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Where to buy

Natural Attraction is sold at the Readers’ World Bookstore in Holland, Michigan, Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!) and The Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa. , Prairie Lights in Iowa City..To buy on-line use links here (the Penner site: click on icon for selected site to purchase) and here

Cleaner, Greener Labs is self-published and sold here.

Mixed In, a comic dystopia set in the near future United States from City Owl Press. When passions are regulated, which laws will you break? Buy here:

 Amazon US

Kobo

Indiebound

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Mixed in is also available at Beaverdale Books (DSM) and The Central College Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

Cutting the grass

Burns projectiles, amputations. It’s not a war zone–it’s your lawnmower. In the US, 80,000 people are injured by lawnmowers each year.  As you can imagine, summer is the prime season for accidents and lawnmower accidents are one of  the most common summer accidents.

I asked friends for their lawnmower horror stories and they were pretty gruesome.

“There was an old man in my hometown who was mowing the ditch that had standing water at the bottom. The rider mower tipped over and he tumbled to the bottom and the mower got on top of him. He drowned there.”

“My husband had a guy who worked for him who tripped while mowing with a push mower. Instead of letting go of the mower handle so the mower would stop, he pulled the mower backward in an effort to keep his balance. He pulled the mower over his foot and lost part of his foot. He was off work for quite a long time but, eventually came back. He still limps.”

“My uncle was push mower cutting our family plot at the cemetery. He was backing up & fell over a tombstone. The mower came back over his foot & cut off his big toe. He found a bag to put his foot into to contain the blood. The toe did not survive.”

Most lawnmower accidents involve cutting things off. Amputations. Even when the mower is turned off, the blades on many mowers, older models in particular, can still turn. An Emergency Room nurse summed it by saying,”People cut their fingers and toes off with them fairly frequently.”

Lawnmower accidents go beyond amputations. Burns can occur and even house fires.  A friend said

“Mine got too hot on Friday, blew the cap & oil all over. I didn’t get hurt or anything but I haven’t tried to run it again.”

Running over things is common. People remembered running over everything from snakes to bunnies to sentimental toys. Possibly the worst running over story that didn’t involve a projectile was this one:

“A few years ago I was mowing, wearing shorts, and ran over a in-ground bees’ nest. Got stung about a dozen times on each leg before I realized what the sudden pain was and could run far enough away. So, my tip is wear long pants.”

Lawnmowers can toss objects at a speed of 200 miles per hour. Projectile accidents are more common and more  dangerous than you might think. For example:

“When I was younger, my mother told me about some friends whose child was in the yard while the dad was mowing. He ran over a piece of metal he didn’t know was there. It was thrown out of the mower, hit the child in the head and killed him.”

“When I was a kid, I was wearing tennis shoes while mowing the lawn & hit a wire. It lodged in my fourth toe. My dad pulled the wire out with a pliers & then we headed to the doctor for a tetanus shot. Never wore tennis shoes to mow again”

Thirteen children per day are injured by lawnmowers in the US. Accidents involving kids are some of the most heartbreaking::

“A young kid who was mowing had the riding mower tip over on him, slicing his guts open.(The doctor)  had to work fast and try to pull some muscles over the area and stitch it up. Not pretty. “

“When I was at Mayo as a student, I took care of a kid who had an above the knee amputation after his dad accidentally ran him over with a lawn mower. The child was only 5 years old. While it was super sad that the kid lost his leg, it was also so hard to watch the dad interact with his child. You could tell how horrible he felt and was in tears more than the child. I’m sure the child now has a prosthetic and is living as normal of a life as possible (I have friends who design prosthetics and the functionality of them is pretty amazing). But, that dad will always have a reminder of that horrible day when he accidentally ran his kid over.”

“When I was young, my mom was teaching me how to use the riding mower. We were mowing around a shed in the backyard. I heard a big rock shoot out, and I leaned to the right to look over my shoulder behind me, and the edge of the shed sliced right down my neck on the left side. As the mower kept moving forward, I though my head might be ripped off. I had “rug burn” down my neck for weeks. Also my grandfather lost his leg mowing a ditch. Mowing is not my favorite chore.”

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New lawn mowers have some safety features including a foot shield and a blade break (clutch chute) that stops the blade when the handle is released. There is still a potential for injury as you can read above. Many ride-on mowers have Rollover Protection. This along with a seatbelt is recommended by OSHA. All mowers should have deflection shields on the discharge chute. These push projectiles down instead of out.

Here are some safety tips to make sure that you have a safe summer:

Be sure to clean the blades before you mow and some sites suggest spraying them with cooking spay before mowing to prevent clogs. When cleaning a mower without a blade break remove the spark plug to prevent accidental starts. 

Don’t go back! Push the mower forward, never pull it back. For ride-on mowers, many accidents occur when backing up so keep them moving forward.

Never let kids (or any passengers) ride along.

Don’t mow when the grass is wet. The mower will clog more and slips are more likely.

Use a push mower on slopes and a string mower on extreme slopes. Use OSHA’ s slope guide.The Consumer Protection Safety Commission recommends mowing across a slope with a push mower and with the slope with a ride on. Don’t make sharp turns or sudden starts with a riding mower, especially on hills.

Don’t walk away from a running lawnmower.

Wear long pants and sturdy shoes and safety glasses when mowing.

Fill the mower with gas before mowing. If you run out of gas, let the mower cool completely before refilling.

Make sure the mower blades have stopped and the mower is off before cleaning the blades.

Let the mower cool down before putting it away. House fires have been stared due to hot lawnmowers!

Don’t use your mower as a hedge trimmer.

Don’t mow when you are drunk.

Clear the yard of debris before mowing.

Make sure people and pets are inside before you mow. The average age for a lawn mower bystander injury is 6 years.

Do not let children under the age of twelve mow. The average age for a child injured  while lawn mowing is 10.7 years.

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For a healthy lawn, keep your grass at the proper height. This depends on the type of grass but don’t let it get shorter than an inch or longer than three inches. Grass needs some height to develop roots. In the summer, setting the blade to the highest setting and cutting only the top third is recommended. Letting your grass get too long makes it difficult to mow. Most people mow once a week.

People have favored surrounding their homes with short grass for centuries.This was maintained by servants or more frequently animals until the widespread use of lawnmowers in the 1890s. With the advent of the mower, came injuries.

To review, be safe. Lawnmower accidents happen across the globe. Perhaps you have heard the Genesis song with the lyric “Me, I’m just a lawn mower. You can tell me by the way I walk.” You don’t want to be that guy. Take care.

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That’s Escherichia coli to you

Flat vector set of different types of microorganisms. Disease-causing viruses. Objects related to science and microbiology theme
Can you spot the E. coli in this contaminated water?

Here is a recent news headline: E coli closes a local beach. As you probably know, E. coli, or Escherichia coli as it is named by genus and species, is a bacteria. Bacteria are simple single-celled creatures, a step down from amoebas. Unlike viruses, they can reproduce on their own (by splitting) and have a metabolism. This means they take in food and produce wastes. The waste can be beneficial or harmful. E. coli grows easily in air or without it. It isn’t picky about its temperature for growth although it prefers near body temperature. It’s found in the intestines of animals and different animals contain different strains.

Microbiologist Lee Macomber points out that a high E. coli count in water means that the water is contaminated with fecal matter. E. coli is easy to grow in the lab and it is an indicator of water cleanliness. E. coli serves as the bellwether species. There very well could be more dangerous bacteria including gastroenteritis and viruses such as Hepatitis A in contaminated water.

According to the Iowa DNR, fecal contamination of beach water occurs due to improperly constructed and operated septic systems and sewage treatment plants, manure spills, storm water runoff from lands with wildlife and pet droppings, or direct contamination from waterfowl, livestock, or small children in the water. In Iowa, rain appears to be one of the most important factors in generating high levels of bacteria. Surface runoff after a heavy rainfall may transport high levels of fecal bacteria to the water at the beach. The rain also increases the sediment in the water causing it to be murky. Since bacteria are destroyed by sunlight, murky water aids in their survival.

About half of Iowa’s water is impaired and less than a quarter is considered clean. Our current governor is planning to clean up the water–by making it more difficult to call a water impaired!

E. coli is a contaminant in water but is it all bad? It’s needed in our intestines. The bacteria produces Vitamin K and helps break down food for digestion. But it can turn up in the wrong places and some strains take a deadly turn. The most notorious strain is E. coli O157:H7–which is found in the digestive tract of healthy cattle. This bacteria produces Shiga toxin and other by-products that make people violently ill with diarrhea that is at its worst “all blood, no stool.” E. coli can infect meat when slaughtering is done carelessly.  It can get into milk from animals and via dirt, animal bedding, and possibly by wind-borne dust. It is more puzzling how it gets into lettuce but animal and bird droppings, dust from nearby slaughterhouses and feed lots, and contamination from wild animals have all been cited as causes. E.coli clings to greens effectively and is hard to wash off. It can spread from person to person via poor hygiene. My students found E coli in ice from a soda dispenser once. It had to have gotten there from a worker’s dirty hands,

People with Type A blood are the most susceptible to E. coli related infections. The most common food source is ground beef. The most likely place to get an infection is in a developing nation and children under two are most vulnerable. Believe it or not, a large mussel population in  a lake can filter E. coli from the water so the Great Lakes, especially Michigan, are rarely contaminated.

E. coli infection has been in the headlines lately. It’s been a contaminant of romaine lettuce since the start of the year and has shut down daycare centers and sickened kids in Tennessee.  The most commonly affected foods are ground beef and other meats, green leafy vegetables, unpasteurized juices, raw milk, and soft cheeses made from raw milk. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Hemolytic-uremic syndrome can cause kidney damage as well as death. E. coli can be blamed for most UTI infections, traveler’s diarrhea, and neonatal bacterial meningitis.   If you have E.coli poisoning, staying hydrated is a way to dilute the toxins. Antibiotics, sometimes a cocktail of them, could be needed to rid yourself of the bacteria.

Four out of every 100,000 children in the US will be hospitalized for an E. coli related illness this year. E coli infections spike between June and September.

Here are  ways to minimize the risk of an E. coli infection at home.

  • Cook meat completely. E. coli is killed by proper heating.
  • Thaw meat separately from other foods
  • Use a different plate for raw vs cooked meat when cooking and grilling
  • Wash food preparation surfaces and utensils
  • Clean your refrigerator weekly
  • Wash faucets and soap pumps daily. (Pump soap is more germy than bar soap.)
  • Wash dish towels daily
  • Promptly refrigerate perishable foods
  • Make sure your refrigerator keeps a temperature of 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food.

Scientists are developing an E. coli vaccine but until that time, I’m keeping my kitchen clean and staying out of the local water.

However, frightening it can be, E. coli is beneficial to medicine and makes many drugs more affordable. E. coli is easy to grow and is genetically simple. It has one large chromosome in the shape of a ring. It is the microorganism of choice for cloning. The chromosome can be modified to change the bacterial waste products. It can be altered to produce insulin for example. In this case, the gene that made human insulin was cut from a human cell and inserted into the bacteria. Click here to see the process in pictures. It can be used to produce human growth hormone by inserting a different gene.  Erythromycin and other drugs are made this way. It can even produce by-products that can be made into plastic, should we need more plastic.

Did to recognize the E. coli? It’s the hairy yellow critter left of center in the photo up top.

As You Like It: Art in Detroit

Being in Detroit brings up the age old question: what is art? Detroit, best known for its music,  is a center of art, and sometimes, controversy. Here you’ll find a Satanic sculpture, a 17 foot tall cartoony bronze parent and childthe iconic Spirit of Detroit, and a host of other statues. It’s home to a 100 year old pottery studio. It’s an example of how investment in art and culture can be an investment in an entire city. If you like the arts, it’s a place to go. You’ll have a plethora of experiences and emotions.

Detroit has too much art for a short visit but I did what I could to take in the visual arts on my trip there. Entranced with the street murals, I headed to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see Diego Rivera’s 1932 masterpiece.

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Rivera painted people of all races working together–something that didn’t happen in 1932
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Characters from cartoons of the 1930s look on
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while boss man tells workers how to do their jobs.
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Up in the corner, scientists make vaccines while the diversity of Detroit is celebrated in the top center mural.
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Here it is to scale.

From start to finish, the mural took just nine months to complete. Rivera had assistants but he alone painted all of the people.

There was a lot more to see at the DIA.

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Get up close and personal with the classics.

 

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Or maybe you’re interested in traditional African masks This is a death mask, indicated by the color white–associated with death.

 

 

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I’m getting ready to celebrate my house’s 100th birthday. Here’s what a table setting looked like back then.

Or do you prefer your art more modern?

 

 

In contrast, and not too far away from the DIA is the Heidelberg Project, a city block made into street art. Part of the artistic value is the controversy. Is it beautiful? Ugly? Trashy? Transcending? What is it saying about consumerism? Why is it filled with clocks?

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The Heidelberg Project is on Heidelberg Street in Detroit.

The artist, Tyree Guyton, said that he’s attempting to create a new reality in his neighborhood AND get people to visit a place that they would be scared to visit otherwise.

Yes, this art brings people together and brings out emotions. 

It’s even a wedding venue.

There’s an ap to help visitors navigate it, understand it, and keep up with the changes. Profits go to promoting arts in the local schools.

If you are curious about Detroit and want to see its art but are scared, here is a crime risk assessment. With the exception of the Heidelberg Project, most tourist areas are in low crime spots. Crime is dropping in Detroit…it’s fallen to the 5th most dangerous city in the US.  Use caution. And keep your eyes open–especially for art.

 

Oh! Detroit!

There are things you might not expect when you visit Detroit.

Your cellphone might roam to Canada if you have a smaller carrier such as US Cellular.

You’ll find yourself watching Canadian television.

Parking is free, or nearly so.

The city is spread out and surrounded by woods, much like Portland.

But one surprising thing that doesn’t get enough press: there are 125 outdoor murals downtown.

That’s right. Detroit is ground zero for street art.

Many of these are funded by companies and crowdsourcing. There is an associated festival and a Facebook page.

Here are a few of the murals:

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You’ll often see people posing in front of the murals.

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Fate Favors the Fearless

 

kay mural

Businesses have murals

fox mural

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The photos above are ones I took when visiting the Eastern Market. They are a small fraction of the Detroit murals. Even parking garages have murals.

Click here for more. 

and also here.

And here.

And here.

Detroit has a long history of murals beginning with Diego Rivera in the 1930s. Yes, you can see a Diego Rivera mural in Detroit–inside the Detroit Institute of Art.

You can also spend a day outside staring at the art–everything from the bizarre to the political and even art from famous artists and street artistsHere’s a guide to more street art. Detroit is the #2 city to visit this year according to the Lonely Planet but in street art, it’s Number 1.

 

So angry…what makes angry characters?

Depositphotos_23652875_original.jpgIn my next novel, I’ve got characters who are angry. I did some research about anger to help me understand them better. I’ve learned a lot about it, especially from this reference,  and I thought I’d share some of it.

  1. Anger is learned behavior. Hostile and angry people are that way because they saw it play out somewhere. They learned that people bully, belittle, and argue with each other and that this gains respect. The hostile environment can be at home but school and the workplace are also places where people learn that anger works.
  2. The true emotions behind anger are frustration, hurt, disappointment, and threat/fear.
  3. Angry people want others to feel the way that they do. If they are hurt, they want others to hurt, if they are ashamed, they want others to be ashamed.
  4. The average adult will be angry once a day.
  5. People who use emotion rather than logic to guide their reasoning tend to be more angry. Emotional reasoning can lead people to misunderstand social cues.
  6. Stress causes low frustration levels and can make the stressed out person see threats that don’t exist or have unreasonable expectations.
  7. Labeling and derogatory perceptions of other groups of people —people rating–causes anger. If we look at the recent mass killers in the US most are misogynists and supremacists.
  8. Physical pain, drugs, and alcohol can exacerbate anger and frustration. Even a spate of minor irritations can build up and cause anger.
  9. Anger is not always bad. It can be motivating if used as a positive catalyst for change.
  10. Physically, anger causes a release of both glucose and stress hormones. It creates strain on the heart and pancreas. Eventually it will affect the brain, creating a hyperactive amygdala (the seat of fear in the brain) and dampening reaction in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls reasoning and social behavior.)
  11. Anger can be dealt with easily by most individuals. The amygdala quickly returns to normal. Crying can help bring the brain back to normal.
  12. Ironically, people who are taught to suppress emotions such as sorrow are more likely to became angry or depressed (the passive form of anger.) Boys who have been shamed for showing pain or sorrow often find that anger is the only socially acceptable emotion they have.
  13. Type A people are often rewarded for their drive and determination. They can give others the impression that they are best able to respond to threats. They are more likely to be angry and focus on the weaknesses of others and in turn, make themselves sick.Angry people are more likely to have colds, skin problems, and arthritis. Being Type A is hard on the immune system. The stress of anger causes other problems such as weight gain, ulcers and acid reflux.
  14. Since anger produces cortisol, angry people suffer from hormone imbalances and the result can be thyroid problems and decreased bone density.
  15. Angry people are poor communicators and even worse listeners. They are often impatient and in a hurry.
  16. Angry folks will clench their teeth, sweat, pace, get sarcastic, rub their heads, reach for a drink, and might shake or tremble.

According to the Mayo Clinic, ways to control your anger are to

  1. Express yourself and be calmly assertive
  2. Be cautious.
  3. Develop positive social relationships.
  4. Change your environment
  5. Understand your anger’s cause
  6. Laugh! Laughter and joy can drive anger away. Try to find humor in your situation.
  7. Exercise.
  8. Don’t place blame. Focus on yourself and what you can do, not on someone else.
  9. Write in a journal.
  10. Listen to music.
  11. Get therapy.

Ways to deal with an angry person include:

  1. Giving them space or getting away from them if they are dangerous. Recognize the danger signs of eminent physical assault.
  2. Don’t get angry back.
  3. Work with others to resolve the situation.
  4. Calmly address the situation and identify the problem. Have empathy. Apologize.
  5. Distract with laugher but be careful, this could make them more angry. Angry people lose their sense of humor.
  6. Be respectful but assertive.
  7. Be rational.

Although life is in many ways better than it has ever been for humans, people are more angry. Anger has been a way of life in the United States and people vote for angry politicians. Spanking can cause anger as can lack of social progress  and being poor.(frustration!). Western countries tend to be more angry while Asians are less angry. However, at the bottom of the anger ladder are the Danes and Scandinavians. Danish people claim to get angry less than once a week. Since these countries value emotional suppression, the reason for their lack of anger is presumed to be their society. It might be worth reading up on it for the sake of us all. Meanwhile, I understand my angry characters–and their society–much better now. And I’m going to do my best not to be angry myself.

 

Strange Change and other Elements of Science Fiction

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One reason I enjoy writing science fiction is because it is at its best, social satire. It’s both serious and campy, insightful and strange. It is by nature, multidisciplinary, wrought with nuance and language subtleties that make it unpalatable for some readers and catnip for others.

Author David Ketterer says “Science fiction (in the inclusive sense) combines satire with the kind of visionary (or prophetic) imagination exemplified by Dante’s Divine Comedy or Milton’s Paradise Lost. ..”

If you look at the history of science fiction, you can see prime examples of  social satire. Ray Bradbury, who wrote during the era of segregation said that much of his work is about oppression and racism. The word robot derives from the Czech word for slave so often in science fiction, you can assume that a robot represents an individual who has  low social status and is oppressed, like Wall E. The term was first coined in a play, R.U.R.  In this campy melodrama, the robots finally accomplish a rebellion against their tormentors.

Likewise, an encounter with an alien or “other” may be a subtle comment about racism, classism, or sexism, often accompanied by an anti-colonialism sentiment. One of my favorite classical examples is First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells in which a scientist and a businessman have competing ideas about studying the moon vs conquering it.

James Gunn argues that science fiction has its own set of protocols set apart from literary fiction. Like science itself, it is a genre in which characters encounter the unknown,  solve problems, and create understandable universes. He describes it as “the literature of the human species encountering change.”

Margaret Atwood calls Science Fiction “Social Commentary about Now. ” She doesn’t write a novel without a modern detail hidden in the story line. An older woman, she warns what life was like, and could be like, if women aren’t allowed to control their own bodies, as happened in the past.

Since science fiction is mainly about today’s society, a person doesn’t need to be a scientist to write science fiction. Some scientists avoid it because they dislike the anxiety about science that is often found on the pages. However, the science must be plausible and based on scientific information or the story won’t have authority. To paraphrase the late author and biochemist Isaac Asimov, science fiction needs to make brains respectable.

One way that an author can gain credibility is to accurately name chemical substances. For example, vibranium, found in Wakanda, carries the Latin noun ending -ium which became common for elements in the Victorian era when many elements were discovered and named. Despite a lot of well-known memes, keep in mind that scientists are most often drawn to science because they want to help people To create fresh, realistic characters, here are some traits that scientists feel help define them.

Through its discoveries and ways of looking at the world, science creates change that society adapts to. This is why we have science in science fiction–to create strange new change.The most important parts of science fiction are people and change, and in the best cases, satire based on today.

Rone Award Nomination and Small Press Publishing

I’m excited that Mixed In has been nominated for a Rone Award in the category of Science Fiction and Time Travel. The first stage of this award is reader voting followed by judging. I’d love to be judged but to get there, I need some votes. If you are so motivated, please vote for me by following this link.

If you haven’t yet registered, you’ll need to do so. Then you’ll get information and reviews about small and independently published books from Ind’ Tale Magazine. I’ve found publishing with a small press to be satisfying–although not lucrative. If you want the big bucks, get an agent and hold out for a big publishing house. If you want to be happy, small press might be for you.  I enjoy my interactions with small press editors. They are nice, helpful, and keep current with publishing rends. Why don’t I self publish? I can’t go it alone. I need editors and proof readers to help me. Before I even submit a novel for consideration, I hire a beta reader and then a proof-reader/copy editor. In my case, the more comments I get the better.

Mixed In is a milieu novel with an agricultural theme.  It’s a little naughty. If that’s for you, please lend me your vote and sign up for the Ind’Tale newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not so silent spring

Depositphotos_25288983_m-2015Spring is here at last in the Northern Hemisphere and no doubt you’ve had the chance to enjoy the early morning bird songs. The Dawn Chorus, as it is called, usually begins about 40 minutes before sunrise.

Why do birds sing in the early morning? There are several theories. One is that the songs carry better in the early morning and birds sing to advertise that they made it through the night and are therefore good mates and formidable foes. Early rising birds have better relationships with their mates than sleepy birds of the same species so maybe there is some truth to this.

Another idea is that it is too dark to look for food so singing is a great way to pass the time. Birds with bigger eyes and those who perch higher up in trees tend to sing first.

Gaining popularity is the theory that birds sing when other things are quiet. In places where there are noisy morning insects, birds sing before the insects start making noise. It’s thought that urban birds like to sing before the city gets noisy. Daylight plays a role in telling birds when to sing. It stimulates testosterone in the birds and brings on mating season.

It was first thought that birds sang haphazardly but in the 1940s, conservationist Aldo Leopold noticed that there was a pattern to their singing with a distinct order of birds joining the chorus, prompted by the amount of daylight. What birds are you most likely to hear in the morning? Starting things off in Iowa is the robin, the traditional early bird who gets the worm. Cardinals follow soon after. In the Pella area, field sparrows, indigo buntings, eastern wood pewees, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, and house wrens are common members of the dawn chorus. In Leopold’s audio recording, the Wisconsin birds appear in this order: American Robin (first heard at 1 seconds) 2. Field Sparrow (28s) 3. Indigo Bunting (70s) 4. Eastern Wood-Pewee (100s) 5. Song Sparrow (130s) 6. Gray Catbird (150s) 7. Eastern Bluebird (170s) 8. Great Crested Flycatcher (181s) 9. Northern Cardinal (200s) 10. Wood Thrush (207s) 11. Mourning Dove (214s) 12. Ring-necked Pheasant (223s) 13. Eastern Meadowlark (230s) 14. Brown Thrasher (251s) 15. Warbling Vireo (270s) 16. House Wren (280s) 17. Blue Jay (290s)

There are two categories of singing birds. Oscine or true Song Birds must learn to sing from other males. It can take up to a year for a bird to come into his voice. Here is an example of a male sparrow learning to sing. This type of bird usually is monogamous and has to work hard to attract and keep a mate. They perch on high branches to advertise and have regional dialects. In some cases, such as the cardinal, both males and females sing. Suboscine birds are more common in South America but include flycatchers here in North America. These birds instinctively know how to sing.

The first Sunday in May is Dawn Chorus Day. Should you desire to get up early to celebrate and identify the birds by their song, click this link.

Here is more about Leopold for those who want to learn about the father of biological conservation.

I forgot to set my alarm last night and am grateful for the loud robin who woke me up this morning. Birdsong is both relaxing and mentally stimulating. It’s the right mix of repetitiveness and jazz. It doesn’t get annoyingly stuck in your mind nor is it chaotic noise. It’s even being used to treat depression and anxiety. It’s a wild love song and who can argue with the joy of that? I’m opening my windows and letting it pour in.

 

 

 

MICE: living in and writing about Milieu…and other things

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When teaching science fiction, I, and many others, use the MICE quotient to help my students focus on the type of story they are creating. Once an author knows what type of story they have, it’s easier to craft it into something that their readers will enjoy and appreciate. All stories are a blend of all of these categories. The question is, what letter dominates.

The MICE quotient was popularized by Orson Scott Card. Briefly, MICE is an acronym for these common categories of science fiction:

Milieu. The milieu novel focuses on a place and community. Most often, society itself is the antagonist. A stranger comes to town and is transformed by being in this milieu. The Wizard of Oz and Gulliver’s Travels are classic examples. The tale begins when the stranger comes to the place and ends when she leaves.  Mixed In is clearly such a novel. Without the dreary world of Cochtonville, none of the events would have taken place. All good science fiction has more than aliens and robots. It has metaphorical implications. That is, it says something about society and this is clearly evident in any milieu novel. The metaphorical implication of Mixed In is that the Midwest could become Cochtonville. In fact, it’s inched closer to the dystopia since the novel was written. Sometimes I worry I am living in my own Milieu.

Idea. The idea story is based on a question and ends when it is answered, as in a mystery novel. It begins when the mystery is introduced and ends when it is solved. Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact is an idea novel, beginning when Grace Clare learns of the death of Dora Jordan and ending close to when the mystery is solved.

Character novels are often the stuff of both high literature and romance. They start with a character with a clear problem and desire and end when the character is transformed for better or worse or accepts her fate for better or worse. An example of a character novel is The Color Purple or in the case of science fiction, Frankenstein. Natural Attraction is a character driven novel moved forward by Clementine’s desire to be taken seriously as a scientist.

Event stories are based on an interruption to a normal way of life and follow what happens as characters try to bring life back in order. A classic example is The Lord of the Rings series which begin when Bilbo discovers the ring and ends when order is restored. Most science fiction and fantasy stories are event based and my next novel will be such a novel. Then I will have a quartet of books each representing one letter of the MICE quotient.

Do you have a favorite letter in the MICE quotient? Every novel I write has a huge dose of place and time in it so perhaps I lean towards the M.

I’m excited to say that Mixed In is in contention for a Rone Award for Science Fiction. If you’re looking for a Milieu novel with a touch of romance, a dash of absurdity, and a pinch of naughtiness, check out Mixed In.

 

Trip to London–what did I learn about Dora Jordan and William IV?

The  challenge to writing a novel set in the past is that the past disappears. In London of 1832, the setting for Wolves and Deer: A Take Based on Fact, today’s familiar landmarks were not yet in place including the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. There were no steel framed buildings. Making steel required hand stirring until 1856 and the British were slow to incorporate the material into their structures even after the Bessemer Process was developed (in England ironically). Buildings were wood frame and flammable and flames took Dora’s Drury Lane Theater in 1809. It was rebuilt shortly before her death and can be found in Covent Garden (see below)

I can’t say that I learned much more about Dora Jordan during my recent visit to London although I enjoyed visiting such a vibrant and cohesive city.

 

 

 

 

Walking around London, I imagined the places Dora Jordan and my protagonist in Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on fact, Grace Clare, had been.

 

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Punch and Judy shows have been going on in Covent Garden since 1662. Personally I find them horrifying but…http://spitalfieldslife.com/2016/05/02/punch-judy-in-covent-garden/
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Seven Dials in Covent Garden has been vandalized and rebuilt at least once.

 

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Theater Royal Haymarket was standing during Dora’s day and she played here.

 

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A street such as this one and a child’s “photobombing” head would have been a familiar sight to Dora.

 

What did I learn about William IV  during my trip? I came to understand how little he got from being King. Most notably, as King, he had a marble statue of Dora commissioned and it’s now in Buckingham palace. Where’s is his statue? There isn’t one. He is remembered for the Fourth Plinth, a pillar in Trafalgar Square with no permanent statue because, the story goes, he left no money for one. The only trace of William I saw was this plinth with its temporary sculpture during a bus tour and the tour guide was quick to mention his lack of funds. Didn’t get a photo but this was there.

He comes up lacking at the Tower of London as well. Among the Crown Jewels and regalia only the Queen consort’s ring 1831 ( no names attached) was displayed. This was a gift to Queen Adelaide, the one woman who was unfortunate enough to marry him when he was at an advanced age, had ten other children, and was acting erratically. Together, the pair wasn’t able to produce an heir. Victoria was their niece. William ruled for seven years. He’s is known for his support of slavery  which was abolished during his reign and opposition to reform (before reform, parliament members were representing districts with no people in them) which was accepted during his reign. He became King through a series of unfortunate events, left the mother of his numerous children in a bind, and produced no heirs. Additionally, he carefully saved Dora’s letters to him, yet had his own correspondence burned. His legacy is an empty base for a statue and that’s about it.

Wolves and Deer is the story of Grace Clare seeking answers about the death of Dora Jordan.What really happened? Who is to blame? Should she seek vengeance? And most importantly, how much power should our rulers have over us?