DEATH TRAP

Who doesn’t want people to be safe in their homes? Writers!  Injury and death are bread and butter for writer. But even if you aren’t a writer, you should read what follows to help protect yourself and your family from these dangers. I’ll start with the more innocuous or less common hazards. Consider the following.

Accidents

  • Extension cords:
    • Extension cords cause about 3300 residential fires each year, injuring or killing more than 300 people. If used continuously, insulation deteriorates fast. Even if not in use, extension cords left lying around can present a hanging or choking hazard for children.
  • Mothballs:
    • They are actually little balls of pesticide. They can cause a breakdown in red blood cells in children with certain genetic diseases (such as Glucose-6 Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency). In addition, exposure can lead to nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and eye and nasal irritation in humans; kidney and liver damage in pets.  
    • Mothballs can be huffed for a brief high caused by the dichlorobenzene or naphthalene, either of which can lead to addiction, brain damage, and death.
    • NB, not as common in homes as they used to be.
  • Humidifiers: 
    • Water left to sit in the humidifier for long periods of time become rife with mold spores, fungus, and bacteria.
    • Ultrasonic humidifiers can be particularly dangerous, because they aerosolize and disperse as a mist everything that might be in water, including chemicals, minerals, bacteria, and mold.
  • Pressed wood: 
    • Products made from hardwood plywood, particleboard, or fiberboard are often made with formaldehyde. Prolonged exposure can cause watery eyes, burns ins eyes and/or throat, asthma attacks, and cancer in animals and perhaps in humans.
This little party crasher might be hanging around in your living room.
  • Carpeting:
    • New carpet can emit potentially dangerous chemicals  called volatile organic components. Any carpet can trap dust mites, pet dander, mold, dirt, etc., all of which are hard on respiratory systems.
  • Lead:
    • Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems.
    • Lead paint was commonly used in homes built before 1978. Toys and furniture made in countries with less stringent health safety protocols may still be covered in lead paint.
    • In very old houses (1920s and earlier), original plumbing may be made of lead, causing all the water coming into the house to be contaminated.
    • Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.
  • Polycarbonate plastics:
    • This is most dangerous when used to make food storage containers. The problem is the degradation of the chemical bisphenol (BPA) when it comes in contact with water. Health agencies have gone back and forth on the dangers of BPA, but studies have linked it to disruptions in the endocrine system and ultimately to cancer.
  • Flame retardants, which seem like they are good things, actually have a downside: most contain toxins that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, diminished I.Q., and other problems.
  • Space heaters:
    • More than 25,000 home fires every year, especially those that don’t have an emergency tip-over feature and don’t have eating element guards. They are especially dangerous for children and pets.
  • Houseplants:
    • Many common varieties of houseplants, kept for air purification, beautification, or even medicinal purposes, are toxic to humans and animals in the wrong context. While most adults can be trusted not to eat the leaves, chew on the roots, or drink the water from random pots around the house, the same may not be true of children and pets.
    • Philodendron, peace lilies, oleanders, pothos, and caladium are among the most common houseplants, and all are poisonous to humans and pets.
  • Christmas trees:
    • The combination of dry winter air, hot light bulbs, and paper or wooden ornaments make for a perfect storm of conflagration. Add in tinsel, paper-wrapped boxes, and the tendency of many families to leave the tree lights on overnight, and it’s surprising that there aren’t even more house fires and deaths every year.
    • Fires caused by Christmas trees are among the most deadly house fires: approximately one out of every 34 home fires caused by a Christmas tree results in a death.
    • Decorative or scented holiday candles can be quite deadly as well. The top three days for fires caused by unsafe candles are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Asbestos removal is a very complicated process.
  • Other possibilities: 
    • Asbestos, carbon dioxide, radon, cuts, slip and fall accidents, carbon monoxide, unbalanced heavy furniture, stairs, throw rugs, icy walkways, mixing up the sugar and the rat poison…
I’m not sure if this counts as a home injury or a vehicle accident.

Leading Causes of Unintentional Home Injury

Children and the elderly are at greatest risk.

  1. Falls: more than 40% of nonfatal home injuries; more than one third of unintentional home injury deaths.
  2. Poisoning: most unintentional home poisoning deaths are of adults and are caused by heroin, appetite suppressants, pain killers, and narcotics. Other frequent poisons are amphetamines, caffeine, antidepressants, alcohol, motor vehicle exhaust gas, etc.
    • Children under 5 have the highest rates of non-fatal poisoning, often from exposure to substances not typically thoughts of as poisonous.
    • “Hidden” poisons can be found in household and cleaning products; personal care and beauty products; medicines, vitamins, plants, and lead paint.
  3. Fires/burns: the third leading cause of unintentional home injury and death. Death rate is highest among senior citizens and —again—children under five. A huge percentage of burns are from hot water. Depending on water heater settings, tap water can be hot enough to cause second-degree burns.
  4. Choking and suffocation: the leading cause of death for infants under the age of one. An average of one child a month dies due to strangulation from a window chord.
  5. Drowning/submersion: 80% are children under age 4, mostly in bathtubs and swimming pools. Because they are top-heavy, a toddler can drown in a bucket, in as little as two inches of water.
Two inches of water or six feet of bubbles!

Intentional Harm

People are more likely to be killed by people they know than by a stranger, and it will probably be in the victim’s home. 

As of 2017, 12.3% of homicide victims were killed by family members, 28.0% were killed by someone they knew other than family, and only 9.7% were killed by strangers. In 50% of cases, the relationship between the victim and the offender were unknown. Chances are, at least some of those were family or acquaintance homicides.

Approximately 39% of victims were murdered during arguments or as a result of romantic triangles. Another 24.7% of murders were committed in conjunction with another crime such as rape, robbery, burglary, etc.

More than 72% of the known weapon homicides involved firearms, primarily handguns.

  • Violence against women—Domestic violence is the #1 cause of injury to women, more than all the rapes, muggings, and car accidents in a given year.
    • One out of every four women in the U.S. will be injured by a husband/lover during her lifetime.
    • 64% of women killed each year are murdered by family or lovers.
  • Violence against children—Calls to Child Protective Services received 3-4 million reports of alleged abuse in 2011: 79% neglect, 18% physical abuse, 9% sexual abuse.
    • Babies under the age of one were assaulted most often. Of child victims in 2011, 82% were younger than four.
    • Children in violent homes have sleeping, eating, and attention problems.
    • Abused children are more withdrawn, anxious, and depressed than non-abused children.
Pictured above: not a neglected or abused child. Still, railings are a good thing.

Bottom Line For Writers: whether accidental or intentional, injury and death are fertile ground for tension, emotion, and upping the stakes. 

This definitely looks intentional.

THE JOYFUL SIDE OF THE SEASON: TRADING HALLOWEEN FOR THE DAY OF THE DEAD

For more than a month, people have been bombarded with ads, displays, and commercials about things to buy for Halloween: costumes, candy, house decorations, yard displays, etc., etc., etc. Indeed, more money is spent on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas—which I find pretty horrifying in and of itself. 

This insanity is what inspired Tim Burton to write Nightmare Before Christmas.

But that’s just the tip of the horror: evil witches, vampire bats, the walking dead, haunted houses, werewolves, and not-nearly-as-friendly-as-Casper ghosts. The scary side of the season is why the previous four blogs on this website have been about evil twins, being buried alive, satanism, and vampires.

Hard on the heels of Halloween comes Dia de Muertos, The Day of the Dead (though it seems to me it ought to be Days, plural). It begins at midnight on October 31 and continues through November 1 and 2.

  • Writers please note:although November 1 and 2 coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, respectively, the Day of the Dead is not now tied to any particular religion. It is more of a cultural holiday than a religious one. 

Scholars have traced the modern holiday back hundreds of years, particularly to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. People can, and have, personalized it, integrating elements into their own cultural and/or religious practices. It is nearly opposite of all that Halloween stands for.

A representation of Mictlantecuhtli, also known as the Divine Mother or Santa Muerte Narco

In Aztec mythology, Mictlan was the underworld and after-death destination for the majority of people. The ruler of Mictlan was
Mictlantecuhtli, who held the bones used to create all of humanity.
Mictlancíhuatl was his wife, who watches over the souls of the dead.

A popular costume is La Catrina, a character that was created by Mexican lithographer and illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913). La Catrina is a female skeleton who is dressed in the style of upper-class women of the period.

Dio de Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico, especially the central and southern regions. It is also celebrated by people of Mexican heritage worldwide. Although the details of the celebration vary by location, the central elements are the same: celebrating the lives of those who have died with feasting, parties, costumes, and activities the dead enjoyed in life.

October 31 is usually devoted to preparing to welcome the souls of loved ones. A home altar is created, decorated with candles and lots of food and drink: fruits, peanuts, turkey mole, tortillas, and Day of the Dead breads (pan de muerto) ; sodas, cocoa, and water. These offerings are called ofrenda, though that can also refer to the altar itself. The breads often have icing that resembles and bones across the top. Buckets of flowers, especially wild marigolds (cempasúchitl), are used as well.


Copal incense was burned in Mesoamerica in ancient times.
The word copal is derived from the Nahuatl word copalli, which means “incense.”

Traditional altars include very specific elements, each with a distinct purpose.

  • A candle for each relative remembers, so that the light will guide them.
  • Flowers to represent the fleetingness of life.
  • Salt and water to purify and refresh the souls tired from the journey.
  • Copal incense to raise prayers to God.
  • A photo or drawing of each relative, often with a favorite piece of clothing or toy.
An ofrenda for a young child

The holiday begins when the souls of dead children and miscarried babies are allowed to return to their families for twenty-four hours, on Día de los Inocentes. Toys, candies, and miniature skulls are added to the home altars for these angelitos.  On November 2, the spirits of adults arrive. The miniature skulls are replaced by full-sized ones. For adults, the altar includes cigarettes, shots of mezcal, and/or the favorite drink of the dead person(s).

A small
calavera de azucar (sugar skull) for a small child’s ofrenda

Sugar art was learned from Italian missionaries in the 17th century, who made sugar lambs and angels to adorn altars in Catholic Churches at Easter. Clay molded sugar skulls, angels, and sheep date back to the 18th century. As described on mexicansugarskull.com, “Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home Ofrenda [altar] or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit.”  According to the same source, “Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments.”

Now they are represented by jewelry and masks.

Typically, the holiday activities includes a trip to the cemetery/graveyard where loved ones are buried. Besides clean-up and maintenance of the gravesite, these visits include a party, often with local music, games, card playing, feasting, and decorating the graves.

Families at a cemetery in Oaxaca

Although a Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead is celebrated worldwide. In the United States, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona feature pretty traditional celebrations.

These Catrinas dressed like Adelitas, women who fought in the Mexican Revolution.

California, too, has strong historical ties to Mexico and Dia de Muertos is celebrated widely across the state—though the celebrations sometimes add a political element, such as an altar to honor the victims of the Iraq War.

The parade in Mexico City this year honored migrants who have died.

Virtually every big city has a festival and events. For example, the historic Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood hosts an annual festival celebrating the cycle of life and death. People bring food, flowers, pictures, and mementos to add to a huge decorated altar. It includes traditional music and dance.

Jamaica Plain, Boston

Bottom line for writers: consider a scene involving Day of the Dead celebrations. Perhaps it is a tradition for one or more characters, or perhaps the protagonist just happens to be in a city where the celebration is taking place. Think broadly!


SEE SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING—MAYBE

Kitty Genovese

The March 13, 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese led to an entirely new field of research in psychology.  Genovese was attacked while walking home from work at 3:20 a.m. in Queens, New York.  She was stabbed, sexually assaulted, and murdered over a period of 30 minutes.  Subsequent reports said 38 witnesses watched the attack from nearby apartments but neither intervened nor even called the police until the attacker fled.  Kitty Genovese died on the way to a hospital.

 

Two psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, conducted extensive research to examine and try to explain such apparently callous indifference to the suffering of another human being.  Over time, these and other researchers teased out several factors that will affect the likelihood of bystander intervention.

 

  • Diffusion of responsibility is one of the earliest and most powerful variables identified: the more people who are bystanding, the less likely it is that anyone will intervene.  Responsibility is diffused among all.
    • Contrarily, Philpot et al. just this year published the results examining real-life video recordings from three countries and found that someone intervened in over 90% of cases.  Even if the likelihood of any one person responding was infrequent, someone in the crowd intervened.

 

Note the lack of assistance offered by the bystander

  • Emergency vs. non-emergency situations. The following conditions are relevant.
    • Notice that something is going on.
    • interpret the situation as an emergency.  Others not reacting provides social influence against acting,
    • Feel responsible: does the victim deserve help, is the bystander competent, what is the bystander’s relationship to victim.
    • The form of assistance needed (e.g., medical emergency, harassment protection, etc.).
    • Implement the action choice.

CPR? Thermal blankets? Take away the vodka?

  • Ambiguity and consequences: ambiguous situations take up to five times as long to respond to, and even then bystanders will often not intervene until after assessing their own safety.

 

No one will slip or fall. There is no room to land.

  • Cohesiveness and group membership: the more cohesive a group, the more likely it is that the norm of social responsibility will lead to helping.  Bigger cohesive groups are quickest to react.

 

When punching a small child is perfectly acceptable

  • Cultural differences affect intervention—both broad/national culture and subculture.

 

Taking a photo is far more important than looking for survivors.

  • Digital interference is a relatively new phenomenon.  With the spread of cell phones and social media, bystanders at a scene are becoming more likely to try to film the incident (whether as “armchair activism” or simply to attract online attention) than they are to intervene or call for help.  This has the doubled impact of overloading nearby cell towers so that actual phone calls to emergency services are not connected.

Plus, it makes you look like a total jerk!

Bystander apathy can be counteracted by raising awareness of bystander effects ad consciously taking steps to overcome it and help; and victims can overcome the diffusion of responsibility in groups by singling out a single member and asking for help from that one person.

 

In 2011, Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square took turns forming protective circles to allow the others a safe place to pray.

Bottom line for writers: make your readers understand why your character does or does not intervene!

 

Any kind of intervention was clearly doomed.

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.

Besides the Cake: A Successful Book Launch Party

On Saturday I attended a great launch party for Deadly Southern Charm. Since then, I’ve mulled over what made that event such a success. Yes, there were refreshments, but that was just the icing on the cake, so to speak.

 

Before the main event. This book is an anthology, with stories by eighteen authors, so there was lots of online hype leading up to the event itself: Facebook, Twitter, etc. In this case, the authors did guest blogs as well. One way and another, invite anyone and everyone you know! The book’s contributors were actively engaged in this, and most were present to celebrate their success.

 

This launch was held at Libby Mill Library—just the right venue: not too big and cavernous, not cramped, with plenty of free parking. Libraries seem an obvious place for book launches, but depending on the book and author(s), it could be a school, bookstore, rented space, or private home.

 

Door prizes, while not strictly necessary, added to the party atmosphere. If I am recalling correctly, all of the giveaways were books, mostly by the authors who contributed to the anthology. The prizes were handled by Frances Aylor, president of the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime. As it happened, my name was the first one drawn, and I came away with a mystery by Lisa Scottoline that I’m greatly looking forward to reading.

 

Actually, for me, the meat of the event was the prepared remarks. In this case, it wasn’t the author(s) saying a bit about the work—although that’s a classic program. It was a panel of three experienced, successful writers examining the length of the work as it relates to publication.
Left to right: Lynn Cahoon focused on novellas and shorter novels; Barb Goffman discussed short stories; and Mary Burton addressed issues of longer novels. They provided lots of insights and shared experiences, everything from creating series characters to whether one needs an agent to how productive one must be to earn a living as a writer. Cahoon and Goffman contributed to the anthology and Burton is a co-editor.

 

The panel was well organized. Kris Kisska, program chair for SinC/CVA, moderated, presenting each panelist with questions appropriate to the area she was presenting. Between the great questions and the thorough answers, there were few questions left for the audience to ask! She also recognized and thanked everyone who worked behind the scenes to make the event such a success.

 

besides cake successful book launch party
There were plenty of books available for purchase. Fountain Bookstore is an indie here in Richmond that’s well-known for supporting local writers. They handled book sales at the launch. The most in-demand book was, of course, Deadly Southern Charm, but they also had other books by SinC members.

 

Last but not least, signing tables were set up around the periphery of the room so that all the contributors present could comfortably participate.

 

Bottom line: there you have it, a model for a successful launch party!
 
And if you want more options, including on-line book launch, just Google it.

Need Help with Summer Reading?

Last week I wrote about some of the classic books that PBS suggested people read (or love) the most. But if you’re looking for a new book or genre to read, Goodreads has a list of suggestions for you.

[Source: Goodreads]
Goodreads has brought in Lori Hettler, the founder and moderator of The Next Best Book Club, to put together a couple of curated lists of summer reading challenges. The two lists are broken up into sub-categories to help you make it through the challenge.

List 1: Beginner Level

  • Summer-related tasks
  • Tasks to stretch your comfort zone

List 2: Expert Level

  • June Reads
  • July Reads
  • August Reads
  • What to read during any month to stretch your reading comfort zones

These two lists include broader challenges (i.e., reading a book of poetry) to more specific tasks (i.e., reading a book that features a yellow, green, or “sandy” cover).

This could be a great challenge for people who feel like their reading list is lagging or that they’re stuck in a rut, reading in the same genre.

Have you started this Goodreads challenge? What list are you using and what reading task are you most looking forward to?

need help summer reading

Cathryn Hankla Returns to Richmond

cathryn hankla returns richmond
That’s an announcement I’d dearly love to see! Last night was her first reading and signing in Richmond and I, for one, want more. She read from her two newest books. She started with a selection from lost places: on losing and finding home which was released in April.

 

cathryn hankla lost places
It is a memoir in essay form. But unlike the many trauma memoirs out there, this is more an exploration of her life in relation to people and places. She uses home in both a physical and metaphorical sense, and much of what she writes speaks to all of us.I bought the book only last night, and so have not read most of it, but it’s jumped to the top of my list!

 

cathryn hankla galaxies
GALAXIES is a poetry collection published last year. She ended the reading with several selections, including “Galaxy of Virginia History”—both humorous and appalling.

 

Cathy’s writing often elicits adjectives such as droll, urgent, inventive, graceful, passionate, compassionate, unpredictable, and imaginative. She’s published more than a dozen books of poetry, short stories, novels, and now essays. Choose one and become a fan! (As you can tell, I’m one already.)
cathryn hankla published works
Among my favorites are Learning the Mother Tongue and FORTUNE TELLER MIRACLE FISHCathy is a fabulous storyteller! Both of these collections evoke her Appalachian Mountain roots—vividly, poignantly, and endearingly.

 

I actually met Susan Hankla first. I won’t go into that now, having recently blogged about Susan twice. It was in one of Susan’s classes that a fellow student suggested I attend a writing workshop at Nimrod Hall. As many of you know, I’ve been returning to Nimrod Hall since 2004, and intend to do so this year as well.

 

Main building Nimrod Hall
The main building of Nimrod Hall

That is when and where I met Cathy. It was immediately apparent that we have much in common. Besides our shared Appalachian roots, we both have been college professors and chaired our respective departments, albeit her department is English and Creative Writing and mine was Psychology.

writing workshop nimrod hall
Cathy Hankla in our workshop

Cathy conducts helpful and enjoyable writing workshops—which is why I go back year after year. No doubt she is an excellent classroom teacher as well, judging by students of hers who attended last night’s reading. She’s great at both big picture critique and detail editing.
 
cathryn hankla land between blue moon poorwater
 
If you are more inclined to novels than short stories, consider these. And  BTW, she’s poetry editor of The Hollins Critic. Bottom line: whatever your preference, give Cathy Hankla a read. Or a listen, if Richmond is so lucky as to get her back!

 

cathryn hankla returns richmond

Tai Chi and Qi Gong for Your Characters

Tai Chi Qi Gong
World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day was great!

 

The Opening Ceremony was an elaborate Lion Dance from Virginia Commonwealth University. Costumes for the Lion Dance Team and Panda were compliments of The Confucius Institute at William and Mary College. Great fun! It was long and strenuous—and I wonder what sort of college student would join such a team, and agree to perform during finals week.

 

Some of the demonstrations were more reminiscent of the martial arts origins of tai chi, including swords, spear, saber and push hands. A focus on the martial arts application might get your character into interesting situations.

 

But the most frequent application of both tai chi and qi gong is health. For example, one of the groups present was veterans, practicing at the VA Hospital in Richmond. They work with both physical recovery and PTSD sufferers. Do you have such a character?

 

Tai Chi Qi Gong
According to The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, more than 600 academic papers have reported the beneficial effects of tai chi and qi gong practice on physical and mental health. Among these are enhanced balance, flexibility, and agility; increased immunity, muscle strength and aerobic capacity; lower blood pressure, improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and weight loss. Arthritis is a case in point. One of the participants said that she’d been incapacitated by rheumatoid arthritis for years before taking up tai chi—and she moved beautifully.

 

Among the mental health benefits are lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety; increased mental clarity, focus, and positive thoughts; and a lower risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The practice of tai chi is often called meditation in motion. Maybe it should be called medication in motion. And it is a life-long activity, low impact and slow but as good for you as cross-fit. Do any of your characters have health problems? Why not give them some?
 

Tai Chi

tai chi
Come on down! I’m going to be there, performing tai chi moves and qigong breathing with other members from my class. Participants and watchers are welcome. There’s to be a lion dance in the opening.

 

I got involved in tai chi because I wanted to try something new and my sister-in-law had been practicing tai chi for years and telling me I should do the same. Now, this sister-in-law tends to think that everyone should think and do what she does—for she does things for good reasons. This is pretty much the first time I’ve succumbed.

 

So, tai chi is a Chinese martial art. (For alternative spellings of tai chi, go online.) Tai chi is practiced both for its defensive training and its health benefits.

 

tai chi
Tai chi, rooted in Taoist and Confucian Chinese philosophy, has been found to be beneficial for meditative movement and for general health. Focusing solely on the movements of the form bring mental calm and clarity, good for general health and stress management. The three main aspects are health, meditation, and the martial arts.

 

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My tai chi teacher explains the martial arts application, but the focus is on slow movement, meditation, and health. We also practice qigong breathing. Seated tai chi moves are suitable for older people. Research shows that seated tai chi can make big improvements to a person’s physical and mental well being, including improvements in balance, blood pressure, flexibility, muscle strength, peak oxygen intake, and and body fat percentages.

 

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Which brings us back to World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. It is the last Saturday in April, annually. At 10:00 a.m. local time, people participate alone or in groups. The idea is that the wave of energy and goodwill will circle the globe, starting in the earliest time zones of Samoa and then traveling around the world until it ends with events in the last time zones of Hawaii, almost an entire day.

 

One of the stated goals of the day is to provide a global vision of cooperation for health and healing purposes across geopolitical boundaries, and also an appeal to people worldwide to embrace wisdom from all the cultures of the world. Who can argue with that?

 

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One breath… One world.

Shot in the Arm

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I spent Saturday afternoon at the Bon Air Library at Mysterypalooza 2018.  A great afternoon to reconnect with my Sisters in Crime/CVA. I chatted with people I didn’t know heretofore. But of course, the real meat of the afternoon was the panel—a great group of women with dozens of books in print.
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Mary Burton moderated the panel deftly. The panel (not surprisingly) were articulate in discussing their varied pathways to publication. Some were traditionally published, some self-published, some both.
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Energy hummed through the room as the panelists assembled for the presentation. The audience contained many writers and aspiring writers, and topics covered included tips about agents, the pros and cons of each route to publication, and lots of insights into the varied methods of self-motivation and making time to write.

 

One particularly interesting tip: if you get stuck, take on the persona of one of the characters and write from that POV. I might not/probably won’t make it into the final book, but knowing your characters from the inside out makes the writing richer.

 

vivian lawry author mysterypalooza 2018
I wasn’t on the panel this time, but I was there to sign copies of Dark Harbor, Tiger Heart, and Mysteries Most Historical.

 

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My book signing gigs generally yield very little money, and this was no exception. BUT, talking to attendees, whether they buy books or not, is always a treat. As some (many?) of you know, I collect carved wooden Santas, now numbered more than 450. And now I’ve actually met Santa and Mrs. Claus! They are frequently cited during the season in Williamsburg, VA.
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AND I know what they do in the off-season: they attend Mysterypalooza!

 

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In fact, Santa is also a writer! And his fiction has nothing to do with Christmas. Check out Bradley Harper’s historical fiction, entangled with Sherlock Holmes.

 

[Source: Bradley Harper]
The event was rife with useful tidbits. Check out the MFA program at Full Sail. Check out Stumble Upon. Check out the Independent Authors Association and what they might do for you.
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Last but not least, the next Sisters in Crime/CVA anthology is now officially open for submissions. Check the website for requirements if you are interested.

 

Bottom line: there’s lots of local writing talent. Check them out!