Russians, Ukrainians (And Some Others) Fight to Rescue Cats in New York

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Are You Prepared for a Zombie Apocalypse?

Zombies have been on my mind lately partly because I’m enjoying “The Last of Us,” the fungus-pandemic horror series on HBO, and partly because of something that showed up in my inbox. Many data tidbits are pushed to me, so they don’t always stop me in my scrolling tracks. But this one did just that. Did you know that more than one in 10 Americans think a zombie apocalypse is inevitable? Among the believers, more than half apparently believe it’s coming in the next 30 years.

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Sharing the Love, or Stealing?

Say you have a friend named Monique who’s lost her job. You know she can barely scrape together enough change to pay the rent, and she really needs some positive distraction. You give her the passcode to your Netflix account so she can get some laughs out of “The Extraordinary Attorney Woo.” Heck, you’ve already given the code to some of your other friends, who have in turn shared their Apple TV+ and HBOMax account codes with you.

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Will The Truth Set Us Free In These Polarized Times?

Deep in the heart of Becky Chambers’ award-winning “Wayfarers” sci-fi novel trilogy there’s mention of a show that changed the course of relations between regular humans and some sentient beings on another planet. At first, any meaningful friendship between the two types of “creatures” was impossible. They kept their distance. But then they started to reach the middle ground after some entertaining content emerged in which an alien and a human became friends. It grew wildly popular, and after 10 years, the two civilizations warmed to each other, turning the course of history.

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Why They Die — Mastering the Art of Killing Off Characters in Fiction

“He’s scared to look at me in the eyes and start to understand what’s about to happen to him. You know, he picked the wrong family. We’re not scared of conflict. We’re not running. We’re coming at him.”

Those are the words of Steve Goncalves, speaking to CNN’s Jim Sciutto about the alleged murderer of four University of Idaho students. Among them was Gonclaves’ daughter, Kaylee.

This recent example of senseless violence is horrifying, and it’s so easy to get behind Goncalves’ rage and overpowering need for justice. And at the same time, we can be haunted by other forms of death, which might seem quiet by comparison but are devastating.

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Love and Caring in a World of Senseless Tragedies

In early November I was hit by a car. At the time, I was walking down a residential street in the early evening, wearing an orange jacket and crossing a well-lit intersection. I was thrown onto the entrance ramp of a highway running down the side of the Hudson River, from The Bronx into Manhattan.

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California Romance and Culinary Delights — The Making of ‘Casserole Courtship’

What do you get when you marry up one of California’s gorgeous Central Coast beaches with scrumptious food and romance? In the hands of Elizabeth Guider, those elements have become a page-turner novel called “The Casserole Courtship.” Her seasoned, realistic approach to fiction explores how some pretty fascinating people find love — or not.

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Elves and Magpies: The Mysterious Ways Writers Tap Into Rich Veins of Inspiration

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the pods of people who support and sustain our lives. Pods of family members, pods of friends, and (in my case) pods of people who are obsessed with writing fiction. The writer group is made up of people that I know personally and others whose work I admire and who give me a greater understanding of the craft.

I turned to the writer pod recently to gather some thoughts about an enigma when it comes to fiction. It involves a question that writers get asked all the time but many of us find it hard to answer: Where do you get your ideas?

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The Comparison Trap: How to Get Back on Track When Others Succeed

There once was a belly dancer named Carmen. She wowed crowds from Coney Island to Cairo. Really hot men dropped at her feet when she did the Turkish Figure Eight. They didn’t call her Magic Hips for nothin’. Another dancer named Stardust won the International Belly Dance Championship, and Carmen was back a ways in the rankings. She just couldn’t curb her sense of despair and jealousy. She felt like calling the whole shimmy-thing off. Maybe she should just become a bookkeeper for her shady uncle’s dump truck biz like he always wanted.

My fictional Carmen just danced into a very particular circle of hell: comparing herself to someone with similar aspirations who scored a coveted victory.

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‘Where Then Is Paradise?’ — Reflections on Asteroids, Putin, Scarcity, and Love

You may have heard the news that scientists uncovered new understandings about the asteroid that hit planet Earth 66 million years ago, destroying three-quarters of all plant and animal species, including dinosaurs.

Two researchers from the University of Michigan initially reported the findings in NGU Advances. And a later report in The Washington Postdescribed the asteroid this way: “The researchers drew on previous research and assumed the meteor had a diameter of 8.7 miles and a density of about 165 pounds per cubic foot — roughly the weight of an average adult male crammed within a volume the size of a milk crate.”

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Dr. Killjoy, Or Why I Learned Not to Trust Doctors as Much as I Once Did

I call him Dr. Killjoy. My gastroenterologist had done all kinds of tests and had me on a strict diet that sapped some delight out of my life. But after months of diligently following his advice, continued bouts with a certain plumbing issue continued to dog me. Old Killjoy threw up his hands and told me he didn’t know what was causing my body to go haywire. I’d just have to watch and learn. (Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash)

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It’s Horror Movie Season! Why Do We Love Scary Films So Much?

Get ready for terror. Streaming channels and movie theaters are about to unleash the annual October sack of ghoulish predators and monsters. At least eight new horror movies are coming out of their cages in October. For example, there’s “Hellraiser,” a mystery-horror-thriller reboot of the 1980s film; “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” based on a Stephen King novella; the final installment of the “Halloween” franchise; and “Terrifier 2,” which features a resurrected killer clown named Art.

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‘Crooked Lines’ — Holding on to Dreams Despite the Monsters on Our Paths

There’s a writer named Jenna Zark whose work I adore and who navigated through plenty of personal trials. While she was creating some of her early works of fiction, Jenna’s marriage to a Jewish cantor fell apart. And, she flailed about as she raised her young son, Josh. Her inspiring new book, “Crooked Lines,” chronicles her personal experiences and how they eventually led to smoother roads. Along the way she also explains how certain Jewish traditions and holidays have personal resonance.

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My Little Town: Celebrations and Moments of Nostalgia in Upstate New York

The first time I can recall feeling shocked at how a certain place can change, I was a teen in a tiny upstate New York village called Franklin. My school was burning down in the middle of the night. This happened a few hours after I sent up a fervent prayer to God, asking him to please save me from the humiliation of performing in a school play the next day. I hadn’t learned my lines.

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The Truth Might Send You Into a Frightful Frenzy, and Maybe Into Sleep

What stories send you off to dreamland? One of the kindest, most generous people I know likes TV series about real-life murder mysteries, no matter how grisly. (Love that about her.) For me, stories about trains taking me to exotic locations in distant times, or fantasy tales, are just the thing.

When it comes to fantasy, one the great masters to whom I bow down is Neil Gaiman. I was among the legion of fantasy and horror geeks who have highly anticipated the debut of his “The Sandman” TV series — adapted from Gaiman’s comic books.

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A Kiss Is Still a Kiss, But I’m Seeing ‘Casablanca’ Through a More Truthful Lens

It took some vintage films to make me see how my mind has shifted — in ways that put the movies in a new perspective that isn’t entirely flattering. This came to me while watching Bette Davis claw her way to a richer life in “The Little Foxes.” And then I watched Ingrid Bergman trapped in a life-or-death love triangle in “Casablanca.

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Struggling With the Feeling of Failure, 10,000 Times Along the Way

If you’re anything like me, then you were utterly gobsmacked by the astounding images that NASA released this last week. They are “the deepest infrared view of our universe that has ever been taken,” according to NASA administrator Bill Nelson. The odds we’d even get to see those images was amazing: there were 344 possible points of failure along the way, NASA said.

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How We Move Forward, After the Supreme Court Devastations

When I was very young, my older brother died of brain cancer. He was four years old. As you might imagine, this was a deeply shattering experience for my parents. My mother’s way of dealing with it was to repress her feelings under a big flat stone. She rarely mentioned what she and my father went through — all those repeated trips to the hospital, the crushing sense of failure.

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From Sissy Spacek to Jean Smart: Delicious Roles for Older Women Multiply

Outstanding roles for older female actresses on TV have always been in short supply. In recent years, the business has tried to address the issue of racism and sexual misconduct. And older men have been around in shows for a long time. But as for a variety of shows with primary characters that authentically portray fascinating, mature women? Not a lot.

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The Essential Writers’ Tool: How to Build or Join a Feedback Group

Writing a piece of fiction can be like walking through a foreign land that seems endless, and occasionally filled with thorny brambles. Yes, you may have friends who will commiserate with your dilemmas, pour you some wine, or provide some good advice. But maybe the people you know just are not enough to get you where you need to go. Maybe you need to widen your circles, suck it up and meet some absolute strangers even if you’re an introvert — people who can guide you in new directions that you hadn’t considered before or hadn’t thought about strongly enough.

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CBD to the Rescue: Responsible Ways to Live Without Booze

By Janet Stilson / November 22, 2021 /

Do you ever wonder if there will come a time when humans will no longer need to swallow and smoke chemical substances to relieve their pain and relieve anxiety? As the relationship between humans and computers continues to evolve, maybe future generations will implant a chip in their bodies to counteract whatever whacked-out thing they’re…

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The Confessions of a Stick-in-the-Mud: Searching for Spontaneous Joy

By Janet Stilson / November 9, 2021 /

There’s a defect in my personality that I have only recently identified. Those of you who know me may immediately think, “Uh huh. Maybe Stilson is actually going to stop (fill in the blank). She drives me nuts.’” Whatever that might be, today, right now, the defect du jour that I’ve pinpointed is a lack…

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Cherishing the Small Stuff: Porting Into Lost Times, Distant People

By Janet Stilson / October 26, 2021 /

I once owned a locket of no particular value. It might have been made out of tin with gold plating on top. And it was a little dented. But it was something my grandmother had cherished. Inside were tiny little photos of her parents, a dairy farmer and his wife who raised her in a…

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The Woman Who Looked Like a Chicken, and Other Inspirations

By Janet Stilson / October 12, 2021 /

I once met a woman who reminded me of a chicken, and another one who often stored muffins between her breasts. At the time I met them, they were both well into their 70s, if not older. Though many, many years have passed since then, they were so memorable that I based two of my…

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A Dark, Steamy Movie and a New Isaac Asimov Series Splash Down

By Janet Stilson / September 28, 2021 /

  The new Apple TV+ series, FOUNDATION, based on Isaac Asimov’s landmark sci-fi novel series, is blowing my mind. Although I’m still trying to decide whether I like the gender switching and romantic frisson touches that weren’t in the original work. It’s not fair to deliver final judgement, because I’m still on episode 2, but…

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How Beauty Helps Me Look on the Bright Side of Life

By Janet Stilson / September 13, 2021 /

It’s almost like I’ve been in a science fiction story over the last week. I’ve inhabited a world in which all niggling and gargantuan points of tension lifted away. All I did was gaze at exquisite wildlife and scenery, breathed pungently healing air, listened to sweet bird cries. Nothing could crowd out those wonders; nothing…

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It’s All in Your Head: Feeling Future Happiness Today

By Janet Stilson / August 31, 2021 /

Do you know how WD-40 got its name? I recently discovered that the 40 refers to the number of versions of the formula that were created before its makers finally got a lubricant that worked just right. Chances are, you’ve used it to make cranky windows open more easily, or get rid of that squeak…

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Why I Love Ishiguro’s ‘Klara and the Sun’

By Janet Stilson / August 17, 2021 /

What if it were possible to walk into a store and buy a best friend with artificial intelligence – a humanoid robot able to love you and serve your best interests? That is the central premise behind a novel that rocketed up close to the top of my personal “favorite book” chart. And that was…

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Growing Up Like a Wild Bird in a Town Called Franklin

By Janet Stilson / August 3, 2021 /

Imagine a lottery system that runs across the entire universe. And each time someone is about to be born, a ga-zillion colored balls ping around, and as a select few are pulled out, your fate is sealed. Perhaps you will become Rusty Redsnore, and you are foisted off on an alcoholic old aunt in a…

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What Gets You Hot and Bothered During This Crazy Summer of Ours?

By Janet Stilson / July 20, 2021 /

Remember that old song: “Roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer — those days of soda and pretzels and beer”? At the time I first heard Nat King Cole croon it, I was a kid and enjoyed the romantic notion. Now I still love the summer. But when I consider my laziness, thoughts…

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