Saturday, May 30, 2020
It's not unusual to see all sorts of things washed up on beaches around the world. There are the natural things such as seaweed/kelp and sea shells, including all things native to the oceans such as dead sea animals of various sorts ranging from small creatures to the occasional large whale.
But things washed up on the beaches also includes strange and surprising items that are not normally associated with beaches. Most of this marine debris is trash such as plastic bags, bottles, and cans from land-based sources. Some of it, however, is due to weather events like hurricanes and tsunamis. While other sources include vessels in storm-tossed seas. We have seen several very large and strange things washed up on the shores of western U.S. and Canada that arrived from Japan courtesy of the 2011 tsunami.
Here is a list I came across of unusual beach findings that didn't belong there.
In January 2012, huge shipping containers from a distressed cargo vessel washed up on one of New Zealand's most popular beaches. Up to 300 containers were reportedly tossed overboard when 6 meter (approximately 19.5 feet) waves struck the ship. People were warned against looting, but both locals and tourists flocked to the beaches to take photos of the giant containers.
A recurring washed-up-on-the-beach sensation appeared at Zandvoort, Netherlands, in 2007, and Brighton Beach in England in 2008, and at Siesta Key Beach in Florida in 2011. And what was this surprise visitor to these shores? It was a giant (8 feet tall) Lego man that weighed about 100 pounds and featured a bright green torso showing the message "No Real Than You Are." The number 8 appeared on its back along with the words "Ego Leonard." The mystery was finally resolved when it was revealed that "Ego Leonard" was the alter ego of a Dutch artist. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in Florida joined in the fun and issued a press release saying it had taken the giant Lego man "into protective custody." In response, numerous "Free Lego Man" Facebook pages and campaigns popped up on the Internet.
In September 2005, hundreds of giant squid washed up in Newport Beach. California. The creatures, believed to be Humboldt squid, normally reside in deep water. It was rare for locals to encounter them on land or sea. Authorities said the squid might have been pursuing bait fish and gotten too close to shore. Other factors, such as warm ocean temperatures or record rainfall, were also suspected.
In May 2012, dozens of fly swatters emblazoned with logos of collegiate and professional sports teams washed up on the beaches of Kodiak, Alaska. The fly swatters were originally believed to be debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, but were eventually proven to have come from a shipping container that got loose from a ship carrying products from China. The container went overboard in dangerous weather in the Gulf of Alaska. Other sports-related items, such as Nerf balls and water bottles were also found on Kodiak's beaches.
In August 2010, hundreds of tea packets washed ashore in Rajbandar in the Raigad district, Maharashtra, India. Nine containers from the cargo ship MSC Chitra spilled into the sea after the cargo ship suffered a collision with another ship.
In 2007, residents of the Dutch North Sea island of Terschelling, 70 miles north of Amsterdam, discovered thousands of bananas washed ashore after at least six containers of the fruit fell off a cargo ship in a storm and at least one of the containers broke open. Bunches of the still green bananas from Cuba also washed up on neighboring Amerland Island. It's not known exactly what happened to the beached bananas, but at the time residents suggested sending most of the fruit to local zoos.
In February 2006, also on the Netherlands' Terschelling Island, thousand of sneakers washed up on the beach when containers from the P&O Nedlloyd ship Mondriaan fell overboard in a storm. Residents of the island rushed to get the sneakers, searching for shoes in their size. Other items that washed up on the beach from those containers included children's toys and briefcases.
Perhaps one of the most famous container spills in history occurred in January 1992 when 28,000 rubber duck toys fell into the sea. The incident inspired a book titled Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn. The great rubber ducky spill occurred when a shipping crate on a cargo ship headed to the U.S. from China fell overboard onto the Pacific Ocean during a stormy night. Some of the rubber ducks (nicknamed Friendly Floatees) have since washed up on the shores of Alaska, Hawaii, South America, Australia and the Pacific Northwest. Some have traveled 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank or spending years frozen in an Arctic ice pack. Some 2,000 of the rubber ducks are still circulating in the ocean and helping researchers chart ocean currents.
On January 26, 2011, a grand piano was found on a sandbar in Miami's Biscayne Bay, mysteriously charred from being burned. Speculation about its origins included the idea that it was part of a music video production. It was later discovered that the piano was a junk art installation, the brainchild of a 16-year-old hoping to use the piece for a college application.
Saturday, May 23, 2020
The last Monday in May, this year falling on May 25, 2020, is Memorial Day in the United States—a holiday honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War but didn't become an official federal holiday until 1971.
In addition to being a day observed by many Americans visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings, and participating in patriotic parades, it's also considered the unofficial start of the summer season and vacation time.
The Civil War claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history. This required the establishment of the country's first national cemeteries. In the late 1860s, Americans in various small towns and large cities held springtime tributes to fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan proclaimed May 30 as Decoration Day, the date chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General Logan made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery (Washington, D.C.) where 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Decoration Day originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But by the time the U.S. became involved in World War I, the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.
The name Decoration Day gradually changed over to Memorial Day during the ensuing years, but continued to be observed on May 30. In 1968, one hundred years after General Logan made his Decoration Day proclamation, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. This law also declared Memorial Day to be a federal holiday. The change went into effect in 1971.
In addition to nationwide parades and the decorating of graves and monuments, Memorial Day has come to hold a second distinction. It is also a time of many family gatherings which include backyard BBQs and picnics. With an official date of the last Monday in May, the holiday is considered the unofficial start of summer and the beginning of the vacation travel season in the U.S. with the Labor Day holiday on the first Monday of September signaling the unofficial end of the summer season.
Many recreational boaters launch their boats on lakes and rivers over the Memorial Day weekend for the first outing of the summer. Tourist attractions gear up for the summer vacationers. And a sure sign of the start of the summer season, all across the country gasoline prices usually go up in preparation of increased need!
HOWEVER, this year is quite different from all the others. Due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, many (in fact, most) Memorial Day activities and events are being greatly scaled back, closed, or cancelled.
So this Memorial Day—stay safe and healthy.
Saturday, May 16, 2020
That's intrinsic to the job of writing, but it's also easy to get sidetracked by the wrong things. When we're working on our first book, we're afraid we'll never finish it. Then we're afraid it's not good enough to be published. Once we get it published, we're afraid that first sale is a fluke and we'll never publish a second one. Along the way, maybe John Doe got a better review than we did. Maybe Jane Doe got a higher advance than we did. Then there's Suzy Smith who used to be such a close friend, and she just sold a hardback mainstream novel to a major New York print publisher. We can't even talk to her—we feel left in the shade because we write ebook short stories. And then there's Mary Jones who we feel is a much better writer than we are. We'll never be that good and we know it. And Polly Perfect…she just sold the first manuscript she wrote and we're on our fourth one after having the first three rejected by every publisher we submitted to.
Possibly if we didn't work alone we wouldn't be so susceptible to letting those kinds of doubts affect our confidence. But we DO work alone. And that makes it extraordinarily easy to lose sight of what motivated us to start with. There is a reason we started writing, and for most of us it's because we love doing it. That's the strongest tool we have to beat the nasty dragon of doubt. All those other things that can sabotage our confidence—some of them are real and some are doubts we lay on ourselves—are not strong enough to beat us if we keep what matters on the front line.
No flower has the chance to grow if it's getting choked out at the root level by weeds. When we sit down to write, we have to get the irrelevant stuff out of the way. We need to give ourselves the right—the freedom—to concentrate on one thing only. Write the type of book we love. The first magic we found…when we first discovered the wonder of characters coming alive for us, the joy of watching a story take life on a page…that magic is not something we use up. It's not something we can lose, like a pair of socks. It's not something we can forget like a memory we can't get back. It's still there, the same place it's always been, inside us. There is no cure for the doubts we go through. There's no magic elixir that will make us feel better after a rejection, or guarantee that we'll never suffer writer's block, or help us not worry during a rough stretch.
All I can tell you is that I've been there, as has every writer I know. Doubts detract from what matters and they trick us into focusing on things that don't matter. The next time we sit down at the keyboard we just need to remember to keep what counts in front of us and not allow those doubts to sway us from the task at hand.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
While trying to decide on a topic for today's blog, I was torn between a writing type topic or a more general area of discussion. Since last week's blog was a writing topic, I decided to continue along those lines.
A couple of days ago I was watching on old movie, the 1974 production of Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express with its all star cast where almost everyone in the movie was a major character. It occurred to me that there were very few characters other than the many primary ones. So I started thinking about secondary characters and how they can be used to prod, shove and push the main characters into and along the necessary path for the story line.
So, let's talk a bit about secondary characters.
When I say secondary characters, I'm not referring to the minor characters that decorate a scene and maybe have a couple of lines of dialogue or only appear in one scene. I'm talking about the characters who have a prominent place in your story but are not your main characters. These are the characters you can use to maneuver your main characters into and along the path toward achieving the story goal. They are a key factor in moving your story along and determining what direction it takes.
In developing these characters, they need to more than merely be there—more than just someone for your main character to have lunch with. You need to decide what you want them to accomplish and how you want them to relate to and interact with your main characters in addition to each other in order to move your story line along to its conclusion. Let's take a look at how a set of secondary characters can be used to move a story line in a specific direction. Remember, it's not who they are, it's what they do and how they relate to the main characters and how the main characters respond to them.
Example: You have a story about a teenager who is the leader of a gang that has been stealing cars for some mobsters. You have two ways you can go with your main character, in other words, two directions your story line can take and you must choose one of them. #1: he wants to leave the gang and make something of his life OR #2: he runs his gang with a iron hand and threatens anyone who wants out.
With scenario #1 your secondary characters who will influence the story line can be his girl friend, his little brother, and one of his teachers. That tells you who they are (what their relationship is to your main character), but doesn't tell you how they move the story. His girl friend fears for his safety and finally gives him the ultimatum to leave the gang or she's leaving him. His little brother idolizes him and wants to be just like him, but he doesn't want his little brother to make the same mistakes he did. His teacher is mentoring him by helping him with his studies and finding him an after school job.
With scenario #2 your secondary characters can be his girl friend, a rival gang leader, and his contact with the mobster who pays him for the stolen cars. Again, that tells you who they are and what their relationship is to your main character but not what they do to move the story in a specific direction. His girl friend demands more and more in the way of material things so he needs the money from stealing cars to keep her happy. The rival gang leader is trying to take over his stolen car business so he has to watch his back at all time to protect himself and his own interests. The mobster gives him access to the easy money he needs to keep his girl friend happy and the promise of being able to move into their organization and advance in the criminal world.
Each scenario has a girl friend, but her function is different in the two scenarios so that her character helps move the two story lines in two different directions.
One of the great things about secondary characters is that you can make them as outrageous, unconventional and over-the-top as you want. You don't have the same parameters and cautions with secondary characters as you do with your main characters. The main thing you need to be careful with in creating your secondary character is to not make them more interesting than your main characters so that they don't steal the show and shove your main characters into the background.
A good example of secondary characters being over the top was the television situation comedy Will and Grace. The secondary characters of Karen and Jack were totally outrageous while the main characters of Will and Grace were more grounded.
Any comments about developing and using secondary characters in your writing? Or any television shows, movies, or books where the secondary characters stood out in your mind with the way they were able to guide and manipulate the story line?
Saturday, May 2, 2020
I taught a beginning fiction writing class at the state university in the adult continuing education non-credit department. It was two hours a night, one night a week, for eight weeks. I taught this class twice a year for sixteen years.
The eight weeks were broken up into the basics of fiction writing. The first week was about plot, second week developing characters, and so on. I covered things like point of view, pacing, dialogue, active vs. passive, show don't tell, and other basics of fiction writing. I used examples from various genres without concentrating on a specific one. The eighth week of the class dealt with information about publishing which included synopsis, query letter, contests, critique groups, submitting to publishers, editing, and related areas.
I give you that information as a prologue to what's on my mind about my fiction writing class.
It always amazed me each time I taught the class…I learned things, too. Well, more accurately, I RE-learned them. There were things I'd forgotten that came to mind again when I went over the lesson for that week's class. And then there was information I haven't thought about until someone asked me a question that required me to pull the answer up from the back of my mind and convey it in a manner that made sense to someone taking a beginning writing class…fiction writing technique information I hadn't consciously considered for a while.
A technique I talked about as part of the first week covering plot was the Action-Reaction-Decision combination. This was one of those things I used when writing without really thinking about it as a technique. Each time I taught this class and defined the Action-Reaction-Decision combination, it seemed to hit me as a surprise as if I had never heard of it before. :) One character's action elicited a reaction from the other character, then one of those characters made a decision concerning the situation. That decision propelled the story forward and led to the next situation.
Each scene needed to do something to move the over all story forward whether an action scene, dialogue, or narrative internalization dealing with character development. And this was one of those techniques that did just that.
An example: Dressed in a scrap of slinky black, Mary strutted into the club (action). Mark took one look and his blood pressure skyrocketed (reaction). He had to get her out of there before she got arrested (decision). It was that decision that moved the story forward and led to the next action. Example: Mark grabbed her arm (action). But Mary refused to budge (reaction). She was going to have a drink and dance until dawn (decision).
This fed directly into and helped support the basic structure of story movement—cause and effect. Something happened and that caused something else to happen which resulted in moving the story forward toward its conclusion—cause and effect.
Each week I had something (at least one thing, usually more) that teaching the class brought to mind, techniques that I had forgotten, primarily things I did without thinking about them.
The second week of the class covered developing the characters. One exercise I gave the class had them use secondary characters to maneuver the main characters in the direction the story needed to go. (more of this in next week's blog about secondary characters) Your hero/heroine still did the work and resolved the story's conflict, but those secondary characters made a valuable contribution to moving the story forward.
And secondary characters were fun to work with. They don't have the restrictions that usually apply to your hero/heroine. A secondary character doesn't need to be in any way honorable or heroic or even likable. Your secondary character could have lots of bad traits that the hero or heroine can't.
I enjoyed teaching a class about the basics of beginning fiction writing. And, of course, I enjoyed getting paid for it. :) But in addition to that, I liked being reminded a couple of times a year about some of the specifics that tended to slip my mind…things I do but don't consciously think about.
Do you have any special writing techniques you'd like to share?