C. A. Pack

Musings & Brainstorms & Rants

May 2012

Les Miserables

Luxury Looks on a Budget

I love simple decorating tips that look like they cost a fortune. So when I saw this on Houzz, I thought I’d embed it here so I could share it with you.

The Width of Fashion

I love research and I want to share one of the interesting tidbits I discovered while researching the Casanova segment of The Library of Illumination.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of 18th century women in double-wide gowns that forced them to turn sideways while going through some doors, it’s because the fashion of the day called for panniers. These were oval hoops made of cane, metal or whalebone (baleen) that were attached to women’s waists.


They were the fashion of rich women and were required at royal court until the beginning of the 19th century. Panniers apparently did wonders at camouflaging women’s hips and thighs. But they were considered ridiculous by many men. Is it any wonder?


I love shipping and receiving gadgets via the U.S. Postal Service because it’s convenient, so I nearly fell off my chair this morning when I read that starting May 16th, shipping electronics containing lithium batteries overseas will be banned...just because of a few fires on passenger planesincluding one linked to a 2004 crash.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in recent years, it has actually been less expensive to mail small packages using the USPS. Now, we’ll be forced to foot the bill for private delivery services, like UPS and FedEx.

That means it will cost more to ship items like cameras, cell phones, and iPads—to friends and family overseas, however, not all private companies deliver packages to APO and FPO boxes, so you’ll have to shop around.

The ban may not be permanent, but as it stands right now, the postal service says it will remain in place “until further notice.”

Home Sweet Home

If you like the idea of living in an unusual space, Zillow is featuring such a home in Saranac, NY for $750,000.

It’s a missile silo with all the comforts of home…if you don’t mind living mostly underground. And it has an airplane runway for a driveway. How cool is that?


There’s a lot more to see here.

Paper Prom Dresses

Being a former design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I understand the complexities of making a fitted dress. Needless to say, I was really impressed by the work done by a number of high school students who created newspaper prom dresses out of the Detroit Free Press. Take a look at their work. I’ve attached a link to the video:


The Library of Illumination - The Orb - Chapter Eight

The Library of Illumination - The Orb

Chapter Eight

          “You okay?” Jackson had followed Johanna to the antechamber.
         “It’s not a bomb,” she whispered. “It’s a nuclear power generator that supplies energy to the Library. It has to be charged every five hundred years, and
now is the time. Except, how am I going to charge it, without the authorities going all crazy on me?”
         “Do you know what you’re saying?”
         “Of course!”
         “That five hundred years ago, shortly after Gutenberg came out with the Bible in the display case inside and well before the industrial revolution—that there was a nuclear generator
on earth supplying power to the Library.”
         “I can’t wait to hear you explain that,” he nodded toward the agents, “to those guys.”
         “I guess... I’ll just have to make something up.”
         Jackson picked up a lock of her hair, “What can I do to help?” He looked at her and saw her eyes were riveted on the strand of hair he was holding. He dropped it. Now that they weren’t going to die, she seemed a little more standoffish.
         Johanna remained quiet for so long, Jackson thought she hadn’t heard him. Finally, she looked at him and smiled. “You’ve got to get them out of the main reading room. Lure them down to the basement with the promise of showing them something odd that may be connected to the device.”
         “What am I supposed to show them?”
         “I don’t know. Improvise.”
         “This isn’t some pawnbroker. These guys are feds. They can lock us up. I need to show them
         She pictured an old, clunky instrument gathering dust in a corner. “The Graphophone! Show them the Graphophone.”
         “That thing that you played those recordings on?”
         “That thing’s as old as the hills! Only an idiot would think it’s connected to the orb.”
          “Jackson, the orb is even older than the Graphophone. I need you to do this for me. Besides, they already think we’re incompetent.” She grabbed each of his hands in her own and looked him in the eyes. “They can’t expect you to know what that thing is? It’s way before your time. It would be an honest mistake. And even if they do think you’re an idiot, I would know you’re a hero.” She stretched up and kissed him.
         Jackson felt an electric current, almost as strong as the one he had felt the last time he touched the orb. “Okay,” he sighed. “I’ll be your idiot.”
         Johanna gave him a big smile. “Sooner is better.”
         They walked together to the Information desk, but their smiles faded when they saw the orb spinning wildly. The younger FBI agent was smothering a smoldering piece of paper.
         “Oh my God, what did you do to it?” She spotted what looked like a fishing net lying on the floor.
         “We tried to catch it in the net, and it went ballistic, rotating like that and throwing off sparks.”
         She looked at Jackson. “Now what?”
         He picked up his cue immediately. “I’ll bet you anything that it’s being controlled by that thing I saw down in the basement,” he said excitedly.
         “You’re crazy,” she said.
         Mace pushed past the other agents. “What thing downstairs?”
         “Some kind of really odd thing that I’ve never seen before.”
         “Show us.” The FBI agents, followed by the cops and Dax, paraded down the stairs after Jackson.
         As soon as they were out of sight, Johanna looked up at the orb and said, “Illumination.” The spinning slowed and the orb lowered. “This way.” She walked to the back door. “Outside.” The orb slipped through the door and rose until it sparkled in the light of the sun.

         In the basement, Jackson took officials to see an intricate piece of machinery made up of several brass and nickel rods connected to gears and a handle. One of the rods was fitted with a wax-coated tube. Another one was attached to a free arm with a metal stylus. The contraption sat on a walnut box resting on a rusty treadle frame, similar to the ones used on early sewing machines.
         Mace’s voice echoed off the grey stone walls. “What the hell is that? You brought us down here to look at that piece of junk?”
         Jackson defended himself. “How am I supposed to know what it is? I’ve never seen anything like it before. What if it’s important?”
         “It’s an old recording device,” Dax said, “used to capture the sound of music and voices on wax cylinders.”
         “My great grandfather used to have one of those,” a cop said, rubbing his finger over the brass gears. “My uncle made a mint selling it online.”
         “Forget this,” Mace growled. “We’d better get back upstairs before that thing incinerates us all.”

         While the men were downstairs, Johanna let herself back into the building and quietly closed the door. She retreated into the antechamber to await the agents’ discovery that the orb was gone.
         Salisbury led the way upstairs, but stopped short when he got to the reading room, causing the others to bump into him.
         “What now?” Mace was losing patience.
         “It’s gone!”
          Jackson walked around them. “Johanna!” he yelled.
          She rushed out of the antechamber. “Did you find something?”
         “No. It was some old recording device. Are you okay?”
          She nodded.
          “Where’s the orb?” Mace demanded.
          Johanna looked up at the spot where the orb had been spinning. “What did you do with it?” she asked, feigning ignorance.
          “We were downstairs. You were the one up here with it.”
         “I...I...had to use the... facilities.”
         “The facilities? You didn’t see where it went?”
         “No.” She circled around the Information Desk. She suddenly felt as nervous as her voice sounded, but not for the obvious reason. The big blue generator floated in the sunlight right outside one of the Library windows. If she could see it, so could everyone else.
         “Maybe it’s behind the stacks,” she said, trying to throw them off.
         The men split up and searched the interior of the Library. “Check downstairs,” Mace told Salisbury, “in case that thing followed us down and we missed it. I’ll check the back offices.” He headed toward the antechamber that Johanna had just vacated. One of the cops searched the stacks to the left, while another searched the shelves on the right. Dax took the stairs to the second floor, while the police chief went out the front door to call for backup.
         Johanna’s nerves were stretched to their limit. They hadn’t taken any precautions with the books on the second level or in the antechamber. Those volumes were all enchanted, and she was afraid that Mace or Dax would either open a book unleashing its power, or look out the window and see the orb suspended in mid air behind the Library.
         She picked up the remote control for the backhoe and made sure she pushed the joystick in the process. The backhoe roared to life and rolled into the Library. Even though Johanna was the person who pressed the lever, the movement startled her and she dropped the controller. The joystick hit the floor, making the backhoe change direction. It headed straight for the stacks. “No!” Johanna screamed. She stooped to pick up the controller, but it was too late. The backhoe slammed into a stack causing it to tip over, and each bank of shelves behind it tumbled into the next one, toppling them like dominoes. Books crashed everywhere.
         The cop who had been investigating that section had just rounded the corner of the last stack and wasn’t in direct range of being hit, but his color drained as he witnessed the chaos.
          Jackson came running. “Johanna, are you all right?”
          She nodded.
         Dax rushed down from the second level, still holding one of the books he had found up there. He grabbed the controller away from her. “What are you crazy?”
         “I picked the controller up to put it by the backhoe. I accidentally dropped it and the backhoe went berserk!”
         Everyone reunited to inspect the damage.
         Johanna caught Jackson’s eye and looked out the window. He followed her line of vision and returned her gaze with a half-shrug.
         Mace leaned over and picked up a few books. He placed them on the Information Desk and as he turned away, his eyes came to rest on a blue blur on the other side of the window. “Outside!” he pointed. “I see it!” He started for the front entrance, but Salisbury yelled, “Use the back door. It’s closer.”
         Dax threw down the book he was holding as he ran after them. In an instant, an unshaven, ill-kempt man dressed in rumpled linen breeches and a checked shirt appeared. He stood outside an odd enclosure made up entirely of well-worn sea chests. The handsome trunks were reinforced with iron hardware and leather straps, and were stacked end to end to create a wall. The man stared at Johanna. “Do you speak English?”

          Johanna ignored him. She turned toward the orb. “Delumination.” Then she nodded her head at Daniel Defoe’s most famous character, knowing the shipwrecked man’s look of relief would be short-lived. She grabbed the book off the floor and slammed it shut, hiding it in a drawer behind the Information Desk.
          Outside, officers found nothing. “It must have been a trick of light. Or maybe an airplane passing by,” Salisbury reasoned. “There’s nothing out here.”
          Still, the FBI and the police spent another hour, inspecting the back yard and the surrounding area, before finally admitting the orb was gone.
          Dax finally returned for the remote control and maneuvered the backhoe onto a flatbed truck that was blocking the street.
          “Where do you think it went?” one of the cops asked.
          “Hopefully, back where it came from,” Mace answered.
         They took one last look inside the Library, but conceded the device had evaporated into thin air. The parade of government vehicles departed, and people who had gathered hoping for a spectacle, returned to their mundane lives.

         Johanna secured the front door lock before plopping down on the couch.
         “Where do you think it went?” Jackson asked.
         “Wherever it was before it first appeared.”
         “This may be off-topic, but I have to ask, who was that grungy looking guy with all the trunks?”
         “You saw that?”
         “Do you think the others did?”
         “No. They were too focused on the orb.”
         Johanna relaxed. “
Robinson Crusoe.”
         Jackson smirked. “Did he think you were going to rescue him?”
         “We didn’t get that well-acquainted. I was too concerned about the orb.”
         Jackson sat down next to her. “I sure hope its power cell had time to re-charge.”
         “Of course it did, can’t you tell?
         “No. How would I be able to tell?”
         “Think about it.”
         “I’d rather think about you.” He rubbed her arm and pointed out the goose bumps that puckered her skin. “I’m definitely having an affect on you.”
         She laughed. “I hate to disappoint you, but I have goose bumps, because I’m freezing. The orb obviously controls the air conditioning. Better luck next time.”

         That was fine with Jackson. As long as there was a next time to look forward to, he was willing to keep trying.

The End

The Library of Illumination - The Orb - Chapter Seven

The Library of Illumination - The Orb

Chapter Seven

          Johanna unwrapped a kiss to the rumble of the backhoe making its way up the hastily built ramp. By the time she swallowed the chocolate, the machine was coming through the inner lobby door. “No!” she choked.
          Dax, the backhoe operator, let go of the joystick on the remote control as Johanna pulled at one of the Persian carpets.
          “Jackson, help me get this rug out of the way before it gets ruined.” The two of them dragged the cumbersome carpet into a corner.
          “Sweetheart,” Dax shouted, “If that thing is what we think it is, the carpet is the least of your worries.”
          Johanna blushed, but didn’t care. Until they were all blown to kingdom come, she would do whatever she could to protect the Library and everything in it.
          “Get everyone out of here,” the backhoe operator told officials. The last thing I need is another ridiculous interruption.”
          Mace walked over to Johanna and Jackson and yanked his thumb toward the door as if he were hitchhiking. “Out.”
          “I need my bag,” Johanna said, rushing toward the antechamber. She saw Mal’s diary and stuffed it in her purse.
          Jackson waited for her, and they walked out together.
          The temperature outside the Library was stifling. Johanna wondered if an egg would sizzle on the sidewalk? The entire week had been unseasonably hot and humid, but she had forgotten all about the heat once the big, blue orb appeared. Now, with the sun beating down on her, she could feel the sweat beading on her upper lip.
          Jackson took her hand.
          “What are you doing?”
          “If I’m going to die, like I said before, I want to die happy.” He leaned in and brushed her lips with his own. When Johanna didn’t pull away from him, he wrapped his arm around her, and pulled her closer.”
          “Hey, hot lips, Miss Library Curator, we need you.”
          Agent Salisbury’s sarcasm brought her back to reality. She pushed Jackson away. “What is it?”
          “How do you open that door? Our man inside removed the chair that was propping it open, so it wouldn’t get hit by the backhoe. The wall slid shut and now we can’t get inside. And apparently, he can’t get out.”
          Johanna tried to enter the lobby. All she needed to do was push a button and say, “Illumination,” but the backhoe was in her way. She tried to climb over it, but it effectively blocked her path. “You’ve got to move this thing out of the way.”
          “Call Dax and tell him to reverse the backhoe, so the little lady can get into the lobby.” Mace ordered.
          “I can’t reach him. He’s not responding.”
          “What do you mean you can’t reach him? He’s just on the other side of the door.”
          “He’s not answering on the two-way radio or his mobile. Do you think the orb is causing interference?”
          “How the hell do I know?” The heat and the tension was starting to wear down the professional resolve of the older FBI agent.
          “I can let you in the back.” Johanna opened her bag and searched for her keys, but they weren’t there. She envisioned the last time she had used them and remembered dropping them in her desk drawer. “Except I don’t have my keys.”
          “Right. National security is thwarted, all because some little girl who somehow got to be Library curator, forgot her keys.” The agent’s voice mixed scorn with frustration.
          Jackson studied Johanna before replying. “I have a key to the back.”
          “But you can only get him inside the gate,” she reasoned. “How are you going to get him inside the Library?”
          Jackson took a deep breath. “I have a key to the back door.” He avoided looking at Johanna, shifting his gaze to Salisbury. “Follow me.”
          The agent trailed Jackson around the block and through the ally. At the back door, Jackson pulled out a brand new key and unlocked it.
          “Your girlfriend didn’t know you have that key, did she?”
          Jackson shrugged. “She does now.”
          Inside, the frustrated robotics operator was banging his fist against the front door. He turned when he heard their voices. “Thank God. I thought I’d never get out of here. My radio doesn’t work and neither does my mobile. I thought I was going to be trapped in here with that thing until the end.”
          “You’ve got to reverse the backhoe, so the girl can open the front door.”
          “I can open the door from in here.” Jackson pressed the ivory and brass button on the wall. “Illumination.”
          The door slid open to cheers from the people outside. “Now for this...” Salisbury began. He stopped mid-sentence as the large blue sphere rose ten feet off the floor, and floated in mid air above the Information Desk.
          “Are you going to move this backhoe or what?” the older agent called before noticing that the status quo had changed. He followed his partner’s gaze. A guttural noise escaped his throat, when he spotted the orb hovering overhead.

          Outside, Johanna sat on the curb, desolate over the fate of the Library that she had failed to protect. She dug through her bag and found Mal’s diary. She looked around to make sure no one was watching her, before she nonchalantly got up and walked into the Library lobby. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw the sphere floating above everyone’s head. She claimed a small piece of the floor that wasn’t blocked by the backhoe and sat down. She held Mal’s diary open in her hands and whispered, “nuclear device.” It brought her to Mal’s recollection of the Trinity Project and nuclear testing in White Sands, New Mexico. It outlined the devastation following the use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It included the meltdowns at nuclear power plants in Chernobyl, Russia and Fukushima, Japan. But aside from a few other Cold War and Middle East references, there was nothing else.
          Johanna leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes. Mal, why aren’t you here to tell me what the big blue ball is?
          The pages shuffled. Johanna looked down at the diary, which now appeared to be an inch thicker. It lay open on one of the last pages.
          She felt her pulse quicken when she noticed a picture of the orb. She devoured the words written below the image. The device was a special reactor, separate from the electrical grid that provided energy for homes and businesses in the area. The orb powered only the Library, and nothing else. It had been that way since before Mal arrived, but the former curator had noted that the reactor showed signs of failing and that he needed to do something about it. Suddenly, the handwriting in the diary changed to printed instructions. Number three advised against touching the device because it was protected by a force field. No kidding! Number six indicated the sphere would rise as it lost power. It’s getting weaker! Suddenly, she didn’t feel so bad. Number eight advised moving the reactor into direct sunlight every half-millennium to recharge it. How do I do that if there’s a force field? She found her answer in number ten, which said the word “Illumination” – spoken only by the current curator would give that person voice control to move the object. And number twelve said once the object had been charged, the word “Delumination” would remove the reactor from sight. Number thirteen, however, chilled Johanna to the bone. It said under no circumstances should force be used against the generator, or a nuclear chain reaction could occur.
          Johanna scrambled to her feet, and climbed over the backhoe. Inside, Salisbury was talking about catching the orb in a net.
          “Gentlemen,” Johanna cried out, “False alarm! We don’t need your assistance anymore. You can go.”
          Mace spun around and glared at her. “I’m calling the shots here, and this is not a false alarm. I’m not leaving without that thing!”
          Johanna tensed. How am I supposed to get out of this she wondered? When the group turned back to observe the orb, she walked to the antechamber and opened the diary again. Mal, you’ve got to tell me, is there any way to make them forget why they’re here? She waited for the pages to flutter, but they remained still.

Look At Me

I’m usually not one to post comments on LinkedIn group discussions, but someone asked what to do with the masses of research that novelists seem to accumulate on the Historical Novels group, and I mentioned how I like to blog any research that doesn’t make it into my books.

I guess I did good because it turns out - I’m a top influencer.


I know, I didn’t do as well as Elizabeth Gates, but to see my name up there at all - is kind of a minor miracle.

So here I am shouting “Look at me! I’m up to my ankles in social media.”