Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NO-Kiss Fest and Critiques

Well, the Kissing Day Blogfest was a huge success for me, personally--and it seems like it did pretty well for everyone else, too! I'd like to take a moment now to say welcome to all the new followers and readers! I'm grateful to have found so many bloggers through this event.

I'll for sure be taking part in the No Kiss Fest being hosted by Frankie Writes. And if you loved my kissing day contribution, I think you'll be equally as taken with the almost kiss coming to you on January 2, 2010. I've already got it set to post after the clock strikes midnight. Possibly that means I am overeager, but I can't wait to read all the almost kisses that didn't make it into the kissing day extravaganza. Reading everyone's contributions wasn't just fun, but educational. I think it really helped me to identify what I felt were the most effective devices for physical and emotional scenes like that, and hopefully that will help to make me a better writer moving forward.

I have to say, the last couple of days have been kind of exciting for me. My daily writing is going really well, and I can't tell you how exciting it is to have daily feedback and critiques on these short 1000 word scenes I've been writing. Just when I think I have a handle on things, there's something more to be improved upon, but that's what makes it fun--the challenge of always having something to work toward.

In my experience there's something of a process to finding critique partners. A warming up phase, where your critiques are gentle, careful, feeling out the responses of the writer you're working with. Mostly praise, with some suggestions fit inside. Then as you get to know one another, and how thick your skins are, you can start to really dig in and there's a shift toward constructive criticism, and away from flowery and distracting or unnecessary praise. It isn't that you don't love the praise, too, just that you know when you get it, it's more meaningful. It means you did something really outstanding, or accomplished something huge that you had been struggling to capture. It becomes more personal, more reflective of your growth as a writer in style, structure, form, and voice.

I love that shift. I love finding that place, that balance, with critique and writing partners, where there's no compulsion anymore to be self-deprecating in either  your critiques or the presentation of your own work. It is what it is, unapologetic, but with the hope and confidence still that the next piece will always be better.

This will be my last post for the holiday season, probably-- unless something comes up and I can't contain myself. Like a compulsive Christmas Cookie Recipe Sharing moment. Look for my next post on January 2nd, for the No Kiss Fest, and regularly scheduled (Tuesday/Friday) posting to recommence on the 5th! I'll certainly still be reading in the meantime.

Happy Holidays and Have a Very Fabulous New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Endangered Languages

When I tell people that I'm studying Icelandic, I get a lot of guff.
"Why?" they ask.
"Why not?" I reply.

Most often the argument I hear is that it's fairly useless. Icelandic isn't a global language. It's relatively isolated. There are probably only a million people in the world who speak it, probably not a lot more outside of that who care about speaking it. But for all of that, I wouldn't call it endangered. Not yet, anyway. Not as long as Iceland keeps its right to negotiate in Icelandic when dealing with the rest of the Scandinavian nations, and maintains the sense of cultural pride which has kept the language pure enough that modern Icelanders can read the Sagas as they were written.

I've talked a little bit about my frustration that we, as a culture, seem to feel that we have to have a reason to learn something. An excuse. We no longer want to learn for the joy of learning. Being a "professional student" even among people who appreciate education is still something we can't embrace-- something we find somehow foolish. The emphasis is on what you'll accomplish with the education. The career. The money. "What are you going to do with your degree?" is the question students are asked again and again. If it isn't for your career, for your professional development, there's the sense that it's a waste of money and time.

It's a waste of money and time to learn. Ouch. No wonder we have high school drop outs and people who don't see any reason to go to college. No wonder Classical Studies programs are flailing about, desperate for students. And not just Classics, but all liberal arts. Because it isn't a trade. It isn't an area of study that lends itself directly to practical application.

What does this have to do with Icelandic? Or Endangered Languages?

Everything.

This is why people abandon the language of their small tribal community. Why young people are letting their traditions die out, by adapting "useful" and more common languages. Because learning their grandparents' language isn't worthwhile. They can't DO anything with it.

What people fail to see, is that every language, every piece of information, of shared knowledge, allows us a new worldview, a different way of seeing things. New ways of seeing things, of doing things, are the cornerstones of innovation. Cultural diversity NEEDS to be celebrated. Linguistic diversity is important for mapping out those different viewpoints and understanding others. Understanding OTHER.

It's kind of like the rainforest. Every language that goes extinct is like a tree being cut down, and with it goes all the amazing and unknown things we could have found living in that ecosystem. Opportunities of study, innovation, realization are destroyed. The cure for cancer, the fountain of youth, world peace. It's all the same. We need every tree to make it work.

A quote from the article--just some food for thought.

Turin said he was amazed so few linguists are working on endangered languages, and people "do PhDs on the apostrophe in French," but no one knows precisely how many undocumented languages there are. When a language ceases to exist, so does its cultural world view, and much of the heritage of the community is lost.
So my challenge to you is to go out and learn something. Not because it's going to earn you money, but because learning for the sake of learning, for the sake of understanding, is an example we should be setting for our children. Why don't we make an effort to make the preservation of differing world views and cultural heritage a part of OUR culture.

I mean, Why Not?

Monday, December 21, 2009

In Honor of Mistletoe-- my contribution to the Kissing Day Blogfest.

Having to choose which kissing scene to post for the blogfest was maybe the hardest decision I've had to make in a long time concerning my own writing. I finally settled on this one though, because of the shorts I've been writing at The Writer's Block. It just seemed fitting to keep the theme.

This scene isn't currently found in The Book of Generations, but only because the book became too long and so I had to ruthlessly end it before I got here. That was another difficult decision.

[Excerpt Removed]

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Official Kissing Day Blogfest!

I just heard about the Official Kissing Day Blogfest, via this blog and I'm all in for Monday. Are you?

Join me in posting a kissing scene from your WIP on Monday!

Now I just have to go pick one...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Best Laid Plans...

I'm supposed to be doing revision work. Instead I'm knee deep in new material for a story I didn't mean to start writing because of a daily writing exercise that my brain kind of ran away with. Of course there are other mitigating factors of a personal nature that have interfered-- cookie baking, holiday visiting, some illness-- mostly I just haven't been able to focus for longer than short bursts of 1000 words or so. It makes editing and revisions difficult to accomplish, but I'm determined, and as soon as I'm back on my feet (or off them, as the case may be), I will be getting down to business. In spite of the holiday season!

What's funny is that the story I'm writing now--in blocks of 1000 words or so-- is part of what could be the prequel to The Book of Generations, if such a thing existed, and I wonder if perhaps writing it isn't part of my revision process. I wonder if writing the new story is necessary for me to move forward with the novel itself. Maybe I need the background of that precursor sorted out in order to better put this first book together. But that's always been the problem with Generations, too. Deciding what information is necessary, and what isn't.

Something else that's funny to me, as I revise and reread, is that the part of the book I like the least is the part of the book that my readers so far have loved the most. I'm not sure what this means, or what to make of this information, or what to do with it at all. My personal feelings about that part of the book--a reimagining of Creation-- were mostly those of relief to be done with it, after I finished writing. It wasn't that I felt it was poorly written, or that the story wasn't compelling, but it felt more to me like necessary information that had to be there, as opposed to the story I was most interested in telling. It's the foundation for the book, without which the rest makes much less sense, and is much less dramatic. I guess I can see how for a reader, coming to the material for the first time, it could be exciting, but for me it was always just background. It wasn't the point. I wonder how many other authors encounter this?

But that's part of what I love about writing and reader response. I love getting glimpses of the story through the eyes of my readers, and seeing what they think is important, what they love, what they hate. Virginia Woolf says:
...the only meanings that are worth anything in a work of art are those the artist himself knows nothing about. The moment the artist tries to express his ideas and his emotions he misses the great thing.
In my revisions, I must be sure to keep those words in mind.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Recap--Cookie Extravaganza

Sorry, readers-- I'm in NY and up to my eyeballs in Christmas cookie baking. Instead of a post about science, writing, or classical history, I can only leave you with a list of cookies made for this holiday season.

  1. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip (x2)
  2. Chocolate Chip (x2)
  3. Molasses Cookies
  4. Italian Chocolate Nut Balls (flavored with ground clove)
  5. Gingerbread
  6. Oatmeal Lacies
  7. Cousin Dora's Lemon Cookies (apparently a classic wedding cookie)
  8. Vanilla Spritz
  9. Italian Bar Cookies (four varieties--lemon, almond, anise, and vanilla)
  10. Grandma's Chocolate Drop (x2)
  11. Anisette Toast
  12. Monster Cookies
My mother will no doubt also be baking English Muffin Bread before Christmas, but that's the easy part. We normally also make  Almond Crescents, Chocolate Spritz, and Peanut Butter Fudge but we were a little bit short-handed this year so some sacrifices had to be made.

I may yet develop some blisters from all the mixing.

There will be a more traditional blog post coming to you guys on Friday!

Friday, December 11, 2009

I was tagged. Now you are too.

Stephanie Thornton of Hatshepshut fame tossed me a tag on this survey, and if you're reading this, you can feel free to fill it out too... Or not. I won't twist your arm or anything.

1. What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
Helen is the latest thing I wrote--well, and also a 1000 word exercise on the word Fatuous over at Penny Arcade's The Writers Block.
The first thing I wrote that I still have is probably from fourth or fifth grade, and it's Star Wars fanfiction with the insertion of my mary-sue telepathic alter ego. Woo!

2. Write poetry?
Not anymore.

3. Angsty poetry?
When I was in middle school. But those days are thankfully long past.

4. Favorite genre of writing?
fantasy with a splash of history.

5. Most annoying character you've ever created?
Eve's little sister, Mia, ticks me off, but at the same time she steals the show. It's a love-hate relationship.

6. Best Plot you've ever created?
I'm pretty proud of my Helen/Theseus plot, but the best is definitely Adam and Eve. You'll see.

7. Coolest Plot twist you've ever created?
Geez. If I could answer it without giving it all away, I would, but...

8. How often do you get writer's block?
Not so often anymore. After disciplining myself to write daily, I don't have much trouble with it. Sometimes a scene here or there is agonizing to put down the way I want it, but I wouldn't call it a block.

9. Write fan fiction?
When I was a kid I did, without realizing it. Then I got older and stopped. Then I wrote it when I couldn't write anything else, but it was my secret shame. I do engage in some star wars roleplaying though, text based, which could be perceived as fanfiction, I suppose.

10. Do you type or write by hand?
I type for the most part, but if I'm without my laptop and struck with an idea, or I'm sitting in the car waiting for someone I'll scribble stuff down. I don't go anywhere without pen and paper.

11. Do you save everything you write?
Yes. It makes throwing out old notebooks a nightmare. I have stories written in the margins of my notes for my old math classes and science classes, and I don't want to part with them, so they're sitting in boxes.

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Yes. Sometimes it's actually incredibly successful, too.

13. What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
The Book of Generations story. It's heartbreaking and wonderful. But I also really enjoyed the not-yet-of Troy letters I wrote for GeekaChicas.

14. What's everyone else's favorite story that you've written?
I've been getting rave reviews from Generations. Hope they keep up. Hope agents feel the same.

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
When I was a teen, yes. As an adult, no.

16. What's your favorite setting for your characters?
I kind of love Asgard, as a physical setting, just because it's so rich. As a period setting, I'm kind of obsessed with the Bronze Age.

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Revising The Book of Generations (hopefully for the last time) and letting Helen rest. But I'm prompt writing daily, if that counts.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
In high school I submitted a short story to a competition and won second place--with a prize of 250 dollars, my story published in the collection, a copy of the book, and a plaque. Small potatoes now, but it was a big deal to me then.

19. What are your five favorite words?
I don't know. I like Latin words the most, I guess. I love the variety of meaning, and the juxtaposition of concepts that we don't put together the same way today. But I don't have specific favorites.

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
In my novels, I guess Setta, but she isn't really that much like me. She has a lot more patience and a lot more nerve. We just both happen to love animals.

21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?
Mythology, lately.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
No. But sometimes my dreams are based off my writing.

23. Do you favor happy endings?
I don't like making my characters suffer without cause, and without the hope for redemption or peace, but generally I don't know where they're going until they get there and I'd say that my happy endings have a good amount of dubiousness to them. Maybe a happy for the moment, but not a happily ever after.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Spelling absolutely. Grammar sometimes gets shafted until revisions.

25. Does music help you write?
Yup.

26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head.
hehehehe... I've been waiting for an excuse.

She craned her neck to look up at him, over her shoulder, and tried to imagine him wielding a sword or a battle axe or the hammer carved into the door and riding to war on a chariot drawn by goats. Goats. The idea seemed ludicrous, comical, and she tried not to smile.

He glanced down at her, and their eyes met. His seemed to sparkle as though he recognized the humor. “They weren’t normal goats. Not like the goats here. They were…” He made a face as if he struggled to find the right word, and then he shrugged. “They were magic goats.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How Do You Read?

When I find a book that I like, I jump into it head first. I'm voracious. I devour it, if possible, in a single sitting. If not possible, in as few sittings as possible. I'm distracted by the characters and their stories. I think about them when I'm not reading, wondering what's going to happen next. It's a lot like how I write, too. The compulsion to find out what happens keeps me moving forward, keeps me turning or writing the pages. I read so quickly that I find myself skipping words and description for the next line of dialogue to see what the response is. Skimming paragraphs of scenery in favor of the next clue about the plot.

After that first read through, if there's more books in the series, I leap into them the same way, swallowing them whole. If there isn't more than one book in the series, I put the book I just finished aside for a couple of days, digesting what I read, thinking about the story, the characters, what I might have done differently if I had written the book. But it isn't long before I pick the book back up again and start reading it for a second time.

The second reading is much more relaxed. I take it more slowly. Reading in shorter bursts over a much longer period of time. Maybe if I have nothing to do, I'll read for a few hours while I'm home alone. Or if I'm busy, I'll put the book aside for a couple of days between chapters. Where I skimmed things before, I read more closely now, absorbing the description I was too impatient to read the first time. Almost always there is something new in this second reading. Something I missed in the first run through that gives the book something new. I savor it.

If I didn't love the book the first time, sometimes it will be weeks or months or years before I read it again, but unless I hated it, I'll always go back. This is why I buy books, rather than getting them from the library. Because I never know when the urge to reread is going to strike me, and I want to have the book available at my fingertips for when it does. If I loved the book, thought it was fantastic, I'll reread it a dozen times. Maybe even four times in the same year. Maybe just annually. But I keep going back, exploring the characters. Sometimes I'll go online and do searches. Google a favorite character to see what comes up. Dig through scraps of information until I'm sure I have every morsel.

At that point, I start reading books from the middle. Looking for a favorite scene and then reading on from that point, getting to the end, and going back to the beginning to read the stuff I skipped. At that point, I know the story so well, I don't have to finish. I start and stop fitfully, skip entire chapters just to read the pieces that I want at that particular moment. Another reason why I have more books than I have shelves for,  I guess. Because I love them. I love stories. I love characters that come alive, and revisiting them.

So. How do you read?

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Trip To The Met

I spent Tuesday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, staring at glass beads from Mycenae and other items from the dates surrounding my Trojan War and my Helen's life. The real reason we went was for the Art of the Samurai exhibit, for my husband, but I can't pretend that I wasn't totally distracted by the Greco-Roman antiquities to the point where I had no patience for the glass cases of samurai swords.

Finding Rodin's Caryatids was a pleasant surprise, in the European Art wing. I actually recognized it from Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein. Not because I had ever actually seen the sculpture, but from his description of the work in that book. I'm not such a fan of Rodin's Eve sculpture, however, from the Gates of Hell. And while I took a picture of Adam for posterity, I really could have lived without him, too.



And then there was Theseus.

I wish that I had gotten a better picture, but the only camera I had available to me was my phone since my husband had the real one. Poor planning on my part, I suspect, but I'll be going back for more in January, because we didn't get to see even half of the museum in the measley four hours we had, a good quarter of that taken up with swords that didn't even have handles attached.

But that's beside the point. The point is, I was looking at one of my favorite paintings in all the world (Spring, by Pierre Auguste Cot) and when I turned around, there was Theseus fighting with a centaur, and I couldn't look away. Theseus looks quite youthful in the sculpture, but incredibly powerful in all his heroic glory.


There are absolutely better pictures of this than mine, and I will probably spend some time scouring the internet for them, but I can't adequately describe what seeing this sculpture made me feel after all the research I'd done on Theseus, and all the time I spent getting to know his character. There he was, not even remotely in the flesh, but at least in three-dimensions, and I understood even more fully how Helen must have felt when she met him for the first time.

Yeah, okay, I'm a little bit of a romantic. What can I say? I'll tell you right now that if there had been a larger than life sized classical sculpture of Theseus in marble, I would have been beside myself. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that a marble exists of him, though the Met has both a youthful Heracles and an older Heracles facing eachother in the hall of statues.

I honestly hadn't been expecting to see Theseus at all, but it was an amazing moment. Kind of like meeting an old friend unexpectedly. It seemed fitting, somehow to run into him that way, on the first of December, as I put Helen away, and it makes me eager to get back to that manuscript when Generations is polished.

There's nothing like a good trip to the museum!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Not-Yet-Of Troy Series Links

National Novel Writing Months is over, and with it also ends the awesome Not-Yet-Of Troy series on GeekaChicas! I really enjoyed writing these letters surrounding the events of Helen's early life, before her abduction by Theseus, and I hope that you guys liked reading them! I may continue with the occasional letter between characters as I write and revise, posted either on this blog, or over on GeekaChicas.

In case you missed any, or want to take a look now that it's all over, I thought I'd put together an ordered list of the links for your entertainment and reference.

Helen to Pollux
Pollux to Helen
Letters from the Kings
Helen to Theseus
Theseus to Helen
Letters between Theseus and Pirithous
Letters between Helen and Meneleus
The Final Letters: Theseus to Helen and Helen to Pollux

I finished up my book with just over 87,500 words right on time yesterday afternoon, but it's really rough, and will definitely need plenty of revision work. Writing Helen for National Novel Writing Month was a lot of fun, but looking back I think handling all of the Trojan War mythology in one book was overly ambitious. This book ends with Helen's marriage to Meneleus. Happy for him, less so for Helen, burdened with the knowledge of what's coming for her. It would be incredibly easy to continue on with a second book about Paris, perhaps beginning with his childhood and continuing through his kidnapping of Helen. I might sit down and outline it into a potential trilogy for the future, if I ever find an agent and publisher for my Non-Helen book and need to pitch something new, but for December I'm going to be putting Troy aside!

This month I'm going to be trying to get my Non-Helen novel, The Book of Generations, ready for querying in January. I've been revising and getting feedback from Beta-readers as well as my workshop partner Just Another Sarah, for the past six months, and I'm confident that I can get things finalized and polished at last! I've already got a pretty awesome query written, and it will be a relief to get this book out the door somewhere, God and luck willing!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Body Image in Little Girls

Body image seems like an appropriate topic to me, while I'm writing about Helen, the most beautiful of all women in mythology. Apparently a new study shows that an alarming number of girls between the ages of 3 and 6 are worried about being fat-- 49% seem to worry either sometimes, or almost always.

Forty-nine percent seems like kind of an alarming statistic to me. But there's a silver lining, I guess. Those feelings of concern about being fat, and body image, AREN'T influenced by animated movies like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, with the idealized princess beauty and the tiny waists.

So what does all this mean? I think it tells us something we are already well aware of--children are more than capable of differentiating between real and imaginary. They can look at animated drawings and renderings and say "that isn't what people look like." This brings us right back to the old argument over Barbie dolls, too. Barbie has unrealistic proportions. If Barbie were a real person, she wouldn't be able to walk. But what if that very unrealistic image is the reason that children have no trouble playing with those dolls? The proportions are so obviously wrong that it divorces the doll from reality altogether-- just like Belle's overly large eyes, tiny waist, and animation (to say nothing of the monstrous beast she's held prisoner by) keep her from becoming an example of what a girl should look like.

Media representation of the ideal is of course still an issue. Women who are as thin as models make up an extraordinarily low percentage of people on the earth-- but because we see them everywhere on television and in magazines, we're tricked into believing that it's more "normal." The problem with models, is that they're people. Real live, breathing people, not imaginary princesses or obscenely busty dolls. But it isn't just the media that's perpetuating this myth of idealized beauty and the compulsion to change to fit it. All you have to do is walk into any woman's bathroom at home to see the cosmetics lining the shelves, or take a walk through your favorite drug store to see all the many products that women bring home. Adult women. Mothers of impressionable children. And don't get me started on tanning...

We buy pounds and pounds of makeup and gallons of hair dye to make ourselves "pretty enough." To feel better about our body image. And if you think that kids aren't watching that, aren't witnessing that, aren't paying attention to every comment their mother, sister, cousin, aunt, or grandmother is making about how they don't like the way they look, or how they wish they were skinnier, then we're deluding ourselves.

So what do I think about this body image study? And the results? I think it's less about the cartoons and more about real life. And good body image for children starts with Mom, and Big Sis, not with the imaginary characters in animated cartoons, or the totally fake-looking Barbie dolls.

As for Helen, I suspect that after Leda's rape by Zeus, she heard all about the burden of being beautiful from her mother--and how she needed to be careful not to attract the notice of men. Helen probably wished she could do away with her beauty altogether, to avoid the troubles that would come with it. So that perhaps just one man would look at her as more than just a pretty face. I expect that men wouldn't be held responsible for what her beauty drove them to.

And on that note-- a new pair of letters between Meneleus and Helen are up on GeekaChicas for your reading pleasure!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Letters!

Head over to GeekaChicas for the next installment of the Not-Yet-Of Troy letters! A set between Theseus and Pirithous.

Pirithous kind of strikes me as the friend that always kind of gets you into trouble, or comes up with the harebrained schemes and expects you to go along with it. I think his heart was in the right place, but maybe he was kind of an adrenaline junky, or at the least, loved to take a little bit of risk. Like, if there wasn't some risk, or some terrible way it could go wrong, it wasn't worth doing.

Happy day before Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Unstoppable Bonus Content Through Thanksgiving!

I'm spending this week with my family in upstate New York, so my posts are going to be kind of brief.

I haven't quite wrapped up Helen yet, which is driving me a little bit crazy. I was hoping to have it finished yesterday, before I hit the road to travel, or at worst, in the car on the way up, but it didn't happen. What I DID finish up, was writing the letters for the Not-Yet-Of Troy series on GeekaChicas. Even though it's Thanksgiving in the USofA, GeekaChicas is going strong all week with Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posts of my series!

Today you can read Theseus's response to Helen. And I urge you to go check out the previous letters if you haven't already. They're all linked to in the post on GeekaChicas for ease of access, and each one comes with some historical background. Or writerly background, in this case, as I discuss the challenges of writing from the outline of a well documented myth.

On Wednesday, there will be a pair of letters between Theseus and Pirithous, and Friday will bring a set between Helen and Meneleus. The series will wrap up on Monday next week, the last day of November, while National Novel Writing Month participants scrambled to get their last words in and their novel validated for the win.. If you're waiting for the series to finish before you dive in, I'll be recapping all the links on December 1 on this blog.


Happy Monday!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Elephant Vengeance

A new Not-Yet-Of Troy post is up over on GeekaChicas! A Letter from Helen to Theseus, for your entertainment!  Now, on to the science!

This article is old, but I think striking all the same. There's a theory, apparently, that African Elephants may be seeking revenge against humanity for the murder of their fellows.

The thing is, it's so rare that we attribute these serious emotions to animals. Usually we reserve that sort of thing for chimps and other great apes, alone. Elephants are one of the  exceptions where there has been enough evidence of seemingly bizarre and uncalled for behavior, that we look at them and actually find ourselves wondering if they're driven by emotion more than just instinct. There are plenty of anecdotal stories about elephants in captivity becoming depressed and despondent when one of their "friends" is relocated to another zoo, or elephants in circuses going on rampages against their trainer for the abuse they've been subjected to over a lifetime. A program on the discovery channel even went so far as to suggest that African elephants Grieve for their dead, pausing as they journey on their annual migrations and lingering at places where a member of the herd had died in a previous year.

Personally, I have no trouble believing that animals are experiencing emotions-- and not just the animals who show these behaviors, like elephants that seem so human in nature. Grief. Revenge. Mourning. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence for domestic animals too. My husband's dog, while he was in college, would often mope around his parents' house for days after he returned to school, unwilling to even eat. And the dog was always thrilled to see him when he arrived home after months away. As a child I had a cat that would wait for me to walk home from school, meeting me on the street corner at the appropriate time if she had been let out of the house, or else sitting in the window watching me approach the house. And I distinctly remember once my cat disappearing for three days, but when she finally showed up at our front door again, I was given an overwhelming impression of her own joy to see me again when she didn't even feed herself before jumping all over my lap, demanding I pet her and sit with her.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Essential Thor (no footnotes, just gut.)

I've been working with the character of Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning, for years. Years of research and reading and false starts and conversations in the dark with the ceiling that resulted in terrible stories and drafts while I struggled to pinpoint what was there. Years of trying to understand what was at the heart of this god, who was so loved by his people, honored even in many ways above Odin the All-Father. Loved so much, even now, that he was re-imagined and transported into the medium of the comic book for the modern world. Thor, who we will soon be over-saturated by, in the quest for world domination and movie marketing schemes. Hollywood always knows how to run a good man into the ground. But for myself, I'm hoping they do him justice, because after years of trying to find the answer of this god's character, this god's essence, this god's spirit within the scraps of mythology we're given, he became my most favorite of all mythological heroes. (Theseus may be coming in at a close second, but don't tell Thor. He'll start going on about how Theseus is "unworthy".)

I think that there was a very good reason that Thor was the preferred god of the everyman, and I don't think that it was because he was stupid, or because he was always getting into brawls and slaughtering giants, or because he was often drunk on mead and loved to feast with the best of us. I don't even think it was because he cross-dressed, although Mimzy tells that story better than I've ever heard it before. I think the reason Thor was so beloved was because he always helped his people. Thor was the god that could be depended on, no matter what had happened, to go out and do what had to be done-- whether that was beating down on Loki, or killing off giants, or drinking a ton of mead, or dressing up as a woman. Thor was intensely loyal, unwavering, and good.

That's not to say he couldn't be led off track every so often. Loki makes this perfectly clear in all the stories where they travel together to accomplish some task, or just for the sake of getting out and about. Perhaps Thor is trusting to a fault. Certainly he doesn't seem to take to deception very easily when he's forced to employ its arts. He's not at all like Loki in that way. He'd much rather bust down the door and employ a frontal assault, even if he can't win. And that in itself is something admirable, too-- it's one of the things that I have always respected in those people who also share that characteristic. The people who throw their punches and then shake it off, and buy one another a drink afterwards.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Icelandic Language Day!

Hey, It's Icelandic Language Day! Celebrate by greeting your friends in Icelandic!

Here's a quick lesson:
Halló!

Spread the news! Make it happen!
Learn Icelandic!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Bonus Content

In case you're anxiously anticipating, the latest installment of the Not-Yet-Of Troy series is up and awaiting your pleasure to read it! If you're not caught up, links to the other two letters are in that post as well. I'm just that thoughtful.

This is a pair of letters, written between Theseus, King of Athens (oh, Theseus. What will we do with you?), and King Tyndareus of Lacedaemon/Sparta and Helen's father.

As far as NaNoWriMo goes, I'm up to 65K, but I'm procrastinating because I know there is no happy ending, and I just feel bad for Helen and Theseus. My goal is to finish it up by Sunday, so it's all done before I head home for Thanksgiving with my family, otherwise I know I'm going to be sitting around staring at my laptop all week, cranky that people are interrupting me while I try to write. Wish me luck!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fiction, Faith, and Mythology

Over on Gary Corby's blog, there have been some really good posts about religion in Classical Greece, and it's gotten me thinking again about where we draw the line between mythology and fiction, a discussion I've been wanting to begin here for a while.

The word Myth has some serious connotations of religious aspects, while at the same time carrying with it the implication of fiction. When you take a minute to consider the things we call myth, and consider to be mythology, you generally end up looking at religious stories of now defunct, or practically dead religions. Religions which, for one reason or another, are no longer recognized or state-sanctioned, though at one point they may have dominated in a particular region or area of the world. Myth is a politically correct way of calling the stories of an entire people, an entire faith, fiction. Myth is what we say when we're talking about gods, heroes, and faith traditions, that we have decided as a culture, as a race, as a country, as an individual, are invalid and utter hogwash. The things we don't believe in, but somebody else does.

Generally speaking, you don't see people going around accusing The Bible of being mythology-- although the reality of the situation is that it isn't any better or any worse than most of the other collections of stories and beliefs of religions that didn't survive the spread of Christianity. I guess in some ways the word Myth can be compared to the term Barbarian. Originally, Romans and Greeks used the term Barbarian to describe anything Other and outside of themselves. The Germanic tribes, for instance, were considered barbarians. Others. A group of people culturally different from themselves. Myth is what we call the beliefs and stories of those others in a parallel way. Our personal beliefs are not Myth, but Truth. Everyone else on the other hand... That's another story.

But here's the tricky part. Somewhere, somewhen, and to someone, those things we call myths were Truth. History. Fact. They were part of reality, woven into culture and religion and daily life. They were the real thing (whether they actually happened or not). They were The Bible of another race, another culture, another country, another person. So what exactly is the process which results in turning those Truths, yes, with a capital T, into Fiction? And, can it be argued that Fiction itself can become myth?

Monday, November 09, 2009

A new Not-Yet-Of Troy Letter! Et Cetera.

Hey guys! I thought you'd be interested in getting the heads up that the next letter in the series of Not-Yet-Of Troy posts for my book on Helen is up!

This letter is from Pollux, in response to Helen's previous warning and plea. Pollux is Helen's brother, and is often attributed as being a son of Zeus, born of the same Rape of Leda as Helen. Clytemnestra and Castor are usually considered to be the full sons of Tyndareus, without the same demi-god/immortal father aspect. I wonder if they had inferiority complexes...

The next letter will be between the Kings Tyndareus of Sparta/Lacedaemon, and Theseus of Athens. You'll be getting two, because they're rather shorter and much more formal in context, so keep an eye out for the link!

In other news, I just cruised by the 50K mark last night, but my goal is to finish the book-- so I'm still going to be writing and sticking with the less frequent posting over here for the month. Let me tell you, there will be a lot of revision work to come when I'm done!


I'm formulating some thoughts on Mythology and what constitutes "Source" for an upcoming post, but have been somewhat distracted by writing, and haven't put it together coherently yet. There have been a lot of challenges with this book that I didn't exactly anticipate, and will hopefully be able to discuss tomorrow.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Delusions and Hallucinations

NaNo Stats:

31872 / 50000 words. 64% done!

I'm not sure why I've come across so much on hallucinations and delusions lately on physorg, but I figured it was fitting to write a post up about it in honor of all of those people taking part in National Novel Writing Month. Especially for those who are going without sleep, and putting their mind and bodies through the grinder to pump out that 1,667 words on top of their already overfull schedule of working full time, parenting, and school. If you're feeling haunted by your characters, it's okay! Even "normal" people can start hallucinating extremely quickly, under the right circumstances!

Yesterday I linked briefly to a post discussing how children (mostly young girls) can sublimate imaginary friends into dear diary personalities, and then later, if they're writers, into the characters they write about (Abstract can be found here!). Basically, writers are expected to be nagged by their creations. Right now, I'd be more surprised if in the sleep-deprived-overly-stressed state that NaNoWriMo can sometimes subject us to, people weren't feeling haunted by their characters, even if it weren't relatively "normal."

The study I linked to above talks about how, placed in a sensory deprivation room, even people who aren't necessarily prone to hallucination may begin to experience them in as few as 15 minutes. And this is what they suspect:
One of the researchers, psychologist Oliver Mason, said the results of the experiment support the idea that hallucinations are produced through what the scientists call faulty source monitoring: the brain misidentifies the source of its own thoughts as arising from outside the body.
Personally I find it kind of interesting. It's another example, I think, of believing being more powerful than actuality. Of the brain having this incredible power of belief over its surroundings and the body.  We know this is true, we see it every day, but we don't really give it the research and study it deserves, in my opinion. For example, WHY would our brains decide, in the absence of other stimuli, to believe that our own thoughts are external? What's the pathway that allows something like that?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Imaginary Friends Are Not Just For Kids

If you're a writer and often find yourself talking with your characters, reassure yourselves!

It's okay, apparently 46 out of 50 of us do it, too!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Some Teaser Content

If you're interested, and even if you're not, I've released an original letter from Helen to her brother Pollux, unearthed after all these millennia from my brain, over at GeekaChicas!

These letters will be published periodically in honor of National Novel Writing Month and my Work-In-Progress about Helen's story and the Trojan War. I'll give you guys a post here to let you know when they go up. The next letter will be Pollux's response to Helen's plea.

Yes, I'm absolutely aware that letter writing is, technically speaking, not necessarily historically accurate for the time. (That was a lot of adverbs.) But if Ovid can do it, I figure in the interest of artistic license, fudging things a bit can't hurt.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A (slightly disorganized) Tale of Two Fathers

NaNoWriMo Wordcount Update: 

15031 / 50000 words. 30% done!

Remember that show, My Two Dads?

Yeah, I don't really remember it either. But today I was surfing through Plutarch's Theseus, skimming for reference to the Helen abduction, and, yes, I'll admit it, reading Theseus's entry in Wikipedia, (in my defense I also read about him in Apollodorus) and I came across some things that hadn't fully sunk in before.

For instance: Theseus has two fathers. And he isn't the only Greek Hero suffering from a redundancy of dads.

To understand this, maybe I need to go into the philosophy a little bit. You see, back in the day, men in their infinite wisdom operated under the common misconception that women really weren't more than just an oven. The sperm did all the work of making a baby, and the wife contributed little if nothing at all to the resulting offspring, other than providing the space for incubation. I'm pretty sure that I read this from an excerpt attributed to Aristotle in my Women in History course in college, but I can't promise it so don't quote me. Anyway, semen was the provider of all...well, they didn't really consider it genetic material then, so lets say, life-forming matter. As a result of this understanding (Aristotle did write before Apollodorus, who is a major source for Theseus, and certainly long before Plutarch and Ovid), if a woman had intercourse with two men in the same day, or the same night, the child born COULD be a mix of those two men--fathered by both.

We see the Dual-Dad syndrome in children born of the gods, pretty exclusively as far as I know, which is convenient because it relieves them of the burden of being illegitimate heirs. I have to admit, I'm not exactly sure what the lot of an illegitimate child was, but the fact that the children are labeled as such in works like The Iliad leads me to believe that they were probably not given the privileges of their legitimate brothers and sisters. Certainly Hera had no love for Zeus's bastard children, and legitimacy seems at the very least to be required of one who will inherit any kind of land, wealth, or kingdom.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Public Service Announcements!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posting for these announcements!

We're moving into National Novel Writing Month, and I'm sorry to say this may result in a cut back on my posting habits on this blog. We'll see how things go once the month gets started, and I get a handle on the new book, but I'm planning right now to go with a Tuesday/Friday posting schedule for the month of November. If I happen to have more time, you'll see more of me here, but you can definitely count on me for twice-weekly posting on those days. I hope you will all still follow along with me!

For those of you interested, I'm happy to announce that I'm now a contributing writer for GeekaChicas! I don't have any posts up yet My first post went up today, and there will probably be some cross-posting going on between here and there, but I'm pretty excited to be asked to write for and with the other women who make that blog great! I hope you'll all check it out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back to Science! Superbrainpower-palooza

So maybe this statement is going to sound obvious, but research apparently shows that phantom limbs don't HAVE to obey the laws of physics.

Yeah, when I put it that way it doesn't sound that spectacular, but think about what this means for people who are bound by those same phantom limbs, and the pain induced by them. They don't have to hurt. They can will themselves not to be in pain. They can will the phantom limb into a different and impossible position to make it stop acting up.

So maybe this still seems like common sense to you. But the article takes it a step further. This isn't just about phantom limbs, this is about body image. The way we imagine and see ourselves. The way we THINK our  bodies. The study shows that simply by practicing imagining the body in a different way, our brain essentially believes it to be come so. For people suffering from diseases which stem from poor body image-- like anorexia, as the article mentions-- this could be a huge break through. This is proof that if they close their eyes and practice imagining that their body image is something different, their ideal of beauty, perhaps, that they can, essentially, program their brain to BELIEVE it's the truth.

Proving once again that funny trope that keeps popping up in everything--Belief is power.

When I read the title of the article though, I was really hoping that they were going to talk about how Phantom Limbs could actually physically pick stuff up or something. I guess that's the science fiction geek in me...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is All Mythology Created Equal?

Take a moment and put aside right and wrong, and truth with a capital T, and just hear me out.

Maybe the better question is this: Does all mythology come from one source? One missing link? And is everything else just variations on those same themes? Is that missing link something embedded in our consciousness? Is religion, like some evolutionary theorists suggest, an impulse which we bred into ourselves, therefore making mythology some instinct, some bizarre shared memory with shared meaning, so that the ideas, tropes, stories contain that same thread, no matter where on earth it's found?

Or is it as simple as this: the culture and supposed religion of a megalith people. (And regardless of the title of Wikipedia's entry, this culture stretched all the way to the far east--though there is a bizarre gap in the middle.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Holding Back

I've been holding off on starting my next book for two reasons. 1) I needed to do research, and 2) I want to participate in National Novel Writing Month.

The idea came to me a couple of weeks ago though, and ever since it's been clawing at the back of my mind. It wants to be written, and it is causing me sleepless nights to keep it contained. To wait to write it. I hate this feeling of fighting against it. Every time I read a new primary source on the Trojan War, or pick up The Iliad, I want to start writing immediately. And boy, do I wish that I could read and write simultaneously! Four arms and two sets of eyes, and one mega-brain that can absorb all that input and turn it immediately into creative output.

The thing is, it's kind of an exercise of discipline at this point. A discipline that will be important to my future career as a writer, because there are going to be times when I need to focus on revisions or editing, and I can't move forward immediately into the next project. And I need to know if holding back until the right time is good or bad for my creative process. If I CAN do it, without messing myself up. When I finally unleash all this creative purpose, this story, will it be better for my having waited to get the facts, or worse? Will I write better? Or will my brain be fogged and overrun by all the ideas to the point where organizing them into coherent sentences and chapters is impossible?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beta For The Win, and What I Love About Writing

I just got back a copy of my manuscript all marked up in red ink from one of my readers. There is nothing better than sitting down with a copy of my book and seeing all the comments right next to the words and all over the margins. It gets me excited to do revisions, and address those instances where my beta reader wanted more, and I can see why.

I love especially comments that make me see things in a way I hadn't before. A new interpretation of a line that I took for granted that adds depth or meaning. A different perspective on the motivation of a character. I remember once sending a short story out to a reader and having them come back with a response that was completely accurate, but horribly different than the impression I wanted to leave them with. But I loved that element too-- I loved that they saw that emotion, that motivation, that I had missed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Research-palooza

I had a terrible and awesome realization yesterday. My time is running out to finish my research, and the research I need to do just exploded.

I had been concentrating entirely on the myths surrounding the Trojan War, with a few forrays into anthropology of the Bronze Age . But it occurred to me today (somewhat belatedly) that part of my story will take place in Egypt. And I have not done any research at all into that country during and surrounding the Trojan War.

Ouch.

As a result, my weekend is going to be taken up with power reading and power researching. And again, I'm grateful that my husband is even more interested in history than I am, and has about thirty history books I can sift through for information. From Atlas's of Archaeology to Encylcopedias of Mythology and, perhaps more importantly for my belated realization, a brand new Encylopedia of Ancient Egypt. Let me assure you that my nose will be stuck in that book for the next two days.

All that said, I'm sure you will understand when I tell you I won't be posting anything on this blog on Sunday. I'll be too busy ruining my eyes by reading non-stop, probably in less than ideal lighting, and certainly there is bound to be some small-eye-strain-inducing-print.

Any valuable links to information on Egypt between 1210 and 1170 BCE would be greatly appreciated, if you happen to have them lying around.  Otherwise, you'll hear from me Monday.

Assuming I still have my wits after my intended information overload.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why my Textbook on Mythology is Trash

I'm going to make a shocking admission, and I apologize if you feel betrayed, but the truth must come out.

In college, I never took a class on Classical Mythology.

In my defense, I did make the attempt. I registered, bought the book, and even attended a few classes. Unfortunately I found out very quickly that I wasn't going to learn well in the course. There were a number of reasons I felt this way that I won't get into here, but the fact is, I dropped the course and didn't look back.

Shame on me.

That being said, I kept the book. Because what classics major can't use another text book on Classical Mythology? Who could say no to keeping a copy of Classical Mythology, Seventh Edition, by Mark P.O. Morford and Robert J. Lenardon? Or maybe I had already unwrapped the plastic from the book and it was too far into the semester to return it--I don't remember. But I put it on a shelf and have been carrying it around with me as baggage ever since.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some (Disorganized?) Thoughts on The Cypria Fragments.

I hadn't intended on reading The Cypria Fragments, but while perusing the wikipedia article on Helen of Troy, there was a reference to it that intrigued me. Namely, the comment that the marriage of Helen to Meneleus heralded the beginning of the end of the age of heroes, and Zeus intended to destroy men and in particular, the heroes among them through the Trojan War. I have to add, too, that the phrasing was very Tolkien-esque, in the article. Anyway, this motive for the Trojan War as a way to destroy man wasn't something I had heard of before and in light of the archaeological evidence of Mycenae's inexplicable destruction following the epic, it seems quite meaningful. So I followed the reference to its source in the Cypria and dug in.

So far, I haven't found anything specific to that particular reference, but I have found what seems to me to be an event not dissimilar to Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac in the old testament. Agamemnon offends Artemis, and in order to restore himself and his expedition to her favor, he offers his daughter, Iphigeneia as a sacrifice to the goddess. At the last moment, Artemis stops him by removing Iphigeneia and replacing her with a stag instead for the sacrifice. In the old testament, the angel of God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac at the last minute, and a ram is discovered nearby to replace his son as the sacrifice. Of course, Isaac wasn't swept away and made immortal, but the trope is still there. Willingness to sacrifice one's own blood without hesitation is more important than the sacrifice itself. I can only imagine the emotional scarring that Isaac and Iphigeneia might have ended up with, at finding themselves on the wrong side of the altar. I bet they would have got on famously if they had ever met.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Apollodorus's The Library and Fairy Tales

So I'm reading  The Libraries by Apollodorus, as the Epitome deals with the Trojan war, and those events which lead up to it, and I came across this in the notes:

The story ran that all the gods and goddesses, except Strife, were invited to attend the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and that Strife, out of spite at being overlooked, threw among the wedding guests a golden apple inscribed with the words, “Let the fair one take it,” or “The apple for the fair.” Three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, contended for this prize of beauty, and Zeus referred the disputants to the judgment of Paris.
And all of a sudden, I had an ah HA! moment.

Are we looking at the origin of the evil fairy of folklore? The same fairy who becomes Malificent in Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty? The fairy, who overlooked, curses the baby, rather than blessing it? (Something about 12 golden plates, and 13 fairies, wasn't it? It's been a long time since I read my complete Grimm's fairy tales.) And the origin of the evil step-mother we all know from Snow White, with Paris playing the roll of the magic mirror? This does seem to capture interesting elements from both, and I think I can confidently say that these stories pre-date the Germanic folklore which is the source for so much of the old fairy tales.

I knew the story, but I had never seen it put exactly in those terms. Now that I have, I find it difficult to believe it ISN'T the story which resulted in those other interpretations. Very interesting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Heroides

For those of you following my journey through Trojan myth, or with any kind of passing interest, I highly recommend you check out Ovid's The Heroides. You don't even have to read the whole of it-- each letter is labeled with the writer and the intended recipient. There are three which I've focused on, personally, in regard to Helen and Paris, V, XVI, and XVII. (There are a couple more dealing with different characters from the war--Achilles, Agamemnon, and children of these--but I'm running short on time to read all this stuff, so I haven't looked at them yet.)

The fifth letter is written by Oenone to Paris. Oenone, according to Ovid, is Paris's first wife. She was a nymph, and he left her behind in Troy to go after Helen. She appears to have written this letter after his return, when he brings Helen with him to replace her as his wife. Oenone is understandably pretty upset about all of this. She was Paris's wife, after all, before he was recognized as one of Priam's sons, and was just some poor shepherd in the woods. She warns him that Helen is going to bring his ruin, and that as an adulteress, he can't trust her. I can only imagine that Paris ignores all of this. It's unclear to me whether Oenone is kept on as a second, lesser wife of Paris's, or whether she's cast out. I don't know if she's living in the palace with them or not--I think I'll have to read through it again. But until I had read this, I wasn't aware that Paris had been previously married, and that element will be an excellent and interesting thing to explore, certainly, as I write.

The sixteenth and seventeenth letters, are part of what is referred to as the double letters. These were letters paired with their responses. The first is from Paris to Helen, begging her to consider his suit for her hand, and his love, and the second is Helen's response. Paris tells Helen the story of the three goddesses, Hera/Juno, Athena/Minerva and Aphrodite/Venus, who appear to him after Hermes/Mercury drops him the golden prize and orders him under Zeus/Jupiter's command to settle the issue of who is the fairest. Each of the goddesses offers Paris a prize if he chooses them. Aphrodite offers him Helen, and that's when his obsession with her is born. It's also the source for the enmity Hera and Athena have for Troy in The Iliad. They seek Troy's destruction because Paris chose Aphrodite over them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Superman is AWESOME regardless of his perfection.

It's been a while since I've gone comic book on you guys, but I've been thinking about this off and on, whenever Superman has come up in various conversations, and I think I can stretch the truth a little bit and pretend this is a conversation about character in writing, because honestly, knowing what makes a character compelling to an audience is kind of the trick, isn't it? Not to mention the fact that comic books and modern superheros, it can be argued, are our way of reinterpreting and reinventing the heroes and gods of those old myths and pantheons. (Why is it, every time I start talking about comic books, my sentences become astonishingly long?)

Most people know Superman. I want to say everyone knows Superman, but I have to take into account that perhaps Superman is not quite so prevalent among other cultures as he is in the United States. After all, he traditionally does stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, whatever the heck that means. But the thing that always seems to come up in conversations about Superman, is the fact that he is TOO perfect a hero. This perfection seems to make him unrelatable, to some people. It rubs them the wrong way. Superman can do everything, and everything he does is always The Right Thing To Do. Personally, this doesn't bother me at all, but maybe I read a little bit more into his character, or maybe I'm just an idealist. Possibly both. Either way, allow me to makes some arguments for what makes Superman an awesome character.

1) Superman Struggles.
Maybe he always ends up making the right choice, but man, he doesn't always have an easy time figuring out what it is. Again and again we see Superman returning to his human parents (Ma and Pa Kent) and asking for help. Superman, who is essentially a god in his own right, looks to these humans for moral guidance and counts on these two people to tell him when he's going too far, or making a wrong decision. He doesn't go it alone. That's kind of the appeal of Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane, too. Superman needs them. Superman needs the connection to humanity that they provide him. He needs their support, their love, their reassurances. And as someone unique to the world, he needs their acceptance.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Vacation!

No exciting science or history post today, since we're off visiting with the family. I'll be back to my somewhat regularly scheduled posting on Tuesday Monday. I promise to come up with something interesting!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Food and Water as Pain Reliever?

Apparently, for rats, food and water acts almost like a drug, and the act of eating or drinking can grant them a higher tolerance to pain (and it's supposed, other externals not yet tested for).

The implications of this are huge. The article touches on what this probably means for people, and goes a long way toward explaining the problems some people have with eating until whatever is in front of them is finished. Our compulsion to overeat. (You know, like that bag of chips you sat down with in front of the television, and now it's gone? Or that carton of ice cream you JUST opened, but somehow is already half gone?) But, if it's also true that just plain water accomplishes the same state of higher tolerance to pain+ (Yes, pain+, no that is not a typo) then it could also mean we can take extra unnecessary sugar out of our habits, replace it with water, and have the same result. The article talks about substituting lollipops at the doctor's office with a cup of water instead, for kids.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Conjecture and Frustrations from The Iliad

One of the things I find incredibly frustrating when reading through Homer's Iliad is the alarming number of characters, and the excessive ongoing genealogies. There are so many people who are mentioned, along with their entire history of breeding, only so that their death can be cataloged as someone's (with an equally irritatingly elaborated upon list of forefathers) kill. Achaean and Trojan alike. It almost gets to the point where I lose track of the thread of action, and forget what's going on, and certainly all the Greek names jumble together.

Homer definitely pays no attention to the difficulty one might have in following his players. While I recognize that in part this is a function of the formula and oral tradition of the poetry, I also want to curse him for naming (for example--one of many) Agamemnon at least three different ways. He's referred to, sometimes in the same stanza, sometimes in several different ones, as Agamemnon, Atrides, and Son of Atreus, which in and of itself would not be problematic to follow, if there weren't eighty other men, far less important, being named with the same level of variance throughout the book.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Uncanny Valley and Monkeys!

I had never heard of the Uncanny Valley phenomenon until reading this article today, but now that I have, I'm kind of fascinated by it, and really interested in this research, especially as it applies to non-human animals.

Basically, the article tells us that monkeys respond to realistic and artificial images of monkeys with fear. Apparently this behavior has been seen in humans too. That when we look at realistic but artificial human faces--human but not quite human--we're disturbed by them, and respond with revulsion. Mostly this is applied to (or observed with) computer generated lifelike images (like characters in movies such as Polar Express and that newfangled Beowulf) and robotics.

I'm wondering if this applies to Wax Museum figures, and paintings that are so realistic they seem to stare at us, as well as just computer generated figures. I know that I can't stand wax museums, they creep me out. I don't necessarily have the same response to paintings though. I find realistic, almost photographical (did I make that word up?) paintings kind of fascinating to look at, and don't have any revulsion for them, but rather an admiration for the artist. Perhaps because they're static and only two dimensional, whereas wax figures are three dimensional and more lifelike? Too lifelike?

Anyway, apparently this is the first time this reaction has been observed in any other animal besides humans, and the most interesting part is, we have NO IDEA why we (or they) respond this way. I mean, there are theories listed within that wikipedia article that I linked to above, like, that the human but not quite human passive face reminds us of death and the innate fear of death we all have, and the fact that it may be conceived as a threat to our human identity, but we don't KNOW for sure what the imperative is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So what I told you is true, from a certain point of view...

My leading lady spends quite a bit of time in Greece. Mostly because this is an area of history which I'm familiar with, and for a variety of other factors that I won't get into now. The trouble is, for a woman, Greece was not a very exciting place to live. Especially if one has an awareness of how else one could be living, which my leading lady, and my gentle readers, both do. So instead of taking my readers through Greece from the point of view of my leading lady (from whom they would only see the interior of her home for the most part, long days of overseeing the slaves taking care of the weaving, while her husband absents himself to do whatever it is he does), we see it instead from the point of view of a god. A god, in fact, who does not lord over Greece at all.

I brushed on this a little bit in this post, where I talked about how the clothing my god was wearing was less important than the things he was saying and his enormity of size, when my leading lady finally meets him. An understanding of what your characters care about and would notice is important, especially when you're writing third person limited or first person. They can't see everything. They won't see everything. They won't CARE about detailing their own living space.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The pitfalls of electronics.

Monday morning I woke up to find that my modem had kicked the bucket overnight. Sometime after I went to bed, it just quit. Unfortunately this meant that I was compelled to call the customer service department of my internet service provider.

I can't be the only one who hates those menus.

Long story short, a trip to two different stores, and a significant sum of money later, I'm once again connected to the world wide web, and am now free to look up everything I ever wanted to know about weaving and free standing looms, old world-style. This is only partly because my leading lady spends a significant portion of her time in front of a loom, weaving clothing for her family through the centuries. You may expect a post reflecting said research in the near future.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Mystery of the Norse Mythos

One of the things I love about Norse Mythology, is that it's so piecemeal. That seems kind of a weird thing to say, but just stay with me for a minute.

What we have of Norse Mythology are remnants passed down through oral tradition, and not put down on paper until after 1100AD (as late as 1200-1300 in some cases), in the Eddas and sagas. I'm sure you've heard me talk about this before, but it bears repeating. We have no written record before this time, and the dates are not exactly during the Viking glory days, but more toward the end of the era. These facts were not the only serious factors which influenced these sagas and stories about the gods as they were finally written.

For starters, one of our greatest sources for Norse Mythology was written by Snorri Sturluson (around 1200 AD). He's attributed with writing the Prose Edda which contains a very coherent account of the Norse gods, the creation of the(ir) world, and its destruction. But Snorri himself is clearly looking at the stories of the gods which he's transcribing as MYTHS surrounding actual men who may have lived, not as truths of living gods. Not to say that he was wrong, but this context is certainly something that should be taken into account when reading. Snorri's Christian viewpoint may certainly have corrupted the stories, even if the fact that he was writing about them on the way out, didn't.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ancient History and Modern Politics

This is more of a book review than a scientific article, which is kind of odd for physorg, from my experience, but it still captured my attention. The book looks fascinating and I might have to pick it up. The article/review of the book makes some fascinating points and suggestions about how the conditions which led to the fall of democracy in Athens are disturbingly similar to the issues we face today. But let me start by saying this is not new information at all. Classicists have been seeing parallels between the fall of those ancient powers and modern ones for years. This guy, maybe, is the first one to get publicity for his book, but that's about as new as his information gets. Even non-classicists are aware of it. My social studies teacher in the ninth grade had no qualms about declaring the USA as the newest Roman Empire, on the edge of collapse, and let me tell you that the unit on the classical world was NOT big, even then.

The thing is, we know that history is important. We know that paying attention to history is the best way not to repeat mistakes. This is why there's such a huge emphasis on World War II. So that it won't be forgotten. So that the nightmare atrocities of that war will not be forgotten, and as such, committed again. We know it, but we're so caught up in more modern history, that we, as a culture, have glossed over our beginnings. Classical history is often ignored, like this article says, and in my opinion we're doing ourselves a huge disservice by it for the exact reason this book was written. Athens was facing the same issues we are, and their government fell. Democracy fell. It would be wise of us to take a look and see why so that we can try to avoid following in its footsteps. So that we can choose a different path for our nation which does not repeat the errors of history.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Clothing and Apparel, for the GODS

How do you dress a god, in the modern day, while keeping the richness of his or her heritage intact, and without making them look completely ludicrous?

Does a god wear jeans and t-shirts? Or, does a god stick to what he knows, and continue wearing the clothing of his glory days long past their expiration date? How do you dress a god in such a way that a reader (or viewer) will recognize them as more than mortal, or not quite human, but it won't tip off the rest of the characters?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Nordic Bronze Age

One of the most critical plot points in my book occurs right smack in the middle of the Nordic Bronze Age. That was the period between, oh, 1600 BCE and 600 BCE, roughly--those dates are subject to change depending on what text book you're reading. Okay, so maybe not the middle. It's about 980 or so. Anyway, the result of all this is that I've had to do a lot of investigation and research.

Unlike other periods in history, we really don't know a lot about the Bronze Age in Scandinavia. We know that the weather was much warmer--think modern day Northern France, they were even growing grapes-- and they participated in trade with the rest of Europe. There's even evidence/supposition of contact between Scandinavia and Crete. But most of our information comes from burial sites and stone paintings. There was no written language, and most of what we know of Scandinavian culture came from the Eddas which weren't recorded until much, much later. (~1000 AD--I mean, CE. That's the politically correct term now, right?)

Basically the scarcity of information leaves me with a number of challenges.

1) As far as clothing and dress go, we basically only know what people were buried in. And we don't even really know who the buried people ARE. Nobility? Priests and Priestesses? Personally, I find myself wondering if the people being buried were done so in their Sunday's finest, not unlike we do now. If that's the case, then it tells us practically nothing at all about the day to day regular Joes. Or maybe I should call them Svens? If my leading lady is the daughter of a village leader, is that noble enough to merit burial? Noble enough to mean that she had finely woven hair nets and belts? Did she have jewelry? Or was she still wearing furs? The nobles had woven wool clothing, for sure. Did the non-nobles? I don't even want to call them peasants, and nobles, to be honest, because we're not even clear on the social stratification.

2) Day to day life is even more of a mystery. They had agriculture for sure. Like I said above, they were growing grapes and making wine. But how much impact did the amber trade have on economics for villages? How dependent were these people on coastal fishing? We know that later on, Vikings are notorious seafarers. But what were they then? If they had contact with the south, and even Crete, is it reasonable to assume that they had some knowledge of boat building greater than hallowed out logs for canoes? Egypt certainly had no trouble building immense barges around the same time. Certainly the people of archaic Greece weren't slackers when it came to boat building, either. The technology existed. But even with trade, did it make it that far north? Were villages conquering one another? Fighting? Was Tribalism an issue? How was leadership decided?

3) What about the gods we all know and love? Or at least the gods that I know and love, I don't know how you feel about them. There's evidence from the pictures that the symbols later used by Odin, Thor, and Freyr, as well as Freyja were present. But the first written acknowledgment of the Norse Gods we know from the Eddas wasn't until Tacitus, who wrote around 100 AD/CE. While it's completely possible, and even likely, that the gods of the Vikings had their roots in the Bronze age, we don't have a lot of evidence one way or another to support it. Could I make the assumption? Sure. Would I prefer to have some actual research and information to back it up? Definitely.

Now, the good thing about the lack of information, is that I can make some informed guesses and make stuff up to my heart's content. But while I know my classical history better than most people, I'm a little weak with this Bronze Age business.

It's a good thing I have a lot of books.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Answering Life's Childhood Questions Through Writing

J.R.R. Tolkien had a vision for his work which went beyond simply telling a good story set within a vivid world, similar but unlike our own. He wanted more than anything to create a national mythology for his country. He wanted Britain to have gods and heroes greater than mere mortals, but still relatable and flawed. (Really. I took a class on Tolkien. I'm not making this stuff up!) To that end, he drew on the culture of his own country and the myths and legends of other nations that he found admirable to create a unique world. It goes without saying that this was the birth of The Lord of the Rings.

As a child I always wondered what to make of the many pantheons, the many myths, the many creations of the world. I always struggled to somehow fit them all together into one universe, one faith. I remember once asking my mother if the other gods, Zeus, Thor, Amun-Ra, Shiva, were the extended family of God. His cousins and aunts and uncles, his brothers and sisters, his nieces and nephews. Could they all be related? Family? Friends?

Though my mother was quick to dissuade me, the idea never left my mind completely. Despite my Christian upbringing, I still wanted to find a way to make it all fit together. Not unlike Mr. Tolkien, I wanted to create a new mythology. This was God’s world, but I wanted to find a way to let the other gods live in it. I wanted to blend the existing myths and legends, gods and heroes, into one big family.

My journey to this end began with The Book of Genesis, and Adam and Eve. It was fueled by classes in Norse Mythology and Classical History.

I'll tell you this--but the rest you'll have to read in the book that I ended up writing-- the other gods are NOT God's extended and dysfunctional family. But it was a fun idea when I was a kid. I like the answer I discovered through writing my book better though, anyway, now that I'm an adult.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More Language Fun

I was always jealous of schools that offered foreign languages to younger students. In my school, growing up, foreign language classes didn't begin until seventh grade. But I was well aware of the fact that supposedly, the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language. I always wondered why we weren't starting these classes in elementary school. Just because you're too young to make a choice between them? I don't know.

But anyway, apparently Use it or Lose it is NOT a correct statement to make about languages. And apparently, also, once a second language is learned and practiced (laid down a new map over our brain when you become bilingual), we don't shut it off.

I have always wanted to learn to master a new language. I've been fascinated by it for an excessively long time. Long enough to learn one-- but I never did. I took Spanish from seventh to tenth grade, but then I dropped it in favor of study halls (I know, shame on me!) and when I got to college and actually wanted to learn again, I chose Latin for the reasons already mentioned in this post. Though they were both romance languages, it fractured my language education.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Random Language Learning!

Keeping in the spirit of my previous post on furthering education, I was researching programs and came across a completely free course of study in Icelandic through the University of Wisconsin and put together by the University of Iceland!

I've signed up with A couple of my friends, including SQRT(D) (because learning a language is always better with a buddy!) and I encourage any of you with interest to join us! If you have a background in German, you should be pretty well off--my husband was able to read over my shoulder half the stuff in the first lesson with his rusty 4 year old German skills. I do not have a background in German--though my computer thought otherwise for a period of several irritating months--and this is going to be an incredible challenge of Awesome! That means, that no matter how bad you are, I will probably be worse at it! So feel good about yourself and take a shot!

Icelandic can be compared with Latin, as far as the complexity and preservation of cases and forms goes. Not that the vocabulary is at all similar, but grammatically, it's the same level of crazy.

I say, why not?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Back to Brains!

I've been saying for years that for women, styling each other's hair and makeup is the human interpretation of social grooming in monkeys. Ever since I went to college and shared a bathroom with a whole hall of girls, where I observed again and again and again that the bathroom even more so than the lounge was where congregation on conversation happened. Women are social groomers. We bond over hair and makeup. Even those of us who eschew makeup and curling irons have been known to submit to this grooming in the interest of socialization.

So now we're back to brains again-- Monkeys' grooming habits provide clues to how we socialize.
Kind of obvious, right? Here's the twist. The larger the neocortex, the smaller circle in which they concentrate their social grooming. The larger the neocortex, the larger the groups in which these monkeys congregate, too. So, larger groups but smaller groups of friends. But it's okay, because the larger neocortex evidently allows for monkeys, and us, to balance more distant relationships. Essentially, they can be pleasant to everyone without being best friends forever with the entire group. The larger neocortex allows that complexity.

According to this article, our neocortexes (neocortegi?) are three times the size of these other monkeys. And that accounts for our ability to socialize on such tremendous scales. We're balancing relationships with hundreds of people at a time, as opposed to the 50 of even the more sophisticated monkeys. We have our close friends, who we concentrate our time and effort on, and two hundred other people we still associate with when we're put in the right situation. Go take a look at the number of friends you have on facebook or myspace. How many of them do you actually talk to on the phone? or spend time with once a week? How many of them do you just check status updates on, and call it good?

Thank your neocortex!
And remember, it isn't total brain size that counts-- it's the size of the PARTS of the brain that matters!

So what do you think this means about Hyenas and their greater ability to cooperate? What part of the brain is it that is more effectively developed? And what do their neocortexes look like?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Reflections on Further Education

You know what I love about writing? Every project is a new opportunity to learn.

Not just to learn how to write better, and improve my own skill level, but also, to research something new. Writing is a career path which allows one the luxury of never having to settle down into one particular field. Sure, in college I took English classes. Creative writing classes out the wazoo. But it wasn't the only thing I did. I didn't go to college with the goal of getting a BA in English. I hadn't intended on a liberal arts degree at all. I went to college for Wildlife Biology. My ultimate goal was to be a zookeeper, and write on the side, and while I was going to minor in English and suck up all the creative writing classes I could, it wasn't my academic priority.

Of course, Wildlife Biology wasn't really my calling, and I realized that the number and intensity of science classes it required was going to make me hate myself and my life and my education, so instead of hating what I loved, I went in a different direction. But the direction still wasn't English.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hyenas cooperate, but do we?

First of all, I think the history of this article is a great example of how we tend to overlook things about animals that aren't what we expect them to be. We focus so much on our nearest relations in the animal kingdom, sometimes we blind ourselves to the ones that aren't so closely related, but are still capable of so many amazing and BRILLIANT things. We give other animals that aren't chimps and gorillas short shrift because they're not human-like. Because they're not "as smart" as the others.

The line that really caught me, was this:

Researchers have focused on primates for decades with an assumption that higher cognitive functioning in large-brained animals should enable organized teamwork. But Drea's study demonstrates that social carnivores, including dogs, may be very good at cooperative problem solving, even though their brains are comparatively smaller.

If you want to talk about brain size, maybe we should be looking at whales and elephants. I don't think that it's the answer to the question of intelligence, honestly. I don't think we're really able to measure intelligence effectively, either. What is "smartest"? Smartest at a set task, at a set series of tasks, but until we're able to really understand the mind of the animal, I don't think we're ever really going to know who REALLY IS the smartest.

And that same above quote made me stop and reflect on human behavior. The part about the assumption involving primates as large-brained animals and organized teamwork. I think at some point we really get too smart for teamwork. We don't want to teach other people what we can do, and we don't want to ask for help or give help. And look at us! We fight amongst ourselves instead of cooperating.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Break Out the Tinfoil Hats, My Friends!

Because, we're mind reading, now! (Well, okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. we're only reading NUMBERS, but still!)

I can't be the only person who thinks this is incredibly cool. But forget about people, I mean, not that mind reading wouldn't limit the infinite ways in which we misunderstand each other, accidentally and purposeful, but my personal dream has always been to be able to read the minds of animals! To find a way to improve that communication!

Yeah, so maybe I sound kind of like a tree-hugger, but I'm really dying to know what goes on in the brains of a lot of animals other than ourselves. Dolphins. Elephants. Whales. Imagine what we could learn from these other species, if we could only TALK to them. I mean, whales are incredibly mysterious. We don't really understand them at all. We don't know where they go 9 months out of the year. We don't know what they do with themselves. We don't know why they go where they go that we CAN track. The Ocean itself is a mystery--but what if one of its denizens was willing to show us the way? I bet a dolphin would be a hilarious tour guide. And elephants-- what kind of smack are they talking about us in the circus? Are they REALLY pissed off about being performers, or do they like the attention and have strong relationships with their people? It's proven that elephants experience depression, and have strong bonds with other elephants, can they have them with people?

Seriously, mind reading, on any level, could offer us so many insights! To human behavior, to animal behavior, to the world! To observe instinct acting on the brain-- how does it work? Is it just impulse without thinking? is it collective memory? How do other living things see the world? Feel about the world? Feel in general!

My husband and I talk about this a lot. Or at least with frequency, because I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of cross-species communication on a greater level. He doesn't believe that mind reading will offer us much insight. He thinks that the process of thought will be so different between ourselves and any other species that it won't be translatable. I can't bring myself to agree with him, but that's mostly just out of stubbornness. Maybe he's right, and we'll need to learn some common language of thought, but I can't believe that direct mind to mind communication would be impossible. I don't want to believe. What do you believe?

And in the meantime, if it ever happens, sign me up!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

what an odd trend.

So this article from the wall street journal gave me some food for thought: New Light on the Plight of Winter Babies.

Firstly, I didn't even realize that this was even a thing. Babies born in winter have it harder? Don't do as well? Totally news to me. But I LOVE that this is something that's been debated seemingly for so long, and is now being looked at in a totally new and different way--that is, that perhaps the reason is because there's a correlation between winter babies and lower income/lower class/less educated families.

It also says in this article that babies born into the same family tend to have birthdays around the same times. In my family, I'm the youngest of five children. Our birthdays fall all within the months between March and mid September, but we cluster in July, August and September. My oldest sister is the oddball who was born in March. I'd never really thought about it at all before. My parents are both highly educated individuals, and both came from families where education was valued and appreciated. I'm not sure though, when my aunts and uncles birthdays fall, but that's kind of outside of their data points, since they were only looking at the years between 1989 and 2001. Honestly, my entire family falls outside of their data points too.

But here's the other thing that fascinated me: this research is being done by economists. It baffles me. Wouldn't this be more of a sociological issue, than economical? But that's kind of the beauty of it too--people from different backgrounds look at data differently, and can see things outside the box. This is why people with backgrounds in liberal arts are valued in medicine. This is why having a well rounded education (in my humble opinion) is important! This is why it scares the crap out of me that in New York State, the Regents board has all but wiped the Roman Empire and Classical History from is curriculum for world history.

And while I'm on that topic-- not to betray my social networking addiction-- I was looking at a facebook quiz that some people on my friendslist were taking, and I noticed that Julius Caesar was classified as "evil" in the same vein as Hitler. It really gets my goat, I'm not going to lie. Julius Caesar was a hero to the Roman people. The only people who didn't like him were the senators, and that was just because they didn't want to share their power. I'm not saying Julius Caesar was any kind of angel, but certainly he doesn't deserve to be classified or even spoken of in the same breath as Hitler, when a person is discussing villainy.

And how on earth do you teach the rest of world history without the foundation of the Roman Empire? I mean, it's the context for the rest of western civilization!

Argh!
ahem.
And that is my first post after returning from vacation. Enjoy my unfocused rantings.
Or, you know, not.