"Writing a book is the art of listening to oneself."-Brad Cameron

Friday, May 24, 2013

Guest Blog- Jennifer Willis

I am excited to host another friend and author, Jennifer Willis.  Jennifer Willis is an author and journalist in Portland, Oregon. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Oregonian,
Salon.com, The Christian Science Monitor, The Writer, and other electronic and print publications at home and across the globe.
Many writers are solitary creatures. It's an occupational hazard. We hole up in home offices or even at tiny desks in closets. Unless we’re living with a partner or roommates, we might go days without so much as making eye contact with another human being. Granted, other writers are more social and thrive on noise and chaos. I am not one of those people, and most of the novice and experienced writers I know find writing to be a somewhat lonely practice.
It's important to get out—not just to step away from the desk, but to actually leave the office (and the house) . . . and to leave my own comfort zone. Unless my immediate material focuses solely on secluded navel-gazing, one of the worst things I can do as a writer is to permanently hole up inside my own cocoon.
But getting out doesn't mean that I'm not still working. I have two paths to "off-campus" productivity:
• Embracing the non-ordinary.

• Adventures in co-working and write-ins.

Embracing the non-ordinary
To keep work—and life — from getting stale, I remind myself to keep a look-out for new experiences. It could be as simple as trying a new route to the library, or as extreme as going skydiving for the first time.
If an opportunity presents itself—an invitation to play paintball, a friend who needs a companion for a tour of Kenya, a class on underwater basket-weaving—I figure, why not? If my first, knee-jerk reaction is to reject it, I'll take a moment to consider: Is this opportunity really too time-consuming, out of my way, or otherwise inconvenient? Or does it simply require me to step outside my comfort zone?
Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I do try to be smart about this; with my chronic dysautonomia, not every physical activity is appropriate or even possible. But when I take chances—solo travel to a country where I don’t speak the language, or trying street hockey when I can barely skate—I've found that wonderful things can happen. I meet new people, get plenty of new story ideas, and have a lot more fun than I’d have sitting in the home office day after day.
Adventures in co-working and write-ins
This part is not as sexy, but it's a necessary part of my productivity puzzle.
About a year ago, a wonderful little coffee shop opened up in my neighborhood. The staff is friendly, the tea and baked goods are delicious, the WiFi is strong, and the location can't be beat—I can walk there through the park! It's the perfect environment for productive research, writing, and editing away from my desk.
Still, it was a solitary exercise. So, when National Novel Writing Month rolled around last November, I hosted my first-ever write-ins. I planned a schedule—two mornings a week—and invited other NaNoWriMo participants to join me. I met a dozen other local writers this way—people I otherwise might never have connected with. One of these writers has been a regular co-working buddy ever since.

Hosting a Write-In
What to look for in a write-in location:
• Coffee/tea menu—do I have to explain this? Food also helps.
• Adequate seating. Not everyone has to sit together, but you should all be able to assemble within easy earshot of each other.
• Power outlets. Call ahead to ask about available outlets if you're not sure. I tend to carry an extension cord and a power strip with me, just in case.
• Noise level. You don't want to have to whisper to each other so as not to disturb the other patrons, but you don't want to have to be shouting over the coffee machines and the house music, either.
• Groovy staff. Giving the staff a heads-up about your gathering—even if it's just three people—can go a long way to a great writerly experience.
• YOU! Show up and write already.
Traveling is also a great time to investigate co-working opportunities, wherever you happen to land.
When I was working in Dublin in the fall of 2011, I looked around my neighborhood for cafés with WiFi access. That was pretty much useless. I then realized that, of course, Dublin would have co-working facilities!  After a quick Google search, I settled on AMWorks and it was just about perfect—good layout, clean, quiet, and convenient to public transportation. Plus, the people were friendly and respectful. The week I spent in those offices was pure gold.
When you need to "get out," don't be afraid of trying something new—whether it's a clown college seminar, hosting a write-in at your local hang-out, or even finding an office-away-from-home in a foreign city. I find the novelty and camaraderie to be priceless when it comes to real productivity.
-Jennifer Willis
She can be found online:
Twitter: @jenwillis
Her novels—Rhythm (2001), Valhalla (2011), and Iduna's Apples (2012) —are currently available both as ebooks and in print.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Water Dragons

I recently came across a quote that was rescued from an 8th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Its implications provide a terrifying undertone that borders the fine line of fairytale and reality, invoking an image of horror that might cause a pragmatist to reconsider the truth surrounding the myths.

In this year dire portents appeared over Northumbria and sorely frightened the people. They consisted of immense whirlwinds and flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine immediately followed those signs, and a little after that in the same year, on 8 June, the ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter.

The year was 793. The place was Northumbria in the great monastery at Lindisfarne. The attackers were the Vikings.
The writer of the chronicle, probably a Christian monk, must have watched the actions of the assailants that day with a detached sense of reality, suddenly feeling forsaken by his God. Nevertheless, one cannot be too hard on the witness. His peaceful understanding of the world and the sanctity of his religion had just been shattered right in front of him by a foe whose likes had never been seen before.
We’re told by Ken Crossley-Holland, in his book The Norse Myths, that the literal meaning of the word Viking is ‘fighting men’. The word berserk, in fact, was coined by the fighting methods of these warriors. Imagine a horde of men storming over a hill toward your stronghold, perfect in physique, tall, with a reddish hue to their long braided hair, their faces covered in thick beard. They are partially clothed in furs that are draped over one side of their body, leaving one hand free to wield a weapon. Their battle cry is like that of a ferocious animal that sends a shuddering chill up the spines of their enemies. If you are a peasant farmer or a peaceful monk sitting in his cell copying lines of the Bible, a scene like this would be nothing short of horrifying. But then add to that the Viking’s unique mode of transportation.
The Norsemen were superb ship builders. Crossley-Holland reminds us that the ships were “one of the great practical and artistic achievements of pre-Conquest Europe…they were both beautiful in line and very pliable in rough waters.” Again, imagine you are a peasant who has woken early to fish from the nearby river. You walk the short distance from your village and see a large wooden ship skimming smoothly over the shallow water, its overlapping planks sweeping up at either end. It is propelled by oarsmen, perhaps fifteen or sixteen on either side and a square sail. It has an enclosed deck with the warrior’s colored shields hanging in a row over the railings. But the thing that really terrifies you is the elaborately carved prow. A figurehead in the shape of a dragon. It’s no wonder our chronicler warned of “fiery dragons…flying in the air”. No doubt his first impression of this new breed of attacker was that the gates of hell had been unbolted and that the dragons had been released, both to sail through the air and to float on the water.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Guest Blog by Pam Bainbridge-Cowan

This week, I am excited to host a fellow author and friend, Pam Bainbridge-Cowan. Pam is the author of The Butterfly--Book one in the Yetzirah: The Pocket Worlds series. Her short stories have appeared in Alien Skin, Argus, Space and Time, Visions, and various anthologies, and have been read on Golden Hours Radio. Former editor of the speculative fiction magazine, Nanobison, she is currently marketing director of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. She lives in Oregon's Willamette Valley, with her husband and various four-legged roommates. As P.J. Cowan she also writes mystery and suspense thrillers.


As a writer of mysteries and suspense thrillers I spend a lot of time researching various rather peculiar, some might say creepy, topics. When I decided to write a short story for an anthology whose theme was the number 13 I was pretty sure my search would result in some interesting information. I had no idea I’d be stumbling over the bizarre, and yes creepy, once again.

Of course I knew there was superstition around the number 13 and that many considered it unlucky. For instance, airlines have no 13th row of seats, some hotels won’t assign number 13 to a room, and high rises will number the 13th floor 14. (As if that fools anyone)

But there are many phobias, and the fear is not always based in reality. The fear of 13 has a name, triskaidekaphobia. A fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia from Frigge, the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named.

 Many of us are aware that it’s considered bad luck to invite 13 people to dinner. This may be based on simple coincidence, such as the Christians belief that there were 13 guests at the Last Supper, Judas being the 13th. There is also a story that 12 Norse gods were sitting down to a banquet to which Loki, the 13th, was uninvited. This led Loki to kill one of the other gods, which led to events that eventually resulted in Ragnarok — the death of a number of gods, a slew of natural disasters, and the eradication of everything on earth save for two human survivors.

For an opposing view, there is also a contingent that believes the number 13 is lucky, especially for the United States. They will point out that the U.S. flag originally had 13 stars, and still has 13 stripes. That on the dollar bill there are 13 steps in the pyramid of the Great Seal. The motto above the pyramid, which reads “Annuit Coeptis,” has 13 letters; the eagle on the right side has a ribbon in its beak that bears the motto “E pluribus unum,” which also contains 13 letters. The eagle has 13 tail feathers, and on its breast there is a shield of 13 stripes. In one talon the eagle holds 13 arrows, and in the other an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 berries. Over the eagle’s head are 13 stars that form the six-pointed “Star of David.” The phrase “July the Fourth” contains 13 letters and the number 4 (1+3), the birth number of the U.S. (July 4, 1776).

In my research I came across another interesting fact. The number 13 has similar folkloric legends in many cultures all around the world.

One explanation is that cultures who use lunisolar calendars (such as the Hebrew and Chinese calendars) must have 13 months in some years in order to synchronize the solar and lunar cycles. The occasional year which contained 13 full moons instead of 12 posed problems for those, usually monks, who were in charge of the calendars. This was considered a very unfortunate circumstance, as it upset the regular arrangement of church festivals. Could this be the real reason thirteen came to be considered an unlucky number?

What is it about calendars? Didn’t we spend a lot of time in 2012 talking about the Mayan Calendar? The end of the Mayan calendar's 13th Baktun was superstitiously feared as a harbinger of the apocalyptic.

Another calendar-based theory is that in ancient cultures, the number 13 represented femininity, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). (When Chinese women make offerings of moon cakes, there are sure to be 13 on the platter. Thirteen is the number of blood, fertility, and lunar potency.) As the patriarchy became stronger the number 13 was vilified.

Calendars and the moon aside, there do seem to be some rather eerie stories and coincidences around the number 13.

The troubled Apollo 13 mission was launched on March 11, 1970. It was written: 4-11-70. The numbers added up to 13. There were more 13s associated with the troubled mission. Like a Discovery Channel report read, "To reach its landing site on the moon, Apollo 13 would launch at 1:13 pm Houston time, or 13:13 on a 24-hour military clock. From there, the crew would enter the moon's gravitational pull on April 13." Yet, despite all those 13s, all crew members of Apollo 13 got back to Earth safely.

Winchester House, in Northern California, is one of the most famous “haunted” houses in the world. Whether or not one believes in Mrs. Winchester’s superstitions about spirits, it’s harder to dismiss occurrences of the number 13 throughout the house. Many windows have 13 panes and there are 13 bathrooms, with 13 windows in the 13th Bathroom. There are also 13 wall panels in the room prior to the 13th Bathroom, and 13 steps leading to that bathroom. The Carriage Entrance Hall floor is divided into 13 cement sections. There are even 13 hooks in the Séance Room, which supposedly held the different colored robes Mrs. Winchester wore while communing with the spirits.

A hangman's noose traditionally has 13 knots. Lesser knots could lead to inhumane suffocation. "Did you ever see a hangman tie a hangknot?/ I've seen it many a time and he winds, he winds / After thirteen times he's got a hangknot," sang Woody Guthrie.

The thirteenth trump card in a Tarot deck is the death card. Typically, it shows a skeleton riding a horse, carrying a black flag.

The names Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all contain 13 letters.

My search for information about 13 led to my most disturbing finding, a website maintained by a man who quotes from the bible to prove that the number 13 is satanic and is being used to promote the occult. He notes, “Mark 17:21-23 says that there are 13 evils in the human heart.”

He also writes that, “All children today go to school for 13 years (kindergarten plus 1-12 grades). It used to only be 12 years. But they kicked the Bible and prayer out in 1963 and then added kindergarten (making it 13 years). You have to go for 13 years to have your faith destroyed in God.

He is also very clear about the association between Heavy Metal and the number 13. “That’s what Heavy Metal Rock all about, that is, the total destruction of the United States of America.” He also notes other associations between evil and the number 13. “E pluribus unum (13 letters). New world order (13 letters). Annuit Coeptis (13 letters). Obviously he is viewing these same coincidences, which some see as favorable, in an entirely negative light. He also points to these inevitable dates as if they carried some special meaning. “After 12/21/2012 will comes 01/13/2013. What will the year 2013 hold for the world?”

Maybe it’s just this sort of eccentric view of a natural occurrence, stated with authority and not closely questioned, that leads to superstitions such as those surrounding the number 13. In any case I was happy to continue my online search for the unique properties of 13 at more science-based sites.

I learned that 13 is a natural number after 12 and before 14. It is the smallest number with eight letters in its name spelled out in English.

I also found that Friday turns out to be the most common weekday on which the 13th of a month can occur in the Gregorian calendar.

The number 13 is the sixth prime number and the smallest emirp (prime which is a different prime when reversed). It is also a Fibonacci number, a happy number and one of only 2 known Wilson primes. (I have no idea what a Fibonacci, a happy number or a Wilson prime is, but at least they’re not scary.)

In conclusion: Whether 13 is unlucky, lucky, or simply a number with no deeper meaning is something I will leave you to decide. I haven’t made up my mind and will have to think about it some more. In the meanwhile I’m going to go pour a cup of coffee and hunt up my favorite 13, a baker’s dozen — of donuts!

-Pam Bainbridge-Cowan

Website: http://www.pambainbridgecowan.com/
Website: http://www.authorpjcowan.com/
Facebook: http://www.authorpjcowan.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Just_Pam
Email: pam@pambainbridgecowan.com