Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Humane Cosmetics Act

Back in October I posted about the use of animal testing in cosmetics and how I found this practice barbaric and deplorable since humane alternatives exist and have been in use for years by many companies. I posted this as my entry for the Blog the Change for Animals hop, which is held four times a year and aims to highlight issues concerning animal welfare and rescue.

I was thrilled and pleasantly surprised this week to read about the introduction of the Humane Cosmetics Act, which proposes to prohibit animal testing for all cosmetics sold or manufactured in the United States. The act enjoys bipartisan support and was sponsored by U.S. Representatives Martha McSally (R-AZ), Don Beyer (D-VA), Joe Heck (R-NV) and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA). The act is also supported by cosmetics industry powerhouses like Paul Mitchell and The Body Shop, both of which already prohibit animal testing on their products.

There has been so much horrible news in recent weeks that it was a treat to read something that actually made me smile. I especially love that this act has bipartisan support, as the word "bipartisan" seems increasingly rare nowadays.

The Humane Society launched a Be Cruelty Free campaign to help end animal testing and provides a contact form on its website for Americans to contact their own representatives and ask them to support the new legislation.

Cruelty Free International, the largest organization working to ban animal testing in the world, states that the United States will join the European Union, Israel, and India among those who have banned this outdated practice if the legislation. New Zealand, Brazil, Vietnam and South Korea are also working on bans. As you'll see if you click on this link, Peter Dinklage is the US Ambassador to Cruelty Free International and an advocate to end animal testing on cosmetics and toiletries. If Tyrion Lannister is behind it, it has to be a good thing.  :D

In all seriousness, I think anything that can reduce the amount of cruelty in the world is a wonderful thing. This legislation is a step in the right direction.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Summer Solstice, St. John's Eve, and a Voodoo Priestess Ghost

Summer Solstice 2
Bethel, Alaska at midnight on the summer solstice

Yesterday was the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere, and since the solstice plays a big role in my novel Polar Day I had hoped to find a juicy ghost story to tie in with it. Unfortunately when searching for solstice legends all I could find were stories about faeries. I realized I shouldn't have expected to find haunted stories connected to the day when the sun enjoys its longest time in the spotlight.

But I happened to stumble upon something new to me, which was the close connection between the solstice and the Catholic celebration of the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Celebrated on June 24, St. John's day has always been closely aligned with the solstice and the beginning of summer, and was originally celebrated any day between June 20 and June 26 before the church fixed the date as the 24th. Now, most celebrations to mark the day are held on June 23, or St. John's Eve.

The feast of St. John has a great deal of historical significance in the practice of Voodoo in Louisiana. I have always been both intrigued and a little freaked out by Voodoo. I think it is super cool to read about but also more than a little creepy.

Voodoo Altar in New Orleans, taken by Greg Willis

Apparently, the most important time of the year in the Voodoo religion is midsummer, or the solstice. I was thrilled to discover that the most famous Voodoo priestess in Louisiana history, Marie Laveau, was known to hold Voodoo rituals on the Bayou St. John in New Orleans on St. John's Eve, and many believe her ghost still keeps the tradition alive today.

Marie was believed to have been born in 1801 and she lived until 1881. Throughout her adult life she was the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans and the most powerful and influential priestess in the city. Marie's ceremonies included the singing of Voodoo hymns, nighttime dances around a bonfire to show respect to the deities, and offerings made in sacrifice to the gods. I don't know what those offerings were but it's creepy to imagine, as the rituals were performed in the dark in an isolated stretch of the bayou north of the city.

Legend states that Marie's voice can still be heard chanting and singing at St. John's Bayou on St. John's Eve. In addition, city residents have reported seeing Marie at her home on St. Ann Street. If the stories are to be believed, Marie continues to walk St. Ann Street at night, wearing a long white dress, a turban, and a knotted handkerchief around her neck.

Marie Laveau is buried in the St. Louis cemetery in New Orleans, which is considered the most haunted cemetery in the United States. Visitors to the cemetery have reported seeing Marie walking between the graves and muttering Voodoo curses under her breath. Others have said Marie's ghost has taken on the form of a Voodoo cat with glowing red eyes. The cat disappears through the sealed door of Marie's tomb.


I have to admit I think a Voodoo priestess cat is very cool. What animal could be more appropriate for the ghost of a Voodoo Queen? I'd love to see this kitty and now part of me wants to come up with a story for a Voodoo priestess cat.

I really wouldn't want to be in New Orleans this week as I know the heat and humidity would be way too much for me, but I can't deny I'd be curious to go to St. John's Bayou on St. John's Eve and see if I could hear Marie's ghost leading her followers in hymns and chants. If by chance I did hear someone singing I'd probably run all the way back to Ohio. :D

I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

IWSG & Ghost Stories

It's time for the June meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you're not a member of the group and would like to join us, sign up here,

In recent months my primary insecurities have been related to blogging. I just haven't been able to get back into blogging the way I would like to. I can't think of much to blog about and I was starting to feel like I should just leave the whole thing alone. But I honestly didn't want to do that because I really do cherish the connections I've made through blogging and it is the only form of social media that I genuinely enjoy.

By chance I came upon a post by L.K. Hill, who I met through this year's A to Z Challenge, that inspired me to want to give blogging another go. L.K.'s post was "5 Ways to Become an Expert in Your Field," and while I didn't expect to be inspired by it when I started reading that's exactly what happened.

I won't go through the whole post since anyone interested can read it on L.K.'s site, but she wrote that she has worked to become a dystopian expert since she published her first book Persistence of Vision.  According to L.K., this has served to boost her credibility and help build her online platform.

While reading about L.K.'s experiences, I had a bit of a lightbulb moment about what I can blog about. If you followed my blog when my book The Ghosts of Aquinnah was released you may remember I loved sharing stories about ghosts. I'm now writing another book with a ghost, this one a malevolent and truly frightening presence. It dawned on me that there is no reason I can't become an expert on ghosts and ghost stories!

L.K. mentioned that one of the tasks that helped her feel like an expert was research, namely reading. I already know I love reading about ghosties, and I don't think there is any limit to the number of stories I can find. My WIP takes place in Chicago so I've got a whole new place to explore to find ghosts and haunted places.

So all of the sudden while reading L.K.'s post I thought, voila! That's it. I can share stories about ghosts and ghouls and haunted Chicago spaces while also doing research on my setting and its fascinating history. I figure it's a win-win since I will have stories to share while also possibly finding information that could serve to beef up my novel.

I'm grateful to L.K. for the inspiration and so glad I stumbled upon her blog during the A-Z this year. I didn't think I'd still be able to meet new and fun bloggers but I was wrong and I'm glad of that.

I'm excited about getting started on my ghost apprenticeship and sharing what I learn along the way. I hope I can find some spooky stories to bring some life back to this blog. :D

Happy June and IWSG day, all!