L. T. RYAN: EVEN BEST SELLERS AREN’T PERFECT

L. T. Ryan burst onto the publishing scene in 2012 with the first two books in the best selling Jack Noble series (now numbering 16). With his skills in marketing and technology, he was able to self-publish successfully through Amazon books. Ryan’s writing skills landed him spots on the best-seller lists for Amazon and USA Today.

The following year was even more productive. Ryan published nine more books in 2013, including five volumes in the Jack Noble series. Because he was able to control every step of the publication process, Ryan was able to ensure that all of his works are made available simultaneously in audiobook, eBook, and Kindle format as well as in print.

The Depth of Darkness, also published in 2013, is the first installment in the Mitch Tanner series. The other books in this series (so far!) are Into the Darkness and Deliver Us from Darkness.

The Depth of Darkness is my focus here because it is a great example of good and (in my opinion) bad writing—and thus could serve as a writing lesson to us all!

RELAX: No spoiler alerts needed here. Indeed, I hope you will read L.T. Ryan’s works and let me know what you think.

“L.T.” Ryan has lived in various points in the Appalachians, including Georgia and Virginia, with his wife, three daughters, and one slightly psychologically unbalanced, but lovable dog. He enjoys writing fast paced suspense thrillers. When not staring out the window while pretending to write, he enjoys reading, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and spending time with the ladies in his life.

The Good

There’s a lot of it.

  • His plot here is complicated, with lots of threads that weave together in a believable pattern at the end. It revolves around two elementary school children kidnapped from the playground during recess.
  • His characters are interesting, well-drawn, and consistent, including the relatively minor ones (for example, Mitch Tanner’s mother). 
  • The two children, a really smart white girl and a black boy who suffers from asthma are best friends, perhaps initially based on both being outcasts. This cross-racial friendship is taken for granted/not a focal point for anyone, which I like. In addition, they are caring and protective of each other.
  • He avoids the stereotypes of the clingy, dependent female.
  • By and large, Ryan has created realistic children (even though occasionally the kidnapped girl seems resourceful beyond eight years old).
  • The interpersonal relationships appeal to me.
  • I like the balance between Tanner (who tends to be hot-headed and impulsive) and his partner, Sam (who supports Tanner while also providing a voice of reason/practicality.
  • Tanner and his pre-school daughter have a close, loving relationship—which is fresher than such a relationship between a father and a young son.
  • The sex scenes are handled well. I like that the sex is left to the reader’s imagination rather than being explicit to the point of causing one to wonder, “Could two people really do that?”

The Bad 

Although the issues described below distracted me from the reading experience, I greatly enjoyed the book. In fact, I liked The Depth of Darkness so much that I read the entire Mitch Tanner series!

Verbal Distractions

The specific one I noticed most was using “at” unnecessarily, as in, “Where are you at?” If it were only one character, it could be a character note. When multiple characters say it, it’s an author note.

The other thing that made me grimace was telling things implicit in the action. For example, when Tanner took his sunglasses off his head and dropped them in front of his eyes “to keep the sun out of his eyes.”  Sunglasses blocking bright sunlight is assumed. A reason to don sunglasses only needs to be mentioned when it’s something else, like hiding the emotion that might be revealed.

Other examples would be unlocking the door and then opening it, or describing how he kicked the door open, then reversed the action to kick it shut again.

Repetitious Actions

Mitch Tanner sweats—copiously and often. The reader gets many descriptions of how and with what he wipes the sweat from his brow. Also described often is the following relief of a blast of AC or cool air from the open refrigerator.

Tanner drinks beer and eats pizza so often one would think they are two of the basic food groups. So, okay. But everyone else seems to pick-up, order, make, or have pizza on hand, too. Why not cold chicken or leftover tuna salad sometimes?

Work calls in the night all seem to come at 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning.

Overall 

I recommend L. T. Ryan, because of the “good” stuff mentioned above. Also, I’m a series junkie, and he has a lot of those out there. AND, I didn’t notice the “bad” stuff cited above in all his books (for example, the Rachel Hatch series). 

In 2013, Ryan was a (relatively) inexperienced writer, and one would expect improvement with experience.

Bottom line: Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth reading, so keep at it.

L.T. Ryan’s Works

Jack Noble: Because Bear Logan and Jack Noble’s stories overlap so much, L.T. Ryan has suggested the following reading order to encompass both series.

  • The Prequels
    • The Recruit
    • The First Deception
  • The Early Years
  • The Noble Sagas
    • Noble Intentions (Jack Noble 4)
    • When Dead in Greece (Jack Noble 5)
    • Noble Retribution (Jack Noble 6)
    • Noble Betrayal (Jack Noble 7)
    • Never Go Home (Jack Noble 8)
    • Beyond Betrayal (Jack Clarissa)
    • Noble Judgment (Jack Noble 9)
    • Never Cry Mercy (Jack Noble 10)
    • Deadline (Jack Noble 11)
    • Noble Ultimatum (Jack Noble 13)
    • Noble Legend (Jack Noble 14) – Pre-order

Rachel Hatch

  • Drift
  • Downburst
  • Fever Burn
  • Smoke Signal
  • Firewalk
  • Whitewater
  • Aftershock
  • Whirlwind

Blake Brier

  • Unmasked
  • Unleashed
  • Uncharted
  • Drawpoint
  • Contrail

Mitch Tanner

  • The Depth of Darkness
  • Into the Darkness
  • Deliver Us from Darkness

Cassie Quinn

  • Path of Bones
  • Whisper of Bones
  • Symphony of Bones
  • Etched in Shadow
  • Concealed in Shadow

Affliction Z

  • Patient Zero
  • Abandoned Hope
  • Descended in Blood
  • Fractured
    • Part 1
    • Part 2
  • Coming Soon: The Sickness of Ron Winters

BEACH READS 2021

I blogged about beach reads (i.e., anything read at the beach) in 2016, 2018, and 2019. I was in the Rocky Mountains in 2017, and we all know what didn’t happen in 2020. But here’s this year’s take on what people actually read at the beach. These 16 people are ages 12 to 90, and 8 are female. FYI, some raved about their reads; no one said, “Don’t bother.”

Here, in the order people wrote them down, with writers’ comments where noted

Volume 1 of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime 
Cover artist: Mitz Vah

And some people don’t choose what they’ll be reading at the beach. Work demands, school demands, parenting demands… Does reading the newspaper count as pleasure reading or required reading?

  • Student papers to grade
  • Reports for work, if the internet connection cooperates
  • Legal something-or-other for an upcoming court appearance
  • Coursework for Continuing Education requirements
  • Comparing textbooks for homeschooling
  • Manuscripts to edit

And there you have it folks: 16 people, 25 books (and other reading materials)—plus turtle viewing, boogie-boarding, brewery touring, thrift shopping, sewing, story telling, cooking, euchre, dancing, cribbage, Mexican Train Dominoes, hair, makeup, nails…

Bottom Line: Yep, lots to do at the beach—but don’t leave home without at least one good read!

READING HABITS: EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE ONE!

Most medical professionals agree that a reading habit is much healthier than a cocaine habit or a heroin habit (the ones that don’t are the same dentists who don’t suggest brushing your teeth).  For one thing, reading is good for your physical and mental health.  You probably know at least some of these benefits of reading every day, but just to review briefly:

  1. Improves brain connectivity
  2. Increases vocabulary
  3. Increases comprehension
  4. Readers are more able to empathize with others
  5. Aids sleep readiness (if it’s a physical book)
  6. Reduces stress
  7. Lowers blood pressure
  8. Lowers heart rate
  9. Helps reduce depression
  10. Reduces cognitive decline with aging
  11. Lengthens lifespan 

So, everyone should read, and it should start at an early age. According to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, parents should start reading to/with their children from infancy through elementary school years.

  • Builds warm, happy associations with books
  • Increases the likelihood that kids will enjoy reading in the future
  • Reading at home boosts school performance later on
  • Increases vocabulary
  • Raises self-esteem 
  • Builds good communication skills
  • Physically strengthens the human brain
  • Builds attention span

What Should You Be Reading? 

Eating a book ensures full absorption and comprehension.

Whatever you can get your hands on!  Even before they know how to read, children will learn reading habits such as which way to hold a book and finding familiar pictures or letters on a page. It’s important to expose kids to books both above and within their current reading ability, in a wide variety of genres.

If you want some guidance on what is age-appropriate for children, you can get advice on-line and/or in actual books.  Each grade level in school typically requires students to pass reading skill tests before passing to the next level. Libraries are an excellent resource for book suggestions for children of any age or reading ability.

Every child learns differently and at a different pace. Whether in real life or in your writing, it is entirely too easy to limit children by expected levels or shame a child for not conforming to expectations.

Types of Readers

When it comes to reading habits, to each his or her own.  To use a biology analogy, the “family” of readers includes numerous “genera.” In some instances, there are even “species.”

Just about every reader belongs to more than one species to a greater or lesser degree. Many people adjust their reading habits as circumstances allow, changing when children are born or a job change requires a different commuting style.

High Need-for-Achievement Readers 
Whoever has to read this should be paid. Well paid.

These readers read almost exclusively within their professional area, e.g., mathematics journals or business publications or medical research papers, etc. These readers may or may not enjoy their reading, but they read nonetheless. Some professions, such as teachers and paramedics, require continual study and testing to maintain up-to-date certifications to practice.

OCD Readers 

If you start a book, you finish that book, no matter what. Anything else feels like failure. For more information about the difference between obsessive compulsive disorder and quirky fixations, check out this post I wrote about the character possibilities of each.

Spiritual Readers 
Alcoholics Anonymous encourages its members to read from a variety of religious and philosophical texts as part of completing the program.

Although this group includes those who read (and study) the Bible, it also includes anyone whose goal is spiritual enlightenment and growth.  Many Muslims read and recite the entire Qur’an during Ramadan every year as a form of meditation. Writings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh are widely read by people of many faiths.

Book Groupies 
The dog is always a receptive audience but usually doesn’t contribute much to the discussion.

These readers want someone to talk with about their reads—which can be more or less academic. Depending on how books are chosen, they are likely to end up reading things they would never have chosen for themselves, which can be good—or not so much. Book groups often have a specific focus, such as current fiction, or botany books, i.e., anything from the genre preferences.

Friends’ Reads 

Much like a book group, except it’s whatever one’s bridge buddies, neighbors, family members, et al. are reading, recommending, and/or lending. Depending on the interests of friends, this can lead to a very eclectic reading list. Reading what friends recommend or enjoy can strengthen social bonds by encouraging discussion of books read in common.

Bestseller Addicts 
Many libraries create their own best-seller (best-borrowed?) collections.

These readers are up-to-the-minute at the water-cooler and/or cocktail hour. They often operate on the presumption that if it appeals to enough people to be a bestseller, a book will appeal to themselves as well. The traditional gold standard here is The New York Times. The Times tracks the following categories:

  • Hardcover fiction
  • Hardcover nonfiction
  • Combined print & e-book
  • Paperback trade fiction
  • Combined print & e-book
  • Paperback nonfiction

Note: These bestsellers divisions take account of readers’ format preferences and allow for combining with one’s genre preferences.

Genre Loyalists 

These people know what they like and stick to it: a genre is characterized by similarities of form, style, or subject matter. Accordingly, pretty much any category of book is a genre—and I’m probably missing some here, but you get the idea:

  • Literary fiction 
  • Mystery/detective fiction 
  • Thriller
  • Horror
  • Historical fiction
  • Romance
  • Humor
  • Western
  • Bildungsroman
  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy/fairy tales
  • Magical realism
  • Biography
  • Autobiography
  • Memoir
  • Exposé/tell-all
  • Creative non-fiction
  • Nature writing
  • Environmental activism
Genre Junkies 

Often read more than one book a day, limited to a specific genre, sometimes a limited number of preferred authors.  Genre Junkies tend to prefer genres in which a plethora of books are available. A fan of books about Arctic Circle Siberian reptile varieties is likely to run out of material much more quickly than a fan of paranormal dystopian romance fantasy books.

Binge Readers

Exactly what it sounds like. These people often skip meals and sleep when a book is particularly hard to put down. Accomplished binge readers may even learn to walk, dress, cook, and feed the dog without putting down the book in their hand.

The Eclectic 

Reads anything and everything: blogs, poetry, nature, non-fiction, fiction, sci-fi, or whatever. An interesting book from thirty years ago is no lower on the list than the absolute latest best-seller. Eclectics are often bright, inquisitive, and frequent readers.

Ping-Ponging

Some readers have multiple books going and bounce back and forth among them. The bedside book, the lunch break book, the evening book, the boring book they know they should read for some obligation but just can’t seem to make it through… I haven’t seen any formal studies on the subject, but I would imagine that ping-ponging readers would be very good at multi-tasking.

Mini-Readers
Mini Reader and Micro Reader?

Some people have such packed schedules, they can seldom read for more than fifteen minutes at a time. A person who is able to keep track of characters and plotlines despite snatching only small doses has to have a pretty-good memory.

Night Readers

Generally caretakers or parents, some readers have to wait until their charges are asleep before picking up a book. Parenting and caregiving are both stressful occupations, and reading during naptime or after bedtime can provide absolutely necessary stress relief for Night Readers.

Self-Rewarders

Some people use reading as a form of reward, much as others might promise themselves a piece of chocolate or pair of shoes for completing an unpleasant task. Anyone who enjoys reading could be a self-rewarder: a doctor can only read the latest sci-fi bestseller after reading the latest medical journals; a parent can only read after finishing the laundry; a binge reader has to put the book down until dinner is finished.

Strugglers
Will Smith is just one of many dyslexics who encourage others to keep reading despite the difficulty.

As a visitor to a blog about writing and reading, you are probably someone who enjoys reading on some level. However, reading is difficult and not enjoyable for many adults. Some researchers estimate that 1 in 7 adults in the US are functionally illiterate; dyslexia, disrupted schooling, dyspraxia, and many other reasons could lead to a person reaching adulthood with only enough reading skill to be able to function in society.

When? Where?

Besides what we read, our reading habits include when and where we read.

  • Transit readers: they read on planes, trains, automobiles, and subways. Very careful transit readers may be able to read while walking; audio books make this much easier.
  • Bed-time readers: exactly what it sounds like.
  • TV readers: while one’s partner/house mate/family members watch something unappealing on TV, they hang out companionably and read.
  • Vacation readers: weekends, holidays, and vacations, kicking back with a good book. 
    • Not recommended because it isn’t daily.
  • Boredom readers: any waiting room or line that goes on forever.

Modern Options

Last but not least, how do we read?  Today there are more options than ever. There’s no reason not to read every day! The three basic options:

This seems a tad irresponsible…
  • Physical books: the traditional option, most researched, with best/most positive effects on health
  • E-books (available on devices from smart phones to tablets to computers to dedicated devices such as Kindle and Nook). Often the choice of people with vision issues (any book can be LARGE PRINT), frequent travelers (who once went abroad with a dozen books or more weighing down the luggage), and anyone who likes having a light-weight, portable library at hand.
  • Audio books: the choice for someone who wants to do something else simultaneously (e.g., go to sleep, knit, make dinner). Can contribute to distracted driving, so don’t do that while behind the wheel. Audio books are also indispensable for people with impaired vision.
Do other formats have the same health benefits of physical books? 
It’s clear from this child’s reckless and dangerous nighttime e-reading that someone has not kept up with their subscription to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

A study by Beth Rogowsky at Bloomsburg University “found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously” using e-readers—and the test was limited to comprehension. It’s too complicated to get into here, but you can check it out. By and large, the effects of reading physical books daily are well-documented. E-books offer some but not all of those benefits. Audiobooks are the great unknown.

Bottom line: develop or nurture your daily reading habits. There is much evidence that it’s good for you, and no negative side effects on record.

FINDING THE LOST GENERATION

The Lost Generation is a term sometimes used for the post-World War I generation overall, but more frequently it refers to a group of American writers who became adults during or shortly after World War I.  They established their literary reputations in the 1920s and 1930s.  In France, these writers were sometimes referred to as Génération du feu, the “(gun)fire generation.”

Gertrude Stein is credited for coining the term Lost Generation, but Ernest Hemingway made it widely known. According to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964), Stein had heard it used by a garage owner in France, who dismissively referred to the younger generation as a “génération perdue.” In conversation with Hemingway, she turned that label on him and declared, “You are all a lost generation.” He used her remark as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel that captures the attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living set of disillusioned young expatriates in postwar Paris.

Andre Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism 1924

The generation was “lost” in the sense that it dismissed the values of the older generation no longer relevant in the postwar world. Though the change in artistic expression took place in many creative outlets and focused in several regions, the “Lost Generation” is generally used to refer in particular to American writers living in Paris between the World Wars. Many of these authors felt an alienation from a United States that, under Pres. Warren G. Harding’s “back to normalcy” policy, seemed to these writers to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren.  

Max Beckmann The Night (Die Nacht) 1918-1919

The First World War was the first time in history that chemicals and machines capable of inflicting mass carnage were widely used. Instead of charges and sorties like “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” infantry soldiers in trench warfare spent weeks at a time in close quarters with the bodies of their former allies, following futile battle strategies designed for previous wars and weapons. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals.

This change in values and social expectations is reflected in the language used by authors between the World Wars. Paul Fussel, author of The Great War and Modern Memory (Fussell, Paul, 1924-2012. © Oxford University Press.) illustrates the difference between “raised, essentially feudal language” used before the War and the more prosaic vocabulary used after. Foe became enemy; perish became die; warrior became soldier; vanquish became conquer; assail became attack; ashes or dust became dead bodies.

George Grosz “Grey Day” 1921

Everything that was traditionally structured or confining was stripped, allowing artists of all sorts to build new styles. Composers wrote without the usual chord progressions and cadences; they experimented with new types of ensembles or juxtaposed odd instruments. Dancers took off their pointe shoes and combined ballet with folk styles from India and South America. Women cut their hair short and loosened their corsets.

In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a big year: he published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, his first collection of short fiction, Flappers and Philosophers and his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” was published in The Saturday Evening Post that May.

George Barbier “AuRevoir” 1920

The term embraces Gertrude Stein, Ernest HemingwayF. Scott FitzgeraldJohn Dos PassosE.E. CummingsArchibald MacLeishHart Crane, T.S. Eliot, and other writers who made Paris the center of their literary activities in the 1920s. They were acquainted and crossed each other in Europe, but often had rocky relationships.

Kate O’Connor (Lost Generation by Kate O’Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK) identified three themes of Lost Generation work. I quote her here.

Decadence – Consider the lavish parties of James Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or those thrown by the characters in his Tales of the Jazz Age. Recall the aimless traveling, drinking, and parties of the circles of expatriates in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. With ideals shattered so thoroughly by the war, for many, hedonism was the result. Lost Generation writers revealed the sordid nature of the shallow, frivolous lives of the young and independently wealthy in the aftermath of the war. 

Costumes designed by Salvador Dali for the ballet Mysteria

Gender roles and Impotence – Faced with the destruction of the chivalric notions of warfare as a glamorous calling for a young man, a serious blow was dealt to traditional gender roles and images of masculinity. In The Sun Also Rises, the narrator, Jake, literally is impotent as a result of a war wound, and instead it is his female love Brett who acts the man, manipulating sexual partners and taking charge of their lives. Think also of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Prufrock’s inability to declare his love to the unnamed recipient. 

Women Tango postcards by Suzanne Meunier

Idealised past – Rather than face the horrors of warfare, many worked to create an idealised but unattainable image of the past, a glossy image with no bearing in reality. The best example is in Gatsby’s idealisation of Daisy, his inability to see her as she truly is, and the closing lines to the novel after all its death and disappointment: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther… And one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

From the television adaptation of Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford

Kirk Curnutt, author of several books about the Lost Generation writers suggested that they were expressing mythologized versions of their own lives.

In an interview for The Hemingway Project, Curnutt said: “They were convinced they were the products of a generational breach, and they wanted to capture the experience of newness in the world around them. As such, they tended to write about alienation, unstable mores like drinking, divorce, sex, and different varieties of unconventional self-identities like gender-bending.”

Bottom line for writers: it’s been 100 years, but their work shouldn’t be lost. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Find yourself a Lost Generation writer to enjoy. 

Gassed by John Singer Sargent

LOVING OLD BOOKS

This glass-fronted secretary is full of old books—cookbooks and books on household management and helpful hints. When I open the doors, the smell of old books—so different from the smell of a library—always makes me smile.

Instructions For Cookery, In Its Various Branches, By Miss Leslie is dated 1843. This is the 17th edition (!) “with improvements and supplementary receipts.” As far as I know, it is my oldest book. I say, “As far as I know” because not all old books are dated. For example, this 64-page relic was printed in Edinburgh, sometime before 1890.

Books of this sort are my first collection, and still the most numerous. In the beginning I bought books like High-Class Cookery Made Easy by Mrs. Hart for what was on the printed page: how things used to be done. I found the recipes fascinating: instructions to  “assemble the [cake] ingredients in the usual way”; lists of ingredients with no measurements. (Fanny Farmer [see below]first introduced standard measurements in 1896.)

When I open a book of great (by my amateur standards) age, I like to ponder what sorts of women might have owned and used it over the decades. This copy of Mrs. Crowen’s American Ladies’ System of Cookery cookbook is inscribed Mrs. Dr. S.  S. Fitch, May 18th, 1860. It reminds me of the German practice of addressing someone as Herr Doctor Professor So-and-so. Might she be of German background?

The books printed in the 1880s and more recently are much more likely to be in good condition. Then, as now, once one made a name for oneself, more book deals followed.  Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion and Miss Parloa’s New Cookbook and Marketing Guide are early examples of this.

Perhaps the best example is Fanny Merritt Farmer. She paid Little, Brown, and Company to publish her Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1896.  My earliest copy is from 1904. By then, it had been copyrighted 1896, 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1903. The flyleaf of my copy says it is revised with an appendix of three hundred recipes, and an addenda of sixty recipes. (Note the modern spelling of recipe.) She is listed as the author of Chaffing-Dish Possibilities and Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent.

I have a copy of the latter, as well as What to Have for Dinner, copyrighted 1904, 1905, 1907,  and 1905, respectively.  The Fanny Farmer Cookbook is still popular today.

Sir Terry Pratchett

But It’s More Than Just Old Cookbooks For Me

Over the years, I’ve replaced numerous paperbacks with older hard-copy editions of favorite books. I like the worn covers and brittle, yellowed pages.

They remind me of reading books of fairy tales and the Ruth Fielding series from the early 20th Century at my grandmother’s house.  It turns out that I’m not alone. Scent carries powerful psychological meaning for people—and triggers memories that otherwise are not readily available.

Many people, perhaps most, like the smell of old books. Science tells us that as books decompose over time, they emit a smell from decaying volatile organic compounds, very similar to chocolate and coffee! This is one time I really don’t need to know why I like something, just that I do.

My most recently acquired old book, 1904, came along with my most recent obsession: Bird Neighbors!

Bottom line for writers: smell an old book and feel uplifted!

Terry Pratchett’s Younger Readers

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and avid (some might say rabid) fan of everything contributed to the world by the late, great Terry Pratchett.

Sir Terence David John Pratchett, OBE (28 April 1948 – 12th March 2015) was one of the most prolific and popular fantasy and humor authors of all time. His first story was published when he was thirteen years old, and his numerous novels, short stories, and collaborations have since been translated into 37 languages.

Despite leaving school early to work as a journalist, Sir Terry has been awarded honorary doctorates by ten universities. His work has earned him Skylark Awards, Locus Awards, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Order of the British Empire, and knighthood from the Queen of England.

Of all the honors and recognitions he earned in his career, Sir Terry always said that the one he was most proud of was The Carnegie Medal given for his young adult novel The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents in 2001.

The panel judging the 2001 Carnegie selection was unanimous. Karen Usher, Chair of the Panel, said, “This is an outstanding work of literary excellence: a brilliant twist on the tale of the Pied Piper that is funny and irreverent, but also dark and subversive. It is a rich multi-layered story with a pacy plot and excellent characterisation. Terry Pratchett uses his trademark wit and humour to question our society’s attitudes and behaviour in a way that is totally accessible for children of 10 years and over.

The Discworld series, with books about dragons, police, witches, trolls, the postal system, and werewolves, also contains five stories about a young witch in training. Tiffany Aching is an admirable role model for readers of any age, and she has four Locus Awards attached to her book covers.

One of the reasons Sir Terry’s books for children and young adults are so good is that they are not exclusively for children and young adults. My copies of Nation, Dodger, The Bromeliad, and Only You Can Save Mankind are on the same shelf as my copies of Wyrd Sisters and Good Omens.

Pratchett has other worlds less extensively mined, notably the Earth of the early 1990s. Ostensibly he writes about this for younger readers; the adult books have longer words and the juvenile fiction shorter sentences, but they are otherwise interchangeable….

Rupert Goodwin in The Times 5.3.94

Few authors speak with the same voice to children and grown-ups alike, but Terry Pratchett does. His first novel, The Carpet People, written originally for children, was recently back on the adult bestseller list. In fact, all his children’s books have been on the adult best-seller lists, which must make him unique in publishing annals.

SHE Magazine

Tiffany Aching is not a Chosen One. She has no special birthmark or secret royal lineage. No one gave her a special quest; no mysterious stranger asked her to guard a magic talisman. And that is part of what makes Tiffany Aching such a relatable character for younger readers.

She chooses to fight her battles because no one else will. She earns her place among the witches by being stubborn and paying attention. Wee Free Men, the first book starring Tiffany, discusses serious issues like the death of her grandmother and class divisions. Anyone can grow up to be a Tiffany Aching.
.

Many of Sir Terry’s books for younger readers touch on this same theme of paying attention to what is happening and dealing with the problem in front of you. Masklin in Truckers and Mau in Nation are faced with tragedies and then go about finding a way to fix them simply because no one else will. In addition to being incredibly fun to read, Sir Terry’s books for younger readers present them with role models for real problem-solving.

Despite the lessons in his children’s books, Sir Terry never preached to his audience. Characters learned by making mistakes, by suffering (sometimes terrible) consequences, by finding another way to accomplish what they needed to accomplish.

In The Bromeliad, the nome Masklin has to convince an entire colony of nomes that they need to pack up and leave behind everything they’ve ever known. The entire world outside their home is a terrifying idea (that may not even be real), and the hero has to create reasonable arguments and persuade his elders that not following him will result in the death of every member of society. Despite the imminent annihilation, the series is funny to read and ultimately leaves the audience with the idea that looking beyond the horizon, listening to others, and working together might not be such a bad idea.

The function of humour is to help us cope with the dark side of life; Terry Pratchett is worth a dozen psychotherapists. David V.Barrett in New Statesman and Society

I have trouble reading Sir Terry’s books to my nieces because they are so good. Bedtime stories take a lot longer to finish when the orator has to keep stopping to laugh. The entire bedtime routine takes longer when the bedtime story leads to a discussion of why no one wanted to help a certain character or why people are mean when there isn’t even a reason!

As the little readers get older and learn to read the longer books, I expect many more questions I’m not really able to answer. Sir Terry discussed religion, death, prejudice, responsibility, and a million other topics I’m sure I’ll be unprepared for.

Sir Terry has provided hours of entertainment to millions of readers around the world. His work has been adapted for theater, for radio, for television and movies, and for all sort of video and board games. Most recently, Good Omens was produced as a mini-series for the BBC. And he was always happy to help other writers, funding scholarships and first novel prizes, and giving numerous interviews about writing.

He was diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy in 2007 and passed away in March of 2015. The Glorious 25th of May (a reference to the futile Treacle Mine Road Revolution in the novel Nightwatch) has been designated by fans as a day to honor Sir Terry Pratchett’s work and legacy by wearing lilacs and donating to fund Alzheimer’s research. The ripples he caused in the world are not likely to fade away any time soon.

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RATS: WHO KNEW?

And who would want to?  

The Country Rat and the Town Rat

Writers, that’s who. Rats have long been characters—sometimes major—in literature old and new. Fables from around the world feature rats/mice and the moral usually relates to survival in one form or another.  In these fables, rats are often presented as clever and resourceful. Aesop’s Fables, the Fables of Bidpai, and Panchatantra all feature rats involved in moral lessons.

In some languages, rats and mice are interchangeable. When there is a distinction made, rats usually come off worse. In fiction and in popular consciousness, rats are almost always portrayed as more devious or dirty than mice.

Rats are extremely important in Chinese mythology. The rat is the first of twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac, corresponding to Sagitarius.  Both are assigned the traits of creativity, hard work, generosity, and optimism.

The Year of the Rat is reputed to be one of prosperity and hard work. FYI: 2020 is a year of the rat.  The rat rules daily from 11:00 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. and its season is winter. 

N.B. writers: if you are inclined to write a rat fable, this might be the place to start.

The German cover is so much more horrifying.

Often rats are included in stories to add a touch of horror to scenes involving dungeons, torture chambers, vampires, the unknown… Authors from Edgar Allen Poe (“The Pit and the Pendulum“), to George Orwell (1984) to Stephen King (“Graveyard Shift” and “1922,” for example) have made effective use of rats. Shakespeare included rats in eight of his plays. Perhaps the epitome of horror would be The Coming of the Rats by George H. Smith (1961), suggesting the aftermath of the H-bomb.

And of course, if it’s in books, it’s in movies as well. Think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Some movies, such as Ratatouille, Chicken Run, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Flushed Away, include rat characters who are funny and likeable in addition to being clever. Willard, Of Unknown Origin, and The Missing are Deadly are horror movies that focus on twisted relationships between humans and rats. Many films, especially The Food of the Gods, Deadly Eyes, Rodentz, and Rats: Night of Terror, focus on swarms of rats pitted against humanity.

Rats and mice are depicted very differently in The Secret of NIMH.

If you do write about rats, it may help to know the terminology.

  • A group of rats — a mischief
  • Male rat — buck
  • Female rat — doe
  • Infants — pups or kittens
  • Musophobia (suriphobia) — fear of rats and mice

Rats have such a horrific reputation that threats of being eaten, taken, overrun, etc., by rats are a common tool used around the world to frighten naughty children into better behavior. In Canada—Newfoundland—rat threats were second only to bear threats, and twice as frequent as big fish (in third place out of seven). 

Writers consider the possibilities: “I’ve got an attic/cellar full of rats for naughty little girls and boys like you.”

As mentioned above, rats are often depicted as smart, and turn up in unexpected places. Consider this poem by Emily Dickinson:

The rat is the concisest tenant.
He pays not rent—
Repudiates the obligation,
On schemes intent.
Balking our wit
To sound or circumvent,
Hate cannot harm
A foe so reticent.
Neither decree
Prohibits him,
Lawful as
Equilibrium.

Emily Dickinson

Rat Facts 

A Rat King was a group of rats whose tails were knotted together, often ascribed mystical powers by rat catchers.
  • Rats are everywhere in the world except Antarctica, where it’s too cold for them to survive outside and there are too few humans to provide for them.
    • In some places, especially islands, aggressive rat control policies have reclaimed the land.
  • Rats are one of the world’s worst invasive species.
    • Transported around the world on ships, rats have been credited with the extinction of untold number of small native animals and birds.
New York City rats can take down pigeons.
  • Rats often live with and near humans (commensals).
  • Rats carry many zoonotic pathogens, all sorts from The Black Death to foot-and-mouth disease.
  • Many rats in the wild live only about a year due to predation.
  • By and large, rat vocalizations are pitched beyond the range of human hearing.
  • Rats have been kept as pets at least since the late 1800s, most often brown rat species, and are no more of a health risk than cats or dogs.
  • Rats are omnivorous.
    • Rats are cannibals.
Rats made of food?

Rats as Food 

The Bible forbids eating rats, and  parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, consider rat meat to be diseased, unclean, and socially unacceptable. Islam, Kashrut, the Shipibo people of Peru and the Sironó people of Bolivia all have strong taboos against eating rats. However the high number of rats and/or a limited food supply have brought rats into the diets of both humans and pets worldwide.

  • Human food
    • Rat meat is part of the cuisines of Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand.
    • National Geographic (March 14, 2019) featured Vietnamese rat meat.
    • In India, rats are essential to the traditional Mishmi diet, for women are allowed to eat only fish, pork, wild birds, and rats. In the Musahar community, rats are farmed as an exotic delicacy.
    • Aboriginal Australians’ diet regularly included rats, as did traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.
    • Rice field rats were an original component of paella in Valencia (the rat later replaced by rabbit, seafood, or chicken). These rats were also eaten in the Philippines and Cambodia.
    • Rich people ate rat pie in England in Victorian times, and others ate rats during the World Wars when food was strictly rationed.
    • Alcoholic rats trapped in wine cellars in France became part of a regional delicacy – grilled rats, Bordeaux-style.
    • Rat stew was (and maybe still is) eaten in West Virginia.
Remy insists that rat food of any kind must be properly seasoned.
  • Animal food
    • Snakes, both wild and pets, eat rats and mice. The rats are available to snake owners both live and frozen. However, in Britain, feeding any live mammal to another animal is against the law.
    • When included in pet food, rats are counted as “cereals” in the ingredients list.

Rat Contributions to Science 

The first rat research I know of was conducted at Clark University (Worcester, MA) in 1895. Since then, rats have been used to study disease transmission, genetics, effects of diet, cardiovascular conditions, and drug effects. 

Psychologists have studied rats to further our understanding of learning, intelligence, drug abuse, ingenuity, aggressiveness, adaptability, and the effects of overcrowding (the “behavioral sink”).

Working Rats

Besides acting in movies, rats are good a sniffing out gunpowder residue, land mines, and tuberculosis. They also can be trained for animal-assisted therapy. 

N.B. writers: consider a PI or amateur detective who has a trained rat sidekick!

The stereotypic rat: Besides the horror aspects of ratness, their image is mainly that of pest. 

They infest urban areas, particularly multi-family housing. They like areas with access to food, water, and a moderate environment, such as under sinks, near garbage, in walls, cabinets, or drawers.

In rural areas, rats are a threat to both grain supplies and small birds. (Think chicks.) They live in fields, barns, cellars, basements, and attics. 

And as with so many things, rats are a bigger bane for the poor, whether rural or urban.  Picture this: a baby crib is set in the middle of a room, all four legs in buckets of water to try to keep rats and mice from climbing into the crib. Meanwhile, beady eyes stare from darkened corners.

Rat in Everyday Language 

Any way you cut it, rat is not positive.

Rats shredded nearly $19,000 worth of rupees in a safe in India in 2018.
  • Noun: backstabber, betrayer, blabbermouth, canary, deep throat, double-dealer, fink, informant, sneak, snitch, source, squealer, stoolie, stool pigeon, tattler, turncoat, whistle-blower.
    • In unionized workplaces, anyone who doesn’t pay dues and/or crosses picket lines is called a rat.
  • Verb: the act of doing any of the above.
Master Splinter is living proof that rats can train turtles and fight ninjas!
  • Rats!—exclamation of surprise, frustration 
  • Drowned rat
  • Gutter rat
  • Mall rat
  • Rat’s ass (as in, I don’t give a…)
  • Rat faced
  • Rat fink
  • Rat hole
  • Rat king
  • Rat’s nest (hair or residence)
  • Rat pack
  • Rat race
  • Rats from a sinking ship
  • Rat tail (hairstyle)
  • Rat tail comb
  • Ratted hair
  • Rat trap
  • Ratty
  • Smell a rat

Bottom line for writers: it’s worth your while to know about rats!

W.H.O. Let the Dogs Out?

These dogs are better at social distancing than most humans I know.

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, turtle lover, and dutiful servant of a fluffy tyrant masquerading as a dog.

By this point, most of us have seen something in our lives change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we understand (at least a bit) why things have changed. Our animal companions just see that the humans’ behaviors are suddenly different.

“Humans are staying in these circles, so I guess I’ll stay in a circle. Do I get treats now?”

Despite various quarantine and lockdown orders around the world, animals dependent on humans still need care. Many zoos and animal parks house animals that cannot be released into the wild because they were born in captivity, they are still recovering from injuries, their homes have been destroyed, or other circumstances that prevent them being able to thrive. Animal shelters, zoos, rescue and rehabilitation centers, and emergency veterinarians have adjusted to provide food, socialization, attention, playtime, and everything else to keep their charges happy.

Zoos have closed to the public, but zookeepers are still reporting for work. Some keepers have temporarily moved into the zoos themselves to be closer to their charges and to avoid any chance of carrying any infections into the zoo or home to their families. They’re camping in the cafeterias and staying in veterinary isolation huts.

In Cornwall, England, four keepers at Paradise Park have moved into the original house of the family that owned the property. Other keepers rotate in and out to assist, maintaining a strict schedule so that they are not in the zoo at the same time.

Without visitors around all the time, zookeepers have more freedom to take animals to visit their friends in other areas of the parks.

Because most zoos are making do with skeleton crews, keepers don’t have as much time as they’d like to play with the animals in their care. Many animals have been taking their own tours around zoos to see each other and keep each other entertained. (That doesn’t mean that bunnies have been jumping into the lion pens to say hello.)

The tamer animals have been allowed to wander the parks freely while there are no visitors. Territorial animals like geese have taken over bridges and tried to block keepers from crossing to feed other animals. Many zookeepers report that the more social animals still follow them around during rounds, without any leads or harness.

Some animals have left the zoo altogether and gone to explore the world. Peacocks from the Bronx Zoo took a stroll through Prospect Park.

Police in a closed park in Houston helped a gaggle of ducklings find their way back to their mother.

This cockatoo learned how to sing “Row row row your boat” and loves to sing along with kids who come by her enclosure. Without her backup singers, she has started humming to herself in the quiet. Zookeepers report that they can sometimes hear her start the song by herself but trail off sadly when no one joins in.

Without visitors to interact with, many animals are behaving differently. Keepers try to give each animal extra attention during feeding and rounds, but it’s hard to replace a steady stream of admirers. Some animals miss the interaction and get very excited to see anyone. Other animals feel more comfortable without an audience and venture out of hiding spaces more regularly.

Zookeepers come up with activities to keep animals entertained and socialized. Gorillas who regularly mirror gestures and pose for selfies with visitors are shown videos of people talking to them. Leopards at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY have to “hunt” for food in cardboard tubes to keep teeth and jaws strong.

Polar bear cubs at Ouwehands Zoo Rhenen in Holland didn’t have to worry about public crowds when they left the maternity den for the first time.

Snakes, alligators, stingrays, etc. haven’t shown any sign that they’ve even noticed a change. However, one zookeeper noticed that some types of fish have become very attention-seeking.

Veterinarians at the Dubai Camel Hospital in Abu Dhabi have kept their enclosures open to treat their patients. After surgery, the very large patients need plenty of space and lots of help to get over that first hump in their recovery. (Ha! I crack myself up!)

Q: Where does the 800 lb gorilla sit for surgery?
A: Wherever the anesthesiologist wants.

Most veterinarians are only open for emergency cases to lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19. The CDC has confirmed that two pet cats have tested positive for COVID-19, but both showed mild symptoms and are expected to make a full recovery. Updated guidelines for interacting with cats and dogs have been posted on the CDC website. Although pets cannot become infected, there is a chance that they could spread virus surviving in droplets on their fur or paws.

There have been no reports of tortoises catching or spreading the virus, which makes them the perfect quarantine buddies!

One of the positive side effects of this awful pandemic has been the emptying of animal shelters. All over the world, people are adopting or fostering quarantine buddies. Shelter managers warn that permanent adoption may not be the best choice for families who will not have the time and resources to continue to care for pets when lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Some pets are not excited about constant supervision.

Some shelters are offering to cover food or vet bills for adopted or fostered pets as an incentive. While we’re all stuck inside, what could be better than spending extra quality time with our favorite furry buddies? They must be loving it, too. People home all day!

Mental health experts recommend furry, feathery, or scaly companions to mitigate the feelings of loneliness and depression some people are bound to develop while self-isolating. Pets can also be a huge help to parents trying to keep children entertained while they are out of school and have no place to run off all that energy.

Depending on the intelligence and motivation of the pet you adopt or foster, they may be able to help you complete some of your work at home.

Therapy dogs who can no longer visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes are sharing their affection and calm over video.

Some therapy dogs are so calm, they sleep through their own swearing-in ceremonies. This is Brody, the newest and sleepiest member of the Bristol, RI police force.

Several localities are under extremely strict lockdown measures that residents are only allowed outside for specific errands, such as walking the dog. If walking the dog is the only opportunity you have for going outside, you might as well do it in style.

Don’t put a facemask on your dog. It doesn’t help anything, and it annoys the dog.

While the zoos and aquariums are closed and everyone is staying home, take a virtual trip. Many parks and zoos have installed virtual tours and live-feeds of animals. These are a few of my favorites.

The World Health Organization has announced that dogs cannot contract COVID-19. All dogs previously held in quarantine will now be released. To be clear, WHO let the dogs out!
Who? Who? Who?who!

WRITING PANDEMICS

Beware the Carnosaur Virus!
from the movie Carnosaur

We are currently enduring a coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).  But perhaps I can tell you some things about pandemics in general that you don’t know! 

Writers note: you will find below several bits of information you absolutely must have if you are going to write a story involving a pandemic—or even an epidemic.

ALZ-113 (Simian Flu) from Planet of the Apes

First you need to know the different levels of the disease’s severity within a community.

  • Sporadic: a disease that occurs infrequently and irregularly (rabies, polio)
  • Endemic: the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area (chicken pox in American schoolchildren, malaria in certain areas of Africa)
    • Hyperendemic: persistent, high levels of an endemic disease occurrence, above the expected “normal” levels
Disinfection of workers at an Ebola clinic, 2016
  • Epidemic: an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area (Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2018)
    • Outbreak: carries the same definition of epidemic, but is often used for a more limited geographic area
  • Holoendemic: essentially every individual in a population is infected, though not all show symptoms (modern occurrences are not common, but one example is hepatitis B in some areas of the Marquesas Islands)
  • Cluster: aggregation of cases grouped in place and time that are suspected to be greater than the number expected, even though the expected number may not be known
  • Pandemic: is an epidemic so big it crosses international boundaries and affects large numbers of people.
Bubonic Plague
Squirrel Army!

Pandemics can occur in crops, livestock, fish, trees, or other living things, but I’ll be sticking with people here.  You may want a plot line that has people battling a pandemic in another species. What happens to the food supply if all the wheat or corn or soybeans die off? How would people protect themselves from an entire population of aggressively rabid squirrels?

A wide-spread disease or condition that kills many people is a pandemic only if it is infectious. E.g., cancer and diabetes are not pandemics.

Until recently, I thought—in a vague sort of way—that pandemics were a thing of the past, mostly centuries ago. Wrong.  Currently, besides COVID-19, HIV/AIDS is an active pandemic world-wide. For example, several African countries have infection rates as high as 25%, or even 29% among pregnant South African women.

Distribution of AIDS cases worldwide

Any given pandemic is seldom one-and-done. Maybe none of them are.

Black Death, Venetian miniature. Middle Ages, Italy, 14th century. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Seattle PD wearing newly distributed face masks to prevent the spread of respiratory disease
  • Plague: contagious bacterial diseases that cause fever and delirium, usually along with the formation of buboes, sometimes infecting the lungs. In past centuries, plagues killed 20%, 40%, even 50% of a country’s population. The first U.S. plague outbreak was the San Francisco plague of 1900-1904. 
    • Writers note: isolated cases of plague still turn up in the western U.S.
  • Influenza (a.k.a. Flu): the first flu pandemic recorded was in 1580, and since then influenza pandemics have occurred every 10 to 30 years
  • Cholera: seems (to me) to be nearly perennial, with pandemics recorded 1871-1824, 1826-1837, 1846-1860, 1863-1875 (in 1866 it killed some 50,000 Americans), 1881-1896, 1899-1923, 1961-1975. 
  • Typhus (a.k.a., camp fever, gaol fever, and ship fever): caused by bacterial Rickettsia prowazekii and characterized by a purple rash, headaches, fever, and usually delirium. It spreads rapidly in cramped quarters, often carried by fleas, lice, and ticks. It’s common in times of war and famine.
  • Smallpox: caused by the variola virus, it raged from the 18th century through the 1950s. Vaccination campaigns beginning in the 19th century led the World Health Organization to declare smallpox eradicated in 1979. 
    • Writers note: it is the only human infectious disease to have been completely eradicated. But for your purposes, maybe not!
  • Measles: historically, before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, 90% of people had the measles by age 15. Measles is an endemic disease, so groups of people can develop resistance. But it is often deadly for those who get measles, and it has killed over 200 million people over the last 150 years. Worldwide, in 2000, measles killed 777,000 out of 40 million cases.
  • Tuberculosis (a.k.a, TB): a very present danger, as new infections occur at a rate of one per second. A quarter of the world’s current population has been infected, and although most of those are latent, 5-10% will progress to active disease. Left untreated, TB kills more than half of its victims.
  • Leprosy (Hansen’s disease): caused by a bacillus, it is a chronic disease. It has an incubation period up to five years, but it can now be cured. It’s been estimated that in the early 13th century, there were 19,000 leper hospitals (leprosariums) across Europe.
  • Malaria: widespread in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. 
    • Writers note: consider the implications of climate change. Once common, malaria deaths became all but non-existent due to drug treatment. However, growing drug resistance is a major concern. Malaria is resistant to all classes of antimalarial drugs except artemisinins.
Yellow fever was vaguely understood to be carried by sailors on long voyages
  • Yellow fever: a viral infection carried by mosquitoes. In 1793, it killed approximately 10% of the population of Philadelphia.
  • Ebola virus: one of several viral hemorrhagic fevers (along with Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus, and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever) that seem to be pandemics in waiting because they are highly contagious and deadly. On the other hand, transmission requires close contact and moves fast from onset to symptoms, so effective quarantines are possible.
    • And on the third hand, writers note: it could always mutate and adapt.
  • Coronaviruses: a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and the current Coronavirus-19, which is a new strain of SARS-CoV-2. Common effects of all of these are fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. 

Historians have identified five (sometimes six) “major pandemics” that have affected enough of the population to cause a significant change in the social order. They are often referred to as plagues, despite not being caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.

  • The Plague of Justinian (541-543) continued to cause famine and death after the primary infection had been contained because the sudden lack of a labor force meant that crops weren’t planted and harvested.
    • The horrific conditions during and after the plague are believed to have created an ideal atmosphere for the rapid spread of Christianity.
    • Though he survived his infection, Emperor Justinian had to shelve plans to consolidate power and expand the Roman Empire.
Plague victim demonstrating a bubos
  • The Black Death of 1347 to 1351 is believed to have killed as much as half the world’s population.
    • Historians have estimated that resulting labor shortage allowed for the end of the feudal system and the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe.
    • The population of Greenland was so diminished that the Vikings didn’t have the manpower to continue their raids in North America.
  • The Colombian Exchange is a general term used to cover all of the species of plants, animals, people, and diseases moved from one continent to another during the European invasion of North and South America.
The worst-hit areas of the Third Plague
Hong Kong
  • The Third Bubonic Plague began in 1855 and reached every part of the world before it died down in the 1960s.
    • Researchers confirmed that the disease was spread by bacteria in flea bites, allowing for major breakthroughs in quarantine methods.
    • Some of those early quarantines involved such draconian measures in colonized areas that they contributed to rebellions in Panthay, Taiping, and several regions of India.
Public information campaigns helped to reduce transmission
  • The 1918 Influenza outbreak, commonly known as the Spanish Flu, infected 500 million people around the world and killed more people than World War I. In 25 weeks, it killed more people than AIDS did in its first 25 years.
    • The close quarters of soldiers involved in World War I contributed to the rapid spread, but the contagion raised public awareness of how disease is transmitted and how to prevent it.
    • Note: The “Spanish” flu was present around the world, but it gained its name because the Spanish government did not censor information on the pandemic. Because most other countries worked to suppress information so as not to disrupt the war, people got the impression that the disease was coming from Spain, the source of their information.
Keith Haring, AIDS activist and artist
  • Though it was first reported in 1981, HIV/AIDS is believed to have originated in a mutated genetic strand of the virus from a monkey in the 1920s.
    • Sex education in schools and sexual practices among some portions of the population (notably among sex workers) changed drastically to focus on safety.
    • Because it was first prevalent among the gay community, many religious leaders claimed the virus was a divine sign that homosexuals were evil.
Leprosy hospitals still exist in India

“Alien” diseases are more deadly than local ones. Writers note: what are the implications of colonizing Mars?

Medieval dead cart
  • In 1529, a measles outbreak in Cuba killed 2/3 of the natives who had previously survived smallpox.
  • Malaria was a major threat to colonists and Native Americans when introduced to the Americas along with the slave trade.
  • In Colonial times, West Africa was called “the white man’s grave” because of malaria and yellow fever.
  • European explorers often had devastating effects on indigenous people—and vice versa. For example, some believe that the death of up to 95% of the Native American population of the new world was caused by old world diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza.
  • On the other hand, syphilis was carried from the new world to Europe after Columbus’ voyages.
Attempts to combat typhus after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen

Many notable epidemics and pandemics involve transmission from animals to humans, zoonoses.

  • Influenza/wild aquatic birds
  • SARS-CoV/civet cats
  • MERS-CoV/deomedary camels
  • COVID-19/bats’
  • Avian influenza (bird flu)/birds in Vietnam (a pandemic in waiting)
During the Third Plague, researchers definitively proved that flea bites spread Bubonic plague

Writing about pandemics—or any disease, actually, you need to decide on:

  • Name, fictional or real
  • Disease type/ who’s most susceptible (childhood/ common/ rare) 
  • Cause (bacteria, virus, parasite, fungus, imbalance of bodily humors, witchcraft, divine intervention, etc.) 
  • Transmission (airborne, body fluids, food or water, touch, telepathy, miasma, etc.)
  • Virulence (how likely a person is to catch the disease after coming into contact with it) 
  • Length of the incubation period: a person could be showing symptoms and become infectious almost instantly or it could take years 
  • Symptoms of this disease
  • Whether it’s treatable and/or curable
  • How people react when they encounter someone with this disease
    • For a first-hand idea of what people thought during the Black Death, check out this Eyewitness to History!
Houses with sick inhabitants were marked for quarantine in London

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: pandemic are tried and true for creative fiction, whether historical or current, sci-fi or known world, mystery/action adventure or romance. Go for it!

Let’s end this on a more cheerful note:
Happy Saint Patricks Day!

Exercising Your Creativity – Challenge Accepted!

Mariko Takahashi really exercises her creativity!

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and very reluctant washer of dishes.

This is an update/response to a post originally written on June 9, 2017. I’ve decided to take up Vivian’s challenge and run with it as far as my over-active imagination can take me! (Spoiler warning: I can run pretty far.)

The program is simple. Take an ordinary event and consider all the ways you could add tension, conflict, humor, surprise, etc.  For example, house-sitting.

This is definitely my brother’s house. Mine is right across the street!

My brother and sister-in-law live across the street from me. It’s a bit like having an extra WiFi connection, couch, kitchen, and bathroom, complete with pet-sitters and random free food. On this particular occasion, I was looking after my extended house while my brother’s family was out of town.

Mid-morning, I piled all my dirty dishes into a box and went across the street to take advantage of the dishwasher. And feed the fish. And water the plants.

  • What if
    • The box fell apart or dropped, smashing dirty dishes all over the street?
    • I forgot my key and had to jimmy open the window to climb in?
    • A neighbor called the police about the shifty-looking woman in slippers wandering around the yard with a suspiciously clattering box?

My niece is six-going-on-seven and makes her presence known even when she isn’t home. Little rainbow shoes and fluffy coats were left by the door. Exquisitely rendered crayon portraits covered the refrigerator. Scattered markers and Legos and hair ribbons and books and dinosaurs and a million other bits of her massive personality dominated every room in the house.

  • What if
    • I replaced all her artwork on the refrigerator with finger paintings by another niece, just to see if anyone would notice?
    • Paint, glue, juice boxes, etc. had spilled, making a big mess or possibly indicating that someone else had been in the house?
    • I stepped on a lego, screamed in pain, dropped the box of dishes on my other foot, stumbled back, tripped over a plastic sword-wielding dinosaur, knocked over a bookcase, crashed into the fish tank, and fell to the floor in an unconscious heap while fishy water and inevitable glitter dripped on my head?

When I go out of town, my brother takes care of my dog and turtle. When he’s out of town with his family, I feed his fish. I think I’m definitely getting the better end of the deal. All I have to do is shake a few pellets into the tank.

  • What if
    • The fish were floating upside down and I had to decide whether to dispose of the bodies and hope no one noticed or to save the bodies for a shoebox funeral when my niece returned
    • I knocked something in the tank and had to dive into the cold, salty water to save it, feeling fish and slimy water plants drift through my fingers?
    • A leak had developed in the tank overnight, leaving puddles on the floor and flopping fishy bodies on the gravel at the bottom of the tank?
If you find a pack of wolves in the living room, I suggest leaving them there and running away.

While the kitchen robot washed my dishes (I hate washing the dishes), I wandered around the house to check that everything looked as it should.

  • What if
    • Broken windows or missing/ disarranged valuables showed that someone had broken in?
    • An animal of some kind had gotten in through an overlooked air vent and clawed furniture, released bodily fluids, shed fur, knocked everything over, and then left? What if it was still there?
    • Embarrassing items of a personal nature had been left out?
    • A strange and not altogether pleasant smell was coming from somewhere?
    • The mail I brought in included an envelope marked “Past-Due” or “Cancer Test Results” or something else worrying?
    • I replaced all of the energy drinks in the kitchen with decaf drinks in similar cans?

So many possibilities! No matter how comfortable I am with my brother’s family, being in someone else’s home always feels just a bit voyeuristic. There are some things I can reliably assume I won’t find in my brother’s house, but a stranger’s house might contain anything a whole world of insanity!

  • Someone else in the house unexpectedly, maybe sleeping on the couch or looking through the refrigerator…?
  • The remnants of something illegal halfheartedly hidden in a trashcan…?
  • Poisonous plants to water very carefully without touching the leaves….?
  • A coffee table made from the taxidermied bodies of deceased pets…?
  • Burst pipes, smoking outlets, fires, or any other kind of disaster in progress…?
  • Sexually explicit photos framed and hung on the bathroom wall…?
  • A chandelier smashed on the floor with no clear reason why…?

Your assignment: Choose any mundane activity from today’s wealth—anything from doing laundry to going to the gym to hosting six for dinner—and take a few minutes to consider what if?

What if there is a horse in the dining room?