Monday, March 30, 2009

Bog Body Poetry

The Guardian Hay Festival 2006

If you are fascinated by bodies found in peat bogs--yeah, all those leathery, red-haired sacks o' skin that were once living beings just like us--then you will love Archaeology Magazine's blog entry, "The Poet and the Bog Body" by Heather Pringle.

The subject is poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, who grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland, where he and everyone else dug up and cut peat for heating fuel. Pringle closes the blog with one of Heaney's poems, which begins:

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.

Click on the link above to read more; it's well worth it. The Nobel committee described his poems as "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.".

Heaney's own website has more information, photos, and even some of his poems--including one called "Bogland."

Books with My Articles! I'm so proud...

Here they are, all out this year, with links to Amazon (if I do this right):

And just for good measure, the April 2009 edition of Boys' Life contains a profile I authored--about two scouts who won awards from the American Museum of Natural History.

Yay me...I wrote AND got paid!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Freelancing During a Recession

"Money is like dieting," says Money senior writer Donna Rosato. "You're shocked at how much you're eating when you start to keep a food diary, but it's not that hard to cut back once you are aware of it."

That comes out of an article on called "Follow the money"; if you're a member you can follow the link. Of course, the article is about how the economy is hitting freelancers and the people who pay them...or don't pay them, as occasionally happens.

Write everything down, and cut out the unnecessary parts. Just like joining WeightWatchers for your wallet. No dang fun.

I suppose it's good advice, but my personal preference inclines toward Hello Dolly: "Money (pardon the expression) is like manure; it's not worth a thing unless it's spread around, encouraging young things to grow." or, "If you have to live hand-to-mouth, you'd better be ambidextrous."

To get back to the Mediabistro article, it carps about credit cards and paying down balances--the usual stuff. Here's some useful advice: Over the last six months, what three things were worth the money? Keep doing 'em. What three things felt like a waste? Stop. Yes, that I can accept.

Other items: drop the gym membership, re-examine your withholding or estimated tax structure, consider an FSA, and bring your lunch, instead of going out.

I have a better idea. Enjoy yourself, and move in with your kids when you run out of money. Really, they'll thank you for it one day.

Now I'll find out if my daughter ever reads this blog!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rainbow over Paris

You must click here to see it, and scroll to the March 27, 2009 edition of Paris Daily Photo. Then do yourself a favor and click on the photo itself to see it in all its enlarged, enhanced, magical glory. Evening lights reflecting off the Seine, the fainter of a double-rainbow terminating at the Eiffel Tower...just breathtaking!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Opening Lines and Hooks

Hook 'em. It's not just for Longhorns anymore.

It's the advice writers hear at every conference, seminar, webinar, class, panel discussion, and club meeting. Hook 'em with the first paragraph, the first line. One of my how-to books says that "Jack Bickham, author of several dozen you've got to hook the reader in the first twenty-five words." There's even a book available on Amazon called Hooking the Reader : Opening Lines that Sell

Here are some samples of this ubiquitous advice:

  • What we want is that ka-pow! The horses out of the gate. The pop in the corn. The fizzle in the shanizzle. A writer should want to hypnotize the reader, make their blood pump, take their breath away. (from the Musetracks blog)
  • The first line of a novel is like the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth: everything else follows from it. (from author Crawford Killian's blog) (Love this!)
  • Start your writing with conflict if you want to guarantee sales, grab an agent or publisher, get paid a big advance. (from ISnare articles)

    Jennifer Jensen (in an article titled "Write Compelling Opening Lines") gives some great examples of opening lines, like:

    • It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby. . . (Julia Spencer-Fleming, In the Bleak Morning)

    • Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time rolling on the ground with men who think a stiffy represents personal growth. The rolling around has nothing to do with my sex life. The rolling around is what happens when a bust goes crapola . . . (Janet Evanovich, Hard Eight)

    There's also this gem, from Earl Emmerson's Fat Tuesday: "I was trapped in a house with a lawyer, a bare-breasted woman and a dead man. The rattlesnake in the paper bag only complicated matters."

    Yes, those do compel me to read on. But is that the right tactic in every book?

    I'm not saying that advice is all wrong. I guess my quibble is not with the advice, in fact, but in the rapacious manner that we writers, hungry for publication, suck it in. We think we must have dead bodies or life-or-death decisions in that first paragraph. But seriously, is that what a reader is looking for?

    Glance at the opening lines of your favorite books. Do they conform to this idea of hooking the reader through shock and awe techniques? Chances are, they don't.

    • Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much...
    • When Mr. BIlbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
    • It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea. (Jonathan Livingston Seagull)
    • Along with teaching us that lamb must be cooked with garlic and that a lady never scratches her head or spits, my mother taught my sisters and me that it is a wife's bounden duty to see that her husband is happy in his work. (The Egg and I)

    Maybe humor is the way to go.

    I can picture a future writing seminar in which teachers mock the book opening that begins in the middle of a car chase, or where shots are fired, bombs blow up, or a man screams "I'm leaving you!!"--all as being so, well, early twenty-first century.

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009

    Great site. Did everyone know about this BUT me?

    Well, since no one reads this po' li'l blog, I won't bother to keep it to myself. is a job-hunting site that allows me to put in a key word, then break down the results by pay level, location, part/full/contract/temp assignments, and even by type of writing. must troll other sites constantly, because their jobs are from all over--Monster, freelance sites, writing sites, private companies, etc. Well, wonderful. Free sites that want to do all the work for me? I can live with that.

    Saturday, March 14, 2009

    Recommended Reading

    This book was soooo much fun, especially after a bunch of nonfiction. (Why is most nonfiction written by PhD's so dull?)

    Anyway, great characters, great settings and history. Puts you right there in an Anne Rice sorta way, only the people are far more individual and differentiated. Full of surprises.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Reading Lies

    Do you ever lie about the books you read?

    I fudge. If I get more than a third of the way through I say I've read it. I've read the first half of The Horse of Pride three times but never finished it.

    Well, readers in Britain lie a lot! This article about a survey in The Guardian says that 61%...SIXTY-ONE PER CENT!...admit to claiming that they've read a book when they haven't even cracked it open!

    I'm too chicken to be that blatant. I hate getting caught in a lie more than I hate looking dumb. But I'm not a Brit.

    However---11% of those folks in the survey said they'd written a book. They'd finished a manuscript, but not gotten it published. Wonder if they're telling the truth?

    The paper published a list the books folks are most likely to lie about, and 1984 by George Orwell is at the top. 42% of the folks in the survey said they'd fibbed about reading it. How silly--it's a good book. It's not overly long. I can understand no. 2: War and Peace. That's a hefty tome, and I don't know anyone who's read it.

    Some of the others on the list surprised me: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Why would anyone bother to lie about reading that? And The Bible came in at #4, with 24% saying they lied about reading it. Um...doesn't that double your time in purgatory?

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    Writing Doesn't Pay

    The Week Magazine asks, Is Writing for the Rich?

    Good question. The answer according to The Week's Executive Editor Francis Wilkinson, is, yeah, more or less.

    Although the world is full of more opportunities than ever for writers of every ilk (it costs nothing to start up a blog like this), few of those opportunities come with paychecks. As Wilkinson sums up: "movie stars, business executives, even accomplished authors all write for free these days. Why should some kid nobody’s ever heard of get paid?"

    Ouch. We all know that, but why does it hurt so bad to see it in print?

    Anyway, it's an interesting editorial, especially if you have friends or children who might want to become writers. Make them read this, and have them take dancing lessons. That way, they'll have a skill to fall back on, as my mother used to put it.

    Here's the irony: You can read the editorial for free, online.

    I don't subscribe to The Week anymore, even though it's my favorite publication. Why bother? By reading it for free, I help create the situation that keeps me from getting decent pay!

    Enabling. It's what for dinner.

    Saturday, March 07, 2009

    PicApp Drawbacks

    I'm about to stop using PicApp, in spite of the fact that they have great pictures for free. I don't mind the obtrusive google-ad so much as the fact that the wrong captions come with the picture. I don't know enough html to figure out how to cut out or correct the caption, which seems to want to be the same for every picture visible on the blog. Very annoying.

    Horses Were Domesticated 5,500 Years Ago

    Life In The Former Soviet Republics 15 Years After USSR Breakup

    I actually know something about this topic, having written the entry on "Chariots" in the Encyclopedia of the History of Invention and Technology (coming late summer from Facts on File Books). I researched the earliest known instance of chariots: burials in Sintashta-Petrovka, east of the Ural Mountains--which sits in northern Kazakhstan.

    What was in those burials? Racing chariots! Built to hold only one man. Those date back to 2000 BC, and it was thought that horses were domesticated about that time too, or just a couple of centuries earlier. (Earlier, heavier carts had wheels that were solid, not spoked. They were pulled by oxen, usually.)

    But as these two articles, one from the Los Angeles Times and one from Radio Free Europe describe, new evidence has been found--in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world--didn't know that. The picture above, btw, is of a man riding in Icic, Kazakhstan.

    Anyway, archaeologists figure that the Botai culture of northern Kazakhstan domesticated horses around 3500 BC. The evidence? Horse milk residue in pottery, horse manure used as roofing material in pit houses, horse skulls with bit-wear-marks on their teeth. Oh, and 90% of the bones in the garbage piles belonged to horses, and the leg bones were more slender than wild horses' would be, suggesting they were being bred for speed.

    And--hate to say it, but if those bones are ending up in the garbage, maybe bred for food as well?

    The research is published in this month's issue of the academic journal, Science.

    Friday, March 06, 2009

    Olympic Site (UK) Finds

    How fortuitous! The excavations in Stratford, east London--trenches and the like, necessary to construct the Olympic Park sports complex for the 2012 games--have turned up all sorts of nifty stuff. The rendering at right shows what the park parts of the Park will look like in future. For what it looked like six months ago, see below.

    This Daily Mail article has pictures of a 19th century boat, a 4th century AD Roman coin, four Iron Age skeletons, and a 4,000 year old flint axe. The remains of a Bronze Age hut, likewise 4,000 years old, and lots of pottery were also found. The Discover Project website has more, including pictures of 1941 gun emplacements that were uncovered.

    London Olympic Park Is Seen On The Opening Day Of Beijing Games

    Confused? This press release from the Olympic Authority something-or-other gives the background of the site over the last 5,000 years. The place was the site of :a marsh/wetland for a coupla thousand years, then an Iron Age village, a Roman road, a channel dug by King Alfred to divert the river and thus divert marauding Vikings, a bridge crossing, a mill built or operated by the Knights Templar, a calico, porcelain, and eventually a petrol factory, then a sewer, and finally a Yardley cosmetics, soap, and lavender factory. Talk about multi-use facilities!

    Since the construction requires that over 140 trenches be dug, I guess they were bound to find something. This is all pretty cool and I hope we hear more about it soon.

    Thursday, March 05, 2009

    Watching a Wreck

    Why is bad news so addictive?

    I can pass on the story about the little girl who raised a thousand dollars for Recording for the Blind (hint hint) but the headline that screams "Chapter 11" draws me in every time.

    So here is today's dose of gloom and doom, even though I swear I will think only happy thoughts for the rest of the afternoon: Reader's Digest has hired a bankruptcy expert and is considering ... yeah, Chapter 11.

    The New York Post says that "the company faced a potential restructuring over the next 18 months as revenue and profit slump." Barron's has a story on RDA too.

    Tuesday, March 03, 2009

    Blago Gets Big Bucks


    Six figure deal for book.

    Blagojevich, who isn't worth the trouble it takes to figure out how to spell his name. A potty-mouthed liar who tried to sell the Senate seat of the new president. Six figures--for what?

    To tell us one is born every minute?

    Sunday, March 01, 2009

    Lascaux Cave fungus

    Prehistoric Cave Art Of Horse, France.

    Neolithic art and fungus are not good bedfellows. Or wallfellows.

    The black fungus that is creeping across the 17,000-year-old murals of animals and hunters in the cave of Lascaux, France, causes great concern. So the Lascaux Caves International Scientific Committee and other international experts met in Paris for two days to discuss solutions.

    Apparently a fungicide was applied (I prefer the words "smeared" or "glopped" but scientists like to use more clinical terms) a year ago, in January of 2008. No one but scientists have been allowed to visit Lascaux since 1963 (tourists actually visit a replica cave), so the cause is a bit puzzling.

    An air-conditioning system installed in 2001 seems to have kicked off the first mold. More details about that and the fungal progression are available in this article.

    In this AP story from, the Committee chief, Marc Gaulthier, blames global warning for raising the temperature inside the cave, which interferes with the air circulation and allows the fungus to grow. A couple of solutions are floated in this story, too, which other news pieces lacked.