Thursday, July 26, 2012

ESP and fantasy

When writing my YA fantasies, I've found I tend to look at paranormal abilities when casting my characters. I've maade use of the twin bond and expanded it to include telepathy so that not only can the twins in the Affinities Series ( formerly the Henge Betrayed) series can sense problems with their twins but can speak to them via telepathy. Paranormal has always fascinated me so I've also used other elements in my stories such as Pyrokenetics. That's the ability to set fires. There are stories when this is used in a bad way,  but for my characters, this gives them the ability to start the campfire with little trouble and to use this for lighting their way in dark places. I've also given several characters the ability to control animals through the thought process.

While these kind of talents are considered psuedoscience, I've often considered acharacter having clairvoyance and able to glean things happening at a distance. To me exploring these talents gives me a springboard for developing a story line. Teleporting has been used by other authors to speculate about moving objects.

What about you do you find the idea of extrasensory perception a fascinating way to develop characters with abilities. Much of the talents I develop in my young characters have to do with their Sun sign abilities. Of all of these telepathy is my favorite one to use. Eventually I'll use them all.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Awesome bookmarks at a great price

If you’re looking for a great deal on bookmarks, check out I just ordered 1,000 two-sided color bookmarks and they’re awesome.

“How much?” you ask.


Before I ordered I did a Google search for “printrunner coupons” and came up with a code for 20% off at

Ann Ramsey at Just Be You Design created these fabulous designs at a very reasonable price.

If you’re in need of graphic design services, from business cards to book covers to website production, check out Ann Ramsey at Just Be You Design.

BTW, I started a new Facebook page. If you're an animal lover, check it out, then give us a Like.

Zeus and Pepé -- the odd couple 

 Peggy Tibbetts

Now available at Amazon
PFC Liberty Stryker
Letters to Juniper – 2012 Colorado Book Award Finalist

Become a Facebook fan

Friday, July 20, 2012

Finding Character Names

At CONvergence 2012, one of the panels I was able to attend was "Naming Characters". The enticing description was "The secret art of coming up with good names for your characters". Panelists included Tamora Pierce, SN. Arly, Scott Jamison, Sean M. Murphy and Veronica Cummer.

Several of the panelists agreed with the standard "what the character's name meant was important", even if no one else in the story knew the meaning of the name or even what their own name meant.

To put that much work into choosing a name is understandable for the major characters. But what about for the walkon characters? The ones that may only have one or two lines? The thing is, though, sometimes you never know how important a character may become. I've lost count of how many times I've heard about a minor character suddenly taking over the story. Sometimes that might mean renaming the character. Sometimes the name already in place works. But why take chances?

So where do you find character names? I still have six or seven baby name books and books about surnames from the days before the internet. Several of the panelists mentioned baby name books as well. There are websites for baby names and character names. Some of the websites, however, don't list as many names or meanings as my paper books. Some useful websites (unfortunately with ads) are Baby names and Baby Name Wizard. There are many others out on the web.

Several of the panelists listed how many foreign language dictionaries they have. I have Welsh, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Russian, Spanish, German, and Swahili and used the Hungarian and Slavic dictionaries at the university library. Now, true, many of the words in a dictionary are not often used as names. When you're creating a new world (whether fantasy or science fiction), however, you can use the dictionaries as a starting point. Then, as several panelists also suggested, you change the spelling slightly.

One of my characters in Talking to Trees has such a name. But I decided to have a bit of fun with it after hearing complaints from nonfantasy readers about the long names in fantasy stories.

Jody looked around at the trees as she nibbled on the strip. "You know what I think, ah..." She still couldn't remember that girl's name. Till..will.. "Willow. I think we should--"

The girl's eyes snapped open. "My name is Twylgalit. Not Willow. Not Gally. Twyl-gaaa-lit."

Jody was surprised. Why was she making such a big fuss? It was only a name. "Hey, sorry. It's only a name."

"But it is my name. My name is important to me. In the language of my people it defines me."

"It does?"

"'Twylgalit' means 'twilight wood.' It means I am the last of my people."

"The very last?" Jody shook her head. "Creepy."

Twylgalit studied her. "Doesn't your name mean anything? What is a jody?"

Jody shrugged. "I don't know. It was one of my grandmothers. Peter was named for one of our uncles. Thank goodness, otherwise we might have been stuck with some cute twin names."

"Twin names?"

"Names starting with the same first letter. Like...oh, Brittany and Brian. Actually, I think I'd rather be called Brittany. Or maybe Caitlyn. Then Peter would have been stuck with a 'C' name like Cedric or...Clarence." She snickered. "He would have hated that."

"Even if it was his name?" Twylgalit shook her head. "I do not understand."

"Whatever," Jody said. "Anyhow, your name is too long."

Twylgalit eyed her. "Brittany is just as long."

Jody rolled her eyes. Why doesn't she understand? "Okay, your name is too hard to remember. Can't I call you something else?" Jody tried to remember the name her twin had used. It was a type of fabric or a pattern-- "Peter called you Twyl. Would that be okay?"

The girl raised her head and slowly turned to look behind her.

Jody scowled. All this fuss about her name and now she wasn't even listening to her! "I said--"

"I heard." Twylgalit turned back. " is acceptable." She lifted one foot. Clods of dirt fell away from it.

Jody continues to have name problems as they meet other characters.

She noticed the two green-skinned girls exchanging glances again. Jody had the impression they weren't saying something as well. "Hey, where's the other girl? Um, the tall one? With the leafy dress? What are your names, anyway?"

"You won't like them," said one.

"You don't like long names," said the other.

"Well, I've got to call you something," Jody insisted. "I'm Jody and she's Twyl."

"She is called Twylgalit," said the girl with the yellow-orange belt. "We heard you talking."

"You can call me Brittany," said the other girl. "I like the sound of that name."

"And I like Clarence," said the girl wearing the belt.

"I can't call you Clarence," Jody protested. "That's a boy's name."

"But I like it," the girl insisted. She looked over at the other girl. "Brittany."

"Clarence," said the girl now called Brittany. Both girls started laughing and pointing at each other.

I don't see what's so funny, Jody thought. She heard a muffled sound from Twyl, but when she glanced up at the girl, Twyl was studying the lights in the branches above them.

If you have a family in your story, sometimes names are passed down to honor family members. One of the panelists pointed out that, after his days of working for a credit agency, he recommends against naming a child for a living relative (as in the first and last name are the same) because nowadays that causes so many credit problems. But for a historical story, that would be entirely appropriate. I've been doing genealogical research on my own family and had never realized how often names were repeated. For example, I've got six Charleses and six Josephs. I finally linked the appearance of the Frank and Francis back to a great great grandmother, Franciska (or Francisca, depending on which census), and I'm sure if I ever find her parents' generation, I might find the relative that she was named after. Considering that she named her daughter Maria Franziska, there has to be a story behind that name. Throughout my family tree there were several generations in a row (grandfather, father, son, or grandmother, mother, daughter, etc.) with the same first name. Or, as with Maria, the name was moved to be the middle name. This is one of the times I would ignore the 'rule' of not having characters with the same name (or first initial) in a story.

Phone books used to be a useful resource to skim through, but perhaps that only applies to big city phone books. In small town Winona that means an overabundance of Polish, Norwegian and Swedish names. I used to be able to look through phone books for other cities at the public library, but that's no longer the case.

Because I worked at a university, I kept the commencement lists from graduations over the years. I have a good collection of first, middle and last names there to help me figure out what names work well together (and several examples of 'why would any parent would name a child that!').

Where do you find your character names? What is the most interesting name you've found?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Should Children's or YA Books Contain Cuss Words?

So who doesn’t swear or cuss on occasion? Right? It’s part of our current culture. Everyone does it—increasingly so and harsher as we go along. Swearing has increased in movies, television shows but especially books. When I was a teen reading Lord of the Rings or anything written by Ray Bradbury there wasn’t a single cuss word anywhere. Teens then were cussing up a storm when gathered in groups and such. But it wasn’t in our literature nearly to the extent it is today.
This begs the question: Is all of that cussing really necessary?

Picture of Two Girls, Sisters, with Looks of Surprise or Shock on Their Faces

Sarah Coyne, professor of family life at Brigham Young University analyzed the use of profanity in forty young adult books on the best seller list. Thirty-five of them had at least one swear word. On the average there were thirty-eight instances of cussing, with one book containing nearly five hundred uses of foul language.

Is that really necessary to become a best seller with teens? The argument is the author is reaching for authenticity and grit. But there are plenty of books with grit and reality that don’t make us feel like we need a shower to rinse off the stench after reading them. Look at The Hunger Games Series. Could a story get any grittier or more realistic? How much cussing did you hear from Katniss or Peta? During the final battle with Lord Voldemort, did Harry Potter let loose a stream of expletives?

In my humble opinion, cussing is a cheap way out of finding a creative way to express oneself. And it cheapens the book as well.

Here are some more interesting notes Professor Coyne discovered:
The characters doing the swearing tended to be of higher social status, better looking and have more money than their non-swearing counterparts.

So what does that say to the preteens who are forming their ideas of who they are and who they will become as adults? Everyone knows kids who read, tend to do so about three to five years above their age level. I’ve seen Fourth Graders reading the Twilight series. None of MY children would ever have read something like that at age nine, but I saw it when I was teaching. And the kids who were allowed to read material years ahead of their maturational level, refused to read age-appropriate, excellent literature, thereby missing out of a whole world of good books.

The problem with today’s young adult books is a reader doesn’t know what they’re getting into until they’re knee deep in the mire. This goes for swearing, sex and violence. Ever try to stop a teen from 'enjoying' something which contains sex, foul language or gore? Of course an allowance is made for the genre bridging the innocence of middle grade books and adult-level reading. But how much is too much? How do we protect the sanctity of innocence until a young adult is ready to become an adult if what they’re reading reveals all?

As an author of Picture Books up through Young Adult, I feel the need to protect my young readers from what they’re seeing in movies and television, hearing in the lyrics of their music and experiencing while playing their video games. Teens aren’t allowed to remain innocent and naiive anymore…and I think it’s a shame on our society.

BTW, be sure to run by my website and find the MuseItUp Christmas Tree to be entered for my blog. Under the Hat of MG/YA Fantasy Author Rebecca Ryals Russell

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Lately my life has been what the title suggests. Not every day, but often enough. So, I have a couple of choices. Slice the lemons and squeeze until I drown in the flood of living. Since that’s not me, I’m usually a positive person, I choose to make lemonade. Yes, I used a cliché. Sometimes they fit the situation. Now, I’m not actually going to make a pitcher of lemonade, the drinking kind. Actually, I prefer lemons in a pie. Mmm, have you ever tasted lemon pie with fluffy meringue on top? Just thinking about it makes me drool. Baking pies is not my solution, however. I bet you’ve already guessed what it is. Yep. Writing.
When I’m in the world of my characters, the real world disappears, at least for a while. I can be on Isla del Fuego with Just Breeze and Cam. I can listen to Elvis at The Old House with Eden and her friends.
Also, I can blog with my friends and other writers. We have a lot in common. I can enter contests and win great books to read. And I have a couple to contests tell you about today. Christmas seems to be a popular subject this hot month of July.
If you’d like to cool off with the thoughts of Christmas, hop on over to Penny Ehrenkrantz’s blog, where she’s celebrating Christmas in July with author interviews and giveaways.
MuseItUp Publishing is also celebrating Christmas in July at their site with huge giveaways. Here’s the info to get you started.
MuseItUp Publishing is hosting a Christmas in July Hunt from July 9 - 23, 2012.
All you have to do is visit the participating authors websites/blogs (AUTHOR LINKS POSTED BELOW EACH COVER) found at: and locate the hidden Christmas tree in each of their sites.
Then send an email to: publisher AT museituppublishing DOT com
*with the 15 authors' links where their trees were hidden (EX. AUTHOR'S PAGE, REVIEWS PAGE, BIO PAGE, ETC.)

*and your name

Begins on July 9 and ends July exceptions.

PRIZES: click on covers for more ebook details

Package One: a $25.00 gift certificate to MuseItUp Publishing's bookstore

Package Two: 10 EBOOKS

Package Three: 8 EBOOKS

But wait...there's more...
We want to thank everyone who continue to support our authors by adding a little something to say THANK YOU.
Everyone who participates will walk away with a prize.
Located in our Muse bookstore are 10 Christmas trees. Find one of them and you win that ebook.
Only one free THANK YOU ebook per person. So if you want to locate all ten and pick and choose which ebook to win, go right ahead.
Send me the title of your free ebook to: publisher AT museituppublishing DOT com and I'll send you your prize at the end of the month.
Winners will be announced at the end of July.
NOTE: Only one prize per person. Correct entries will go into a draw and three winners will be chosen to win one of our three packages.
Sounds like fun to me. Think I’ll take a look.
Happy reading and writing.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cosplay -- Dress-Up for Adults

Summer is almost a month gone already? Yikes! Used to be that summer dragged, but when I've got so much to do and have to be back at work Sept. 1, it flies! I've been working on various projects, including my Final Project for grad school, and I just didn't feel like writing a post on writing.

This past weekend was San Diego Comic Con. This is a media convention, rather than a literary one, so lots of TV and Movie people show up, from all your favorite geeky SF/F/H shows. It's a HUGE event, and someday maybe I'll go.

Maybe someday I'll be invited.

Either way, the internetz have been buzzing all weekend long with updates, tweets, and pics. One of the things about these cons is that people Cosplay. What's that? Costume Play. Otherwise known as Adult Dress Up. Remember all those people who dressed like wizards for the Harry Potter book releases, or the movies? They were sort of Cosplaying. Most people when they cosplay at a con usually try to do some kind of role play as the character they are dressed as. You get your Darth Vaders and your Mals from Firefly and your Anime characters. If they were giving out candy it would be just like Halloween. Some of these costumes are really well done and you can tell they took hours-- all a labor of love.

I've dressed up for cons. Wore a Greek Chiton to promote the Library of Athena series. Put on a Victorian shirt, vest, and some cool-looking pink goggles to play Steampunk. I own a Queen of Hearts costume, complete with freaky, teased up red wig (think the Tim Burton version).

But if I were going to really cosplay a character, I'd pick this one:

Professor River Song, from Doctor Who. She is one of my all-time favorite female SF heroines. River is just too cool for school. You can't see it in this picture, but she is wearing a old-west style belt and holster and carries a really big blaster. And wears a time vortex manipulator. And carries a journal that looks mysteriously like a TARDIS. And in the first episode we meet her in, she has a sonic screwdriver (Think Geek sells one, and me wants!) She is the only person not intimidated by the Doctor, and can give him a run for his money (she has Time Lord DNA, after all). 

I think it's the hair that draws me to her. I could totally do it. Don't you think? 


Hello, Sweetie

See you next month!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Editing and those tricky words

I am an editor. It gets tricky sometimes. I edit books by American and Australian and British authors. Sometimes it's merely a question of vernacular, but most often it is just the unwillingness to look things up. I gave a talk to a writing group once, along with my writing partner, who came up with the list below, about the use of words in the wrong context.

Accept (verb – I’ll take it) (See except)

All right (adj – agreeable;safe - two words preferred – one if you’re in a hurry)
All right (adv – satisfactorily – same as above)
[She was sick all right, but she’s all right now.]
All right (you all have the correct answer)

All ready (everyone is ready – two words)
Already (adv – prior to certain time – one word)

Affect (verb – influence) (See effect)

Allowed (verb – I’ll let you do it)
Aloud (adv - I can hear it)

Any more (I don't want any more food.)
Anymore (I don't want to do that anymore.)

Assume (verb – take for granted; take over debts, as in “She assumed when they married, he would assume her debts.”
See also, presume.

Ball (noun – round toy; fancy dance)
Bawl (verb – cried - as in, didn’t get invited to the fancy dance)

Baited (verb – stuck a worm on a hook; harassed the fish)
Bated (verb – restrained, as in “with bated breath”)

Bath (noun – where you wash yourself with water)
Bathe, bathed, bathing (verb-act of washing yourself)

Bare, baring (adj – nekkid; getting nekkid)
Bear, bearing (verb – carry; carrying) [Don’t confuse with “barring” – prep meaning “excepting”]

Breath (noun – air inhaled)
Breathe (verb – inhale air)

Capital (noun – money)
Capitol (noun – where politicians go to figure out how to divest you of the above)

Choose (verb, present tense – select)
Chose (verb – past tense of choose)

Desert (verb – abandon)
Desert (noun – wasteland)
Dessert (noun – lands on your waist)
[Please remember first example and last example are pronounced the same.]

Effect (verb – caused it to happen)
Effect (noun – result of causing it to happen)
The new guy effected a change, and the effect was positive.

Except (prep – with the exclusion of, as in, “Everyone got a prize except me.”)
Except (verb - excluded, as in “The prize-giver excepted me”)
Except (conj – on certain conditions, as in, “because I couldn’t get there except by boat.”)

Exercise (noun – repeated muscle action)
Exercise (verb – exert, as in “exercise influence”)
Exorcise (verb - expel something evil)

Fair (adj - equal; beautiful)
Fare (verb – to do okay with whatever)
Fare (noun – use fee; food)
Is it fair to assume you will fare well on that fare?

Farther (to a greater distance)
Further (to a greater degree)
I would driver farther to further my education.
[These two now used interchangeably.

Gait (noun – regular motion as in “horse’s gait”)
Gate (noun – device to keep above horse in the pen)

Guessed (verb – deduced)
Guest (noun – man who came to dinner)

Hail (noun – frozen rain)
Hail (verb – greet)
Hail (verb – strike repeatedly, as in “hail blows on his head)
Hale (adj – not infirm, as in “hale and hearty”)

Hear (verb – perceive sound; heed)
Here (adv – in this place)
Hear! Hear! If you mean to express agreement
Here! Here! If you want to catch the waiter’s attention

Hoard (verb – accumulate wealth)
Hoard (noun – accumulation of wealth)
Horde (noun – those who will come to take your hoard)

Into (prep - enter – one word)
In to (two words – nearly the same as above, but be careful)
The boy walked into his school room and turned his homework in to his teacher.

Its [NO apostrophe] (adj – possesses something)
It’s [apostrophe] (contraction of “it is”)
It’s common knowledge a dog will chase its tail.

Levee (noun – embankment to prevent flooding)
Levie (noun - what you pay for the embankment)

Lightening (verb – reducing weight, as in “lightening the donkey’s load”)
Lightening (adj – gradual brightening, as in “the lightening sky”)
Lightning (noun – bright flash/streak that comes before thunder)

Loose (verb – set free, as in “loose the captive”)
Loose (adj – not attached, as in “loose change”)
Lose (verb - don’t know where it went)

May be (could happen – two words)
Maybe (adv – perhaps – one word)
Maybe he is the one who may be chosen.

Past (noun – it’s over)
Passed (verb – went right by me)

Peace (noun – we all like each other)
Piece (noun – if your piece is bigger than mine, forget the above)

Pore (verb – examine carefully)
Pour (verb – cause to flow in a stream)

Presume (verb – to dare; to expect to assume)
Fine line between assume and presume—avoid both; use your thesaurus.

Principal (adj/noun – main part; main man)
Principle (noun – code of conduct)
The principal was a man whose principal principle was integrity.

Rain (noun/verb – precipitation, or act of precipitationing)
Rein (verb – control, as in “rein in your horse”)
Reign (verb – rule; hold office)
Reign (noun – sovereignty)

Shudder (verb/noun – shiver; act of shivering)
Shutter (noun/verb – window covering; act of putting up window covering)

Site (noun – location)
Sight (noun – something seen)
Cite (verb – to quote; to refer to)
Now that our site is in sight, please cite our reason for being here.

Tenet (noun – belief)
Tenant (noun – occupant)

Their/theirs [NO apostrophe] (adj – belongs to them)
There (adv – in that place)
They’re [apostrophe] (contraction of “they are”)

Were (verb – past tense of was)
We’re (contraction of “we are”)

Weather (noun/verb – atmospheric conditions; getting through same)
Whether (conj – implies alternatives, as in “decided whether to go or stay”)

Whose [NO apostrophe] (adj – Which person does this thing belong to?)
Who’s [apostrophe] (contraction of “who is” – Who’s going to admit whose hat this is?)

Your/yours [NO apostrophe] (adj – belongs to you)
You’re [apostrophe] (contraction of “you are”)

A word about: blond and blonde:

Webster says either is correct. Used to be that blond (adj) was preferred for male, blonde for female. Then some said blond w/o the “e” could be used for either gender, but blonde with the “e” was used as a noun. (The blonde walked into the room.) Now you can just do whatever you want with it.

About confidant and confidante:

Webster says either is correct, but confidante is preferred to describe female gender.

About fiancé and fiancée:

Webster says fiancé refers to man who’s engaged to be married; fiancée refers to woman who’s engaged to be married.

You don’t “try AND do” something; you “try TO do” something. Either you TRY to do it, or you DO it. Common usage, so OK for dialog. Not really correct for narrative.

Also, the use of me and I. Try this:

The water was too cold for Tim, John and me.
The water was too cold for Tim, John and I.

If you remove Tim and John, the sentence reads: The water was too cold for me.
It would not make sense to say: The water was too cold for I.

Myself: Really there are very few times to use this word.

It was just Tim, John and myself against the monster.
Should be: It was just Tim, John and me against the monster. (Or, better yet: It was just me, Tim and John against the monster.)

Please - use gaze instead of eyes:

His eyes roamed over her ample bosom.
His gaze roamed over her ample bosom.

I hope this is error-free. If not, I beg off since I am typing without the use of one hand. LOL And, as usual, I am late getting this blog ready to go.

JennaKay Francis

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Reading... or not

I spent Tuesday at the beach with my kids. It was perfect. The air temperature was comfortable, the water was cool enough to be refreshing, but not so cold that you started to turn blue after a little while. The waves were big enough to play in, but not so big that they exhausted you or wore you out. There was a delightful breeze off the ocean. There were no biting flies and no jellyfish. 

A perfect day.

I should have put on a bit more suntan lotion though.

Naturally I brought a book, because that's the way I roll. I didn't read too much of it though. But it started me thinking about summer reading.

Both of my kids have summer reading assignments to be completed before the first week of school. Neither of them are thrilled about that. My daughter is a reader with a TBR pile as long as her arm, but she'd rather read a book of her own choosing than the assigned books (doesn't everyone feel that way). My son used to read a lot more but has gotten more interested in editing videos than reading right now. 

Everyone's always going on about how kids need to be sure to read during the summer. And, well, as a writer I can hardly disagree. But there are a lot of things kids need to do during the summer. They need to dig a hole, jump in a wave, ride a bike, take a hike, play a game, watch a movie, listen to music, talk with friends, be alone with their thoughts. 

Reading is essential. A reader is more prepared to handle difficult school work. Reading is something that cannot be ignored.

But you know what, so are all of those other things. 

Have a great summer. Do lots of fun things. Hopefully one of those fun things will be reading a book!

Friday, July 6, 2012

What The Heck Is A Hernia Anyway?

You've heard of them. You might even know people who've had them. But what in the world are they?

To answer that, we first have to understand how our bodies are put together. Picture a hot dog or sausage. If  you've ever seen them get made, you'll know that the meat for them gets put into a casing. The casing helps the hot dog or sausage keep the meat together and give it its shape.

What the casing does for the sausage or hot dog, our body does for us. But unlike hot dogs, humans are vastly more complex, so we tend to have a number of different types of layers keeping our bits in place. The idea, however, is the same.

Now picture a sausage in its casing, then see a pin and watch it make a small hole or tear in it. If you move the sausage around enough, some of the meat inside the casing will wiggle out. That bit of meat or fat that has escaped through the tear or hole in the casing is the hernia.

It's not easy to make out, but the picture above shows a hernia that has formed in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen due to a weakened muscle wall due to a previous surgery. It's not good to leave a hernia like that continue to grow or sit there as they can cause pain, and worse, if it twists and the blood flow to the escaping bits get cut off, it will turn rotten and cause all sorts of problems.

Nowadays, fixing hernias is a lot easier than it used to be. For the problem pictured above, all it took was an out patient laparoscopic surgery. Putting in a scope through a cut in the bellybutton, they can see the exact problem area (and take pics!). With two other small incisions, they push the escaping bits back where they belong then drag in a mesh, which gets stapled to the surrounding area like a patch, to seal it up and put a stop to any further escape attempts by your innards. 

Science is awesome!

Hernias can happen in almost all areas of the torso, from your head to your groin. Which does sound kind of scary! Exercising and staying trim to keep our insides inside sound more important than ever now. :P

(And yes, these are MY insides! Us writerly types must use all that is presented to us for writing fodder. Yes, yes, we must.) Heh heh.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, USA!

Finding a way to incorporate ghosts into the celebration of our country's birthday can be a stretch, even for someone like me. I was going to do a piece about all the ghosts from that period that haunt Philadelphia, and according to Dennis William Hauck's Haunted Places (The National Directory), there are quite a lot of them, from a headless Revolutionary War soldier who gallops down Allen's Lane with his severed head next to his saddle to the consortium of spirits who haunt General Wayne Inn. There are a lot of other haunted locations in between. And we probably don't even need to discuss how many historical figures are apparently running rampant in Washington, D.C. long after the end of their living years.

But maybe just for today, I'll write about the 4th of July instead. I asked my husband what he thinks of when I say "4th of July" and his response was "fireworks." We have some standing traditions that no one even questions anymore when it comes to the 4th: fireworks, barbecues, apple pie, watermelon. I think my favorite is fireworks.

My family takes a trip north to Door County and enjoys the fireworks display at Gills Rock, a village at the tip of the peninsula. The Gills Rock fireworks show has become more and more popular over the years, and includes a band, food and drinnk vendors, and the venerated tradition of parking your lawn chair or blanket in the parking lot or along the dock hours before the show will be held, because Gills Rock's fireworks are done over the water, fired off from a barge that is the property of a long-established family.

When the sun goes down over Green Bay and the first rocket shoots up, something like a sigh of both expectation and contentment runs through the crowd. Showers of blue and silver, white and red, orange and green light up the night sky, and when the weather is particularly clear, we can see answering cascades of fiery colored sparks from towns far across the water.

The display doesn't last much longer than half an hour, if even that. For a fireworks fiend like me, there is no such thing as a 4th of July fireworks show going on too long. But for those thirty minutes or so, everyone sitting there in the summer night is united in good cheer and cameraderie, slapping at mosquitoes, letting the little ones nestle in our laps, oooh-ing each new explosion of light and applauding like mad at the finale. Celebrations don't get much better than that.

Happy Birthday, USA.