Friday, December 31, 2010

"A Lead is a Promise"

What is more welcome than a new piece by John McPhee, and on writing, of all things!

This article ("Writing a Strong Lead is Half the Battle"--the quote in my blog title comes near the end) is from the Wall Street Journal. It's short and to the point and everyone who writes should read it.

I don't consider myself a journalist; my degree is in history. But I love to write and want to write well. Like many, many freelancers these days, I find myself working for Patch a lot, so I'm learning to write a lead.

Or, as some purists would have it, lede. Thank you, Mr. McPhee, for spelling it "lead." That makes me feel less like an outsider. "Lede" seems to be the secret handshake that proves one went to journalism school.

McPhee is one of my heroes. I know little about hiim except that he writes great articles and books about the things he finds interesting. His writing is always exactly right--the pacing, the unrolling of facts, the subtle story behind the facts. If I set out to emulate him in everything I write--except the fiction--I would do quite well, I believe.

I'm not the only one who thinks he's a joy to read, of course. Everyone loves him--his book Giving Good Weight was passed around by engineers at the aerospace company I once worked for, and believe me, those guys don't normally read anything but schematics. McPhee won a Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Successful Writers Defined

In this most excellent interview, blogger and author Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen defines a successful writer as "someone who can make a living by writing." 

Fairly simple. Know anyone? Actually, I've met a few and their energy amazes me.

Pawlik-Kienlen does not query magazines, but makes her living from several successful, monetized blogs and by selling her ebooks. One of said ebooks is titled 75 Ways to Make Money Blogging--certainly something I'm adding to my Christmas list (it's only ten bucks!)

She gives a couple of tips in her interview--it's well worth reading, so go to. I could add more but I'm going to go check out her blog, Quips and Tips for Successful Writers.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Musings on New World Food

Here is something that makes me glad I didn't get a book published at 22, cuz this is exactly the sort of error I would have made: Inserting food like potatoes or tomatoes into a story set way before these products made it out of the Americas. Or inserting coffee or spices a few centuries before they were known.

Seriously. It is hard to write a scene of someone waking up during...I dunno, the 12th Century mini-Rennaisance, and not pouring themselves a steaming cup of Joe to get moving. How did people get up before coffee? More to the point, what did folks drink on a 12th century morning?

I keep thinking about that internet anecdote I read years ago, about a New Agey author who wrote a book on ancient Irish Druids. She based her text not on research, but on intuitive or channeled knowledge, and stated that the potato was quite sacred to them. When it was pointed out to her that potatoes were not introduced into Ireland until the 17th century, she wondered why everyone was being so mean to her.

So I look up every vegetable and condiment before I put it in a story. I hope everyone does. When I read a book, say Ancient Evenings by Mailer, I enjoy it that much more knowing that he invested years in the reseach. I don't want any anachronistic faux-pas to jolt readers out of the magic.

Mucho apologies for neglecting the blog once again, btw. Who knew I could get so busy?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SWAT Port-a-potties

I know this is just silly, but...

You know when something awful happens in a neighborhood and the SWAT team comes out (thankfully) and maybe even the bomb squad? Sometimes there's a person barricaded in a home, and the police are there for hours and hours.

I never thought of this before, but they bring their own key-locked port-a-potties, bolted to a trailer. It makes sense. I mean, if you're evacuating civilians and deploying snipers, do you really want to knock on a door and say, "By the way, ma'am, may I use your bathroom?"

So I took a picture. Because even heroic death-defying law-enforcement officials have to pee at times.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Under the Sea Near Wales

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that the seas have risen over the millennia. Not making it up; as the glaciers receded and (now) the ice caps melt, more water is released into our oceans.

So historical sites are submerged.

An article from Wales Online tells how archaeologist Dr Andrew Petersen (pictured, looking quite rakish and Indiana Jones-ish) is searching off shore near the coast of Wales. Specifically, he hopes to find fish traps made of stone or willow, which may have been put in place a Long, Long Time Ago. Saber-tooth tiger era Long Ago. And in the process of seeking these fish traps--which are quite large--Dr. Petersen will also keep an eye open for things like fossilized forests that may tell us how people lived in the area many thousands of years ago.

Dr. Petersen did similar oceanic surveying in Qatar recently, and found an underwater mosque, fort, and homes. (Story here or BBC story-with-pictures here) So heck, who knows what may turn up?

Dr. Martin Bates, an environmental archaeologist, states in the Wales Online article that the current sea level was established 6000 years ago. "We are going to use multi-beam sonar surveys to look beneath the sand banks and see what is under the sea bed above the rock, that relates to the last Ice Age. This new science is still in its infancy.”

Exciting...makes me want to go back to school and learn all this new stuff. Except that there's probably tons of math and chemistry involved. More news will no doubt be forthcoming, since a Nations of the Sea Conference took place at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff three weeks ago, when this story appeared.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Good Earth Floors--a How-to

Now that I'm exploring the wonders of Twitter, I come across tons more stuff. Just what I needed, right? Only, since tweets are limited to a couple of lines, I don't have to read through much, just skim. Like scanning a counter full of scarves for a color that jumps out at you.

Here's what jumped out today: an article from England about putting in an earthen floor.

Once as ubiquitous as thatch roofs, over the centuries earthen floors have gone the way of ... um ... earthen floors.  Dirt is something you shake off as you walk inside, right? Not what you walk on inside the house.

Looking for pictures, I found a site called Build and Rebuild. Their "Earthen Floor" link sent me here, which is where ia found the picture and step by step instructions for the home builder.

I recall reading about how wonderful earth floors were, in The Horse of Pride. Helias recalled how his mother swept it--swept the dirt off the dirt floor, an image hard to shake. And as the UK Tobias Jones piece shows (the same one referenced above), a well-designed earth floor hardens into a rich, beautiful surface...eventually.

In the meantime, though, you're dumping sand (or straw or ash), manure, and clay together. In this modern effort, Tobias Jones laid in a gravel subfloor (I doubt that our ancient ancestors did that) and uses a cement mixer to toss his ingredients together.

Lacking a cement mixer, I wonder how the Celts put together their floor. In small batches, perhaps, mixing sand, manure, and clay in a vat and then dumping it on ground? A plot of ground cleared of large rocks, foliage, roots, etc...I don't recall ever reading about the construction of an ancient floor. A gravel subfloor makes so much sense, but has such a floor ever been found?

Tobias points out a couple of real advantages to the earthen floor. Flaws--cracks, dips, etc--can be so easily fixed. Second, there are no health risks--no asbestos hiding in the mix, no chemicals, no skin irritants, etc. That is surprising--isn't manure a prime ingredient? Not that I'd be setting food on the floor, but  isn't manure rather aromatic in an unpleasant way? Tobias never mentions a troubling smell.

He finishes with his plans to finish the floor with a layer of beeswax, although linseed oil is another option. Linseed oil, I learn from another blog (I love cob), is combustible, so be careful with that. This picture--of an earth floor after being treated with linseed oil, came from that blog as well.

An expert called in to consult on the floor was a felow called "Old Boar": Eddie Wills. His expertise is in Iron Age crafts, among other things, and he's trying to set up an Iron Age Lake Village. Another name to run through Twitter!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Garbled Spam

Time to award someone for their prodigious gall!

I delete a lot of spam commments on this blog. This one made me gotta credit this writer's stamina, hammering out a sales pitch with (I'm guessing) a dictionary and very cheap thesaurus before him or her.

I affair listening to music from my iPod while I'm on the emigrate, be it on the bus, the indoctrinate, or good while doing groceries. Quest of that saneness, I every time requirement a creditable span of stereo earphones with me, and of ambit on some days I'd like my earphones to be an whistles, where I match it with my outfit for that day. So I get a join of creator earphone every other month.

The typical links and garbage follow.

"on the emigrate"--was the writer looking for a synonym for on the road? and "the indoctrinate"--a class? But I'm mystified by the first phrase: "I affair listening to music".  I affair?  Too precious.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Tromenie: a Breton Pardon with Gaulish Roots

In my humble opinion, Brittany is one of the loveliest areas in France. I offer as evidence my only picture of Locranon, a town with bodacious hydrangeas.

The Breton peninsula is particularly Celtic, being the land of the Veneti, Osismi, Coriosolites, and other tribes of Caesar's day and before, and being repopulated in the 5th century or so by people from Cornwall.

Brittany has a lot of Catholic processions and fests, called Pardons, but one--the Tromenie--dates back to the Celtic times before Caesar. The Tromenie takes place on the second Sunday of every July, outside the village of Locranon--a place which you may have seen in A Very Long Engagement. The idea is to walk the route of St. Ronan, who founded Locranon.

Pilgrims walk to a little chapel where St. Ronan's supposedly lived and have an open-air Mass.
That's the Petitie Tromenie. Here's a pretty comprehensive site with its history, some music, and lore. It's documented to have gone on since the 11th century, and since St. Ronan lived several centuries before that, my guess is that the practice is much older.

Every six years, though, folks make the Grande Tromenie--a map of that route is on the site, at the bottom of the page. The next Grande Tromenie will be in 2013. These 19th-century postcards show the area--it hasn't changed all that much.

The Grande Tromenie route follows a much longer path from the village well to a clearing called Le Nemeton. That word--Nemeton--is Celtic for temple (that's pretty well documented, even though a lot of the Gaulish language is lost). Twelve markers are passed during the seven and a half mile circuit, representing the twelve months of a lunar calendar. Or, if you prefer the Catholic version, the markers are twelve stations of the cross. It's anyone's guess whether a sacred walk was made yearly during the B.C. years, but I wouldn't bet against it. I was told that some of the markers date to pre-Roman times.

When I went looking for links, I was surprised to find this 1959 article from Time Magazine, describing the Tromenie. An abbreviated version of the legend of St. Ronan and how the walk started, and what the author saw in 1959, is very interesting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Judith Merkle Riley Dies

One of my favorite authors, and someone local to my former home in Claremont has died after battling cancer for years. It's sad when anyone dies, but espcially a writer. Fans know that there will be no more wonderful, intricate stories forthcoming.
Judith Merkle Riley's historical novels were published from 1989 to 1999. My favorite, The Oracle Glass, is at left.

I heard her speak at an Inland Empire area bookstore in 2003 or 2004, and bought a book. For book lovers, is there any thrill greater than stumbling across a writer that's new to you, but that has several books published? To find not just one, but several magical realms waiting to be visited?

Her last book was The Master of all Desires, and Nostradamus himself was a featured character in it. Both books mentioned here are stand-alone tales, not part-one-of-a-series or anything liket hat. I may be in the minority, but I'm getting to the point where "Series" is a code word preparing me to accept formulaic plots and escapes with no real thrills.However delightful a first book is, knowing there's a second installment takes the freshnes out. You know the hero will survive to star in future adventures.

I digress. The point of this post is simply to say that I am saddened that Judith Merkle Riley is gone.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Irish Historical Works Online

Here's a nifty website called CELT: the Corpus of Eectronic Texts. Texts are all of Old Ireland, from the 5th century onward. Want a sample? Here's how the first two entries in the Annals of Ulster translates into English:

U432.0Kalends of January sixth feria, fifth of the moon, [AM]4636. AD 432 according to Dyonisius.
U432.1Patrick arrived in Ireland in the ninth year of the reign of Theodosius the Less and in the first year of the episcopate of Xistus, 42nd bishop of the Roman Church. So Bede, Maxcellinus and Isidore compute in their chronicles.

This incredible collection of texts from the 5th through the 20th century is a result of intense scholarly work done by the Department of History and the Computer Center of the University College Cork.

What's online, in English and other languages? Annals of the Four Masters, Annals from all over Ireland, the History of Nennius, the Cáin Lánamna (the Law of Couples, dating back to about 700 A.D.), lives of saints, travelers' descriptions of Ireland through the centuries, old tales of Finn and other heroes... so very much, right at your fingertips.

Thank you, UCC. If I ever bury myself in Celtic history again to write a follow up novel, I will be pouring over this treasure.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ancient Herbs 'n France..s

A bow to Respighi in the the title.

When you get sick, you seek out the person who can make you better. Today, that may be the clerk at RiteAid, but before the 20th century it was very often someone who knew plants and made medicines from them. In Death Speaker, my novel of ancient Gaul, the heroine is raised by a woman who heals with plants, so I had to do a bit of research on them.

The pretties on the right are Aconitum, aka Wolfbane. If you know your Harry Potter you know it's poisonous. Information on it and how it works on the human body is all over the internet. A decent place to start is here at, but there are plenty of other spots as well.

Not surprising that poisonous plants are well-covered on the net, is it? Death is sexy. We love that stuff. There's even a TV show on SPIKE called 1000 Ways to Die. The commercials turn my stomach so I won't include a link.

But even finding information on non-lethal plants--like this comfrey--gets easier every day, as herbalists, nurseries, and agencies in every state and country put their plants online. When I check several sights and they all agree on a how a plant grows and how it affects people, I'm pretty comfortable using that information.

Oddly, I didn't rely on books on herbs, mainly because there's so much dis-information around. Isn't that weird--I used to trust the printed word implicitly. But I've seen many books on "New-Agey" topics, like herbs and healing, which went into rituals and folklore...yet when I tried to learn more, I found nothing at all that could support the book's claims. No other books, websites, experts--nothing.
So if a book claims that a plant was once used to cure headaches, for example, but no other book or expert or website backs up that claim...well, maybe the author vetted their information, maybe they didn't. Maybe they just repeated something they heard anecdotally, and maybe they got it wrong.

If I've got a headache, I want something I KNOW will knock it out. And if my character has a headache, I figure she wants the same thing. So I try to find it for her. It's the least I can do.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Geography, 2000 Years Ago

Some musings about writing a historical novel:

One of the most difficult things to figure out in an ancient setting is the geography. The further back you go, the more things change. Seas rise and fall, rivers change course, beaches erode, hills get carved up by miners...stuff happens.

Of course, the good part about that is the further back you go, the less likely it is that someone may call you out on a mistake. ("You idiot! That lake is manmade--no one would have stopped there before 1972!")

My novel is set in France, 2000 years ago. France is unique in that it--more than most countries--has tamed its rivers. Who knows how the Loire ambled along in the BC era?  Well, there may be a few scholars of the esoteric who know, but not many. How about the beaches near Carnac? What were they like? And the fields, what sort of flowers would have grown wild there?

I did as much research as I could. Maybe I over-researched, but I think that's better than not doing enough. I even found a little book in a university library that was written for American soldiers in WWI, explaining in general terms the lay of the land in France. What a jewel that was! 

One thing I did learn was that the seas have risen over the past two milennia. Archaeologists know it. The many islands off France and other countries in Northern Europe have higher shorelines than they used to. Some disappear entirely, and yet there are carvings and structures that indicated they were used once, maybe 3000 years ago when the seas were lower.

An annotation on Caesar's Conquest of Gaul clued me into the fact that the Netherlands and Belgium and other coastal areas were more marshy than they are today.

The bottom line is that you do your best, which is the bottom line for almost everything in writing, isn't it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Cost of EBooks

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 20:  The new 'nook' digital reader is displayed at a launching  October 20, 2009 in New York City. The 'nook' is a wireless reader which will be available on Barnes & Noble's Web site and in stores and is currently available for 'pre-order' for $259. The 'nook' is less than 5 inches wide and 8 inches tall and weighs 11.2 ounces. At $259 it will be the same price as the recently reduced Kindle by Amazon.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Like many others, I thought books for the Kindle would be dirt cheap. Five dollars or less--after all, no paper, shipping, store costs, etc. Wrong!

According to the September 2010 Wired Magazine's "Burning Question" column--which I can't find online--those costs account for a paltry 15% of book prices. The other 85% is taken by authors, editors, designers, marketers, publicists, distributors and resellers. And all but the last two (and I'm not so sure about distributors) are still necessary to effectively sell ebooks.

In addition, an ebook needs antipiracy software, programmers to adapt each text to different platforms, and extra legal support (not sure what that entails). Another less obvious reason for slightly higher-than-necessary prices comes from Larry Doyle: Publishers are "concerned about devaluing people's perception of books."

Hmm. Don't know if I agree but I never pass up an opportunity to quote a Doyle. That was my grandmother's family name.

However, Rick Broida--the author of this Wired article--goes on to point out that authors can eliminate all those middlemen and publish their tomes on Amazon. Amazon lets authors take 35%, an unheard-of cut...but wait! Apple ibooks will let authors keep 70% of sales--70% !!!

I assume that means, though, that the author has to put out money in advance for professional editing and cover art and design. I assume too that all publicity is the author's responsibility, so s/he will probably have to pay for a publicist, travel, promotional items, ads.

So stay tuned. I doubt that we'll be downloading $4.99 thrillers any time soon.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Howard Carter's Notes

A golden artifact was found within Tutankhamun's burial shrouds at the King Tut traveling exhibition showcasing over 100 artifacts from King Tut's tomb and other sites spanning two thousand years of pharaohats' rule at the Denver Art Museum in Denver July 23, 2010. The Tutankhamun exhibit will be on display through January 9, 2011.     UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

Howard Carter died in 1939, seventeen years after discovering Tutankhamun's tomb. The treasure he found has been all over the world, but usually rests in a museum in Cairo, right? Nothing more to know?

Ha! Of course there's tons more to know! But we're just now going to find out how much more, and what that 'more' is.

Turns out that since Carter died, only about a third of his carefully written research notes--including over 3500 cards, 1000 photographs, 60 maps, notes from chemist Alfred Lucas, and hundreds of pages from Carter's own journals and diaries--have ever been made public. Carter spent ten years cataloguing his find--there were about 5400 objects in the tomb, after all. But he died before he could publish all that stuff.

Carter's notes have been locked up in the Griffith Institute, a temperature-controlled underground lab/library/archive at Oxford University. Read all about it here at Archaeology News Net. The article is a reprint from the New Zealand Herald of August 9, 2010.

In 1993, a gentleman named Jaromir Malek became the caretaker of Carter's notes, and two years later he and began working with Jonathan Moffett, the chief IT guy at the Ashmolean Library. (I'm sure both men have far more impressive titles.) Fighting a sparse budget for years, they are now near the day when most of the archive will not only be available, but will be online.

In fact, 98% of it IS online. Wow.

I just always assumed that as King Tut's tomb was so well publicized, everyone knew all about it. Wrong! Everyone just got so entranced by the Big Gold Shiny Things (understandable) that they've never bothered to really study the many mundane and ordinary (ordinary to ancient Egyptians, that is) items in the tomb. Now it's all online and available. (The other 2% will be up within three months.) HERE.

Maybe the most valuable link I've ever made.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Janelle Brown on HuffPost: Dearth of Paying Creative Jobs

In a great article that starts out with anecdotal evidence of creative talent fleeing Los Angeles (my city), Brown nails something that has been bothering many, many people lately. She talks about the writing opportunities on the Internet: "In a flooded marketplace of ideas, the price for creativity has been driven down by a glut of free supply."

Brown points out that over 30,000 writers/journalist have lost their jobs in the past two years, and fight over the pathetically small pay that sites like Demand Media offer. (I could add a few others, but Demand is who Brown singled out.) She gives some great examples, then moves on to other creative types: musicians, filmmakers, etc. She does get around to plugging her own book, This is Where We Live, only to mention that she's found bootlegged copies of it downloaded 9,500 times!

Enough of stealing her thunder: read the article. She ends with a scenario that reminds me of Atlas Shrugged.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ebook Updating Capability

Here is something I didn't know: when an ebook is updated or revised or corrected, the seller can, technically, update, revise, or correct each copy of that ebook that sits on Kindles or Ipads everywhere. Read about it in the May 2010 issue of Wired but I can't find a link to the piece. Ironic, huh?

Now, just because a seller can reach out tentacles across the airwaves to manipulate text, doesn't mean that they do. As Wired points out, a year ago Amazon deleted a bunch of copies of 1984 from the reading devices of customers because the copies were bootlegged. (huh? I don't know how that happened but that's what Wired says.) Customers were very angry; Amazon apologized and will not update or change an ebook without a customer's permission.

It brings up possiblities, doesn't it? How many new textbooks are sold because the authors add a new chapter and up the rev. number so that students can't buy a used copy? If the texts can be automatically updated, students don't have to buy new books. But why would authors take the time to update such books if they're not compensated for their efforts?

What about translated works? When a new translation of The Conquest of Gaul becomes available, should everybody who has an older copy have the option of updating? And what about a map book? Now there's something you'd want to have updated, huh? But if there's no profit in such updates, who will bother?

I'm probably spinning my wheels. As I said, just because ebooks can be updated doesn't mean they will be.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Susan Isaacs Gets the Last Word (Deservedly So!)

A Wall Street Journal article about book signings in New York City makes clear what branding and positioning hath wrought. The big book stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble offer venues seating up to 1100 people. Each outlet has its own cachet--do you want liberals, the savvy and trendy, or warmish families with their kids in tow?

In a way, this sounds so much like an amped-up version of cheerleader tryouts in high school. I'm sure it's inevitable--bookselling is a business--but reading the story almost makes me glad I'm an unknown drudge. Almost.

(OK, truthfully, I wish I had that problem. I wish my publicist was going nuts arranging a slot for me.)

The piece finishes with a bit of spectacular wisdom from Susan Isaacs: "Say you sell 75 books. It's all to the good, but I don't know how much it matters in the scheme of things....You should be using that energy to write books."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Paying for Writing Space?

As in--the writer pays to write there.

I wouldn't have thought this a workable business model, even in non-recessionary times. But in Santa Monica, there are two such places. One has been around a few years; the other just opened.

The new one first: Writers Junction. You join and use the facilities whenever you like. There's a coffee-bar/kitchenette, a cozy lounge with cushy sofas and chairs, a small lending library, a couple of meeting and/or presentation rooms, printers & a copy machine, and--the main raison d'etre of the place--quiet, well-lit writing alcoves where you can plug in your laptop and just scrive in quiet privatude.

Is that worth $125 a month (with a year's commitment)? Writers Junction is a modern, uncluttered place (check out pictures here), and I suppose for folks who can't get peace and quiet any other way, it's very worth it.

The other place (for writers, anyway. This L.A. Times article mentions other facilities for creative types, including artists, designers, etc.) is The Office, which charges $150 part-time, and $250 full-time. Those are first month introductory rates, btw. Like Writers Junction, a full-time membership at The Office gets you access at ALL hours.

Here's a picture from their website at left--it's certainly more attractive to me, but I'm a sucker for big windows and sunlight. The Office has been around for six years, and even has an "It was written here" page of honor--heavy on screenplays.

Again, worth it? Well, if all those screenplays and novels on their "It was written here" page would not have existed but for The Office, then yeah. If you live in Santa Monica. Wonder if the concept has been tried elsewhere?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Radar maps Hyksos' capital

Remember the Hyksos? The foreign invaders who ruled Egypt for about 100 years? No one is sure who they were--a branch of Phoenician? Semites--Canaanites? Their ascendancy in Egypt took place 3500 years ago: 1664 to 1569 BC. In context, that's just before the dynasty that gave us Thutmose and Hatshepsut.

An Austrian team of archaeologists led by Irene Mueller used radar to map out the boundaries of the Hyksos principal city, Avaris. There are tons of stories on all the news networks, all saying exactly the same thing. I'm linking to this one on Heritage Key because it links best to a map--the only picture accompanying all those news stories. But Heritage Key's version of the map lets you zoom in.

So, the 2.6 sq. km. they've mapped out with magnetometric and resistivity surveys contain streets, temples, cemeteries, houses, and a possible port area (has the Nile changed course in that area in 3500 years? Probably, huh?). The Heritage Key article says that the most amazing find so far has been frescoes in a Minoan style, showing bull-leaping--similar to the artistic themes of Knossos on Crete.

It's not clear to me whether those frescoes are from the Hyksos palace, or from later, 18th-Dynasty Egyptian palaces that were built on the site--the current locale of Tel el-Dabaa. Or Tell  el Daba'.  A 2008 version of the ubiquitous map--with labels and more detail--is here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ten Most Amazing Historical Objects...

...According to the Web Urbanist--and this link goes direct to the posted list, with all the pictures.

Number One is the Antikythera Mechanism, which I've blogged about before. But some of the objects are news to me--like Number Two, the Baigong Pipes, which may have been literally used for number two. (But probably not.) The picture and following link are from China Expat.

The Baigong Pipes of China sit on top of a mountain and go through caves. Not everyone agrees that these are pipes or the remnants of pipes, but they certainly are intriguing. Wikipedia describes them and compares them to some naturally occurring pipe features in Navajo country and Louisiana.

The list also includes the Phaistos Disk, the Shroud of Turin, the Baghdad Battery--which I just saw on TV. Here's a nice site explaining the battery, which could generate 1-2 volts of electricity...but for what purpose?

What else is on the list?

Roman Dodecahedra (left) which could be anything from dice to a calibration device. About a hundred of them have been found throughout Europe. The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica, the Coso Artefact, The Maine Penny,  the Voynich Mss--I was going to look up links for these, but go to the Web Urbanist list and read their descriptions.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World's Oldest Leather Shoe

Let's set the stage: In a dark, cold cave in Armenia, underneath layers of sheep dung that have settled like cement over the finds, archaeologists have discovered the following curiosities:

  • Three human heads preserved in ceramic jars

  • wine-making equipment, complete with grapes

  • a laced up leather shoe stuffed with straw (or excelsior if you prefer)

Which item is grabbing the headlines?

After all, bottled heads are a dime a dozen. Unless one proves to belong to Joaquin, the California bandit who's preserved head went missing during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, who cares?

But the shoe is 5,600 years old, which makes it older by three centuries than the previous world's-oldest-leather-shoe (found on an ice mummy), so that's the news.

For the record, the world's oldest shoes (leather or not) is claimed by North Armerica: a 6900-year-old sandal made with woven fibers and leather. And since this new find was found at the beginning of the current excavation, meaning that 98% of the cave is still to be dug into and searched, who knows what further boundaries may be broken?

Here are links to news stories about this:

  • New York Times (though you have to wade through clever asides about Sarah Jessica Parker's shoe size (geez, leave the wisecracks to bloggers, for crying out loud!) (one of whom (Geekologie) came up with Air Methuselahs)

  • the interactive, peer-reviewed science journal PlosOne, who broke the story

Monday, June 07, 2010

Gladiator Graves in York

Saw this on CNN and wondered, "How do they know the dead are gladiators?"

Several clues, notably ONE body with a bite mark from what could have been a lion, tiger, or bear. Other bodies had hammer blows to the head, or were even decapitated. Some sites say all the bodies were decapitated but it's not clear.

Eighty bodies so far, all seeming to be athletic, fit males, taller than average, many with strong right arms. They date to around 1600 to 1900 years ago--the time of Rome's control of Britain. Although the NPR story narrowed it down to the between the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Some of the graves had pottery or meat joints (from horses, sheep, and chicken) in them.

None of which proves that the graves are those of gladiators, but that's a reasonable guess. And something else worth mentioning--no cemetery of gladiators has ever been found before.

Scientists have been studying them for seven years, but keeping it secret. Sneaky scientists! (OK, actually, I applaud them.) And the lead archaeologist...I do not named Dr. Hunter-Mann. Now that is karmic.

The York Archaeological Trust will launch a website about the cemetery June 14--the same day that a documentary on the find will be released in Britain. Hope it'll be shown here soon too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Free Pictures

This may be of interest to other bloggers: PicApp now has Reuters photos available.

Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash breaks his nose after a collision with Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher during Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals in Phoenix

If I didn't have a chihuahua in my lap that would have been much easier to type.

Anyway, here's an example of a Reuters News Photo... Steve Nash right after breaking his nose in the May 23 game against the Lakers. Like I couldn't have copied that from a million other places, right? But I suppose that knowing I'm not stealing it from some starving photographer means something.

Anyone want to take bets on what facial feature of Nash's will get dinged up tonight?

Clearly, my mind is not on my work! But a post is a post is a post.

For the record, I have sent out over 170 queries in the last two years for my wonderful historical novel. Discounting the last dozen who haven't had time to reply yet, that means 158 agents will be beating themselves up soon over missing the opportunity to handle this bestseller. Man!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Not Applying for This Job!

Craigslist ad:

Research/Writing Partner (city omitted)
Freelance writer seeks research partner for article on "Planned Kidnapping" a new fad that's moved from New York to Los Angeles. The article is for a relationships/love tips-type online magazine, and I'm looking for a partner that will help me research and field-test this new fad. It will be a fun, unique and interesting case-study!!!!

When the article is published, we'll split the money evenly.

Please send pictures and resume if interested.
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
•Compensation: no pay

I suppose this could have been written by an incredibly naive person who thinks he/she has a great idea, although if that's true, he/she just gave it away. I don't read into this that the writer is on assignment, do you?

But the less benevolent side of me suspects there is no magazine and no story, only someone seeking an incredibly naive partner or two who can be urged into playing kidnap games, with all that that entails.

"Please send pictures and resume if interested." As Mr. T says, "I pity the fool."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Productive Week or Two

Yes, indeedy

I polished off an article that should earn up to $500, and did my first restaurant review (for $75). Both have been accepted, so let's hope the checks are in the mail--or at least on the way to Paypal.

I also submitted a last-minute piece for $40--but the editor has not yet acknoweledged receipt. Grr! Bad editor, bad!

I put the last coat of paint on 1/3 of my bathroom (no one's gonna pay me for that, but I sure feel good about having it done.)

I heard a wonderful, inspiring speaker at a monthly meeting of the Independent Writers of Southern California. I've gotten both hopeful news and a rejection from two different agents. I've kept ahead of the bills, attended two family birthday parties and had fun (not too hard!)

I watched the Phoenix Suns move to the next level of the play-offs with a bit of blood, sweat & tears, got a paycheck, and have lots of work for the week ahead.

Other than the fact that I haven't had time to blog (this will have to do), does life get any better?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Keeping Up With Technology...or not

Who remembers the "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock?"

I grow old, I grow old

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

I feel that old and silly, after reading what should have been an interesting article about digital magazines and how they're marketed. Oh goody, this will no doubt give me another reason to buy an ipad--I can have Newsweek electronically delivered!

So I thought, but the focus of the piece ("The Digital Newsstand: How Magazines Will Be Sold in the Tablet Age") was about existing media storefronts--which I didn't know existed--or more complicated stuff. Like creating apps for the magazines and positioning them on clients' websites.

I'm at the age where discovering a whole new world is more often exhausting instead of exciting. A fuddy duddy, iow. Bah! New apps? Something with small print, no doubt, and I forgot where I put my glasses.

Don't younger folks also get tired of having to master new technologies every five weeks?

Am I really a fuddy duddy? Wait! No!

That is not what I meant at all.

That is not it, at all."

Friday, April 30, 2010

New pubs for 2010!

Yay for me! Two new books out from Gale Group's Greenhaven Press. I'm the third editor, which means I wrote some of the intros, found articles, cut them--even learned to do some paste-up stuff.

Of course, all this was done last summer, so having copies of the finished books delivered to me was a Very Nice Surprise. But also--none of the work looks familiar. Did I really write any of this? Skimming through, I found one phrase (in the Middle Class book) that stuck: Love Jones Cohort.

Professor Kris Marsh at UNC coined the term to refer to "a new kind of middle-class black: young, never-married, urban professionals living alone."

Love Jones Cohort. OK, now I remember! My immediate reaction had been "Love Jones? Was that some Pam Grier movie?" Hey, I'm a boomer--that's my cultural reference point!

But Love Jones was a 1997 movie about a Chicago poet...a young (in 97) Chicago poet. A yuppie in the 2000s, then, and Marsh's symbol for a new stereotype.

But isn't it funny how quickly we forget our work, once it's finished and we must move on to other articles/studies/books? Two months ago I finished a piece on important Supreme Court decisions. Do I remember any of the new facts I encountered while writing that? Beyond what I already knew--Miranda v. AZ, Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education?

Nah. Maybe one thing: What Happened to Mr. Ernesto Miranda.

Miranda's case, Miranda v. AZ, established that a suspect must be read his/her rights before being questioned by police.

Miranda confessed to a rape without being told of his legal rights, so when the Supreme Court decided his case in his favor, Miranda won a new trial--and was convicted again! Turns out, the police didn't even need his confession because they found a witness to his crime. Yup, the whole reason for the famous Miranda case turned out to be moot for Mr. Miranda!

The hapless Miranda got killed in a bar fight a few years later, after serving his sentence for the rape. And--irony of ironies--while his killer escaped, the police picked up an accomplice and read the guy his Miranda rights while Miranda lay dying or dead.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Books Up and Down

The good news: Ebook sales shot up 176.6% in 2009, though they comprise only 1.3% of book sales. Better news: adult hardcover book sales were up nearly 7% over 2008 levels. Not so good news is that adult paperback sales went down 5.2%, and overall book sales were down 1.8% in 2009--all according to this New York Times story.

I'm part of the problem, I suppose. While I've bought books as gifts over the past month, my own reading material has come from the library. Right now it's Olive Kitteridge and the Orson Scott Card Homecoming series, which I guess is sci-fi (the first book is pictured at left; there's five in the series).

My very Catholic bff thinks that the Homecoming books tell how the Bible was written. I don't want to break the spell by pointing out that Card is Mormon and the main character is named after Nephi, who (Mormons believe) wrote the Book of Mormon on golden tablets. I suppose we all look at our books through the lenses (or seer stones) of our own beliefs, so does it matter?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Joshua Whatmough's Book

If you're going to write a novel set in Gaul the most wonderful collection of names can be found in a 1949 book by Professor Joshua Whatmough called Keltika, being prolegomena to a study of The dialects of ancient Gaul,.

Sometimes Keltica is part of the title; often not. Dunno why the "ancient" is necessary as there's no modern Gaul to confuse it with. Last bit of trivia--while the book was published in the 1940s, most copies seem to be dated 1970.

Need names? The Dialects has got you covered. I'm relatively certain that Professor Whatmough did not intend his scholarly work to be fodder for romances, but where else can you find such lists of Celtic names? Many come from pots, of all places, but potters signed their works using Greek or Roman letters to spell out their names--monikers that would otherwise have been lost. There's also place names and divine names--all sorted out by region.

Got a male character from West of the Rhine? Call him Maro or Firmus (now that's telling), Abbo for comic relief (well, Abbo sound funny to me), or even Voranus, if you're a fan of the HBO series Rome. Those are all legit names from the region.

As to what those names may mean in Gaulish--good luck! I've read that only 200 words of that language is known, but that may be an old figure. I'm not too sure what's known and what's guessed to be a word's meaning based on its similarity to Gaelic or Cornish, also Celtic languages.

I do have a Gaul-French dictionary, but a lot of words seem to be guesses. If someone wants to update me on the status of scholarly knowledge of the Gaulish language, I'd appreciate it.

As for Professor Whatmough, whose name I adore, I found this article on him and his work in 1963. Better, here's a charming portrait and anecdotes from a former student, along with a picture of the man. He wasn't just an expert in Gaulish, but in all Indo-European language families. He was fluent in 8-22 tongues, depending on how one defined "fluent." He died only a year after retiring.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Show on Anglo-Saxon treasure to air Sunday, April 18

The largest cache of Anglo-Saxon gold--not treasure exactly, but battle trophies--is ready for its close-up. The gold, buried in the 7th century, was found by lucky guy with a metal detector.

I blogged on the discovery a few months ago--September 2009 to be exact. Now the National Geographic Channel is ready to air its documentary on the hoard of gold, including 86 sword pommelcaps. The show will include battle re-enactments and views of the treasure.

National Geographic's online site has lots of extras--mostly about those battle scenes, but nifty pictures, words from the director, and links to production team blogs are there too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bronze Age Mummies

Recall the wonderful The Mummies of Urumchi in the 1990s? The book about the dessicated remains of tall, blue-eyed people who'd died thousands of years ago, and were buried wrapped in plaid-style blankets--not in Europe, but in China--presented archaeologists with a riddle: Did Europeans migrate to China during the Bronze Age?

Apparently so, because Chinese bulldozers, preparing the ground for Chinese engineering projects over the last few decades have been uncovering more European-in-appearance mummies. Now we have The Tarim Mummies, and they are touring! Today, the exhibit opened at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana--a mere stone's throw away (assuming you have the pitching arm of a titan).  Here's the Yahoo story.The centerpiece of the exhibit--this "Beauty of Xiaohe"--has a feather in her hat, flaming red hair, and eyelashes you could paint with.

This pictures has been reprinted at several blogs, so I'll join the crowd. Far from being an anomaly, the scholarly consensus seems to be that these mummies represent a migrating people who lived north of Tibet from 2000 BC to the 4th or 5th century AD.

Professor Victor H. Mair talked to The Los Angeles Times about the mummies. (He was quoted in the Yahoo story too.) Apparently a lot of testing has not been done on the mummies-Mair suggests an examination of their stomachs is in order. CT scans and other tests are also lacking.

It's good, IMHO, that the Chinese authorities have not rushed to rip open bodies to get at every possible microbiological clue about the mummies. Sure, we'd all like to know more, but invasive tests may not be the smartest course. Given the strides that science makes decade by decade, what's invasive and destructive today may be scannable tomorrow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cabbages and Celts

Let's see...I had corned beef and cabbage 3 nights ago, and corned beef sandwiches at a party last night, and corned beef and cabbage and potatoes this morning, and I'll probably have the same for dinner tonight. Too much of a good thing is actually pretty satisfying.

All hail the lowly cabbage! Hated them as a kid, but now I love 'em. The Celts did too.

Wild cabbage, back in the early days, probably resembled collard greens. That prolific plant, through selective planting and breeding, gave birth to today's cabbages, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and kohlrabi.

Brussel sprouts are basically the buds of the plant. Broccoli and cauliflower are the flowers of the plant, inbred to extremes.

When did all this cultivation and manipulation take place? I'm not sure, and so I can't say exactly what sort of cabbage the ancient Gauls enjoyed.

The Aggie-horticulture site points out that the Latin word for cabbage is based on the Celtic word for the plant, bresic, implying that the Celts introduced the Romans to it. The white, hard-headed cabbage grows better in colder climes, so that makes sense. Gaul, Britain, and Ireland were all a lot colder than most of Italy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Celtic Myth Podshow

"Bringing the Tales and Stories of the Ancient Celts to Your Fireside," is what the banner reads. The blog is the Celtic Myth Podshow, which I just discovered and wish I'd found sooner. Because then I'd know more about Seahenge, pictured at left. (the picture, btw, appeared in The Guardian and was taken by Michael Walter/PA). More about Seahenge in a moment. Here's what Celtic Myth Podshow offers, very briefly:

  • Over 30 podcasts from 2008-2009, each reciting tales from Irish, Breton, Welsh, and other Celtic sources. Some are holiday musical programs.

  • Photo and art galleries from various contributors

  • A cute little button to become a fan of their Facebook site, which triggered an unstoppable avalanche of facebook pages opening up, one after the other, until I had to reboot. Don't click on that.

  • The Celtic news blog mentioned in the first paragraph.

The blog offered news about the rebuilding of "Seahenge". The Seahenge site was discovered in 1998 near Holme-Next-the-Sea, is about 4000 years old, and consisted of 55 timbers in a circle--with an upturned oak tree stump in the center. The timbers have been on display at the Lynn Museum, and now the exhibit will close for 4 months so that the stump can be added.  This picture is from the museum's website.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mary Robert Rinehart's Writing Room

Try saying that ten times in a row...Mary Robert Rinehart's writing room, Mary Robert Rinehart's writng room, Mary Robert Rinehart's robin room...nope. Can't do it.

Anyhow, this was her room in 1926. In Washington DC. Thanks to Shorpy, a wonderful collection of ye olde photos, who displayed this today.

Rinehart, the "American Agatha Christie" according to Wikipedia, would have been about 50 that year. This is a home she shared with her husband, a doctor, from the early 20s till his death in 1932. The lady wrote mysteries, and is credited with the phrase "The butler did it." She didn't actually write those words, but she wrote a bestselling mystery in which the butler, dang him, actually did do it.

For 1926, this is a pretty cool room, doncha think? There's a fan that looks a lot like the fan I bought at Home Depot recently. As for that furniture--would it be out of place on any patio today? Ferns, an exquisite lamp, sheer curtains...the only thing that dates this room is the radio. Or was it called a wireless still?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pharaonic DNA

King Tut Exhibit Opens At The Field Museum

King Tut had a cleft palate, as did his father, Akhenaten. His mother was Akhenaten's sister. Tut suffered from Kohler's disease and clubbed feet, inherited from grandpa Amenhotep III. And he wasn't murdered.

We know all this from DNA analysis. Cool, huh?

A CT scan discovered that King Tut's leg was broken just before death, and that brain malaria most likely killed him. But it's the DNA confirmation of his paternity and maternity that settles a lot of questions.

For two years, winding up in October 2009, researchers did all sorts of tests--twice--on several royal mummies in Tutankamun's family. Ten possible near-relatives were analyzed, as well as five royal mummies from the previous century (Tut died around 1323 BC). The results are just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  (JAMA...wouldn't you assume this would be in an archaeologica or Egyptology journal? Just a thought.)

And all those theories of Marfan's disease, or a biological basis for elongated skulls and womanish curves in Akhenaten's family? No genetic evidence of any of that was found. Possibly, the portrayals of Akh & Tut & co. just reflect a passing artistic style.  It's in all the papers today, so here's a link to the Science Daily piece. I like it particularly because it ends by bringing up some of the ethical questions that come with this type of work. Who's entitlted to a right of privacy, even after death? for example.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dumb and Frustrating

Here's a dilemma:

When otherwise nice people send you an email that's been forwarded 728 times, with all 852,639 "to" addresses still attached, advising you in 36-point font that THIS IS NOT A HOAX! and THIS WAS ON GOOD MORNING AMERICA--IT'S REAL!!!! ... and what follows is so clearly a hoax and a pile of manure that no sensible person over eight years old could possibly believe it to be true, and Snopes and every debunking site in the f-ing world has exposed it and no one but a moron would believe that Bill Gates wants to send them a check because he's testing a new email system ... and yet the person who sent it to you is a decent person--stupid and naive, yes, but still not someone you want to insult and burn bridges between ... so what do you do?

Blog out your frustrations.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Shout out!

How exciting--my writing pal has moved fast in the last 2 months. She went from being a (sigh) writer-in-search-of-an-agent who (like me) sent over 150 queries on her fantastic book idea, wondering about the meaning of life and joining me in a weekly rant about the unfairness of the agenting world to poor, struggling authors like ourselves, to being zapped with the magic wand of a real, live, fairy god-agent! Within weeks she had a contract with a publisher and is now being mentioned in Publishers Weekly and (today) The Biographer's Craft.

Debra Ann Pawlak; remember the name.

Actually, she was two up on me to start with--she's authored two books already. The Arcadia book at left, and the Bruce Lee bio at left-left.

Still, those agents are slippery little buggers and very hard to catch.  Go, Deb!