Monday, May 6, 2024

Essay on Radioactive Dirt Updated

 


Let’s be clear, I’m older than dirt. That would be radioactive dirt. Sure, radioactivity is around us all the time because it’s a natural thing in the environment with levels that are normally nontoxic. The dirt I’m referring to is the kind that became enriched with Strontium 90, a product of nuclear fission. Forget the spent fuel from nuclear reactors or their radioactive waste; I’m talking atomic and hydrogen bombs. The testing of those bombs, both above and below ground, was the cornerstone of the Cold War, and went on from WWII until a partial test ban was signed by Kennedy and Khrushchev in 1963.

As a child of a time without computers or the internet, I knew little of the larger world outside of my immediate family, my small town. But at some point, I did become aware of images of mushroom-shaped clouds over the desert sands, of horrific winds blowing away houses, and the danger it might present for my small self to get in the way of such things. Blame television. Blame the schools. Whoever were the ones to come up with “Duck and Cover” drills. The “make like a turtle” and hide under your school desk all tucked up into a ball. I’m here to tell you that even a socially-unconnected little kid from that era can figure out how valueless those tactics would ever be in the real situation.

One of the presents for my twelfth birthday was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the tense standoff between the US and the USSR. Seriously, the grownups around me were worried. So was I. The treat of nuclear war was real. I remember that I wanted to come to some kind of understanding with this scary scenario, this unthinkable end of everything. I wanted to find a way to go on with daily life without being paralyzed with fear. I wanted to just be a kid.

My solution then was totally childlike and naïve: I chose to trust that the grownups would not let me down. They would fix things. Keep me and everyone safe. And it happened. An agreement was reached, and everyone stepped back from the brink of disaster.

So, here it is decades later, and politics has us as bitterly divided, the newspaper headlines tell me the government has been shut down, there are new kinds of bombs out in the world, and homegrown terrorists seem to be shooting at random. I’m much too old and too cynical to wait silently on the sidelines.

It’s time for the current crop of adults to step up, work together, and fix things. Our children need to be safe, and it would be nice if they didn’t have to do all the work themselves.

*****

I wrote that essay and posted it on my blog in March 2018. I don’t remember the exact shooting event that triggered my rant. It’s one of those things I come back to on occasion to edit and update. Unfortunately, with this revisit the menace in the news came from a child.

In this instance, a 14-year-old boy brought a rifle to a middle school in a small town uncomfortably close to my grandchildren. The school went on lockdown and parents received messages about an “active shooter.” No one walks away from a “scene” like that unscathed.

Back in the bad old days we armed ourselves with Nike missiles to counter the Soviet threat. An expensive solution fortunately never used. Not so with the deadly force rolled out for a pintsized terrorist. That midwestern boy ended up being the only one killed that day.

I’m reposting these thoughts along with a photo of a poster I found while touring a Nike missile base being preserved in California.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Finding Romance by Accident?

 

I have spent most of the past week rereading Clouds Over Bishop Hill, my first cozy mystery, looking for signs that my two main characters, protagonist Shelley and tow truck driver Michael, were doing more than a little superficial flirting.

In the process I found a list of 150 Romance Tropes. I believe that the list uses a modern definition of “trope” and not just different figures of speech, such as puns, similes, and metaphors. More in the vein of an overused theme or device.

I didn’t have to look far. There it was on the first page, “Old enemies from school.”

In my defense I had to throw Shelley and Michael together often to advance the plot and the important themes I wanted to explore. And I do love writing witty dialogue (my opinion here). So, to develop these characters, did I go too far? It wasn’t my intention to write a romance.

The mystery had to come first. I wanted to learn plotting. I wanted to work with the themes of preservation and community, family and career, past mistakes and forgiveness. Those sound more like conflicts than themes. Indeed, I’m told that conflict is at the heart of good storytelling. But what is my story and what is the subplot?

In going through Evie Alexander’s list of 150 romantic tropes I picked out ten that I’ve used in my writing without really spending an inordinate amount of time or thought on the consequences. Serendipity? Perhaps. But it gives me something to discuss with the REAL romance writers, Misty Urban and Kitty Bardot, when we gather at the BREWED BOOK on Saturday, Feb 10th, from 1-3 p.m.

Join us if you can.

 

Check out: https://thebrewedbook.com/

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Romance in the Afternoon (Update)

 

Let a dose of romance in the afternoon at The Brewed Book help you beat the winter blahs. Award winning author Misty Urban, who has penned multiple books in both historical and contemporary romance genres, will be on hand to discuss everything from red carpet runways to medieval maidens.

   Mary Davidsaver, author of A Bishop Hill Mystery series, will explain the importance of the romantic themes in her work. She will address the idea that if all stories contain an element of mystery, then they must also contain a thread of love lost, love found, or love delayed that lead to cautionary tales or happy endings.

   Kitty Bardot, the author of the Burlesque River series, will add her brand of romance to the gathering of local authors at The Brewed Book.  Her bio speaks of a full life of excitement which she uses to infuse her characters with “the real stuff … not just fluff.”

Three reasons to drop in for Romance.

Save the date:

Saturday, February 10th, 1-3 PM

The Brewed Book, 1524 N Harrison St., Davenport, IA   

(563) 232-6642

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Romance in the Afternoon

 

Let a dose of romance in the afternoon at The Brewed Book help you beat the winter blahs. Award winning author Misty Urban, who has penned multiple books in both historical and contemporary romance genres, will be on hand to discuss everything from red carpet runways to medieval maidens.

Mary Davidsaver, author of A Bishop Hill Mystery series, will be on hand to explain the importance of the romantic themes in her work. She will address the idea that if all stories contain an element of mystery, then they must also contain a thread of love lost, love found, or love delayed that lead to cautionary tales or happy endings.

 

Save the date:

Saturday, February 10th, 1-3 PM

The Brewed Book, 1524 N Harrison St., Davenport, IA   

(563) 232-6642

 

More information will be forthcoming.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Season’s Greetings

 

Season’s Greetings

By Mary R. Davidsaver

 

Christmas cards lay on the table.

Fewer this year.

They arrived unbidden.

My half-hearted quest for cards

Found all choices wanting.

I came away empty handed.

So many voids in my mailing list:

Dear friends, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles.

My brother’s sudden passing.

I expected no notice of my lapse.

I'm proven wrong.

One name draws my attention.

It didn’t register. Who’s this Helen?

Inside, a view from a high vantage point

Overlooking a scenic river

Dressed in seasonal greens and gold.

Only one answer to the question.

Only one couple climbed river bluffs.

Their purpose: take pictures, write poetry,

Honor the Driftless miracle

Of the river in our own backyard.

Too often overlooked and bypassed in haste.

I find my copy of BLUFFING by Dick Stahl,

Eminent emissary of the Mississippi River.

Read it with fresh eyes,

Rediscover its spirit,

Find inspiration …

For a New Year of opportunities.


This poem was originally published on this blog in Dec. 2021 and

updated for this post.


Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Lucia's Promise

 

Lucia’s Promise

By Mary R. Davidsaver


Not a bad turnout for the Saint Lucia festival of lights. Crisp night air and a couple of inches of snow makes it pretty and not too difficult for those who dress warm. There are always the few naïve, impetuous teenage girls who come with bare legs. Bishop Hill has never been kind to vanity.

The store is crowded, packed at times, but we are managing quite well. I’m handing out cheese samples, smiling, answering questions, and looking forward to a break. Sophie comes by to relieve me and I’m free.

As I’m straightening my apron and otherwise getting myself in order, a girl comes up and shoves something at me saying in a small voice, “Hold this for a minute.”

Suddenly I have a bundle in my arms: it’s cold, heavy, and warm all at the same time. I’m startled. I frantically fumble to keep from dropping it. I look down as the cover slips away and I see a tiny sleeping face. Looking up I see an ocean of coats and hats, but nothing of her.

This is great. Only a few free minutes on the busiest night of the year and I’m stuck babysitting for a stranger. I have all the luck.

Ok, I’ll give her 10 minutes, but only if there’s no crying. All bets are off if there’s noise or odor.

So, I’m standing, rocking, trying to get back my pleasant looking “people face.” I scan the crowd, searching for the girl. What did she look like? I can’t remember. Her coat? Blue. Maybe? It was way too fast, and I have a spotty memory even under the best of conditions.

“Be patient. Be patient,” I drone soothingly to the child, and myself. “She’ll be right back.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve even held a baby. I don’t have the knack with the little ones; they usually cry when placed in my arms. I like them older and talking.

Studying the baby’s face, it doesn’t look right somehow, too small, too splotchy. I can’t recall the last time I saw one like this.

I will myself to keep calm, look natural, smile, when it comes to me—I’ve seen a face like this before, in a hospital—this is a newborn.

Crazy. Just plain crazy. Why would anyone hand so tiny a baby to a stranger?

I don’t like what I’m thinking next. Could it be? Did she just abandon her baby?

I’m so paralyzed with fear that nothing comes out of my mouth. This can’t be real. I can’t make this kind of decision. No one trusts me enough to handle something like this. It’s too big. I could be wrong. I tell myself, I’m probably wrong.

Why? Why here? Why now? Crowds? She’s lost and wants to stay lost?

What should I do? Pray? Beg? Plead to Saint Lucia for a miracle?

I’m looking around when I see her; we make eye contact. She’s coming my way.

She’s not alone this time; there’s a young man with her. Man, hardly, they’re both just kids.

They make it through the crush of bodies to where I’m standing, still rocking the baby.

“Thank you,” she whispers as she reaches out.

I hesitate. Stiffen. I wonder if it’s the right thing to do. I give her a stern look and utter a low-pitched demand, “Don’t ever do this again.”

She nods.

“Promise.” I glance at the tiny face and back to her, “Promise.”

The young man takes a step forward.

She halts him with a small gesture. The strain on her face softens and disappears. She vows, “I promise.”

 

Copyright 2009-2024, Mary R. Davidsaver

 

 

One of the last events for a typical Bishop Hill tourist season is St. Lucia’s Festival of Lights. Our version of Lucia Night’s is held on the Friday and Saturday evenings on the weekend closest to Dec. 13, the traditional day it’s observed in Sweden. After dark, buildings are illuminated by a single candle in each window. Some use real candles for this. The sidewalks around the village park and along Main Street are also glowing with candles burning in white paper bags set out by anyone who wants to add to the magic of the experience.

 

My story, “St. Lucia’s Promise,” came to me as I was walking home from one Lucia Night. I had gone past the Colony Store and by the time I turned the corner by the Bjorklund Hotel, I had all the essential elements in place. It was my first work of fiction during a time I wrote mainly for newspapers.

 

St. Lucia’s Promise was first published as part of Winter Worlds: Three Stories in 2017.

 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

AI and the Author

 

Ever wonder what would happen if you asked an AI chatbot if it has read your book?

Well, recently such a question was posed of Google’s Bard, “Are you familiar with the book ‘Clouds Over Bishop Hill’?”

Here was Bard’s response:

 

”Yes, I am familiar with the book Clouds Over Bishop Hill by Mary R. Davidsaver. It is a mystery novel set in the small town of Bishop Hill, Illinois, a former Swedish communal society. The story follows Shelley Anderson, a young woman who is trying to escape Bishop Hill and go to college. However, she is drawn into a mystery when she discovers a long-lost painting by the folk artist Olof Krans.

The book is well-written and suspenseful, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of Bishop Hill. Davidsaver does a great job of developing her characters and creating a sense of place. The book is also full of interesting details about Swedish folk art and culture.

Clouds Over Bishop Hill is a great read for fans of mystery novels, historical fiction, and books with strong female characters. It is also a good choice for readers who are interested in learning more about Swedish culture and history.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions.”

 

It’s polite, flattering, and obviously an edited mixture of the back cover blurb and a few quotes.

I wouldn’t have expected the AI to have read my work with enough care to offer up digested thoughts and views of any depth, but this was competently done and even in present tense. Heaven knows I’d be hard pressed to write something about myself that came off so nice.

The kicker for me was the tag-end cautionary warning:

“Bard may display inaccurate info, including about people, so double-check its responses.”

 

Not being able to leave well enough alone, I had to pose a similar question to Microsoft’s Bing.

Here was that response:

Yes, I have heard of Clouds Over Bishop Hill by Mary R. Davidsaver. It is a novel about Shelley Anderson, who wants to escape Bishop Hill, a former Midwestern Swedish communal society, by earning her college diploma. However, a reckless driver sends her off the road and into the mysterious past of folk artist Olof Krans. Drafted into finding Krans’s last painting, her only clues are an old woman’s dreams and an uncle’s guilty conscience. Shelley navigates between museums and restaurants trying to determine if the old woman’s cloud-inspired dreams of Krans’s 1915 studio are real. She’s not the only one on the hunt for the lost Krans. After 93 years, how dangerous will it be to actually discover it? 12

If you have read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts on it!


Again, that’s straight off the back cover with a little bit of editing. But what about the last bit? The invitation for further engagement?  Who’s it after? The author? The reader? More training info for its database? Your guess is as good as mine, and with all the current turmoil centered around ChatGPT one does have to wonder how things will shake out.