Thursday Thoughts (late): Puerto Rico and an exerpt

Seeing the video and pictures out of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is pretty much the last straw in a summer of straws. I visited Puerto Rico on a cruise a couple years back. My mother spent time there as a young child, with her grandparents who were missionaries. That doesn’t mean I have ties, but I can’t look away either. I am furious and distressed and overwhelmingly sad all at the same time. Not just because of the tragedy but because there’s seems to be no rush to help. I even had a woman to tell me, when I pointed this out, to breathe. Because, yeah, breathing is going to help those people instead of, I don’t know, writing my congresspeople to DO SOMETHING. And I am taking breaths. I’m just about hyperventilating.

Anyway. I don’t want to write a whole post about this. In the end the only thing I’ve really got to offer the world is my writing. It’s hard as hell in times like these to write; my instinct is to try to get there and help, but I have no clue as to how to do that and will most likely only mess things up. That’s not my path in life. So. It’s the writing. That’s what I’ve got.

Here’s an excerpt from 20 pages into Children of Liberty. Maybe it’ll take your mind off this summer’s tragedies for a couple of minutes.

“This is heavenly,” I say after the first forkful of Tansy’s roast duck with raspberry sauce. “I’ve never had anything this good in Temple City. Or Central City for that matter.”

Two pretty red circles rise in Tansy’s cheeks. She beams at me. “Really?”

“Really,” I answer. We’re sitting in the dining area of their two-room log cabin. This furniture is handmade as well. A huge stone fireplace heats the entire room—dining room, kitchen and living area.

“Tansy’s a very inventive cook,” Maya says. Her voice is cool and even, but nobody could mistake the pride in it. “No matter how short we are of supplies, she always comes up with something delicious.”

Tansy offers me some bread. “You’re lucky. Yesterday was baking day. We only have enough flour for one loaf a week.”

I’m a fugitive from the law and my life isn’t worth the chair I’m sitting on. That’s hardly lucky, but I try to keep my usual cynicism out of my voice. “I’ve always had good fortune when it comes to running from bears and falling down cliffs.”

Maya raises her eyebrows. Oh well, at least I tried.

Tansy laughs. “If you’re going to make it a habit, do it on baking day.”

“How about I forget the falling part, and just arrive on baking day?”

“You are welcome any day, High Priestess,” Tansy says warmly. Then, for the third time since we sat down, her eyes rest on my Temple tattoo.

I’ve eaten enough that I can stand putting down my fork. Turning my right arm over, I push back my sleeve to show it to her. It’s a gold facetted circle, cut into ten pie pieces to represent each of the Temple’s sects, which are the governmental departments of the Order. Each pie piece is colored with a corresponding sect’s color: 1st, the Guard, is royal blue, the 2nd, Arts and Education is rose pink, and so on. All Temple members have a tattoo of the circle, with the sect they belong to colored in. Only the Prophet, High Priestess and Apprentice—the next in line for Prophet—have all of the pieces colored.

Tansy gasps. “Oh, it sparkles!”

“It’s the kind of ink they use,” I say. I move my wrist for effect and watch it sparkle in the light, courtesy of solar panels on the roof. The tattoo really is gorgeous. Or would be if it didn’t represent oppression, cruelty, and my six years of living in fear. “Go ahead, you can touch it.”

She runs her fingers over it, and then smiles shyly at me. When she’s done, I dig into my dinner again. “So, Maya,” I start casually, “you said Temple City is three days away. How often do you visit?” And who do you visit, my worried brain adds. Friends on the High Council? Inquisitors?

“It’s three days by horse,” Maya says. “You’ll want a couple days to mend first, so that’s five days.” She peers at me. “Will the Prophet be worried about you?”

Very much. But not in the way she thinks.

I need a good answer, though, one that will satisfy curiosity, not inflame it. My head is still so foggy. A minute goes by. A minute and a half. What do I say?

“Maybe Priestess—” Maya starts just as a thought hits me.

“He thinks I’m in SouthMid.”

She starts, then frowns. “Why does he think that?”

Why indeed? And why was I running for my life from a mother bear in the middle of the wilderness? I need a good lie. The best are based in reality. There was a train accident, and I ended up here.

There’s no reality in that, and trains don’t run near the mountains.

I was on a camping trip and got lost.

Closer to reality, but who was I with? The High Priestess would never camp alone. Honestly, the High Priestess, or at least this High Priestess, would never camp, period.

I was on a picnic—

“Try the truth,” Maya says. She speaks coolly, as if she isn’t calling me a liar. I should respond with indignation; the High Priestess is not to be questioned.

Except by Grayson. And the Inquisitors.

I’m not indignant, and I am no longer the High Priestess. At best I’m a dissident, which is just a nice word for traitor. “I ran away.”

Maya raises her brows.

“What?” Tansy asks, perplexed. “But why?”

“I needed some time . . . alone. To think.”

Tansy blinks. Socials, even in terrible situations, would run to other people, not to the wilderness.

Maya puts down her fork with careful precision. “They must be searching for you.”

“I told the Prophet I was going to SouthMid.” That lie works now, and I’m vaguely pleased with myself. Given enough time I can weave lies as soft as silk.

“I’m sure they’ve discovered you aren’t there.”

“Possibly,” I say with a wave of my hand, “but they’d never think to look for me here.”

“So you pretended to board a train,” Maya says in clipped tones, “but instead borrowed a horse. Then rode out into the wilderness with no provisions to speak of. No tent, no lighting. No food. Because you wanted to think?

“When you say it like that it sounds stupid.”

“I don’t know how I’d say it so it wouldn’t sound stupid.”

Maya,” Tansy hisses. “She’s the High Priestess.”

“I don’t care if she’s God herself. She’s lying.”

Damn. Now what? She’s not buying my lies, silken or otherwise. “I did run away,” I insist. “And they aren’t looking for me here.” Because nobody in their right mind would do what I did. But I am not in my right mind and Maya is realizing that. She continues to stare at me with that penetrating gaze. She’s waiting for an answer, a truthful one. She reminds me of Jarvis, whom I trusted with my life. Maybe I can trust her too.

At any rate, I’m out of options.

I shove aside the pain that thoughts of Jarvis always bring and hold Maya’s gaze. “I’m a fugitive. The Temple suspects me of spying on the Prophet. I escaped before the Inquisitors could take me in for questioning.”

“Oh,” Tansy breathes. “Pa told us horror stories about the Inquisitors. But surely . . . surely they would treat the High Priestess with reverence? Follow every clue until they discover who is really responsible.”

Neither Maya nor I break our gazes. After a few seconds, her eyes flicker. “She wasn’t set up,” Maya says. “She did it.”

“No,” Tansy says doubtfully.

I just shrug.

Maya sits back and I watch as the tension in her muscles drains away. With it goes the unnatural aging of anxiety, leaving behind a woman who’s probably five or six years my junior. “Well I’ll show you the way back, but you’re welcome to stay with us if you’d rather.”

You’re welcome to die here. That’s what she really means.

 

Thursday Thoughts–Female Characters in Sci-fi, 6 pointers

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I’ve been thinking about writing this for a long time. And to be honest, I don’t really have the time currently to do it. But I’m going to anyway because I’m angry and writing helps me work through it.

I was born in the 60’s. This was a period of time when banks literally asked women to bring men in if they wanted to open up bank accounts, apply for credit cards, apply for mortgages. They discounted women’s pay a lot more than men as well. At this period of time and all the years before that, society considered women “less than” men. I mean, hell, even the terms pretty much say that–woMEN, feMALE.

So back in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s etc, women were pretty happy, generally speaking, just to get roles in male-dominated literature/movies/television. It was pretty damned awesome that Lt. Uhura was on the bridge of the Enterprise. Even more fantastic was the  pilot of Star Trek, which had a woman doctor wearing pants. Yup, originally, the original Star Trek didn’t have women in short, short skirts. It was the 60’s though and that was nixed.

Uhura was cool, though, still. She was black, she was a woman, and she rocked. Kirk depended upon her to be smart and capable and because of that, I grew up knowing that women could be smart and capable.

The 70’s and 80’s brought us other role models. The Mod Squad (woman!), Charlie’s Angels, and my personal favorite, Princess Leia. She grabbed a gun and shot it. She saved the men. She shoved ’em aside and basically said she didn’t have time for sexism. She had shit to do.

Because of Uhura, because of Leia (and I’m sure there are many more that I’ve missed) women are now ubiquitous in sci-fi. I’m happy about. But in an effort to make women “strong” people too often seem to write a man with a woman’s name and body. And that annoys me. So without further ado, some pointers.

1) Let her have female friends. Yes, women can have women friends and be strong. Katniss did. The movie took that female friendship out and it irritated me. She later formed a bond with Johanna. That got cut from the movie too. Hermoine–male friends. Jessica Jones has a female friend, thank God. But we don’t see a whole lot of her. Her fellow super heroes are mostly male.

Men, on the other hand, have friendships. They have bromances. I’ve written about the bromance triangle in Star Trek. Lots and lots of shows and movies and books with men forming friendships and working together. Precious little women, which is ridiculous because women really, really value their friendships.

2) And don’t make ’em lesbians. This is incredibly annoying. I sit and watch the sci-fi channel with my husband, and we see two women becoming close. He says “Here it comes. Bring on the lesbians!” and invariably he’s right. I have nothing against same sex couples. I’m all for inclusion. But I have a LOT of anger over this weirdness–to the point of fetishism–that every friendship between strong females is just a lesbian relationship that has not yet been formed. NO. NO. NO. Stop it. Okay? Just stop it.

3A)Bechdel test–this is a feminism thing that says that women should have conversations with other women that don’t center on men. And yeah, it’s good. I like it. But you know has happened? Instead of creating conversations between women that aren’t about men, we just don’t have conversations between women. Problem solved!

Sigh.

Here are a few things you can have women talk about between each other–food. drugs. music. guns. explosives. bad guys. evil dictators. survival. zombies. mountains. sofas. television. cheeze-its. bathrooms. rugs. movies. books. trees. grass. water. leaves. cars. planes. asphalt. politics. football. baseball. basketball. hurricanes. earthquakes. dogs. kittens. monkeys. elephants. . . .

EVERYTHING.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that I have talked with female friends–STRONG female friends–about all of those things at some point in 40-year long friendships. So. . .do you want to adhere to the Bechdel test and you’re writing about a battle against evil aliens and you’re wondering what your two female friends will talk about that isn’t about men and their romantic relationships with them? Here’s an idea. HAVE THEM TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT THE BATTLE AGAINST THE EVIL ALIENS. Don’t give all the good planning and idea conversations to the men. Give some of them to the women. Honestly, people, it is not that hard.

Woman one: Do you think the x87 has enough fire power to kill the locust people?

Woman two: I don’t know. It worked great against the snake people, but their hides weren’t that strong. Maybe we should test it.

Woman one: You’re right. Why don’t you grab that x87 there, and we’ll try the x90 too and go out and see if we can puncture the armor.

Woman two: Oh yeah! I’ve never shot the x90. You’re on.

3B) Bechdel test–Women do talk about men. We do talk about relationships. We like to talk about relationships. It’s a Thing for us. We talk about relationships with men, with parents, with children, with coworkers, with pets, with bosses, and yeah, with men. Romance is a thing. There’s are whole industries centered around it. It’s just not the ONLY thing. And honestly, there are a helluva lot of romance novels that have themes other than just romance.

Scene with women trying the x87 and x90

Woman one: (shooting x87) So guy1 has started dating woman 3.

Woman two: (shooting x87) Are you fucking kidding me? He just broke up with you 15 minutes ago!

Woman one: (still shooting x87) The 87 isn’t working. It’s just bouncing off the shields. We’ve been at it 3 minutes. I’m going to try the 90. Yeah, guy1 always liked woman 3 but damn, that was fast. You’d think he’d at least let the bed get cold first.

Woman two: (getting x90’s for woman one): How are you feeling about that?

Woman one: (aiming x90) Like I could drink a keg and cry from now until Tuesday.

Woman two: Oh hon, I’m sorry. Listen, when this is all over, we’ll have a long talk, okay? And in the meantime, just pretend every Locust is guy1.

Woman one: (wipes eyes quickly). Okay. I can do it. (shoots x90–blasts a 70-foot hole in carcass). Damn did you see that?

Woman two: Gimme, gimme! I want to try!

4) “Women’s subjects” are not weaknesses. Women like clothes. Women like hair. Women like coffee. You can talk about all of those things, and STILL lead a battalion into a battle where half of the soldiers are going to die. In fact, when something horrible like that happens, we take comfort in the mundane. Stop making “women’s subjects” weak. They aren’t.

Woman one (keyed up, making last minute checks with her team,  looks up to see woman two join them): nice hair!

Woman two (Looks out the window at firefight. Takes a breath to steady herself): Do you like it? I dyed it blue to go with our new uniforms.

Woman one: I love it. If we live through this, show me?

Woman two: Ha! If we live through this, I’m thinking about going bald. Just to mess with everybody. . .

Door opens.

Woman one: Okay, team, you ready? Go!

Team rushes out the door into a rain of bullets.

5) Strong women are not always angry. This is a trope that pretty much is part of 1-4. WE ARE NOT ALWAYS ANGRY. You can be a strong woman and not have a chip on your shoulder. Seriously. You can not be angry. You can be ambitious or deadly just because you are ambitious and deadly. Yes, I know, tortured heroes are fun. I get that. I like ’em too. Just, please, don’t make every strong woman a walking, talking time bomb. Was Kirk a walking talking time bomb?  James Bond? Was Obi-wan or Luke? Come on–you can be alpha and not be angry.

6) Women cry. Yes, even strong women. No, we aren’t going to do that in front of people we are leading. We can actually hold back the tears so nobody sees. But we do cry. You can put her in solitude somewhere and let her cry it out. And come out even stronger and tougher, because that’s what we do. There is an actual physical reason for this–emotional tears contain enzymes that stress creates. Crying it out is literally crying those enzymes out. It’s cathartic and useful and is NOT WEAK.

I could go on, but you get the picture. When you’re writing strong women, just write women who are strong. It’s not that hard. And don’t forget, strong people are often only as good as the friends they surround themselves with–and those friends can be women too.

 

 

 

Thursday Thoughts–10 Random Scientology Stuff Thoughts

I got my rights back on two of my historical romances, so I’ve been woa4efe8999dee86d016d09be396046a71rking on getting those ready to re-pub myself. It’s a helluva lot of work because I’ve learned quite a bit about writing in the last 10 years. I can’t put them up without extensive editing, and editing is one of the most time consuming and least fun things about writing.

Also, Hurricane Harvey. No words.

I’ve watched a lot of Scientology stuff because 1) I’m fascinated by religious cults. 2)It takes me entirely out of the news which is a relief. I’ve watched youtube videos, movies like Going Clear and  Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. I read a book too, and I’d read more but there’s no time. The videos I can have in the background while I work. I pause them until I need a break, press play, play a round of computer spider solitaire, then pause again to do some more work.

Naturally, I have Thoughts.

1) Marty Rathbun is working for Scientology again. Lots of people talking about that. If you don’t know, he was the highest up person to leave. He did a series of videos in 2009 in The Truth Rundown. Although I watched them twice (fascinated=obsesssed), I did find a certain arrogance in him. Of all the Scientologists I’ve followed, he’s the one with the least amount of family ties in the cult. He also joined in his 20’s, as opposed to many of the people we hear from who were brought into the cult as children. In my head, that gives him more responsibility for what went on in the organization. I’m not sure if he ever apologized and tried to make amends (I have only so much time to research these things, no matter how obsessed I am). He is now making youtube videos denouncing all the things he denounced previously.

2) I watched youtube video interviews of Aaron Saxton, an Austrailian who was in Sea Org, the administrative arm of scientology. He was brutally honest. Kudos to him for being that way. I did note, however, that in the comment section of the first series of videos he asked the owner of the channel to take it down. That was a month ago. I can understand that, considering how much of himself he put on the line. I still admire him, though.

Aaron slammed both Rathbun and Mike Rinder. He talked about the perks of being one of the higher ups in the organization. They had special apartments in Florida. They had drivers if they wanted to get around. They were given special diets, including fine coffees from France. At least 3 times a year when they were brought to Florida. While Aaron’s slamming them for leading the poisonous culture of Scientology,  he seems to not understand the difference of indoctrination that comes with 20+ years in the cult,  and his 6 years.

3) I’m back and forth on Mike Rinder. I believe he was definitely part of the problem as Aaron says. I expect he did some pretty shitty things. On the other hand he really does seem to be actively working against the cult in an effort to take it down. I believe he issued apologies, sincerely. Apologies do not make up for awful things, but they aren’t entirely useless. They validate a person’s suffering and in a cult, which has a whole lot of gaslighting, that validation is useful.

Also, Rinder was brought into scientology when he was a child and joined Sea Org around 17 or 18. His whole family was in it, so leaving was daunting. He lost his mother, his wife, brothers, sister, children. He was thrown into the hole and beaten up regularly by Miscaviage. I think leaving was much harder for him than Rathbun by far and he seems pretty wrecked by the stories he’s hearing in Scientology and the Aftermath. Maybe he’s just a great actor but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.

4) Being a child in Sea Org is means being an adult. They drag you in with lies, promise they’ll educate you, but don’t, and then teach you how to lie. Astra Woodcraft discusses this extensively, as does her sister. It is criminal, and there should be criminal investigations into the abuse of children in this organization.

5) Miscavige is a grade A narcissist, and possibly a psychopath. The entire organization works for him, both to keep him in the high life and as a reflection–the narcissism part–of who he is. That is scientology’s only purpose right now.

6) Many of the people who stay in the organization do so out of a strong, but misguided, belief that they are helping the world. I sincerely believe this. But there is a little narcissism in this as well. Or at least an appeal to ego. Scientologists are told they are better than anybody else. This is typical cult behavior and has to be considered when we think of why people get into and stay in scientology.

7) There seem to be some good aspects of Scientology. In the beginning it has you work through some of the tougher stuff from your past and learn to let it go. It’s actually therapeutic although scientologists would hate that. Maybe people who do one or two beginning courses and then run, will have positive experiences. But it’s a cult, and cults don’t like to let your run.

8) I like Tom Devocht the most. He seems to be the most down to earth.

9) I’m kind of fascinated by how often people talking about Scientology uses the phrase “know what I mean?” I don’t know why they do this, or if I’m the only one who’s noticed it. But it does seem to be used excessively.

10) Blown For Good by Mark Headly was interesting, especially the part about how he and his wife left the cult and the hoops they had to jump through.

All right, I have to get back to work now.

Thursday Thoughts: Not thinking much

lioness-1560228_640Sitting here with a cup of coffee trying not to face the day. A bird slammed into my window and dropped dead in the garden underneath it. This does not bode well. A friend suggested I go back to bed.

I feel as energetic is this beautiful lioness that I found on Pixabay. Know what? I am not going to minimize the picture. She’s too pretty.

A kind of confession. I’m not writing currently.  I want to very much. But after all these years of writing books, it’s finally time to really try to sell them. Not sort of try. Not make half-hearted attempts by tweeting stuff occasionally. I mean actually sell them. Like let more than a couple hundred people know about them.

I’ve got a couple of reasons for this. Number one–money. Money is nice. And while indie publishing has allowed me to skip the query-synopsis-rejection route to publishing, the plethora of books out there make it very hard for quiet writers like myself to get much traction without a lot of work. Indie and all of the cheap and free promotions has also brought down prices on all books and given the impression or expectation to readers that writers are happy to work for free.

This is just not true.

We write for the love of it. That much is true. But in order for us to put a lot of work into writing we need some compensation to pay for things like, you know, food. Shelter. Otherwise it’s just a hobby and in today’s busy world hobbies that take you away from people are not always appreciated by those people. Especially hobbies that take as much time as writing does.

So. I need to get paid. And that’s what I’m working on right now. But it’s one helluva slog. I have, after all, the two genres. I also has a forest-for-the-trees personality when it comes  to both the writing and the marketing. I can obsess over things like having started the last three sentences with “I” in this blog, and totally forget that people like pictures in blog posts and maybe I should throw one in now and again. So here, random picture.

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Awfully cute puppy. Also from Pixbay, which I am now a big fan of.

So, here’s what I’m trying to do. Create another website for my historical romances. Put up a slider with pictures of Victorians on it just because. Put up a slider with snatches from reviews. Put up excerpts and link to them. Create pretty buy links. Create a bio (my most hated writing thing of promotion) and then there’s another page I want to create with quotes used for each chapter (usually Shakespeare).  Then I have to go back and put up excerpts for The Postplague Trilogy, because I forgot to do that.

After that, I need to go to my facebook author pages and use their new Author App. Which is cool but it asks for a first chapter pdf for each book, which is more work.

I need then to go to all the retail sites that I’m selling books on and add bios and info on me, myself and I. I need to upload the romance novels to more sites, but before I do that I need to go through the back matter on all the books to make sure it links to other books.

That’s just some of it. Some of the work I need to do just to be professional and have my name and books in as many places as I currently control. That doesn’t include sites that will let you put your books up for free, or advertising or book funnel or instafreebie, all of which means a lot more work. Then there are in-person opportunities like an author panel I’m doing next week, a book signing I’m going to try to do next month, books marks to be made, etc.

It’s a lot. I could hire people, but I would still obsess over the hiring and never be satisfied with the result because the only way I’m ever really satisfied is if I am so tired of whatever it is that I can’t do it anymore. I believe Ted Hughes said of his wife, Sylvia Plath, that she never finished a poem, she just abandoned them. That sums up how I feel about all of this.

Anyway, there I am working my tail off for the next couple of months. I miss writing. I really do. For now, this little piece I wrote last week will have to do. It is mostly unedited and who knows, it may not even end up in the final edition. But it’s the best I can do for now.

Everybody murmurs assent and we cross the street. I steel myself as Evan opens the glass doors and we enter. There’s a large, heavy oak security desk in front of us, with a black and white veined marble wall behind it, over which flows the rippling water of a wall fountain. The water magically parts in the middle to flow around a large protruding symbol of the nation. A priest dressed in a lemon-yellow tunic sits at the desk. He looks up from reading a tablet and his eyes jump quickly over Tansy and me, to settle on Evan and Maya in their Inquisitor robes.

“We’re here for a surprise inspection,” Evan says, stopping at the desk. I blink, school my face not to appear shocked and peer at Evan. His face is hard, his eyes drilling into the priest. Suddenly his big shoulders and muscular build is intimidating, even frightening. Even to me, who knows Evan as a jokester.

He puts his card on the desk. “You are to tell no one that we are here.”

The man doesn’t reach for the card. He looks at Evan and stutters a little. “I have to tell my head–”

Evan leans forward, palms on the top of the desk. It feels like he’s suddenly taller and larger–menacing. A shiver runs down my spine. “You will not. We are here to root out dissidents who we have been informed may lurk in this building. If even one person appears to have been forewarned of our presence, I will have you brought to the 5th and questioned for subversive behavior. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” the man answers.

“It is the opinion of the 5th that the Temple has been too casual about disloyalty for far too long. We are all now paying for that benevolence. The 1st, 5th and 7th–especially the 5th–have been tasked with correcting those who have taken advantage of the Temple’s kindness.”

The man is visibly shaking now. So am I.

“Of course. You may pass,” he says pressing a button on his console screen. I’m about to move, gratefully, through the door when Evan speaks.

“You’re not taking our pass cards?”

“There’s no need.”

His eyes narrow. What is he doing? “There is every need.” He slaps his card down.

The man’s eyes widen and he looks terrified. “Look at the symbol,” he says shakily. Then presses the card to the reader. Evan lifts his head and focuses. I can barely breathe. If it doesn’t work–my hand moves toward my stunner.

A picture of Evan appears on the man’s screen, along with Evan’s Barratt-created rank. The man’s eyes widen a little.

“You may pass, Priest Cranshaw.”

“Very well.”

Evan nods to Maya, our other Inquisitor. She steps forward silently, and I can feel Tansy tense next to me.

Card. Maya looks at the symbol, which must have a camera. It’s only a few seconds but it seems like forever. Maya’s picture comes up on the screen.

“Greetings, Priestess Brown. You may pass.”

The guard looks at me expectantly, finally slipping back into his normal mode.

Evan shakes his head. “They’re with us. You don’t need their credentials.”

The man looks wary. Is this a test?

“I can’t allow them to pass,” he says uncertainly, “without clearance.”

I am giving you clearance.” Evan’s voice is hard, menacing, and I can almost see memories of executions going through the guard’s eyes. He swallows.

“Yes,” he says in a dry, thick voice. “Yes of course.”

Evan turns and moves haughtily through the door, commanding, “Come,” to all of us.

Thursday Thoughts, Four Apocalyptic Survival Food Sources.

apocalypse-2459465_1280Over the long 4th of July weekend we took, we read The Ashfall series, which naturally led to us considering how we would survive an apocalypse. Before I get to that, quick review. First book, Ashfall, I loved. Couldn’t put it down. Immediately bought the next one, Ashen Winter. I liked that one and read it quickly, but there were a few “really?” points in it. I still bought Sunrise, but I didn’t finish it. It stretched the bounds of reality for me.

I think this is very much a matter of personal taste. I like apocalyptic writing (and movies) because 1) I want to know how people survive. It is endlessly fascinating to me. 2) I want to see how the characters handle, emotionally and psychologically, a world (or in this case area) ending event. I want to follow the character arc of who they are before the event to who they are at the end, and the way it changes their thinking. 3) I want to see how society reforms.

So in Ashfall series I got a lot of the first, but it became less a matter of general survival and more a matter of nasty people than I wanted. The second, the character thoughts and arc was there in the first one. I felt that although there was some growing up in the second book, it didn’t constitute an actual character arc. Moreover the emotional and psychological elements had more to do with circumstances than the end of the world (ie: what happened to all of my friends? I’m never going to finish school–what will my future be then? etc). Society reforming basically was towns fighting with each other for scarce resources and nobody too concerned about the rest of the country. Sunrise started out the same way with a lot more “really?” moments. While the first book was definitely for me, the series, in the end, was not.

Now on to survival!

1)Scurvy. This played a big part in Ashfall. Scurvy could be a killer in an apocalypse. One thing not mentioned (because plants didn’t survive the Volcanic winter, I imagine) is that you can get a gopine-394246_1280od amount of vitamin C from pine trees. Yup, really. You make a tea out of pine needles and the bark. I believe it’s the inner bark. Now boiling foods does tend to kill vitamin C, so I would advise (with absolutely nothing to back it up) boiling the water, pouring it over the pine needles and bark, and let it steep for a long time that way. I’ve read, btw, that it’s not too tasty.

 

wild-rose-2121767_1280Another thing, rose hips. This is the seed pod when a rose flower turns to seed and has lots of vitamin C to fight off the scurvy. I also read that it’s good for osteoarthritis. You have to cut open the seed pod and remove the furry stuff inside. Apparently it makes some people itchy. I read a way to separate the seeds from the furry stuff, but I figure if the stuff makes you itchy, just dump ’em both. You can then eat the rose hop pod, or you can make a tea (like above). This is supposed to be some grade A vitamin C by the way. I used to take chewable tables made from rose hips.

They say the rose hips taste best after the first frost (somehow that makes them sweeter). Just in case you were wondering scurvy is characterized by bleeding gums.

plants-768417_1280-22) Syrup. You can get syrup from birch trees like you can from maple. Maybe not as much, and you need a pretty good sized birch tree, but you can still get syrup. I guess you drill a hole in the tree, put in a spile, let it drain into a cup and then boil it down and down and down. Like down a lot. This works best (and for all I know the only time) in the early spring. Syrup has 52 calories a tablespoon and you can get sugar too from it. Not much but some. Of course this depends upon the time of year and your supplies and being able to boil stuff over a fire for a long time, all of which is unlikely if you’re in the middle of the apocalypse. But maybe birch syrup or maple syrup would be helpful post apocalypse.

3) Salt. You can get salt from a Hickory tree. I think you boil the bark in water for a long time. Then you take it out and continue boiling for a long time longer. At the end you get a blackish substance that’s salty. I’m a little less sure of this because I don’t know what a hickory tree looks like, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t anyone around where I live.

acorns-1710577_12804)Acorn flour. I read about this years ago in one of my all-time favorite books, My Side of the Mountain. In it, Sam Gribely makes flour out of acorns. So I googled it. Apparently there are two types of oaks, the white and the red, and the flour from the white acorns is tastier. (Actually, they both sound awful, but it’s the apocalypse). If you only have access to red acorns, you have to boil them through several changes of water to get rid of the bad taste, which I believe was from tannins.

There’s lots more information, but at this point, I ran out of time.  No worries, I’ll share more if I find more!

Thursday Thoughts, Everest, K2 and WTF?

mount-everest-413_1280This is going to be more rambling than thoughts. I just got off the elliptical after a bad night’s sleep.

So this weekend I read Into Thin Air again. Okay, I flipped through it. I’ve read the book like 5 times. After seeing the most recent movie on the ’96 tragedy on Everest, I had to read it again to check the accuracy. Then my mom got really sick and I started to read it to her. She was very intellectual before Alzheimer’s, and I just thought maybe just some information might be nice. . .anyway, I also read, a few weeks ago, Left For Dead  and After the Wind. (I’ve read The Climb too, years ago, but I can’t find it). This weekend I watched a video and then read sections of the books in tandem.

I still don’t get it.

After that, I looked into K2, the second highest mountain in the world. K2 is significantly more dangerous than Everest. It’s more remote, as well. And it’s had tragedies as well, the most significant that I found, 2008. So I watched video on that, and then I, naturally, bought a book–The Summit–and read it as well.

the-mountain-company-photos-1

(picture borrowed from Shaghal)

I get it even less.

In case you don’t know, these two mountains are so high that when you get near the top you could die from lack of oxygen. If you were taken from sea level and somehow dropped at the top of these mountains with no conditioning, you would be dead within a few minutes. So to climb the mountains (or any of the 14 eight thousanders, which are the mountains over 8k meters) you have to acclimatize yourself by staying progressively higher and higher on the mountains, then coming back down to base camp. This makes sure you have the right amount of red blood cells or some such thing. Even with that most people need bottled oxygen, and even with that you can still suffer from HACE, HAPE and  Acute Mountain Sickness.

Why? Why do this?

If you don’t climb with oxygen and your body responds “normally” you are colder, more likely to get frostbite and your brain does funny things. People talk about summit fever, the fever that pushes you beyond your limits to get to the top of the mountain, but I wonder if you’re not using bottle oxygen how much of this is the inability at that altitude to make reasonable decisions. It’s my most basic conclusion about what “went wrong” on Everest in 1996. If either Rob Hall or Scott Fischer had stayed at camp 4, or even gone down to camp 3 and had better radio contact, I think a lot of people would not have died. I believe that Fischer, who was suffering from stomach difficulties, could have convinced Rob Hall to turn around when others could not. And vice-versa. But they didn’t do that.

Sigh. I don’t get it.

I mean, I get it intellectually. I listen to the reasons. I read the books. But one line that sticks out for me over and over again is when Jon Krakaeur in Into Thin Air mentions that he is at the same height in a plane as he would be on Everest. So. . .if you can get that view from a plane and be perfectly warm and drink wine all at the same time, why climb? It’s not just the view. And yet, that’s what some people say.

Beck Weathers, who lost large parts of his hands and his nose on Everest in ’96 says he’d been very depressed for a long time and didn’t know it. That’s why he liked climbing these mountainous mountains. And yeah, I can get that intellectually. But. . .you could do other things to combat depression even if you’re “john wayneing it.” Like run marathons.   Do the Tour de France. You know, things that, if you get hurt, you can get immediate medical attention and not freeze to death.

So, there’s something else. And I’m going to keep reading, I imagine, until I get sick of it or figure it out.

Anyway, before I go, here’s a few things I’ve concluded, from my nice comfortable chair on a warm morning, listening to the birds sing. 1) Krakauer put some blame on Mountain Madness guide Boukreev for the 96 tragedy. Boukreeve wrote (or had ghost written) a book that made Krakaeur into a coward. I’m going with the former. Boukreev climbed without oxygen. One of the reasons people claim this is a good idea is that if you run out of O2 you suffer less from the effects. I kinda get that. But it’s kind of like, “I’m going to sit in the sun and get a sunburn, which will turn to a tan so that if I get stuck in the sun, I won’t get a sunburn” reasoning. Maybe, instead, spend some time in the sun just tanning, and make sure you always have sunscreen. Or in this case, bottles of O2 on you instead of running down the mountain to recover and THEN you could help your clients???

As far as the cowardly thing: To expect someone who was on the expedition as a client to spend a lot of time worrying about other clients ignores what the term “client” means. I suspect if Krakaeur had known how terrible things would go, or really could go, would have saved some strength. But there he was on Everest with two of the best guides in the world and he expected, with every good reason, that they would keep people safe. When it came time to try and save people, he was literally too tired to move, as most were.

2) I’ve seen people blame Doug Hansen for Hall’s death, because Hansen had summit fever. Well Hansen almost dropped out of the climb several times during the course of the two months. Hall encouraged him, persuaded him even, high on the mountain, to continue. Hansen might have had summit fever in the end, but Hall was the one who pushed it. Hall did it out of kindness. I think he wanted Doug to reach the summit more than Doug did. He didn’t want his friend and client to “fail.”

3) The weather had a huge part to play. And in ’96 we didn’t have the forecasting abilities we have today.  Also, in ’96 I suspect the O2 systems were not as good, nor were radio communications.

4) Hall and Fischer were good guys. I mean, they seem, both of them, like really good people. They were good enough friends that they’d planned on climbing another mountain together after Everest. But the thing that made them such good climbers also contributed to their deaths: their ability to fight past physical suffering (especially in Fischer’s case, with the stomach problems) and their confidence in themselves. There is, actually, truly, such a thing as too much confidence.

So that’s today’s thoughts. I actually have more, but this is running long, so I’ll hold off on more thoughts for a later post. Also, I might have to make a character a high-altitude mountain climber. I think it’s the only way I’m going to ever truly understand. But not yet.

If you’re interested, on the Everest 96 tragedy:

Into Thin Air

After the Wind

The Climb

Left for Dead

K2, 2008

The Summit, How Triumph Turned to Tragedy on K2’s Deadliest Days

Also,  youtube video about ’96, which I cannot yet figure out how to put as a video on my page.

And K2, 2008

 

 

Thursday Thoughts, Sacrifice and Back to Writing

20170628_125758One of the ways I write is by lying in bed, listening to characters. I “write” a lot of words this way, and delete them too, without every putting my hands on a keyboard. I’ve done it going all the way back to childhood (I’ve been writing for a LONG time) and it’s pretty much the way I put myself to sleep.

I do this at night, and also if I wake up early in the morning and need to put myself back to sleep. Sometimes it doesn’t work, like this morning. I tried for 2 hours, and finally I got up, went straight to my computer, by-passing coffee, and put the words down into a file. This specific scene has been in my head for weeks and I just could not go on to another without putting it in a file, and therefore “letting it go.”

It felt good to actually write again. So good in fact that after getting a cup of coffee I started paging through the file and decided it was time to put in order. This is also how I write, or at least how I begin books–I throw a lot of words into a file with different scenes from all over the story, and then eventually I decide it’s time to put them in order. It’s not nearly as scary as staring at a blank screen. Also, I have a tough time writing in order. I like to write the “fun” scenes (often the most emotional ones or the turning points) first. When I write in order I tend to write a lot of stuff that nobody really wants to read. Or at least I don’t. Better, for me, to write the scenes and then string them together.

At any rate, guess what? I’ve got 14k words already! I know! I’m shocked too. Here I was thinking I wasn’t doing a darned thing, but nope. I’ve got words. Some of them I knew because I liked them, and I’ve read them a few times (yes, writers do fall in love with their own stories and we do re-read for joy. If we didn’t, we could never do the agonizing work of revising, rewriting, editing, re-editing and oh-my-God-how-I-hate-it-promotion.) One of the scenes, I don’t even remember writing.

So–deep breath–I’m back at it. I’ve got some issues. Neri seems to be doing a whole lot of speech-giving and I don’t quite know what to do about that. Should I write all the speeches? Should I re-write/re-plot so there aren’t so many? Are they boring, or necessary? I don’t know. Time will tell, I guess.

I will say, Sacrifice (tentatively named)  is shaping up to have much more romance than The Children of Liberty. I worry a little if that’s because the romance writer in me is just missing writing romance. Maybe, but I think it’s just more the way the trilogy goes. Neri was in a rough, precarious situation in The Liars, never mind being very married. In The Children of Liberty she was no only in a lot of actually fighting, but she was fighting her way through some pretty intense grief. Although we never really stop missing the loved ones we’ve lost, we do find ways to continue on with life. Granted she is nowhere near being finished mourning–it’s years long, not months–she has learned she can’t stathere. And so in Sacrifice her heart is finding it’s way.

The only problem is–will she live long enough for any of that to matter?. . .

Yeah, I kinda had to do that da-da-da moment. Now, back to work!