Debbie Croft: Mariposan crafts telescopes and sci-fi novels

January 4, 2013 

DEBBIE CROFT

Michelle Stone admits she's a total science freak.

"I love everything about every discovery."

As a girl she never missed a single Mercury or Apollo launch, even if it meant convincing her father to cut his vacation short.

"I wanted to get home in time to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon," she says.

Not your average kid, Stone bought her own chemistry set and microscope. She carried a book with her everywhere. It was a dichotomous plant guide.

"As a kid I had questions, wherever I went," she explains. "My family visited many national parks and monuments, and I learned all I could about history, mummification, geology, archeology, paleontology, weather, water and botany."

She wanted to play the cello, and paid for a dozen lessons with lunch money in high school. Then she taught herself. It landed her a college scholarship.

Playing bass guitar and singing in a rock-and-roll band also helped pay college expenses. In addition she designed and managed the band's electronic and electrical systems. She says it was the most enjoyable experience she's ever had.

Relocating to Chile, South America, for two years after college gave her a new perspective on poverty and real compassion for those trying to make a better life for themselves.

Originally from Salt Lake City, Stone moved to Los Angeles for work, and shortly transferred to the Bay Area. She was an electrical engineer in the Silicon Valley for 20 years, holding a variety of jobs. A three-year stint as a marketing manager is also listed on her résumé.

Eventually her journey brought her to Mariposa, where she has played cello in a local orchestra for the past 10 years.

She started her own small business designing and constructing large, portable telescopes. It turned out to be the proudest accomplishment of her professional career.

"I like to think they were the finest scopes in the world," she says. "And I quickly became known for the unique style and impeccable optics."

The telescopes are about 7-feet tall and can be taken apart for transporting. With two computers, servo motors and clever hardware, Stone's telescopes could point accurately to any object or location in the sky.

A classic geek in every way, she claims, her fascination with space led her to writing science fiction.

"Story plots run through my head like a worn out song. If I don't put them on paper, they'll drive me nuts," she says.

Based on her idea that science fiction should be great drama, Stone's books are more than simple stories about goofy technological gadgets. In her trilogy, "Dimensional Shift," the technology is a character in its own right, she says.

"The starting premise is that a virus consumes all plant life on Earth by going after a part of the genome that all plants share. ... A company doing research in space exploration manages to rescue a few thousand people before the entire world is consumed by the virus."

Mankind leaves Earth in the first book of the series, entitled "First Step." "Waters of Babylon" continues the story, and "Millenarians" brings it to a conclusion.

For teens interested in sci-fi and fantasy, she toned down the violence, language and intimacy, compared to what's found in most books and movies today.

Stone has five novels in print. She's also written several short stories under the pseudonym Charlene Rugeri. Stone has been instrumental in helping others get published, and spends about one quarter of her time with fellow writers.

The "Dimensional Shift" trilogy is available in quality paperback at all fine book retailers, and may be ordered by any bookstore. Print and e-book versions for Kindle can be found at Amazon.com.

Of course, she has a few more story ideas she's already working on for future book projects. Those of us familiar with Stone's writing will look forward to more great reading.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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