Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A to Z "Z" is for Zip-a-dee--doo-dah: and other wonderful things

A bit of a cheat?  Could have been my W post... but, Zipadeedoodah covers a lot more than wonderful.  Happiness,, joy, sunshine, skipping, birds singing, swings, bubbles,--and the sense that life is good. No...  Life is grand!

I have so enjoyed the A to Z, and interacting with so many marvelous bloggers, writers...people. 

But...to be 100% honest, I have that Zipadeedoodah feeling just thinking about the extra time I will have now.  And I plan to catch up on some of the other things in my life that make me say, "Zipadeedoodah".

My family.  I am blessed.  Three children, one grandchild, and my life shared with the patriarch that anchors it all.

And the dogs. :-)

The garden, the flowerbeds, the garden totem crafting, the beading, the scrap-booking, visiting with friends, and the writing and editing. I feel as though they have all fallen by the wayside.  Oh--work has been hectic too--nearly 50 hours a week the entire month of April (but I am blessed--I love my job, too).

And I REALLY need to say--there is nothing unique about my situation.  Each and every one of you who have participated, have taken time from the things in your lives that make you say, "Zipadeedoodah!"

It has been a ton of fun, and it has had its moments--for all of us.  I am proud to have participated in this endeavor with so many talented individuals.

Thanks for hanging out with me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday April 29, 2012

This week, immersing myself in editing Aaydan's Tale, I pulled out this snippet from the second chapter.  For this particular scene, I worked a local (fictional) dialect in.  Is it irritating? Distracting?  There is a full page of it in this scene, and a few other pages scattered throughout  the book. 

In this scene, the reader still has not been told that the tall man is Aaydan--the newborn from the first chapter.   And Aaydan is wearing a hood, pulled forward to hide his face.

"Stepping up to the bar, Kad ordered two sloshes, dark and strong, one for him and one for Drave.

The barkeep nodded the third man’s direction and said, “N’what’ll he have?” 

Kad noted the barkeep’s studious appraisal of the shadow hiding his tall friend’s face, “He'll have a shot'o the grain, and a chaser'o cherry brew for warshing it down.” 

Remaining stone-faced, Kad watched Drave smirk after turning his head away.  The accent was foreign, but was necessary to pass as local brogue.

It had worked.  The barkeep’s looks of suspicion faded as soon as Kad had ordered for the man without a face; hard alcohol removed certain possibilities."

Visit the complete list of  talented Six Sentence Sunday participants HERE

A quick plug for my critique partner,  Daniela, at Idiots and Earthquakes.  Daniela is new to the Six Sentence Sunday, and hopes people will visit her and comment. :-)


A to Z "Y" is for Yesterday: all tales are from yesterday

"Yesterday"...let it roll off of your tongue, slowly. 

I can't help but shake my head back and forth...

Disbelief, amazement, humility, joy, sorrow... No? You aren't getting those emotions.  Say it one more time, even slower. "Yesterday."

I visit my yesterdays pretty often.  I reckon that most writers do--even more than people who don't write.  We are a lot that is given toward reflection.

It doesn't matter what we write--historical fiction, memoirs, contemporary fiction, romance, scifi, fantasy...and so on, even when it appears that we are looking forward, we are looking behind us.  We are sifting through our yesterdays, to find the bits of a memory that will inspire the words.

Everything we write comes from the past. From something we have seen, experienced, felt, tasted, touched, loved, hated, admired or loathed.

So, we set down to write our stories.  The characters have been introduced--from fragments of people we have known, the world in which they live has been built--from fragments of places we have seen in real life-- or other fictional places, and then the event happens.  Now, our characters must react.

We imagine them, see their faces, and hear their words being uttered as we type them onto the screen.  And every word...every one of them, comes from our own pasts. 

Our own morals, ethics, affections, likes, dislikes, tolerance, intolerance, preferences--positive and negative, come alive on the pages.  And even characters composed of fragments that don't resemble us in any way--perhaps pulled from front page headlines, grisly news stories, the playground bully, or even an old teacher with a cruel streak, are subject to us (the writers) projecting ourselves onto them, even if we aren't cognizant of it as it happens.  We temper everything with a good helping of the person we are--shaped by all of the yesterdays of our lives.

While we write, we dig through our minds, our memories, baring long forgotten tidbits of treasures. And that is what gives us our unique voices. No two are alike...just like no two yesterdays are alike.

Can you see your yesterdays in the words you write today?

Friday, April 27, 2012

A to Z "X" is for Xmas: and other X things

The letter X, in  spite of not being used often in our language, is a rather important letter/symbol.

 X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

The "X" in Christmas controversy?   Taken from Wikipedia: "Christ" was often written as "XP" or "Xt"; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ and ρ used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for "Christ"),[2] and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ."

There is not controversy.   Still...the vestiges of one, persist.

X...does much more.

In math, it is used to represent an unknown variable, and as a multiplication symbol.  And, it is used as a Roman numeral.

It is used as a signature by the illiterate.

It is often used to mark a box (to select) on various forms.

It is used to indicate a crossing-- "Pedestrain X-ing"  Railroad X-ing" and actually used in place of the word "cross" as shorthand-- "X-walk".

Um...it describes the mutants living among humans-- the "X-Men" ;-)

And *drum roll* it is used to mark the coveted  location on treasure maps. :-)

I am all out of X ideas now. :-)

I am off to see what others have written about the letter "x".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z "W" is for Willow: willow-ware, blue willow

It was quite by accident that I started to collect it--much the way many collections begin.  You get two, someone notices, and then everyone start to pick up the items to give to you.

In my case, it was a couple of blue willow plates. Somewhere, buried in my memories, was a familiarity with the pattern.

So it began.  And one piece led to the next, each one scrounged up at flea markets...for a quarter here, a dollar there.  I can't ever sell any of it. I think back and I can see the proud and eager faces of my children when they approached me and held out a "prize" of a find...they had spent their allowance on blue willow for me.

 Photo credit: Teresa K Cypher copyright 2012 Visitor's eyes naturally gravitate toward the top of the cupboards.

Then the day came when I said, "Enough."  And it became a rule that no more blue willow was to be bought.  Still, for a while, occasionally an odd piece would trickle in. My children still managed to find some real unique things, and my husband, bless his heart, started going to antique stores looking for the stuff.  That was never the plan. I don't mean to sound ungrateful--because I am not.  But, it has been a very long time since a new piece of blue willow trickled into this house.  And that...is a very good thing.

The point is, I became a collector without meaning to. And in the process, became a collector of blue willow information, as well.

So, I will share with you what I think I know about it.

The Chinese were well ahead of the Europeans discovering under-glaze technology on pottery.  Suddenly, the western world was inundated with this new type of dinnerware--and it was waterproof.  And it had these great designs painted on--that didn't fade, wash off, or become part of your meal as you ate.

The western world couldn't get enough. Trade ship after ship were weighed down with plates from China.

 Photo credit: Teresa K Cypher copyright 2012 With my son's 6th grade artwork as a backdrop.

Blue dye for the under-glaze was more easily obtainable, thus the blue color.  And the potteries in the far east liked to paint landscape scenes.  Those scenes included their lotus trees and their willow trees, too.

The Europeans made haste to develop their under-glaze technology, and soon were producing fine, shiny, waterproof dinnerware that could rival that of China. Still, they were only cutting in on the oriental imports--not replacing them.  This blue and white pottery phenomenon was still going strong and people couldn't get enough of it.  The English potteries came up with an idea.

They injected a human element into the landscape design. In fact, they invented an entire story and changed the scheme to include some key elements that helped to tell the story.  The large palace, the two doves, the bridge with three men carrying weapons, clouds, and a boat.

Everyone loves a good love story, right?  And heartrendingly bittersweet makes it even better...like the kind of story where the lovers die for their love--then live on in eternity--together.

Thus, the English got it right.  There was a King whose daughter fell in love with his secretary.  The King forbade their love, so they fled. The King sent his henchmen after them but the young couple escaped in a boat. Heading out to sea, a storm blew in, and the lovers were never seen again BUT, the two doves appeared in the sky immediately following the storm.

It worked. The English potteries had a best-seller on their hands.  Blue Willow became the number one selling blue and white pattern EVER in the history of the world.

 Photo credit Teresa K Cypher Copyright 2012 Blue willow finds its way into every place at my house.

I know...Blue Onion is popular, and even Currier and Ives by Royal China...but neither came close.

Blue willow is not just one design. Every pottery in existence (world-over) that could design a blue willow pattern, did. And they changed things just enough so that customers couldn't look for the best buys from several potteries...such as a set of plates from Spode,  a sugar and creamer from Wedgewood, and a teapot by Minton. If they did that, then they would not have a matching set.  So, that is why it is sometimes difficult to identify a piece of blue willow.  There were so many versions made.  And that is why you will find pieces that miss one or more of the original elements. There is no particular design requirement for a pattern to be called blue willow.

About a decade ago, my mom gave me an oval bowl from the back of her china closet. It  was blue willow.  She told me that when she got married, one of my dad's old school teachers gave them a complete set of Blue Willow as a gift.  It came with everything--napkins, candles, service for eight plus completers. The oval bowl was the only surviving piece. I could not remember ever eating off of blue willow.  My mom and dad had been married for eleven years when I was born, and 6 older siblings preceded me.  I suspect that the dishes were long gone, then.  :-)  But...in spite of not being able to recall eating off of them, perhaps a few survived during my toddler years?  I must guess that that is where my sense of familiarity with the design came from.

We use blue willow everyday for our dishes.  No reason not to. Life is too short to eat off of plain old plates while saving the pretty ones for a special day. Every day must be special at our house ;-)

Have you ever collected a couple of things--and someone found out..and then it went  sort of bonkers--out of control?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A to Z "V" is for Void: voluntarily stepping into a vast one

I know this post is long for the A to Z...but the whole story had to be told for it to make sense.  So, if you are stopping by for a quick hello, don't worry about reading the whole thing. :-)  Just leave me a comment and I will stop and visit your blog!

The year was 1988.  I had spent most of the autumn hoping that the job came through. Interviews, physical, pee-test... all to pick mushrooms. It was a union job at the world's largest underground mushroom farm--employed over 1000 people.

I got the job.
October 26th, I donned a hard hat with a miner's lamp on it-- powered by the battery hanging off of my miner's belt. I carried my picking knife and my gloves on the belt too. Thirteen of us started that day.  All seemed like nice enough people.

I had made the jump from service industry jobs to the real deal.  I was big time.  And I was enthusiastic!

We boarded the "buggy" --electric and big enough to haul 17 pickers plus the driver and the crew leader.  We started out in the training crew, and that was pretty good. It was dark.  Dang. It was really dark.  And it was damp and sort of musty smelling.  All day we picked, picked, picked.  Hardly talking--we knew we had to pick a minimum pounds per hour to make the union.


Within a couple of weeks, the ranks had been thinned by three--and a new training crew of thirteen had started to work. That pushed all 10 of us newbies out onto the regular crews.  There were 20 of them, with up to 16 pickers each on any given day.

To say I was shocked is a grave understatement.  I wanted to run back to the training crew crying for sane people, crying for nice people.  But I shut my mouth and picked.

I lucked into being on my oldest sister's crew a couple of days.  She told me, "Don't run your mouth until you can run your knife."

The days stretched on, and my picking speed increased...but my inner conflict between needing the job for the money, and feeling I wasn't where I belonged, grew daily.  It was grueling--six days on, one day off--trial by fire meant to make or break.  We needed 60 working days to make the union..  The balls of my feet swelled up and met the swollen pads of my toes. But, I didn't tell a soul, because I knew I'd never make the union.

It was my 29th birthday. Two weeks to go to get my 60 days in.  The inner conflict was raging...and the need to work was losing momentum.  This can't be worth it. I was on a crew that had silent women and vulgar men on it.  By the end of the day, I was in the back of my row, picking a bottom tray with my back turned to the rest of the crew.  Several of the men on the crew were talking about raping women, cutting them up and putting the parts in garbage bags then tossing them over the hill.

I had done it. I had stepped into a vast void...not just voluntarily, but enthusiastically.  It was an empty place.  No joy dwelt there, no humanity, no goodness...

I was crying.  Quietly. Oh my god--I couldn't let anyone see that they had completely devastated my sensibilities. Because , then it would have really begun.  And even in a work force of a thousand, news spreads fast; I would  have been a target no matter where I went.  There was no one to tell and no way to stop it without making it worse.

Christmas week, I was on THE worst crew of all of the crews.  After being told by the buggy driver that he liked my braids and that they probably came in handy for my husband--saved wear and tear on my ears, I stayed as far away from any of them as I could. I could hear them laughing and snickering.

A week later, I made the union.  And as the months rolled forward, I began to let go of whatever it was that made me feel shock at the way people behaved...and worst of all, the way they treated each other.  It made it easier. 

Before I knew it, a year had gone by.  I was earning a good living, talking like a truck driver, and I knew I was as tough as any of them.   I could stand tall...I was a bonafide hard-ass with a mill-hunky attitude.  I was a survivor.  I never thought about at what cost, though. 

Another year rolled by.

One day, I was walking into a restroom at work, and an older woman, one of the sweetest ladies I have ever met, was walking out.  Several of us struck up a conversation and it turned to someone being particularly mean at work.  I can't recall what I said, but I know that when everyone else walked away--except for that sweet woman and me, she said, "I never thought that you would change. You were the nicest girl when you started here."

Her words cut me to the bone.

There was no malice, just honesty in her words.  And the way she looked at me...it wasn't pity.  It wasn't accusation.  I sensed it was more like she was trying to tell me, "You have changed, but you don't have to be like this."

I could blame the behavior of 99% of the people there on a lot of things.  Darkness, lack of inhibition created by darkness, a monotonous job--coupled with sensory deprivation that left absolutely nothing for entertainment but to pick on each other.  I could make excuses and blame it on a lot of things.  For them, I will. But not for me.   I knew better.  I had gone from a kind, caring person--to someone who just went with the flow.

There is a void waiting in everyone's life.  Some are big; some are small.  They are places that are pretty empty of all that is beautiful and precious to us human beings.  And they all present a choice.  We may not be able to control the situation around us, but we are able to control the way we react to it.

I made a choice.  I was going to be better than the situation. I was going to be better than the person who had gone down a slippery slope while  hiding behind excuses.  I saw a dark side of me while I was in that void.  And thank goodness for Carol P, who did the nearly unthinkable---and held a mirror up before my eyes, forcing me to see something ugly...something less than it could be.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A to Z "U" is for UFO


Unidentified flying object!  Few things grip the human psyche the way those three letters strung together do.  You could query people about a dozen different subjects.  Many times, people aren't willing to share--or just don't have an opinion. But not when it comes to UFOs.

Believers and nonbelievers alike will dig in their heels and let you know.  "Between one-third and one-half of Americans believe in unidentified flying objects (UFOs). A somewhat smaller percentage believes that aliens have landed on Earth (Gallup 1996; Southern Focus 1998)."  From http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind00/c8/c8s5.htm

Another poll "Only a third of adults, however, believe it's either very likely or somewhat likely that intelligent aliens from space have visited our planet, according to a survey of 1,003 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

The poll revealed that one in every 12 Americans has seen a mysterious object in the sky that might have been a visitor from another world, while nearly one in every five personally knows someone who has seen an unidentified flying object."  From here:  http://www.reporternews.com/news/2008/jul/26/you-are-not-alone/

A common sentiment among believers follows suit with Ted Arroway, a character from Carl Sagan's book, "Contact", who says--after his daughter asks him if there is life on other planets, " I don't know, Sparks. But I guess I'd say if it is just us... seems like an awful waste of space."

A common sentiment among nonbelievers is that we would see them.  They would be here...would have been here by now, would be living among us. If humans are capable of space travel, surely intelligent life on other planets is capable interstellar travel.

To which a believer would say, "They have. They are. They live amongst us."

Oy! *laughing* And it goes round and round.

I am going to put a few thoughts out there.  Just because we (Earthlings) are not yet capable of interstellar travel, doesn't mean that other life forms aren't.  It is not a mutually inclusive or exclusive feat.  If we consider the different  rates of evolution on the continents on Earth alone, it gives us a pretty good idea that someone else isn't necessarily going to be at the same place in space travel technology as we are. They could be light years ahead of us (pun intended) or light years behind.

I am inclined to agree with Carl Sagan.  It would be a terrible waste of space. I really think that there is life out there. Intelligent life? Well, depends how we define intelligent life. I have little doubt that there is microbial life.  But, what has it evolved to?
                                                     Credit: Warner Brothers

And...I am not so sure I want to have them visit.  Like Don Henley asks in one of his songs--did they just swing by for McNuggets?  I am not doomsayer, but, I am a realist.  Lifeforms probably aren't cruising around the Universe on an intergalactic version of a Sunday drive.

I have to think of it this way (egotistical--I know) making the assumption that all life forms have similar needs.  Why would WE pack up a ship for star travel, and journey across the night sky to the unknown?

Best I can come up with is that would we need a new place to live. Maybe our world has run out of resources and we need more.  We are out of food-or the conditions that allow us to provide food for ourselves, have deteriorated. There are wars and famine, disease, oppressive regimes ruling the planet (fighting the urge to be cynical here).  None of the scenarios are good.  And we would need pretty specific environmental parameters. The chemicals that make up Earth and its whole atmosphere might not be common at all when we get outside of our solar system.  So, maybe we are desperate and will just take what we need?

I read a book last year called, "Hunt for Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah"  It's available on Amazon.  Four stars after 98 reviews. It was written by a respected journalist--well, respected until he wrote the book.  He was not well thought of by his peers after he wrote about his experience at Skinwalker Ranch.  And the scientists involved with the research asked him to not identify them by name in the book. If you like these kinds of  books, it's a good read.  It was interesting.  Okay, I admit...I wasn't quite able to wrap my head around everything he wrote.  I wanted to believe he was telling the truth. Still...denial.  I think that a lot of us are that way.

Have I seen a UFO?  :-)  Oh my god, no!

*hangs head* Okay, that was a lie (I am a natural fiction writer).    I share this purely as a humorous and cautionary tale.  One time (and only once) I saw something in the sky. It was at dusk. I was alone. (never a witness) I had just finished watching the sunset. Not a cloud in the sky the whole time I had been watching.  Then I noticed one lone cloud, small, strangely illuminated, heading from straight south toward the north--which is a rare weather direction, indeed, for western PA. It generally takes an odd storm to coax clouds to float that direction.  Its heading took a gentle turn to the east--to float directly over me--well, where I WAS standing when I first saw it. I was no longer there, because I was running just as fast as my old legs could carry my scared arse.  If I'd had four legs, I know my back ones would have been passing up my front ones. Terrified, glancing over my shoulder, sure it would swoop down on me.  I reached the house, dashed inside, and went to the other side of the kitchen and watched (okay, okay, timidly peeked) until I saw it come overhead. It faded just above the trees below our house.

I researched cloud types, twilight illumination, the prevailing weather direction.  And damn it, none of it made sense. I saw what I saw. Crap.

Or...maybe that story was an exercise in fiction...

And maybe I am the only one who will ever know.

*mumbling* "Nice disclaimer at the end, Teresa. Now nobody thinks you're goofy."

UFOs   So, if they are coming--what do you think they are coming for?

And, have you seen something in the sky you couldn't explain away?  Anything that defied good, solid, rational, logic?  Would you tell anyone if you had?

A to Z "T" is for Twilight: beginning or end?


When you think of it, what comes to mind?  My first thought always was (and still is) dusk.  But, technically, it  includes the time of day we refer to as dusk, and more.

Merriam Webster online, 1 : the light from the sky between full night and sunrise or between sunset and full night produced by diffusion of sunlight through the atmosphere and its dust; also : a time of twilight.  

So, it occurs twice daily, morning and evening.

Then, to get technical, there are different kinds of twilight--with different definitions: 
                                         photo credit: Teresa K Cypher copyright 2012

Civil twilight when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon.

Nautical twilight, when  the center of the sun is geometrically 12 degrees below the horizon.

Astronomical twilight when the center of the Sun is geometrically 18 degrees below the horizon.

*sigh* That just takes all of the mystical, spiritual, and romance right of it. So, flipping the switch to the other side of my brain.

There's just something about twilight.  It's a transition of nearly indescribable proportions, overcoming our earth.  At the end of twilight, everything changes.  It is the change between light and dark, the creatures of the night and the creatures of the day.

It is the change between the time that was...and the time that is coming.  That is huge.

As a metaphor, it is beautiful, and most often used to refer to a decline.  "The twilight of a life."

Twilight alludes to the precipice upon which we stand, and there is always one beneath our feet.  It is saying goodbye, and saying hello... It is glancing behind us to take stock of what we've done.  It is quelling our fears as we look ahead.

I will share one of the loveliest quotes pertaining to twilight that I have ever read, written by Andrew Sullivan in "The Conservative Soul".

                                                Star Forming Region S106 Image Credit: GRANTECAN and IAC

That about sums it up.  We don't know what lies ahead.  Such small creatures we are, yet the hope of what lies beyond twilight,  drives us forward.

*note   I really don't think of vampires when I think of twilight.  Not even sparkly ones ;-)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday 4/22/12

To read more posts by the talented writers participating in Six Sentence Sunday, please click HERE 

Out of the same book as last week, Gracie is in labor. It is now late in the afternoon, and she has been at this since the night before.  This is a description of a contraction.  Does it work?

"Inside the room that held agony and expectation, Gracie was not even aware of who was now near to her.  The pain came in waves, one after the other.  She was climbing up a hill, higher, higher, and higher.  There she was suspended, soundless, mindless, then the pain became her and she became the pain; they were inseparable.  There was nothing else—save for the twisted half-pain creature she had become… and then she was coming down the hill, down, down, down.

Be sure to check out other #SixSunday posts!  Thanks for giving this a read. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

A to Z "S" is for Sunsets and Stars

All of the trouble I had with the letter "Q"...and here I am with about a dozen things I could blog about for the letter "S". Perhaps I should have just called it "My S Universe".  All in all, I couldn't choose between the sunset and the stars.

When I was a child, living on a hillside in the hollow...when I had one leg longer than the other so I could stand straight...   Oh! I can't go on with that part; it was a lie.  My legs are pretty much the same length. Always  have been.  But...I DO write fiction ;-)

Let me start again...with just the non-fiction this time :-)  When I was a small child, living in the hollow (valley) I never got to see sunsets.  The hill rising sharply to the west hid  all but the most extraordinary--high reaching, flame-red sunsets.  We saw a sort of glow and oft I wondered how the setting sun must look to have turned the world pink like it had.  But, that was beyond the known universe of the hollow in which I lived.

And up above us, on black-dark summer nights, the stars shone--far away, cold and mysterious.  We learned where the "big Dipper" was.  But much of the year, even it was obscured by the tall hilltops surrounding our universe.

So, we turned our eyes toward the earth and chased fireflies, filling mason jars with their flashing wonder.  Back in the 1960s, we really didn't know how that worked. We didn't have encyclopedias (or Google search) at our house ;-)

Now, looking back, it was a prime example of Clarke's third law.  "Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  There you have it, by geez.  To us--a pack of country bumpkin farm kids running barefoot, chasing magic...there was no explanation needed.  Magic was explanation enough.

When I got to be a grown up and rented my first little home, it was on "high ground". But, there was a woods full of tall trees between me and the view of the sunset.

Still, I knew when what preceded the speckles of light in the black velvet sky must have been astounding.  But, nothing compares to finding a place where you can watch the setting sun on a regular basis.

So, tonight-- like most nights, we walked up the lane to a place where the hedgerow breaks open and exposes this vista.  Then we sat and relaxed, talked about the day, and...yes...talked about the sunset.  We rated it, dissecting it--colors, clouds, rays above and below, contrails, and how long the color lasted. And we included things like how far around the horizon the setting sun affected the colors in the clouds.

We lost ourselves in the sunset.

Here is the sunset from this evening:

...and a zoomed in view a few minutes later. 

And then we watched the stars come out.  Have you done that lately? It is fascinating and humbling at once.

I took this photo one evening at our "sunset spot" and then added the stars later using "Paint".

In my "S" universe... I am humbled on a regular basis.  The setting sun reminds me that all things have an end.  The day, the season, and me.  And then, when that first star arrives, as I make my wish, I wonder how many other people are wishing on it.  And...I can't help but wonder if any of their wishes are the same as mine. (Shhh...don't tell. Or it won't come true.)

The Ss keep me deeply human and connected with other humans. Even in those solitary moments when I gaze at the heavens, and just listen...I hear the song of humanity...maybe I feel it more than hear it. But, it is a complex piece of music.  We are more than this moment.  In some way, we are all of yesterday and part of tomorrow, and bound together by tenuous strings in this very moment.  Our voices fade...our passions crumble...and the universe continues to spin its slow swirl...

All the rat-race, competition, love, hate, violence, wars, goodness and kindness will be washed away by time...marked by a sun-rising...setting, the stars shining...the sun rising...setting...the stars...the sun...

The "S"s remind me of my place in the grand scheme... blessed for the moment at hand.

How about you? :-)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A to Z "R" is for Road: a metaphor

I was thinking about roads today while driving home from work on a...well...a road.  Sometimes my inspiration just shouts, "Duh!" at me.

A road.  Not quite two lanes wide: in fact, closer to one lane wide where it squeezes between a cow pasture and a tall oak woods.  It is blacktopped.  My remote, little corner of the world no longer has the quaint, dirt roads lined with dog  roses and daisies.  A sign of the times, I reckon.  Blacktop and all, though, they still meander in their narrow little way, up and down over the sides of creek hollows.

"A cowpath." my dad used to say.  He was never much for the fourlanes, or the fast lane.  Unless he was off to see some wonder of the world--as described by a farming neighbor, or my mom.  Mom was keen on seeing those sights that defied a ho-hum reaction.  Both of them liked to be amazed.

Amazed...the places where roads took them. But they always came home to the farm, following roads until they came to their little winding cowpaths.  And life was good.  Simple people, life's roads took them on a humble journey.  They lived, they laughed, and loved... all fitting the humble roads of life they traveled.

                                          Photo credit: Janet Gill

Roads as a metaphor for life's journey, has been well-used over time.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of roads in that respect.

Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" is a shining example.

We can be on the road to riches, the road to ruin, or the road to hell paved with good intention.  And I am sure that all of us have stood at a fork in the road.  And lest we forget, "The Road is long, with many a winding turn...that lead us to who knows...where..." written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell.

I-- for one, am on the road to getting my first book published. :-)

I have never strayed far off of the cowpaths. Even so, the years go by and roads change.  Perhaps, the sign of the times is a metaphor for my life.  The laid back simplicity of a dirt road is long gone. Most cowpaths have been replaced by paved and lined highways that are faster and busier.  And no one stops to smell the roses or pick the daisies.

Maybe I am just getting old.  Let me check my rear view mirror- yep, a lot of road behind me now.  But, I smile as the memories of my journeys ripple through my mind, crossing time. I can't help but  think...the roads I have chosen (or, perhaps have chosen me) have brought me to a good place. 

And that, my friend, is all that matters.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z "Q" is for Quagmire: my quagmire is my Q post

A quagmire.  Tonight is presenting one.  My Q post for A to Z.  I would love to write a quick, quaint, post. And I'd like it best to write it in under a quarter hour. I am quite busy tonight.  My querimony (oh, I hate being a querulist) is that I have paperwork due in the A.M. because my boss quesited  results including quantitative and qualitative data for a recent round of tests. Though I am given toward quidditative behavior, I am really a quiddle when it comes to the quality of my work.  Since I can't be a quidam quicquidlibet, I will have to acquiesce to my work demands. I want to share this, before I go--an online query forum, a querent inquired of the rules of quidditch, and the quibbling soon turned to quarreling--over quidditch rules?  I quaked with laughter. Did sharing that with you make me a quidnunc?

This quinquagenarian is almost finished now, and quoadmy (work-related) quod, where my data is quoddamodotative waiting for quotiety, quotition, and  quotum. *sigh* I'd stay and play, but have to quit now.

Whew! What a quagmire...for me to have written such  quoz today.  I may as well have quacked like a duck--it would've made as much sense ;-)

I'll do better tomorrow.  :-)   Now, off to my papers I go...  quack quack...

Oh, the website for odd words?  If you love language and words, you will enjoy it!  http://phrontistery.info/index.html

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A to Z "P" is for Psychology: Evolutionary Psychology to Be Precise

Ph my--the things evolutionary psychology (EP) seeks to explain!  Is it mumbo-jumbo?  Some think so.  I admit I am a cynic most of the time.  As such, I am given to poo-pawing off such things.  But, time and time again, I have found myself reading some evolutionary psychology theory, then mumbling to the air around me, "Yea... that DOES make sense."

I hope its not the packaging that sells it to me. ;-)

From Merriam-Webster Online

": the study of human cognition and behavior with respect to their evolutionary origins "

From Wikipedia

"...Evolutionary psychologists hold that behaviors or traits that occur universally in all cultures are good candidates for evolutionary adaptations[3] including the abilities to infer others' emotions, discern kin from non-kin, identify and prefer healthier mates, and cooperate with others"

*Note:  This Wiki article is an interesting read. It's chock full of information many sources.

And from this writer's view?  It is an awe-inspiring source for world-building/character-building.  I reckon that for writing fantasy and science-fiction stories, it  is a bottomless source of inspiration and influence.  It is brimming with possibilities and variations where lifeforms are  concerned.

Although it is sometimes dismissed as a curiosity, it has a very positive side.  It seeks to determine things like whether an unhealthy obsession with a body image (causing bulimia or anorexia for example) is nature or nurture--and could lays the groundwork for treatment approaches. Jennifer Goehring writes more about this here Modern Standards of Beauty

Nigel Barber writes "Psychological evidence suggests that sex differences in morphology have been modified by sexual selection so as to attract mates (intersexual selection) or intimidate rivals (intrasexual selection). Women compete with each other for high quality husbands by advertising reproductive value in terms of the distribution of fat reserves and by exaggerating morphological indicators of youthfulness such as a small nose and small feet and pale, hairless skin. Men's physical appearance tends to communicate social dominance, which has the combined effects of intimidating reproductive rivals and attracting mates."

Men look for younger women--for reproduction.  I know...I know...  That is the last thing you think they are looking for, but EP posits that the men don't know why they prefer younger women...they just prefer them.  And EP also posits that men aren't looking for a long-term mate each time they look for someone to have sex with.  Because, procreating with as many females as possible to spread their DNA is the desired result.  They don't have to care for the children. If they father enough children, there is a likelihood that the mothers will manage to rear some of them to a reproductive age.  But, what they look for in a long term mate has been forged by EP.  Good looks are often equated with good breeding and health.

And, women who are healthy --active (probably slim and muscular) are more likely to produce a child with minimal difficulty. Hmmm...and men thought that they just preferred thinner women.

Women, on the other hand look for something different. They are looking for someone who can provide for them and their children.  Resources.  Big, strong, healthy...he will bring home the fresh kill and defend them from threats.

A research colleague at work once told me about a study he read about EP, in which the author theorized that "playing hard to get" was EP at work--it is not all cultural or religion based.   The idea that making a man wait for sex allows her to determine if he will stick around.  If he does...and patiently (or not so patiently) waits, that there is a higher likelihood that he will stick around and care for her and their children.

The fear of spiders and snakes is also purported to be EP at work.  Although guns kill far more people in the USA than spiders or snakes, a research poll done--showing photos of all three, elicited a dramatic difference in reaction.  People showed little response to a photo of a gun.  But most cringed  or pulled back from a photo of a snake or spider.

Another EP tidbit from the linked Wiki post, "Sleep may have evolved to conserve energy when activity would be less fruitful or more dangerous, such as at night, especially in winter."

And this: "Since our ancestors did not encounter truly random events, we may be cognitively predisposed to incorrectly identify patterns in random sequences. "Gamblers' Fallacy" is one example of this. Gamblers may falsely believe that they have hit a "lucky streak" even when each outcome is actually random and independent of previous trials." 

I could go on and on. But I won't. It is interesting.  It could make for some good reading someday, when you have nothing to do (we ALL have those days, right?)   Ha!

Monday, April 16, 2012

A to Z "O" is for Omniscient: POV

I could add "Opinion" to that title.

I didn't mean to write about writing, but can't step away from this one. And this isn't an instructional post, either.  I am looking for the big Os...opinions about the omniscient point of view.

When I began writing--without a single creative writing class under my belt, I was a bumbling fool when it came to POV.  Okay, I might still be a bit of a bumbling fool. :-)  But, at least now I understand it (sort of).

Good POV post here.

I have discovered that I prefer to write omniscient third. Everything I have read points to it being a good choice for what I write:  Fantasy--as if there were an all-knowing narrator telling the story.  And in stories with several plot-lines that converge at some point in the book.

But, I keep reading that it has fallen out of fashion, no one uses it anymore, and third-person limited is much preferred by the writing community.

The POV is not the confusion; the reasons why we shouldn't use it, are.   It confuses readers.  Too risky.  The story loses intimacy. It can turn into head-hopping. And it seems that editors don't like it, and the big publishers don't like it.

The reasons not to use it, don't add up.

I have asked people--people who read a lot, but are not in any way involved in the writing community.  "What do you think of third person limited versus omniscient third person?"

Nine times out of ten, the first thing I have to do is to explain what they are.  After which, I am usually told that the reader doesn't even notice.

Last week, at the zenith of my POV frustration, I walked into the lunchroom at work. There were eight people there.  They are all heavy readers.  Several consume books like they are going out of style.   This is the ultimate test, I think.  These are readers, the end users of our creation.  I posed the question to them.  The opinions were unvaried and unflinching--they preferred third person omniscient.  All of them.
This begs the question, "Who are we writing for?"

Especially in this day of indie authors and indie publishers-- when we have lost the need to court the big six by wooing them with acquiescence to their demands...why wouldn't we write for the reader?

I admit, it still gives me pause...that my work may be seen by others in the writing community, as amateurish, unprofessional, or simply not as good--if I do write in omniscient third.

Have you had any similar experience while talking with readers?  Do you write for the publisher, the agent, the editor, or the reader?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A to Z "N" is for Namaste: we are one

I started to see this word online, quite often--starting a couple of years ago.   I had no idea what it meant, and have no trouble admitting that.  As is often the case nowadays, the world is a much smaller place.  And even though I always enjoyed reading the dictionary--it can't compare with the ease of learning new words online.  Our vocabularies, I reason, must be growing at an increased pace relative to our constant exposure online.

Namaste...a beautiful word, a beautiful greeting, from an ancient language called "Sanskrit".  From the subcontinent of India, we get this lovely word.

"Namaste: I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one."

I love words, and consider myself to be a somewhat humble wordsmith.  And I suspect that everyone who reads this blog feels the same way about themselves.  Words... how we reach one another when the physical touch is impossible.  And for writers, most of all, words are the building blocks of our lives.

We need to never close the door to learning.  More than anyone else on the planet, we need to appreciate etymology...yet, remember the audience we write for.  I have read books full of five dollar words that befuddled my buck-fifty brain.  Save the big ones for scientific papers. And I don't mean to "dumb-down" our writing.  But we have to find the sweet spot.  Not every reader is pressed to seek out the meaning of a word they have never before heard.

Namaste...a word for writers.  When we set pen to page, we want to communicate. We know what we are trying to convey, and we work at creating a bridge from our minds to the readers' minds. We seek a way to pour the passion of our words and stories, from our souls...into theirs.

In our creative zone, we are visualizing worlds, characters, and living their lives.  In our creations, if we have achieved a literary namaste, the reader is visualizing our worlds, characters, and living their lives.  We share that place in each other. We are one.

To you my fellow writers, my kindred spirits laboring at your tales, I say, "Namaste".

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday for 4-15-12

              For other great Six Sentence Sunday posts, click here                

This week's six is from the first book I wrote. It has a year's worth of editing still waiting in its pages.  But the story is engaging.

Gracie has been abducted from earth. Ultimately, as a life-saving measure on his part, she has ended up with an alien man who is slated to become King of a vast empire beyond our night sky.  There are differences--can't you just imagine how many differences there would be between us and those from another planet?  Just using the vast differences between the many cultures and races right here on a single world--the math is staggering.

So, we take a look at life in general to discern the things that would undoubtedly need to be addressed to build a compromise.

Sex...  Yep.  The differences in the way distinct Earth cultures view sex leads me to believe that chances are good that expected behavior by one group would differ from that of other groups.  Faith, religions, evolutionary psychology, among other things are all major influences.

In this snippet, Gracie (of Earth) has confided in her alien (Rialtan) friend and guard, Jia,  about sex.  And Jia has been commanded by her young King to divulge the information to him and his friend, the healer Ben.

 “I believe that things are different on her world, on earth.   I probably should not have done it, but I tormented her just a bit, and then she told me the story of the cow and the milk.”   Jia repeated the earth fable she had been told.

“Jia, please explain to Ben and me, the motivation for this milk and cow trying and buying?”
Jia felt put on the spot while trying her best to remember word for word what had been said,  “The cow would have a broken heart.”

Ben hesitated for a minute, and finally said, “There is something missing--she must have said more.”

 I admit, I was very unsure...putting this into a story because the stigma of the "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" seems to have very much passed in my part of the world.  But then thought better of it.  It still very much exists in some parts of the world...and it is likely a generational thing, as well.

I will add this, since this snippet leaves the six readers hanging, after several paragraphs going back and forth while Jia tries to recall all of the words Gracie shared with her, Ben, rather incredulous, states, 

“Does she not understand that a Rialtan man would never purchase a cow without first trying the milk?”

Okay, that's  my 'seven' sunday for this week.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A to Z "M" is for Mold: assault weapons of the vilest form

Molds...like the blue-green stuff that forms on your bread, or the white-edged green stuff that covers old citrus fruit--that is the mold of which I write.
Molds are a nuisance, but...they are extremely important to the world's ecosystem, performing a myriad of jobs that no other type organism can perform.  And in spite of the bad rap, and the problems mold can cause, it can also be the bringer of miracles.

The plant statins in cholesterol lowering drugs come from molds (and yes--for the sake of argument, some yeasts).  The immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine,  used to suppress the rejection of transplanted organs, is derived from the mold, Tolypocladium inflatum. And the discovery of the drug, penicillin, derived from the penicillin mold, is credited with having saved over 6 million lives.

There are molds that contribute to large production processes by performing a specific task--like consuming the carbohydrates to aid in the fermentation of soy sauce.  And, there are bio-pesticides, bio-herbicides, and soil enhancements such as the mycorrhizal molds found in Miracle Grow® potting soil.

So, this is all great news.  And mold can be a wonderful thing. BUT, the really cool part about molds are the mechanisms they use to disable and then consume their food sources. This IS the stuff that science fiction monsters are made of.

Here we have the hyphae (thin strand of growth--sort of comparable to a plant's roots) of a Trichoderma mold parasitizing the larger hyphae of a different organism. The Trichoderma wraps around the hyphae, getting a "grip" and then it actually punctures through  the outside surface of the larger hyphae and sets up shop--making a living off of the other organism.  There are various ways molds do this, but suffice to say, they are quite efficient.
                                                  Photo credit: sciencephoto.com

There are other ways that molds kick butt and take names.  There are the volatiles that molds produce.  Some of them we know as the mycotoxins that cause "sick house" syndrome--when a mold develops in the walls, ceilings, basements etc.  It is often not the spores that cause the residents to get sick--but the toxins that the molds produce.

Penicillin is a volatile produced by a mold.  The mold makes it to fend off bacteria. Voila!  When we take that volatile that the mold produces, it fends off bacteria in us. :-)

Then there are the out and out parasites.  Here, a Beauvaria mold infected and killed this spider.  One day it was simply cruising through its turf, unsuspecting. It didn't notice the spore drifting near. It didn't notice the sticky surface of the spore grabbing hold of its exoskeleton. It didn't even notice that it had developed a spot on its body that was being eaten away and was now covered in white fuzz. And then one day, it just couldn't force itself to move. It stopped.  And there it died...while the hyphae ran through its body, colonizing and consuming as it went.  And finally the day, unbeknownst to the dead spider, its exoskeleton remained, intact, covered with a telltale white fuzz.  Testament to the power of a tiny mold spore.  Life...and death, fought out everyday... on a microbial scale...

         Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Beauveria_bassiana_31756.jpg

And here,  a Metarhizium strain infected and killed this cockroach.

Important to note--these insects were not consumed by a mold after they had died. They were infected by a mold which caused them to die.  This is a huge field-- Biological Integrated Pest management.

And it gives writers really cool insight into how life works. Everything has to eat something. Doesn't matter if it is a microbe in your garden soil, or ET cruising in through a wormhole from 120 light-years away...

Photo credit: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=12123

This fascinates me.  I live by a rule--that as long as I can go to work and look at mold through a microscope and then say, "Cool...look at that, would ya!" That I have nothing to complain about.  I have the best job in the world.  And it is helping the earth...chipping away at our need for synthetic pesticides and herbicides.  Okay, I could go on and on, but will stop here.

What do you think of molds?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z "L" is for Lightning: a little science behind the green grass

Lightning...just the word brings visions, memories, and a slew of emotions.  People are afraid of it, people are in awe of it.  It can change our lives in a split second.
Lightning is extremely powerful...the actual event-- and the words denoting it, too. Perhaps one of the reasons why is that even though science (for the most part) understands it, it is still unpredictable and refuses to be bound or harnessed in any way.

Powerful...lightning...and its twin, thunder. 

When I was a small child, I recall my grandmother (who was born in 1885) telling stories about lightning balls rolling down off of the barn roof.  I never saw them...but believed that it had happened.   And we all knew that if a storm approached, we were to beat-feet for the house or inside one of the farm buildings. Get away from the creek and out of the woods. Never hide beneath the sheltering branches of a tree.  Everyone was aware of the local farmer whose herd of cows took shelter under a tree in his pasture, and when the tree was struck, the cows were all killed.
Even knowing all of that, on a warm summer evening when distant rumbles sound--seeming to shake the earth, I look for a place to watch the storm's approach.  The leaves quiver, the softwoods turning their silver backs away from the coming weather.  I patiently wait, anticipating the first breeze and the smell of rain.  Lightning is pure magic.  Not many things are...but lightning is one, and thunder--the harbinger of its approach.

So, while thinking of lightning in terms of being magic, it brought to mind something the old timers always said (you know how I love the things the old timers said).  When there was a first spring storm after the ground had thawed, and lightning flashed across a mud-brown and dead grass landscape, "That'll make the grass green."

Yep...unless it is was one of the earliest storms--in a mid-winter thaw, it did, indeed, make the grass green.

When I was young, I just sort of figured that there was something purely magical about.  Not that I didn't wonder why.  I would tear apart a baby's rattle to understand it--if I'd had the tools. But a child can't begin to tear apart the magic in lightning and green grass.

Enter adulthood, and bigger, better tools. :-)

The "N" on a fertilizer label denotes the nitrogen content. We have nitrogen in fertilizer because it fuels leafy, green plant growth.  Doesn't do so much for roots, flowers, or fruiting...but if you are looking for healthy, vigorous, green growth, nitrogen is your dynasty.  Plants need nitrogen.

The air in our atmosphere is about 78% nitrogen.  But, it is not in a form that plants can use. Plants can't take the nitrogen directly out of the air.
When lightning strikes, it super-heats the air near to it.  In doing so, it causes the nitrogen to bind with the oxygen in the air--forming nitrogen oxides.  These combine with moisture in the air.  The now "fixed" nitrogen is carried to earth by rain, and these nitrates can be taken up and used by the plants.  Lightning fixes nitrogen into a form usable by plants.

Okay, we understand it now.  Still, when you fall asleep listening to  approaching thunder, and wake up to a dramatically greener world... seems like pure magic to me. :-)