Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thoughts on Australian Independence Day

When I first arrived in the US I was warned by more experienced travelers that Americans are insular.
So I shouldn't be surprised that soon after one of them provided proof.

I was working on July 4th when one of the nurses came across and asked me, "How do they celebrate July 4th in England?"

"Seriously?"

"Yes, how do they celebrate America's Independence Day in England?"

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said, "It is a sad commemoration of that dreadful day when the ungrateful colonialists rose up in insurrection against the lawful rule of his gracious Majesty King George."

"Oh," she said. "Are there fireworks?"

"Yes. IN MY HEAD!"











Tuesday, January 24, 2012

First Destroy All Giant Monsters 1


The Prologue.

A little while ago. . . . .
Lucinda De Goode, tall and silver haired despite being only twenty five years old,  glanced out of the window at the rain pouring down on the streets of the village of Tintagel then returned her attention to the game at hand. After a moments consideration, she put down the ten of hearts.  Lucinda, recently graduated from college with degrees in History and Religion, had left the safety of central Pennsylvania for a tour of the Standing Stones and Sacred Sites of England, Cornwall, Scotland and Wales and had not been surprised to find other like-minded witches engaged in the same pursuit.
Lucinda suspected the magical Law of Attraction to be responsible for four similiarly trained women from different areas of the world to choose the same time of year for the journey and the same out of the way B&B in which to rest.  On their arrival it had taken them, oh, about two seconds to recogize each other for what they were –witches out on the prowl, and now on this typically Cornish Summer morning, four complete strangers on their way to becoming friends were trapped inside by bad weather. The sympathetic owner of the B&B advised them that in this corner of the coast of Cornwall playing cards was the only alternative entertainment to watching TV and the only channel she could pick up when it was raining was transmitted in Welsh.
The conversation this rainy morning covered all manner of topics of mutual interest – from the difficulty of translating old grimoires, to finding modern substitutions for old ingredients and the embarrassment of almost being caught wandering about at night sky-clad.  Not to mention how those night breezes did get into the most uncomfortable places.
“I wonder what it would be like to play poker with a tarot deck?” mused Lady Lisa Ellingswood – a traditional English witch with surprisingly modern views on life and magic – as she flicked the paste-boards with a shiny red fingernail.
“Pinochle is hard enough for me,” muttered Mahini Patel as she rearranged her hand yet again.
“It wouldn't be right,” declared Lucinda. “It would be disrespectful of the cards.”
“Oh, please,” sniffed Lady Lisa. “What do cards know about respect?  They're pieces of cardboard, tools, just like candles and potions. You take your magic too seriously, Lucinda.”
“And you don't take it seriously enough. How do you do magic?  Do you just gather energy willy nilly and toss it around with no thought to proper organization?  No records. No consistancy. No consideration of the impact it has upon the Ether? It's wasteful and untidy!”
“Ladies, please,” interrupted Mahini, “don't quarrel. Different is not wrong. Our dear friend Lucinda would never consider performing a spell without offering respect to the five Elementals and we know many witches who only acknowledge four elements and are still quite successful. We four even honor different Gods and Goddesses as we work and still the magic comes.  No one is right and no one is wrong.”
“Maybe we're all wrong and we don't know because no one has studied the matter,” said Lucinda. “How do we know what is the best way to do a spell? Have you ever tested it? What I'd like to see is two witches perform the same spell with their own techniques and have the results assessed by an impartial observer.”
“If there's a result how would you know which spell caused it?” inquired Lady Lisa.
That didn't stump Lucinda for more than two heartbeats.
“We should match up two people with similar requests and have two different witches do a spell for each of them. We don't tell the witches who they're doing magic for, just have them do it and see what happens. Scientists call that a double-blind study.”
“Magical scientists,” laughed Lady Lisa. “Now that is something I’d pay money to see. Better than a show on the West End.”
“That wouldn't be popular with those seeking magical aid,” said Mahini. “People seek us out only at times of great need.”
“Oh, please. You must have different seekers where you're from,” said Lady Lisa, pausing the blow a raspberry. “Most of the time I get frivolous requests.  Love spells, I ask you. Three of them, last week. Oh, for the good old days when we cast spells to keep Hitler from invading!”
“Love spells?” repeated Lucinda. “Do people still ask you to do that?”
“What? Ask for love spells or make them?” Lady Lisa laughed. “Certainly they do. Not I, but enough practitioners do it for me to be ashamed of my sisterhood.”
She played an ace with some satisfaction.
“That’s true. How often do we get a truly serious request?” asked Lucinda. “Most of the stuff I see is, well, not frivolous, but not life threatening either. Besides, Doctors test new medicines on sick people without knowing what the end result would be and that's considered ethical.”
“It's sounds like a lot of work and, really, why bother?” asked Lady Lisa. “My magic works well enough for me.”
“Because I don't like wasting effort. There's no reason why we can't assess our magical spell books scientifically. See what really works. We assume a great deal. Just because our teachers told us something doesn't mean it is right. We owe it to ourselves, to our future students to test these assumptions. Personally I think it's long overdue. Don't you want to be more efficent?”
Mahini tossed down another card and considered. “True. And for the first time in history we can consult with witches from many countries. Communications is easy and relatively cheep. We could try researching a few basic things and use computers to correlate the data. I'd do magic for your clients in my country with my rituals and phone you to tell you it's done.  The client will tell you when he feels the effect and you can measure it and tell me.”
“We'd get him to fill in a questionnaire,” said Lucinda. “Just like proper scientists. Have the witch write down her exact ingredents and ritual and the next time we get a similar request we could change some part of the ritual and assess the result! Or we could have an ingrediant of the month change, all white candles for example, and see if it makes a difference!”
 “I think we should do it.” Madame Charlemagne De Fue, who'd picked up and laid down cards without comment since the game began, spoke for the first time. “I, for one, want to know about the graveyard dirt of a hanged man. I've wondered for years, should it be from above the coffin or under it? Either is difficult in New Orleans, you understand, with our cemetery's all being above ground. And have you ever considered if it makes a difference if the man hanged himself or was executed for a crime?  Suicide verses guilt, if you think about it psychologically, should influence the results.  And what if he were an innocent man hanged unjustly, does that change the spell? When you think that hanging of guilty men is becoming rarer, can we collect from the graves of the electrocuted or those poisoned to death?  If not, then we shall soon see holes in graveyards where rests a hanged man from witches taking dirt away.” She sat and regarded the others with a quizzical look. “You agree, ladies, this is something to think on and, at my time of life, I should like to stop hanging around graveyards at midnight.”
Since none of the other three women could make a guess as to the Madame's age they simply nodded.
“Exactly my point. We don't know. We don't know and we should. If we want to be taken seriously we should be serious, or at least methodical.” Lucinda picked up the notebook where they'd been recording the scores and flipped to a clean page. “How do you think we should begin?”


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Name Game


(BTW, this first scene, really happened. To me.)
The scene: A maternity room in big city obstetric department
The players: A new Mommy and her midwife.

“So,” says the midwife, handing the new mommy her beautiful baby, “have you given any thought to a name for your daughter?”

“Yes! I’ve decided to name her Chlamydia.”

Now, this is where the midwife – me - swallows her teeth. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy working in the maternity department - most of the time. It’s not the pain or the noise or the endless suffering that gets to me. It’s the names I can’t stand.

“Chlamydia?” repeats the midwife, pinching the bridge of her nose and squinting. “What the hel. . . um… Why did you choose that name?”

“Well, I was in the doctors waiting room for a prenatal visit and overheard the doctor talking to his nurse and he said, ‘that lady’s got Chlamydia.’ I thought it sounded like a terrific name for a girl. It’s Italian, isn’t it?”

Calamari,” thinks the midwife, “Italian for octupus. That’s barely better.
“It’s a flower,” continues the mother.
“That would be a Camelia!”
“Oh, but I like the sound of Chlamydia.”
“Okay,” said the Midwife. “Do you know how to spell it?”

The mother frowns and pulls at her lower lip. “It starts with a ‘Q’?”

“Well,” says the midwife, “If you can’t spell it, imagine the problem your daughter will have when she starts preschool. All her teachers are going to be asking her to spell her name.”

“You’re right. Maybe ‘Sally’ would be better. But I’ll spell it with an ‘ie’, just to be ‘different’.”

***

Goddess help us all, I hate asking people what they’ve named their kids, and until recently I had no sympathy for their problems. For heaven’s sake, they’d had eight or nine months to get over themselves and choose something sensible. But no, many cannot resist playing practical jokes with something as important as a name.*1

Then I started writing and realized just how hard it is to name someone.

Parents have it easy! They only have to name one or two – or in the most extreme case in my experience, a total of twelve - children.

But a writer, oh have mercy, we not only have to name the hero and heroine, we have to name their parents, their siblings, their pets, (deep breath) their home town and street, the school they went to, their best friends, their houses, their favorite brand of coffee ---- and, for the Paranormal and Sci Fi amongst us - - - their money, home planet, civilization, food, games, pastimes, alcoholic drinks, parasitic animals, and gods!

Whew!

And we don’t just get to do it just once, but have to do it over and over again. Sigh. I was arguing with my writers group. They said ‘Carl’ wasn’t macho enough for an alpha hero. They wanted me to change it to ‘Karl.’ I pointed out a recent Regency where the hero was named ‘Waldo,’ and he got to carry a sword and everything. (The battle continues. . . )

I have discovered that I’m not good at naming. Particularly when, as a writer, I have to name them well!

It’s not easy. In the real world I’ve had plenty of exposure to people naming the children with-malice-a-forethought. (That’s a legal term for being real mean and planning it out in advance.)

There was one mother of a prematurely born boy who wanted everyone to know she valued his “special” nature. She wrote on his bedside card ‘Im’unkie’, intending it to be pr onounced ‘I’m unique.’ The doctor on rounds loudly read it as ‘I’m a Monkey.’

Twins seem to bring out the worst in people.

e.g.

‘Orangejello and Lemonjello.’ – no explanation given. (Pronounced Oron’gelo and Limon’gelo)


A bus driver was the proud papa of twin boys who he named ‘Mercedes and Lamborghini.’ Apparently he had always wanted to say, ‘this is my Mercedes and I have a Lamborghini at home.’ Now he could.

‘Grace and Favor.’
For those of you who don’t know, retired servants of the British Royal family, who have no family or life outside of service to the crown, are permitted to live in one of six small apartments in Buckingham Palace until they die. These are called The Grace And Favor Apartments. While occupying these apartments they are, and I quote - “living under the Grace and Favor of the Queen.” A very royalist mommy decided that she liked the sound of the words. Ummmm?

‘Patrick Ivan Gilmore and Brian Ian Gilmore.’

On the face of it not bad names, but Daddy thought it funny to give the boys embossed everything! From school bags, to wallets, to books and personalized number plates for the cars they eventually obtained. All through school they were known at ‘Biggy and Piggy.’

The Hispanic triples, however, win the prize:- ‘Jesus, Mary and Jose.’

Yes, I have met a baby ‘Urine’, and if you get me drunk I will explain how that came about. (It’s all my fault.) And I’ve heard the one about Nosmo King enough to know that it is apocryphal. There are more ‘Fe’male’s’ than you would think reasonable, far too many ‘Precious’s’, ‘Diamond’s’, and ‘Angel’s.’ There is a special level of hell for those who have named their babies ‘Nevaeh’, and think themselves so clever.

Then there is the poor guy who works in the housekeeping department of my hospital. I will leave it to those of you with good memories to work out what year he was born and which science fiction program his parents are fans of, but his name is ‘T’Pau.’

I’m beginning to sound snide and superior and I’m sort of sorry about that. But in a recent book I read the author had either given up or was trying to slip one by the reader. She’d named the evil, conniving cousins trying to steal the heroine’s fortune the ‘Philthi-Riches.’ (They come from France.) And then there’s the dashing, kind and mysterious Irish stable lad ‘O’Goodenbed. . . . ’ (Perhaps the editor was asleep?)

Remember writers, we suffer, but we do not suffer alone.


*1(Just an FYI, but there is no legal requirement for you to give your child your last name. You could be the ‘Brown-Smythes’ and put ‘Spring’ on the birth certificate as the baby’s surname. As long as you correctly enter your name, the kid can have anything you down. Please, just aim for something reasonable that won’t cause him to become a serial killer.)
* * *
For more information on bad baby names I refer you to: http://www.notwithoutmyhandbag.com/babynames/1.html

Oh, and for help choosing names see http://www.behindthename.com which allows you to put in a meaning and it will give you a list of names. For example put in “light” and it will give you:- ABNER   m, Usage: English, Biblical, AEGLE   f, Usage: Greek Mythology (Latinized), APOLLO   m, Usage: Greek Mythology (Latinized), BARAK   m, Usage: Biblical, Jewish, BERGLJOT   f, Usage: Norwegian, BHASKAR   m, Usage: Indian, HIKARI   f, Usage: Japanese, HIKARU   m ,Usage: Japanese, JYOTI   f, Usage: Indian
Etc, etc, etc.
Bio: arrested at the age of 14 for performing immoral acts with a dictionary, Dee was recently released from incarceration. Recidivist that she is, she is currently awaiting trial for interfering, prying, nosing and meddling with a thesaurus.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Random thoughts on the subject of rejection

Getting published is the goal of every author but I have survived the long process by enjoying the vagaries of the people who send rejection letters.
I have discussed this many times with other authors and we all have our stories to tell. One friend has placed her rejection letters on what she calls the 'toilet roll of doom."
My own journey begins when I would send short stories into Sci Fi magazines to try my luck with the slush pile.
The first time the rejection took the form of a post it note attached to my submission which read - "send standard rejection letter."
The next rejection took the form of a photocopied form letter with a couple of blank spaces for the rejector to fill in.
Dear. . . blank (left blank). Thank you for sending your . . . short story. . . sincerely . . . . .
This one wasn't signed.
But I felt the sincerity.
The next rejection was "We don't print poetry."
But I didn't send poetry. . .
Then, heaven help us, I started to receive personalized rejection letters that suggested, possibly, that they'd read the book.
Even then the rejections did not make sense.
I pitched a book at a writers conference as a humorous paranormal, sent in a humorous book and received a rejection which read . "Don't be afraid to go dark."
(Pardon? I said in the pitch session it was funny.)
Then came the happy day when I received a letter which stated, in part. .
"I loved this sample. I loved your hero and heroine. I loved your secondary characters and the chemistry.
IF you ever manage to get this published please let me know, I'd like to read the rest of the book."
(WHAT?)
(***sigh***)
Much time later I received a polite rejection from an agent who told me I was "almost there."
(Almost there? Where is there? What there? Who there? What does there look like? What is missing from the here to make it there? Is it bigger than a bread box? Smaller than a tree? Can you buy it at Walgreens? Does it come as a roll on or inhaler? Can you get here from there?)
Finally achieving agent - ness I thought I was closer to there but there were more rejections to come.
Next was "Thank you for the opportunity to read this book. It is fun, well written and interesting. I don't know where to market it."
(bookshops?)
And, finally came the day when the editor in chief requested a re-write and resubmit.
(Ta DA!)
Which she held onto for six months before rejecting.
"Please thank your author for the changes. Please tell her she did a good job. Unfortunately. . . ."
(***sigh***)
But, now. . . first book is out. This, however, does not mean I have reached the end of the rejection letter story. Getting one book out does not mean that your others will be accepted.
I await the other interesting ways publishers will use to make me stare blankly at computer screens and letters. I have no doubt their imaginations have not yet plumbed the true depths of rejectionosity.