Saturday, October 12, 2019

Mind to Mind Invasion in Progress

Woman Reading a Book by John Salatas

Novels act as invasions. If the story is compelling the writer invades the reader's mind. I know my mind has been invaded many times. Some reading has left permanent thought and outlook changes.

When I don't want to put a story down, when I keep reading despite the call of chores or tiredness, I know my mind has been invaded. I don't care. The reality in the story is so compelling I just cannot stop reading.

This can happen in non-fiction, too. Some personal essays and biographies are compelling reads. Compelling as in I must keep reading.

I suppose such a read is like taking a vacation. I escape my own life and reality for short periods.

This type of mind invasion lets the reader come away with the similar benefits of a far more expensive vacation. It allows a reader to let go of their problems for a while. At the end of the story, this makes the reader happier or more satisfied while calming and satisfying the mind. Now, not all books are calming, but finishing even a story full of horrific misdeeds and situations, leaves a reader glad of what they might consider their own boring life or overwhelming busy day-to-day.

So read! Help keep your mind active and healthy. Let a writer fill your mind with meeting new characters, learning about how similar we are even when very different, going to different places and times. Learning, understanding, and a growing knowledge of humanity comes with the experience.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Developing Plot Lines

This month's topic is about plots and how they are developed: from personal experience, imagination, or research? For me, as I believe it is for most authors, it is a combination of all three with maybe more stress on one than the others during particular scenes.

In my case the plot for a story develops from imagination, but this is often based on research supporting different aspects of the setting—especially with science fiction and fantasy features of most of my stories. I do use
personal experiences, although a lot of they come from interactions with others and I use my knowledge of their tribulations or achievements to add drama to a story.

Most often I hope my plot is tightly bonded to the setting, as setting often influences the story's progression. I base my science fiction on imaginative settings developed from some knowledge of science combined with some fanciful ideas about where known science and society might take humans. For one of my science fiction novels I had to research the possibility of bio-forming a planet, how it could possibly be done and how long it might take. Because of scientific speculation, many have the idea that humanity will eventually move to distant off-world places. This was also the case with developing super soldiers for two stories. It turned out these soldiers were too dangerous to keep but too valuable to destroy, so they ended in cryogenic containers as property rather than people.

On the other hand, the often dual part of the scifi/fantasy genre, fantasy, is often based on a historical settings, which also takes research.

I’ve written contemporary stories, and some might think them easier to write, but contemporary society is fast moving and under constant change. Remember how Jane Austin wrote a contemporary romance which evolved into historical romance? While the purpose behind the plot may be easier to develop, realism comes from investigating locations, weather, travel, housing, and fashion. Plus police departments operate differently from location to location. In the United States every county of every state has its own local laws. These cannot contravene state or national laws, but they can affect a plot.

The important part of plot is the story's purpose, the difficulties in reaching it, and the ultimate outcome. Reactions between characters produce the drama and
impulsion contained within the plot, which is where personal experiences often becomes important.

A plot with a strong purpose, an accurate or at least believable setting, and realistic characters all work together to create a good story and are all dependent on my willingness to research, and then use my imagination and experience.

Please visit the following authors to read their take on the subject:
Margaret Fieland
Victoria Chatham
Skye Taylor
Beverley Bateman
Dr. Bob Rich
Diane Bator
Connie Vines
Anne Stenhouse 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What Makes Reading Hard?

Easy Reading is damn hard writing.
Nathanial Hawthorne
I love reading, love both fictional and non-fictional stories, love finding information, but along the way I've found some reading excruciating to understand. If you've ever tried to read the 'read this' agreement on all types of Internet usages, you know what I mean. Mix legalese terminologies into any text and you have loads of readers who just won't.

Terminology and how it is used is one of the biggest problems in text readability. With thousands of words, some remain unknown to most readers. Do you know what the words thole, opusculum, moiety, or fantod mean? They have all been Merriam Webster Word of the Day words. I must admit I was not familiar with these words' meanings. Unfamiliar words make reading hard. If it slows my reading, it might make me close the book. 

Like law, every business has terminology associated with the business. If you are in the business, you have no trouble reading articles or magazines devoted to that business. Those unfamiliar will have to thole through the reading.

Have I used unusual terminology in my stories? Yes. Usually, I follow with a short phrase of definition, but in science fiction, I've occasionally made up words. In those instances, I try to make it clear what the word means by how it is used. 

How sentences and paragraphs are organized is also important to easy reading. Paragraphs lasting a page or more or very long sentences can diminish a reader's interest in reading.

The time frame of the author and when they wrote their story or essay also affects readability. Writings from long ago put sentences together differently, slowing down and confusing the modern reader. Constant use of passive sentences and old-fashioned phraseology make reading difficult and often bore readers (a major sin for an author).

Okay, so poor grammar and mechanics makes reading difficult, too. Misused homonyms, misplaced modifiers, and overuse of particular words affect readers, but this is why repeated editing are so important.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Travel in the Early Middle Ages

This month's round robin is about travel. I chose one from my new book Contantine's Legacy.

This excerpt comes after the newly elected Pope Stephen asks Leonard to guard the emissary he is sending to the Emperor in Constantinople. All the pope's men are required in Rome to prevent any attack from the Lombardo king's men.

 Once at Ostia, they rode directly to the port. The Imperial galley was the largest ship docked there with a deck of oars and a tall mast for sailing. The Emperor's Silentiarius and his guardsmen boarded before Archdeacon Nicolaus. Leonard's team of Franks followed the archbishop.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Boarding last, once standing on the wood plank allowing access to the ship, Leonard paused, finding it odd to think of them as his men, not knowing when the transfer of power from Radulf happened in his mind. He wasn’t sure about  traveling over water.

Silentiarius John had already advised him of the journey. “Traveling around the coast of Italia will add five days to our journey, longer than from Ancona, but is now safer than traveling through Lombardo held lands, especially for Imperial guards and messengers.”

As he stepped onto the galley, the movement below his feet unsettled Leonard, and the motion became worse once the ship started moving. John joined him and picked up a previous conversation. While John talked, Leonard only half listened. Once the galley began moving, a constant pounding gave the rowers a tempo, but it took time for him to adjust to the ship’s unfamiliar noises. A glance showed most of his men shared the same uneasiness.

John greeted the ship’s centurion, sharing a few moments of updating information before he introduced Leonard, Jocelin, and Nicolaus to the man. The centurion did not pay much attention to his remaining passengers, not even casting them an inquisitive glance. Their group all wore hooded, light cloaks over their armor, and looked or passed for monks perhaps on pilgrimage. Except some metal clinks from their movements caused the centurion to raise his brows as they passed him. He said nothing and asked no questions.

A few hours later, Veran and Brice hung over the ship’s side emptying their stomachs. They continued expelling their stomachs’ contents until nothing could emerge. Then the exhausted, sick men fell asleep on the deck. While Leonard’s stomach felt queasy, it soon passed.

After visiting below decks to store gear, Jocelin came back to the top deck, his face showing disgust. “They have thirty slaves rowing, and others resting or sleeping, I did not count how many. The stench is such as to make it preferable to sleep up here in the open air.”

After an investigatory trip below, Leonard returned to the top deck and agreed with Jocelin. The rest of the men followed their lead. He stood looking toward the shoreline the ship followed when Nicolaus came and stood next to him, interrupting his introspection on events. He wished he had Radulf’s counsel to guide him.

“I always find these views of the shore compelling.”

Leonard glanced at the cleric. “Have you traveled often by ship?”

“A few times, which is far less than I would like. It is peaceful, especially when they put up a sail and the rowing and pounding ceases.”

“I will look forward to noticing the difference.”

Nicolaus laughed, throwing a glance at the Franks standing or sitting at the ship’s sides. “For some, sailing can intensify the sickness.”

“I prefer a horse.”

“You are a Frank, and Franks are not known for their prowess on water. Your people are expert at fighting on land, but everything changes on the water.”

“It is hard enough keeping the land safe.”

“Certainly travel by water has its dangers—pirates, storms, Greek fire.”

“What is Greek fire?”

“Constantine’s ships have a secret weapon. No one knows all aspects of how it is made, but they can shoot fire at other ships.”

“To burn them?” Leonard asked, feeling vulnerable as he looked at the wooden ship and the deep water surrounding them.

“Yes. It burns even on water. The centurion predicts the weather will hold and we will make good time. The Silentiarius is a good Christian, so we can trust him. You have no need to worry.”
Check out the following blogs for more travel excerpts:

Diane Bator
Marie Laval
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham 
Judith Copek
Anne Stenhouse 
Helena Fairfax
A.J. Maguire 
Beverley Bateman
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Excerpt Constantine's Legacy -- The Beginning

Constantine's Legacy released this month. It is a coming of age book for the main character Leonard. I realize many of the words are unfamiliar to readers, as is this particular historical period. 'Maior Palatii' means mayor of the palace, whose name holders through the Merovingian period had gained all the power of ruling. Reluctantly I decided to add a terminology section to the beginning of the book.

Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi 751, November, Soissons, Francia  (In the year of our lord Jesus Christ, November 751, Soissons, France)

Today, the world changed. Leonard looked across the courtyard where the last Merovingian do-nothing King Childerick III stood on the portico. Four of Maior Palatii Pepin’s men secured Chiderick though not much protection was needed. Others filled the courtyard, waiting for their leader in all but title to claim the power of his position. Leonard raised his face to the day’s sunny warmth. Above the roof line of the wooden buildings encasing the courtyard, the distant tower of Saint Medard Abbey pointed into the sky toward heaven. Today’s cloudless sky enveloped the abbey and the gathering of men like the blue of the Virgin’s mantle, proof, perhaps, of God’s approval of what would take place. Bishop Bonifice would consecrate Pepin as Francorum rex, the Franks’ new king, in the church sanctuary tomorrow.

At least, so his father had declared. As if denying their relationship, he had ordered Leonard to address him by his title, Dux Radulf, especially in public. Leonard did not mind, for he hardly knew the man, except for his infrequent visits to his own manse, Albrecht. Radulf had added in a dry voice that today the long and madness-riddled dynasty of Clovis, the first Merovingian king, would end.

Leonard spoke to his charges. “The bones of Saint Medard prove his power over good weather. For November, the saint has provided Maior Palatii Pepin a rare, summer-like day.”  He lowered his gaze and smiled at the boys. 

“They stink.” Karl, Pepin’s son, sniffed and nodded at the men crowding the courtyard. One of the day’s sporadic breezes caught the boy’s pale blond hair and blew it across his face. Karl pushed the strands away. He stood tall for his age, nearly to Leonard’s shoulders. “I noticed their stench when we walked among them. They should have bathed before presenting themselves to their future king.” 

“Your nose is too open,” Nithgard said. Karl’s young cousin hung from a cross bar between portico supports, swinging from his extended arms. Nithgard, younger and smaller, made several exaggerated sniffs to show how his cousin sought out smells. “And no one washes as much as you.” Nithgard grinned as he shook the hair out of his eyes. 

He looked little like his cousin. Light reddish-brown hair and hazel eyes did not distinguish his blunt, child’s features.

“You do not walk, you race,” Leonard said, and roughed Nithgard’s hair while he looked around the courtyard. “Your fathers will be displeased with your conduct.”

Leonard knew both the boys’ minds and bodies galloped in wild activity. His charges’ antics had tried his patience during the wait for the meeting to begin, but Pepin had ordered him, probably at Radulf’s suggestion, to this duty. Pepin wanted young Karl and Nithgard to watch him take power, although they were too young to participate in the proceedings. Leonard was their watchdog, but Radulf had referred to the duty as guard.

Franks from all over Gallia gathered. Pepin’s loyal duces and comtes, bishops, and court officials, had come with their liegemen from Neustria. Others came from Burgundia, Provence, and Austrasia, and a few solemn-looking leaders arrived from Aquitaine. They stood in the courtyard, most dressed in the furs, leather, and linen common to the Franks. Leonard smiled. Franks had ruled ancient Gaul so long they called the land Francia. The men’s voices created a drone of noise broken by sporadic shouts and laughter. The air held the scent of the wood burning in the center of the courtyard.

Those from Austrasia stood on the crowd’s edge. Leonard recognized their discontent and knew the reason for their sullen and edgy looks. Their leader, Pepin’s brother Carloman, had abdicated his position as their maior palatii to join a monastery.

Leonard also knew disguised enemies gathered here but felt surprise to find himself present. Until a year ago, he had never traveled. Now, he rode with Radulf every day and saw the world as he never knew it. His brief travels had expanded his concept of living outside the confined home he knew at Albrecht. He had lived with Radulf’s sister with infrequent visits from his father. Now Radulf wanted Leonard to become one of his liegemen. He did whatever his father asked, including learning the warriors’ craft in the harsh training drills his father ordered. His always aching body testified to that.

A subtle noise change in the crowd drew Leonard’s attention back to the courtyard.

“There is your father,” Karl said, pointing.

Karl’s comment drew attention from those standing nearby. Few there knew he was Radulf’s son. Many turned their heads to stare briefly at Leonard. He understood not only most Frankish dialects, but also Latin and Greek, so had heard the subtle slurs toward the ‘Roman,’ against Radulf, despite his Frankish name.

Leo’s gaze found his father on the porch gallery across the courtyard, holding position next to Pepin. His father stood a head taller than Pepin, but somehow appeared finer and more powerful than the other men standing behind Pepin. His short hair differed from most of the braided and chin length hair of the other men, and his clean-shaven face made him stand out.

The first time Leonard had heard the slur “Roman” against Radulf, his father had looked at him and smiled. “We have the blood of old Rome, not of Eastern Rome.”

“Is that why you shave?”

Radulf had shrugged. “Long hair and a full beard feel uncomfortable to me and itch.”

His claim might be true, but Leonard thought his father blatantly proclaimed his Roman heritage to those who vilified his claim to power. This did not stop the haters of the Eastern Roman Empire and its emperor. To them, Roman was Roman. Most of Roman ancestry in Francia tended the land rather than ruled over it.

Some few in today’s crowd, like his father, wore costly silk garments beneath their leather and fur. Radulf always told him, “Do not flaunt either ancestry or wealth, but do not hide your past or your possessions for fear of offending anyone. If they think we are Roman, well, such is the truth. Many Franks bear Roman blood. Most just do not acknowledge it.”

Movement caught Leonard’s attention. He watched Childerick, the last Merovingian King, led to stand at Pepin's side. He also noticed his charges drew the stares of nearby men.

Karl and Nithgard exchanged casual insults while the younger boy hopped and twirled in circles. The portico’s wooden planks reverberated with the sound. Leonard returned to watchdog duty. He grabbed Nithgard to still him. “Quiet! Both of you.” Karl gave him a hurt look. Looking into the boy’s face he said, “The change begins,” and glanced at Childerick.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Change happens constantly--why is it so hard?

"Looking through time..." by johnmaschak
is licensed under Creative Commons
BY-NC-ND 2.0
Just about the time we become comfortable in our daily lives, something changes. Everyone is prepared for planned changes, but some are impossible to predict. It is this unpredictability that impacts everyone.

The span between tragedy and felicity is widespread, but it seems like unfortunate changes often outweigh the pleasurable ones.  Tragic changes can mark our memories and change a person's, or even their community’s or nation's viewpoint forever.

What causes change? Time, choices, planned and unplanned events, and the cause and effect influences of those events. Change includes all of humanity, Earth, the Galaxy, and even existence's quantum level. On the quantum level? Yes, after all, we have scientists theorizing and trying to prove other universes exist. If they do, how will that affect our world?

Time affects universal change. Everyday everyone turns a day older although we often don't notice it when looking in a mirror. Photographs, however, show how our bodies change, and as we age, time speeds up. An article, by Jordan Gaines Lewis in Scientific America (December 2013), explains one reason: "For a 5-year-old, one year is 20% of their entire life. For a 50-year-old, however, one year is only 2% of their life." Yikes! And with every passing second, the world changes.

Some events we experience. We witness even more, but many events we never notice.

Some life-changing events we chose to initiate. As we become independent adults, our personal choices often determine our future. As we age, many of us enjoy stable, satisfactory lifestyles, yet everyone experiences unanticipated events. Some changes are beneficial or benign, some very difficult, and some outright dangerous. Yet all experiences, both good and bad, teach us something, one is that ignoring change doesn't stop it from happening. Furthermore, what we considered a small, unimportant event can build to result in unpredictable future changes. For instance, the discover of and use of fossil fuels.

Our daily personal events, both planned and happenstance, change not only us, but also those around us in a long chain of social reactions often unnoticed. Not only our personal interactions change us. Changes in our community, state, and nation also affect our lifestyles. These experiences change us, sometimes in unforeseen ways. Over time, some events change accepted human attitudes and behaviors, producing social differences that define every historical era.

Today our news media also gives daily (sometimes hourly, depending on the source and your predilection to news) reports of local, national, and world events and disasters. Today they also often present charming accounts of some good or inspiring events. These reports provide us some measure of reassurance after our usual daily dose of dismal reality reports of life on Earth. Another aspect is media now wakes a new awareness of how it can undermine factual knowledge, leaving us is in a “is it true or not true” conundrum.

The Earth changes, too, often in very gradual, unforeseen ways, but not always. Erupting earthquakes, volcanoes, drought, floods, can happen without warning. Scientists can predict these changes, but many disbelieve their reports because the public had
been told not to believe them. When 97% percent of scientists predicted climate change decades ago, our leaders told us to ignore the reports. Now it is too late to change the affects. Predicted events usually still happen but perhaps not on a predictable schedule. As our weather patterns change, as life chain links go extinct, and as the population expands, and our poor habits affect the Earth, the results will affect everyone. They already do. We survive due to our mindset and to our endurance.

As a writer, I know these difficult changes are frequently one aspect to use in fiction. While happening in stories, change usually creates interest, making the story more meaningful to the reader. Readers can empathize with these incidents, and when characters experience them, the reader feels the effects. Evidence has shown the situations characters endure in stories can help readers to understand change and to learn how to deal with it in their own lives. Which just shows, reading also changes everyone.