Pipsqueak Articles

Posts written by Olga Werby or Christopher Werby

Forty Years of Cultural Dissonance

Pastrami Sandwich

This May was the fortieth anniversary of my family’s arrival in America. We came as refugees. My husband and I celebrated this momentous event (this marks over two-thirds of my life here) by visiting the Tenement Museum in downtown New York City. The biggest takeaway was the strong sense of “strangers in a strange land” mentality. People arrived not knowing the language or customs, not having a place to sleep or an ability to source work. It was scary. It took a very strong impetus to leave all that one knew and understood behind, to leave family and friends, to leave familiar food and places…to leave behind the mother tongue. (Did you know that the word “cow” is not under K in a dictionary? How are people supposed to find words when they don’t even start with the letter that they sound? Back then, I ended up drawing a cow in the middle of a sentence to finish my homework.) Without a language in common, it is very difficult to forge social ties. It is the main reason people “bunch up” by their cultural heritage into neighborhoods like “Little Italy,” “China Town,” “Little Russia,” “Jewishberg,” “Japantown,” “La Pequeña Habana,” “Little…

The Wheel of Culture

Finding treasure in the sea of content

Societies continuously try to recreate themselves — shared holidays, shared news, shared traditions, shared language, shared music, shared myths, shared victories, and shared griefs. Shared origins… So by telling each other stories, we recreate ourselves over and over again. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who are our heroes? Who are the villains? These stories pass our values as a society from one generation to the next. It’s how we understand each other. “Rosebud.” There was a time where everyone in America knew exactly what that reference was. Now? Nope. “Remember the Alamo!” People still know the phrase, but its meaning — the short cut to meaning that this phrase used to represent — is no longer widely available. Cultural propagation used to be easy when everyone knew everyone else in the small village they all lived. Strangers were either killed or assimilated. People easily recognized “their own.” Sometimes, it was as simple as the way you’d pronounce a word. Such cultural distinctions to divide between “us” and them” are called Shibboleth. Do you drop your p’s or roll your r’s? Do you wear “snickers” or “runners” or “trainers”? Is it “herbs” with an “h” or without?…

First Lines

unreal reality

There are readers (and book-writing gurus) who want the first few words of the story to grab them so hard that they can’t let go until the end. I thought I felt a little this way too, so I started to pay attention to the first sentences of the books I read. Strangely, most were quite plain. It took time to get into the story, to fall in love with it. Some books, which I absolutely adore, required my attention for at least the first few chapters before love blossomed. That felt contrary to every writing advice I’ve read. But I did notice that while falling in love with the story might take a bit of time, strong dislike can be achieved in just a few sentences! We might relate to stories the way we relate to people. There is a ton of research that points to the human ability to judge one another — we can tell if the teacher is any good in the first 30 seconds! And our opinions don’t change, staying quite stable after an hour, a day, a week, and even after a year’s worth of instruction. That’s an evolutionary advantage — it’s good to…

A Year in Books

Book_lover_Wikipedia

I read a few books this last year, and like a good reader, I would like to recommend and review some of those stories. So here goes… “The Wheel of Time” (4 stars) The Complete Wheel of Time Series Set (1-14) This a big commitment… I want to start this review by being very explicit — don’t start unless you have the time to finish in one go (over many months). There is so much detail and so many characters (all sounding similar) that it would be difficult to get through without an online guide…or if you just give up caring. I posted the images of the books, spines out — I want you to fully understand the commitment you are making. It took me about a year to finish all 14 books. I haven’t decided if I want to spend additional time reading the prequels; certainly not any time soon. Below are my short notes on each book (not summaries of the plot) and the number of pages per book: #1 The Eye of the World (written by Robert Jordan) — 753 pages Very interesting world, very well defined, with many nuances. I liked the characters. It was a…

Not So Random Musings

Paper Birds

I’m overdue for an update. Usually, I have ideas and themes all worked out (and ebook giveaways all set), but this time it’s different. I still have books to give out, but the main theme of this “sharing” eludes me. So I’m going to write about a few issues that I found interesting in my last month of reading, editing, and watching the news. Reading Last year, I finally bit the bullet and started reading Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series. I’m on book 11 now… Robert Jordan (this is a pen name of James Oliver Rigney Jr.) began writing the first book in these series, “The Eye of The World” in 1984 and only published it 1990. Considering just how popular and influential these series were/are, it gives hope for writers like me… I love the world created in these books. It’s very complex and deep (and wide). But I kept finding similarities to other fantasy series I’ve read. Of course, there’s the homage to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. But I expected that — those were really the founding high fantasy series that gave birth to all the rest. But there was also more than a…

Finding Inspiration

Experiment Z by Daywish

Books are not just a collection of words on a page. It takes time to birth a story. When I write, I do a lot of research. In addition to reading, annotating, and creating bibliographies on the science in my science fiction novels, I also collect images. For years, I had folders and folders of mood boards for each of my stories. I took photographs of the actual locations mentioned in my books. I made scrapbooks… I love my books illustrated, so I’ve even illustrated some of my books. But for those of you interested in seeing some of my photo research or just simply inspirational images from various artist that matched closely to what I saw in my head as I wrote the stories, I’ve created book boards on Pinterest. I’m not going to give summaries of each story I wrote here, but instead, I will say something of why the images you will see if you follow the links below speak to me and my stories. Enjoy! Suddenly, Paris Suddenly, Paris was my first science fiction book. It was first published in 2009 and then again (after a serious re-edit) in 2015. It deals with several locations that…