Yahoo! Last Day of Camp!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
I don't usually post on Wednesday, but this morning I finished my first draft and I am stoked!

I have to say that participating in CampNaNoWriMo, as well as the ACFW Novel Track Writing loop, this month worked as a great motivator to get this done. There's nothing like regular accountability to keep me heading back to the keyboard.

I will spend today basking in the glory of having a new story completed.

Okay, so it's hardly completed. It's one of the shittiest first drafts (see Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird) I've ever written. But it's done. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Next week (sigh) I'll begin revision. I'd like to give the book longer to rest, but I don't have time for that if I'm going to get this book done by the end of the year. Or the end of next year. Yes, it's that bad.

But today I'm doing the Snoopy dance!

I Love Libraries

Sunday, July 21, 2013
Libraries have always been a part of my life. My mother was a reader and she taught me a love of reading, too. Part of this included a trip to the Hicksville Public Library on alternate Saturdays.

Hicksville, NY is a suburb not too far from New York City. It was one of those towns that grew tremendously following World War II when returning veterans married, settled in their own homes, and got to raising all those Baby Boomers. The library I remember was the former home of Mrs. Frances Duerk. It was a cozy place full of wondrous books. I particularly remember an area they had set up under a window. It had a slanted shelf where you could rest the book you were reading. The windows were mullioned, cross-hatched into diamonds, and it looked out over a pretty garden. The shelf and the bench you sat on were dark wood.

I carefully considered which books I would borrow since you were only allowed to check out six at a time. I could easily finish six books in two weeks then. There was a time I started browsing the fiction starting with the letter A and worked my way toward the end of the alphabet over a period of months.

Over the years, the library got too small for the house. Funds were allocated and a new, red brick building was constructed adjoining the old house. I remember skirting the construction areas as we made our way to the old library. Once the new building was completed, the books were moved into it. It was brightly lit, had room for many more books, and was probably a big improvement over the old building as far as the staff was concerned. Yet, while I liked that fact that there were more books, I kind of missed the older, darker, cozier building.

I'm not sure when I discovered that you could borrow records as well as books from the library. This was amazing! I enjoy listening to music almost as much as I enjoy reading books. And now there was a way to try out new kinds of music without needing to buy it.

I stopped going to libraries for a while. Being a mother in addition to a full-time job left less time for reading. I would take out books, but not be able to finish them before the due date. I frequently returned them with overdue fines. Instead, I started going to bookstores. If I owned a book, I could take as much time as I needed to finish it. My book addiction grew to fill seven bookcases. I could have easily filled more, but I diligently thinned my collection each time I moved.

Not too long ago, I got back into the habit of using the library. Part of this was frugality. I no longer can spend money on books without thinking about how much they cost. Part is not being sure whether I'll like a book well enough to own it. Books from the major publishers have become very expensive. Even paperbacks and ebooks. When I'm trying a new author or a new series, I'm not ready to commit a lot of money to that trial. Getting it from the library is safer.

And the library has become an amazing place! I've gotten used to seeing DVDs of television programs and movies available to lend. Just about every library can lend you ebooks online as well.

But the Pima County Public Library also has a Seed Library. Yes, you can get seeds for your garden from the library. For free. They want to encourage sharing and saving seeds in the community. The library site points out that people have been doing this for thousands of years. We've just forgotten about it and have become more familiar with buying seeds at the garden center or from seed catalogs.

They're also sponsoring MangiaMania at the local community college next weekend. Cosplay, gaming, martial arts and anime viewings. This is definitely not your mother's public library.

One of my favorite new services is Zinio. This allows you to read magazines in digital format on your computer, tablet, or ereader.

I have the same problem with magazines as I have with books. I used to subscribe to several magazines, but the cost and storage space got out of hand. I tried subscribing to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine on my nook, but I didn't read it often. The experience just wasn't the same as a physical magazine. Even for a magazine that is mostly text. Anything with pictures, well, not hardly worth it.

But Zinio is free through the Pima County Library. Yes, there aren't unlimited choices, but I don't have time to read unlimited magazines. You can read them on your computer, but I spend too much time at my computer to want to read for pleasure. I download them to my iPad Mini. The technology isn't perfect because the source material isn't HTML and doesn't flow like ebooks do, but it's possible to have a good reading experience on a tablet. I'm having fun rediscovering magazines I haven't read in a while and discovering totally new ones as well.

You can use a computer at the library, get help with homework or writing a resume, join a book club. Now all I have to do is get my local branch to sponsor a mystery book club.

No More Free Books

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Caught your attention, didn't I?

I'm not announcing BREAKING NEWS that there will not be any more books available for free because of some court decision or a change in Kindle Select by Amazon. That's not going to happen. Ever.

No, what I am saying is that the allure of free books has paled for me. Oh, I was like most newbies when I got my nook. I scoured the Barnes and Noble site for free books to download. I figured out how to sideload free books from Project Gutenberg. I eagerly awaited Free Fridays each week to see what treat I could pick up at no cost. And then there were the free promotions. I couldn't turn down a free book, could I?

Pretty soon I had a ton of free books on my nook and, now, my iPad Mini that I hadn't read. I had every intention of reading them. I mean, I loved A Tale of Two Cities when I read it in high school and I always wanted to read it again. And that new paranormal romance, although not my usual cup of tea, sounded intriguing.

And then a funny thing happened. I discovered that when I was ready for the next book, I wasn't starting any of those free downloads. I was much more likely to read a book I'd paid for. Or a book from the library. The free book would be there later.

I think what happened over time was that my brain subconsciously associated a value to the book that was directly related to its cost. We don't value what we receive for free as much as those things we need to work for. Or pay for, in this case.

This was reinforced by the experience I had with reading most of those books I'd gotten for free. I found them poorly edited, poorly written, and not at all interesting. Not all of them, of course. The free book I read by Amanda Hocking fell into the poorly edited classification, but she's such a great storyteller I could overlook the missteps in punctuation.

I was shocked when I read the first-in-series-free book of a wildly successful self-published author. It had all the editing and formatting errors I spoke about, plus it was repetitious and silly. Instead of acting as a motivator to buy her other books, I swore I'd never pay for anything written by her. I couldn't finish the free book.

I've had that same experience several times. It's depressing because I'd really like to believe that self-published authors are good writers. There are some, but it's certainly not the norm. In my experience. Maybe I just choose badly. If anyone can recommend some free books that are the equal of the ones I pay for, I'd be happy to hear about them.

But, for now, I have enough books on my nook/iPad. It will be a long time before I run out of things to read.

Under the Dome

Sunday, July 14, 2013

No, this is not about Stephen King's book or the television series derived from it. It's about a project north of Tucson currently run by the University of Arizona where scientists study environmental factors. It's one of the places I've wanted to see ever since I moved here (yes, I'm a science geek) and recently I finally got there.

Biosphere 2 was originally conceived as an experiment in controlled environment living in the late 1980s. It was an ambitious concept. The idea was for groups of scientists to spend two years sealed off from the rest of the world, raising their own food, doing experiments, and recording their results. Its intent was to measure survivability. Although the web site doesn't say it in so many words, I seem to remember that this was related to understanding how humans would survive in similar environments in space exploration. The plan was to do this for fifty cycles.

Yes, you read that right. It was supposed to last one hundred years. In reality, the plan was abandoned after less than three.

In science, experiments that don't work are not considered failures. As Edison famously said when asked about his failure to create a viable lightbulb, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." What is important is what you can learn from what doesn't work.

What did they learn? It takes a lot of effort just to provide enough food. Remember, they were raising the food they would eat. This meant that it was largely a vegetarian diet. There were a few goats and a flock of chickens sealed inside with them, but the animals were there primarily to provide milk and eggs, not meat. While the crew was eating plenty of nutrients, they were low on calories. They reported being constantly hungry. They lost a lot of weight.

During year two, they were able to improve their diet somewhat by spending more time farming. They also made adjustments to the atmosphere which had a tendency to be too heavy in carbon dioxide and too light in oxygen.

The second mission lasted just a few months. Wikipedia cites management disputes within Space Biosphere Ventures. Needless to say, our tour guide didn't bring any of that up.

Today, Biosphere 2 is run as an open system rather than a closed one. The scientists live in housing constructed outside the glass-enclosed structures. There are five environments, or biomes, sealed off from one another and the outside world where research is being done. They include an "ocean", wetlands, tropical rainforest, savannah grassland, and a fog desert. Needless to say, since all of these are more humid than the area around Tucson, desert rats find them fascinating to visit.

Most of the research is now focused on climate change rather than closed environment living. In the tropical rainforest biome, the temperature is being maintained seven degrees above what it currently is in the equivalent outside environment. That's because that's the estimated increase in warmth over time due to global warming. The scientists want to learn what effect this temperature change will have on Biosphere 1, planet Earth.

In addition to the five environments, visitors also get to tour the Technosphere, which is fascinating in its own right. Located in the basement of the facility, this is where the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems are housed. It is also where the air for the environments is conditioned: temperature and humidity changed, water condensed out to provide "rain," and particles cleaned from the air.

One of the things you might not think of is that the different temperatures and humidity levels result in significant differences in air pressure between the environments and the outside air. Since the facility is largely glass, a huge greenhouse if you will, if this were not accounted for it would be possible that the glass panels could blow out from the pressure.

To allow the environments to "breathe," they've constructed two "lungs." These are domes with large bladders at the top which rise and fall in response to changes in air pressure. We stooped down to go through a passage that leads into one of these lungs so we could see what it looked like and experience first hand the power of that air pressure difference. It was noticeably harder to breathe inside the lung. When the door is opened to allow you to exit, you not only see the bladder move, you are swept up in a windy maelstrom as the pressure equalizes.

Overall, this made an interesting day trip for anyone interested in science. There's a lot of walking and sections where you have to climb stairs to reach the different levels, so you have to be prepared for that. It was also quite warm the day I went and parts of the tour are outdoors. As always, when traveling in Arizona, bring water. But do go and enjoy the experience.

Closet Christians

Sunday, July 07, 2013
At this week's Bible study, our pastor asked us if we knew what was the average number of times a Lutheran church member invited someone to worship with them. There was dead silence as we all pondered that question. If the rest of the group was like me, they were trying to remember the last time they asked someone--not a relative--to go to church with them. If ever.

The answer? Once every 28 years!

Now, admittedly, Lutherans, being descended from German and Scandinavian stock, are not the most demonstrative people in the world. A handshake is too much touching for some of us. But, still...

Somewhere along the line, it became uncool to be a Christian. While gays dress up and parade in the streets over the recent Supreme Court ruling, Christians have made it a point not to talk about their faith. When someone asks, "What did you do this past weekend?" no one ever answers, "I went to church." Or almost no one.

At one of my jobs, we had a Muslim woman working for us who followed the traditional practices. She dressed in layers of clothing much too warm for the Arizona desert and, as a result, kept the thermostat in her area in the uncomfortable I'm-going-to-freeze range for the rest of us. Since her office adjoined the main conference room, we all learned to bring in sweaters or sweatshirts for meetings. She also used the conference room as a prayer room several times a day. We felt embarrassed when we accidentally intruded on her.

I'm not saying that this woman should not have been allowed to practice her faith. What I am saying is that she did it openly, in the workplace, while the Christian workers were careful to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" during the holiday season.

I blame Madalyn Murray O'Hare. As a result of her actions as founder and president of American Atheists, the Supreme Court ruled against both officially sanctioned prayer and Bible readings in schools in the early sixties. While prior to that it was not unusual to have a prayer or Bible reading during school assemblies or events, afterwards no school dared to reference religion for fear of groups of atheists descending on them and filing lawsuits. It even became questionable to study the Bible as literature or history.

Christians have learned to avoid talking about their faith. For a long time, I thought this was because most people didn't believe in it any more. Recently I've realized that it's not that people don't believe; it's because they've gone into the closet.

As I neared retirement, I found myself asked what I was going to do with all my free time. I answered that I was going to write mystery novels. When they asked if I'd completed one, I said yes. The follow-up question, of course, was what it was about. Most people said they'd like to read it. I then cautioned that it was edgy Christian fiction. Cautioned. Because it's really easy to get negative reactions from non-believers when they find out your novel has a Christian worldview. Just check some of the reviews of Christian fiction on Amazon. Amazingly enough, to me anyway, was that everyone said they still wanted to read my book.

I went to the security office to turn in my parking permit my next-to-last day on the job. As usual, the guard said she was envious and wanted to know what I was going to do. Having nothing to lose, because this was the first and--probably the last--time I'd ever see this woman, I told her about the writing and added that members of my church had told me they had plenty of volunteer work I could do if I got bored. Her eyes lit up and she enthused about how much time she'd spend at her church if she didn't have to work during the day.

I was at the bank on Wednesday, moving money around in my accounts because of my retirement. As we were wrapping up, the bank officer commented, "I like your cross." Now, I usually wear my cross inside my clothes. More of that not wanting to push my faith in anyone's face stuff. But frequently it slips out into view. It's nothing special, not a gorgeous piece of jewelry, just a plain gold cross on a plain gold chain. But I've often got complements on it. We had a brief conversation on crosses we'd lost and found before wrapping up the business part of my visit.

So what is the reason Christians so infrequently invite people to church? The answer is fear of rejection. I think we think too much about those people who write the negative reviews and not about the security guard and the bank officer. Maybe if we asked one of those people we were afraid of being told no by, they might surprise us. They might have been waiting to be asked.

Photo Credits:
Church: By Mateus Hidalgo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-br (], via Wikimedia Commons
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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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