Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Nostalgia or Reality?


Sometimes I'll borrow a set of DVD's from a relative or acquaintance or from the library.   These are shows I may have watched years ago.  I'm not sure of their appeal to me so I'll call it nostalgia.   These shows could also form the basis of a sociological treatise so perhaps I could call it research.

There's a reason for the old saying 'you can never go back'.   You can watch the same program but you are different now due to the passage of years.   Your view and knowledge of the world is different.  So it is when I watch these shows from the '60's or '70's.    Let me tell you some of the things that jump out at me:   The women wear mostly skirts and dresses,  even suits for work or for everyday use.   There are a lot of secretaries,  artfully made-up and with their hair in chignons.   They wear clothes only seen at funerals now.   To be fair, men seemed to be required to wear suits and ties much more often.  

People smoked considerably more.   The main character and supporting actors light up regularly.  When was the last time you saw this on a current television show?   Of course, this means that flirtatious moment when a man bends over a woman, cupping her cigarette hand with his to offer her a light while she looks up at him helplessly, is no more.

That's another thing:   women seem more, dare I say, incompetent.   They freeze, they scream, they phone their husbands for help.   They even faint with depressing regularity.   Anything but take action themselves. I have to resist the urge to shout:   "Pull yourself together!   You're not helpless.   Do something!"  But then I'm accused of talking to the television.

Then there are the cars.   Large American made vehicles, complete with a bouncy suspension, that squeal as they round a corner.   And the technology!   Those ENIAC computers, the size of a large wardrobe or curio cabinet, are portrayed as the latest technology.   I can't help but notice how many situations involve the main character frantically searching for a pay phone not to mention how many situations would have been saved if there had been a cell phone in their pocket.

I recommend trying this activity some time.   Younger people will equate this with the bonnet and bustle days but if you have any actual recollection you may find it fascinating.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


This post could be an adjunct to the one about taking a news media fast.  I read today that someone determined that on average we are subjected--in other words have thrown in our face--3000 advertising messages a day.  I don't want to do the math and find out how many that is in a year.  This includes radio, television, on-line, posters and large screens  in public places.   Then there are print advertisements in newspapers, magazines and even on the back of bills and receipts, on the jerseys of athletes and the sideboards in hockey arenas.  I don't want to mention the unfortunate people who have he job of waving signs at me from the side of the street or parading up and down wearing a sandwich board.

And what is all this in aid of?  Getting people to purchase something they may or may not need or at least remember the name of the product when next at the shop or the  politician when next in the voting booth.   It's easy to feel vaguely dissatisfied after reading Cosmopolitan or House and Garden.   We just aren't as sexy, good looking or well-endowed not to mention well-decorated and organized as we should be.   But the magazine's advertisers have a cure for that.


I've read that one of the traits of some autistic children is an inability to screen out background input or differentiate between that which deserves their attention and that which should be ignored.    How distressing this would be.  I like to think that I manage to ignore advertising for the most part.

Here is an excerpt from The Simple Dollar on this topic:

Advertising is far more prevalent than most people think. Sure, you can sit at home and skip the television ads, but it’s pretty hard to do that in an airport or at a friend’s home. Sure, you can skip ads in magazines, but your eyes have to look at it enough to recognize it as an ad, and that’s often enough to get visual recognition of the logo.
There’s also internet ads, commercials stuck on the front of YouTube videos, billboards, radio ads… the list goes on and on.
The worst kind, in my eyes, is product placement right within the programs. Ads are often indistinguishable from the show you’re watching or the article you’re reading.
The only way to avoid ads is to go on a complete media fast. No television. No internet. No magazines. No driving. Curl up at home with a thick classic novel.

See if, for a couple of days, you can shut out most of the din.  You might like it and, if not, well you probably didn't need all that stuff, anyway.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



I attended recently an international Writers' Conference, held locally.  I was there as a volunteer, my third year to do offer my services.    The Conference is geared towards those writers who are looking to publish in what can be called traditional methods (for some reason this reminds me of the traditionally built Mma Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency but that is probably because I have recently been listening to the audio tape on the drive to work.   The main character, Mma Ramotswe, from Botswana, describes herself as traditionally built.) But, I digress. 

I am self-published or sometimes I say that I am published through Amazon, since they have made it possible for me to publish my books.  But there are still people, probably many people, who want to be represented by an agent and published by a publishing company.   Conference attendees are allowed to sign up for one  ten minute 'pitch' appointment each day.  This is a period of time that they sit across a table from a literary agent or publisher and talk about their book, trying to interest the agent or publisher in representing them or publishing their book.   Part of my day was spent keeping the line of waiting people in order.   People, mostly women it seemed, were nervous. They study their notes, they go into empty rooms to practice what they are going to say.   It is something like a job interview.   I have read that agents take on less than one tenth of one percent of the manuscripts that cross their desks or rather, writers who sit across from it, perched nervously on the edge of a chair.  But mostly they tell me as they leave that the agent/publisher was very friendly and approachable so that makes me feel good about the organization I volunteer for once a year, even if that part of what they offer isn't what I am looking for.   

One factor I did notice was that something like eighty percent of the conference attendees were women.  I wonder what that signifies?  That most of the upcoming writers are women or that men stay home and write and women enjoy the social and mutually supportive atmosphere of conferences?

Sunday, October 21, 2012



I  came across an amusing book, designed for children mostly, that provides an interesting trip down memory lane, to use a cliche.  (I know, authors are supposed to avoid cliches).   The book is called There's a Frog in my Throat .   The cover itself is hilarious.   The book depicts, in illustration, 440 idioms involving animals from horses to sheep to pigs.  Some date back a hundred years or more--have you heard of something being 'the cat's pyjamas'?   Many you will have heard of but generally idioms go in and out of favour with new ones coming along, often from movies or songs.  

I have tested some of them out with elementary age children and most are unfamiliar to them yet it is something they will come across in books as well as actual conversation.  Adults and children from other countries, trying to learn English,  often find idioms puzzling and they are usually one of the last language elements an immigrant to this country will master (if ever).   It's the idea that a group of words, usually quite improbable sounding, have a meaning that is not apparent in the phrase.  Sometimes you can puzzle your way through them.  To describe someone as being like A bull in a china shop surely conjures up an image of a clumsy, uncoordinated individual.  What about  happy as a pig in mud?

Here's a few more to test yourself on:

- She has a bee in her bonnet.

- snug as a bug in a rug

- lower than a snake's belly

- cat got your tongue?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


As I described in a previous post, choosing a name for a character in a book requires care and consideration.   The name should be suitable to the age of the person and although there are more women engaged in what used to be traditionally male jobs (and that's a good thing!)   we've probably all met someone whose name did not seem suitable to their occupation or station in life.   Remember the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue" and the reason the boy was given that name?  

Do we grow into and become our names?    Or does someone whose name seems wildly inappropriate to them  realize that at some point  and start to use their middle name or abbreviate their given name in some way, or adopt  nickname.

There's an interesting website for both authors looking for just the right name for a character and for parents searching for the name that will fulfill all their expectations even if their infant turns out quite differently.  Here's the link:  Baby Name Wizard .  For prospective parents there are search possibilities by first letter, by style, by era and even by location (in the U.S.)   For authors there's  a well-designed scrolling graph where you can search alphabetically by the decade going back a hundred years + and find the ranking of names.   It's one of those websites where an hour can go by before you realize it as you search your own name and that of your friends, relatives and enemies.

Sunday, October 14, 2012



I suppose an adjunct to this post title could be  Do Children Read?  But I'll leave that for another time.  I had a look recently at the Newbery Award winners.   To quote from Wikipedia it is:  "The award is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."  Named for John Newbery, an 18th century English publisher of juvenile books, the Newbery Medal was the first children's book award in the world. 

I have had the opportunity to read quite a few of the winners and it is instructive and interesting to see how reading tastes and styles have changed over the years.   For example, the  1945 winner was Rabbit Hill  and the 1953 winner  was And Now Miguel.   In a way, these books, which I have read, remind me of  an era when things moved at a slower pace.   The authors let the books unwind slowly and didn't seem to feel the need to have a lot of action or climaxes.  Rabbit Hill tells the anthropomorphic story of a family of rabbits and other woodland animals, with details of their trials and tribulations.   A new family is moving into the neighbourhood and the rabbits are worried.   At the end of the book, the people turn out to be a kind-hearted couple.  

And Now Miguel concerns a twelve year old boy who wants to be old enough to go up into the mountains with the older boys and men to move the sheep to the summer grazing pasture.    We find out a lot about the details of a Mexican American farming family and their simple but happy life.  It is still available for purchase (in softcover only, not e-book) 

The reviews on Amazon for these two books are varied with quite a few from nostalgic adults.  One of the issues with both these books might be that the reading level is above what the present interest level would likely be.   

I wonder if the market for children's books  or what in the publication business is called  middle grade readers is becoming a narrow window.  Most of the children below Grade 4 (nine year olds) do not have sufficient reading skills for novels and older children today want more sophisticated fare.

Interestingly, the 2012 winner,  Dead End in Norvelt (which I have not read) is set in the 1960's but unlike the books actually written in that time period contains--according to a quick scan of the mid range reviews--mass murder, modified swear words and lots of blood.  Definitely a change!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Have you ever thought about how much time you spend watching or listening to media?   I'm thinking particularly of news and pseudo-news.   Depending upon your time, schedule and habits it can be quite ubiquitious and probably more than you think.  You might listen to the radio news in the morning as you get ready for your day:  News, traffic, weather, sports,  and other assorted items that the radio show producers have decided are interesting tidbits.  On your drive to work you might have the same program going and at work there may be background stations playing softly, or not so softly.  Once home, the six o'clock news seems the logical thing to put on with after dinner coffee.  You'll notice I haven't even brought up various on-line news sources available like The Huffington Post, Salon or Slate to name a few. 

You will be confronted with world news, political news, local news, regional news, sports news, arts and entertainment news . . .   It is a tsunami of information swooping over you every day.  Is it relevant to your life?   Do you care?   With radio and television it is easy to allow it to blab on and on, only tuning in to items that interest you.  But does your subconscious somehow absorb all the drama?   On the internet we can quickly click past.   But there is always more and more.  Perhaps we fear missing out on some key event that has unfolded and we might look foolish for being caught out unaware.   If World War III starts we want to be in the know.  If you stop to keep track you will likely find that most of what you allow to enter your auditory canal and your visual line of sight is not relevant and not interesting and even possibly distressing and upsetting.    But, you rebut, it's important to keep up with the news.   Sounds like something that was said in school. 

I'm going to hypothesize that this onslaught of information leaves your body and mind vaguely on edge.   You should do something but you are not sure what.   The world is a terrible place,  people do awful things, lots of people seem to have a better or, at least, more extravagant lifestyle.  You should care, you should write to your politician, you should visit that store, that business, you should order tickets, you should take a different route home.  Okay, the last one might actually be useful if it helps you to avoid a traffic jam.

You might find it interesting, not to mention refreshing and relaxing, to take a news media fast for a few days.   A certain calm may envelop you and you will be able to hear your own thoughts.   Creativity will be fostered in the space in your mind that you have created.   If you can ignore the vague uneasiness at being out of the news loop you might find that you enjoy the step away and if not, well, it will be waiting for you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I write this blog primarily for readers of books or blogs.   Some author blogs seem to focus more on advising other writers and they provide a considerable amount of useful information about the writing craft and the publishing world.  There are several authors whose blogs I follow for this reason.

I used to think that the ultimate goal for a writer (aside from winning the Pulitzer prize for writing or something similiar!) would be to set each book in a different place in the world.   The exotic setting would surely justify a  tax-deductible stay of a undetermined length of time to research the town or city and the surrounding environs.  It would be perfectly acceptable, I reasoned, to linger for a while to absorb the local culture, the charming dialect, and those little details of shops and cafes, bookstores and educational establishments that would give the final work that ring of authenticity.

I still drift into fantasy on occasion and project myself (and laptop) to a tropical beach or quaint European village.   I have visited both and have the photos to prove it but, alas, did not think to make notes that would be suitable for novel use.   It could also be said that some locations have been used, if not to excess, then rather a lot.   I'm thinking of Paris or London.   Of course, those two locations have so many unknown streets or hidden shops that could provide a unique perspective.   The last time I was in Paris, it was the summer of the great heatwave in which many people died.   The train tracks were even melting, or so we were told at the Metro station when we tried to book a ticket to Versailles.   Probably not the Paris people like to read about.

And so,  Jaswinder Pandher (of the Jaswinder Mystery Series) lives in Surrey, British Columbia and my two dystopian novels take place in the Pacific Northwest.   These are the areas I am most familiar with.    But, sometimes, it is interesting to write about something that is completely unfamiliar to me and perhaps to many of you.  That is where the research comes in.   Tell me, how much do you know about camelids?

 123RF Stock Photo

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bees really are dying

In my novel, When Bees Die, it is a terrorist plot that kills off the bees but in the real world bees really are in trouble.   As I do a little research for the second book in the series I find out that there isn't just one reason but, as often the case,  there are a number:

1. Malnutrition   

Wild bees feed on a diversity of pollen and nectar sources.   Commercial honey bees are limited to certain commercial crops for which the hives are rented, for example, almonds or cherries.  These kinds of limits may contribute to bees' nutritional deficiencies.

2. Pesticides

Pesticides, particularly nicotine based pesticides, are suspected in colony collapse disorder.  Purdue University researchers have produced a list of pesticides that cause the death of bees on contact and it is a long list.

3.  Genetically modified crops

A major genetically modified crop is corn, one of the most, if not the most widely produced North American crops.   Honey bees decline in these areas but it is not known why.  

4. Migratory beekeeping

Beekeeping today is more about renting hives to farmers than producing honey.   There's just a lot more money in the former.  But remember, honeybees use orientation to find their way around.   Moving them thousands of miles every few months is not only stressful for bees, lowering their immunity, it also introduces new diseases and pathogens which they haven't had an opportunity to build up an immunity to.

5. Lack of Genetic Biodiversity

Bees are healthier when they obtain pollen from a variety of sources.

6. Beekeeping Practices

Studies of how beekeepers manage their bees may determine trends that lead up to the disappearance of colonies. How and what bees are fed would certainly impact their health directly. Splitting or combining hives, applying chemical miticides, or administering antibiotics are all practices worthy of study. 

7. Parasites and Pathogens

These do not cause Colony Collapse Disorder on their own, but some suspect they may make bees more susceptible to it. Beekeepers fear varroa mites the most, because they transmit viruses in addition to the direct damage they do as a parasite. The chemicals used to control varroa mites further compromise the honeybees' health. 

8. Toxins in the Environment

Honeybee exposure to toxins in the environment warrants research as well, and some suspect chemicals as a cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. Water sources may be treated to control other insects, or contain chemical residues from runoff. Foraging bees might be impacted by household or industrial chemicals, through contact or inhalation. The possibilities for toxic exposure make pinpointing a definitive cause difficult, but this theory requires attention by scientists.

9.  Electromagnetic radiation

This area is in dispute with some research demonstrating that both cell phones and cell phone towers disrupt bee navigation.   The bees cannot find their way back to the hive.

10.  Climate change

Global temperature increases cause a chain reaction in the ecosystem.  Warm winters, droughts and floods all affect flower plants, limiting nectar and pollen supply.

It's amazing there are any bees left!
 123RF Stock Photo