Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Self Pics Follow-Up

This is the picture I would have preferred to post in response to last week's Sunday Stills challenge. But it was neither taken by me or with my camera.

My friend Emily was kind enough to pay us a visit to take some family portraits. Afterwards she accompanied me on Indy's afternoon walk. This picturesque bridge is located in a nearby park and made for one of my favorite photos. Please visit Shared Glory Photography to see more of Emily's work. She will be graduating in the spring with a BA in Art. A very talented young lady.

While you're at it -- do visit the blogger self portraits at Sunday Stills. Some very clever shots by shy writers. What fun to see the faces behind the blogs!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sunday Stills: Self Pics

I went to my archives for this one, taken in July with the computer camera. I put Indy in my lap for the photo and this is what I got.

I knew my iMac had a built-in camera, but I didn't pay much attention because I figured I would never use it. A year or more goes by and I realize, "Heh, I've got a camera on this thing. Wonder how I activate it?" So I poked around and discovered I could make videos as well as photos. Why I would want a video of me working at the computer, I don't know. But I did take a few photos that I instantly deleted.

It took the addition of the highly photogenic Fluffy Puppy to get a picture worth keeping.

So this is me with Indy in my loft lair where I dream up fantasy worlds.

Click on the link to check out other members of the Sunday Stills gang.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Our doctor calls my mother "The Bounce Back Kid." I am thankful for my mother's grit and determination that keeps her around and as active as she is.

I am thankful for family and friends.

My mother and I have a nice home and modest means.

I am grateful for the "fur people" who love me no matter what.

The list could go on, but those are the biggies.

It's so easy to grouse about life's irritations, but in the bigger picture -- we're fortunate that we're living in this era. Believe me, I've been researching past historical periods for my stories.

As I write this, the LBBs (little brown birds) are harassing the Stellar's jays that are infringing on their space. Now if the LBBs would locate the feeder I put out this past week, they could be thankful too.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sunday Stills: High Tech/Low Tech

High Tech represented by my laptop computer.
Low Tech represented by pen and paper.

I went for an unusual angle for this photo. Plus, I wanted to eliminate as much of the messy living room from the frame as possible. :-)

And I couldn't resist editing the next photo with a little high tech Photo Shop:

Visit Sunday Stills to see how others handled this week's challenge.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Club

Our most recent read was The Beekeeper's Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. It is the first book of her Mary Russell mystery series -- with Sherlock Holmes as a secondary character.

Regrettably, two of our members have bowed out of regular participation, but we will keep them apprised of our selections and they are welcome to join us whenever they wish. And another of our members is enjoying tropical climes for the next few months. *sigh* But we managed to have a lively discussion among those of us remaining.

I have to say, I'm not a fan of spin-off novels that give continued life to fictional characters or create adventures for now-deceased authors. So before I started The Beekeeper's Apprentice I went back to the original Holmes (I own the single volume complete collection -- doesn't everyone?) to refresh my memory of the brilliant curmudgeon. I reread A Study in Scarlet (shorter than I remembered), "A Scandal in Bohemia" (in which Holmes admires Irene Adler for her mind), "The Final Problem" (Holmes and Moriarity take a "fatal" plunge), and "His Last Bow, An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes" (from which King borrowed Practical Handbook of Bee Culture).

Ms. King coyly uses some Victorian devices throughout the book, including the editor's preface that sets up an old trunk full of Mary Russell's writings and miscellaneous objects. She follows this with an author's note purportedly written by Mary at age 90 in which she explains that her observations of Sherlock Holmes vary from those of Dr. Watson's famous writings. In the author interview included in my copy of the novel, Ms. King states she has revived Holmes as a supporting character to her protagonist, Mary Russell.

In so doing, Ms. King has an explanation of why her Holmes (as Mary Russell knows him) may not exactly match the Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle. Additionally, King's story begins in 1915, the year after "His Last Bow" in which Holmes is an undercover spy who disrupts a German spy ring on English soil. So we might believe that the Holmes of 1880s London has mellowed somewhat since retiring to the South Downs to live the life of a hermit among his bees and studies.

I have to admit I was a bit irritated with the Victorian conventions scattered throughout the book. Today's editors would say get rid of them and move on with the story. But they suit King's story, which pits a very modern Mary Russell (age 15 when the story opens) against the staunchly Victorian Holmes. World War I has forever changed the social landscape, and Mary is an embodiment of those changes.

We had to chuckle at our most recent book selections. Both feature tall, gawky, unmarried women in their late teens who pursue non-traditional lifestyles during World War I.

Melding with the Victorian contrivances was the rich vocabulary of the novel. Words of several syllables and multiple shades that aren't encountered in today's fast reads.

We particularly loved Mary's relationship with a young kidnap victim who displayed symptoms of what we now acknowledge as PTSD. Mary herself experienced a traumatic childhood event and she uses her hard-won wisdom to aid the rescued child through the difficult recovery period.

Holmes is a master of disguise and he instructs Mary in the art of deception. Through much of the book she wears boy's trousers (much more practical than the restrictive fashions of the time) and for most of their adventures she is disguised as a boy. We discussed Mary's self-loathing for her part in the untimely death of her family and her discomfort with her gangly female form. In hiding behind male clothing she was also hiding from herself.

We gave Ms. King credit for staying true to Conan Doyle's Holmes when Mary at last confesses the truth of her family's deadly accident. Holmes is bluntly honest but, like his affection for Watson, he is not put off by the flaws of his blossoming apprentice.

Which brings us to the relationship of tutor and apprentice. King does a masterly job of developing Mary's abilities as a detective as well as displaying Holmes' changing attitude toward the young woman that Mary becomes. Ms. King hints at changes to be further developed in the following books of the series. The chess games used throughout the novel illustrate the growing acuity of Mary's mind as the apprentice becomes the journeyman detective, as well as the evolution of the relationship between Holmes and Mary.

Like The Hearts of Horses, The Beekeeper's Apprentice places the reader in a period when women's roles were still restricted but on the cusp of dramatic change. Both heroines chafe against their expected social roles and we cheer them on.

Our favorite quote from the book: "Palestine, Israel, that most troubled of lands; robbed, raped, ravaged, revered for most of four millennia; beaten and colonised by Sargon's Akkadians in the third millennium B.C.E. and by Allenby's England in the Common Era's second millennium; holy to half the world, a narrow strip of marginally fertile soil whose every inch has felt the feet of conquering soldiers, a barren land whose only wealth lies in the children she had borne. Palestine." A provocative summation in a single sentence.

In a departure from fiction, our next book is Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, a memoir by Rhoda Janzen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sunday Stills: Coffee/Tea Cups

I begin each day with coffee from my Willamette Writers cup:

Taken before I added nonfat half & half.

Here's an artsy, PhotoShopped view:

To see how others partake of tea or coffee, visit Sunday Stills.

Friday, November 12, 2010

40th Anniversary

Yep, that's right. It's the 40th anniversary of the exploding whale. If you're not aware of this story -- where have you been?!

A very young Paul Linnman was sent to the Oregon coast to cover the story of a dead beached whale and the decision to blow it up into small pieces for sea gulls to eat and clean up. Because Oregon's beaches are considered public byways, the Highway Division was charged with removing the whale from the beach so it wouldn't become a public hazard. Although it sounded like a ho hum story, you know how guys are about explosions. So KATU (Portland's ABC affiliate) sent a young up-and-coming reporter and equally youthful cameraman to film and report on the story.

Little did those involved realize that the exploding whale would become a media sensation.

That dead whale was blown to smithereens, alright. Those who came to watch were sprayed with a fine mist of blood and blubber before the large chunks of blubber, some half the size of a car, descended upon them. Onlookers ran in all directions to avoid the onslaught. Car roofs were smashed and the beach was littered with the remains of the whale.

The story that was entertaining at the time has been revived periodically and spread world wide. Paul Linnman still receives requests to be interviewed about the exploding whale.

Click on the link to watch the 40-year-old story. It's still a hoot!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unsafe at Any Age?

Remember Unsafe at Any Speed? The book that condemned the Chevy Corvair as a deathtrap -- written back in the day when people didn't want nanny governments telling them they needed to buckle up.

Portland recently experienced a tragic traffic accident where an older driver (70+) hit two pedestrians, one a father pushing a stroller (pictured above) containing his toddler. The child stopped breathing at the site but was revived by two nurses who happened upon the accident. The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with police. Sadly, the child did not survive and Portlanders are saddened by the toddler's death.

Since the driver was "older" there has been the usual outcry that "old people" should automatically have their licenses revoked. Some think regular written and driven exams should be required for "elder" drivers to be re-licensed. No one seems to agree on the definition of "old."

Personally, my life has been endangered way more often by people under 65. Teenagers with their immature pre-frontal lobes, multi-tasking "soccer moms," men in the midst of their mid-life crisis, etc. Just walking the dog every day I observe suburbanites in their 30s-50s ignoring stop signs, cutting corners, and speeding through neighborhoods full of children and pets.

The point being -- it isn't just older drivers who pose a danger on the roads.

Sure, our reflexes slow with age. Our senses take a hit. Can't see as well at night, can't tell from which direction the sound of the siren is coming, and so forth. But I also observe that other (younger) drivers create situations that startle older drivers who may be slow to react. Tailgating, jockeying through traffic, cutting off other drivers, failure to turn on headlights in inclement weather, and on and on.

So is an alert and defensive driver of 65 with a stellar driving record more dangerous than an 18-year-old pumped up on hormones? More dangerous than the businessman fussing with paperwork on the passenger seat? The mother who keeps checking out her child in the back seat? The middle-aged man in the red muscle car?

Statistics indicate the very young and very old drivers cause the most accidents. But it only takes a fraction of one inattentive second by any driver or pedestrian for the worst to happen.

If we are going to crack down on older drivers to assure that they are safe, then we also need to make sure that they have readily available safe and affordable transportation when their licenses are revoked. I'm very fortunate that I'm in a position to drive my mother to all of her medical appointments and on her errands. I don't know who is going to chauffeur me when the time comes.

The hearts of Portlanders go out to everyone involved in the above accident. I can't imagine how the parents and family of the child are coping.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dumbing Down

So I'm doing some online research using Google to ask "How does ____?" Some of the links take me to blogs and discussion boards where individuals post their suggested answers.

Now, I don't know if these stellar examples of American usage of English reflect a lack of proofreading or a lack of knowledge. But in either case, they are pretty sad.

"there" used in place of "they're"
"witch" used in place of "which"
"hey" used in place of "hay"

The really amusing thing is, the fellow who used "there" instead of "they're" was calling someone else a dumb@#%.

I see similar mangling of the English language in the comments posted on the web pages of our local newspaper and television stations. Not only are these comments generally snarky and insulting, but they also reveal a lot of folks were snoozing during their English classes.

The above examples are the reason I get a chuckle every time someone recommends we adopt English as our official language. You understand, of course, that the suggestion is aimed at hispanic immigrants. But I find it amusing that the very people who demand that English become our official language don't use it correctly either!

So before we change all the signs in Chinatown to English, remove all Italian words from menus, and boycott Volkswagens & BMWs -- maybe a large portion of the populace needs to revisit their English classes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Inventing a Game

So...I am once again off on a tangent with my writing. I hit a rough spot in Water Tribute and while I let a solution percolate, I've been doing research and development on The Adventure of the Blood Stone. I had a chance to run my idea for this YA fantasy novel past Emily, my First Reader. She seemed to like the characters, setting, and situation.

I refuse to use dragons, vampires, or zombies in my novels. Dragons have been way overdone and I suspect vampires are quickly approaching saturation. However, as the agents and editors say, when a good dragon or vampire story comes along they'll buy it. I will not be the one to write it.

I have been mulling over a different mythological creature for a feature role in one of my stories. One rarely used in fantasy novels, and one that has potential for one heck of a fun game.

Which sent me online to research mounted games.

I'm not sure how Jo Rowling went about creating quidditch. I don't know if they play dodge ball in Great Britain, but quidditch has all the earmarks of hockey, keep away, and dodgeball -- on flying broomsticks.

I began my research with polo, but polocrosse better suits my story. It's already a combination of two sports (polo and lacrosse) created in Australia.

Then I discovered pato, a mounted game from Argentina (also known as horseball). I've got to work it into my invented game!

Most mounted games had their origins as methods to teach and maintain battle skills. I hope to use the game to reveal character, create tension between characters, and foreshadow a pivotal scene later in the story.

Some time ago I discovered Patricia C. Wrede's world building questions at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America web site. The questions work whether creating a sf/f world from scratch or recreating a historical setting. Under the "Arts and Entertainment" section she asks "What sports or pastimes are common?"

So here I am, wondering how quidditch was birthed, and attempting to devise my own rock 'em, sock 'em game.

How much fun is fiction?!