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My friends call me Elldee. And breaking the half century mark has been highly motivating: happy wife, mother, writer, teacher, day dreamer.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Advice: Increase creativity with meditation

take ten and monitor some meditation
There are so many recommended activities for writers to increase their creativity.  Join a writer's group, take a writing class, get feedback from fellow writers and read the works of great writers.  Here's one more: meditate.

According to an article at Science Daily, Lorenza Colzato and her colleagues at Leiden University in the Netherlands have found that a specific type of meditation increases creativity better than other variants.  In the article "Meditation Makes You More Creative," the form of meditation calling for open monitoring offers more freedom in the generation of ideas which would seem to be a benefit to writing creatively.

In other words, rather then focusing on a specific object, idea or concern, the writer free thinks, monitoring what comes to mind but not forcing or focusing on anything particular.  (Think of mental free writing practices or stream of consciousness.) So if I am having difficulties with a scene, I could lay down and just let creative ideas enter without prelude or pressure, and by observing the different thoughts that entered my mind, I would come up with a variety of ideas which ultimately lead me to a solution to my writing problem.

Colzato compared this technique to Focused Attention meditation which does maintain concentration on an object or idea with the individual seeking just one solution as opposed to several possible or combined solutions.  Focused Attention meditation according to her study, and a few others I have read about, does not invite greater creativity.

The broader meditation style of open monitoring appeared to provide greater creativity because it was more receptive to all possible solutions and subconscious invention.  Colzato's study examined particular brain reactions and abilities to problem solve.

Colzato's study was briefly explained in Science Daily, but it sounded worth trying, as it coincided with what I often do to prepare for writing.  I just lie down and see what rises to the surface ready to be put into words in my novel.  Sometimes what rises belongs to another story I am working on which may not be my original intent for that day, but if that is what is rising to the surface, who am I to argue, which explains why I have numerous short stories and another novel unrelated to my series drafted out.

Another article which explains three meditation styles, two which were studied by Colzato gives a brief description of each.  I found the article at The General Thinking blog. "The Buddhist Brain" does not just list descriptions but also supplies a link to the talk given by Andy Puddicombe  and posted at TED Blog about meditating just ten minutes a day.  I found it equally interesting and motivating.

I was looking at what aids creative thinking and ended up reading several articles on meditation.  This is a small sampling of what I learned and thought useful to writing, and it is worth practicing if it brings about greater creativity, not to mention a healthier mental outlook, heart and brain.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Losing my mother one precious memory at a time.

Casting light on the darker moments.
The past year has been one of a calculated effort to connect with my mother as she slips into dementia.  Two years ago she was a vibrant business woman, respected and successful.  I left a message on her phone each Wednesday night, my "Wednesday Love Call," and then I would call on the only day she wasn't at work, Sunday, and we would chat about our varied experiences that week.

When I was a teenager coming home after a really bad day of teenhood, I would sit down with my mother and spill out my troubles, but they always made us laugh.
  •  "Mom, I dropped a book from my locker today, and it landed on the head of the cutest boy in school. His locker is below mine, which is ridiculous.  I'm 5'2" and he's 6'2"."
  • "Mom, the college prep class I'm taking is weird.  Even the teacher looked at me like I must be lost to be in her class.  It's been more than a week, and I feel I am trying to break in on a clique of beach girls. I want to be at the beach, but I am not crazy about the company."  
  • "Mom, that teacher asked me if I had read The Source by Michener.  I want to write my analysis essay on it, and she doesn't even believe I have read the book I have chosen."
As an adult, these phone calls always served to make life something I could laugh at.  Together we made the perfect funny bone.
  • Mom, I just spent the morning cleaning up dog vomit which my husband made sure to point out to me just before I stepped in it.  He gets up at least an hour before I do. It was very cold through the paper towels.  Do you know he was very annoyed about the affect of stomach acid on linoleum?
  • Mom, my students were particularly energetic yesterday.  I made them get out of their seats and do jumping jacks, and then we started on the lesson.  Today they wanted to know if we would be exercising again.  Shucks, we do exercises every day: grammar.
  • Mom, your granddaughter asked me if I would still love her when she is a big girl using the potty instead of pullups.  The doctor was right: she definitely was potty trained before four years old.  All it took was telling her I would love her every time she grew bigger.  Instant potty trained child.  Really this is prime information every parent needs and no one shared.
These days she gets caught in loops, repeating herself.  I tell her about the weather over and over like she hasn't already asked me three times.  I call prepared to tell her a story that will make her laugh, because she knows there is something very wrong with her memory and that unspoken knowledge ensnares her in fits of weeping if I don't keep her focused on something humorous.
  • Mom, she's a junior now and wants to be an engineer.  Oh, she's wanted to do that since she was about twelve.  Her birthday is in June.  But I've been telling her she is not allowed to grow any more since she was about seven, and I think this time she is listening to me.
  • No, Mom, even if you moved half way here it would still be a long way to walk.  About four hundred miles, which would leave your feet a bit sore.  And then there's that long walk back.
  • Well, Mom, occasionally the grading does get me down, but when it's 11:50 PM and I read an essay in which the student has written, "Marlowe was really confused when he found the book written in cypher, and he thought there was a spy trying to steal the ivory, but it was really a skinny Russian guy wearing patched clothes.  What was Conrad thinking when he wrote that?" Of course, then I have to explain the book to her, and by the time I am done, we've had quite a chuckle.
This woman I call my mother is my father's last wife, so she didn't give birth to me.  But she and I have always had a favorite "you say, I say" -- "I almost remember giving birth to you."  "Mom, I almost remember it, too."

This could be me thirty years from now, and if I don't write these books now, they will never be written.  Whatever the dream, don't let it die with you.  Don't let it become lost one day in the thunderous shift of a mind. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Blog Hop!

Hitting the keys
QUESTIONS FOR DECEMBER TWITTER BLOG HOP: I was tagged by E. M. Wynter!
What are you writing?
I am writing my third novel in a time travel series called Students of Jump.  The first book In Times Passed chronicled the activities of Brent Garrett as he learned not just how to travel in time but how to manage his own life on terms he can accept and even find joy in.  He comes from a time in the not-so-distant future and a society that is separate from most of earth's population.  He has lived under the daunting expectation that he is going to invent something or somehow bring about amazing change in his society.  Jumping into the past was his way of escaping this expectation, but he learns life always carries expectations hard to live up to. The second book No-time Like the Present follows his daughter Misty Meredith who feels Brent Garrett owes her some explanations.  Misty has her own conflicts to resolve and finds jumping through time opens opportunities but cannot by itself fix anything.  But the work I am writing now, Next Time We Meet, involves two characters, Mick and Emily Jenkins, and their search for a sense of belonging in a time ahead of their own. That is the simple premise: it's the rest that makes it complicated working with these two.

How does this differ from your last work?
I thought the other two novels were difficult because they had two timelines to deal with and a variety of conflicts between characters.  But this book included two demanding additions: one is the fully-developed relationship of Mick and Emily. They are a couple who have lived into their senior years gaining experience, a definite opinion about life and family, and a tight relationship.  The experience they bring feels nearly useless to them as it all occurred in another time, their family connections suffered gaps due to the jumps in time taken by the various members, and their opinions don't always apply to current conditions.  Their relationship is the only safety line they have.  Mick appears to be the dominant character, but he has functioned for so long with Emily in his life, there is little he does that is not influenced by their relationship, and that brings its own conflicts.  Emily is the hand that carries Mick's world, and he is the force that keeps them moving forward.  But I love writing about relationships so this has been a challenge but not a difficult one.  The addition of what Mick decides is their best means of becoming part of the family life in the twenty-third century is what creates all the struggle for me as a writer.

It turns out I am writing a science fiction, time travel, mystery novel.  Why didn't I see that coming?  Mick, with Emily's agreement, has chosen to spend their time figuring out what caused the unexplained disappearance of Renwick Cray during a simple hop home from Old Garrett Complex.  This occupation is meant to help them become part of the society they have joined.  Emily christens them time-hop detectives, and the two travel about in time following clues as they search for Renwick.  Facing fears and realizing it isn't as easy as just showing up in a new time is a challenge to the characters, but for me it means a lot of research into the events and locations they are searching as well as keeping their actions logical and progressive as they gain understanding of what actually happened to Renwick.  Hints I left in book 2 effect the decisions and actions, whether sensible or illogical, that occur in book 3. Technology's limits and advances affect the action as well, and Mick and Emily are learning how to work these new technologies that in many cases are new to everyone in the extended family that makes up the Students of Jump.  That is the main difference, making sure all the clues ultimately lineup without seeming obvious, yet I want the reader to look back and see how the confusion was natural while the final result was also logical.

Why do you write?
To see what is going to happen next, of course.   I don't think there is an actual reason behind why I write, not one that is a conscious decision, anyway.  I mean, I didn't decide to breath, but I do breath every day, rhythmically and regularly.  I do decide to eat, but if I don't, my body won't last long.  For me writing is a combination of those two normal human conditions.  I write because that is what my mind does with the thoughts that pass through it, and if I didn't write, something very destructive would happen to my mind; something would most definitely die.  I write because I must, because I feel great when I do it, and I really need to know what is going to happen next.

What is your writing process? 
That is a bit tricky to answer.  I came up with the idea of the first book when I worked as an assembly line worker many, many years ago.  I was listening to the song by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, "I Just Dropped In" and started thinking.  Following the storyline as it played out in my mind kept me from going nutty in the brain-stupefying atmosphere of repetitive work.  I must have written that book in my head at least three times before I finally wrote it down.  The second book just followed the first, like a seedling dropped from the parent into nourishing ground.  Now this third book, I used several programs to assist in developing, though I wrote the first draft of it shortly after finishing the rough draft of book 2.  I used the brainstorming program Freemind to organize the various conflicts, Microsoft OneNote to organize my research and more recently the online program Padlet (see post on selecting timeline program) to keep track of the timeline as Mick and Em jump through time looking for Renwick or his kidnapper.  And all of this ends up in yWriter5 after being drafted in Microsoft Word.

When I get stuck, I lie down and think about where the characters are currently and what they are dealing with.  I don't get to lay there long, five to fifteen minutes later, I have to get up and write what must be gotten down.  I wake up in the night or find I can't get to sleep when the two of them are struggling with the facts about Renwick's disappearance not fitting together, and sometimes I realize I missed an important hint left in a previous book.  Sometimes I work the hint in as a bit of information Mick and Em overlooked, and sometimes I redraft the scene to work more logically with actual events.  I use outlines, hand-written notes, recorded voice memos, and other means of keeping track of my ideas and plans for a written piece.  I avoid telling anyone my ideas so my writing doesn't lose momentum.  I get feedback after a strong draft is written.  I am inconsistent when it comes to process, but demanding about outcome.  I don't care how my characters get there, just that they get there.

My books at Amazon.com
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Twitter handle:  @LDarbyGibbs
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When dogs make us look good, it's because they are great

Cagney looking good at making us look good.
There are days when my students make me look good.  They don't know they are being observed or that I would love it if they were interested, busy on their assignments, immersed in learning and my principal is watching.  But there are days when all of them seem to be in sync with me and each other.  When that happens, they make me look, they make themselves look good.  But this post is actually not about my students. It is about my dogs.

My husband, daughter and I went to visit my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and we took the girls (our Labradors) with us.  And they made us look really good.  Put two big dogs with one little dog (the resident canine) in a small house with five people, two who are not too steady on their feet.  Just imagine it a minute, and you'll understand why we always put the girls in the enclosed porch area.  My husband's parents feel bad that the girls are out of the family society for the few days we are there. But we always fear that unexpected movement and an elderly person falling. However, this time, we let them talk us into allowing the girls to stay in the house just for the first few hours of our visit.

Cagney and Lacey never ended up in the enclosed porch.  They were tranquil (probably hoping we would not notice we forgot to put them out of the house.)  They moved slowly when slow people came near.  They sat along side a slender leg, looked up and backwards at the sitting senior and then lay their heads gently, still and calm to received kind pats.  They wagged considerately (only took out two leaves from the ivy by the door).

They made us look good.  They made themselves look good.  I don't think they'll be spending any time in the enclosed porch ever again.

#dogs #family

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Created luck has continually amazed me even though I orchestrate it

Many times in my life I have decided it was time to do something and began looking into the steps to make it happen.  And there in the search for how or when or where is the answer as though it was just lurking there waiting for that moment when I looked up.

This happened quite recently when my husband and I decided it was time to replace our old van with a newer vehicle.  (Note: we never buy brand new).  It is not a whim that magically appears in our minds and bang it all comes together.  If you have heard of the word "Grok," created by Grandmaster Heinlein, you'll understand what I mean.  It takes pulling all the threads together and understanding the moment.  Those kinds of epiphanies happen to me on a regular basis -- or rather when I am ready, it happens.

So this past weekend my husband and I went to go look at a vehicle.  We had some cash with us and the title to that old van.  We decided before we went out what our limit was and that our plan was to drive out with the van but return driving another vehicle, newer, stronger, far less warn out (though our van was well cared for, just tired).  Suffice it to say we came home with the Suburban we had left to check out and paid exactly what we planned.

This wasn't a miracle or magic or luck.  My husband searched the local used car dealers and local owner sellers looking for exactly what we wanted.  He warned me two months ago to start siphoning out enough money from our regular checking account to result in a specific sum in the savings account.  I did my part; he did his.  He learned what we could buy for the funds we had, we discussed how far we could push our finances, and I saved and together we avoided purchasing unnecessary things.  Then he searched for a Suburban that fit all the parameters.  So when we headed out the door that day with cash and title in hand and directions to a specific dealer, we had done all the prep we could.  What didn't work out?  Well, we didn't get the color we would have preferred, and it didn't get forty miles to the gallon.  Somethings you have to accept (color) and somethings well, dream big, but don't be unreasonable.  It gets better mileage than the old van, and it will pull heavy things when we decide to pull heavy things.

What does this have to do with writing?   Do your homework. Write, plot, develop, know what you are doing in your story and look into all the possible ways that you can make your dream come true: Smashwords, Amazon, NaNoWriMo, etc.  Do your job and when you have it all together, head out the door with your plan in hand and follow it.  Don't rush into things you are not ready for, but don't sit about hoping it will just happen for you.  All things take time, whether we are taking note of the passage of the moments or not.  So whatever you are desiring:  prepare, plan and proceed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Semicolons and colons: easier than you think

Write down these simple rules.
Colons and semicolons are probably the most misused punctuation there is, and it is not because they are complicated.  The rules for the semicolon and the colon are both few and easy.

To make things simple, let's establish some terminology.  Sentences are words placed in sequence with a capital letter at the start, end punctuation at the end and a complete thought in the middle.
Examples:  
I cried.
I cried buckets of tears that flowed down my face, dropping off my chin in rhythmic pats on my slacks.
Before I cried buckets of tears that flowed down my face, dropping off my chin in rhythmic pats on my slacks, I visited my father's grave.

All of these are sentences.  Each one of them contains an independent clause which can stand alone.  I have underlined the part of the sentence which is the independent clause.

So when I refer to a sentence, I mean the whole kit and caboodle.   When I say independent clause, I mean the part that has a complete thought and can stand alone.  Now let's talk about these rules.

SEMICOLON:

Rule #1
Use semicolons to combine independent clauses that are highly related.
Examples:
Dogs are the ideal companion; they will forgive their owner just about anything.

Mondays I remind myself the week will be over before I know it; I don't always believe myself.

Rule #2
Use semicolons in lists of items that have internal punctuation.

First I will show you a list with the standard "items in a series" comma in use.
Example: I dropped by my neighbor to ask for two cups of sugar, two cups of flour and a pat of butter.

Look what happens when I add some details to my list.

Example with internal punctuation: I dropped by my neighbor to ask for two cups of sugar, one brown, one white; two cups of flour; and a pat of butter.
I needed the semicolons because I added information regarding the sugar that needed to be separated from the flour.  The information added would have become part of a list of items, and a rather unclear list at that.  It only takes one addition of internal punctuation to require the semicolons to be present, and they follow through the entire list.

Rule #3
Use semicolons when combining clauses with conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions.
Examples:
Conjunctive adverb - I intended to get home before my husband to organize his birthday party; however, he left work early.
Transitional expression - My husband thought I was planning a surprise birthday party; on the contrary, I was much too exhausted to contemplate the endeavor.

COLON:

Rule #1
Use a colon after independent clauses when what follows is an appositive, a list or a quotation.
Examples
Appositive - There are days of the week when I can't wait for the weekend: Monday thru Friday.
List style #1 - There are three things I must remember to buy: potatoes, red food coloring, and a bandana.
List style #2 - You must bring the following to the senior parade float party: potatoes, red food coloring and a bandana.  (The word "following" is a clear hint.)
Quotation - Who hasn't heard of Hamlet's famous quote: "To be or not to be, that is the question"?

Rule #2
Use a colon after independent clauses when what follows is an explanation or summary.
Examples
My brother can be such a ninny: he told my new boyfriend I was allergic to flowers when I am actually only allergic to carnations, and he brought me roses.

Rule #3
Use a colon after the salutation in a formal letter.
So not for the following:
Dear Aunt Sally,

But after the following:
Dear Mayor Sindsey:
How bad is that?  Three simple rules each.  The key is knowing when you are dealing with independent clauses, which I underlined in each sentence.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Things my dogs do that make me laugh


Life with the ladies
  • Lacey (the chocolate) jerks up, ears alert and forward, nose twitching.  Cagney  (the blonde) runs through the kitchen with deep questioning growls.  How could she even know what the other one was doing in the living room.  And nothing was happening anywhere.
  • My husband is out and will be gone for several hours with no definite time of return.  Three minutes before he pulls into the driveway, my dogs start running from window to window, pushing the blinds aside in front of the sliding glass door and all around noisily announcing that he will be home soon.  They don't stop until he has walked inside the door.  How will I know if there is going to be an earthquake if this is how they behave when he just pulls into town?
  • When Lacey wants to go out, she sits next to me, taps me with her paw, and when I look, she leaps straight into the air, flips both rear feet high up on one side and lands like a bucking bronco.  No matter how many times I ask if she has to go out, she will just sit and look at me like I am deranged.  Apparently, she does not believe in repeating herself.
  • Outside Cagney is the aggressive dog.  Inside Lacey takes control.  What did they do, draw up a contract?
  • Cagney runs around the backyard with her bottom tucked nearly beneath her, tail practically non-existent, a regular golden blur.  Lacey races the same track, legs flying out to her sides, tail out like a flag tail deer, ears flapping and beats Cagney to the door.  How?  She has so much wind drag she should be taking air and circling the yard.
  • When asked if she wants more water, Lacey gives me her paw.  Cagney shoves her nose in her water dish. If I ask Lacey again if she wants water, Cagney will put her nose in Lacey's water dish.
  • Lacey sleeps with my daughter.  In the morning, if my husband or I try to let her out, she will not exit the bedroom until our daughter climbs out of bed and walks her into the hallway.
  • We know who pooped in the wrong place because one stays in one place and the other walks around leaving a trail.
  • Lacey will not use the back steps, even if it means taking a header every time she goes out and must leap from the doorway to the brick pathway below, avoiding the three steps down that would be so much safer.
  • My daughter's bedroom is up a flight of thirteen steps.  It took Lacey six months before she learned to go down the stairs without ending up a ball of tumbled dog at the base.  Going up was no big deal, even exciting, but heading down in the morning, well, it was a good thing Cagney was willing to catch her at the bottom.
  • Cagney gets the greatest kick out of my husband. All he has to do is grab the back of the dining room chair and lean it toward him.  Cagney will spring to her feet and go into attack mode, a wide-mouthed grin spread across her long snout.  Don't get me started with how she reacts if he pulls his t-shirt up to cover his face below the eyes.
  • When Cagney pretends my husband is a burglar (t-shirt collar pulled up to his eyes), Lacey will nip at Cagney's feet until she agrees to play with her instead of him.
So what are your four-pawed friends doing to keep you content and entertained?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What has reading done for me?

I read a post by Neil Gaiman recently about the power of reading. And he covered a lot of ground, largely about how reading could  improve society and reduce society's ills.  What he had to say about the benefits of reading resonated with me not just because I am a teacher and a writer but because I have been a reader since I was about eight years old.  I was behind in reading skill as a first and second grader due to all the moving around my family did.  I seemed to keep missing important aspects of reading and math.  I was enrolled in a school in Massachusetts and had the good fortune of having an alert teacher who requested I be given a reading evaluation.

Soon I was receiving reading assistance.  Over the course of a year, I moved from a non-reader to a third grade reader.  When I advanced to third grade, I was already reading above my grade level.  I have two wonderful ladies to thank for my love of reading and for the benefits that came with their efforts.

  • Reading became my safety zone.  Parents argue, and kids don't like to witness what can appear to be the end of family.  For me, it was especially worrisome as I had already seen my father go through one divorce, and it wasn't his first.  I could open a book, and whatever was going on around me faded out of my awareness while what was in the book became all I could see, hear, feel.  
  • Reading increased my vocabulary.  Words I didn't know I learned by context.  It was a challenge to me to stop in the middle of my reading and reread a passage until I felt certain I had a good guess about a word's meaning.  I was a vocabulary Sherlock, digging through all the clues in preceding and following sentences, reviewing the personality of the character speaking, the events around the usage, the tone of the narrator.  Reading made me alert to body language, to the tones of my parents when they spoke to me, the tricks my sister tried to play on me thinking because she was older, I could be fooled.  I learned to look closely at and listen to the people around me.
  • Reading introduced me to figurative language.  I began a personal career of explaining everything with metaphor and simile.  Reading made me a better communicator because I was always looking for a more interesting and clearer way of saying things.
  • Reading made me more tolerant of difference.  I started out reading animals stories.  I loved to read about leopards, otters and beavers.  When I was eleven I entered a wonderful library in the town we had moved to.  I decided to start at the letter A in the juvenile section and read to the end.  It turned out I was in the science fiction shelves of that section.  By the time I had hit Poul Anderson, I was hooked.  A person can't read about aliens without gaining a strong sense of appreciation for the unique, unusual, adventurous.  Burroughs, Bradbury, Carter and Heinlein could drown out anything:  a scary movie, my brother's annoying yelling, parents arguing, anything.
  • Reading gave me a love for science.  For several years I wanted to be an astronaut.  I took high level math, physics, biology, chemistry, and tons of English classes, whether the classes were required or not (when I was in school, few were required.  I could have graduated my junior year).
  • Reading gave me a strong bladder.  "What?" you say.  Well, I never wanted to stop reading.  I would stay until I was going to have an accident then run to the bathroom.  Fortunately, I was one of several children and my father had a good  job.  There were always three bathrooms in the house.  One was bound to be empty when I could stand to wait no more.  Hunger was no different.  I sat reading until I was weak or my mother came looking for me.
  • Reading made me imaginative.  I could plan out a blueberry picking adventure complete with back story requiring we (we being my friends who were not in the least imaginary) locate the requisite amount to save the town from certain death due to a disease cured by a handful of blueberries.  And if they were not to be found, well acorns, strawberries, gooseberries, maple tree seeds that spin like helicopters would make an acceptable substitute cure requiring different procedures but not to worry, there was a reason for everything.
  • Reading helped me decompress (still does): stress, difficult decisions, upcoming events, a bad day, and expected bad day to come, cramps, etc.  Reading helped me relax.  A good book will redirect my brain so I can stop thinking a million things and go to sleep.  And reading can wake me up, too.
  • Reading helps me be a better teacher because of all the things above.  I get excited about the written word.  There are days when my students get excited about it, too.  I can come up with a variety of ways to explain things, I get along with anybody, I can discuss most topics at least generally, some to great detail which helps when I have students not in the least bit interested in grammar and writing, and having a strong bladder can be especially helpful when teaching five periods in a row and the restroom is way down at the other end of the hall.
  • It hasn't hurt my writing none either.
What has reading done for you?  I am sure there are many benefits I have left out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Inspiration comes in many forms, mine required a cabinet

cream in pink and royal blue
So I am sitting at my kitchen table wondering what I am going to write this post about and feeling very uninspired.  I looked around, and well, inspiration was sitting right before my eyes. Maybe I had to look a little to the left, but it was right there.

A couple of years after my father passed away, my step-mother (essentially the only mother I have had) decided it was time to distribute the family china.  I sat there and realized I had been married nearly thirty years and not only did I not have a china cabinet, but I also owned just one piece of china, a nested tea set given to me by my Swedish grandmother for a wedding gift. 

My parents had two china cabinets and four sets of china from having both been married previously.  Additionally, they had each received sets from their own parents.  Suddenly I had a tea set and a 10-piece place setting plus various accouterments; the place settings were my mother's (she died when I was a baby), and the other was my grandmother's which had been given to my father when she was scaling down her quite sizable china collection. I had gone a long time without china and wasn't sure what I would do with them, perhaps leave them wrapped in tissue inside sturdy boxes.

My husband's solution was to take me looking for an appropriate display cabinet.  Nothing seemed to fit our taste nor our pocketbook which was not willing to stretch far for something we on our own would not have purchased.  We went to used furniture shops and then finally an antique shop where we found the right cabinet.  Once it and the china were brought together and placed in my kitchen, I learned what my unexpected possession was for.

pink ribbons and roses
Each day I have sat at the table drafting my second, third and now fourth book.  When I get stumped, I glance over at that piece of furniture, then through the curved glass doors of the hutch.  Those delicate cups, soup bowls and teapots always have something to share with me.  They provide glimpses of my mother and father as they selected the roses and ribbon pattern in cream and pink.  I imagine my father nodding at the one that made my mother's eyes fill with light.

Japanese tea
Or the tea set of Japanese porcelain glints beneath the shadow of the wood lattice. My grandmother was a solid Swedish lady who loved to make braided rugs, crochet, and knit.  Maybe it was the hand-painted cherry blossoms and ladies in kimonos which held her appreciation.  My grandfather died the year my husband and I married, and when she came to visit, she had her first opportunity to meet him.  She had suffered a stroke many years earlier and still struggled to speak.  I remember her puzzling out the means to say, "Good man," and she squeezed my hand.   Then from a box she pulled out that nested tea set and showed me how to properly display it.

My books don't have any tea sets in them, but they are filled with family love that is as delicate as china teacups bearing beautiful ladies in green kimonos and sweet bud roses on pink ribbons.

And that's my post.  Inspiration comes in many forms, and it is amazingly personal and can take up considerable room in one's life or kitchen.  What inspires you?  What gives you glimpses of the muse that feeds your writing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My life with dogs

Lovey - ready for any adventure

I have had several dogs in my life, all lovely ladies. Each has given me years of devotion, enthusiastic support, and a warm sympathetic shoulder.  This post honors the girls no longer with us along with the two that currently make our lives a delight.
KELLY: a standard red dachshund my father acquired at the local pound in Costa Mesa, California.  She was already grown and well-seasoned with experience around children or she would have run away upon entering a house with five kids under the age of seven and a quite settled cat.  All of us, including the cat, formed an instant attachment to her.  She endured being wrapped up to look like she was wearing a babushka, aka my baby brother's rather rangy blanket; carried about by my sisters and I with an arm wrapped about her upper torso and the rest dangling down to our knees; and numerous moves about the country (CA to MN to CA to PA to MA to NJ) all in less than four years). My strongest memory of that little lady occurred during a thunderstorm when I was eight.  The towering oak growing just outside our den was hit by lightening sending a twenty-foot-long, eight-inch in diameter limb to the ground where we normally kept our boat which had been moved to the backyard to undergo repairs (excellent timing for an engine update).  Our father was out on a date.  We spent the evening searching for Kelly.  It was a bit of a treasure hunt to us kids.  She'd been there in the den moments before the tree limb crashed to the ground.  We were moving to the upstairs to search further when our father arrived.  He kept telling us she would show herself when she was ready, but he followed us about on our search any way.  Found: Spare bedroom, armchair with skirting around the bottom, two white starred burgundy eyes reflected the flashlight we'd shown underneath it.  In that splash of light, those eyes wiggled and nearly sent us scurrying back down stairs.  My father caught us mid-scramble and checked under the chair to pull out Kelly who was fit to shake her bones out from inside her own skin.

She had style.
LADY:  a lab the color of milk chocolate who looked like a bear cub as a pup, pudgy, with hair that stood on end like fuzz.  She leaped off an overlook, by accident, of course.  She was jumping up to sit on the top of a low rock wall where my husband was standing looking down, and over she went, slipping due to the ice on the top.  She fell a good fifty feet and landed on the only section of dirt in a carved out rock ledge.  We  raced back to the house, located rope, a large side-open duffel bag and a warm blanket.  We skidded our way back through icy roads hoping she hadn't moved from the small ledge.  When we returned to the site, it had snowed in our absence of more than an hour.  (Yes, I should have stayed, but my husband was not about to leave me alone at an empty roadside overlook.)  We ran to the rock wall and looked over.  Neither of us could see any sign of her.  We screamed her name.  Imagine two people leaning over a wall yelling, "Lady! Hey, Lady."  Aw,  we can laugh now.  Suddenly, a small snow flurry appeared on the rock ledge below.  And there was our girl looking up at us. She was clearly stiff, cold and frightened.  We scrambled to tie off ropes and toss over the bag with its tether which I kept hold off, having nothing else to clutch as my husband preceded to repel down the cliff edge to get to her.  Mind you, he had never repelled in his life, but at 24 he felt fairly confident that day was not going to be his last.  She waited for him right up until she saw he intended to stuff her inside a bag and zipper it up.  She fought him with every fiber of her six-month-old canine body.  But she didn't know he was not going to waste his time nearly killing himself going down and then up a cliff without bringing back the spoils.  He won, then climbed back up.  I learned how to pray better that day.  Then the two of us pulled up the bag, unzipped it, pulled her out and wrapped her double in a blanket.  No broken bones, lots of little cuts and one sizable half moon slice in a foot that showed bone and tendons when lifted -- so stitches and a white bandage she was quite proud of was her only souvenir, that and a fear of heights.

Lovey - bathing beauty
LOVEY:  Lived to be fifteen years old, a deep chocolate Labrador, seventy-six pounds of solid rock.  She tangled with something in our back yard.  She had in a matter of two minutes managed to acquire a slice in her scalp that laid bare a good two inches of skull and two punctures in her chin.  I was about five months pregnant at the time and had college class to get to, but I hauled her off to the vet and left her sedated to get bandaged, and returned from class to pick her up.  The vet had found it necessary to shave the top of her round crown, trim tissue around the cut and stitch her up with fourteen stitches, fourteen very stiff, long black stitches which stood up from her head like a Mohawk haircut due to the tightness at which he had had to pulled the skin together. Her favorite activities were swimming, having shovelfuls of snow dumped on her while the driveway was cleared and running circles around my husband as he road his dirt bike.

Our girls today.
And now LACEY & CAGNEY:  One is a deep chocolate brown, nearly black Labrador, while the other is the palest of yellow labs.  They curl up like reverse image bookends, and we wonder if they choreograph their positioning.  The blonde loves the vet even though he is always treating her for allergies, while the other who hasn't a physical complaint to speak of acts like she is off to her death every time we go in for yearly shots.  She curls her toes so her steel-hard nails become ice skates then slips all over the vet's linoleum floor getting more and more out of control as she loses her balance and her grace while Cagney looks on as if to say, "Really, I can't take you anywhere."  Of course, this observation is coming from a Labrador that cannot traverse the back yard without checking for unfriendlies along every foot of the walkway.  Opposites, absolute opposites.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In search of the ideal timeline program

I have posted in the past about my search for my holy grail of keeping track of time travel in my novels, especially when the movement forward and back happens repeatedly.  My third book in the series is proving to be more complicated in movements than the second.  Mick and Em not only go back in time, but they find themselves making repeated jumps into the consecutive moments. And to make it more complicated, another character is moving back and forth as well as remaining stationary in No-time, yet still time is passing.  That does not sound clear in this simple writing, and it is more complicated when actually writing the story.

So I have selected and tried three different applications to keep track of time travel.  In this post I am going to evaluate these three based on the criteria of my ideal platform.

Criteria:
  1. A horizontal line on which I can assign dates (and create dates that don't yet exist) 
  2. Attach key points to them 
  3. Add little bubbles or boxes that connect to those points for summary or notes 
  4. Be able to close them up as I move along the timeline 
  5. Open them all up and see how it lays out.  
  6. Able to click on them and move them if I wish.  
  7. Have the program on my computer
  8. Print out the timeline
  9. Be capable of showing overlap of other novels, written and planned.
The three programs I have been working with are OneNote by Microsoft,  Timeline by The Timeline Authors available from SourceForge, and Padlet (formerly known as WallWisher) at Padlet.com.

Using OneNote for keeping track of time travel events
OneNote as timeline
OneNote
I have been using OneNote the longest and found it to have numerous qualities that have nothing to do with keeping track of a timeline.  It has proved extremely useful to me in other areas, namely keeping track of my research and publication information.  It has proved a fairly good "time" organizer though still not my ideal. Its proximity to all my other support materials is an important point though.  But that is not on my list of ideal qualities for a timeline. 
  • It does not provide a horizontal line or any line for that matter. But I can create a series of vertical boxes with time, setting and key plot points. (However, this is something any word processing program could do.)  
  • I can attach key points
  • I can add additional text boxes
  • These cannot be "closed"
  • Nor can they be "opened" at will
  • I can shuffle them about to reflect changes in the text
  • The program is on my computer and, in fact, came with the loaded programming.
  • I can print out my "timeline" easily without any format changes.  It looks the same on the computer desktop as it does in printed form.
  • It cannot overlap other timelines easily.  I could muscle it in, but it would be awfully awkward.
So out of the 9 ideals, it provides 5.  Score: 5/9

Timeline program for keeping track of past, current and future time
Timeline as timeline
Timeline
The next timeline program I tried out was appropriately named Timeline.  I have only used it for about a week.

  • It does provide a horizontal line on which I can place time markers with my choice of dates, and it is not limited to history already lived. 
  • What is shown in the note is a title or short summary at best. 
  • It does provide secondary bubbles for additional information which can be fairly detailed.  A window pops up with several features, including attaching files and links.
  • The timeline itself can be stretched and squeezed, but the bubbles only appear when the cursor hovers over them. The timeline adjusts as the time is stretched or squeezed into a short time view.
  • The bubbles open as needed.
  • Movement of the events has proved problematic.   They can be easily adjusted along the line, but the notations also move unexpectedly to locations not intended.  Probably time and learned finesse will correct this, but the instructions are so limited that I spent a lot of time just trying everything to return a notation back to the spot I had it originally before it almost (clearly I had done something) spontaneously  moved.  Without clear instructions, trial and error rules the learning curve.
  • This is a freeware program, and I downloaded onto my computer without trouble.
  • The timeline can be printed out, but legibility was dependent upon how tightly they were scrunched or stretched out.  Could be a problem when scenes cover short amounts of time and the novel extends over a longer period of time.
  • Overlap of novel timelines is difficult.  I had to color code individuals to tell them apart and would have to do something similar for different books.  There are two features: categories and periods.  The descriptions of these was quite limited, so I am uncertain if it would be possible to designate categories as individual novels or if periods would be better.  When I tried using them, they appeared below the horizontal timeline and overlapped each other which interfered with the purpose I had determined I wanted to use them for.
Out of 9 ideals, it met  6 1/2.  Score: 6.5/9

Padlet as timetravel timeline
Padlet as timeline
Padlet
I have made use of Padlet most recently and have spent about three days on it entering just the opening of book 1, the entirety of book 2 and the first five chapters of book 3.  Visually, it is the prettiest of the three with some interesting additions.  It feels the most like a wall of sticky notes, which is the manual ideal I wish I could do, but my husband has a sense of decor and sticky notes aren't fittin'.
  • Though it does not provide a built-in horizontal line, putting the little "stickies" in place just as I would on a wall created one easily.  I put my dates on the label of the sticky, but I could just as easily provide stickies as tiny markers at whatever interval I want.  I have added the option of several horizontals.  So book one as shown in the picture is furthest to the left with only two stickies at this time.  I plan to raise it up higher as the "wall' appears limitless in all directions.  Book two is next and is dropped lower.  Book three is two more steps down and because it has two plot lines occurring at the same time, it has two horizontal flow lines which will meet up later in the novel.
  • I can add additional information beneath the heading on the note. It has a red label at the top of the sticky and a secondary notes section beneath on the same sticky. The stickies can be lengthened horizontally or vertically.  I kept them fairly uniform in width and created a short hand summary format that covered the main points.
  • Rather than secondary bubbles, it does provide for inserted pictures (see my book covers), inserted internet media of any type (video, photo, doc, etc.) or use my computer camera to take a picture, bonuses not on my wish list.
  • You might say the sticky is the closed version.
  • A click on the note does bring up a full screen display of the note and attachments as well as means to post to Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, email and others.  Additionally, the wall itself can be stretched and shrunk with ease (especially so if you have a touch sensitive screen.)  Arrow keys move the view from note to note in the screen-sized view.
  • The stickies can be moved easily about the "wall."  If I could make a suggestion here, it would be to be able to move the notes in large groups rather than one at a time.  I have not found a means to do this, but perhaps that will come up.   The instructions do include sending requests for additional features.  So I will be asking for that one or instructions how to do it if it is already a feature.  The traditional drag and highlight has not worked.
  • This is not a downloadable program but is accessed and free at padlet.com with login and password.   However, privacy settings are available making it public or completely private.
  • The file can be printed in pdf, csv or excel.  The printout does not look like the wall, but it has all the info that I have inserted.  Since I only added pictures of my covers, I cannot say what it does with other media links.
  • Overlapping of book is definitely practical and possible. I did it with three books and intend to do it with all seven.
How did this program fit my criteria?  Pretty well.  Of the 9 desired features, it had some version of 8.  Score: 8/9.

At this point, I prefer Padlet which to my knowledge is marketed more as an educational tool for students than for timeline creation, but it is highly adaptable, pretty, fun to use and it is so much like having a wall of sticky notes that I am looking forward to seeing how it continues to make keeping track of time travel plot points easy.

Let me know if you have found the perfect timeline program or if you see a criteria you would like me to apply to any one or more of these programs.

OneNote will continue to be my research and publications notes filing goto program.  It has been great with holding my notes for clothing over the centuries, cobbles stones, Boston Common, epidemics, etc. Keeping track of timeslines, .... nah.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Musing: If cars could fly...

Eyes open at all times
I have always been an advocate for the future of flying cars.  For many years my husband argued it was highly unlikely if not impossible.  In more recent years, he simply says it would be a nightmare.  So I am posting the positive and negatives of flying cars.  Feel free to add your two cents. I am curious which will outnumber the other.  As Shakespeare says, 'til my bad angle fires my good one out."

Positives:

  • Unlimited direction:  Go anywhere simply by pointing your car in the direction of preference and pressing the pedal.
  • As the crow flies:  Forget about turning left and right.  Point A to point B will be the only concern.  Which way do I go, the only question.
  • Take in the View:  Imagine all the beauty of the drive.  Ladies, sorry, start wearing those bikini tops while you sunbathe.  There would be a need for wrap around windshields so that view would be BIG.
  • Talk about noise: What noise?  No road track rumble and rattle, just air foil silence.  And possibly a jet engine, but if you're fast enough, you can leave that behind, too.
  • More automation here we come:  Autopilot, auto-park, auto-liftoff,  auto-safety, auto-avoidance.
  • Faster, faster, faster - you get there faster.
  • Crossing the Border: Shucks, there will be no borders.  Head overseas, head across state, head north, south, what have you.  One can't put fences everywhere.
  • Good for your health:  no sharing air with carriers of the flu and other airborne illnesses.

Negatives:

  • Triple-sized rule book: Talk about student drivers.  Studying the handbook will be a two-year process and taking the TEST, yikes.
  • Going up?: Changing lanes means probably changing levels, and what does that mean?  Your not just looking left, right, front and back, but up and down.  Texting is a definite no, no.

  • More automation here we come:  What happens when it breaks or one of those pesky electrical problems no one can ever track down occurs?  Can't tell you how many cars my husband has installed toggle switches in to bypass various electrical issues.  Tough to steal our cars:  you have to know where all the switches are.
  • Phobias:  So you don't like heights?  How about giving control to an automaton.  How about all those cars flying just inches away, next door, overhead, below?  (Wrote a story about this: "A Good Argument," Gardens in the Cracks & Other Stories at Amazon and Smashwords.)
  • Color coding:  Blue, white, black, grey would be paint schemes that cars would not be allowed to have.  Probably dark brown, too; my chocolate lab is invisible in the dark faster than a black lab any day of the week.
  • What goes up must come down.  We're talking crash and burn.
  • The wallet: What is the cost?  What about insurance?
  • Teen factor:  What do they call that, barnstorming, buzzing their best friend's house?
  • Running out of gas: Don't let this happen on a date.
  • Looking under the hood:  Inspection takes all day.  "Honey, I am taking the car in for inspection -- be back tomorrow."
Want to add some more?  Maybe flying cars are not a good idea, but I bet someone will find ways to deal with these less desired features.  Tell me three times will come back into fashion.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Characterization, Star Trek and life challenges

Star Trek, Next Generation is one of my favorite shows, and my husband and I have been watching an episode every night while we eat dinner as we work our way through the seasons the show aired.  The early ones were still working on depth, characterization and purpose, but after the third year, the show got its legs under it.  I can view the same episode again and again and enjoy the interactions of characters that are distinctly different, driven by motivations individual and evolving.  What captures my attention most are the shows which focus on particular characters and their growth facing distressing or challenging situations.

Tonight we are watching the episode which has Captain Picard trying to understand why he left the ship.  As a second Picard arrives in a shuttle craft that is from six hours in the future, the original Picard wonders what would cause him to choose leaving the Enterprise when the result was the total destruction of the ship.  He is angry at the second Picard for leaving and surviving.  It causes him to question his integrity as a captain and his responsibility to his crew.

In the life of any individual, events take place which force one to evaluate, re-evaluate and respond to situations.  We question our choices based on our desires and attempt to see ourselves as truly as we can.  How we answer ourselves, how we evaluate our choices forces us to grow as people.  Characters we create must grow as well, question their choices based on their understanding of the reasons which caused them to select those choices.

This is the challenge I love to work on when I write.  It is also what causes me the most doubt.  It generates questions that I must answer if I want to understand what sort of growth is potentially possible in my characters.  Looking at characterization forces me to stay aware of the process of growth in my characters.

In the first book of my series, the main character Brent Garrett from the start was driven by his perception of his mother's expectations.  A part of me was always uncomfortable with this fact about him.  Why so driven by his mother's attempts to control and inspire his life choices?  He's a grown adult and should be past any dependency on what his mother wishes him to accomplish.  But that is only one part of his story just as our own lives are replete with challenges.  We don't get them one at a a time.  He doesn't either.  Still I had to examine my discomfort with his difficulties in order to understand his.

So when I look at my own life and consider the things that have driven my actions, I must confess that the loss of my mother when I was an infant played a strong factor in my wanting to emulate her.  And it had an even stronger influence on my efforts to make sure my father was proud of me.  At one point in my teenage life, I became aware that he gained me shortly before he lost his wife, my mother.  I did not stand a chance of replacing her.  I could only hope he would find my efforts to be the best I could adequate.

When I reached adulthood, I found that every time I visited my father, he attempted to place me back in a childhood role.  It wasn't until I had been married several years, spent numerous phone calls learning about his experience watching my mother die over a six month period while playing both father and mother to two small children that we grew beyond the loss together.  I hadn't seen him in four years, though we had talked on the phone regularly.  When I came to visit, it was to find he had suffered a heart attack while I was traveling the 1200 miles to get to my parents' home (he had remarried).  He was in the hospital and his perspective had gone through a tremendous change. 

The challenges I had gone through entering and growing in adulthood and his own brush with death had caused us both to change, to make new choices and to see ourselves and others in new ways.  So Brent had a perception of himself governed by his mother's expectations and desires for his "success."  Through book 1 and book 2 of my series Students of Jump, Brent reached adulthood and whether his mother was ready for him to grow beyond her wishes or not, he did.  Picard worked to understand the choices the second Picard made, and my father and I climbed over the wall that had divided us, interfering with our view of ourselves and our understanding of each other.

Yeah, that is what I like about writing -- seeing characters evolve as questions are generated and answered.  And evolving myself along the way.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Survey Results: What did you think when you sent your first book off for epublication?

Fly away and propagate.
I was curious what other first-time authors thought when they sent off a book for publication.  Mine was about the grammar errors I might have overlooked.  I am an English teacher: what else would cross my mind? So I asked via GoodReads, Twitter and Google+.  These are the results.
  • Marcy Peska, Hashtags and Head Buckets:  "Ooops!"  It was when I published Head Buckets & Hashtags, and I accidentally pushed the publish button before I'd finished formatting photos. ;-)
  • Kevis Hendrickson, The Legend of Witch Bane: I published my first ebook when the Kindle still had fresh paint on it. My thoughts at the time were more along the lines of Megatron's famous words: "Their defenses are broken. Let the slaughter begin."
  • Rinelle Grey, Reckless Rescue:  With the ebook, it was "Well, that doesn't feel any different", but the print book, which I only hit publish on yesterday, it was "What if I missed something?" 
  • Micah R. Sisk, PleshaCore:  But if I were to describe the moment after pushing the button as a sound, it sounded like nanometer-sized needle dropping into a galactic-sized haystack.
  • Adam Osterkamp, book in process, Minnesota Writer blog:  Having just ordered the "proof" copy for my print version, my first thought was along these lines. "What if it prints terribly?"
  • Jason Letts, Powerless: The Synthesis:   It was unbelievably exciting. A lot of times I was checking my sales at work, and I was so much more concerned with the dollar or two I was making a day from the story and gaining potential fans than everything I had to do at my job. 
  • Debra McKnight, Of Dreams and Shadow:  Mine ran along the lines of, "Oh no, I forgot to fix the type-o on page three."
  • Jennifer Priester, Mortal Realm Witch: Learning about Magic: Sadly my first thought was more money related. I was thinking something like this: When will the books be available for purchase online and how long until my copies arrive so that I can start selling them? And my second one, although you aren't asking for it, I just find it interesting, was about whether or not they would sell and if people would like it as much as I do or not.
  • Philip G. HenleyTo the Survivors: My KDP book launch felt unreal and disconnected, although I enjoyed seeing the free downloads happen along with the first reviews. Print was a different surreal experience. There was my name on a physical book. What followed was even more odd, giving the copies to friends and family and then being asked to sign them. All very odd, embarrassing even.
 I wish more people had responded.  I enjoyed finding others who remembered that moment of final decision.  It is one of those firsts that will stay with us whether we felt fulfilled, let down, frantic with worry or ready to battle bears. 

Now the second time I sent off a book into the eather of e-publication, I wondered why I felt no elation, no panic, no heart thrusting wildly against my ribs.  I wasn't blase, but I hadn't been rocked by an overwhelming run of sales on book 1, so I had less uncertainty about what would happen next: Only I would celebrate by dancing in the kitchen, making my daughter blush and my husband shake his head.  Since I now have four books published and my fifth in R&D&R (research and development and redraft), I do feel rather moved peering at the list when I check on Amazon and Smashwords for updates. I think come this July 2014, I may discover a few thrills running up my spine to see book 3 of the Students of Jump hitting the road.

Anyone want to add to the list of first reactions at the cry of "Engage" catapulting off their coddled canary? Post a comment, and I'll update the list above (this week) and enjoy hearing from you.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Advice: yWriter Details and Goals section for defining purpose

Setting up a strong structure with yWriter
I mentioned yWriter way back in the beginnings of writing this blog.  I was explaining a feature in the program that makes it possible to keep track of various facts about characters, such as appearance, relationships, motivations, bio, even alternate names.  It helped me to learn more about a character I thought was not especially important.  I found she had much greater influence and dimension than I originally thought while filling out the character breakdown.

But that is not why I am posting about this program now.  yWriter offers numerous ways for a writer to develop his/her story, but the two features I want to focus on this time is in the Details and Goals sections of each scene. Once you have opened up a scene window, clicking on the Details tab opens up the plotting break down of that particular scene.  Here you note (or plan out) if the event is based on action or reaction, and if it is plot or subplot, and you can assign any tags and determine the time constraints of the scene (character experiences two minutes, four hours or thirty days, what have you).  When combined with the information in the Goals tab, the purpose or lack of it, of the scene become obvious.  And if the scene has no purpose, it is wasted writing.  I love these two features because they make sure that I am keeping the story moving: characters grow, tension mounts, connection exists, i.e., purpose.

The Goals tab is directly connected to the items in the Details tab.  If I selected reaction for the type of scene, then the Goals tab supplies three questions I must answer:  reaction, dilemma, choice.  And if I selected action, then I must respond to goal, conflict, outcome.  I find myself facing the purpose of the scene and the character's (s') reasoning.  If I find that my only reason for the scene is to get information out, then I am not making good use of my writing or my reader's time. All writing should be moving the plot no matter what.  So that necessary information needs to be part of movement not sedentary info dumping.

It is easy to fall into writing about the character learning something or meeting someone because it is essential to events later in the story but not moving forward in the story.  Having to fill out the underlying bones of a scene helps avoid this.  What was my character's reaction to what happened?  How did this create a problem and what choice did my character find he had to make?  That's all based on reaction.  What my character's goal is, what is stopping her from reaching it and what came of her efforts to reach that goal is action based.

yWriter doesn't write the story, but it sure helps me tell the story better.  When I have to redraft, looking back at what I wanted the scene to accomplish and seeing what actually happened helps me realign the plot or take advantage of that unconscious working of the writing mind.  A scene that seemed to have no purpose gets one as the redraft rolls along and having these features in this program forces me to examine the scene and its relation to the rest of the story.

Some scenes support the main plot while others are subplot events and that is just as important as determining purpose.  Designating a scene as tying my main arc together or developing undercurrent through subplots helps me keep my writing moving in the right direction and makes it so I don't have to keep it all in my head.  That's yWriter for you.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Technology must be logical and progressive in a sci-fi novel

Nerg Box
As a writer of science fiction now working on my third book in the series, I have been practicing to maintain a consistency in my technology.  The last thing I wanted to do was bring up a handy dandy techno tool that is used once and never seen again.  In producing a society or group that has depth and character, it is important that there be logic in the ideas and connectiveness in their use.  So my unique technology must develop and grow with my characters and their experiences.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

Nerg Box turned Time Travel box
In Book 1 In Times Passed, Brent stumbles upon a means to travel in time.  He alters a standard issue Nerg Box which results in a machine that can jump a person back in time.  This is all very well, but to have staying power, this device needs to evolve, develop in use, performance and even appearance.  It starts out as a rather non-descript gray box (Nerg [eN ER Gy]) which provides a temporary means to increase stamina and attention span and is nonnarcotic.  With some modifications in frequency and duration of the "effect," Brent finds he has created a means to travel in time.

But Brent and his friends are tinkerers, and they have access to a computer with extensive abilities to improve this early model.  And Brent is not one to have a means to travel in time and leave it sitting in a closet.

Time Travel box turned Jump Stage
With Ismar's help, Brent, Jove and Quixote build a stage that has the same "effect" and can be used to concentrate the time jumping abilities to more than one individual or thing.  This stage makes its debut in In Times Passed, and shows up again in No-Time Like the Present (Book 2) where it evolves over the course of the novel.

Jump Stage turned Jump Pack
In the third book, currently in redraft, Next Time We Meet, Mick and Emily find they can go anywhere or when for a second honeymoon by use of the individual, portable Jump Pack.  It has somewhat limited capabilities in that the jump calculations must occur in the lab still, but once downloaded to the pack, those calculations are available no matter where the jumper is.  This is important as they are on a honeymoon which is serving double duty.  Mick has determined he is going to be a detective, with his wife Emily's assistance, of course.  Every man, even one who can travel in time, cannot manage without a good woman by his side or ahead of him.

Jump Pack evolves some more
Book 4, with the working title of Testing Time, is in draft and makes extensive use of a more advanced model of  the Jump Pack as it is able to calculate new jumps without returning to the lab.  When things aren't going according to plan, such an improved model has tremendous advantage even if all it can offer is moving to another site to provide a few more seconds to make a dash for safety.

Another example:


Schemslide
This item shows up for the first time in Book 2.  It is a device that offers environmental as well as background information to its possessor.  It is referred to and used once, but the question of its further use is asked and answered.  It is appears again but as an embedded tool, one casually in use.

Schemslide turned essential time travel resource
In Book 3, Mick and Emily cannot manage without it.  Now called the noter, it provides historical information, a filing system for notes, is the transfer unit for calculated jumps, records environmental features, and is a time-delayed communications device.  Emily gets quite proficient at accessing its valuable capabilities as the travelers stretch their ability to understand the intricacies of moving about in time while tracking down a possible kidnap victim.

Readers complain about those "in the nick of time" devices or theories that save the day.  I don't want that kind of situation in my books cropping up.  What fiction devices, good or bad, have caught your attention?

Book 1, In Times Passed at Smashwords and Amazon
Book 2, No-Time like the Present at Smashwords and Amazon

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

There are stories everywhere

Yeah, it's a horse, but why is it in my front yard?
There is a road I drive down every day to get to work.  It is not a popular part of the highway system, so there are few businesses along the way.  One site has changed renters numerous times.  It has been a restaurant half a dozen times, a used clothing store, seamstress business and is currently a donut shop.

Usually, at about a year and a half, the business just closes up and goes up for rent again.  The donut shop hit its one year mark back in May.  So I expect soon to see cars in the parking lot one day and the next the day find it as empty as an old shoe box, tissue crumpled and little packets of granular stuff maintaining a dry but useless environment.

That is a story just waiting for the telling. Why does that store never hold a business long even though they seem to be thriving?  Who owns it?  Are they nothing but trouble to their renters?  Is the highway itself unwilling to take so much traffic for too long and has its own agenda to push through despite human desires to succeed?

There are stories everywhere waiting to be told.
  • Why is that little girl sitting in bored meditation on her porch stairs, chin balanced on her hands?
  • Why did that family throw out a perfectly good couch?  It hasn't any tears, slumping of cushions, or broken frame and is still in style.
  • Why is that fellow standing behind the tree talking on his phone and swatting at the bugs clearly annoying him?
  • Why is that horse wearing a blue cover over its face when the horse beside it isn't?
You don't have to beat bushes to find stories.  Write about the bush.

Where did you find your last story or did it find you? 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

For writers, tragedy is a good thing

Caught up in the moment
No one wants to read about everything going right.  Readers want things to go wrong so they can watch the characters find their way through their difficulties.  Houses burn down, people get sick or lost or lose their jobs.  They get angry and lose their temper.  We readers know this happens in real life.  Watching someone go through these kinds of difficulties and come out the other end stronger gives us hope.

In my classes, my students often ask me questions after we have finished a book.  So many times they are questions I cannot answer because the characters aren't real, and I cannot call them up and check on their progress.  But often my students see them as real, that there is more yet to come.  Every writer should aspire to the kinds of questions my students ask.

  • Did he go back and find her?
  • Why did she leave him if she knew he needed her to stay awhile longer?
  • Will they every see each other again?
  • Did she have an unhappy childhood?
  • What did her family think about what she did?
All I can say is, "I am not sure.  Why do you think they did it?" Or some other statement to put it back on them to consider the possible answers.  Their question are proof that my students have connected to the characters.

Readers find understanding, lessons and experience in the books they read.  This is why writers find tragedy a good thing.  It makes our characters live in reality in a way that brings our readers insight and emotional release while they are "safe" from reality at the same time.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Characters that grow while I write

Growing together.
I love building characters that I wish I could visit.  These days I am working with Mick and Emily.  I like them because they like each other.  Emily understands Mick whether he is pacing up and down with excessive energy, moping around about some thing that is bothering him or just grinning at her.
But Emily will not put up with the moping and she tells him so.  He's a good guy.  He thinks about things and though he won't pull himself together all at once, he will think about what she said and try to be better.

Mick had a bad heart and it sidelined him, kept him out of enjoying doing activities he wanted to do.  It stuck him on a mountain in a house looking at the paper trail of his company but unable to manage it himself.  It left him growing Christmas trees, but it never left him bitter.  He had Emily and that made all the difference.  But having Emily, for a man of the 70's era meant he had to accept that he would probably not be able to protect her if he ever had to fend off an attacker.  So they lived in a small mountain town where everybody knew everybody, and he didn't have to fear not being able to protect her.  I suppose it's his man thing because there was never any sign of danger to make him worry.

In this third book in the Student of Jump series, Mick finds himself no longer held back by his heart.  But fear is much harder to replace with confidence.  He is a knight with armor, sword and shield, a fair lady by his side.  But he has never jousted before.

As I work through this redraft, Mick and Emily grow.  They don't become steady in the clinches.  They don't have all the answers.  They don't find themselves in situations that bear easy answers.  But they have each other, I think.  I am not sure how it is all going to end.  Sure the book has an ending, but these two keep growing with experience.  Emily didn't have anything holding her back.  She stayed back for Mick.  She gets as frightened as he does, just about different things.  But together they manage; they support each other even when both are trembling.  That's why I like these two characters.

If you are a writer, who are your favorite characters at this time?  If you're not a writer, what character and from what book do you wish you could visit.  Why?