by L.L. Zern
It's who we are. It's what we stare at in the middle of the night. It's a bug zapper.
When we were young and newly hatched—also young and in love—my husband and I lived with our four young children on the Space Coast of Florida. The massive propulsion of rocket and shuttle launches from Cape Kennedy often rocked the windows and doors of our little love cottage. We were always properly respectful and impressed by the reach of mankind’s achievements.
It was a point of pride to stop whatever we were doing (dishes, dinner, dancing, sleeping, fist fighting, etc.) to watch the eastern horizon—hands on hearts, tears in eyes—as the United States of America raced into the frontier of space.
One deep, dark morning (about 2:00 am) I shook my husband awake to watch yet another triumph of human advancement.
“Get up,” I mumbled to Sherwood, “the shuttle’s going up. We gotta’ watch.”
Sherwood moaned, “The garbage is out all ready. Let me die.” He did not open his eyes.
“Come on. We should watch. Night launches are amazing.”
He dragged himself upright and clung to the window ledge behind our bed. We knelt, with our chins braced on the ledge, our bleary eyes fixed on a blazing light in the eastern sky. We watched. The light did not appear to move. We stared some more. The light remain fixed. We struggled to focus. The light blazed away.
We waited for the light to fade into the blackness of space. It did not. We watched and watched and watched. The light stubbornly refused to move.
At last, collapsing back into my pillow I said, “Honey, go back to sleep.”
Sounding confused, miffed, and a little whiney Sherwood asked, “Why?”
“Because for the last eight to ten minutes we’ve been staring at our next door neighbor’s bug zapper.”
He went back to sleep. And I lived to worship at the altar of space exploration another day.
This story pretty much sums up who we are, and how we got this way—excessive staring at bug zappers. And this is my blog, a space-age way of recording one’s thoughts, ideas, embarrassments, and foibles for the entire known world. Once upon a time, I would have made this record on papyrus, rolled it up, stuffed it into a ceramic jar, and asked to have the whole thing buried with me in my sarcophagus. I still might.
Disclaimer: Some of the stuff you will read here is true. Some of it is not. Some of it is the result of wishful thinking. Some of it is the result of too much thinking, and some of it is the result of too little thinking. But all of it will be written with joy and laughter, because the alternative is despair and weeping, and isn’t there more than enough of that stuff out there?
Thank you for your support,
Linda (Zippity the Zapped) Zern
|Friday was a beautiful day in our neighborhood. The weather sang. The day sparkled. The grandchildren ran wild. I called off science club in light of the beauty of the great outdoors and said, “Run free, little birds, run free.” And off they went to do what children do.
And what did they do?
They engineered a new game. They dug a hole in the sand hill. They propped up a piece of plywood with hunks of scrap lumber. They aimed and angled the plywood at the hole. They located a bowling ball. They took turns sitting in the hole. They lugged the bowling ball to the apex of the inclined plane and let it fly at the guy sitting in the hole, legs spread wide.
The object of the game?
To jump out of the hole before the bowling ball smashed into your genitalia.
The name of the game?
Bust Your Balls.
I gave them homeschool credit for the proper use of an inclined plane, engineering a free-standing structure, a scientific demonstration of gravity, a sound understanding of anatomy, and cooperative gameplay.
My hairdresser once expressed concern about her son when he refused to come inside to make a reindeer ornament out of a paper plate because he and his buddy were too busy outside chopping something with an ax. She wanted to know if I thought he’d become an ax murderer. I said only if you make him come inside to make a reindeer ornament out of a paper plate.
Boys. They need bowling balls and plywood and dirt and outside and the vague possibility of crushed nuts.
Linda (Don’t Come Crying to Me) Zern
Book reviews are tricky creatures. Authors want them. Writers need them. Artists hunt high and low for the wily beasts through patches of tangled feedback trees.
I am an Indie author of eight books (plus or minus, depending on how you count the short story collections). I write across genre lines. I write for love, for dreams, for kicks, for readers. I write for reviews.
Good reviews are the sticks we use to build our rickety storage units of approval.
The bad ones are sticks we use to beat our confidence over the head.
We send words out and hope for some to come back. Reviews.
I’m hoping to review more this year, but I’m looking at the mother of all writing dilemmas: telling the truth, keeping the faith, guarding the gate without sending people into fractured confidence comas.
And I think I’ve figured it out.
I'm going to review books under cover of anonymity. No titles. No authors. Just the words and what works and what does not work. But not stars. Not a star rating. Three stars. Five Stars. Nope.
Snacks. I want a snack rating. One snack bag of Fritos if I can make it through the first five pages. Five snack bags when I hit fifty pages, and I haven't run into one of the big three: telling not showing, obnoxious grammatical roadblocks, or characters made of cardboard. Halfway and I salute you with a full-size bag of Fritos. And if I get to the end of all the lines, all the way to the great big resolution at the end, I'm making a toast, with lemonade, my favorite.
1 snack bag = five pages
5 snack bags = fifty pages (this is my elementary school teacher's standard if I'm not in love with it by fifty . . .)
Halfway = full-size bag of Fritos
If it goes off the rails before the end = party sized bag
The big finish = lemonade toast
Disclaimer: Please be advised that I have never picked up a book and not wanted to adore it. NEVER. EVER. I want to be transported. I want to be swept up and away and farther than that. I want the author to step quietly to the back of the room to watch me being transported. I want to love every book I read. ALWAYS.
Linda (The Unknown Reviewer) Zern
The words of the scribe to the world beyond the I-4 corridor—The lament of the wolf pack—Aric and Lauren doth travel far unto the north; Silas rejoices much—The Stank boys go forth and hunteth rats; they testify of much destruction; their claims find much disputation—Zoe and Emma lead in the wilderness—The Zerns bring about much righteousness; and the good word of Christmas goes forth.
1 But a certain woman, even a scribe named Linda, with Sherwood her husband bought a new possession even a kitchen for their Saint Cloud abode after a flood did follow the repair of their washer of dishes, which did gush forth to destroy the floor. To be followed by a fire that dideth begin in the disposal of garbage, and the fireman did come also offering to shut the power off.
2 And so the kitchen did get gutted straightway. And the new kitchen did commence to become mighty like unto a magazine image, and Linda did rejoice in her pot rack, which did hang with many pots.
3 And by the hands of the grandchildren were many signs and wonders wrought among the tribe: (and they were all with one accord while bringing forth much wonderment.) On Sunday last, one of the youngest of the tribe did stand up in her pew, at the church of our choice, and she did throw her head back and did howl forth the howl of a baby wolf cub, while her mother dideth speak much from the pulpit,
4 Saying Ow,Ow,Owhoooooo. For of a truth Ever Jane (age 2) did continue to send up her howl, bringing forth much laughter from the body of believers.
5 This know also that the Texas Zerns, even Aric and Lauren and Silas did travel northward to a land of much snow, to live and work in the heart of Ohio, and Silas did delight in the falling of frozen water.
6 And the boys, both known as the Stahle boys and the Stank boys, after their father did wear a name tag with his name spelled falsely—Stank—these selfsame boys began to hunt the rats in the chicken coop at YaYa’s, reporting glowing red eyes and the sneakiest of sneaking rats, and there was much excitement but little success.
7 And Zoe and Emma went forth unto Young Women and Conner did become mighty in reading. Fulfilling that which he did prophesy when he sayeth, It is my destiny to read.
8 Likewise, I say unto you that the Texas Lorance’s doth swim much and flip about in gymnastics, both Reagan and Hero, while their brother and sister grow in wisdom and stature and sauciness.
9 I meditate upon these things and count myself blessed beyond ability to measure for it is ever a joy to know that thy children walk in righteous ways and are tender to their children and their spouses. Nevertheless, our tribe did sit much about the bonfire and did play a game about werewolves and did howl much like wolves, perhaps it being the very way in which Ever Jane did learn her fine wolf cub interpretation, saying, ow ow owhooooooo! And a Merry Christmas too.
|George Orwell’s book of the same title is a great book, a satire. Some call it an allegory. It’s not about animals. It’s possible this blog post isn’t about animals either.
The world has gone wild for animals, just check out Facebook. Goats scamper about in pajamas. Gerbils wear hats. Ducks waddle about while wearing bandanas. And cats . . . don’t get me started on cats. Every human emotion known to man can be demonstrated on the faces of the legions of cats that populate social media. I know. I’ve seen them. Happy cats. Sad cats. Mad cats. Grumpy cats. Well, you’ve seen it.
My husband and I live with animals, the kind that lives in coops and barns and pastures and not on Facebook.
Wild animals haunt the wetlands and bogs that border . . . well . . . basically the entire state. The wild animals don’t wear clothes. I include this for informational purposes. Wild animals eat farm animals. It’s a natural fact. And everything eats our chickens, so, into the coop our chickens go, every night, for their own protection, and so we don’t have to bury the bloody, gory remains in the morning. Free range means free to be eaten by eagles, hawks, feral cats, coyotes, bobcats, possums, raccoons, and the neighbor’s dog.
Most of our chickens coop themselves. At night, they wander back into the safety of a roomy, re-enforced, hardware cloth draped impregnable chicken fortress.
Yesterday, one of the hens forgot where she lived. My husband went after her, determined to save her clucking life. She began to squawk, loudly. A rowdy rooster hearing the hen’s distress ran out to take advantage, and when I say, “take advantage” I mean he thought he was going to get lucky. For the Facebook crowd, roosters are equal opportunity sex fiends. One rooster holds a hen down and his buddies, hearing her shriek, come running to take their turn. I am not kidding, and it’s not a video you’re going to see on social media. It’s the wild kingdom . . .
The hen starts squawking. The rooster comes running, jumps on the goofy hen and proceeds to fulfill the measure of his creation. (IM me if you don’t know what this means.) My husband, taking advantage of the distraction, picked up both chickens, now wildly mating their brains out, and carries them to the coop. That rooster never took a breath as he floated through the air in the arms of my poor husband. Lust made that rooster blind, deaf, and dumb.
I fell down, laughing.
And this is how “animals” behave. They eat. They drink. They look for opportunities to be merry. And tomorrow they will do it all over again until the neighbor’s dog gets them.
|The saddest part of the end of hurricane season is the cessation of the use of the word hunker.
What a fabulous word and society only cracks it out and dusts it off when a soul-crushing, city-destroying hurricane is on its way. That's unfortunate. Very few words stand up to the word hunker in both multiple uses and varied meanings.
I've told the story before of the 'possum we found after it had crawled, crept, snuck into our garage only to stuff itself into the underside of a grandkid's riding toy. The 'possum was waiting for night to fall so it could stumble over to the cat's food and stuff itself stupid.
Our daughter, a thousand months pregnant, claimed that she'd seen the 'possum wobble into the garage and disappear into the bottom of the Happy Tots Pedal Truck. We didn't believe her. We thought she was drunk on pregnancy hormones. She wasn't.
When my husband tipped over the riding toy, a mammal with approximately ten-thousand teeth, snarled its howdy-do.
That toothy beast had hunkered down inside that riding toy. We poked the toy. We shook it. We rolled it over and over. That 'possum didn't budge. Finally, we had to turn the hose on it to pry it out of there. Soaked, miffed, and wildly uncomfortable the 'possum shuffled off to hunker down under the garden bridge, and that, Dear Readers, is a fine, fine example of what it means to hunker.
When hurricanes threaten, the word hunker flies around like a kid on a pedal mobile. Get food, water, batteries, and some food for the cat because life, as you know it, will be like someone with a giant garden hose trying to pry you out of your safe place. The power will fail. Inside will be hotter than outside. Your air will cease to be conditioned. Day will turn to night. You will feel threatened, frightened, and annoyed but hang on tight unless you have a bridge you can scurry off to hunker under for a bit.
Love the word. We should use it for more stuff than killer storms:
Life is hard, but I think I'll hunker down and give it my best.
Hunker down and keep the faith.
Hunkering down, I refused to be offended.
They tried to shake me out of my faith and hope and charity, but I hunkered down.
You can't make me quit because I'm hunkered down like a 'possum stuffed under a garden bridge.
Move along; I'm hunkering down.
Or I'm getting ready for the next swirling monster of wind and rain so that I can hunker down when the storm howls.
Let's keep the hunkering going. That's all I'm saying.
Linda (Playing 'Possum) Zern
|Attention: Fire Ant Advisory - Threat Level, Magenta
Fire ants, for non-Floridians, are an imported insect species here.
The word fire is not used arbitrarily. Fire ants are mean. They bite. They sting. Their mean stinging bites leave volcanic bumps that turn into pussy sores on your ankles that look a tad gross when you're wearing high heels and toenail polish. It’s a condition commonly referred to as fire ant ankle.
Fire ants were imported from Hades, just south of the river Styx, on that boat piloted by the dog with the three heads, or maybe it was a river in the Amazon via a boat piloted by an anaconda. It’s possible fire ants arrived in a potted plant from Costa No Where-O. Actually, there is a rumor out there that fire ants were brought to the United States by the Department of Defense to be used as a top-secret weapon of mean-spirited destruction against the former Soviet Union, but they escaped. Now they live in my yard—the ants not the Soviets.
The way our family sees it, we only have two options; we take the fight to the fire ants or attempt appeasement. That's it. Those are the choices.
We've tried appeasement. We sent a diplomatic representative out with a white flag to the ant’s main stronghold, an ant mound the size of a wading pool out by the oak tree. The cat volunteered. He carried that white flag of appeasement and civilized diplomatic moderation like a trooper.
We were prepared to make concessions. We were prepared to leave small offerings of rice, soggy cereal, and grease on a flat rock, daily. We were prepared to sacrifice a virgin. We were prepared to live and let live, well . . . after the virgin sacrifice, of course.
In exchange, the fire ants had to promise not to build outposts or forward operating bases under the walkways in the butterfly garden, or the crack in the front porch stoop. They also had to promise not to bite the granddaughter when she stomps in the middle of one of their mounds and then forgets to run away.
(Her dad showed her how to stomp on anthills and then run away, but she's not two yet. Her timing is a little off, and she forgets the running away part.)
It was a good offer made in civilized good faith.
The fire ants took the cat hostage and ate the flag. An un-named, unknown, anonymous source confirmed (maybe) that the cat had been water boarded. Did I mention the cat came back without fur on his tail? The ants sent their counter offer back to us tied to the cat's bare-naked tail.
The counter offer read:
MOVE or DIE!
Signed the Ants
So now it's war.
My mission in this conflict is to ride around the yard on a John Deere lawn tractor pouring down ant poison, out of a plastic Taco Bell cup, like napalm. We call it Operation "Kill the Ants with Twenty Dollar Bags of Poison," or "Boom-Boom." We are using the latest advances in fire ant eradication technology—fire ant killer granules—danger, danger, poison, poison.
Take that you little terrorists. It's a poison that promises to kill the queen and the colony, to prevent further colonies, and to bring peace to the earth, but as far as I can tell the fire ants love the stuff. They collect it, tote it home, store it, and save it up for Cinco De Mayo, when they throw a party and get "real loco" while dancing the fire ant tango.
News from the front could be better.
So if you come to see us—stay alert! Report suspicious activities: abandoned boxes, packages, and moving bits of nothing. Try not to linger too long in open, unsecured locations outside the green zone. Keep your weapons locked and loaded. And, soldier, if you have to stomp on an enemy fort, do not forget to RUN AWAY!
General Linda (Bombs Away) Zern
|When I’m asked on an application about my profession, I always fill in the blank on the form with the words writer/author/illustrator and Dazzle Queen of the Universe. No one ever comments. I’m not sure anyone reads anything these days, especially applications. Even so, I still keep writing, because like it says on those forms I am a writer, and real writers write, regardless of what the universe is or is not reading.
If I’m ever invited to discuss my creative process, I know exactly the kind of advice I’m going to share with other budding wordsmiths.
1) Ditch the Bra: Writing is a sedentary process, performed while sitting in a chair or, in my case, while lazing in bed. Either way, you’ll spend your day bent in half at the waist. I predict that at some point you will slip/slide into a much worse if not wretched posture, curving into the human bodies' version of a semicolon. And when the story gets cooking you may wind up hunched over the keyboard like a deflated balloon. Save yourself time, pain, and distraction and take your bra off before it cuts you in half.
2) Weed the Garden: Typing is stressful and repetitive. Fingers get tired, stiff, and lumpy. Pulling weeds is a low-cost exercise that strengthens typing fingers. It does not require specialized gym equipment or a personal trainer. Fresh, outside air will blow out all the silly adverbs and metaphors, and the weeding will build finger muscles. The corn will thank you. It’s a win-win.
3) Know Your Writing History: As far as I can tell the best place to write a book is in prison: there’s plenty of personal time, distractions are minimal, and the atmosphere is full of dramatic tension. Get arrested. Absolutely tons of books have been written in prison. If you behave, you may be allowed to work in the prison garden, pulling weeds. See above.
4) Exercise Your Butt: While in prison do a lot of squats and dolphin kicks. Otherwise, your butt is going to spread and start to resemble the front seat of a minivan from all that sitting and writing. And it’s going to feel like you have two cement blocks taped to your tailbone. Trust me on this.
5) Shop Quick: If you aren’t lucky enough to be in prison and have to write on a laptop in your bed make sure that you register on your favorite online shopping site so that you don’t have to waste time filling out a lot of applications, and you can buy stuff with one click. You’re going to shop; let’s be honest. Just shop quick, that’s all I’m saying.
This post is a preliminary outline I’ve been working on for when I’m asked to speak at retirement homes and special school assemblies all over Osceola County. Of course, by then I’ll be filling out that blank line on the applications with the words, FAMOUS Dazzle Queen of the Universe.
Linda (Dazzle Queen) Zern
|I am a writer-slash-author-slash-weaver of dreams-slash-word count monger. By my latest word count research and scientific study, I’ve written easily half a ca-billion words, or as a nameless, quasi-supportive relative by marriage once commented on my writing efforts, “That’s a lot of words.”
After a while, when the words stack up I have to decide what to do with them. I can send them off to an agent that may or may not have the same attitude as my quasi-supportive relative and will want fifteen percent commission right off the top or DIY.
DIY is code for doing it yourself or don’t imagine yaks. It also means that at some point I have to decide to stuff all those words into a manuscript, have someone tell me how many of those words are misspelled, and then figure out a cover to wrap around the whole steaming heap of words.
Searching around the Internet I’ve noticed that a lot of independent authors like to wrap their words in book covers with headless, legless torso people. It’s just endless, packed, flat abdominal skin that stops just above the genitalia and right below the Adam’s apple.
My problem is that I don’t write stories about headless, legless torso people. All the people in my books have heads and legs. So cover design can be a bit of a struggle.
People ask me what I write. Words, people. Words. Oh, you mean genre. My answer to that is yes.
Inspirational? Yes. Happy day.
Romance? Yes to love.
Historical fiction? Yes, and it’s groovy.
Fantasy? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Children’s Chapter Books? Yes, little dreamers.
Young Adult? Righteous, dude.
Action Adventure? “Sure thing,” she said breathlessly.
Humor? I’m writing it right now.
The sum total of which is that marketing and cover design is an endless challenge and makes my abs cramp. I’m looking for versatility, imagination, and smart. I know. I know. I’m swimming upstream without legs and arms. But still, I paddle.
My newest project is a sexy (that’s a word that sells stuff) fantasy set in the rural countryside of Central Florida. There’s a gryphon and refugees and magic and a boy (with abs) and a girl (with abs) and . . .
Linda (Abby Normal) Zern
|Mark Twain wrote a beautiful essay about “Two Ways to See a River.” He complained that by becoming an expert at something and while you do gain knowledge, that knowledge comes at the sacrifice of wonder. It’s a beautiful piece of writing because it happens to be true.
Becoming a writer with hundreds of thousands of words in your portfolio is like that. It gets harder and harder to read a book riddled with examples of author intrusion. (See! Says the author! Between the lines--sort of. What I’m telling you in this part of the story is that this is the bad guy, who is so terrible that he eats kittens! I mean it! Nod your head if you get it.) Or when an author uses an excessive use of attributes and adverbs, she interjected snidely, moistly, or urgently.
But it gets worse. You start hearing the flaws not just in the written word but also in the speechifying of regular people you’ve been married to for decades—namely spouse types.
My husband of thirty-plus years, the world-renowned computer analyst, has an expression he uses over and over again when he’s losing an argument with me.
He likes to say, “Oh, get off it!” It’s his favorite point to my counter-point.
All I can think when he uses this phrase during a marital tiff is that the subject ‘you’ is implied, as in, "Oh, you, get off it!"
But doesn't he know that you is a genuinely vague pronoun? So vague that I assume he’s talking to himself and not to me when he uses it. You who? Getting off of what? See the problem?
I can imagine that what he's saying in the heat of the debate is something like this. “Oh, Sherwood, get off it!”
Yeah, how about that, Sherwood? Please note: My husband's first name is Sherwood--like the forest. Crazy right? Get off of that.
And his use of the verb “get,” is also extremely weak in this sentence. Get is one of the weakest of the verbs. My advice to my husband to jazz up his prickly but vague command to me as he goes down in angry flames is to strengthen that puny verb by turning the word get into an action verb of the rip-roaring kind.
“Oh, Sherwood, drive off it!”
“Oh, Sherwood, flip off it!”
“Oh, Sherwood, fling off it!”
“Oh, Sherwood, shove off it!”
While we're at it, what about that pronoun it? What it? Who's it?
Concrete nouns are the building blocks of a rude, thorny sentence, so I’d suggest replacing that pronoun with something sharp-edged and brittle—something resembling a chunk of word cement.
Maybe something like this:
“Oh, Sherwood, pole vault off that Saguaro cactus.” Or “Oh, Sherwood, shove off that red hot poker.” But this takes us into the land of adjectives and advanced description—and that’s a tightrope I’d rather not walk right now.
So, like Mark Twain, I’ve lost the wonder and awe of my husband’s forceful, manly instructions to me during a verbal brawl, and I can only register the grammar funk of his dopey sentence.
Thank you, Mark Twain, for helping me understand the price of knowledge. And like Mr. Twain, I appreciate the irony of loss and gain.
“Since those days [as a riverboat captain] I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty's cheek mean to a doctor but a "break" that ripples above some deadly disease? Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn't he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn't he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?” [Mark Twain, “Two Ways to See a River”]
Ahhh, Mr. Twain, those poor doctors, and computer systems analysts . . .
Linda (Grammar Witch) Zern
|Our sandbox is sometimes fifteen feet high. There are friendly goats to pet. The swings fit one to twelve children. “Hideouts” and “forts” are freely constructed and outfitted all over the property. Fun is what we do.
There are also snakes, bugs, and fire ants. Branches fall from trees. Animals stampede. Mud, muck, and swamp encroach. Thistles sting. Florida is the semi-tropics after all.
In the spirit of summer high jinks and mud hole jumping, I’ve compiled a Zern Farm release form and a list of pool rules. (Please Note: We don’t have a pool.)
If you come to my house, do NOT wear flip-flops. Your feet will not be protected from random piles of animal dung by your “comfortable” footwear.
If you come to my house, do NOT wear flip-flops. Fire ants enjoy free rides on flip-flops. It’s a scientific fact.
If you come to my house, do NOT wear flip-flops. Stinging nettles, pigweed, and sand spurs do not respect your “comfortable” footwear. I do not respect your “comfortable” footwear.
If you come to my house, do NOT wear your brand new, bedazzled superhero t-shirt. Stinging nettles, pigweed, and sand spurs grow in DIRT, which is dirty, also grubby. You will get dirty. Your clothes will get dirty. Dirt will touch you in a myriad of ways. Dress accordingly.
If you come to my house prepare to be booed if you proclaim yourself “bored.” Only boring people (or teenagers) are bored at my house. If you are bored prepare to be given a shovel or a post hole digger and put to work.
If you come to my house prepare to be hot. It’s Florida. Duh.
If you come to my house, understand that animals will be roaming about doing what animals do. Yes, my buck goat stinks. He stinks for a reason. He is not confused as to his gender or life’s work. He lives to eat and make little goats.
If you come to my house be aware that tree bark is scratchy, tree climbing not without hazard, and chiggers live in tree moss. Bring Bandaids.
BEWARE! THE YAYA BITES.
Don’t make me traumatize you!
Fight at your own risk.
And if you turn over something to look for worms or beetles or other wiggly creatures then, when you are done, turn that log, stepping stone, or lawn chair back over. Leave things the way you found them.
Sincerely, The Management
Linda (Sharp-Tooth) Zern