Posts Tagged ‘under the pier’

The Post – Under the Pier: Creature Features – Introduction

July 27, 2008

As mentioned previously, one strong theme in my book is the sea life of Narragansett Bay, a deep deep love of mine. Many critters are scattered throughout my book and the only dilemma is that people may not know who they are.

In an effort to solve this problem, I am creating a “visual glossary” of the sea life. I will provide some text from one of the sea life reference books to give some background on this fish, and an illustration. I am trying to decide which medium works best to create this illustration – either an oil painting or a pen & ink drawing with watercolor wash. So in the following entries, I may provide one or the other, or both.

Coming up next – installment number 1 of Under the Pier: Creature Features

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The Gift

March 26, 2008

In keeping with my “photo gifts” kind of mood this week, as well as my “Under the Pier” posting today, some new shots of Admiral Byrd waving at you.

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He has got to be the crab equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger given he holds that claw up for MANY hours a day, every day now. I should be so buff…..

I will also note that while he waves that claw so diligently in his attempts to flag down women, he is very pragmatic and can multi-task. He can keep that large claw in the air and wave it back and forth, even as he manages to pick up a shrimp pellet with the other claw and eat. The guy’s gotta keep up his strength, right? πŸ™‚

The Post: Under the Pier – Place as Character, Part II: Specific Story Locations and the β€œReal Story” Behind Them

March 26, 2008

In this entry I’m going to talk strictly about the human story locations. I’ll deal with the animal locations in a later segment on physical and geographical details of the setting.

For the human side of the story – Max’s world – the setting could be broken down into the town, places outside of the town, and the bay itself.

Some specific locations in the story’s town include:

  • Max’s home area – a residential street sandwiched between the local business district on Main Street on one side, and the auto body shops, shipping repair shops and commercial wharfs, on the other
  • The diner area of town – centrally located, it contains Main Street’s local business district, the schools and church.
  • Uptown – the fancy boutiques, expensive hotels and restaurants along with art galleries, museums, the hospital, civic buildings and the library;
  • The areas south and west of the diner are industrial in nature, and east of the diner right on the waterfront, there are welders, electricians, ice houses, a sailor’s assistance shelter, soup kitchens, etc.
  • Lighthouse point – at the upper end of the point, close to town, a state park along the shore; a little further down the road, there is the Naval research base on one side and an exclusive yacht and sports club on the left bordered by sand dunes with the burned out remains of an old mansion and carriage house from the 1800s; at the end of the road – old stone warehouse buildings that now serve as research labs, the wooden pier, a lighthouse on a rocky point to the left of the pier, rocky outcroppings with tide pools to the right of the pier, and an old Civil War fort, on the Naval Base land, that overlooks the pier and labs, and is open to the public as a museum.

Outside the town:

  • A local university marine research facility including an ocean-going vessel and dock

The bay:

  • Ecological disaster restoration sites out in Narragansett Bay where environmental researchers plant eelgrass shoots to restore the bay’s destroyed eelgrass beds and seed the areas with baby quahogs – hard shell clams – to restore shellfish populations
  • An upweller site – essentially a farm to raise baby clams and oysters used to reseed other areas

In considering the town, I needed ask some questions such as:

Is this an upscale affluent area? A low-income blue collar industrial or commercial fishing area? Are there homeless shelters or condos? Are the store fronts vibrant and thriving? Empty? Are there boutiques or thrift shops? Vegetarian restaurants or diners? Is this a “border” area where two worlds collide? How do the people on either side of the tracks react to each other?

Is this a newly established area or does it have a history dating back to the 1600s? Are there universities, military installations, factories? Does the commercial area involve banks and high finance, or boat repairs, metal shops, and welders? Or both?

What are the ethnic groups in the region? Is there a prevailing religion? Is it an old town where things “used to be this way” but are falling into disrepair or customs that are now disregarded? Superstitions? What are the prevailing attitudes on politics, work, family and friends? Is the area conservative? Liberal? Apathetic?

Based on these and other questions I came up with the following:

Under the Pier takes place in a fictional Rhode Island port town that’s a crossroads between the pampered and the struggling. It’s reflective of a lot of places in New England, manual laborers right next to rich tourists and the well-do-do. It is based on no one town in particular, but is more a blend of the many places I lived in or experienced over the years, places that run the range from industrial, commercial fishing, and laboring, to museums, boutiques, fancy restaurants, and art galleries. They have a heavy basis in blue collar and immigrant populations and while there’s a variety of religions, many of the people at least used to be Roman Catholic.

Examples of some of the towns included as influences for this story are: Newport, Providence and Middletown, Rhode Island; Torrington, Winsted, Waterbury, Bridgeport, and Farmington Connecticut; Fall River, Seekonk, Gloucester, Provincetown, Boston, Woods Hole and New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Places like Farmington Connecticut and Boston Massachusetts have affluent or very successful upscale flavors to them. Many of the other towns reflect the reality that times used to be better in the past. Manufacturing used to be a staple of the region’s economy. Now that has declined or almost totally left the area, though many old factory buildings remain. Commercial fishing, always a difficult way of life, has become a real struggle, and the towns themselves struggle with aging infrastructures like bridges, roads, parks, hospitals, etc., many in decline due to the loss of tax revenue that the manufacturing industry used to bring.

The town and surrounding areas are saturated with the influences, flavors, structures and artifacts of many eras in American history:

– Puritan Pilgrims and their intense work ethics; independent types like Roger Williams who left established colonies for the wilderness of places like Rhode Island so they could live the way they wanted; stubborn colonial farmers battling poor land; independent types who produced some of the leaders of the American Revolution, the literary world, industry and business

– Historic landmarks like old forts, statehouses, battle sites etc.

– The churches, schools, convents, and fraternal club buildings built by turn-of-the century (early 1900s) immigrants to New England, from Ireland, Eastern Europe, and Italy.

– Turn of the century industrial buildings when the area bustled with work, workers, and possibilities in the area mills. Money was tight and the hours long, hard and dangerous, but there were jobs to be had, especially during the busy days of World War II.

– Support businesses that grew up around those factories like, corner grocery stores, diners, hardware stores, newspaper offices and their printing facilities, Five-and-dime stores like Woolworth’s, etc.

– Left-over World War II military installations, forts, anti-aircraft gun mounts, ammo bunkers. Some are still in use, some boarded up and abandoned, some razed, and some converted to other uses. For example, some of the old ammo bunkers were converted into research laboratories at the University of Rhode Island.

– Continued US Naval military presence including advanced underwater naval weapons research

– Ivy league colleges and renowned universities with cutting-edge research programs that often overlap with military objectives and budgets

Regarding Max’s home – she lives right at the edge of both worlds, in her grandmother’s three-family house. Her grandmother worked all her life in the diner, while her grandfather drove a truck for Grunder’s Moving and Storage after a stint in the army, in Vietnam. In spite of their lower standing on the economic ladder, they still owned their own home. It’s not fancy like the single-family homes in the richer parts of town, but still, it’s theirs. It’s more practical – a three-family house, which means you can rent out at least one floor for additional income. In Max’s case, her grandmother rents out the first floor apartment – to Vince Santelli, the somewhat mysterious eldest son of Rosa, the old woman who runs the diner. Max and her grandmother live on the second floor. Their apartment is pretty comfortable since Max’s grandparents converted the third floor attic into additional living space. Max’s grandparents managed to send two of their three children to college, and the only reason Max’s mom didn’t go was out of choice – she wanted to be an artist. All in all, while not a rich or pampered life, Max’s grandparents did okay for themselves.

Max lives next door to her best friend, Noah Olansky. His is a military family – his dad is a drill instructor for the Marine Corps, while his mom manages the local exclusive sports club. Again – not a rich existence, but still, they have a home, access to some nice perks, good schools, and they have ambitions for their son that they have a reasonable chance of achieving. In addition, they too collect extra income by renting the first floor apartment of their house to the elderly twin sisters, Mildred and Margaret Stoltz. It’s considered a perfect arrangement. Noah’s parents get tenants who pay on time and regularly, don’t destroy the place or have late-night parties, and are stable. The two older women get a safe place to live, reasonable rent, help from Noah and his mom, and live close to their friends and the things important to them.

Behind Max and Noah’s houses are stand-alone garages, and behind those, an overgrown wooded area that buffers their backyards from the backyard of the auto body shop and the commercial wharves on the next street. So it is a residential street right on the fringes of blue collar businesses.

Rosa Santelli, who runs the diner, lives in the central area of town, right in the middle of all the businesses. She has a living situation representative of that segment of society that started out in modest quarters, right next to their growing businesses, and stayed there even as the area declined. Rosa lives in a small apartment on the back side of the Grunder’s Moving Company. This is not an uncommon occurrence in urban areas, to have back alley apartments behind commercial businesses. She has lived there all her life with her husband until he died. They raised their sons there and it is conveniently located right next to her 24-hour-a-day diner. As is the case with those arrangements, it still suits her as everything she values in life or needs, is right there. Her church is right up the street, the diner is next door, the florist who sells her roses for her diner is in a storefront next door, along with the Laundromat she uses for free, the hair salon where she gets her hair cut. She is friends with all of these people and has been for years. They look out for each other.

Rosa’s apartment is also two doors down from the apartment Max and her mom lived in when they moved back to town from Cape Cod, six months ago. The apartment location placed them down the street from Max’s school, next door to her mom’s job in the Grunder’s office, not far from the art galleries her mom was trying to break into, and close enough, YET far enough away from Max’s grandmother. It had the added perk of being high enough, located on the second floor, so they could look out on the harbor and Narragansett Bay.

The businesses on Main Street clustered around the diner, reflect the nature of the area: a fish and bait shop, an Army and Navy store, marine supplies, a fish market, hardware store, grocery store, hair shop, photo shop, florist, gas and oil company, and a Laundromat. The local fire station, bowling alley, and liquor store are around the corner, and all these people know each other, support each other, look out for each other, and share food and fun with each other. For example, Rosa and all the local business ladies get together every Friday night at the diner for their poker group.

Gambling and games of chance are pretty standard things in the area and there’s a long history of it, especially in the ethnic communities. For example, one of my grandmothers and her friends would catch the afternoon bus to Pennsylvania , play bingo for the night, then get home early the next morning because the cash prizes were bigger in Pennsylvania bingo games than those in Connecticut. Local churches always ran a turkey bingo at Thanksgiving and raffles during the summer.

My other grandmother would attend early Sunday Mass then catch the bus to Green Mountain, Vermont to go to the racetrack (horses). It was a very common thing for my dad, uncles, and family friends to take a day off during the summer to head to New York’s Aqueduct horse race track, or for us to go up to the Saratoga racetrack for a day trip as a family. My grandmother knew horses, jockeys, and win-loss statistics. I knew very early on the different betting rules of the race track, such as what the Daily Double (predict the winners in two consecutive races) was, and I knew that the Latin prefix “tri” meant three, because you had to predict three things – the horses for first, second and third place in a race to win a Trifecta. I knew at a young age that you won the most money if you bet on a horse to win, but stood a better chance of getting some kind of payout, if you bet on the horse to place or show. And you always, always, checked your ticket and your change before you walked away from the betting booth.

As time went on, the state added lottery games. Jai Alai came to Connecticut from Florida. The world of betting became upscale with fancy off-track-betting facilities, lavish casinos with entertainment that rivaled Vegas run by the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe in Connecticut (Foxwood), or the large casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Jersey is just a long day trip away, either by bus or limo. So all of this is a part of life there.

Moving north from the center of town is the more upscale area frequented by tourists and the wealthier of the town. Museums, boutiques, bistros, fancy restaurants, art galleries, the hospital, and the city’s civic buildings are all there. A walk through Newport Rhode Island gives as good an example of that as any place.

In contrast areas west and south of the diner are heavily industrial as well as military. East of the diner, on the other side of Max’s street, and you are at the waterfront of the harbor. Again, blue-collar, generally commercial boating and fishing industries and support services dominate this area, along with soup kitchens and a Seamen’s Assistance House that provides shelter and support to sailor’s in need of a place to stay between jobs. This last one is based on a similar facility on the Newport, Rhode Island waterfront.

Heading out of town you can either head further inland, toward the rest of Rhode Island and the university in the story, or you can head out toward Lighthouse Point – a large strip of land jutting out into the water on the outer edge of the harbor. Past this point are the open waters of Narragansett Bay and then the open Atlantic. While again a fictional location, a look at the geography of the land surrounding Narragansett Bay, for that matter, right in the Newport area, would show countless inlets, harbors, rocky coves and jetties of land that could match Lighthouse Point in description.

As mentioned above, the story’s pier is at the end of Lighthouse point, along with the research labs. To some extent, the campus setup for the research area was loosely based on facilities at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.

To the left of the pier, on a rocky point, is the lighthouse that shines out on the waters between the town’s harbor and Narragansett Bay. To the right of the pier are the tide pools and the rocky tail end of land as it meets the bay. Overlooking the pier area from the hill above it, is the old Civil War fort. It is located on land owned by the Naval base and is run as a museum. The Point also has the Naval base for underwater weapons research, the exclusive sports club Noah’s mom manages, the burned-out remains of the haunted carriage house and mansion and a state park on the south edge of the point.

Out in Narragansett Bay, my story characters have been to eelgrass restoration sites, shellfish restoration sites, and an upweller installation – a farm where seed clams and oysters are raised to later be used in the above restorations.

Some of the real-life locations that inspired the above story sites include places like Fort Adams , an active military fort from 1824-1950 and now a museum, that overlooks the Newport harbor, as well as the many exclusive yacht clubs there. Narragansett Bay has many operating lighthouses, as well as state parks, and rocky points, tide pools, and wooden piers abound.

About ghosts. Well, frankly, I think most of New England is haunted, and Rhode Island is no exception. Brenton Point State Park in Newport, Rhode Island has the plant-shrouded remains of a supposedly haunted building, and the Cliff Walk along the water by Newport’s exclusive mansions, as well as some of the mansions themselves, have their own stories of ghosts and hauntings. A number of these are in the book: Haunted Newport, by Eleyne Austen Sharp, though the Brenton Point one I learned about firsthand from someone when we visited the area.

The stone buildings that make up the research labs were based on many of the old warehouses and mill building scattered around places like Lowell and Fall River, Massachusetts. The main lab building is modeled on an old stone building in Woods Hole, Massachusetts – the Candle House – that has a model of a sailing ship mounted over its doorway.

I created the story of the ship’s captain building the stone warehouses, lighthouse, and mansion out on the point, but even there, it is based in reality. On a trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia one summer, I dined in a restaurant right on the waterfront that dated to the 1800s and was built to hold goods for trade coming in on the ocean-going vessels. The same is true of waterfront buildings in many New England ports, including Boston.

Regarding the story’s secret Naval research base, it mirrors the current reality in that region. Military installations and research labs are prevalent throughout the area, being in close proximity to large universities doing cutting-edge research in electronics, robotics etc. The Naval base doing underwater weapons research on Lighthouse Point is based very loosely on The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport Rhode Island, and on the area research projects sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. NUWC’s website describes the center as: “the Navy’s full-spectrum research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support center for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, and offensive and defensive weapons systems associated with undersea warfare.”

There are also the “leftover military infrastructure relics” from World War II that can still be found in the area – decommissioned bases that became wildlife research stations, remnants of anti-aircraft gun emplacements and artillery batteries on the hillsides overlooking the water, and old ammo bunkers. On the last – there are a few research labs at the University of Rhode Island that are actually converted ammunition bunkers. They are coveted because they can be easily controlled for temperature and humidity, and they have no sun-lit windows to interfere with experiments.

The University of Rhode Island has an extensive marine biology research program at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography right on Narragansett Bay. This includes the ocean-going research vessel, R/V Endeavor, docked right at the school.

A few remaining settings are out in the bay itself: eelgrass restoration programs and shellfish seeding at the sites of polluted areas. These are based on actual restoration projects such as for the 1996 North Cape oil spill, the 1989 Prodigy oil spill, the coastal superfund hazardous waste site at the Newport Naval Education and Training Center at McAllister Point off Newport, and others.

The details for the side trip to a clam farm or upweller site, where baby clams are raised for later transplantation to other areas, came from a number of websites found on Google searches.

Next up: So How DO You “See” A Fictional Town?

The Post – Update Time – Fiddler Pregnancy and Book “Delivery”

March 22, 2008

Well the fiddler crab, Scarlett O’Hara’s pregnancy progresses well. I am through “labor and delivery” with Under the Pier’s second draft, and we had an RIP moment for my laser printer, which died trying to print the last two chapters of that draft.

Now, to expand on each just a bit:

Scarlett O’Hara is busy eating or just sitting behind the air filter, in the main fiddler crab tank. Her pregnancy progresses with no odd happenings. Her “nursery” tank is doing well – water parameters are fine and salinity was down to 1.012 when I diluted the water, earlier in the week. I will recheck water parameters and salinity tomorrow in the nursery tank. If they are fine, I will most likely move Scarlett over to that tank Monday or Tuesday. We first noticed her carrying eggs on Monday the 17th. On Sunday the 16th, we saw no evidence of eggs, but that’s when she was spending days living on top of the water filter, sitting in the water currents. So best guess here, is that Monday will be one week. The last time she delivered her babies, it was just about two weeks. So I will move her to the nursery early this coming week. Also, I will shut down the water filter again and just leave the air bubbler running.

I picked up eggs and supplies to hatch brine shrimp and will talk more about that tomorrow. I also picked up a liquid food geared toward larval invertebrates, that is a good brine shrimp substitute. NO MORE LIVE PHYTOPLANKTON. I’m hoping that sticking to the zooplankton food approach will work better and not end up with high nitrites that kill off the babies. So more on this tomorrow and this week.

I spent most of the day on Good Friday, polishing the last chapter of Under the Pier’s second draft. It is finished. Of course it needs more work, but at least now it is a real book. There are no giant piles of fix-it cards or empty places in the chapters where I still had to figure out something or add in a description. Next up in the project:

1) Continue on with the posts about writing Under the Pier – I left off on location as character and Part II of that coming up this week will be more info about specific locations in the story — which though fiction, are amalgamations of real places, as well as how I researched them.

2) I will be putting together the submission package for a couple of editors from last year’s Carolinas – SCBWI conference. These packages include three sample chapters, chapter summaries, and any other info I want to include. At least according to one editor. I have a “map of my story’s town,” a schematic of the diner and the diner area, a smaller map of the area around Max’s house, a schematic of Max’s house, a glossary, probably a bibliography of some of the sources including research papers and the researchers I talked to….and of course, this blog’s address. πŸ™‚

3) Start draft three. This time, I can now read through “completed” chapters, and listen out loud to their rhythm, see where they bog down, see where they need more “sensory details” and also go through the large “revision” charts I made up to see if I’ve covered everything. A later post will cover what I compiled for those revision charts.

Re the demise of my laser printer – FRUSTRATING!!!! I was halfway through printing the last two chapters when it seized up and died. Now I can’t really complain. I’ve had that printer almost 7 years and have printed thousands of pages. I got my money’s worth out of it. I was just hoping not to have to a) deal with buying a new printer just to finish printing my book and b) spend the money now. But…. c’est la vie. We now have a new HP Laserjet P3005dn. I need to make it my friend. πŸ™‚

Anyway, that’s the state of affairs here. Oh, and also, given the impending draft three of the book, I need to get going on “Creature Features” So stay tuned!

The Post – Good Friday…Last Book Chapter

March 21, 2008

It is Good Friday. A day for some reason, I have always loved. That, Lent, and Holy Thursday. Easter itself, I hate. It always seemed like such a noisy unnecessary thing after the sanctity of the soul’s connection to God on Thursday and Friday.

I loved growing up in Catholic school and going to Mass every morning. Six days a week while in grammar school, I was in Mass. Six days a week for 8 years, I listened to the stories of Jesus’s life. They were as real to me as my family, truly meaningful, and enjoyed as much as Nancy Drew. The readings that cycled every year, dictated by the seasons of the liturgical calendar were as much a part of my life and soul as the leaves changing color, skies staying steely gray, and the crisp cold that smelled of snow dictated by the changing seasons of New England.

Every year there was a constancy, a rhythm, something you could count on to return to. No matter what else happened in life – those were my touchstones. Raking leaves into piles you could jump into, short days and long nights, cold Halloweens with orange full moons in costumes bought at the discount store, my grandfather bringing pails of sand/salt mix home from the Town Garage, the rhythm of those happenings matched the Advent wreath candles and the church readings as we marched toward Christmas.

The anticipation of Christ’s birth matched the anxiety of waiting for Santa Claus. Midnight Mass in a candle-lit church, boughs of pine branches decorating the walls and door arches, being with all those old Slovak immigrants I knew so well, who built that church, even the way they filled the pews inside – old men on one side in the back, old women on the other side in the back, the younger families (unsegregated) in the rows in front of them – all those images and happenings was as much loved and needed by me, as going home to open presents. In looking back, I think actually, that those moments in the church surrounded by those people, those images, those sights, sounds, and smells, are what I remember more than going home and opening presents.

While the church images are crisp, the presents are kind of a fog. A few stand out: a Jon Gnagy art set, a microscope with dissecting kit, a map-making set, my Dick Tracy machine gun with Marine Corps helmet, canteen, and pistol, and in ironic contrast – soft warm new flannel pajamas, and a plastic carrying case with new pretty underwear each one labeled for a day of the week. Perhaps the ones that stand out in my memory are there because they connected with those parts of who I really am. …as to the days-of-the-week underwear…maybe that’s why I love planners???? πŸ™‚ But the bottom line is that if I were told today that my memory was going and I could only retain certain memories and lose the rest, it is those memories of early weekday mornings in church, and holidays spent there, that I would choose.

So it is that same connection that continues to influence me throughout the rest of the year’s happenings and the rest of the year’s liturgical seasons. While I hate Easter – always HATED having to go buy a new dress and coat, then stand around like a china doll with an itchy crinolin slip, shiny shoes, straw hat and purse, and gloves (gloves – why wear something you always have to keep track of, in a season where it’s no longer cold enough to need them????), unable to run around with the boys in the backyard and have fun – I LOVED Lent, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Lent itself was about focus, commitment, ritual and stories. You focused on something – the coming trauma Jesus would go through. You gave something up – allowance money, candy, gum, whatever, for something bigger than yourself. (Though in our house, you were allowed to indulge on Sundays) You did the ritual of the Stations of the Cross around the Church, every Friday and listened to the gospel readings. For both of those, it was about “story.” Each station was a painted picture on the wall that told a part of the story of the crucifixion. The gospel gave the whole story.

Holy Thursday nights were processions in church, long litanies recited in Latin by visiting priests, the smell of the hyacinths we carried as we marched, the sense of being together again in that place where everyone I knew was going to be, and…the stories. The story of the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, Jesus being taken to the Sanhedrin and to Pilate, Peter denying he knew Jesus. I loved the stories. They were like old friends.

Good Friday was a time to hear the whole long, VERY long gospel, so long that halfway through, the priest would stop reading, turn and kneel silently for a minute or two, then stand and finish the rest. It was a day when my mom would make us turn off the radios and TV and keep things “quiet” so you could honor what that day meant. It was a time when the church was stripped bare to symbolically represent the loss of Jesus, and to contemplate what that meant. It was a day to think about a story’s march through rising problems, crisis, and climax, with the relief and resolution Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday would bring.

So here it is today, Good Friday again. I was standing in the bathroom this morning talking to my husband about what I was going to get done today. I said that originally I was going to go to the gym and swim but that I canned that idea. I wanted this last chapter revision of my book finished today, no matter what. I said that it just felt like it needed to be today. He made a joke about it being like our son’s birth- our son was two weeks late, wouldn’t leave even when I started eating Mexican food, had to be induced, and during the last stages of labor I literally remember telling him to “Get out!”

I said, no it wasn’t about labor, but something about the fact it was Good Friday. And I wasn’t sure why. Just felt for some reason, the “season” of my book, needed to match the liturgical season of the day. I said, “I don’t know why but it just feels like this book NEEDS to be finished today, like today is the right day. So the hell with the gym, I’m just going down in the garage (where I work) and finish this damned thing today. At the end of today, I just want to be able to say that this draft is finished.”

Now, I’ll still have “polishing and cutting work to do in the next draft but that will now be a whole different process, almost fun. This draft, like draft # one, was like giving birth, like creating and writing from scratch. Now, I can “play.” The agony of the creating and writing from scratch phase will “be finished.”

As soon as the word “finished” tumbled out of my mouth, the lines from the Gospel of John flashed in my brain:

“After this, Jesus knowing that all was now finished, said, to fulfill the scripture, ‘I thirst.’ A bowl of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:28-30)

So today is Good Friday, a day I have always loved, though I cannot tell you why, other than to say that always on Good Friday, something in my soul has felt complete. So today, I will honor the silent moments of the liturgical season, with the silence of completing my book. If it takes until midnight, I will finish today, so that the two stories shall meet in the single line: “It is finished.”

The Post – Life Advice on the Other End of the Spectrum

March 19, 2008

I did not ignore my posting today, just got caught up in revising two chapters of my novel, Under the Pier. I am one chapter’s revision away from being finished with the second draft. At least this time, it looks like a real book, instead of a pile of pages with 10000 “fix-it” cards flapping off the pages like lettuce. (Draft 1).

Given it’s late and I”m tired, and given that yesterday’s post was very serious with deep advice, I decided that the perfect balance to that is to seek “Life Advice on the Other End of the Spectrum,” ie “the ridiculous.” For that, one must seek out ….Nancy Drew.

I have this book, Clues for Real Life: The Classic Wit & Wisdom of Nancy Drew.” It’s compiled by Jennifer Fisher for Meredith Books. It’s a collection of humorous advice based on Nancy’s adventures in the original 56 yellow-spined books….the ones I grew up with…the only “true” Nancy Drew stories…though we won’t get into those 1930s original versions that are so politically incorrect it’s not only embarrassing but painful. I tend toward the 1950s/1960s versions of the stories. Most of the really offensive stuff was edited out.

Anyway, when you’ve really been pushed to your limits, I say, chuck the serious advice and go for the silly. I think even Eleanor Roosevelt and Pema Chodron might agree with me. So I leave you with a few bits of life wisdom, compliments of Nancy’s adventures and the anonymous author of this book.

“If someone’s trying to buy a house and it suddenly becomes haunted, it’s probably not a coincidence.” (The Hidden Staircase)

“A fashion-conscious sleuth always puts on her robe and slippers before she investigates things in the middle of the night.” (The Secret of the Golden Pavilion)

“When your special friend is coming over, you might get your housekeeper to serve cake and ice cream while wearing a pretty apron and cap.” (The Clue in the Diary)

“While waiting out an overheating car in the desert, it’s always refreshing to touch up your lipstick before your rescuers arrive.” (The Secret of Shadow Ranch)

and last but not least, advice on love:

“When your boyfriend is chloroformed and tied to a tree and he’s just disgusted with himself at being caught instead of you for getting him into this predicament, you know he likes you.” (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall)

Some other time I will have to give the tallies for how many times in these books, Nancy has been knocked unconscious, her car totaled, her house robbed, her father, housekeeper, best friends, boyfriend and her dog knocked unconscious. I figure by the time she is 40, the brain damage from getting hit over the head or chloroformed, will have set in and she probably can’t afford car insurance because of all the times she was run off the road by the villains.

Until then….

The Post: Under the Pier – Setting as Character, Part I

March 15, 2008

I’ve seen writing books and articles that talk about “setting” as character. For some stories setting may just be the convenient place to locate a tale that could happen anywhere. Though, I have to wonder if that’s really true. I suspect on some level, setting is always a character. I have to think the author chose the particular locations for a reason, if only to give a certain emotional feeling or atmosphere to the story.

In Under the Pier, it’s a main character. I can’t imagine it taking place in California, North Carolina, or even New Jersey. There is a unique combination of influences: history-from witches to rebellion to World War II; independent Yankees who kept farming or going to sea, refusing to quit and finding innovative solutions for their problems, even though the land stinks for farming and so many died at sea; ethnic and immigrant work ethics, religion and beliefs; family ties; blue collar industrial types, and a pragmatic, no-BS attitude that sees through and hates charm and flattery. That butts head-on against Yuppie, new money, old money, universities and the intellectuals. You have the heritage of rebels like Sam Adams, abolitionists like John Brown and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and those strange independent types who would spend a year living alone on Walden’s Pond writing a book, thrust face to face with investment bankers, world politics, and cutting edge research. Where else would a large town mayor be accused of Mafia ties and the people still want to keep him in office because he revitalized the region?

The climate is difficult – as steamy and hot as the south in the summer, yet bitter cold with Artic winds in the winter. The short growing season and poor land make it difficult to earn a living farming. The sea brings nor’easters and claims fishermen as karmic payment for men daring to venture out there. And yet, they keep going.

Crammed right in each other’s faces are the poor and rich, intellectual and backwoods, new and old. The small geographical area makes it a pressure cooker because it shoves these groups right in each other’s faces. Like all places where boundaries meet, the participants cross back and forth between the two sides all the time. You can walk into a diner on a tougher side of town and have a truck driver on one side of you and a neurosurgeon on the other. People are pragmatic. If they want good diner food, they go to where they can get it and it doesn’t matter what walk of life they come from. Tough blue collar dockworkers raise sons and daughters who go to Ivy league colleges and have letters after their names like “PhD.” In fact, it’s almost an unwritten law in those harder places that you make sure your kids work hard, “get an education” and get a job where they don’t have to “do what their parents had to do to get by.” In a culture where immigrants measure progress in generations, the force and focus is always on making sure that next generation moves up a notch and has that “security” the previous generation never had.

So in looking this over, if this isn’t a character in its own right, I don’t know what is.

Under the Pier is set in one of those boundary places that straddles the worlds of commercial fishermen, dockworkers, manual laborers, and factory workers, vs the “new moneyed” rich tourists who fill their restaurants, the higher class well-educated intellectuals, and old money.

Max lives in the world of diners and auto body shops, commercial fishermen and the wharfs downtown. Her grandmother, Connie, is a widow, and has worked in Rosa’s diner all her life. It’s where she met her husband who came back from Vietnam and drove trucks for Grunder’s Moving and Storage until he died. Her grandmother’s total focus was to make sure her kids had the security and respect she didn’t have when she grew up. It’s all about prestige, money, position, getting ahead, but it’s really about security. If you have the others, the thinking is, you have the security. Connie’s youngest son is one of those who have crossed the line. He’s a post-doctoral researcher dating another PhD whose love is all those undersea critters. Her oldest daughter is a business consultant married to a successful doctor and lives in an exclusive area in Farmington CT. The biggest worry of Connie’s life was that middle daughter, Alicia, Max’s mom, who threw caution out the window, followed her artistic heart to Cape Cod, and worried her mother to death because she rejected most of her mother’s values….at least on the surface.

So the “personality” of the place, creates the personalities of the people who live there. From those personalities and the fact they’re all thrown up against each other, you get, story conflict.

Coming up next: Place as Character, Part II: Specifics of the Story’s locations and the research behind them.

The Post – Admiral Byrd, A Comforting Constant in Life

March 14, 2008

It’s been a day of taxes and bills and other aggravations…enough to drive any sane person to the comfort of their fiddler crabs. πŸ™‚

Admiral Byrd has been robustly marching around the tank, and no matter if he’s on “gravel hill,” the top of his “fake cave” or perched on “live rock” he stands tall and waves his claw. We just walked back in the house from dinner and the first sight to greet us across the kitchen was Admiral Byrd waving. Now we know deep down inside that he really couldn’t care less about us unless we’re a female fiddler crab, but still, on a tired night we could live in denial and pretend our “pet” is welcoming us home.

On a bit more serious note, I received a great comment from someone about my post on the death of the fiddler babies and how the Discovery forum person, Horseyhannah, said not to even bother trying to raise babies.

This person currently has living crab larvae – day 3 – and she’s offered a lot of ideas from her own experiences. There is SUCH good information and several suggestions for fiddler crab owners in her comments. I wanted to first say THANK YOU! And secondly, for anyone who didn’t catch the comment, just click here to read it.

She noted that she doesn’t use substrate on the tank bottom, which is interesting to me. I have heard others who’ve done the same, so I think there might be some merit to that approach. For myself this time around I will use the calcium substrate, since by the time I got that post, I had already started setting up the nursery tank with the new sand. So I’ll see how the sand “experiment” goes. But still, her approach to not using substrate seems very interesting and if she wants to send any updates on how it’s going, that would be great. I imagine there are many others out there who’d like to know if that is a better way to go. So anyone with info on keeping the tank bottom bare, please do send along your experiences.

I also appreciated her kind comment about my blog postings – re my novel, the fiddlers, and my marriage. Many thanks. To respond to the requests in her comment:

1) – There are many more posts to come on the progress of my novel, Under the Pier, and about life in general.

2) – She asked if I could put all the fiddler crab posts together in one place for all those “crab junkies.” Well, have no fear – they already are. On the right-hand side of my main blog page, under the “Pages” listing, click on the page called:

“And What’s the Deal With All The Fiddler Crab Stuff”

Every fiddler posting is on that page with a live link to each and every post. So crab junkies – have a great time. πŸ™‚

For anyone who is following the progress of my “Author Journey,” or for the process and progress of my novel, Under the Pier, I’ve done the same thing. Each topic has a page with all the posts listed there, and live links to them.

If you should find your way to my blog on a page that doesn’t have the “Page list” on the right, just click on the Soul Mosaic words in my header and it will bring up the main day’s page. Then you’ll see the Page list on the right.

Well, I will re-group tomorrow. It is simply nice to know that in spite of irritating taxes and bills and other life annoyances, there are those constants like Admiral Byrd waving his claw no matter what time, day or night, that you walk in the room.

Happy Weekend to you all.

The Post – Preview of Coming Attractions

March 6, 2008

Companies have “Product Pipelines.” Teachers have “Lesson plans.” Movies have “Coming Attractions.”

Given that, I thought it was important to take a moment today to let everybody know “what’s coming” in the next few months on Soul Mosaic. The list below is not complete by any means, just some of the highlights farthest along in the planning stages:

Fiddler Crabs:

It remains to be seen whether the babies will make it or not, but I will continue to keep you posted. I see from the blog numbers this is a subject of high interest, so I will keep the updates coming.

As of today, the numbers of babies in the nursery tank has dropped dramatically. I am both sad and relieved. If thousands survived, they might have taken over my entire downstairs. However, I hope some make it. The parameters in the tank are good except for nitrites…the bane of all new tank setups. I am on my way right now to do a water change and see if that helps.

Hermit Crabs:

The next addition to the household in the near future will be 2-3 hermit crabs. I will be chronicling that from the very beginning, including what gear I buy and why, what happens when I “bring the babies home,” and how “life with hermit crabs” goes. Stay tuned for updates on when that will be happening.

Writing Posts:

There will be more posts to come on both My Author Journey, and the journey of Under the Pier as it moves through its process. I am pleased to report I am almost done with the second draft and will be starting both the third draft soon as well as putting together a submission proposal for a couple of editors. I will be sure to document the journey as it progresses. Topics still to come over the next several weeks and months in both of these areas:

1) Essays

From animals to God, geeks to kids, essays are how I speak. So more to come in this department

2) General Writing Journey

– The Writer’s House – That Swarming Bacteria, Proteus mirabilis

– Broken Bits – Encouragement for the Writer’s Soul From Beyond the Grave: A Nobel Laureate “Speaks”

– Writing Sanity: Do Something For Someone
3) More Topics for Under the Pier – Journey of a Novel

– Research Part III: Animal Character R&D

– Research Part IV: Setting as Character

– Three: The Mystical Number for Character Dynamics

– Test, Review, Retest, Analyze, Conclude

– Research Biblio- Diner Books

– Research Biblio – Nature Guides

– Writing the First Draft: If I Find One More Envelope Shred With a Story Note on It I’m Going to Scream!

– The First Draft is Done; What Now?

– So What’s Scribbled On All Those Revision Board Lists?

– What Writings Books Did I Use and Which Ones Did I Find Helpful?

– What Was Writing the Second Draft Like?

– What’s Coming Up for the Third Draft?

COMING SOON!!! A New Blog Category: Creature Features

As part of my preparation for Draft 3 of Under the Pier, I need to refresh my memory on all the critter descriptions. To really have those fish, birds, snails, and crustaceans breathing on the page requires vibrant details. So since I have to do a biology review of sorts, I thought I’d turn it into a creature of the day review for all of us. So – “Creature Features” coming VERY soon. (Appetizer: Did you know that an oyster toadfish can sound like an underwater foghorn?)

Photos and Art:

– New Macro photos coming soon. Since it’s Spring that means I can go back outside and crawl around the pond. Who knows what I’ll catch with my macro lens.

– “Photographic Journey of a Painting” – I will follow the journey of one of my oil paintings from rough sketches to explore composition arrangements, initial layers of paints, through finished product.

– Possibly Pastel: Given that I will be taking a 2 day seminar on Pastels in April, I may start exploring pastel art works and sharing those as well.

The Confusion:

What to do with the years and years worth of animal articles I have collected? – I have a box of news articles from the web collected over MANY years. It’s one of my quirks. I see an article about an animal, a cat who flew cross-country trapped in a plane’s insulation, a zoo animal playing with fabric softener dryer sheets, a 6-legged octopus, and I HAVE to print it out and keep it. My husband finds them for me now and sends them to me. Just like my feeling compelled to keep writing down the words “Mosaic” and “Broken Bits” over and over for the last few years until finally I realized it was my blog’s title and theme, I feel compelled to collect these articles.

The confusion in my mind is: WHAT SHALL I DO WITH THEM? I know I am supposed to do something with them… I FEEL it. But …what?

(Anybody have any flashes of insight????)
…And Last But Not Least: And Then There’s Bear

So, lots to come in the next few months, so stay tuned.

The Post: Fiddler Update – From Periods to Commas

March 4, 2008

Just a brief note today – buried in writing work, bills, and car stuff….reality creeps in. πŸ™‚

The fiddler babies continue to thrive. I notice the numbers are down in the tank, and we also noticed they seem to congregate on the right side of the tank, near to the live rock. They swim in and out of the live rock crevices, and some do wander to the other side of the tank to investigate the water filter which is not running at the moment. They probably figure it’s another cave because any babies over there tend to hover under or behind the non-running water filter. But even as tiny guys, they know to keep to shelter.

My husband diligently checks on them with the flashlight and noted that they are bigger…he commented that since birth they have grown from “periods” to “commas.” It will be interesting to see how many survive. The tank is “ocean” level salinity now at around 1.020. I’ll keep it there until the 17th, which will be two weeks “in the ocean” for the guys. About that point I will start doing water changes and bring the salinity slowly back down to the brackish level I keep the adult tank at: 1.010-1.012.

I am keeping an eye on the nitrite levels in the babies’ tank since it’s up quite a bit. I added Amquel to lower the nitrites but I never really see that happen with that or Prime. I sometimes wonder if the solutions to bring the nitrites down are really “placebos” for the owners of the tanks? In any event, monitoring water quality, especially since I’m putting liquid food into the babies’ tank 3 times a day.

The adult tank has been “business as usual” – Melanie Hamilton spends most of her life hiding inside the live rock, Admiral Byrd is ALWAYS waving his claw these days, and about the only difference is Scarlett O’Hara. She must be recovering from “pregnancy and childbirth” because she has NOT stopped eating. She is shoveling in shrimp pellets and picking algae off everything, with both claws at once. She gives “two-fisted eating” a whole new meaning. It is non-stop, almost “frantic” in its intensity. I guess she is making up for lost time and nutrients. Otherwise, she seems fine.

That’s the goings-on today. Working on the next Under the Pier installment, hopefully to be done for tomorrow. Need to finish some chapter revisions first. Stay tuned.