Saturday, March 29, 2014

Love and Basketball

The title of this blog may be slightly misleading since it's not about love and might have very little to do with basketball, but it's what came to mind when an inkling of an idea came to me for this post, so I'm using it whether it applies or not. Usually, I think a lot about my blog posts before starting to write them, but this morning I'm winging it, so please bare with me as I ramble about somewhat random thoughts.

Last night I was watching Michigan State play the University of Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament referred to as March Madness. I'm not a basketball fan. The only basketball game I ever went to was in junior high, and that had more to do with having a crush on one of the players than any affinity for the game. But, just as it's hard to live in Boston without becoming a Red Sox fan, it's hard to live in Tucson and not root for the University of Arizona basketball team.

So, after watching the U of A squeak out a win the night before, and with nothing better on television than more basketball, when I saw Michigan State was also in the Sweet Sixteen, I kind of had to watch the game. I'm an alumna of MSU and, oddly enough, one of the reasons I decided to go there was because they had a Big 10 football team. They'd been in the Rose Bowl the year before, and that symbolized all that was different about MSU and my high school career. In high school, I was a nerd. I was in advanced placement classes, took lots of science and math, and hung out with the other geeks. After finding out that I couldn't go to the college of my dreams and become a writer, I wanted to change course, to break free of the expectations of the persona I had in my home town, and do something totally different. The fact that Michigan State offered me a scholarship didn't hurt.

So there I was, looking at the television screen off and on as I poked around on my iPad, when one of the announcers said the word "Charlottesville" and caught my attention. I'd just been to Charlottesville to help my mother move into a new apartment and give my sister a bit of a break, but I didn't put together that MSU was playing the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, until I heard the announcer say the name. And then I realized that I knew people in Charlottesville, my mother and sister and nephew and his wife, who were probably watching the same game and rooting for the other side. It was an odd feeling of disconnected connection.

Neither my sister nor I are fans of basketball, especially not college basketball, but there we were in living rooms 2,000 miles apart, cheering when "our" team scored, groaning when they missed, yelling at bad calls against them. I found myself wondering who I'd root for if it came down to MSU versus the U of A. And then I found myself wondering why did it matter?

Why is it that we become so passionate about sports? Certainly there are more important things to invest our emotions in: the victims of the landslide in Washington, the alarming rise in autism rates, what Putin's planning to do next. But those topics we meet with clucking tongues and shaking heads, not yells and groans. Our pulse doesn't throb like it does when the clock is ticking down or the Red Sox are trailing by a run and they're down to their final out.

I think it's because a sports competition can be seen in simplistic terms of black and white, even good and evil. While we can argue the causes of autism, whether it be vaccinations or parenting or food allergies or environmental causes, no one really knows. With politics, there is always some right and some wrong on both sides of an issue. In our politically correct age, we're hesitant to label any one group as good or evil.

With sports, there is no ambiguity. The Red Sox are good. The Yankees are evil. Unless you're a Yankee fan, in which case you reverse the judgment. You can wholeheartedly root for the Spartans and not worry about the feelings of the Cavalier fans when they lose. And you can do it with a whole bunch of people who feel the same way as you do, as evidenced by the masses who clogged the streets around the U of A after the Wildcats won Thursday night. Sports bring people together.

And, after the game is over, after everything is decided, fans on opposite sides can tease one another over who won and who lost. There are no hard feelings. You can laugh together. Heck, I even know a Yankee fan I like.

So, while I grieve with the families of those lost on Flight 370, I'm not ashamed that I'm looking forward to March 31st, have checked that my dentist appointment doesn't conflict with opening day, and will be back cheering the Red Sox on for another year.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Celebrating Books

Tucson has many unique events over the course of a year that celebrate the lifestyle and culture of the Southwest. There's El Tour de Tucson, the Winterhaven Festival of Lights, the Fiesta de los Vaqueros (aka the Rodeo), the Match Play Golf Tournament, and the International Mariachi Conference. As I'm typing this, several more come to mind and I'm sure if I spent a little time on the Visit Tucson web site, I'd come up with more than enough to fill a blog post.

This past weekend was one of my favorite Tucson events: the Tucson Festival of Books.


This is a picture of the Tucson Chapter of Sisters in Crime booth, where I have spent many hours over the past two years telling people about both the national organization and our chapter. I've been a member of SinC for close to a decade, so it's hard for me to imagine a mystery reader who wouldn't have heard of us, but it's always delightful to see a person's face light up when I tell them about the organization. We had several people join on the spot, happy to have found fellow mystery lovers to chat with once a month.

Unlike last year, this year's weather was perfect for strolling the mall of the University of Arizona campus--bright sunshine, temperatures hovering around eighty degrees, and not too much of Tucson's famous wind. The exhibitor list is huge, and hundreds of authors appear on panels and sign books in multiple locations. Featured authors this year were T. Jefferson Parker, Anne Perry, Craig Johnson, and Scott Turow. At least, those were the ones I noticed (all mystery writers of course). There were lots more.

A very pleasant surprise for me was discovering that Ben Bova was attending and speaking at TFOB this year. I first read him in my teens, when science fiction rather than mystery was my favorite genre. To be honest, since so many of my favorite authors from that period in my life--Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke--have died, I think some part of me assumed Ben Bova had also passed on. What a delight to find out not only is he very much alive, he's still writing and publishing books. Ben Bova writes what is called "hard" science fiction, where the science is as important to the story as the fiction. These are the stories that spurred the exploration of space in the middle of the last century.

The middle of the last century.

Those of us who lived through those exciting times have a hard time believing it was so long ago. We also have a hard time believing that we do not have colonies on the Moon and Mars, have not launched manned spacecraft to the outer reaches of the solar system yet. Somewhere along the line, we withdrew into the safety of space shuttles and unmanned probes and defunding NASA. We seem to have gone from a belief that anything is possible to a fear of being powerless.

Which brings me to another unique feature of the Tucson Festival of Books: Science City. The U of A is a premiere educational institution for the sciences, particularly astronomy. During TFOB, not only are there open houses and tours of University facilities like the Flandrau Planetarium, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and the Insect Collection, there are speakers and exhibits celebrating the wonders of science. Many of these are targeted toward children, with hands-on experiences to get them involved. I can only hope that being exposed to science as children, the next generation might once again see the possibilities rather than the problems.

These same children, and others, even if they don't attend TFOB, also benefit from it. A primary objective of the festival is to promote literacy in both adults and children. Since 2009, the Festival has contributed over $900,000 to literacy organizations in Tucson and southern Arizona. And, in case you were wondering, this isn't from charging for admission. Admission to the Festival and all events is free.

I'm looking forward to next year's festival. After several years of volunteering, both as an author escort and as coordinator of a booth, I'm going to take a year off and enjoy it as a visitor so I can see more authors, stand in line early for the popular ones, and buy lots of books to get signed. I can't wait.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Fairy Tales

In my NaNo novel, a cozy mystery featuring a retired librarian who likes Shakespeare and raises African violets, my muse threw me--fairies! This was truly a weird experience since I had no intention of writing anything fanciful. But it was November and anything goes in November. Now, like most of you, I pictured something like this:



Or maybe Tinker Bell from the Walt Disney cartoon of Peter Pan. In other words, a tiny woman, often scantily clad, with wings. The wings, like those in the picture above, sometimes resemble butterfly wings.

Now, although my mother read lots of fairytales to me when I was young, I realized I didn't know a whole lot about fairies. Since I needed to know something about this little colony of fairies, I did what I always do. I ordered a book. For reference. (snicker)

I got another book from the library. What both books agreed on was that fairies, rather than being the benign, even helpful, creatures of current popular culture are "more likely to bring about magical mischief than to benefit any mortal." In some traditions, fairies are downright malicious and vindictive. And they're not always beautiful. The book from the library had multiple examples of ugly fairies.

This was very discouraging since, with my previous exposure to fairies being what it was, I had already come up with a subplot counting on them being very nice little creatures. I was then faced with a typical writer's dilemma: do I make my story factually correct (if there is such a thing when you're dealing with mythical creatures) or do I keep my own image of what fairies are like?

This comes up often, especially in historical fiction and mysteries. Readers of these genres are knowledgable and unusually quick to call a writer on things the writer gets wrong. On the other hand, sticking to the truth doesn't always make a good story. There's a reason Lawrence Block called his book on writing "Telling Lies for Fun and Profit."

On the other hand, Lee Lofland, a retired law enforcement officer, does his best to help writers describe police procedure and weapons accurately. This is where I've found that the truth is often not colorful enough.

So what did I decide for my particular dilemma? I'm not sure it's decided yet. I have yet to start revisions on that novel, but hope to publish it later this year under the title "Blue Murder." You'll have to read it to find out.

Picture Credits:
Monarch Fairy by MrsKyoha via DeviantArt http://mrskyoya.deviantart.com/art/Monarch-Fairy-342122203