Saturday, September 27, 2014

October 2014—Bizarre and Unique Holidays

We have our legal holidays, recognized by official government proclamation. Days when all government offices, banks, and schools are closed…days when there's no mail delivery.

Then there are the bizarre, wacky and unique holidays…most of them with unknown origins. Holidays that are just for fun. There are also weeks set aside for specific observances. And entire months dedicated to specific causes. Here's a selection that occur in October.

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog month, American Pharmacist month, Apple Jack month, Breast Cancer Awareness month, Clergy Appreciation month, Computer Learning month, Cookie month, Domestic Violence Awareness month, Eat Country Ham month, International Drum month, Lupus Awareness month, National Diabetes month, National Pizza month, National Vegetarian month, National Popcorn Popping month, Sarcastic month, and Seafood month.

As to weekly celebrations, we have:
Week 1 gives us Get Organized week and Customer Service week.
Week 2 gives us Fire Prevention week and Pet Peeve week.
Week 3 gives us Pastoral Care week.

Oct 1 World Vegetarian Day

Oct 2 National Custodial Worker Day
Oct 2 Name Your Car Day—always October 2. Does your car have a name? People name their boats, and we think nothing of it. So, why not name your car or truck? After all, cars have character and personality. We spend a lot of time in our cars, so it seems fitting that each car should have its own name.

Oct 3 Techies Day
Oct 3 Virus Appreciation Day
Oct 3 World Smile Day (first Friday of the month)

Oct 4 International Frugal Fun Day (first Saturday of the month)
Oct 4 National Golf Day
Oct 4 National Frappe Day

Oct 5 Do Something Nice Day—always October 5th. Do something nice, anything nice. And, do it to, or for, another individual. It won't hurt, honest it won't. Doing something nice for someone almost always evokes a very pleasant response. And, best of all, doing something nice just might be contagious.
Oct 5 Oktoberfest in Germany ends (date varies)
Oct 5 World Teacher's Day

Oct 6 Come and Take it Day
Oct 6 Mad Hatter Day
Oct 6 Physician Assistant Day

Oct 7 Bald and Free Day

Oct 8 American Touch Tag Day
Oct 8 Emergency Nurses Day (date varies)

Oct 9 Curious Events Day—always October 9th. Curious Events Day manages to grab one's curiosity. Why does this day exist? Who created it? What curious events are held today? The questions go on, and on, and on…. If you have any questions, this is the day to ask.
Oct 9 Fire Prevention Day
Oct 9 Leif Erikson Day
Oct 9 Moldy Cheese Day

Oct 10 National Angel Food Cake Day
Oct 10 World Egg Day (second Friday of month)

Oct 11 It's My Party Day
Oct 11 Take Your Teddy Bear to Work Day

Oct 12 Cookbook Launch Day
Oct 12 Old Farmer's Day
Oct 12 Moment of Frustration Day—always on October 12th. One of the most important reasons for today is the opportunity to let out your frustrations. If you are not frustrated, count your blessings. Don't use today to add to your frustrations and whatever you do today, don't find new frustrations.

Oct 13 Columbus Day (second Monday of month)
Oct 13 International Skeptics Day—take your pick: January 13th, or October 13th or first Friday the 13th of the year. This is the perfect day for all you Doubting Thomas types. By definition, a skeptic is a person who questions or doubts facts and theories. He or she is a mis-believer. A skeptic does not accept the given. If you are inclined to doubt things that you see or hear, then International Skeptics Day is for you. This holiday was most likely created by a skeptic since there is doubt about even the date to celebrate. Perhaps you hard core skeptics should celebrate on all three days.

Oct 14 Be Bald And Free Day
Oct 14 National Dessert Day

Oct 15 White Cane Safety Day

Oct 16 Bosses Day
Oct 16 Dictionary Day

Oct 17 Wear Something Gaudy Day

Oct 18 International Newspaper Carrier Day (date varies each year)
Oct 18 No Beard Day
Oct 18 Sweetest Day (third Saturday of month)

Oct 19 Evaluate Your Life Day

Oct 20 Brandied Fruit Day

Oct 21 Babbling Day—always October 21. Blatherskites, mark this day on your calendar. The dictionary defines blatherskite as a person who babbles. This isn't a day to remain silent. Tell everyone you know about this special day. On this day, we celebrate those with a glib tongue. You know them when you hear them. They're talking gibberish. They never stop talking. They babble on and on. They can turn a simple one sentence statement into an endless dissertation.
Oct 21 Count Your Buttons Day
Oct 21 National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day

Oct 22 National Nut Day

Oct 23 National Mole Day
Oct 23 TV Talk Show Host Day

Oct 24 National Bologna Day
Oct 24 United Nations Day

Oct 25 Make A Difference Day (fourth Saturday of the month)
Oct 25 Punk-For-A-Day Day
Oct 25 World Pasta Day—always October 25. It should come as no surprise to discover that this special day promotes the consumption of pasta around the world with special events held to help spread the word about pasta's nutritional value. The National Pasta Association and pasta manufacturers sponsor these events and activities. This celebration day was established as an annual event at the first World Pasta Congress held on October 25, 1995 in Rome, Italy.

Oct 26 Mother-In-Law Day (fourth Sunday in October)
Oct 26 National Mincemeat Day

Oct 27 National Tell A Story Day (in Scotland and the U.K.)
Oct 27 Navy Day

Oct 28 Plush Animal Lover's Day

Oct 29 Hermit Day
Oct 29 National Frankenstein Day—there are three known days and as a result a little bit confusion. There's Frankenstein Friday (last Friday in October), National Frankenstein Day (August 30, the birthdate of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley), and Frankenstein Day. Frankenstein is one of the best known horror creations, dating back to the 1800's. It's difficult to imagine the Halloween season without the Frankenstein monster lurking somewhere in the darkness. To celebrate this day, read the novel or see a Frankenstein movie. And, for those who aren't sure, Frankenstein is the name of the doctor (the monster he created didn't have a name).

Oct 30 National Candy Corn Day
Oct 30 Mischief Night

Oct 31 Carve A Pumpkin Day
Oct 31 Halloween—that night of witches, ghosts, goblins, monsters and trick-or-treaters looking for candy.
Oct 31 Increase Your Psychic Powers Day—always October 31. There are a number of ways to increase your psychic powers and no shortage of psychics, groups and websites to help you. Here are a few suggestions: Get out the Ouija board and use it with some friends. Get out a deck of cards, shuffle them well, think of what the top card is then, turn it over. Flip of the coin where you guess heads or tails while the coin is in the air. As your psychic power increases, you should guess correctly more than 50% of the time. Hone your ESP skills—when the phone rings, guess who it will be. As you go through the day, guess what people are going to say, or what is going to happen next. Concentrating and clearing your mind of other thoughts is essential to successfully developing your psychic powers. This celebration day appears to have roots in England back to the nineteenth century. Some documentation and readings has it occurring on Halloween night. Other, references, has is on the 30th.

And there you have it…the weird, wacky and unique celebration days for the month of October, 2014.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Say Goodbye To Summer And Hello to Autumn

Monday, September 22, 2014, is the end of summer and start of autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere—the Autumnal Equinox, the day when the daylight hours and hours of darkness are equal.

The last couple of days in my little corner of the world have provided the last hurrah (I hope) of summer heat and humidity.  I look forward to the fall weather to come.  That crisp feel in the air with cooler temperatures replace the heat and dryer air shoving aside the retched humidity of summer.  That change to cool dry air brings a renewed vigor, a revived energy to replace the lackluster feeling resulting from the summer heat and least for me.  (Do you get the impression that I don't function well in heat and humidity?)

Just as I love the renewal of life in the spring—bright green new leaves on the trees, colorful flowers, the awakening of nature from winter's hibernation—I also love the change of the leaves to their brilliant array of fall colors in autumn.  I can say with all sincerity that I'm happy to welcome the end of summer and to also welcome the start of fall.

Of course, all this praise for autumn and the relief from summer heat and humidity will most likely give way to the common complaint of wishing the snow, ice, and freezing temperatures would get out of the way and make room for some warmth.  :)

But for right now…Welcome Autumn—I'm thrilled to see you!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Research Can Be Fun

Bredon Tithe Barn from the 1300s, part of the setting for THE SEDGWICK CURSE mystery romantic/suspense
There's no denying that research is a part of writing whether non-fiction or fiction.  And within the parameters of fiction, the genre somewhat dictates how much research is required.  Certainly, historical fiction requires extensive research into place and time in order to be accurate with details down to the simplest clothing items.  Techno thrillers, legal thrillers, and medical themed novels need to be accurate in terminology, science, and procedures.

But there is an area of research that is often considered trivial or inconsequential in the overall scope of your story—the location where your story is set. Certainly the setting is important, but as a matter of research seldom makes it to the top of the list.

A contemporary novel set in your home town requires little in the way of research for location.  You live there so you know about the terrain, weather, the businesses, the good neighborhoods vs. the bad neighborhoods, streets and highways, tourist attractions, places of special interest and historical interest.  That's easy.

But, what about setting your story somewhere that you have never been?  If that is the case, you have options available.  The most obvious for accuracy is to visit the location—take in the ambiance, make note of the geographic elements, study the activities of the residents, and grab the tourist brochures usually available in the hotel lobby.  All major metropolitan areas have certain must see tourist attractions that are common knowledge around the world.  The Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower.  Well known tourist attractions can certainly be included in descriptive passages of your setting or become part of a scene where some action takes place.  That gives the reader an immediate mental image reference to go along with your descriptive passages.

Travel and tour books can be a great help for general research information.  In the U.S., the Auto Club (AAA) publishes tour books for all the states that includes information about the major cities in that state and certainly the tourist areas in addition to hotel/motel and restaurant listings.  A real estate search of a city will give you knowledge of the various neighborhoods.  A city's website will tell you about the educational system, shopping, cultural events, sports activities, tourist attractions, etc.

My most interesting research experience was for one of my Harlequin Intrigue novels, THE SEDGWICK CURSE, a mystery romantic suspense reissued by Harlequin in ebook.

My story was set in a stereotypical English country village of the type found in the Cotswolds.  A large estate inhabited by the Lord of the manor—land and a title that had been in the family for centuries.  An annual festival that had been held on the estate grounds every year for over two hundred years.  And murder involving the titled rich and powerful from a century ago and a family curse that's brought to fruition now.

I needed to research several things.  Certainly accurate information about the physical setting I'd chosen.  And then specifics (beyond what I'd gleaned from various British crime drama series on PBS' Mystery) about the way local law enforcement interacted with the privileged titled aristocracy when investigating a murder.

I had already been to England several times and had another trip planned, so I included spending one week in the Cotswolds to do the research I needed.  **This is where the fun part of the research came in.  :) **  I found a charming centuries old hotel in the town of Tewkesbury and used it as my base to explore the surrounding area.

My research started when I walked into the local police station, said I was a writer doing research for a novel, and asked if there was someone I could talk to about how a local murder would be investigated.  I was passed on to a Detective Sergeant who was very helpful and spent about two hours with me, which was an hour and forty-five minutes longer than expected.  I garnered far more information than I needed for that specific book, but great research material for future needs.

The next step in my research was the immediate location for my fictional Lord Sedgwick's estate.  This was a major stroke of good luck.  About three miles north of Tewkesbury is the village of Bredon that had everything I needed, including a large estate that hosted a village festival every year and the weekend I was there happened to be festival weekend.  I was able to wander around the grounds, take pictures, and get information about the estate straight from the owner's mouth.  One of the buildings on the grounds, the Tithe Barn pictured here, is part of the National Trust and dates back to the 1300s.  It is accurately described and used in my book, as are many of the features of the real counterpart of my Sedgwick Estate.

Obviously, traveling to a foreign country to research a location isn't that practical.  If the location is a well-known tourist attraction, you will have lots of research material available to you.  But what if your desired setting is a typical small town or village in a specific area?  That brings us to the more practical solution of creating a fictional small town as the setting for your story.

I have set many of my Harlequin and Silhouette books in fictional small towns.  But the one thing these fictional small towns have in common is that they are all patterned after a real place that I've been in the state where I've set the story.  And in lieu of that, there's always the ability of taking something like a beach town or mountain village you've been to and transplanting it to another state for the purposes of your story.

If there's someplace you've been, a vacation you enjoyed, and you want to recreate the feel and ambiance for your story setting without fear of getting some of the facts wrong about the real place, the best way to handle it is to create a fictional location.  Do some basic research on the general type of location you've selected for your story such as a fishing village on the coast of Maine.  That will give you basic generic facts for that type of setting.  Then you can take the feel of the real life place you visited and impose those memories and impressions on top of your researched facts for a fully realized story setting.  Your characters can then impart that sense of place to the readers with the words and actions you give them in addition to your descriptions.

Do any of you have any research tips for story setting that you'd like to share?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

5 Lost Cities—Found

Archeologists have recently discovered—actually, rediscovered—a lost Mayan city in the Mexican jungle.  Add that to four other lost cities believed to be myths until they were discovered, and you have five lost cities.

1. Lagunita
An archeologist from Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts rediscovered the lost Mayan city of Lagunita. He identified a Mayan doorway, the remains of massive buildings, plazas, ball courts, a pyramid and three altars that date back to 711 AD.

The above picture was taken on Oct. 28, 2013 and released by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).  The ruins belonging to the ancient Maya city called Lagunita stand out in the jungle on a remote location in the southern state of Campeche, Mexico. Archaeologists in Mexico first stumbled upon this site in the 1970s and it was rediscovered last year.

2. Helike
In the year 373 BC, a giant earthquake hit off the coast of Greece, which created a giant tsunami that swallowed the ancient city of Helike. Then, in 2001 a team finally rediscovered Helike, digging up coins, pottery and ruins. The reason it took them so long to find it? They were looking under water, but it was actually under dirt. The water had long ago dried up.

3. Troy
The famous city of Troy was once believed to be a mythical place, a location, one that never existed in real life. The place that gave us Helen of Troy (the face that launched a thousand ships) and the Trojan Horse. But in 1870, Heinrich Schliemann followed clues laid out in Homer's ILIAD and found the ruins of the fabled city, thus moving Troy from myth to reality.

I read a book about Schliemann's discovery of Troy and then by coincidence a few months later the university's art museum hosted an exhibition of photographs taken at his archeological dig.

4. Pavlopetri
Many believe this to be the real life Atlantis. This 5,000-year-old lost city was found in 1967 and is thought to have been submerged about 3,000 years ago. So, it had an impressive lifetime of 2,000 years. Archeologists found roads, buildings, courtyards and pottery.

5. Machu Pichu

Maybe the greatest of the lost cities sits on top of a mountain in Peru. It wasn't rediscovered until 1911 mostly because of its location. People are always digging for lost cities, looking under the oceans or trekking through the jungle. No one thinks to look up to the high mountain tops.