I’ve researched a lot of random things in the name of my writing. To my left is a bookshelf with titles on it such as: The Conlanger’s Lexipedia, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, Science and Society in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the Crystal Bible, Crowning Anguish: Memoirs of a Persian Princess from the Harem to Modernity, The Secret Life of Plants, and — my personal favorite — Barbecued Husbands.
You can tell a lot by looking at people’s bookshelves. Particularly if they’re a total weirdo or not.
The thing is, even though the research is done for my book, it often just translates into a familiarity with a time period or a topic, and the chance of an actual detail or historical fact making it into the manuscript is…low. Any one of those facts becoming useful or relevant in real life? Slim to none.
Which brings me to last month’s fishing trip. My dad, husband, two brothers-in-law, a nephew, and I, all went deep sea salmon fishing on a small charter out of Ilwaco, Washington. We woke up at five, drove to the docks, and got our licenses. The sky was a beautiful silver overcast, the birds were flocking for shoals of bait just under the water, and we even saw a humpback whale. My brother in law, David, caught a good coho at the beginning, but after that, things slowed down. Way down. We spent a good eight hours perched on our poles. Our skipper couldn’t understand. He’d taken the boat from one promising spot to another, but the fish just weren’t biting. In all, our entire group caught six salmon. That’s a lot less than we’d hoped for.
And then my husband, Nathan, took out a banana. He pointed to the “NO BANANAS” sign on the cabin window and asked, “Is that for real?”
I followed his gaze and stared at the sign. And I, mind buzzing with ten years of random book research, registered what had happened. I realized our fishless fate had been sealed the moment we brought our lunch on board.
“Sure is,” said the deck hand.
“Why?” Nathan asked.
And then I spoke. For my moment had come.
REASON NUMBER ONE. Venomous spiders like to hang out in bananas, like Banana Spiders, which is a name for several species including Golden Orb Weavers, which look amazing and won’t kill you but you probably don’t want your eighteenth century sailing vessel infested with them, and Brazilian Wandering Spiders, which have a nastier bite — the effects of which we’ll leave to this wikipedia description:
The venom of Phoneutria nigriventer contains a potent neurotoxin, known as PhTx3, which acts as a broad-spectrum calcium channel blocker that inhibits glutamate release, calcium uptake and also glutamate uptake in neural synapses. At deadly concentrations, this neurotoxin causes loss of muscle control and breathing problems, resulting in paralysis and eventual asphyxiation. In addition, the venom causes intense pain and inflammation following a bite due to an excitatory effect the venom has on the serotonin 5-HT4 receptors of sensory nerves. Aside from causing intense pain, the venom of the spider can also cause priapism in humans. Erections resulting from the bite are uncomfortable, can last for many hours and can lead to impotence.
REASON NUMBER TWO. You know who else likes to hang out in bunches of bananas? Termites. This is a problem when your ship is made of wood.
REASON NUMBER THREE. Bananas release ethylene gas. You can read this whole article on the effects of ethylene gas on humans, but here’s a highlight:
Ethylene enters the body primarily by inhalation of air containing ethylene, but can also enter the body by dermal contact with ethylene. Ethylene is of low toxicity to humans and exposure to ethylene is unlikely to have any adverse health effects. However, inhalation of air containing extremely high levels of ethylene may lead to effects including headache, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, weakness and unconsciousness. Studies have shown that ethylene is metabolised to ethylene oxide, which has more adverse effects on human health.
In other words, breathing normal amounts of ethylene has little to no effect on people, but lets say you have an entire cargo hold full of bananas and its not getting the kind of ventilation anyone thought about until the modern era. In that case, going down into that cargo hold, or staying down there too long, could have some rather nasty results.
REASON NUMBER FOUR. Because of the rate at which they produce ethylene gas, bananas ripen and rot quicker than a lot of other fruits. That means they need to be shipped faster, and as they say, “haste makes waste.” Also, it was a heck of a lot harder for sailors to catch fish when the ship was booking it to the next port, resulting in anti-banana sentiments being even stronger in fishermen than general seamen.
REASON NUMBER FIVE: Bananas float in salt water, so when a ship carrying bananas sinks, everything goes down…except the bananas. At that point, those bananas are looking pretty guilty to superstitious sailors. (There were thousands of bananas on the Titanic, by the way. Coincidence? I think not!)
I relayed this information to my family — rather rapidly — and with the vigor of a woman who has just realized she’s arrived at the very moment her mental database of historical bad-luck-banana information is actually, miraculously, relevant.
My husband put the banana away.
Because that, my friends, is why we had a bad fishing day. Because bananas.
Thanks for coming on this journey with me. #nobananas
p.s. two of the six were mine. probably because *I* wasn’t the one who brought the bananas.
I’ve had a few interesting conversations lately with my six year-old son. We call him “Bubs” online. (Here’s an autobiographical video I helped him put together about a year ago.) I’ve been meaning to write these stories down, and I figure the blog is as good as anywhere else, and maybe you’ll get a kick out of it too.
First story, a couple weeks ago we’re driving home in the car…
Bubs: Can we watch Boss Baby: Back in Business when we get home?
Me: Um…no I don’t really want you watching that show…
Me: Because I feel like it’s just kind of stupid.
Bubs: Well, you don’t have to watch it.
Fair argument. I let him watch Boss Baby: Back in Business when we got home.
And then when the kids were horsing around instead of going to bed one night…
Me: Can you both please stop horsing around?!
Bubs: What’s that?
Me: Screaming and running and jumping on stuff.
Bubs: Mom, sometimes those things are just part of life.
He lost that one and got sent back to bed.
But then Bubs had a really, really bad day one day. I was putting him to bed and he was very sad. He told me he’d gotten in five “fights” that day. FIVE. He was rather empathic. Mom yelled at him for whining at breakfast time, he and his best friend got in an argument at school, which got his teacher involved so he had a “fight” with his best friend AND his teacher, then he went to a new friend’s house after school and that friend wanted to watch TV instead of play with him, and then he got yelled at by dad when dad came home because he was arguing with his sister.
I usually tell my son stories before bed, so this time I told him a story about Little Robot, and his bad day with Robo-mom, Robo-bestfriend, Robo-teacher, Robo-newfriend, and Robo-dad. Pretty sure there was a Robo-sister in there too but apparently getting in a fight with his three year-old sister doesn’t count? All the same exact things happened, but adding “Robo-” to everyone’s name seemed to soften the blow and even made him laugh. At the end of the story, as if he were doing his best Charles Wallace impression, my kid says, “I like that you made the story about me and my day. It made me feel happy, because it made me feel like you listened to me.”
Robots make everything better.
But then we continued talking about his best friend, and what happened there. Apparently Bubs had become so incensed he’d slammed his hand down on his work table and shouted “THIS FRIENDSHIP ENDS NOW!” (That was how Robo-teacher got involved.) And then this conversation happened…
Me: “Whoa! Those are some pretty strong words! That must have hurt your friend’s feelings.”
Bubs: Yeah…I thought I was making the right choice. But after I felt bad, because it was really the wrong choice. He said sorry first and then I said sorry and we’re still friends.
Me: I’m glad you said sorry. Sometimes we can tell if we made the right choice or the wrong choice by how it makes us feel afterward, huh?
Bubs: Yeah, like when I’m sad, it’s probably because someone else did something wrong, but when I’m mad, it might be because I’m wrong and I just think they’re wrong.
And I’m still thinking about that one.
p.s. The header image for this blog came from a recent “roly poly” hunt.
Last Friday my little family packed our things and piled into the car for a trip to Albuquerque (and I CAN NOT say that word without getting the Weird Al song stuck in my head). One of Nathan’s relatives passed away and his family was planning on holding a memorial on Saturday morning. Of course events like this are really important for all sorts of reasons, but on top of the obvious, a lot of Nathan’s extended family were going to be there, some of whom the kids and I were looking forward to meeting for the first time. And of course, the kids were stoked to see Grandma and Grandpa.
The drive was supposed to take us about seven hours. A couple hours into the drive, our battery warning light came on. Hubs was pretty concerned, considering we’d just replaced our alternator a couple months ago, and apparently these things are related. We made it to a mechanic (who had cars propped up on rocks instead of jacks), who couldn’t help us. The issue was not with the battery itself, which could easily be replaced. Instead, the bracket that held our alternator was broken. So then we went to another mechanic that called every mechanic around town for the replacement bracket they needed to fix our car and…no one had it. They said they could order the part and get it in by Tuesday. Remember, this was last Friday. We were planning on coming back on Sunday.
All the local car-rental places were closed, but even if they weren’t, we couldn’t rely on our busted car to get us there, and the town was too small to have any taxis, so…not an option.
Nathan and I sat in the car and narrowed it down to three viable options:
- Call Kris and ask her to come save us and just take us home. (Kris has confirmed that she would indeed have come and saved us. Everyone, get yourself a Kris in your life.)
- Stay in a hotel for a night and then rent a car to drive home the next day. (The memorial was Saturday morning, so if we drove down Saturday we’d miss it completely.)
- Catch the next Greyhound bus to Albuquerque. Departs: 10:00pm, Arrives: 4:30am. (Our car broke down around 5pm)
And thus we had a rather classic set of roads set before us. Admit defeat, return to the known and the easy…or do it the hard way, take a risk, and go on an adventure. Well kids, we took the Greyhound.
We spent five hours trying to kill time, walked all the way to four different restaurants recommended by Google before finding out they were all closed, listened to our children bicker and complain, realized in a panic that if we didn’t retrieve our luggage, the mechanic might lock our car into his shop with all our stuff in it, sent Nathan running across town to retrieve said luggage, and then hauled that luggage around town, and then the bus station was closed in the evenings so there were no vending machines or bathrooms for anyone to use and let’s be real–all bus stations get a little creepy after dark. And finally, when we arrived, our two small children were as jet-lagged as if they’d flown to Japan (and I say that from personal experience.) At least, that’s one way to tell the story.
Another way to tell the story is like this: we took a walk along the river, found a weird metal thing in the water and decided it was a magical key from the Land of Hyrule, found a coffee shop with wi-fi and donuts and a four-way chess board (on which Bubs learned to play chess for the first time), we ate some stellar cheeseburgers and beef-stuffed sopapillas with Pina Coladas, and by the grace of heaven we remembered to get our luggage out of our car before the mechanic closed his shop, and we made it to the Greyhound station with time to spare! And we all made it to the memorial in the morning! Bubs was so tired he even slept through it, which was actually super helpful, hahaha.
Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, have all had similar highs and lows. Meltdowns and naps. Lots of easily happy moments, and lots of opportunities to choose happiness.
I haven’t taken any pictures during this trip. Trust me, the idea of archiving the whole thing crossed my mind right at the beginning. The potential for a good story was obvious. But there was more than one adventure to be had. One was about “type two funny” travel disasters and the challenges of dragging children onto Greyhounds at four in the morning, and the kinds of things that make for good youtube videos. The other adventure was a little harder to grasp, a little quieter. It was about taking the time to get to know my kids a little better, teaching my son to play chess, spending time pretending to be mermaids with my daughter in the hotel pool, going to the family graveyard, meeting people I’ve never met before, and helping my husband manage being away from work for several unexpected days. I suppose I could have recorded those things too, and I have recorded that kind of thing in the past. All I can say is this: that a camera changes things. Sometimes taking pictures and footage enhances your experience. Sometimes the camera makes you an outsider in your own adventure. This time, I didn’t feel like looking at everything through a lens.
In the meanwhile, I’m still in Albuquerque. Looking forward to getting back home–hopefully tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, well, at least I’m in a magical, far away place, where the sun is always shining and the air smells like warm root beer, and the towels are oh so fluffy, where the shriners and the lepers play their ukuleles all day long, and anyone on the street will gladly shave your back for a nickel.
Wacka wacka doodoo yeah.
Image © Nastassia Bas | Dreamstime.com
Book research trip in Cordoba, Spain
Hey. I’m Christine. I’ve thought a lot about what I want to write as my first official entry in this blog. I imagine that someday, when I’m published, I might wander back here to remind myself what things used to be like. I hope there may be a person or two who will enjoy my work enough to be curious about where I started. So my aim here is to create a Time Capsule, to capture a bit of who I am, what I’m working on, what’s important to me, and where I want to go with it all.
First and foremost, this is a writing blog. I create YouTube videos, I draw illustrations, and craft (a lot), but in so many ways, I see those creative endeavors simply as facets to my one true love: storytelling.
As a child, I had an idea for a fantasy book that served as my main obsession all the way through high school and college. In 2010, I finally got serious about the project and began writing every day. I spent the better part of the last decade working and reworking the same book. It evolved from fantasy into historical fantasy. The characters grew and evolved and matured. The world grew. The story grew. And then…I realized that I actually wanted that book to be a sequel, rather than the first in the series. I’m currently eleven chapters into the new “Book 1,” and am enjoying using everything I’ve learned to finally do this book-of-my-heart justice.
Meanwhile, I kind of got tired of writing and writing without pitching and publishing. I’ve always had a great love for short stories, but never found time to work on them because of my novel. This year, I made the goal to write a short story every three months, and submit one to each quarter of L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. If one of those stories meets with rejection, I’ve prepared a list of science fiction and fantasy magazines to submit them to. If it’s rejected by one of those, I’ll send it to another.
Lather, rinse, repeat until published.
I can’t explain how happy just being involved in this part of the process has made me. So stay tuned for updates on both my novel and short stories! Also art. Also YouTube. Also random craftiness.
What are my goals? To finish my historical fantasy series. To tell the best stories I can to as many people as I can. To have fun doing it. To make friends with people who share the same definition of fun.
What are my fears? Oh, I don’t know. The sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man. Everything else is a learning experience.
And I’m not even taking this journey alone. Let me introduce you to Team Tyler.
These are the small humans I created, holding up some small robots they created:
This is Bubs. He likes science, dinosaurs, robots, and playing Ocarina of Time and Banjo-Kazooie on his dad’s old Nintendo 64.
This is Rosebud. She likes princesses. Today she had me do her hair like her favorite: Princess Leia.
And here’s Nathan, the love of my life, building a robot with my son. We really like robots around here.
And if this is being read in the year 2074 by our post-Singularity Robot Overlords, let this be proof that Team Tyler was always loyal to you.
Looking forward to looking back.