Sunday, January 31, 2010

Groundhog Day...And I Don't Mean The Movie

Unfortunately for Punxsutawney Phil, the official prognosticator of weather, there's a disturbance in the cosmos perched on the horizon waiting to swoop in and take over. A challenger set to usurp his throne.

Every year on February 2nd a furry rodent of the groundhog variety named Punxsutawney Phil sticks his head out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to do his annual weather forecast. In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated as Groundhog Day. If Phil sees his shadow, it will frighten him and he'll return to his burrow signaling six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, he'll emerge and winter will soon be over.

At least, that's what the tradition claims.

The earliest American written reference to a groundhog day was 1841 in Pennsylvania's Berks County (Pennsylvania Dutch) referring to it as the German celebration called Candlemas day where a groundhog seeing its shadow was a weather indication. Since the first official celebration of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania in 1886, crowds as large as 40,000 people have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual celebration. And in recent years it's been covered live on television. Quite an accolade for the little ol' groundhog.

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a member of the squirrel family. The current Punxsutawney Phil weighs fifteen pounds and lives in a climate controlled home in the Punxsutawney library. On Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on a stage before being pulled out at 7:25AM to make his annual prediction.

Quite removed from the concept of the groundhog waking from hibernation and sticking his head out of his burrow in the wild. :)

Phil's forecasting accuracy isn't all that great. He's only been correct 39% of the time. Between 1887 and 2009 he's seen his shadow ninety-eight times (hmm…I wonder how many of those times could be attributed to the television lights), has not seen his shadow fifteen times, and on nine occasions there was no record of what happened.

News Flash: Punxsutawney Phil, the "Official" groundhog of Groundhog Day, has a challenger for chief weather prognosticator. And just who is this brash interloper?

It's a bullfrog named Snohomish Slew. Punxsutawney Phil might have more than a hundred years of experience on Snohomish Slew, but the bullfrog is a full three days earlier with his forecast. Thanks to the Snohomish, Washington, Chamber of Commerce, Slew was guest of honor at a GroundFrog Day Celebration on Saturday, January 30.

Unlike Phil, when Slew sees his shadow it calls for eight more weeks of "foggy, soggy weather" rather than Phil's six more weeks of winter. However, Snohomish folklore dictates that whoever rubs the tummy of a frog on GroundFrog Day will be rewarded with eight weeks of good luck.

Is it time for a change? Do you think Snohomish Slew has a chance of stealing Punxsutawney Phil's place in the weather forecasting world?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Vampires And Other Immortals Part 2 of 2

Meet Turritopsis nutriculaas, a form of jellyfish that is the world's only known immortal creature.

Before we talk about fictional immortals, here's a bit of information about the above photograph. Scientists have recognized Turritopsis nutriculaas as the only known animal that is capable of rejuvenating itself, thus sustaining life over and over again. In other words—being immortal.

Jellyfish usually die after propagating, but according to the London Times, Turritopsis reverts to a sexually immature stage after reaching adulthood and is capable of rejuvenating itself. It is the only known animal capable of reverting to its juvenile polyp state. In theory, this cycle can repeat indefinitely, making it potentially immortal.

The creature is only 4-5mm in diameter and is found in warm tropical waters but is believed to be spreading across the world as ships discharge their ballast water in ports.

And now on to the other type of immortal—the characters in our myths, literature and movies/television. AOL posted a list of the top ten immortal characters as compiled by LiveScience. This is a cross-section sampling from various forms of storytelling.

10. Peter Pan: The famous boy who never grows up (or grows old) and prefers to live on the magical isle of Neverland.

9. Dracula: If you're desperate to live forever, you could try getting bitten by Dracula or any of the other well-known vampires. Of course, you'd have to give up Italian food which is loaded with garlic. :)

8. Lazarus Long: A character in many of Robert Heinlein's science fiction novels. Lazarus lives to be over 2,000 years old, travels to distant planets, and travels through time.

7. Nicolas Flamel: J.K. Rowling based Harry Potter's Flamel character (good friend to Hogwart's headmaster) on a real-life French 15th Century alchemist who legend claims successfully created the Philosopher's Stone, a mythical elixir that turns lead into gold and grants eternal life.

6. Tithonus: When Greek goddess Eos asks Zeus to grant her mortal lover, Tithonus, eternal life, she forgets to also ask for eternal youth. Tithonus lives forever, but he grows old and frail, and begs for death.

5. Dorian Gray: Oscar Wilde created this character who remains young and handsome while his portrait ages. He becomes corrupt, but his crimes and true age show only in the face of the painting which grows progressively more monstrous and withered.

4. Highlander: In the 1986 movie, Connor MacLeod is a member of the immortals, a mysterious race who die only when they are beheaded. The immortals must battle each other until only one is left to claim The Prize: the gift of immortality.

3. Grail Knight: A knight of the First Crusade. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade he is given the task of guarding the Holy Grail, a crucible that grants eternal life to any who drink from it.

2. Methuselah: He's the oldest person whose age is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, becoming a father at the age of 187 and living to be 969 years old.

1. Arwen: A half-elven maiden in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings who renounces eternal life to marry her mortal sweetheart. She lives to be 2,901 years old.

Do you have a favorite immortal character among the many?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Vampires are big business these days, their most recent surge of popularity due to the Twilight series books and movies. Of course, vampires have never really been out of style. They were popularized in literature by Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, DRACULA, but stories of vampires go back many centuries before that.

Where did the concept of vampires come from? The answer to that question exists somewhere in the space separating science and superstition. Some sources claim the stories of vampires began with the Romanian prince Vlad Tepes who lived 1431 – 1476 and fought for independence against the Ottoman Empire. His methods of dealing with his enemies included slowly impaling them on stakes, drawing and quartering, and burning them alive. It all seems very brutal and sadistic by today's standards, but not all that uncommon for those times. The same methods were used by the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition and by other rulers and powerful leaders during the Middle Ages to torture and kill their enemies.

Bram Stoker is said to have patterned some of his Dracula character after Vlad Tepes as the birth of the modern fictional vampire. However, the roots of real vampires have very different origins. Stories of vampires are a worldwide phenomenon with localized versions of vampires coming from almost all cultures. Before science progressed to the point where it could explain weather patterns and germ theory, any bad event that did not have an obvious cause could be blamed on a vampire. The mythical creature was an easy answer to the age old question of why bad things happened to good people.

Superstitious villagers took their belief that something had cursed the bad things and put it together with their fear of the dead and came to the conclusion that recently buried people who had risen from the dead to do evil deeds were responsible. They dug up graves and were surprised by the way the corpses looked. Not understanding the process of decomposition, they assumed bodies immediately turned to skeletons.

Even with the original concept of vampires causing events now explainable by science being long gone, the cultural phenomenon of vampires continue to fascinate the world. And it isn't just the macabre and horror stories that draw on the vampire character. We have several examples of vampires being used as objects of humor. Certainly Al Lewis' Grandpa character on the old MUNSTERS television series. We have comedy movies such as LOVE AT FIRST BITE and Mel Brooks' 1995 film DRACULA, DEAD AND LOVING IT.

Even children have been caught up in the commercialism of the vampire world. There's General Mills' Count Chocula breakfast cereal, marketed to children. And not even the long running award-winning children's television series SESAME STREET was able to ignore the vampire allure. One of their popular Muppet characters is The Count, complete with black Dracula style cape and fangs.

Vampire movies have been around since the days of silent films with the 1922 classic, Nosferatu. What are your favorite vampire movies?

Next week (Sunday, January 24) I'm going to post Part 2 of Vampires And Other Immortals with a Top Ten list of immortals from myths, literature and movies.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

DEJA VU Releases This Week!


Friday, January 15, 2010, is the release date for DÉJÀ VU by Samantha Gentry, available from the Crimson Rose line of mystery romantic suspense at The Wild Rose Press. It's available in both ebook and print.

BLURB: When Alexandra Caldwell is hired by a reclusive author to research the thirty-year-old disappearance of a big name newspaper tycoon and his wife, she wasn't sure what she would discover. As she embarks on this project, she finds herself in the middle of a series of frightening events and an unexpected attraction to Gable Talbot, the current owner of Skull Island where the disappearances occurred...a man with a magnetic sex appeal and a past as mysterious as the case she's researching. Will she be able to do the job she was hired for, or has she stumbled too close to the truth?

I'm not sure exactly where the idea for this book came from, but it was an idea that had been floating around in the back of my mind for a while before I started putting a specific storyline together. The concept of using a privately owned island as the setting for a mystery appealed to me. Isolated location, the island's owner having a hidden past, and unexplained happenings that throw the characters together leaving them surrounded by life threatening danger. Since I'm particularly fond of the Pacific Northwest and have spent a lot of time there, I decided to locate my fictional private island in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state. And this, of course, required a research trip. :)

Next I needed to devise a situation that would provide a logical and valid reason for my heroine to be on the private island owned by my hero. When I finally came up with a premise that I liked, I started working on the details of the storyline and then the writing of the manuscript.

I liked working out the mystery elements. Does the heroine have an ulterior motive for being on the island other than what she told the hero? A hero who doesn't have a past, does that make him a dangerous man hiding behind a false identity? Is the heroine in danger from him? And the mystery of the island itself, exactly what happened all those years ago and why is a thirty year old event suddenly creating a danger for today?

And after I formulated the questions, I had to come up with logical answers.

DÉJÀ VU was a fun book to write. I end up really agonizing over some of them. I'm working on a romantic suspense mystery right now that's not going as smoothly as I'd like. Others seem to flow with very few problems. Too bad they can't all flow that easily. :)


There are several excerpts from DÉJÀ VU on my website as well as excerpts and reviews for my other books. Stop by and take a look. And while you're there, be sure to enter my trivia contest.

Then check out my guest blog at The Romance Studio's main blog on Friday, January 15th. I'm talking some more about writing DÉJÀ VU.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Weirdest News Stories of 2009

We may be facing shortages of fossil fuel, clean drinking water, jobs, and a definite big time shortage of world peace, but there's one thing we still have in abundance—weird news stories. I'm going to ignore those big headline grabbing stories involving people desperately seeking their fifteen minutes of fame and concentrate on the stories that didn't make every television newscast, newspaper headline (both real newspaper and tabloid), and magazine.

1. Driving Furniture While Intoxicated. A man in Ohio equipped his bar stool with a lawnmover engine, downed fifteen beers, then went zipping down a public street on his motorized bar stool at 38 miles per hour. Not to be outdone, a man in Minnesota was arrested when he plowed his motorized recliner into a parked car. And finally, a woman in Wisconsin drank seven or eight brandy and cokes, then called 911 to report herself driving drunk. The police pulled her over, gave her a breathalyzer test, and concluded she was right.

2. Busted Justice. When British retailer Marks & Spencer started charging more for bras size DD and larger, a British woman used her Facebook group with 17,000 members to bring Marks & Spencer to their knees and they dropped the additional increase in their price.

3. Moonwalk Like An Ancient Egyptian. Following the death of Michael Jackson, crowds gathered at Chicago's Field Museum because they thought they could see Jackson's face in a 3000 year old statuette.

4. Antisocial Media. A teen in Staten Island, NY, walking down a sidewalk while texting, fell into an open manhole. Within hours of being rescued she was tweeting about it. In a Sao Paulo, Brazil, prison the inmates began smuggling in cell phones by carrier pigeon.

5. Urine Luck. A strange save the Earth campaign. A Brazilian environmental group is encouraging everyone to save water by peeing in the shower, claiming it would save 1000 gallons of water annually.

6. Horsing Around. One interspecies romp is bad enough, but get caught twice and you are in really big time trouble as a 50 year old man found out who was sentenced to three years in prison and banned from ever going near a stable again.

7. Unbelievably Fertile. For years an Arkansas woman and her husband had been trying to conceive without any luck. Then it happened not just once, but twice. She somehow managed to conceive a second child while still pregnant with her first. The phenomenon, known as superfetation, is so rare that doctors know of only ten other cases.

8. This Is Your Brain On Drugs. A 20 year old Pennsylvania man was caught by the sheriff using an extra-large homemade bong to "mellow out his cat." The sheriff said he knew it wasn't the first time it had happened, it was just the first time someone had been caught.

9. Excuses, Excuses. A Belgian teen claimed she fell asleep in a tattoo artist's chair and woke up with fifty-six stars tattooed on her face. The artist claimed she was a willing client. Days later she admitted she didn't want to tell her parents the truth.

10. Nude Coffee Kerfuffle. A 29 year old man was busted in his own home for drinking his morning coffee in the nude. It seems the two women and a 7 year old boy spotted him sipping his coffee au naturel while they cut through his yard on the way to a park. A jury convicted him of indecent exposure, but the judge did not fine or sentence him. He's vowing to appeal the conviction.

11. Google Worship. SEO…Search Engine Optimization…is a fancy way of saying sell yourself in any way possible to rank high in an internet search. This became an obsession in 2009 with not only media companies and retailers, but also municipalities. The French coastal town of Eu announced that it was considering changing its name because people searching for the vacation town on the Web are instead inundated with information on the European Community, also known as the EU.

12. Moo-ving Research. Farmers have been trying to get their cows to produce more milk for a long time. Scientists at England's Newcastle University gave us a solution—talk to the animals. The researchers found that cows with names produced one to two pints of milk more per day than cows that weren't given names.

And that's a dozen of the weirdest news stories from 2009. Do any of you have weird news stories that have come to your attention during the last year?