Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thirteen Facts You Might Not Know

Rumor has it that the characters authors create possess elements of their creators’ personality. I’m not sure that’s always true, but in this instant, it might be.

I love doing research and learning new things and fortunately in my latest fiction endeavor I’ve got a brainy character who likes to drop facts into his everyday conversations, so here are thirteen bits of trivia, my character knows that you might enjoy.

  1. Blood is complex. There are 250 million separate cells in each blood drop. (Mastoff, 18)
  2. You’ve much more hair than you think.  An ordinary or normal person possesses about five million hair follicles. (Mastoff, 35)
  3. But don’t sweat it. You’re probably not visibly hairy. Most of those hairs are vellus hairs, those really fine baby hairs you can barely see.  (Mastoff, 35)
  4. Speaking of sweat, would you like to know how much you perspire? If you’re an average human on an average day, you sweat about four cups. (Mastoff, 21)
  5. Four cups sounds like a lot of liquid, but guess what? You actually produce about a quart and a half of spit, politely called saliva a day. (Mastoff, 121)
  6. What do we do with that much saliva? We eat. For us to taste food, we have to mix that food with saliva. (Seuling, 7)
  7. And the average person eats about 1095 pounds of food a year or about three pound of food a day. (Mastoff, 121)
  8. That’s about a pound less than the average human brain. It weighs in at about four pounds. (Seuling, 7)
  9. But most of the brain’s weight comes from water. (Seuling, 7)
  10. Some other interesting facts about the brain are, according to You Blink Twelve times a Minute: And Other Freaky Facts about the Human Body, it takes about ten watts of electricity to power a brain. (4)
  11. And if you stub your big toe, it takes less than a second of the sensation of pain to register in your brain. (Seuling, 4)
  12. Technically the brain doesn’t experience pain itself because it doesn’t have any pain receptors. (Greenwald)
  13. Still it’s important to care for your brain because unlike the rest of the body, it doesn’t replace the cells it loses. (Seuling, 5) That said, the brain makes new connections, even clusters of connections when we learn (Stephens) and that’s an over simplification of the process, but it’s encouraging to me and I hope it encourages you.

As you’re reading this blog, your brain may be making some new connections. Thanks for stopping by and if you have an interesting fact or opinion to share, please leave a comment.

Works Cited
Greenwald, Brian. "Can the Brain Itself Feel Pain?" Can the Brain Itself Feel Pain? Web. 22 Jan. 2015. .

Masoff, Joy, and Terry Sirrell. Oh, Yuck!: The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty. New York: Workman Pub., 2000. Print.

Seuling, Barbara, and Ryan Haugen. You Blink Twelve times a Minute: And Other Freaky Facts about the Human Body. Minneapolis, Minn.: Picture Window, 2009. Print.

Stephens, Tim. "New Brain Connections Form in Clusters during Learning." UC Santa Cruz News. 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. .

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Bet You Didn't Know! Strange and Wonderful New Year's Customs
If you’re like me, you spent New Year’s Eve watching the big ball drop in Times Square on TV and counting down the last seconds of 2014. You may have shared a champagne toast or you might have spent the moment in quiet reflection.  But have you ever wondered how other cultures celebrate a year’s beginning?
I have and it inspired a little research. Here are thirteen other ways people recognize the next year’s birth.

  1. In China people make noise to frighten off evil. Often they ignite fireworks.
  2. In Denmark, celebrators throw dishes at friends’ doors. Apparently the person with the most friends had the most broken china outside their entrance.
  3. In England, some believe the first guest to enter their home in the New Year will determine that year’s fortune. That puts a little pressure on that visitor. He’s supposed to bring a gift along with his well-wishes.
  4. In Belgium, New Year’s Eve is called Saint Sylvester Eve. People throw family parties, kiss family and friends and toast in the year’s birth.
  5. In Brazil, some people serve lentils, which they consider to be lucky. Others wear blue and white, while still others go to the beach of Rio de Janeiro and launch boats filled with candles and flowers into the ocean.
  6. In Austria hosts serve piglets and peppermint ice cream for good fortune.
  7. In Germany some celebrants pour molten lead into cold water to predict the future. If the lead forms a heart, romance and possibly marriage may happen in the next year.
  8. In Japan, many people visit temples, where the bells ring 108 times to ward off evil.
  9. In Puerto Rico, people clean their homes and throw buckets of water out their windows to clean the old year and its troubles away.
  10.  In Spain, exactly at midnight, celebrants eat twelve grapes to secure luck in every month of the coming year.
  11.  In many Jewish homes, New Year’s Day is called Rosh Hashanah and it’s a day reserved for prayer and introspection.
  12. In the Netherlands, New Year’s birth is proclaimed by lighting a bonfire, which might have the old Christmas tree at its heart. In this way people burn away the old and welcome in the start of something new.
  13. In the Philippines, people look for round objects, which are considered auspicious. Eating grapes, throwing coins and wearing polka dots are popular.

There are many ways people mark a new year’s arrival and all of them are intriguing. Did you do something special? Or do you know of an interesting New Year’s custom?    Please share.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Water Beasties Across The Seven Seas

By Elizabeth MS Flynn w/a Eilis Flynn
My friend Jacquie Rogers and I offer an entire series of workshops about myths and legends around the world, but it was only last year that a regular at our workshops suggested that we might consider the myths and legends around the world…of the seas. We grabbed at the idea, because it was something that we had noticed during our research on the subject. There were mermaids and fishies and kraken, but what else could we pinpoint about the myths?

Good question. There was a lot, even in areas we think of being desert (remember the Middle East? Not all desert! Sure, big chunks, but not all desert!). What I found fascinating in particular was the river myth, not just the river nymphs and demons lurking thereabouts, but the concept of death that accompanied the river myth that popped up consistently around the world. In every region there was a story about a river one had to cross to get to the land of death, whether by paying off the ferryman (not just the river Styx) or by finding a certain shallow point at the river in question in order to cross to where death resides.

If you think of it, the water is the one part of the world that remains not completely and thoroughly explored. Every day there seems to be a story in the news media about a fish or other form of marine life assumed long extinct that shows up in a fisherman’s boat, alive, kicking, and clearly not extinct (and not even the last of its species). So maybe those water myths aren’t so mythical after all. In the wilds of Africa, there are numerous instances of river and swamp creatures thought to be mythical, but there are fossil records of dinosaurs long gone that are very similar to the descriptions of those water beasties. Myth or reality?

And water ghosts! There are ghosts that hang out specifically around lakes and seas in order to bring down the unsuspecting mariner or water-traveler. But some of them also hang around in order to protect the unsuspecting mariner or water-traveler, depending on how obnoxious they are (your choice who the “they” refer to).

The oceans are truly the final undiscovered country of Earth, and they’ve been feared and respected in perhaps equal parts as long as mankind has been around, spinning tales about what could possibly dwell down below. From the sinister kappa that wait in the rivers to attack the unsuspecting human in Japan to the water ghosts of the Nordic countries, join me and Jacquie Rogers as we take a trip around the world in a glass-bottomed boat and see what awaits under the sea. Water, water everywhere, but it’s always been mysterious. And as always, what people don’t understand, they make up. You can sign up at The workshop starts on February 2.

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at and reached at If you’re curious about her books, check out In any case, she can be reached at

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!
We hope this holiday finds you happy, well and with those you love. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

So You Think You Know Your Christmas Carols. Put Your Holiday Savvy to the Test

It’s that time of year again. Christmas carols are on most radio stations, featured in elevator Muzak and played throughout most malls, but do you really know your Christmas carols? Apparently many people mishear the traditional songs. Do you have the holiday expertise sort out these messed up lyrics?

  1. See the grazing mule before us, fa la la la la la la la la…
  2. Later on we’ll perspire, as we drink by the fire…
  3. Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.
  4. Yet in thy dark streets China
  5. Dawn we now our day of peril…
  6. Joy to the world! The Lord has gum…
  7. With a corncob pipe and a butt and a nose…
  8. Here we are, as in olden days. Happy golden rays, up yours…
  9. You’ll go drown in Listerine…
  10. O tiny bomb, O tiny bomb…
  11. Good King Wences’car backed out, on the feet of Steven…
  12. He’s making a list of chicken and rice…
  13. Get dressed, ye married gentlemen…

Make your guesses in the comments. You’ll get full marks if you can fix the line and tell me the title of the carol it comes from. Later today or first thing tomorrow, I’ll post the answers.

Happy playing and Happy Holidays.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Creepy Christmas Traditions

By Elizabeth MS Flynn w/a Eilis Flynn
In retrospect, a creepy holiday myth from the Germans shouldn’t be that surprising. Bad dreams are inevitable after a heavy meal starring sauerbraten, after all. Seriously, considering the end of the year is so full of good cheer and twinkly eyes and ho-ho-hos, it’s amazing how many dark, disturbing myths can be found. Or maybe it’s because of it. Maybe it’s the overeating.

The Germans? But the American tradition of Christmas trees all sparkly comes from the Germans, you protest. Yes, but there’s more to it. There’s the matter of that dark little demon Krampus, known as the anti-Santa, giving you coal. Or a switch, but depending on where you are in Europe, that could be even if you’re good.

There’s the pan-European version of Santa Claus, who visits children with his assistants—who again are demons. If you’ve been good, no problem, because Santa will give you prezzies. If you haven’t, though, that’s a problem, because then Krampus takes you away to hell. Merry Christmas! Then there’s Santa’s other assistant, Perchta, who appears before Christmas Day to find out if you’ve been naughty or nice and if you haven’t been good, she’s going to soften you up for Krampus by slicing you open. I have to feel sorry for German-speaking children.

But first, St. Nicholas shows up on December 6 (which is, of course, St. Nicholas Day), with his assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, he with the long, red tongue who apparently shows up wearing dark, ominous clothing and has a stick to punish bad children. But at least he’s just there as a warning for the most part.

It’s not just the German speakers, either. Well, it’s part of the German language family. There’s the Dutch version of Santa, better known as Sinterklaas, who also has a sinister assistant. Zwarte Piet also takes bad children, but instead of taking them to hell, he takes them to Spain. (This may say something about the Dutch attitude toward the Spanish, actually.) What is it about the German language family cultures?

If you’re interested in the Slavic traditions, both before and after the Soviets, there’s the story of Ded Moroz (also known as “Grandfather Frost”), which was the seasonal figure that the Communists used as a substitution for Jesus. These days, Santa Claus has made in-roads into the region. Not necessarily St. Nicholas in Central Europe, though he shows up on St. Nicholas Day and leaves gifts and candy for the good kids, while his assistant, Krampusz (now where have we seen that name before?) or just the devil with no name, leaves birch switches. So it’s not just the Germanic cultures. Europe seems to be a scary place for the holidays.

Back to Grandfather Frost. The legend in Eastern Europe has the fellow traveling in a sleigh drawn by reindeer or three white horses with his assistant/granddaughter, the blond Snegurochka (also referred to as the snow maiden). I didn’t find anything that made Sneggy the snow maiden a scary assistant, so that’s a point for her. The Russians also have Ded Moroz and Sneggy. These traditions could have been brought to the country in the 1600s, but not for the first time, I have to ask what was there before. Again similar but not quite is the Georgian version of Santa Claus, tovlis papa (“grandfather snow”).

Then there are the Scandinavians. Let’s start with the Danes, not so melancholy. They have Julemanden, their version of Santa Claus, who also arrives in a sleigh with reindeer. He has helper elves called nisser, but they’re not scary! Finally, a German family language culture that doesn’t threaten scary things!

Iceland has the mischievous Yule lads, the sons of trolls living in the local mountains, who wreak mild havoc, but pretty mild. They wear strangely familiar red and white suits. And there are the Swedes, with their jultomte, house gnomes, who insist on being fed porridge or they’ll spread some bad luck for the coming year. Okay, a little ominous. Those gnomes are basically Santa Claus in red with white beards, and instead of trying to work their way down a fireplace, they are smart enough to knock and inquire if there are good children around. Nothing like the direct route!

Estonia celebrates Christmas on December 24 and Estonians look forward to a visit from jouluvana on Christmas Eve, and while they don’t have to fear that scary demonic assistant, they do have to sing or recite poetry to get their gifts. That’s not bad, unless you have stage fright. Christmas Day is also a day to visit one’s deceased relatives there.

As always, the Finnish march to their own drummer. They have their Declaration of Christmas Peace that is recited throughout the country every year on Christmas Eve; 1939 was the exception, since they were at war with the Soviet Union (known as the Winter War). And there’s also a tradition of a pre-sunset sauna, leaving the sauna available for the ancestral spirits to return and take their own after the sun goes down.

And if we go to Eastern Europe again and take a look at Bosnia-Herzegovina and so forth, we have Santa with his assistant Krampus (familiar?), who steals the gifts of wicked children and the good children as well! The Slovenes also have Santa Claus and Dedek Mraz (“Grandfather Frost”)(note the similarity to other area figures. Ain’t comparative linguistics grand?). In Bulgaria there’s Santa Claus as “Dyado Koleda,” with “Dyado Mraz,” the similar character introduced by the Soviets, now faded away.

When we drop by Greece and Cyprus, with their Orthodox traditions, there’s St. Basil who is basically Father Christmas, as opposed to St. Nicholas. But there are holiday goblins that show up around the Epiphany, thought to be satyrs, the descendants of Pan.

I was an anthropology major, so I enjoy researching cultures. But this thing about sinister demons around Christmas? Freaky!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at and reached at If you’re curious about her books, check out In any case, she can be reached at

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November--National Novel Writing Month

It’s November, which for many of us means it’s … National Novel Writing Month.

Exactly what is National Novel Writing Month? “It’s a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing at the start of November with the goal of writing a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, Nov. 30.” That’s roughly 1, 667 words daily, about 6 to 7 pages a day.

Writing that many words is challenging, even exhilarating, but, at the same time, for people like me, daunting.

There are lots of reasons not to attempt National Novel Writing Month. I play them in my head even as I type my manuscript, but I also have solutions.

Maybe you’re of the same mind and that little voice of doubt nags in your head. With some helpful advice from Chris Baty’s book No Plot, No Problem let’s tackle those concerns.
Chris, incidentally, is the founder of National Novel Writing Month.

1. I don’t know how to begin. I don’t have it all planned out. That’s OK. Sit down at the keyboard and type. "It’s fine just to start.” Footnote: “Making it up as you go along does NOT require you to be a gifted novelist.”

2. I don’t know what I need to start. “What you need to write a novel, of course, is a deadline.”

3. How will a deadline help? “In the artistic realms, deadlines do much more than just get projects finished. They serve as creative midwives, as enthusiastic shepherds adept at plucking the timid inspirations that lurk in the wings of our imaginations and flinging them bodily into the bright light of day.”

4. Is the arduous journey worth the time and effort? "In the 30 or 31 days you spend under (the deadline’s “taskmastering”  thumb, “you’ll discover wild, wonderful parts of yourself and tap into exciting realms of aptitude and achievement you didn't know existed.”

5. How will people react? “You’ll fly and soar and laugh and sing, and [yes] the people who love you will likely worry you've gone crazy.”

6. Oh, no! “Well, actually, that’s OK. The insanity only lasts a month, just long enough to get ‘Write a Novel’ checked off your to-do list.”

7. But I’m not sure I can write all that well, especially when I’m just getting my ideas down. “There is no pressure on you to write a brilliant first draft. No one ever writes a brilliant first draft.”

8. What are the special perils? “The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.”

9. One reason NOT to try National Novel Writing Month is I’m busy and writing a novel takes a lot of time. It does, but what I’m planning is to discover what 1-2 hours a day for a month [can produce]. If I look at my daily routine, I probably can find activities I can forego for a while. And Chris Baty adds, “When I’m writing a novel, I stop Internet surfing entirely, limit my leisure reading, and spend much less weeknight time with (non-noveling) friends. Other writers use the opportunity to pare back conversations with their in-laws and stop doing yard work.” The point: These suggestions should work for you, too.

10. But what about the people I live with? Will they be able to do without me while I’m off creating this masterpiece? “It’s not so much that you’ll be totally absent for one month as it is that you’ll be exceptionally present for the other 11.”

11. But I like to be around others and I want to have some fun even if I’m working on a novel. Answer: If you’re feeling alone, try writing with buddies. “Writing with a partner (or three or four) helps all parties tap into the pool of competitive energy that forms when several people are working toward the same goal.”

12. Does the ‘team approach’ really work? Yes, indeed. “When ‘noveling’ with someone else, you have a pacer, a motivator and a sympathetic ear for sharing the triumphs and tragedies of your novel. It’s more productive and a lot more fun.”

13. But what if I don’t have a plot for my novel? “If you spend enough time with your characters, plot simply happens. This makes your novel writing, in essence, a literary trapeze act, one where you have to blindly trust that your imagination and intuition will catch you and fling you onward at each stage of your high-flying journey.”

Chris’ advice helps me keep turning out pages. It has me thinking about all the others who are taking the 50K challenge. How about you? What thoughts inspire you to keep writing, blogging or taking part in National Novel Writing Month? Please share with us.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Taking Apart the Hot Premise

By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn
We’ve all had that experience of stepping into an elevator or other confined space, realizing you’re in there with an editor or an agent, and en lieu of pointless small talk, he or she asks you what you’re working on. As you stammer out your longwinded answer, the moment ends (i.e., the elevator door opens) and said editor or agent goes on his or her way. Could you have made use of that opportunity by blurting out the hot premise version of your synopsis? You betcha!

This is for everyone who’s been asked to boil down their story idea into one sentence, ten words or less. This is for everyone who’s had a hard time boiling their stories down into the simplest terms, a necessity in today’s short-attention-span era.

First of all, what’s a hot premise, anyway? You’ve heard of the term “high concept.” It’s the term that Hollywood types are known to use to mean a movie or TV show idea that can be summed up in just a few words. It’s a premise (a hot one!) that can impart as much as a paragraph or even a book could, but just hitting the highlights that take people aback and make ‘em blink (Hollywood types not being known for their enjoyment of reading more than a few words at a time. Are they literate? One wonders).

That “what-if” thing is the very essence of fiction, but in the case of the hot premise, it’s everything. In just a few words, it has to intrigue and inspire, and most challenging, no matter how old the idea, it has to be made fresh. The idea could be an old one, but it has to be translated for the modern age. The best way to be able to do this is to know your own plot and story very, very well and give it a twist that rejuvenates it.

Okay, by now you might have gotten the idea about what a hot premise is and how you can go about boiling down your story idea into a few words. One of the most frustrating things you may have learned in school is that too often teachers don’t want short and simple, they want complex and high-falutin’. So instead of the simple answer you were about to give, you find yourself having to make it sound way more complicated than you think it needs to be. This sticks to you through school, through college, through graduate school and your doctoral dissertation…but it doesn’t work when you’re trying to sell your story. Because people who’re going to be buying your story don’t care about how high-falutin’ you can make it, they care about how your story makes them feel. And that’s as basic as you’re going to get.

Now look at your story. Can you tell people what it is in ten words or fewer, using a twist you want your readers to focus on?

I’m breaking this all down into its basic elements for an online workshop for Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal this December. Cross your fingers I’ll be succinct enough!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at and reached at If you’re curious about her books, check out In any case, she can be reached at