Friday, March 07, 2014

Mini Ice-Age and Waking the Dead



            In theory, the mini ice-age might be the reason St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated far and wide.
By the mid-eighteen-hundreds, the potato—a New World crop—had become big in Ireland. It th. Imagine life without the parades—and green beer, of course. (My mom was born in Dublin so it’s all pretty cool to me!)
had become so big, in fact, that the country was dependent on in. By 1849—tail end of the mini ice-age, since most scientists agree it ended about 1850—the land was so ravaged and decimated that the potatoes were growing black and inedible. In starving droves, the Irish were forced to immigrate to survive. As we know, the Irish came to the United States in massive numbers. And thank the Lord! While they went through a pretty wretched period at first (read Gangs of New York—yes, read the book, though I was a fan of the movie, quite different!) they began to settle in quite nicely as the decades rolled by and we began to pick on whatever new immigrants from different countries began to flock in and it was their turn to be ostracized. Yes, bring us your poor and wretched . . . we’ll bitch about them and forget we’re a nation of immigrants, but hey! Back on track here. So the Irish came and we have delightful celebrations every March 17
So maybe another reason to party in this country isn’t so important. But many or our leaders are of Irish descent, um, hm—like Kennedy! And Obama apparently can go back as well. Maybe Congress could actually agree on something if they were just to figure out that many of them were of Irish descent!
Oh, well. Still digressing here!
And on that note, the first President of the Republic of Ireland was an American. Yup. An Irishman (via his mom,) but born in the US of A, which meant, that when he was caught with a number of men who were hanged for their rebellion, he was spared the noose—no one wanted the Americans getting up in arms against what was going on. So Eamon de Valera lived to be the first pres. Lots of connection here—and maybe because of the weather.
Who knows just what else might have had to do with the extreme cold? Not that the shift was that big—just big enough to ruin crops and keep snow on the ground. Enough to make people really, really hungry.
But here’s to the point of the story—and we’re going to backtrack a little. On April of 1815 the volcano at Mt. Tambora on the little island of Sambawa erupted. The eruption was by far the worst of the nineteenth century although it’s presumed that it wasn’t noted as much as the later eruption of Krakatoa because by the time that top was blown, the telegraph was shooting news all over the place—the Facebook of the age.
But Mt. Tambora was about 12,000 feet high—the eruption knocked off 4,000 feet to bring it down to 8,000. That’s a lot of footage to lose—and a lot of dirt and ash and matter flying around in the air. It’s hard to estimate the deaths with the tsunamis created-much less being there at the initial impact.
The volcanic sky began to travel, right around the globe.
The year 1816 was not a good one in the states. It wasn’t that they were having the coldest days ever—it was that the cold wouldn’t go away. (Kind of like this year, 2014. I just left Chicago. Damn!) Spring hinted of an arrival—and then just went away.
The sky was eternally overcast. Add the fallout into the air and you had one cold year without much sun penetrating down to earth.
But, good things came of it.
1816.
Writers at the time could be a Bohemian lot. Take Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and John Polidori. They were hanging around Geneva, Switzerland and were known to take lovely holidays. Now on these holidays the group usually did fun things—outside. They loved to boat on the lake, take hikes, and, in general, play games and enjoy the great outdoors! But when they arrived, it was cold. It was dark. It was the year without a summer.  
And sitting around by the fire one cold wretched night at the Villa Diodati, they began to tell ghost stories. And as they told ghost stories, they decided that writing was something that could be done indoors. Since it was eternally gloomy, day often turned to night with little being different. There were eternal shadows surrounding them. Gray hung over the lake like a miasma of death and waiting.
Lord Byron proposed they all write a ghost story.
Well, couple that with Mary’s upbringing—a feminist mother, a father who liked to entertain the brightest minds of his day—and the fact that she was very up on recent experiments with electricity and the concept of “galvanism” and “re-animating” corpses, and you have a story.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was born, no pun intended.
Without the mini ice-age, this wonder of the literary world might not exist. Hundreds of actors, film-makers, producers, and what have you might not have had jobs over the decades upon decades since. And writers playing upon the first chills they felt while reading it might not have created their new works of fiction. If you want to get down to it—people might not have been frightened into the backseats at drive-ins and who knows? Some of us might not have even existed!
While it’s fanciful to take it too far, it is amazing what the weather can cause and create and how it has influenced history. A story is a small part of it, of course.
But, apparently, that mini ice-age influenced me. Waking the Dead begins in Geneva, Switzerland, with Mary and her crew—and an ardent admirer of them all who painted with colors rather than a pen. But his creation of that summer makes it present day New Orleans and into the lives of Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn. I hope you’ll enjoy my take on the year without a summer!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Mini Ice Age (With eventual reference to Waking the Dead!)



The imaginings of any story start with a seed. And for me, history always tends to leave a lot of seeds that we can allow to grow into something else—fiction.
                With our current watch on the weather and global warming, I found it fascinating that in relative recent history--in the grand scope of the Earth and humanity--we had a “mini ice age.” And that mini ice age affected the world in many ways.
                Naturally, famine. Crops were destroyed. People starved. Disease went rampant.
                But it’s not just the obvious.
                So, let’s start more or less at the beginning of this story—the real story, or history. The ‘mini’ ice age began in approximately 1350 and ended in 1850, but scientists argue even those dates. At any rate, Rome had long fallen and the dark ages had come and gone. The Catholic Church reigned supreme and people were superstitious, liking to blame the weather on witchcraft and demons and what have you.
                Beyond the known dangers of the periods of fierce cold that popped up during those years—famine, pestilence, etc.—there were tremendous social upheavals and many of those were indirectly influenced by the ice age.
                The French Revolution, for one. Who would imagine that winter weather might have had the revolutionaries yelling, “Off with their heads!” But the fierce cold brought about that famine. And famine brought about hundreds of thousands of starving peasants angrier each day that they were starving and the King and Queen were dining quite nicely. 
                Then, of course, it would be interesting to imagine the world if Napoleon Bonaparte had managed to have his way with the world. But his eyes were actually way bigger than his concept of that Russian winter. Now, we all know that Russian winters can be fierce to begin with. Couple that with a climate in which the Russians themselves had succumbed in vast number, and the force of Napoleon, bogged down with accoutrements of war and running out of food that was not to be found on the bitter cold Russian frontier—and voila. Down with Napoleon—there was an island in his future.
                Some scientists/historians think that the mini ice age helped America to win her Revolution. Let’s face it—we weren’t doing so well. The British were in New York. Washington was on the run—his men were freezing and there was a lot of hunger going on among them, too. So, the weather is wretched—wretched! Beyond wretched. Ice floes are clogging the Delaware River. No one in their right mind would have gone out on that bitter Christmas night in 1776 when Washington decided that he would cross the river with horses, men, boats, and canon. He took a chance—and surprised the hell out of the Hessian troops quartered at and around Trenton. His victory there—and over the next day—allowed for his army to remain undefeated. Hell, yes, it got very bad again, but Washington might well have lost the entire army by the end of the brutal winter if it hadn’t been for his mad dash across the Delaware. And we might have wound up being the United Provinces of Southern Canada. Who knows?
                So the mini ice age might have been responsible for a tremendous amount of bad—hundreds dead of starvation and disease, heads rolling and “witches” and “demons” hanged or burning—but it might have caused a few good things, too. Well, despite our many problems and the fact that we’re now aware we’d best fear the climate—I’m glad to be an American. So, I see it as good!
                There was more good—and bad. Tune in again in the next few days. And, oh, just for the record, this all has to do with the next Cafferty and Quinn book, Waking the Dead (if you happened to have read the first, they’ve apparently slept long enough.) The mini ice age combined with another natural disaster to create the “year with no summer.” And from that seed, came my book.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day


               Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all. May the love flow! Maybe it’s nice because we at least try to show care and allow petty arguments to slip by because . . . it’s St. Valentine’s Day!
                And we’re honoring someone (or several someone’s; history is dicey) who truly did what he could for love.
                Legend goes that evil Claudius II of Rome believed that soldiers fought better when they didn’t have wives, and therefore, he put a ban on marriage. Valentine was a priest—a no-no in the eyes of Claudius from the get-go. But Valentine believed in the love and the sanctity of marriage. He was said to have done good deeds akin to miracles and he was known to welcome young lovers for clandestine marriages in his church—perhaps down in the catacombs? Who knows where this was, but those who believed in love came to him. Claudius got his hands on Valentine and blinded him; Valentine merely tried to teach Claudius the goodness of Christianity. Claudius wasn’t to be taught and so, despite the fact that he was beloved by so many, Valentine was executed.
                One version of the story has it that Valentine performed a wedding for the daughter of his jailer. Before his execution, he wrote her a note and signed it, “Your Valentine.”
                In the age of Chaucer, when romance and high gallantry flourished, Valentine was honored.
                It’s a feast day for some Christians while others honor a few other men named Valentine on different days in various parts of the world.
                Who knows exactly what is truth? But, remember, Valentine died for love, not particularly his love, but so that others could be together.
                So—with the help of Hallmark and others—we honor the memory of the man (or the several men named Valentine) who gave his life for the beauty of love—in its many guises.
                So, okay, I already ranted. And, true, the economy always needs a boost and little things can mean so much. So I say pick up some flowers, candy, or whatever. But, maybe, if you are in love and you’re loved in return, think about those who might have lost someone or just not know the wonders of love on St. Valentine’s Day.
Know a widow down the street? Or, do you have a friend who has had a bad split up? Since you have your love and she/he has you, why not take the flowers and candy down to the person who is alone . . . and needs a little tender care and thought from others?
                There’s nothing wrong about honoring one of our finest human emotions—love!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pre-Valentine’s Day Rant


Valentine's Day. Across the country and much of the world, we’ll be

celebrating love. There’s a good reason to celebrate love on this

day—beyond the fact that we’re helping to keep Hallmark and other

card vendors in business.  (History and theories on Valentine’s Day to

come on Valentine’s Day!)


                I just don’t understand quite where we’ve taken it all.
                Cards are lovely—for any occasion, or when there’s not an occasion. They are a wonderful way to say, “I’m thinking of you,” or “I care.”  And what are the best cards you’ll ever receive? Usually the hand-lettered cards created for you by your children. And these days, perhaps something created by a talented and loving partner on a computer.
                I’m hoping I don’t lose friends with these words but I’m just not a big believer in a lot that goes on for this day. Dinner together? Lovely. A sitter to watch young children for a few special hours alone? So nice.
Do I believe in love? Whole-heartedly. Do I believe that an expensive diamond or other piece of jewelry proves love? Not in any way, shape, or form.
                There are so many ads out there saying, “Show her your love with . . . .” A certain designer’s jewelry.  Shopping at a certain jewelry store.
                Seriously?
                So far, at least, I haven’t seen anything like, “Show him you love him with BlahBlah Auction House’s sale of So-and-So’s Superbowl Ring!”
                But, I’m a big believer in it being a two-way holiday as well! The best love is always equal. With the world realizing that a loving commitment (be it marriage or a commitment of the heart, be it heterosexual, gay, or lesbian) makes the world go round, I’m surprised we’re not pushing a few other really expensive gifts as well!
                I’m personally not much of a material girl and those around me are aware of it. I have a tendency to kill flowers way before their shelf date and plants don’t have a prayer with me.
(How many people can kill cacti? Thankfully, I fare much better with animals!)
Chocolate is okay, especially with nuts, but I think my favorite probably remains a Snickers which can be picked up when desired at the check-out at any Walgreens or CVS.
                Here’s my argument. Love (I mean the real stuff) can’t be bought. And if I love you, I’m not expecting you to go through your bank account on a gift.
                Anyone remember “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?”
                Totally disagree! Saying you’re sorry when you mean it is one of the greatest things you can do for someone you love. We all make mistakes. We can all be cruel.
                Valentine’s Day has become much of what it is here in the United States the same as many another holidays—it’s quite commercial.
                So, before the big day hits, I’m just sayin’ . . . .
                It should be about love. Honoring the “St. Valentine(s)” who risked his life for love is something good.
                I just think it should be honored with love—and not fantastic gifts. It should be shared; and not one sided. If love is something shown through an expensive purchase, it’s simply not the emotion that helps us make it through trials and tribulations, death and sickness, stretches of poverty and hunger, and/or all the other bitter strikes in life that can rip us apart.
                It can also be a day to let parents, children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and just special people in your life know that they’re loved as well. (Hallmark and other card vendors have provided for this!)