Book Review – Dragonflies – A Coalescence of Water, Air, Science, Art and Romance

Vulnerable and dependent on fresh, clean water sources, water-lily-392570_640dragonflies are born hideously ugly. They hunt, hide and pick their way through pond bottoms for the majority of their year-long life.dragonfly-188275-sm

Then, illuminated by moonlight, they transform into creatures that inspire dreams of fancy. Upon warming breezes, they take to the air to perform their aerial ballet.sun-403552-sm

Every culture through time has observed and been captivated by these nimble, sparkling insects. Mythology of fairies must surely have origins with the dragonfly.

Fossil from Green River formation in Wyoming. Age: 34 million years
Fossil from Green River formation in Wyoming. Age: 34 million years

Peter van Dokkum, a Yale Astronomy Professor and dedicated insect photographer blends art and science together in his beautiful mini-coffee table book. Combining his own observations and photographs with anatomy and life cycle information, he deepens the level of understanding about these creatures in a way that doesn’t sound like a dry textbook or field guide. Dragonflies is a pleasure to read, contemplate and refer back too.

Dragonflies by Peter van Dokkum
Dragonflies by Peter van Dokkum

As a fellow dragonfly photographer and artist, I appreciate the time and skill it took for Dokkum to amass his photo collection. Images of dragonflies in flight, egg laying and eating were of particular interest and admiration.

Knowing my fondness for the creatures, my husband purchased Dragonflies for me as a surprise. And what a delight it is!

Marooned – Short Fiction – Scifi

Marooned Short Story coverI held you as you grew in inside my life-giving waters. I dreamed for you before you could dream. Every new sound, smile and movement was recorded upon the tender organ beating within my breast. I am the keeper of your origins and the name on your tongue when your last breath has been taken.

***

The Brilliant One. He was named thus for the persona he elected. Black wool dress pants with creases so mean they could cut through turbulent air. A long overcoat, crafted from the same materials, scratched and abraded at his neckline and cuffs. These micro irritations served as constant reminders of a fact that very few people knew. He was not the only one.

A Teacher. The best and brightest minds were sent to him for training. He was the man with wild, wiry hair that reached toward his shoulders. He joked that when the brain worked at full capacity, it would produce so much heat that the follicles at the top of one’s head would burn away.

A Mind Like No Other. He had the tools of technology at his disposal but preferred, instead, the scrape and scuff of chalk on board and the compact binder that fit in the palm of his hand. Upon the page of every fresh notebook, he taped a photo of her. The binder and chalkboard went with the persona and recorded information that others raced to comprehend.

He Agreed. When the choice among billions came down to one, he nodded. He understood.  He would represent them all. A hold out. For the blink of a cosmic eye, he would continue recording his thoughts and equations.

Beauty and Beast. It was a surprise to observe what the mind does when deprived of all human contact. Guilt clutched at him with cold, bony, claw-like talons.  Every day, he stared, as if mesmerized, at that thing of massive beauty that revolved beneath his window. Illuminated and glowing against her blanket of dark emptiness, her silent cries reached him, causing the talons to tighten.

Eyes Closed. The reoccurring dream was a further surprise. When all the thoughts of humanity and the universe were open to him, it was his sister to whom they ever returned. Алина. His  twin. They’d lost her when she was 10. Chernobyl had been their childhood home. He knew, without a doubt, that her mind had been greater than his.

Musings. Perhaps the expiration of humanity had occurred on the day of Chernobyl’s disaster. He’d helped put off the inevitable. He was a temporary patch on dam with fatal cracks that ran too deep. No one but him was left to wonder if she might have been the key that could have changed the outcome.

***

“Mama.”

Author’s Note: The muse for the this brief fictional tale is video imagery from the YouTube music video – ‘Marooned’ by Pink Floyd. The writing prompt theme, “Marooned,” came from a weekend writein challenge on the website writeon.amazon.com.

The Train Tunnels, Chinese History and Urban Art at Donner Summit

The Train Tunnels, Chinese History and Urban Art at Donner Summit

Explorations Around Donner Summit (California)

Research for an upcoming book prompted a plan to hike to the China Wall at Donner Pass. Mom must be humored at least one day a year (Mother’s Day). Driving an hour to Donner was an opportunity to get the family out of the house and learn some local history.  Other than me, the dogs were the only members of the family who were truly enthusiastic about the outing from the get-go.  But as the day wore on, everyone found something interesting to capture their imagination.

Donner_Lake_as_seen_from_Donner_Pass

Taking in the expansive views overlooking Donner Lake and trekking over gargantuan, sun warmed slabs of granite, one can not help thinking about the ancient hands that pecked away at the rock faces some 1,500 to 4,000 years ago. Nomadic bands of Great Basin Indians spent many pleasurable hours here. They quenched their thirst from the streams that burble their way down to the lake below as they labored to record their thoughts and ideas in stone. The exact meaning of the 200 rock art designs has been lost in the annals of time. Today’s viewers are left to fill in the blanks in an attempt to guess at their story.

Not far above the petroglyphs, and in more recent history (just a meer hundred and fifty years ago), another story with blank pages exists – the names and personalities of the people who built the China Wall and train tunnels.

In its day the railroad moved people and products faster than ever. This new mode of transport was responsible for booming business and for populating the west. As one historian put it, the railroad would be comparable to the internet today.

Charles Crocker was in a hurry to make progress on his section of the railroad. Government incentives offered sizable rewards for the company that could lay the most track in the shortest amount of time.

Facing the problem of getting his project over Donner Summit, Crocker wondered if the Chinese, who’d invented fireworks and built the Great Wall, could help. Starting off with only 50 workers, Charles soon discovered that his guess was right. Determined, dependable and with specialized knowledge of nitroglycerine the Chinese proved that they were the right people to accomplish the task. Within a year, 8000 pioneering immigrants were hard at work tunneling through the rock. Granite is one of the hardest minerals on the planet. Progress consisted of making their way through the span of a large man’s hand (14 inches) per day. With wages at $28 per month, these workers were a bargain, even by 1850 standards.640px-Chinese_railroad_workers_sierra_nevadachinese built trai tunnel

Donkey steam engines lowered men in baskets down along the steep rock cliffs. Holes were were drilled, filled with black powder, packed and tamped. Men scrambled for safety as fuses were lit. Once the air cleared after the blast and the debris was moved away, men went back down to repeat the process.

In the Tunnels Today

My dogs were surprisingly sedate, while we strolled through the cool, dark and dripping, tunnels. A quiet hush permeated the space even though plenty of visitors were never far away. Did the dogs sense something that I could not?  As I gazed up at the high jagged walls antiqued with residue from the coal smoke that spit from the mouths of long retired locomotives, my thoughts reached back to span the years between then and now.  Grasping at unknown stories of the men responsible for this feat of engineering, I anticipate the time when I am ready to sit across from my keyboard to tap out a tale that gives definition back to the blank faces that ignorance and prejudice caused to slip into historical obscurity.

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0510151350The photographer in me, delighted at the colorful urban art along the smooth walls of the snow sheds. Does it connect in some way to the Native Americans and Chinese people who occupied this place?

The mom in me cringed as my 10 year old son stood reading some of the uncomfortable statements that were written five feet tall. Like any art form, it moves us to think outside of our respective boxes… This is usually a good thing.0510151318

Protected from the fading rays of the sun, these ever changing urban designs remain vibrant and saturated. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself coaxing photography clients to join me and my camera in this fascinating spot filled with so many intriguing layers of history.

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donner summit tunnel

 

If you’re going:

Map of the Donner Summit Area

Donner Summit Historical Society -Tunnel 6 – PDF

Donner Pass History –  Blog – On the Summit

 

Chinese History Videos:

 

Single Step Adventure – Short Fiction – Scifi, Time Travel & Geocaching

single step adventure“I think I see it!” Chelsea ran ahead keeping a watchful eye on her smartphone compass. Seti, the families Irish Setter, sprinted beside the young woman barking with sheer joy.

Lexi and Ed paused to tighten drawstrings on their windbreakers. A brisk, grit-filled wind scoured their exposed skin. “You’ve got everything?” she asked.

“I do,” Ed nodded. Reaching into his pocket, he removed three small silver objects. He dropped two of them into the palm of her hand. Lexi thought that the high bluffs of Dover were an ideal location for today’s activities.

“This is it!” Chelsea squealed as her parents gathered around.  From a small box that had been hidden in the rocks, Chelsea removed a strange oblong object. It was identical to the ones concealed in Lexi and Ed’s pockets. She read the paper it came wrapped in. “It says that if I, Chelsea, hold this and step over the edge of the cliff, I will be transported to another place.” Her eyes sparkled with wonder.  When she turned her gaze to take in open expanse, wonder morphed into to uncertainty.

Her father, who stood behind her mother with hands gripped on her shoulders asked, “Are you entirely certain about this Chelsea?”

She bit her lip. Chelsea almost changed her mind. But the hard look on her mother’s face wiped that away. They’d had many arguments over Chelsea’s obsession to prove the existence of Time Travelers. In fact, she was sure that she was on the trail of one such person now. For years, she’d been getting personalized clues in every single geocache she’d located.

Chelsea approached the edge of the precipice. Without even a look back, she tightly gripped the thing in her hand and took a step forward.

The man, woman and dog watched Chelsea wink out of sight. Holding their breath they crept to the rim and peered down at the sharp rocks below. Not seeing a twisted and broken figure, they relaxed.

Reveling in a feeling of completion, Lexi thought of her partner and the toll that the 23 years of parenting and observation duties had taken. She turned to Ed. Placing a hand on his shoulder; she lifted up onto her toes so she could have a level view of his eyes.  She winked and gave him a salute. Squatting down, she opened her arms to let Seti snuggle into them. Burying her face in his fur, she whispered, “I’ve missed you!”

His immediate, silent response, And I you Mistress, appeared in her mind.

Before she rose, Lexi slipped one of the silver ovals into the dog’s mouth. The three of them stood together, taking a moment to regard France across the English Channel. At Lexi’s nod, they winked out of sight and stepped onto the Constellation.

Lexi felt a large warm hand slip into hers briefly and squeeze, before releasing. A voice she had not heard spoken aloud in 23 years inquired, “Shall I set the coordinates for home?”

United Kingdom – Dover Cliff’s Travel Information:

traveltips.usatoday.com/white-cliffs-dover-england-3316.html

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/white-cliffs-dover/

www.visitkent.co.uk/attractions/the-white-cliffs-of-dover/9002

Answered Prayers – Short Fiction – Family Drama

five minute ficiton

A hint of lemons on the ocean breeze coming through the open window brought a wistful smile to Marzia’s face as she pulled more wet laundry from the tiny washing machine. She could already taste those lemons in her mouth at the end of the day.

Carlo would be in the fields now laughing and smiling with the men and women who also worked there. Carlo was always bright and cheerful, not like his sister who’d grown increasingly tired and sour with the years.

Marzia carried a heavy sheet out to the balcony where she added it to the others that swayed and moved with the currents of the warm scented air. Looking down below, she spotted young Theresa and Paulo hiding and giggling near the corner of the market. They didn’t realize that they had an audience as they French kissed and ran their hands over each other in places that would have their mothers squawking.

She remembered when she’d been Theresa’s age, wearing the starched white shirts and pleated skirts of the Catholic school. Toni Marellli had been her boyfriend then. They’d thought that the same corner was private too.  After Carlo’s accident, Toni had gone away. Marzia stalked him sometimes on the internet. The photos of his receding hairline, beer buddies and of his two grown daughters always stayed with her for days. That would have been my life.

When the disaster struck—the one that had left the top half of her brother’s skull missing, Marzia knelt in the surgery waiting room saying prayers on her rosary and begging God to let Carlo live. God had granted that wish. The Doctors warned her that Carlo would probably not live past the age of twenty five.

They were both in their sixties now. Carlo worked during harvest in the lemon and olive fields perched on the steep slopes of the coastal mountains.  In the early evenings, he sat at the edges of the walkway leading down to the Ligurian Sea. He smiled innocently at the tourists who regarded him with surprised pity. There was never a language barrier for Carlo. Turning his head so that they had a clear view of his injury, he motioned toward his hat lying near his feet. The loose change that he proudly poured into their kitchen table did help make ends meet, as did Mariza’s miniature sketches that she drew of seascapes and buildings in their tiny town. The sheets she washed were destined for tourist beds. At night, she sipped on Carlo’s share of the Limoncello that he received at the conclusion of harvest season.

In her top dresser drawer was the rosary that she’d used that night. She hadn’t touched it since. If Carlo beat her to the grave, she planned to put it in with his ashes.

Boost Your Business with a Book

Are you an expert in your field? Do you want to increase the quantity and / or quality of your customer base?  Would you like to expand your service offerings into paid speaking engagements?  If you answered, ‘yes’ to any of these questions, writing and producing a book (e-book or print) may be worth some serious consideration.

Below is an excellent video series that outlines how to organize, compose and write your business boosting book.

Reason for Writing – Target Market – Diane O’Connell – Video Series

Targeted Subject Topics – Manuscript Organization – Blogging – Diane O’Connell – Video Series

Share Your Expertise – Storytelling – Diane O’Connell – Video Series

Research & Statistics – Diane O’Connell – Video Series

Publishing a book is not an endeavor to enter into casually. With the ‘relative ease’ of self-publishing, there are more than a few ways to go terribly wrong and end up sabotaging your business growth efforts.

This video explains the difference between Traditional Publishing vs. Self Publishing

Publishing Options – Traditional vs. Self Publishing – Diane O’Connell – Video Series

The webinar below explains the complexities of interior page layout and design. It discusses what makes a book look like it has been professionally designed vs. a DIY project.

interior design

Under the Covers Book Page Design by Michele DeFilippo

Like any product that one would take to market, a book has production costs at the front end and distribution and marketing expenses once it’s complete. A savvy business person will know when it’s appropriate to do the work yourself and when its time to hire an expert.

The following is a list of the most common (and wise!) areas to plan for investment in your book project.

Cover Art
Editing 
Interior Page Design
Marketing / Website Set-Up

Below are a few resources for editors and cover designers.

Editors

Editorial Freelancers Association (1,100+ members) has a sort function that simplifies identifying the editors who match your search criteria.

Bay Area Editors Forum

Book Expo America

5 Tips to find the right professional editor for your book

What type of editor do you need?
*Content Editing helps with the overall organization of your material
*Copy Editing is fact checking
*Line Editing is the nuts and bolts of sentence and paragraph structure and punctuation.

Cover Design & Designers

cover design

Messenger – Short Fiction – Women / Drama

five minute ficitonIsobel’s youngest, and most beloved child, Agatha, had been chosen by the Order of Mystics to learn their ways at the tender age of four. When the girl had turned twelve, she’d been chosen again—this time to receive the highest honor bestowed upon a member of their tribe; to deliver messages from their people to the Gods. Isobel wondered if the distinction was given because of a childhood rivalry between herself and the sister of the tribal leader.Messinger

For one year prior to Agatha’s Messenger Ceremony, Isobel’s family would receive tributes of food and service by every member of the community.  As the time for the sacrifice grew near, Isobel became increasingly anxious. She felt the eyes of her people on her every move. At night she’d whisper desperately to her husband that they must do something to stop this.

Angry with her, he’d grown tired of repeating the same responses, “It is the will of the people. The Gods punishment would be severe. It is blasphemy to speak those words,” he turned away.

The thought of leaving her home and all that she knew frightened Isobel. But it terrified her even more to consider what would become of her if she continued to live among the tribe after they had killed the most beautiful thing that she had created—Agatha.

Isobel had constructed a plan. It began with a fire. Even the most devoted can be bribed for the right price.

“The Gods may not smite you,” the masked female said in a gravelly voice. It came to Isobel through a heavy cloud of cloying, sweet smoke. “However, the people will take their vengeance upon every member of your bloodline,” the oracle continued. “Their screams will echo into the heavens and their tortured deaths will be blight upon your soul.”

Tilting her chin down, and holding mask away from her face the oracle spat into a bowl of liquid that contained several strands of Isobel’s hair. She tossed it into the fire pit between them. Another cloud of scented smoke stung Isobel’s eyes. She coughed and gagged while crawling out of the sacred, dark, womb-like space.

Isobel hurried back to her modest dwelling without uttering a single word.

Inside the smoky hut, Agatha removed her mask. It was forbidden to make personal statements when seekers came for visions and soothsaying. In this instance, she had broken her oath.

The heavy thrum of drum beats filled the air as Isobel and her family, dressed and decorated in their finest, walked the path that led to the steps of the altar. They stood together as the Priest addressed the gathering. Agatha slipped a trembling hand into her mother’s as they stood, proud, shoulder to shoulder.

Shouts from the far end of the village reached the assemblage. For a moment all fell into a confused silence. As panic began to clutch the crowd, Isobel’s hand tightened on Agatha’s. Their eyes met and held. “Run!” yelled the mother to her daughter.