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.)