Winter Moons

There are few things as beautiful and mysterious as a full moon in a clear sky. It's also a powerful symbol that I love to use in my writing.

In my latest novel Murder Comes to Elysium, a blood moon rises over Grubber County, Florida. While most of the county gets ready for a moon-gazing party, PI Addie Gorsky tries to ignore it. As she observes, there is enough blood in the world, without the moon getting in on the action. On the night of the blood moon, she finds herself in a tight situation:

At last I slipped from the side door and into the night. It felt good, like diving into a cold lake on a hot day, but my relief was short-lived. My eyes traveled upward, to the full moon tinged in red, glaring down like a bloody eye. I hadn’t escaped it after all. The blood moon at China Rose had followed me here.

When she returns home that night, Addie reflects:

The learned astronomer fell silent at last, thank God. His droning voice had worn on my last nerve and on his audience as well, judging from the measly applause. What were all his big words worth after all? The truth of this October night was written in black skies, stars that gleamed like broken glass, and a full moon tinted red—a hunter’s moon. And a hunter’s moon demanded blood.

I love a full moon any month of the year, but there's something special about a winter moon. This little video features photos of the December and January full moons.

Very Punny!

I love puns and so did Shakespeare. Though many of his puns have lost their context, these two are still pretty funny. 

Romeo and Juliet (Act I scene IV)
Mercutio: “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.”
Romeo: “Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes
With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.”

 Much Ado About Nothing (Act II scene I)
Beatrice: “The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well: but civil, count; civil as an
orange, and something of that jealous complexion.”

Beatrice is talking about the villainous Count Claudio, using civil as a pun on Seville, which is a type of very bitter orange from Spain.  

And though your English teacher never shared this, Shakespeare's text pulses with sexual innuendo. Here's a spicy line from "Venus and Adonis." 

Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.

Yeah, that pleasant fountain!

And you thought Shakespeare was boring.
Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford
& the man who really wrote the Shakespeare plays!

Microbe Hunters!

The other day, I found myself thinking of a book I read and loved as a kid--Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif.

1943 edition, which
looks just like my old battered copy!

Although it’s always dangerous to go back to beloved books of childhood, I’ve found myself brooding on Paul de Kruif’s book and my childhood love of it.

Like a lot of my reading material, I dug it out of our cluttered cellar of our rowhouse in Baltimore, hidden among boxes of Christmas ornaments and old winter coats. The cover wasn’t exactly enticing, but once I started reading, I was hooked.

Written in swashbuckling prose, Microbe Hunters details the lives of several dedicated men of science as they muscularly tracked down the dangerous pathogens that threaten humanity.  There was Pasteur versus rabies while Koch squared off against tuberculosis and Ehrlich took on syphilis--well, you get the picture. It was all pretty heady stuffy. So heady that for a time, I imagined growing up and joining the ranks of the microbe hunters. In my fevered daydreams, I saved countless lives and was on the verge of winning the Nobel prize, until I brought back to earth when my parents and other adults reminded that I was no good at science and had almost failed math.

In other words, I was a girl.

I knew they were right, though it hurt to have another dream dashed. My other ambition was to play for the Baltimore Orioles. Even though I had no talent for the game and was the wrong sex, I loved baseball (still do) and my Orioles (ditto).

Curious about my beloved childhood book, I found a copy online and digitally flipped through its pages. The book was and wasn’t as I remembered. I saw why I’d been enamoured of these cock-sure men who stode the world like giants and spoke almost exclusively in exclamatory sentences.“‘How true are the words of Goethe!’ cried Behring. ‘Blood is an entirely wonderful sap!’”. And here’s Loeffler--a colleague of Koch’s--waxing philosophic about diphtheria:  “The toxin must be found, in the organs of a dead child, in the carcass of a guinea-pig dead of the disease—yes—and in the broth where the bacillus grows so well!”

A lot of the dialogue was ridiculous, with much of it obviously cut whole from the cloth. I seriously doubt that after the Leeuwenhoek’s death, the learned men of England and Paris observed: “‘Leeuwenhoek is dead, it is too bad, it is a loss that cannot be made good. Who now will carry on the study of the little animals?’”

The author also relied heavily on cultural stereotypes. For example, the Dutchman Leeuwenhoek comes off as a man-child: “He was like a child anxious and proud to show a large red apple to his playmates but loth to let them touch it for fear they might take a bite out of it.” But far worse is the casual racism de Kruif employed when he wrote of the human subjects, something I hadn’t noticed as a child.