Monday, January 9, 2012

Review of My Book "Why Am I Me?"

This is from the January 9 edition of the  Daily Oklahoman newspaper.  It's a short review of my children's picture book "Why Am I Me?".  Thank you, Charlotte!

Family, friends stand out
Charlotte Lankard

Being an only child, I never had a brother or sister looking out for me and cheering me on, so I particularly like it when readers give me a glimpse of what that is like.
   A few weeks ago I wrote about three Oklahomans who authored books published in Oklahoma and sold at one of our Oklahoma independent bookstores. The next day I received an email from Randy Wyrick of Leander, Texas, who asked me why I didn’t mention his brother’s book. So I went right out and bought a copy.

   His brother is Wayne Harris-Wyrick, director of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium and author of a children’s book, “Why Am I Me?”
   Dedicated to his son Ethan, Harris-Wyrick’s book explains the importance of things like dogs and cats, mountains and water, sunrises and sunsets, butterflies and flowers, rabbits and even skunks. About trees he writes, “Trees make fruit to eat and oxygen to breathe, give shade on a hot summer day and a place to climb and study the world from up high, with the birds.” Then he answers the child’s question, “What is special about me?” It is a good book for any adult to share with a child.
   Since Harris-Wyrick, who writes a column for The Oklahoman, is an Oklahoman and easy to find at the planetarium, have him sign a book for that special child in your life.
   And to purchase the book, try another one of Oklahoma’s independent bookstores — Best of Books in Edmond’s Kickingbird Square. Julie Hovis will take good care of you.
   While I don’t have a brother like Randy Wyrick, I do have great friends, and because of this column I have met people all across the state. One of those folks is Jacquelyn Duncan, a retired Custer County associate district judge.
   Jackie has invited me to her part of the state and we have visited here when she is in town.
   After reading the column I wrote about my friend Arlene Johnson and her love of animals, I received the following email from Jackie and her own animal companions:
   “Booray the Bichon Frise dog, Sookie the Maltese mix dog, Diva the calico cat and Red Beard the tiger stripe cat all join me in wishing you a 2012 filled with love, peace, health and happiness.”
   I wish the same for each of you.
   Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Contact her at

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Aliens and UFO's

As the director of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium, a big part of Science Museum Oklahoma, I answer lots of questions about space-related topics.  One of the questions I am asked most often is if I believe in aliens.  I say I firmly believe life exists all over the universe.  There are some four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone.  We believe that as many as one-fourth of them harbor planets.  The likeliness of only one planet out of hundreds of billions has life on it seems worse than odds of winning back to back to back to back lotteries.

But what they really want to know is if I believe that aliens ever visit Earth in their spaceships.  Are UFO’s really alien spacecraft buzzing our little planet?

I have a bigger problem with that. 

Stars are separated by mind-boggling distances.  The closest stars likely to have life-bearing planets are very far away.  Let’s set things to scale to better understand this.  Say Earth was a ball one foot across.  Our Moon would be a ball three inches in diameter 30 feet away.  The sun would be over two miles away.  The next closest to Earth, Proxima Centauri, would be 555,880 miles away.  In real space, that corresponds to about 24,000,000,000,000 miles away.

It would take us humans more than fifty thousand years to get there with our current best technology, and the radiation in space would kill everyone on board long before they arrived, even if we HAD some sort of suspended animation.  Traveling in space farther than to our own moon remains too difficult for us.

But let's assume that some alien race has solved these problems.  They can travel faster than light (and NOT end up in the far distant future), or at least so close to light speed that they can arrive in a reasonable amount of time.  Maybe they have discovered some kind of star gate or wormhole technology to shortcut the astronomical distances in the universe.  They possess technology to shield themselves from cosmic radiation. 

They travel hundreds or thousands of light years to study us.  Now does it make any sense to anyone that a race with those capabilities would travel all that way and just crash in the New Mexico desert?  If they are that good, I can't understand why they crash so often.

And what’s up with them impregnating our women or castrating or gutting our cows?  Why do they take us humans to their ships and do horrible things inside our bodily cavities?  Supposedly they are learning about our physiology.  Heck, even we lowly humans have x-rays, CAT scans and MRI machines to study the body non-invasively.  Wouldn't advanced aliens that can cross interstellar distances have better medical tools?

If they ARE here, they are likely invisible to all of our technologies and senses (unless and until they WANT us to see them).  They may even exist in a parallel dimension, sort of like a one-way quantum mirror where they can see us but we can’t see them. 

Reports of alien encounters seem to imply that these aliens have technology that is, at best a few decades ahead of ours.  The Milky Way galaxy is thirteen billion years old.  Our solar system is a mere four and a half billion years old, and we humans barely crack the fifty thousand year barrier.  Any other civilizations are likely to thousands or millions of year ahead of us.  One hundred years ago, we had barely left the ground in airplanes and all “sane” scientists thought spaceflight was impossible.  Where will our technology be in a few hundred or a few thousand years from now?  We wouldn’t even recognize ourselves.

And yet, we keep seeing us in them.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Flash Your Story

I am a writer.  I have authored more than 300 non-fiction articles, mostly on various aspects of astronomy (my day job is the director of the Kirkpatrick Planetarium of Science Museum Oklahoma).  I have a few articles on the subject of ghost hunting, a passionate hobby of mine.  I’ve published a few short stories – science fiction, of course – and a couple of poems.

Last year I published my first book.  It’s a children’s picture book “Why Am I Me?” (  I have spent countless hours and many thousands of words writing science fiction novels.  And though I love reading the genre, I just don’t seem to have the patience to write one.  I get a great plot, but I seem to get bored about half way through. “Why Am I Me?” has been in my brain and heart for several years as I watched my son go through the kind of self doubt that this book teaches kids how to overcome. Writing it was more of an exercise on writing: I wanted to see if I could write a 400 word book, since I had so much trouble writing 80,000 word books.

One of the methods I use to kickstart my hesitant creativity (what we sometimes call writer’s block) is to flash my current project.  Well done flash fiction excites me like few other forms of writing.  I learned about flash fiction writing from Harvey Stanbrough ( when I took a workshop on this process a few years ago.  We have kept in touch off and on since then.  Unlike some forms of flash fiction, which are often defined as stories under 1000 words, Harvey claims it must contain less than 100 words.  I call this very strict flash version “micro-fiction” although that just doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as flash fiction.

The way I use this technique is to “flash” whatever manuscript I am currently on.  The way I see it, if I can write my story, novel or article in 99 words or less, then I really understand the piece and where it is going.  If I can’t get the essence of the story in that number of words, then I am likely as confused as any of my readers would be if I didn’t improve the manuscript.

I haven’t published any of these micro-fiction efforts.  In fact, I really haven’t even tried to.  The point of these stories is to improve my writing.  But by now I have a decent sized collection of them.  Maybe I’ll put them in an anthology sometime.

This one of numerous tricks I use to re-ignite my artistic juices.  I will share this and other block-busters with the attendees at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation annual conference May 3-5 (see And, hey, even if my ideas don’t excite you, there are a number of quality speakers coming to share their writing secrets.  And you can meet with and even take to lunch any of a number of editors and agents.  Make plans; it’ll be a great weekend.