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The Lisbon Oceanarium

From the Temporary Exhibit "Forests Underwater by Takashi Amano." Photo by Tami Cowden
From the Temporary Exhibit “Forests Underwater by Takashi Amano.” Photo by Tami Cowden

Takashi Amano specialized in creating underwater living art. This is a huge aquarium, planted very carefully with tropical aquatic plants and stocked with tropical fish. Some of the same fish we have (in smaller quantities) in our livingroom aquarium, in fact. It is a very peaceful and calming exhibition, very unlike the normal life of a big city.

Down one level from the temporary exhibit is a pretty cool aquarium. (No whales, I promise.) People visiting can get pretty wide-eyed with delight. To wit:

Photo by Tami Cowden
Photo by Tami Cowden

We have basset hounds, which are pretty cute animals. But we found some other animals in the Oceanarium that are even cuter. I refer, of course, to Sea Otters. You can see thousands of these guys cavorting near Monterrey, California, if you don’t want to come all the way to Lisbon.

Terminal Cuteness - Photo by Tami Cowden
Terminal Cuteness – Photo by Tami Cowden

I wanted to post a video, but my video editing software is on a different computer and difficult to access. Lunch was fine, about what you’d expect, including dessert. We spent several hours at the Ocenarium before we had to recover our car and drive to the rental agency. This brings up an interesting aspect of navigating in a foreign place. It is absolutely essential that at least one phone, with one maps app, be properly charged at all times. Our car’s power outlet didn’t work, so this involved some definite fuss and bother. Luckily, we had an excellent turbo charger that is portable. You charge it; it charges your devices. I highly recommend such an item if you plan to travel. For me, the best thing about being back home is that I no longer have to pay attention to that. My car charger works, and I have my choice of chargers in the house. Whew!

The rental agency woman had offered to take us to the airport, but as we discovered that it was only about six Euros to Uber it, we declined her generous offer. We did give her the bottle of champagne that we got for free at the hotel in Espinho. Maybe she paid our tolls for us, I can’t say, but if she did, thank her for me if you see her. She works at Ausocar Lisbon.


We arrived at the airport with a lot of time to spare, which was good as it took a while to check in and find our gate. Here’s the thing about Lisbon Airport: you Exit Through the Gift Shop! I mean that literally. The path to the gates winds through the largest duty-free shop in existence (or so it seems.) It took about ten minutes to fully clear the place. Many people stopped to buy things, too, so I guess it’s a good idea from a strictly commercial point of view. We, of course, were less than thrilled, but what the heck, we got there in the end. Hungry. Tired. Disgruntled. (Can one be ‘gruntled?’) And, in the end, what matter? We ate from a small restaurant not far from the gate, and were content enough. Once aboard the plane, as soon as I could, I went to sleep. Not the best sleep in the world, you say? It was good enough. We got to our Dublin hotel at about 02:30. By 03:00 or so I was asleep again, in a bed.

Just one more story. Tami joined what Aer Lingus calls the “Aer Club” when she booked our flights. It is free. It doesn’t get you much, but one thing it does get you is priority check-in. We must have passed a hundred other passengers on our way to the “Aer Club” counter. Heck, we were through the gift shop before the last of them checked in. Keep that in mind, should you ever fly Aer Lingus.

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Old Books, Bus Rides, and Off We Go

A Watercolor in a Cabinet in the Irish National Museum - photo by Tami Cowden
A Watercolor in a Cabinet in the Irish National Museum – photo by Tami Cowden

I confess that I lied in my previous post. We visited the National Museum in Dublin on Thursday, at least that’s when it was according to the timestamps on a string of photos. This particular painting is displayed for two hours per week. It is a watercolor which they don’t want to deteriorate. As we walked into the gallery, a museum employee came out and said that the cabinet was open. We got lucky! I do not know what the painting depicts, or who painted it, but it is a nice composition with good colors, so I’m glad they’re taking care of it. It was on the way to this museum that we saw the Prime Minister’s official office building, in fact. The cheeseburger place came after. After that, my previous post is accurate. We walked around for a bit, then went to the hotel and slept the sleep of the very tired.

The Long Room in Trinity College Library, Dublin
The Long Room in Trinity College Library, Dublin

Next morning we had a Full Irish breakfast at our quaint hotel. In the basement. It was very good. A Full Irish consists of an egg up, beans, bacon (cured meat, think ham, a black pudding, a white pudding, I believe a few potato bits, juices and coffee or tea. Other than the puddings, you could call it a Full English breakfast. We packed up for our flight to Lisbon in the evening, left our bags in care of the hotel, and eagerly shot out the door headed for Trinity College.

This was a mistake. I had read, specifically, “Skip the Book of Kells,” but somehow that advice left me on this morning. The Book of Kells is the oldest book in Ireland, and as it is an original, one of the oldest extant manuscripts anywhere. The text is the first four Christian gospels in Latin. Ad veniat regnam tuum indeed. The museum display isn’t entirely uninteresting, and seeing an actual book that old is something, but it doesn’t last all that long. Upstairs is the “Long Room” of the Trinity Library, where they store a bunch of old books. You can see the old books to either side in the photo above. That’s what we did, see the old books. You can’t check them out, or even touch them. Makes me wonder what they heck the library is for.

Sort of Looks Like Saint Patrick's Cathedral, but I Don't Think It Is. - photo by Tami Cowden
Sort of Looks Like Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, but I Don’t Think It Is. – photo by Tami Cowden

We hopped on, and off, and on again, a hop on-hop off bus service, which worked pretty well. We toured the city and saw a number of famous and otherwise sights. We did not take the tour of the Guinness facilities. Don’t get me wrong, the Guinness Stout brewed there is one of the finest brews ever brewed. I just didn’t care, and still don’t, how they do it. (It’s true, by the way, that the Guinness Stout is better in Dublin. A lot better.)

I Do Not Know Who This is of, But Tami took this p icture, and it's a good shot.
I Do Not Know Who This is of, But Tami took this picture, and it’s a good shot.






















What we have here, besides the unknown gentleman’s statue, is a bit of the Guinness Storehouse, the world’s second largest Obelisk, behind the Washington Monument, and the West Gate to Trinity College.

We could have done more that day, but we had to get to the airport to catch our plane to Lisbon. Interestingly, on the way in, I could have sworn that the hotel was twice as far away from the airport as it seemed to be on the way back out. Long Hauling? No rideshare allowed in Dublin. I report, you decide. Whatever, after discovering that our checked bags had been forgotten by the Aer Lingus system, we waited in a line at the front of which was a young gentleman who apparently was confused by the computer equipment. Giving up all hope of getting dinner at an airport restaurant, we nonetheless made our flight (a lot like United, if that helps describe it) and bought food on the plane. The food was not at all bad, either. By the time we got to our hotel, it was after ten (I mean 22:00) and we didn’t do much but check out Portuguese TV and go to bed. The hotel was the VIP Executive Marques Aparthotel, an actual hotel with electronic keys, elevators, and a parking garage. More about that next time. For now, it’s time to say “adeus.”

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Happy Holidays!

A Part of the 2008 Version of the Magical Forest, by Opportunity Village

Opportunity Village is an organization in Las Vegas, Nevada that provides opportunities for people who normally would not be able to find a job. With training and experience, many of their clients are able to graduate into the “real” job market. They open the Magical Forest every year for the holiday season. Get there early to avoid the big crowds. Ride the train! (That snow is fake, by the way.)

It’s no secret that one of the obligatory things a series author has to do is to produce at least one holiday-themed entry. It’s usually Christmas, but it could be any holiday. Independence Day? Check. Valentine’s Day? You’re kidding, right? Check. New Year’s Day? Check. Even Ground Hog Day? Duh! (Liked the movie.) In the spirit of giving you something else to daydream about while your next big plot development is cooking in the back of your mind, consider how you might adapt your current cast of characters to your favorite holiday? What does a Librarian do on Halloween? Will a Chief ever relax enough to enjoy Labor Day?

Seriously, the holidays present special problems for writers, merely by existing. In my case, I had to finish up a bathroom remodel, and this is the first thing I’ve written in a couple of weeks. And it’s not even fiction! Maybe the way to go is similar to what I do about eating sweets over the holidays: I don’t try to avoid it. I keep it down to as mild a roar as possible, which isn’t always that mild a roar as I dearly love sweets. I also don’t worry too much about production over this period. If it’s something that just has to come out, it will, whether I will it or not. Otherwise, I keep notes and other things to ensure that I can pick up right where I left off, whether it’s the holidays or not. This seems to work out for me, provided that I’m not too fat to fit behind my desk at the end of it all. 🙂



A Man And His Mouse/October 2017
A Man And His Mouse/October 2017

Spent last weekend at Disney’s California Resort. I admit that I took the photo above, but I thought it funny enough to post, even though, technically, it isn’t very good. Not only did Walt have a mouse, but he also had a tower growing out of his head! What a guy, huh? In truth, I’ve always liked Walt Disney, the man on TV selling culture to kids. Know why jeans frequently have holes in them, and look worn and old, even $80 new from the store? Spin and Marty, that’s why. Feel free to look it up. The city dude’s new jeans got dragged through the horse yard, kicked around, washed a jillion times, and ended up looking like, well, like those eighty-buck ripped pants you see today.

Walt, of course, is remembered by the general public as an animator, and of course, as the founder of Disneyland, which has grown into a worldwide entertainment juggernaut. But, of course, over the years, he didn’t draw a lot of the stuff with his name on it (I mean back when he was alive.) He was also, perhaps primarily, a storyteller. Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, tells a story. It’s a simple one, and a silly one (he called his toons “Silly Symphonies,) but it’s still a complete story. He adapted many stories, too, of course, especially from the brothers Grimm, but he always made them his own. As a little kid, I couldn’t read the Grimm version of Snow White — it’s horrible. But, I loved Walt Disney’s story. Disney knew how to tell it so everybody would love it, and that’s what he did every day of his adult life.

And his theme park was designed to be a story, or maybe five stories, all with stories within them, as well. Main Street was based on a small-town middle America that was long gone by 1955, and patterned after the main street of the Kansas town where he grew up.* The other “lands,” (Walt loved things German) including Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tommorowland, all tell stories about swashbuckling fun, life on the edge of civilization, fairy tale worlds, and what was then the future, beckoning bright just around the bend. You can immerse yourself in the stories told at Disneyland, as we did when we “paddled” a canoe around an artificial island in an artificial lake. (They are real canoes, but there are professionals who actually paddle the things.) You can experience the lifestyle of the Pirates of the Caribbean. There was a working Monorail before Seattle built one for their World’s Fair, and it’s still available in a much updated version. There  used to be a People Mover, of which I know at least one was sold, to the City of Detroit. Walt liked the future, and worked to bring it about, so his Tomorrowland stories were more Star Trek in style and intent than they were Star Wars. Today, of course, Tomorrowland is all about Star Wars, but I’m talking 1955 here, folks. (I know, there was no Trek either. I’m referring to the fact that Star Wars is a fantasy telling an invented mythology, whereas Star Trek is a hopeful vision of a real future. I like them both.)

You can learn a lot about story by visiting Disneyland. Many of the rides have encapsulated stories within their experience, and they are too short to have any extraneous modifiers, bub! If you’re a writer, I’m giving you, free of charge, a five-star excuse to go to a Disney park: you can learn a great deal about telling a story there. Don’t say I never did anything for you!

*You can learn more about Walt Disney’s life from this article on Wikipedia.

Back to the Old

Joan of Arc in New Orleans
Joan of Arc in New Orleans

Keyboard. Maybe you dictate. Use a pen. A pencil. Point is, I’m back to writing.

(Sort of a shame. That rant last week got a lot of attention. But, anyway.)

Regular readers of this space will have noticed that I post more items from Odd Godfrey than I do from myself. The reason is simple. Leslie is out in the middle of the wide ocean, with plenty of time between watches to compose things. I have stuff to do. (If she reads this, I’ll tell her that some hacker wrote that line.) No, of course she has much to do. Read her post from October 10th if you want to get a better idea. And she writes. A lot. Which brings me to my point.

All of my working life I managed to incorporate writing into whatever job I had. “A newsletter? I’d be happy to make one!” “A new manual for operating the furbermeizer wrangler? Coming right up!” It didn’t matter what the job was, I’d write something about it. In short, I have been a writer for my entire life. I’ve been a serious writer of bald-faced lies for only the past ten years, maybe less. It took me years to learn how to create lies in a manner that people (may) want to pay for. I persist, due to the one piece of advice I hear from every published author I meet: Keep Writing! I do! I do keep writing! Look, I’m writing this as I write! Leslie Godfrey is also a writer. She writes from the vast expanse of the oceans. (Plural oceans. Read her stuff if you wonder why I say that.) If you’re wondering if you’re a writer, here’s a clue. Do you write stuff? Even when you don’t have to write stuff? Do you feel bad when you don’t write the stuff you meant to write, or maybe not on time? If the answer to any of that is “yes,” then, you, madam or sir, are a writer!

I aspire to one day being able to write advice from the point of view of someone who has sold a raft of books. That day hasn’t happened yet, but I keep on writing. So, this may seem like an obvious way to get back on topic after two weeks ranting about disasters and gun control, but this week’s advice is simply this: Close your browser right now, open your word processor, and write something, dammit!

Can We Cool It A Little?

This Kitty Cat in Europe Cares Nothing for Your Politics. Trust Me On That.
This Kitty Cat in Europe Cares Nothing for Your Politics. Trust Me On That.

I’ve resisted posting anything here about American politics for a long time. I used to, but then I got serious about writing, and I’ve focused this blog in that direction almost exclusively. <This is not a rant. Sorry.> I have expressed opinions, mainly on Twitter and Facebook (if I post on one, I post on both automatically.) But I’ve tried not to make egregious insults about anybody. Except maybe the President since that Charlottesville incident, but even with him, I’ll say that he volunteered for a job I wouldn’t take for all the gold in Fort Knox, so mostly I’m not going to get personal about him. A lot of people, though, do get very personal indeed, and therein lies the Great American Problem.

See, anybody, be they (to use common pejorative terms) libtard or mouthbreather, (I’ve read both recently) is a person. I am not about to take some limp Liberal stand about freedom to believe whatever you want. That’s obvious. Heck, if you kept it to yourself, you could believe whatever you wanted in Berlin in 1932! What I am saying is that applying those pejoratives is, in itself, a major part of the problem. Libtards are people. Mouthbreathers are people. Black Lives Matter, and those Nazis at Charlottesville are people. The Hispanics in Phoenix are people, the Hopi are people, every single human being is a person, and the only way we are going to get through the current nasty ass situation is to remember that. And yes, in fact, Donald Trump is a person, too.

I am not saying that I’m okay with what Trump does, or what anybody does, but everybody deserves the basic respect that we give to any person. That’s what this country is based upon, and that’s what we all have to remember. Most of Trump’s supporters are not White Supremacists.  Most of his supporters are people who don’t believe that they’ve been listened to by the past several administrations. And, yes, they do act against their own best interest at times. So does everybody. They are certainly out of touch with Objective Reality, as are we all.

You want some Objective Reality? Here you go:

  • We are all, every single one of us, going to die. There is no verifiable evidence that any vestige of life continues for us after we do.
  • Life is here because of Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics. Without life, things would continue getting more and more complex here on this fine planet. Per those laws, this cannot happen. Life, though, moves complexity along toward entropy, thus obeying a law of nature.
  • There is nothing verifiably special about humans in comparison with other forms of life. But we do destroy complexity at a brisk pace, don’t we?

That’s all pretty bleak, frankly, and whatever your political views, you spend a lot of time making yourself forget about those facts. Why do you suppose there are vegans? Because eating plants is less likely to remind one of one’s animal nature, and the fragility thereof. Why convince yourself that you’re going to live forever due to intervention by a divine being? Because living forever gets you completely away from those horrible facts!

I made a comment on a post by Facebook God that slammed Trump supporters with a pejorative term. I said “This Doesn’t Help.” And it doesn’t. Trump Supporters are people. The same applies to those slamming “Liberals.” It doesn’t help. We all believe lies that reinforce the way we wish the world to be. We reject any evidence that argues against our world view. What we need now, is a strong dose of moderation. Compromise isn’t evil, it’s how a successful society functions. Nobody gets what they want, but everybody gets something. Yes, that does mean that we all have to live in a less than ideal world. But if we can’t compromise, we may none of us be living at all.

Remember, those people you consider your enemies? They’re people, and you need to treat them with respect.

Reunion Too

In My High School. I went on to major in Biology at BGSU.
In My High School. I went on to major in Biology at Bowling Green State University.

Being a writer by vocation, I could not do a thing such as attend a class reunion (50th) without connecting everything about the experience to telling lies, er, stories. Fifty years after we graduated, I learned some interesting things. For one thing, my high school was, and is, a mid-century modern masterpiece. See my previous article for details. Also, my old friend Gwen, whose hair I apparently pulled on in a class one year, told me that I seemed taller. I’m not aware of having grown since I was a Senior in High School, but, as I said to her, I have grown in other ways. Out, mostly.

And then there was the shock when Evelyn, who I always liked as a classmate, told me that I “hadn’t changed. Still always laid back.” What? Laid back? I was continuously worried in High School. Was my zipper up? Was I ready for that test? Do my friends really like me? How do I get up the nerve to ask <insert co-ed classmates name here> to a dance? But, according to Evelyn, who I always thought was a decently intelligent girl (she still seems reasonably so) I was “always laid back.” I made a joke (my response to stress) about that being due to a lack of internal energy, but really I was trying to fit that impression into my own impressions of High School life, and my own state of mind during that time.

And thus we have a lesson in Characterization.

Especially if writing for High School age readers, one must remember that your protagonist, or any character, will disagree with everyone else on how they feel or act. In fact, this, I imagine, continues right through one’s life, so that I think that we can expand the target audience and say that any character will disagree with all of the other characters on matters of comportment, feelings, and actions. Okay, you figured that out years ago. Sorry I bothered you. Guess I’ll go back to my little keyboard and punch in some more drab prose . . .

(By the way, is that the proper way to use an ellipsis?) 🙂

See what I mean? My overactive imagination already told me that I’m not saying anything that anyone else hasn’t figured out in their twenties. So, I’m nervous about even posting this article. But, I am going to, because I know that you, dear reader, disagree with me on the value of, well, anything. Something to keep in mind while making up lies about fictional people, huh?


Looking for solid advice on Characterization? Check out The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, by Sue Viders, Caro LaFefer, and Tami Cowden. Tami Cowden has also written a companion volume for villains: Fallen Heroes: Sixteen Master Villain Archetypes.


El Castel en Chetzin Itza
El Castel en Chetzin Itza

Yes, that caption is in Spanish. Be happy this whole post isn’t.

The Encore is the theme of this posting: Commercial Fiction. I’ve written about the topic before, here and in former web presences. But, every few years, I like to go over it. I am inspired at this time by an article my wife shared about Romance Fiction. It was the six reasons people put down Romance Fiction. All six of them were, “They’re Jealous.” Yep.

Commercial Fiction, which of course Romance Fiction is an example of, is fiction meant to sell. When I was in college I knew a number of people, both fellow students and professors, who put down anything meant to sell as somehow inferior to that which was written for some higher purpose. Art, I suppose, or serious social commentary. Whatever. This is a common theme, and one, I believe, exacerbated by jealousy, because Commercial Fiction actually does sell, which makes its authors some money, whereas Art Gratia Artis makes for starving artists. So, yeah, some folks are jealous. But, here’s what I have to say about that.

Will Shakespeare didn’t want to write great literature. He wanted juicy parts for himself and his friends, and to pack the house, because, after all, eventually he owned the theatre. I’m sure he’d be pleased to know that his plays are considered great literature, but that wasn’t his goal. He just wanted to keep doing what he liked doing, and making enough money at it to keep it up. He was a success in life, even though his life wasn’t a particularly long one.

Mark Twain wasn’t trying to create great literature when he wrote Huckleberry Finn. He was trying to show the evils of racism through telling a great story. He didn’t want literature, he wanted to make a living writing stories, and, in spite of some setbacks along the way, he was a success.

I could cite hundreds of examples of this were I so inclined, but I’m going to refrain because this blog features mostly succinct posts. You want a treatise, hit up an academic. I doubt that very many famous artists started out to create great art. What they started out to do was to make a living selling their products. Some times it worked, and some times they starved, or kept lifelong day jobs. But they almost all hoped to live off of their art, whether it was great or not.

And that’s why I write commercial fiction myself. It’s too damned much work not to keep refining it and honing it and tweaking it until somebody is willing to pay me for it. If you’ve tried writing stories, you know that it isn’t an easy thing to do. But, you can make a few bucks (Euros, whatever) at it if you persist. And that, by definition, is Commercial Fiction.