Uniontown Montage

A montage of scenes from around Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

Uniontown Collage.jpg
From top left: Uniontown Area High School, Morgantown Street from Fayette Building, Fayette Building from Whiskey Hill, Fayette County Courthouse, White Swan Apartments, First Niagara Building, Central School, skyline from Bill Power Stadium.

This is a photograph montage of my hometown that I created today for Wikipedia. I’m very much a product of this community and I love Uniontown very much. I only hope that the best is yet to come for this beautiful city!

Ensnared in a Childhood Fear: “Floating over a Spider” and “Montanha do Aranha”

A couple of short stories about deadly spiders (some extraterrestrial and one the product of island gigantism) spinning doom.

When I was a child, I had an intense fear of spiders. My dread of those little eight-legged monsters has somewhat eased in my adulthood, but I continue to hesitate whenever I encounter an arachnid Continue reading “Ensnared in a Childhood Fear: “Floating over a Spider” and “Montanha do Aranha””

“Our Uncle on Proxima”

The tenuous atmosphere of Proxima Centauri b contained a relatively low level of oxygen, but this made no difference to Uncle or the children. The children were engineered to breathe the concoction of gasses present, and Uncle could actually do just fine with no atmosphere whatsoever.

I wrote “Our Uncle on Proxima” in the late summer of 2017. There was a great deal of speculation about Proxima Centauri b in the media at that time, and I was fascinated with the reports and suspicions about the planet that were appearing in Astronomy and other periodicals that year. The theories and hypotheses that were (and are) swirling around about Proxima Centauri b were (and continue to be) tantalizing.  Continue reading ““Our Uncle on Proxima””

The End of Basketball Season

Basketball season has nearly come to an end!

Basketball season is nearly over for me. I haven’t really shared anything on this blog about my coaching (as I’ve tried to focus strictly on my writing), but basketball is definitely a significant part of my life. As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t have a great deal of time to do so during the season. Basketball season more or less runs from the very end of October to the end of April for me, once you include the regular season, tournaments, and development leagues. 

This season was especially memorable. The middle school team that I coach (which is also the middle school where I teach) finished the regular season with an overall record of 11 – 9. We had a record of 10 – 6 within our conference and finished the season with the Penn State Fayette Jamfest tournament in February. We had two players score over 130 points and our team averaged 35.6 points per game. 

I again served as President of the Mountain Area Basketball League, which serves children from Fayette and Somerset Counties, for a second season. The league enjoyed another year of success. 

I coached three developmental teams within the Turkeyfoot Youth Basketball league. The playoffs and championships for this league will be played Saturday, April 28th. Our teams finished 5 – 1 (boys), 4 – 2 (girls), and 6 – 1 (coed elementary). Videos and photographs from this league can be found online thanks to the Somerset Daily American

Our developmental teams often play as the “Mounties”, which was our former mascot (our entire district became the “Red Raiders” about twenty years ago). With “retro” looks coming back, George Fitzpatrick of Color Wear (a local printer that creates and produces a good part of our athletic gear) and I created the logo below to sort of help bring our own retro look back:

Mounties.jpg

After Saturday, basketball season will be over for me until June. From June to July, we participate in a very brief summer season in Uniontown. My family is incredibly patient with me during the season, there is no question about that (and I greatly appreciate their patience). I’ll miss the game but I’ll will enjoy the time off. 

Team

The Moment I knew I Loved Science Fiction

The Weekly World News changed my life. And I’m mostly serious about that claim.

When I was a kid, I often found myself grocery shopping with my mother and grandmother. I was made to hold onto the cart if I didn’t behave. I remember holding onto the cart quite a few times.

There was always one part of the visit to the grocery store that scared me. I might even say that one part of the visit haunted me. I had to come face-to-face with my tormentor at the end of our shopping excursion, whenever my mother directed the cart toward the checkout register. While waiting in line, I invariably confronted this demon – the Weekly World News.

The Weekly World News scared me. I didn’t yet know the difference between reality and entertainment as far as periodicals were concerned. When the Weekly World News announced in 1993 that the world would end in 1995, I panicked. My seven-year-old mind gasped, “I only have two years to live!”

When I read on the cover of one issue about a superstorm that was brewing in the Atlantic and tracking toward the major cities of the Northeast, I was petrified. I watched The Weather Channel for an entire week. I thought maybe there was a cover-up – was The Weather Channel not allowed to talk about the superstorm? Would coverage of this meteorological nightmare spread hysteria in the streets of Baltimore and Philadelphia

When the Weekly World News told me that a meteor was charging through space toward the Earth, I was mortified. I asked my father if we might be able to deflect or block such a meteor. He said, “I don’t think so.”

For me, the worst editions featured extraterrestrials. These aliens were invariably coming to Earth to destroy mankind. When confronted with a cover story concerning aliens, I would often reflect that the previous issues didn’t seem so bad after all. So, the world will end in 1999 due to some weird solar phenomenon? Well, that doesn’t involve aliens – so bring it on! There was just something about aliens that really bothered me. The aliens usually liked Bill Clinton though, at least according to the Weekly World News.

When I was about seven-years-old, I developed this tendency to stare at the night sky anytime I was riding in a car.

“What’s that light?” I would ask my mother. I usually tried to point to the part of the sky where the mysterious light could be observed.

“A star,” my mother would flatly reply. She knew exactly where this was going.

“No, I mean that one!”

“That’s an airplane.”

These conversations would go on and on. I was certain that I was picking out unidentified flying objects. I was observing the blatant lights of alien spacecraft. I knew that I was watching the aliens just as they were watching me speed along Bitner Road in the back of my mother’s car.

One day, my grandfather was riding with us.

“What are those three lights over there?” I had spotted an especially unusual light formation that was almost definitely a large jet aircraft.

My mother didn’t have a chance to answer before my grandfather.

“That? Well, that’s probably a U.F.O.!”

My suspicions had been confirmed. My mother was likely part of the cover-up.

Jupiter
A photograph of Jupiter taken in 2014 by the Hubble Space Telescope.

During the summer of 1994, Shoemaker-Levy, a comet discovered about a year earlier, plowed into Jupiter. This was a very real event, but, of course, the Weekly World News had to present a spin on the subject.

“Distress call received from Jupiter hours before impact!”

I’m sure that my first thoughts were ones of relief. Thankfully, Shoemaker-Levy was not about to hit the Earth. Thankfully, Shoemaker-Levy blasted whatever malicious aliens were living in Jupiter’s atmosphere. That was one less comet to hit Earth and one less alien species to torment me. Two birds had been killed with one stone – or collision.

Not too long after that, I started really thinking about that headline. What if Earth did receive a distress call from Jupiter just before Shoemaker-Levy started to rip through the latter’s southern hemisphere? There probably wouldn’t be enough time for the agencies of Earth to muster any help. But what if this distress call had come years before? What if Earth had received this call in the 1970s, when scientists believe Shoemaker-Levy’s collision course with Jupiter became set? Would we do anything? Could we do anything? My mind kicked these ideas around.

The image of Shoemaker-Levy smashing Jupiter on the front of the Weekly World News was wildly exaggerated – but I didn’t know that at the time. Surely, nothing could survive such a collision. What if Earth truly came to believe that nearby intelligent extraterrestrial life was in serious peril? That eradication of this newfound life was eminent? The opportunities to exchange knowledge would be lost forever. Should Earth at least try to intervene?

I think that in some ways, my mind never stopped pondering those questions. Once I got tired of rehashing the Shoemaker-Levy collision over and over, I started seeking out new situations and scenarios.

The Sci-Fi Channel was still fairly new in 1994, and I had been reluctant to watch any of the programs on that channel for fear that I would have nightmares or learn something that I shouldn’t know. Feeling bolder and more comfortable with the content after the Shoemaker-Levy collision, I often found myself tuning in on a regular basis.

I also started to watch science fiction movies – the ones I had been too afraid to watch before. I would go on to watch these films, both the classics and the B movies, repeatedly. I watched Alien and Aliens. I watched The Thing and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In hindsight, I feel really bad if Shoemaker-Levy destroyed any extraterrestrial civilizations on Jupiter. But, at the same time, it did get me to stop making myself carsick while trying to spot alien spaceships at night.

So, that brings me back to my earlier question: if we received a distress call from Jupiter tomorrow explaining that a massive comet was going to strike that planet in twenty years, could or would we do anything?

Elevator Buttons of Uniontown

Read on to see my “Elevator Button” mosaic.

The excitement of riding an elevator typically passes with childhood. I distinctly remember jostling with my sister or cousin to see which of us would get to press the elevator button. My mother or grandmother would usually reprimand one of us for pressing the button out of turn. At the time, I was never sure why pressing the button mattered so much – but pressing the button definitely did matter. Children still rush to the control panel to press the button first. I suppose elevators seem to possess an almost majestic quality to children. 

As the decades have passed, I find elevators bring more a sense of relief than adventure. I’m not so concerned about pressing the buttons nowadays, but I do still always offer to press the buttons for other passengers.

I guess that’s because I was always good at pressing the buttons – much better than my sister anyway.

Uniontown has quite a few tall buildings for a town of only 10,000 people, making elevators necessary throughout downtown. While you can’t ride every single elevator, the kid in me found out yesterday that you can still press the buttons on quite a few.

And, yes, I did get briefly stuck in one. Thankfully, I don’t have claustrophobia or agoraphobia. I did press the hell out of the “Door Open” button, though. 

Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company

There is one candy bar that is distinctly Western Pennsylvanian – when was the last time you had a Clark Bar?

Although much of my work is fiction, I have invested some considerable time into a few nonfiction projects over the years. One nonfiction topic that is of special interest to me is the history of the D.L. Clark Company, former producer of the Clark Bar and Zagnut. The D.L. Clark Company has an incredibly interesting history that would immediately appeal to anyone fascinated by 20th century Pittsburgh lore.

I grew up with the Clark Bar, although I hardly knew that particular candy bar as anything unique among the world of confections. Oddly enough, the Clark Bar was actually the one candy item at my grandparents’ house that was distinctly “off limits” to any visiting grandchildren. As a child, candy hunting at my grandparents’ house was a tradition. My grandmother stockpiled chocolate candy and proceeded to stash the treats all over the place – often in very humorous and creative ways.

Despite her efforts, we were often successful in finding the “goodies”. There was always a variety.

Kit Kat.

Mr. Goodbar.

Twix.

Clark Bar.

But we were told that last one was decidedly not for us.

“Those are for your grandfather,” my grandmother would say.

That made good sense to me. My grandfather’s name is Clark. The five-year-old me was fully satisfied thinking that my grandmother had diligently sought out candy for my grandfather that just happened to have his name in blue lettering on the wrapper.

Of course, that was wonderfully convenient. I didn’t know anyone named “Goodbar” or “Twix”, so for a long time I satisfied myself with avoiding the Clark Bar and thoroughly enjoying whatever else I might find hidden away in the recesses of my grandparents’ dining room.

Clark Bar
The Clark Bar

I rediscovered the Clark Bar two decades later while on a field trip with a group of students in downtown Uniontown. My mind was immediately perplexed with how I had been able to forget such a clear memory from my childhood – let alone an absolute local history bonanza. That rediscovery touched off many years of research.

I was immediately engrossed by the details of the company’s history. David L. Clark was an Irish American, who had started his own confectionery in the back of his house. Those early efforts would expand into a brand that would become synonymous with Pittsburgh and introduce products that would continue to be made long after the company ceased to exist.

Initially, I turned my research into a lecture (Blue Collar Candy: The History of the D.L. Clark Company). I have been fortunate enough to share this lecture with several historical organizations throughout the Pittsburgh region over the last four years.

I shared this summary of the lecture with any hosting historical society, library, or museum for the purpose of publishing announcements:

Pittsburgh in the 19th and 20th centuries could, at times, be rough around the edges: the crackle of blast furnaces; the roar of locomotives; and the blast of steamboat whistles. Those features made up the Steel City we know and love – but that city had a sweeter side. Amidst the coal barons, railroad tycoons, and industrialists, existed one of our nation’s most successive chocolatiers and confectioners –David L. Clark. Clark, an Irish – born immigrant, established the D.L. Clark Company and helped pioneer various types of candy throughout the early 20th century. From the Clark Bar to the Zagnut and every treat in between, D.L. Clark Company products have brought smiles to the faces of Pittsburghers for over 125 years.

The Monongahela Area Historical Society was the first organization to host the lecture in 2012.

A few days after the presentation, I received a letter from Renee Exler of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, who is a member of the Monongahela Area Historical Society and Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation. What I received turned out to be a copy of a letter Renee had sent to Andy Masich, the President and CEO of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Renee was kind enough to pass a copy along to me. The letter spoke well of the presentation, pointed out my research to Mr. Masich, and stated that, “People around the world have heard of the Clark Bar, perhaps eaten one, but this great Pittsburgh history would be lost…if it wasn’t for someone like Joshua Scully.”

My goal remains to eventually write the story of the D.L. Clark Company and seek publication. This is an ongoing passion and project.

After all that I’ve accomplished with this, I can’t help but wonder – what if I didn’t have a grandfather named Clark? What if my grandmother had said, “the Oh Henry! bars aren’t for you!”?

And then there’s the Zagnut, which has really created a niche all to itself.

The Last: Kýrie, Eléison

If you read one historical fiction novella about the Byzantine Empire this year, read mine!

the-last
Theophilos Hatzimihail painted this depiction of the final battle for Constantinople. As in other Hatzimihail paintings concerning this subject, Constantine XI is featured on a white horse.

Writing The Last in June and July of 2014 was an exciting time for me. I started writing at the beginning of summer and the first draft was finished within 24 days. Two years and four drafts later, I have a historical fiction novella that I am genuinely proud to claim as my own work. The Last benefited greatly from several volunteer readers over the last two years. The feedback I received from those individuals spurred the various revisions that created the present novella. Insight from Father Bob Lubic was of considerable help. His suggestions and wisdom were of special worth to me and I greatly appreciate the time he invested with The Last.

The first draft of The Last was also the final piece of my writing that my grandmother read before she passed in July of 2014. She had always been the greatest advocate of my writing and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to share this one with her. 

I have seriously kicked the tires on making The Last the final novella in a trilogy of historical fiction pieces (each with a slight supernatural edge) concerning the Byzantine Empire. I had even seriously considered using the Battle of Yarmouk and the Byzantine Iconoclasm as potential foundations for the two other (“previous”) installments (the Battle of Manzikert and the Fourth Crusade are two other options). 

Researching for this project also opened the door for my love affair with Byzantine history. I am simply unable to read enough about the topic and I don’t intend to bring this romance to an end anytime soon. If you are looking for just a taste of Byzantine history, I suggest you start here.

The fall of Constantinople was one of those amazing turning points in history and I do believe I’ve captured the essence of that event’s significance in The Last. Below, I have shared quotes that really helped me capture the characterizations of George Sphrantzes, an imperial courtier, and Emperor Constantine XI Dragas Palaiologos. These quotes communicate a great deal about the foreboding that existed in Constantinople just before the Ottoman siege in 1453. 

“On the same night of May 28th [1451] I had a dream: it seemed to me that I was back in the City; as I made a motion to prostrate myself and kiss the Emperor’s feet, he stopped me, raised me, and kissed my eyes. Then I woke up and told those sleeping by me: ‘I just had this dream. Remember the date.’ ”

                                                                                 -George Sphrantzes

                                                                                   Roman (Byzantine) Imperial Ambassador

 

“But how can I do this and leave the clergy, the churches of God, the empire and all of the people?

What will the world think of me, I pray, tell me?

No, my lords, no: I will die here with you. ”

                                                             – Constantine XI Dragas Palaiologos,

                                                                in Christ true Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans

The quote from Constantine XI is really at the heart of The Last. The sense of responsibility and determination in that man must have been absolutely astounding. 

Including the prologue, a list of characters, and a handful of illustrations, The Last runs 13,473 words over 45 pages. 

The Emperor raised his sword into the air.

Kýrieeléison!” He called, “Lord, have mercy!”