My Astronaut Application

NASA receiptGround Control To Major Tom.

Not too many people have one of these, I suppose. Or at least, not too many people will admit to having one.

This image is a front-and-back look at the receipt I got from NASA for my application to join the shuttle astronaut program back in 1980. I was trying to get accepted to the Mission Specialist position, and I proposed to do studies on bone metabolism in space. I was a recently-minted PhD researcher in biochemistry, doing post-doctoral studies in New York City. I was supported by my Washington State Senator, Scoop Jackson. And I nearly made the grade, only being surpassed in the final rounds by Judy Resnik, who got the job I had dreamed of.

The riddle of how and why astronauts lose calcium and their bones become brittle in space has never been fully unraveled. Who knows, maybe if I had gotten my chance, I could have figured it out by now.

Judy ResnikOr perhaps not. I will never forget the day of the Challenger launch disaster, in which seven brave astronauts lost their lives. I arrived at work and they had a TV going in the lobby, showing rerun after rerun of the explosion, with newscasters saying the fate of the crew members was still unknown.

People gathered in a somber group were surprised when I murmured, looking in horror at the screen, “That could have been me!” I was trembling in agitation and grief. I knew well that aboard that shuttle, falling from the brink of space into the Atlantic Ocean, was Judy Resnik, the astronaut who had gotten my job.

All these things happened a long time ago. I found the NASA receipt while digging through a drawer of dusty old documents the other day. Strange, how life turns a page. I might well be dead now, had I gotten the opportunity I so craved when I was thirty years old. But now I am older, wiser, and more philosophical than ever about humanity’s future on and off this planet.

And my dream of finding a cure for bone loss in space? It’s not gone and forgotten. On the contrary, I published a possible solution several years ago in one of my science fiction novels. In Blood On The Moon, I described a “gravity pill” that astronauts could take to counterbalance weightlessness or low-gravity environments like the Moon or Mars. And based on my many years of scientific training and research there might actually be something to the pill I have imagined. I even gave a recipe for the types of molecules that ought to be incorporated into such a tablet. Who knows, maybe someday the formula I dreamed up will actually help astronauts overcome a critical health problem by simply popping a pill.

The discovery of that old slip of paper from NASA triggered some lost memories and showed me how life can come full circle. If my insights about gravity pills ever have an impact on space exploration, then I may have accomplished what I set out to do when I was thirty—just in a different way. And none of it would have happened if I had aced out Judy Resnik for the Mission Specialist position instead of the other way around.

Rest in peace, Judy.

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2017—Pressing The Reset Button

Pretty craterI took this photo at Crater Lake National Park two summers ago while I was on a research trip gathering information and inspiration for my natural disaster thriller, RAINIER ERUPTS!

Nature greeted Shelley and me with resplendent beauty at every turn of the road. Everywhere I looked there was another vista of both compelling loveliness and awe-inspiring revelation about just how powerful the forces within the earth can be.

Wizard IslandWhen Mount Mazama blew its top seven thousand years ago, it devastated the land for sixty miles in every direction and left a yawning hole in the ground more than a mile across. When it first formed, there was no lake in the hole. There was just a barren, craggy landscape devoid of life, swept by sulfurous fumes, and punctuated with a central lava vent that spewed out a whole new mountain over the following years—a cinder cone that somehow looks small within the crater now, but which would make a grand summit if it stood elsewhere on the landscape.

Over the millennia since the big blast, life has returned to the crater, and trees even dot the cinder cone, which goes by the name of Wizard Island now that rainwater has filled the hole up to about the halfway level. That water has a legendary deep blue tint to it, something that scarcely comes across in a photograph and really has to be seen to be believed.

Colorful crater At the end of RAINIER ERUPTS, a new vast hole in the ground existed where mighty Rainier had once stood. But ever-nurturing Nature was already raining down torrents of water that would someday work a similar transformation from devastation to heavenly beauty. That slow-but-sure process would, however, take thousands of years to accomplish.

So I faced an authorial dilemma. In writing a sequel to RAINIER ERUPTS, was I going to start with a State of Washington that had a gaping hole in it, or would I start with things the way they really are today, with Mount Rainier standing tall, white, and beautiful on the horizons of Seattle and Tacoma?

My next natural disaster story is likely to be about an earthquake, a tsunami, or an asteroid impact—I haven’t quite decided which yet. But what about Rainier in those stories? Will she be present or absent?

I decided to press the Reset Button.

Rainier will be officially restored to her former majesty and all the destructive forces she unleashed will be undone. That way, the next book in the series can take a look at a whole separate scenario of Nature venting her wrath against an overconfident, complacent civilization that is as yet untouched by disaster.

Never fear. Even though I am determined to look into every dire situation that might arise and put my home state through some major changes that actually COULD happen, it remains true that Nature and time have the power to heal the land and restore the world-renowned beauty of the place.

Conveniently, as an author I can just hit the Reset Button.

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My Appearance at the Burien Library Saturday

mysteryLooking for something to do this coming Saturday, November 19? How about coming to the Burien Library to join me and three fellow mystery/thriller authors as we present our latest works? From 1 to 3 PM, we will be talking about our books, reading from them, and signing copies you can buy from the library’s partner, Page 2 Books.

The library has asked me to emphasize my medical thriller, The Neah Virus. In addition, I’ll be presenting my latest thriller, Rainier Erupts! So you’ll get a double dose of my most recent writing.

Here’s a quote from the jacket notes for The Neah Virus:

“When a lost grave is opened on the Makah Indian Reservation at Neah Bay, Washington, a deadly new disease strikes. Paradoxically, the lethal virus kills non-Natives while locals are spared. As the disease spreads, Dr. Peyton McKean races against time to save humanity from a worldwide epidemic of madness, fever, and death.

On the reservation, McKean confronts an old Makah who is steeped in shamanistic lore. Gordon Steel claims this is the legendary Lost Souls Disease, created by Raven to punish outsiders. As the death toll mounts, Peyton McKean must learn the old shaman’s secrets and find a cure.”

And here’s a quote from Rainier Erupts!:

“Enter a world gone mad with explosions that dwarf nuclear bombs, giant mudflows, choking ashfalls, and spouting red-hot lava. Flee in desperation with mountain climbers caught in the first outbursts. Experience one family’s struggle to survive when their home is swept away by a lahar mudflow. Fly with helicopter crews risking their own lives to save others. Learn Nisqually Indian legends of this White Mountain called Tacobet. Observe scientists predicting the volcano’s next outburst. Follow government officials trying to stave off catastrophe.

RAINIER ERUPTS! is a heart-stopping true-to-life look at the horrors and heroism that would mark such a day of disaster.”

So, what do you say? Come on down to the Burien Library and grab a copy or two, signed by the author. And maybe a couple of spares as holiday gifts? That would be a great way to spend this coming Saturday afternoon!

For more information and directions, CLICK HERE.

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Trump Blames Hillary For Volcanic Eruption

Byebye SeattleOkay. I made that up. But may I suggest you take a break from all the political falderal and read a good book? My latest novel, RAINIER ERUPTS! has been riding high on the charts for months. Now might be a good time for you to grab a copy of the ebook or paperback and escape the debates, name calling, and blather, and immerse yourself in a good natural disaster story.

RAINIER ERUPTS! will sweep you away from it all and into a world gone mad with red hot lava, titanic explosions, and choking ash falls. What’s not to like about people fleeing for their lives, heroic rescuers racing into action, and even some love in bloom amid the ruins of Seattle and Tacoma?

My publisher has agreed to a limited time deal of $1 off the regular price while supplies last. Click HERE to get a copy now. There will be plenty of time to get back to the blithering politicians, pundits, and newspeople once you have read all about surviving a modern-day Pompeii. In fact, after you read RAINIER ERUPTS!, all the calamities people are shouting about will seem distant and not quite so bad after all.

Enjoy!

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Know of a good asteroid impact site?

Impact!I am looking for a good place to land an asteroid or a comet. That is to say, my next book is very likely to include the smack-down of a comet or asteroid somewhere on this planet. So I am hereby soliciting your help. Where can I have this space bomb land that will make for a fun and educational rundown of exactly what happens when the big rock hits?

You tell me. You see, I’ve got lots of story ideas about the mighty crash, the heroes and victims and rescues and people shouting OMG! But exactly where this doomsday space rock lands could be up to you.

BigWaveLet’s review previous examples. In the movie Deep Impact, the incoming comet was broken up by a nuclear blast but still sent a big chunk into the Atlantic Ocean to generate a super tidal wave that drowned the entire East Coast of the US, not to mention Europe and Africa. In the science fiction novel Lucifer’s Hammer, things went even worse. The incoming comet broke itself into dozens of chunks and spanned the globe, annihilating most of humanity. And in my own book Blood On The Moon, I described a nine-impact calamity that ended the Age of Dinosaurs.

But let me make it clear I have no intention of repeating these doomsday scenarios. Instead, I would like to give this story a much less gloomy ending and avoid anything too apocalyptical. How about just some very scary scenes within a much smaller zone of devastation, focusing on escape, rescue, and recovery, rather than doom and gloom? We’ve had too much of that already. Geez, in Lucifer’s Hammer, Science Fiction Grand Master Larry Niven went so far as to portray the survivors raising armies to massacre each other, even using organized cannibalism to solve their food shortages. No. No no no no no no no! I’m not going there.

How about a civil disaster where society steps in to help those affected? How about answering questions about how people survive the event and work to restore life to normal? These are much more positive takes on an impact. And I feel they are much more realistic ones. That’s because the odds of a smaller impact are much greater than the odds of world-ending impact. Quite a bit more likely in fact. Just ask any astronomer.

BigHoleSo, in choosing your favorite target area, consider several real-life impacts as examples. In the USA, you have Meteor Crater Arizona, where a mountain-sized space rock smacked into the desert 50,000 years ago making a hole in the ground about a half mile across. That would have been quite a nasty event if any people had been around to see it. Of course, they hadn’t yet crossed the Ice Age land bridge between Russia and Alaska, so the only witnesses and victims were sabertooth tigers and mammoths.

Another real event was the 1908 impact at Tunguska in central Siberia. In this case there were human witnesses, isolated tribespeople who described to Russian scientists a horrific blast in the air above them, and a shock wave that knocked down whole forests of tall trees. Lest the scientists doubt them, they led the Russkies to an area where hundreds of square miles of trees were laid out side by side where the blast had flattened them. In this case no crater was found, probably because the incoming object was an icy comet and not a rocky asteroid.

FlattenedSo you see, smaller but still nasty impact events are much more likely to happen. I plan to write about one of those. But where? I could have it hit in the Antarctic Ocean, but why? It could smack the Arabian Peninsula, but again why choose that place? So here is a ground rule, if you would like to suggest a location for my impact: let’s keep it somewhere in the Pacific Northwest of the good old US of A. And no fair calling it down upon the middle of Seattle or Portland. I won’t write about that much human death and destruction. But somewhere out there in all that territory there has got to be just the right place for an impact that will generate a lot of story excitement, harrowing escapes, thrilling rescues, and–well you get the idea–one of my typical novels where apocalypse threatens but is deflected, minimized, or escaped.

And here’s a special incentive. I’ll consider all suggestions, but for the person with the idea I like best, I’ll happily give you a free copy of any one of my ebooks that you desire. So get to it, and help me write my next novel. You can reply to this post, or visit the Contact Page on my website.

Thanks!

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Edith May Hopp — 1925-2016

Edee HoppIt must have been the Irish in Edee Hopp that made her so funny, quick witted, and sometimes sharp-tongued. She inherited—probably from her Irish immigrant Burke forebears—an ability with language that could best be described as Blarney. She knew the words to hundreds, if not thousands of old songs, and would sing them out whenever the music was playing. This gift of gab lasted right up to the last days of her life, despite Alzheimer’s Disease that took away most of her other memories. In her middle years, she could recite whole poems by rote, not the least of which were Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew, in their entirety.

In her prime, Mom had movie-star good looks and a penchant for zany humor that evoked a brunette rival to Lucille Ball. She loved doing whacky routines at family gatherings or in skits and shows performed at Sahalie Ski Club, where Spring Carnival would find her singing ribald songs with made-up lyrics wearing crazy costumes, often with one front tooth blacked out.

The Irish in her also gave her a hot temper, and she could quickly go from hilarious to horrific. I can recall times when she yelled at my brother Jerry or me or our father Ed, with such vocal force that the doorbell chimes would ring in reply.

But she was fundamentally a very caring person. Over a lifetime she fostered pets large and small, and welcomed into her home a succession of neighborhood kids. When I was young it seemed that all my brother’s friends, and my friends as well, tended to prefer Ed and Edee’s house as the location to gather and carry on. This extended into my teen years, when several budding rock-and-roll bands rehearsed in the basement with rarely a complaint about noise from the folks upstairs.

Mom cared for family pets large and small, whether they be dog, cat, bird, lizard, or amphibian. I was forever bringing home something from the local tropical fish stores, including an iguana named Iggy who grew into a five-foot-long monster under Mom’s care, and a piranha that became so large on a diet of beef liver that it could have bitten a hand off. Edee also took care of a succession of stray animals. One of my earliest memories is of her throwing bacon out the back window of our housing-project apartment, calling out for poor, broken-winged Cedric the Seagull to come and get it. Several years later, neighbor kids brought her a baby robin that had fallen from its nest. She promptly named him Peepie and had my father dig worms from the garden, which she fed him until he was big enough to fly away. When I was a teenager, she brought home from the beach a weird-looking black bird that had been injured and couldn’t fly. This strange creature, a coot, lived in our basement for a few days until a representative from the zoo and local radio personality Lan Roberts came to take him to a recovery facility.

Her largess extended to people too. My bandmate Tim Turner came to live with us when his relationship with his father turned violent because he grew his hair long, hippie style. She took him in and helped him make it smoothly through his transition from frightened kid to working rock musician. Tim has proudly continued this job for a lifetime with amply expressed gratitude to Edee and Ed Hopp for helping him through his most trying times.

Hydro MommaMom was a pharmacy clerk for Bartell Drugs for most of her adult life, working in downtown Store #1. She sold prescriptions to many thousands of people including a succession of celebrities, sports stars, and socialites who came to town and found they needed one pharmaceutical or another. She only retired from her endlessly intriguing work when my father suffered a mild stroke when they were both 71. Even though this slowed things down, they moved on into a rollicking retirement that included innumerable trips to Hawaii and other stops around the world in the company of their many friends and especially her sister Florence and her husband Ralph Penz. The two sisters were nearly inseparable in later years, and often would break into song together in two-part, perfect harmony. All four of them could be seen cheering from dockside as Jerry Hopp drove his super-hot hydroplane race boat to victory after victory. There were few dull moments in Edee, Ed, Flo, and Ralph’s retirement years.

In leaving this world at age 91, Edee Hopp could look back on a long, full, loving, and often hilarious life. Brava!

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Hillary Clinton’s Candle Smoke Allergy

It's candle smoke allergy, HillaryPlease help me launch this meme. I hope this image of Hillary and the cause of her health issues will circulate until she sees it herself.

As I wrote yesterday, Hillary’s symptoms exactly match candle smoke allergy. I also explained what she can do to improve her health. And I wrote previously about the many toxic substances emitted by burning candles. She needs to avoid these allergens.

It would be a shame if Hillary were to lose the election due to health problems, simply because she doesn’t know the cause of her repeated allergy attacks. But candles will be on every table at most banquets and restaurants where she will dine on the campaign trail. They must not be lit or she will get sick again!

So please pass this post along to your friends and contacts. Repost it, or hit the Facebook or Twitter tabs on the side. Let’s spread the word until someone close to Hillary passes this vital piece of information on to her. Then we will see her health improve dramatically!

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It’s Candle Smoke Allergy, Hillary

It's candle smoke allergy, HillaryHillary Clinton’s debilitating allergy attacks and recent hospitalization for pneumonia fit the pattern of a strong sensitivity to candle smoke. The violent coughing attacks, bloodshot eyes (click the image for a better look) shortness of breath, and even dizziness and nearly falling down, can all be the result of exposure to candle smoke. And Hillary must be encountering candle smoke at nearly every dinner and banquet on her campaign trail. If you care about her and her chances to become president, then you will pass this post along until it reaches her or someone close enough to her to tell her its message.

Hillary knows she is suffering from a strong allergy, but apparently she does not know the exact source of her problem. It is not allergy season, after all. It is campaign season. It is a time of travel and dining at restaurants and banquet halls. And candles are waiting on every table. If Hillary were to insist that no candles be burnt in her presence, then she would quickly recover her voice and strength.

sixteen candles per table!How can I be so sure candles are at the root of her problem? Two reasons. First, I took my medical research training at one of the top ranked medical schools in this nation, Cornell Med. Second, I suffer from candle smoke allergies myself and know just how debilitating they can be. A single evening spent at a restaurant or banquet where candles are burnt, and I am racked by strong allergy symptoms for four days. After that I recover just like Hillary has stated, saying her allergies clear up after “a few days.” But on the campaign trail, a new exposure to candle smoke comes at each dinner or banquet.

This is an unusual type of allergy, caused by inhaling the fine soot from candles (even the so-called smokeless liquid-fueled candles, which are not really smokeless at all). When fine particles of candle soot are inhaled, they contact the airways and stick to moist secretions. And then they dissolve their loads of highly toxic chemicals onto the airway surface. From there, the allergy sufferer’s immune system overreacts to the chemicals and becomes his or her own worst enemy.

Lamp oil looks harmlessThis is not your usual allergy, with immediate sneezing and sniffling symptoms. This allergy follows a completely different, more subtle, and more insidious course. Called Type IV allergy, or contact hypersensitivity, it is very slow to develop. Most often, there is no immediate reaction at all. But in the course of the next two days after exposure, a white-blood-cell mediated inflammation sets in on the skin or sensitive membranes where the candle soot landed. One characteristic of such an allergic reaction is that it does not respond well to antihistamines, the go-to drugs for most allergies. Hillary mentioned she takes antihistamines. But I know only too well that antihistamines are largely ineffectual, given that this is a Type IV, not a Type I allergic reaction.

The hallmark of candle smoke allergy is the WHERE and well as the WHEN of it. As I mentioned, it strikes two days later, not immediately. And it strikes the airways where the air is most turbulent when inhaled. That is, it strikes in the voice box, and in the swallowing area of the throat. Both these areas are narrower than other parts of the airway, causing the smoke particles to be deposited most heavily right where they can do the most harm.

The result is a very diagnostic and peculiar set of symptoms. Several days AFTER candle exposure, the sufferer experiences extremely violent fits of coughing that involve both the vocal cords and the flap of skin called the epiglottis, which keeps food from going “down the wrong pipe.” Instances of coughing often arise when the sufferer swallows food or even a drink of water. This is because the inflamed epiglottis is half-paralyzed and does not shut properly when swallowing, and the food or drink do indeed go down the wrong pipe.

Furthermore, the cough itself is incredibly persistent. And it can be so intense that it brings tears to the eyes, strains belly muscles due to the power of the cough spasms, and literally takes away the sufferer’s ability to speak.

So, what is to be done, Hillary?

First, you must make sure that no one burns candles at any stop along your campaign trail. This will take some doing, because every banquet facility puts candles on every table, and they are quite sufficient to trigger strong allergy symptoms within two days of exposure. Restaurants are no better. Almost every one puts candles on every table. So even if you have a quiet dinner on the road to escape the hectic banquet scene, you will be exposed to a dose of soot that will wreck your speech-making ability two days later. Eat in your hotel room if you can’t find a candle-free dining place. And it’s no good to tell everyone around you to blow out their candles. I’ve tried that strategy myself. But extinguished candles always smoke heavily, putting out extra heavy doses of soot and making matters worse.

Hillary, you will need to be proactive about this problem, because candles are everywhere. They are produced by the oil industry and are a major source of revenue, so hordes of salespeople have assured that candles are present in greater than 98% of dining establishments. Therefore, you had better plan in advance to make sure upcoming venues on your campaign tour know they are to leave their candles on the shelf while you are there. Too late if they must run around and snatch them up off the tables, or God forbid, blow them out. The invisible toxins are already in the air at that point.

Finally, given the unique and insidious nature of this allergy, let me dispense a little curative advice. The following are observations from years of candle allergy suffering on my part:

1. Do not use steroid inhalant sprays. These can indeed diminish a Type IV allergic reaction for a time — BUT — a steroid-suppressed Type IV reaction will come roaring back stronger than ever after the steroids wear off. Furthermore, the blanket suppression of immunity caused by steroids can reduce your natural resistance to pneumonia. Sound familiar?

2. Do use ibuprofen. This is a great pain killer and anti-inflammatory drug. Taking just one tablet four hours before a speaking engagement will dull the irritation that brings on coughing fits, and reduce the swelling of the epiglottis that brings on choking and gagging attacks.

3. Non-drowsy antihistamines may have some slight benefit if your allergy is Type I plus Type IV, so give them a limited try but don’t rely on them to fight coughing fits. Drowsy antihistamines may also help you sleep better at night.

4. Limit dextromethorphan. This classic cough remedy can help reduce coughing, though not the inflammation that causes it. And it is stupefying. So if you take a little too much, then you will come off as a dull and slow-witted speaker. Ibuprofen is your key remedy.

5. But most of all, AVOID CANDLE SMOKE. It would be a shame if you were to lose the election due to a product of the oil industry. How ironic if the minions of the candle companies were to take down the candidate who is most willing to battle mighty corporations on behalf of the people. If you are knocked off the campaign trail again and again by your allergies, then the oil giants will be on the brink of throwing the election in a most insidious way.

So there you have it, folks. If you are concerned about Hillary’s health and her ability to carry on her campaign, then pass this post along to your friends and contacts. If enough people do so, then it may eventually reach someone who can pass its message to Hillary. Until she learns what the source of her health problem is, she is at its mercy. Unless she does something about it, the very real possibility exists that her hopes to become president will be thwarted by her allergy to candle smoke!

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Songs of Joy

ParijeeWe have forest on two sides of us up here on Cougar Mountain. The seasons are right on schedule, with very heavy growth of green foliage and incredible amounts of salmonberries (finished now) and red elderberries (just finishing). The birds are gorging themselves: song sparrows, goldfinches, band-tailed pigeons, spotted towhees, crows, parijees (Swainson’s thrush), western tanangers, chickadees, and dark-eyed juncoes, not to mention those awesome songsters, the Douglas Squirrels, who seem particularly vocal in the cedars all around us this year. The deer and bunnies have neglected to molest our flowers, presumably because of all the lush foliage everywhere they turn. And, what with the pattern of heatwave, drizzle, heatwave, drizzle, the white fungus that usually strikes the forest in late spring is completely missing in action this year.

Doug SquirrelAll the leaves are still bright spring green and shiny. And the birds and squirrels are bursting with song–Shelley says they are singing out with the joy of being alive in such a fine and lovely place. The parijee songs are awesome soaring flute concertos in the forest canopy. The Douglas squirrels chirp and chitter in counterpoint, often timing their calls to those of the parijees. Enchanting!

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“A Dangerous Breed” re-published!

Skull DogIt’s a scary world we live in. And it just got scarier.

Just released this week is a revised version of one my oldest and creepiest short stories, “A Dangerous Breed.”

This chilling tale has just the right amount of cooling for one of those hot “dog days” of summer. Imagine getting shivers up and down your spine while basking on a chaise lounge on a resort beach. This one will take you there.

Most people worry about getting GMOs in their food. But how many people worry about becoming food for GMOs? That’s right, these gene-altered canines have a great liking for mankind, and I don’t mean the run-and-fetch-the-ball kind of liking. More like, “Mmmm-mmmmm tasty!”

As is so often the case, Dr. Peyton McKean is called in on this case long after the cat is out of the bag–or in this case, the dog. I mean coyote. I mean, well, maybe you should read the story and find out all about what I mean.

If you happen to have already read this chiller when it came out five years ago, you still ought to give it a look. I added 33% to the length of the story to fill in more detail and make it just a little more scary–and believable. I even found a way to add a twist of happy ending to it. If you’re wondering how that could be possible when hungry, hyper-intelligent canines are running amok in the deserts of Eastern Washington, then definitely have a look. The Hound of the Baskervilles was a lap dog compared to these pooches!

Finally, let me point out that my publisher, normally so tight-fisted with money, has seen fit to make “A Dangerous Breed” available FREE for a limited time in Kindle, Nook, iBook and other formats. You can get your copy in several different ways. First of all, if you click this link, you can sign onto my author mailing list, which will keep you informed of other deals like this in the future. Once that’s done, you’ll be given a link to get the free copy. People who are already on my mailing list can get their copy by contacting me directly, because they already have an email connection to me (list membership hath its privileges).

So there you have it. Cool those hot summer doldrums down to industrial-strength refrigeration levels–if you dare!

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