Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Follow up to Fiction V. Memoir

A link to David Hauslib's Jossip blog, specifically to an entry titled "A Brief History of Modern Lying Authors."

He covers the top four frauds of the last ten years--three phony memoirs, and one journalist faking his stories. But the field is sooooo rich! One could, were one so inclined, fill a blog with tales of bogus memoirs, fraudulent war stories that made it into print, faked quotes to bolster research--and don't even get me started on plagiarism!

Is there no honor among writers?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fiction V. Memoir--It's not rocket science!

Once again, an author has been outed as fabricating his memoir just as it goes to press. Herman Rosenblat's ANGEL AT THE FENCE: The True Story of a Love That Survived, it turns out, ain't none of that--not true, no one at the fence, and it hasn't survived--at least, not as a book. Rosenblat even has to return his $50,000 advance!

Seems that the touching tale of a girl who through apples over the fence of a concentration camp, and years later met the grown man she had helped save from starvation, and married him, sigh, oh sigh, was a complete fabrication. Rosenblat is a concentration camp survivor--no one doubts that--and sadly, because he lied, all that he has to say that may be of value is now doubted.

The movie is still a go. Since when has Hollywood ever cared whether a story is historically accurate? Seriously, different rules do apply, and the producers say they were planning to fictionalize it anyway. (IOW, the fiction they paid for was not fiction enough for them.)

Here's the New Republic expose of Rosenblat's book, the Times UK shorter online story, the Snopes version (which quotes the book extensively), and some interesting comments on Deborah Lipstadt's website. I include Prof. Lipstadt because she is the author and historian who stood up to David Irving and other Holocaust deniers. She calls ANGEL AT THE FENCE "not exactly a shining example of verisimilitude." Hee hee.

Deborah Lipstadt's book (History on Trial) reminded me of a real-life QB-VII--the Leon Uris novel about a trial over the Holocaust.

  • Lipstadt=nonfiction.
  • Uris' QB-VII=fiction.
  • Rosenblat's story=fiction.

Fiction means it's a novelized, emotion-packed, well-paced drama that didn't really happen. Why do we all have such trouble with that concept? Has TV and movies spoiled us for finding drama in the mundane, real events of life?

One other point--the New Republic piece (by Gabriel Sherman) points out that Rosenblat's faux love story appeared in Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul. Now that just sucks. If we can't trust the Chicken Soup books, what can we trust?

Mr. Rosenblat, you lived through the Holocaust. You have horrifying and--no doubt--amazing tales to share, if your wish was to be heard. Why on earth did you have to piss away your reputation and honor by lying?

The book's website has been erased, thank you for visiting.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cool Job Alert

OK, my list of Cool Jobs includes:

Yup, that's it. Mediabistro is running an ad for a Director of Emmy Judging, a position that comes with a 401K, medical, and dental benefits. The website address (if you're not allowed in Mediabistro) is http://www.iemmys.tv/.

I assumed that the coordinator of Emmy judges (which includes approving all the nominations for categorical appropriateness) would not be advertised like other . . . well, mundane jobs. Careers, fortunes, and cultural iconography hang in the balance here! The qualifications in a nutshell are:

  • A college degree
  • 4 yrs + of professional experience
  • Extreme attention to details, deadlines
  • Organizational skills, upbeat attitude, ability to handle stress (yeah, yeah, yeah)
  • Culturally savvy and sensitive (ummm, what's the baseline?)
  • Willingness to travel for 3 months in summer to facilitate semi-final rounds...

Nothing about vetting character or honesty. Quite truthfully, I'd have a hard time finding someone who didn't fulfill those those qualifications, unless they'd become addicted to drugs before getting their AA. Here's the final word:

"An interest in the business side of television and international affairs are helpful. The ability to speak a second language is preferred, but not required."

So the candidate is expected to approve all entries in all categories for appropriateness, and an interest in the business side of television would be . . . helpful. Helpful? When I read that in a job ad, the implication is that it's not required. And why an interest in international affairs? Will the candidate be negotiating with Putin?

That might explain the preference for a second language.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Recommended Reading for an End-of-the-Year Scare

Just discovered TomDispatch.com, thanks to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times by Tom Engelhardt, the author of TomDispatch. The greatest gift I could give anyone (besides a link to Youtube's Sock Puppet carols) is that.

The Times article is about how publishers are struggling these days. Yeah, it's depressing so maybe wait till after Christmas to read it. Even though the layoffs are smaller--not in the thousands of employees let go, but in the dozens--they hit home for anyone who hopes to be published some day.

Engelhardt makes a really interesting point about how the book has not been turned into an ad, and how miraculous that is. What other industry or item--especially one that relies on filling up pages with print--remains impervious to carrying ads? Not by choice, perhaps, but because no one has really figured out how to make it work.

That same Op-Ed piece on on TomDispatch, btw, in an expanded version titled "The Axe, the Book, and the Ad," which sounds like a Grimm Brothers tale.

Many other topics are covered in the blog: political, corporate crime, investigative reporting. Laugh at me; I never knew this place existed and it's great!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bad News for [Print] Newspapers

The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced Tuesday that they plan to reduce home delivery to just Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Arizona’s East Valley Tribune (out of Mesa) will switch from a daily to a four-day-a-week paper next month. All per CNN and many other sources.

And we all know the Christian Science Monitor will halt its daily print edition in spring, right? The alternative these papers faced was to cut more staff, which means less news.

The writing’s on the wall…rather, on the screen. Without ad revenue, and with drops in circulations, increasing printing and transport costs, with the old business model isn’t practical.

James Rainey wrote a column on this in the Los Angeles Times. He speaks of how many readers cannot start the day without their morning paper—a feeling I share. But I remember a time when working stiffs felt they couldn’t survive without their afternoon paper—that was when they had the time to read it, and the news was fresher. But does any daily come out in the afternoon anymore? We all adjusted.

Rainy quotes reporters in Detroit, who talk about their investigative journalism and how vital it is. If newspapers can’t make money, how can they practice their craft? He also gives the opinion of Alan Mutter, former reporter and UC Berkeley prof who teaches graduate journalism students “how news continues in an age of ‘disruptive technology’.”

That phrase is wonderful. Disruptive technology—not on a personal level (like a cell phone ringing during a conversation) but culturally. Our technology is not just evolving and improving, it’s disrupting patterns and traditions that have shaped our lives for generations.

Mutter says “The Internet will NEVER replace the newspaper.” Sic. Why? “I can easily take my newspaper with me and read it anyplace. Reading a printed newspaper will be around forever.”

He’s the expert, but IMHO that’s wishful thinking. I can envision an expanded Kindle that can be taken anywhere and a subscription that automatically downloads and updates a daily, printed newspaper—but printed onscreen. And I would enjoy that; I won’t miss the smudge marks on my fingertips. Really. I just hope they come up with an affordable version of that before my Los Angeles Times stops delivery.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Magazine Industry--About as stable as Chrysler, it seems

Meryl Streep Honored With More Alpha Woman Award

Myrna Blyth (seen here with Meryl Streep) blogs on WowOWow about her industry. Blyth has been Senior Editor of Family Circle, Editor in Chief at Ladies Home Journal, and founded More. Her words carry serious weight.

While Blyth quotes Anna Wintour of Vogue (picture Streep in Devil Wears Prada) saying, "I think we’ve been in difficult times before and we’ve come out of them and I’m sure that we will again,” the overall reading for mags is Not Good. It is Blyth's opinion that the industry "is in a meltdown. Ad pages have cratered...shut down...fired...laid off."

It's bad, but not terminal. Blyth points out that the lavish spending at high end publishers will be trimmed, and the survivors will emerge healthier.

My guess is, they won't be paying $2.00 a word to freelancers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Amber Necklace 4,000 Years Old

Amber is not found in England, apparently. The nearest place amber could come from is the Baltic. Hence,the discovery of a 4,000-year-old amber necklace in NW England amazes the archaeologists. Read about in here in Science Daily, or right from the source at Manchester University, one of the sponsors of the dig.

That's where this picture comes from.

I wondered how the necklace was dated--was it from the cist, or grave, that they found it in? But according to this Naked Scientists discussion, amber can be radio-carbon dated. And according to the World of Amber, the tints may tell what type of trees the amber formed in. A reddish tint might indicate a deciduous tree (cherry or plum) while a pine tree makes lighter amber. However, the Dragonfly Amber site claims that the trees of the Baltic area that made amber were similar to pines and spruces.

All amber may darken to brown after long exposure to air. Since this necklace was found in a stone-lined grave, I'm not sure if that applies. Was it buried under dirt or exposed to air? And does the radio-carbon dating reveal when the necklace was crafted, or just when the amber formed (probably millions of years ago)?

Anyway, I learned that amber can be distinguished from glass by rubbing it--real amber grows warm when rubbed; glass does not. A plastic imitation of amber contains camphor, and when rubbed it will give off that odor. So next time I look at a collection of amber jewelry that looks too much like bakelite to be real (because some pieces do!) I know how to test it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recommended Reading

Michael Ware is one of my favorite correspondents. Maybe it's the accent or the ruggedly broken nose; maybe it's the fact that you're never sure if he's going to reach across the camera from Iraq and slap the nice, cozy, anchorperson. Anyway, here's an excellent interview with him in the January 2009 Men's Journal. A quote:

"Ware’s detractors have painted him as a drunk, a rage-aholic, a partisan. They claim he heckled John McCain at a press conference and accuse him of being a terrorist stooge for airing enemy footage of U.S. troops being gunned down — anything to mark him as, at best, too rough to be trusted or, at worst, outright unhinged.

Who wouldn't want to read about that guy? He's got some war stories that I wouldn't want to know first-hand.

This picture is from the blog All Things CNN which is about the last time I'll check there--I've got nausea from the way that site scrolls. Oh, well, probably my bad.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two extremes in Writing Today

Two things, at opposite ends of the technology continuum, occupy me today.

The first is this article in the New York times Magazine, about the state of media and the place of writers.

"...we have to change. We have to develop content that Metamorphoses in sync with new ways of experiencing it, disseminating it and monetizing it."


So much of what author Virginia Heffernan says goes over my head that I feel like an ostrich with my head in the sand. Hopefully, someone will call me when people are ready to switch from Twitter and Hulu to The Next Big Thing. That way, I'll be in on the ground floor and will understand where I fit.

The second item is Victorian in comparison. The new Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Resolution: 101 Stories...Great Ideas for Your Mind, Body, and ...Wallet has a story of mine in it. How drool: write a little essay, send it in, get included in a book and paid.

But I got paid! I have yet to figure out how to get paid for social networking my patootie off.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Using Digital Imaging to Help Archaeologists

A Goleta, California company named MegaVision--which was founded in 1983 and produced one of the first digital cameras in the 80s (the camera weighed 300 pounds!)--is now a mover in the archaeological world. They've developed a form of high-resolution photography with different light filters (it sounds so simple) that can bring out details in ancient artifacts and manuscripts.

That's not their real business, of course. They actually sell digital camera backs and imaging equipment, and their website says nothing about archaeology. BUT:

  • They've currently rigged up cameras to make 100s of images of a 3000-year-old pottery fragment found in the Valley of Elah--where David and Goliath fought. This shard has five lines of text, which is the oldest Hebrew text ever found.
  • MegaVision's CEO Ken Boydston designed an imaging system for Oxford University researchers to use when examining documents from ancient Egypt.
  • In Washington DC, Boydston used the company's expertise to create a copy of the Waldseemueller Map (pictured) for the Library of Congress. The 1507 map is the oldest known that shows North America--in fact, it's the first map that names "America." Only one copy still exists of the approx. 1000 that were printed.

This came from an article on MegaVision is from the Los Angeles Times, and I sincerely hope that someone keeps our only decent newspaper (way more than decent, quite frankly, in spite of all the cutbacks in recent years) publishing through the bankruptcy chaos.

A related story tells how another imaging system provider (Cambridge Research & Instrumentation) is helping to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls with their filtering and enhancing equipment--in this case, finding hidden text on the scrolls. The relation? The same scientist (Dr. Gregory Bearman of JPL and Snapshot Spectra) went after these companies to develop special technologies for both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the pottery shard. Cool.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Decline of the French Cafe

Parisian Lovers

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 600,000 bars and cafes in France. In 1960, there were 200,000 cafes in Paris alone. Today, there are less than 41,500 nationwide, and two more close every day.

Proprietors report business down by 20 to 30 percent. Daniel Perrey, the owner of a bar in Crimolois near Dijon, refers to the cafe as a "public living room," an image I really like and which other columnists have picked up

Bernard Picolet, the owner of the Paris cafe Aux Amis du Beaujolais, started by his family in 1921, says, “The way of life has changed . . . The French are no longer eating and drinking like the French. They are eating and drinking like the Anglo-Saxons . . . They eat less and spend less time at it.”

The reasons? Many. As the New York Times wrote: Not only are the French spending less, and drinking less . . .but on Jan. 1 of this year, . . . France extended its smoking ban to bars, cafes and restaurants. To this, add modern life. Cell phones, less downtime. The lure of trendier clubs. And, of course, "C'est l'economie, stupide!"

Is it overly romantic to lament this? I'll compare it to newspapers--an industry that also came into its own during the 19th century and reigned in its field through most of the 20th. Like the cafes, new technologies and lifestyles started to lure customers away over the last twenty years. During the last decade, young people especially view both cafes and printed newspapers as an old-fashioned product which will someday become downright anachronistic.

Viewed that way, I suppose all things run their course and are eventually replaced. Will a few historic and high-priced cafes survive for the tourists, so that we can sit and pretend that Hemingway or Picasso is scribbling at the next table?

For more info, check out this November 08 piece in the New York Times or the same piece in the International Herald Tribune, a 2001 story from CNN, or this 2007 Eursoc article about both the cafes of Paris and the pubs of London, also in decline.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Evil Advice: Kill Your Blog


"Kill Your Blog" is the advice from Paul Boutin in the November Wired Magazine, which is already old but I'm just getting around to reading it (I was busy in November, beginning the novel which will earn me a Pulitzer.)

Wired has not seen fit to put this 600-word piece online, but if you want some fun, google "Kill Your Blog" and Paul Boutin. 4,580 sites! This guy has seriously pissed off a buncha people--and, coup-de-grace--he is a blogger. Or he was. And here's what he says of writing for Wired: whatever they want. I’m just a churl who cain’t say no.

In the article, Boutin says that a blogger's time is better invested "expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter." He points out the the top blogs are professional: things like Huffington Post.

Flickr & Twitter, the trendy new hangouts, stress short to the point of silliness. Reminds me of flash fiction, where the point is tell a story in 50-200 words. This can be done and done well; it can even be intriguing, but it quickly degenerates into an exercise an awful lot like working a puzzle. It's amusement.

I'm not dumping my blog for Flickr. I went and got a history degree because I got sick of trying to keep up with technology's twists and turns a long time ago, learning a new operating system every 18 months from the ground up. I figured history would be stable (it's not, but it's a lot more fun than technology.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Slave Ship Wreck Found-

The only known slaving vessel shipwreck was found near Turks and Caicos, in only 9 feet of water.

The Trouvadore sank in 1841--long after transporting slaves had been outlawed. The story of how the discoverers (Ships of Discovery out of Corpus Christi, Texas) followed a few sparse clues in an 1878 letter about "African dolls" (which turned out to be not African) to eventually locate the slave ship on the coast of East Caicos, is absolutely fascinating.

192 slaves were rescued; one female slave was shot dead by the crew. Those saved worked in salt ponds to pay for their rescue; their descendants may "make up a significant proportion of the 30,000 residents of the island country," according the Los Angeles Times story of Nov. 29, 2008.

This picture, btw, is from the NOAA Ocean Explorer website (NOAA--National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and shows the keel from the starboard side, with a studded sheet of copper in the foreground.

But wait! There's More!

The same team from Ships of Discovery also located US ship Chippewa, a War of 1812 veteran that was then used to find and stop slavers. The Chippewa sank in 1816 in the same area.

Here's the Los Angeles Times story. Times of the Islands, a Turks and Caicos magazine, published an in-depth piece in 2007. Better still, here is a website devoted to the shipwreck, which was originally found in 2004. There's also a pdf available, put together with several articles from the African Diaspora Archaeology Network. Lastly, here's another site that focuses on the PBS documentary that was done a couple of years ago about finding the Trouvadore.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ancient Chariot of Thrace

Bulgarian (did you know that ancient Thrace was in Bulgaria?) archaeologist Veselin Ignatov found a 4-wheeled chariot last week, in an 1800-year-old grave. That's recent, as chariots go. Here's a link to the story on Discovery.com (where this picture originally appears).

Ignatov has found chariots before; here's a link to a 2007 story in Archaeology Magazine.

On last week's find, the bronze plating (over wood) shows mythological creatures. Horse skeletons were found nearby; which has become usual in Thracian chariot burials. Another chariot was found in August, and apparently there are around ten thousand burial mounds across Bulgaria that could have held such treasures, once . Looters have struck at many of them, though--maybe up to 90%.

I like reading about this because I've written about chariots for the upcoming Encyclopedia of the History of Invention and Technology, coming out from Facts on File Books. One of those lovely multi-volume sets that won't be published until I'm old and gray. . . which could be next year, to be honest.

But I learned from researching that article that the oldest chariots have been found east of the Ural Mountains at Sintashta-Petrovka, and date to 2000 B.C. Also, didja know that each pair of spokes, forming a V in the wheel, are made from one piece of wood?

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Myth of the Turkey Pardon

The inner fussbudget in me is steaming.

Our president announced that in pardoning a turkey, he was continuing a tradition that started with Truman. NO! IX-Nay, BS! The only tradition that started with Truman is that a certain national poultry organization began delivering birds to the White House. Truman jokingly pardoned one bird, one year. Maybe. But he didn't pardon one the next, or the next, or the next. Ergo, no tradition.

And neither did Ike.

Nor did JFK, LBJ, or Nixon ever pardon a turkey. Ford pardoned Nixon, but that--thankfully--did not start a tradition. Carter and Reagan didn't pardon turkeys. None of our other presidents pardoned a turkey . . . until. . . drumroll. . .

George H. W. Bush. Yup, that is the truth. What short memories we have. The first Bush established the tradition.

BTW, I've made it past 35,000 words but the odds of me writing an additional 15,000 in the next 56 and a half hours are slim. However, the majority of the 35,000 words I have written of my new novel (for NaNoWriMo) are fabulous. "Nugget" makes a few appearances. So does "shot" and "stomped." "Ague" is in there at least once. Lots of "the's" . Huzzah.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can't Write a Novel and Chew Gum at the Same Time...

What, blog? I'm writing a novel, dang it! I can't blog!

My apologies for letting this slide. I really did sign up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I take my commitment to produce a 50,000 word first draft most seriously. In spite of pre-election day gadabouting, poll-working, and decompression, I have 12,605 words written. Yay, me!

But it leaves no time for blogging, sadly. So sorry.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Real Friends Click Your Google Ads!

Here's a funny from the Sunday (November 2) paper--the strip is called Between Friends, by Sandra Bell Lundy. You can access it online too--just go to the right date:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Ice Man will Not be Listed on Ancestry.com

How disappointing. DNA tests for Oetzi the Ice Man indicate that he has no living descendants. In fact, he was probably infertile. Scratch him off your list of Potential Illustrious Ancestors.

Oetzi was found in a glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991, after spending 5300 years there. With an arrowhead in his back, the speculation is that he died in a fight--or maybe he just looked like dinner to some other 5300 year old predator.

How on earth could scientists guess that Oetzi was infertile? According to this story on BBC, they've studied his mitochondrial DNA, and a couple of areas on the ol' helix could maybe sorta mean poor Oetzi shot blanks. Actually, that part was reported a couple of years ago--here's a link to News in Science. where this picture was featured.

Let that be a lesson to anyone who'd like to preserve their dignity after death. Rot. Don't die on a glacier. Just rot.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sarkozy Voodoo

Time for a story of France! This comes from Expatica.

Noble leader President Sarkozy failed in his attempt to stop K&B Editions, the maker of a Sarkozy voodoo doll, from distributing the product. His reasoning was that he owned exclusive rights to his own image. Right, run for president and retain rights to your own image and all the privacy you desire. Not!

The case was dismissed, but the worst part is that when Sarkozy filed the suit--his 6th since becoming president (who else did he sue? Mask-makers? stand-up comedians?)--the sales of the voodoo doll went up precipitously! In fact, the doll, which comes with a set of pins, is the #1 seller on Amazon.fr! 20,000 have been sold--he might as well have hawked them on Oprah!

The sayings on the doll, btw, are little bits of "wit and wisdom" mouthed by Sarkozy himself. Cost is 13 euros--could not discover whether bits of Sarkozy's hair or nail clippings are included.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Forgetting Emily Post

Laura Claridge has written a bio of Emily Post. Reviews are available at Slate, Newsweek, and a bunch of other places, but it's the Newsweek piece that caught my eye. After three years of working on Emily Post, we learn:

[Claridge] was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. For a while she lost her memory, including her awareness of who Emily Post was and why she had been writing about her

I have spent four and half years on a book. I can't imagine staring at the pages and wondering who this character is, and why my bookshelves are filled with information on her times. Could there be a worse nightmare for an author? Writer's block takes on a whole new meaning, huh?

The good news is that Claridge recovered completely from cancer, regained her memory, and finished the book.

Friday, October 24, 2008

NaNoWriMo to Start

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month...November, and this is the 10th year that ambitious, self-motivated, and either jobless-and/or-mindlessly rich dilettantes and fools will chain themselves to their laptops and try to whip out a 50,000 word draft in thirty days.

Check it all out here. There's still time to register, and if you're lucky enough to be in a citified region with a nice group leader, you may even be invited to a kick-off party toward the end of October.

What do you get? A first draft in thirty days, one to occupy you for the rest of the year. If you don't know how incredibly rare and valuable that is, you ain't no writer yet!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bad News for Freelancers' Magazine Markets

Not that I expect to ever write for Entertainment Weekly, Teen Vogue, or National Geographic for Kids...I take that back, I would like to write for that last one. But according to MediaPost's Media Daily News, I probably won't get that chance. Due to plunging circulation, MediaPost writes that these three and several other magazines may fold in the next few months, due to declining sales and ad revenues.

Other mags at risk: Kiplinger's Personal Finance (newstand sales down 19.6%), SmartMoney (down 20%), Mens Vogue (down 17.9%), Nickelodeon (ad pages down 30.2%!), Sports Illustrated for Kids (ads down 24.8%).

All bad. And all those places that I joked I'd go work for if things got bad--places that served food and coffee? They're closing too. The one good thing is that we're all in this together.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wicked Absinthe

Thanks to a short piece in Wired (last August) I learn that we in the US get better absinthe than the poor connoisseurs of France. Here's a link to a longer Wired 2005 feature--the August piece was a short follow-up. And if you thirst for more, check out the Wormwood Society, from whom I purloined this lovely pictures.

According to the August blurb , the US has been very slow to permit the sale of absinthe. Only four brands are allowed: Lucid, Kubler, Green Moon, and St. George Absinthe Verte. The maker of one, Ted Breaux, says of absinthe in Europe: "80 to 90 percent is industrial junk."

Ouch. We were thrilled, five years ago, to find we could buy small bottles of absinthe in France and bring them home as gifts. We got the absinthe spoons, the whole bit. (you are supposed to put a sugar cube on the delicately-slotted spoon, set that over the glass, and pour the absinthe over it into the glass.)

The liquor has such a mystique about it--if you've ever read Hemingway, you want to taste absinthe. After WWI, only Spain continued to sell it--absinthe was considered to dangerous and maddening to be marketed in most other countries. It's made from wormwood. Sounds gothic.

Now scientists say absinthe got a bad rap, so it's legal again. Will it ever be mundane? Doubt it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Atlatl Competition

The 8th annual Blackwater Draw Atlatl Throw is this Saturday (Oct. 18). Man, I'd like to see this become an Olympic event.

Blackwater Draw is off State Hwy 467 in New Mexico--here's more information. Just in case.

And...woo-hoo!...there's actually a World Atlatl Organization. Who knew?

I am not making fun. I think atlatl is the coolest word in the lexicon (it's actually an Aztec, or Nahuatl word), besides being a bit of the oldest technology on earth. An atlatl is a gizmo for launching a spear with just a little more oompf than your arm alone can muster.

This picture is of Roy Madden using an atlatl, from the Altlatl page of Flight-Toys. When he whips his wrist forward, the spear flies out of the 16-inch (looks like) atlatl.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Update to the Witch World Estate

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has rendered a decision on Andre Norton's copyrights and royalties. In brief, when Ms Norton died in 2005, her last caregiver and a fan battled over rights to her books (see previous post for more details). The decision is that the caregiver controls copyrights on all books published in Andre Norton's lifetime, and the fan gets royalties for books published since she died. New link here.

Here's a website dedicated to Andre Norton that has statements from the caregiver about the lawsuit.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Owners Manual--Recommended Reading

Six simple rules for reading Owners Manuals, like: If the product needs a manual longer than one page, the designer failed. Plus some hilarious illustrations and sidebars. Where? In Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine, online here. (That's the cover image at right) (the article is by James Lileks).

My favorite part so far: the sidebar on "Best Manual Cautions Ever"

"Use the dishwasher only for its intended function. If, for example, you are a coyote chasing a road runner, and you have strapped the dishwasher to your body intending to ski downhill on the mounds of suds it produces, you have voided your warranty..."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Graphic Bio of J. Edgar Hoover

This is one of those moments when I feel like my grandmother, shaking my head and muttering, "What will they think of next?"

Graphic biographies. Their time has come.

Not talking about bios with graphic violence, but about the graphic novel. Publishers Weekly has reviewed Rick Geary's 112-page graphic bio of J. Edgar Hoover on its blog "THE BEAT", which is all about comics. I guess I just never thought of J. Edgar Hoover's life as lending itself to comics or graphic novels . . . nor of a psychological bio (according to reviews) that is largely presented in pictures.

The Biographer's Craft points out that " Of course, Geary is not the first to come out with a graphic biography. Capstone Press has a whole line of them. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux has published graphic biographies on Malcolm X and Ronald Reagan, both by Andrew Helfer (with different illustrators). On the whole, however, these works have been intended for young audiences. "

This cover image is from Amazon, and you can see a large version here. I wonder if artistic renderings are subject to the same laws and nonfiction text would be? Just musing here, but the idea that a picture might misrepresent something--could the illustrator be sued, as a writer might be?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blog Insurance and a new MBA

Poynter Online announces that the Media Bloggers Association has created BlogInsure, a liability insurance plan to protect bloggers. Here's the press release.

I tend to think of blogging as I do it--an isolated activity with little recognition. I can't get my best friend to check in, so why would I need insurance? However, not every blogger wallows in obscurity. As we know well. There are people who do indeed need insurance to defend themselves against charges of invading privacy, libel, defamation, and all that nasty stuff.

As for Media Bloggers Assoc., it costs $25 a year to join. Besides access to the insurance plan, you get legal referrals, a free course in the law as it applies to bloggers ...hmmm...support and... some coming-soon stuff, such as newsletters. You also get to apply for accredited membership, which can get you media credentials to events.

All in all, worth checking out.

Stonehenge Video

Not to beat the topic to death, but here's a two and a half minute video from Yahoo UK that sums everything up very nicely.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stonehenge for Healing

The new excavation at Stonehenge (the first since the 1960s) has led to this theory from archaeologists Geoffrey Wainwright (any relation to Loudon?) and Timothy Darvill:

It was a healing center, they say, and pilgrims chipped of bits of the blue stones to take home with them. The blue stones are the 80 or so brought from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, which had to be a major undertaking 5000 years ago.

My post from April (and its links) give the background of the dig. Here's the new Smithsonian article and photo spread on the progress made so far. An item that didn't make the headlines, but which I find interesting, as that some charcoal in the area dates back to the eighth millennium BC--ten thousand years ago. Which means people were camping there ten thousand years ago.

Being partial to the liberal media, I rarely cite Fox News. Let me correct that imbalance now and point you to their coverage of the event, as well as their photo collection--which includes this AP shot of two archaeology students (Steve Bush and Sam Ferguson) at work.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stories Can't Always be Vetted

Cola's Journey is the story of Sudanese boy soldier Cola Bilkuei, who escaped his life by journeying to South Africa and telling/selling his biography. Sadly, it's not available outside of Australia yet, but here's an essay from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Essay author Malcolm Knox was asked to verify Cola's story, and makes observations that the historian-in-me treasures:

Ultimately, though, between what could be verified and what lies on the pages of Cola's book, there will always remain a margin where we must simply take his word. Some will ask why any author's word should be trusted. My answer is that if we take such a hard line, we will deprive ourselves of all oral history, of every story that is one person's recollection.

If we did that, winnowing history to what is documented on official records, swathes of human experience would be lost.

Bravo. We will always have charlatans, and we will always hate them because they make fools of us. But let's not deny ourselves rich tales--fiction and non--because we're so afraid of being taken.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Magazines CHEAP!

In Arizona, a small chain of used bookstores (warehouse-sized, not little hole-in-the-wall storefronts) sold used magazines for fifty cents each. The store put them out on racks like any Borders or B&N would, in alphabetical order.

For a freelance writer always looking for markets, this was heaven.

In Los Angeles, there's nothing like that. Libraries have popular titles, but there are few surprises. Used bookstores don't have the space or time to stock magazines. I suspect that's true in most cities.

Maghound to the rescue!

"Netflix for magazines" is how one person described it to me. One monthly fee, depending on how many mags you want ($4.95 for three, $7.95 for five, etc.) AND you get to change the magazines whenever you feel like it.

Happy Happy Joy Joy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Oh, the humanity...

I love Bitch Magazine, if only for the name.

The heavily tatted Andi Zeisler and Debbie Rasmussen present a plea to save their mag by raising $40,000 by October 15.

I'm not making fun. Writers suffer when the markets for their work dry up. But unless the writer's last name is King or Dunne (hey, there's my problem! My name's too long!) chances are they can't do much to keep Bitch or any mag in business--other than write well, that is.

So imagine the catch in my voice, the barely-held-back-tears brimming out of my eyes, and . . . and . . . screw the other charities. . . help the weiner dog grow!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hurricane Ike Uncovers Civil War Ship

I love this stuff, not that it in any way makes up for the lost neighborhoods, lives, and incredible destruction. But Ike swept so much sand from a spot six miles from Fort Morgan Rd in Fort Morgan, Alabama that a Civil War ship was unearthed. Here's the CNN Ireport from V. Boozer.

From the responses, it seems this may be the same ship exposed briefly in late 2006. It was seen, reported (here) then sand covered it up again. A video of that ship was made on Halloween, 2006, and can be seen at the Alabama Gulf Coast Video site. Sure looks like Vickie Boozer's picture, but I'm not too discriminating.

Hurricane Camille uncovered a ship at the same rough location in 1969, and it's been seen off and on since. Orange Beach Website has the best pictures (I borrow one here, but they have over a dozen closeups) and says the ship was revealed by Ivan in 2004.

Speculation in 2006 suggested that the ship was the Monticello, a two-masted schooner en route from Cuba in 1862. The Union Navy was blockading the port of Mobile and its gunship Kanewha reported pursuing and burning the Monticello at this location.

More gold from Pella

To follow up on discoveries in Macedonia (see an earlier post), even more golden artifacts are being found near Pella. The count is now 43 graves dating from 650 to 279 BC, 20 of them warrior graves from the period 580 to 460 BC. Some warriors were buried in the bronze helmets, with swords and knives at their sides, and their faces and chests were covered in gold foil decorated with drawings.

Here's the Los Angeles Times/Reuters story, with pictures so bright they hurt the eyes. And here's a link to the Daily Mail's article, with more pictures, including shots of the graves themselves.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Willi's Wine Bar Posters

Since 1983, Willi's Wine Bar in Paris has released an annual Bottle Art Poster by internationally recognized artists. Willi's is at 13 Rue de Petits Champs, a little north of the Jardin de Tuileries...if you're in the city.

The first edition (left) of their Bottle Art Series was actually a 1935 piece of art by AM Cassandre which had never been published before. The poster was probably part of an advertising campaign created in the 1930s for another wine shop, Nicolas--and for some reason was never used, at least until Willi's Wine Bar selected it.

This year's release (right) is by Jean Charles de Castelbajac, and you can buy it online for around $80 (or $450 for one of the 200 posters signed by the artist), here. Some of the out-of-print posters sell for close to a thousand dollars, so that seems a fair price. (Trivia point: Castelbajac's first Parisian store sat next to Willi's in the 1980s.)

Many of the past years' posters are available on line and they include art by photographer Lyu Hanabusa, scultor Alberto Bali, artists Tom Fowler, Wayne Ensrud, and others.

2nd trivia point: in the late 1970s, Mark Williamson, owner of Willi's Wine Bar, worked briefly for Steven Spurrier at Spurrier's specialty wine shop, Caves de la Madeleine. Spurrier was the instigator/organizer of the 1976 "Judgement of Paris" tasting that put Napa wines on the map, and is played by Alan Rickman in the movie Bottle Shock.

And--this is really trivial--I went to Napa and just missed the movie location filming. Dang! Would have loved to get a menu or something signed by Professor Snape.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Exercises for Developing Characters

Got to hear some great advice from Prof. Steven Wolfson yesterday.

The occasion? The UCLA Writers Faire, a free event held every September, offering four rounds of seminars in four hours. All you have to pay for is the parking. Those 40-minute seminars cover all aspects of fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, etc: writing, selling, inspiration, character development, markets, you name it.

The point is to get people to sign up for courses at UCLA (many are online) but there's no obligation to do so. Lots of people just come and enjoy the day and the advice.

So what was this great advice?

  • An exercise to help you understand your characters better: list and describe their daily habits. One full day--what do they do and why?
  • Characters should be in a constant state of want (you've heard this before, right?) Know the aches and wants of every character--and write in the margins of your manuscript a scene-by-scene running commentary of who wants what. Every scene!
  • When you're stuck, sit down and interview the characters. What are they going to do next? What have they done so far that troubles them?

Bear in mind that these tidbits are crunched into a dynamic, 40-minute presentation on the art of storytelling.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

2008 Hugo Awards

The biggest action in Denver last month may have been the Democratic National Convention, but Hugo Awards were announced August 9th at the 66th World SciFi Convention--called Denvention, of course. Two of my favorite authors now have shiny phallic statues:

  • Michael Chabon for the the novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union,
  • Connie Willis for the novella "All Seated on the Ground"
  • Ted Chiang for the novelette "The Merchant and the Alchemists' Gate"

Do we all know the difference between a novella and a novelette? Me neither.


  • Elizabeth Bear for the short story "Tideline"
  • Stardust for best dramatic presentation, long form
  • Dr. Who "Blink" for best dramatic presentation, short form.

Connie Willis has been a favorite since Doomsday Book and probably has more Hugos than most aliens have digits.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Recommended Reading for September

The Road. Yes, I'm way behind the curve and most literary folks have read and reviewed it by now. I got on the ball and checked it out of the library because (shallow twit that I am) I heard that Viggo Mortensen was doing the movie. As with so many of his picks, this is about as unsexy a role as can be imagined.

Here's a sample of why this book is so worth your time:

In the evening the murky shape of another coastal city, the cluster of tall buildings vaguely askew. He thought the iron armatures had softened in the heat and then reset again to leave the buildings standing out of true. The melted window glass hung frozen down the walls like icing on a cake. They went on. In the nights sometimes now he'd wake in the black and freezing waste out of softly colored worlds of human love, the songs of birds, the sun.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How do you say Boat Jousting en francais?

From the Los Angeles Times, which also ran an article on the boat jousting festival of Languedoc. in Sete, near Montpellier. Just to show that boys will be boys all over the world.

Alexander's Wreath-Time Band

A wreath of gold that dates back to the 4th century BC was found last week in the ruins of Aigai, where Philip of Macedonia had his royal palace.

I'm using the picture from a 2001 story from the Archaeology.org site and hope they don't mind. How could anyone describe such an exquisite object without a picture? Unbelievably, a farmer ploughing his field unearthed this artifact, which dates to 450-425 BC.

The newly-found wreath was found in a copper vase that local workers mistook for a land mine, and it was found with bones. That's what AP says, and its story includes pictures of the copper bucket and the wreath in situ.

The AP article quotes experts from the University of Thessaloniki who date the find to the 4th century--close to when Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father, was stabbed to death in the marketplace. That event happened very near where the wreath and bones were found.

Since it was found so recently, I think the guess about its age is preliminary. How does one date gold, anyway? Or are they dating the bones or other organic material found in the copper vase, which was covered?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All News All the Time

Olympics Day 5 - Fencing

Bill Dwyre, a Los Angeles Times sports writer, made a great point in an August 26 column. Noting all the blogger-style reporters in Beijing, he said "Reporters who once came looking for stories came this time looking for places to sit down and type. Immediately."

Dwyre goes on to point out that "instant gratification" technology may mean that the network's time-honored traditional reporting of games, conventions, etc., may be too slow to satisfy 21st century audiences. Crafting stories and presentations, with enough context and background info to make them compelling, is no longer the point--just get the news out, fast. Viewers must know within seconds who won the match, period.

My favorite paragraph-plus from Dwyre's column:

"What wasn't news became news because we...type it and hit a button that sent it to the world...
"In Chippewa Falls, Wis., Herbie hits a button and yells out, "Hey, ma, Dwight Howard just got the opening tip over Pau Gasol." Herbie is dazzled that he got the word so fast, and the typist is equally dazzled at the speed he got it there. Neither seems to wonder whether what had arrived was worth the effort on either end."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pay to Track Queries

Here's a service some writers might find useful.

Word Hustler has a database of 3,000 markets and will send your query letters (you write them, of course) and track the queries for you. If you don't have a decent printer, it could be useful. Their rates seem reasonable.

They also encourage you to upload your projects and will automatically send the right number of pages of your screenplay or novel to each contest or market.

Where do they make their money? You pay .99 per submission for under 4 pages. That includes postage (even SASE postage), and the prices go up from there.

I can see where this would be handy, though I doubt I'll be a customer. For me, it's a control issue. I want to see and touch that query letter, not just send a command.

Upload all my writing, set up my queries with a third party? Hmmm. A couple of years ago, I decided to try Writers Market online query tracker--they had a huge database of markets as well. For a couple of months, it worked fine. Then Writers Market shut it down, redesigned it, and--3 or 4 months later--started a new, improved version. All previous records? Gone. Just gone.

Luddites, I think, are usually nice people who've gotten a nasty electrical shock.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

World's best hot chocolate

When the topic of "the best hot chocolate in the world" came up on an egroup recently (due, no doubt, to the fact that all of us were dealing with summer heat by imagining ourselves in winter's cold), the winner by consensus was Angelina's in Paris--though other places certainly had votes.

Angelina's website was thoughtfully posted. The first thing to be gleaned from it is that the century-old (est. 1903) tea shop was bought by Groupe Bertrand in 2005.

Am I a luddite for being disappointed by this news?

Not that Group Bertrand is trying to franchise the place, of course. . . oh, wait, they are.

Well, if you had the best hot chocolate in the world, wouldn't you franchise it? I mean, look at these pictures. Doesn't that belong in Disneyland?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Recommended Reading

As a writer, I especially like the way Garth Nix handles scene transitions and the passage of time. But basically, these are just great stories with female heroes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Once again, thanks to fire...

...archaeological treasures are revealed.

This time in Britain on the Yorkshire moors. According to this story by Martin Wainwright (any relation to Loudon?) in the Guardian, a 6-day fire on Fylingdales Moor burned away the peat to reveal a 3000-year-old landscape. That was in 2003, but it's being reported as if it were new now.

According to the North York Moors National Park, a large grant for more research has just been awarded. That explains the renewed interest.

Rock art was there before, but triple the amount was uncovered by the fire--as well as Mesolithic flint tools and tracks from the 18th century, when shitloads (literally) of urine were brought from London to an alum factory. Great mordant, urine.

Here's an English Heritage site on Fylingdales, showing a barrow from the Bronze Age. The picture is from there as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dark Celtic Anthology seeking entries

I pass this along for those interested--please see the book's website for more details.

The Phantom Queen Awakes
A Dark Celtic Anthology

Edited by Mark S. Deniz & Amanda Pillar

"The Morrígan is commonly portrayed as a triple goddess, but her tripartite nature is uncertain at best. This ambiguity shall be at the heart of The Phantom Queen Awakes. The Phantom Queen Awakes will focus on Morrígan's tripartite nature.

"We want stories set in the ancient world of the Celts, that talk of Morrígan. She does not have to be a central figure (although she must appear at least once in the tale), however we would prefer it if she was....Push the boundaries, for tales that resound with the reader long after they've been put down.

"Supernatural creatures are allowed, although they must be in tune with Celtic mythology. We do not want gratuitous violence or sex scenes. The editors would prefer stories of a darker nature, and are much more likely to take well written stories with this in mind.

Word Count: 50 to 6,000 (the lower word count being reserved for excellent flash fiction and poetry).

Payment: $.01 per word for original stories, no reprints

Deadline: 1st December 2008 - we are implementing a new submission selection for the anthology but will let all authors know as soon as possible after the deadline day as to the decision regarding their story.

Submission Format:

  • Please write the title, your name, your address, email, contact numbers and the word count at the top of the manuscript submission.
  • Please include the page number in the footer.
  • Manuscripts should be in either the Courier New or Times New Roman font.
  • Please make sure your manuscript is double-spaced.
  • We will only accept manuscripts electronically and they must be in .rtf (rich text format).
Submissions: Send submissions as attachments to: phantom.queen@morriganbooks.com

Monday, August 18, 2008

Green Sahara Findings

Many news outlets have run the story of Paul Sereno's discovery of a cemetery in the Sahara of Niger that dates back to the time that of the Green Sahara--some 10,000 to 6,000 years ago. The best source of info is the Project Exploration site.

The cemetery, literally in the middle of nowhere [albeit a lawless nowhere that requires armed forces to protect it], was found by Sereno in 2000, when he was tracking dinosaur bones. It includes the graves of two groups, separated by thousands of years, who lived near a lake:

  • The Kiffians, extremely tall folks who lived from 9700 to 8200 years ago. They sustained themselves by hunting and fishing, and left the area or died out when the lake dried out about 8,000 years ago. But over millennia the climate changed, the lake came back, and...

  • the Tenerians lived at the location from 6600 to 4800 years ago. They buried their dead on their sides, almost in a fetal position, on beds of flowers. The Tenerians raised livestock, and were shorter and lighter in build than the Kiffians.

  • The Tholians, a crystalline species...kidding. The other two are real, but don't the names Kiffian and Tenerian sound like aliens from a Star Trek episode?

By 4,500 BP, "the climate began its slow deterioration to present day arid conditions," according to the Project site. It has marvelous photos of the mother-and-children embrace in a Tenerian grave (I'm assuming; that relationship hasn't been proven by dna yet). These photos came from there, but go to the site to see them in their full glory.

The National Geographic site also has a photo essay online of the Gobero cemetery, as well as its feature article on the discovery.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blog-Surfing: a Rationale

I used to feel guilty, spending an hour that would be more productively used WRITING. No more.

It seems that everyone else considers an hour spent surfing is an an investment, not a waste. Check out blogs, and you'll see immediately that blogger blog about other blogs. Clearly, if everyone else is doing it, it's ok. Right?

So, I scrolled through Infomaniac (which periodically lists Useful Sights for Journalists) and found a link to 10,000 Words, and followed that a collection of sites that will help me learn a language! Wow!

There's Babbel, which is free-while-in-beta-testing (and has a few glitches), BBC Languages (slow to load but fun), Learnit list --with widgets to shoot you 20 new words a day (sounds a lot like school) . . . and more. More ways for me to rationalize frittering away my time, because, let's face it, playing on-line Boggle till my eyes bleed isn't really improving my vocabulary like I thought it would.

And it's all good, cuz I got a blog posting out of it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Let's start a Feature-A-Month Club!

I scribbled down a quote from Mikki Halpin, book author and former editor for Seventeen , contributing editor for Glamour. She was speaking about the freelance writer's dilemma:

I realized that even if I had a feature every month, I couldn't make a living.

The quote was from a New York Observer article in March or April.

How do we survive? Because, let's face it, most of us can't complain that we sell a feature a month, and it's not enough.

I'm pinning my hopes on the novel. No one will pay for it till it's written, agented, and sold...one out of three for me. These steps can take years. Meanwhile, we either work at other jobs or scramble for writing gigs and send our best article ideas to $1-a-word or $2-a-word markets (for the record, I've never sold to the latter but I know they're there) and hope that the savings can be stretched out a l-i-t-t-l-e bit longer.

On the plus side, there are no more debtors' prisons, and stretching is good for the muscles, right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Amiens Cathedral

I haven't written about Gaul lately, have I?

this is a picture of Notre Dame Cathedral of Amiens in the summer, when it is cleverly lit to look as it did when it was first built, and all those sculptures were actually painted.

Through August, the lighting starts at 10 P.M.; through September 21, at 9:45 P.M.--that's if I'm reading the website correctly. The spectacle ends then, until the Christmas holidays.

Amiens is a sweet, quiet town at the lowest part of the Somme, with just enough old world charm, canals, art and trendy shops to be well worth a visit. It's named for the Ambiani, the Celtic tribe that controled the territory way back when.