About NMSimmons

A hobby writer enduring the squeeze of the day to pencil out a few words at night.

Keep the Spirit Alive

We are creatives in a world where it can be difficult to keep the creative spirit alive.  I think we are more sensitive–more in tune with what’s happening around us–and that puts us in the strongest currents of emotional fatigue’s maelstrom.

I almost quit my day job as a veterinary technician. There are many reasons that I won’t divulge here (though I may soon do a rant post) but it had become overwhelmingly obvious that I had hit a wall.

Stress was the main reason–chaotic, non-productive stress.  I can’t write when I am stressed like that.  It fuddles my brain, turns it into a toxic soup, poison for the soul. Usually, I can rely on music to pull me out of such a state but even that didn’t have very lasting effects.  On top of direct stress from my job, there’s the stress of the world, from politics to natural disasters, another mass shooting.  More chaos.  And it turned me to introspection.  Which led to retrospection.

I thought about my childhood, it was a real struggle at times.  My world was much smaller then but my younger brother and I relied on our shared humor to cope.  Dry, sarcastic, witty–our babysitter was often none other than Monty Python on TV.  Despite our sometimes harsh reality, our creativity flourished.  Him as an artist and me as a musician and writer. It made me realize yet again that laughter is often the best medicine (except for treating diarrhea).  While not everything can be turned into a joke and shouldn’t be–there is humor to be found in a lot of little situations that occur throughout the day.  Situations that if allowed, could easily ruin a day.  Nearly two decades ago, one night as the family fell apart around us, we retreated to the TV.  Not to watch it–at least, not conventionally. We turned the volume down and performed our own impromptu voiceovers.  Our favorites were Japanese Anime (Speed Racer and whatever else played in the wee hours on Cartoon Network–before Adult Swim) and infomercials.  Today, my brother and I still share our own brand of off-kilter humor–part of it has even taken its own form in a comic that he mainly works on.  Throughout my high school days, he often left his illustrations all over the house.  Pieces of plain white paper with ink or pencil sketchings.  I began to illustrate a pterodactyl pooping on his creations. He later drew a robot punting my pterodactyl or squeezing it in a vice-like grip and this manifested into Bartok & Roboman, something I hope to see my brother unveil to the world one day.

(original sketches of Bartok & Roboman done by my brother many, many years ago)

Roboman and Bartok with PJ signature  (Roboman riding Bartok in a time-rift series he’s currently working on–the squirrels are a running joke) 

So to quote Victor Borge:

Humor - Victor Borge

And so maybe it is the ability to laugh, even at the bleakest times, that keeps the spirit alive.

Like the time a girl got all road-ragey on me and literally f***ed my car.  No, she did not f*** up my car, like damage it, she actually got out of her car while we were stuck at a traffic light and f***ed my car.  Oh man, I saw too much but did I ever laugh.  Los Angeles, have mercy.

Find the laughter, my friends.

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Tall Mountain

Some days it feels like the whole world is falling apart. Rife with hate, anger, violence, destruction–it can be hard to find the good. Emotional fatigue sets in. Apathy. Depression. So I take breaks from social media and the news, stare out the window, watch the birds, go for a walk, eat ice cream, pet the dog. Anything to allow my mind to take a deep breath.

I’ve always found religion interesting. As a non-religious person, watching from the sidelines, it can be confusing, scary, exciting, amusing, and enriching.

But sometimes it is entirely frustrating.

One evening my social anxiety and contempt for religious dogma collided and as I grappled with insomnia, this popped into my mind:

 

I climb the Tall Mountain 

Camera in hand 

To photograph god(s) in all its/their/her/his 

Glory. 

 

It takes a lifetime to summit 

Decades of devotion 

Moments of damnation 

Struggle 

Exhaustion 

 

When I reach the plateau 

It’s not what I expected 

But still I set up my camera 

To show the world what I’ve witnessed. 

 

The cudgel came down first 

Bludgeoned my senses 

I’d managed one picture

One click of the shutter.  

 

Blood pools around me 

I fumble in darkness

The memory card is all that I need.  

 

In my mouth I place it

I give up my last breath

To swallow the card 

My only testament. 

 

My body is disposed of 

Sent back to man.  

Carrying my gift 

From the Tall Mountain. 

 

I hope the whole world sees it

My one picture

And comes to know it

And realize: 

 

How in all its/their/her/his glory 

How bloody and violent god(s) can be.  

 

Flying with Najsha

A Writer’s Analysis of her own First Page

Some days I look back at my youth and early adulthood days and fondly recall when writing was just for fun.  Then at some point in my late 20’s I was bit by the desire to be published–which threw me into an entirely unknown world.  A world that is monumentally overwhelming at first.  I might be slower than the rest of you but feel like it has taken me a good few years to finally begin to understand the way things work.

The Query

The Synopsis

The Opening Pages

All these things we must master as writers reaching for conventional publication.  The next step: obtaining an agent.  Here you will most likely enter the realm of the slush pile.

Slush.  Partially melted snow mixed with grit and mud, a grey, depressing mess that exists between the enchanting stillness of winter and the beautiful growth of spring.

So in that sea of grey, we must find a way to shine and that is to put together a stellar package from the query to the opening pages.

My first query submission round was utter failure.  So was the second.  And the truth is, while I thought I knew what I was doing– I didn’t have the first clue.  And of course, I submitted to some of my top tier agents.  So not only did the rejection hurt but knowing that I had blown my one chance of getting that agent to view my manuscript, was injury to injury.

And in the wake of the form letter rejection we are often left numb and wondering:

“Where did I go wrong?” 

Unfortunately, that’s not a question to which we often get an answer.  Agents are too busy and it’s not their job to tell us.

My first tip: invest in yourself as a writer–join critique groups, attend conferences, participate in agent-hosted live webinars.

The most valuable resource I have discovered are webinars.  I have participated in three so far (two on the query, one on the opening pages) and have learned so much.  A synopsis webinar is next on my list.  To me, the most valuable part, the part that makes paying worthwhile, is the agent’s critique.  Just a few words offer a trickle of light in the darkness.

And it is with what I have learned that I begin to prepare for my next round of queries.  New pitch, new title, new opening.

Here is the first page from my original draft that sunk in the slush pile:

Solus Bloodline First Page Draft ITo figure out where I had gone wrong here, didn’t require a webinar, just some time on the internet perusing one of my favorite agent’s Pubrants.

Not only does this page suffer from a critical cliche: opening scene in a battle.

It also suffers from White Room Syndrome– I have not anchored my reader in a time and place.

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/07/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-2/

Onto a revision.  Second draft:

Solus Bloodline First Page Draft II

And fail.  Biggest flaw: Voice. Doesn’t match the rest of the story.  Not engaging.

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/08/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-3/

One agent did give me feedback and said that it didn’t draw her in as she had hoped.  Drat. Back to the drawing board.

So here, here it is.  My current draft:

Solus Bloodline First Page Draft III My hope is that this draft, with a much improved query letter and synopsis (when required) will finally get me a yes.

There are two more “openings to avoid” in Kristin Nelson’s series and when they come out, I will be holding my breath as I read through them, like I always do.

Good luck, fellow writers on your journey!

mont-st-michel-986320_1920

A quote from Ms. Nelson on cliches:

“Here are things I can’t stand: cliche openings in fantasy novels can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my pet peeve is that I don’t know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn’t realize how common this is). Opening chapters where a main protagonist is in the middle of a bodily function (jerking off, vomiting, peeing or what have you) is usually a firm no right from the get-go.  Gross.  Long prologues that often don’t have anything to do with the story. (So common in fantasy, again.) Opening scenes that are all dialogue without any context.  I could probably go on…” – Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary 

9 Story Openings to Avoid (7 out of 9)

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/06/new-article-series-9-story-openings-to-avoid/

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/07/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-2/

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/08/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-3/

http://nelsonagency.com/2016/09/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-4/

http://nelsonagency.com/2017/01/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-5/

http://nelsonagency.com/2017/02/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-6/

http://nelsonagency.com/2017/04/9-story-openings-to-avoid-part-7/

The Hound & The Mare

While working on my synopsis I noticed I started to write occasional sentence pairs in verse. This was not good– a synopsis should not be a narrative poem, as far as I am aware.  Probably an annoyance for literary agents right up there with alliteration.    

Then I caught myself starting to read everything with a rhythm.  All right, time to get it out of my system.  

An intriguing dream steeped heavily in Celtic Mythology involving jealous princesses, a demonic boar, a hound, a mare, and a forlorn prince gave me the inspiration– I thought about turning it into a short story but have enough of those on the back burner, so a narrative poem became the dream’s destiny.

I’ve never written a narrative poem before and am certain there are rules that I am breaking.  Regardless I hope you will enjoy the story found within, and bear with me.  

epona

 

In the kingdom of Ingomar, the woods are wild and free.

Filled with secrets and monsters, and groves and ruins,

The foolhardy will enter and never return while the thoughtful can sometimes request,

A blessing fulfilled, a wish endowed by ancient, powerful, goddesses.

 

Now the ruler of this land lived in a grand castle perched up high on great limestone cliffs.

Each day he walked out, in somber silence, and looked at the foggy sea.

No one knows why he did it, no one dared to ask, but rumor holds merit that a love was once lost.

One day the beloved king of Ingomar, walked out to the edge of the cliff.

He didn’t look back, he took no second glance, then stepped out into the sky.

No heirs to inherit, the kingdom mourned their loss, will their next king be as loving as the last?

 

A stalwart, young prince, journeyed across the lands to reach fair Ingomar.

When he arrived, he declared to honor the king and win the hearts of his people

“There will be seven days of song and food, and jousting and merrymaking.”

At the end of it all, he will host a great dance, and choose from among them, a sweet young lass.

She will be his bride, a princess for a prince and a queen for a kingdom.

 

Town criers announce in every village, that every young lady should attend.

In one distant village, the crier attracts the attention of two sisters.

 

Fair Lura is a skilled huntress.

Nimble and silent, mysterious and wild, many have sought her hand.

With milky white skin, long, pale blond hair and deep, sparkling blue eyes, she knows she must try to make it in time for a chance to enchant the prince.

Beautiful Eloa is perfectly domestic, a master of hearth and home.

When her soft touch graces, any flower or creature, she soothes both heart and soul.

Her golden skin shimmers, her dark brown hair flows, and her deep, green eyes trap distant gazes.

She knows if she makes it to the great dance in time, she will win the prince’s favor.

 

The only obstacle, each sister foresees is that from the other.

Quietly they steal into the twilight to seek out the guidance of mothers.

 

Lura moves deep into the darkening forest to a grove sacred to her mother,

Beautiful Flidais, goddess of the hunt and all woodland creatures.

Eloa travels a forgotten path to an even more forgotten place.

Between the rubble of ruins, she enters what was once a magnificent temple.

There she prays to Epona, her mother, goddess of fertility and horses.

 

Under the twisted boughs of a hawthorn tree, Lura drifts into slumber,

Lulled by the gentle incantations of wind and the conversation of flowers.

“My dearest, Lura, I send to you a gift of my terrain.

The prince revels in the thrill of the hunt and the reward of the game.

This sovereign hound will course and scent and pursue with infinite endurance.

She will strike true and fell stag and boar with hardly any effort.

But be forewarned, her collar removed, and you will take her place.”

 

Eloa finds her bed on a mound with a pillow of supple green grass.

She enters a trance as leaves begin to dance on branches overhead.

“My tender, Eloa, to become the queen, you’ll need a charger of noble bearing.

I send to you a roan from my herd.  This mare will carry you over vast distance, wherever you wish to go.

She will never stumble, frighten or kick and you will never grow sore.

But be forewarned, her bridle removed, and you shall take her form.”

 

When Lura opened her eyes in the morn, a tall, slender hound stood before her.

With smooth and silky, silvery fur and eyes like the midnight sky.

Ears held erect, pointed like a dagger and a long, bushy tail that slopped down from her spine.

The golden collar graced the hound’s elegant neck, decorated with the dara knot, inspiring reverence.

Despite its beauty, the collar cast dread into the heart of Lura.

She shook off the feeling and stood in a rush, the hound gracefully moved to her side.

It was time to get going, time to make haste, time to hurry to the hunt.

 

Eloa slumbered until a soft sound awoke her,

A gentle nicker followed by a rush of hot air.

She jolted upright in exalted delight and stared at the magnificent mare.

Adorned by a beautiful coat of red and white, and a long, thick mane and tail.

Bold eyes as deep as emerald pools stared at her, ready to go.

Eloa jumped up and climbed on the mare’s back, holding the gilded rope of the bridle.

No saddle, no bit, no spurs, no whip, the horse only abided by gentle request.

They moved at a quick pace, no time could be lost for the dance was only a few days off.

 

By the tireless gait of her Otherworld mount, Eloa reached the castle ahead of her sister.

The prince took immediate notice of her because of the red speckled mare.

It was easy to see, by all in attendance, that the farmer’s daughter soon became his favorite.

But on the eve of the dance,

Lura reached the castle, with hound at her side and a boar’s head on a platter.

By the size of the head and the ivory tusks, the boar had once been a monster.

Such a feat to imagine, quickly garnered attention.

The prince fawned over Lura and took her hand in his then led her into the Great Hall.

He announced her bravery and commended her deed and while many did cheer, one jealous sister conspired.

 

When all inhabitants slumbered soundly,

Eloa tiptoed to her sister’s bedside.

She crouched down and examined the hound resting beside her and knew the collar was like her mare’s gilded bridle.

With no more than a moment of cold consideration

And nary a hesitant thought,

She slipped off the collar and ran with it in her vindictive, merciless grasp.

 

The knock on her door echoed in her ears and when Lura opened her eyes,

She realized her hands had become silver paws and her fingernails powerful claws.

She sprang to her feet and tangled her legs then fell to her face on the floor.

How dreadful it was for her to witness the prince open the door.

She couldn’t utter a word, cursed only to yelp and longingly howl instead.

He petted her head to subdue her sorrow and pensively asked where her mistress had gone.

Lura jumped on her hind legs, placing her paws on his chest,

She desperately tried to tell him.

But he stepped away and left her to be his princess trapped inside a dog.

 

She was taken to the stables and placed with the canines to be used for the day’s royal hunt.

The prince was eager to see what she could bring him and the entire pack set out.

Lura struggled to run with them,

Struggled to keep up,

The prince and his retinue rode far away.

Left on her own, she wandered and waded through forest, meadow, and brook.

Into a glen she staggered, where glowing red eyes revealed her terrible mistake.

A boar ten times bigger than the one she had slaughtered emerged with a rumbling bellow.

It plowed through the trees and ripped up the earth all in pursuit of her hide.

She tried to evade it but its fierce tusks scraped her against the side of a tree.

Bloody and broken, Lura possessed no more strength and accepted her dreadful fate.

She knew she would die,

Far away and alone,

Deep within the woods of Ingomar.

Unaware of the pack that had come to her aid, the boar thundered off,

And the prince scooped her up then swung into saddle and held her in his arms in a tender embrace.

 

Back at the castle, he rested her softly on a blanket beside the fire.

But Eloa saw her and feigned utter dread at the sight of such grisly wounds.

She begged him to dispose of her while callously declaring the dog better off dead.

The prince knew in his heart that the hound stood little chance but could not dispatch her so willingly.

He carried her to the stables and relinquished her instead to the knowledgeable hound-master.

 

Over the months that followed, the master cared for her and mended her broken bones.

His rough hands always gentle, his soft songs supplied comfort and her strength began to regrow.

In that time, the kingdom celebrated the wedding of the prince and Eloa.

The prince became king and Eloa, the queen

While Lura remained a hound.

 

One day several months later, Eloa emerged in the stables to check her most prized possession,

The beautiful roan, the gift from her mother that always wore its gilded bridle.

From her shadowy corner, on her bed of straw, Lura watched with keen interest.

Then her pregnant sister took notice of her and scowled in her direction.

“I thought you were dead, you wretched thing.

Perhaps instead of stealing your collar,

I should have buried the fang of your dagger deep inside your breastbone.”

Lura understood what had happened to her, it was her sister all along,

The one who had transformed her into a dog and taken her life as her own.

While she cursed herself for not seeing the truth, it now seemed so obvious.

The horse’s bridle was like her collar, a symbol of a powerful goddess.

And from that moment on, Lura obsessed, with a strong desire for revenge.

The hunter’s shrewd mind set to work a plan of rightful vengeance.

 

That night when the stables emptied of men,

Lura pulled at her tether until a link gave in.

She crept into the shadows and entered the pen of Eloa’s slumbering mare.

Daintily she balanced on her long hind legs,

Grasped the bridle in her mouth and pulled it away.

With the gilded bridle between her jaws, she darted back to the shadows

Then proceeded to chew and to tear and destroy every last gilded fiber.

 

The next morning, the mare woke with a terrible neigh,

She kicked and she reared uncharacteristically.

The kingdom erupted with the same frightened fervor at the loss of their queen, the soon to be mother.

For days, search parties scoured the woods, but not even a trace of Eloa was found.

The king commenced with a mournful cry and his subjects woefully reciprocated.

 

Lura was not done, her plan had not yet come entirely into fruition.

There was still the matter of the pain she endured, the overcoming of trepidation.

Finally, the day arrived when the king decided to go out on his own for a ride.

The hound and the mare were all that were left of his two lovely ladies.  So he took them with him, to accompany him, on his lonely ride through the fog.

What he didn’t know was that the mare saw red as soon as she saw her sister.

She seethed to trample and stamp on the hound for she knew she’d destroyed the bridle.

Lura knew this would happen and played this to her favor,

Leading the mare on a reckless and wild endeavor,

That took her into forest and glade, through thicket, meadow and brook.

As she had hoped, the massive boar awoke

And his angry red eyes reappeared,

In the glen where she’d wandered so haplessly so many months ago.

 

The beast roared as he trampled trees and shrubs, setting his sights on the mare,

Which slid to a stop with the king still astride, clinging to her neck and mane.

She spun around on her haunches and took to a gallop, breaking through branches and ferns.

She raced through the valley, tore through the streambeds trying to stay ahead.

Her hot breath plumed, her heart pounded her chest, as the king urged her to run.

Faster and faster, but the boar was gaining, his stampeding scarred the land.

 

Eloa flew down a craggy hillside, her hooves clashed upon the rock,

The sound of the sea could be heard up ahead.  She didn’t know where else to go.

The mare valiantly broke through the trees and took a magnificent leap from a cliff.

The king leaned forward and for but a moment they sored without wings through the air.

The boar hit the treeline, splintering boughs and leapt right after the mare.

Eloa landed, her hooves covered with sand, she stumbled and fell and the poor king dismounted, thrown into the rising tide.

 

On the shore with the roaring sea behind her, Eloa turned and faced the boar.

It charged and slammed right into her, driving its tusks into her.

It spun and it jabbed, mangling her flesh,

Leaving her bloodied and broken.

When the mare collapsed onto the cold sand, the boar turned its sights on the king.

 

Lura scrambled down the rocky cliff in time to witness the horror,

As her poor sister stood absolutely no chance in defeating the monster.

Her heart swelled and burst with grief at what she had done to her sister.

Now the innocent king stood his ground, ready to face their demon.

 

He held out his sword and the boar did charge but Lura intervened.

She ran underneath its matted wet belly to save the life of the king.

The hound leapt and snapped her jaws tightly on the flesh of the wild beast’s neck.

The boar screamed and flailed as she held even tighter, driving her fangs even deeper.

 

The beast wouldn’t go down and slammed her against the ground.

Each strike broke a bone in her body.

The thrashing didn’t stop until the king drove his blade into the heart of the boar.

When it fell to its side, Lura dropped to the sand but her legs crumpled underneath her.

She pulled her beaten body to the bloody remains of her sister lying out on the shore.

 

The hound rested beside her, dropped down beside her and placed her face next to hers.

Both drew their final breaths and with their deaths, their true forms were restored.

 

The king couldn’t believe it and dropped to his knees then crawled out across the shore.

He knelt there beside them, lamenting and pining, for each maiden had half of his heart.

His retinue found him with the girls in his arms and forced him to let them go.

The tide rose around them and carried the sisters out into the grey sea.

 

The king never fully recovered.

Each day he walked out on the cliffs near his castle and gazed longingly at the sea.

He couldn’t find it within him to love yet another, to have a new queen at his side.

His only child died with her, Eloa.  His lineage died on the shore.

It seemed the kingdom of Ingomar would suffer the same as before.

The king grew more despondent each year, spending his time on the cliffs.

He began to contemplate how it would feel to fall through the air to his death.

 

One morning he walked from his castle, intending to take the final step

When a stunning red fox stood between him and the beckoning limestone cliffs.

He stared deep into its golden eyes then noticed a strangeness about it.

The fox had an emblem upon its head, the ancient symbol of a woodland goddess.

It sprinted into the forest and he took to a run after it.

Three mythical birds cawed above him, flying with him as he ran.

 

A narrow path twisted between ancient trees, leading him to a glade.

At the base of a giant hawthorn tree sat ruins covered in green.

On the steps leading up to an earthen mound, rested the fox so tranquilly.

It looked to a place bathed in sunlight, a place where a temple once stood.

The king approached cautiously, not knowing where he was.

When he stood on the grass of the earthen mound, he noticed a second symbol,

The triquetra of Epona, Otherworld goddess and queen of the horses.

 

The mythical birds landed before him and began tearing at the earth with their beaks,

Then he heard a sound that came from below, like the knocking on a casket.

Confused and alarmed the king dropped down on his knees and began digging at the earth with his hands.

When a colt leapt from the hole he had dug, the king stared in astonishment and his mouth fell open.

It was a beautiful colt with a red piebald coat and it pranced with an elegant step.

The patterns along the edge of its markings were the symbols he’d seen before, on the fox and the ground, on the collar and bridle of the hound and the mare.

 

Then he noticed a familiar glint in the mottled sunlight,

The colt wore a bridle of his own.

Apprehensive at first, about what he saw, the king held out trembling hands.

When he grasped the bridle and slipped it away, the colt became a boy.

His hair was red, his skin was fair and each eye was a different color.

One sparkling blue and one emerald green, like the eyes of his mothers.  

ingomar-shore-ii

 

Pitch WARS!

Pitch Wars – Blog Links

Pitch Wars – Son of A Pitch! – About

My first event prompted by social media.  How exciting!  Here’s goes:

 

Arcanum, Adult Fantasy  


Query: 

Naomi is the best healer in all of Nevre’stra.  She shares a bond with the wolves, which heightens her senses and allows her to make a diagnosis based solely on the scent of an infection.  While scouting the wilderness to help those in need, Naomi encounters her greatest fear, a marauder.  She survives the brutal attack and permanently returns to her home in the city, forever scarred by the violent memories.

Nearly eight years later, the marauder, Delventrus, returns.  Now he wants Naomi’s daughter, Dana’lia.  He forces Naomi to choose between the life of her mate or relinquishing Dana’lia to him.  Naomi does not have time to wait for the city guards or the wolves to intervene, she must decide.  Yet unbeknownst to her, Delventrus has discovered a source of limitless power, and Dana’lia is the key to the source of the power.  Naomi’s dire choice potentially harbors drastic consequences for not only herself but also the inhabitants of Nevre’stra.


First 250 Words: 

Pillars of afternoon sunlight poured in through the tall, narrow windows of the barracks infirmary.  Naomi neTara, the healer, the Luparian, gently held the swollen, red hands of the little girl in front of her.  Clear humor trickled from open sores and black lesions made her pitiful hands grotesque.  The redness seeped up to her wrists but the black lesions were mainly on her palms and fingertips.  It was easy to see why the barracks healer, a former apprentice of Naomi, thought the girl displayed symptoms of Shepherd’s Plague.  Such would be the end of the little girl and disaster for the township she traveled from for help.  But Naomi did not worry.  She held her nose close to the little girl’s hands, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.  She let the scent of the affliction roll across her olfactories and settle on the back of her tongue.  Naomi inhaled again to be sure.

A wolf padded along the hidden deer-trails of the forest.  When he detected an enticing odor on the wind, he stopped for a moment.  It had been days since he had eaten, since he journeyed from his pack and family in search of his own territory and mate.  The odor on the wind was meat, rotting in the sun, not choice parts but entrails.  It didn’t matter, anything would do.  He sniffed at the entrance of a burrow but the scent of prey was stale.  The rabbits were long gone.


solus-arcanum

Cholera to Climate Change

I overheard a group of men talking about climate change being a hoax.  That the sudden emergence of rain in Southern California and the cold snap of weather proved their claim.  I found their laughter and mockery of scientific data obnoxious but instead of spouting any facts, could only quip, “It’s called global warming, not regional warming.”

Ugh.

That night, as I dwelled on the encounter, it made me think about the history of epidemics.  How humankind collectively has a tendency to be notoriously shortsighted.  We have rebound from every epidemic to hit us but most epidemics move regionally.  And, most epidemics throughout history were caused by pathogens, the plague, influenza, cholera— now, we can control or curb the spread of pathogens, mostly.  Weather, not so much.

So I thought:

Those who support climate change: if we are wrong, where is the harm in investing in renewable energy sources and attempting to preserve the planet’s resources?

Those who deny climate change: if you are wrong, then we’re all f***ed

 

Where am I going with this?  Pardon my rambling.  Let’s look to history.

I was perusing a friend’s book called Medicine: An Illustrated History by Albert S. Lyons, M.D. and R. Joseph Petrucelli, II, M.D. and when I came to the 19th century, I stopped at a couple pictures.  The pictures appeared to be efforts of public health advocates attempting to convey to people the importance of hygiene and disease prevention.  Skeletal apparitions loomed over children in a market and one even dispensed water to the public.  Cholera ravaged Europe and America.  In 1854, London, there were 14,000 documented cases and 618 deaths.  In America, three outbreaks swept across the country.

 (“A hint to the Board of Health on how the city invites the Cholera” (1864). Department of Health, City of New York and Satirical woodcut (1866) indicating that pollution was an acknowledged source of disease even before bacteria were discovered to be the cause.)  

When you think of the 19th century, you probably think of slums and soot, the Industrial Revolution, expanding cities with little room for refuse and sewage.

Before the discovery of bacteria, public health officials focused on sanitation, the dispersal of potable water and the removal of sewage and refuse from the streets.  Sanitation was (and still is) important in preventing epidemics.  But it didn’t necessarily catch on right away.  And Germ Theory was only that, a theory.

I can imagine 19th century naysayers spouting, “There is no definitive proof that microorganisms exist!  Humans have no effect on disease!”

The dominate theory at the time, which had existed for centuries, was Galen’s Miasma Theory.  That disease came from bad air, or night air, a poisonous vapor that spread from rotting organic material.  While not a terrible theory, it was the biggest obstacle for 19th century scientists to overcome.  Time for the 1,500-year-old theory to be put to rest.

Enter the scientific method.

Johann Peter Frank, a German physician, used statistics to produce a milestone accomplishment.  System einer Vollstandigen medicinischen Polizey (A complete system of medical policy), written from 1777-78 and first published in 1779.  It emphasized the importance of hygiene and public health, covering issues from public sanitation to sexual hygiene, maternal and child welfare, food safety, and prostitution.

Unfortunately, his work did not lead to a revolution in public health care and was considered influentially negligible.

However, Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-65) found Johann Peter Frank’s volumes informative.  While overseeing the obstetrical wards of the Allgemeines Krankenhaus in Vienna, he proved that postpartum infection was contagious.  He required physicians and students to scrub hands with soap and water and soak hands in a chlorinated lime solution before entering the ward and after each exam.  Over the next few months, his instruction resulted in a decreased obstetrical death rate, from 18% to 1%.  He reported his results to the Medical Society of Vienna but the majority of medical scientists and practitioners did not support him.  He completed a book in 1861, ten years after his work overseeing the obstetrical ward, but the profession hardly took notice and prominent scientists opposed his ideas.

I feel horrible for Ignaz Semmelweis, he died in 1865 in an asylum from a blood infection very much like the one he was trying to prevent.

He is credited with having created, for the first time, a system of asepsis— keeping germs away from patients— before germ theory was recognized.

In 1867, Joseph Lister, inspired by the work of Louis Pasteur, published a report showing antiseptic treatment of wounds prevented post-surgical infection from “disease-dust.”  Despite this, the majority of American and European surgeons refused to recognize infection coming from something foreign introduced during surgery.  At least the idea of antiseptic treatments began to take hold.

Louis Pasteur, in 1851, was the first to discover bacteria and its behavior.  He viewed Anthrax bacillus and its reactions on two different tartaric acid crystals.  He proved microorganisms grew anaerobically and aerobically and were responsible for fermentation.  In 1870, after returning home from vacation, found cultures of chicken cholera organisms that he had left out.  When he injected the cultures into healthy hens, no disease was produced and when he injected the same hens with virulent cultures, they were protected from the disease.  Pasteur set out and treated bacterial cultures until he discovered microbes grown in a particular temperature range became harmless and could protect from disease.  In 1881, he proved his results to the public by injecting livestock with a vaccine for anthrax.  When exposed to the pathogen, cattle that had been vaccinated survived and those that did not, died.

Bold Louis Pasteur even tackled rabies and developed the first vaccine for the fatal disease.  In 1885, he used rabies inoculations to save the life of a boy who had been attacked by a rabid dog.  Pasteur’s success resulted in public accolades.

From then on, bacteriology and immunology flourished.  Germ Theory was finally recognized as relevant.

What does this have to do with climate change?  To me, the struggle of Germ Theory’s recognition is a robust example of the shortsightedness of humankind, an inherent stubbornness to cling to old ways and reject reform, even in the face of scientific evidence.  It makes me worry that man’s effect on the climate will only be universally recognized once it is too late.  The biggest difference is that we could recover from the dark ages of public health but I don’t think the same will be true for climate change.

 

We are at the end of an era.  What we do today will have an effect on us tomorrow.

 

 

Spiderling

To keep myself sane while dabbling in the art of the query letter, synopsis, pitch and the overall heartache of trying to get a literary agent, I write short stories when not editing my novel and its series (in addition to reading, participating in webinars, studying blogs, and hanging out on writer’s forums).

I came up with an idea a while back that would allow a black widow spider to be the heroine of a story. And spiders in general.

I would consider it fantasy / magical realism.  At 2:00 in the morning, I was lying in bed battling insomnia and the opening popped into my head.  Insomnia is sometimes productive.  It’s a decent opening.  Definitely something to work with 🙂

Twinkle, twinkle, little spider. Perhaps if the lyricist knew what she was looking at then the lyrics would be different.  But all she got was a glimmer, a reflection of moonlight off the back of the industrious spider, maintaining her magnificent web up above the world so high.  

She is a servant to the Master of Dreams.  One of many.  A spider with a special web constructed to fabricate dreams and snare nightmares and occasionally prevent a rogue filament of dreamspace from falling to earth.  She makes her web from starlight and clouds, and sometimes ice and twilight which is why she and her sisters are so difficult to see.  That is dreamspace and it exists in plain sight but is invisible to all but those who know where to look.  And usually those who know where to look, only ever catch a glimpse in their entire lifespan.  

While she cleaned her web and repaired holes, a rogue filament came into existence.  When she first saw it, it appeared to be nothing more than gossamer and stardust.  But gradually it took form.  The spider knew she should catch it and wrap it in her web and end it there.  It became a girl, a human girl and sat naked on her web.  Then it spoke.  

“I have purpose,” the girl said.  

The spider knew purpose was the very first principle of existence.  The rest, she didn’t know.  She did know that humans needed clothes in the human world and quickly created garments for the girl.  

“I need a name,” the girl said.  

“I don’t create human  names,” the spider replied.  “A human will have to name you.”

“Then give me a spider name,” the girl said.  

And the spider did.  Then she created a sail for the girl and let her go.  The spider knew that she had done wrong and that the Master of Dreams would be furious but the girl already had purpose. 

star-clusters-74052_1920

 

Life is Strange

It is ironic and sadistic and twisted and somehow beautiful.  It is a struggle  and a different struggle for different people.  I often wonder how people do it all.  Or don’t.  But regardless, life is strange.

I have been working hard trying to get a literary agent.  My query has been through so many revisions, I have lost count.  One agent requested my material but sadly my opening pages didn’t draw her in.  They should have.  So I am back at the drawing board there.  She did say that I have good prose.  I at least have that going for me.  Then one day I get an unexpected email from an agency that wants to represent, distribute and promote my  music.  Ha.  Once upon a time I had a Myspace page for my music under the alias Vienna Gulbransen.  That was my composer name and unless you hung out in Portland, Oregon from 2003-2007 and were involved in some obscure indie film projects then I wouldn’t expect you to know me.  Anyway, the Myspace page apparently still exists out there and that is how the agency found me.  I immediately deleted the email as I am 99.95% certain that it is nothing more than a scam.

According to the agent there has been a “resurgence of interest” in my music.  So that being said, I posted quite a few of my live piano recordings on Soundcloud and will eventually post rejected cues from my brief stint as a film composer.  The cue that supposedly garnered attention was my synthesizer experiment called “Clocks.”

And here it is:

I hope you enjoyed that 🙂

Whatever you’re doing out there, keep at it.  You’ll get there.  Endure the struggle, put up the fight.  Let the fire forge you.  Pull yourself through the mire, climb out of the pit, don’t stay down too long.  And be wary of the unscrupulous.

Mantis

A little poem, about a bug I adore, fell into my head early this morning– or late last night.  Here it is:

There you sit, so tame on my hand

To let me study you. 

But it’s easy to see that you are not tame. 

(You are too smart to be tamed!)

Too cunning and wily a bug. 

 

While I observe you,

It’s fair to assume

You equally do the same.

 

A perfect blend of strength and precision

A camouflaged beastie and artful hunter. 

A keeper of balance

A keeper of flowers

A fearsome predator

Who devours. 

 

An omen of dread

A partner at lunch

An intricate piece of art

A prankster that imitates a buzzing cockroach

A flicker amongst the brush. 

 

While I suspect I will never know

what you think of me

I relinquish you now, back to the tree

For you are wild and free. 

 

Go now and master your domain

You perfect, little beastie. 

 

This poem didn’t manifest entirely out of nowhere, it was inspired by an encounter yesterday.  On my lunch break, I noticed a stunning praying mantis with striking markings on the sidewalk in front of the building I work at.  Of course I picked it up.  How could I leave such a creature on Ventura Blvd. to be easily trod upon?  Far too busy a place.  My coworker and I held and admired it for a few minutes then took it to a nearby park where I found a tree that the mantis seemed to have been made from.

Why do I adore mantids as I do?  Shortly after I had moved out on my own, my younger brother would come and stay with me on the weekends and over his breaks.  On one of these visits, he decided he wanted to raise a clutch of praying mantises.  The internet was  a far cry from what it is today.  We set out and stopped at a gardening store where much to my brother’s delight, there were some mantis eggs for sale.  One of the workers told us each egg would hatch 20-40 mantis nymphs.  So we set up a small terrarium and the day they hatched we were astounded by the amount of nymphs.  I’m confident that it’s safe to say there were over a hundred between the two eggs.  We scrambled to try and stop them from eating one another and released them into a nearby cluster of bramble.  To eat and be eaten but at least not be trapped.  However, my brother and I kept a few of the nymphs, to raise.  We set each nymph up in its own little bowl with some leaves, a few sticks and a place to collect water.  For the covers, we bought the cheapest pair of pantyhose we could find and cut it up then used a rubber band to secure a piece of pantyhose over the mouth of each little glass bowl.

It was an experience to watch the nymphs grow.  At first they were fed fruit flies and other small bugs, graduating up to crickets and larger insects when they became adults.  One mantis developed a tactic to catch the crickets.  It would hang upside down from the pantyhose cover and snatch the cricket right off the ground, eliminating the cricket’s greatest defense in stealing its ability to jump away.  Another would often rip the head completely off of its prey, holding the decapitated head in one claw and the body in the other.  Quite gruesome but an effective predator, none-the-less.

There were two behaviors I really enjoyed watching with our mantises and one was the way they groomed themselves, much like a cat, actually.  And the other, the way they drank water.  It was the first time I’d ever noticed such behavior in a bug.

While I didn’t happen upon too many wild mantises in Portland, I do see them often here in Los Angeles.  And as I did with the one I found yesterday, I always pick them up.  Sometimes I find them and sometimes they find me.

An omen of dread

I’ll never forget the mantis that flew into my condo one night, a couple years back.  It was a strange ghostly color, almost white and its eyes were red.  It landed on the open sliding glass door and just sat there.  I took a picture of it because I always do when I see a mantis and a camera is handy.  Then about an hour later, the building right next door, not twenty feet away, caught fire.  It was a horrific event to witness and lives were lost.

mantis-best

A partner at lunch

On a much lighter note, I fondly recall a sprightly green praying mantis nymph that joined me for lunch one day.  While I sat outside, writing and eating.  It did the same.  Well, not the writing bit but the eating bit, yes.  It even ventured across the table and walked onto my wrist.

mantis-tiny

An intricate piece of art

mantis-on-hand

The artistry of nature never ceases to astound me.  Each and every praying mantis looks different.  The one I found yesterday was one of a spectacular pattern.

A prankster that imitates a buzzing cockroach

Regrettably, this I do not have a photo of.  About six years ago, I was studying chemistry at the kitchen table.  I lived on the third floor of an apartment building and had the sliding glass door wide open.  While I was focused on creating a graph, standing over my chart, a bug flew into the apartment and proceeded to fly around my head.  Alarmed, I took to running around the small living room, convinced that it was a big, brown American cockroach (they fly, you know) buzzing my head.  My dog, then a puppy, chased me and bit at my legs while my husband– brave as he might be– grabbed a frying pan from the kitchen intending to smack this thing, flying around my head, right out of the air.  Finally the bug landed, the chaos ended, and it was then that my husband and I realized it was no cockroach, nothing of the sort, but a brown praying mantis.  Much to my relief.

I hope you enjoyed my poem, photos and stories.  If you see a short woman carrying a mantis around Los Angeles, it could very well be me 🙂  But I imagine I’m not the only one.  Mantises are too cool a bug.

 

 

Writing Contest: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Novels –> Open Until November 10th!

There is a writing contest going on right now.  If you have a finished adult Fantasy or Sci-Fi manuscript then you should submit!  Here are the details:

Welcome to the 26th (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This is a FREE recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category or two. If you’re writing any kind of fantasy or science fiction novel (for adults), then this 26th contest is for you! The contest is live through end of day, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. The contest is judged by agent Mike Hoogland of Dystel & Goderich.

HOW TO SUBMIT

E-mail entries to dearluckyagent26@gmail.com. Please paste everything. No attachments.

(This contest went live a few hours before the e-mail was created, so several people who submitted early had their work bounce back. Apologies if this was you. As of early October 26, 2017, this e-mail address is up and running and fine. Submit! Thank you. All is now well.)

WHAT TO SUBMIT (AND OUR SOCIAL MEDIA REQUIREMENTS)

The first 150-250 words (i.e., your first double-spaced page) of your unpublished, completed fantasy or science fiction novel. You must include a contact e-mail address with your entry and use your real name. Also note your city of residence (i.e. — the city you live in, not your full address). Submit the title of the work and a logline (one-sentence description of the work) with each entry. Self-published novels are not eligible.

Please note: To be eligible to submit, you must mention this contest twice through any any social-media. Please provide a social-media link or Twitter handle or screenshot or blog post URL, etc., with your official e-mailed entry so the judge and I can verify eligibility. Some previous entrants could not be considered because they skipped this step! In short, simply spread the word twice through any means and give us a way to verify you did; a TinyURL for this link/contest for you to easily use is http://tinyurl.com/jymslez

An easy way to notify me of your sharing is to include my Twitter handle @chucksambuchino at the end of your mention(s) if using Twitter. If we’re friends on FB, tag me in the mention. If you are going to just use Twitter as your 2 entries, please wait one day between mentions to spread out the notices, instead of simply tweeting twice back to back. Thanks. (Please note that simply tweeting me does not count. You have to include the contest URL with your mention; that’s the point. And if you use Twitter, put my handle @chucksambuchino at the middle or the end, not at the very beginning of the tweet, or else the tweet will be invisible to others.)

MEET YOUR (AWESOME) AGENT JUDGE!

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-11-29-25-pmMike Hoogland joined Dystel & Goderich after completing a foreign rights internship at Sterling Lord Literistic. Before pursuing a career in publishing, Mike studied at Colgate University and graduated with a degree in political science and the intention to work in government. He interned with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but soon realized his interests and passions were better suited to a career in the publishing industry. After Colgate, Mike went on to gain a valuable education at the Columbia Publishing Course and discovered his passion for the agenting side of the business. He is seeking: sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, upmarket women’s fiction, and some children’s books (picture books, MG, and YA), as well as a wide variety of narrative nonfiction, including science, history, and politics. He is particularly interested in seeing thought-provoking, realistic speculative fiction.

What a wonderful opportunity, I bet this will be a fun contest to judge.  I’ll be submitting my first page 🙂  Good luck to all my fellow writers out there!

tree-hart Image Link   

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/26th-free-dear-lucky-agent-contest-fantasy-science-fiction?utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=wds-csa-nl-161102&utm_content=893506_GLA161102&utm_medium=email