Michaeline: Saturday, Caturday

Sorry, my writing news is very boring, but the cat news continues to be quite exciting! We saw Millie’s kittens this week!

For regulars of the blog, you may remember that Mama Tabitha (aka Tabby Kate) had four kittens in Auntie Milk’s bathroom on April 16. Three tabbies, one black kitty. Don’t ask me about the sex of any of them; I can’t tell until puberty.

Mama Tabitha had three kittens in 2020 – Large Lars, Medium Millie and Chibi Momoko.

Mama Tabitha next to the screen, Daughter Chibi next to the reed curtain on the porch. In the window is a wind chime greeting card ringing gently in the wind. (E.M. Duskova)

Chibi suddenly got skinny in May, and then showed up at Auntie Milk’s house next door with one baby, an adorable striped thing on May 25. They took up residence in the upstairs landing. The kitten was quite stable on its feet and its eyes were open, so I’m guessing it was about one week old. (Mama Tabitha’s babies also opened their eyes early.)

I kept notes on Millie. She disappeared June first, and then showed up the next day very svelte. But we hadn’t seen her babies . . . the big question for six weeks was: Where are the babies?

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Michaeline: “Cat Person” and Identifying Details

This week, Twitter’s been a-flutter about this Slate article, where a woman realized she’s in a not-very-flattering short story published by the New Yorker. Alexis Nowicki details the facts and feelings of when people she knew texted her to say, “Is this you? Is this your boyfriend?” Read the whole article; there are nuances in there that can’t be captured in a headline or a few tweets.

Cats dressed as humans in an illustration, enjoying a musical evening. Viola, piano, singers, bass violin.
No, not that kind of Cat Persons. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, H..J. Overbeek, 1877)

It’s a running joke in the writing community: “Don’t piss me off, or you’ll wind up in my next novel.” It’s also a truism. Pissed or not, bits and pieces of people we know (and even people we’ve only heard about, as in the Nowicki case) show up in our work.

And they have to! We can’t make nothing from nothing. We need to incorporate little pieces of real life into our stories to make them feel real, even if they are outlandish fiction.

I don’t know about other writers, but I have very little control over what my subconscious throws up. The Girls in the Basement can take a very nice woman with a few quirks, and twist her around to an evil villainess with plans to take over the world. “The quirks make her human and relatable, not pure evil,” my editing mind reasons.

It’s got to feel awkward for the person who is reading a work by a friend, and stumbles upon their own doppleganger. It may even cause lasting discomfort that crosses the border into harm.

“Am I really like that?”

“No, it’s just fiction.”

“But I twiddle my hair just like that, and sometimes eat a sundae instead of lunch. But not every day! Not like that!”

“Yeah, no, but . . . .”

“And I certainly don’t program robots to sabotage people’s mental health! I teach Roombas to clean more efficiently! That’s all I do!”

“It’s fiction . . . .” The writer has no excuses except that she’s a writer, and it seemed like a hilarious idea at the time.

It’s been part of the writing game forever. I read somewhere (I think in one of Jane Austen’s biographies) that Austen would take the details and motivations of a person, then flip their gender, and allow that to change the details radically enough that people didn’t recognize themselves (maybe). It also helped that she wrote anonymously in her lifetime, and she wrote characters that many people can recognize in their own lives (even in the 21st century! I know a Mr. Collins, even though he’s a boring English teacher, not a churchman).

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Michaeline: How I Got Through Saturday

First, remember this: I got through Saturday morning more cheerful than I started, so look forward to a happy ending.

Girl in Hammock, exposing her shift and her calves. She's sleeping, and surrounded by shadowy green leafy shrubs. Her cheeks are flushed. Barefoot.
Keeping cool in the heat of things seems like a very healing idea. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
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Michaeline: Pure indulgence

I’m having a very indulgent week. I made strawberry jam near the beginning of it, and every day since, I’ve had a big slice of buttered toast smeared with jam to go with my breakfast (brunch? lunch?) every day since. I feel so decadent!

Then, the day I had to go to the dentist, I spoiled myself rotten with shopping therapy, even though it was just a final fitting for my mouthguard (no drilling, no scraping, or digging, or prodding – I don’t know why I thought I needed to reward myself). Not one, not two, but three little boxes of plants and flowers from three different shops. I was proud of myself for avoiding shops four and five.

Left box: morning glories, blooming nemophila, blooming white snapdragons, green and white geranium leaves. Middle box: blooming Moody Blues 30 cm. tall phlox, blooming cotton candy pink petunias, button mums and a rose geranium. Right box: tall blooming hot pink snapdragons, shorter blooming light pink snap dragons. All in the trunk of a Toyota Aqua.
Trunk of flowers. Want to know the details? Ask in the comments. E.M. Duskova

And at the last stop of the day, I got ice cream. Loads of ice cream, not just for me but for the whole family. Spoiling myself is great, but spoiling others is also a simple pleasure and indulgence.

Visible: box of chocolate-covered ice creams on a a stick; two pints of Lady Borden ice cream (1 chocolate, 1 vanilla), three double packages of Papiko brand chocolate mini-smoothies, five packages of chocolate ice cream "berries" and two packages of pear ice sherbet "berries". Japanese ice cream.
A basket full of ice cream. I’ll take any questions in the comments below, but I do want to point out, there are five adults in the family, and I intend this to last two weeks. (Although, two adults in the family have no qualms about indulging in ice cream, so good intentions may be lost along the way.) E.M. Duskova
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Michaeline: Juneteenth — and don’t you forget it

Today is Juneteenth, America’s newest federal holiday. (NPR) From what I’ve read, the day is not so much about freedom, as it is about the long, terrible road that enslaved people had to walk to get to freedom, and the struggle to stay in a state of freedom.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Memorable words that helped found a nation, written by an enslaver.

I ran across this excerpt by Clint Smith on The Paris Review Twitter account this morning, and if you haven’t read it, you should. Beautiful writing, and it explains what exactly happened on Juneteenth, and illustrates how it can resonate with Black Americans today. Here’s his tweet. Clint’s excerpt from How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America is set on the Galveston, TX, plantation where enslaved people learned of their freedom in 1865.  

Greedy people who valued pretty dresses and a big house over the lives of fellow human beings stained US history with this atrocity, and too many people just went along with it and let it happen. Lest we forget . . . lest we let it happen again. Let’s remember Juneteenth.

PART TWO:

The contemporary white views in Galveston were pretty outrageous. Flake’s Weekly Bulletin of Galveston (Wednesday morning, July 19, 1865) complained on the front page of being accused of sucking up to the authorities in charge. It’s clear, though, that their sympathies are with the white people and the old system, although they take issue with the rebel leaders who they accuse of leading them into the mess of war and privation.

On page 2 (top of sixth column) of the newspaper, General Granger (who read General Order No. 3 to the enslaved people) is discussed. The paper is concerned that the cotton and corn is good, and the grapes are coming in . . . but if the planters stand firm and don’t hire people from other plantations, the formerly enslaved will have no choice but to work or starve.

“A few months delay would have saved some millions of dollars to the planters in the incoming crops, by securing the promising harvest; and some thousands of lives that the sudden change exposes to all the ills of the hot and sickly season.” Yeah, right. If only General Granger had delayed a few more months (never mind the years that had already passed since the enslaved were freed), I’m sure the planters would have sent the healthy Black people off with a nice percentage of the millions, and wished them well. (No, I do not think that for one moment.)

The parallels to the recent Jan. 6 sedition are striking. The paper cast legal doubt on the proclamation freeing the enslaved. They blame “false teachings of corrupt leaders” for people participating in the secession from the States. The heart (by which I think they mean the paper’s editorial staff and most white Galvestonians) “weeps over the stern necessity that dictates their (the warmongers) humiliation.” Oh, boo-effing-hoo.

But I suppose the editors of the newspaper had to tread that line between pleasing the federal authorities, and living with their neighbors. I’m not excusing them. It’s important to read these expressions of white supremacy. It made me realize just how much the arguments white supremacy puts forth really haven’t changed in all those years.

So when I say we shouldn’t forget, I mean not only what was done, but who was doing it and how. Juneteenth is a day to remember.

(I also recommend historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s excellent article, “What is Juneteenth?” for extra perspective.)

Michaeline: Network of Creativity: Salvador Dali interviewed by Dick Cavett

This morning, a friend of mine shared a Dick Cavett interview with Salvador Dali, and it’s been something to think about, for sure! In the clip, which aired on Feb. 11, 1971 (11 min), Cavett seems to be completely at sea when confronted by Dali’s accent, niche interests and methodology, but 50 years later, Dali’s ideas have become almost mainstream.

For example, Dali talks about the Fibonacci sequence and how it manifests in various natural objects, such as sunflowers, rhino horns and cauliflower, of all things. Cavett asks Dali about Dali’s arrival at a speech in a car filled with cauliflower (I’d like to think it was the beautiful Romanesco cauliflower, which demonstrates fractals so gorgeously), and doesn’t seem to comprehend Dali’s answer.

A graph showing the Fibonacci numbers in terms of squares that are x by x. x = 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.
The Fibonacci sequence can create an elegant spiral. (Jahobr, Wikimedia)
The Fibonacci sequence as illustrated in nature with aloes, sunflowers and a spiral seashell. (Google screenshot)
It's hard to describe this, but think cauliflower, but instead of the smooth, brain-like flowerets, each floweret is like a spiky Christmas tree.
My mother-in-law has grown this veg for me! It’s a member of the cabbage family, and is known variously as Romanesco broccoli, romanesco cauliflower, chou romanesco. Delicious, but smelly — a cabbage-scented limousine is maybe not what you’d want to ride in on a hot summer day. Still, look at those gorgeous fractals! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

We today may be more familiar with the sequence as part of Elsa’s magic in the “Let It Go” song from the Disney animation, Frozen. The lyrics even mention, “My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.”

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Michaeline: Brainstorm Saturday

Imagination magazine cover, March 1955. A full robot with antennae and flashing lights helps a stylish young housewife in a red jumpsuit with her groceries, but manages to bash the eggs all over her floating maroon trunk (of her car). Lots of "Oh, no! Oh, no, no, no!"
Story seeds! Use your imagination, and pass on the ideas that are right, but not right for you. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve got a really cool video that just provokes all sorts of ideas in my head for stories. So, if you need a little bit of inspiration, grab a pencil and some paper, and try this:

  • Remember the rule is no self-editing. Jot down quick notes about what comes to you – edit your list later.
  • You don’t HAVE to like robots in order to get ideas from the video. You can pretend they are real people, and see what comes to you. (But don’t deny the weirdo SFF ideas, either – they may spark new ideas in your later.
  • Watch this video (“Do You Love Me?” Boston Dynamics, 2:54), and take notes:
4.
  • Aw, go on, watch it one more time and see what comes up.
  • Any ideas that seem kind of cool, but you have no interest in exploring? Share them in the comments below so someone else can run with them! Kind of like the Poughkeepsie Idea Service!

So, I’m going to share some of the ideas that came to me during this video. It really was inspirational. (And if you want to run with them, go ahead! What you do with these seeds is going to be completely different from anything I do with these seeds.)

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Michaeline: The Art of the Blurb

Melissa Blue tweeted this week, “Pro tip: The point of the blurb isn’t to tell you the story, it’s to SELL you the story.” That sentence came to me just as I was already thinking about blurbs, and complicated the matter.

First, a blurb is the short summary of the book used to lure readers into the buying the story. Naturally, a good blurb is very useful to the reader in choosing a story to her tastes, but it is also a good tool for writers.

A Regency man in a caped riding coat stands in front of the mantle of an inn lecturing a demure young girl in sprig muslin with two hat boxes near her.
Via Wikimedia, this is the first edition cover of Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer.

For example, if you get stuck in the writing of your book, write the blurb for the book-in-your-head. Compare it to what you have in your draft, and see if you’ve drifted from the point, or if you are still on target.

This is a case where the blurb tells the story, and I think that’s an important part of blurbiness. A blurb should accurately portray the book, or it is just fooling the reader, right?

That said, it’s a hassle trying to fit 65,000 words into 100 succinct ones, especially if the writer plays with genre or tropes.

This month, I did a comfort re-read of Georgette Heyer’s Sprig Muslin, and it was satisfying and as comforting as I could have wished for. When I looked at the back of the book, though, I was shocked.

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Michaeline: Four Questions for Harper Cross

Author Harper Cross, also known as Eight Lady Nancy Hunter, aka Nancy Yeager, author of the five-story series, Harrow’s Finest Five (Starting with novella “Too Clever by Half” and followed by four full-length Victorian historical romance novels) answered a few questions for me regarding her new book, Baby One Last Time, the first book in her series, The Agents of HEAT (published April 29, 2021).

The lighthearted romantic suspense book is a second-chance romance. Cynthia has been expelled from the secret spy agency, HEAT, and her only chance to redeem herself is by working with her “tall, dark and diabolical” ex, Derek Wilder. Harper calls it “a shot of action & adventure, a dash of snark, and a twist of fun.”

She’s got a lot of fun things to say about the process in her interview, too!

Hot guy in black v-neck t-shirt with bracelet and looking over squarish sunglasses at viewer. Tropical palms, fire/scorched earth imagery.
Baby One Last Time is the latest book from Nancy, writing as Harper Cross. and is a stand-alone novel with no cliffhangers from the Agents of HEAT series. Image from Harper Cross.
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Michaeline: Treat Myself with The Assassins of Thasalon

It has been a hard week of gardening, muscle recovery from gardening, and dentistry, and I haven’t opened my computer for days. So, it’s quite a treat to find that Lois McMaster Bujold’s new ebook, The Assassins of Thasalon, came out May 10th! Believe it or not, it’s book 10 of the delightful Penric and Desdemona series, about the life of a young man who contracts a demon — a demon with the accumulated memory and personalities of 11 women, a mare and a lioness.

A rope breaks and a person in black plunges one story to a tiled stone floor, where an older man is looking up at the person.
The Assassins of Thasalon is the 10th Penric and Desdemona story from Lois McMaster Bujold. Image via Goodreads Blog; the cover art is by Ron Miller.

Lois’s work has touched my life in so many ways, and shaped my thinking. It’s a rare week that goes by that I don’t think of a quote from her collected canon to describe something going on in life or politics.

The other Penrics are novellas, while this one’s word count launches it into the book arena. Most of Lois’s stories can be read as stand-alones, and since this takes place two years (in book time) after “The Physicians of Vilnoc”, I think it’s safe to say you don’t need to read all nine to enjoy the tenth . . . however, you may want to!

So, off I go for an afternoon and evening of good reading! See you next Saturday!