Update and True Life Story

Update and True Life Story


If you were wondering this morning as you dressed and ate your breakfast, “Huh, I wonder how the edits on Book Six are going for Christine?” – then I have read your mind and I am here to give you an update.

Work is going slow but sure, and I’ve got my hands full and my mind working away on…The Cottage.

No, that isn’t a book title. Sorry. And no, I haven’t been editing. Three things are filling my days: work on The Cottage rehab, homeschooling Em, and preparing for the Homes Tour on October 15th.

Yes, you too can see the house I call home, along with five others, all for the low price of $15!

But I digress. Mainly I’m running around like some crazed chicken, missing that proverbial head, as I struggle to get everything done.

So the update is that there is no progress on the edits. I hope to give you better news soon. Give me three weeks and I’ll see if I can’t manage to work editing back into the mix.

Meanwhile, all of these police shootings brought to mind a parallel story, and a true one at that, which I will now share with you.

A True Life Story

I left home at the age of sixteen. To be more exact, I ran away.

I had screwed up in school, been caught cheating, and my dad was beside himself and pissed. He told me I would be going back to my mom’s in Arizona and repeating my senior year of high school there in public school.

That wasn’t what made me run away, it was the phone call that night, and his remarks directly after, that sent me fleeing.

My mother had called, reminding him that they had agreed to never change custody during times where it might provide an escape for me from a problem. He got off the phone and instead of telling me this (he was pissed and frustrated) he said, “Well your mom doesn’t want you. So I guess I’m going to have you declared incorrigible, made a ward of the court, and send you to a juvenile facility.”

Just writing this makes me want to laugh. How did I ever believe him when he said this?

Two reasons.

A “sort of” friend had had this happen to her. I didn’t know the circumstances of what she had done, but her mother did get her locked up in a juvenile facility. And her mother knew my father, of course, he knew the story even better. I reasoned that if it could happen to this girl, it could happen to me.

And the second reason was rather simplistic – to my knowledge, my dad had never lied to me. He had never told me that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or even God (my dad is an atheist) – was real. He had also stated on more than a number of occasions that he would always tell me the truth.

I believed him. As far as I was concerned, he was going to have me locked up just like my “sort of” friend had been locked up. And the next day, before he left work, he told me to start packing. I did. I grabbed what I could carry and I left home.

We lived in Pacifica at the time, and I headed for San Francisco, where a friend was living in some residence hotels. These places were rented out by the week or month, each floor had several shared bathrooms, and it was some rather simple, basic living. A hot plate, maybe a refrigerator if you were lucky, and maybe a sink in your room to do your dishes in. They also had a restriction, no one under the age of 18, but my friend was 21 and he was determined to help.

“Just meet me in the city, we will figure it out.” He promised.

There I sat on a bus, my bags clutched close beside me, heading through the Tenderloin. The area was riddled with crime, violence, shootings and drugs. Each time I rode through it I was tense and scared. It was a bad, bad area at the time.

The bus stopped near a corner store and passengers disembarked and others came in the front, paying the fare and moving deeper into the bus. I was in a single seat, some of the busses had them at the time, and the bus was relatively full. It was a bright sunny day in April 1987.

The bus closed its doors and inched forward to the crosswalk, but the light was red. At that moment, a convertible sports car screeched to a halt beside the bus, immediately to my left, and I saw the passenger jump out, a gun in his hand. He was white, dressed in a shirt and blue jeans. He made no attempt to hide it and I watched as he ran in front of the bus. The light had turned green and the bus had begun to move forward. It just as quickly lurched to a stop when the driver saw the man run in front.

What sent me into a panic was what happened next. The bus driver actually opened the front doors. I’m sure it was an automatic response, one that he quickly rectified as the man with the gun continued past the bus and towards a man standing near a pillar at the corner market. He reached the man, a black man, slammed him against the pillar and placed the gun against his head.

Here I was, not quite seventeen years old, running away from home, and convinced this was a drug deal gone bad and that once the guy with the gun finished off this poor s.o.b. he was going to come for any witnesses, i.e. all the people on the bus.

It turned out he was an undercover cop. As the bus pulled away I could see his partner racing over, the car still running and parked in the middle of the street, and silver handcuffs flashing in the sun.


So there you go. A real life story that you probably never heard me tell before. Got one for me?

Ego…It’s a Killer

Ego…It’s a Killer

A few days ago I received a friend request on Facebook. I didn’t know the guy, but I saw he was connected via another FB friend, who I didn’t particularly know either, but she was a writer, so I clicked Confirm.

Damn, that was really convoluted, wasn’t it?!

Anyway, I had noticed that this guy was always posting some new link to his book or books. And then this post came up on my feed from him today:

Ok I will write this and most likely get flamed for it but who really cares. Right? I was contacted by a “ free-lance” Editor today whom had some “ Tips “ for me as such as spelling and grammar, all in an attempt of course for me to soloist his services. While I do welcome open criticism of some ones work, even my own. To sit there and to attempt to degrade some ones writing style or even a couple poor points of gramma usage for a quick buck in my opinion is pathetic. Some of the grates had major issues with spelling, grammar and even continuity issues in there novels. J.R.R Tolkien had over 500 grammatical errors in his bestselling novel “The Hobbit” and guess what, no one cared. It was a great story. The point is this , the use of words to relay a story as long as it legible and has gone through some sort of proof reading to make sure the story can be enjoyed is all an author really needs. Too much has great authors ( not that I consider myself a great author) been torn apart by grammar Nazi’s whom have never published or had the gut to self-publish a book. I have more respect for a struggling Author whom sells only 200 copies of there novel and does not give in to those that will sterilize there books and keep their work pure , then I do for those that will pour bleach over a who would be creative master peace to make sales. The art of writing is as much about the author as it is about the reader. So if you have an issue with small grammatical mistakes that are not picked up by Microsoft word or if you have an issue with a single word being spell wrong or misused by an author , perhaps then you should not be reading a book because your missing what the story being woven for you is about. I stand by my works, regardless of what others think. I am writing a novel series, because I want to , I have a story to tell. IF that story never becomes a best seller, so be it. If that story never is read by more than 100 people , so be it. Because I would rather have a form of honourable dignity that what I have create is my own, is what I intended and not the reworked sterilized , plastic and commercial junk that I pick up in a lot of the large books stores.

Well if that wasn’t one unholy mess of grammatical and spelling errors.

What followed were a couple of catty responses that immediately escalated into sniping, insults, and name calling from the person who posted above and his wife who jumped to his defense.

At the risk of being spat, punched and kicked, I added in my own two cents (while quietly unfriending said person). I’m posted it below, if you want to read it.

I see this as nothing but ego. He feels put out (or put upon) by those evil, evil editors that just want his precious money. The reality is, someone tried to help him. That is one hell of an editing job that person was trying to take on, and I commend them for being willing to even offer their services!

Each time I think of the person i want to be, I think of ego. I don’t want to be that person. You know the one I’m talking about – the one who thinks they are so damned perfect, that they have finally gotten the acclimation they so richly deserved. The one who doesn’t have the time to answer someone’s questions or take a moment to help.

That isn’t to say I don’t guard my time fiercely. But in all things, there should be balance.

Every time I see ego rear its mighty head, I do my best to slap it down. It stands in the way of me improving myself, my writing, and my life.

Here is what I wrote:

Mistakes happen, sure, but rampant mistakes pull the reader out of what would be an otherwise excellent story. Why do that? I want people to enjoy my stories, not bounce out of my carefully constructed world just because I didn’t bother to do the boring second half of my job as an author. Editing is necessary. Otherwise, you step outside your house wearing this snazzy new shirt over stained pants. It is no different from creating a professional cover, something I learned from experience! You can write your heart out, but in the information age, with Grammarly and Hemingway apps at our fingertips, one merely has to spend a little extra time to achieve results that will create an even better reading experience. I’m a big enough person to thank someone who finds a typo or incorrect phrasing and promptly fix it. My writing should be its best.
And his response:
I understand your point Christine , but i would also like to point out as paul said , most people don’t have above a basic college education , if that education does not prepare one to apparently write a book ( If anything can I seen very boring books from english professors lol ) then how can it prepare them to exactly point out grammatical mistakes in a language is so broad such as english . Then there is the issue of what about the creative side of it? Again drawing on the grates , using the term tatters is not correct, yet the hobbits with out that term would not be the hobbits we know and love. There is also several other major issues , people don’t think , speak or even read in a grammatical sense. The point is if you don’t have spell check in front of you , then you don’t know if something is grammatically wrong or rather most people don’t. Thens ones who do , dont really read as there busy trolling the net for the next victim. The point is , writing should be fun and yes there is work involved , i know i proof read a lot of my work and throw half of it out as im not happy with it . But that being said , the term still holds as was said in the 1800s your biggest critic is you , the writer. So why give power to a bunch of editors and even publishers whom never in the most part ever released a book , no less wrote one? That’s not saying all editors and publishers have or have not , thats saying if they were so damn great , they would not be correcting our spelling and grammar they would have wrote a master peace by now.
Apparently, he thinks people are complete idiots that won’t notice his rampant errors, only those nasty old editors. (p.s. I SUCK at grammar and even I wanted to scream by the end of each of his posts)
And my response:
I’ve had great experiences with editors, so I simply cannot relate to what you are saying. The editors I know, and work with, do not tear you down or crush creative spirit, not at all! My eldest daughter is my content editor and she is amazing. She will point out areas I need to put in more detail, where I have lapsed into telling instead of showing. She reminds me to use less adverbs (and believe me, my readers thank her for that). She points out inconsistencies and long-winded sentences. My daughter is also well on the way to writing and publishing her second book. My line editor/proofreader catches a lot of the crap that my daughter doesn’t or that slips under Grammarly or Hemingway’s radar. I pay her in farm fresh eggs and my charming company because she’s my friend and a self-published author herself. Don’t sell readers short. I know plenty of readers who don’t have that “basic college education” that can spell, and generally pick up on major faux pas’ in writing. In summary, we will not agree on this. But editors can (and often are) writers in their own right. And readers, college education or no, are perhaps a little more perceptive than you are willing to acknowledge. That said, keep doing what you are doing. It will all shake out to one side or the other in the end.
Read between the lines on those last two sentences. He believes what he wants to believe, and quite obviously is not going to be dissuaded from such foolishness. He will keep putting out grammatic nightmares and get nowhere fast in his writing career. And he will either learn from it or not.
Ego…it is a killer!

Edits and Free Days

Edits and Free Days
Edits and Free Days


Free Days Start Tomorrow

I will be offering War’s End: The Storm for free Kindle download for the next three days. At this time, all of my books are part of Kindle Unlimited, so if you are a subscriber (just $9.95 per month!) you can always read my books for free.

However, if you are not a KU subscriber, then get the book while the getting is good!

If you have read Gliese 581 and are wondering what the references to The Collapse and the Second American Civil War are all about – War’s End: The Storm will explain it. Beginning in 2017, this book serves as witness to the socioeconomic collapse of the United States and the civil war that follows.

In the day after tomorrow, after the socioeconomic collapse of the United States, one young girl fights for survival. Violently ripped from her family, abused and now pregnant, Jess must somehow survive while fleeing those who pursue her. Jess must come to peace with the life growing inside her as she struggles to return home.

So get it while the getting is good – starting Wednesday and ending on Friday!

Kaplaran Universe

Schicksal Turnpike

Dee, my editor extraordinaire, has returned the first draft of Schicksal Turnpike to me. I’m reading through her suggestions now and will begin working on edits this week. My hope is to have the book done and on Amazon by early fall, but we will see what happens. Deadlines are flexible things.

Schicksal will serve as the prelude to The Chronicles of Liv Rowan, which is somewhat of a prequel to War’s End.

And for those of you chomping at the bit for a sequel to Gliese…all in good time, all in good time. There is a method to my madness.

It is still madness, but that’s okay, a writer is allowed some lunacy, don’t you think?

Project Funding

I am doing the last bit of prep on two different crowdfunding campaigns – Kiva and IndieGoGo. The reality of the matter is, I need to do something with The Cottage at the end of our property, and that means raising money. I mention it here simply because I’m mentioning it EVERYWHERE. I’m drumming up support and encouraging folks to contribute.

When it comes to Kiva, you get your money back, 100% of it.

With IndieGoGo, you are receiving perks in return for your contributions – everything from unique art to night’s stays at The Cottage once the renovations are completed.

So you aren’t sending money out into the abyss to never be seen again. I want to stress that because it is important to me that others understand I’m not looking for handouts. This won’t just help me and bring me income, it will also bring worth to my neighborhood and community.

Stay tuned!

While in Limbo

While in Limbo

On Saturday I clicked Send and off flew my first draft of Schicksal Turnpike to my editor extraordinaire and eldest daughter, Dee.

If Schicksal follows my typical pattern, the current 51,000-word count will grow by at least 1/3 by the time the edits are complete and the book is ready for publishing.

Immediately, I looked at my list of writing projects, story starts, notes on my cookbook, and my SYO Housecleaning Biz book and was chomping at the bit to get started.

That first day, I did manage to write nearly 2,000 words in my erotic romance The Hired Gun. But after that?

Each time I would look at one of my projects, my attention would break into fragments, and I would find myself obsessively checking email, Facebook, book stats and the news.

This has happened before, and instead of fighting it this time, I’m going to shift my focus. I’ve got up to a week of waiting ahead of me – so instead of writing, I’m going to spend that time learning and marketing.

  • I have several non-fiction books on writing, publishing and marketing to read.
  • I also need to immerse myself in several Facebook writing groups.
  • I need to re-learn Microsoft Access. I used to be fabulous at it, but with all of the changes over the past 11 years, my Access skills are just above “older than dirt” level. I found some YouTube videos that I hope will do the trick.I use Access to track all of my characters, my master timeline, and the books that they all appear in. I’ve limped along with half of a database for years now, it’s time to beat it into shape.
  • I’ve also got to get a better handle on Scrivener as well. There’s still a lot to learn in that program!

And speaking of Scrivener, if you are a writer and have been considering Scrivener, I highly recommend it. I am enjoying learning the ins and outs of it, and I’ve also signed up to promote it. It doesn’t cost you any additional money, but I will earn a small referral fee if you click on the following link:

 Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

 Well…time to get to learning and marketing!

Someday I Will Look Back

Someday I Will Look Back

Someday I will look back and remember how it felt with those first books, waiting, nail-biting, hoping, pestering…for folks to read and review my stories.

I will remember how it felt to question myself, to wonder if I had any stories worth telling.

I will think of how it felt to see the reviews roll in, one at a time, where weeks stretched and my fears grew once again…that I had been mistaken, that this was all a very nice try, pat me on the head, chuck me on the chin, and tell me “Atta girl, you keep writing those words and someday, someday maybe you will be good enough.”

I will look back.

And I will smile.

I won’t take it for granted, I won’t let it go to my head.

I’ll be grateful…

Just like I am in this moment. The rain is falling outside, steady, as it has all day. Damned if we didn’t need it, it has been so dry. Occasionally there are bursts of fireworks in the distance.

This day, as it comes inexorably to a close, was our tenth wedding anniversary, complete with a decent lunch and a ridiculous movie (Julie Hennessy, if you are reading this, I still went and saw it even after you told me not to bother!).

I have seventeen reviews now.

And I hope to see many more. Another 83 would make me very happy. I’ll get there eventually.

For now though, I have at least seventeen people who have taken the time to read my book and post a review on Amazon. And I have to tell you, I’m grateful to every single one of them.

Three Free Days for Gliese 581

Three Free Days for Gliese 581

Gliese 581-Departure

So today, tomorrow and Sunday will be the last free days on Gliese 581: Departure for a while.

I’m racking up the reviews but I could always use more!

Here are some recent reviews:


I’m just one chapter away from having my first draft of Schicksal Turnpike done and headed for my editor. Schicksal is…well…consider it the prequel, to the prequel, to the prequel, to Gliese 581: Departure. Set within the same universe it is set in 1950s Kansas City.

So get Gliese 581: Departure. Read it and review it, and I’ll try and get this next reading adventure ready for you.


That’s Why I Need YOU

That’s Why I Need YOU

A while back I felt it click on – the single-minded desire that I have experienced, off and on, for most of my life.

“I want to be a writer.” I thought, “I want to spend a majority of the rest of my days on this Earth writing stories and sharing them with others.”

I realized I was tired of wasting time. I had put it off in the face of economic upheaval, life changes, and more – way too often. And it was time to change that.

And so I have begun to lay the groundwork.

You are going to see a LOT of my posts centering around my writing. Feel free to unfriend me on FB if it becomes too much. I know it isn’t for everyone. It is a line I walk, trying not to be obnoxious about promoting my writing, but also not languishing in obscurity.

I will be posting about free days, discounted days, my reviews, my stats, and my word counts regularly.

I will also continue to offer pdf copies of my books to anyone who asks (and often doesn’t ask) because I want to spread the word.

I am a one woman, writer, publisher, and marketer. I get to do it all!

Look at it this way. If it ever does take off When I am noticed, I’ll shut up and spend my days writing.

I hear the argument, “You spent time writing this book, you should be paid for it.”

And yes, I agree. I would LOVE to make money writing!

However, due to my relatively unknown status in the writing world, the choice becomes:

  • Sell my books to a small handful of loyal friends and get a small handful of corresponding reviews


  • Give my books away to a crapload of people and eventually receive a large number of reviews which will bring me to the attention of MILLIONS more readers.

Guess which one I’m going to go with?!

So if you email me and say, “I would really like to read and review your new book, Gliese 581: Departure.” I will happily send you an electronic copy.

And if you were to read that book and think, “Well, damn, that wasn’t half bad, I’d like to read War’s End: The Storm. Tell me, and I will happily send you that book.

And the same for War’s End: A Brave New World

And the same for my two non-fiction books:

Get Organized, Stay Organized

The War on Drugs: An Old Wives Tale

I know you don’t all want to read the books on your computer. That’s cool, I get that.

However, until I can make this into a successful writing career, there are only so many paperback copies I can buy and send out to folks who don’t have Kindle or a computer to read it on.

I hope you understand.

So if you want to read any of my five books that are currently out, let me know!

And if you know anyone who wants to read and review them, send me their email.

For me to get the word out and see that I manage to get as much as exposure as possible, thereby increasing my chances of eventually seeing some sort of income from my writing, I need YOU.

I need your reviews posted on Amazon.

I need you to drop my name to everyone you can think of.

I’m in this for the long haul, folks, but damn, this is hill is STEEP!

Follow me on Amazon here.

Sign up to be an official book reviewer here.

Or just get all of my blog posts once a month in one handy location by receiving my newsletter.

It Isn’t All Sunshine and Rainbows

It Isn’t All Sunshine and Rainbows

I want to be clear, that what I say next, needs no helpful advice on your part. Feel free to read it, and then carry on with your day.

So, after spending something like the fourth day in a row, drilling out words on the page, ticking off the “to do” labels and watching my word count surge from a few hundred at the beginning of last week all the way to over 30k today, I was on top of the world.

I even managed to net two more reviews on Gliese 581: Departure, bringing my total up to thirteen total reviews.

You know, someday I’m going to read that number and just smile and smile, folks.

I was feeling good, feeling ready to take on the world. If you read my last post, I think my enthusiasm was quite evident.

I drove off to a playdate, and as I drove home, the thought occurred…

I’m writing the Chronicles of Liv Rowan series next – and it ranges from 2001-2016 – but then there is War’s End, which starts at the end of 2017. I’ve dated myself, haven’t I? People are going to read this and be like, “that was so last year.”

And on and on. In fact, I spent most of my twenty minute drive trying my best to NOT think about it. My foot kept pressing down on the accelerator. I needed to get home, get back in front of the computer and break the cycle of self-doubt before it took hold.

I got home, stared at the computer, and began the loop that I do when I’m feeling full of self-doubt or angst:

  • Check Facebook
  • Check email
  • Check Amazon stats
  • Check website stats
  • Look for more reviews of my book
  • Read through the reviews I’ve got
  • Check Facebook
  • Check email

You know, the loop.

A non-productive, increasingly obsessive loop of pointless pointing and clicking.

The same, non-active, busywork I typically engage in when I can’t figure out what to write.

Worse, it’s indicative of that steep dip – in productivity, belief in self, the works.

I recently read about a guy who says that one of the best way to power through these dips or, dare I say writer’s blocks, is to write about them. And that is this post here.

My ego and self-doubt – they get to warring with each other and the result is I’m stuck in limbo.

I tried again, and just could not get back into the story, so I sat back to read a little from a suspense/thriller book I had picked up from the library. Dave came down and asked if I wanted to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which I couldn’t resist, having loved the first movie so much.

I think it was just the shot in the arm I needed.

And now it’s back to work for me…at least for a few minutes…before I head off to bed. I needed a good laugh, happy cry, and time away to remind myself I can actually do this.

Damn, What a Ride!

Damn, What a Ride!

I have lived this moment before, I’m pretty sure I have. Yet, every time it hits me, it feels new, transformative even.

The past few days have been absolutely incredible. The words have pushed, shoved, screamed at me to get out on the page. They march out, like a tiny army of ants, ready to conquer the blank pages, and fill the screen.

There are moments when I think that becoming a writer is some awful form of self-torture. Those moments when you sit there, staring at a blank screen thinking, “How the hell do I get Y character from Point A to Point B?”

There are times when the dialogue is so stilted, my ideas and thoughts so scattered that I’m ready to commit seppeku. Seriously, hand me that sword.

And then there are those rare moments, words wrapped in joy, that fall onto the page.

I can’t properly describe it, but when it occurs, the only thing I can do is hang on and WRITE. As fast as possible, notes everywhere, words, phrases, connections – they dance, DANCE out of me in a flood.

And in that moment, everything in my life makes sense. As if every moment I have lived up until this time has brought me inexorably to this place, where the stories breed, the characters laugh, love and hate.

I swear, I could stand on top of a mountain and sing like that overly happy woman on The Sound of Music.

Let me tell you, sometimes writing is one hell of a ride.

p.s. I expect to have the first draft of Schicksal Turnpike done this weekend

Jumping Into Orbit with an Astronomer ROCK STAR

Jumping Into Orbit with an Astronomer ROCK STAR

I’m feeling like I have just attained super-geek status right now. Giggly, “Oh my God, he spoke to me” kind of feeling. Step into a room and find greatness, kind of thing.

So let me explain.

When the news that a possible earth-like planet in the Gliese system was announced back in 2010, I was instantly captivated. Dr. Steve Vogt was in the news as he described his team’s findings. Fascinated by the idea, and with a story of a trip to this unknown and distant planet bouncing about in my head, I emailed Dr. Vogt.

Despite his busy, busy life fielding press and probably other dreamy-eyed writers like me, he wrote me back, which was amazingly kind.

When news of a Swiss team disproving his findings broke, and the news pilloried Dr. Vogt, I’ll admit, my project came to a standstill. I know it sounds silly, considering I’m a fiction writer and  all, but I actually wondered how I could write a story about Gliese 581g if the planet itself did not exist!

There was also the pesky problem of not knowing what the conflict point would be in the book, either. I had thought of a saboteur, but I couldn’t figure out what his motivation was.

It would be a couple of years before I saw the news of the James Webb Space Telescope and its scheduled launch date of 2018. I latched onto it immediately, changing the date (due to the conflict of The Collapse and the Second American Civil War in my War’s End books) to 2030. At that time, the increased abilities of the new telescope would “re-discover” Gliese 581.

I combined that with another story that was languishing in my Snippets folder, the Plague Tales, and combined them. The result was Gliese 581: Departure.

On a lark, I sent a second email to Dr. Vogt a few days ago. I wrote:

Dear Dr. Vogt-

Years ago, I emailed you when news of Gliese first broke. You kindly responded to me. I appreciated that, considering how inundated you must have been at the time.
It took a while for my vision of the book to fully form. But I wanted to share the news with you that it finally did. Along the way I spoke with a virologist, two nurses, and researched Chinese burial customs and proper autopsy procedures. Fascinating stuff. Gliese 581: Departure is slowly accumulating reviews. I will admit, that the reports that your findings could not be repeated saddened me – and caused a full stop for a little while on my literary endeavors.
That said, I am pleased to inform you that eventually you will be vindicated. I have attached my book for your reading pleasure. I would be happy to send you a paperback if you would prefer.
This is my first foray into science fiction, but it won’t be my last. I write cross-genre, so I have a Twilight Zone ‘esque novella to finish, and then a [oh dear god] TWELVE book fantasy series after that. But then the way will be free and clear for a sequel to this book.
I wish you well. Please forgive any assumptions this poor author has taken when assigning you descendants. I assure you they are of the highest character.
Best Regards,
Christine Shuck
Author, Community Educator, Homeschool Mom and General Malcontent
And today I received a lengthy response back from Dr. Vogt! I’m so excited to see this, and to learn, to my delight, that the possibility of Gliese 581g is still there!
I will admit to not understanding most of what is surely a dumbed down explanation of astrophysics. I’m including the entire email for your reading pleasure…
Hi Christine,
Nice to hear from you again. Yes, those were some crazy days back in 2010 when we announced GJ581g. I’m glad you decided to go ahead with your Sci-Fi novel. Thanks very much for sending me an advance copy. I will peruse it as soon as I can get some free bandwidth.
You needn’t be saddened about reports that others could not confirm my findings. Let me give you a bit of history and an update that you won’t find in the public media.
We worked on this result for many, many months, playing Devil’s advocate with our data and errors, to convince ourselves that we were on solid ground for claiming the detection of GJ 581g. We then submitted it to the Astrophysical Journal, the world’s premier journal of record for work in my field. It passed two independent peer reviews, both with flying colors. Indeed, our editor was/is also one of the world’s pre-eminent experts in statistical analysis, and literally “wrote the book” on statistical techniques in science. Even he agreed that our detection was rigorously significant using all the usual metrics for false alarms, etc. He even advised us that we were under-selling the confidence level of the detection. It was only after passing this rigorous peer-review process, and the paper was accepted, that we then organized the NSF press release announcement.
Several weeks after our announcement, the Swiss team from Geneva (the only other group then, and now, capable of providing confirmation of such a difficult detection) gave a talk at a conference in Trieste, Italy. At that conference, they verbally stated that they had an additional bunch of 60 new points of data, data that was also superior in quality to ours, and that they saw no evidence of GJ581g in their expanded data set. They did not provide that data in their talk, nor make it available to the public.
We were a bit disappointed in this, but could not respond in any way as they did not divulge any of their data. But we were skeptical, and so we simulated up a data set (actually we simulated 1000 data sets) using Monte Carlo techniques, that had the exact same cadence characteristics (they Swiss HARPS team doesn’t get to observe every day of the month, only in lunar bright time, etc) and signal/noise characteristics as their typical HARPS data. In these mock data sets, we inserted real signals at the periods of all the 4 known planets (b,c,d, and e) plus the ones we had claimed (f, and g). In doing so, we quickly convinced ourselves that, even if the Swiss had 60 more high quality data points, they would not have been able to either refute or confirm GJ581g. So we knew that their claim (that they would have been able to see GJ581g with their expanded, superior data set) was untrue. But since we did not have access to their data, we did not feel we could write this up and get it published in the peer-reviewed literature.
So we sat back, and waited, while we were roundly pilloried in the media about our GJ 518g claim being a false alarm. It was rather frustrating, and we were accused of being scoundrels, of grand-standing in order to get grants renewed, etc. etc. I was accused of making a “mistake” by assuming circular rather than eccentric orbits. All of this was complete and utter nonsense, but that was how it played out. And we just could not join the public discussion to defend our conclusions and data.
So we kept acquiring further precision velocity data on this system, and waited for the Swiss to eventually publish their data set. It took about a year of waiting for the Swiss to submit a preprint to the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, their equivalent of our Astrophysical Journal. That preprint by Forveille et al 2011 is attached fyi. Once we had their actual data set, I set about combining it with our data to do an extremely careful analysis of the joint data set and see what was what.
In doing this detailed analysis, we learned several things. First, the Swiss’s 4-planet Keplerian model was dynamically unstable, and was therefore manifestly unphysical. Secondly, we could not reproduce their values of Chi-squared, and RMS from using their 4-planet Keplerian model as fit to their data set. Digging in further, we realized that this was because they had omitted 5 of their data points from their analysis. These were specifically the 5 data points which had the worst fit to their model. They did this omission without disclosure. Indeed, they even stated in their paper that they had omitted no data points in their analysis.
Once we realized this, we re-did their analysis, including all of their data points, and omitting none. We also included the effects of planet-planet gravitational interaction, something the Swiss had not done, but that is critical for properly modeling this system. That kind of fit is called a dynamically “self-consistent” fit, and is generally not done as it requires a much more sophisticated level of numerical modeling. Anyway, our self-consistent fit, using their expanded data set, combined with our full data set, revealed that, after accounting for the 4 “known” planets b,c,d, and e, a statistically significant signal for planet g still emerged from the data set, with a period of 32-days, and consistent with a planet of minimum mass 2.2 times the mass of the Earth, and smack dab in the liquid water habitable zone. Furthermore, our 5-planet model was statistically superior to that of the Swiss, and was completely dynamically stable.
I wrote this all up and submitted it to the Astrophysical Journal to finally join the debate. Again, it passed several peer-reviews at ApJ, and was soon accepted for publication. Unfortunately, the Swiss’s Forveille et al paper had yet to be accepted by A&A, and to appear in print. So the ApJ editor put our accepted paper on-hold until the Forveille paper appeared in print. So we waited another 6 months.
Eventually, we gave up waiting for the Forveille et al paper to be accepted and to appear in print. And the ApJ editors just would not relent and let us publish until that happened. So we pulled the paper from ApJ and submitted it to Astronomische Nachrichten, a European journal in Potsdam. It passed peer-review and was published in only a few weeks. I attach a copy of that also fyi.
The Forveille et all paper was never accepted nor published. No doubt the A&A editors rejected it and they never re-submitted. They know they were wrong, and we called them out on it publicly. There is little they can say to change that. At the same time, the Swiss have had a habit of making their mistakes just disappear conveniently from the web. So, just in case they did this, I included all of their actual data in our A.N. paper, for all to see, for all time. Anyone can repeat my analysis, with all of the available data, and will come to the same conclusions I did.
So, even though the press has long since moved on and forgotten about GJ581g, the scientific peer-reviewed record shows that our result still stands, our analysis is the last and best word on the reality of GJ581g, and the available data and most sophisticated analyses all indicate that planet g exists, albeit with a slightly smaller period (32d instead of 36d) and slightly smaller mass (2.2 Mearth). What will it take to firmly confirm this planet? That’s a tough one. We already have many hundreds of data points. We’d need more than twice that data set to even begin to make further improvements (as I discussed at the end of our rebuttal paper). Also, this is a particularly complex system in that the 67d orbit could be either circular or eccentric. Slight amounts of eccentricity in the 67d orbit could be used to mask the signal from the 32d. So the reality or not of planet g is coupled to whether or not the 67d planet’s orbit has a small amount of eccentricity. This is a very tough thing to assess, even though we now know from KEPLER results of thousands of exoplanet orbits, that it is most likely that all of these GJ581 orbits are very nearly, if not perfectly circular.
So GJ581g still lives, at least according to the present set of available data, and the best and most sophisticated analyses of those data. But we have moved on to many other systems that are much simpler and easier to confirm. These are systems such as Kapteyn b, GJ 667Cc, GJ667Ce, and GJ667Cf. FYI, a list of these nearest potentially habitable Earth-sized planets can be found here:
Sorry for the long-winded reply. It is not an easy story to tell, and the version that played out in the public media would have one believe that GJ581g was merely a flash in the pan, another debunked result for the dustbin of history. Quite the contrary, it is still alive and well according to the official record, the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
I will read through your novel as soon as I can get some time. In the meantime, I wish you much success with its release. And I’ll keep my eye on the NYT list for its imminent arrival.
With all best regards,
Steve Vogt
So, yeah…My inner fan girl is squealing with excitement.
Let’s be honest, my husband can attest to hearing several squeals of excitement from me. What an amazing guy. He wrote a fantastic, long response and I’m so damned excited – to hear from him, to know that the non-existence of Gliese 581g was erroneously reported, and so much more.
Dr. Vogt, you made my week. I swear I’d hug you if I could.