Monthly Archives: May 2016

Mind Your PDQs

Mind Your PDQs

During my senior year in high school, I took a music appreciation class, and that’s when I was introduced to the work of composer and musical satirist, Peter Schickele, and his alter ego, P.D.Q. Bach, the lesser known and highly controversial offspring of Johann Sebastian. Now, this was in the days before videos; Mr. Grammer, our teacher, put a vinyl LP on the phonograph, and this is what we heard:


Photo by Peter Hummers; cropped

Schickele was born on July 17, 1935, and attended Swarthmore College and Julliard School of Music (where he also taught). The music of Spike Jones was an early influence.

A prolific composer in his own right, Schickele is perhaps most famous as the musicology professor at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople who discovered the manuscripts of the black sheep of the Bach family.

For more than fifty years, Schickele has been delighting audiences with his compositions that sound vaguely familiar…

Anyone who knows a little bit about classical music will find themselves chuckling with recognition while listening to P.D.Q. Bach’s pieces. For example, any piano student who worked through the elder Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier will appreciate the Short-Tempered version:

For everyone who’s ever sung in a Madrigal ensemble:

The elder Bach was a devout Lutheran. No doubt, so was P.D.Q., if the O.K. Chorale is any indication.

Opera lovers (and haters) will appreciate this excerpt:

P.D.Q. Bach was a great innovator, often inventing instruments to produce the sounds in his tortured imagination:

To get a little bit of insight into Peter Schickele’s mind and process, watch this interview:

Are you already familiar with the works of P.D.Q. Bach? What’s your favorite of his pieces? Please share in the comments below.

To learn more about Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach, search YouTube or go to their official website.

Monday Morning Wisdom #52

Monday Morning Wisdom #52


From the Creator’s Heart #48


Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy (Psalm 33: 1-3 NIV).


A Snippet of The Unicornologist, Chapter 5

A Snippet of The Unicornologist, Chapter 5


It’s time for Weekend Writing Warriors! Every Sunday, a bunch of writers post 8-10-sentence snippets from their WIPs on their blogs. There’s a lot of reading, commenting and great writing. Click on the link to see the full list.

The setting is New Jersey in June, 1967–back in the days when MacDonald’s had no inside dining room. Dave and Beth (two of the antagonists) are on their first date.

            Dave paid for the shakes and handed one to Beth. They poked their straws through the crosscuts on the lids and sucked down their first sips of the sweet, thick, frosty confection. “Mmmm. I love MacDonald’s shakes. This is nice. Thank you for inviting me.”

            “You’re welcome. I’ve wanted to ask you out ever since I saw you at the first Silent Spring discussion at the library.” Dave gave Beth his best movie star smile as he led her back to his Chevy C10 pickup and opened the door for her, so they could continue enjoying their shakes in comfort, rather than sitting on the hard benches built into MacDonald’s exterior walls.

I know it’s short (the limit is ten sentences), but what do you think of this small excerpt from Chapter 5? Any suggestions on how I can make it better? Please leave your comments below.

Can You Draw a Duck?

Can You Draw a Duck?

Did you know that the United States government sponsors an annual art competition? If you think it’s under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts, though, you’re wrong. It’s actually an outgrowth of the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior.

Once upon a time, North America teemed with wildlife. But soon after settlers from across the seas intruded, native birds, animals, fish, and vegetation began to decline. Some were killed outright by hunters, for food and other products, such as feathers for fashion and leather for shoes. Others died when their habitat turned into farmland, housing developments, and industrial centers.

duck-illustrationBy 1934, loss of wildlife assumed epidemic proportions with many species driven to extinction. In order to promote conservation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, designed to stop the destruction of wetlands vital to migratory waterfowl. Under the act, all waterfowl hunters 16 years of age and over must annually buy and carry a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp–better known today as a Federal Duck Stamp.

Ninety-eight cents of every duck stamp dollar goes directly into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to purchase or lease land for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System. This ensures there will be land for wildlife that will be protected for generations to come.

Since 1934, $800 million from stamp sales has gone into that fund to protect more than 6.5 million acres of habitat. One of the reasons for the Duck Stamp’s success is that anyone can buy the stamp, which can also be used as an annual “pass” to national wildlife refuges charging entrance fees.

Conservationists buy duck stamps to support the effort, knowing that virtually all the money will go directly toward conserving habitat. Stamp collectors purchase the stamp anticipating increases in value. Hunters willingly pay the stamp price to ensure the survival of our natural resources. And many hunters buy two duck stamps each year–one to comply with the regulation, and one as a collector’s item and an additional contribution to conservation.


The very first Federal Duck Stamp in 1943 featured a design by Jay N. “Ding” Darling. For the next few years, noted wildlife artists were invited to submit designs to be considered for the stamp. In 1949, the Fish and Wildlife Service established a contest to determine the stamp image. See last year’s winners here. Realism (think John James Audubon) seems to be a plus with the judges.

The current Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Art Contest is open to all U.S. citizens, nationals, and resident aliens who are at least 18 years of age by June 1, 2016.

We’re dealing with the government, so there are lots of federal guidelines. Complete information, entry forms, and regulations can be found here.

But I’ll summarize them:

Five or fewer species of waterfowl are selected each year and one of these is required to be the dominant feature of your entry (defined as being in the foreground and clearly the focus of attention). The waterfowl species eligible in 2016 are:

  • Brant
  • Canada goose
  • Northern shoveler
  • Red-breasted merganser
  • Steller’s eider

The design must be the contestant’s original hand-drawn creation. The entry may be in any media EXCEPT photography or computer-generated art. Each entry must be 7″ x 10″ and matted over with bright white matting. The matting must be 1″ wide.

The deadline is fast approaching. Artists may submit their artwork and entry fee beginning on June 1, 2016. No early entries will be accepted. All artwork must be postmarked no later than midnight Aug. 15, 2016.

What does the winner get? No money. Basically, just bragging rights. And yet, competition is fierce. Last year 157 entrees were accepted. You can see them all here.

Will you enter? Share in the comments below if you’re going for it.





One of the beautiful hotels in Waikiki–but not the one where we stayed. My entry in Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge with the prompt: architecture.

Photograph © by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

In the Meme Time: Arting a Living

In the Meme Time: Arting a Living

Found on Twitter:

Earn a Living

Video of the Week #48: Zero Gravity

Video of the Week #48: Zero Gravity

6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters…by Andre Cruz

6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters…by Andre Cruz

Thank you, guest blogger Andre Cruz, for the terrific ideas in this article, first published on The Write Life.

Novelists: 6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters -- You Don't Have To Pull From A Hat

When you start writing your story, how long does it take you to come up with character names? Often, choosing the perfect name for your protagonist and antagonist can take ages, especially when you’re not sure how to start.

I’ve been there. After wasting days staring at a blank computer screen, attempting to come up with names for all of my characters, I came up with some helpful naming strategies. Lucky for you, I like to share.

Using any of these methods cuts down the amount of time I spend coming up with character names and lets me get back to the actual writing. Next time you’re stuck and can’t decide what to name your dystopian sharpshooting heroine, try one of these ideas.

1. “Borrow” from a friend or family member

This is the easiest way to create a fictional character name because you aren’t actually creating one! All you are doing is copying. Maybe your father is your hero, so you decide to name your protagonist after him.

Just be careful. Make sure you ask permission and let him know ahead of time of how he will be portrayed. You may think all you will be using is his name, but some of his personality traits may unwittingly end up in your story as well. Especially if you are the type of writer that skips outlines and lets the story unfold in front of you as you write it.

So watch out. These people know where you live!

2. Use Fido and your street

Confused? Let me explain.

Just use your pet’s name as the fictional character’s first name and your street’s name as your character’s last name. Mine would be Butch Fields and yes, he comes from the rough part of a fictional town.

3. Match name with theme

Are you a fan of symbolism? If so, then try this one. Write down your story’s themes and then head to a name generator website or baby name site to search for names related to those themes.

Funnily enough, I have found that the name Andre shows up under themes like manlystrong and brave, which of course I am… after a few drinks.

4. Combine the names of your favorite authors

A second helping of Stephen Rice, anyone? Guess what I did there. This is very similar to number one.

Maybe you don’t feel comfortable using the names of living writers, so how about this… Jack Hemingway? See, I used Jack London and… you get it.

fictional characters

5. Use a name translator

Yep, there is such a thing. And here you thought number one was too easy!

name translator is a great program that allows a writer to easily discover names in other languages. However, you already have to be thinking of a name. Try tip one and then this tip, or get started by just putting your own name into the translator.

You can head to your favorite search engine and search for ‘name translators’ or ‘my name in’ and type in any language, such as Chinese or Hebrew. You will find plenty of free name translators to use. So if you are looking for a really great foreign name for your character, you can skip Rosetta Stone.

6. Use an encyclopedia and your creative side

No matter what genre it is, think about where your story takes place. Your setting can inspire names for your characters. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).

Does it have mountains? Are they a part of your fictional characters’ culture? Then research people who have mountains as a part of their culture, such as the Andean people of Peru and the Appalachian people of North America.

What if your story takes place on a faraway planet? Your setting likely looks a bit like some place you’ve seen before on Earth, or maybe a mix of several places. Think of those real places that inspire your off-world setting and think of the real people that make those places their home. Research those places to get a feel of what your fictional culture could be.

After completing your research on the culture or cultures that inspired your fictional one, use the names in those real cultures for inspiration for the names of your fictional characters.

How do you come up with names for your characters? [Note from Andrea: Share in the comments below.]

Andre Cruz is a science fiction and fantasy author.



I’m participating in Cee’s Share Your World Challenge today.

What is your favorite go to beverage?  Water, coffee, tea, coke, soda (non-alcoholic)

I live in the desert of Arizona, so I drink a lot of water. If I’m out and about, I usually bring some with me.


That said, I must have a cup of coffee at breakfast. I try very hard to limit it to one, but on critique group days, all bests are off. My current favorite is Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s 10% Kona Blend.


I also must have a Diet Coke Lime with lunch. Again, only one, or I’ll be bouncing off walls until the wee hours. No caffeine past noon. Alright, 1:00 pm, but that’s it.

I like tea and diet soda, and I’ll treat myself to non-caffeine ones at any time. Favorite sodas are Fresca, Sierra Mist, and ginger ale. I’ll often brew a cup of camomile tea if I’m reading before bed.

Can you change a car tire?

Yes, but I don’t want to. I have AAA now for that.

But in the olden days, when we were raising five kids on Greg’s teaching salary, there was no money for luxuries like AAA. One day, as I was driving the kids to school, Erin said, “Mom, I just heard the tire pop.” I assured her it didn’t, but she was right. I couldn’t drive home. I parked the car at the school, walked home with baby Kate (luckily, I always kept a stroller in the car), and walked back with her to pick the kids up after school.

When my oldest daughter came home from middle school, I put her in charge of her siblings and walked back to start the tire change. I told her to send her dad when he got home.

I could have just let Greg deal with it, but I knew how exhausted he’d be after a day of teaching. So, I pulled out the manual and started the process step by step.

By the time Greg got there, I’d jacked up the car, undone the lug nuts, removed the tire, and retrieved the donut from the back of the mini-van. He finished the job in no time, but I could have done it if I’d had to.

Are you a listener or talker?

Both. Sometimes people ask me to shut up, because I can dominate the conversation. But I enjoy listening to someone who has something to say. I appreciate verbal exchange with someone who can hold up his end of the conversation.

talking on cell phone

Would you rather have no internet or no cell phone?

No cell phone. I don’t have a smart phone, just the bare bones variety mobile phone, and honestly, if I had to rely on my land line, it would be fine with me. But no internet–that would be like no air.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

We just celebrated my youngest child’s twenty-seventh birthday, and I am so grateful to see the competent young woman she has become.

I look forward to every day. Life is good.