Friday, October 29, 2010

Quantum Entanglement

"Not knowing is much more interesting than believing an answer that might be wrong."
-- Richard Feynman

The only kind of physics I like is the kind that rational people want no truck with -- the quantum.  I have very little patience with equations and theories and laws that explain the universe neatly and precisely.  Gravity is as inexorable as it is predictable, which makes it boring to contemplate in the abstract.  But when I lie on my back in my driveway, with pavement behind me and night before me, and I realize that the only thing between me and the gorgeous dark yawning everything is the same force that helped break my coffee cup that morning . . . well, that's about as concrete as it gets.

That's why I brew my coffee dark and drink it slow.  Because sometimes the only thing that can save us from the vast overwhelm of bigness is the small and specific.

My favorite non-scientific musing this morning is on quantum entanglement. Wikipedia describes it like this: a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. In his book Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics, Amir D. Aczel explains it this way: "Whatever happened to one particle would thus immediately affect the other particle, wherever in the universe it may be."

I like the idea that two things can exist, separate and distinct, and yet be inextricably linked.  It sounds romantic, like photons have a life of the heart, with yearnings and loneliness and melancholy.  Soul mates at the sub-atomic level.  Or maybe I'm the one who's enamored, moonstruck with the idea that connection can exist in ways that confound even the most brilliant among us.  It makes a good case for love, big love, the kind that transcends place and time (and which I hope is never reducible to an equation).

I suspect physicists must get impatient with musers like me who want to make everything mystical.  Scientists crank up the Bell-state quantum eraser, indulge in a little parametric down-conversion, and math comes out. They're happy with this.  But  I want to see God in there.  I want some scrappy little clue.  Maybe not the double helix of some divine DNA, maybe just a smudgy fingerprint somewhere, but something.  Anything.  I feel like a forensic investigator in this world, looking for evidence of something that should require no proof.

The act of observation changes that which is observed.  I think that's why I write, why I make words and then -- in a process I have never even tried to understand -- send them into the ether where others can read them.  It changes them somehow, even if no human eye ever graces them.  Having a reader is a blessing.  It creates a cycle of energy, a good organic flow.  But just offering the words is also a blessing.  A benediction of sorts, maybe even a prayer.  We contain universes, are contained by them too, ever expanding at the furtherest edge.  And sometimes it feels like those universes are watching me, tiny finite me, the conjunction of them all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guest Blogger Amy Corwin on Rose Growing during the Regency

When folks ask me why I adore the Regency period (early years of the 19th century) so much, I invariably think of roses. The Regency -- and the Empress Josephine -- are among the most critical influences on roses as we know them today.

Before the Empress Josephine began her gardens at Malmaison in 1799, roses were grown mainly for medicinal, cosmetic, and aromatic reasons. The Apothecary's Rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, is named thusly for a reason: The celebrated, rich, deep pink Apothecary's Rose was considered an essential component of any herb or kitchen garden. It was used in cooking, medicine, and cosmetics.

However, the Empress Josephine changed that. Josephine adored roses and when she acquired Malmaison, she set out to create the world's first, and largest, garden devoted to roses. And despite the war with England, her principal source of roses was the Lee & Kennedy Vineyard Nursery located just outside of London. Josephine wanted a specimen of every rose known in the world and in 1804, she was able to convince Lewis Kennedy to provide her with the newest Chinese roses: Slater's Crimson Chine, Parson's pink, and Hume's Blush Tea Scented China.

Although Josephine could not know it at the time, and in fact, never lived to see it, those Chinese roses eventually became the parents -- when hybridized with once-blooming European varieties -- of our modern roses as we know them today: our Hybrid Tea roses, that bloom throughout the growing season. Naturally, with the Empress growing such extraordinary specimens, the race was on to create rose gardens to rival hers, both in France and in England. What was the darling of the Regency?

The Gallica rose.
During the Regency, there was a positive explosion of Rosa gallica hybrids. Regrettably, many of those have been lost over time, but a few lovely roses remain available. What were the Rosa gallica that the Empress Josephine and rose growers in England might have known? Let's look at a few.

Rosa gallica is an extremely old species. It tends to be low growing (which in my mind makes it a perfect specimen for today's smaller garden) and bears rich red, dark pinkish, purple, or streaked flowers. They have an incomparable fragrance. Rosa gallica is in the lineage of almost all modern roses and is certainly one of the most beautiful.  And although Suzanne Verrier in "Rosa Gallica" indicates that perhaps as many as 167 of the 250 rose varieties grown at Malmaison might have been gallicas, it may be a bit unlikely, based upon research by Jules Gravereaux and others, since she was collecting and growing so many other roses, as well. Unfortunately, since there was never an inventory made of the roses in the Empress Josephine's gardens while they existed, we may never know.

That doesn't mean that Gallicas are any less important. In fact, I would not hesitate to claim that the Gallicas are to the Regency period what Hybrid Teas are to ours: the most popular rose grown.What were some varieties? Here are a few that the Empress Josephine and other ladies during the Regency would have treasured.

The Apothocary's Rose, Rosa gallica Officinalis
This is the ancestor of many of our modern roses. Throughout history, it was considered essential to any herb or medicinal garden. It is definitely a survivor and can still be purchased (thankfully). It has semi-double blossoms in rich violet crimson with a prominent center of gold stamens. The fragrance is intense and remains after you dry the petals, so it is a wonderful addition to potpourris. This rose is often referred to as the Rose of Provins and has been one of the most important historical roses.

Agatha, Rosa gallica Agatha
Some experts class the "Agatha" gallicas as a distinct group, and some authorities say that nearly ¼ of the Gallica roses grown at Malmaison were Agathes. Agatha is a fragrant, rich pink rose with double blossoms (lots of petals) veined with deeper rose. Foliage is elongated and gray-green and the canes are nearly thornless. The rose can reach nearly six feet to under good conditions.

Enfant de France, Rosa gallica 'L'Enfant de France'
While the origin of this rose is unknown, several experts claim this rose was one of those grown at Malmaison. The rose is dark rose with lilac overtones and has double blossoms.

La Belle Sultane, Rosa gallica Maheka
This is another rose that experts believe was grown at Malmaison. It forms a tall shrub about 5' tall, with flat flowers that are almost single (have 5 petals). The blossoms have a rich fragrance and are velvety purple-crimson. This lovely rose is one of the few still in available from some nurseries.

Quate Saisons d'Italie, Rosa gallica 'Rosier de la Malmaison'
The gardens at Malmaison certainly grew this variety. This rose is a double rose, similar to Portland-type roses. The very fragrant blooms are crimson and full of petals. It is one of the few early roses that is produced consistently throughout the growing season. This hardy rose can reach a height of four feet.

I hope this gives you a taste of the quintessential Regency rose: the Gallica. It is certainly one of the most lovely and historically significant roses in the world.

Thank you,
Amy Corwin


Amy Corwin is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America and has been writing for the last ten years in addition to managing a career as an enterprise systems administrator in the computer industry.  She writes Regencies/historicals, mysteries, and contemporary paranormals. To be truthful, most of her books include a bit of murder and mayhem since she discovered that killing off at least one character is a highly effective way to make the remaining ones toe the plot line.

Amy’s first Regency, SMUGGLED ROSE, received a 4-star review by “The Romantic Times” and her second Regency, I BID ONE AMERICAN, received a perfect score of 5 from  Long and Short Reviews. Her third Regency, THE BRICKLAYER’S HELPER, is out now from The Wild Rose Press and her first paranormal, VAMPIRE PROTECTOR, comes out in November, 2010.

The Bricklayer's Helper
A masquerade turns deadly when a murderer discovers the truth behind the disguise.

After her family perishes in a suspicious fire, Sarah hides her identity by working as a bricklayer's helper. But her disguise can't keep her safe when someone discovers she survived the flames. Alone and terrified, Sarah pins all her hopes on William Trenchard, the only available inquiry agent with Second Sons. William, however, seems far too handsome and frivolous to solve the mystery, and Sarah fears that involving him may be her final~and fatal~mistake.The pair are in for a wild ride as they try to solve a decade-old mystery of murder and deceit in Regency England.

Appearances can truly be deceiving.

Find The Bricklayer's Helper at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon's Kindle store.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guest Blogging Today

I'm very excited to be guest blogging over at Amy Corwin's Fiction Writing and Other Oddities.You can find my post at:

Amy will be joining me here, at the Fascination Files, next week, so please be sure to look for her then. She promises a look at Regency rose-growing, and since she's quite the talented historical romance writer -- and gardener -- I'm sure it will be informative.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Annette Laing on Invisible History

From Annette Laing's Goodreads blog:

So there I was, sitting comfortably in a comfy chair at Starbucks, amply supplied with caffeine, and working away happily on the third book. Everything was going swimmingly. I had a great set of plot twists, interesting new characters to work with, and a story set in the historical period I know best, the 18th century. Finally, I could use that PhD in early American history writing something people would want to read!  But I digress...

Out of the blue, the book went wrong. I finished a chapter, only to realize that I had already used up the plot points for several chapters ahead, leaving Hannah sitting outside in the piney woods of rural southeastern Georgia in 1752, waiting for a pot of water to boil over an outdoor fire. What was she thinking? I didn't know. Was she bored? If not, what was she thinking about? No clue. All she could see and all I could see were pine trees.

I packed up and went home, deciding it was time to put the writing on hold, and take to reading for inspiration. First, I tried more history. It didn't help. The history of Georgia in that period is a bit thin, so I cheated and started revisiting South Carolina history, hoping for ideas from the state next door. Thinking again about the frontier helped a little, but it wasn't that thrilling. And I really couldn't shake the strong feeling that  I was missing something big...

All at once, it came to me.

You know, for someone who claims to be an historian of religion, I can be pretty oblivious. In planning and writing Book 3, I had ignored invisible history. What I mean by that is the religious beliefs and the folklore  that livened up what to modern outsiders might just seem like a tedious landscape. The people of the past populated those spaces with ghosts, spirits, miracles, and mysteries; with tall tales and sad stories.

Native Americans would surely have had the best-developed  folklore of any group in the rural South in the mid-18th century, but they were being chased from their lands. Meanwhile, Africans and Europeans had begun weaving their own stories and beliefs around their new American homes, often drawing on the traditions of their Indian neighbors, friends, and family members. There was, of course, much exchanging of stories among these ethnic groups.  

Meanwhile, wealthier and educated settlers (who were the smallest group, but the best represented in history) were abandoning many of their supernatural beliefs. Instead, they developed a keen interest in buying and owning stuff: Houses, clothes, china, carriages, and so on. Boy, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?

My modern time travelers, however, mix with poor people in my story, and the trick now is to get them not only to witness folklore, but to believe in it.  First, I need some folklore for them to hear. So I'm reading again, and planning a trip to the Okefenokee Swamp, a rich source of spooky atmosphere and home of some of the best storytelling tradition in Georgia...

Wish me luck as I hunt ghosts and seek out tall tales. And if any of you have some cool stories from your own families, pass them along. I can borrow them outright if we both like, or rewrite them to suit!

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Annette Laing is the author of The Snipesville Chronicles, the misadventures of three kids from the most boring town in the Deep South who become reluctant visitors in British and American history. Don't Know Where, Don't Know When and A Different Day, A Different Destiny are available from your favorite bookseller; you can also find them -- and learn more about Annette's commitment to Non-Boring History -- at her website: