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Thursday, February 13, 2020


Coronavirus (now known as COVID-19).

I have watched with a mix of horror and anxiety as the numbers of infected and deceased have grown and grown and grown. A doctor who was in the right place at the right time to help stunt the spread of the virus instead was silenced by the Chinese government and became another casualty of the deadly bug. A citizen reporter has disappeared. Silenced?

Predictions on where this epidemic will end are all over the place. Reporting criteria has changed. Scientists are still trying to figure out the various ways the virus can spread and how contagious it is. One new report is suggesting that it can travel through the pipes in apartments and infect people on other floors. Japan has just reported its first death from the virus, joining the Philippine Islands and Hong Kong as areas outside of mainland China as areas where people have died from the virus. One of the new worries is what will happen if/when the virus spreads to the African continent and other areas that haven't been affected yet. 

For those who look for updated news, the following is a link to Johns Hopkins University's data wall about deaths, recovered, and infected. One set of data points not tracked by this dashboard are the deaths caused by resources being tied up with keeping this epidemic in check. For example, in areas of heavy infection, people may start dying from measles and other illnesses that could have been treated if the hospital staff weren't busy.

I am glad to be in Louisiana, away from the East and West coasts. I get sick enough from all the bugs my students bring in on a daily basis!

May you be well. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Mermaid

09 FEB 2020

[Today's post is a continuation from the last post, with some more mermaid information gleaned from the internets and inspired by the Mythic Creatures exhibit at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, TX] 

One of the mythic creatures highlighted by the Witte Museum’s special exhibit was Lasirenn, the mermaid. This caught my eye, because the Spanish translation for mermaid is La Sirena. La Sirena is also one of the cards in Lotería, the traditional Spanish lottery game, also known as Mexican Bingo. She is card number six.

Lotería is a lot like Bingo, but the caller not only calls out the number on the card, but he or she also says a little rhyme or riddle about the picture on the card as well. Here's an example of what might be said when La Sirena is pulled: 

"Numero Seis! La sirena! Con los cantos de sirena, no te vayas a marear."
Number 6! The Mermaid! Don’t be swayed by the songs of the mermaid.

But the Spanish La Sirena of Lotería fame was not the La Sirenn at the Witte. This La Sirenn was the mermaid of the people of the island nation of Haiti. Lasirenn has various spellings: Lasiren, La Siren, or Lasyrene. She is one of the three Ezili sisters in Haitian mermaid myths. All three symbolize female power and problems but only Lasirenn is actually a mermaid. She is the mystical mermaid living underwater. There was a Haitian Voodoo chant about Lasirenn at the exhibit: 

Original (Haitian French):
Lasyrenn, Labalenn,
Chapo’m tombe nan lanme’.
M’ap fé karés ak Lasyrenn,
Chapo’m tombe nan lanme’.
M’ap fe dodo ak Lasyrenn,
Chapo’m tombe nan lanme’.

To see Lasirenn underwater is like catching a glimpse of something mysterious, something huge, powerful and sudden. The repeated line in the poem, " My hat falls into the sea" means you're about to be consumed by an insight and/or drown!

Lasirenn is described in opposites: she is black and white. She is also Labalenn, the whale (killer whales are also black and white). She is usually nice, but she storms like the sea in her aspect as a whale. As a woman, her hair is black or blonde, but always very long and shiny. She is always combing her long hair, as in other mermaid myths. She is related to the African goddess Mami Wata in form and attributes.

In her mermaid myths, Lasirenn captures people and pulls them underwater. As poetic as “My hat falls into the sea” sounds, it means to follow Lasirenn underwater. Some merely drown, others return alive but altered by their time with the sea goddess. Most of the returnees are women. Those who follow Lasirenn disappear for three days, three weeks, or three years and when they return they are changed. Their skin is paler (a big deal in the Haitian culture), their hair longer and straighter, and they have gained secret knowledge of healing. These returnees are disoriented after their time with Lasirenn. At first, they cannot speak and don't even remember what happened to them. After some time the story emerges, of being instructed by Lasirenn under the water.
Where does she live? Under the sea? No. She lives on the other side of the mirror. She appears white and black. Where did you see her? Ah, you were on the other side of the mirror! 

Artwork from the Smithsonian American Art Museum: 
Michael Cummings, Haitian Mermaid # 2, 1996, machine pieced, quilted, and appliquéd commercial and hand-dyed cotton, synthetic and antique fabrics, found objects, sequins, and beads, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Dorothy Dent Goodson, 2002.59

Most images of La Sirenn show her with a mirror and a comb. Mr. Cummings displays an interesting take on the myth. I am ever grateful to the Witte Museum for opening up my eyes to this version of the mermaid myth. Who knows what stories I will spin based on my trip to the Witte, but I definitely will keep in mind that all creatures, even mermaids, can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Back to Fantasy


I'm ready to get back to fantasy! I've been working the last few months on a crime short with fantasy elements, but I am itching to get back to full-on fantasy story writing. 

Picture to the left was taken at the Mythical Creatures exhibit at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Great place, and even greater exhibit. I learned so much! There were griffins there, dragons, Haitian mermaids, crazy sea stories (one of which I will detail later) and all other sorts of wonderful things. I went with family, which made it all the better.
Figurehead: A classic ship's mermaid

Sedna was a strange tale. Not sure if I would classify it as a mermaid tale, but it is a tale of the ocean, and Sedna is pictured sometimes with webbed fingers, or no fingers, depending. 

The story concerns a goddess that, depending on which version of the tale, is involved in various things, like getting married to a bird, or a dog, or not wanting to get married at all. At some point in all of the stories, Sedna travels by kayak with her father (or sometimes other beings). During the voyage, Sedna somehow ends up hanging over the side of the kayak, gripping onto it for dear life. But her father, caring person that he is, chops at her hands (in the tales, this is usually because the pair are caught in the middle of a storm and he is trying to save himself by getting rid of Sedna, or she has done something bad and this is her punishment). Sedna's plump fingers are chopped off one by one. Hack hack hack. Thanks Dad! 

But the strangeness doesn't end there. Her bits of fingers, now bleeding and floating free in the ocean, turn into seals, walruses and whales. Bereft of her fingers, Sedna cannot hold onto the kayak and sinks to the ocean depths. She becomes a goddess of the sea and the Inuit underworld. Inuit hunters pray to her for a successful hunt of her 'fingers'. Inuit women perform a ritual of combing Sedna's hair in order to placate the angry goddess so she will release the seals and whales for the hunt.

Also, though I have no idea why, the name Sedna has been given to a planetoid that wanders around our solar system, further out than Pluto. Go figure.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mission San Jose & Alebrijes

01 JAN 2020

Happy New Year!

To start the new year off right I have for you a fine selection of history and Hispanic culture. No story today though.

First off, pictures from a recent Mission trip. We went down to San Antonio and toured the San Jose Mission just south of town. There are several missions in and around the city, but we only had time for one this trip. The mission was peaceful and beautiful. The place is huge, with a nice central square area protected by the walls. 

We also saw, though I did not take pictures of, a beautiful young lady in a gigantic light blue dress, most likely celebrating her Quinceañera. She was a beautiful butterfly flitting around, landing here and there for pictures, complemented by the azure sky.

The mission comes from the time when Spain was in charge of the Americas. 

Picture above is one of the corners of the church. Bottom left of the picture (lighter area) can be seen some of the original decorative outer coating of the church

I enjoy going to missions. I could wander around them for hours. I don't like some of the history of the places, the enslavement and forced conversions of the Indians, but they are soothing places now. I've visited many missions in California, but I believe this is the first one I've been to outside of California.

The small mission cemetery. 
The sky was a perfect blue that day

The front of the church
The cemetery in the previous picture
can be seen in the bottom right

Detail above the church doors

The next bit to share is about Alebrijes (pronounced ah-la-bree-hays). Here's the Wikipedia link for those who want to know more, but basically they are fantastical creatures made of bits of this and that -wings, tails, claws etc... all colored crazily. Anything I can think of as a writer is nothing compared to these things!

Here's an example: 

Have a great New Year!!!! Here are some more images from the Mission.

Diego and the Virgin Mary

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Remember the Fallen

25 DEC 2019

This will probably be my last post of 2019. But who knows what the future holds. Anyways, managed to pump out a grand of words on and off for the last few days. Not much for others, but good enough for me. Below is a sample which should remain relatively unchanged in the final proof. Do I need a spoiler alert for a story that no one has read yet? 

To set the scene, the characters are remembering a fallen comrade... 

Sunday afternoon, Dave, Carol and all non-essential police personnel listened with reverence at the police station and in their vehicles as dispatch called out on the radio.
Her voice held a hint of urgency, of expectation. “Detective Morel, come in.” Silence.
Again, this time with desperation, with hope against all odds that he would answer. “Detective Leonard Morel, come in.” Someone near the door choked back a tear.
“She does such a good job. I couldn’t do that.”
One more time. Resignation. “Detective Leonard Morel. No response.” The dispatch operator paused for a moment. “Let the log show Detective Leonard Morel, lost in service to the citizens of Los Angeles. May god rest his soul.”

Unless I am going for anger and outrage, my stories will show a proper reverence for the fallen. 

May your days be long and good upon the Earth.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Dave & the End of a Decade

24 DEC 2019

Howdy all. As year's end is fast approaching, it seems fitting to finish the decade with another wonderful article by Dave. A decade denouement if you will. Sage wisdom and advice he always has in abundance. This time his inspiration comes from the good people over at Writer's Digest. Personally, I take away from this article my own struggle with never being satisfied with my writing, as he mentions just above the anecdote. I'm currently in the throes of battle with a story now light-years ahead of where it was months ago (see what I did there, movie-goers?). In other news, I am of two minds about trying my hand at some poetry, just so I can say my writing has gone from bad to verse... 

Happy Holiday!


The “Had Horrors” Redux

David Alan Owens

In 1927 Laurence O’Dorsay wrote an article for “The Writer’s Digest Guide to Good Writing.” I rediscovered the article “The Had Horrors,” in November 2019. The 1994 Edition of “Guide To Good Writing,” languished in my attic for fifteen years. I dusted the cover and began to read again this wonderful compilation of WD articles. Fine advice from seventy-five years inspired me again — but I read D’Orsay’s article with a renewed interest.
In D’Orsay’s article (page 25), he wrote about when he, in 1927 found himself at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most famous fiction magazine editors of the day (I researched but found little about this mysterious Gamaliel, and I am not sure whether D’Orsay referred to the rabbinical legend, or the Jewish teacher of the same name, I think the name is an allusion and honors the editor by comparison to the great Gamaliel).
In those days, editors often took it upon themselves to develop writers. Editors and agents do not today reach out to writers with obvious talent and help those new writers develop into the professionals they might become. The concept demonstrates the writing and publishing world’s decline.
Today the object is money and fame where the self-publishing world cranks out millions, yes millions, of poorly written stories, stories without noticeable merit, and they are filled with nothing but trope and cliché. Fame comes not often, and is a rare event in the self-publishing world. Fame is also rare in traditional publishing.
D’Orsay sat in his office with Gamaliel when a young “editor in training” entered the office and placed a manuscript on the table. The young man voiced his complaints about the story. “Something’s still wrong with it. You’ve sent it back to him five or six times. He’s got a good opening now, and a good finish, but somehow it just doesn’t register. It’s a good story, but he seems to take too long to get to the meat of the thing after his dramatic start.”
Gamaliel peeked into the manuscript and announced, “It’s as plain as day. Snifkins (the author) has a bad attack of the had horrors.”
When questioned about this “disease,” he replied, “Most of them have ‘em young. Just like children with measles, best to have them young. They think they must stop the story for a time and tell the reader what the hero and his heroine and the villain had been doing before the reader ever saw them. Causes the reader to start guessing, right from the beginning. Snifkins leaves ‘em hung up in the air until page four. He starts his puppets working, and then drops the strings while he lectures about their past lives. Look at this damn thing! Hads and had beens scattered all over his pages. He has the makings of a good writer, but we must cure him of his had horrors.”
If a story is strong and contains well-sustained entertainment value, an editor might overlook a few technical flaws, but one thing he will not overlook is a bad attack of the had horrors, Gamaliel observed.
D’Orsay relates how hads are like a stodgy lump of cold greasy fat served when you’ve finished the appetizers. He explains how to solve the mess and produce better work (page 26). “The thing to do with this irreducible minimum of explanatory matter about antecedent happenings is to link it with your moving story. Use action, with dialogue, and with thoughts running through the minds of characters. In this way, you can weave the whole thing into one pattern, connect the past with what is present, and future, and turn the thing into entertainment. Keep the dramatic conflict in the forefront and let your characters solve the eternal problem — what happens and why. The process focuses upon the concept of writing for the reader.”
A true writer is never satisfied with his writing. John Dusfresne, professor in the Master of Fine Arts Writing Program of the English Department of Florida International University said, “Show me a writer who is satisfied with their work, and I’ll show you an amateur.”  

In the same 1994 Writer’s Digest 75th anniversary issue, this short anecdote appears on page 30:
Fred Kelly, the humorist and author of the dog’s only book of philosophy, You and Your Dog, sat with the famous writer Booth Tarkington, in Tarkington’s Indianapolis home. Tarkington related how discouraged he often became when writing.
“Are you ever conscious right at the time of doing something good,” Kelly asked.
“No,” Tarkington chuckled, “it all seems fairly bad. You know, writing is about the most discouraging job of all. One knows so well what he is trying to express, but all the words aren’t available. This afternoon I tried to write a paragraph or two to describe a scene in northern Africa but the words weren’t available. I tried to write vivid description for my readers, but when I groped for the crystals all I could pick up were a few smeary words — a meaningless mess. Yet all the time I knew the right words were somewhere if I could only find them. It’ll never suit me, I’ll still feel that I could do it better.”
Kelly later said, “When I came away, I thought: So long as he has that attitude toward his work, no wonder it’s good.” (Dufresne’s wisdom)
References: Writer’s Digest Guide To Good Writing.
Copyright © 1994, by Writer’s Digest Books - Edited by Thomas Clark
Library of Congress ISBN 0-89879-640-7


Sunday, December 8, 2019

Writing Update


I finally was able to work on a story this weekend. Not a lot done, but progress was made toward the finish line. I haven't written anything for a while now, not counting words about my grandparents. So here's a little sample of words from this weekend:
Dave is a Los Angeles police officer, and Carol is a CSI (Crime Scene Investigator). They are returning to an apartment where an unusual murder took place...


They pulled into a spot next to her car. A homeless lady pushed a cart full of belongings into the nearby alley.
Dave, concerned, questioned Carol. “You sure you’re okay to drive?”
“Yeah,” she replied. Yellow police tape decorated the doorframe of the apartment upstairs. “You mind going upstairs to the crime scene? I told my boss I would retake a few photos.”
“Sure. Let’s do this.”
They climbed up the stairs. Dave held the tape as Carol ducked under.
A couple flicks of the light switch did nothing. “You’re going to have to come back tomorrow.” Dave left the door open and pulled out his mag light.
“Over here,” she said. “I just want to take another look at it while we’re here.” She stood near the end of the hallway and waited for Dave to join her. She could feel the symbol glaring at her from the bedroom door.
He pointed the beam over her shoulder. The hash marks and symbol were still there.
She was too nervous to glance down at her hand. “Your ring, Dave. Hold it up.”
“My ring? I don’t wear a ring.”
Carol’s heart thumped in her chest. She tried to sound disinterested, “I thought you were married?”
“I was. Look, can we do the twenty questions later?”
She could hear something raw in his voice.
The flashlight beam danced around. “I don’t wear a ring, so let’s keep it moving. Is this about your ring glowing?”

“Yeah,” she answered, but she was really thinking about the world of possibilities that just opened up between her and Dave. She turned to him and smiled in the darkness. “My grandmother’s ring.” She brought her hand up and reached for the symbol. Her ring glowed, just as before. “See!”


Hopefully this snippet interests you. I'm still finishing up the last few pages of the rewrite. No ETA on the finished product yet. 

Picture for today: In honor of the holiday season. Not my place, but one from a nearby neighborhood.