who know who she is and can identify her, be warned: Do us all a favor and keep that information to yourself.)

Odes to autumn

Despite the continuing heat, the recent “cool” front did knock us down to normal summer temperatures, a plummet of ten degrees or more that feels like a sign of seasonal change even though it’s still fracking hot.  But at least now it’s normal summer hot rather than “Oh my gawd!  I’m in hell and I’m dying!” hot.

Short-lived though it might end up being, the sudden change in the weather brought with it a feeling of autumnal inevitability, a hint of what’s to come.

One autumnal constant is the abundance of odonates (damselflies and dragonflies).  So in honor of this most welcome “cool” spell, I thought it would be nice to celebrate with some odes to autumn.  Or, rather, some odes of autumn.

A male eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) resting on the ground (20080601_06000)

Eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis); male

A male eastern amberwing (Perithemis tenera) perched on a plant (20080614_06764)

Eastern amberwing (Perithemis tenera); male

A male neon skimmer (Libellula croceipennis) perched on a blade of grass (20080712_09411)

Neon skimmer (Libellula croceipennis); male

A female common whitetail (Plathemis lydia) resting on a rock (20080727_10249)

Common whitetail (Plathemis lydia); female

A male common whitetail (Plathemis lydia) perched on a dried reed (20080816_10867)

Common whitetail (Plathemis lydia); male

A juvenile male common whitetail (Plathemis lydia) resting on the ground (20080901_11555)

Common whitetail (Plathemis lydia); juvenile male

— — — — — — — — — —

It’s amazing what a dramatic relief it is when the daily high temperatures drop ten degrees or more and land in the 95°-98° F/35°-37° C range.  Heck, our overnight lows never fell to within three degrees of 80° F/27° C, so even early mornings felt like being in an oven.  This summer has sucked with early and long-lived excessive heat.  I never thought I’d say this, but right now our normal summer temperatures feel cool and comfortable.

Distinctive yet varied

Often the first and last dragonfly species of each year, assuming they don’t survive right on through a mild winter.  Not too large and not too small.  Boisterous and benign.

A variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) perched on a dead leaf (2009_02_15_009740)

At White Rock Lake, most of the variegated meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) I see look like the one above[1]: a drab shade reminiscent of Brown 25[2].

And yet if I drive just a short distance north to the Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area, this same species becomes altogether a different animal.

A variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) resting on a leaf (2009_10_18_032478)

This one is darker with shades of crimson.  Still, the abdominal pattern is unmistakable, if not confusing for its vastly different color scheme.

Variegated meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) preparing to mate (2009_10_18_032637)

An about-to-mate pair.  The female in the background is mostly blue while the male is mostly red[3].

A pair of variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) mating on the ground (2009_10_18_032662)

A different mating pair with a male (left) who is mostly red and a female (right) who is a combination of blue and brown.

Were it not for the behind-the-eye pattern and the abdominal pattern, both of which are evident no matter the colors involved, it would be easy to assume several different species are involved when in fact only one variegated species is seen.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] I have seen this species sporting other colors at WRL, including green, red, blue, and various combinations, though the Brown 25 model seems dominant.

[2] Brown 25 is a reference to one of the Uranus Corporation commercials from the 1974 movie The Groove Tube.  You can see the Brown 25 commercial here.

[3] For the mating pairs in the last two photos, it seems one could assume the males are almost always red.  That would be wrong.  I saw other pairs where the male was brown, green, blue, or a combination of colors, though the red males seemed most abundant at LLELA.

Invasive versus introduced

I’ve focused a good deal of blog bandwidth of late on nonnative species in Texas, including blackbucks, aoudads, and various types of deer.  Then I expanded my focus beyond Texas so as to include the now ubiquitous house finch, a bird native only in the southwestern third of North America.  In each case—as throughout my years of blogging—I have religiously defined these species as “introduced” rather than “invasive” in much the same way that I define European starlings and house sparrows as “introduced” rather than “invasive”.

It is that distinction which spurred Seabrooke to leave this relevant comment:

I define “introduced” and “invasive” a little differently than you do, I think. I don’t find the two terms mutually exclusive. Introduced simply means to me that the species is non-native, and that it has been, whether intentionally or not, introduced by humans to an environment where it didn’t previously occur and would likely never have reached on its own. Invasive in my mind refers to the nature of what a species does when it finds itself in a new place — some may sit docilely where they were put and never spread very far (many garden plants and flowers fall into this category), but some others love their new location so well that they go crazy and start spreading out from where they were put. Some introduced species may not necessarily be invasive, while some invasive species could very well be native (especially true in disturbed areas, since it’s harder for anything — introduced or otherwise — to gain a foothold in an area of stable habitat; unfortunately, our human activities mean that few habitats are truly undisturbed anymore).

As I explained in my response to that comment, I agree with her use and definitions of those terms.  My tendency to mark a clear delineation between the two is intentional and strategic.  By way of explaining that answer, let me introduce you to some truly invasive species.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing on the ground (2010_04_10_052604)

Great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus).  Their northernmost range stopped in far South Texas as of 1900.  Since then, however, they have exploded northward and westward such that now they occur year-round throughout Texas and north through Oklahoma to Kansas, and west through Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California—all the way to the Pacific Coast.  Smaller migratory breeding populations stretch into Missouri and Nebraska.

A female great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing on a pier (2008_12_07_001394)

Great-tailed grackles continue to expand their range in North America and southward into the northern parts of South America.  This expansion is invasive as they are endemic to Mexico south to Columbia.  Unlike species introduced by people, whether intentionally or otherwise, these birds have expanded their range naturally into areas where they now compete with—and in many cases out-compete—indigenous fauna.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing on the ground (2010_04_10_052647)

Yet because their presence is natural, even though it is invasive, they are tolerated—even celebrated—by the same nature purists who decry and bemoan European starlings and house sparrows, calling these latter two species invasive, and who enjoy house finches east of the Rocky Mountains as though they belong there.

But let’s not stop with great-tailed grackles.  Instead, let’s look at an even more invasive species of bird, one that has invaded most of the planet and is responsible for one of the fastest and largest territorial expansions of any avian species: the cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis).

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) standing atop some twigs (2009_05_17_019108)

Native to eastern Africa, these birds first arrived in South America in the late 1800s.  They flew across the Atlantic Ocean to get there.  The first confirmed cattle egret was documented in North America—in Florida—around 1940.  By 1996 they had occupied the entire continental United States and southern Canada.

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) displaying in a treetop (2009_06_20_023921)

Their global invasion carried them to islands far and wide, not to mention all of Eurasia.  In fact, they have established themselves nearly everywhere except in extreme or unwelcoming environments, such as mountain ranges, polar regions, deserts and boreal forests.  Aside from those places where they can’t survive, they seem destined to occupy the entire planet, a feat they are accomplishing in short order.

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) perched on a limb (2009_06_20_024031_f)

Interestingly, their range is still expanding where they have invaded and their dispersal from Africa is ongoing.  It might be said that as truly invasive species are concerned, cattle egrets are second only to humans.

Which brings me back to that delineation I often stick to between invasive and introduced…

The reason I make such a case for identifying European starlings as introduced as opposed to invasive is clear: nature purists like to call things invasive because it alienates the species and washes away all human responsibility.  A good example is the rosy wolfsnail (a.k.a. cannibal snail; Euglandina rosea).  This predatory mollusk is among the top ten most destructive nonnative species around the globe.  Native to Texas, I rather enjoy watching them, but we humans intentionally introduced them all over the planet in hopes of having them control the East African land snail (a.k.a. giant African land snail; Achatina fulica), a destructive species we also had introduced all over the world.

Unfortunately for native snail species in all those places, the rosy wolfsnail not only went after the African snail, but they also went after all the native snails.  This resulted in the extinction of many native snails throughout the world.  It also resulted in the wolfsnail being named a major invasive species.  But it’s not an invasive species!  We introduced them intentionally and with forethought, but now calling them invasive makes us feel better about hating them for all the damage they’ve done.

And thus comes the crux of the matter: both invasive and introduced species do what they do because they evolved naturally to do those things, whether it be killing snails or out-competing native birds.  In the case of truly invasive species, they move into nonnative ranges of their own volition and fight to claim new territory and resources; in the case of introduced species, we put them in nonnative ranges and then act shocked when they run amok—at which point we start calling them invasive so we can hate them and destroy them without admitting we are the problem, not the species we’re so angry at.

So I reiterate what I said to Seabrooke: I wholeheartedly agree with her understanding and use of “invasive” and “introduced”.  However, I will continue to draw a line in the sand between the two terms.  There is a massive difference between the two in light of how people tend to use them and what people justify by way of them; so few nature purists realize the hypocrisy or cognitive dissonance they express by picking and choosing which invasive species should be hated and which introduced species should be considered invasive; calling something invasive stigmatizes a species in the public’s eye and misinforms lay people as to who precisely is responsible for the damage that species is doing; and very few seem to recognize or appreciate the laughable irony of having humans call any species invasive because it’s harming native flora and fauna.


Like bumper-to-bumper rush hour in Dallas.

A pallid spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida) on the right end of the log with red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) and river cooters (Pseudemys sp. or spp.) (2009_06_06_022407)

Even if temperatures are cool bordering on cold, a sunny day brings the turtles out en masse.  Any perch above the water becomes a turtle logjam.

A pallid spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida) and some red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) and what might be a river cooter (Pseudemys sp.) (2009_06_06_022407_c)

The species can be quite diverse, from softshells to cooters to sliders to anything else that finds room.

A pallid spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida) on the left, one obvious red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) atop another turtle, and what could be either red-eared sliders or river cooters (Pseudemys sp.) (2009_06_21_024632)

And when there’s no more room on the log, there’s always room to climb atop another turtle.

A Texas river cooter (Pseudemys texana) on the right, an eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) in the middle and a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) on the left (2009_10_17_031943)

Everyone gets along if everyone gets some sunshine.

A baby red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) sunning atop an adult (2009_06_21_024674)

And if you’re lucky, you can find synchronized sunning like this pair, both of whom have their back legs stretched out and their heads held up.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] A pallid spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera pallida) on the right end of the log with red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) and river cooters (Pseudemys sp. or spp.).

[2] A crop of the first image, hence the poor quality.  Shows a better view of the pallid spiny softshell turtle and some of the red-eared sliders; the turtle nearest the softshell might be a river cooter (Pseudemys sp.).

[3] A pallid spiny softshell turtle on the left, one obvious red-eared slider atop another turtle, and what could be either red-eared sliders or river cooters.

[4] A Texas river cooter (Pseudemys texana) on the right, an eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) in the middle and a red-eared slider on the left.  Also note the red-eared slider in the lower-left corner of the frame.  (The water and turtles are covered with duckweed.)

[5] A baby red-eared slider resting atop an adult.

Note that differentiating the eastern river cooter from the Texas river cooter can be impossible without a clear view of the head pattern and shell pattern, and even then variability can lead to poor identifications.  Red-eared sliders can be confused with either species if the red patches are not visible.

Some male red-eared sliders become melanistic as they grow older; this causes their skin to lose all colors except green and the green becomes darker as they age, hence they can be difficult to identify from a distance (see the first photo in this post for an example where the “red ears” have been reduced to negligible red spots and all the yellow has been lost).