Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The weather where I live is bouncing back and forth between almost-spring and still-winter. So for today’s site, here’s something a bit warmer — the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s a zoo! it’s a botanical garden! it’s a natural history museum! and much more. (It’s also just down the road from one section of the Saguaro National Park but the latter will have to wait for another post.)

The bookstore alone is one good reason to visit — lots of wonderful, interesting texts about the region’s history, natural history, and more.

The museum is, of course, mostly outside and occasionally underground. Here are two attractions, one dead and one living.

I took a lot of photos during one of my visits (I spent a number of years close enough to visit Tucson and the museum on several occasions). I’m restraining myself rather than overwhelm visitors with images, but here are three showcasing vistas (those are not merely mountains but sky islands in the distance), cacti, and flowers.

The raptor free flights are one of the museum’s many attractions. They’re seasonal–the birds aren’t flown free during the hottest months–and definitely make for a fine show. Here are two samples from my visits.

Owl perched atop a long, thin cacti
Owl landed
Raptor flying with mountains in the distance
Raptor in flight


Links of the Week

Illustrated Pretties – some lovely covers here!

What Tools does a Professional Writer Use? – my list would vary quite a bit, although some of the differences are likely due to the matter that Buckell is a full-time writer while I work a day job

In Praise of Backstory – which I found interesting, particularly inasmuch as I’m working on a lengthy series of related short stories where I am always weighing how much to include in any given work

How to Find Inspiration: Fiction Therapy – some tips for writing from life

What Does Amazon’s “Project Zero” Anti-Counterfeiting Plan Mean for You? – this is mostly geared towards non-textual items (as I read the article at least), but will be interesting to see if/how it extends (anti-piracy anyone?)

What’s in a Name? Naming Characters in Historical Fantasy – for “a name is a significant part of a character” and names set up differing expectations. There’s a lot of possibilities—and places one can (un)wittingly trip

Good Parts and Bad Parts – about the different tasks involved in being a professional writer, which I where I’m headed (not a full-time writer, as I actually like my day job quite a bit, but professional)

Trope-tastic Musicals – in which a romance writer organizes musicals (theatrical and film) by the romantic tropes they fall into, with very interesting results (plus ample commentary on which elements have weathered time and which are cringe-worthy)

The Sunken Trace

Shows where centuries of travel by Natchez, Chickasaw, and other peoples wore down the earth more than five feet in places.
The Sunken Trace, Natchez Trace Parkway, 9 February 2018

A little over a year ago, I moved from the Southwest to the Midwest. I took a month off to move and settle in, and have a bit of a breather before starting a new job. I did a facilitated self-move (hired labor at either end to pack and unpack a truck, which I drove myself), then flew back and drove my car a slightly different route. I am an inveterate planner, but for once I didn’t plan ahead and arrange all my lodgings, stops, etc. I went with the flow.

That said, I went with the flow with a semi-formed goal in mind: to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway. I’ve driven, or been driven, along many of the most beautiful roads in the US at one point or another (Skyline Drive, Kancamagus Highway, Going to the Sun Road, northern parts of Route One). I made it to the Parkway (lets not talk right now about just how long it takes to drive across Texas) and got all of 100 miles along it before I bowed to fate. It was raining, heavily, and the forecast predicted rain, rain, and more rain for all the days before when I absolutely had to be in the Midwest. I left the Parkway in favor of roads that are easier to drive when one is a stranger forging through pouring rain (I got lost first, but that’s a sidepoint).

Nevertheless, I was able to drive far enough along the Parkway to see the Sunken Trace — which is every bit as stunning as I’d hoped. The overcast sky lent the scene a gray stillness, and contributed to my being the only person there. I’ll admit a had a flash decidedly out of this world (it brought to mind the scene in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship where the hobbits hide from the wraiths in the roots of a tree). Nevertheless, the real power of this spot is the centuries of travel along it. The Park Service sign suggests visitors walk along it imagining themselves back to 1800 — but I didn’t stop there. Centuries of Mississippian peoples (Choctaw, Chickasaw) passed by long before any of European descent. It’s all these peoples taking the same path to/from that wore it down between the trees to such an extent. It’s definitely worth visiting–and revisiting.

I’m going back, someday, to drive the whole Parkway and stop at all of the historic and nature spots that the 444-mile road boasts. Someday. Until then, memories and the photo posted above (taken about when the rain started) will have to suffice.

National Park Service sign providing background on the Sunken Trace
Sunken Trace Sign, Natchez Trace Parkway, 9 February 2018

Links of the Week

Some of the posts which caught my eyes (and attention) in the past week.

Biased Opinion – The Destructiveness of Voting Slates in Book Awards

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War (review)

On Life Changing Experiences and Fear

Tips for Complex Historical Research – not mine but another writer’s. Perhaps I’ll try to encapsulate mine for writing historical fantasy/magical realism some day; in the meantime, check out my Tuesday posts for musings on historical sites (web and real-life) and books.

Have We Lost Our Empathy – on hard decisions and the difference between empathy and sympathy

On Writing Process, Part Four: Submitting that first novel & rejection

Finding the Voice – an interesting take on voice

New Worlds: Public Sanitation – something to consider in world building!

Writing Tips: How to Authentically Write Diversity – advice to consider

Transported by Words – a writer of historical fantasy / timeslip who’s work I enjoy writing about another writer who’s work I enjoy . . .

Recreating the Past

To write history or historical fiction/fantasy, one must do research. That said, researching to write history and researching to write historical fiction differ in significant ways. This is not an original observation. I’m not researching the point, but I’m absolutely, positively sure many others have made it before.

As a writer of historical fantasy, then, it’s worth celebrating when I find a resource which contains useful details. Today’s subject for celebration is Phillip Collier’s Missing New Orleans. I’m currently writing a short story set in an alternate New Orleans circa 1840s-1850s (Chasing Shadows, in the Twisting world–likely available late in 2019). This book has a number of relevant photos, names, stories, maps, and places. For instance, photographs of early hotels (St. Louis, St. Charles). It’s organized thematically, not chronologically, so I had to hunt through to find images and anecdotes–nevertheless, it was of incredible assistance as in fleshing out my alternate version of the city.

So if you’re of a mind to set a story in an earlier New Orleans–or just interested in the subject, I recommend this. Perfect? No, certainly not, but chockful of anecdotes and materials to send one down a dozen or more research rabbit holes. Enjoy!

Phillip Collier’s Missing New Orleans. Text by Jim Rapier & Mary Beth Romig, Introduction by J. Richard Gruber, Foreword by Pete Fountain. New Orleans: Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans, with support from The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2005.


Links of the Week (or two)

Once or twice a month, I’ll share stories which caught my eye during blog reading

Desert Botanical Garden

Phoenix, AZ — visited March 2017

The Desert Botanical Garden offers a lovely array of flowers, cacti, and other plants — plus a butterfly garden and some historical information (not a lot, but some). The weather where I’m currently living has featured cold winds, which I’ll admit has me thinking back to my visit nearly two years ago. I have no desire to visit Phoenix in summer (I like some heat, but not that much)–but when spring hasn’t arrived in the northern climes, Arizona is flowering. Here are a few photos from my visit . . .

Russian Folk Belief, by Linda J. Ivanits

This is a fascinating exploration of Russian ideas about the supernatural and the intersection with Christianity. First published in 1989, it’s been reissued in the mid 2010s. I picked up a copy when I realized I was writing a story set in eastern Russia in the 1830s (aka western Poland)–and the pov character would encounter a rusalka. There are a lot of different ideas about what rusalka are, and the Dvorak opera was not at all suited to the story the character in my head wanted told. The book offered alternatives — many of them. Indeed, I learned of several other kinds of female water spirits, both kind and unkind. I shared the story with a Russian-born co-worker. She told me later that I’d included types of Russian spirits she hadn’t heard of! (She also said my story was quite Russian, except for the ending.)

So if you’re interested in different types of spirits, consider picking up this book and learning about not only rusalki, domovoi, and leshii, but also vodianoi and vodianikha, or the beregini.

Historical Chicago

City encyclopedias are wonderful resources for research — particularly with the searchability of the internet. I found the Encyclopedia of Chicago while looking for information on life in that city in the 1840s-1850s. Many of the entries were quite helpful–as well as illustrative! I actually found it even more useful the second time round on research. Several of the other sites I used flitted away as unsupported internet sites do–but the Encyclopedia is still around and has lovely, lengthy articles documenting the types of information I originally located on more ephemeral sites. So here’s to the Chicago History Museum, Newberry Library, and Northwestern University for keeping it going!

For those who might be interested, here are some of the topics on which I consulted articles in the Encyclopedia (or verified, when the other sites vanished) or otherwise explored for a story set in an alternate Chicago circa the early 1850s:

  • sidewalks circa 1850 (the city was raising some of them)
  • the railway station (layout, location, building materials)
  • “public” transportation within the city
  • libraries, particularly any accessible to women
  • natural history societies & lyceums
  • hotels, particularly the Tremont
  • cholera epidemics

Which do you want?

Instead of “Cheap, fast, and good–which do you want” how about “History, fantasy, reality”?

This new blog will explore all–1, 2, and occasionally 3 at a time. I’m a history buff (seriously–I put in the time to get a Ph.D. in US History) — and a lover of fantasy (let’s not go into just how many books I keep lugging around with me, and that’s just the physical ones quite apart from the numbers stored in either of my e-readers) — and I live in reality (a reality, possibly yours or then again maybe not).

Tuesdays will highlight historical sites (real life and/or websites) and Fridays books or music — with top 10 links on the 1st and 15th.

Now to retreat to my non-bat cave and plot and plan.

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