Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Today's Words of Sorrow

"A person is a being whose anguish may reach the heart of God.”

-- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Monday, June 1, 2020

[personal silliness] On The Size of Ears

Some people agonize over the size and shape of their ears. Babies don't care, but kids who have unusually shaped ears or ears that stick out can (and are!) made to feel self-conscious about them. People even have surgery to flatten ears against the skull, or I assume their parents do. I never thought about ears -- my own or those of my friends -- when I was a kid.

So it came as a surprise to me when I was an adult that my mother was self-conscious about the size of her ears. The outer ear is mostly cartilage, which continues to grow -- albeit slowly -- throughout your life. Older folks generally have bigger ears than youngsters. I suppose the self-consciousness came from "my ears show my age," but I never asked her. I just observed the lengths she went to in styling her hair in order to cover part of her ears.

It also came as surprise to me as I achieved senior citizen status myself that my own ears were not as I remembered them. They looked like my mother's ears. They're neither pretty nor ugly. They're bigger than when I was a child (I think -- I'm relying on old photos here) and somewhat longer top to bottom. There's a funny crease in the skin of the lobes that I assume is due to decades of wearing pierced earrings. But maybe not. It might have done that, anyway.

Mostly I think it's cool that my ears look like my mother's when she was my age. Sometimes it's puzzling that a body part up and changes itself, but that seems to be happening to more than my ears. Every once in a while, though, it bothers me. I have discovered a solution:

I don't look in the mirror.

From the inside, my ears feel just fine. And then I think of the images of the Buddha with long, long ears. And I giggle.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Short Book Reviews: Liszt and the Whitechapel Murders

Music Macabre, by Sarah Rayne (Severn House)

This thriller, set in parallel time lines in modern and Victorian-era London, weaves together the legend of the serial killer, Jack the Ripper, and the music of Franz Liszt. In today’s time, writer Phineas Fox is researching his next project, a scholarly work on the life of Liszt, when he comes across a reference to “Liszten for the Killer,” a song that the women of Whitechapel used as an alarm signal.

The Victorian story line includes the notorious music hall dancer, Scaramel, and the poor girl, Dairy, whom she befriends. As the Ripper’s attacks grow nearer, Daisy and her younger brother barely escape his knives. Scaramel devises a scheme to use a melody composed by Liszt’s, as distinctive as it is haunting, as a way to rapidly spread word of his approach. Meanwhile, Phineas’s researches bring him to the physical location of the older story’s events. Many of the same buildings are still in existence, including the pub where Scaramel and her group met; in gaining access to the documents stored in the basement, he encounters the new owner, who has a secret family history and obsession of her own.

Music Macabre added something quite new and fresh for me to the usual tales of Jack the Ripper. Initially my curiosity was piqued by the use of Liszt’s music as a plot element. That in itself set the book apart (and as an adult piano student, I have Opinions about Liszt’s compositions for a pianist with relatively small hands). Both story lines drew me in, and as the parallel tales progressed, echoing and crossing one another, the tension rocketed up. The thriller elements were handled with seeming effortlessness, allowing deeper nuances to emerge. Sympathetic characters, a burgeoning sense of doom, and unexpected twists added to the reading enjoyment.

Now, where’s that playlist?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cross Training For Writers

Cross-training is a concept I snagged from athletics. It's a way of improving fitness for one particular sport (or art) by practicing another. The idea is that the body adapts to repetitive exercises and, by becoming more efficient, shows slower progress.

Over the years, I've noticed that if I'm stuck on a story and can't figure out how to even think my way toward a solution, one of the most helpful things I can do is to listen to other storytellers talk about their work. In particular, I'd put on one of those bonus material discs from a favorite movie and listen to directors and screenplay writers discuss their approaches. (My favorites are Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens talking about how they adapted The Lord of the Rings into film, how they decided what to leave out, what to expand or re-arrange, that sort of thing; because I know the books so well, I can follow their interpretive process.) I come away re-charged because the story-telling is similar enough and yet different enough from what I do in prose. I've also gotten much good perspective from books on screenplay writing for much the same reason. I don't want to write a script for a movie or a play, but I do benefit from that particular way of looking at story, character, dialog, and action.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

New (Free) Chapter of Jaydium on Curious Fictions

The next chapter of Jaydium is up on Curious Fictions, and it's free (all the previous chapters are, too). If you love the story, the entire ebook is only $0.99 right now from all the usual vendors. (And subscribing to my Curious Fictions page for a small amount per month would be lovely, too.)

Jaydium, Chapter 4

By Deborah J. Ross
May 22, 2020 · 3,238 words · 12 minutes
From the author: Far in the future, an interplanetary civil conflict has ground to an uneasy halt. Kithri, abandoned on a desolate mining planet, meets Eril, shell-shocked pilot. A freak accident sends them back to a time when their desert world was lush and green, when an alien civilization stands on the brink of a war of total destruction. They must choose to remain outside the conflict or to stand up for what they believe.