Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Funny Fantasy and Silly Scifi

Keeping up Promises: My Charlie Brown Ghost, and Shelf Without an Elf

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 16•14

A while back, I promised to post pictures of my Charlie Brown Halloween Ghost. So here it is.

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The legs are my daughter’s. She was a pink dragon. I wish I’d taken photos of the process, but here is what I did:

1 I bought a twin sheet from Wal Mart. And I don’t think I’m the only one with the sheet=ghost idea. Because that was the last plain white sheet in the store. People coming into the store after me to get their ‘Ye Olde Tymey Ghost Costume’ we’re having to settle for Ironic Hipster Care Bear Sheets instead (and hey, there’s a band name for you).

2. I bought very thin black knit stretchy fabric. The kind they use for those no-face Halloween masks.

3. I bought black felt and fabric glue. Because I can’t cut or sew in a straight line.

image4. Using a big drinking glass as a guide, I cut circles from all my black fabrics, and eye holes from the sheet. Then I glued the knit fabric over the holes in the sheet. (I tried on the sheet first to figure out where the eye holes should be).

5. I lay the sheet out flat and glued the felt disks on for eyes.

6. Lastly, I sewed the top of the ghost to a ball cap. This helped keep the sheet from shifting and the eyes in place.

And to show that I didn’t forget it’s Christmas time, I also thought I would post what our family decided to do instead of Elf on the Shelf.

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It’s an advent calender made of stockings. I can fill each stocking with candy, gifts or slips of paper with fun Christmas activities. I’ll be thinking up things to do all this next year.

Take that, creepy Christmas-themed doll.

History Y’all: That Time the Mummy Sank The Titanic

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 09•14

This one is a twofer, because I stumbled over two crazy stories about mummies.

Firstly: did you know that you don’t have to make arrangements in your will to become a mummy? You can diy yourself right into mummification right now.

imageAt least, you could if you wanted to practice an extreme diet for 10 years. The end result isn’t guaranteed. And even if it succeeds, you wouldn’t have the amazing powers of Imhotep from The Mummy.

Buddhist monks in northern Japan from the 11th century to the 19th century undertook the process, known as Sokushinbutsu as a means of achieving greater enlightenment.

Monks who wanted to become Mummies started with 1,000 days of living only on nuts and seeds while exercising to eliminate all body fat.

Next came another 1,000 days of eating only bark and roots.

In the final stage of mummification, practitioners would drink poisonous tree sap. This would cause vomiting that removed fluids from the body, while making the tissues poisonous to maggots.

When the self-made mummy was ready, he would seal himself into a stone tomb barely larger than his own body while sitting in a lotus position. A breathing tube would bring in air. Each day he would ring a bell to let his fellow Monks know that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the monks would remove the breathing tube, then wait another 1,000 days to see if the mummification worked.

If the priests found a mummy in the tomb, they venerated the remains. If not, they still honored the monk for his efforts.

Before Japan outlawed the practice, officials believe that hundreds of monks attempted to mummify themselves. Only somewhere between 16 and 24 were successful.

imageOn to something more cheerful: a story about a princess. The kind of princess story that would curdle Micky Mouse’s blood.

Once Upon a time, there was a princess of Amun-Re. (The story specifically calls her a princess, not a priestess.)

When the princess died, her priests mummified her, placed the body in an elaborate coffin and put it to rest in Luxor, where it stayed until the 1890’s.

When it was discovered, an Englishman purchased it for his manor house, as one does when one is stupid rich and English and in the grip of Egypt mania.

So the story goes, the Englishman never made it home, but the princess mummy did. While it resided in the manor, three members of the house were injured in an auto accident, and the house caught on fire.

To get rid of the mummy, the members of the house donated it to the British Museum.

The Princess Mummy must not have liked her new home any more than the last one, because night watchmen swore that they could hear banging and crying from the mummy’s case.

imageThe museum eventually tried to get rid of the Princess, but no one would take her. Finally an American Archaeologist took the mummy and had it shipped aboard the Titanic, where the legend says she caused the ship to strike an iceberg.

Is the legend true? There is no record of a mummy on the Titanic’s very detailed shipping manifests. As for the Princess of Amun-Ra, the British Museum does display the coffin lid belonging to a priestess (not a princess) of Amun. But all they have is a lid.

The story was probably made up by a journalist named William Stead and a friend named Douglas Murray. At the time, tall tales about Mummy curses were as popular as Mummy unwrapping parties. It’s likely that Stead and Murray made up the story after seeing the Priestess’s coffin lid on display in the museum.

The story became linked to the Titanic when Stead joined the maiden voyage. During the trip, the Journalist repeated his favorite tall tale to some of the other passengers. Although Stead didn’t survive the crossing, his story made it’s way into the papers when some survivors recalled it.

These days, you can see artifacts from the Titanic at Titanic museums all across the country. But the Princess of Amun-Ra isn’t among them. If you want to see the coffin lid of the Priestess of Amun, that is still on display in the British Museum.

History Ya’ll: The Custody Battle on the Mayflower

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 01•14

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The kid next to the dog might have been dumped on some pilgrims so she couldn’t inherit a fortune.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s a little odd to revisit the pilgrims. But I ran across this story that seemed like something out of a Gothic novel.

We all have this idea of the first Thanksgiving. It was the Pilgrims and Indians Native Americans and turkey. But that’s about the extent that most people think of things.

But the founding of Plymouth Colony is a little more complex than that. More than half of the first settlers on the Mayflower weren’t part of the religious group fleeing persecution in England. This group (which were known as “The Strangers”) included orphans picked up off the street to serve as indentured servants in the new world. And four children who might have been dumped on them by their legal guardian–who didn’t want them around anymore, but didn’t want their mother to have them.

It all starts in 1610, with Jasper Moore. Jasper was the owner of a 1,000 acre estate. He was also the father of several sons and a daughter. In a twist worthy of Charles Dickens, Jasper’s sons died leaving just Katherine — who couldn’t inherit the estate because it was entailed.

An entail is something the British used to do to keep land in the family. Basically only the men could inherit. This was a thing up until the early-mid 20th century. Just watch Downton Abbey to see the kinds of problems it could cause for a family. It was also something that fiction writers liked to play with. Because: Drama.

Jasper’s solution (rather like Mrs. Bennett’s solution in Pride and Prejudice) was to marry Katherine off to Samuel Moore, the son of the next living male relative (the Mr. Collins of this story). Problem: Katherine was already in love with someone else (possibly). A childhood friend named Jacob Blakeway.

Over the next four years, Katherine had four children: Elinor, Jasper, Mary and Richard. Along the way, Samuel noticed that his kids looked an awful lot like that tenant that Katherine was so friendly with.

To say that he didn’t take it well would be an understatement. Samuel dragged the dirty laundry into court. He refused to claim the four children and cut them out of his will. Then he took the kids away from Katherine (which he could legally do, despite claiming that the kids weren’t his, because he was still their guardian.)

Katherine and Jacob tried to make an end run around Samuel by applying for an annulment. They claimed that they had been betrothed before Katherine was forced to marry Samuel. But since they couldn’t find any living witnesses to verify this, the local priests wouldn’t give them the annulment.

Now Samuel had a problem: Katherine wanted her kids back. He didn’t want them, but he didn’t want her to have them. And, despite the entail, the kids might be able to sue for some kind of inheritance. Samuel’s father Richard (the one who inherited Katherine’s family property, not Katherine’s child) put the kids up with one of his tenants, but Katherine showed up on their door demanding that they give the kids back.

At the same time, Samuel’s boss was a member of the Virginia Company, sending settlers to the New World. He suggested that Samuel send the kids to a place far out of Katherine’s reach. The idea appealed to Samuel, and before you knew it, the kids were taken in by four families headed for America. Then he got rid of Jacob by suing him for trespassing (On land that Jacob’s family had been renting for generations. Because Samuel technically owned it now.) Faced with the possibility of hanging, Jacob ran off, abandoning Katherine and the whole idea of getting the kids back.

Sadly, after The Mayflower had already departed for America, Katherine sued Samuel to find out where her kids were and to get them back. At which point, Samuel said “I sent them away with these nice Christian families so that they could grow up without all this scandal over their heads.”

Suuuurrrrreeee you did, Sam. Out of the goodness of your heart, even.

Things don’t end well for the four Moore children. Like many of the pilgrims that first year, Three out of four of them didn’t survive the first harsh winter. Only the youngest survived. After Katherine’s court case, she disappears from history. There is no record of whether she ever saw her surviving son again.

File this under reasons that I’m glad i’m not a 17th century woman.

Oh Look: Christmas Li-HULK SMASH!

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 25•14

imageSo about three weeks ago, hubby and I went to a bonfire.  On the way home we drove past a house with georgeous Christmas lights.

Me:Really?  We haven’t even gone Trick-or-treat yet!

Hubby: I think you may have some unreasonable rage about this.

Me: TRACY SMASH!

Hubby: You see? That right there is what I’m talking about.

In my house, I live by one rule: no Christmas decor before Thanksgiving.  That, and never wearing your pajamas for more than 24 straight hours, but that’s two rules.  And wow, this is turning into a Monty Python sketch.

imageI just find it very odd that the same people who get up in arms when you wish them happy holidays have let Christmas creep up and swallow Thanksgiving (y’know, the holiday when they are supposed to be mindful of their blessings and thankful to whatever higher power they ascribe to).

People should have a war on Christmas.  Only it should be a war on Christmas in July.

I understand how it happens.  Christmas is fun.  It’s got the guy in the big red suit, and the Little Baby Jesus and presents and trees and stockings.  What does Thanksgiving have?  A bunch of guys wearing bibs and hats with buckles, and a silly looking bird.

But it does have The Sexy Pilgrim.  Won’t someone think of him?

 

 

Santa’s Creepy Little Spy

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 17•14
It's watching you.

It’s watching you.

This sounds like the premise of a horror movie: It watches you when you sleep, and reports back to it’s superiors.  It has a creepy little manequin head, and people aren’t supposed to touch it.  It never moves when you are watching it, but every morning, it’s in a different position.

I’m not talking about some kind of monster that’s just waiting to attack you in your sleep, I’m talking about Elf on the Shelf.

Now that Little Miss is 2, Christmas is Serious Business.  So Hubby and I are looking to start our own family traditions.   A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Elf on the Shelf.  Basically I came over to their house and saw this creepy plastic cousin-of-Chucky peeking out of their Christmas tree.

“We have to move the elf,” my friend reminded her husband.  He rolled his eyes, then promptly pulled the thing out of their tree and put it on their mantle.

“What is that thing?” I asked.  What I meant was: “How do you sleep at night with that in your house?”

“My kids love it,” she said.  “They tell it what they want Santa to bring them for Christmas.”

Sure, they say they love it.  If they didn’t, Santa might not come.

But now that I’m a parent, I can’t help but wonder what’s the deal with that thing. After an extensive investigation (Ok, I asked wikipedia), I discovered that the elf comes with a book that explains things to kids.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a “scout elf” from Santa shows up to watch your kid and report back to Santa on your good behavior.

Parents who get into the game will move the elf every night.  Some parents get really elaborate, making up little signs that the elf has been playing around in the house while their kids sleep.  Others, like my friends just move it around a lot.

I’m a little torn by the idea of the elf.  On one hand, it sounds like a cute Christmas tradition.  On the other. . . . creepy.

But there seem to be some alternatives to Elf on the Shelf.  The company that makes that thing also makes a cuter, plushy version.  As well as a reindeer version.  And a birthday elf.  You know, so that your kids can be traumatized more than just once yearly.

So will I participate in the Elf on the Shelf tradition?  I’m on the fence about it.  Do they make an Elf on the Fence?

History, Yall: That Time the French King was Cannibalized

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 08•14
Louis_XIV_of_France

The King who outlived everyone.

I’ve been known to make up bizarre stories on occasion, but I couldn’t make this one up.  It takes the cake.  Probably the cake that Marie Antoinette wanted the peasants to eat when they ran out of bread.

It starts with Louis the XIV.  He’s not the one who got his head cut off.  That one is a few Louis later.  This King Louis was the Sun King.  And quite possibly people called him “the immortal” behind his back, given his penchant for outliving most of his heirs. But that’s just my speculation.

Anyway, when Louis died the French removed his heart, preserved it and buried it in it’s own special tomb.  No, they weren’t trying to make sure that he wouldn’t rise from his grave to stalk the night.  The French just liked to stage separate elaborate funerals and burials for the internal organs of their monarchs. As you do.

Skip forward in time a few Louis, and you have the revolution.  The one where most everyone in France got their heads cut off.  In all that chaos, who was going to miss one king’s heart?  Money probably changed hands, and by the Victorian era the heart was in England. In the hands of Lord Harcourt. Who’s name is perfect for this story.

I wonder how he acquired the heart.  It’s not like you stroll into a garage sale, see a little silver casket with a heart in it and offer the lady with the cigarette box of money a quarter for it.

Shouldn’t he have returned it to France, or something? Isn’t there some kind of treaty that states that you can’t keep the remains of a rival nation’s ruler?  “Thou shalt not keep royal hearts in boxes on thine mantel.” Or something like that?

Instead, he kept this little cracked-dot-com article waiting to happen and passed it around at dinner parties. Because? Reasons.  Maybe the Victorians liked looking at mummified royal hearts while eating.

There are several versions of what happened next.  My favorite is the version in which the heart gets passed to William Buckland.  Probably at a dinner party, but maybe Lord Harcourt was just showing it off In a trophy room or something.  And then it gets passed to William Buckland.

Record scratch.  Back up. Let’s talk about Buckland a bit.

The thing is, Buckland shouldn’t have been anywhere in a two mile radius of the heart. Everyone knew he was crazycakes.  He liked to do things like go fossil hunting in his academic robes, and he wanted to eat one of every animal type in the world.  He served his guests field mice on toast.  And puppies.  Because everything is awful.

Does it move?  I'll eat it. Possibly with fava beans and a nice chianti.

Does it move? I’ll eat it. Possibly with fava beans and a nice chianti.

That second fact should have been reason enough for people to give him the side-eye as he reached for the king’s heart.  But maybe Harcourt was one of those curious types who likes to throw rocks at a hornet’s nest just to see what happens.  One version of the story even suggests that Harcourt asked Buckland to taste it.  After all, if Buckland will eat a puppy, maybe he’ll eat a 100 year old mumified heart.  Kind of like a Victorian aristocrat’s version of licking a flagpole in winter.  Then he no doubt double-dog-dared him.

And you can’t back down from a double dog dare.  So of course, he eats it.  Maybe accidentally.  Probably not. After all, he ate puppies.

Anyway,  legend goes that after eating the heart Buckland said “I have eaten a lot of strange things, but I’ve never eaten the heart of a king.”

At which point, if there was a Lady Harcourt (and I don’t know if there was or not), she probably said: see! This is why we can’t have nice things! Why did we even invite him?

Is this story true?  Who knows.  My source is a fellow writer and storyteller named Augustus Hare.  And we all know that Storytellers love to make things up.

 

 

 

Halloween has sure changed!

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 28•14

This year is The first year that Little Miss is old enough to Trick or Treat. So I’m actually looking at costumes and giving this some thought.

What is up with the whole sexy/sassy costume trend in girls costumes?  Halloween is cold! I would personally choose a costume that is:

A. More creative.

B. Looks good with a coat.

For example, This year I’m going as the Charlie Brown ghost. Yes, I will take pictures.

At any rate, my sister tells me that her oldest  wants to be Wonder Woman this year. Which got me thinking about how costumes have changed.

This was a Wonder Woman costume when I was a kid. image

 

It’s basically just a plastic printed trash bag and a cheap plastic mask. You can’t even eat with it on. There’s basically a tiny slit where the mouth should go. You couldn’t even get a straw into it. Kids walked around sweating in these costumes because they didn’t breathe(the costumes, not the kids) and wearing the masks as hats unless they were ringing someone’s doorbell and shouting Trick Or Treat.

That’s what I remember about Halloween, cheap candy corn and kid sweat.

Today, this is what a kid’s costume looks like, at least the non sassy version.  image I’m not even sure that “sassy” and Wonder Woman should even be in the same sentence. But I digress again.

This costume is cute, and probably not some kind of safety hazard. You can’t really show it off if you are wearing a coat. But I’m told that most little kids don’t go door-to-door anymore. Instead they go to church sponsored programs.

Anyone other than me see the irony in this with the way some folks have a conniption over happy holidays vs. Merry Christmas? Like maybe some pagan mother’s group somewhere is getting ready to pocket with signs that say “put the Sam back in Samhain?” No? Maybe it’s just the chocolate talking. And here I degrees again.

My point is, kids these days don’t know how good they’ve got it. Now get off my lawn! And take your fancy chocolate bars with you!

Time flies when you’re changing diapers

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 20•14

Holy bones!  I haven’t updated this blog since . . . June 2?  What have I been doing since then?

 

Oh yeah, that’s right. I had a baby.

Amazing how that will fill the hours. There are dirty diapers to change, cuddles and kisses to give out.  I’m becoming something of a domestic misfit.  Something that looks like a pintrest mom if you squint.  Only everything I make is really lopsided in that “it’s close enough” kind of way. Do they have a name for those?

And now October is halfway over.  There is so much left to do.  I have to finish my Halloween costume (I’m going as the Charlie Brown version of a ghost. He had a little trouble with the scissors. So did I.)  And I need to go to the pumpkin patch, and watch the Johnny Depp version of Sleepy Hollow.  And rake all the leaves so I can jump into the pile and roll in them over and over again.

Despite my incredibly active social life (ha!), I have actually found time to write, and I have some news.

51AtQTeFzaL._SL250_One of my Celeste Ingram stories is going to be a part of the Vampire-Themed humor anthology Vampire Suck (Alternate Hilarities 2)

The book is available for preorder right now for Kindle. It will be released on October 31 for all your Halloween vampire snarking needs.

If you don’t remember who Celeste Ingram was, she’s the star of several short stories that I’ve written. One of which was in Strip Mauled.  You can read that story on Baen’s Website here, for some idea of what you are in for.

In other news, I’m a featured author today on the website Arkansas Authors.  Please swing by there and check out my interview.

___



 

Blame it on Nancy Drew

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 02•14

20140601-224351-81831838.jpgWe had some kind of reading challenge in second grade, so I picked an easy reader from the library. One of those thin books with lots of pictures. I don’t even remember what it was.  Clifford?  The Berenstain Bears?  Anyhoo, My teacher suggested that I put it back.  She told me that I ought to pick something harder.  I agreed, but didn’t know what to choose.  So she steered me to a shelf of  Nancy Drew mysteries instead.

Faced with a shelf of these inch-thick books, I picked out one that might hold my interest.   The Moonstone Castle Mystery. Mostly I thought it might be about castles. I had a thing for reading fantasy, even then.

What I got instead was a book about a girl detective unlike anything that I saw on TV at the time. She had adventures on her own. She wasn’t some tag-along girl being tolerated by this band of boys (*cough*cough*Buck Rogers *cough*cough*)  or the girl of the week with the problem she needed solved (I’m looking at you, The A-Team, Knight Rider and Magnum P.I.). She saved herself instead of wringing her hands off to the side while someone else rescued her. I could imagine myself in her place.

I was hooked, to the detriment of any future social standing at my little school. While to the rest of the world I became the bookworm, in my own little universe I became the girl detective/adventurer/hero of every book I picked up after that. And there were many, many books after that. Works by Tara K. Harper, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon to name just a few.

Eventually I started to write. First badly aped pastiches of the adventures I read. Then as I found my voice and gained confidence and skill as a writer, I gravitated back to mysteries (albeit with a strong fantasy element).

I suppose a little bit of me still wants to grow up to be Nancy Drew.

 

Free Book!

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 09•14

The website Arkansas Book Reviewer has a featured review of my new book Medieval Misfits: Renaissance Rejects.  Today the website also has an interview that I conducted with the website manager Tammy Snyder, in which I talk about my influences and what i’m working on next.

The website is also sponsoring a giveaway of my book, so one reader could get their very own copy of Medieval Misfits: Renaissance Rejects for free.

The address for all this is http://arkansasbookreviewer.com/