Sunday, January 27, 2019

Groundhog Day…And I Don't Mean The Movie


By a strange coincidence those six more weeks of winter takes us within a few days of the Vernal Equinox which signals the official end of winter and the first day of spring.

Every year on February 2 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.  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.  Superstition says that fair weather at that time was seen as a prediction of a stormy and cold second half to winter, as noted in this Old English saying:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

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.  Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow over 100 times [hmm…I wonder how many of those recent times were due to the television lights] predicting a longer winter and has not seen it only a few times to predict an early spring.  There is no record of his prediction for 9 years in the late 1800s.

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 emerging from his burrow in the wild.  :)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Merlin—Mysterious Wizard

Best known and most recognized as part of King Author's legend, the earliest mentions of the character who eventually became wizard Merlin date back to the 6th century from old Welsh, a time when Britain was made up of small kingdoms.

In 573 when Cumbrian King Gwenddoleu was killed in battle, his warrior-bard went mad with grief. He ran into the forest where he became a wild man and made prophecies. His best friends were said to be an apple tree and a pig.

An 8th century monk wrote about an attempt to build a castle near Mount Snowdon. The tower kept collapsing. The king's magicians told him to sprinkle the site with the blood of a young boy born without a father. The boy escaped the sacrifice by explaining why the tower was collapsing—two dragons were fighting below the earth which undermined the castle's foundations.

In 1135 the Welsh poet, Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote a book that took the wild man in the forest, the boy seer from the collapsing tower, and other folk characters and combined them all into the character who became the magician Merlin. He then included this wizard in his book, The History of the Kings of Britain and later The Life of Merlin which contained the first mention of Avalon.

Geoffrey's Merlin appears whenever something supernatural or strange happens. The story of the battling dragons is retold with the dragons representing the Saxons and the British. Merlin arranges a liaison between Uther Pendragon and the wife of the King of Cornwall which results in the birth of King Arthur.

Merlin's popularity fell by the wayside under Henry VIII when a priest was executed in 1535 for preaching from The Prophecies of Merlin. John Dee, magician to Queen Elizabeth I, was a fan of Merlin and started a new craze.

Legend says a witch duped Merlin into revealing his secrets then trapped him in mists. Some believe that Merlin's mists lie in a legendary forest in France, an ancient standing stone in Brittany marking his tomb. Others say his remains are with King Arthur in Avalon where the mighty wizard waits for the hour of Britain's greatest need when he will be returned to the service of the reigning monarch.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

People we lost in 2018

Following is a cross section of those we lost in 2018, certainly not the complete list. I've tried to include people from various walks of life. This list starts with the most recent and goes back through the year.

Actress Penny Marshall, who found fame in TV's "Laverne & Shirley" before going on to direct such beloved films as "Big" and "A League of Their Own," died on Monday, December 17. She was 75.

George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States and the patriarch of one of America's dominant political dynasties, died November 30 at the age of 94

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the animated show "SpongeBob Squarepants," died November 26 following a battle with the neurodegenerative disease ALS. He was 57

Roy Clark, a country music star and former host of the long-running TV series "Hee Haw," died November 15, his publicist told CNN. He was 85.

Stan Lee, the colorful Marvel Comics patriarch who helped usher in a new era of superhero storytelling and saw his creations become a giant influence in the movie business, died November 12 at the age of 95.

Billionaire Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder along with Bill Gates, died on October 15, according to his investment firm Vulcan. Allen also owned two professional sports teams, NFL's Seattle Seahawks and the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. He was 65.
Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian dissident, author, columnist for the Washington Post, and a general manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel who was assassinated at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, just days short of his 60th birthday.

Actor Burt Reynolds, whose easygoing charms and handsome looks drew prominent roles in films such as "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Boogie Nights," died on September 6. He was 82.

Neil Simon, the playwright and screenwriter whose indestructible comedies including "The Odd Couple," "Barefoot in the Park," "The Sunshine Boys" and "Brighton Beach Memoirs" made him one of the most successful writers in American history, died on August 26. He was 91.
John McCain, a Vietnam War hero who served in the US Senate for more than 30 years and ran for president twice, died August 25 at the age of 81. McCain, a conservative maverick, won the Republican nomination in 2008 but lost to Barack Obama. He continued to serve in Congress after being diagnosed with brain cancer last year.

Robin Leach, the debonair TV host who regaled audiences with talk of "champagne wishes and caviar dreams," died August 24, his publicist confirmed. He was 76.

Kofi Annan, the first black African to lead the United Nations, died August 18 at the age of 80. He served as the UN's Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006. His efforts to secure a more peaceful world brought him and the UN the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

Aretha Franklin, whose gospel-rooted singing and bluesy yet expansive delivery earned her the title "the Queen of Soul," died August 16, a family statement said. She was 76.

Charlotte Rae, a gregarious actress with a prodigious career on stage, screen and TV, died August 5 at the age of 92, according to her son, Larry Strauss. She is best known for her role as housekeeper Edna Garrett, first on the sitcom "Different Strokes" and then the spinoff "The Facts of Life."

Adrian Cronauer, the former American airman whose radio show provided the inspiration for Robin Williams' character in "Good Morning, Vietnam," died on July 18, according to his family. He was 79.
Alan Diaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of terrified Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez looking at an armed US agent, died at the age of 71, the Associated Press said on July 3.

The suicide of Anthony Bourdain, the chef and gifted storyteller who took viewers around the world, was confirmed on June 8. He was 61.

Kate Brosnahan Spade, who created an iconic, accessible handbag line that bridged Main Street and high-end fashion, hanged herself in an apparent suicide June 5, according to New York Police Department sources. She was 55. Her company has retail shops and outlet stores all over the world.

Actor Jerry Maren died May 24 due to complications from congestive heart failure, according to his family. Maren, 98, was the last surviving munchkin from "The Wizard of Oz."

Philip Roth, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, died May 22 at the age of 85. Roth was one of America's most prolific and controversial 20th-century novelists, with a career that spanned decades and more than two dozen books.

Tom Wolfe, the innovative journalist and author who wrote such best-selling masterpieces as "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "The Right Stuff, died on May 14 at the age of 87. Wolfe was known as a pioneer of a literary style that became known as New Journalism. It was a long-form of writing in which writers deeply immersed themselves in the subject they were writing about.

Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the original 1978 "Superman" movie, died on May 13, confirmed by her manager. Kidder was 69 years old.

Verne Troyer, an actor who played Mini-Me in two of the Austin Powers comedy films, died at the age of 49, according to statements posted to his social media accounts on April 21. No cause of death was immediately released.
Barbara Bush, the matriarch of a Republican political dynasty and a first lady who elevated the cause of literacy, died April 17, according to a statement from her husband's office. She was 92.

Harry Anderson, best known for playing Judge Harry Stone on TV's "Night Court," was found dead inside his home in Asheville, North Carolina, on April 16, according to police. He was 65.

Steven Bochco, a producer whose boundary-pushing series like "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" helped define the modern TV drama, died April 1 after a battle with leukemia. He was 74.

Linda Brown, who as a little girl was at the center of the US Supreme Court case that ended segregation in schools (Brown vs Board of Education), died on March 25, a funeral home spokesman said. She was 75.
Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British physicist who overcame a debilitating disease to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, died on March 14. He was 76.

Fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, a pioneer in high-end ready-to-wear who was famous for styling Audrey Hepburn's little black dress in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," died at the age of 91, the House of Givenchy confirmed on March 12.

Evangelist Billy Graham—a confidant to presidents, a guiding light to generations of American evangelicals, and a globe-trotting preacher who converted millions to Christianity—died February 21 at the age of 99.

Jerry Van Dyke, the younger brother of fellow comedian and actor Dick Van Dyke, died January 5 at his Arkansas ranch according to his wife, Shirley Ann Jones. He was 86. Jerry Van Dyke was known for several roles, most notably for playing the assistant football coach on the late '80s and '90s hit show "Coach," for which he earned four Emmy nominations. He also made appearances on his brother's classic sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

Former astronaut John Young, a NASA trailblazer whose six journeys into space included a walk on the moon and the first space shuttle flight, died January 5 after complications from pneumonia, NASA said. He was 87.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Meet author Debby Grahl

This week I'm welcoming author Debby Grahl to my blog. She is sharing the derivation of her novel, Rue Toulouse, with you along with some other interesting information. Now—meet Debby Grahl:
My husband David and I first visited New Orleans in 1989 and fell in love with the city. I’m a history buff by heart so I found the old Spanish architecture with its wrought iron balconies enchanting. It was a few years ago, while sitting on one of these balconies, that the idea for my book, Rue Toulouse, came to me.

There’s a saying, “Only in New Orleans.” And this is so true. As I sat on my balcony overlooking Toulouse street, I could see a musician setting up on the corner. Soon the clear sounds of his saxophone filled the night. The smell of spicy gumbo from the restaurant across from me wafted through the air. The clip clop from a horse-drawn carriage passed beneath me, its driver thrilling his passengers with tales of the ghosts that haunt the city. A man painted silver walked along juggling oranges, while a bicycle cab hurried by. A group of laughing tourists carrying red go-cups went into a bar and the long low whistle of a boat on the Mississippi wailed in the dark.

As I sat there taking it all in, I thought what a wonderful place to set a story. From its diverse people to its incredible food—such as hot sugary beignets, po boy sandwiches, and crawfish etouffee. Every kind of music from funky blues to jazz, rock 'n roll to country. From haunted houses to above-ground cemeteries.

As I drank my glass of wine and munched on voodoo chips, the characters in Rue Toulouse began to come alive in my mind. Hopefully, I’ve brought a little of this wonderful city to life for you while you read about Caterine and Remi

Fashion designer Caterine Doucette attends a masquerade ball dressed as a shimmering ice princess where she encounters ex-cop Remi Michaud, disguised as the handsome pirate Jean Lafitte. The princess and the pirate come together for one unforgettable night of passion.

When Caterine inherits the family’s exclusive boutique, Ma Chérie, an attempt is made on her life, for someone in the Doucette household will stop at nothing to possess what they feel is rightfully theirs.

Remi, working for a private security company, sets out to unmask Caterine’s would-be assassin, but finds himself torn between his desire for her and painful memories of another socialite’s betrayal. Falling for Remi, Caterine struggles with old embedded pain, leaving her afraid to open herself to love.

In the heart of the Big Easy, the two must learn to trust one another if they’re to survive in a world of family greed and ruthless revenge.
Debby Grahl lives on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, with her husband, David. Besides writing, she enjoys biking, walking on the beach and a glass of wine at sunset. Her favorite places to visit are New Orleans, New York City, Captiva Island in Florida, the Cotswolds of England, and her home state of Michigan. She is a history buff who also enjoys reading murder mysteries, time travel, and, of course, romance. Visually impaired since childhood by Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), she uses screen-reading software to research and write her books.

Her first published book, The Silver Crescent, won the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewers’ Choice award. Her second book, Rue Toulouse, a contemporary romance set in New Orleans, was a finalist in the National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Award and was selected as a May, 2016, ‘local read’ by Hilton Head Monthly.

Decorated to Death is a holiday mystery cozy. She also has stories in three anthologies, The Haunted West, Never Fear/Christmas Terrors; and Ebb and Flow from the local Island Writers’ Network.

Debby was featured in the January, 2016, Hilton Head Monthly article ‘Intriguing People of the Lowcountry’. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Florida Romance Writers, and First Coast Romance Writers.

Her latest book, His Magic Touch, was released December 5, 2018, by Wild Rose Press.

Q:  Do you have a specific writing style?
A:  There are a number of ways authors lay out the ideas for their books. Some will write extensive outlines, and some make lists of notes. Me, I write by the seat of my pants, LOL! I decide on a location and create my characters’ personalities, and know how I want to begin the book, but after that the story just plays itself out. Although I do go back and add some and take some thing’s out and do rewrites.

Q:  Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A:  I hope the story shows that no matter what walk of life you come from, how many heartbreaks you have, how many disappointments, or how unloved you feel, your one true love is out there, and you may find each other in the most unexpected way.

Q:  How much of the book is realistic?
A:  I tried to bring the city of New Orleans to life for the reader. The parade at the beginning of the book is an example of many such before and during Mardi Gras. You can hardly go down a street without hearing a musician playing. The smell of spicy food, spilled beer and mold does fill the air. Café du Monde, The Chartres House, and Brennan’s are real restaurants. There’s even a house located between Burgundy and Dauphine on Toulouse, which has been turned into apartments, that I used for Remi’s digs. Houma, where Remi’s family lives is a real place, and you can go on a swamp boat ride, but I doubt you’ll have as an exciting time as Caterine and Remi. And there are definitely gators in the swamps.

Q:  If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
A:  I don’t care how many times an author reads their own work, they always find something they think needs to be changed. In Rue Toulouse, I’d probably add more detail about life in New Orleans. Such as the eclectic people and the clothing you see them wear. Honestly, it’s not unusual to see a woman with a green painted face playing a keyboard outside a restaurant. Or a vampire walking down the street next to a woman in a ball gown. And it’s not Halloween!

Q:  Do you have any advice for other writers?
A:  My advice would be if you think you’d like to write, do it. But unless you’ve already had some type of writing classes, take some online courses. These can be extremely helpful, they’re convenient because you do them from home, and they’re not costly.

Also, there’s a number of groups which offer writing contests. These are a great way to get feedback on your manuscript.

You also need to become very very thick-skinned. No one likes rejection, but in the writing world you must get used to it and know how to deal with it gracefully. Wine helps.

Amazon / Kindle Author Page

Barnes and Noble / Nook

author website

author Facebook

Thank you, Debby, for being my guest this week and sharing your writing experiences.