Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Insecure Writers Support Group

Hi Everyone. I found out that the online issue of Wormhole Electric that will feature just my stories will come out next March. The editor said I could use previously published stories, but I do want to include new stuff too. I've also been working with her to create a different cover than what Wormhole Electric usually uses. March is a good release month, because I'll can use the A to Z blogging challenge in April to drum up interest.

As far as "practice" marketing goes, I've redone my publishing page and added a link for the latest short story on this page, but that's about it. I should be spending more time blogging, but with the holidays, a sick little one, and other time sucking things, it hasn't happened. At least the IWSG Guide To Publishing is out and available. Boy, do I need to read it.

It's been too long since I've done any writing, except for what I thought was a chuckalicious family Christmas letter. My husband read it over and asked, "Where were the LOL parts?" Et tu, Brute? His rewrites are making me wonder how I'm going to react if I ever get the chance to work with an editor on one of my novels. It may not be pretty.

Maybe I'm just going a little buggy, but I can't seem to settle down and get to work. I did find a website featuring short story writing contests you can enter for free, and I am planning on doing at least one (if I can find that site again). I also have a new novel stalking through my head like a trapped tiger. However, I need to do more reseach before I let it out, but even that isn't easy. Twice I've tried to order used books through the B&N website only to have them turn up unavailable. Sorry B&N. I love you, but I'm going back to Amazon.

This week the kids will be home half of Thursday and all of Friday, and after that loong weekend, I'll have two weeks to work before they're home for Christmas break. Must stop screwing around and focus. BLEA!

Is anyone else in a ba-humbug mood? Are you productive this time of year? If so, what's your secret?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group

Last month I posted about my dilemma with letting the e-magazine Wormhole Electric publish a group of my short stories as a stand-alone book. A flattering offer, but I said no. At least, not yet.

At first I thought I should do it just for the experience. What better way to learn about marketing than to try it? On the other hand, publishing and marketing a book is not something I want to do without a huge, bouyant load of enthusiasm. I don’t have that. Right now, such a prospect is as appealing as a steaming load of brussel sprouts.

Image courtesy: Joy

(Bleck! The only thing worse may be creamed corn. My mother once told me I was not to leave the table until I finished my bowl of that yellow bile. Two hours later, she gave up and I went to bed.)

Anyway, there is an upside. As a compromise, the Wormhole Electric editor offered me my own issue. Usually the monthly magazine features three different authors, but I could have one to myself with two or three tales. This sounds like a better fit for me. Now I just have to come up with some awesome stories!

It also hit me that my short stories are on Amazon. Like right now. Why not get my feet wet by attempting to market them as they are? 

I can hear my mother now: Go on, try it. You might like it!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Medical Maladies "R" Us

So today I am the white rabbit. "I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!" Because I was at the pediatrician's office with my sick youngster getting a horrible-tasting antiobiotic for her sinus infection. But that's pretty tame compared to what our family has dealt with in the past.

You ever heard the saying for doctors diagnosing ailments: When you hear hoofprints, think horses not zebras? Well, here's a picture of our family:

Image courtesy: imelda

Yep, we're zebras.

Case Number 1: Daddy's headache. Almost nine years ago, he woke up with the worst headache of his life. I told him to go back to bed. Three hours later, all better. Next day, same deal. Day three? Headache didn't go away. He saw an eye doctor and his family doctor. Zip. He lay in a dark room in agony for several more days. The pain continued, his parents came to stay with us, and he finally insisted on an MRI. (All the while I was caring for an 18 month old and 3 months pregnant with number two.)

On the day of the MRI, I told him I hoped they would find something and that they could treat it. When he got home, we had an answer: brain tumor. That afternoon, he was admitted to the hospital and the next morning he had surgery. The tumor was located in a space in the middle of the head called the third ventricle. It had grown big enough to block the flow of cerebral spinal fluid which caused the headache. The surgeon created a bypass for the fluid and later my husband went through radiation. Today he is normal. BUT, if he had done nothing, he would be dead. So listen to your body and advocate for yourself!

Case Number 2: Micada's swollen ankle. When she was two, I discovered that her ankle had swollen up twice the normal size. But she was walking on it and acting normal. We got X-rays that day (nothing was broken) and a cast was put on. (She picked neon orange.) When the cast was removed, the ankle was still swollen and another X-ray showed the same as the first: nothing. We had an MRI. Finally a blood test showed she had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, (and the medication supertrain began). We also had to go see an eye doctor because the inflamation was in her eyes, a condition known as uveitis. If that had not been treated she could have had serious damage to her vision.

Case Number 3: Mom's stomach ache. Two years ago, I woke up with a sharp pain in my right abdominal region and after moaning and stumbling around the house for a couple of hours, my husband said, "Do you want to go to the emergency room?" I really wanted to stay home and tough it out, but this pain was different and strong, so I said yes. Turned out it was a kidney stone. I got serious pain meds but had to wait for the stone to work itself out. Luckily, that only took another four hours. Unfortunately, a follow-up X-ray showed another stone was in the same kidney and it worked its way into my urethra three months later while on Christmas vacation. That one took 4 days to exit. Youch. But I knew what was happening, I knew how to handle it, and what medicine I needed.

Case Number 4: At forty I started getting mammograms and right away the scan showed an anomalie, so I had to get a biopsy. Yeah, that hurt. But it turned out to be a calcification, not cancer. Whew. Later I found a hard lump the size of a peanut near my armpit and thought, "Okay, this is it." But that wasn't cancer either, just a blocked sweat gland.

So, don't be afraid to get things checked out. I've taken my daughters to the pediatrician with fevers as low as 99.4 degrees F and they've had ear infections. (Other times they've had nothing.) Our cats are part zebra too. One was peeing outside the box: diabetes. With treatment, she has lived to 17 and is still with us! The other was losing weight and peeing out of the box: kidney stones. With daily fluid injections, she survived a year past diagnosis. (Miss you, Sidney.)

Okay, I'm off to read about other zebras.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure Writers Support Group

I'll admit it. I have nothing brilliant to add to the IWSG Guide To Publishing. Instead I have a problem, an insecurity problem. I've been publishing short stories in an online science fiction and fantasy magazine. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, I like working with the editor, and it provides a writing credit when I query novels. Now that I've published six stories, the editor has offered to e-publish them together as a collection.

To better describe my reaction, let me introduce two of the many voices in my head: Boldly Optimistic (or BOP) and Cautiously Pessimistic (or CAP).

BOP: Wow! This is so cool! My first published book!

CAP: Really? The magazine's readership is small. They don't have a big advertising budget, so you know what that means.

BOP: No problem! I'll hire a copy-editor! And a cover artist!

CAP: That's the easy part. What about marketing?

BOP: Oh. That.

CAP: Yeah, that. Is marketing what you want to spend your time on right now?

BOP: Hmm. I was hoping to dive into research for a new novel. I'm also querying agents for a finished novel.

CAP: About that. What would an agent think of an e-book with 5 sales and zip for reviews?

BOP: Well, you've got to start somewhere. It would be great practice. A learning experience!

CAP: But is this the right book to publish (virtually self-publish)? Few traditional publishers would touch a short story collection with a ten-foot pole (especially by an unknown newbie) and you, with no experience, think you can market such an animal? Seriously?

BOP: Umm. (Shuffles feet).

CAP: You should wait. See if an agent bites on the current novel. See if you can publish a short story in a more widely read publication.

BOP: You're just chicken. Sooner or later, every author has to learn to market their work.

CAP: What's the rush?

BOP: It's an opportunity!

CAP: It could be a mistake.

BOP: Bwuck-buck-buck-BU-GAWK!

Okay, those two need a time out.

Self-publishers, what made you take the plunge? Those of you pursuing the traditional route: how do you keep pushing when the odds of success are so small?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Underrated Treasures Blogfest

I'm going for a movie called The Company of Wolves, directed by Neil Jordan who is better known for The Crying Game and Interview With The Vampire. I first saw this one as a senior in high school. Back in the day, I'd go to a tiny Mom and Pop VHS rental shop on the way home from school and browse the horror shelf. I'd bypassed this one many times because I thought it sounded too tame. Little Red Riding Hood? Not scary. But the cover, with the wolf's snout sprouting out of the man's mouth finally pursuaded me to give it a try.

Seventeen was the perfect age for this film in which a young girl, Rosaleen, spends the afternoon dreaming. Outside her door, Big Sis hisses, "Did you steal my lipstick? Buckteeth! What makes you so special anyway? Pest, pest, pest." Inside, the audience sees Rosaleen, lips smudged bright red, tossing and turning in her bed as she enters a dream in which bossy sis becomes wolf bait. Ah, the dream of bullied little sisters everywhere.

The set of dream sequences evolve, loosely following the Red Riding Hood story with other short tales about werewolves interspersed. For someone looking for a strong, straight-line narrative, this might not be your cup of tea. But for the MTV generation (yeah, the channel where music videos aired once upon a time), you might enjoy it simply for its visual panache (some gore included).

Fun fact: If you're thinking: Hey, those look more like dogs than wolves! you're right. Due to budget constraints, they used Belgian Shepard Dogs with specially dyed hair. Dude, that's so Hollywood. Even the dogs had hair stylists.

Anyone every seen this one? Love it? Hate it? For me, it was my all-time favorite movie until I saw Gladiator.

Blog update: Stray cat Mr. M completed his 4 weeks of antibiotics and is doing well. My fingers are also healing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Magical Mr. Mistoffeeles

We had just gotten home from vacation. After seven hours in the car, after five nights on the road, after all the greasy meals and poorly slept nights, all I wanted was to crash. But, but . . .

Someone was waiting at the back door. Tall, dark, and handsome, it was my boy. I squealed in glee, making my kids jump from their seats, their first bites of dinner just underway. Running to the sunroom, I pulled back the sliding glass door, and called out, "M! Come here, M-boy!"

And nothing. He was only fifteen feet away.


And then he came and stumbled and fell. Lurching like a drunken sailor on the the high seas, my furry friend couldn't walk. I was stunned, then terrified. The girls came in and I held them back. Was his leg broken? Had he been hit by a car? Was it rabies?

Amazingly, he went right into the cat carrier. All it took was a handful of Temptations at the back and a gentle nudge. Back into the car we went, the last place any of us wanted to be. Mr. M yowled a tiny bit. After feeding my stray buddy for 11 years, I wasn't sure if he'd ever been in a car before.

At the emergency pet hospital, there was paperwork. Age? Unknown. Neutered or spayed? Unknown. Male or female? Male, I think. He's just so big. Vaccines? Nope. The tech took the cat carrier and we waited. I hadn't eaten much that day, too sick of fast food to stomach another trip to McDonalds. My hands shook and I felt dizzy. I had already committed a hundred bucks just to bring Mr. M here. How much more would I spend? How would I care for a cat in a leg cast who was completely unpredictable and had a history of biting?

When the doctor called us back to a room and started to talk about his cognitive function, I was confused. Why wasn't she talking about his leg or some glass in his paw? I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The problem was in the cat's head, not his legs. Stroke, tumor, antifreeze poisoning. The list was long and dark. Blood tests, urine tests, MRI. Where would we like to start?

I froze. This was the conundrum. Vet care has advanced to the point where it's almost the same as for humans, but here's the catch: there's no insurance. Everything is pay out of pocket and the prices are high. The doctor gently offered to start with a blood test for $220. Gulp.

Thankfully, my husband put the brakes on before I could assent, and suggested we take him home for a few days observation. We didn't know what was happening. For all we knew, he had a concussion and might recover.

So back home we all went. Two days later, I took my sweet boy to my vet and watched in amazement as this seventeen pound mouser let the doctor hold him up by the scruff of his neck as if he were a mere kitten and run through a series of tests. No biting, no scratching, and not even a hiss. Heck, my other cat was never this good!

The diagnosis? 99% chance it was an ear infection. The other 1%? Tumor or complication from any of diseases prevented by the vaccines he had not had. I went home with a bottle of antibiotic pills and a new rabies tag. (By the way, a cat exposed to rabies may not show symptoms for up to a year after exposure. Double gulp.)

Now my M-boy is spending his days inside, sitting on my lap and playing with string. After 4 days of antibiotics he has improved, but isn't 100% balanced. He may be on antibiotics for up to 4 weeks and I'm not sure he'll be content staying inside for all of it. But I can hope. Maybe I should let a mouse in, just to keep him entertained.

If you are a pet owner, have you faced tough decisions on how much to spend on vet care, especially with emergencies or serious illnesses? Do you feel guilty about how much you spend on vet care?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for . . .

Image courtesy: Angus

Zombie biology.

I got hooked on The Walking Dead and watched the first three seasons on Netflix. Now I am in withdrawal. I've read one of the novels (The Fall of the Governor, Part I) and ordered the first two of that series. While the television show was excellent, the book was just so-so. Plenty of carnage, but the writing wasn't the greatest. I've also read the first comic book by Robert Kirkland and would like to read more, but they are a bit pricey.

All this time in Zombieland has lead to some questions. Zombies are horrifying corpses in various stages of decay. They are literally falling apart. So in the zombie apocalypse, how long would zombies actually last? One website explains that a human body can become completely skeletonized in as few as 10 days to a month if exposed to heat and humidity. The setting of The Walking Dead, Georgia, certainly qualifies on both accounts. Yet there are plenty of fleshy zombies up and about several months after the initial outbreak. So what gives? Is this why many zombie movies and books focus on the first days of the outbreak?

The writers for the show might have known people would ask this, so they added a nice little twist to their zombie universe. The zombie "virus" is in everybody, alive or dead. So if a "normal" person dies, they still turn into a zombie even if they weren't bitten by one. So, in theory, this might explain the relatively fresh zombies, but from the way the story has unfolded, survivors are pretty rare. Or perhaps part of zombie biology is a slower rate of decomposition.

My other question is a bit gross, so if you are still reading, you may want to stop. Here goes: Do zombies poop? Their purpose in the afterlife is to gorge on living people (or in The Walking Dead, any living creature). They never get enough! So what happens to all that food getting jammed down their throats? Fans of the show may remember a scene in which a zombie tummy is unzipped with a knife to check that a missing child wasn't inside. Gruesome, I know. Thankfully, they just found a woodchuck. If that mess didn't move on through the rest of the digestive tract, then wouldn't the zombie eventually pop? And if they do digest this food, exactly how dead are they?

When all is said and done, trying to find logic in a zombie universe is probably an exercise in futility. Are you a Walking Dead fan? Have you seen other zombie fiction that deals with these issues? Need a barf bucket?

Congrats to all who made it through the A to Z challenge!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for . . .

Image courtesy: Mark Robinson

“I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.” Walt Whitman

I'll admit it; I haven't read Leaves Of Grass. This quote came to me in the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams plays Mr. Keating, the ideal English teacher who knows just how to draw out the shy kids. Keating makes the main character, Todd Anderson, played by Ethan Hawke, go to the front of the class and let out a yawp. As if that wasn't embarassing enough, Keating then makes Todd compose a poem about Whitman on the spot. The kid pulls it off to the delight of everyone in the classroom. 

It may be a cheesy movie, but for someone just out of high school at the time, I loved it. I imagine most authors can identify with this quote. How about you? Fan of Dead Poets Society or Whitman?

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for . . .

Image courtesy:Bill

Xochimilco (flower field), a bourough of Mexico known for its canals, aritificial island gardens called chinampas, and gondala-like boats called trajineras.

One of the creatures endemic to this area is the axolotl, an amphibian that can regenerate limbs and other body parts. It is the only amphibian that can reach sexual maturity as a larvae. But like many species, this one is endangered from humans encroaching on its territory and polluted water. People do keep these critters as aquarium pets, like Frida here:

 Image courtesy: carnifex82

Sounds like a great setting for a story, especially if it was tweaked for a fantasy. How about tiger-sized axolotls? What x-word did you blog about?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for . . .

Image courtesy: Michael Panse

Walpurgisnacht, which occurs on April 30 and sometimes spills over into May 1 depending on which country you are in. It's set exactly six months from Halloween and celebrates the beginning of spring.

The name comes from Saint Walpurgis (a female), who was canonized on May 1. Several european countries celebrate this holiday, but in different ways. Most celebrations involve eating, drinking, and bonfires. In the Czech Republic, they burn rag and straw witches in their fires. In Germany, the witches are supposed to meet their gods on Brocken mountain and party. In Finland, it's one of the four major annual holidays, celebrated with drinking sima, mead, and eating funnel cakes.

I heard about Walpurgisnacht while reading Raymond E. Feist's novel Faerie Tale.

Here in Rochester, we celebrate this time of year by (hopefully) putting away our winter coats and hiring a lawn service to roll the yard.

Have you heard of this holiday? Have any spring traditions other than cleaning your house and yard?

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for . . .

 Image courtesy: Franz Jachim

Vienna, Austria and von Trapp. I haven't been to this city myself, but I recently introduced my kids to the classic movie, The Sound of Music, which takes place in Saltzburg (about a three hours drive from Vienna). If you'd like to know a bit about the real von Trapp Family, go here. We did fast forward through some of the longer songs, but overall, they loved it. Besides the music, I loved seeing the panaromic scenery in both the opening and closing scenes. My dad worked at BASF, a German company, and for many years he would bring home calendars featuring rustic villages tucked into the mountains, much like this:

Image courtesy: Stephane Mignon

I would take these calendars apart and post the pictures all over my walls. I even took them to college and did the same. There's nothing hotter than an unconditioned dorm room in August in Chapel Hill, N.C. I'd stare at those pictures and dream of snow.

When is the last time you watched The Sound of Music? Ever been to this part of the world?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for . . .

Image courtesy: Gaurika Wijeratne

Ursa Major

One night I had a crazy dream about a long, involved math problem. The paper had twisting snakes of dash lines all over it and I was supposed to count the dashes. Easy right? For some reason I kept messing it up. I'd find that the paths continued on the back or that some dashes had +1 written next to them.

Then the dream switched and I never finished that problem. Instead I was lost at night in the woods with snow falling even though it was September. A huge bear burst out of the trees, pulling something like a sleigh behind him. Before the beast could gobble me up, I awoke.

Something about this last image begged for a story. I created a middle-school aged boy, Josh, for the main character and plunked him down in the tiny town of Caribou, Maine. This boy has mixed feelings about leaving his old town. Josh is relieved his mother finally left his abusive dad, but he liked his old school. Josh is miffed that he'll never find out the grade for his report on the Micmac Indian legend around the constellation Ursa Major.

As a storyteller, I had fun weaving together this legend about three hunters going after the bear Ursa Major with actual hunting practices of bears today. The bear also becomes a symbol for bullying. Josh has a chance to make friends with the bullies in his new school, but only if he is willing to become a bully--something he struggles with after his experiences with his father. Plus, I got to inflict that crazy math problem on Josh.

The novella, Ursa Major, is available on Amazon through the online magazine Wormhole Electric.

Have you ever gotten a story idea from a dream? Or do you dream about your stories once you've started writing them?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for . . .

Image courtesy: gerlos

 I was hoping to find an excellent cloud/storm picture for today's word: tempest. But there were many more pictures of small cars racing through the mud (apparently the Tempest Rally, a car race through the woods, is a big thing in the UK) and actors in make-up (for Shakespeare's The Tempest, of course).

You can have a tempest in a tea pot. Yesterday, my computer screen went black and no amount of coaxing or pleading could get it to respond. I thought I was doomed--the insides were clogged with cat hair or some other terrible thing had happened. It turned out that the power cord had bit the dust instead. I just had to bebop over to Best Buy and grab a new one. No data lost. Whew!

Other tempests: A 1981 Atari arcade game, an NSA code name for spying on information systems, a Folk Rock band, and a plane used by the British Air Force in WWII. It's also the first name of the actress who played Vanessa Huxtable on The Cosby Show.

Busy word, but I'll take the stormy one. Do you have a favorite tempest?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for . . .

Image courtesy: Gioia De Antoniis

Sensory deprivation.

These words can be linked to an isolation bath where people float nude in salt water to relieve stress and pain. Hmmm. Anyone remember the movie Altered States starring William Hurt? Somehow I'd rather stay home and sprinkle bath salts in my own tub. Not that that will ever happen. Two kids, two cats--need I say more?

Sensory deprivation can also be a form of torture (beyond paying big bucks to bob about naked in salt water). White torture involves putting the prisoner in all white clothes in a white cell with no windows. Meals are white rice on white paper plates. The prisoner must not speak and the guards even wear special shoes that make no sound. Creepy, very creepy.

Sensory deprivation--an upscale stress therapy and one of the most devasting forms of torture. How strange is that?

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for . . .

Image courtesy: Steve Murphy

 RRRIIIP!...    A magestic lioness quickly rips open a cardboard box to retrive her "prey" at the Senaca Park Zoo. She proudly leaps on the hood of a mock African bus that was made to be an easy way to look at the lions. The lion enjoys her lunch while posing for many pictures such as the one shown above. She knocks on the window with her precious cow leg to make sure everyone is looking. Then the lioness starts licking her treat like it is a lollipop. She presses her massive furry paws against the window, and then with big golden eyes, she stares at my dad looking smug. This hoof is mine. All mine!

Thank you, Sedona, for being my guest blogger today. Sedona is my nine(almost ten)-year-old daughter. The picture above doesn't do the lioness justice. It is hard to describe in words what it is like to be inches away from an animal whose head seems as large as an oven door. She looked at me. I will never forget it.

Do you have a local zoo to visit? See anything incredible there?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for . . .

Image courtesy: Nina Jean

Quark: an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. (Wiki) They combine to form hadrons such as protons and neutrons (components of atomic nuclei).The six different types are called flavors: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. What is this? Physics or the Kama Sutra?

But seriously though, a quark is also a character from Star Trek and a dairy product. Who knew? What Q-word did you pick to blog about?

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for . . .

Image courtesy: Laura Henderson

That blue, peacock blue. Do that intense sapphire occur anywhere else in nature? Perhaps the stone itself. And the green. Iridescent emerald.

Note the striking black and white markings around the eyes and the jaunty crest feathers perched atop the head. These flamboyant fellows spread their feathers in a great fan, flickering dozens of dazzling eyes at the peahens. Who could resist that? Other than their intent, it would be easy to label these animals as nature's drag queens.

As captivating as their colors are, I also love the sound they make--a cry like a plaintive cat. You can here an example here.

Somehow I've got to fit a peacock in a story sometime. Are you a fan of peacocks?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for . . .

Image courtesy: Ken Douglas

Ochlophobia, the fear of owls. Now, I'm not afraid of owls in general. I think they are beautiful. If I hear one call out in the night, I don't believe someone's going to kick the bucket, unless it's a mouse or a rabbit. But as a former zookeeper who worked in a birdhouse, I can understand this phobia a little better than most.

Back in the early 90s, the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C. had a huge birdhouse housing over a hundred feathered critters, half a dozen of which were owls. There was one bad boy (or maybe it was a girl) who really, really did not want any stinking humans invading its cage. I think it was a variety of an eagle owl, but I can't remember which one. Anyway, one day a keeper entered this owl's cage with hose in hand and exited with a wicked gash that went down to their skull. This wound was from the talons, not the beak.

After that little incident, a helmet was placed outside this exhibit in case anyone had to go in. As for hosing, that was done from inside the hall, with the door cracked open two inches. Ochlophobia--yeah, there's at least one owl I am afraid of, deeply afraid.

How do you regard owls? As harbingers of doom or symbols of wisdom? Have you ever seen an owl in the wild?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for . . .

Image courtesy: Benjamin Asmussen

The place below, the infernal, or more specifically, the afterworld. I suppose it could be hell. Whenever my daughter talks about the Nether, she is speaking from the point of view of a veteran Minecraft maniac.

There are plenty of myths about the Netherworld: Innana, the Sumerian goddess of love, makes her descent and gives up an article of clothing to pass through each of the seven gates of Irkalla, gets stuck in this dreary place, and eventually escapes. See Wiki for more details. The ancient Egyptians had Osiris, a "lush and pleasant afterworld". The ancient Greeks had Hades.

Whatever version you prefer, this notion of a realm for the dead is a fertile place for a writer. Have you read or written anything set in a netherworld? Seen any fantastic movies or tv shows dealing with the netherworld?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for . . .

Magical Mr. Mistoffelees! In the broadway play Cats, this character is a small, black feline who performs feats of magic and sleight of hand. Wiki

Our Mr. M appeared around about ten years ago, staring soulfully into our house, eliciting outraged shrieks of territorially dismay from our indoor kitty. At first I left him bowls of food and water. I heard tales from the neighbors of his visits to their homes. He looked so distinguished, I didn't believe he was a stray.

Eventually he let me pet him, a bit. Then one day, as I sat on my front porch, he crawled into my lap--all twenty pounds of him. I'm a sucker for fluff, so when winter rolled around, I let him spend most of it in our sunroom. My computer desk is also in this room and whenever I sit to write, Mr. M jumps into my lap.

He may sound sweet, and he is, but he does have his devilish side. Ever once in a while, he bites or scratches me or one of my girls. My eldest saw him capture a mouse the other day and gobble it up, tail and all. She was both fascinated and grossed out. I just hoped he wouldn't ralph up the bones in the house. But that's nature, right? Red in tooth and claw. Or perhaps I should say, black and white.

What magical creatures share your world?

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for

Image courtesy: brka

a) An elaborate maze-like structure from Greek Mythology

b) A 1986 film starring David Bowie

c) A boardgame

d) All of the above

What is this L-word? Ever get lost in a corn or hedge one of these? Have a favorite from literature or movies?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for . . .

Image courtesy:  George Thomas

Colors shift and fall
Refractions blooming in light
How can I stop now?

And I was worried I couldn't find a good image on Flickr. Ha! There's so many, browsing them is even more fun that a real kaleidoscope. If you do not have a Flickr account, here are Google's images.

Did you ever have one of these?

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for . . .

Image courtesy: Shena Tschofen

I can't juggle more than two balls (and I'm not sure that really counts since I use both hands). Neither can I juggle pins, scarves, or bowling balls. What I juggle are the different facets of life: motherhood, wifehood, writer, volunteer. I'm shouldn't complain. Compared to those who must add a career to that list are more admirable for keeping those balls going.

The toughest juggling act as of late is the intense, ridiculous, and bizarre lengths my two daughters will go to horde my attention. One demands help on her math homework. The other insists I look at her E.L.A. test, like right NOW! It's a test, you see. Which do I love better? That one will get my attention first.

Some days, I'd rather juggle rabid porcupines.

What juggling acts do you perform?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for . . .

Image courtesy: alobos Life

Fill in the blank: (Bonus points for spelling it correctly.)

"Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from _____________ goes walking, and when she passes each one she passes goes, "Aaah . . ."

And if she doesn't want to get knocked head over bikini bottom, she'd better stick to the beach. Check out those waves!

I grew up hearing the Stan Getz version of this golden oldie. Ironically, the name for this Rio de Janeiro neighborhood means "stinky lake" in Tupi. It's also next door to another famous beach, Copacabana. (Can you read that word without hearing Barry Manilow belting it out? Didn't think so.) Thanks, Wiki!

What songs did you grow up with?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for . . .

Image courtesy: Frank Balsinger

Hysteria, as in mass hysteria. You're probably aware of the Salem witch trials in the 1600s, but did you know about the Dancing Plague of 1518? One woman in Strasburg France started dancing wildly in the streets. Others joined and boogied until they dropped dead of heart attacks, strokes, or pure exhaustion. Can I use this as an excuse not to dance at the next wedding reception?

If you google "incidents of mass hysteria", you will find plenty of modern-day examples. The 2012 Leroy, N.Y. case hit close to home. In this small town, about 30 miles south of where I live, several teenage girls experienced unexplained twitching and weakness of limbs to the point that they could no longer attend school. Their high school was investigated for environmental causes, and even Erin Brokovitch sent a team to see if a 1970 train derailment, which dumped a nasty chemical called TCE, could be the explanation.

Nothing came of these investigations and many of the afflicted girls were diagnosed with conversion disorder, the updated name for mass hysteria. Case closed? Not necessarily. Unsatisfied with the notion that it was "all in their head's", several of the girls continued to search for a physical cause and were later diagnosed with P.A.N.D.A.S., a rare complication from strep that can cause tics, among other things. Still, other experts claimed this alternative diagnosis didn't really fit.

According to Wikipedia, one girl was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome and the rest finally responded to psychological treatment after they stopped participating in the media feeding frenzy.

This subject would make a fantastic plot device. Outside of The Crucible, can you think of other novels that feature mass hysteria?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for . . .

Image courtesy: Selena N.B.H.

Gingerbread House. Every year, the Annual National Gingerbread House Competition is held at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. Hundred's of entries are on display from Thanksgiving through New Year's.

Luckily, my parents live in the Asheville area and since we fly there for Christmas, I get to see this contest in person. My kids love it. Sometimes the best entries aren't even houses. This past year the grand prize winner was a gingerbread sculpture of a cuddly, black and white twosome. Go here for a picture, or here, for the YouTube video.

Yep, baby Giant Pandas! Another G-word. How cute is that? Have you ever made a gingerbread house? Ever eat one?

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for . . .

Image courtesy: Andy Arthur

Today, I'm going with a small, but heavy-duty word: fall. Why heavy duty? It's a seaon of gorgeous crimson, orange, and gold leaves (for those of us lucky to live amongst deciduous trees). Angels fall from heaven, and if enough water falls, you have yourself a scenic wonder. The image above is Lucifer Falls near Ithaca, N.Y., so it's doing triple duty on illustrating fall.

You can also fall in love. Empires fall after a thousand years, and babies fall after their first step.

Here's one of my favorite popular fiction quotes including the word: "Your fall from faith and grace has been the fall of a century."

Can't place that one? Here's a hint: When the actor tapped to play a major role in the 1994 film adaption was announced, both the author and the book's fan base were horrified. However, the actor played his part so magicificently the author publicly recanted her doubts.

This actor rose to fame by dancing in his underwear in one of his earliest films. Can you name him? Have you guessed the book?

If you're stumped, then what aspect of the word fall appeals to you?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for . . .

 Image courtesy: awsandlight

Entropy: Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society. Source

Civilizations come and go. Dinosaurs ruled the earth until a meteor came a calling. The Roman Empire fell to reasons that sound eerily familiar, not only in today’s U.S. of A., but in our fiction: see Dr. Freeman’s Some Clues To Why Nations Fall, if you dare.

Under the heading Decline of Morals and Values, this article mentions how Nero and Caligula hosted lavish parties where their guests ate and drank until they became ill, and the popularity of watching Gladiators slay one another until the Coliseum's ground was literally soaked in blood. 

Sound familiar, Katniss fans?

Perhaps it’s not surprising that dystopian literature is so popular. With all our country’s ills (unemployment, crime, corruption of politicians), how long before entropy brings our civilization to an end?

And if that’s too depressing, here’s an easier question: Hunger Games Vs. Divergent Series. Which do you like better and why?

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for . . .

 Image courtesy: Ars Electronica

Dingo: a free-ranging dog found mainly in Austrailia. (Wiki)

Infamous Dingo story: In 1980, Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murdering her missing daughter, nine-week-old Azaria. Three years into her life sentence, Lindy was released from prison when the child's jacket was discovered in a dingo den. Their story was later made into the movie "A Cry In The Dark" starring Meryl Streep.

Famous Dingo quote: "Maybe the dingo ate your baby." (Elaine from Seinfeld)

Complaint from husband as he rooted around the fridge one morning: "Where's my mango? Did you eat it?"

Snappy come back from sleep-deprived mother of one-year-old (delivered in an Austrailian accent): "Maybe the baby ate your mingo."

Ba-BAM! And for the record, I do not even like mangos. Ever dish out a tasty retort yourself?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for . . .

Image courtesy: fitriahandayani

How does this image make you feel? Confused? Terrified? Nauseous? I gotta admit, it makes me nostalgic. Its been almost ten years since I stood in front of a class with a wicked gleam in my eye and uttered the phrase guaranteed to put fear into the hearts of my calculus students: Now clear your desk and get out one clean sheet of paper. Ah, those were the days.

Then again, I had to grade that crap afterward. Talk about scary.

These days, I like to see calculus used in a more literary sense:

"I try to make a rough music, a dance of the mind, a calculus of the emotions, a driving beat of praise out of the pain and mystery that surround me and become me. My poems are meant to make your mind get up and shout."

Judith Johnson Sherwin (b. 1936), U.S. poet. As quoted in Contemporary Poets, 3rd ed., by James Vinson (1980). Source

Now you're talking. Gotta like that even if you're not a writer. So here's today's question. Let's see how deep your math phobia really is. Would you rather (a) sign up for a 10 week calculus course, or (b) sign up for a 10 week swimming course to be held in water around, say, 66 degrees Fahrenheit?

Ready? Now get out one clean sheet of paper . . .

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for . . .

Image Courtesy: A. Currell

Question: Why did the art museum go baroque?

Answer: Someone stole all their Monet!

Bet you can't stop laughing, huh? This blog was inspired by our family trip to the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, N.Y. It was awesome for me since I filled all my undergraduate electives with fine arts courses. My older daughter loved M.A.G.'s "scavenger hunt", consisting of a sheet of animal images taken from various pieces throughout the gallery. My youngest started the tour with enthusiasm (and fear--she plastered herself to my side in the mummy room). But after an hour, her small body kept collapsing to the floor. I suspect the earth's gravitational pull gets amped twenty-fold for humans under the age of 8 in these places. Someone should investigate.

Click here to see one of my favorites from the tour.

Anyhoo, if you could pick a famous work of art to display in your home, what would it be? Monet's Water Lilies? Edvard Munch's The Scream? Something from Andy Warhol?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for . . .

Image courtesy: Robert Trate

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. From what I've read of popular fiction, you are more likely to meet your end being dismembered by a brain-eater (ala Max Brooks World War Z) or blood sucker (see Justin Cronin's The Passage).

So, given the automatic firearm of your choice, which post-apocalyptic world of fiction would you dare enter, if you absolutely had to? Zombies? Vampires? Or how does a world infected with a virus carrying a 99% fatality rate (think Stephen King's The Stand) grab ya?

This is it, the apocalypse, whoa . . .

(And if anyone could recommend a rockin' zombie read besides World War Z, I would be most appreciative.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Observations at the Dance

Photo courtesy: Adwriter

A few weeks ago, I reread Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, which I can’t recommend enough. If you’ve ever wondered what writers mean by “voice”, here is an example juicier than a 72 ounce steak. The narrator, Eva Khatchadourian, takes us on a harrowing journey through the dark side of motherhood as she helplessly watches her bad seed develop from a miserable, screaming babe to a mass murderer.

Oh, Kevin is a very, very naughty boy. As a middle school student, he attends a dance at which his mother is a chaperone. When one badly dressed girl dares to take to the floor for a solo flight, Kevin sidles up to her and whispers something in her ear that instantly transforms the buoyant dancer into a one-wing bird floundering about in bewildered pain.

Luckily, at my daughter’s Sweetheart Dance last night, I witnessed the opposite. Sitting on the sidelines, regulated to coat rack status and wishing mightily for a pair of earplugs, I watched kids ranging from age 6 months to 11 years boogie their way through the likes of Katy Perry’s Fireworks, Cotton-Eye Joe, and, of course, The Cupid Shuffle.

One young lady caught my eye, maybe because of her confident moves, maybe because of her bold, black-and-white striped sweater dress. Combined with black tights and black boots, this flaxen-haired third grader was stylin’. I could easily see her wearing a larger version of this ensemble ten years hence, sashaying down the halls of high school as a card-carrying member of the in-crowd.

I didn’t see the miniature fashion plate for long before she was swallowed up in the crowd. The small auditorium was packed with nearly a hundred kids and parents, and my main concern was keeping tabs on my seven-year-old who, thank God, didn’t want me within twenty feet of her and her friends. I’m not a dancer.

Near the end, I saw Miss Black-And-White Stripe again, but this time she was with two other kids: a girl sporting a simple t-shirt and jeans instead of sequins, her hair a tangled mess, and a plump boy with a pained look on his face, possibly on the verge of tears. Blondie had grabbed each of their hands, making a circle of three. She then led her charges in a joyous jump session to the mind-blowing beat of whatever song the DJ was assaulting us with at the moment.

I don’t know if some kind adult put her up to it. I don’t know if those two other kids were in her class. But seeing their faces go from awkward, please-get-me-out-of-here grimaces to smiles of joy as they bounced up and down was beautiful. Just beautiful.

So, which are you? Dancer or wallflower?