Mummies and Demons and Curses (oh, my!)

I can’t take credit for this bit of fodder. One of my great guilty pleasures is the bad fashion blog Go Fug Yourself, especially now that Fug Madness is in full swing. The authors publish a weekly roundup of notable links that is not limited to fashion. This is not the first fertile link I have gotten from them but it is the first one about which they remarked “I hope someone is writing a book…,” thus labeling it as fodder from the start. Apparently one of these ladies has some of my own favorite tastes, as she began the post by noting that it touched on “so many things in which I am interested.” Me too, and, I suspect enough others that it could be a successful book indeed. In fact, it has elements of a Pendergast novel, or rather several already in existence. Never mind, though, as many authors have tread similar ground and this could be a very long post if I listed them all. There is likely to be room for one more who wants to write about an ancient artifact festooned with curses and the unclear (at least from this post) reason that a major museum passed on purchasing it. The comments are also worth a look, even if a former museum employee deflates a bit of the mystery by pointing out that they’ve simply run out of room and that is the reason they did not purchase this item. Spoilsport. If Elizabeth Peters were still alive and this were an Egyptian artifact, Peabody, Ramses, Emerson, and Sethos would all be breaking down the door (repeatedly) because they’d never buy that lame excuse either.

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Mystery Becomes ME

I promise this is the *only* time you will see me taking advantage of the fact that my home state’s mailing code spells a word. There are a lot of Maine businesses and programs that exploit this coincidence or the many uses of the word “Maine” (sounds like a different word) or “Maine-ly” (not a word, but sounds like one).

Now that I have that out of my system, let me point out the real reason I asked you here today. I wanted to share this editorial from my local paper about what makes Maine fertile ground for mystery writers. My favorite passage? Tess Gerritsen remarking, “It’s the weather. It lends itself to the process. When it gets dark, around October not only does it make staying in and writing easier, but it lends itself to darker themes.” This quote reminds me that Maine is also home to someone who has made a career out of very dark themes, Stephen King. Once you have experienced a long foggy day here and listened to the loons and barred owls calling, you can see why.

Like Gerritsen (and this is the only resemblance), I find the early dark and heavy snow keep me focused. In the same article, Gerry Boyle opines that Maine’s “beautiful and ominous landscape” inspires the muse. Besides that, he also reads the same local papers I do. Of his file of clippings, the editorial writer says, “The Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal have given him so much fodder, he said, “I’m not going to live long enough to write those books.””

One other Maine inspiration has nothing to do with straight mystery, although there are are mysterious elements in the book involved. Local legend has it Richard Russo wrote a good deal of his prize-winning novel Empire Falls at Jorgenson’s, the local coffee joint in Waterville. On any given day, you can find students, professors, readers, and hack writers like me holed up in the seating area with piles of papers and the writing device of their choice, trying to soak up the good vibes. For me, it’s a Dell netbook when I’m “on the road.” I never stay long because I get too distracted while writing in public. Just a little nip of spirit is enough to energize and to get me past the inevitable cabin fever.

I’ve heard it said that great art is born of suffering. This winter (and Boyle noticed it too in the article) was especially brutal and doesn’t seem through with us yet. Maybe, on the bright side, it will be a banner year for literature.

That Magdalene Person

A few days ago, one of the local papers in my home state carried an article about the potential meaning of artifacts that some say point to a visitation by not only Viking seafarers but Knights Templar in the company of descendant(s) of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This story can go a long way in several directions as seed for fiction. For nerdy former university insiders like me, the modern-day quarrels between different researchers (and “researchers”) about what these artifacts imply (either that or our state is holy ground or that 19th century pranksters are getting the last laugh) is story enough. And for the record, as an anthropologist, I have a boring and predictable trust in professional archaeologists, so I’d go with their side of the story on this one. For those inclined to historical fiction, the journey to the New World and identity of the passenger (or crew member?) would drive the story. Perhaps this would explain why my Viking ancestors seemed to visit the New World but not hang around (they had a limited mission and no interest in a return trip). Then there is the question of where the descendants of the passengers are today. Would one of them come forward to speak up on the History Channel? Would we believe them? What would their DNA look like? How hard did they laugh at The DaVinci Code? These and other pithy questions could set a lot of keyboards rattling.

My Kingdom, For a Comma

It may not seem like the fate of the planet rests on whether you need a comma in a series before the conjunction that joins the last two items, but then you did not go to the same graduate school or have the same week I had. I do recall blithely leaving the comma out on such occasions before numerous professors red-inked me out of that habit and I began to put commas everywhere, just in case. I had forgotten that there is even credible dissent on this point until I received bruising feedback on a critical e-mail and found my own peeps would not back me up.

First, here is the email. The context of this email was a very lengthy and repetitive exchange over what started as a simple request passed on from my clients to a co-worker. After confusion set in as to the nature of the exact task at hand, I compressed and summarized the discussion into (I thought) a more digestible set of bullet points and rebooted the chain. In the midst of my summary, I wrote (names changed of course): “Rupert, Misha and Ferris do not need to be involved any further in this conversation.” To my horror, I received an email from Rupert’s colleague taking me to task for cutting Rupert out of the meetings when Rupert was the source of the request that began the trail. I managed to steel my nerves and reply simply: “I am asking that Rupert leave Misha and Ferris out of the conversation.”

When I discussed this story with others, I pointed out that had I wanted to get rid of Rupert I would have put a comma after Misha’s name. It should have been apparent that I was addressing Rupert, not including him, because, after all, one puts a comma before “and” in a series of three or more. Right? My audience was incredulous. More to the point, I have been advised a colon would have been better than a comma after Rupert’s name (I can see that). A little research on the web found that the matter is up in the air to the point that I definitely had no right to expect Rupert and colleagues to understand my request. The whole episode put me in mind of the book ‘”Eats, Shoots and Leaves“, whose title is a clever commentary on my dilemma and whose message about the importance of good punctuation was never clearer to me.