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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | Blog

Election Ugliness

There’s about a thousand more months left before November and the end of this presidential election, and as awful as it’s been so far, I expect it will get even worse before it’s over. (Not that the nastiness will stop after the election. No matter the winner, a lot of people are going to be very unhappy.)

I thought it might be interesting to put things in historical perspective by highlighting other notoriously vicious presidential campaigns.

 

For instance, in the election of 1860, Stephen Douglas got personal, saying Abraham Lincoln was a “horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln said of Douglas: “His argument is as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.”

1860 Election

Melania Trump took a lot of heat last week but not as much as Rachel Jackson in the election of 1828. John Quincy Adams’s campaign not only accused Andrew Jackson of being a despot and uneducated, they also viciously attacked Mrs. Jackson, a divorced woman who had previously been in an abusive marriage. Adams’s supporters called her a “dirty black wench”, a “convicted adulteress” and accused her of “open and notorious lewdness.”

RACHEL DONELSON JACKSON (1767-1828). Miniature by Louise C. Strobel.

RACHEL DONELSON JACKSON
(1767-1828). Miniature by Louise C. Strobel.

I don’t know how low the Trump-Clinton election season will go. Pretty low, I expect. But I wonder if it will top the election of 1800—the only occasion when a vice-president ran against the president he was currently serving with—Thomas Jefferson vs John Adams.

An Election Poster for Adams

An Election Poster for Adams

Thomas Jefferson said that John Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Adams’ supporters countered with dire predictions of a Jeffersonian presidency: “Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames… female chastity violated… children writhing on the pike? GREAT GOD OF COMPASSION AND JUSTICE, SHIELD MY COUNTRY FROM DESTRUCTION.”

 

Dogs and cats living together

Phew. It’s a good thing Jefferson didn’t get elected, huh? Oh … wait …

Mid-Summer in Pennsylvania

Cleome

I’m happy that the cleome (spider flower) is blooming now! People will stop thinking we are growing marijuana in front of our house.

Not Cannabis

The leaves of the cleome plant bear a startling resemblance to cannabis.

Still waiting on the tomatoes though.

Still Waiting

Hungry, Hungry Hippos have nothing on our goldfish. Sometimes they leap right into the air when you throw them food.

Hungry Fish

The pool is warm and inviting.

The Pool

The purple coneflowers are in bloom.

Purple Coneflower

Aaaand, the mint has gone wild and overrun the herb garden.

Mint Gone Crazy

Meanwhile, Sorcia chases the shadows of butterflies.

Dog Chases Shadows

That’s right. She doesn’t chase the butterflies. She chases their shadows.

Anybody know what this flower is? It turned up in my bed of wildflowers this year.

What is this

What does summer look like where you are?

Backing Up

via GIPHY

Earlier this week, I wrote a great scene in my WIP. One of my main characters witnessed someone who lived in her apartment building pass through a solid wall after revealing herself to be not human. I was thrilled with the way it came together. Then I went to write the next chapter … and couldn’t. The story came to a screeching halt as I realized there was only one way for my MC to react.

Terror.

You might be thinking, “Terror is good.” But in this case, it’s not. My terrified character has every reason to flee from this situation and no reason whatsoever to do the things I need her to do in this story. She has no investment to make her investigate this “monster” further. I wouldn’t blame her for curling up in a ball and quietly having a breakdown.

Unable to go forward, I had to back up. Removing the event entirely didn’t seem like a good option. The story would just stall out without this scene.

The solution ended up being simple — although it took me 3 frustrating days to figure it out. If the strange person passes through a solid wall without revealing herself to be non-human, the situation changes drastically. What would you think if you saw someone pass through a seemingly solid wall? You’d think it was a trick, right? That there was some kind of hidden passage there.

A hidden passage gives my MC all the motivation I need to keep her digging into this mystery. Who wouldn’t love to find a secret passageway in their building? The “monstrous” nature of the non-human character can be revealed later, when my MC is too far into the adventure to pull out and curling up in a ball to have a breakdown is not an option.

Two paragraphs deleted in my previous chapter, and my story is back on track.

When’s the last time you had to back up? Did it end up being a simple change? And how long did it take you to figure it out?

Multi-Dimensional Vocabulary

I first encountered the terms ana and kata when reading William Sleator’s book The Boy Who Reversed Himself. (By the way, if you’re a YA science fiction/horror fan and you’ve never read anything by William Sleator, you should remedy that immediately.)

Ana and kata are the two additional directions available in the fourth dimension. See the chart below:

Dimensional space Movement that can be made in that space
1-Dimension Forward, backward
2-Dimensions Forward, backward, right, left
3-Dimensions Forward, backward, right, left, up, down
4-Dimensions Forward, backward, right, left, up, down, ana, kata

 

Fans of Madeleine L’Engle will no doubt associate the term tesseract with “a wrinkle in time.” More accurately, a tesseract is the 4-space extension of a 3-space cube (which is itself an extension of the 2-space square). The words tesseract, ana, and kata were all coined by mathematician Charles Howard Hinton in 1888.

tesseract

A depiction of a tesseract

When researching dimensional vocabulary for my WIP, I also came upon this little chart, giving me trength, tarrow, and trong to work with.

Dimension Measure Small Measure Great Measure
1st length short long
2nd width narrow wide
3rd height short tall
4th trength tarrow trong

Now, the trick is to pull all this geometry into an adventure kids will want to read. I’m going for a Doctor Who meets The Boy Who Reversed Himself meets Interstellar Pig meets 14. (I know that a “meets” statement isn’t very effective if the elements aren’t well known books or movies, but let me give you an idea of what I have in mind …)

Creating the Breach

I’ll leave you with one last picture: This is a diagram I created for my WIP. My story takes place at The Breach.

The Universes

Multi-Dimensional Adventures

At some point in high school (or possibly middle school) I stumbled across the book Sphereland by Dionys Burger. It’s a mathematical adventure in geometry – and yes, I know that sounds terrible, but it’s really a lot of fun. I re-read the book countless times.

Sphereland is a sequel to an earlier book, Flatland, by Edwin Abbott Abbott, which was both a satire of Victorian society and an exploration of geometry. Since the plot of Flatland was summarized at the beginning of Sphereland, I didn’t need to read the original.

Both books tell the story of a Square living in a 2-dimensional universe, a plane, in fact. This is a diagram of the Square’s home.

flatland_house

The Square is visited by a Sphere from Spaceland, a 3-dimensional realm. At first the Square can only see flat cross-sections of the Sphere as it passes through the plane of his world.

Sphere in Flatland

Eventually, the Sphere lifts the Square out of Flatland, and across the span of the two books, they visit Lineland, Pointland, and are in turn visited by an Over-Sphere from the fourth dimension.

a-view-of-Lineland

These books started my lifetime fascination with multi-dimensional fiction. I eventually did read the original Flatland, as well as The Boy Who Reversed Himself by William Sleator and Spaceland by Rudy Rucker. I’m currently reading Flatterland: Like Flatland, Only More So by Ian Stewart.

I even wrote a manuscript, BRANEWORLD, which received positive praise on submission, but also some excellent critical feedback which led me to re-think my approach to the topic. Now, I’m 15k into a new WIP and re-visiting the multi-dimensional universe with new characters and a completely new story.

Do any of you have a lifetime fascination with a topic which you’ve written about – perhaps more than once in an attempt to do it justice?

Never Gonna be Big in Iceland

So, I’m on Twitter, and I see this post come up with my name and website:

Salerni Toilet

I put the sentence through Google translator — which identified the language as Icelandic — and got this translation.

The new favorite author of mine is definitely Dianne K. toilet.

I double-checked, putting in just my last name, and yup. It’s true. Salerni is the Icelandic word for toilet.

How unfortunate. confused-face

What the Cat Does

Having shared the useful function of the dog last week, I feel obligated to give the cat credit for her role in the household:

THE EXTERMINATOR!!!!!

Yeah, I know that moth was on the outside of the glass. However, she makes some pretty amazing leaps to catch insects inside the house, too — moths, mosquitoes, flies.

And she is determined. Nothing, nothing gets in her way … lamps, glasses full of water, people …

Once Luna has managed to smash the winged creature against a wall or window and it falls to the floor, she pads at it gently, sniffs it, and then down the hatch it goes. No need to treat the cat. The act is its own reward.

Door to Door Salesman

Got Raw MeatDING DONG.

BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK!

Sorcia rushes the door like a guided missile, throwing herself up on her hind legs and planting her front paws on the glass window. She bares her huge, sharp teeth and snarls. Saliva drips from her canines.

By the time I get to the door, the bell ringer is standing halfway down the walk. He is obviously poised to run for his life, but he still manages to give me a cheerful wave.

I crack open the door. Sorcia pushes past me and gets her head outside before I manage to pin her body against the door with my leg. She is barking and snarling and snapping. “Yeah, hello?” I say to the man.

“Hello, ma’am. That is a beautiful dog!”

Note: Sorcia is a beautiful dog, but every single one of ’em says this, so I assume it must be part of their door-to-door salesman training.

“What do you want?” Sorcia and I are having a battle in the doorway. She slips out a little more.

The man takes a step back, swallows hard, and says, “I’d like to talk to you about windows/siding/driveway sealant/the kingdom of heaven.”

“Uh, no,” I say bluntly, grabbing Sorcia by the collar and heaving backward with all my strength.

“Okay!” He doesn’t argue. He bolts.

I close the door and turn around.

Sorcia has stopped barking. She sits and watches me with big brown eyes. Her wagging tail makes a swishing sound against the floor.

I give her a biscuit.

They’re Busy at Arlington: Guest Post by Larry O’Donnell

ArlingtonAnother Memorial Day approaches.  It seems this annual event comes every few months, a sure sign I’m getting older.  A few years ago, I had the honor, and I mean a real honor, to attend a good friend’s father’s funeral.  Rick was my best man at my wedding.   His dad was a retired Army Colonel.  Col. Mock retired in the early 70’s and, oddly enough, started a music store in Northern Virginia.

Col. Mock and I were both Old Crows.  We shared memories of similar duty stations and the odd nature of SIGINT.  We couldn’t talk much about our work or we would have had to kill each other.  Suffice it to say, Col. Mock was a highly decorated hero.  Like other real heroes, he was afforded a place to rest at Arlington Memorial Cemetery.

Not every vet can be buried there.  I’m sorry that the facility is overcrowded and the Armed Forces have been forced to adopt some pretty steep entry requirements. (Which, at my last look, I couldn’t meet) These requirements can be part of your homework to look up.

The ceremony is very moving at Arlington.  The Army ensured that Col. Mock was carried to his resting place by respectful and caring soldiers. An honor guard consisting of some 30 Soldiers, a real military band, and a horse drawn caisson took him to the gravesite.  3 volleys of shots, Taps, and a folded flag to the widow wrapped it up.

I fell in with the detail commander after the ceremony and told him how, as a retired Marine, I was impressed and proud of the detail and their execution of the ceremony.  The soldiers were somber and respectful. Their appearance and field drill was impeccable.  These troops were the Army Old Guard and they weren’t just showboats.  The Major I spoke with was a Ranger, who wore the Silver Star, the Purple Heart (with repeat award star), the Bronze Star (with Valor clasp- a combat award), plus the other ribbons of a successful career officer.

I discovered that he had as many as eight interments a day, six days a week, and there were other details for the other Armed Services. There was about a 3 month backlog.   WW II heroes in their 90’s and 18 year old men from Afghanistan all coming to rest at the same place.  WWII hero John F. Kennedy lies there with his sons and brother, Robert.  Many of the most revered names in US military history are there.  The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded around the clock by some very serious guards.

For your final homework and exam, make the pilgrimage.  You can use DC and all its monuments, the Smithsonian, Holocaust Museum, Capitol, and White house as an excuse to go, but do cross the Potomac and spend some time there.  It’s a 15 minute walk from the Lincoln Memorial across the Memorial Bridge.  The visitors’ entry fee has been paid for by the residents.

 

Road Signs to the Past

road signI’ve always been a little puzzled by this road sign at the end of an exit ramp off Route 1 near my home.

There is no Russellville. There is no Forestville.

There are no towns 1 mile in either direction.

But there used to be. I finally got curious enough to look them up.

There was a tavern at the intersection of Newport Road (PA 896) and Limestone Road (PA 10) as early as 1737. A town grew up around the crossroads, which eventually came to be named Russellville. In 1823 Russellville had a population of one hundred with a sawmill, a hotel, two general stores, a grocery and a post office. There was also a private school known as the Russellville Academy.

None of those places exist anymore.

Forestville (and the forest it was named for) are also gone. Apparently there used to be a blacksmith shop, a store, and a post office.

Poof. Gone. But PennDoT still puts up signs telling you how to get there.

(I’m kind of jealous Forestville had a post office. The town I live in doesn’t have its own post office. We were assigned the post office at Lincoln University, so my mailing address uses Lincoln University as the town name, even though it’s not a town, and I don’t live on the university grounds. Weird, huh?)

Do you have any historical leftovers where you live?