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Hummingbird Wars, Revisited

We started the season with one hummingbird that visited our two feeders.  Then it was two hummingbirds--a mated pair.

They must have had babies, because in the past few weeks I've seen at least two other hummingbirds at the front porch feeder.

However . . .

Hummingbirds DO NOT SHARE.  Ohhh, how they do not share.  As these young hummingbirds have gotten older, they've started fighting over the feeder.  They dive-bomb each other and chase each other through the pine trees, chittering angrily all the while.  "All the syrup are MINE!" they screech.

Never mind that there's more in that feeder than any family of hummingbirds could drink in a month.  Never mind that two other fully-stocked feeders hang in the back yard and outside the bedroom window.  No, no--this is MINE!!!

Also interesting is that Mama and Papa just let them fight.  When the two siblings are having at, the parents slip in for a drink.  Just like humans.

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Me, Too

It turns out I'm diabetic, too.

I got the diagnosis a week and half ago.  It's not a big surprise--my father and grandmother were diabetic, and were diagnosed when they were younger than I am now--but I was hoping to dodge this particular bullet.  No such luck.

I'm on medication so far.  No insulin.

Darwin reacts to being diabetic by ignoring it as much as he can.  He hates needles, so he won't check his blood sugar.  He wouldn't go see a specialist until I pushed him into it.  (The specialist's help made immediate improvements to Darwin's health after the first visit, which made Darwin a convert there, at least.)

I'm reacting by going crazy in the other direction. Needles don't bother me in the slightest, so I check my blood sugar half a dozen times a day.  I experiment with food and activity.  What's my sugar level after eating this food?  After drinking that liquid?  After doing this amount of exercise?  I monitor every feeling and sensation.  Why am I thirsty?  Is that a dizzy spell?  Where is this faint nausea coming from?  I downloaded an app to keep track of all the data.

Darwin, at least, is checking his blood sugar more often because I can do it for him.  I'll poke him fast and get it over with, whereas he always needs a long time to psych himself up.  I've become an expert with the lancet.

Some times I take it in stride: "Hey, you just have to take a few pills every day and cut back on sugary and starchy food, which you should do anyway.  What's the big deal?"

Other times I feel like I've been smacked in the head with a tombstone: "Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck."

And now I have a new blog tag.

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The Day Darwin Almost Died

Last week, Maksim and I were emerging from the barber shop and climbing into the truck when my cell phone buzzed.  It was Darwin.  An odd call to get--he couldn't even have been at work yet.  Maybe he'd forgotten something.

When I answered, I got a moment of silence.  Then Darwin said in a slow, dull voice, "I don't know where I am."

The moment I heard this, I knew what was wrong.  Darwin was going into insulin shock.  His normal habit was to take his insulin shot, then drive 45 minutes to work, get a breakfast sandwich at McDonald's, and eat at his desk.  This horrible habit has scared me more than once, but he maintained he never felt like eating in the morning.  Today it caught up with him.  An awful feeling grabbed me.

"Is there any food in the car?" I asked quickly.  "Any candy in the glove compartment?"

"No," he said dully.

Shit.  There was supposed to be.

"I want you to pull over right now."  I was trying not to panic, and Maksim could see something was horribly wrong.  "Can you pull over?"

Silence on the other end.

"Are you pulling over?" I said.

"I'm on the highway," he said.

This was unusual.  Darwin doesn't take the highway to work.  "Which highway?"

"I don't know."

I was trying to think how to locate him.  He used to have the Find My iPhone app, but using it meant all of us being signed into the same iCloud account, and Darwin didn't like that, so he deactivated it.

"I've pulled over," he finally reported.

"What do you see when you look out the window?" I asked.

"I'm in a driveway."  His voice was growing fainter and more slurred, with longer pauses between answers.

"What street?"

"I don't know."

"Don't hang up," I said.  "I'm going to call 911 and make a three-way call."

I put him on hold and dialed 911.  By now, Maksim was having a full-blown panic attack in the truck's passenger seat, but I couldn't do anything to help him just then.  The 911 dispatcher came on the line and I explained quickly what was going on.  "I'm going to try to bring Darwin into the conversation," I said.  "Don't hang up."

But when I tried to bring Darwin into the call, it disconnected Darwin's phone.  Apparently you can't do a three-way call with 911.

"He's on his way to Lake Orion," I said, "but I can't get more than that out of him."

The dispatcher asked for Darwin's phone number and a description of his car, which I gave.  By now I had driven home and was at my computer, trying desperately to figure out what to do.  Every minute counted.  I had gone completely cold at this point--no emotion, nothing but calculation.  How the hell did I find him?

The dispatcher put me on hold, but this disconnected us.

I tried to call Jerry Narsh, the police chief at Lake Orion, but realized I didn't have his number, so I called the Lake Orion village hall, told them I was Darwin's husband, and that I needed to talk to Jerry because it was an emergency.  Jerry, I reasoned, might have an idea how to find Darwin.  The clerk who answered the phone was horrified at the situation and said she'd page Jerry to call me.

I called Darwin's phone again and got voice mail.  Some panic reached through the cold, and I tried again.  Voice mail.  I tried a third time, begging him to answer.  He picked up.

"Can you find the map app on your phone?" I asked.

"I can't find my phone," he said.

He was probably talking on it through the car controls.  Shit.  "What do you see when you look out the window?"

"Houses."

Maybe he could get out of the car and knock on a door.  "What else do you see?"

"A mailbox."

Oh!  "Is there a house number?"

"Yes.  It's big."  He read it off.

"What street?"

By a miracle, he gave the street.  (I later learned he had seen it on the car's GPS, which I hadn't known was active, or I could have gotten the information from him a lot sooner.)

Right at that moment, the 911 dispatcher called me back.  I hung up on Darwin and answered.  Before the dispatcher could say anything, I said, "I have an address," and read it to him.

The dispatcher started to ask me a couple of other questions, but I interrupted.  "Is an ambulance on the way?"

One was.

I entered the address into my computer.  It was in Clarkston, 35 minutes away.  No way I'd make it before the ambulance arrived, and I had no way to know where the EMTs would take him.

Here, I was operating on the assumption that Darwin survived long enough for the EMTs to arrive.  Now that help was on the way, the cold evaporated and the post-crisis reaction crashed over me.  I sat at my desk and shook.  All the stuff that could have gone even more wrong came at me.  What if he had gotten into an accident?  What if he hadn't managed to call me?  What if--?  It was horrible.

Jerry called.  I gave him the short version of the story, including that EMTs were on the way.  Jerry was relieved.  "If you need help, let me or DPW know.  We'll take care of it," he said.

After a while, I got myself under control and tried Darwin's phone again.

"Deputy Mack," said a strange man's voice.

Which meant someone was indeed there.  I started shaking again, this time with relief.  I knew that someone had to be there, but I didn't KNOW it until someone else answered the phone.

I told the deputy who I was.  Mack explained the EMTs had given Darwin some glucose and he had revived considerably.  They were taking him to the hospital, though the deputy didn't know which one.  I could come up for the car or they could tow it to the police station.  I said I'd come up for it soon, if they could move out of the driveway.

Since I didn't know where Darwin was going, I had to wait some more.

Quite some time later, Darwin called again.  He was much more alert.  They had taken him to the hospital a few miles away from our house.  I drove over and found him in ER.  He was sweaty and hungry but otherwise okay.

It was the best and worst moment of my life.

He stayed in ER for a couple more hours while they tested his blood sugar some more.  Various people called to scold him.  I scolded him.  And hugged him.  And yelled at him.  And hugged him again.

Now Darwin has Find My iPhone active at all times, whether he likes it or not.  He isn't allowed to leave for work without eating first.  All our vehicles are stocked with candy and crackers.

And it had better never happen again.

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Muppets and Parellel Structure

This came from Kermit the Frog's Twitter feed yesterday:

Success isn't easy. It takes determination, perspiration, and, for frogs, condensation to make it.

It's cute, but not very funny.  It could be funny, but it isn't.  Let's look at what went wrong--and how to fix it.

WARNING: Humor, like a frog, is wrecked when you dissect it. But you have to dissect it to understand it and make it work.

First, good writing uses a thing called parallel structure.  This is when you repeat a word or phrase in a similar--parallel--way to create a pleasing pattern.  It's fun to read.  If you don't use, you should.  An example: The first chair was too hard.  The second chair was too soft.  The third chair was just right. Another example: Because I love you, because I cherish you, because I adore you, I want to marry you. Notice how in both cases, the phrases create a nice pattern.

Kermit's tweet, however, starts a parallel structure, then wrecks it.  He begins with a series of words that end in -tion. Nice!  Then he interrupts his parallels with the prepopsitional phrase for frogs. This jars the reader and wipes out his parallel.  Bad frog. No horseflies.

Also, most humor comes from unexpected opposites.  The TV show Friends used this masterfully, especially with the character Phoebe. For example, in one scene, Ross is talking to Rachel's pregnant belly. "I'm gonna play with you all the time!" he coos.  Phoebe interrupts.  "How can you let him talk to your crotch like that?"  "He's talking to the baby!" Rachel protests.  "Oh!" Phoebe says.  "For a moment I thought he was waiting for an answer, and I said to myself, 'There's a trick!' "

We get a bunch of unexpected opposites in the scene.  First is the idea that Phoebe thinks Ross is talking to Rachel's crotch.  The second is that Phoebe thought Ross would actually get an answer, and third is the mental image of it really happening.  It's even funnier because the reality never occurs to Phoebe--yet another opposite.

Kermit misses this chance.  He could have come across as assuming that everyone is a frog, just like him. That's another reason why the for frogs part of the tweet wrecks the humor.  Without that phrase, it would look like Kermit assumes we're all frogs, too.  Funny!

Finally, humor should always end with the punch line.  Notice in the Friends example above, Phoebe ends with "I said to myself, 'There's a trick!' " She doesn't end with, " 'There's a trick,' I said to myself.' " There's a trick is the funniest part of the scene.  Adding anything after it wrecks the humor.

The funniest part of Kermit's tweet is the word condensation. But he adds to make it afterward.  Not only is the phrase unnecessary (it's already implied by Success isn't easy), it also adds words after the punchline.  Get rid of it!

If we tweak the tweet according to the princples above, we get this:

Success isn't easy. It takes determination, perspiration, and condensation.

Rather better!  But we can make it even punchier by getting rid of the linking verb is in the first sentence, leaving us with:

Success takes determination, perspiration, and condensation.

There!  Short, punchy, funny.

With parallel structure.

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Salary Cuts

My teacher salary has been cut yet again.

This time it's through health care. My deductible doubled in mid-year. I have an entire family on the plan, so it was paid off so far, and now I have to pay it all over again. Every doctor and dentist bill suddenly has to be paid in full by me. This is an enormous expense, especially since it all comes in a single month. It's over $1,000 extra to pay within 30 days.

It's awful. Darwin and I stare at the numbers, but they won't budge. Could you afford an extra $1,000/plus dollars due RIGHT NOW?

This is a sharp salary reduction of over $1,000 per year. Meanwhile, I haven't had an actual raise in TEN YEARS now. That's half my career.

When the economy was good, there was no move to give teachers high raises. Business salaries leaped. Bonuses skyrocketed. And no one offered to share that largesse with the people educating their children.

When the economy crashed, it was suddenly belt tightening time. Everyone had to make sacrifices, especially teachers, who had never been given extra in the first place.

Cut, cut, cut.

Now the GOP in power in Michigan loves to say the economy has turned around (thanks to them and not Obama). But have they increased school funding so teachers can get raises after ten years of cuts?

No. More cuts! More slashing!

Vote Democrat this fall. Please. The people who spend all day helping your children need you.

Author Interview: Nicky Peacock



Today we have an interview with Nicky Peacock, fellow author of YA paranormal, urban fantasy, and horror fiction.  Her Battle of the Undead series pits vampires against zombies, and her latest novel Lost in Wonderland is--well, I'll her talk about it.  Take it away, Nicky!

What's the title of your latest book, and what's it about?
My latest book is the first of a new series; it’s called Lost in Wonderland. It’s a twist on the classic Lewis Carroll book, but doesn’t just re-tell the story, it takes the themes of madness, growing up and being lost and threads them through a YA thriller about a secret vigilante group who go after serial killers.

Your three favorite authors are . . . ?
Poppy Z Brite – a horror author who can make the grotesque beautiful.
Laurell K Hamilton – an urban fantasy author who thinks outside the box
Richard Laymon – sadly no longer with us, but his legacy is a wealth of scary books best read with the lights on!

Where's the strangest place you've ever gotten a story idea?
Working at a Halloween attraction. Although being a horror writer, ideas were going to be inevitable there I guess! I do tend to have a lot of ideas first thing in the morning when I wake up, and I write best late at night.

Makes perfect sense. Dark or milk chocolate?
I know that dark chocolate is meant to better for you, but I prefer milk chocolate – especially if it smothering peanuts or draped over Turkish Delight, hmmmmmmm.

What's your preferred caffeine source?
I have to watch my blood pressure, so I have to limit my caffeine intake. I do drink tea, but I keep it to just to cups a day. I actually prefer smoothies. My fav is a banana, strawberry, blueberry and chocolate milk.

Sounds delish!  What kind of writer are you--an outliner or a pantser?  Explain.
I’m a plotter, but I always leave some wiggle room. Stories tend to evolve as you write them, and I think if you fight against that evolution, you can damage your story. I keep everything loose and then tie it all together through edits. I truly believe you have to plot a book to make sure that you don't meander around with characters that don’t have an impact and a story that plods along, but you still have to keep it ‘pantsey’.

Where did the inspiration for Lost in Wonderland come from?
Last year was Alice in Wonderland’s 150th anniversary and I re-read the book as an adult. It was a real eye-opener for the themes it included that I didn’t pick up on when I was young. So, I decided to write a book that honored the themes, but didn’t just re-tell the original story and Lost in Wonderland was born.

Describe your writing area.
The best area is a beautiful 15th Century hotel that’s about a 5-minute drive from my house. It’s set in stunning grounds and is like stepping back in time. You also can’t get an Internet or phone signal there for love nor money, so it’s perfect for making sure I don’t get distracted.

Now the tough one: Right now, do you prefer to read ebooks, paper books, or both? Explain.
Both. I love my Kindle as I can take hundreds of books with me everywhere I go, but there is still something special about a physical book, especially when it has your name on the cover!

What four people from history would you want at your fantasy dinner party?
Amelia Earhart – I’d like to know what happened to her.
Bram Stoker – I’d like to know if he based Dracula on a real vampire.
Genghis Khan – he seemed like a bit of a party animal.
Christopher Marlowe – I would want to talk to him about Shakespeare.

Nicky can be found at the links below:

Thank you, Nicky!

Exercise Revision

For a long time, my exercise regimen was to run five kilometers three times per week, though I would try for four or five times.  This usually took an hour--changing into running clothes, getting on the treadmill (or strapping my phone onto my arm), running, cooling down, showering.

Problem is, this became more and more like a chore.  I mean, to begin with I DON'T LIKE RUNNING.  It's boring, it's often painful, and I never ever get the "runner's high."  An hour of running (40 minutes of actual running plus the assorted activity around it) has become a major crapfest, and I found it too easy to put it off or not do it.

So I'm changing things around.

I'm doing half a run twice as often.  I get on the treadmill and go for 22 minutes, do a shortened cool down, and shower.  This is the length of a single sit-com or an episode of Jeopardy.  I can run for that long, and it's not a big deal.  My plan is to do this six times per week.

I'm also finding that I'm willing to push myself to run faster and harder if I know I'm only running a short while.  ("Crank it up to level 6? Jesus, no--I have 30 minutes left!" but "Level 6 for 12 minutes?  I can do that.")  So the net effect is that I run less per session, but more miles per week.

We'll see how this goes.

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How I Met My Agent, with Lucienne Diver

Today, we have a cross-blogging event: How I Met My Agent / How I Met My Client.  It's a fun and funny story because . . . well, you have to look.  My agent is Lucienne Diver, and we've been in a client/agent relationship for over twenty years now.  Her posting of this blog can be found here.

I also have to admit that this is the first time I heard about the spiders.

As an introduction, Lucienne Diver is a literary agent with the Knight Agency, where she represents a bunch of authors in several genres, including fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance.  She's also the author of popular The Latter-Day Olympian series and the highly-acclaimed YA Vamped series.

The story starts with me, so I'll go first:

How I Met My Agent by Steven Piziks

It was that miracle moment. The phone rang.

I snatched the receiver off the wall and discovered I was talking to Jim Baen of Baen Books. He had read my science fiction novel In the Company of Mind and wanted to buy it.

I almost leaped through the ceiling. But I kept myself under control and said something I had been rehearsing for years. “That’s fantastic!

Thank you! What kind of terms are you offering?”

He told me, and I said, “That’s great! I’ll call you back when I know more. Thanks so much!”

Once I hung up, did I call my parents? My best friend? I did not. I called an editor who had bought a bunch of my short stories over the years.

“I need an agent!” I bawled.

She laughed and gave me the number of Vince Alfieri, a New York agent.

By now I was wondering what my phone bill was going to be like. I called Vince, who said he wasn’t taking new clients right then.

Argh!

Remember, this was in the days before cell phones, before the Internet, before Google. I couldn’t just hop on-line and spend a couple hours looking up agents and agencies.

“But,” Vince continued, “I know a lady who is taking clients. You might want to give her a call. Her name is Lucienne Diver.”

I seized on this. Vince gave me the number, and I dialed yet again. A woman with a radio announcer voice answered the phone, and I found myself talking to Lucienne.

This was 20 years ago.

I think I must have been one of her first clients, though at the time she never let on. She handily took over the Baen negotiations (though that turned into a real trick–buy me a cheeseburger some time and I’ll tell you about it).

Lucienne negotiated two contracts with Baen for me, and another contract with Roc. We had a number of conversations on the phone, but no face-to-face contact until about three years later, when we both attended the same convention. I think it was a World Fantasy Con, and we agreed to meet at a party.

“We’ll find each other,” she said on the phone. “I have long blond hair and I’ll probably be wearing a blue dress.”

“I’m the tall guy with the shaved head,” I said. “You’ll probably see me first.”

I was right. Five minutes into the reception, a voice said, “Steven?” and at last I was talking face-to-face with my agent. She took me to the bar for a Coke. (I don’t drink, so I’m a cheap date.)

Lucienne and I have been agent-and-client and friends for over twenty years. Our relationship has lasted longer than my first marriage, in fact. We’re both friends and business associates, and I’ve watched her go from single lady to married woman to proud mom, and from steadfast New Yorker to woo-hoo Floridian. We’ve weathered a number of changes to the publishing industry together, and I can only wonder what’s coming up next.

_______________

How I Met My Client

What Steven didn’t tell you is that he called me the week before my wedding to say that he had an offer on the table for his debut novel and was I interested in considering it for representation. Well, of course I was. The book sounded amazing! But this was in the early days of e-mail, before we all had e-readers and could accept electronic submissions, which meant that he had to send it in hardcopy, which put us into my wedding week. Still, I dug in right away. I couldn’t resist, and it wasn’t exactly a hardship, as I was physically unable to put the novel down. (IN THE COMPANY OF MIND, for inquiring minds who want to know, a dark, gritty novel with both highly personal and massively far-reaching stakes.)

Of course I wanted to represent it. I told him so, we came to an agreement, and I got right on the phone with the publisher. Or, at least, I left him a message. By that time we were into the final crash-prep for the wedding, so I found myself alternating between arguing with the caterer and negotiating on the phone at my parents’ house and, best of all (by some Tim Burton definition of the word “best”) from a spider infested phone booth on my honeymoon.

As Steven says, these were the days before cell phones. My husband (ooh, it was so exciting to say that then!) and I honeymooned in a rustic lakefront cottage on Lake George. The only phone we had access to was in a phone booth at the edge of the parking lot at the lodge. The only problem was it was festooned with spider webs and, I was quite certain, populated by the eight-legged menaces that created them. Clearly, no one was expected to actually make calls on vacation. What, was I crazy?

The answer, of course, is yes. I am. And a work-aholic. And so I, the girl with the spider phobia, reached bravely into the phone booth, risking life and limb to put coins into the slot and grab onto the receiver, holding it at the very end of its reach and contorting myself to stay as far away as I could from the creepy crawlies. Here, I’ve drawn you a visual with all of my spectacular artistic talent.

spider booth001

(You can see why I don’t give up my day job for my art.)

The rest is history. Steven and I have worked together for years and years, through various genres, names and publishing permutations.

We’ve seen the restructuring of publishing distribution, the advent of e-books (as more than a faraway fear that they would ruin book publishing for all time), cell phones and electronic signatures. We’ve seen crazes and trends and bandwagons, oh my! It will be fascinating to see what the next twenty years have in store.

_______________

BONE WAR is currently on sale everywhere!


New Windows and Hummingbird Feeders

Lately, the hummingbirds have been snarfing down the syrup.  Two full feeders drained in a week!  I wonder if they have babies somewhere.

I used to have a third feeder.  It hung on a hook under the eaves that was there when we moved in, but the hook took a ladder to reach.  I hung one the third feeder from it for a while, but the inconvenience of hauling out the ladder to refill it was too much, so I stopped.  This was too bad--the hook is right outside my bedroom window, and it was very nice seeing hummingbirds at the feeder there.

Then we got the new windows!

The new windows open from both the left and the right.  Because of this, I can now open the window from the left and reach the hook from inside the house.  Cool!

Today I refilled the two other feeders and set out the third feeder again.  Within minutes, all three were busy with darting hummingbirds.

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