UNSTRUCTURED TIME

One of the side effects of COVID-19 is that many people have more unstructured time than usual—much more. By unstructured time, I mean periods of time with no plan in place for what one must/wants to get done

Poking everything with a stick does not count as a plan.

Two points made by openlinecounseling.com resonate for me.

(Note:getting into mischief is not a healthy goal.)
  1. Stretches of unstructured time often bring pressure and anxiety, sometimes existential panic.
    • Worrisome thoughts are more easily set aside when busy. But with unstructured time, it’s easy for self-doubts to come to the fore. 
      • Am I too fat?
      • Have I done a good job as a parent?
      • Will anyone remember me when I’m dead? 
    • When we have lots of time available, it’s easy to procrastinate. One can fritter away the time, flitting from one indulgence to another, from reading a novel to online shopping. Come the end of the day, one then feels guilty for not having been productive—or not productive enough. The feeling that one has “wasted time” is uncomfortable.
Lithuanian Military photographed by adasvasiliauskas
  • Being constantly on the go is often linked to self-worth—in which case not being productive leads to low self-esteem, as in “I’m a failure” or “I’m lazy.”
    • Making the most of every minute of every day isn’t recognized as an impossible, not to say unhealthy, goal.
Don’t let fear drive you to hide away in a box.

When deprived of the activities that usually fill our days, we often drift into unhealthy activities.

  • Being physically inactive
  • Drinking and/or smoking more
  • Snacking and/or eating too much
  • Online gambling
  • Binge shopping
Structure can keep you from climbing the walls… or windows.

Being suddenly confronted with unstructured time can be disorienting. This is often true of the newly retired. Regularly scheduled activities—which could be anything from work to volunteering, golf or poker to orchestra rehearsals—make people aware of the time of day as well as days of the week or month.

For me, COVID-19 cancellations make every day feel like Monday, my formerly “free” day. I have to pause and think what day of the week it is. 

Make sure to change out of your pajamas every day. I recommend formal gowns for coloring time.

Also, the “natural” day for humans isn’t exactly 24 hours: it’s somewhere between 24 and 26 hours. We reset to 24 hours based on outside constraints. My personal day is longer than most, and it’s easy to stay up and wake progressively later and later—say 3:00 to noon. For those on lock-down due to COVID-19, with no scheduled activities, the time of day might feel “off.”

The short solution to all these negatives is simple: make plans.  Keep the list of plans brief — say three — and doable. The plans could be relaxing activities such cutting flowers, taking a walk, etc. The idea is that making plans decreases the likelihood that you’ll pass days in haphazard activities or listlessness.

Enjoy an elegant tea party with inanimate friends!

Astronauts, being experts in the field of isolation, have offered some advice to those of us down here on the planet.

  • Keep a consistent sleeping schedule
  • Go outside and get some sun, so long as you do it by yourself
  • Separate work and leisure time, if you still work from home, so that one does not overtake the other
  • Stay in touch with people online or over the phone
These astronauts seem to have missed the rule about staying 6 feet apart.
(Don’t worry; the baby isn’t sitting on the dog while reading to him… not that he’d notice if she was.)

As more people are staying at home, many organizations are creating virtual activities to keep your mind active. You can take a virtual tour of a museum or national park, audit classes in a variety of subjects, join exercise or meditation groups, watch ballets or operas or Broadway shows, even have a cocktail or movie party with your friends! If all else fails, there are ways to help your community from the comfort of your living room.

  • OpenCulture has gathered many of these links to allow people to browse their options.
  • To fix the growing shortage of protective gear among healthcare workers, many people have started making face masks for local hospitals and fire stations.
  • Coursera is currently working with many universities to allow students to earn college credit
  • Many independent, foreign, classic, and documentary films are available to watch online for free
  • All kinds of educational materials for k-12 students are free online
  • The Guggenheim has made 300 ebooks about art available for free

Takeaway for writers: consider the role of structure in the lives of your characters.

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!

GOOD READING ANYTIME

I’ll cut to the chase: when my husband and I talked about Black writers the other day, in the car, the following list rolled off the tips of our tongues. If you search the internet for African American writers, you will find all sorts of lists, from those who made the New York Times Bestsellers list to literally hundreds on Wikipedia arranged into categories. But here is our personal, not-so-big-as-to-be-overwhelming list of our favorite Black authors, and something we especially liked from each. (FYI: we didn’t think of them in alpha order! 😉 )

  • Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart
    • Born in Nigeria in 1930, Chinua Achebe made a splash with the publication of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958. Renowned as one of the seminal works of African literature, it has since sold more than 20 million copies and been translated into more than 50 languages.  Achebe followed with novels such as No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and served as a faculty member at renowned universities in the U.S. and Nigeria.  He died on March 21, 2013, at age 82, in Boston, Massachusetts.
    • Biography.com Editors
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Americanah
    • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is the author of three novels, Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013), of a short story collection, The Thing around Your Neck (2009). She has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2007) and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2008).
    • The Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Website, written by Daria Tunca
  • Ama Ata Aidoo Changes: A Love Story
    • Born Christina Ama Ata Aidoo in 1942, was born in Abeadzi Kyiakor, Gold Coast, now Ghana. Combining traditional African storytelling with Western genres, she writes of the contemporary roles of African women and the negative impact of Western influences on African culture. Her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, was published in 1965. Her short stories, collected in No Sweetness Here and The Girl Who Can, and her novel, Our Sister Killjoy, expand on these themes, many of which mirror Aidoo’s own experiences. Her other works include the play Anowa, the poems of Someone Talking to Sometime; Birds; and Angry Letter in January; and a collection of children’s stories. The novel Changes: A Love Story (1991) explores a contemporary African marriage.
    • The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
  • Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
    • Born in 1928 in St Louis, Maya Angelou joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild in the late 1950’s. With the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings received international acclaim made the bestseller list. The book was also banned in many schools during that time as Maya Angelou’s honesty about having been sexually abused opened a subject matter that had long been taboo in the culture. Later, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings would become a course adoption at college campuses around the world. Maya Angelou has wrote 36 books, including more than 30 bestselling titles, before her death in 2014.
    • The Legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou
  • Ayi Kwei Armah The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
    • Ayi Kwei Armah is a Ghanaian novelist whose work deals with corruption and materialism in contemporary Africa. He worked as a scriptwriter, translator, and English teacher in the United States, among other places. In his first novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Armah showed his deep concern for greed and political corruption in a newly independent African nation. All of Armah’s works are concerned with the widening moral and spiritual chasm that existed between appearance and reality, spirit and substance, and past and present in his native Ghana. He is also an essayist, as well as having written poetry, short stories, and books for children.
    • Encyclopedia Britannica: Ayi Kwei Armah written by Amy Tikkanen
  • Odafe Atogun Taduno’s Song
    • Odafe Atogun was born in Nigeria, in the town of Lokoja, where the rivers Niger and Benue meet. He studied Journalism at the Times Journalism Institute, Lagos and is now a full-time writer. His debut novel, Taduno’s Song, was selected for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club, and he has been compared favorably to Franz Kafka and George Orwell in critical reviews. Following his two-book deal with Canongate, Penguin Random House and Arche Verlag, Atogun’s second novel, Wake Me When I’m Gone, was published in 2017. His work has been translated into several languages.
    • Odafe Atogun press
  • Sefi Atta Everything Good Will Come
    • Sefi Atta was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1964 and currently divides her time between the United States, England, and Nigeria. She qualified as a Chartered Accountant in England, a Certified Public Accountant in the United States, and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Atta was a juror for the 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and has received several literary awards for her works, including the 2006 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and the 2009 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. In 2015, a critical study of her novels and short stories, Writing Contemporary Nigeria: How Sefi Atta Illuminates African Culture and Tradition, was published by Cambria Press. Also a playwright, her radio plays have been broadcast by the BBC and her stage plays have been performed and published internationally.
    • Sefi Atta Official Website
  • Mariama Bâ So Long A Letter
    • Mariama Bâ was one of the pioneers of Senegalese literature. Born in Dakar in 1929, she was raised by her maternal grandmother, who was of Muslim confession and strongly attached to traditional culture. Through the insistence of her father, an open-minded politician, the young Mariama attended French school, obtained her school-leaving certificate, and won admission to the École Normale for girls in Rufisque, from where she graduated as a schoolteacher in 1947. She threw herself into the women’s movement to fight for greater recognition of women’s issues. Throughout her life, she tried to reconcile her grounding in her culture, her Muslim faith, and her openness to other cultural horizons. Towards the end of her life, her literary genius achieved full expression in So Long a Letter, a novel that directly confronted polygamy and the caste-system in Senegal – a predominantly Muslim country, firmly attached to its traditions, yet traversed by profound transformations, and confronted by the challenge of new models of society.
    • UNESCO: Women In African History – Mariama Bâ
  • James Baldwin Go Tell It On The Mountain
    • Born in Harlem in 1924, James Baldwin was the oldest of nine children.  His writing started as a way to escape his stern stepfather.  He graduated from high school in 1942 and moved to New Jersey to begin working as a railroad hand. In 1944, he moved to Greenwich Village where he met Richard Wright and began his first novel, In My Father’s House.  In 1953, he finished his important novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, which stands as a partially autobiographical account of his youth.  The following year he wrote the play, The Amen Corner and won the Guggenheim Fellowship. During the 1960’s, Baldwin became politically active in support of civil rights. Baldwin wrote novels, poetry, essays and a screenplay in the later years of his life. He died of stomach cancer at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France.
    • African American Literature Book Club – James Baldwin
  • Octavia Butler Kindred
    • Octavia Estelle Butler, often referred to as the “grand dame of science fiction,” was born in Pasadena, California on June 22, 1947. During 1969 and 1970, she studied at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, where she took a class with science fiction master Harlan Ellison (who later became her mentor), and which led to Butler selling her first science fiction stories. Butler’s first story, “Crossover,” was published in the 1971 Clarion anthology. With the publication of Kindred in 1979, Butler was able to support herself writing full time. She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for her short story, “Speech Sounds,” and in 1985, Butler’s novelette “Bloodchild” won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and an award for best novelette from Science Fiction Chronicle. Other books by Octavia E. Butler include the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989), and a short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995). Parable of the Sower (1993), the first of her Earthseed series, was a finalist for the Nebula Award as well as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The book’s sequel, Parable of the Talents (1998), won a Nebula Award.
    • Octavia Butler: The official site of the Pen Lifetime Achievement and MacArthur award winning writer
  • Charles Chesnutt  The Conjure Woman
    • Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born in Ohio in 1858, the son of free blacks who had emigrated from Fayetteville, N.C. When he was eight years old, Chesnutt’s parents returned to Fayetteville, where Charles worked part-time in the family grocery store and attended a school founded by the Freedmen’s Bureau. In 1872, he began teaching in Charlotte, N.C. but returned to Fayetteville in 1877. Chesnutt married a year later, and by 1880 had become principal of the Fayetteville State Normal School for Negroes. Meanwhile he continued to pursue private studies of the English classics, foreign languages, music, and stenography. In 1883, he moved his family to Cleveland, where he passed the state bar examination and established his own court reporting firm. Financially prosperous and prominent in civic affairs, he resided in Cleveland for the remainder of his life. “The Goophered Grapevine,” an unusual dialect story that displayed intimate knowledge of black folk culture in the South, was Chesnutt’s first nationally recognized work of fiction. Its publication in the August 1887 issue of the Atlantic Monthly marked the first time that a short story by a black had appeared in that prestigious magazine. After subsequent tales in this vein were accepted by other magazines, Chesnutt submitted to Houghton, Mifflin a collection of these stories, which was published in 1899 as The Conjure Woman.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates The Water Dancer
    • Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates is an American author and journalist. Coates gained a wide readership during his time as national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he wrote about cultural, social, and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans and white supremacy. He was born in Baltimore in 1975, a member of a large, close-knit, politically active family. In addition to his nonfiction work, Coates has been a teacher, has written for Black Panther and Captain America comics, and published his first novel, The Water Dancer, in 2019.
    • The Official Website of Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Frederick Douglass Any of his autobiographies
    • Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. At about the age of twelve or thirteen, Douglass purchased a copy of The Columbian Orator, a popular schoolbook of the time, which helped him to gain an understanding and appreciation of the power of the spoken and the written word, as two of the most effective means by which to bring about permanent, positive change. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Whenever he could he attended abolitionist meetings, and, in October, 1841, after attending an anti-slavery convention on Nantucket Island, Douglass became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and a colleague of William Lloyd Garrison. This work led him into public speaking and writing. He published his own newspaper, The North Star, participated in the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, in 1848, and wrote three autobiographies. 
    • The Frederick Douglass Society
  • W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folk
    • Scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois was an American civil rights activist, leader, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar. He was born and raised in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895.  DuBois was one of the most important black protest leader in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. He shared in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He had two children with his wife, Nina Gomer. In 1963, he became a naturalized citizen of Ghana at the age of 95 – the year of his death.
    • NAACP History – W.E.B. DuBois
  • Alexandre Dumas The Three Musketeers
    • Born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (1802–1870), also known as Alexandre Dumas père, was a French writer. His grandmother was Marie-Cessette Dumas, a black slave in what is now Haiti. His works have been translated into many languages, and he is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of high adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte CristoThe Three MusketeersTwenty Years After, and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later
    • Alexandre Dumas, Two Centuries of Living Literature
  • Ralph Ellison Invisible Man
    • Born in 1914 in Oklahoma City, the grandson of slaves, Ralph Waldo Ellison and his younger brother were raised by their mother, whose husband died when Ralph was 3 years old. His mother supported her young family by working as a nursemaid, a janitor and a domestic. Having earned a degree at Tuskegee University, Ellison was an American novelist, literary critic, and scholar best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act, a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory.
  • Yaa Gyasi Homegoing
    • Yaa Gyasi (born 1989) is a Ghanaian-American novelist. Her debut novel, Homegoing, published in 2016, won her, at the age of 26, the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” honors for 2016 and the American Book Award. She was awarded a Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature in 2020. Homegoing is her debut historical fiction novel, published in 2016. Each chapter in the novel follows a different descendant of an Asante woman named Maame, starting with her two daughters, who are half sisters, separated by circumstance: Effia marries the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, while her half-sister Esi is held captive in the dungeons below. Subsequent chapters follow their children and following generations.
  • Bessie Head When the Rain Clouds Gather
    • Bessie Amelia Emery Head, known as Bessie Head, was a South African writer who, though born in South Africa, is usually considered Botswana’s most influential writer. Bessie Amelia Head never knew her real parents — an unstable white woman and an unknown black man. She was born and raised in apartheid South Africa. After spending several years in the field of education, she decided to work as a journalist for the Golden City Post. She experimented with poetry and fiction, and published her first story in The New African.  Despite the occasional financial aid from friends, the author lived in absolute poverty, forcing her to live in a refugee camp with her son. Her luck changed when a New York editorial offered her to write a novel, When Rain Clouds Gather (1969), in which she tells about the era she lived as a refugee. This book was met with positive reviews from critics, which encouraged her to continue her literary career with Maru (1971). She wrote novels, short fiction and autobiographical works that are infused with spiritual questioning and reflection.
  • Langston Hughes Any of his poetry and/or essay collections
    • James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri.  While working as a busboy in a hotel in Washington, D.C., in late 1925, Hughes put three of his own poems beside the plate of Vachel Lindsay in the dining room. The next day, newspapers around the country reported that Lindsay, among the most popular white poets of the day, had “discovered” an African American busboy poet, which earned Hughes broader notice. Hughes received a scholarship to, and began attending, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in early 1926. That same year, he received the Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Award, and he published “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in The Nation , a manifesto in which he called for a confident, uniquely black literature. After graduating, he traveled widely in the Soviet Union, Haiti, Japan, and elsewhere and served as a newspaper correspondent (1937) during the Spanish Civil War. Hughes documented African American literature and culture in works such as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956) and the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro (1949) and The Book of Negro Folklore (1958; with Bontemps).  Hughes was one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance.
    • Academy of American Poets – Langston Hughes
  • Zora Neal Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God
    • Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. She portrayed racial struggles in the early-1700s American South and published research on hoodoo.  During Zora Neale Hurston’s career, she was more concerned with writing about the lives of African Americans in an authentic way that uplifted their existence, rather than focusing on their traumas. Her most celebrated work, 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an example of this philosophy. It follows Janie Mae Crawford, a middle-aged woman in Florida, who details lessons she learned about love and finding herself after three marriages. Hurston used black Southern dialect in the characters’ dialogue to proudly represent their voices and manner.
  • Edward P. Jones Lost in the City
    • Edward P. Jones was born in 1950 and raised in Washington, D.C. A winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award and recipient of the Lannan Foundation Grant, Jones was educated at Holy Cross College and the University of Virginia. His first book, Lost in the City was originally published by William Morrow in 1992 and shortlisted for the National Book Award. Mr. Jones was named a National Book Award finalist for a second time with the publication of his debut novel The Known World which subsequently won the prestigious 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
  • Dinaw Mengestu How to Read the Air
    • Dinaw Mengetsu is a Washington, DC-based American writer born in Ethiopia in 1978. In addition to three novels, he has written for Rolling Stone on the war in Darfur, and for Jane Magazine on the conflict in northern Uganda. His writing has also appeared in Harper’sThe Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. He is the Program Director of Written Arts at Bard College.  Since his first book was published in 2007, Mengetsu has received numerous literary awards, and was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2012. He is the author of three novels, most recently All Our Names. His debut novel, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, won the Guardian First Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was a New York Times Notable Book of 2007. His novel How to Read the Air, published in 2010, was the winner of the 2011 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
    • PEN America – Dinaw Mengetsu
  • Toni Morrison Beloved
    • Chloe Anthony Wofford, (1931-2019) was an American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community. When Morrison was two years old, the owner of her family’s apartment building set their home on fire while they were inside because they were unable to afford the rent.  After earning her MA at Cornell University, Morrison taught at Howard University and then became the first black female editor of fiction at Random House Publishing. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for her novel Beloved.
    • National Women’s History Museum – Toni Morrison
  • Trevor Noah Born a Crime
    • Born in South Africa in 1984, Trevor Noah’s father Robert is of Swiss German ancestry, and his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, is of Xhosa ancestry. Because interracial relations were illegal under Apartheid law, Noah’s mother was jailed and fined by the South African government. Patricia and her mother, Nomalizo Frances Noah, raised Trevor in the black township of Soweto. Trevor Noah has hosted numerous television shows including South Africa’s music, television and film awards, and two seasons of his own late night talk show, Tonight with Trevor Noah. In November 2016, Trevor Noah released his first book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, which was an instant New York Times bestseller.
    • Official Site of Trevor Noah
  • Ben Okri The Famished Road
    • Ben Okri is a poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, aphorist, playwright, and writer of film-scripts. He was born in Nigeria in 1958 and came to England as a child. He went to school in London and returned to Nigeria with his parents on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War. The war made a defining impact on his life. After finishing secondary school, he wanted to study physics and become a scientist but was deemed too young then for university. He began writing at a very early age, poetry and published articles and essays about the living conditions of the poor in the slums of Lagos. In 1978, Ben Okri returned to London to study comparative Literature at Essex University. Two years later he published his first novel; and in 1982 came his second novel, The Landscapes Within. After a brief period of homelessness, in 1986 he published Incidents at the Shrine, a collection of stories that won him prizes and enhanced his reputation. The Famished Road won the Booker Prize when it was published in 1991.
    • Ben Okri Official Site
  • Alexander Pushkin Eugène Onegin
    • Born in Moscow in 1799, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was heavily influenced by his great-grandfather, Abraham Petrovitch Gannibal, who was kidnapped from Cameroon as a child and sold as a slave to the court of Tsar Peter the Great. As a frequent exile himself, Pushkin compared his experience as an outsider to that of a poet’s role as an observer. His unfinished novel The Moor of Peter the Great was meant to be a biography of his great-grandfather, but Eugène Onegin directly refers to Pushkin’s mixed racial background.
    • How Alexander Pushkin was Inspired by His African Heritage
  • Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka Death and the King’s Horsemen
    • Nigerian playwright and political activist Wole Soyinka was the first African recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He was born in 1934 in Abeokuta, near Ibadan, into a Yoruba family and studied at University College in Ibadan, Nigeria, and the University of Leeds, England. Soyinka, who writes in English, is the author of five memoirs, two novels, and 19 plays shaped by a diverse range of influences, including avant-garde traditions, politics, and African myth. Soyinka’s poetry similarly draws on Yoruba myths, his life as an exile and in prison, and politics. An outspoken opponent of oppression and tyranny worldwide and a critic of the political situation in Nigeria, Soyinka has lived in exile on several occasions. During the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s, he was held as a prisoner in solitary confinement after being charged with conspiring with the Biafrans; while in exile, Soyinka was at one point sentenced to death (the sentence was later lifted). Soyinka has taught at a number of universities worldwide, among them Ife University, Cambridge University, Yale University, and Emory University.
    • Biography of Wole Soyinka
  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o A Grain of Wheat
    • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, was born in Kenya, in 1938 into a large peasant family. In the 1950s, his family was caught up in the Mau Mau Uprising, an experience that influenced much of his later writing. His novel A Grain of Wheat was the first modern novel to be written in Gikuyu; all of Ngũgĩ ‘s work thereafter was written in Gikuyu and Swahili. The play Ngaahika Ndeenda, co-written with Ngũgĩ wa Mirii, was shut down by the Kenyan regime six weeks after its opening, and Ngũgĩ was imprisoned for over a year. While in exile following his release, he worked as a teacher, a writer, and an advocate for justice in Kenya and for native linguistic equality.
    • Website of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
  • Amos Tutuola The Palm-Wine Drinkard
    • Amos Tutuola was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1920. The son of a cocoa farmer, he attended several schools before training as a blacksmith. He later worked as a civil servant. His first novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, was published in 1952 and brought him international recognition. From 1956 until retirement, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company while continuing to write. Many of his novels drew elements from Yoruba folktales as well as oral storytelling traditions. His last book, The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories, was published in 1990. He died in Ibadan in 1997.
    • Authors Calendar – Amos Tutuola
  • Abraham Verghese Cutting for Stone
    • Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia to parents from Kerala, India, who worked as teachers. He is the Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University Medical School and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. He is also the author of three best-selling books, two memoirs and a novel. The novel, Cutting for Stone (2009), follows twin brothers in Ethiopia during its military revolution and in New York, where one of them flees. In 2014, Verghese received the 19th Annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities.
    • Website of Abraham Verghese
  • Alice Walker The Color Purple
    • The author of short stories and novels, essays and poetry and activist for racial civil rights, women’s equality, and peace among other causes, Alice Walker brought black women’s lives into primary focus as a rich and important subject for US American literature. Her landmark novel The Color Purple (1982), which drew upon her sharecropper family’s Southern roots, made Walker famous and brought her the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction awarded to an African American woman, as well as the National Book Award. Walker’s introduction of the concept of “womanism” (1983) was an influential corrective to the focus on white women understood by many under the term “feminism;” it helped broaden the women’s movement to include women of color and appreciate their traditional cultural and creative roles. Walker has also been instrumental in rediscovering and promoting other Black women writers, past and present, most notably Zora Neale Hurston (1901-1960), whose work she edited and interpreted. Alice Walker has written seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry.
    • Alice Walker’s Garden – About the Author  
  • Isabel Wilkerson The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
    • Born in Washington D.C. in 1961,  Isabel Wilkerson became the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1994, while Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. She devoted 15 years to the research and writing of The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 people, unearthed archival works, and gathered the voices of the famous and the unknown to tell the epic story of the Great Migration, one of the largest migrations in American history. During the Great Migration, millions of African Americans departed the Southern states to Northern and Western cities to escape Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the failing sharecropping system. The book highlights the stories of three individuals and their journeys, from Florida to New York City, Mississippi to Chicago, and Louisiana to Los Angeles. Wilkerson’s in-depth documentation won her a National Book Critics Circle Award for the nonfiction work.
  • Richard Wright Native Son
    • Richard Nathaniel Wright (9/4/1908 – 11/28/1960) was born in Adams County, Mississippi into a life of poverty, and racial discrimination.  He was quoted as saying, “I was born too far back in the woods to hear the train whistle…” When he was fifteen, Wright knew he wanted to be a writer.  Known as a poet first, through his writing, his goal was to bring two worlds together, one Black and one White, and make them one.  His marriage to Ellen Poplar, a white woman, like his writing was controversial.  His most successful work, Native Son, a Chicago story about a Mississippi boy, Bigger Thomas, in New York had an autobiographical tone.  The author of 16 books, some of which include, Black BoyThe Outsider, and American Hunger, Richard Wright died mysteriously of a heart attack at the age of 52 in Paris, France.
    • African American Literature Book Club – Richard Wright

Bottom line for readers: Choose any of these authors you haven’t yet read and go for it!

How Touching!

Skin is the largest sense organ in the human body—and it is the most developed sensory function in infants. Matthew Hertenstein is a big name in touch research, and he has characterized touch communications in three categories:

  • Universal 
    • Anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy 
  • Prosocial  
    • Surprise, happiness, and sadness 
  • Self-focused 
    • Embarrassment envy, and pride

Numerous researchers have attempted to define how much information is communicated between humans through touch alone. In a practical sense, touch is seldom communicated without other verbal or nonverbal cues, so Hertenstein developed a series of controlled experiments. Pairs of participants were placed in a very artificial situation: the two sat on opposite sides of a curtain. The encoder would try to express a specific emotion by touching the decoder’s forearm with no visual or verbal cues; the decoder would then select the emotion received.

Bottom line: Human beings are surprisingly successful at this! Romantic partners were more successful than strangers.

  • Romantic partners were accurate:
    • 53% of universal emotions
    • 60% of prosocial emotions
    • 39% of self-focused emotions
  • Strangers were accurate:
    • 39% of universal emotions
    • 56% of prosocial emotions
    • 17% of self-focused emotions

But there is more than one way to group emotions.  Klare Heston (LCSW) discusses ways to convey specific positive emotions in real-life situations. Writers can expand these narrow groupings to fit a wide variety of situations and communication needs.

  • Using Touch to Convey Positive Emotions
    • (Always determine whether it is appropriate to touch the other person.)
    • Offer congratulations and praise with a pat.
    • Show love with hugs and kisses.
    • Flirt with a person.
    • Welcome a person warmly according to cultural norms (rub noses, etc.).
    • Say thank you.
    • Convey sympathy.
  • Expressing other Emotions with Touch
    • Gain a person’s attention.
    • Let a person know you’re in charge.
    • Reveal surprise.
    • Disclose fear.
    • Indicate anger.

Bottom line for writers here: As evident in the previously cited research, any given act—e.g., touching the forearm—can support, emphasize, or outright convey many emotions.

Touch is strongly dependent on culture and context. Do you want your reader to be clear on the meaning of a touch or keep them guessing?

The Impact Of Touching Behavior on Everyday Health focuses on the impact of touching.

  • Touch is absolutely necessary for normal child development, especially the ability of children to handle stress. The touch bond between mother and fetus begins in the womb. Human babies struggle to survive without a sense of touch, even if they retain sight and hearing.
  • Research indicates that for adults, touch can  change the way bodies function, e.g., lower blood pressure and heart rate. Depression and eating disorders have been linked to touch deprivation in adults, and it is more common for men than women because of the stronger social prohibitions against same-sex touch for adult males.

This article cites five areas of touch in typical nonverbal communication:

  • Functional/ Professional
    • Besides doctors and others whose work requires touching, touching in the workplace can have both positive and negative effects. Everyone knows the “power handshake,” that those who are dominant shake harder and longer. Bone crushing is generally considered to be bad. Also, superiors feel freer to touch subordinates than vice versa, whether pats on the back or touches on the forearm. Touching stresses how important a message is and the dominance of the toucher.
  • Social/Polite.
    • Different areas of the body are appropriate to touch in different social situations. Women are freer being touched by a member of the same sex. Men are more comfortable being touched by a female stranger than women are with being touched by a male stranger. Holding a handshakes longer than two seconds will result stop the verbal communication.
  • Friendship/Warmth.
    • Women are more likely to express friendship or warmth through a hug; men shake hands. Within families, women are more likely to touch; but also same sex family members are more likely to touch than opposite sex family members.
  • Love/Intimacy.
    • Men are more likely to make the initial moves on intimate touches. Holding hands or an arm across the shoulder is a territorial marker. Touch is more important to women than to men.
    • Touching between married couples seems to help maintain good health. University of Virginia psychologist Jim Coan found that women under stress were immediately relieved by merely holding their husbands’ hands.
    • Violence in intimate relationships falls into two categories:
      • Intimate terrorism involves a need to control or dominate, escalates over time in terms of frequency and severity. 
      • “Common couple violence” comes in episodes and doesn’t escalate over time.
  • Sexual/Arousal.
    • First touch often involves a neutral body part and seems “accidental.”
      • Hugging. Intention to touch, e.g., extending a hand across a table.
      • Kissing. The final case, love-making, may include kissing, nuzzling, gentle massage, and other foreplay.

Alternatively, wikipedia.org lists seven categories of touch meanings.

  • Positive affect
    • Support, appreciation, inclusion, sexual, affection
  • Playful
    • Can be affection or aggression, tend to lighten the interaction
  • Control
    • Compliance, attention-getting, encouraging a response
  • Ritualistic
    • Mostly greetings and departures, but also includes the chest bumps, etc., shared among athletes (related to wins) and the ritual handshakes at games end
  • Hybrid
    • Greeting/affection; departure/affection
    • Couldn’t the hybrid be negative?
  • Task-related
    • Everything from hairdressers to dance/ yoga instructors to emergency responders
  • Accidental
    • Consist mostly of brushes, but results in better tips for wait staff, fosters cooperation, and even makes people feel better about libraries (!)

the1thing.com points out that the U.S. is a low-touch culture. They go on to suggest five ways people can communicate more effectively by using touch.

  • Accompany praise with a pat on the back
  • Build cooperative relations by starting discussions with touch
  • Make business handshakes more effective by extending it for a beat
  • Give and get massages to strengthen and deepen bonds
  • Consider location when you touch (i.e., private or public)

Depending on situation, touch can be perceived as threatening or creepy, especially if it’s prolonged. To be safe, keep touch brief and keep to the arm, shoulder, hand.

The most important things we reveal through touch are degree of dominance and degree of intimacy.

Bottom line for writers: We often touch with little or no planning, and perceive the communication of touch without conscious thought. Given context, your reader will know the meaning of a touch. And consider that touch is often the fastest means of communication. A touch can communicate stop, fear, affection, etc.

 

READ THE REVIEWS FIRST

When I was a kid, we had to read our books barefoot in the snow!

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and collector of really bad jokes.

Every night, I cry myself to sleep over the thought that I will never be able to read all the books I want to read. My time is precious and must be saved for important activities like confusing my turtle with shadow puppets and giving my nieces caffeine and loud toys. That’s where reader reviews and reader recommendations come in handy.

Reviews are also helpful for a completely different purpose: they can provide a writer with (pretend) feedback before the writing is actually finished! As an added bonus, the best reviews can provide a solid abdominal muscle workout by causing insane fits of laughter, generally in the most inopportune public places.

Provided here for your entertainment and education are some of my favorite reviews and the writing lessons they illustrate. Reviews are gathered from Audible.com, Barnes and Noble, Amazon books, Goodreads, and a few book review blogs. The names of reviewers and the books being reviewed are provided where applicable.

Avoid Repetition by Editing or Having a Good Editor to Cut Out Repetition

  • She repeats herself to accentuate her point like she’s me writing like I talk when I’m wasted, which I’m fairly sure she’s not. She says things like (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I couldn’t have testified in Ted’s defense. That was just something I could not do.” Really? Could you do it, Ann? Could you?!? Wait, I’m confused…so you’re saying you could do it or you couldn’t do it? You see what I mean.
  • “I can hardly contain the riotous feelings or is it hormones that rampage through my body.” – Yes, this supposedly went through an editor. I don’t think it’s ever been specified whether or not said editor was literate and/or an alcoholic and/or addicted to painkillers.
  • WORDS WORDS WORDS IS THE HOUSE HAUNTED WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS IS SHE CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS ARE THEY ALL CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS NO IT MUST BE HAUNTED WORDS WORDS WORDS NO SHE MUST BE CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS CRAZY WORDS SICKNESS WORDS WORDS WORDS DEATH THE END.
  • Katrina Passick Lumsden counted the most common phrases in 50 Shades of Grey:
    • “Oh My” – 79
    • “Crap” – 101
    • “Jeez” – 82
    • “Holy (shit/fuck/crap/hell/cow/moses)” – 172
    • “Whoa” – 13
    • “Gasp” – 34
    • “Gasps” – 11
    • “Sharp Intake of Breath” – 4
    • “Murmur” – 68
    • “Murmurs” – 139
    • “Whisper” – 96
    • “Whispers” – 103
    • “Mutter” – 28
    • “Mutters” – 23
    • “Fifty” – 16
    • “Lip” – 71
    • “Inner goddess” – 58
    • “Subconscious” – 82
  • “Mr Unconvincingname, it’s renowned author Dan Brown,” told the voice at the other end of the line. Instantly the voice at the other end of the line was replaced by a different voice at the other end of the line. “Hello, it’s literary agent John Unconvincingname,” informed the new voice at the other end of the line. “Hello agent John, it’s client Dan,” commented the pecunious scribbler.
  • I was beaten over the head over and over and over again with Ana’s self-doubt and insecurities. I can honestly say that I had no idea this kind of feeling was even possible. I’ve never had a book so thoroughly turn off my desire to read before. Ever.
  • Very early in Inferno, I realized that Dan Brown’s career-long fetish for ellipses had reached a whole new level. Basically, ellipses are the hero of the book. … … …

Characters are Actually Important

  • Parts of the book were discussing political views nothing to do with Anna. It appeared their (sic) were many main characters not only Anna. [a review of Anna Karenina]
Um, I don’t remember the flying scene in Anna Karenina…
  • Any time an author tries to sell me on a character’s “charm” by waxing hormonal about how “ridiculously good-looking” he is, I snicker inwardly. I can’t think why….
  • If you can relate to anyone in this novel, then I dismiss you as inherently bad. In fact, I f***ing hate you. Yes, you.
Harpo Marx is proof that all musicians (at least harpists) are inherently good people.
  • Seriously, all she thinks about (and she is the primary narrator) is Zeb. Zeb, Zeb, Zebby Debby Doo. Zibbity Dibbity Dib Doodle Doo, I wuv you. 
  • [W]e know Christian’s super deep and sophisticated because he plays the piano and listens to obscure classical music. This is how we know Edward Christian is really just a lost soul in need of love; his love of music. Everyone knows that no one threatening listens to music. Music lovers just aren’t capable of doing anything bad.
  • Oh, the narrator, you ask? Yeah, he’s an a**hole, too. Don’t seek comfort there, because he’s basically nothing more than a lie factory wallpapered in tweed. 

Know Your Audience, and Know That Not Everyone will be Your Audience

The reviewer on the right is clearly not a fan.
  • I had made reservation and on the date I was to go I had a very bad cold and fever and I called them to change my reservation and they refused. [a very confused review of “Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts“]
  • Not so hot; phony intellectuals are told this is a great work so they make up all sorts of lies about layering and craftsmanship, when it’s really just a so-so story and the ending with the guy Marlon Brandon played in the movie (Apocalypse Now) going crazy and Conrad never explaining why there should be such a fascination with him. It might be a nice book if there was a story here. But these modern phonies do not understand that writing is supposed to be enjoyable. [a review of Heart of Darkness]
  • Sure, I could certainly compose a lengthy list of love-or-hate writers I’ve witnessed throughout my stint on this website, but Murakami is one of the dudes who seems to catch oddly equal amount of rapturous praise and sneering vitriol. When one considers reading his work and attempts to decide whether or not to invest the time based solely on the thoughts others have shared here on this website, it must make the head do some Exorcist-spins. [on author Haruki Murakami]
  • I think there was way to much sexual content, and the story line was incredibly sad. Certainly not something i would recommend for anyone under the age of fifteen, If you want to get an idea of what the book is about, just search the title in the Wikipedia. no Students don’t need to read this filth. [a review of Tess of the d’Urbervilles]
  • So I went into reading this with a huge wall up (I know, I know, a terrible way to read), but then I realized that I wasn’t JUST going to be proselytized to… I was going to be threatened with nasty, rotting, coldsore-herpee-mange-pits all over my body that George W. Bush and Paris Hilton are going to take turns pouring their boiling-hot-diarrhea-snot into. Dante, you sick bastard! AWESOME!!! [a review of Dante’s Inferno]
  • This story needs editing. [Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier]
  • A special note to those who say my review stopped them from reading this book: No no no! Read it! I actually reread the whole series last summer and enjoyed it immensely. Just read it for what it is: ludicrous, well-written, humorous, delicious TRASH. Just don’t expect it to be the most brilliant novel ever written and you’ll be fine.

Causing Genuine Emotional Response Can Make Up For Almost Everything

  • There is no fluffy stuffing here, just good, straight storytelling with the added bonus of cautiously crafted prose. Also, it’s really f***ing creepy, and me being creeped out by anything at this point in my life is a pretty tall order. I mean, aside from spiders and needles and being buried alive and over-sexualized pre-teen Lolita-types who collect and dress like that Bratz line of toy dolls. Now that sh*t is creepy.
  • Lookie here, folks, this is me giving a 4-star rating to a massively sexist, pro-Christian, anti-sex, anti-birth-control novella about a guy who murders his wife for maybe cheating on him, feels justified in doing so, and gets away with it! 
  • Scenes from this book will return when you are stuck in traffic, and you will cry some more. Do not operate a motor vehicle under the influence of this book.
  • This book is a ball-crusher, and not for the faint of heart. I mean, no matter how you spin it, it is BLEAK. Don’t read it while experimenting with different anti-depression medications or anything. You’ve been warned.
  • There’s a rare and surprisingly invigorating clarity that comes along with that drowning feeling, one that is more worthwhile than protection from what frightens you… and Flannery’s world is a frightening place. Do with that what you will, and make your choice whether or not you are willing to get emotionally smacked around a bit with words.

Even Fiction Needs Some Reality

Totally unrealistic: her nails are way too clean!
  • I admit that I’ve never personally been stalked by two psychopathic, cannibal rapists with crazy futuristic guns in a lawless post-apocalyptic warzone, but I don’t think I would be cracking dick jokes and worrying about petty jealousies if I were. Well, maybe the dick jokes, but not all the time!
Actually, that is a two year old reading Japanese.
  • After spending basically half a lifetime dipped in chocolately booze pools with naked bodies slithering all around him while he passed the glass n’ rolled up dollar bill around, our protagonist sits by a river for, I dunno, a couple of minutes reciting “Om” before it just miraculously all comes back to him and he’s all enlightened and at peace again and sh*t.
  • “Oh Satan’s navel!” she said. “Now I remember!” Yeeeeeaeh, this is how real people talk.
  • The closest thing to un-evil that a lady can do for herself that is sex-related is have children within the bounds of marriage (this is their sole reason for existing anyways, right? AMIRIGHTFELLAS?!), then move on to raise them. Anything else is double, double toil and trouble.

Are You Sure Those Are the Words You Want? All of Them?

  • My eyes were so glazed over from reading page after page detailing every color and stitch and ornament on the heroine’s ball gown that I totally missed the one sentence when Evil Dude snuck in and stabbed her.
  • Renowned author Dan Brown gazed admiringly at the pulchritudinous brunette’s blonde tresses, flowing from her head like a stream but made from hair instead of water and without any fish in.
  • Don’t get me wrong, if well-written, this storyline could be very interesting. But even after just ten pages, the only thought going through my mind was “When will this guy shut up and tell the story???” The plot comes in a distant second to the narrator’s monotone, seemingly unending monologue. If I could withstand this, I believe I would have enjoyed it. But forgive me for not having that kind of patience for hundreds of pages. [a review of 1984]
“If you will not read books, you will forget the grammar.”
  • “Atop a control tower in the distance, the Turkish flag fluttered proudly – a field of red emblazoned with the ancient symbol of the crescent and star – vestiges of the Ottoman Empire, still flying proudly in the modern world.” C’mon, Dan Brown! Make an effort, bro!
  • Cutters, Lolitas, Munchausen by Proxy, obsessions, family hatreds, drug abuse, scandalous sex, graphic violence, serial murder, wealth, poverty, popularity, bullying, hypochondria, crippling jealousy, police procedural bullshit, alcoholism, taboo masturbation fantasies, eating disorders, small town smothering, big city anonymity, career/life/love failures, falls from grace, the hell of being romantically idealized by someone and then seen in vivid, horrible detail for what you really are: all addressed in this slim little novel. It’s pretty f***ing good, to be honest. Just…don’t loan it to your mother. And hope that no one in this novel reminds you of your mother. 

Writing Ridiculous Reviews Online Could Even Be a Way to Hone Your Craft

A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates
  • I had a hard time getting into this book. The profanity was jarring and stilted, not at all how people really talk. Frankly, the book came off as strictly workshop material. But after about 50 pages, I found myself immersed in the style. What had been stilted became lyrical and engaging. Authors go entire lifetimes without matching the poetry of couplets such as those of Mr. Rand Corporation. I can only wish I had thought of 41145 42820. [a review of A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates]
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is the story of the perversity of desire, and more particularly the stunted pleasures of the bourgeoisie. Written by the exquisite Laura Numeroff, in what can only be assumed was a violent passion for sterile aloofness from the society which she condemned, and a lust for concision which would socialize her treatise against the deadening wants, making it accessible to the masses. I can imagine her, unbathed, ignorant of her own hunger and thirst, cutting every insignificant word in a Flaubertian frenzy for le mot juste. ……”
  • There were no significant plot twists, and none of the characters developed enough for me to really “care” what happened next. If you’re looking for a challenging yet entertaining way to spend 4 hours reading, this is for you, but if you are seeking more thrills and suspense, consider a Steven (sic) King novel. [a review of Where is Baby’s Belly Button?]

HERE’S TO HELLEBORES!

“Why hellebores?” Well might you ask. Because they are my favorite! And because they can be useful for your characters and plots.

When we moved to Ashland, Virginia, we bought an 1858 Greek Revival house on a double lot with old trees and daffodils and not much else. I searched for shade-loving, blooming, evergreen, low-maintenance plants. Voila! Hellebores. They are all of that plus, as a bonus, the blooming happens in winter and early spring.

Behold Hellebore niger, aka Christmas rose, a welcome sight come December. It’s pretty and reliable! The opening picture is from this year, New Year’s Eve. The picture just above is from 12/21/18.  Hellebore niger is the earliest blooming hellebore I’ve found.

Close on the heels of the Christmas rose is the Lenten rose (aka Hellebore orientalis) and its various hybrids. Please note: despite being called Christmas rose and Lenten rose, hellebores are only distantly related to the rose family. This picture of purple and double white hellebores is from March 3, 2019.

Although the flowers and foliage of most hellebores are similar, the Stinking hellebore (Hellebore foetidae) is distinctively different. Its leaves are narrow and knife-like, and cluster at the ends of stalks. The flowers are smaller and droopy, and mostly a pale green.

Hellebores bloom throughout the spring, in a riot of colors. They bloom until the heat of June or July do them in. At that point they drop seeds, and where they are happy, they spread into lovely clumps.

Although they need water during droughts, they are low maintenance. Prune browned-off leaves and dry flowers at will. There are supposed to be a couple of insects and a fungus or so that can attack them, but I’ve never had either. Animals—deer, rabbits, etc.—usually don’t chomp on hellebores because of the (dis)taste of the leaves.

So no wonder I (as well as real gardeners) love hellebores!  But why would a writer care?

All parts of all hellebores are toxic! 

Smart rabbits eat only non-toxic plants in your garden!

Somehow, this did not come to my attention when I wrote My Poison Garden last fall. (How could that have happened?)

Although poisoning is rare, it does occur through ingestion of large quantities, and it can be fatal.

  • Symptoms can include any of the following 
    • Burning of the mouth and throat
    • Excess salivation
    • Vomiting
    • Abdominal cramping
    • Diarrhea
    • Nerve system dysfunction
    • Possibly even depression!
  • The roots contain cardiac glycosides.
  • Leaves and sap contain high levels of ranunculin and protoanemonin.

How might a character be induced to ingest large quantities of a foul tasting plant? 

All you can eat ranunculin and protoanemonin!

Dermatitis is fairly common, caused by handling the plants without protection.  Contact with leaves, stems, flowers, and sap can cause irritation and burning on the skin. Minimal exposure should cause a mild, short-lived irritation and can be treated by washing with soap and water. How might a scene be affected by a character suffering contact dermatitis?

This is a hellebore that is black, not a Black hellebore.

Although hybrids that look nearly black have been developed, historically Black hellebore is another name for Hellebore niger, the white blooming Christmas rose. Black hellebore was used by the the ancient Greeks and Romans to treat paralysis, gout, insanity, and other diseases.  Beware: it can also cause tinnitus, vertigo, stupor, thirst, difficulty breathing, vomiting, catharsis, slowing of the heart rate, including collapse and death from cardiac arrest. Not quite so serious: can cause burning of the eyes, mouth, and throat; or oral ulceration, gastroenteritis, a hematemesis. Could the toxicity of hellebores create an illusion of a chronic disease or disorder of unknown origin?

Folklore and legend vary from the sacred to the dark arts. Could your plot take elements from these?

  • According to legend, a young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem wept, and her tears falling into the snow sprouted the Christmas rose.
  • Witches are reputed to use hellebores in summoning demons.
  • Heracles/ Hercules killed his children in a fit of madness but was cured by using hellebore.
  • Greek besiegers of Kirrha (585 BC) used hellebore to poison the city’s water supply, overcoming the defenders weakened by diarrhea.

Bottom line for gardeners and writers: get thee hellebores!

Poisonous flowers make lovely Christmas cards!

GIVING

My last several blogs have focused on some pretty negative topics, from disposing of bodies to cannibalism to Friday the 13th. So it’s time for something a little more upbeat. A week ago was Giving Tuesday. And of course, December is a season of giving. So let’s consider gifts.

Ideally, a gift has no strings attached: there is no expectation of payment or anything in return—with the exception of thank-you notes. But we all know that ideal doesn’t always apply. For one thing, there is often an expectation of reciprocity. In addition, there are numerous customary “gift giving occasions” when the expectation of a gift makes it awkward or rude not to give something.  The list of such occasions seems to grow yearly.  Gift giving is a great plot/character device—the feelings of the giver and receiver, the gift chosen, the circumstances.  What follows is an exemplary, not exhaustive list.

  • Birthday
  • Potlatch (Pacific Northwest tribes)
  • Feast of St. Nicholas
  • Easter
  • Feast of St. Basil (Greek Orthodox Christians)
  • Eid al-Fitr (Muslims)
  • Hanukkah (American Jews)
  • Diwali and Pongal (Hinus)
  • Vesak (Buddhists)
  • Kwanzaa (African Americans)
  • Weddings
  • Wedding anniversaries
  • Funerals
  • Births
  • Adoptions
  • Baptisms and Christenings
  • Graduation or passing an examination
  • Father’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • Siblings Day
  • Gift exchange between host and guest
  • Retirement
  • Congratulations
  • Engagements
  • Housewarming
  • Baby showers
  • St. Valentine’s Day
  • And, of course, Christmas

If the above list doesn’t meet your gift-giving inclinations, you can always observe any number of National [Insert Holiday Here] Day dates throughout the year.

  • National Be Kind to Lawyers Day (2nd Tuesday in April)
  • World Veterinary Day (last Saturday in April)
  • Teacher’s Day (May 6)
  • Grandparent’s Day (first Sunday after Labor Day)
  • Mother-in-Law Day (October 26)
  • Halloween
  • 4th of July
  • Administrative Professionals Day (last week in April)
  • National Video Game Day (September 12th)
  • International Nurses’ Day (May 12th)
  • National Siblings Day (April 10th)
  • Cousins’ Day (July 24th)

Although in the U.S. we think of gifts as coming packaged, with a ribbon, and probably a card, consider alternatives. Can a phone call be a gift? How about a service, such as weeding the flower bed? Transportation to an appointment? Offering to edit a colleague’s document?  What constitutes a gift of the heart?

Promotional gifts are given to customers, clients, or employees. Mostly they serve provide advertising and/or goodwill purposes. AND they are tax deductible as business expenses. 

Writers, consider dangerous gifts

Are there legal issues for gifts?  Of course there are. Legally, a gift must be given as a gift (no expectation of reciprocation) and delivered to the recipient. In the U.S. (along with some other countries) gifts beyond a certain monetary amount are subject to a gift tax. In the U.S., that monetary value is $15,000 from one person to one person in a given year. Anything above that value means that tax issues must be considered, if only in terms of paperwork.

There is no limit on number of such gift can be given per year. But there is a lifetime exclusion (meaning all gifts to all people) of $11.58 million as of 2020. If this matters to you, “Congratulations!”

 But, writers, consider your characters!

And consider when a gift can be considered a bribe. If there is an explicit or implicit understanding between the giver and the recipient that the recipient will do something—often illegal or against company guidelines—because of the “gift,” we’re talking bribery, even if it isn’t actionable. Government agencies and some businesses have strict rules concerning gift giving/receiving. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

Unwanted gifts can occur in any category, for any occasion. Such gifts are often regifted, donated to charity, or thrown away. An unwanted gift that is a burden to the recipient in terms of care, maintenance, storage, or disposal costs is a a white elephant. 

Sometimes unwanted gifts are returned or exchanged. The day after Christmas is the busiest day for this. And estimated $3.4 billion was spent on unwanted Christmas gifts in the United States in 2017.  Surprisingly, the value of unused gift cards purchased in the U.S. each year is estimated to total about a billion dollars.  Why?  How could a gift card be unwanted? 

Writers: what about your plot or your character would lead to unused gift cards? Could it be a clue? A character note?

As the biggest gift-giving occasion of the year, Christmas gives us (and us writers) the opportunity to consider myriad possibilities for the POV character, whether giver or recipient.

BRACE YOURSELF! IT’S FRIDAY THE 13TH!!

Every year has at least one Friday the 13th, but more often two or three. The longest possible interval between Friday the 13ths is fourteen months, the shortest is one month. Today is the second in 2019. Interestingly, the 13th of any month is slightly more likely to fall on a Friday than on other days of the week.

Superstitions about Fridays and 13s emerged centuries ago, certainly by the Middle Ages, maybe even in Biblical times. The Biblical connection is the belief that there were 13 people present at the Last Supper. According to the Hebrew calendar Passover began on the 14 of the month of Nisan that year, meaning the seder (the Last Supper in Christianity) was held on the 13 of Nisan; Jesus was crucified the next day, which was a Friday. Since then, bad things that happen on Friday the 13th have garnered particular attention.

Friday the 13th is widely considered bad luck in Western superstition. According to The Sun, UK Edition

  • 55% of Brits consider themselves superstitious. 
  • 1 in 6 believe those days pose the greatest risk of bad luck striking.
  • 22% worry what might befall them on these days.
  • In the U.S., 25% are superstitious, with younger people being more so than older people.
  • According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, NC, 17 to 21 million people in the. U.S fear this day.

The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has held kansallinen tapaturmapäivä (Accident Awareness Day) on Friday the 13th every year since 1995. Public awareness campaigns encourage people to pay more attention to their surroundings and fix potential hazards around the home, workplace, and on the road.

The fear of Friday the 13th is paraskevidekatriaphobia. The word was coined by Dr. Donald Dossey who told his patients that “when you learn to pronounce it, you’re cured!” Of course, people are superstitious about many things. Suffice it to say, any of the bad happenings are worse on Friday the 13th.

  • Walking under a ladder
  • Breaking a mirror
  • Having a black cat cross your path
  • Spilling salt
  • Opening an umbrella inside the house
  • Stepping on cracks
  • Lighting three cigarettes with one match
  • Leaving a white tablecloth on a table overnight

Superstitions about Fridays and about the number 13 long preceded the connection of the two, which dates from about 1869.  Fear of the number 13 is “triskaidekaphobia.”  The ancient Code of Hammurabi omitted a 13th law from its list of legal rules. Many hotels have no floor labeled 13, ditto seat rows in airplanes.

In Hispanic and Greek cultures, the bad luck day is Tuesday the 13th. On the other hand, in Italy the bad luck day is Friday the 17th.

My relatives sometimes said, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all!” Not that that’s particularly relevant, but it’s been running through my thoughts as I wrote this blog.

Bottom line for writers: create your own Friday the 13th disaster, or a character who is irrationally fearful of Fridays, 13s, and Friday the 13ths.

Keeping It All Straight in a Mystery Series

On this day of mashed potato sandwiches and ten dollar televisions, I offer you another reason to give thanks: good friends, good friends who write very good books, and good friends whose latest very good book is now available! Today’s blog was written by my good friend and fellow author (and pet lover) Heather Weidner.

Guest Blog by Heather Wiedner

Many thanks to Vivian Lawry for letting me be a guest on her blog. Vivian and I met when the Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter formed. Through the years, we’ve served as officers, worked on committees and anthology projects, and most recently, as part of the mystery critique group that Vivian chairs.

I have loved mysteries since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. I write short stories, novellas, and mystery novels, including two mystery series. While the short stories and novellas are stand-alones, the novels are in two separate series. The first is the Delanie Fitzgerald mysteries (Secret Lives and Private Eyes, The Tulip Shirt Murders, and Glitter, Glam, and Contraband), about a sassy private investigator in Richmond, Virginia. She and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, and his sidekick, Margaret the Wonder Dog, work with a variety of clients in Central Virginia to solve crimes, capers, and murders. I am also working on another new cozy series set in Charlottesville, Virginia.

When you write novels and a series of novels, you need to keep the details in order. I make a chart for each book in a word processor, and I list all characters and key places. Then I make a column for the book, and I add all the details. This helps me keep the character names organized and avoid duplication. I also put a lot of backstory and details here. It helps me remember likes, relationships, and descriptive details. (You don’t want a character’s eye color to change between books.) I review and update it as the book goes through the writing process. Then, when I’m ready to start the next book in the series, I add a column and the characters. It also helps me show where all the characters appear. Also, if I change a character’s name during a revision, I use the search/find feature in the word processor to make sure I made all the updates.

In another file, I do a brief outline for each book with what I think appears in each chapter. Then I color-code the crimes, clues, humor, and romance. This gives me a visual sense of the story’s progress. Then I start writing, and that is when all the plotting and planning take a back seat. I find that some of my characters take on a life of their own, and the story progresses down another path. I also update my outline when I’m going through the editing stages. I use this document when I write the synopsis later for querying.

Church Hill in Richmond, Virginia

When you write a series, you also need to think about how much previous information from the other books you want to include. It’s like a skirt: it needs to be long enough to cover the subject. But you don’t want to go on and on and derail your current work with too much backstory. You want readers to remember things from the past books, but not to feel lost if they started reading your book in the middle of the series. You also need to introduce your characters with a brief description when they first appear, but be careful not to do an information dump on their life that reads like a police report.

The details are important. Your readers will notice if things change inadvertently between books. My critique group and beta readers also help me with early reads to make sure particulars are accurate.

When I’m not blogging, I’m working on my next book. The third book in my Delanie series came out in November 2019, and I have a novella in the next Mutt Mysteries (dog-themed mysteries) that comes out in March 2020.

Author Biography

Glitter, Glam, and Contraband is Heather Weidner’s third novel in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, and Deadly Southern Charm. Her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series. She is a member of Sisters in Crime–Central Virginia, Guppies, International Thriller Writers, and James River Writers.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan University and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager.

Synopsis of Glitter, Glam, and Contraband

Private investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in Glitter, Glam and Contraband. In this fast-paced mystery, the Falcon Investigations team is hired to find out who is stealing from the talent at a local drag show. Delanie gets more than she bargains for and a few makeup tips in the process. Meanwhile, a mysterious sound in the ceiling of her office vexes Delanie. She uses her sleuthing skills to track down the source and uncover a creepy contraband operation.

Glitter, Glam, and Contraband features a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations like helping sleazy strip club owner, Chaz Smith on his quest to become Richmond’s next mayor, tracking down missing reptiles, and uncovering hidden valuables from a 100-year-old crime with an Edgar Allen Poe connection.

Contact Information

Book Links

The Author and the Guest Author

OCTOBER IS FOR HORROR: VAMPIRES

Drawn by shamad

A friend recently told me that the horror villains we fear are subconscious stand-ins for things we’re afraid of in real life.  Vampires stand for a fear of change; zombies for a fear of crowds or strangers.  Fear of clowns is a sign you’re a normal, well-adjusted, perfectly rational person.

 

The anthropomorphic personification of EVIL!

Inquiring minds want to know!  I started with vampires—and I never got past vampires!

 

When I went online to learn what it means if we fear vampires, what popped up was an article by Ralph Blumenthal, “A Fear of Vampires Can Mask a Fear of Something Much Worse.”  He was writing in 2002 about villagers in Malawi believing that the government was colluding with vampires to collect human blood in exchange for food.

 

Mobs of vampire hunters killed dozens in Malawi

At the time, Malawi was in the grip of starvation, a severe AIDS epidemic, and political upheaval.  He cited Nina Auerbach, author of Our Vampires, Ourselves, to the effect that stories of the undead embody power ”and our fears of power.”

David J. Skal, author of The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror claims that a fixation on demons often accompanies periods of national stress.  “In times of social upheaval, the vampire asserts itself.”

 

 

In nearly every culture in the world, there is a legend of some variation of vampire-like creatures—the dead who reanimate and come back to feed on the living.  And there is general agreement that the roots of vampire legends are in the misunderstanding of how bodies decompose and of how certain diseases spread.

 

The Chinese Jiangshi hunts by “hopping” because of rigor mortis.

In an October 26, 2016 article in National Geographic titled The Bloody Truth About Vampires, Becky Little wrote, “As a corpse’s skin shrinks, its teeth and fingernails can appear to have grown longer.  And as internal organs break down, a dark ‘purge fluid’ can leak out of the nose and mouth.  People unfamiliar with this process would interpret this fluid to be blood and suspect that the corpse had been drinking it from the living.”

Paul Barber, author of Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality, made several telling points in the introduction to his book.  One is that there is little similarity between the vampires of folklore and the vampires of fiction.
Modern images of vampires are pretty stereotyped: fangs that bite the necks of victims; drinking human blood; can’t see themselves in mirrors; can be warded off with garlic, killed with a stake (or silver nail) through the heart; are aristocrats who live in castles and may be sexy.  This image was popularized by Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 film adaptation of the Broadway show of the same name.  Unlike Bram Stoker’s description of the monster in the 1897 novel Dracula as a repulsive old man with huge eyebrows and bat-like ears, Lugosi showed audiences a mysteriously elegant gentleman in evening dress.

 

 

The 1922 film Nosferatu (on left), though an unlicensed adaptation, portrayed the vampire as described in Stoker’s novel.

 

In European folklore, vampires typically wore shrouds, and were often described as bloated, with a ruddy or dark countenance.  Specific descriptions varied among regions: sometimes male, sometimes female, might have long fingernails, a stubby beard, the mouth and left eye open, a permanently hateful stare, red eyes, no eyes, etc.  Fangs were not always a prominent feature, and blood was generally sucked from bites on the chest near the heart rather than the throat.

Polish strzyga

But perhaps the most important theme of Barber’s book is that, lacking a scientific background in physiology, pathology, or immunization, the common response of ancient societies was to blame death and disease on the dead.  To that end, the interpretations they came up with—while wrong from today’s perspective—nevertheless were usually coherent, covered all the data, and provided the rationale for some common practices that seemed to be otherwise inexplicable.

 

A manananggal from the Philippines will send its detached head and torso to hunt.

Should you ever be pursued by a vampire, fling a handful of rice, millet, or other small grain in its path.  The vampire will be compelled to stop to count every grain, giving you time to escape.  I found no information on how vampires came to be associated with arithmomania, but it endures: remember The Count von Count on Sesame Street?

 

He’s the color of a rotting corpse, but cloth fangs are pretty harmless.

At this point, I realize that getting into methods of identifying vampires, protecting against vampires, ways to destroy vampires, and cross-cultural variations on vampirism is way beyond the scope of this blog.  Instead, I refer you to books such as this:

 

 

And should vampires show up in your dreams, according to DreamBible: the answers to all your dreams, pay attention.  Their appearance could mean many things.
  • Seeing a vampire in your dream symbolizes an aspect of your personality that is parasitic or selfishly feeds off others.
  • Alternatively, a vampire may reflect feelings about people you believe want to pull you down to their level or convert you to thinking negatively in a way similar to theirs.
  • To dream of being a vampire represents a selfish need to feed off others.
  • To dream of being bitten by a vampire represents feelings about other people using you or feeding off you and being unable to stop it.
  • Vampires may be a sign of dependence, problems with addiction, social pressure, or ambivalence.
  • A dream vampire might be telling you that you need to start being more independent and relying less on others resources or accomplishments.
  • To dream of killing vampires represents overcoming dependence on others.
  • Repeated dreams of vampires hovering over your shoulder and correcting your spelling or suggesting topics for research and expansion is almost certainly a sign that you are writing a blog entry about vampires.

The yara-ma-yha-who in Australia drains a victim of almost all blood before swallowing and regurgitating the body, which then becomes a copy of its killer.

Bottom line for writers: consider whether a vampire is a fit metaphor for your character.
 

The soucouyant appears in the Caribbean by day as a harmless old woman, but she sheds her skin at night to hunt as a ball of fire.