Monday, November 21, 2016

A few Sami drawings

Here are a couple of details from a lovely old map, showing Sami boats and boat-makers.

Obviously this map was intended to be more of an entertaining conversation/educational map than something you would use for navigation.

Different maps have different purposes.

And here are some very old Sami drawings of their own boats.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Sea Sami and their Boats

 Although the Sami are most famous for their reindeer, many, if not most, were traditionally fishermen who lived on the edges of the fjords and built strong, sea-worthy boats.
 Traditional Sami boats were often made without nails. Instead, the boats were "laced," their boards stitched together with cords made from various local materials, like leather or plant fibers.

 Sami boats were popular with their more southern neighbors, the Scandinavians. The Scandinavians bought many boats from Sami builders.
Here is an old picture of the inside of a permanent Sami house, from a Sami fishing (Sea Sami) community. The Sea Sami were sedentary--they didn't follow herds of reindeer around, but tended to stay in one place.

In the picture to the right, you can see fish drying in the background on two poles.
 Since the seashores of northern Europe are very cold, the walls of Sami houses had to be very thick to keep families warm through the winter.

Families built houses out of whatever materials they had on hand--where wood was common, they used wood. Where wood wasn't common, people built houses out of stone or sod (dirt.) Some of the oldest still-standing houses in the world were built of stone and surrounded by sod in very cold places, thousands of years ago. A stone house is very sturdy and can last for a very long time, after all.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Picture Post: Sami

I have so got to clean out my research files, so here are a few gems.

Here is a Sami family with reindeer, (courtesy of Wikipedia,) taken around 1900. (Traditional Sami clothing was not as brightly colored as more modern festive clothing, which I like very much.)

And here is an old photo of what looks like the same family with their summer home, (also from Wikipedia) in style much like the tipis of North America or the yurts of the Eurasian steppes. This doesn't mean the Sami got their tipis from the Native Americans, or vice versa.

Mobile people have always had to keep their belongings few and easy to pack, including their homes. The tipi is a very efficiently designed home for a mobile people, and thus more than one group has likely hit upon the idea, independent of each other.

Location of Sami homeland in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia (map also from Wikipedia.) The Sami are the most northerly ethnic group in Europe, traditionally making their living by herding reindeer (for which they are famous) and fishing (for which they are less famous.) Living so far north meant the Sami couldn't adopt intensive agriculture, as was common throughout southern Europe, because it was too cold and the growing season was just too short.

(The Scandinavian settlement in Greenland struggled and ultimately failed to grow enough food during their short, cool summers.)

Friday, September 23, 2016


Brian Froud's Faeries was the most important book of my teenagerhood.

I couldn't see that at the time, despite the fact that I carried the book with me everywhere, to school and back, until the covers came clean off. In art class I drew creatures from the book; in English class I tried to write about them. I tried to hurry through math so I could get back to my fantasies.

When asked which books were important or influential in my life, I mumbled, threw up my hands, and blurted out the names of whatever I had most recently read.

When you're deep in the forest, it's difficult to tell which tree is the tallest.

That was back in the days before online bookstores and ubiquitous, constant internet. I had heard, vaguely, from some source--likely the back of a magazine or the pages of some other book--about this book full of wonderful pictures of fairies. A book I clearly had to have. It took two years to find that book, and a good deal of begging to convince my parents to buy it for me. (They objected to the artistic nakedness.)

I've moved often since the end of highschool, and unfortunately, books are heavy. I've had to make many strategic purges of my collection--some wise, some I regret, though they were probably necessary. Today I borrow far more books from the library than I used to--feeding my love of the printed page while protecting my future back.

But I still have that battered, worn, taped-up copy of Faeries. It's not going anywhere.

Friday, September 16, 2016


Listening to Wagner's Ring Cycle and thinking about dwarves.

They're a pretty standard character in the fantasy writers' domain. Hardworking, honest, industrial: they're the background of many a far-flung economy, the quiet toilers who get the ore dug and smelted and don't ask for much in return besides some music and ale.

Though there may be whole cities or kingdoms of dwarves, in fairytales they're associated with loners and outcasts. They scuttle about rocky moors after dark or entertain misshapen hunchbacks and lost travelers.

Folklore speaks little of dwarven women; Tolkien supposed that they, too, sported beards, and so were indistinguishable from the men. Others have supposed that dwarves have no women and simply spring fully formed from the stones.

Mostly I suppose that dwarven women keep to themselves, and do not dally in human company. But on nights when the rain falls like a river and the power goes out, I favor the stones.

I am quite fond of dwarves.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia: Wroclaw's dwarfs

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Business of Writing

It's been an exciting year. I've started two new children's book projects, which I hope to be able to say more about soon :)

Perhaps just as importantly, I've been learning about the business end of the industry.

You see, when you begin writing, it's generally because you have some story you desperately want to write, some diamond tale crying out in your soul. So you devote yourself, hour after hour, to crafting your masterpiece. And when it's done, some ignoramus with no appreciation for art informs you that there isn't really a market for a 120,000 word YA Western about a 25 yr old ghost who finds love after nursing his ailing mother through cancer in the Tardis.

At this point, compromising your "vision" for the sake of mere "marketability" seems horribly distasteful, and the whole business is rather like discovering that your mother doesn't actually think you're a brilliant artist.

But if you really love writing (and I hope you do, because if you're trying to break into this industry to make money, you're going to be sorely disappointed,) then you're probably overflowing with ideas. I don't know about you, but I get new ideas every day.  With so many ideas to chose from, why not pick the one that the most people are going to enjoy?

Writing specifically for a particular audience is not "selling out;" it's having (and understanding) a purpose.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Future Published #5: Great Believers, by Elizabeth Larivee

Hello and welcome to Future Published, where I interview promising new writers whose work I have read and believe deserves to be published. Today's fabulous author is Elizabeth Larivee, who has traveled all the way from the speakeasies of 1920s Boston to tell us about her new book, GREAT BELIEVERS.

So, tell us about your novel. What inspired you to write this story?

Ms. Larivee: Great Believers is about a flapper who decides to try and take down the mob when she learns they’re working with government officials to purposefully poison booze to unsuspecting people. It’s set in the dimly lit speakeasies of Boston, Massachusetts during the notorious Jazz Age.
I can't remember how, but I started to become fascinated with the 1920s. I knew I wanted to write a story that took place during Prohibition. I watched Ken Burn's Prohibition and in the documentary they talked about a woman named Louis Long. She wrote speakeasy reviews for The New Yorker and that was when the story for Rosemary started to emerge. When I found out the government had purposefully poisoned alcohol to scare people from drinking, I knew I had to write about a character who tries to expose them.  

Who was your favorite character to write?

Ms. Larivee: My favorite character to write about was definitely Rosemary. She was so much fun, and I loved taking her to the speakeasies. Those were some of my favorite scenes to write about with her.

What motivates your characters?

Ms. Larivee: I think what motivates a lot of my characters is a search for justice. A lot of the people I write about tackle moral and political issues from different time periods. They want to expose the truth about the society they are living in and will do whatever it takes to achieve it.  

What kinds of moral questions do your characters wrestle with?

Ms. Larivee: My character, Rosemary, is in love with a bootlegger. While he’s trying to save money for his family, he is still breaking the law and works with the mob. By exposing the mobsters and their “political connections,” she also risks exposing him and could get him into trouble. Her boyfriend, Aiden, also has to come to turns with the fact that he unknowingly delivered a tainted bottle of hooch to a man who later died from alcohol poisoning.

How do you feel about killing off characters?

Ms. Larivee: Honestly, I don’t find it that hard. If it needs to be done for the story, then I’m surprisingly comfortable with killing someone off. I usually plot my stories out so I know who is going to get it in the end. In a way I’ve already mentally prepared myself to say goodbye to them.

Tell us a little about yourself. What are you reading these days?

Ms. Larivee: I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction set in the early 20th century. Right now, I am really like reading books by Beatriz Williams. I like her snappy prose. It’s very fun and modern, but still also grounded in historical accuracy. Recently, I finished The Light between the Oceans and I loved it. Another great read about life in the 20s after World War I.

What are you working on now? Do you have a sequel planned, or something new?

Ms. Larivee: The next thing I'm working on is a story about suffragettes and the passing of the 19th Amendment. It's a part of our nation's history that I feel is often overlooked. I'm really excited about this latest project and have already started writing it.

What's your favorite kind of coffee?

Ms. Larivee: My favorite kind of coffee depends on the season. Right now, I really like getting cold coffee and I have a slight addiction to Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino. In a few months, though, I will be one of those many white girls drinking pumpkin spice lattes in boots.

It's my observation that books seem to reflect their writers. What aspect of you is reflected in your book?

Ms. Larivee: Like my characters, I also want to see justice in the world. I try to keep up with current events, and I can get really frustrated when things don't happen the way I want them to, politically speaking. You see horrible people get a lot of power or someone get convicted of a crime, but only serve a little jail time. Sometimes they aren't even convicted of the crime I feel like they committed. Anyways, I think I'm like my characters in that I want the truth to come out, and for everyone to get treated fairly. For any Harry Potter fans out there, my characters and I are all definitely Hufflepuffs.

Would you like to leave us with a quote from your book?

Ms. Larivee: “It (the 1920s) was a remarkable, exhilarating time to be alive. It was when the brassy notes of Duke Ellington played in dim speakeasies. Mobsters befriended politicians while couples danced the Charleston and fell in love.” She smiled as she thought of Aiden. His golden smile still haunted her dreams and filled her with hope. “Since those days, the world has changed so much, but then so little at the same time. The sun still rises in the east and the tides still move. My parents tell me the world is going to hell, but folks have said that since the time of Moses. There was—and still is—hope to be had. Despite this wretched crash, the Jazz Age has taught me there’s still love to be found and something to believe in.”  

Just lovely. Thank you so much for joining us today!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

*That queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you query an agent who seems like a perfect fit for your book, and you hope they think so, too.*

Monday, June 6, 2016

some cetaceans

A remarkable double-tusked narwhal skull.

Dolphin fresco from the ancient Greek Palace at Knossos.

A pod of narwhals.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Ancient Whales: Odobenocetops

Odobenocetops was a small whale with two long tusks who lived about 11-5 million years ago in what is now Peru and Chile. They look kind of like a cross between a narwhal and a walrus, (though they are not closely related to walruses, which are probably pretty distant from whales in the grand evolutionary tree.) They are related to narwhals, though--but scientists think the giant, backwards-pointing tusk may be just a coincidence--"convergent evolution"--because in Narwhals, the tusk grows from a tooth on the left side, and in odobenocetops, the main tusk grows from a tooth on the right side. Plus, their tusks grow in opposite directions.<br>
Still, it's a remarkable animal. 

Monday, May 23, 2016


The Narwhal and Beluga Whale are (somewhat) closely related species, similar in size, shape, and color (but not tusks.)
Narwhals live near the polar sea ice. Their tusks probably help them keep breathing holes open through the long arctic winters.

The narwhal and beluga should probably be actually called "dolphins," rather than whales. They are in the superfamily Delphinoidea, which contains dolphins, porpoises, belugas and narwhals.
Of course, dolphins (and all Delphinoideas) are themselves members of the "toothed whale" sub-order of whales, but one does not normally call a bottlenose dolphin a whale!
Here is a beluga:

I think it looks much more "dolphin" than whale. :)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Quest for the Narwhal

I've started a new Middle Grade boy's adventure novel tentatively named "Quest for the Narwhal." The first draft of chapter one is finished; I now just have the entire rest of the book to go. :) I'll let you know when it's finished!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Passover

I can't quite tell what's going on here, but I think they are baking matzah.