Southern Inspiration: The Lunar Moth

I think that nature plays an essential role when living in the south.  There are hunters everywhere, home gardens are often relied upon to supply the majority of food and people live in the middle of the woods/mountains/swamp (miles from others). Well this idea is especially evident in my life since spring has started. 

My mother’s home is surrounded by a dense hardwood forest and since spring has come the wood is teeming with life.  It is now the time of year that lunar moths come out *see above*.  The wingspan on one of these guys is about 4.5 inches (they’re about the size of a bird).  Now while I think they really are beautiful, they also freak me out!  I mean it’s a bug the size of a bird for crying out loud! I have this irrational fear that they will fly into my hair:

I think that nature has played such a significant role in the south that it has taken on a kind of mystical quality.  Superstitions and old wives tales have sprung up for things ranging from the promise of guests depending on the direction a bird flies to whether fishing will be any good depending if the cows are lying down or standing.  I’m sure that other places around the country and world have similar superstitions.  However, it seems that down here these superstitions are still alive and well. 

All this talk of superstitions and old wives tales made me curious about the moth and whether there were any beliefs about it.  Well apparently there are a few: 

Many believe moths bring bad luck when trapped in the left hand.

It’s been said that when a large black moth appears, it symbolizes a deceased loved one who is visiting.

If a moth flies around you at night, it means that you will recieve a letter.

In some cultures, it is a superstition that a white moth in a house or trying to get in a sign that a death will come to the family.

Also, apparently some believe that a moth is the soul of a witch. 

Whatever the superstitions are, everytime I see this moth I feel as though I have been transported to some primal place where the extinct, giant animals of old still persist. 

via Blogger


8 Points to Remember When Naming Your Characters

From the start, it may seem that choosing a name for your character is really easy.  You like a name and so that’s the one you’re going to use. That’s settled. Now on to more important things like procrastination! Well hold on for just a moment.  Have you considered if that name you have fallen in love with makes sense for your character? For the setting? Or how about the meaning of the name?  Before you go willy-nilly in naming your characters, there are a few important points to remember.

1. Is the Name Appropriate in the Setting?

 Before I continue any further remember that setting includes not only the physical place but the time period as well.  Is the name you have decided on appropriate for the country your story takes place in?  How about the time period?  The name could be more old fashion or too trendy for the setting you have decided on.
If the character is an American then you can go here Social Security Name Popularity Listand search by years. And this site allows you to search through decades:
If your character is British then you can check out this site, which lists names from 1880 to present day.
**Remember that this really only applies to stories that are based in the real world.  If you have a science fiction or fantasy novel and you are creating an entirely new world then these rules can be thrown out the window.

2. Is the Name Appropriate for the Character?

Is the character an adult? Does he have a name appropriate for the time period in which he was born?  If the character is an American then you can go here Social Security Name Popularity Listand search by years.  Don’t make the mistake of naming him/her something that is currently trendy, when your character was born decades ago.
Is your character of a different ethnicity?  Is the name ethnically appropriate?  There are many baby name sites that will allow you to search for names according to ethnicities and genders.
For example:

      3. A Name Can Determine Who a Person Is

Ever since I read about the brothers Cain and Able in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, I have been obsessed with the idea that a name can determine who a person is.  Naming a character a certain name due to a meaning can be a fun Easter egg for your readers to discover.  But remember that your readers are smart so don’t make it obvious (e.g. Bella Swan).  Meanings for names can be literal or implied.
For literal meanings of names there are sites like these:
For implied meanings of names think about East of Eden where two brothers lives mirrored the lives of two biblical brothers.  Perhaps the character’s story that you have thought of reminds you of a figure from mythology:
Or from the Bible:
Or literature:

      4. No Country for Interesting Names (well at least not for everybody)

Unless you have made up a completely new world then you have to accept the fact that some people will have boring names!  This doesn’t mean that you have to name background characters Jane Doe or John Smith.  But you can’t name every single person a unique, interesting name.  Find a good balance. There are plenty of common names that may have fallen out of vogue recently (and therefore feel fresh).

5. A Place and Time for Nicknames

If other characters are familiar with a particular character try to think of a nickname derivative of the name or completely new one all together.  For example, did you know that the old fashioned nickname for Sarah is Sally? Or think of how down south people like to give others two names as a term of endearment (e.g. Sarah Elizabeth becomes Sarah-Beth).
Here’s a site that list nicknames for common names:
Here’s a place you can look up old-fashioned nicknames:
And remember that a nickname can have nothing to do with the actual name itself (e.g. Slim or Little John).  Maybe the nickname comes from an interesting story in your character’s past.

6. Pronunciation. Think about it.

Pronunciation is extremely important for a reader.   The first time I read Harry Potter; I had no idea how to pronounce Hermione and ended up pronouncing it Her-mine.  If someone doesn’t know how to properly pronounce the name then they will pronounce it however they want or skip over the name all together.
Remember that the pronunciation must follow the normal conventions of grammar. I had a friend once that wanted to name her daughter Magdalene and have everyone pronounce it Madeleine, “the G will be silent”…yeah that’s just not going to happen.  If you do have unexpected pronunciations then try to subtly work it into the story, a short time after the character is introduced to assist the reader.
If you are set on the character having a difficult name to pronounce then think about giving them a nickname (see #5).

7. The World is an Unpredictable

Remember people in the real world are weird and unpredictable. I once met a person with the last name of Moneymaker; that was her legal and legitimate surname.  If you have your heart set on a particular name then go for it.  My rule of thumb is that if your story is set in the real world and the name you have decided on is bizarre, then explain why.  Make an interesting story or mystery around it and this will help to give your characters depth too. Which brings us to the most important point in naming your character…

      8. Know Your Characters!!!

Who is this person? What is their back story?  Perhaps they received their name as a namesake.  Then what is the story behind that? If the personality and the name don’t match up then make it point of contention.  Remember that names make an impression and you want readers to remember that name.

via Blogger

Southern Inspiration: The Flood

Every so often, I will be adding photos from my daily life and talk about how it made me think of a story or maybe how it is one of countless things that make me think of life in the strange south. I do this if only for no other reason then I think that the South is an untapped treasure trove of bizarre people, places and events. As I can’t find too many tolerable stories that use the south this way, I guess I’ll just have to write my own. 😉

So let’s get back to the picture above. The other day I was walking by the Arkansas river when I saw my little friend above (he’s the small squiggle at the bottom). This snake looked to be about 5 to 6 feet in length and from a distance a friend and I thought it may be a Cottonmouth, there are only a few water snakes here in Arkansas. Anyways, this snake in the water got me to thinking about a story my father had told me about my mammy, his mother, and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

For the lay people, the flood of 1927 was catastrophic for the people of 10 states, the hardest hit of which was Arkansas with about 14% of its land under water. That flood has been thought of as the most destructive flood in the history of the United States. Randy Newman even wrote a song, “Louisiana 1927,” about it. The Mississippi river swelled to 60 miles in diameter in some places, it flooded about 27,000 square miles, and killed 246 people in 7 different states. My grandmother was 7 at the time and the following is a story inspired by what happened to her in the flood.


                Up north the rain had fallen and fallen.  There seemed to be no end to the water.  The river crested the banks of its northern neighbors about a week ago.  There was nothing new about that.  It’s when the water pushes over the southern shores that people start to worry.  The land of the delta, flat and pregnant with rich silt, was the primary resource of those poor ones that decided to live there.  And now the river threatened everything.  A river that for countless years before was the vein that supplied a muddy, wet life to the land, now loomed wider and wider.  A provider turned usurper.

Helen sat quietly on the thin carpeted floor of a small two bedroom house in Eros, Louisiana.  Her fine, light brown hair was pulled back into a short ponytail.  The cloth doll, Lottie, she held had a white porcelain face with delicate blue eyes and a pink mouth that had been carefully painted on.  That smooth white face was her favorite part of Lottie.  On summer nights she would press the small, cool face against her cheek and wait for it to lose its heat, then she would pull it away from her face and study the small blue eyes that stared unblinkingly back.  She would try to keep her eyes wide open, without blinking, as she waited for any sign of life.  Helen fervently believed that her doll was alive and just never moved when other people around.  She wanted Lottie to talk to her so badly.  When her eyes would grow dry, she would pull the doll close and feel the cool porcelain against her face again.

“The river is coming,” A business-like voice came from the wooden radio that was pushed against the wall.

Her daddy would stop it, Helen thought without worry while she rubbed the soft black dress her doll wore between her fingers.  Claude, Helen’s father, was the high sheriff of Eros and for the last 4 days he had driven all around the Jackson parish in an attempt to prepare the people for the coming waters.  He had driven his model T from Hog Hair to Salem Guyton to Bug Tussle organizing hands to fortify the levees.

Eros was a small town in north Louisiana.  It was a sawmill boom town that had sprung up in the vast pine forest of the south that stretched from east Texas all the way to Virginia.  To understand how this stretch of Pine Barrens had come to be named after the Greek god of love and desire, one would have to turn their eyes skyward.  The bright jet of the Eros asteroid inspired a richly dressed woman in a large two-story house who in turned told her equally dressed husband, the owner of the sawmill owner.  And so the town was named.  The fire of 1926 had burnt the giant sawmill to the ground, leaving many residents without a job.   The sawmill held no sway now and the town was on the decline.  This mass exodus of people was a blessing and a curse to Claude.  There were fewer people he had to worry about protecting but finding able hands to pack sand bags on the levees was proving to be an onerous task.

“Helen time for bed,” her mother, Ollie, leaned against the door frame, her simple house dress was wrinkled from house chores.

“Daddy isn’t back yet,” Helen whined back.

“Bed,” her mother said in a voice that left no room for questions.

Helen shuffled back to her room, and her mother followed close behind.  Small arms were raised. A child’s day dress fell quietly to the floor, while a soft cotton nightgown rustled over the small head.  Helen’s older sister Anne was already tucked into the single bed that took up half of the room.  A faint smell of rubbing alcohol came to Helen’s nose.  Her sister had rubbed the stuff on her arms, neck, and legs to cool off from the day’s heat.  The cotton sheets were cool as Helen slipped into the bed.  Ollie’s hair tickled Helen’s cheek as she leaned in and kissed her goodnight.  The door shut quietly and Helen was left to fall asleep.  Her eyes strained to stay open as she stared at Lottie’s face, but slowly sleep pulled them shut.

“Girls wake up,” It was their daddy.  He strode into the room and pulled the blanket off the sleeping pair.  “Come on Anne, Helen.  We got to get on top of the roof.”

“Ok daddy,” Anne said quietly, her voice softened by sleep.

“Wha-” Helen asked sleepily as she rubbed her eyes.

Claude swept Helen up into his arms and carried her outside of the house.  Anne’s bare feet slapped the floor as she followed closely.  Helen held Lottie unconsciously in her right hand. It was still night outside and the stars were dark, clouded over by rain clouds that came from the east.  Helen’s mother stood looking down at the three from the roof.  She stooped and held out her hands to her husband.  Claude easily lifted Helen’s small frame up and Ollie pulled her onto the roof.  Anne was next.  Then Claude climbed his own way up the clapboard side of the house and onto the roof.  A streak of lightning etched across the sky and rain threatened.  Ollie sat down carefully on the slant of the rough roof and motioned for her daughters to come near.  Anne and Helen huddled next to their mother while they stared out into the dark.  A levee didn’t hold.  They knew the waters would come.  They fearfully stared out into the darkness looking for the waters to come rushing towards them.  Fear can be a strange bed fellow and make eyes heavier than a person can remember, and so the two girls’ vigilant watch slowly became slumber against their mother’s side.

Ollie was leaned back against the roof.  She could have sworn that she had only shut her eyes for a moment but hours passed by.  Helen was curled in a ball against her side, while Anne had draped half her body over Ollie.  Claude squatted nearby keeping out a watchful eye.  It was in this lull that Helen was awoken by a small touch at her ankle.  She shook her ankle absentmindedly and felt the touch again.  Helen’s foot twitched against her mother’s leg waking up Ollie who looked down at Helen’s foot and screamed.

The brown, silt-filled water had come.  Water swilled at the roof’s edge.  The surrounding oak trees and neighbor’s houses were shortened to half their height in the water.  Other families crowded on top of their houses looking at the invading river that surrounded them.  Helen’s small family was not the only things trying to escape the waters.  A dozen dark brown snakes treaded the water, their heads raised up onto the roof.  A smaller snake with black bands had already made it up onto the roof and entangled around Helen’s feet.  The family panicked.  Helen started flinging her arms around in fear.  Ollie pulled her daughter away from the snake, while she scrambled higher up the roof.  Claude rushed over and stomped his boots against the onslaught of snakes.  He kicked the small snake that had been on his daughter into the water.  Helen buried her head into her mother’s side while she cried.

Then Anne said quietly, as if to herself, “Oh Lottie!”

The name caused Helen to grow suddenly quiet and peer around her mother.  Past her flailing father, she could see the white face of her doll in the swilling waters.  Without a thought, Helen ran towards her doll.  She pulled away from Ollie’s arms so suddenly that Ollie didn’t have a chance to hold her back. Helen took one leap. Two.  And just as she tried to jump for Lottie, her father’s strong arms snatched her up.

Helen screamed.  Her face was beat red as she reached her arms out over her father’s shoulders toward the doll.  Lottie sank slowly in the snake infested water.  The motion of the swimming tails rocked Lottie back and forth.  Just as the water had completely soaked the cloth body and Lottie sank beneath the water, Helen could have sworn that she saw a painted blue eye wink at her.