Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sunday Stills: Halloween

This scary Halloween sign appeared in our neighborhood:

I found this guy at the barn:

And this simple display is in the adjacent neighborhood:

To see more Halloween photos, visit Sunday Stills.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Internet Anonymity

Heaven knows why I signed up to post comments on the websites for our local newspaper and one of our TV network affiliates. I stupidly believed there might be some intelligent exchange about current events. An opportunity to clarify points or seek other viewpoints.

Instead, I've been saddened by the mean spirited tone of the majority of comments posted on these two sites.

Because the posts are anonymous, people believe they can insult and defame the subjects of the news story, the reporter who wrote the story, and everyone who posted an opinion contrary to their own.

Their posts also display poor grammar and even worse spelling.

And some show a frightening need for mental health intervention.

Sadly, too many of the comments parrot sound bites that offer simple solutions to extremely complicated issues. They blame the world's problems on the scapegoat du jour. Any attempt to address the complexity of the topic or situation is met with potty-mouth speculation about the author's parentage.

These commenters don't want to be educated about the subject. They only want to express their anger and frustration and, in the process, reveal their ignorance. They are the folks who've made up their minds and don't you dare confuse them with the facts.

With the anonymity offered by the Internet, these folks feel free to bully anyone and everyone who can think for her- or himself.

Too bad.

The commentary forums at news media web sites could be a place to intelligently exchange opinions and information about the subject matter. Instead, they are the soap box for small minds.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Stills: Fall Foliage

Grab the camera, leash, and dog to head out on one of our last glorious fall days to capture autumn colors.

Right now we're being doused with a series of very juicy, very windy storms. Seems that we're going to have to give in to the calendar.

To see gorgeous fall colors from elsewhere, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Club Discussion

The October selection for our neighborhood book club was mine to recommend, so I suggested The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss. I had it on my bookshelf to read, it had received good reviews, there were adequate copies available in the library system, and none of us had read it before.

Martha Lesson arrives in fictional Elwha County, Oregon, during the winter of 1917. At nineteen she's left her home in Pendleton intending to become a horse gentler for ranches in the region. World War I is raging in Europe and young men are beginning to leave their ranching and farming jobs for the war. Martha is a shy, big-boned girl who is more comfortable in her batwing chaps and wide-brimmed hat than she is in a dress. She is one of many girls in that era who traveled from ranch to ranch to break horses in a quieter, gentler manner than the customary spirit-breaking bucking style practiced by most men.

Martha is hired on by George and Louise Bliss who recommend her to their neighbors. Soon Martha is gentling horses for several folks in the county. Once all the horses are trustworthy under the saddle she begins riding them on a circuit to finish their training. Martha would ride one horse and pony (lead) a second horse from one client's place to the next client's ranch. There she would change horses and move on to the next ranch with the second set of horses. She repeated this at each location until she was back at the Bliss ranch. To "sack out" the horses she tied fluttering and noisy objects to the saddles so the horses would become accustomed to strange sights and sounds.

As Martha makes her rounds the reader meets and becomes acquainted with several of the Elwha county families. Martha quietly becomes a part of the community, and the reader becomes invested in the lives of her friends and clients.

The beginning of novel establishes the setting and reveals Martha's character by describing her training methods. I was familiar with the terminology and practices, but realized the rest of the book club members might not know what a bosal, McClellan saddle, or fetlock were. So I brought some of my horse books to our discussion to provide illustrations. I'm afraid I may have spent too much time on a subject dear to my heart (horses) but, after all, horses and Martha's training methods were a major aspect of the book.

We all agreed that the story took off when Martha began riding the circuit with the green-broke horses. She was the link between the characters with whom we became attached. And the characters were compelling indeed as they battled the landscape, weather, accidents, illnesses, and the modernization of society.

One of the more heart wrenching stories was that of Tom Kandel's battle with cancer. Tom and Ruth's experience with his illness was portrayed so poignantly that we all admitted to needing tissues at its conclusion.

We learned a lot about the era that was still fairly innocent before World War I changed things forever. Cattlemen plowed under their grazing acreage to grow crops needed for the war effort in Europe. The altered landscape would later contribute to the Dust Bowl tragedy. Young men volunteered for the armed services with great patriotism only to die ignobly of dysentery in muddy trenches or return home with missing limbs or spirits broken by shell shock. We were reminded that anything and anyone with German connections became suspect during the war. Long-time friends were shunned by the community because they or their parents had emigrated from Germany. And we learned that millions of horses died in World War I.

The ending of the book intrigued us. An elderly Martha tells her granddaughter: "You know, honey, I guess we brought about the end of our cowboy dreams ourselves." Then Martha thought: "Here I am in my old age and just at the beginning of figuring out what that means, or what to do about it." We pretty much agreed that we imagined Martha as a white-haired environmental advocate.

In summary, we decided the book was a wonderful illustration that it takes all kinds to make a community. Good hearted people as well as undesirable neighbors. And Martha was the link that joined them all together in The Hearts of Horses.

The Hearts of Horses was a dramatic contrast to the roller coaster thriller with which we started our book club (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). But the pace of the book was appropriate to the setting and period in which the story was set. Ms. Gloss wrote from an omniscient third person viewpoint and on many occasions jumped from one character's viewpoint to another's within the same scene. I felt she could have done a little more showing and less telling on several occasions. But I willingly overlooked the minor irritants to become engrossed in the place, time, and characters. Not to mention the horses with their own individual quirks

Monday, October 18, 2010

Northwest Author Series: Susan Fletcher

Creating Fictional Worlds:
The Strange, Exotic or Unfamiliar

Susan Fletcher is the author of Alphabet of Dreams (2007 Oregon Book Award), Shadow Spinner, Walk Across the Sea, and the Dragon Chronicles series, of which Ancient, Strange, and Lovely was just released. She is a repeat speaker for the Northwest Author Series, and frequent workshop presenter at the Willamette Writers Conference.

Ms. Fletcher writes historical and fantasy novels for young adults, both of which require the creation of (add rimshot here) strange, exotic, or unfamiliar settings. When creating historical settings, she does extensive research to get the period right. However, to allow present day readers to cross the boundary into the past, the author must rely on her imagination to describe what it would be like to actually be present at that time and place. Similarly, when creating a magical and weird setting for a fantasy novel, a touch of reality makes it more accessible to the reader.

So -- when recreating a historical setting where horses were the primary means of transportation, consider the amount of manure all those horses would leave behind and the associated flies and odor. A sensory detail one doesn't get from the lovely images of a Merchant Ivory film.

When creating a whole new fantasy world, use real world settings that can be loosely translated into the mystical setting to provide the sensory details that will draw in the reader. For example, turning the regimens and traditions of real English public schools into Hogwarts.

To help the author develop the feeling of the historic or imaginary setting, Ms. Fletcher suggests using pictures, music, and maps. Whether the pictures are found in a travel book, a calendar, or an issue of National Geographic -- they can help the author create the atmosphere for the story. Similarly, music can inspire the mood and feeling of the period or location. Ms. Fletcher makes a playlist for her iPod and suggests movie soundtracks as an excellent source of music written to establish mood and setting. Maps assist the author in creating realistic terrain for a fantasy world or establish the genuine topography of an historical setting.

Ms. Fletcher conducts research for both historical and fantasy worlds using online search engines, libraries, book stores, reference librarians, and friends and family. She also opens herself to serendipity and enjoys prowling the library stacks as well as used book stores. One never knows what tidbit will be uncovered and perhaps change the whole direction of the story. Ms. Fletcher also suggests using experts to fill in knowledge gaps or to verify accuracy. She recommends contacting the expert after much of the research and/or writing has been done so as not to waste his or her time. Depending on the situation, you may ask the expert to review a specific scene, your entire manuscript, or request a demonstration of the activity required for a scene.

If possible, a visit to the location of your historical novel (or a setting similar to the world of your fantasy story) can expose the author to sensory details that one just can't get from a book. Ms. Fletcher went to Oregon Caves National Park and a lava tube in central Oregon to research cave dwellings for her dragons. She also had the opportunity to visit Iran to experience the setting for Alphabet of Dreams.

Of course, one of the problems of doing all this research to create a realistic setting for your novel is the desire to use it all. After all, we will find so many cool details that we want to share with the reader. Fantasy novels have the additional burden of describing a fantastical new world to the reader. This can all lead to the dreaded "Expository Lump." Also known as the "Information Dump."

There's nothing like lengthy paragraphs of detailed exposition to put a reader to sleep.

Instead, Ms. Fletcher advices we "grind it fine." Insert the details about the story world in small doses -- as needed for the reader to grasp the scene. Hook the reader first, then once he or she wants to know more about your interesting character and unfamiliar location you can insert the details a bit at a time. Exposition still may be needed, but you might be able to keep it brief and less frequent.

Consider inserting the gems of data in the midst of action. Keep your characters busy doing things typical of the time and place they occupy. It will make scenes more interesting and convey details about the world in which your characters live.

Imbed the information in the character's emotions. Take advantage of the character's (and reader's) curiosity. Change the reader's mind as the character learns more and amends his or her feelings. Filter the world you've created through the point of view character.

In summary, Ms. Fletcher advised us that the author can assist the reader in crossing the boundary into the imaginary world of our novel (historical or fantastic) by using action, emotion, and sensory detail.

By the way, Ms. Fletcher is currently researching Renaissance Venice and would be delighted to hear from experts on the subject as well as referrals to reference materials. She's following her own advice by letting others know what she's working on. :-)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sunday Stills: Cars

Comin' and Goin' on I-5
The car in the foreground is on a road that parallels I-5, so I was able to capture vehicles going every which way.

White Car and Red Leaves
I wasn't too happy with the majority of pictures I captured of traffic on I-5. Then on the walk back home with Indy I come across this scene. A few adjustments with Photoshop and ta da!

See how others met this week's challenge at Sunday Stills.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Biggest Sporting Event You Never Heard Of

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) are now history. Conducted at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, it was the first time that WEG has been held in the United States. In Europe, WEG is considered a major sporting event.

If you're not a horse person, this is probably news to you.

Like other "orphan sports," television coverage of equestrian competitions outside of racing is rare and difficult to locate. If you don't have cable or satellite TV, or even if you do but haven't paid extra for the horse-related channels, you get to view equestrian sports every four years during the Summer Olympics. It's not unlike being an avid fencer, yet a little less humiliating than being a curler (the butt of Winter Olympic jokes).

NBC squeezed in coverage of WEG between golf and football, and the Universal Sports Station offered additional free coverage plus more hours of live feed for those who subscribed to the service. Better broadcast coverage than the networks generally provide, but very scant for some of the events that might have interested the general viewership.

Reining, the cross country phase of eventing, and show jumping garnered the most coverage. NBC/Universal deigned to broadcast the top three dressage freestyle rides. Universal Sports did a live broadcast of the Top Four show jumpers -- a nail biter and display of the type of sportsmanship horse folks take for granted. But vaulting, combined driving, and para-dressage received cursory coverage at best.

I can appreciate that cross country as the same appeal to the general audience as grand prix and NASCAR racing. Viewers watch primarily for the inevitable crash. And reining is an American sport conducted in recognizable western wear with exciting spins, slides, and rollbacks. Show jumping is easy to understand -- jump higher and faster without knocking down anything.

However, I think the para-dressage riders would have offered inspiring human-interest stories as well as an appreciation for their phenomenal equestrian accomplishments.

NBC really dropped the ball on vaulting. It combines horses, Olympic-style gymnastics, and glittery apparel. Pretty girls and handsome guys demonstrating grace and athleticism. Think it's tough vaulting off a stationary horse in the Summer Olympics? Try a large warmblood at a canter!

If you find the cross country phase of eventing thrilling -- consider the excitement of driving four horses around and through obstacles! The spit and polish turnout of the dressage phase, the challenge of cross country, and the precision of the arena obstacle course -- combined driving has the potential to absorb the general viewer.

Sadly, it wasn't to be.

During WEG, I flipped through the sports section of the morning paper seeking any reference to WEG. As expected -- nothing. Not even a mention of the local rider who was long-listed to compete.


Yeah, yeah. I know. It's all about money. Beer, cola, snack food, and Viagra ads. Rolex, Ariat, and Cosequin can't compete against Old Spice.

So we equestrian-sports enthusiasts commiserate with curlers, badminton aficionados, fencers, and all the other followers of "orphan sports" while we grumble about the coverage (or lack thereof for the women) afforded beach volleyball.

Hey! Equestrians wear Spandex, too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

To Have and To Hold

This past weekend was Portland's Wordstock literary festival. A gathering of published authors, wannabe authors, readers, and book lovers. I considered attending, but when it came down to driving into town alone on wet streets and dealing with parking I decided to pass.

As expected, there was much discussion regarding the future of books now that electronic readers are gaining in popularity. The future of physical, paper books was also a subject of interest at the Willamette Writers Conference. The participating editors and literary agents were as befuddled about the future of publishing as were the writers hoping to see their novel on display at Powell's.

I grew up in a house with books. I assumed it was normal to purchase, read, and keep books. As you can see above, I love books (this is only a portion of my ever expanding library). I never really questioned the practice of acquiring and retaining books.

A few years ago I made friends with an avid reader who (gasp) donated her books to the local library's resale store once she'd finished reading them. I looked at my bookshelves anew. I have numerous books to be read, and many that I've completed. Once finished, I've always returned the book to the empty space on the bookshelf. It never occurred to be to remove the book from my library once read.

More recently I've had occasion to visit the homes of readers who, as far as I could see, didn't even have bookshelves. How could one be an enthusiastic reader without a collection of books? Why, my idea of heaven is a room dedicated to books. Finely crafted floor-to-ceiling bookcases full of books (classics, collectibles, best sellers, etc.) have always been an indication of culture and financial success.

And just weeks ago came the final blow! One of our neighborhood book club members was thrilled with the ease and reasonable cost to download our latest read onto her Kindle. An e-book. No pages, no book jacket, no page marker. No scent of ink and paper, no heft, no visual indication of progress through the book as the majority of pages shifted from right to left. No trip to the book store to peruse the shelves and discover additional books that you just have to have. No sack with a clever literary logo weighted down with more than you intended to buy. No rush to get home to begin the new purchases.

Just immediate satisfaction at a fraction of the price.

The usual questions filled my mind. Do you dare read your e-book near water? What if the battery dies just before the detective announces "whodunnit?" How do you get the author to autograph your e-book? How will a lone Kindle look sitting on empty mahogany bookshelves?

And what does it mean to hopeful authors?

Part of me is thrilled by the idea of immediate acquisition of a desired novel at a bargain price. And then there is the possibility of locating hard-to-find books on Amazon for download. Research books for my novels in progress.

Why not make more use of the library? Hmmm. It sometimes takes me more than 3o days to finish reading a book. I don't have to put my name on a waiting list. I can read all the books in a series one after the other without a break. I can start my next book no matter what time of the night I finish the current read. I can highlight or make notes in my own books. My book clubs (Mystery Guild, Science Fiction Book Club, Book of the Month Club) offer hard bound books at paperback prices, reprint classics not available at the library, and provide special omnibus publications that collect all the books of a series into a single volume.

I haven't yet had the opportunity to use an electronic reader, so I can't compare the experience to holding a book. I'm not a Luddite, but I do love the weight of a book and flipping pages back and forth to locate the end of the chapter or refresh my memory about a previous scene. I have begun weeding out my bookshelves for donation to the local library for resale. However, no way am I giving up my collection of Dick Francis novels. And I will reread my special boxed editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings...someday.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Photos

Playing with Photoshop.

Original photos were taken with my little Kodak digital.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sunday Stills: Red and Green

The challenge this week was to capture red and green together in the same photo. Archived Christmas photos were off limits. (Ed is tough!) So I pondered this assignment for several days. I like to photograph "finds" and thus prefer not to "stage" my subject matter.

Where was I going to find these colors in close proximity? Then I had it! My book shelves:

So what do I finally notice on this morning's walk with Indy? Duh! The plants along our walkway and porch.

To see where others found red and green in the same photo, visit Sunday Stills.

Alright Already!

The election is a month away and the political ads are driving me crazy! Just the number of them is bad enough. They run back-to-back and even repeat within the same program break.

However, it's the lies and half-truths that make me want to scream. Both major parties, all candidates. Exaggerations, critical facts deliberately left out, decade-old events....


I want to make considered, educated selections when I mark my ballot. However, the television ads offer little to no useful information. And it's so disappointing when the candidates of my choice play the half-truth game, too.

The political ads started with a trickle. Just a few, primarily focused on the candidate. Then came the first attack ads. They told me much of what's wrong with the opponent and little of what I should like about the candidate. Then came the response attack ads. Now the response to the response. With a month to go of more responses to response responses.


Such is the nature of politics. This election is no different than past elections. Historians can show us some real corkers from decades and centuries past.

Vote by Mail:

I love it! All elections in Oregon are now vote-by-mail. No absentee ballots necessary, since all will be mailed in. True, there's something to be said about going to the polls to conduct one's duty as a citizen. But so many times I started marking my ballot and came upon a race or measure I hadn't heard about and had no idea how to vote.

I now sit down with the voter's pamphlet and election materials to review them before I mark my ballot. If I come across something with which I'm unfamiliar, I refer to the materials for study before making my selection. I can do this at my convenience. No rushing to the poll after work in the rain and dark. No standing in line with other wet and dripping folks. No hurrying through the ballot with a line-up behind me.

Once my ballot is marked, I place it in the security envelope. This goes inside the pre-addressed mailing envelope that I sign. Slap on a stamp and drop it in the mailbox.

As for the obnoxious political ads -- perfect for potty breaks and refrigerator raids!