An electrifying museum

Spark museum signThis little town where I now make my home, tucked away in the beautiful foothills of the Cascades, would not be the first place you would think of if you were to consider the establishment of a museum dedicated to electricity in general and radio in particular, but here it is.

When I did a Literature Live event at Village Books for the Worldweavers series, the guy from this museum, Tana Granack, turned up with a portable Tesla Coil and proceeded to wow everybody with a fireworks display  never before seen in the Village Books reading room. The museum has a particular fondness for Tesla and he is amply represented in the exhibits. How could he not be, the New Wizard of the West, the man who invented the 21st century.
Alma and the Tesla coil pgotoAlma and the Tesla sparks
There are five unique collections which lead into one another. They are a mixture of audio-visual presentations, dioramas, more traditional discrete exhibits on shelves and in glass cases. There’s a little bit for everybody out here – for the kids who come to learn, for the adults who come to indulge in unashamed nostalgia.

You make a sharp right as you come in, straight into the The Dawn of the Electrical Age: Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries gallery. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Age of Enlightenment – the time in which electricity began to be more fully understood not as magic but as science. But it was STILL magic, this early on. This was the era of Ben Franklin and his legendary kites, Leyden Jars, experiments with static electricity.

You remember the times you got zapped when you were a kid – I recall climbing down a staircase in our high-class hotel on a winter holiday, and making the mistake of reaching out for a metal banister while wearing a woollen sweater positively stuffed with static electricity. The blue-white spark that leaped between the banister and my fingers – and which HURT! – was a Mystery of Life, the spark of life itself. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on the awe and majesty of the actinic blue arc which spanned the empty space between myself and that metal tube.

It was one of the most fundamental WOW moments of my childhood – it must have been because I can’t have been more than eight at the time and I still have an extremely clear mental image of this event.  

This museum – it just brings back that WOW moment. The early age of electricity-as-miracle gives way to the next gallery – Electricity Sparks Invention: Electricity in the 19th Century, the Industrial Age, the entry of electricity into homes where it brought light and a myriad other useful applications, the telephone, the telegraph. The world changed, fundamentally, and the way we all lived and thought and behaved and believed changed with it.

This place has the telephone used in the first transcontinental phone call – how cool is THAT? And how suddenly astonishing and somehow almost unbelievable it is to equate this to the way we take it all for granted today, that we can call somebody in Japan or in Germany and be instantly connected, that we all wander around glued to our cell phones.

This whole thing led to The Wireless Age: The Rise Of Radio. Again, it is difficult to imagine a time when radio contact was not a given. This particular gallery has a room dedicated to the event which helped to bring radio and its blessings into the forefront of human endeavor and imagination – the Titanic disaster, and recordings of the radio distress call placed by the ship as it met its epic end in the icy ocean. This is a living moment of history; listen to the tinny crackling voice on the recording, close your eyes, you’re there, you’re with that proud ship as it begs for help, your heart can’t help but beat faster. You learn – first-hand, from a moment so long ago – what it means to be IN CONTACT, what it means not to be alone. Electricity did this. Radio did this. The science of the human race and kindred did this. WE did this.

These days we can track a ship, an airplane, or a spaceship in trouble, we can communicate with miners trapped a mile underground, we can talk to the stars. We’ve come a long way from the Titanic, baby.

But we had to start somewhere…And we started by adopting this whole new technology, as a given, as our due, and we built a civilization on it – Radio Enters the Home. News broadcasts. Cultural events. The harbigingers of “War of the worlds”. By the end of the twenties almost two thirds of American households owned a radio set… and we were on the threshold of something else altogether.

The Golden Age of Radio. This particular gallery shows off the radio sets which were so much part of an average household – the kind that even I (pipsqueak that I am) begin to remember clearly. The large sets with woven yellow rattan kind of frontages, the large black bakelite knobs you turned to tune the thing and the whine and crackle of static as you rolled across the airwaves seeking the frequency you wanted. They crowd the shelves of the museum, these radios, some of them large enough to be free-standing pieces of furniture on their own. And already they were becoming obsolete, because a new thing was coming… TELEVISION. Poor old radio could not compete. Oh, it’s still around – but it isn’t the same thing that it was all those years ago.

Looking at these magnificent specimens, we’re straddling Then and Now, one foot firmly in the twenty first century as our cellphones slumber in our pockets and one ankle-deep in nostalgia, washing around our toes like the ocean on our first sight of the sea – just as memorable, just as intoxicating, a part of our shared past and our shared curiosity as a species, our history disappearing into the static as the knobs are turned and each new shining discovery is superseded by the next incredible and amazing thing that we have managed to put together, to comprehend, to find uses for. We really can be something special when we set our minds to it.

You step out again, into the real world, feeling just a little intoxicated with it all. It’s AMAZING. And it’s all right here, in little old Bellingham by the sea, unexpected and invigorating and wonderful.

But let me leave you with a story about another aspect of the museum – its sense of playfulness.

You see, it boasts… a theremin. And the last time we were there, the theremin had been discovered by an adventurous four-year-old who had found out that the thing made WONDERFUL noises when he waved his arms at it. And he was waving his arms at it with great glee. We know the kid’s name was George because his father kept on yanking him away from the wailing theremin with a recurring refrain of, “No! George! Stop that! George! Stop it!“ The kid was acting for ALL of us. He had come into a place where astonishing things lay piled on shelves all around him, and he had discovered… joy. And it was your joy, too. You could not help smiling, watching him leaning into the theremin, his small face wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen.

And perhaps that was a good envoi for us all. The world is a place where we trip over impossible dreams with every step that we take.

Sometimes it takes a museum to make you remember that.


Visit the Spark Museum HERE

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Terry Prachett photoHorizontal vs. Vertical Wealth

What happens when a horizontally wealthy person like Terry Prachett goes from $30,000 a year to $3 million?

Read the whole story HERE

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The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

He didn’t do it alone,

Read the whole story at The New Yorker HERE

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Cat’s Best Romance Reads of 2016

I had a great reading year with so many 5 Star reads.  And I needed it with so much going wrong. Here is a little sweet to ease the sour of this day. Here are my best Romance Reads…in no particular order. 1. Dark Deeds by Michelle Diener- Excellent Science Fiction Romance. 

See her choices HERE

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‘Children of a Different Sky’: An anthology of war and exile
A crowd-funded collection of stories from many authors. Any money collected beyond the costs of publication will be donated to organizations working to help the dispossessed human tides of our era. This anthology is an effort to help save both the souls and the bodies of those who now need us most.
Give what you can at the crowd-funding website HERE

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author illustrationYOU CAN HELP ME WRITE: As publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to become an Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts. Details HERE

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Thea and Tesla save the world

The third book in my Worldweavers series, ‘Cybermage‘, is out and the cover is awesome.

Cybermage The series, originally published by HarperCollins, is being reissued by Sky Warrior Books. The original series was published as a trology — ‘The Gift of the Unmage’, ‘Spellspam’ and ‘Cybermage’.

I have since written a fourth book, “Dawn of Magic,” for Sky Warriors that nicely wraps up the story arc and it will be out soon. That will be the last…I’m almost positive.

For those who don’t know the series, Worldweavers is the story of Thea Winthrop, an ugly duckling, incapable of casting even the simplest spell. Until …

 Well, you can read more about it below.

You can buy the series in bookstores and online. You can buy it at Amazon HERE

More on the Worldweavers series:

In the first book, The Gift of the Unmage,’ Thea meets Grandmother Spider, Coyote and other First World gods and begins to get a glimmer of who she really is. Back home at ‘The Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent’ for those incapable of magic, new friends help her discover her true destiny just in time to save her world from the menace of The Nothing.

In the second book, ‘Spellspam,’ a monstrous mage of incredible power is sending spam that carries magic spells. When something promising a clear complexion gives a girl transparent skin, Thea and her friends realize that they must find the wizard before he can wreak incredible destruction in their world.

In the third book, ‘Cybermage,’ Thea and her friends find a way to break into a cube created by the wizard of the west, Nikola Tesla, and uncover a secret which will change their world forever.

 In the fourth book, ‘Dawn of Magic‘, Thea, Tesla and Coyote have to recover the stolen core, the source of all the world’s magic.

 Thea Winthrop is American as Harry Potter is British. And the series is frequently compared to Harry:
        “For readers suffering withdrawal (from) Harry Potter, this new series might just suffice.VOYA
        “Like the Harry Potter series ….”  Kliatt
        “This book does remind me of Harry Potter”  Susan Rappaport
“It will appeal to those who love Harry…”  Teri S. Lesesne

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Read the book first!

There are a handful of upcoming films that have us fidgeting in our seats, re-watching trailers or poring over development news on a near-daily basis, Kristin Fritz writes in Word & Film. “Here are seven up-and-comers whose books we’re devouring in the meantime.

 TracksMia Wasikowska in ‘Tracks’

 Tracks by Robyn Davidson

 In the mid-1970s, Australian Robyn Davidson moved to a town called Alice Springs. She was in her twenties then, and her intention was to train a few camels and then set out with them across the Outback. What follows is a raw and real telling of strength, drive, fierce independence, and adventure. Her story is inspiring and intimidating, her voice candid and addictive.

 The movie, starring Mia Wasikowska of “The Kids Are All Right” and “Jane Eyre” and Adam Driver of “Girls,” is currently making the film festival rounds, but does not yet have a U.S. release date.

 Book before the movie

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6 Books That Took Forever to Become Movies

 While the current box office is positively glutted with remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and a healthy dose of adapted material, Kate Erbland writes at Mental Floss, not every book is rushed to the silver screen. Some take whole decades to make the jump from page to celluloid, often quite memorably held up in the process. From classic novels to the next big pop culture phenomenon, success as a book doesn’t guarantee a quickie movie version.

Hobbit The Hobbit: Book: 1937 // Movie: 2012

 J.R.R. Tolkien’s exceedingly beloved fantasy novel has gone through plenty of adaptation cycles, including a 1966 short film comprised of cartoon stills and a 1977 animated version, but the definitive live-action version only hit theaters in 2012. Peter Jackson’s three-part series will wrap up later this year, and the trilogy is a testament to the continued power of Tolkien’s story.

 Trailers of long-delayed movies

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10 Book Recommendations Based On Your Favorite TV Shows

 Have you ever caught yourself sitting in front of the television for hours on end thinking, “Okay, it’s really time for me to read a book”? April Sperry asks in The Huffington Post.

 Choose your next read based on your favorite TV show, she suggests. “Stories are stories, no matter what medium they’re displayed in.

 Amen to that. Here are her suggestions.

 Desperate houswevesIf you watch “Desperate Housewives”, you should read: “The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club”, by Duncan Whitehead. Both are chatty, gossipy tales of suburban communities that are far more dysfunctional than they seem at first glance.

 If you watch…

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This is something (almost) every women writers thinks about on a daily basis.

 ‘I don’t want to be a rare successful female writer. I just want to be a successful writer’

 More often than not, when you pick up a new book, author Sophia McDougall writes at New Statesman, “it will be by yet another white man, meaning that white and male will be what the next set of Big Names will look like. How can we break out of this self-reinforcing cycle?”

 sophia-mcdougallMy first book was published and suddenly the experience of entering a bookshop changed, it was no longer so peaceful. For a long time it was just the purely self-centred anxiety of many a writer: do they stock my book? Where is it displayed? If it’s not here, is that bad? But in time I mostly got over that.

 But I started to notice something else. I’d started counting.

 I think it was 2007. There was a table in a Waterstones, loaded with a particular male crime writer’s favourite crime novels. I glanced at it across the shop. And suddenly I thought “I bet there are no books by women on that table.” So I went over and counted.

 I was wrong. There was one. One book out of twenty.

 The Staff Picks display at the Waterstones by Charing Cross station. There’s a handful of women. Shame they’re all dead.

 The science fiction and fantasy (SFF) table in Foyles. Oh, hi there, Ursula LeGuin. You look lonely.

 Fascinating and disturbing essay

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Quote of the Day

 “Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.” ~ Sarah Caldwell

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Alma Alexander

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