Author Archives: Lynn Voedisch

About Lynn Voedisch

I'm a fantasy novelist and write for The Story Plant. I have an interest in everything from science to tales of magic. I'm a voracious reader, I own two cats, and I play tennis and trivia.

Enter the wooly mammoth?

Wooly Mammoth

Wooly Mammoth

Fantastic World

Most of us are familial with “Jurassic Park,” which brought cloned dinosaurs back to current-day Earth. But “Pleistocene Park”? That’s what scientists are calling an imagined frozen corner of Siberia, where there would be a wildlife refuge for an ancient ecosystem that could slow global warming.

They would have cold-resistant animals who can graze and trumple the tundra, which exposes the underlying soil to frigid air and protects it from a thaw that would let carbon gases into the atmosphere. Animals that are checked okay for this cold-weather haven are bison, oxen, moose, horses and reindeer. But scientists say that one thing is missing—wooly mammoths.

It sounds crazy but some scientists want to clone the wooly mammoth from ancient DNA. Never mind that live, usable DNA still hasn’t been recovered from any frozen mammoth. One team of scientists is trying to clone the giant animal but creating a mammoth egg and inserting it in an elephant’s uterus. The other teams are attempting gene splicing with existing elephants. They admit that the goal wouldn’t be achieved until the far future, if at all.

While the clone-happy scientists dream on, environmentalists want to know how we would find the right foods to feed the mammoth, how we would provide it company (clone more mammoths?), would an elephant be an effective or even tolerant mother to a mammoth baby, how it would relate to other animals around it, and is the air is right for such ancient animals to breath? The earth has gone through a lot of changes since wooly mammoths walked the earth.

Fun to think about, but I think this scientific fantasy is just that—a fantasy.

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Bad guys, devils, and villains

A few years ago, a writer I know once gave me advice that I never pondered before.

“From the bad guy’s point of view, he’s doing the right and logical thing,” she said. “He doesn’t think of himself as a villain.”

She was quite right. I thought back to all the good books I had read, and in every case, no matter how reprehensible the antagonist was, he or she always had the opinion that she was right. Take the Harry Potter books for example. Snape, the teacher the kids all hate at Hogwart’s Academy seems as if he’s just there to make the kids feel total agony. But, as we find out through the long series, he just feels that he is a superior teacher and is trying to impart his extraordinary knowledge to students who don’t appreciate him. When you look at it this way, Snape no longer looks like a cartoon character, but a real person with problems and worries of his own.

When I wrote my first novel, Excited Light (self-published), I kept that advice in mind as I constructed a plot with an antagonist who is a womanizer and cheat. I put myself in his shoes as I wrote the book, remembering that this man saw himself as a handsome, talented newspaper editor whose career had taken a wrong turn. He looked at women as people who would salve his wounded ego, even though he never followed through on the promises he made to them.

For my novels at the Story Plant, each time I created a villain, I’d take some time to look at things from their perspective. I got some great positive reviews, some focusing on how good the “evil” character was. The mother character in The God’s Wife seems like a shrill, unpleasant harridan. However, she is merely trying to smooth the rites of succession for the all-important God’s Wife of Amun position in Ancient Egypt.

For “Dateline: Atlantis” I even sent the ms. to someone who had lived in England to make sure I got the language correct.tumblr_nrunr1vW2K1u7wocpo1_500

I based this bad guy on a real person (who was not remotely English) and tried to make the narcissism ring true. After all, he thought he was a talented and famous museum director who could do no wrong. He even justified murder as being something he had to do in the name of science.

I’ve read some books in which the antagonist is just a plain jerk and I never felt the sense that I was seeing what was under his skin. Then there are books that have no villain at all. It’s just the main character battling against a prevailing and unpopular idea. I wouldn’t suggest doing a book this way. You need conflict to really make a book come alive, and without a villain, there’s really not much tension to propel the reader forward.

Right now, I’m working on a book in which the antagonist has just appeared and I am trying mightily to figure out what her motivation is. I’m even considering doing a chapter just on her and her thoughts. I may never use that chapter, but it will help me from letting her become a caricature instead of a character.

Try looking at your own writing and see if the villain, or forces of evil, have a tale of their own to tell. It might be just the thing to liven up a moribund manuscript.













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Dying stars may shine on new life

Fantastic Worlds

Astronomers who have been looking for possibly inhabited planets almost always look in the “Goldilocks” zone of a star. That is the area where the conditions are most Earthlike—temperature enough to host liquid water, which is considered essential for any type of life to grow.

However, new research published in Astrophysical Journal  suggest that they ought to be looking in some unexpected places. There is a better chance that life will show up on planets that are near aging, red giant stars. These stars, which are starting to go through the ending cycles of a sun’s life, have expanded greatly and may be warming planets that had been cold for billions of years.

Astronomer usually look at middle-aged stars like our own, trying to find planets that are in just the right spot for life to develop. But there aren’t many planets that we have found that fit the specifications, so it might make more sense to also look at planets circling “senior” stars. Suns that are about twice the age of our own could be radiating heat out to once-frigid planet, defrosting oceans, and finding new life or old eco-systems that come back to life under the changing conditions.

Right now, nearly two dozen aging stars are within 100 light years of our own solar system.

“I hope that this will actually spark an effort by people who look for planets to also look at these old stars now,” Lisa Kaltnegger, astronomy professor and director of the Carl Sagan Institute, told “Because if you could find signatures of life on such and evolved planet—a de-frozen planet—it could tell you how (life) got started on the surface, and that would be an amazing part of the story.”

After our own sun expands to become a red giant (in a few billion years, so don’t panic), it will incinerate Mercury and Venus and Earth and Mars will be fried wastelands. But Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune may warm up enough to sustain life.

For fantasy and science fiction writers, finding new inhabited planets could spark whole new series of books: the Un-Frozen Worlds. That’s the fun of fiction, every new little quirk that scientists discover can bring all kinds of inspiration to writers.



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A universe full of black holes

Fantastic World

Scientists are discovering that there are far more black holes in space than we ever thought possible. A new study in Nature magazine predicts hundreds of black hole coming into existence each year. These new black holes are visible through the second generation of gravitational wave directors, according to website

When the first colliding black holes were discovered this year, they were discovered by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. The colliding black holes offered proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Now, we are finding that there are colliding black holes happening all over space.


Richard O’Shaughnessy, assistant professor of RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences, told the website “The universe isn’t the same everywhere. Some places produce many more binary black holes than others.”

For the most part black holes are massive stars that collapse into themselves and become negative gravity fields. But pairs of them are extremely rare. However the black holes O’Shaughnessy predicts that we are going to be seeing more and more binary and twinned black holes in the future.

“(We) are not going to see 1,000 black holes like these every year, but many of them will be better and even more exciting because we have a better instrument—better glasses to view them with and better techniques,’ the scientist said.

So, the universe could be filled with black holes. Whether any of these offer any opportunity for time travel is still unanswered. But the more the black holes, the more science fiction will play with the possibilities.

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The Woman Who Became Pharaoh

Fantastic World

Intricately carved stone blocks have been found depicting Queen Hatshepsut on Egypt’s Elephantine Island, far to the south of most Egyptian capitals. They provide insights to the early reign of this formerly over-looked ruler, whom some elements of Egyptian society tried to hide. That’s because Queen Hatshepsut, who was a regent for her nephew Thutmoses III, took on the robes of the pharaoh for herself.

It was more than a little unusual for a woman to serve as pharaoh (Nefertiti worked as a co-ruler with her husband Akhenaten), and probably the public rebelled. But there have been many statues (most broken up and used as fill for other structures) that show Hatshepsut depicted as a woman. The Elephantine sculptures show her as female, which was the way she was depicted early in her reign.

The first female pharaoh ruled from from 1473 B.C. to 1458 B.C. as a female. Later in her reign, the queen was depicted as a male. They even placed the pharaoh’s false beard on her feminine chin. She was one of the most prolific builders of the pharaoh. She erected and renovated many shrines and temples to the gods. Her Memorial temple still draws crowds today. But the smaller building on Elephantine Island shows how widely the planned buildings were.

The Elephantine Island structure was a way station for a ceremonial barque dedicated to the god Khnum.

No one knows what happened to Hatshepsut when she disappeared from history. Some think her jealous nephew had her killed. Certainly he is blamed for defacing her image and royal cartouche throughout Egypt. Still, many departures of Hatshepsut as a man exist throughout Egypt thanks to archeologist and restorers throughout the world.

It goes to show that when you create something marvelous, as Hatshepsut did with her buildings, people are going to remember you male or female.

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Pyramids in Peril


If things weren’t bad enough with the Islamic State or ISIL capturing and torturing captives, and destroying ancient artworks, but now they are blowing up whole buildings.

A new video on social media shows ISIL destroying a 2,500-year-old temple of Nabu, a tribute to the Babylonian god of wisdom.
And get this, the video ends with a threat to blow up the famous Pyramids of Egypt!

The fools in ISIL think that these structures were “built by infidels.” But the so-called infidels didn’t know about Mohammed then, so how can they be blamed? And the craftsmanship that went into building the pyramids is so exacting that even engineers today are not sure how the ancient Egyptians achieved such a craft. I was in Cairo (when it was safe to go) and I have to say the Sphinx and Pyramids simply took my breath away. I was willing to believe that, as some alternative Egyptologists think, that the Sphinx itself was built about 10,000 years ago, when there was plenty of rainwater in that area of the world. The Sphinx has may tell-tale marks of water damage.

But the pyramids are more than just rock-solid buildings; they hold a secret fascination for many people all over the world. What did they mean? What did each room mean? Were they tombs and tombs only? Since a body was never found in the Great Pyramid, there are many questions to be asked.

But if these buildings were suddenly blown up and taken away from the world, would there be a cry of pain heard throughout the globe? Surely the Egyptian government has a sacred duty to keep the pyramids safe from harm. And ISIL must be stopped.Screen-Shot-2016-06-09-at-10.27.44-AM-640x480.png

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To dream, perchance to write

Plenty of people don’t pay any attention to dreams. Dreams to them are nighttime entertainment to ponder a second or two and then be forgotten. Some others take dreams way too seriously and believe that they foretell the future (I’d personally say only one in 500 dreams has anything to say about what we are going to do in the waking world.) Others just forget about dreams the minute they wake up and claim they don’t dream. Psychologists say everyone dreams at night, and these often can be recovered in hypnosis.

Writers who ignore dreams do so at their peril. Because what’s just weird and amusing to most people can be rich fodder for stories, characters, and even plot lines. I go over my dreams when I wake up in the middle of the night, just to see if there is any useable material there. (No, I don’t write them down, and I should, but I’m just too darn tired. I can’t read the handwriting in the morning.) At awakening, I do the same thing and pay special attention when a similar dream seemed to be playing over continuously during the night. Those mean something, even if I’m not sure what.


I long ago got rid of those books that are supposed to explain dreams to you. They explain common symbols that are significant to a wide group of people, but don’t have much to say about my own dreams. I look for similarities to my life, a character who remains memorable long after the dream is over, and, of course, the landscape of dreams—in cosmic, space-like settings, in a house, deep within a cave. All of this can spark a story idea.

I once had an idea for a short story and went to bed imagining the characters, then what their dialog might be, and I gave it a hazy plot as I was drifting off. That germ of a story took off in dreamworld. When I woke up, I had the entire story ready. I got out my computer, started typing—and with just a few revisions—had that short story nailed down in about two hours. I read it over a couple days later and decided to send it out to the little literary magazines that publish these things. Indeed, it was published in a journal called Folio. Since I hadn’t been lucky selling my novel ideas to anyone at this time, this publication meant a lot to me. And it gave me an enhanced appreciation for dreams.

Now when I’m stuck on a plot point, or just can’t make a character interesting enough, I “sleep on it.” And most times it really works. Even if I only get a couple usable sentences from my subconscious, it’s usually enough to send me off into a new and more fulfilling direction.

I’m convinced that not enough writers pay attention to their reveries and they could greatly improve their work if they’d just pay attention to the mind’s night-time wanderings.

I once talked to a writer who said he often pulled all-nighters just to get his word count up.

“No!” I said. “You are sabotaging yourself. You’re probably losing some great ideas by not dreaming, and word counts are meaningless if they really don’t have anything new or daring to say. “ (I’m really against the daily word count method of writing. It makes what should be inspired work feel dull.)

He was a bit shocked and I don’t know if he changed his ways. But I told him all-nighters are for term papers (and he was long beyond that). Sleep is for writers.

I’m happy to report that my work-in-progress is replete with dream material, some of it remembered from long ago, some of it new. And it’s making the writing feel more inventive. The words just flow. Am I keeping it all? Well, when it’s time for the second draft, we’ll see if some of this is extraneous. But right now my best advice to all you fledging writers out there is to turn off the late-night news (it just repeats anyway), get some sack time, and see if you don’t start coming up with some dreamy fiction.


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The Phantom Ponytail

Fantastic World

Back in 1839, some workmen struck a lead box and dug it up. It turned out to be a coffin—for a head of hair, minus the head. At first the workers threw the hair away until some thought it should be examined. The workers were mystified that there was no skull, just hair. Yet the long hair, done up in a plait, was resting on an oak “pillow.” They assumed it was a head of female hair—although hairstyles have changed through the ages and it easily could have been a man’s coif. Because the hair was found at Romsey Abbey in Southhampton, England, many thought it was the hair of an abbess or a saint.

Young Jamie  Cameron, 23, and archeological scientist saw the head of hair when he was a child.

“I thought one day when I’m grown up I might be in a position to be able to try and work out who this person might have been,” he told the BBC. And just so, after studying at Cambridge and Oxford, he is trying to answer that question.

Dressed in a full body suit worn by forensic police officers, Cameron opened the display case at the Abbey, took the hair and cut off a small sample. Then he passed it to a team of archeological  scientists at Oxford’s “Relics Cluster.” They carry out tests on all sorts of ancient objects, including hair.

The scientists put the hair swatch in an oven-like machine for gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Then the respective molecules were shown on a graph.
Dr. Thibault Deviese, a worker at the research lab for archeology, said that it looks like there was pine resin in the hair, which Cameron says may have come from overseas. Radio-carbon dating suggested a time in the mid to late Saxon era, Cameron said.

The result showed that the person almost certainly died between the years 895 and 1045. They also discovered from the proteins in the hair that the person dined on fish.

Many people would like to think it is St. Ethelfaeda, a local saint, said one of the researchers. But test results haven’t revealed much more. Cameron, however, thinks it is possible to do more intricate DNA analysis in the future.

But the question remains: who wore the phantom ponytail?

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Finding friends in a giant crowd

Character Take-Over

When you move, you make new friends. It’s imperative; otherwise, you’ll be shut up in your new place with no human contact. Moving from a house where you’ve spent many years and experienced many memorable events is tough enough. But what happens when you move to another state, to a big city instead of a quiet suburb, and don’t know a soul where you are going? I moved recently, but I’m still in the same basic community I was in three weeks ago. One of my characters has a much more interesting story to tell, having moved from a rugged community near Milwaukee, WI, to a high rise building in bustling Chicago, IL. She’s wrestling the blog away from me as I type….

Well, this is Veronica again, and I am not sure I made the best move of my life or if I really made a complete mess of things. I’m sitting up here in this high rise, looking down on all the little people and tiny cars, feeling 100 miles away from humanity. Just looking down there makes me feel immensely powerful and untouchable at the same time. How do I get those Lilliputian people up to visit me in my new domain. Going down to them means I have nothing to say, no way to share with them as they barrel along the street, late for appointments or hurrying to catch the subway.
I call my friends in Milwaukee and they all say the same thing: “If you have a special interest, join a club.” Oh, sure. I’m interested in reading books, but what am I going to do sit around reading with people? I did check out the Harold Washington Library near me, but there didn’t seem to be anything to do. Only book discussions of books I hadn’t read or didn’t want to read. Things with my late husband Matt were so much  easier. We loved the same type of fiction and nonfiction and together made a book club of two.
But I do like gardening, and I discovered at the Starbucks on the street-level floor of my building that the city lets you rent little plots of land in their community garden program. Y


ou can grow whatever you like, from sweet potatoes to sweet peas. Surely you end up getting to know the gardeners who are in close proximity to you.
The first day I went out to garden, in April, it snowed. I could have laughed. Spring near the Great Lakes is always a dicey proposition. Milwaukee has the same kind of weather. As I got back onto the L to take a ride back out to the South Loop where I live, a man with a soothing voice explained to me that most people didn’t really get going with their gardening until Memorial Day, or sometimes a couple weeks earlier on Mother’s Day. He guessed that I was from out of town and I admitted that I was from Wisconsin.
I asked him how he knew all this, and he just laughed leaning on his shovel (he was just there to till the earth, not plant anything), explaining he’d been doing the community gardens since he was a young man. As we talked, I found out he was an accountant, and that he led walking tours of Chicago’s most unusual sites (“not the usual landmarks”) on various weekends. He said he had a tour coming up and said that I should tag along. He wouldn’t charge me, seeing as how I got caught in an April snow. He had a nice smile. I laughed and looked his card over. He also lived in a high rise, but one of the ones lining the highway to O’Hare.
Tyson. His name was Tyson, and he just put me at east with his whole manner.
As he was disembarking the train, and I faced a long ride to South Loop, he leaned over and said I looked like a scared bird. “Most people in Chicago are friendly. You’ll soon see that.”

Gosh, I really hope he’s right. And I never asked if he was single.

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Dolphins chatter is really language

Fantastic World

We’ve known for years that dolphins are pretty smart. People regard them as intelligent as monkeys, but they move in a deep silent world where we can’t make out their language or understand the many ways they use their sonar projections.

Well, Holli Eskelinen of Dolphins Plus, a research institute in Florida, plus some co-workers from the University of Southern Mississippi have discovered that dolphins not only can work together to solve a problem, but they talk to each other while they are doing it. At the research institute, dolphins were present with a locked canister filled with food. The canister could only be opened by one dolphin pulling one loop and the other doing the same with the other loop.

While dolphins are pretty smart they aren’t often presented with puzzles in the wild, so several of the six porpoises waved off the experiment. However, one pair of dolphins worked together to open 20 of the canisters in as little as 30 seconds. In four other trials, a single dolphin opened the canister on his own, but it involved a  much tricker set of maneuvers  and took longer to execute.

It wasn’t just the fact that the dolphins worked together to get their food that wowed the researchers, it was the fact that they were chattering with each other quite rapidly during the tests. Dolphins tend to make sounds while they are off on their own, but when they are with another dolphin, they tend to make a chattering sound, which is still quite randomly used.

When doing the test, the dolphins who worked together highly increased the amount of chatter and seemed to be directed at the issue of canister opening. The dolphin who opened the canister on his own didn’t chatter.

“This is the first  time that we can say conclusively that dolphin vocalizations were used to solve a cooperative task,” Eskelinen told New Scientist magazine.

“The study clearly shows that dolphins using vocal communication to jointly solve problems, said Leigh Torres, a marine ecologist from Oregon State University. “The results point toward the possibility of a dolphin language that enables team problem solving.

But then we already knew that didn’t we? Flipper wasn’t chattering at his owners tor no reason at all. Too bad we still can’t understand dolphin language. But the day will come, I’m quite sure.

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