Friday, April 29, 2016

The Sad Fate of a Book Character


Writing The Heart of the Staff series has been a grand adventure, but now that it is over I find myself missing many of the characters from the epic who had become a part of my daily life, my thoughts, and even my dreams, and wondering what of them now? The following is what one obsolete character had to say about that.
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So you writers think you have it tough? You ought to try living the life of one of the characters you create. I mean, really, how would you like being the figment of some writer's bizarre imagination? If that isn't bad enough all by itself, consider all the things you writers dream up for us characters to do. Not to mention the dangerous situations you get us into, the problems you make us solve and the many humiliating, provocative and sometimes ridiculous predicaments you drag us through! Could you, mere flesh and bone, survive it all? I think not!
And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that we have absolutely no choice in all of this. From the moment of our creation we are forced to live out our entire lives in whatever image you have dreamed up for us. We aren't allowed to choose the way we dress, talk, act or feel! Why, some of us are forced to emerge as villains, monsters, aliens, fairy tale creatures and even some of the undead, just to mention a few of the lives you choose for us.
Take me for example. I was innocently drifting along amongst the synapses in my creator’s (totally demented) brain one moment and rudely thrust into this narrative the next, without so much as the dignity of a name or brief description of my appearance. And for what? My entire existence, now that The Heart of the Staff series is written, has been reduced to simply educate you writers and readers about the fate of a book character. Once that task is completed, my own fate is sealed. I will live as a nameless, faceless character who is only brought to life when someone reads the series or worse,  this blog. I am doomed to repeat the same words over and over, without change, until one magic day when the series is old news and this piece becomes worn out enough that, it, and I, will be deleted.
Sometimes you writers decide one of us hasn't exactly lived up to your expectations, often without really ever giving us a chance to reach our true potential, and you just start making changes out of hand, leaving us to adapt...or not...and we all know what happens if we don’t adapt. Don’t we?
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By now I’m sure many of you are in denial. You want to point out that book characters have exciting adventures, fantastic quests and memorable romances. To that I say...sometimes. But, it seems to me, a fair share of adventurers and questers end up dead. As for the romance...well the heartache very often off- sets the thrill of it all. No! Don’t point out the sensual delights of a good erotic tale. Have you ever considered being the hero or heroine in one of those? Do you know how stressful that can be? You have to always look your best while performing sexual feats that would often challenge any contortionist. And do all of that while you have an audience of thousands...perhaps millions! I ask you, would you, mere humans, be up to it? (no pun intended)
I will conclude by simply asking that all of you at least consider the fate of the characters you create once in awhile. Maybe you could even wish us well or thank us for helping you on occasion.. After all, if not for us, what stories would ever be told?
Carol Marrs Phipps

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Brown Recluse and the Old Woman Who Knows



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Ten years ago, Carol and I lived in an aging trailer on the Navajo Nation in the sagebrush BrownRecluseSpideroutside Twin Lakes, New Mexico. One evening after a rough day of teaching, I came home to be reminded that Carol would be at a teacher's meeting until dark. Since I had the time, I took a hot shower and found that I had crushed a brown recluse spider in my towel. I didn't have a bite anywhere that I could tell, so I gave a shrug and started to get dressed.
By the time I had my clothes on, I had a fiery pain in my left knee. I dropped my breeches and had a look. I saw no sign of a bite, Exif_JPEG_420but my kneecap itched and felt fevered, and the pain in my knee was quickly becoming hard to bear. I filled the tub with hot water and sat in it for a good long while. When I walked Carol home after her meeting, I was in such pain that the best I could do was hobble. When we got home, I remembered that Microhydrin had completely eliminated the pain and swelling from a bark scorpion sting, so I took six of them.
turquoise02The next day I was greatly improved, but I limped all day. My principal, a Navajo lady who had spent her life Red Rocks NM 11-30-09_1around such spiders, told me to try a poultice of Chee dirt, the reddest dirt to be found in the bluff faces in those parts. "If that doesn't do it," she said, "try the flea market."
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indicators-fleaI was much better by the weekend, but my knee joint was still painful to use, and I now had a half ping-pong ball sort of pocket full of fluid, right on the face of my knee cap, so Carol dee8f15d78c08a6e54ac1d55d0cad72aand I went wandering about inquiring at the Saturday morning Gallup flea market. We were quickly directed to "the old woman who knows," who turned out GallupFleaMarketto be an old blind woman sitting at a table, who knew not one word of English. With the help of onlookers to translate, she sold us a bundle of herbs and told us how to make poultices from it to keep wrapped to my knee.
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My dichotomous keys were all back in Illinois, so I was never certain, but I think she may have sold us a generous wad of sage and lavender, which I dutifully applied. By the next weekend, her herbs had indeed done away with the pain, but I still have the pocket of fluid on my knee cap to this day.
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A few months later, I was bitten on the elbow. This time, I immediately commenced taking six Microhydrin every twelve hours for four days and keeping strong magnets wrapped SONY DSCabout the joint with elastic bandage to keep the capillary beds open. It started out every bit as painful as my knee had been. In four days though, there was no trace of anything at all, not even a pocket of fluid.
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So please tell us what adventures you've had with venomous spiders and the like.
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Tom Phipps

Monday, April 25, 2016

There was no Vowel Shift Separating us from Middle English

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Back in the monkey days, when I was studying to be a botanist, I became intrigued with Middle English. Here was a version of our own tongue which our civilization just up and quit reading. What a loss. After all of the graduate school I could stomach, I stumbled across a hot-shot English student who gave me a copy of Chaucer's Poetry, an Anthology for the Modern Reader by E. T. Donaldson at Indiana University. I began at once studying it from cover to cover and saw why we moderns no longer had access to the language.
One barrier which had arisen over the centuries since its use was a change in vocabulary. One third of modern English consists of words never heard by people six hundred years ago, and one third of Middle English is vocabulary no longer used at all. When I set about memorizing these obsolete words, another problem appeared. Wanting to get it right, I paid close attention to the rules of pronunciation insisted upon by Professor Donaldson, which assigned completely different sounds to virtually every vowel, long and short, because of the occurrence of what he called a vowel shift (making As sound like Os and Is sound like Es) which turned Middle English into a virtual foreign language.
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I put more effort into getting his pronunciations right than I did at the vocabulary. And the harder I worked, the less satisfactory it all seemed to me. As far as I was concerned, he gave no satisfactory proof for there ever having been any sort of vowel shift at all. He claimed that the way that Chaucer rhymed his verses was proof enough, but he weakened his own argument by also claiming that Chaucer and his contemporaries were sloppy rhymers. I simply could not accept such a thing out of an age of addressing court in rhyming verse.
Meanwhile, Middle English grammar kept reminding me of the Appalachian speech I grew up immersed in. Both Chaucer and the old man hoeing corn across the hedge could talk about "when he come to town." They both would say, "They was all there." But it went further than the grammar. Old timers used to say that they "was out huntin' mushyroons," and Middle English for mushrooms was musserounes. And if there had been a vowel shift, I can't imagine how it would have been possible to hang onto such a pronunciation.
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In fact, how could any of these ever have existed, had there been a vowel shift? Sowynge was Middle English for sewing. Trustid was Middle English for trusted. In Chaucer's day, a thyng was a thing, just as my little girl used to be called a sweet thaing. Chaucer got fyssh out of a cryke, just like we always got feesh out of a crik. And when we chomped (champed) on these morsels, Chaucer chaumped. Het was Middle English for heated. And indeed, someone furious around home was said to be all het up, just as someone might have gotten six centuries ago over eny goode cawse. Chaucer had blewe for blue, dowte for doubt and reskew for rescue. And I swear that his verses rhyme 'way better with Appalachian vowels than with Donaldson's shifted ones.

Tom Phipps