HOW THIS BLOG ENDED UP IN THE BAHAMAS

Sometimes a writer (and I’m not alone here) starts out to write one thing and something entirely different emerges.  My metaphor for this is heading for Maine and ending up in the Bahamas.  That’s what happened to this blog.  I started out to write TELLING TIME, about using food to set or reveal the time in which the story takes place.  What I had in mind was a timeline for foods and cooking equipment.

For Example, by 1900

As many of you know, I collect cookbooks, and have done so for decades. As I pulled relevant references off my shelves, I discovered over a dozen books specifically on the history of food and cooking. 

No more than an hour or so into this effort, I realized three things:

  1. Readers might not be as enamored of lists as I am.
  2. The list would go on forever!
  3. Such a blog wouldn’t be helpful in the general scheme of things.

And that’s when I headed for the Bahamas, and turned this blog into a Better Know Your Character effort.

Assuming you don’t want to draw entirely from your own life and experience, there’s a book for that. 

You can get food and cooking information for any time period you need, in as much detail as you need, and for virtually any place you need.  If you write across time periods and/or locations, one of the books covering a broader range would be a good choice. 

Cookbooks for Specific Geographic Needs
  • By region, for example New England, Northern India, the Balkans
  • Any state in the US
  • Virtually any country or territory
  • Virtually any city
    • I say virtually here because I don’t have every one. But given that I have books for Paris; Tbilisi; Detroit; Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; Denver; Rochester, NY; and Westminster, MD (to name a few), I’m confident you could find what you need.
  • Plantation cooking
  • Australian Outback cooking
  • Wilderness cooking
  • Pacific Island cooking
  • Appalachian cooking
Cookbooks by Time Period
  • The American colonial kitchen
  • By decade since at least 1900
  • Food and cooking during war.
    • For example, The Doughboy’s Cookbook (common foods and cooking in the trenches of World War I) or M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf (cooking during WWII rationing).
    • Cooking during wars or other conflicts often focus on deprivation.
      • The recently published CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine has recipes Russian cooks developed or adapted to deal with food shortages throughout the Cold War.
      • During the Civil War, there was a time when there were no pigeons left in the city of Richmond because all had been killed for the table.
Cookbooks by Ethnic Heritage
  • African American
  • Native American
  • Results of mixed heritages
    • West African and French influences in Cajun cooking
    • Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences all along the Silk Road
  • Any cuisine by country of origin

Everyone has to eat sometime (except alien cyborgs).

What is your character’s attitude toward food? 

Cover all three aspects of attitudes: think, feel, do.

What does home cooking mean to your character? 

The answer to this question can tell all sorts of things about your character besides ethnicity:

  • Approximate age
  • Social class
  • Family of origin
What is involved in meal preparation?

If your modern character is making a meal, does s/he start with raw ingredients or put a prepared meal in the microwave? Does the answer change if company is coming? Is it a family meal? Do other family members share your character’s attitudes toward food and cooking?

What does your character eat? 

Strictly a meat and potatoes person? Omnivore? PescatarianVegetarian? Vegan And why?

  • Religious prohibitions
  • Animal rights
  • Health considerations
  • Cultural habits
  • Availability
What health concerns does a character address with food?

Many medical conditions are caused by unhealthy eating habits or require dietary adjustments to treat fully. Depending on the diet, this character may have cookbooks addressing the concern, request substitutions when eating out, or be unwilling to eat or cook around others.

  • Lack of a nutrient, such as calcium, Vitamin D, sodium
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Lactose intolerance

Consider also the possibility of mental health concerns when eating or preparing food. A character with alcoholism, compulsive overeating, bulimia nervosa, etc. would likely display signs of those disorders that might be noticed by others. On the other hand, a character with severe depression, body dysmorphia, or OCD related to food might avoid social situations involving food altogether.

Food is for everyone

Whether your character lives to eat or eats to live—or is somewhere between the extremes—it’s difficult to write realistically without food coming into play somewhere, sometimes, at least occasionally. Making those mentions specific to your story/character is a big plus.

Bottom line advice to writers: Bring food and/or cooking into your story to add realism, specificity, and richness.

A LONG TIME COMING

Don’t get in Abigail Adams’s way!

During the framing of the Constitution, Abigail Adams famously urged her husband to “remember the ladies.” But it wasn’t until the 20th century that women were granted the right to vote.  As you may be aware, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. 

Lydia Taft

In 1756, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Lydia Taft became the first legal woman voter in colonial America. 

Voting rights did not come easily, nor did they come all at once.  With the exception of internal tribal voting on a few Native American reservations, voting was limited to white women until the 1950s, Unmarried white women who owned property could vote in New Jersey from 1776 until 1807.  Women were casting ballots as early as 1838 in Kentucky, where widows with school age children were allowed to vote on school issues. In 1869, Wyoming granted women full voting rights in territorial and local elections. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to pass women’s suffrage into law. Idaho and Utah gave women the right to vote at the end of the 19th century. By 1914, eleven states and one territory allowed women to vote.

Now that’s just bragging!

Partial Suffrage

During the years of partial suffrage, voting was a complicated business. One solution to the problem of separate ballots came in 1899, when Lenna R. Winslow of Columbus, Ohio—my home state—applied for a patent for a “Voting-Machine.” There were many versions of voting machines already patented, going back to 1875. But Winslow’s creation was unique. It was a single booth with two doors, one marked “Gents” and the other, “Ladies.” When one entered, the door essentially flipped a switch that brought up either the full ballot or the restricted one. Thus this voting machine was an analogue computer.

Iroquois women inspired early feminists

Voting around the world has been restricted in various ways for both women and men, but I’ll focus on women in North America.  Several Native American nations gave women decision making power equal to men, more in some areas. For example, starting sometime before 1654, Iroquois women had a deciding vote in the councils. Women elders voted on the male chiefs and could depose them. 

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Through the end of the 19th Century, there was a gradual shift away from what many historians called the “Cult of True Womanhood”—the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother whose only area of concern were home and family. Many religions encouraged this idealized gender separation.

Seeking Suffrage

The U.S. is typical of modern democracies in that men had the vote before women. One exception was Hawaii. In 1840, the Kingdom of Hawaii had universal suffrage—but it was rescinded for women in 1852.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were active in the suffrage movement and invited abolitionists to meet in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, to discuss women’s rights. The delegates produced a Declaration of Sentiments that began in the words of the Constitution but declared “that all men and women are created equal…”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, early advocate for freedom and equality, campaigned tirelessly to bring racial justice to suffragist organizations

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the campaign for women’s suffrage was very active. Perhaps this was because in the 1820s and 1830s most states had extended the vote to all white men, regardless of wealth or property ownership.

The women’s movement lost momentum during the war, but as the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, the old questions of citizenship and suffrage emerged again. At that point, all males were citizens, and black men were guaranteed the right to vote. 

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in the U.S. in 1873 campaigned for women’s suffrage as well as ameliorating the condition of prostitutes. It was one of several organizations who were actively supporting various social causes in addition to women’s suffrage—e.g., anti-alcohol, religious movements, moral-reform societies, and anti-slavery movements.

Freedom Summer for voter registration, 1964

Black suffragists started aggressively asserting their right to vote in the 1890s.  Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, all women didn’t have equal access: many women of color were disenfranchised through various loopholes and thus had to continue to fight for their voting rights. When poll taxes, literacy or comprehension tests, and onerous residency requirements did not keep people away from the polls, racist enforcers resorted to misinformation or outright intimidation campaigns to prevent Black citizens from voting.

Starting in 1910, some states in the West began extending the vote to women. The Southern and Eastern states were most reluctant. In 1916 Carrie Chapman Catt initiated a campaign to mobilize state and local suffrage groups all across the country to lobby for voting rights state by state.

Several leaders of more aggressive suffragist groups began more confrontational actions than marches and petition drives. Alice Paul used radical, militant tactics—such as hunger strikes and White House pickets—to generate publicity and support for the cause. While picketing outside the White House, 33 members of the National Women’s Party were arrested and sentenced to months in the Occoquan Workhouse. On the night of November 14, 1917, prison guards at the Workhouse restrained, beat, knocked unconscious, and threatened to rape many of the suffragists, including Dora Lewis, Dorothy Day, Minnie Prior, and Lucy Burns. Alice Cosu suffered a heart attack because of the abuse.

Imprisoned suffragists on hunger strikes were often force-fed by jailers. This forced feeding was sometimes fatal.
Ladies born before the 19th Amendment was ratified

The momentum lagged again during World War I, but women’s work on behalf of the war effort turned the tide after the war, leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—at least 100 years after the start of the movement.

Time Marches On 

In 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.  This Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified.

Lines of people waiting to vote in Philadelphia, 2020
Suffrajitsu was a form a self-defense taught to suffragettes to be used when they were almost inevitability attacked at marches and demonstrations.

Bottom line for writers: Besides the rich background for historical writing, consider a future in which the Equal Rights Act is revoked. Consider what would happen if individual states decided to go back to partial suffrage for some groups.

P.S. Women’s voting rights varied around the world, but with the granting of suffrage in Saudi Arabia in 2013, women can vote in almost every country that holds elections. In the Vatican City, only Cardinals are allowed to vote, and only men can be Cardinals.

JUST THE FACTS

Below you will find facts, maybe useful in your writing, definitely fun—IMHO. As the title says, this is just the facts. If something catches your eye, you can find more about it online. (Most of these are on multiple websites, so list is just for your convenience.)

Showers really do spark creativity

Five of the ten deadliest poisonous snakes are native to Australia

Many dogs have served US military campaigns, even earning medals, awards, and combat ranking.

  • Sergeant Stubby served in the 102nd Infantry Division in World War I, the only dog to be promoted through the ranks by serving in combat. He was awarded several medals alongside his handler.
  • Rags was a stray terrier mutt picked up by an AWOL soldier who used him to bluff his way back into the 1st Infantry Division commander’s good graces. He delivered messages in the trenches, warned of incoming shells, and replaced field telephone wires. After being injured in a gas attack, Rags and his handler were both honorably discharged and sent home. Rage is buried with full military honors.

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  • Smoky the Battle Dog was found abandoned in a foxhole during WWI and earned eight battle stars in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, despite weighing only four pounds. In addition to running radio cables, alerting soldiers of incoming shells and gas, and delivering messages, Smoky is unofficially recognized as the first military therapy animal.
  • Chips was part of the Dogs for Defense program initiated in World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star for Valor and the Purple Heart for being injured in battle. (Those medals were later taken back by higher-ups who claimed Chips was “equipment” rather than a soldier, despite the fact that Chips took out several German pillboxes and disabled all the enemy soldiers within entirely by himself. He is buried with his medals, but don’t tell the generals.)
  • Nemo A534 was wounded in combat during the Vietnam War but still guarded his handler long enough for the man to radio for help and receive a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Nemo was one of the first dogs given an honorable discharge from Vietnam and sent home to retirement.
  • Lucca lost her leg while clearing IEDs in Iraq on her second tour of duty. She was awarded the Dickin Medal by the PDSA and a (unofficial) Purple Heart by one of the hundreds of service members whose lives she had saved.

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The longest wedding veil was the length of 63.5 football fields (6,962.6 m or 22,843 ft 2.11 in)

Superman didn’t fly until 1943 — before that, he could jump 1/8 mile high

The first mechanical computer was invented in the 1822 (by Charles Babbage, not Superman) — the first electrically programmable computer was invented by Tommy Flowers in 1943 (also not by Superman)

Space smells like seared steak or welding fumes

The official state drink for Ohio is tomato juice

The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn

Bees sometimes sting other bees (when bees from another colony or species tries to enter the hive without bringing pollen)

Hmong, Silbo Gomero, Yupik Inuit, Amazigh, Wam Akhah, and Kuskoy are only a few of the more than seventy communities who communicate by whistling

Whistles travel about ten times farther than spoken words, up to five miles

There are about ten thousand trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) ants on earth

Depending on age, kids typically ask 40,000 (between ages two and five) to 300 (between ages five and twelve) questions every day

The letter E occurs in 11% of all English words

in 1998, twelve hundred human bones were found in the basement of the London house where Benjamin Franklin lived, dating from the time when Franklin was staying there. Whether the constantly curious and observant Benjamin Franklin knew what was in his basement… the world may never know.

The healthiest place to live is Shangri-La Valley in Panama

The first iPhone was made by Cisco

Romanian police officers often take ballet lessons to improve spatial and body awareness

King Pepi II, Egyptian pharaoh, had a slave coated in honey to draw insects away from himself

barreleye is a a large deep-ocean fish with a completely transparent head

Approximately 10-30% (depending on the source) of people have a fabella bone in their knee

Technically, Pringles aren’t potato chips

Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard (John Frederick Parker) left his post at Ford’s Theatre to go for a drink — he told family members that Lincoln had dismissed him with the valet

Dolphins have been trained to be used in wars: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, and the US have all had Military Marine Mammal divisions at some point

Playing the accordion was once a requirement for teachers in North Korea

Several patent medicines once contained morphine

Donald Weder holds more patents than Thomas Edison

There are approximately 2,000 moving parts in a modern pedal harp

Pouring cold water makes a slightly higher-pitched sound than pouring hot water

Pro baseball once had women players, mostly to keep stadiums full during WWII

One California Highway Patrol officer (Kevin Briggs, “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge”) has talked-down over 200 potential suicides

In 16th and 17th century Europe, cannibalism was fairly common—for medical purposes!

Onesimus, an African slave in Boston, was the first person to introduce inoculations to the American colonies in 1706

Koalas have fingerprints

Riding a roller coaster could help you pass a kidney stone (renal calculi passage if you want to be fancy)

Most dogs can learn to recognize about 165 words

Dinosaurs lived on every continent

Bee hummingbirds are so small they are sometimes mistaken for insects (only 0.056 – 0.071 oz)

Sea lions can dance to a beat (though I can’t say much for their taste in music)

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster goes back nearly 1500 years, first spotted in 565 AD

Two-three teaspoons of raw nutmeg can induce hallucinations, convulsions, pain, nausea, and paranoia that can last for several days, and rarely, death

For 100 years, maps (including Google Earth) have shown Sandy Island off the north-west coast of Australia, though cartographers have been demonstrating that it does not actually exist since at least 1974

A Lone Star tick bite can make you allergic to red meat by transferring a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into your blood

It is illegal to allow a dog to fight a pig in an enclosed space in Florida, but perfectly legal to use dogs to hunt wild pigs

Greenland sharks can live for 300-400 years

If a pickle doesn’t bounce, it cannot be called a pickle, according to Connecticut law

The English Monarchy owns at least two private properties, one in the Moors of Shropshire and one in London near the Royal Courts of Justice, addresses unknown

Note to writers: plot lines and/or esoteric knowledge for characters, use as you will!

Snopes.com is an excellent resource for making sure your fun facts are actually factual, and it can also be an inspiration for plots or characters from urban legends. My favorite is the one about the bodies hidden under the motel floorboards!

The Worst of Times, The Best of Times

One of my favorite guest bloggers has agreed to provide her always unique perspective on current events. With all that’s been written on the current pandemic, we sometimes need to take a step back and look from a (very) different angle. Kathleen Corcoran is a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and tenuous believer in the goodness of humanity.

Whenever society collapses (or maybe wobbles a bit), we seem to see the extremes in people come out. The very best of heroes stand up, and the very worst villains take advantage. As the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett wrote in Good Omens, “Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind.” Of course, disaster also sometimes brings out the very weirdest elements…

Note: The examples provided below are by no means a comprehensive list of incidents. They represent my own personal opinions and are not endorsed or promoted by any other entity.

Volunteers at the Sunnyvale Community Services food distribution site
(Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The Best Side of Humanity

During the Plague of Justinian, the official Court Historian Procopius kept notes on how the plague affected the Roman Empire. In addition to some rather bizarre medical theories, he saw the way the plague brought out the very best of humanity. “[T]hen all, so to speak, being thoroughly terrified by the things which were happening, and supposing that they would die immediately, did, as was natural, learn respectability for a season by sheer necessity.” From History of the Wars, II.xxii–xxxiii translated by H.B. Dewing.

  • One constant in every disaster is the appearance of some form of healthcare worker, whether professional or volunteer, providing care for patients despite personal danger, overwhelming circumstances, inadequate supplies, exhaustion, and every other possible obstacle.
    • As far back as the Plague of Justinian, the court historian Procopious wrote about the exhausting and selfless labors of those who cared for plague patients, though it seems the main job of a nursing aid at the time was stopping their patients from committing suicide before they died from the plague: “When they were struggling to rush headlong out of their houses, they would force them back by shoving and pulling against them.”
    • Elsie Maud Inglis started a women’s medical corps during WWI and established two hospitals on front lines. When the German army advanced, she was taken prisoner with her patients rather than be evacuated. During a later prisoner exchange, Elsie Inglis refused to be released unless her captors also released her patients, saving 13,000 injured Serbian POWs.
    • During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (sometimes called Spanish Flu), the ease of infection and limited hospital space resulted in incredibly high mortality rates among everyone who worked near the sick. Stories emerged after of nurses working straight through their shifts only to die at the end, of medical students taken out of classes to run entire hospital wards, of doctors continuing to direct care rotas despite being confined to bed themselves.
    • Corporal Desmond Doss repeatedly ran into enemy fire to recover wounded soldiers as a medic in WWII. Despite refusing to carry any weapon as a conscientious objector, he saved nearly 100 wounded soldiers under fire and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
    • After running 26.2 miles, many Boston marathoners who crossed the finish line after the 2013 bombing continued running several more miles to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood.
    • Despite having been hit earlier by Hurricane Katrina, Cuba was one of the first countries to offer aid to the US victims of the hurricane, offering to send 1,586 doctors and 26 tons of medicine.
    • Kellan Squire, an ER nurse who ran for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia (in part to fix the healthcare system) has this to say about healthcare workers in the current pandemic: “We’re going to get infected, we’re going to die and get ICUed at a rate a few times above other subgroups, we’re going to charge in without the resources or support we need to do our jobs. It’s just what we do. It’s not like we’re going to stop… especially now.”
  • Despite facing serious threats to themselves or their families, there are always people who are willing to face that danger in order to aid or shelter others.
    • Ninety percent of the Jewish population of Denmark survived the Holocaust because nearly the entire Danish population worked together to hide or evacuate their friends and neighbors when the Nazis invaded.
    • Every part of Harriet Tubman’s life was pretty heroic.
    • In 1943, hundreds of non-Jewish women married to Jewish men who had been deported gathered every day at the Rosenstrass e 2-4 Welfare Office to demand the release of their relatives, risking harassement, arrest, and execution while completely unarmed themselves. The “Rosenstrasse Protest” was successful; all of the arrested men were released, and the protesters faced no repercussions.
    • In Kenya in 2015, al-Shabab terrorists started a pattern of entering an area, separating Muslims and non-Muslims at gunpoint, and then massacring all of the non-Muslims. A bus leaving Nairobi in December was boarded by terrorists who demanded that the passengers separate by religion, but Kenyan Muslims on board refused to move, sheltering their fellow riders in their ranks. The al-Shabab terrorists eventually left without firing a shot.
    • The families of Sarajevo business partners Yosef Kavilio and Mustafa Hardaga wound up saving each other, decades apart. In the 1940s, Mustafa Hardaga and his wife Zejneba hid the Jewish Yosef Kavilio and his family in their cellar. Decades later, in 1992, Kavilio’s descendants in Israel saw on television the danger Zejneba Hardaga faced from Bosnian troops. The petitioned the Israeli government to locate Zejneba and her daughter, who were safely evacuated to Israel.
  • Sometimes doing the right thing means deliberately disobeying laws or going against direct orders from a superior.
    • Dominican Friar Najeeb Michael, who was in charge of digitizing thousands of ancient volumes of Iraqi history, refused to leave his abbey in Mosul when ISIL invaded. Instead of evacuating immediately as his superiors orders, he kept boxing up and moving cases of books to prevent them from being destroyed. Even when he finally started to leave the city, he kept stopping his car to children and disabled passengers on his way to safety.
    • Hugh Thompson was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who landed his helicopter between American soldiers and the fleeing residents of My Lai, threatening to open fire on the soldiers if they did not stop killing civilians and destroying homes. He then flew dozens of survivors to receive medical care. Despite direct orders to cover up the My Lai Massacre, Major Thompson cooperated fully with the investigation into the incident. He was later ostracized by fellow military members, receiving anonymous death threats and mutilated animal bodies left on his front porch.
    • Tibor Rubin repeatedly broke out of North Korean POW camps to smuggle food back in to fellow prisoners. He also provided medical aid to other POWs, using skills he picked up while surviving Mauthausen concentration camp during the Holocaust
    • In 1944, Nazi ships tried to round up all of the Jews in the Ionian Islands of Greece. When the SS demanded that Mayor Loukas Karrer of Zakynthos provide a list of all Jews on the island, Bishop Chrysostomos handed them a list with two names on it: Mayor Loukass Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos. Meanwhile, the 275 Jews on the Zakynthos were hidden by residents of nearly inaccessible mountainous villages; every person on the island collaborated in saving their Jewish neighbors.
    • The Edelweiss Pirates was a loosely connected network of ex-Hitler Youth, mostly between the ages of 14 and 18, who did everything they could disrupt the Nazi war effort in Germany, including blowing up railways and helping Jews escape execution.
    • Sergeant Dakota Meyer was ordered to ignore a distress call at Ganjigal and to fall back instead. He drove into the battle zone five times, transporting wounded soldiers in his Humvee and providing cover fire for other military personnel to escape.
    • Dr. Albert Battel was a lieutenant in the German army who stopped the SS from entering Przemysl ghetto in 1942. While the SS was stalled trying to get through the blocked bridge, Lieutenant Battel and his unit moved families out of the ghetto and hid them at his own Army headquarters, preventing the SS from deporting them to the Belzec Extermination Camp.
  • With the stock market practicing pogo moves, kids needing extra childcare, people missing shifts, and every possible industry seeing some kind of disruption, it’s still amazing to see businesses putting the good of the community over profit.
    • Zahid Iqbal has donated and delivered thousands of “coronavirus kits” from his convenience store in Edinburgh, Scotland. He and his employees have made the kits from toilet paper, antibacterial handwash, tissues, and anti-inflammatories and then brought them to retirement homes and the homes of at-risk neighbors.
    • Healthcare workers in America are facing a serious shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), putting them at additional risk of infection while they work. Several medical tv shows are donating PPE used on sets (still sterile boxes of gloves, face masks, surgical gowns, hairnets, etc.) to EMTs, fire stations, and hospitals.
    • Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Mississippi has converted its distillery to make spray disinfectant.
  • There are some very creative methods of giving back to the community and helping society that take a specific blend of available talent and courage to perform.creative methods of giving
    • Chef José Andrés closed all of his restaurants in DC to comply with restrictions on social gatherings. With empty kitchens and refrigerators full of food, he decided to go back to work making packaged meals to distribute to people in quarantine, healthcare workers, and anyone else in the area who needs help feeding their families.
    • Other restaurants that have to close for social distancing are donating massive amounts of food (as well as cooking and packaging supplies) to local food banks, shelters, Meals on Wheels, and community kitchens.
    • Chiari Hospital in northern Italy needed ventilator valves to help COVID-19 patients breathe. Engineers from Isinnova collaborated with the 3-D printing company FabLab to produce replicas of the valve quickly, allowing the ventilators to stay in use.3-D printing ventilator valves.
    • Musicologist Ahmad Sarmast graduated from school and then returned to his native Afghanistan to record oral musical traditions he feared would be lost in chaos and uncertainty. Along the way, he started teaching girls to play orchestral instruments in defiance of religious restrictions. He has already survived one bombing assassination attempt and continues to record, notate, and teach despite now being nearly deaf and riddled with shrapnel.
Dr. Ahmad Sarmast with some of his students

The Worst Side of Humanity

Unfortunately, there will always be people waiting to take advantage of any situation. Some betray their neighbors to save themselves. Some see any opportunity for profit or personal gain. Some seem to hurt people for no other reason than the pleasure they feel when hurting people. Again, Sir Terry Pratchett said it best: “Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” (from I Shall Wear Midnight)

  • The phrase “adding insult to injury” comes to mind when reading these next examples. People who are kicked when they are down, sometimes in the most petty of ways.
    • After the students protesting in Tiananmen Square were gunned down in 1989, the Chinese government reportedly charged families of victims a “bullet fee” for the cost of the bullets used to execute their dead family members.
    • During Irish Potato Famine, Sultan Abdul Medjid Khan of the Ottoman Empire tried to donate £10,000 and ships full of food to send to Ireland. British ambassadors told him it was forbidden for anyone to donate more than Queen Victoria, who had only donated £1,000.
    • People running from Hurricane Katrina were turned back at gunpoint when they tried to cross the bridge into neighboring town of Gretna.
    • White Star Line billed the families of Titanic victims for freight shipping cost of having bodies returned, used a weird contract clause to fire every employee the moment the ship started to sink, and billed the families of the band members for the cost of uniforms that weren’t returned (because they were too busy playing to keep people calm as the ship sank to worry about taking off their clothes and stowing them safely on a lifeboat for return to the company).
    • The Mongol army was busy beseiging the city of Kaffa (present-day Feodosiya) on the Crimean Peninsula when they were forced to retreat because their ranks were so depleted by the Black Death. Stories from the time claim that the Mongols catapaulted the bodies of soldiers who died from the plague over the city walls into Kaffa on their way out.
    • At the end of WWII, Soviet soldiers held in German POW forced labor camps were returned to Russia. Trains carrying these soldiers home were diverted to Russian forced labor camps, gulags, where most of the soldiers were sentenced to 10-20 years for the “crimes” of assisting the enemy and having possibly been exposed to Capitalist Western POWs.
  • A scapegoat can always be found for any disaster or atrocity. Xenophobia and bigotry are easier than understanding the facts.
    • Armenians were blamed for the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in WWI, providing a convenient justification for the Armenian Genocide.
    • Jews, Romani, witches, and sailors were all blamed for Black Death at one point or another. Terrified plague mobs expelled, burned alive, deported, stoned, and performed every other imaginable atrocity on whichever group was most convenient at the time.
    • Mentally and physically handicapped Robert Hubert was not in London during the Great Fire of 1666; his ship didn’t even arrive until two days after the fire was extinguished. Nevertheless, he was tried and hanged for firebombing London and starting the Great Fire.
    • Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson went on TV and announced that the 9-11 terrorist attacks were the fault of “liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, pagans, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters.”
    • The current novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed on China (especially Wuhan province), Chinese people, people of Chinese descent, people of partial Chinese descent, and people who might look a bit Asian if you tilt your head at just the right angle. Government officials (including those in very high office) have blamed the Chinese government, and it trickles all the way down to children being bullied for “spreading the virus.”
  • It seems there will always be someone willing to take advantage of others’ fear, selling the Brooklyn Bridge and a guarantee to Heaven all in one convenient package.
    • Spiritual leaders” whose primary goal is to raise funds have started asking for donations in return for prayers, going so far as to ask for donations to build a hospital for patients with coronavirus (conveniently leaving out the bit about the hospital being a spiritual place rather than an actual building where medical care is provided.)
    • The prices of everything from face masks to canned food have skyrocketed around the world.
    • Price-gouging of food and fuel became so severe during WWII that enabling price controls was one of the primary reasons the government enforced a rationing system.
    • “Doctors” during the Black Plague in Europe charged extreme prices for very expensive treatments, such as eating a paste of ground emeralds or bathing in the urine of uninfected mothers.
  • People hoard anything they think might become scarce, even if they don’t immediately need it, even if others need it more.
    • While people starved by the millions in 1845-1847, the worst years of Ireland’s Great Hunger, millions of bushels of grain were shipped to England, along with livestock, dairy, and beer. Landlords only allowed the peasants to eat potatoes, which had all been destroyed by blight.
    • In Australia, people with stockpiles of food have received death threats.
    • People panic buying medical supplies, especially in the US, have caused a shortage in hospitals, clinics, fire stations, nursing homes, etc. Doctors and nurses are re-using face masks, making surgical gowns at home, and not doubling gloves in an attempt to make their increasingly limited supplies last.
Soviet POWs got the short straw everywhere.

Um… What?

Fear makes people do all sorts of strange things, like buying loads of toilet paper in preparation for an illness that doesn’t cause any increase in toilet use.

  • City officials seeking to cure the “Dancing Plague” in Strasbourg in 1518 asked medical officials how to help people who were literally dancing themselves to death, flailing and jerking around for days on end until they dropped dead from exhaustion. The doctors decided that these people had a sickness that needed to be shaken off… by forcing them to keep dancing!
  • A strip club in Las Vegas is advertising that the lap dances on offer are guaranteed to be free from coronavirus.
  • People have begun sharing very odd photos and videos of the ways they are passing time while in quarantine or isolation. Pets wearing ties or being unhelpful coworkers are a popular photo subject, as are twitter competitions for things like jumping on the bed or holding one’s breath.
  • The Justinian Plague often began with very high fevers, causing hallucinations. These visions were often interpreted as signs from God of punishment to come or evidence of demonic possession. Exorcism was a common prescription, usually carried out by a tonsured monk. There were also people who believed that the monks were demons and the cause of the plague and fled from the sight of any man who was getting a bit bald on top.
  • According to some reports, the Dutch are hoarding cannabis in preparation for whatever COVID-19 brings, while the French are building stockpiles of red wine.
  • Something the Justinian Plague and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic had in common – people often wore name tags, armbands, toe tags, or some other external form of ID because the illness could kill so quickly that it was often the only way of ensuring your body would be identified if you dropped dead on the street.
  • With the aquariums in Chicago closed to visitors, the penguins have taken over!
Who put these guys in charge?

Be the Best!

You can be one of the good guys. Here are some ways you can show the best of humanity during this pandemic (and at any other time!)

  • Donate blood! The Red Cross really needs blood donations from healthy people to meet the needs of virus patients on top of all their regular needs.
  • Buy vouchers or gift certificates online for local restaurants, bars, shops, etc. Redeem them when things are back to normal. Think of it like a microscopic micro-loan.
  • If you are crafty, make reusable face masks for medical professionals. Here are some instructions.
  • Donate to organizations working to help the most vulnerable people in our societies.
  • Call, text, email, video chat with your friends, family members, work acquaintances, that guy down the street you wave to while walking your dog. Social distancing, while necessary for physical health, is not great for mental health. Make an extra effort to reach out to isolated people and stay connected.
  • https://www.flattenthecurve.com/
The Best: Lines of people waiting for hours to donate blood after the Orlando mass shooting

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.

BURIED ALIVE

 
Fear of being buried alive is called taphephobia.  Also known as live burial, premature burial, and vivisepulture, it’s been around forever—and is with us still!  Those buried alive often die of asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation, or hypothermia.  If fresh air is available, the buried person can last days.

 

This guy seems pretty happy about the situation.

Fear of being buried alive reached a peak in 19th century England.  More than 120 books in at least five languages were written about it, as well as methods to distinguish life from death.  (See below.)

 

Harry Clarke’s illustration for Premature Burial by Edgar Allen Poe

A Fine Literary Tradition
 
Consider Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial,” The Fall of the House of Usherand Berenice.  More recently, Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery includes Paul Sheldon’s Misery’s Return, a book within a book.

Farinata and Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti in Level 6 of the Inferno, painted by Suloni Robertson

Dante’s Inferno references several classes of sinners punished with some form of eternal burial:

  • The Sullen in Level 5 are kept just below the waters of the River Styx, forever near drowning.
  • The Heretics in Level 6 are trapped in flaming tombs.
  • Murderers in Level 7 are covered by a river of boiling blood.
  • In Level 8 (where all types of fraud are punished)
    • Flatterers are encased in human excrement.
    • Simonists are buried head-first while flames burn their feet.
    • Fraudulent Counselors are encased in flames.
  • The Treacherous in Level 9 are buried in ice of varying levels depending on their sin.
Accidental or Unintentional Burial
 

It’s easier to handle if you bring a buddy along.

Reports of being buried alive date back to the fourteenth century.  In spite of hype and hysteria, as late as the 1890s patients have been documented as being declared dead and accidentally sent to a morgue or encased in a steel box, only to “come back to life” when the coffin is dropped, the grave is opened by grave robbers, or embalming  or dissection has begun.

 

“Life preserving coffin in doubtful cases of actual dead,” a safety-coffin model by Christian Eisenbrandt

During centuries when embalming wasn’t common practice, coffins were mostly for the rich, and rapid burial was the norm especially during major pestilences such as cholera, bubonic plague, and smallpox.  In these cases, rapid burial was an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.

 

The Great Plague by Rita Greer

Several medical conditions can contribute to the presumption of death: catalepsy, coma, and hypothermia.

 

How to Know When Someone Is Really Dead

 

Snoring is a pretty good sign. (This is actually the Fourpence Coffin flophouse, the first homeless shelter in London.)

Jan Bondeson, author of Buried Alive, identified methods of verifying death used by 18th and 19th century physicians.  (Personal reaction: shudder!)  The methods were any acts the physician thought would rouse the unconscious patient, virtually all imaginatively painful.
  • Soles of the feet sliced with razors
  • Needles jammed under toenails
  • Bugle fanfares and “hideous Shrieks and excessive Noises”
  • Red hot poke up the rectum
  • Application of nipple pincers
  • A bagpipe type invention to administer tobacco enemas
  • Boiling Spanish wax poured on patients’ foreheads and warm urine poured into the mouth
  • A crawling insect inserted into patient’s ear
  • A sharp pencil up the presumed cadaver’s nose
  • Tongue pulling (manual or mechanical) for at least three hours

 

The traditional Irish wake was (and is) an occasion for family and friends to celebrate the life of the deceased while watching the body for signs of movement.

Most agreed that the most reliable way to be sure someone was dead was to keep an eye on the body for a while.  To that end, waiting at least 72 hours from apparent death to burial was mandated.  In the mid-1800s, Munich had ten “waiting mortuaries” where bodies were stored awaiting putrefaction.  Each body was rigged to bells to summon an attendant should the corpse come back to life.

 

Waiting morgues, like this one in Paris, were often left open to the public for macabre entertainment

We presume that modern science has surpassed this sort of mistake, defining death as brain death.  Even so, earthquakes and other natural disasters often result in people being accidentally buried alive.

 

Victims of the 2018 tsunami in Nepal were not so fortunate.

But Wait: Sometimes People Are Buried Alive on Purpose!

From the Museum of Torture in Venice

Sometimes live burial is a method of execution.  Documented cases exist for China, German tribes, Persia, Rome, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Russia, Netherlands, Ukraine, and Brazil.

Confucian scholars were buried alive while their books were burned in 3rd century BCE

Interestingly, most of the laws demanding live burial as a form of execution were for crimes committed by women.  Men convicted of comparable crimes were more likely to be beheaded.

 

Vestal Virgins were sealed in caves for breaking their vow of chastity, as shown in this painting by Pietro Saja

When death was not enough, often a spike was driven through the body of the person executed by live burial, perhaps as a way to prevent the person from becoming an avenging, undead Wiedergänger.

 

In some parts of the world, live burial is still practiced as a means of execution.  Often, the victim is buried upright with only their head above ground.  In these cases, death is very slow and painful, often the result of dehydration or wounds caused by animal scavengers.

 

And sometimes live burials are another horrific act of war.

Codice Casanatense, a Portugese artist, recorded this scene of a Hindu widow being sent alive to her husband’s grave.

Very rarely people willingly arrange to be buried alive, for any number of reasons.  Sometimes it is to demonstrate their ability to survive it.  The Indian government has made voluntary live burials illegal because the people who try it so often die.  In 2010, a Russian man was buried to try to overcome his fear of death, but was crushed to death by the weight of the earth over him.

Four “lucky” contest winners

There are even performances in which people have an opportunity to be buried alive for fifteen or twenty minutes.  As a publicity stunt for the opening of the 2010 film Buried, a lottery was held for a few fans to have a very unique viewing experience.  Four winners were blindfolded, driven to the middle of nowhere, and buried alive in special coffins equips with screens on which they could watch the film.  (A 2003 episode of “Mythbusters” demonstrated that, even if a person buried alive was able to break out of a coffin, they would be crushed or asphyxiated by the resulting dirt fall.)

There is now a monument to Mick Meaney on Kilburne Street.

Irish barman Mick Meaney remained buried under Kilburne Street in London for 61 days in 1968, mostly to win a bet.  Tubes to the surface allowed air and food to reach him in his temporary, underground prison.

Parents are often unwillingly volunteered for vivisepulture on the beach.

Bottom line for writers: consider a character being buried alive—or being threatened with it—as a way to up the tension. 
 
Live burial isn’t the only attention-worthy aspect of dead bodies.  For more, check out books such as these.

SATANISM: IT’S A REAL THING

Engraving by Gustave Dore. from Milton’s Paradise Lost

Satan, also known as the Devil, is an entity in the Abrahamic religions that seduces humans into sin or falsehood.  In Christianity and Islam, he is usually seen as either a fallen angel or a jinn who used to possess great piety and beauty but rebelled against God.

 

Shaitan or Sheyatin, an evil jinn

In Judaism, Satan is typically regarded as a metaphor for the yetzer hara, the evil inclination (or as an agent subservient to God).

The Christian figure of Satan is viewed as a horned, red, demonic human figure with a pointy tail and sometimes hooves.  Sinners are sent to the domain of Satan after death—to hell, an underground world of fire and sadistic demons under Satan’s command.

Engraving by Gustav Doro of the Ninth Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno

Other versions of Satan appear as a Zoroastrian Devil and Jewish Kabbalism, but the name “Satan” first appeared in the Book of Numbers in the Bible, used as a term describing defiance.  In the Book of Job, Satan is an accusing angel.  In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (written in the first century B.C.) Satan is a member of the Watchers, a group of fallen angels.

 

The Watchers, as described in the Book of Revelations

Early on, satan was simply a word meaning adversary.  In the Book of Samuel, David is depicted as the satan of the Philistines.  In the Book of Numbers, it is used as a verb, when God sent an angel to satan (oppose) Balaam.

King David With His Harp at the entrance of his tomb in Jerusalem

In the New Testament, Satan is established as a nemesis of Jesus Christ and the final book of the Bible, Revelations, he is the ultimate evil.

The Devourer of Worlds (and bones)

The words “Satanism” and “Satanist” appeared in English and French during the 1500s, when the words were used by Christian groups to attack other, rival Christian groups.  For example, a Roman Catholic tract in 1565 condemned the “heresies, blasphemies, and sathanismes [sic]” of Protestants.  Anyone who didn’t follow one’s own “pure” Christian views was condemned.

St Augustine shown here being offered the Book of Vice by Satan, as painted by Michael Pacher in 1471

Gradually, it morphed into meaning anyone leading an immoral lifestyle.  It wasn’t until the late 1800s that it was applied to those suspected of consciously and deliberately venerating Satan.

 

Eugene Vintras, inspiration for the Golden Dawn, levitating in Tilly-sur-Seulles

According to online sources, during the early modern period, fear of Satanists took the form of witch trials (1400s to 1700s, which doesn’t seem all that modern to me, but hey, witch hysterias, and the inquisition).  Across both Protestant and Catholic regions, witch trials emerged.  Between 30,000 and 50,000 people were executed as Satanic witches.

 

Members of the Knights Templar being burned as witches

Skipping lightly past offshoots and variations, prior to the 20th Century, Satanism did not exist as a real, organized religion.  Satanism is a modern, largely non-theistic religion based on literary, artistic, and philosophical interpretations of the central figure of evil.  It wasn’t until April 30, 1966 that the Church of Satan was formalized.

 

From the official Church of Satan website

Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible was published in 1969.  His teachings promoted indulgence, vital existence, undefiled wisdom, kindness to those who deserve it, responsibility to the responsible, and an eye for an eye code of ethics.  In his view, a Satanist is carnal, physical and pragmatic, enjoying a physical existence, propagating a naturalistic worldview that seems human as animals dieting in an amoral universe.  The ideal Satanist should be individualistic and noon-conformist.   He encouraged an individual’s pride, self-respect, and self-realization by satisfying the ego’s desires.  Self-indulgence is a good thing.  He said hate and aggression are necessary and advantageous for survival.  Bottom line: he praised the seven deadly sins as virtues.

 

By the 1970s, groups were splintering off to form alternative churches.  In 1978, the U.S. Army included the faith in its manual for chaplains, “Religious Requirements and Practices.”

 

The most successful of the church divisions is The Satanic Temple, opened in Houston in 2015.  The Temple calls itself a non-theistic religion embracing the Devil as a symbolic form of rebellion in the tradition of Milton.  It devotes itself to political action focused on the separation of church and state, religious equality, and reproductive rights.

 

The Satanic Temple sponsors after-school clubs to teach students scientific methods and rational thinking in areas where the only activities for kids are involve religion

It was recognized as a religion of the U.S. government in 2016, receiving tax-exempt status.

Statue of Baphomet erected by the Satanic Temple to protest Ten Commandments statues on public grounds

Note: Practitioners of LeVey’s version of Satanism do not believe that Satan literally exists and do not worship him. For them, Satan is an archetype for adversary, who represents pride, carnality, and enlightenment.  The Devil is a symbol of defiance against the Abrahamic faiths that “suppress humanity’s natural instincts.”
However, Theistic Satanism (Spiritual Satanism or Devi worship) holds the primary belief that Satan is an actual deity to revere and worship.  They believe in magic and ritual, often focusing solely on devotion.

 

Bottom line for writers: Satanism isn’t a unitary thing.  If Satanism figures into your plot or character characteristics, do your homework, particularly for any historical setting.

Truly terrifying

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.

Language Blogs Round-Up

Canadian science fiction reviewer James Nicoll said, “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

Among the many reasons I love writing is the way it allows me to explore the wonders of the English language. Here are some of the posts I’ve written on this blog that directly concern how language can enhance or destroy writing.

 

Commonly Confused Words

  • Mind Your A’s and The’s
    • Pay attention to what you mean to be saying when you use a or the to designate something. In general, a indicates one of many possibles while the is restrictive to one specific person, place, event, item, etc.
  • The Limits of Spellcheck
    • Spellcheck programs will not generally recognize incorrect word usage if those words are spelled correctly.  Eliminating word confusion is up to you.  This is a writing prompt to practice correct usage of some of the most commonly confused words.
  • Choosing the Pronoun for Your Purpose
    • Know the rules of grammar so you can use them or abuse them to suit your purposes!  Pronouns can be subject (I/ you/ he/ she/ it), object (me/ you/ him/ her/ it), or show possession (my/ your/ his/ her/ its).
  • I’m Not Alone Here
    • The right word vs. the almost right word is the difference between sounding articulate vs. sounding pretentious—and uneducated. Bottom line: only use words you know for sure.

 

Cutting the Flab from Writing

  • Practicing Similes
    • Similes add color and tone to your writing. Don’t overdo. And avoid the worn and weary ones–such as hard as a rock, soft as a cotton ball, etc.
  • Cut the Flab
    • Flabby writing is writing that includes unnecessary words or phrases. I’ll talk about four common types of flab: stating something for which there is no alternative, saying the same thing twice, naming characters or relationships already known, and stating an action that is inherent in another action.
  • Writing that Irritates Readers
    • Here are a few examples of the worst habits of flabby writing
      • Going off-key on tone: This is when something just doesn’t feel right, such period inappropriate slang.
      • Close but no cigar: Using the wrong word, such that for who or imply for infer
      • Redundant verbiage: Using extra words to modify ideas that need no modification
  • Let Your Punctuation Speak for You
    • This is a variation on two themes: show, don’t tell and trust your reader. The point is that the reader will get your meaning without both the punctuation and the accompanying explanation.
  • Bitch Blog
    • A USA Today best-selling author who shall remain nameless has written a series of books that are filled with egregious examples of the flabbiest of flabby writing.
  • Clichés—True But Tired!
    • This is an extensive but not exhaustive list of some of the worst, most over-used, most obnoxious cliches.

 

Close Attention to Detail

  • Getting Up Close With Nature
    • Be specific.   Perhaps the foremost is be specific. Don’t say “a tree,” say, “a willow oak.”
  • Be Specific
    • To avoid wimpy writing, attend to the details. I already talked about avoiding weasel words like some, few, or many in favor of specific numbers or quantities. The same applies to vague nouns: flower, tree, shrub, car. Tell the reader it’s a rose, an elm, an English boxwood, a Ford.
  • The Five Ws
    • You have a vague recollection that sometime in the past–perhaps in high school–someone told you that when writing a newspaper article, you need to cover all five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. That is good advice in general, including fiction–and even memoir.
  • Observe More Closely
    • Nature writing can be add depth, precision, and detailed setting in any genre of writing.  This post provides examples of various genres in which nature writing has been used effectively and some tools to develop your own nature writing skills.

 

Careful Use of Modifiers

  • Choose Modifiers Carefully
    • The same advice on adverbs applies to other modifiers. Make sure they add something to the story. “Very” should be on your hit list, along with all sorts of weasel words and phrases, such as a little, a lot, big, small, somewhat, sort of. . . You get the idea.
  • Use Strong Verbs
    • How do you recognize a weak verb? Look for adverbs! When you find a sentence in which you give the reader a tag telling how an action was performed, chances are you have a lazy verb–one you didn’t really think about as you plugged it in.

 

Period Appropriate Writing for Genre or Setting

  • A Little Dialect Goes a Long Way
    • A touch of dialect helps establish voice, and may lend authenticity to the writing. But for the beginning writer, knowing how much is enough is often difficult. A story studded with apostrophes and phonetically spelled words draws attention to the writing, detracting from the story.
  • Kids Say the Darndest Things!
    • Children’s language development is a very interesting study for psychologists and linguists.  It is important that child characters behave and speak appropriately for their age to be believable.  However, every child is different; outliers on either end of the development scale can add interest but must have believable groundwork laid.
  • Use Slang and Clichés Effectively
    • In my opinion, the best use of slang is setting the time of the story.  Used effectively, it lends authenticity to dialogue. But if writing about any time other than the present, tread carefully. Inappropriate slang can ruin the tone and undermine the credibility of the entire story.
  • Horror Week is Here
    • The blog Now Novel provides excellent advice for techniques that are most effective in various genres, including horror.
  • Historical Fiction
    • Writing historical fiction requires extensive knowledge of the period in which the story takes place, including the slang and speech styles common at the time.  This blog provides several resources and suggestions for writing effectively about the chosen time period.

 

History of the English Language

  • Shades of Professor Henry Higgins!
    • The development of the English language into the distinct dialects used in various English-speaking nations around the world can be mined for examples of characterizations by word choice and syntax.  It is also a fascinating story on its own.
  • Loving Language
    • Our everyday language is full of phrases we use without thinking of how they came to mean what they mean. Delve into the origins of words and phrases. You will find amusement as well as information!
  • Is the Quality of Writing Declining? And if So, Why?
    • Research suggests that writing ability in American students has fallen, combined with (or caused by) a decline in concrete guidelines and principles for those teaching writing.  Reading for pleasure has also been declining over the last few decades.
  • Emojis: Yea or Nay?
    • I approached this blog with the opinion that relying on emoticons—i.e., emojis—is dulling out ability to express emotions with rich language and subtlety. Some have asserted that the emoji is the fastest-growing language in history—for good or ill.  How do you feel about emojis?

 

Editing or Proofreading Yourself

  • Talk to Yourself
    • Longer, more complex sentences are much smoother and more graceful on the page than in the mouth. If you want dialogue to sound real, listen to it–literally. Reading silently, your brain fills in and evens out. So, when you feel your work is in pretty good shape, read it aloud.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
    • Be selective–and restrained–in using exclamation points and italics. More than one of these every few pages probably means you are using these visual markers to shore up weak word choices.
  • When, While, Then
    • Search your work for these words and closely examine each usage. They often contribute to run-on sentences that would be stronger and clearer if they were revised into two or more shorter sentences.  Be especially wary if one sentence contains two or all three of these words.
  • Skip The First Word That Comes To Mind
    • When you are trying to get something on the page, moving quickly and just getting it done is the way to go. But know that isn’t the finished product. Go over your draft and mark commonplace words–particularly forms of the to-be verbs and vague adjectives. Consider at least three alternatives–and consider the value of the least expected.
  • Didn’t Get it Right the First Time?
    • Noah Lukeman is my favorite guru on self-editing. He’s highly readable, clear, and interesting. But if you need some quick-and-dirty guidelines right now, here are a baker’s dozen.
  • Attributing Words to Characters
    • We are often in need of indicating who is speaking and/or how. In doing so, beware of distracting—or irritating—your reader. Here are my personal guidelines for making attributions.
  • Treasure Trash
    • I’d bet nearly everyone who’s written a book has edited out not just words, but paragraphs, scenes, or entire chapters. Don’t delete chunks of text.  Save them in a separate file.
      • It makes it easier to cut the flab (anything that doesn’t fit this piece of work), sometimes known as killing your darlings.
      • Those chunks may come in handy in the future, either as additions to as sparks for something totally new.
  • Verbal Tics— Use and Abuse
    • Everyone has verbal habits, including tics. As a writer, be aware of your favorite words and use them sparingly! In the right context, they can convey education level, social class, and even age.
  • Across Years and Miles
    • This post includes a list of common errors in grammar and syntax, each humorously illustrated by use of the error it advises against.
  • When Less is More
    • “Very” is a word we all should do searches for in our documents—finding and replacing with something stronger. These are not exhaustive lists. The point is examine your writing to make sure every word is necessary, and then trust your words to mean what they mean!

 

Structural Tips for Writing

  • Beware Long Descriptions
    • Whether describing a person, a place, a thing, or a process, long detailed descriptions–unrelieved by action–are likely to be deadly. If very well done, readers will get so involved in the description, in visualizing exactly what the author had in mind, that they are taken out of the story itself. If not well done, those passages are likely to be skipped altogether.
  • Writing Tip for Avoiding Redundancy
    • Redundancy takes many forms and it makes for clunky, dull writing.  This post demonstrates some common examples of punctuation, description, and incorrect word use that often lead to redundancy and can be removed.
  • Matching Tone & Structure
    • Sentence length and structure should be used to echo the tone of the action: short, simple sentences for quick or abrupt action; longer, more complex sentences for slower scenes or poetic description.
  • The Distancing Effect of I
    • Whenever the narrative Point of View is first person, the story is, by definition, about the narrator. In this case, as in any writing, your goal is to draw the reader in. Therefore, if you choose to use “I” as the narrator, you need to present a quest that many readers would care about.
  • Use and Abuse of Passive Voice
    • If you want your words to seem impersonal, indirect, and noncommittal, passive is the choice.  Bryan A. Garner identifies six ways in which the passive voice is acceptable or even preferred.
  • Dialogue Dos and Don’ts
    • Dialogue is essential to every genre of fiction; however, sometimes it’s hard to get it just right. Bad dialogue can trip up a reader, and sometimes doing so will make them want to stop reading altogether. That being said, here are a few dialogue dos and don’ts that can help you with writing speech.
  • How Do You Read Now?
    • Research (and book sales) suggest that modern readers are more interested in story than in style. Many writers appear to focus more on technique and self-awareness, according to an article by Adam Kirsch.  Consider whether you think plot or style is more important.

 

Words and Dictionaries

  • Homonyms
    • This post provides a writing exercise to familiarize writers with the pitfalls and opportunities of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different thing.
  • WHY CONSIDER THE F WORD?
    • Here is a discussion of when to use profanity directly and when to use a euphemism instead, with a brief description of the history and current usage of this particular bit of profanity.
  • Conglomeration
    • This is writing prompt derived from one of the author’s favorite words.  Conglomeration is another of those words I love because it sounds so much itself. Technically, it has to do with a spherical shape, and disparate things brought together in one. But its more common usage, of miscellaneous or even random things brought together (no particular shape) make it a very useful word.
  • Use Uncomfortable Words
    • Uncomfortable words are perfectly correct and not obscene. Nevertheless, they often surprise–or even shock–the reader. Sometimes they make the reader uncomfortable.
  • Beware Beautiful Words
    • Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them. This is a quick list of some interesting words that can add flair and tone to your writing.
  • This Just In!
    • As many of you know, I collect dictionaries. This facsimile edition of the first American Dictionary of the English Language arrived yesterday and I’ve been enjoying it for hours.
  • What Would You Call a Bunch of Bluebirds?
    • Here are some of the most interesting collective nouns for species of birds, with illustrations from the author’s garden.
  • Color Your Writing
    • With so many specifically named colors in the English language, it is important to be specific about which one you mean.  There is a close tie between color and mental or psychological state, which can have a great influence on readers’ perception of a scene, a character, or a work as a whole.
  • Word Wealth
    • There are dictionaries available for nearly every specialty, dialect, and profession.  They can provide a wealth of detail and precision to any setting in any genre.

 

Examples of Other Authors’ Successful Habits

  • What Writers Can Learn From Diana Gabaldon
    • There are many things this author gets absolutely correct, but this post will focus on vivid language. We have all heard or read that we should use fresh, vivid language and strong verbs.  Here are some of my favorite examples of Diana Gabaldon’s sensory and emotional writing.
  • What Writers Can Learn from Political Campaigns
    • Careful word choice, audience appeal, actions or words open to (mis)interpretation, complementary characters, innuendo, denial, and characters revealed by reflected traits of associates are all extremely important in any political campaign.  The 2016 election was full of examples of all of these, which are also used in good writing.
  • Communicating Without Words: Campaign Lessons
    • You’re a writer—so for purposes of this blog, communicating without words means without dialogue. And there are many reasons you want to be able to do this. The 2016 presidential campaign offers several educational examples.
  • The Good and the Bad
    • The 2018 June 18th issue of The New Yorker includes an article titled “High Crimes” by Anthony Lane, a review of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s book The President is Missing.  The article highlights some nuggets of really egregious writing, from mixed metaphors to clichés, offered here for your  amusement.
  • Writers on Writing
    • This post offers writing tips and advice from a few successful authors, including Stephen King and Virginia Woolf.
  • Bradley Harper: The Man Behind the Writer
    • An interview with Bradley Harper reveals some of his most effective writing habits and techniques.
  • Going Long
    • Thanks to Rosemary Shomaker, we have a chance to vicariously experience the struggle of a writer stretching into a new challenge.  She discusses her methods of creating a tight, closely-written short story.

 

GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: N.B., Games, not Sports

 

RedEye LAN Party (from Obsolete Geek)

Nearly 70% of Americans play video games on at least one device, and nearly all play on smartphones.  Indeed, if you do an online search for games, best games, or similarly general queries, you will be inundated with info about video games in general as well as individual games.  If game playing is one of your character’s activities (and your story is set in the current time or near future) decide whether s/he is part of the majority or the minority here.  Consider what the game of choice says about the character of your character.  For example,does success depend more on speed or strategy?  Does a round end quickly or take a significant time commitment?  Can it be interrupted/paused?  How violent is it?  And is it mechanized violence or hand-to-hand?  Does s/he play alone, against the program, or with/against other gamers worldwide?

As I indicated in the opening sentence, most people in the U.S. currently play video games, but these are a relatively new phenomenon.  In the remainder of this blog, I shall focus on card games and board games—for three reasons:
  1. They are suitable for current settings as well as throughout history.  Just check out what games were around when the story is set.
  2. I believe that the majority of readers are more familiar with them.
  3. I am not a “gamer” and—truly—I always try not to say too much about any vast canyon of ignorance.
Modern playing cards may have originated in China, India, or Persia, but they were commonly used in Europe by the end of the fourteenth century.  The number and composition of cards in a deck varied throughout history and from country to country.  Some decks had mounted knights, noblemen, peasants, and Church figures.  Some countries used bells, hearts, leaves, acorns, swords, cups, or paving stones to differentiate suits.  Over the years, the royal figures have been labelled as Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Solomon, Empress Judith, Sir Lancelot, Joan of Arc, Hector of Troy, and various mythological figures, to name a few.  As printing became widely available and playing cards were produced cheaply, the modern deck of cards gradually came into being and was eventually standardized to those we use today.  (For more details, check out the Snopes article on the topic.)[The history of playing cards is kind of interesting:

 

Advantages of card games:
  •  Equipment is inexpensive
  • They are extremely portable
  • Lots of choices from total luck games to highly skilled strategies
  • Can be played alone or with others
  • Can be totally competitive or in partnerships
  • Suitable for people of almost any age
  • Games with simple rules can transcend language barriers

“Dead Man’s Hand” in Poker

 

If you search for the most popular card game(s), poker is at or near the top of the list.  Poker is associated with gambling, whether in a casino, bar, country club, or private home.  As the name implies, penny ante poker means minimal stakes.  Other associations with poker include alcohol, smoking, and maybe the Wild West.  It is still a male-dominated game.
Writers: as always, consider the value of going with the flow or defying the images.  Many variations exist, and it can be played online.

 

Other popular card games in the US:
  • Spades: created nearly 100 years ago, hit its peak in the 90s
  • War: one of the easiest games, suitable for children, no skill involved; also good as a mindless activity
  • Gin: aka gin rummy, is related to rummy (see below); very popular right now, a fun gambling game; started in the U.S in the 1800s and has remained popular ever since; reached its peak in the 1930s and 1940s; faded in favor of canasta in the 1950s
  • Rummy: popular around the world, especially In India; involves matching and memorization; can be played online
  • Blackjack (aka twenty-one): largely a gambling game played in clubs and casinos; lots of luck involved; players play against the dealer rather than each other
    • If a player is able to calculate probabilities and keep track of cards in play, s/he may be able to “count cards” to win nearly every hand.  This technique is outlawed by many casinos, but it can be a good way to demonstrate a character’s extreme intelligence or pattern recognition skills.
  • Crazy Eights: originated in Venezuela; has lots of variations; requires two or more people
The most difficult card game is bridge.  Some call it the world’s greatest game.  It probably originated in Russia, and was popularized in the Middle East; today, it is played worldwide.  Bridge requires strategy, memory for who played what card, working with a partner, communicating during bidding (which can involve “conventions”—what the heck is a Jacoby transfer, anyway?).  Women take more bridge classes than men and more women than men play, but men dominate in serious competitive play.  For an extended discussion of the pros and cons of bridge, go to WHY PLAY BRIDGE? at bridgeworld.com.

 

Agatha Christie wrote an entire murder mystery, Cards on the Table, that hinges upon who was playing in what rotation at what time during an evening bridge party.  Hercule Poirot deduces alibis and personalities entirely by studying the notations people made while keeping score, enabling him to identify the murderer.

 

Card games and board games have been used as a method of teaching and developing military strategy skills throughout history, including by the American CIA An online essay The Appeal (and Manliness) of Card Games includes a subsection on 6 Card Games Every Man Should Know.  The essay notes that men’s games are often symbolic representations of more violent clashes and war.  In my opinion, what this says is that games are a non-violent way of competing to be the alpha male.  When only men are involved, there are often jokes and insults to demonstrate the art of clever talk.  According to this essay, the essential manly card games are:
  • Gin Rummy: game scholars think rummy is a card variation on the Chinese game of mah-jong, perhaps dating to the 1700s, much modified since then; generally played to a specified number, often 100
  • Hearts: a trick-taking game stemming from whist, except the goal is to avoid collecting tricks; the person with the fewest points wins; first appeared in he U.S. in the late 1800s; played online since the 1990s
  • Poker (specifically, Texas hold ‘em): perhaps originated in 1820s New Orleans on Mississippi River gambling boats; poker really took off in the 1980s when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, legalizing casinos on Native American land
  • Solitaire: first developed in the mid-1700s; originally played with multiple people, it’s now a game played primarily alone—any of more than 1000 variations; surged in popularity with the advent of personal computers
  • Cribbage: beloved for centuries, technically involves a board for score keeping, it’s essentially a card game for 2 (possibly 3 or 4); came to the colonies by English settlers; especially popular in New England
  • Blackjack (aka 21): most widely played casino game; fast and easy to learn; dating to the mid- to late 1500s, became more popular int the U.S. in the late 1950s

Cribbage Hand and Score Board

The Most Popular & Fun Card Games as posted on ranker.com
  1. Uno
  2. Blackjack
  3. Solitaire
  4. Hearts
  5. Gin Rummy
  6. Cards Against Humanity
  7. Go Fish
  8. Bluff (also known as BullSh*t)
  9. Magic: The Gathering
  10. Euchre—a personal favorite with my family
  11. Poker
  12. Crazy Eights
  13. War
  14. Apples to Apples
  15. Rummy
  16. Pokemon trading card game
  17. Spoons
  18. Exploding Kittens
  19. Assh*le
  20. Old Maid—truly classic
  21. Phase 10
  22. Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading card game
  23. Monopoly Deal
  24. Munchkin
  25. Cribbage
Writers: consider the value of a character playing a card game against type, such as a woman playing poker or a man playing bridge.  Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon are more commonly played by children, but an adult could play with a child they are caring form.  How would a quintessentially honest person behave in a situation requiring bluffing, such as playing poker or Bluff?  What might a young person discover by learning to play Hearts as a means of bonding with an older relative?

 

5 Hardest Games to Master in the World: According to Casino.org, these are the most difficult to master, regardless of how long it takes to learn. 
Note: this lists includes 4 board games and only 1 card game

 

  • Go is an ancient Chinese game dating back over 5,500 years—making it the oldest board game still played today.  It’s also one of the most complex, involving abstract strategy aimed at occupying the most territory on the board. 


    • Go is referenced, played, or used to demonstrate a character’s attitude toward traditional values in lots of Japanese media, including manga and anime.  It is so widespread in Japanese culture that there is an entire anime about a schoolboy haunted by the spirit of an ancient Go master: Hikaru No Go.
  • Chess, arguably dating back to the 6th century in India, but perhaps it originated in China—as many games did.  It’s a game of strategical conquest played by two people.  The essence of success is forward planning.  Historically, chess has been used as a means of teaching battlefield tactics; that is why, in modern chess rules, the king is relatively constrained but holds such strategic importance.

Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Bajwa playing chess with a student from Islamabad

  • Bridge is the only card game included in this list of hardest games to master. See above.
  • Diplomacy was released in 1959; as games go, it is still in its infancy.  It is a strategic board game for two to seven players, played on a map of 1914 wartime Europe, Middle East, and North Africa, geared toward conquest. There are no dice, but lots of negotiation skills are required.
    • Diplomacy was one of the first games (other than chess) that could be played by mail, which made it available as a form of connection for people who were not able to play together in person.  Writers, consider the possibilities this provides for characters in a historical setting who lived far apart or were shut-ins or prohibited by social taboo from playing together, etc.

       

  • Hex, released in 1942, was inspired by Go and has since been tweaked.  The goal is to make a connected string of shoes from one side of the board to the other before the other player.
Card Games vs. Board Games
 
As noted above, card games have many positive qualities, especially portability and ease of set-up.  Board games require more complex “equipment,” lengthy set-ups, and can take a long time to complete.  Many board games are quite cerebral, chess being the ultimate example.  In board games, every player is likely aware of the possible moves of the other player(s).
The Top Ten Board Games of All Time
The website hobbylark.com provides a brief history of board games and ranks the top 10.  Many that have been around for literally thousands of years can now be played online. Details of all of these are, of course, available online.
  1. Chess
  2. Stratego
  3. Monopoly
  4. Risk
  5. The Settlers of Catan
  6. Scrabble
  7. Battleship
  8. Clue
  9. Dominion
  10. Ticket to Ride

There is no board game equivalent to solitaire.  By their nature, board games require other players, and thus involve social interactions.

Most people do not follow the correct rules for Monopoly, making games longer and more repetitive.

Game Considerations for Writers (whether cards or board games)
 
  1. If you include a game as a character note, consider the general character of players of that game and whether you want to go with the general image or have a character who goes against the grain.  Why does your character play that particular game?  Where, how, and with whom (if anyone)?  Under these circumstances, chances are you establish the preference and make only brief references to it thereafter—unless the character is addicted.
  2. If the game is an element to advance the plot, it will probably involve a more detailed description of the game itself, so that readers will better understand the important people interactions around the game.  Did playing the game establish or refute an alibi?  Reveal important info through the chat around and over play?  Is someone trying to establish dominance?  Losing more money than s/he can afford?
  3. In associating a character with a game, be aware of the possible correlations: when in history your story is set, age of the character, region of the country (or country in the world), social class, and possibly ethnic background all are considerations.

Bottom line: games can be good for your writing!

2017 Dota 2 Champions