It’s Autumn! My favorite time of year. The lazy days of summer are over and the holiday preparations have begun. I have to lash myself to my writing chair and get my work done first thing. If I don’t, I can get all caught up in watching the leaves turn and planning the front yard Halloween display.
It’s a very busy time of year. Makes me wish some big projects I’ve had underway for some time now had already been completed. You can find the details on the biggest project I’m facing here:
I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing in person at BayCon 2022! It’s been a long three years. I can’t wait to participate in these panels. BayCon has some really exciting programming this year!
New work suggests there’s a correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Transgender/Nonbinary flavors of gender. But correlation is not causation. So is a link? And it now looks like female autistics are massively underdiagnosed, so what does that mean for nonbinary folks who may need help with ‘subclinical’ ASD issues? What about ADHD? Is there another link there that’s been overlooked?
Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen (M), John Blaker
Exotic locales challenge writers to get readers up to speed while keeping the story going. What weird settings have our panelists used and how did they solve the problem—well enough for the editor to buy, anyway.
Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), C. Sanford Lowe (C Sanford Lowe) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)
Come find me at BayCon and get a sticker for your badge!
I live in northern California. We’re ten days away from the Summer Solstice. Temperatures are going up. Today the sun blazed down on us and the mercury rose into the ’90s. As human beings we can drink and drink and cope with the risk of dehydration. Animals and birds may not be so lucky. This is all the more true for those poor creatures displaced by wildfires. This is true for all creatures great and small who have to cope with the consequences of climate change.
What to do? The problem is huge, but the solution is simple. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” Here’s what I did.
These are water bowls for pets, available at Dollar Tree. I put two out by the driveway for the birds and squirrels I see out there.
I get wild turkeys coming through the yard now and then. Seeing one turkey on its own is a bit unusual. Finding food and water the turkey could eat without a lot of effort on a really hot day was a mercy the poor creature needed.
This is my favorite squirrel. We spend some quality time together every day in the late afternoon when I sit on my back step and toss unshelled peanuts to this delightful critter and three or four friends. The squirrel will come down the tree and sit about six feet from the step where I sit. I count “One, two, three!” and toss a peanut. The squirrel snatches it up, nibbles it to bits, and then sits up with its paws ready for the next one. By that time of day the sun has gone behind the ridge, the cool breeze has come, and all is right in my world.
Please, consider putting out water for the animals and birds in your area. If we all do something, no matter how small, to help take care of each other, we can make a difference and help our world heal.
I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.
Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.
I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these adventures from my strange and busy life.
I want to thank everybody who has been kind enough to drop by, to leave a comment, to post a link that took me to some great blogs. I had to miss out on the Challenge for a couple of years. I am so glad to be back. The A to Z Blog Challenge rocks!
I write these posts late at night. Now I’m going to put on my fuzzy pajamas, curl up under the covers, and get some sleep.
I don’t understand the fascination some men have for sport fishing. I get the whole Man vs. Nature thing, but what I don’t understand is why some men are willing to sit out there in a lawn chair, in a rowboat, in one of those special chairs on a special boat meant just for fishing, or on a splintered bench covered in sea gull poop out on the wharf. What is so enthralling about sitting there for hours watching the water, waiting for your bobber to go under or your line to jerk? It can’t be the suspense, because I’ve done this myself and aside from fishing aboard a boat, I was bored out of my mind. Of course, I was thirteen at the time. If my father hadn’t allowed me to bring books along, I probably would have refused to go altogether.
By that time my parents were divorced, so on one visitation weekend my father announced that we were going on a fishing trip. Given that we were city people, I assumed that meant standing on the end of the local pier again. Daddy and some people from where he worked had gotten together and rented a boat that would take all of us to the Four Mile Banks off Laguna Beach down in Southern California. I was always up for going somewhere I hadn’t been before, so this fishing trip started to look like more of an adventure. Daddy said we had to pack our gear the night before and get the car ready, because we’d be up before daylight to catch the boat called the Dos Equis and motor out to our fishing spot.
My father worked for a defense contractor, so the people in the group on the boat were also of military or scientific backgrounds. One man I talked to was a chemical engineer. I didn’t really know what that meant, and the problem was I couldn’t ask him because what he did was classified. Little did I know that ten years later I’d be married to a software engineer who would tell me the same thing. Due to his security classification, I never have known exactly what my husband does for a living!
When Daddy enjoyed doing something, he tended to do it over and over again. That’s I got to see Evita twice. I think we went out on the Dos Equis a total of three times. I remember the captain as being a very nice man, silver-haired and tanned really dark from being out in the sun all the time. He liked having me on board. He thought I was good luck. Every time we went out, I caught the first fish, and it was usually a good one. On our first trip, I caught a shark about as long as my forearm. The shark had green eyes! Beautiful peridot green. The captain asked me if I wanted to keep it as part of our catch. I didn’t want such a beautiful creature to die, so I asked him to throw it back. Soon after found a school of mackerel. Every time I cast my line I got a hit. That made me wonder about magic creatures, granting wishes, and good luck.
The one drawback to my good fortune was the fact that my father’s co-workers weren’t entirely happy to have me aboard. I suppose having a kid around put a bit of a damper on their fun. I can’t recall how I found out about the real problem. Other people in the fishing group were making side bets on who would catch the most fish, what kind, in what time period, etc. Having me on board skewed the odds. The people doing the betting thought my good luck somehow extended itself to my father. On our second trip aboard the Dos Equis he caught a sheep’s head. That is one ugly fish, as big as I am from shoulder to hip. It had four teeth as broad and thick as human molars!
Somebody must have said something to Daddy about me. Whatever it was, he didn’t let it interfere with the good time we were having. For once I was enjoying going fishing. That must have seemed like a minor miracle to him. Our adventures hadn’t made a total convert out of me. I still thought fish were slimy and gross. Cleaning them was something I just could not do. I didn’t really like eating them, either. These days I enjoy swordfish, salmon, halibut, and most seafood. I do have one firm rule: if it has tentacles, keep it away from me! Another sign of my good luck: Daddy wasn’t big on squid or octopus either.
On our third fishing trip things got a little too adventurous for me. We were out off the Banks, fishing for rock cod. We had to use long lines with three or four hooks, big chunks of bait, and heavy sinkers. As we’d reel up the lines to check our catch, sharks would come around and try to eat the cod right off our lines. The first time I saw a shark break the surface of the water I just about had a panic attack. This was back in the days when Jaws was still very much in the minds of people who had seen the movie and/or read the book. I went up on the flying bridge to get away from the rail. That turned out to be a mistake. Up that high, I could see both of the thrasher sharks circling our boat.
I wish I had been observant enough to see the pattern in my father’s liking for being out on the water. He spent twenty years in the Navy. He really liked the tide pools down at Dana Point. He loved to go fishing, and he could stand there on the pier staring out at the water for what seemed like forever. I wish I had asked Daddy why he chose the Navy, but that was an easy one. Grandpa and my Uncle Dean had both gone into the Navy Even so, Daddy had a lifelong attachment to the sea. I wonder if such a thing can be passed on from one generation to the next. Whenever I’d get upset as a teenager, or even now when I have my bad days, one of the best cures is to go to the beach and just watch the waves rolling in. There’s something about the sea breeze that blows right through me, carrying away all the negative stuff that’s built up inside. I wonder if that’s how Daddy felt. I wonder if his reasons were the kind of reasons that you just can’t explain. You just sit there, stay quiet, and listen to what comes and goes inside your head.
I wish my father had lived long enough to take my son John fishing, to teach him all about lures and bait and why sand dabs have both eyes on one side. Maybe this summer I’ll take John down to the wharf, rent some fishing gear, and see if I can remember all the things Daddy taught me about baiting hooks and knowing when to pull hard on the rod and when to play out more line. I still have photos of those fishing trips with Daddy. Maybe it’s time I got them out and gave them a place of honor.
“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com
In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples. Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind. If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera. This was the number one item on my bucket list. Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.
I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them. This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories. My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera. If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.
The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls. Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva. There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera. Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.
There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there. People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms. When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.
The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves. Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.
Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop. Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards. The Stage contains not a single nail. Wooden pegs were used instead.
In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos. The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time. Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire. Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!
This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction. I stood at the corner on the center left.
There are several shrines on the temple grounds. This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth. I love those fox figurines. Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.
Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking. The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai. Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money. The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.
Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition. The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers. A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine. The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.
Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree. Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it. We didn’t understand that at the time. Now we do!
The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people. I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji. Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world. Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them. Still not sure what that was all about.
Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings. On the far right, wisdom. In the center, long life. On the left, success in scholarship. I meant to drink from the water of longevity. Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead. I suspect that’s probably what I really need!
Soon it was time to head back down the mountain. This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.
I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning. Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list. If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka. We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick. Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa. I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.
When I was fourteen years old, my father got married for the third time. My mother had been wife number two. My parents divorced when I was eleven, so I guess you could say Daddy had observed an appropriate period of mourning for that failed marriage before he decided to take the plunge once again.
One of the many strange things about my father’s third marriage was the fact that I and my soon-to-be stepsister already knew each other. We were on the same volleyball team in high school. My stepsister had the unlikely name of America. People mostly called her Amy. She had long dark hair, big blue eyes, full lips, and a perfect figure. Amy reminded me of how Snow White might have turned out if she’d ended up on the beach in Santa Monica. She was gorgeous and she knew it. The third member of the package deal was my stepbrother Joseph, twenty-one and the black sheep of his family. Daddy put up with Joseph until the day he discovered Joseph had been growing marijuana in a garden shed out back. In 1979 people were a lot less tolerant of marijuana than they are now. Daddy kicked Joseph out. I was fine with that.
Preparations for the wedding included fittings for bridesmaid dresses made of yellow polyester. Sleeveless yellow polyester. In the heat of summer. Over the upper half of these sunny creations draped chiffon circles with a pattern of daisies and greenery. We also had to wear yellow garden hats with bands of similar chiffon. Somebody tall and willowy might have made that outfit look good. All I know is, I wasn’t tall enough and nowhere near willowy. These were the colors my stepmother-elect had chosen, so I did my best. Amy made the outfit look great.
Being a teenager who’d grown up in one dysfunctional family and knew she was about to join another, I had mixed feelings about this whole process. For one thing, my stepmother’s name was Amber. I had a thing for geology at the time. All I could think of was tree sap with bugs caught in it. Ancient bugs at that. Not the most maternal image. Also, Amber was short. That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but next to my father, she looked more like his daughter than his wife. Amber and I got along well enough, but then, I only saw her when I stayed at my father’s house on visitation weekends. I recall one day close to the wedding when I was sulking at my father’s house, having a serious internal hissy about refusing to call Amber “Mom.” I don’t know what I was so upset about. It’s not like anybody ever expected me to do that. I suppose we can chalk that one up to adolescence.
The wedding day itself was memorable for moments that have stayed with me like snapshots on my mental coffee table. All of us bridesmaids suiting up and trying to get those chiffon drape things to hang right. All the other women offering to do my makeup. They were all nice people, but in honor of the occasion they went a bit overboard. Makeup and I have never had a close relationship. I’ve worn it for the Prom, for my own wedding, and for a few other important occasions. Watching Amy go at it with enough palettes and brushes to fill a museum made me decline all offers. At that point in my life my father had never seen me wear makeup. Having overheard a few of Daddy’s comments about how trashy Amy looked when she went out on dates, I figured it would be a good idea to cause him one less shock on his wedding day.
The wedding took place in the Methodist chapel on a nearby military base. The guests were mostly people from my father’s workplace, where he’d met Amber. No family was present other than us kids due to Daddy’s people all being in Ohio. (As for Amber’s people, God only knows. I never have heard the definitive truth about her origins.) My father looked quite distinguished in his gray three-piece suit, yellow shirt, and yellow-striped tie. Amber wore a white wedding gown. I was still young enough to find that funny, but I was smart enough to keep my amusement to myself. I don’t know how they managed to find a wedding gown short enough for her. She had almost no waist. High heels and a long skirt that included a train can be a precarious combination. She did make it to the altar without tripping or falling. Amber’s bouquet was impressive, all red roses with babies’-breath and ferns. It made a rather dramatic contrast against her white gown. I had to wonder what possessed her to make us bridesmaids wear yellow and green. We looked like we’d wandered in from somebody else’s wedding.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the service itself, but I do recall wondering if my father was going to keel over. I’d never seen him look so nervous or emotional. At one point I thought Daddy might be in tears. This was really weird. My father had a temper, but he also had a sense of humor. To see this side of him came close to freaking me out. If this was the effect Amber had on him, was this marriage such a good idea after all? We all got through the service more or less intact. There were one or two people among the attendees who couldn’t help crying at weddings.
The reception gave me a perfect opportunity to observe all these people I’d never met before and would probably never see again. My father had been in AA for a good three years by then, but there was a no-host bar for the guests. The punch was that frequent concoction of ice cubes, tonic water and rainbow sherbet. Who came up with that? Why do people think it’s a good idea? It makes you burp and you end up with a frothy mustache. Not exactly the most chic way to party at an event as formal as a wedding.
After the speeches and cutting the cake, people settled down to socializing. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I kept busy getting people more coffee or cake and tidying up here and there. I noticed my newly official stepsister Amy didn’t care for the rainbow punch either. She was only eighteen, so she got my new stepbrother Joseph to buy her drinks. It soon became obvious Amy couldn’t hold her liquor. That she was holding any came as an unpleasant surprise to my father. Joseph had enough sense to stop buying her drinks, but by then she’d already been laughing too loudly and sitting slumped against him like some tart from a Victorian gin joint.
What really put the icing on this particular cake was the fact that other people in the wedding party started to notice Amy’s behavior. One of the older bridesmaids, a co-worker of Amber’s, called me over to where she sat at the head table. This lady announced in ringing tones that I was a real lady, behaving myself and helping out like a good hostess should. I suppose I ought to have been embarrassed, but I understood perfectly that she meant to point out Amy’s behavior by complimenting mine. Amy must have caught hell later for getting smashed at the wedding. One would think she’d have had a little more class given that her new stepfather was a recovering alcoholic.
At the end of the day, Daddy seemed to be happy, so that was what really mattered to me. That, and knowing that never again would I be forced to wear yellow polyester.
“Aside from being fun to say, verisimilitude (pronounced ‘VAIR-ih-sih-MILL-ih-tude’) simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality.’ A work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems realistic.” — literaryterms.net
And now for another story from the days when I worked the Northern Renaissance Faire. My husband and I both worked for the fencing booth which was done up like a pirate ship privateer vessel. The booth was quite popular. At any given time we’d have at least six students out “on deck” receiving their half hour fencing lessons from members of our crew. Out front there was a seating area with hay bales where guests could sit in the shade of our “sails” and watch competition-level fencers have bouts on the stage/strip. A crow’s nest rose high above the audience where one of the hawkers or even the Captain himself might stand.
The crow’s nest plays a key role in this story. Every morning our day began with Roll Call. Depending on how big a crowd had already gathered, the person up in the crow’s nest might be the First Mate or one of the other officers. Roll Call was a lot of fun. The audience got to see us all called on by our Faire names and replying in character. On this particular day the fellow calling roll was one of the hawkers, a man with a gift for jokes and word play. Somebody had the bright idea of turning the tables on him. The idea was passed around among the crew. Instead of the usual “Aye aye!” or “I be ‘ere, sir!’ or “Shut yer gob, ye sniveling mumblecrust!”, we replied with a bit more creativity and respect.
“Aye aye, Yer Vastness!”
“Right ‘ere, Your Garrulity!”
“Present, Yer Delightfulness!
“Right you are, Your Splendor!
The hawker up in the crow’s nest kept snorting and chuckling and trying to get a grip. We had a good two dozen people on crew, so Roll Call took a little time. y turn came.
“Mistress Andalyn Fortune!”
I took a deep breath, readied my best projection, and stepped forward.
“At your service, Your Verisimilitude!”
That one did it. The hawker burst out laughing, dropped his clip board, crossed hid arms on the railing of the crow’s nest, and rested his forehead on his arms.
It was fun playing a pirate. People expected you to steal the show.
In Writing Open the Mind, author Andy Couturier describes how asymmetry can help the reader participate in our writing, creating a fresh and dynamic experience. “Since each combination of these dissimilar parts suggests its own meaning, its own interest and power, asymmetry in visual art or in writing encourages participation by the viewer or reader in the fertile process of creation. In a sense, writing asymmetrically is generous, because it gives the reader many different ways to understand, instead of insisting on one, that is only our own.”
I keep all the fortunes I get from fortune cookies. My friends and family know I do this, so they tend to give me theirs as well. Over the years I’ve collected at least two glass jars full of fortunes. I decided to experiment with “writing asymmetrically” by pulling out a dozen fortunes and setting them aside without reading them. I wrote out twelve questions, just going with whatever popped into mind, then printed out that page. I cut up the questions into twelve strips of paper and mixed them up, setting them aside face down in one pile beside the fortunes already waiting in the other pile. I chose a question and typed it in, then chose an answer and typed that below the question. The results can be used for writing prompts, scene dialogue, a personal journal entry, etc.
Q: What makes life worth living?
A: A goal is a dream with a deadline.
(Sound advice. Failing to plan is planning to fail.)
Q: Who knows the secret of eternal youth?
A: You will soon be crossing desert sands for a fun vacation.
(Why does this make me think of Las Vegas or Palm Springs?)
Q: What advice would you give to your granddaughter?
A: Look closely at your surroundings.
(Furniture? Objet d’art? Choosing the most worthy granddaughter?)
Q: How do you solve the problem of time travel?
A: Good fortune is always on your side.
(So you’ll have a good time wherever you go!)
Q: Where can you find true Paradise on earth?
A: You are always welcome in any gathering.
Q: What did the monkey say to the banana?
A: Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.
(I’m guessing the monkey dreams about really big bananas.)
Q: How do you bring a smile to the sourest face?
A: You must learn to broaden your horizons, day by day.
(Some people bring happiness by arriving, others by departing.)
Q: I’ve lost my car keys and I have no money. Now what?
A: You are a lover of words.
(Talk your way out of that one!)
Q: How does one restore lost innocence?
A: An unexpected payment is coming your way.
(If money can’t buy happiness, it certainly can’t restore lost innocence!)
Q: Why are word problems always so confusing?
A: Laughter shall fuel your spirit’s engine.
(My teacher tended to laugh at a lot of my answers, that’s for sure.)
Q: Why are we told there are always more fish in the sea?
A: Little brooks make great rivers.
(This pairing was an accident, I swear.)
Q: What do you get if you cross a rhino with a stapler?
A: Follow your instincts when making decisions.
(First, don’t cross a rhino. Second, don’t do it with a stapler!)
I'm a professional writer living in Northern California with my husband and two sons. Fantasy in various forms is my reading and writing pleasure. I'm a history buff, a Japanophile, and I love to learn about language(s). I enjoy making jewelry, using natural materials such as wood, bone, semiprecious stones, and seashells. I collect bookmarks and wind chimes.