Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fun with Genealogy

Before I get to the post, some news: if you’d like a chance to win a copy of Destined, check out this great giveaway being hosted at Starcrossed Reviews. The lucky winners will not only get a copy of Destined (paperback for US winners, ebook for International), but a whole lot of other great books (about 20 in total). Contest rules and details are at the link above. Starcrossed gave Destined a fantastic 5-star review not too long ago, in case you missed it.

Also, it looks like the ebook for Destined has finally been sent to Kobo, for those who were waiting for it to be available for that reader. I’m still waiting for it to show up in their catalog, but am hoping it won’t be much longer. I will post to Facebook/Twitter when it finally becomes available there. I apologize again for the delay. Apparently Kobo was seriously backlogged.

Now that the news and promos are out of the way, I can get on to the actual post. Which I am now writing about an hour after the first part, due to discovering that my scanner no longer works on my new computer. (Apparently Canon couldn’t bother themselves to make Windows 7 drivers for it.) So now I either need to buy a new scanner or a new printer that has a scanner included. The last time I bought a new printer, I intentionally didn’t get the all-in-one kind because I already had a perfectly good flatbed scanner. It seemed like overkill (and a waste of money) to buy one with a scanner when I didn’t need that feature. Now I feel like it’s silently taunting me.

So what was all the scanning fuss about? I got a card this week from a cousin I reconnected with a few years back while doing genealogy research on my dad’s side of the family. She sent along some old photos another cousin found that included my great grandmother, and while it was neat to see some new (to me) photos of her, it reminded me just how important it is to label your family photos. The few that were written on were mostly just names, and I suspect those were written recently rather than at the time they were developed. The caption on this one? “Sylvia & Indian.” I have no Native American blood in my family (that I know of), except for way, way, way back on my mother’s side. I have ancestors there who, in 1704, were attacked by a tribe of Caughnawagas (a branch of the Mohawks, I believe) and had four of their sons captured and taken to Canada. One son was later bought back by the family, while the other 3 were left behind and grew up with the Indians, eventually assimilating into the tribe. One was even adopted as the chief’s son, if the stories are correct. But anyway, that’s not my dad’s side of the family, so I can only imagine the photo here was taken on some kind of vacation. There’s another photo of her and the older Indian, without the younger boy, one of her with two of her cousins in front of the same store, and another of her by herself in what appears to be the same outfit, standing at a wooden railing overlooking some kind of gorge or waterfall. No sign of her husband or son around, even though she’s old enough that they’d both be in the picture (no pun intended).

I can’t help wondering, who were the Indians? Did she know them, or were they just hanging around the store, posing for photos with strangers, the way Egyptians do? (Photo to the right is from a trip I took to Egypt in 2005. I have no idea who these two men are. They posed for my father while we were touring an old site and soon as he took the photo, they demanded a tip.) I can’t help wondering what my descendants will think 60-70 years or so from now when they look at my photos? I suspect they’ll be seriously confused, since I hate to be photographed, and the few photos I am in tend to include minor celebrities (I went through a big soap opera phase a while back and have stacks of pictures of myself with actors from General Hospital.). The photos I’ll be passing down will be mostly scenery from vacations and cats. And none are labeled, either.

I think part of the reason I got so interested in genealogy was because I’m a writer. I love uncovering stories about people I never knew existed, or learning new things about the people I did know. A perfect example is a story I learned about my great grandmother (the one posing with the Indians). While researching her family, I came across a census record that showed a child in the household named Georgiana. I had never heard of my great grandmother having a sister: just two brothers. I asked my father, who also hadn’t heard of her, which made it even stranger as he was very close to that side of his family. Georgiana wasn’t on the next census with her family, but she would have been 21 that year, so it was possible she’d married. Still, it was strange that she vanished so completely, and the online marriage records for Chicago end in 1920, so I couldn’t find anything there. There were no death records matching her maiden name, so if she had died young, I found no proof. She just disappeared! Or so it seemed. And then I found this photo in my grandparents’ things:

The only writing on it was Sylvia’s father’s name and address on the back. It wasn’t Sylvia’s wedding: we knew what she looked like. It also didn’t look like her brother, Anton, or youngest brother, John. We had no clue who this was. The style of clothing was very 20s, but Georgiana was a teenager in the 20s, and I didn’t think it could be her. Sadly, my grandparents had already passed away by the time I started my research, so I couldn’t ask my grandfather. My father and aunt had vague memories of a story that went around about a family member who was killed, but weren’t sure what the details were. Eventually, between them searching their memories and reconnecting with the previously-mentioned cousin (who is the daughter of one of Sylvia’s brothers, and knew the true story from her father), we found out what happened. Georgiana was indeed their sister. She married young (that was her wedding photo after all) and had a son in 1927 at the age of 18 (perhaps that was why she married so young?). She and her husband later became separated, and she was preparing to divorce him, but he didn’t take too well to the idea and one day showed up at her house and shot her, their 2-year-old son and then himself. Her brother Anton was living in the apartment one floor above her and heard the shots. He left his own baby daughter (my cousin, who later told us the story) and his wife upstairs to go see what was happening, and found the bodies. Georgiana died on the way to the hospital. One of the family rumors says that her husband, Joe, had a priest in his family and confessed to him that he was going to kill his wife before going to her house. Back then, there were no laws requiring priests to go to the police with such confessions, so he wasn’t able to warn anyone. It makes for a good twist to the story, but I never found anyone in Joe’s immediate family that was a priest, so it may not have been true.Then again, he’s buried in a Catholic cemetery (Resurrection Cemetery, famous for Resurrection Mary), which strikes me as odd given that he was a suicide. Signs of a family connection to the Church, perhaps?

As for poor Georgiana, she’s buried in Chicago’s largest Bohemian cemetery (that side of my family is from Czechoslovakia), all by herself. The rest of the family is in a different cemetery, closer to where they later lived. It’s almost like her death was so traumatic, they tried to forget about her completely. I guess back then people didn’t talk about unhappy subjects, and this kind of family tragedy was kept secret. The only mention I ever found of her, other than a newspaper article about her murder (where all the names were misspelled, so it took some serious Google-fu to unearth!), was in one of her mother’s obituaries. Everywhere else, in obituaries of her siblings, father and others of her mother, she’s never mentioned. It’s kind of sad to think she was so close to being forgotten. And after learning her story, I can’t deny a part of me wants to write a book inspired by it. It would make for a good ghost story, don’t you think? The house is still there: when we visited Chicago last year, we found it and the paranormal-obsessed side of me couldn’t help jumping to the conclusion of “ooh, maybe it’s haunted!” It had a For Rent sign in the window, though, so no one was home. Not that I’d have the guts to knock on the door and ask.

Here’s a photo of Georgiana’s grave in the Bohemian cemetery. Jirinka is the Czech spelling of her name. The line at the bottom loosely translates to “here also rests my son,” so I can only assumed Joe Jr. was buried with her. Sad that he didn’t get his name on the headstone. Even sadder that the photo on the stone is the only one we have of him, and the only non-wedding photo we have of her.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Titanic Tuesdays: Dining on board

As promised, Titanic Tuesdays are back. At least, until I get busy and/or lazy and forget again. But I promise I’m going to try to avoid that happening too much.

This week’s TT is about eating. Anyone who has taken a cruise knows that one of the biggest parts of the experience is the food. Today, there is food everywhere on a cruise ship, at any hour you might want it. Formal restaurants, pizza shops, casual cafeterias, ice cream stands … if you’re hungry, chances are pretty good that somewhere on the ship, food is available, and with the exception of a super-fancy restaurant or two, it’s all included in your ticket for no extra charge.

In 1912, cruise ships were a little simpler than they are today, but dining was still a big part of the experience on the Titanic. There were three big meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner, and if you were in First Class, there was also an a la carte restaurant where you could choose from a broader menu (but had to pay extra). The a la carte restaurant was run similar to the RItz (very fancy!), and was open from 8am to 11pm, allowing First Class passengers to dine just about any time the mood hit.There were also two cafes on A Deck, called the Verandah Café (or Verandah and Palm Court, as there was one of each side of the ship, just aft of the First Class Smoking Room), where passengers could have light refreshments. In addition to these, there was something new on the ship: the Café Parisien (pictured). This café was adjacent to the a la carte restaurant, and diners here could choose from the same menu, yet this area had a French sidewalk café feel with wicker furniture and large picture windows, allowing them to look out at the sea while they dined: something that hadn’t been done before on a British ship. If the weather was right, the windows could be opened to allow for al fresco dining.

If you were in Second or Third Class, your dining options were limited to your dining saloon. Meals were served at specific times, so if you didn’t eat them, you were out of luck until the next meal. I believe it was possible to have food sent to your room during mealtimes, however, but I can’t remember now where I read that. The Second Class meals were prepared in the same kitchen as First Class, and from all accounts, while not quite as lavish, the food was good enough to rate First Class on just about any other ship. Good dishes, nice linens, fresh flowers on the tables—everything you’d expect from a high-class restaurant.

We don’t know all the menus that were served on board the Titanic’s maiden voyage, but a few did manage to survive.

April 11th, Second Class Breakfast

  • Rolled Oats
  • Boiled Hominy
  • Fresh Fish
  • Yarmouth Bloaters (a type of herring, slated and smoked)
  • Grilled Ox Kidneys and Bacon
  • American Dry Hash au Gratin
  • Grilled Sausage
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Grilled Ham & Fried Eggs
  • Fried Potatoes
  • Vienna & Graham Rolls
  • Soda Scones
  • Buckwheat Cakes
  • Maple Syrup
  • Conserve
  • Marmalade
  • Tea and Coffee
  • Watercress

April 12, Second Class Luncheon


  • Pea Soup
  • Spaghetti au Gratin
  • Corned Beef
  • Vegetable dumplings
  • Roast Mutton
  • Baked Jacket Potatoes


  • Roast Mutton
  • Roast Beef
  • Sausage
  • Ox Tongue
  • Pickles
  • Salad
  • Tapioca Pudding
  • Apple Tart
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Cheese
  • Biscuits
  • Coffee

April 14, Second Class Dinner

"On the night of the wreck our dinner tables were a picture! The huge bunches of grapes which topped the fruit baskets on every table were thrilling. The menus were wonderfully varied and tempting. I stayed at table from soup to nuts."
- Kate Buss, Second Class passenger

First Course, Soup: Consumme with Tapioca

Second Course, Main Dishes:

  • Baked Haddock with Sharp Sauce
  • Curried Chicken & Rice
  • Spring Lamb with Mint Sauce
  • Roast Turkey with Cranberry Sauce

Second Course, Side Dishes:

  • Turnip Sauce
  • Green Peas
  • Boiled Rice
  • Boiled and Roast Potatoes

Third Course, Dessert:

  • Plum Pudding with Sweet Sauce
  • Wine Jelly
  • Coconut Sandwich
  • American Ice Cream
  • Assorted Nuts
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Cheese
  • Biscuits

After Dinner: Coffee

As a picky eater, I can’t say I’d enjoy all of these menus. If time travel were possible, and I found myself in Apolline’s place, I’d be eating a lot of potatoes, cheese, fruit and breads. And ice cream, of course. Note here the menu specifies that it’s “American” ice cream. According to Last Dinner on the Titanic, at that time there were two popular ways of making ice cream. The French method used eggs, making it “richer and smoother” than the American method (popularized by Dolly Madison in the early 1800s) that used no eggs. The American version was most likely lighter and more preferable after such a large meal.

Great. Now I’m craving ice cream.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Big Cat Rescue (photo-heavy)

I took a much-needed girls day today and went into Tampa with a friend to see one of my favorite places, Big Cat Rescue. BCR is a sanctuary that rescues big cats (lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, etc.) and gives them a good, safe, comfortable home to live out the rest of their lives. They do great work, and I’m happy that I live close enough to visit every now and then.

One of my hobbies is photography, so whenever I go to BCR, I take a ton of pictures. I love cats, and I’m always awed by the beautiful animals there, as well as saddened by some of their stories. But BCR is giving them the best home they can have outside of the wild (where none of them could survive, due to various factors), and it shows when you visit and see how healthy and relaxed the cats all are. In fact, today was a perfect example of just how relaxed: maybe too relaxed at times. The weather was gorgeous, cool and sunny, and this was the first time I’d been there when it wasn’t the height (and heat) of summer. I was hoping the cooler weather would mean more active cats, but it would seem people aren’t the only ones who enjoy sleeping in on the weekend.

Allow my own not-so-big cat, Princess, to demonstrate how most of the cats were spending their Sunday morning:

That was pretty much every cat today, if you could even see them. Some were inside their houses or hiding behind or under bushes. I can’t fault BCR for that: they’re a sanctuary, not a zoo. The cats aren’t there to perform for people, so when you visit, the tour guides make every effort to find cats that are visible and/or awake and moving about, but they won’t guarantee anything. Which is how it should be at a place like that. Many of these cats started out as circus animals, so they shouldn’t have to perform now. That said, there are some that like the attention and are big ol’ hams, so they tend to come out and show off when they hear people nearby.

Now, before I get to the pictures, I feel like I need to clarify something. Most of these photos have obvious cage “bars” in them, but don’t let them fool you. These cats all have very roomy habitats (or, as BCR calls them, cat-a-tats), with lots of foliage, places to hide, things to play with, trees to climb, etc. So if sometimes a cat might look like it’s in a small cage, it’s not. That's just how a particular photo came out, because many of the cats came right up to the edge of their enclosures (or more often, were sleeping at the edge), and therefore the wires are more obvious.

Clicking on any of these photos will bring you to their Flickr page, where you can view them a little bigger.

This is Sundari, one of BCR's leopards. She’s 15 years old, and was only close to us for a few minutes. Unfortunately, in those few minutes, I didn’t realize the shooting selector dial had gotten turned on my camera, and I was shooting  at the wrong shutter speed. The first 4 or 5 shots I took today were all black because of that. By the time I noticed and readjusted, Sundari had retreated to the back of her cat-a-tat, and the best I could get was this shot through some grasses. She’s still magnificent, though, even from a distance.

(I’m doing these in the order we saw them, so it’s going to be a random mixture of species.) Our next cat is Sassyfrass, a 13-year-old cougar (aka mountain lion). He was rescued last year along with another cougar, Freddy, from a private owner who was keeping them (and some other wild animals) as pets. He’d been beaten as a cub by a previous owner, and was terrified of men because of it. Today he appeared happy and healthy. His latest owner's husband was killed by a lion they had also rescued and were trying to keep, and then last year, the wife committed suicide, at which point BCR was contacted to take the cougars. If anything, Freddy and Sassy are prime examples of why it’s not a good idea to keep wild cats as pets. Sadly, there are many other residents at BCR with similar stories.

This sleepy kitty is Reno,  a 16-year-old golden spotted leopard who started life as a circus performer. He was trained to ride in a chariot drawn by a horse: not natural behavior for a wild cat! Because of how he was raised, he didn’t even know how to climb a tree when the circus went under, so there was no way he could go back to the wild. BCR took him in in 2002 along with a few other cats from the same circus. Like I mentioned before, don't let the appearance fool you: he was snoozing at the edge of a large cat-a-tat, and was feeling too lazy to get up and do much more than look at us. We were interrupting his Sunday morning nap.

Jumanji is a 15-year-old black leopard (if you look closely, in the sun you can see his spots) who must love this particular spot in his cat-a-tat, because every time I’ve visited BCR, that’s where he’s been.  One of these days, I’ll catch him when he’s awake. ;)

None of the bobcats were feeling very social today, and the few we did see were pretty well-hidden behind grasses and bushes. This one is Angelica, a 16-year-old who arrived at BCR last year. She’d been kept as a pet, but her owner was in foreclosure and couldn’t keep her any longer. Yet another cat that, while smaller than a lion or a tiger, has no business being kept as a pet. Another bobcat that I wasn't able to photograph well enough was Raindance, who had been rescued from a fur farm.

This black leopard, Sabre, was far perkier than Jumanji. Maybe a little too perky, because he never sat still long enough for me to get a clear photo of him. This was the only clear shot I managed. Not the most flattering, but it’s a good example of a black leopard's coloring: you can see the spots pretty well on his legs. Sabre has been at BCR since he was 3 years old, when he was boarded on what was supposed to be a temporary basis (again by someone who was keeping him as a pet). The owners never returned to pick him up, so BCR gave him a permanent home.

Here is one of the most awake cats we came across today, Enya. She’s one of the hams, a cougar (possibly Florida Panther?) and was born at the sanctuary 14 years ago. She was very happy to see the tour group, pacing along the edge of her cat-a-tat and purring (cougars are one of the few big cats that can purr). It was a real treat to hear in person. Isn't she beautiful? She spent a little time playing with a tube that was hanging in her cat-a-tat, but I wasn’t able to get any clear shots of it. The shadowy light combined with her quick movements didn’t make for easy focusing.

Enya, having a drink.

At this point in the tour, we heard something else pretty impressive: a lion roaring. Just ahead was the cat-a-tat for my favorite odd couple, Cameron and Zabu. We’d hear him roaring again later on, though he was quiet when were were in front of him.

Isn't he beautiful? Cameron and Zabu, a white tigress (sadly, she was sleeping in her hut and I wasn’t able to get any photos), were raised together at a roadside zoo in the hopes they would mate and produce white ligers (a liger is an unnatural breed created by crossing a tiger and a lion). He’s 11 years old and came to live at BCR with Zabu in 2004. Because the two cats were bonded, they were fixed and given a large cat-a-tat to share. Cameron, rather than being neutered, was given a vasectomy so that he wouldn’t lose his glorious mane. (Neutered lions lose their manes.) BCR frequently posts photos and videos of all their cats, and the videos of Cameron and Zabu are always my favorites.

My, what big teeth you have!

At one point, Cameron got up and went over to where Zabu was hiding, but she was apparently very dedicated to her morning nap and refused to come out and play with him. Poor Cameron.

This was another little ham, Rose the Caracal. 14 years old, she’s friendly because she was initially raised as a pet. But because of this, she didn’t learn things she should have, like how to groom herself. She was one of the hits on the tour, due to her beautiful markings, striking black-tipped ears and playful nature. She gave us a little show, rolling around in the grass and doing her best to look as cute as possible.

See? Cute!

What a pretty face.

The photo op that almost wasn't. Nikita, a very large and impressive 10-year-old lioness, was sleeping in her night house when we arrived, and didn’t seem like she had any intention of coming out. But eventually, she decided to grace us with her presence and came out to sit on top of the house, where she pretty much posed for the next 5 or 10 minutes. She’s gorgeous, but like many of the cats, has a sad story. She was found in a drug raid, chained inside a crack house where she’d been kept to guard the drugs. She was malnourished and her elbows were swollen badly from living on a concrete floor. She was also declawed, making it impossible to live with other lions, so moving her to a zoo wasn’t an option. BCR took her in and gave her her own cat-a-tat, where she has flourished into a happy, healthy cat.

I wasn't kidding when I said she posed for us. It's like she knew how awesome she was.

Gorgeous eyes.

Still not quite awake, though.

Our first tiger of the tour, Bengali is a 16-year-old Bengal/Siberian Tiger who started out as a circus performer. Like Reno the leopard, he was trained to ride in a horse-drawn chariot.

He was rather vocal, chuffing at us in greeting.

Across from Bengali was Alex, who was rescued from a failed sanctuary in 2008, along with another tiger and a liger. The story of their rescue is at the link there, if you’d like to read about it. All the links, as a matter of fact, lead back to each animal’s BCR page with information about them and how they came to live at BCR.

More tigers, this time a couple (non-breeding: BCR fixes any cats that are going to be sharing a habitat so no breeding can occur). Shere Khan (left), a 17-year-old male Bengal tiger, was bred to be a white tiger, but came out orange and was therefore unwanted. He lived in poor conditions before being taken in by BCR. Our tour guide told us that he initially didn’t adapt well to the new surroundings, until he was given a companion in China Doll, a 17-year-old tigress who had been kept as a pet until her owners couldn’t afford to keep her any longer. She came to BCR as a cub and was given to Shere Khan as a companion. They bonded and enjoy a 3-acre habitat together with lots of room to roam and access to part of a large lake. Today they mostly enjoyed sleeping.

Look at the size of that paw!

Shere Khan eventually woke up long enough to smile for the camera.

China Doll ... not so much.

Back to the smaller cats, our next stop was Amazing Grace, an absolutely adorable 19-year-old ocelot who came over to say hello to us and rolled around for a little while, showing just how cute she could be. She easily charmed everyone.

Her tattered ears are from the poor living conditions she came from, bitten by another cat trying to get to her through a shared cage wall.

A good sign that a cat is comfortable: she shows you her belly.

Not my best focus job, but too cute to leave out.

Our last cat, and another lazy one, this is Tonga, a 14-year-old white serval.

That's it for my photos. As many as there are, believe me, I took a LOT more. When photographing animals, I tend to go with the “take as many as possible, and if you’re lucky, a few will be good” theory. Today, it worked well for me. If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you enjoyed these beautiful cats as much as I did. And if you ever find yourself in Tampa, I highly recommend a tour at Big Cat Rescue.

One last link you might enjoy. Video of the cats enjoying their Halloween pumpkins.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I fail at blogging

So much for my promise to do a Titanic Tuesdays post this week. I have no excuse other than I completely forgot. Also, I had to do a bunch of graphics work yesterday and spent most of the weekend either editing Bloodstone or reading 11/22/63 (which was great). So I've been busy, even if some of that busy was devoted to relaxation.

Then again, have you seen 11/22/63? Holding that sucker up for hours on end is hardly relaxing. But it was worth it, because it was a great read. Stephen King has been one of my favorite authors ever since I was old enough to read "grown-up" books. As a matter of fact, I think he's just about the first adult-novel author I ever read. When I was a kid, I was addicted to his books. I've always liked horror. My favorites in the kids' genre were by Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine, after all. (Now I'm getting kind of nostalgic for the old Pike books. Remember Me was a particular favorite, as was The Chain Letter.)

Horror movies, on the other hand, are a different story. I still love them, but I'm easily freaked out. I don't know why movies scare me more than books, but I suspect it has something to do with them being more visual. The idea of things don't scare me as much as actually seeing them. I had to sleep with the lights on for a week after watching The Ring, and I was well into my 20s then. I'm a glutton for punishment too, because I watched it again after it came out on DVD. I thought surely the second time it wouldn't be as scary. In a way I was right. I only slept with the lights on for 3 or 4 nights that time.

I've always thought it would be fun to write a horror novel. I even have a vague idea for one, but never got around to starting it. Maybe one day I will. Though with my luck, I'll wait too long and someone else will get the same (or similar idea). Kind of like writing about vampires on the Titanic, waiting 10 years to finally publish it, and someone else publishing a book about werewolves on the Titanic a few months later. What were the odds? (Given the popularity of paranormal romance these days and the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the wreck ... pretty good odds, I'd imagine. Still, I had to laugh at my luck the first time I saw the news about the other book.)

Forgive the rambly post about nothing. I felt like I needed to put something up this week to make up for missing Tuesday's post yet again, but I didn't have a whole lot to say. I brought my laptop out by the pool this afternoon with the intention of editing some more, but got sidetracked. Not the first time that's happened. It's lovely out today (low 80s), and the cats are having a great time chasing squirrels. Poor cats don't seem to get the concept of screens: they can chase the squirrels all they want, but they're never going to catch them from in here. Still, they persevere. You've got to admire the dedication. I could use a little of it myself today.

Another thing I did today, which goes to show just how easily distracted I've been.

I have no idea what to do with the site now that I'm registered. Mainly I just wanted to see which district I'd get. Masonry wouldn't have been my first choice, but I suppose there are worse jobs than Plasterer. Now if only the movie would come out. I'm anxious to see it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Most-read authors & other randomness

Hello out there! I apologize for the lack of blogging lately, and the missed Titanic Tuesdays this week. It’s been a crazy week at the day job, so I haven’t had as much free time as I’d like lately. I also spent the whole weekend working on my next book, which meant I didn’t get a TT post ready as I usually do. Hopefully I’ll be back next week with it.

Anyone a member of GoodReads? Well, they have a new feature (or at least, new to me, as I didn’t notice it until I saw it mentioned on another blog today) that shows you who your most-read authors are. It’s kind of neat. I was going to link to it, but the link is personalized to your account, so the best way to get to it is to go to any of your shelves, and in the left-hand column, there’s a section called “tools.” The link is in that group.

My most-read is interesting. I have 833 book on my “read” shelf, so that’s a lot of authors to organize. (I’m going by my personal account, which I’ve had much longer than my writer account, and therefore has more books recorded.) According to GoodReads, my #1 most-read author is Nora Roberts and #2 is J.D. Robb . Since Nora and J.D are the same person, that means I’ve read 91 of her books. Damn! That woman is impressively prolific, because that’s not nearly all the books she’s written. Here’s the rest of my top ten, just for giggles.

  1. Nora Roberts (49 read)
  2. J.D. Robb (42 books—man, has the In Death series really got that many???)
  3. Janet Evanovich (31 read)
  4. Stephen King (29 read, though that will be 30 soon, as I’m getting ready to start 11/22/63 this weekend!)
  5. A tie between Charlaine Harris (25 read) and V.C. Andrews, who I haven’t read in ages, but used to love when I was younger.
  6. Laurell K. Hamilton (22 read) She was once my favorite author – her Anita Blake series was pretty much my main inspiration to write vampire fiction, but lately the books have gotten away from what I loved most about them. Still, I’m loyal, so I continue to read, hoping one day they’ll get back to the good stuff.
  7. Sherrilyn Kenyon (21 read)
  8. Anne Rice (17 read) My original favorite vampire series, until it, too, got too weird. I haven’t read her more recent stuff, but I did like her Mayfair witches series.
  9. Lynn Kurland (15 read) I love her time travel romances.
  10. Another tie at 14 books each. This time between Victoria Laurie (she has two great series: Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye and her Ghost Hunter series) and Lynsay Sands, who writes the fantastic Argeneau Vampires series. It’s an original twist on the vampire myth that I love, and is lighter than most vamp romances.

Okay, so technically that went into #11 on the GoodReads list due to the ties, and was really 12 authors. Close enough.

Since it’s Veteran’s Day and therefore the banks and post office are closed, I was able to duck out of work early. This is good, because maybe today I will actually get that final revision started on my next book. Once I’ve done that, I can send it off to be read by someone that isn’t as close to it, who can hopefully help me work out the kinks and maybe slim it down a little more. (While I’ve done a good job hacking it down for it’s original 200,000+ word count to only 134,000, I’d still like to shave another 20k off if possible.) But before I do that, I need to rework the opening, tweak one of the characters some and remove an element from the ending I don’t like. If I can get that all done this weekend, I will be very happy.

While I’m doing this last read-through, I also need to keep my eyes out for possible titles, as it looks like I’m going to have to re-name it. *sigh* I’ve always been terrible at titles, but this was the ONE book that practically named itself. I was so happy that I wouldn’t have to struggle with naming it … until a few weeks ago when I discovered two other Urban Fantasy novels that came out recently with the same title (Bloodstone). Grr. So either I need to find a way to add to the title to make it more unique, or come up with a new one altogether. I have a similar issue right now with my current book, as Destined is not only the latest in P.C. Cast’s fabulous House of Night series, but another paranormal romance book is being released this month with that title. It doesn’t help that Destined is a common word, and therefore not easy to search without adding my name. So I want my next book to have a more unique title.

Since it’s also the first in a series, I want something I can use as a naming convention for later books. With Bloodstone, each subsequent novel was going to have a gemstone in the title. Maybe I can come up with something that refers to the setting (Miami) instead. I need something different: too many other UF series with vampires use “blood” or “death” in the titles, so I’m making an effort to avoid that. Another reason to toss out Bloodstone, I suppose. One option could be to change the bloodstone in the book to a different stone and use that, but I haven’t found one that would work yet. It doesn’t have to be a bloodstone, just a stone that isn’t commonly used in jewelry (so not a birthstone). I liked that the name was a wink to the vampire element in the book, and that it was kind of ugly, making it stand out. (It’s part of a murder case, so it needs to be recognizable.) I’m sure there’s another stone out there I could substitute if I can’t come up with another title idea. Either way, I’ll keep thinking. Eventually something is bound to come to me!

See what I mean? It’s not exactly pretty (some are more green than black), and it’s very distinguishable. If anyone has any suggestions for a good alternate, I’m open to them!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Titanic Tuesdays: Her Final Resting Place

I hope everyone had a fun Halloween! I’m currently munching on leftover Kit-Kats (we only had a handful of trick-or-treaters, which means more candy for me!) while I blog this. Mmm, Kit-Kats.

A conversation I had (if you can call a series of blog comments and tweets a conversation?) with a book blogger last week got me thinking about the genesis of my Titanic obsession. (Darcus of Starcrossed Reviews, who,, I might add, gave Destined a fantastic review, if you haven’t already seen it.) In one of these comments, she mentioned that she had become obsessed in middle school, which happened to be the age I got really interested in the ship. I‘m still trying to ignore the fact that, for her, I suspect middle school still fell within this century. How is it possible that I’m interacting with other adults online who were born when I was in high school? I do not feel old enough to be able to say those words, yet there they are.

Anyway, I always say my obsession started when news of the wreck’s discovery was found, but counting back now, I’m not sure that’s true. I would have been 9 years old in 1985, and while I know my interest was piqued with the news, I don’t think it was until 7th grade that I really got into it. We had to do oral reports that year, and while I don’t remember if we had any specific theme assigned, I know that I chose to do my report on the Titanic. I was already interested at the time, but it wasn’t until I started doing research for the paper that I got truly fascinated. I still have this one, vivid memory of jumping on the bed in our guest room while trying to memorize the report. Don’t ask me why I was jumping on the bed: maybe I thought all the bouncing would help the facts stick in my brain? I was kind of a weird kid sometimes.

(Naturally, now that I’m writing all of this out, I’m starting to doubt my own memory. While I know I did a report on Titanic at some point, I also did one on the Exxon oil spill, and now I’m unsure which report was the jumping-on-the-bed one. *sigh* Getting older sucks.)

Whichever grade it was, my obsession was born with that report, and ever since then I have devoured everything I see about the ship. And when it was announced in the late 1990s that a movie was being made about it, I was ecstatic. Then it got delayed, and delayed again, and critics weren’t being particularly nice about it, and I started to worry that it wouldn’t live up to my rather high expectations. I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t disappointed. *g* Like most people at that time, my obsession was renewed, and a few years later I got the idea to try my hand at writing a fictional account of the ship, told from the point of view of a 21st century woman sent back in time. And that’s how Destined was born.

Now, on to my actual blog post on the impetus of my obsession: the discovery of the wreck.

Since this isn’t a school report, I’m not going to go into all the details of how Robert Ballard found the wreck site. Most of us have already heard them, anyway. Long story short: while searching the Atlantic for sunken nuclear subs (a trip financed by the US Navy, and a detail he only recently disclosed), he and his team were also keeping an eye out for the Titanic, knowing that they were in the same general area of her last known coordinates. Ballard had been long obsessed with finding the wreck, so even though that particular research trip wasn’t financed for that purpose, he was always looking for it. And on September 1, 1985, he found it.

Underwater photography wasn’t nearly as good then as it is now, so the sonar being used only sent back grainy black-and-white shots similar to the images you see on a pregnancy ultrasound. (Maybe it’s just me, but I can rarely make out the baby in those things. Remember Rachel in that episode of Friends where she thinks she’s a bad mom because she can’t see her own baby on the sonogram? If I ever had kids, that would be me.) While scanning the ocean floor, someone spotted something in the sand, debris that didn’t look natural. They followed it, until something bigger popped up on the screen: a ship’s boiler. And thus, the Titanic was found after 73 years. It was early morning, around 1:00am or so. By 2:00am, amidst all the cheering and dancing and champagne-toasting, one of the men caught sight of the clock and said “you know, she sinks in 20 minutes.”At that point, the celebrating stopped as everyone realized they were 20 minutes away from the exact time the Titanic sank those 73 years ago. It was a sobering realization: they were (quite literally) dancing on the grave of 1500 people. Ballard invited everyone who wanted to join him at the stern of the research ship, and at 2:20am, they held an impromptu memorial 2 1/2 miles above the ship’s wreckage.

Maybe I’m just a sap, but whenever I hear that story, I get a little misty. There’s something incredibly powerful about the image of the ship resting, surprisingly intact, on the sea floor. Sure, it’s in two pieces, there are holes everywhere (some due to the elements and some due to damage caused by human submersibles landing on her decks and bumping into her) and many parts are missing completely, but still the sight of her is almost … majestic. How can you see that iconic shot of the bow and not feel something?

[photo credit: NOAA/IFE/URI]

Most organic material has long been eaten away by bacteria and other deep-sea organisms, leaving only the steel and some wood behind. Bodies are long-gone, but we can still see where some fell due to metal jewelry and leather shoes. The boots I used on the cover of Destined are from one such shot of the debris field, one that struck me more than any other image I’ve seen. I stumbled across it when I was looking for images of the ship to use for my cover, at that point aiming for 1912 shots of the ship as she set sail. But every design I came up with using those shots felt wrong somehow. Then I saw the shot here, and knew, in an instant, that I’d found my cover. It matched so perfectly with a scene I’d written (if you’ve read the book, you know which I mean, and if you haven’t, I won’t spoil anything by saying more), it was almost like I’d written it to fit the photo, rather than finding the photo later. Serendipity, I suppose. The more I look at those boots, the more haunting they become. They didn’t just fall there on their own: someone was wearing them, someone who had just lost their life. There may not be any human remains today—even the bones are gone—but all those pairs of shoes leave no doubt the massive debris field surrounding the shipwreck is a graveyard. It’s a humbling sight. (You can see a larger version of the boots picture at the NOAA site. The part that always grabs my attention is the round object—a coin?— just below the boot on the right.)

[photo credit: NOAA/IFE/URI]

I know it’s futile to hope this but, while I’m as hungry for more Titanic information as the next fan, I really wish the salvaging expeditions would end. I have no problem with the scientific explorations that go down there and look without touching, but the people that dive to dig up artifacts for the purpose of selling or even just displaying in museums are speeding up the destruction of the ship. She lasted over 70 years in relatively decent condition, and now, after we’ve been plundering her for the past 26, she’s falling apart. Significant changes have been noted: for example, the crow’s nest, seen on the 1985 still attached to the main mast, is completely gone. The plaque left on the bow by Ballard’s team in 1985 has even disappeared, presumably looted by illegal salvagers. Who does that?

Sorry, I didn’t mean for this to turn into a rant against artifact salvaging, but as you can see, I’m passionate about the ship. It’s fascinated me for most of my life, and after all the research I did to write Destined, I find I have an even deeper appreciation for the thousands of lives lost nearly 100 years ago.

Good luck to everyone starting NaNoWriMo today! I’m skipping it this year in order to finish editing my next novel, but I’ve enjoyed participating a few times in the past. Destined was my first foray into NaNoWriMo, as a matter of fact, way back in 2001! See, there I go, making myself feel old again.