Friday, July 24, 2009

Death didn't take a holiday

I finally managed to get some sleep last night and felt rested this morning -- until the phones started ringing and my email filled up. Yesterday, a lot of people emailed and called to tell me they bought Past Imperfect and today they called and emailed to tell me it was shipped. My phones are seldom this busy. Usually, when the phone rings I jump because it's so quiet here and more people email than call. I'm grateful everyone called to let me know. It feels great to be appreciated. Now all I have to do is worry about how fast I need to get out of town when they read the book. (just kidding)

Mom has torn a ligament in her knee and is now using a cane. It's either the cane, which she says makes her look old (she will be 79 in a few weeks) or surgery. Her orthopedist, who has known her for decades, many decades, told her if she doesn't stay off the leg, she has to have the surgery. She said she'd be good, but that won't last long. Right about now, she should be mowing the lawn and complaining that her leg hurts and the bruising is worse. Duh! She'll end up having surgery.

She managed to slip in some news about someone else for a change. My half-brother Timmy's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. She had the surgery and the chemo and the cancer showed up in her lungs. Now she has cancer in her spine and cannot move her legs. Aunt Anne, Timmy's mother (and my biological mother), called to ask about a comfort box that hospice brought when they brought the hospital bed, wheelchair, bedside toilet, etc. Hospice told Timmy not to open the comfort box and to keep it in the refrigerator. They gave him instructions about not using it until things got really bad, to call them first, follow their directions and then call 911. Timmy doesn't know what it is and Aunt Anne had a feeling that I would know. She called to ask Mom to ask me.

I do know. The news isn't good. The word hospice alone was enough to tell me what's in the box, and I tried to explain it to Mom, but ended up calling Aunt Anne to tell her. Mom's not good at relaying information -- accurate or otherwise.

The comfort box contains medications, including a very large dose of morphine and a medication to ease the death rattles. Timmy's wife is terminal and the box is only dispensed to those families and caregivers of patients who are nearing end of life (no, not the battery kind of end of life or a pacemaker, the human end of life). Timmy doesn't know and if his wife knows she hasn't told me. Aunt Anne wanted to know how to break it to Timmy and I suggested she call his wife and find out if she knows and why she hasn't told Timmy. Timmy thinks that she's going to be all right because she's still getting radiation treatments for the one (now four) lesion(s) on her spine and that one leg will never function again, but that she will be all right. She's applied for disability and is lining up work to do at home. At least it will give her something to do for the next few weeks of her life. I doubt she'll live six months and now that hospice has been dispatched the likelihood is that she won't last the summer, if that.

Aunt Anne was very upset about having to tell Timmy. He's been married four times now and his comment when he found out about the cancer was that three of his wives divorced him; they didn't die. He was still joking, but when I hung up the phone, he had just arrived. I don't think he's laughing any more.

As I read the contents of a comfort pack to Aunt Anne, I heard her choke back the tears. It was only by strength of will I didn't cry. We have lost so many members of our family over the past two years and I think we should be done for a while. Evidently, there are more deaths to come. I'm sadder for those in my family who are dealing with this first-hand. I'm more sanguine about death. Yes, it hurts to lose someone I love and it's shocking to lose people I respect and care about, but I know my grief is for my loss and not theirs. They get to move on to the next life or rest or become one with the stars and the earth. They know what lies beyond this existence, so my sadness is short-lived. I miss them and it's hard to get out of the habit of writing or picking up the phone to call, but I don't feel the need to let it weigh me down.

That may sound cold and emotionless, but it's not. They don't have to clean any more toilets or kitchens, do dishes, juggle money and bills, or deal with the 1001 things that squeeze out the important things, like friendship, love, adventure, excitement, travel and learning. They know all the answers -- at least until they move into a new existence -- and they see how unimportant all the things the rest of us obsess about are. From the stars we came and to the stars we return. It's not such a bad deal.

Now, I'm going back to reading a review book and getting in the right frame of mind to critique my first manuscript. The dishes can wait and I already cleaned the toilet. I think a cold shower is in order, but then it's going to be an all reading and writing evening.

I want to thank all of you who called and emailed. With friends like you, the book can't fail and I never will because of you.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grammar: Italicize me

The CEO and President of Authorlink emailed me today with a proposal, what she called a "possible small assignment." I was immediately intrigued. Authorlink receives a lot of manuscripts for critique, the first 60 pages, and she asked if I would be interested in doing the in-depth critiques and a line edit on the first 30 pages. What could I say? "No, thank you. I'm not interested." As Gram used to say, "I'm dumb, but I'm not stupid." I then squealed loudly, hitting the high registers and startling some people walking toward the door to visit the doctor in the building behind me. I hope their heart is all right.

I went over the sample that Elaine, my supervisor at Authorlink for the past six years, sent me and decided it was time to brush up on my grammar skills. Strunk and White, while quite thorough, doesn't go into much of the nuance of grammar that is now expected of me and I am frankly a bit rusty. I have several websites bookmarked and went to my favorite immediately. I browsed. I studied. I decided that there was something I had been doing incorrectly that I could share as a grammar goof.

Yes, I do make grammar goofs on occasion. It's all part of the rusty skills part.

I chose to focus on italics today for a couple of reasons: I am very busy with work and I have a pile of books I need to get through in between sleeping and working. Eating is not an option, except as a quick bite with bathroom breaks.

In preparing manuscripts for publication, I was taught that any words to be italicized should be underlined. That was before advent of word processing programs and email submissions. Many publishers, like mine, L&L Dreamspell, prefer words in italics to be italicized and not underlined, as they explained in the first editing pass of Past Imperfect. I thought I was doing it right, and I was, if you do things the old fashioned way, and I did. I read publishing guidelines carefully or check with publishers to find out what they prefer.

Italics are used in the titles of magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays of three or more acts, operas, musical albums, works of art, websites, and individual trains, planes, or ships.

One of those really surprised me: websites. Oops.

The New Yorker

Boys in the Band
by Matt Crowley

Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Estéban Murillo

Simply Irresistible

Foreign words are italicized.

"Dio mio! Maria held her hand to her heart. Tears left dark tracks in the flour dust on her cheeks when Angelo appeared in the doorway.

Words or phrases to be emphasized are italicized.

"Oh, you meant it that way."

When referring to a word, the word is italicized

The word critique means more than just criticize.

Okay, so I know most of these, but the rules change all the time. English is a fluid language and the rules often seem to be just as fluid. There are some rules that never change -- or at least they shouldn't.

  1. Check submission guidelines carefully.

  2. Thoroughly check your manuscripts before submission to make sure the guidelines are followed. Don't underline words to be italicized half the time and italicize them the rest of the time. Be consistent.

  3. Don't rely on spell check because it will not catch grammar mistakes even with the grammar option checked.

  4. Read your work out loud. Your ear will catch what your eyes miss. You could also join a critique group; fresh eyes, like readers' eyes, pick up what you or your editor might have missed.

  5. Bookmark a good grammar site and refer to it when in doubt or just to refresh the fading memory. A site like The OWL at Purdue is a good site and very thorough.

We all make mistakes, and they don't have to be fatal, so when someone points out a mistake don't get angry. Thank them and make the changes. Ask questions if you're not sure why something should be done a certain way. Be generous when it's your turn to correct someone else's mistakes, especially if they're an old hand at the grammar game. No matter how much you learn or how much you think you know, the mind -- and the fingers -- will play tricks on you or simply fail you when you least expect.

Grammar, like life, is a learning process, and the best way to stay abreast of changes and brush off the rust is to keep rereading and checking good resources. Even they make mistakes, as I found out when preparing this post. Someone didn't know an artist's name in one of their examples was misspelled: Wassily Kandinsky. They forgot there are two Ns in Kandinsky.

Until next week, may all your grammar goofs be small ones and easily fixed.

Are we there yet?

No doubt, I'm going to get really boring over the next few weeks, months (dare I say years?) because my book is finally on the shelves. I also got word last night (late last night) that Barnes & Noble will carry an e-book version of Past Imperfect for sale. Good reason to get an e-book reader, especially since you get six free books with download of their FREE ereader software. I've asked whether or not my book will be available for Kindle, but no word yet, so that gives me one more reason to write about my book again. I know. I know. I'm going to become very boring very quickly, but, hey, if you can't bore friends and readers, what joy is there in life?

I checked the ranking and it's at 115,112, which is a huge surprise to me, but no doubt I'll end up in the millions in ranking soon enough. Now it's time for me to get back to designing postcards and writing before time for me to work.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A wandering stroll

Yesterday was my grandson Jordan's tenth birthday and he didn't get the gift I sent because it was sent to the billing address (mine) instead of to him. I called him today to explain the problem, but he was okay with his. AJ, his father, doesn't get paid until the end of the month and his birthday party isn't until Aug. 2nd. I should be able to get it to him by then.

And speaking of packages, I keep forgetting to mail Mary Ann's package. I should probably take all the books off it and from around it and put it in the car in the front seat so I don't forget when I go to the post office the next time.

Beanie is on vacation this week and has turned off her cell phone. I wanted to share some good news with her, right after I shared it with Mary Ann, but now she'll have to wait until she gets back.

This has been a day for good news. The contracts have been written, edited, amended and inked today so the Big Secret Project can finally go forward. You'd think after all these years that I would be used to the hurry up and wait world that is publishing, but sometimes it is just too much to expect, especially with a project this big. No, I can't mention any details, but I have no problems dangling bits of information to keep the interest going -- mine as well as yours. Suffice it to say that there is a movie (actually two movies) tie-in that will coincide with publication of the Big Secret Project and I was beginning to think it would never happen.

Going weeks without news has a dampening effect on me.

I was also offered a plum assignment to join the critique service at Authorlink where I have been a paid reviewer for six years. I was surprised by the offer and snapped it up immediately, which is what I shared with Mary Ann, and would've shared with Beanie if her phone was one and she available. From email to answer to squee took about 30 seconds. It's a good thing I work at home and live alone or I'd be spending the night, and many nights to come, in a blandly quilted room wearing a jacket with wrap around sleeves. Now that is a project I can talk about.

Here I am on the downside of the year with quite a few blessings I can count, in addition to the usual blessings of continued employed, roof over my head, food in the cupboards and plenty of books to read. Even my utility bills have come down even though I run the ceiling fan in the living room and the stand fan in the bedroom almost constantly. The summer so far has been cool with lots of rain in the afternoon to make sleeping at night pleasant and restful -- when I actually get into bed and sleep -- and I am not taking 3-4 cold showers a day just to be comfortable.

I feel a little guilty because some of my friends have had a rough year and for some the year just keeps getting rougher. I hesitate about posting my good news because of my friends' problems and I don't want to seem like I'm gloating in the face of their troubles. The good thing is that I have amazing friends who, in the midst of their misery or discomfort, are happy for me and glad to celebrate, which just makes me feel a little bit guiltier for feeling so good. It's not like I haven't had my troubles (let's not go there) and I am always glad to hear someone else's happy tales, like last Friday.

I had just found out I had to work over the weekend and wasn't able to go to the VE session at the Megafest in Monument, so I called Dennis, the VE Liaison for the PPRAA team, and gave him the bad news. I had already made sure there were plenty of VEs for the exam session and even worked out a split shift so the VEs wouldn't miss the whole hamfest, so there was no reason to panic and find someone to take my place.

Dennis took the news well, but I could tell he was reluctant to tell me his good news. He didn't want to smile in the face of my troubles. I urged him to tell me something good, " I know there's hope for better things ahead," I told him.

"All right," he said. I could tell he was still reluctant and would downplay the good news as much as possible.

Dennis has had some problems with depression and he was out of work for a long time -- Dennis is a Beta tester. I heard him rein in the smile and the joy as he told me his was feeling better and work was really good. That's the kind of news I wanted to hear, I needed to hear.

That's the thing about good news. It's infectious, spreading like a balm over the sore places in my life. As long as someone I know and care about is doing well, especially after a prolonged period of difficulty, then I'm happy for them. I refuse to wallow in the mire at the bottom of my own potholes on the road of life when there is a rising sun on the horizon or a bright star coming out from behind the clouds. It's a time to celebrate not dilute with feelings of envy and questions of "why isn't it going better for me?". Sometimes -- thankfully -- it's not about me and I need to get out of my head and get some distance from the troubles so I can look up at the horizon and see the sun or that brilliant star and smile and laugh and celebrate. After all, without the valleys, who would notice the hills -- or the glorious, majestic, awe-inspiring mountains?

And to continue rolling with more good news, Past Imperfect is available for sale on

Do you see now? It's cyclical: good news, followed by bad news, followed by good news. I hope the good news lasts for a while.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tarot: Put it in reverse

One thing I've discovered about putting together a weekly column is that it can be fun. It also takes a lot of work, but delving into the mysteries of the tarot cards and the many stories they have to tell and the insights they give is also fascinating. With 78 cards, there are hundreds of combinations when choosing just three cards. Leave it up to chance and the nuanced stories and possibilities are endless.

Reverse me, but don't let me go.

When I pulled the cards for this column last weekend, I forgot which way the cards were facing and they all ended up reversed. At first, I decided to go with the cards as if they were upright. After I did my research, read the meanings and looked into the cards, I decided to go with the reversed reading of the meanings because it was interesting and because the shadow side of the human mind and psyche can be insightful. It's something to consider when putting together the background of a villain in a story and to give the hero a bit of an edge, let him dance with his shadow self. Perfect people are boring and there is no such thing as a perfect villain.

If you disagree, just look at Hannibal Lecter's character arc. In the beginning, Lecter was a monster, an highly intelligent, creative and sociopathic monster. His triggers were rudeness, over weaning arrogance where there was no superiority and inept playing of an instrument, to name a few. Lecter has his quirks, but he also has some redeeming qualities. He is polite and thoughtful, sensitive and attentive and he knows how to repay a favor -- or a slight. Over the course of the novels in which Lecter takes center stage, and especially in the novel about his origins, we see how a happy young boy born to privilege became a monster. It didn't happen overnight or by simple abuse or brutality. Hannibal Lecter, the thoughtful, intelligent and loving boy, died when his sister died and was eaten by the villains who kept him alive just in case winter's hold kept them penned without food or freedom. I wonder what Lecter's tarot cards would have revealed about his nature. No doubt a few reversed cards would come up.

The first card that came up for me was The Hierophant.

The Hierophant

The priest in his miter and carrying his crook dressed in his religious finery almost merges with the stained glass window that frames him. The Hierophant is a wisdom rooted in formal, organized religion. He preserves a system of belief, holding in trust the teachings of his predecessors and handed down to acolytes in an unbroken chain through generations of believers. He is the final authority on faith, the bridge between this world and the next and often symbolizes a licensed teacher, professors, psychologist/psychiatrist or priest.

In the background beyond the prisms of glass that seem to form a gateway from this world to the heavens, is the universe, vast and unknowable, although men believe they groq the heavens and the mechanisms of life, death and birth. The Hierophant is the terrestrial plane, the arched, stained glass window the telestial plane and the heaven the celestial plane, the past, the present and the future all in one glowing card full of color and possibility.

The colors of the window symbolize the mind (blue) and life (green). The window is translucent, glowing with light from beyond it's flat planes, letting some light in as the earth allows varying degrees of the sun's light through to the moon, its reflective surface giving back only what it is given in bits and pieces, one side ever in darkness.

But the card was reversed. The opposite of a living and changing belief is dogma, repression, intolerance, servitude criticism, fear, guilt and being judgmental. As above, so below.

Queen of Wands

The Queen of Wands is confident and sure of herself as she protects the living fire of knowledge and her world. She is ready for action as she bars the way with her fiery wand. She is protective of the trust she has by divine right, but she is quietly contained, a coiled spring, a fount of creative fire seeking an outlet. The Queen of Wands is not the retiring type. She will help someone with a new project or share her knowledge, but it comes with a price -- obedience, admiration, public acclaim. She is charismatic, a notorious flirt one minute who lives on the edge, her temper on a taut hair trigger. The fire she holds in her hand is the sign of Aries which makes her a natural leader, but beware the storm clouds on the horizon. The Queen of Wands is determined to have her way, even if a temper tantrum is the only way.

Like all the queens, water is her element and fire her charge. Fire combined with water has two properties, providing steam to drive the engine of success and creation. Too much water can also put out the fire.

In the reverse, the Queen of Wands can be generous, willful, a drama queen, enthusiastic, fierce, domineering, jealous, deceitful, potentially unfaithful and disorganized when the fire burns too hot and is not contained or guided. What else would one expect from a flame-haired wench like the Queen of Wands?

3 of Swords

At first glance, the Three of Swords is easy to read. The heart is pierced by three swords, the sky full of dark clouds. Someone's heart is broken, probably whoever tangled with the Queen of Wands on a bad day. In the center of the heart is the sun. None of the swords pierce the sun or alter its light, so there is hope for anyone willing to get past the pain and refuse to let their ego get in the way, making the emotional distress greater than it is. After all, there could be more than three swords in the heart. There's always room for more pain -- and more hope.

Swords have a way of cutting to the heart of a matter. Looking at the situation from only one perspective is flawed. In order to understand, the proper perspective is needed to find clarity.

The Three of Swords could be a sign that a relationship is ended, but it's not the end of life as long as you seek a realistic perspective, come at the situation from more than one angle. It's easy to wallow in loss and mourn a broken heart by carrying a torch. To do so is to stagnate and avoid living. The heart is still beating in spite of the swords cutting through it. As long as the heart beats, life is worth living. The heart is still capable of love and life is still worth living without the one who made your heart beat faster.

Divorce, grief and sorrow are the first emotions felt when looking at the Three of Swords. It's almost overwhelming as memories of sorrow, sadness, grief, loss, infidelity, depression and divorce flit through the mind, but this card was reversed and so its meaning is one of hope, healing, and recovery. What seems to be the worst possible moment can be a blessing in disguise.

Imagine what these cards say about the villain in your story. You have a lot to work with here. All the taboos are accounted for: religion, politics and sex. No doubt your villain will be as interesting as Hannibal Lecter, and maybe even more diabolical. Keep in mind that even villains have hearts that can be hard as adamantium or soft enough to feel the pain of a sword's thrust.

The most interesting -- and often the most chilling villains -- aren't obviously insane or evil. It is that sense of how similar they are to the people around them that renders them more terrifying. They are chameleons, able to charm and murder with the same affable ease that charms the people around them. A villain can be your best friend, the helpful neighbor down the street or someone you look up to and trust. It is their seeming normality that takes you by surprise. A villain can be anyone given the right -- or wrong -- circumstances.

What hides behind your villain's smile and helpful generosity?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Trying times

I just finished a horror novel where the main character had been unemployed for a year. His wife Had quit her job as a school guidance counselor to take care of their daughter who exhibited some strange behaviors (dreams, nightmares, night terrors, obsessive-compulsive tendencies and eerie predictions). Nate Kenyon, the author, wrote about the strain on the couple's marriage as if he knows first-hand or has experienced it through his friends, and it reminded me of the 18 months of unemployment I went through from 2003-2005. Being unemployed is difficult enough for someone who is single like me, but when there is a family involved the strain is compounded.

A month or two or even three is difficult, but not for someone who has enough money saved to keep things together, as long as there is the possibility of a job on the near horizon. How many families actually have three months' salary saved? A year's salary would be better. Even with a year's salary safely in the bank and being slowly eaten away as the weeks and months drag on, budget cuts are inevitable. How do you justify a vacation or even a camping trip, repairs to the car, replacement of essential household appliances, clothing and luxuries like camp for the kids and extra curricular activities for children still in school, let alone outlays to the movies, restaurants and shopping trips when no job is in sight?

The constant strain of scaling back a comfortable lifestyle to accommodate dwindling savings affects everyone, but not equally. For a man who defines himself by his job, the inevitable rounds of resumes, interviews, questions and turn-downs are disheartening and emasculating. For his wife, especially if she doesn't work, the act of juggling coupons and budgeting and answering questions about why vacations and movies and eating out are canceled and allowances must be cut back can be difficult, even with dad explaining the financial facts of life. However, if the wife has a part time job that provided little more than pin money and has no plans to re-enter the work force, things can get ugly fast. How ugly depends on whether the spouse is supportive or someone who sees the breadwinner's loss of income as a problem to be worked through together or a personal affront. Marriages where the the nonworking spouse blames the recently unemployed spouse don't last very long. All the cracks and fissures in the relationship begin to show and get bigger the longer the blame game is played.

When an accustomed lifestyle disappears suddenly or is slowly eroded over time, tempers and emotions flare, adding more pressure to an already pressured situation. It is hard to be supportive, especially when one partner feels the other partner is to blame for the situation. It never occurs to the supported spouse that getting a job is an option. Why should they when the situation is not their fault? The longer this inequity of feelings and circumstances continues, the likelier the marriage will founder on the rocks and fail.

With the nation's unemployment rate climbing quickly into double digits, the outlook isn't good. Some couples will choose to stay together and the spouse who has been under employed or unemployed will get a job. If this is a woman, the chances are good that she will find work fairly quickly. If this is a man over 40, he may be unemployed for a while. Whatever the circumstances, the outlook is dependent on whether or not the couple is willing to pull together and stop playing the blame game or takes the money and runs. Either way, the under employed or unemployed spouse will have to find a job unless a rich prospect comes into view or the assets, when split, are substantial enough, with the inclusion of child support, to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed.

The couple in Nate Kenyon's book weather the storms and the rocks for a year before the situation change, and not for the better -- it is a horror book after all -- in the short term. Staying together required sacrifices both people were willing to make. Unfortunately, in the real world, most people, especially selfish people who delight in finding everyone around them at fault, aren't fans of sacrifice. Their spouse's unemployment is a personal affront that has ruined their life and they expect it to be fixed right now without making the effort to cut back on their expectations or quit their pin money job and get a job that pays a living wage. Like too many rats in a confined space, cannibalism quickly ensues.

It was hard enough to get through the last six months of my unemployment, living on the $80 a month, and often less. The life I had built slowly crumbled and everything I had worked for slipped away. I nearly gave up and gave in on several occasions, but I didn't have anyone else -- other than my landlord -- depending on me. Living in a rural community in the back of beyond, didn't afford many opportunities, but I kept looking and eventually landed a job, a job I still do 4-1/2 years later. My life is better now, but I had then, and still have, only myself to support. I can live on very little, as I can attest. I shudder to think that it would have been like with a family, but one thing I do know is that by myself or with a spouse and child(ren), we would have made it because we were willing to work together and make whatever sacrifices we must.

In the end, unemployment, recessions, depressions and inflation come and go. As long as there is hope and a belief in yourself and your partner, no matter how bad it gets and how much must be sacrificed, life will go happily, if somewhat diminished, onward.

To quote and paraphrase Thomas Paine, "These are the times that try men's [and women's] souls." The summer husband and sunshine wife will, in these difficult times, shrink from these trials; but s/he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of their partner. "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as [EMOTIONAL SUPPORT] should not be highly rated." Tireless support and willing sacrifice are the riches upon which an enduring relationship are founded. If you do not find it now, it was never there; you have built your house on shifting sands and the tide has finally come in. When it is found, nurture and cherish it, for it is the solid foundation upon which a bright and happy future is built.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The greatest show on earth

Yesterday, Mike in Israel sent me a notice about the total solar eclipse on Wednesday, July 22. It will be the longest eclipse this century, lasting 6 mins and 39 secs and it is one of three eclipses that have happened in consecutive years. In the article he sent me, Mark Blitz was quoted as saying, "...three solar eclipses that would occur on each of three annual calendar dates that introduce the Jewish month of Av for the years 2008, 2009, and 2010. The first eclipse occurred on August 1, 2008. The second solar eclipse is coming up this month — on July 22, 2009, and the third will happen on July 11, 2010. Though these dates vary in our Gregorian calendar, they occur on the same calendar date in the Jewish calendar — Av 1."

(Mary Ann, that's where I got July 11, from next year.)

The Jewish calendar is 28 days long and results in a 13-month year instead of the Gregorian 12-month year, which is why it is possible for the Jewish month of Av to be in July or August.

Although Blitz said that the totality of the eclipse would last 6.6 minutes, the NASA site calculates the totality to be 6 minutes 39 seconds. I'd go with the NASA numbers on that one.

The Jews regard this trinity of eclipses on the same day in their calendar as a omen, perhaps a harbinger of the End of Days. Eclipses were seen in ancient times as a portent of evil, although an eclipse during the 6-year war between the Medes and Lydians in the midst of hostilities was enough to end the war in 585 BC on May 28. The passage of the eclipse was greeted with an immediate end to hostilities and resulted in a peace treaty and a double wedding. According to Wikipedia, "The war is thought to have started because of clashing interests in Anatolia (Turkey); Herodotus (Histories, 1.73-74) claims, however, that some Scythian hunters employed by the Medes who once returned empty-handed were insulted by Cyaxares. In revenge the hunters slaughtered one of his sons and served him to the Medes. The hunters then fled to Sardis, the capital of the Lydians. When Cyaxares asked for the Scythians to be returned to him, Alyattes refused to hand them over; in response, the Medes invaded."

The Medes were an ancient Persian (modern day Iranian) people and the Scythians were a nomadic people, also Iranian, who were reported to have been beaten by the Amazons. The Lydians were Turks. Looks like there has always been war and rumors of war between the Iranians and the Turks. Too bad there are no longer any ruling families with sons and daughters to marry off and bring about peace. I wonder how the Iranians would feel about marrying off one of Ahmadinejad's children to one of Benjamin Netanyahu's children to seal a peace treaty between Iran and Israel. Probably the way someone would feel about being forced to marry the offspring of, say, Charles Manson, but that's a topic for another time.

The deaths of empresses and kings was thought to cause solar eclipses as the sun mourned for their passage and it caused the death of Emperor Louis of Bavaria, Charlemagne's son, when he was overcome by fear at the disappearance of the sun. Evidently, Louis wasn't as formidable as his father or as strong. He must have been the product of the shallow end of the gene pool.

Christopher Columbus used a lunar eclipse to his advantage to frighten the natives into providing him with food when he scheduled a meeting with the chief for the start of the eclipse and convinced the chief that the gods were angry at his refusal by blotting out the moon's light. A little knowledge is useful in situations like that, as Mark Twain amply proved when one of his characters used a solar eclipse to his benefit in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

In 1560, the announcement of an impending eclipse caused rioting in the streets when nearly the entire population of Paris clogged the streets to go to confession to be ready for the end of the world, so a parish priest announced that the eclipse was to be postponed for two weeks in order for the people to get right with god. I imagine one or two people died of fright waiting in line for confession when the eclipse happened ahead of schedule.

This site details a bit of the mayhem and furor over eclipses, even mentioning the eclipse that Carly Simon mentioned in her pop hit, You're So Vain, about Wayne Newton. The site does not mention the eclipse that helped Dolores Claiborn end the life of her incestuous pedophile husband, though. I would have thought that would have deserved a mention.

An eclipse figured prominently in Homer's Odyssey, occurring on the day Penelope's suitors began last meal and Odysseus returned. Scientists have figured the date to be April 16, 1178 BC, about 12 years before the accepted date of the sack of Troy, which means that historians need to refigure their data since it took Odysseus 20 years to return to Ithaca after he left for the Trojan War in Menelaus's fleet of a thousand ships. It's rather difficult to return home before you've left.

On July 11, 1991, a partial eclipse was visible from Ohio. I stood out in the front yard that day to watch it. What amazed me the most was how the shadows fell on the leaves during the eclipse. Only as much sun as was visible, a fingernail crescent, showed up on the leaves at my feet, a tiny sliver of golden light in the gloom. I was fascinated, but then I am not among the ancients who fear the sun being blotted out temporarily by the passage of the moon between the Earth and the sun nor am I superstitious enough to fall dead of fright because a dragon has devoured the sun. At least the dragon spit it back out again.

According to the soothsayers at, "The central path begins in India's Gulf of Khambhat, formerly known as Cambay, an inlet of the Arabian Sea, at 00:53 UT. Interestingly, this is where in 2002 archaeologists discovered the site of a sunken city with artifacts carbon-dated to more than 9000 years ago, showing that civilisation existed not long after the end of the last Ice Age. Racing inland, the shadow sweeps over the Indian cities of Surat, Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi, and Pata. Travelling across Bhutan, the umbra clips Nepal, Bangladesh, and Burma (Myanmar), before reaching China at 01:05 UT, then working its way across the rest of southern China where the major cities of Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan and Hangzhou stand in its path. As the Moon's shadow reaches the coast, China's largest city, Shanghai, with over 19 million people, experiences a total eclipse lasting 5 minutes at 01:39 UT. Across the East China Sea, the umbra sweeps over Japan's Ryukyu Islands and Iwo Jima, but the greatest eclipse (6 minutes 39 seconds) occurs in the South Pacific at 02:35:19 UT. It then arcs southeast through the Pacific hitting small atolls in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati (Gilbert Islands). The path of totality ends at 04:18 UT as the lunar shadow leaves Earth 3.4 hours after it started its trek across our planet's surface. The 15,200 km long track covers 0.71% of Earth's surface. A partial eclipse is seen from a much larger area covering East Asia, Indonesia, and the South Pacific."

Whatever your take on the more esoteric meaning of the eclipse, one thing is certain, it's the greatest show on earth.