Our 2019 Beach Reads

illustration of Harry Potter carrying books "Change the beach one book at a time"

I wrote about beach reads in 2016 and 2018—years when I actually spent a week at the beach.

So what happened in 2017? I was in the Rockies for a week! And somehow, writing about mountain reads just didn’t come to mind. I expect to be in the West again in 2020, and I’ll fix that! In the meantime, this was another beach summer, this time at Bethany Beach, DE.

In case you are interested, the rotation is based on the locations of my daughters—one in Connecticut, one in Massachusetts, and one in Colorado. Traditionally, meeting in the East means the beach somewhere whereas the West has meant mountains. Most of the same people come year after year, all family.

Browseabout Books sign
Browseabout Books

This year’s beach reads

This year we were 14—all family, but all individuals, hence the variety of reads! Here’s what three generations are reading during their week together.

P1: Jan Karon, IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS; Bob Goff, EVERYBODY, ALWAYS.

P2: David Jeremiah, THE BOOK OF SIGNS; Robert Ludlum, SCORPIO ILLUSION.

P3: Pearl S. Buck, THE GOOD EARTH.

GoodEarthNovel.JPG
The Good Earth (Fair use)

 

P4: Erica Ridley, THE COMPLETE DUKES OF WAR COLLECTION—seven novels and a short story.

P5: Don Miguel Ruiz, THE FOUR AGREEMENTS; Bill P, Todd W, and Sarah S, DROP THE ROCK; Nora Roberts, THE MACKADE BROTHERS; DAILY REFLECTIONS.

P6: Andy Weir, ARTEMIS; Sarah Perry, THE ESSEX SERPENT; George R. R. Martin, A CLASH OF KINGS.

P7: Jonathan Kellerman, KILLER; John Sandford, DARK OF THE MOON; DAILY REFLECTIONS.

P8: Ernest Cline, READY PLAYER ONE.

P9: Angie Thomas, THE HATE U GIVE.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

P10: Jeff Kinney, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL

P11: Sharon M. Draper, OUT OF MY MIND

P12: Adam Silvera, HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME; John Green, WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON.

P13: Andrew J. Mellon, UNSTUFF YOUR LIFE: KICK THE CLUTTER HABIT AND COMPLETELY ORGANIZE YOUR LIFE FOR GOOD

P14: H. W. Brands, THE FIRST AMERICAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

 

beach reads sign: "what are you reading this summer? Let us know!"

Where are you traveling this summer, and what are you reading? Let me know in the comments.

Cold

Frozen iceberg blue in color

On Tuesday I wrote about heat. Could cold be far behind? Again, I talked about the effects of cold in a recent blog on weather for writers. Today I want to look at cold in our lives, and it turns out to be remarkably parallel to heat!

 

Cold Snap 

cold snap (or cold spell) is distinguished by cooling of the air. (Big surprise!) Specifically, as used by the U.S. National Weather Service, a cold wave is a rapid fall in temperature within a 24-hour period requiring substantially increased protection to agriculture, industry, commerce, and social activities. The precise criterion for a cold wave is determined by the rate at which the temperature falls, and the minimum to which it falls. This minimum temperature is dependent on the geographical region and time of year. In the United States, a cold spell is defined as the national average high temperature dropping below 20 °F (−7 °C).

house capped in snow

In some places, extreme cold requires that fuel-powered machinery to be run continuously. Plumbing may need to be wrapped, and often water is run continuously through pipes. Energy conservation is difficult in a cold wave. It may be necessary to collect people (especially the homeless, poor, and elderly) in communal shelters. Hospitals prepare for people suffering frostbite and hypothermia; schools and other public buildings are often closed, sometimes converted into shelters.

 

Privately, people stock up on food, water, and other necessities when a cold wave is predicted. Some move to warmer places (think Florida’s snowbirds during the winter). Farmers stock forage for livestock, and livestock might be shipped from affected areas or even slaughtered. Smudge pots can prevents hard freezes on a farm or grove. Vulnerable crops may be sprayed with water that will paradoxically protect the plants by freezing and absorbing the cold from surrounding air.

 

Most people bundle and layer their cloths to go outside—or deal with a heating failure. They can also stock candles, matches, flashlights, and plan how to eat without a working cookstove.

Staying Alive

Once your body hits 82 degrees, you can become unconscious. Death can happen when your body temperature goes below 70. This can take less than an hour. Death can happen faster if you fall into freezing water.

shopper in frozen food or cold storage section of grocery

But cold can also help us stay alive: think frozen food, natural cold used in winter. And that’s even before refrigeration. Today, body temperatures are often lowered during surgeries to slow down metabolism.

Cold is often associated with snow, and snow can be insulation: hollowing out a snow cave or living in an igloo conserve body heat and protects occupants from the colder air outside.

cold survival Inuit-Igloo
Inuit constructing an igloo, November 26, 1924 (Frank E. Kleinschmidt [Public domain])

And After Death

Ice and freezing preserve food but also bodies. During the American Civil War, bodies awaiting transport home for burial were iced for preservation. But consider the human and animal remains that have been discovered in Antartica or other areas where they have remained largely unchanged, sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cold and Humidity

 

Again, paralleling heat, humidity intensify feelings of cold. It might seem paradoxical, but dry air will most times feel warmer than cold, humid air at the same temperature.  A cold day in the southeast U.S. feels colder than a cold day in the southwest.

I remember days in the North Country of New York when I couldn’t breathe without covering my mouth with a scarf, and the damp air frosted my eyelashes.

woman bundled against cold with scarf around face

My father used to say that he’d rather cold weather than hot because he could always put on enough clothes to get warm but couldn’t take off enough clothes to get cool.

 

QUESTION: how does your character cope with cold? Let me know in the comments.

Heat

heat causing leaves to droop
Heat has caused these leaves to droop
The weather has been so hot and rain so scarce that even the trees are suffering. I’ve been feeling the heat and—the ironically high humidity—and thinking about heat a lot. Herewith, my musings.

Some months ago I wrote about weather for writers, and so I won’t go into details of how peoples’ feelings and behavior are affected by heat. We all “know” (for example) that people are less energetic, more irritable and aggressive as the heat rises. Instead, I’m considering the role of heat in our daily lives.

thermometer weather writers

Heat Waves

We in Richmond are currently in a heatwave, as defined by several days over 90 degrees, often accompanied by high humidity.  Indeed, some say that heatwave occurs when the daily maximum temperature exceeds the average maximum temperature by 9 degrees F for five or more consecutive days. But there is no universal definition of a heatwave: it is defined based on heat relative to the usual weather, relative to the normal temperatures for the season. So, it varies by region and country. For example, Sweden defines a heat wave as at least 5 days in a row with a daily high exceeding 77 degrees F.

Global warming increases the likelihood of heat waves.

barren canyon with high heat

Staying Alive

First there is literally staying alive. It turns out, our cells start to die around 106 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, but people can survive much higher temperatures; a person could make a trip to Death Valley on one of the hottest days (131 degrees F) and as long as s/he stayed hydrated, would probably not die. So when a Richmonder says, “This heat is killing me,” it’s probably an exaggeration. Heat usually kills people in combination with other things: pre-existing vulnerability (e.g., very young, very old, ill), exertion, and dehydration.

dried beans in paper bags
And then there is food. Although people can and do eat raw, many foods—especially meat and fish—are much safer when cooked. But alongside cooking—and arguably even more important—is using heat to preserve food for later consumption. Native Americans, for example, have traditionally dried everything from jerky to leather-britches beans. Drying is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Beef jerky has been found in 2,000 year old tombs in China. As best I could determine, dried legumes are edible forever—though texture suffers and the older the bean, the longer the cooking time.
Mummy hall
Mummies on display (photo: frankjuarez [CC BY 2.0])

And After Death

The first thought that comes to mind is mummies—desiccated remains that simply look dried out. In fact, the mummies we’re most familiar with are bodies that were prepared to be mummies: internal organs removed, special spices, etc. But accidental mummies can happen when a body is exposed to heat, lack of air, and low humidity.

Heat and Humidity

The heat index combines the effects of heat and humidity. To put it simply, increasing either one makes you feel hotter. For example, with 40% humidity, a temperature of 100 degrees F feels like 109 degrees F. At 100% humidity, a temperature of 92 degrees F feels like 132 degrees F.

Heat and humidity, when high, contribute all sorts of ailments: heat stroke, edema (swelling), heat rash (prickly heat), dermatitis, bacterial infection, heat cramps, heat exhaustion (which might include diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, malaise, and myalgia.
heat causing a leaf to turn brown

Bottom line for writers

The effect of heat can be nearly anything you want it to be! And surviving the negative effects is often a matter of hydration.

HAPPY WORKAHOLICS DAY!

 

WORKAHOLICS DAY frustrated worker
Workaholics Day is an unofficial holiday that rolls around every July 5, meant to raise awareness that all work and no play can be harmful to workers’ mental and physical health.
“Workaholic” is a portmanteau word, created by combining “work” and “alcoholic”—in case that isn’t obvious! It’s been part of the lingo since the late 1960s as a label for people who work excessively and compulsively—i.e., addictively. And as with other addictions, a work addiction is a bad thing. And as with many bad things, it’s a boon to writers. Workaholism creates problems for the character and for others around him or her.
Malissa Clark, Ph.D., studies workaholism for a living. She’s identified four leading components of overwork: motivational, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral.
 
Motivation is essentially why one does what one does. Workaholics work because of internal pressures—feeling that they should or ought to be working.
Cognitively, workaholics think obsessively about work, even when they aren’t working. They can’t mentally disengage.
When not working, workaholics experience negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, disappointment and guilt.
And their work behavior goes beyond what is reasonable or even expected by their employers in terms of long hours and not taking time off.
WORKAHOLICS DAY frustration

But how do workaholics get that way?

Here’s a list of possible roots for your workaholic character.
—a need to feel competent, especially if incompetent in other areas of their lives
—reliving patterns from their past, or family of origin
—a means to relieve, ignore, or deny emotional issues or trauma
—your character’s basic personality: having a Type A personality, high in need for achievement, perfectionism, and/or narcissism
WORKAHOLICS DAY frustration

How bad is it? 

What is your workaholic character likely to experience? Workaholism is related to:
—lower job, family, and life satisfaction
—worse physical health, including higher systolic blood pressure
—higher levels of mental distress over time
—increased job stress and burnout
And here’s the kicker: workaholics do NOT enjoy greater job success or productivity than others.
WORKAHOLICS DAY frustrated worker

Working long hours doesn’t make one a workaholic. 

Someone who loves his/her job—finds it fulfilling and satisfying—probably isn’t a workaholic. Highly engaged workers feel more jovial, attentive, and self-assured both at work and at home.
WORKAHOLICS DAY happy worker
Workaholics Day encourages workers to make lifestyle changes to give other aspects of their lives as much importance as their work. Bottom Line for writers: if you want to redeem your workaholic character, rebalancing is absolutely necessary.

Something to Aspire to!

Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels title page, Gramercy Books
Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels
Those of you who have been with me for awhile know that I am a HUGE fan of Jane Austen. On March 22, 2017, I posted a blog on the 200th anniversary of her last fiction writing. A gazillion books and articles—that’s by actual count!—have been written about Austen. If you want a pretty thorough overview and summary, with references to delve deeper, check out the 30-page Wikipedia article. What you have in this blog is my personal homage.

 

My Journey to Jane Austen

Copies of Austen’s novels are old friends. I bought Northanger Abbey secondhand for 35 cents.
book cover of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Laurel Jane Austen edition
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Others were bought new for 50 cents each.
book covers of Persuasion and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Persuasion and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
All of them have been read and read again, and most show those years of age and love.
I first became a fan in the spring of my sophomore year in college. “Why so late?” you might ask. In my pre-matriculation advisement, the English professor (who happened to teach such classes) urged me toward Chaucer and Beowulf. I took no literature classes after my freshman year, so there were tons (by actual weight) of books that “everyone” had read but I hadn’t. A lot of them are still out there. In any event, during finals week, I devoured every Austen I could lay my hands on.
Pride and Prejudice first page, early edition
Hugh Thomson (1860-1920) [CC BY-SA 4.0]
As I recall, I read Pride and Prejudice first, and it remains my favorite. I’m not alone here. As far back as 1940, various film and TV versions have come to be. If one searches Kindle for Jane Austen Fan Fiction, there are literally hundreds of novels based on this book alone.These include prequels, sequels, murder mysteries, soft-core porn, fantasy, and horror.

 

Film adaptations of all Austen’s novels abound. In 1995, Emma Thompson won an Academy Award for her role in Sense and Sensibility. 2007 brought forth Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Love and Friendship, based on Austen’s first novel, Lady Susan, appeared in 2016.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Jane Austen for Writers

Setting pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—a writer never knows what the future holds. Although Austen’s Lady Susan, written in the epistolary form popular at the time, was penned first (1804), it was published last (1871). Austen published as Anonymous and enjoyed little fame or fortune during her lifetime.
Title page of the 1909 edition of Emma, illustrated by C. E. Brock. Matt [Public domain]
Emma is but one example of why Austen’s work is so enduring. Before she began the novel, she wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like. Emma Woodhouse is handsome, clever, and rich. She is also spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own insights and abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.” In other words, she paints a timeless portrait of the conceit and hubris of youth.

 

Austen is a great example of “write what you know.” In all her novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in 18th and 19th century England, their dependence on marriage for security and status. Her novels portray the social and economic reality of the period.

 

And she makes her readers laugh.

 

Something to aspire to: to express universals of human relationships, personalities, passions, and foibles that transcend time and place. She’s my role model—which is why I continue to acquire her books. This is my most recent one. Although published in 1981, I’ve enjoyed it for only a couple of years—so far!
 
The complete works by Jane Austen spine
Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels

Is There a MacGyver in Your Story?

Richard Dean Anderson Angus MacGyver
[Source: EW]
In case you didn’t know, MacGyver was a superhero type TV series from 1985 to 1992 starring Richard Dean Anderson. As the series unfolded, Angus “Mac” MacGyver became a wonderfully rich character, a great example of what a well-rounded character looks like on the page as well. Here, to help you flesh out your protagonist are things you need to know—or at least consider. Your readers will love you for it.

 

Name: A character needs a full name, and (in my opinion) should have a reason to have been named that. Family name? Parent’s favorite from history or fiction?

 

Personality: MacGyver was portrayed as a non-violent problem solver who always carried a Swiss Army knife and refused to carry a gun. When the plot called for physical violence, his acts were always in self-defense and he strove to subdue or disable rather than kill. He is pretty much the opposite of macho, having a sensitive nature and showing it. He (appropriately) showed grief, pain, fright, guilt, depression and self-blame.

 

Social awareness: MacGyver was passionate about social causes, with a particular affinity for things related to children and protecting the environment. At some point, he became vegetarian. What is your character’s attitude toward such things as social justice, global warming, etc.?

 

Intelligence: MacGyver had a genius-level IQ and had a college education in both physics and chemistry.

 

Skills: MacGyver could speak six languages—plus he could communicate using American Sign Language, Morse code, and International maritime signal flags. He skied and had mastered outdoor survival skills. He possessed superb engineering and applied physics knowledge. Besides his Swiss Army knife, MacGyver usually carried duct tape, an ID card, a Timex Camper watch, strike-anywhere matches, paperclips, chewing gum, and a flashlight—plus whatever was in his Jeep or pickup truck. Thus, he was able to save a man’s life using a paperclip, a wrench, and shoelaces.

 

rock climbing
His hobbies included dice hockey, racing, guitar, and painting. Although suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) he managed mountain/rock climbing, hang gliding, parachuting, etc.
 
What skills and/or specialized knowledge can your character draw on? Think education, past job experiences and military service as well as hobbies and sports.

 

Biography: MacGyver’s biography—which I believe was fleshed out as the series progressed—accounted for all of his special skills, fears, and taboos, from the outdoor survival skills taught by Mrs. Fogarty, his Cub Scout Den Mother, to a fatal accidental shooting that led him to eschew guns. Advice to writers: as soon as you give your character a skill, fear, etc., jot down—if only for your own use—how and when it was acquired.

 

macgyver lucas till
[Source: EW]
In 2016 the series was revived starring Lucas Till as a younger Mac MacGyver. Supposedly this is the equivalent of a “prequel.” Thus, this Mac functioned between the original’s birth (January 23, 1951) and the beginning of the original series. And therein lies the rub. This “younger” MacGyver carries through with major characteristics, including intelligence, preference for non-lethal methods, and the ability to use his Swiss Army knife plus anything in his environment to accomplish his mission. In addition, he’s an accomplished field medic and uses modern crime scene techniques—in which he might just have been ahead of his time. But DNA sequencing procedures? That I couldn’t quite accept.

 

Last advice to writers: Should you ever want to write a prequel, be aware of what your character couldn’t have known or experienced at the time.
 
And just in case you want some MacGyver type skills for your character, check out these books.
 
MacGYVER story

Revisiting Obedience

immigrant camps texas
[Source: OIG]
Last night I heard interviews with lawyers who recently visited the immigrant detention centers along the U.S./Mexico border. The conditions they reported were deplorable—inhumane, even. But what i want to focus on here is their observations that the border agents trying to do their jobs are massively stressed. So why do they stay there, doing what they’re doing?

 

This seems an appropriate time to remind writers that human motivation—and thus characters’ motivations—are complex things. What sort of SOB would do such things?

More than 1,000 people gather at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's order that restricts immigration to the U.S., Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in Seattle. President Trump signed an executive order Friday that bans legal U.S. residents and visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days and puts an indefinite hold on a program resettling Syrian refugees. (Genna Martin/seattlepi.com via AP)
[Source: Concord Monitor]
You can find stories all over the internet of people increasingly being treated inhumanely while trying to enter the U.S.—preschoolers being handcuffed, weeping mothers and young children separated for hours at a time, people held for twenty hours without food… Sometimes such stories suggest that it’s because of the things Pres. Trump says and does. His supporters are likely to reply, “No way in hell would he order such things! These are the acts of a few sick individuals.”

 

As writers, we don’t need to prove or disprove either of these causes. As writers, we know that almost anyone is capable of almost any act if the motivation is sufficient. What we may not have considered is just how easily ordinary people can be led to do extraordinary things.  
 
[Source: Harvard Psychology]
In 1963 Stanley Milgram first published his research on obedience to authority figures. The beginning of his research (1961) was with the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. He started with the question, “Could it be that Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?”
 
The short answer is “Yes.” A very high proportion of people would fully obey the instructions, even if reluctantly, even if the acts ran counter to their own consciences.
 
[Source]
[Source]
The basic paradigm was that the subject thought he was the teacher, assisting the experimenter by delivering electric shocks to a learner whenever the learner gave a wrong answer. With each wrong answer, the apparent shock level was increased, finally to a point where the shocks—if real—would have been fatal. In the initial experiment, 65% of subjects gave the maximum shock level at least three times.

 

sadist sob stanley milgram
[Source: Pacific Standard]
The important thing to remember is that the experimenter had no real authority over the subject delivering the shocks. The experimenter wasn’t a parent, a supervisor, a friend, a lover. The subject was not physically restrained from leaving. You can read all about it, in detail, in his 1974 book.

 

stanley milgram book 1974
[Source: HarperCollins]
Variations on the original experiment revealed that a less official looking setting decreased obedience slightly. When the teacher was physically closer to the learner, the level of compliance decreased—but even when the teacher had to physically hold the supposed learner’s hand on what was supposed to be a shock plate, 30% completed the experiment. When the experimenter was physically farther away, compliance decreased. For example, when the experimenter gave instructions over the phone, compliance dropped to 21%. There was no significant difference in results when all women were used.

 

To write convincingly about obedience, it’s important to note that the people were greatly stressed by what they were doing. They objected verbally, questioned the experimenter, and reported high levels of distress when debriefed.
 
So, can we conclude that someone is telling people to get rough with those trying to enter the United States? NO! 
 
[Source: TED]
Enter Philip Zimbardo. In 1971 he conducted The Stanford Prison Experiment. It was specifically intended to investigate issues of the relationships between prisoners and guards. Did the behaviors of prisoners and guards reflect inherent personality differences between the two groups?

 

Volunteers for a two-week prison experiment were screened and those with criminal backgrounds, psychological impairment, or medical problems were excluded. The research team chose 24 men they deemed most psychologically stable and healthy. Participants were paid $15 per day (the equivalent of $92.91 in 2018).

 

The subjects were randomly divided into prisoners and guards.

 

stanford prison experiment
[Source: HowStuffWorks]
The guards were instructed not to physically harm the prisoners or withhold food or drink, but Zimbardo emphasized that “…in this situation we’ll have all the power and they will have none.” Guards were told to call prisoners by their assigned numbers rather than their names. But otherwise, guards improvised their roles. Prisoners were given no instructions.

 

prison experiment
[Source: SF Gate]
On the second day the three prisoners in one cell rioted, blocked the door with their beds, tore off their caps, and refused to come out or obey the guards. Guards from other shifts agreed to  work overtime to quell the riot and eventually they attacked the prisoners with fire extinguishers (while not being supervised by research staff).

 

sadist stanford prison experiment
[Source: Daily Maverick]
The experiment was terminated after only 6 days. By then, about a third of the guards had exhibited “genuine sadistic tendencies”; prisoners were emotionally traumatized and five of them had to be removed from the experiment early. You can read about this experiment in any social psychology textbook. Online you can also view video clips.

 

Arguably, the most important outcome of the study is that the behavior of two equivalent groups diverged dramatically after one was labeled “guards” and the other was labeled “prisoners.” 
 
To answer the initial question of what sadistic SOB would do such a thing: the perfectly ordinary, likable, friend, colleague, or neighbor.
 
As a writer, keep that in mind as you create characters behaving badly.

Thoughts on People, Places, and Travel

Peg Bracken But I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World The pleasures and perils of an unseasoned traveler
[Source: Goodreads]
My family of origin traveled to visit relatives in nearby states–and I loved it! Similar as some aspects were to home, I reveled in the new. I wanted to travel more even before I ever did! Today I received a travel catalog, and spent some time drooling. And then I decided to share with you some of the quotes on people, places, and travel that I found in that catalog.
odysseys unlimited 2019 2020
 
Each quote is short. Think about it.

 

zora neale hurston
paul coehlo
BOTTOM LINE: Consider what you—and your characters—think, feel, want, and remember about travel.

Another Way to Quirk Your Characters

october 2015
In 2015 I posted a blog titled Quirking Your Characters. The opening paragraph ends, “My advice is to choose a quirky interest that will allow you to illuminate various aspects of your character’s character.” I then developed an extended example using an interest in Eastern box turtles. Well, it’s time to think again! Start with the question, “Is there something quirky that I’d like to know more about?” The point here is that if it’s part of your character’s character, you’ll be spending a lot time with this quirk.

Quirks can be very focused OR whole categories, expanding outward.

arm hammer baking soda
[Source: Walmart]
As an example of a focused quirk, imagine your character grew up poor and the entire family brushed their teeth with baking soda rather than toothpaste, and as a result, as an adult s/he uses baking soda for everything, from cleaning cutting boards to relieving acid indigestion. (One of my personal favorites is that damp baking soda gently removes tarnish from silver.)

If you were to take up baking soda, you can find online list of 36 uses on the Arm & Hammer website to 51 Fantastic Uses For Baking Soda by Care2 Healthy Living.

lemons
A similar example of a focused quirk can be built around lemons. Lemons can do all sort of things, from disinfecting surfaces to seasoning foods. Online, you can find 17 household uses for lemons (to save money on cleaning products) to 34 reasons to load up on lemons from Reader’s Digest.

Indeed, virtually anything can be a focused quirk. What about collecting Santa and Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shakers? Choose your item or behavior for a focused quirk and google it directly.
 
extraordinary uses ordinary things
Reader’s Digest has “authored” several books with this title and they can be used by anyone who wants to find either a focused or a categorical quirk. For example, the table of contents includes both an item index, alphabetical from address labels to zucchini, suitable for focused quirks. But in addition, there are topics such as Less Toxic and More Earth-Friendly Items that are suitable for what I’m calling category quirks. Here again, the quirk options are infinite.

hate housekeep peg bracken
As far as quirks go, a goal of avoiding as much housework as possible is an old—and humorous—one. The I Hate to Housekeep book was copyrighted in 1962! (Full disclosure: I love Peg Bracken!) But the global, category quirks could be anything from attendance to germs to recycling in all its forms.

Bottom line: To close with another quote from my earlier blog: “Get beyond fiddling with hair or popping gum and choose a rich quirk for your character.”

Why Daisies? Why Not?

lettuce
Didn’t know lettuce is a member of the daisy family? Lots of people don’t. And there is much else that is surprising about this enormous plant family. But even so, so what? Well, I got interested, and when I’m interested, I explore and write. But why read this blog? Because writers can bring plants into their work in any number of ways.
  • as a character’s hobby
  • as a character’s work
  • as a reflection of a character’s character or personality
  • as a reflection of a character’s aesthetic taste (or lack thereof)
  • as factoids characters can drop into conversation to amaze and astound
aster
[Source: Plantopedia]
The big picture. Technically, the daisy family—also commonly known as the sunflower or aster family—is the Asteraceae family. It’s huge.
  • 13 subfamilies
  • 1,911 genera
  • 32,913 named species
  • for size, it’s rivaled only by orchids. Which is larger is unknown.
  • mostly annual or perennial herbs, it also includes shrubs, vines, and trees
  • this family grows worldwide, except Antarctica and the extreme Arctic
Many daisies are known primarily as food. Dandelions head this section for a reason. They were introduced into the New World by European immigrants who ate the greens—but now are more often considered a weed than a food.

 

safflower
Besides lettuce, important food crops include endive, chicory, artichokes, sunflowers, and safflower.
tarragon
Daisy species are used as culinary seasoning: tarragon, salsify, and stevia, for example.

 

chamomile
“Daisies” such as camomile are used for herbal teas. Also included here are pot marigold, and echinacea, which is used in medicinal teas. In fact, many species are used as traditional anti-parasitic medicine.
ragweed
Species such as ragweed cause allergic reactions such as so-called hay fever. Other varieties cause contact dermatitis—as many who work with flowers can testify.

 

dahlias
[Source: Midwest Living]
Many of us think of daisies first as flowers, but many varieties are important for the flower industry. Besides dahlia, think Gerbera daisies, calendula, zinnia, chrysanthemum, and many others.

 

And, BTW, chrysanthemum as well as several less familiar species have useful insecticidal properties.
marigold
[Source: Garden Design]
Marigolds serve important industrial purposes. It is used in commercial poultry feeds, and it’s oils are used in colas and in the cigarette industry.

 

Several varieties of daisies are copious nectar producers and are thus important for beekeepers. These include sunflowers, knapweed, and some species of goldenrod. Goldenrod in particular has a high protein pollen which helps honey bees winter over.
Bottom line: just imagine all the ways a little knowledge of the daisy family might season your writing!
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