A great book leads to a great movie and then an amazing travel experience

“Sometimes we gazed through a succession of arches, its course very like the aisles of a Gothic cathedral. The great artistic sculptors and builders of the Middle Ages might have here completed their studies with advantage.” Chapter 16, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne

***

I was introduced to Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre through the awesome movie made in 1959. My dad and I would watch it every time it aired, on Sunday afternoons; it was one of our favourite things to do together. As I later found out, the movie retains the overall premise from the book, but otherwise differed substantially to make it such an exciting visual adventure. According to Wikipedia, the script-writer, Walter Reisch, said that “The master’s work, though a beautiful basic idea, went in a thousand directions and never achieved a real constructive “roundness”.” 1

Reisch changed the professor who instigates the journey to Scottish, and his nephew, who accompanied him on the great adventure, to one of his enthusiastic geology students. The professor was still crusty, and played with panache by James Mason, while the student was played by a young and handsome Pat Boone who got to lose his shirt for female viewers, and the beautiful Arlene Dahl was added for a love interest deep in the bowels of the earth. The script was delightful, the actors wonderful and the special effects superb, and Hollywood produced a movie that can be watched time and time again.

One day I’d love to go to Iceland, to visit the volcano mentioned in the book and movie: Snæfellsjökull. It’s a real place, and though I have no plans to get inside it, I’d love to see it in person. None of the movie was filmed in that country, and Verne himself never actually went there to gather background material for his novel, but the landscape is such a vivid part of the viewing and reading experience.

Some of the underground scenes were filmed in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, in a massive cave called the Big Room, and my hubby and I made a point of going there on our recent vacation. We’ve been to other cave systems, including Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and Luray Caverns in Virginia, so I wasn’t sure how impressed we’d be with Carlsbad, but given how much I love the movie, it was a must-see.

The park lies about twenty minutes away from the small city of Carlsbad, out in the Chihuahuan desert, which of course looks nothing like Iceland, but it’s what’s inside the mountain that you drive to the top of that matters (although the desert is full of things to see as well).

The caverns have been forming for about 250 million years, from an area that was once part of an inland sea. As a result, the limestone of the area was full of carbon-based fossils, which transformed into a really unique interior as tectonic movement shoved the former reef over 4,000 feet into the air.

Visitor Centre at Carlsbad Caverns NP

To visit the Big Room, which is one of the most accessible parts of the Caverns, you take an elevator down 750 feet from the Visitor Centre at the top deep into the mountain. (Hopefully you’re not claustrophobic.)

Disembarking at the bottom into a spacious underground room, follow the sign to the self-guided tour. The trail, though very walkable, is 2km long (1.25 miles); if you can’t manage the entire thing, there’s a shortcut.

Let me say that the Big Room is one of the most spectacular things my hubby and I have ever seen, and through 24 different countries, that’s saying a lot. Mother Nature always wins, and Carlsbad is no exception. The handful of photos below give you only a sense of how magnificent Carlsbad is; you really have to experience it yourself. They’re all taken without a flash, showing the drama of the shapes that have formed over millions of years, and are continuing to transform.

The caverns are pockmarked with all kinds of strange holes and indentations. This one reminded me of a skull face, and you can see the ‘popcorn’ formations that are found in many parts of the caves
The walking path is edged with handrails, and is textured to prevent slipping on the damp surface. It’s surreal as it winds through the caves.
This is the Lions Tail formation, as the popcorn clusters on the ends of the stalactites resemble the fluffy-ended tails of the big cats

The Big Room is so massive that it’s impossible to take a photo of the entire thing – about 4,000 feet long, or 11 football fields. It’s the largest single cave in the U.S. by volume, rising up to over 200 feet high. I couldn’t find information about where exactly the filming took place, but it was a brilliant choice!

I took this photo looking back across the Big Room from the far end. If you look closely, you can see the handrails of the walking path as it meanders through. This huge space is only a small part of the entire room.
A stalactite (growing down from the ceiling) and a stalagmite (‘growing’ upward from drips from the ceiling above) eventually meet in the Big Room

Great art, in whatever form, inspires people to explore further, and we’re so lucky to live in a world that provides the opportunities. For more information about Carlsbad, visit the NPS website.

All photos were taken by me. They’re posted at lower resolution than the originals, and may not be used without my permission. E. Jurus

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey_to_the_Center_of_the_Earth_(1959_film)#CITEREFMcGilligan1991

On hiatus this week

Hi everyone. I’m taking a break this week, as I had to have some minor surgery yesterday and am recovering. In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure or possible inspiration, the photo above is one that I took at the Bottomless Lakes in New Mexico recently. See you next week.

All photo rights are reserved by me.

A Taste of Culture

Best Sopa Azteca ever at the Antigua Cocina Mexicana restaurant in Roswell, New Mexico

Eating good food is, for me, one of the joys in life. I especially love to explore the cuisine of the different places my hubby and I travel to. We’ve doing this for many years, and it’s really come in handy since I started writing novels.

I can provide ambience just by describing what a character is eating, or being served. My parents, and my in-laws, were all European, and put out very representative meals, for example – very different than what we’ve eaten at our Italian best friends’ place, or Middle Eastern households we’ve been to. Since I love to cook myself, I’ve learned a lot about a variety of cuisines and can write about them with a fair amount of confidence.

In October hubby and I spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico. As it happens, we love southwestern food, and we made the most of it. Chilies, both red and green, are ubiquitous, of course. The state has turned their take on a classic cheeseburger – a good quality beef burger topped with chopped roasted green chilies and melted white cheese – into an official culinary experience. The New Mexico tourism website provides a map of selected restaurants on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, but most of the places we went to made their own version. Below, you’ll see a photo of the GCC slider stack that I tried out at the Shark Reef Café in the ABQ Bio Park in Albuquerque; it was superb.

Chilies are native to Central and South America, although they’ve now spread around the world as many countries cultivate their own varieties.

Apparently wild peppers grow upright, to attract birds that will spread their seeds out the other end, but through the process of domestication the peppers droop downward. Chilies all start out green, but can be allowed to ripen until they turn red.

A high-res photo of this image, and other selected images from the trip, can be purchased in various formats through my photography site on Fine Art America.

At the annual Santa Fe Harvest Festival, we learned that green chilies are hotter, but they don’t keep as well. For preservation purposes, the chilies are allowed to fully ripen, and then are picked and knotted by their stems into long bundles called ristras. The ristras are hung outdoors to dry out, and can then be used bit by bit throughout the winter until the new batches grow.

If used fresh, the chilies could be roasted in beehive-shaped adobe ovens. The ones shown in the photo here are what would have been used by early settlers in New Mexico, but these ovens are still really popular today; many people build them in their back yards. On the afternoon of the festival, two of the docents were baking fresh bread and rolls, for which they heat the ovens to 700 degrees F inside. The pans are set on the brick bottom and the opening is sealed shut with a wooden door soaked in water, with water-soaked rags around the edges to complete the seal.

Samples were given out for free, and my hubby and I spent a most enjoyable hour or so waiting for the hot rolls to come out and chatting with another couple from the northern part of the state around Taos. Every sample was delicious, especially the rolls studded with dried fruit.

After that, we sat down to rest and bought the last two homemade tamales being sold by another docent sitting across from us out of an insulated bag on a little walker-style cart. Tamales are basically a savory stuffing wrapped in a masa (corn) dough and steamed inside husks of banana or corn leaves. They made steam come out of our ears, I think. I asked the vendor what was in the filling and she listed only two ingredients: pork and chilies. Wahoo!

But there’s more to the experience than just consuming the food. Entire cultures are build around the sharing of food, whether it’s years of tradition in a family home, or the communal wait for fresh buns at a festival, sharing a little bit of your life on a sunny afternoon with people you may never see again. It might even be the conversation you strike up when you’ve sat on a bench next to two women eating tamales that they bought from a couple of bright-eyed women across from you, and you decide to take a chance on a pair of foil-wrapped bundles that emerge from an insulated bag on a little cart.

The kind-hearted vendor even gave us a courtesy bottle of water to wash our impromptu lunch down with. Between that and the sweet rolls, we had a complete, and completely unexpected, meal.

As travellers, hubby and I live for these unplanned experiences – they’re often the best memories. As a writer and photographer, I pay attention and take lots of photos so that I can recapture the details long after we’ve gotten home, either as a piece of artwork, for a meal for friends/family, or as a sample of authentic culture in my novels. The different styles of food and food production might even make their way into a tale on a different planet – maybe it’s a less-developed civilization that still cooks in earthen ovens, or grows unusual plants on its farms.

Whichever the case, you can’t beat an authentic actual experience to understand what a different culture is really like, from the myriad varieties of potatoes (over 700) that are served with every meal in Peru to the cups of tea made famous in English novels of all genres to the little chilies that have caught on so much that they even get hung up as decorations.  For all travellers and aspiring novelists, our world is a rich source of cultural inspiration — don’t forget to make time to stop and smell the ristras.

All photos were taken by me, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

Book 3 is under way

Two years ago I began my tentative adventure in fulfilling a long-held dream: to write a novel. I’ve always loved reading — taught myself to read when I was four — and began writing stories somewhere around the age of eight or nine. Many years later, I’m getting the first book of my trilogy ready for publication, editing the second book for my beta readers, and have put ‘pen to paper’ for Book 3. It’s a little startling to realize how far my adventure has taken me already, and a little weird to think about typing The End to the entire saga in a few months

How does one get to this point? In my case (because all writers are different and I can’t speak for everyone):

  • By having a story to tell, that must pour out until it’s finished.
  • By getting that first rough, crazy draft done.
  • By having beta readers who’ve loved your work and keep pressing for the next installment.

There’s still plenty of work to do. The front cover art for Book 1 is set, having been vetted by the members of the small-business group I belong to; I’ve been working on the blurb for the back cover, and need to get some publishing details finalized (e.g. the ISBN number). I’ve had several requests to include maps of the small town where much of the action in the novels takes place as well as the private college where my protagonist works; I’m researching software to help me create versions that are more polished than the sketches I produced in PowerPoint. And finally, as a self-published author, all the advance promo rests in my lap, but I’m looking forward to working on it and posting the first pieces here on this site!

The entire process repeats for Book 2 — feedback from beta readers, a couple more edits to bring the novel to its best state. The cover art will be a variation on the version chosen for Book 1, so that won’t be too difficult, and I’ll build on the promo that’s already been put out there since Book 1. Hopefully I’ll already have a solid fan base.

Book 3 will undergo the same transformation, from rough draft to final product. And then what? Two years ago, when I wrote the first words of Book 1 (whose title has evolved constantly until a few months ago), I wasn’t even sure I could produce an entire novel, or that anyone would like it. There was no thought of what I’d do once I finished the entire trilogy.

I assume all successful writers (as in, have finished and published a book) go through this, the ‘what’s next?’ state of mind. I’ve given it some thought, and for some reason have decided to write a horror novel — even though I’m not a huge reader of the genre. Having watched stylish horror movies and turned off a few gore-fests, I do know what I like and don’t like, and the idea of penning my own chiller feels like a thrilling challenge to take on. Can I scare the pants off my readers in a way that burrows into your minds for a long time afterward? We’ll find out 🙂 It will be set in the same ‘world’ as my Chaos Roads trilogy, but with a different protagonist who brings her own peculiar baggage to the story; still fleshing out the details and how her journey will play out.

For now, however, I’ll keep you posted on Book 1, Through the Monster-glass, as it heads toward the day when it becomes available to the public on Amazon Kindle! Check back for many more details in the next few weeks; the cover art will be coming soon.

Book 2 is finished!

Entrance to the Currents sound-and-light show, Niagara Parks Power Station. Photo by E. Jurus

I typed “The End” after fifty-five chapters and about 192,000 words of the second book in my ‘Chaos Roads’ trilogy. The future is clouded for my heroine and all the people in her life, like the fog screen at the Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls, Ontario, that precedes their Currents sound-and-light show (which my hubby and I enjoyed a few days ago).

What a journey this second novel has been! The protagonist barely survived the events of the first book, and has to deal with the profound changes in her life as a result, heading towards an inevitable transformation she’s not sure she wants.

The first completed draft is four chapters longer than Book 1, which surprised me, but the story must be told in the way that it wants to unfold. I don’t have complete control over it — let’s just say that it developed a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. That’s a large part of the fun of writing for me, that I get to look forward to the adventure as much as my readers do.

All thoroughly backed up onto an external drive, Book 2 will now rest easy for a few weeks, simmering like a stew, while I complete the final edit of Book 1 and get it ready for publication. The official title will be “Through the Monster-glass”; I’ll post a preview and other information as I get it finalized.

I belong to an business-women’s entrepreneurial group, and at this month’s meeting we were all asked to share what we love the most about our chosen vocation. My answer was both easy and complex:

  • I love the process of writing, of capturing a scene in words that will make it come alive for my readers
  • I love the surprises along the way, as I’ve already mentioned
  • I love making my brain work: doing the plotting, the research, the wordsmithing
  • The sense of accomplishment is profound, to do something you’ve dreamt your whole life of doing. Even if it doesn’t sell (but of course I hope it does, and my beta readers all loved it), I’ve still achieved something remarkable.
  • I love that my journey is inspiring others to follow their dream

It took a great leap of faith on my part to embark on this journey. Throughout high school I received great marks on my creative writing, but there’s still a huge divide between those short stories and putting an entire book together. I wanted to write something that would live on in my readers’ imaginations long after they finish the final chapters, and I had no idea if I could actually do that.

You start off with the rudiments of an idea, and maybe the main plot points, but there’s still an awful lot that has to come out of your head after that. My genre, fantasy/sci-fi, typically runs between 100,000 to 150,000 words, maybe longer, which is frighteningly intimidating. My second blog post on this site, “Do you have a book inside you?“, shares more details of how I got started. Finishing the first book a year ago at the end of July was one of the shining milestones of my life.

Book 2 has highs, lows, profound questions, and lots of action. The third book will challenge my heroine in ways she never expected, answer many questions and open up many more. I hope it will be a thrilling, satisfying wrap-up of the amazing journey she’s been on — but that’s to be determined when I start writing it during the 2022 session of National Novel Writing Month this November. I look forward to taking all the notes on my very-detailed, multi-page spreadsheet and transforming them into the final part of the story, and I know I’ll be sad when I type the third and final “The End” next summer.

In the meantime, there’s the final, extra-scrutinizing edit of Book 1 to finish, then formatting it for publishing, working out a cover design, uploading it to Kindle, and holding the Launch Party (all details to follow on this site, and the Facebook page I’ll be creating). Lots to do, and a busy few months ahead.

You can find me on the NaNoWriMo site as AdvGal. If you sign up for the event, look me up — I’d be delighted to keep in touch and provide encouragement!

Celebrating National Book Lovers Day

Bookstacks at the Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

North of New York City, along the edge of the Hudson River, there is a small estate lying between the railroad tracks of Metro North and the broad expanse of the river.

Chapter One, Ghostlight, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

One October, I made a pilgrimage, with hubby as chauffeur and adventure partner, to the Hudson River Valley in New York State, just on the strength of one New Age/Occult book that I’d read. It was the book that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy, because it told the kind of story I’ve always hoped could be true: that our world holds more in it than our humdrum everyday lives.

The author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, led a very controversial life, but she was a damn fine storyteller. I loved her style – very readable but incredibly evocative, even poetic in spots. The story in Ghostlight is fascinating, but what hooked me even more was the setting, which was so well-portrayed that it was almost a character in itself.

So that year, my hubby and I decided to do a road trip, and I suggested the Hudson River Valley. You might be more familiar with this part of New York State as the eerie locale for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Its author, Washington Irving, built his own house there in the town of Sunnyside. He was basically a superstar in the region, and to this day you can see his influence all over the valley.

One of the many things named in honour of the Hudson River Valley’s favourite celebrity

Irving found great inspiration in the mysterious atmosphere of the Catskill Mountains, and when autumn rolls around the entire area takes inspiration from his stories to create one of the best places to go for Halloween-themed travel.

Farm markets abound in the Hudson River Valley
Bumper sticker spotted at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, town of Sleepy Hollow, New York State

Great books live on in our psyche long after we’ve finished reading them, and this week’s blog is a celebration of National Book Lovers Day, celebrated in both Canada and the U.S. It’s not an official holiday, just an acknowledgement of all the enrichment books have brought to countless lives ever since they were first created.

Storytelling became an art long before the written word, through the generations of cultures who passed along knowledge, both practical and spiritual, to those who came after them. Even early rock art told stories.

Tribal rock art, Botswana, Africa

Stories began to be inscribed on stone and clay tablets. And not just stories – records of things, from inventories of goods to spells and curses (as in the Egyptian Book of the Dead) to lists of kings and other important historical facts.

Stories were created to explain how the world works. Cultures like the ancient Egyptians and Celts and Greeks had elaborate tales about the supernatural forces they believed were the cause of things that went wrong.

As science was developed, books were written about discoveries. But others were written just to entertain – to thrill, to haunt, to tell tales of love and romance and chivalry.

My parents loved to read to me, and I developed a love of books from all those wonderful imaginary journeys. I fell in love with the stories of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe at an early age, and when I was fourteen, an ex-boyfriend introduced me to The Lord of the Rings, which I read non-stop during my Christmas holiday break. Oh how I wanted to visit Middle Earth, to see dragons and elves and magical silver. (When we travelled to New Zealand a few years ago, one of the great highlights was a visit to the Hobbiton movie set, including mugs of hobbit ale at the Green Dragon Inn.)

The gate to Bilbo & Frodo Baggins’ house, Hobbiton

That’s the power of books, that they can make a place or a story come so alive for us that we don’t want to leave.

I still love to hold a good book in my hands, curled up with a cup of tea, but I’m also quite happy to download ebooks to my laptop when I can’t get them in our local bookstore. My hubby and I have lately been downloading the Nero Wolfe mystery/crime series of novels by author Rex Stout. These novels capture the atmosphere of the 1950s, from gumshoes to slinky dames, through the eyes of quirky genius Nero Wolfe, who rarely leaves his brownstone in New York City, solving crimes with his remarkable brain while his assistant, debonair and smart-mouthed Archie Goodwin, does all the legwork and his chef Fritz cooks remarkable gourmet meals. We’ve read most of them before, but are now revisiting an old friend and adding the substantial canon (40+ books) to our collection, all compactly stored on our laptops.

Writers also learn to become better by reading great books, and it doesn’t have to be a ‘classic’. Not everyone’s into the works of Tolstoy, or even J.R.R. Tolkien. Whatever genre you like to read, enjoy the experience, escape with it, learn from it, let it fire your imagination.

In future posts, I may start doing book reviews, and I’m also thinking about creating a book club for budding writers, to discuss books we like (or hate), what we loved (or didn’t) between their pages. We’d ready any genre, because I think a good writer can learn something from all of them, and because a diversity of writers would make a great book club. If you’re a new writer and would be interested in joining such a club, let me know!

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” JK Rowling

More writer info – children’s books, reality TV show

The start of the storybook trail on Foley Mountain, Ontario — in 2020 it featured The Gruffalo

This week’s post features two pieces of news I wanted to share with you.

  1. The Reedsy site has posted a comprehensive guide to publishing children’s books. This genre has never been in my wheelhouse, but if you have a wonderful concept for such a book you’ll want to check out all the information in the article, How to Publish a Children’s Book: A Guide for First-Time Authors. In a great illustration of synchronicity, or amazing coincidence (plotting note for you), the article begins by referencing Julia Donaldson, the author of the book featured in the photo for this post, which I took two years ago while on a pandemic vacation within the bounds of my own province.
  2. If you have a book idea inside you and would love the challenge of writing it in front of a huge television audience, this challenge might be for you! A new reality TV show specifically for writers is being put together; it’s called America’s Next Great Author, and the producers are taking casting calls right now. The show has several producers, including The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who run an annual Pitchapalooza for writers who’ve created a book through National Novel Writing Month. Though not for the faint-hearted (like all reality shows), this could be right up your alley: tryouts in several U.S. cities where you’ll get one minute to pitch your book idea to a publishing panel; then “Six charismatic finalists from vastly different places and backgrounds enter the Writer’s Retreat together for a month of live-wire challenges and spectacular storytelling.” The finalists will have to begin their book ‘from scratch’ and complete it in 30 days. Whether you want to submit your name for the casting calls, or just follow information on the show as it develops, this is where you’ll find out more 🙂 Good luck!

Digging up background/favourite resources 

So you have a great idea for a novel. You’ve figured out your basic plot points to get you from the Inciting Incident to the climax. How do you fill in the rest, or figure out how to resolve a sticky situation, or make sure you’re getting the details of something right?

Background research may be your saviour.

This type of research is critical for thrillers, mystery novels and speculative fiction, but even if you’re writing one of the fantasy genres, information from various historic and cultural sources can give your writing a richness and authenticity it wouldn’t otherwise have.

I’ve gotten some of my best ideas from my research – if I need to set a scene and want it to feel right, if I’m stumped on how to move forward in a scene or chapter, if I just need to figure out whether one of my ideas would actually be feasible. Although my genre is urban fantasy mixed with science fiction, a lot of my scenes need to be grounded in reality; from there I can freely extrapolate with whatever my imagination comes up with, knowing that I started from a solid base.

Resources are practically limitless, but today I’d like to share one of my personal favourites: the JSTOR Daily newsletter. JSTOR is “a digital library of academic journals, books, and other material”, which sounds pretty dry, but their newsletter brings all kinds of fascinating cultural tidbits to my mailbox every week.

One of this week’s articles is a terrific example: a snapshot of the pearl industry, from all the way back to 5,000 BC, to later enslaved pearl divers, to the invention of cultured pearls and their adoption as a symbol of white privilege, to powerful modern women who are defying and changing that stereotype.

While the article, Pearl Jam, doesn’t include every historical detail, it provides a springboard for taking the idea of a commodity that’s been precious for millennia and fleshing it out into a concept you could use to make your novel so much more interesting.

Take, for example, the tradition of handing down a set of pearls from generation to generation as mentioned in the article. It used to be a thing in the latter part of the 20th century. My mother had a pearl necklace, as well as a mother-of-pearl necklace and earring set, which of course came to me in due time. Neither was my style of jewellery, although I’ve kept them in memory of her. I fell in love with the look of black pearls after watching the movie The Phantom (you’ll have to watch it yourself to see what I mean 😊), and my adorable hubby with fantastic taste gave me a beautiful black pearl pendant one Christmas, followed by matching earrings the next year. Although they’re not the least bit ostentatious, whenever I wear them, someone notices. Such is the power of something with a mystique behind it.

Consider the idea of a commodity that’s so revered that it’s passed on through generations, whether in the same family, or in a guild, or a sect, between women/men/non-gender/intelligent animals…the possibilities are vast. Think of the long history of such a commodity – how has it been acquired, stolen, smuggled, faked, written into wills, hidden in crypts, protected by secret societies, lost to the ages, and on and on and on.

A few tips when doing research:

  • Organize and store it in such a way that you can find it when you need to refer to it
  • I like to highlight the parts that stood out to me the most, even if I’m not sure how I might use them at the moment. When I return to the document, I can scan through easily
  • Research can be like a treasure hunt – don’t get so caught up in it that you neglect your writing. However, when you’re stuck for ideas or just need a break, good research isn’t a waste of time
  • Include images when you come across them; they often contain a lot of relevant detail that you can use to your advantage
  • Either bookmark your source, or include how to find it again in your stored document (the URL, etc.) – you may want to refer to it more than once for additional details once you start fleshing out your idea
  • Follow your gut. There may be other links in your original source that can lead to more good ideas – or not. That’s the nature of research. Not all of it may prove directly useful, but it may help you to eliminate other possibilities, or to narrow your search to one particular facet.

Above all, have fun, both in the research and in adapting it for use in your novel.

There are many ways to find and do research. If you’re interested in JSTOR Daily, the link to the featured article in this blog post also contains a spot to sign up for the newsletter, and if you have a personal favourite among your resources, I’d love to hear about it!

Writing Exercise/Inspiration: Look Closely

Just for fun, I thought I’d suggest a writing exercise this week. The above photo, for your inspiration, was taken at Luray Caverns in Virginia.

The caverns are filled with limestone stalactites and stalagmites, from tiny to mammoth. Many of the stalactites are ‘wet’, as in continually dripping and growing. Look very closely at the photo above — what you’re seeing is not a roof of stalactites and floor of stalagmites. In several locations in the caverns, the water dripping down from the stalactites forms a pool so still that it creates a perfect mirror image of the ceiling — Nature’s trompe l’oeil in a small cavern about five feet high.

Play around with how you’d describe such a scene, either as a real place in your thriller novel, or an alien landscape (maybe an entire tiny civilization living in it, or perhaps fifty times the size with a gigantic race of monsters), or as a Jules Verne-style adventure.

This is the largest group of caverns in the eastern United States, and I highly recommend a visit. One of the great things about Luray is how walkable it is, along paved pathways. When hubby and I visited there was a staircase going down into the caverns, but they’ve just added a stair-free entrance for wheelchairs. Because of some of the slopes/grades in the path they’re not able to list the caverns as handicapped-accessible, but they are quite friendly for people with some walking challenges, like arthritis (as compared to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, which is very rugged; there’s a small section of the original tunnels that has been made accessible, and is still really cool to visit, but the best parts aren’t).

I hope you enjoy letting your imagination run wild with this challenge, and I’d love to see the results!

As always, all photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

You say viridian, I say verdigris

Shades of green in an Irish forest

Did you know that there are 171, 146 words1 in use in the English language, plus another 47,1561 obsolete words? For writers, language is a rich and delightful playground. Like the great old radio dramas (The Shadow, Philo Vance, Dimension X, and the famously infamous War of the Worlds), we use ‘theatre of the mind’ to engage the imaginations of our readers.

The Foley artists who created the sound effects that helped radio audiences see the action and the settings in their minds used all kinds of techniques to replace the lack of visuals. Authors describe the action and settings, providing prose keyed to readers’ five senses, and one of these revolves around colour imagery.

I’ve always loved the lushly-coloured old movies filmed in Technicolor, ever since I first saw The Wizard of Oz, made in 1939.

The Technicolor process was actually a series of improvements beyond the British film industry’s Kinemacolor, starting in the 1930s. The three-color version was known for its new highly saturated color, and was used by Hollywood for the blockbusters pictures, like the Wiz, The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, Gone with the Wind..

For The Wizard of Oz, the colour of Dorothy’s shoes was changed from silver in the books by L. Frank Baum to ruby specifically to take advantage of the new colour advances. It was a small, but wise decision – those ruby slippers became ultra-famous and iconic. In 1989, to honour the 50th anniversary of the movie, Harry Winston Co. even created a replica version, decorating them with approximately 1,500 carats in rubies and an additional 25 carats in diamonds. They’ve been valued at $3 million.

Colours are one of the ways we understand the world and appreciate its beauty. For writers and graphic designers, colours play a key role in how we get a message across with pizzazz. In honour of Earth Month, we’ll take a look at the colour Green.

I’ll bet you could easily name a dozen versions of green just off the top of your head – lime green, mint green, grass green, jade green, olive, emerald… A simple walk through a spring garden, such as the one I did the other day, will yield myriad shades of green:

The classic green of boxwood hedges
Striped green crocus leaves
Jade green sedum
Glossy green leaves contrasting with fairy-pale green inside a hellebore blossom

Green is a complex colour, created by combining the two primary colours of blue and yellow. It has many shades and connotations.

When I think of the colour, it immediately makes me think of nature, freshness, renewal.

“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, And the dimpling stream runs laughing by; When the air does laugh with our merry wit, And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.” William Blake

Interestingly, though, there are negative associations with green as well: greed, envy, poison. For someone with allergies, the greens of springtime might conjure up visions of hay fever. It’s all in your perspective.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on.” William Shakespeare

A few shades of green have been so iconic that they’re become famous and instantly recognizable. One of the earliest of these was Nile Green, also sometimes used interchangeably with Eau de Nil. I can tell you categorically that the waters of the Nile are not green (though perhaps they once were, when the Pyramids were young), and the origins of the nomenclature are murky. The best that I’ve been able to unearth is that somewhere in the haze of Egyptomania that gripped the fashionable world after Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, a light-to-medium green with perhaps a slight bluish undertone came to represent the exoticism of the Orient, and in particular Egypt.

A stunning pendant made around 1900 by a renowned French jeweller, George Fouquet, in collaboration with Alfonse Mucha, the Czech artist who captured Art Nouveau style, and now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, epitomizes the colour and the Egyptomania style.

Screenshot of the pendant on the Metropolitan Museum website, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/493766

The Benjamin Moore paint company quite aptly describes Nile Green as: “Classic and subtly shaded, this green conveys mystery and Old World elegance. “ If I was writing a scene set in the 1920s or 30s, I’d likely include the colour to evoke the flavour of the era, and perhaps even add a tone of mystery, in the same way that red is often used to bring out a sense of horror or dread.

Another shade of green that will be instantly recognizable to a lot of people is Harrod’s green.

My souvenir Harrods mug

The olive-toned green, always paired with elegant gold lettering, has an air of poshness that few other brands in the world have managed to represent so thoroughly. Created by Minale Tattersfield Design Group in 1967 as a way to unify the department store’s disparate packaging in its 300-plus departments, the signature look has taken on a life of its own, as all good branding does. Harrods, like any business I’ve ever come across, is extremely protective of their brand, and will sue any other brand that even approximates the Harrods lettering font.

Producing green tints for artists’ paints has been challenging throughout history. The first pigments, used in cave art 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, were made from a combination of chalk, burnt charcoal, soil and animal fat, and the colour palette was limited to red, yellow, brown, white and black. As painting progresses, there was an ongoing effort to produce more colours, and to improve the stability of the paints.

Artists and dyers began to experiment with extracting colour from natural materials, like flowers. You might think that it would have been easy to achieve a nice green, since it’s all around us in nature, but that wasn’t the case. If you look at the photo below, which I took at the Awanacancha Textile Centre in Peru, which is a cooperative of families dedicated to preserving the traditional methods of dying and weaving, the only green colour you’ll see is a rather drab sage.

A vibrant green, like the almost fluorescent shade on this lizard in the Amazon jungle, was much harder to create.

Amazon Racerunner Lizard, Peru

Blue, a colour that rarely appears in plants, was much easier, although very expensive – it was made from the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli, which for a long time could only be mined in a single mountain range in Afghanistan. Also called ultramarine blue, it’s the colour that we all associate with the robes of the Virgin Mary in medieval art.

Red came from red ochre, plentiful in iron-rich soil, and is still in use today. Black was originally called ‘bone black’, as its source was indeed charred bones.

Yellow was another challenging colour, for which the artists who loved it went to strange lengths to achieve. J. M. W. Turner, famous for his dreamy 18th century landscapes, used a watercolour paint called Indian Yellow, which apparently was sourced from the urine produced by cows who were fed only mango leaves. (It was soon banned as animal cruelty; the cows became badly malnourished on their forced diet.) Vincent Van Gogh was arguably the most famous painter using yellow, and he used a synthetic compound called Chrome Yellow, which contained lead and was known to cause delirium.

In ancient times, the colour green was made using malachite, a vibrant green mineral of various shades. Verdigris, the greenish coating that develops on weathered copper and bronze, was used by the Greeks, and was also subsequently created artificially by exposing copper plates or strips to acetic acid (such as that found in vinegar).

In 1775, the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a bright green pigment named after him. It became enormously popular, but the arsenic used to make it ended up poisoning both artists and customers. Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom in his home on the island of St. Helena, where he spent many years in exile, contained Scheele’s Green, and historians believe that’s what caused his death. It was replaced by Paris Green in the late 19th century, which was more durable but still contained arsenic, and was sometimes used as an insecticide. It may have caused Claude Monet’s later blindness, perhaps the ultimate nemesis for someone who dedicated his life to capturing the world around him in his art.

Classic shades of green, with their colour values in the Red-Blue-Green (RBG) scale

I have bedimmed

The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,

And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault

Set roaring war-to the dread rattling thunder

(Shakespeare, The Tempest)

For writers, a well-chosen word or turn of phrase can magically create an image in a reader’s mind. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but we can’t use that many to create our mental pictures or we risk losing our readers in a mire of details.

So when I’m looking at scenes that I might use in my books, I’m also thinking about whether I could describe the scene well enough that my readers can envision what I’m writing about. I’ve actually discarded ideas because I felt I couldn’t capture them adequately in words, whether the details weren’t vivid enough, or too fleeting, or I’d just need too many words to describe it.

In honour of Earth Month, and the many beauties of our world that have enriched stories for eons, here are some of my favourite scenes of green from my travels. Pick your favourite and let me know how you’d recreate it with words!

Green waters of the Zambezi River tumbling over Victoria Falls
Layers and layers of green in the Amazon jungle canopy
The pastoral green of Ireland in the autumn
A lazy hippo among water hyacinth in Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Some of the most vivid greens I’ve ever seen on an oxbow lake in the Amazon jungle
Blue-green peaks of the Andes surrounding Machu Picchu, Peru

All photos by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

References

  1. Sagar-Fenton, Beth & McNeill, Lizzy (2018). “How many words do you need to speak a language?” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-44569277