Saturday, February 22, 2020

Social Issues and Trends in Stories


As discussed in January's Round Robin, within the last decade, societal trends have changed quickly. With the growth in the use of digital and mobile devices, it is not strange that these changes show up in fiction plots.

This month's topic is about current issues and trends that have ended up in a story. One trend happening that might not be in stories is that fewer people are reading novels as Christopher Ingraham reported in a 2016 Washington Post article.

NASA image 
I have not read many novels where climate was a part of the story. I know that many young adults are also very worried about the world they will live in or if the world will actually survive. I read it in their essays. They are aware of the pollution, deforestation, and species extinction caused by previous generations and how these changes are affecting the world. The climate and environmental disasters in our world are important topics. These, of course, are not trends but events and need further exposure to convince those who remain uninformed. Novels covering this might do great good by informing those who avoid non-fiction but who still read fiction novels as most fiction authors are excellent researchers, too. 

Mobile phones, online media, voice-activated devices that take orders and reply back continue to change us. How they are used has led to many social trends and are now frequently an aspect of fiction stories. In reality, individuals are often more interested in what is on their phone than what is taking place around them. Taking selfies, or pictures, or videos about daily happenings and events and posting them to social media has become near obsessive-compulsive as people share many moments of their daily life. Digital relationships seem to have become more important than real-time-and-place relationships. This means social face-to-face encounters are often ignored, or at least, have changed how people interact. Sociologist Frank Fruedi of the Aspen Institute gives more information on how digital and social media are changing our culture and perhaps may produce some intriguing plot lines.

Another trend noticed is how many individuals, companies, and countries are invested in controlling or dividing cultural segments of the population for their own ends, which often leads to encouraging hate groups and increasing prejudices. The partisan attitudes this creates affects how we interact and influences democratic elections and governing by using often incorrect or misleading information. And I'm sure novels exist about computer hacking or about using digital media to manipulate others' perceptions. This trend has happened frequently in history and shown up in novels for a long time as the 1975 movie Rollerball displayed (based on a short story "Roller Ball Murder" the screenplay writer William Harrison had published in Esquire Magazine), but goes much further back to 16th century's non-fiction treatise The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli and the 1885 novel The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells.

Threat and attacks on groups have also become commonplace worldwide based on radical religious or political beliefs. The U.S. has had an ongoing 'War Against Terror' overseas for over a decade while school shootings in the country have become an epidemic. These actions affect public perception not only about the acts themselves but about those who help protect the public from such events. I think this has lead to the trend in contemporary romance stories' many themes of soldiers and first responders as main characters. Deservedly so.

Other trends that might show up in fiction is the use of Uber drivers (which has led to some serious problems, too) and Airbnb.

I also recognize how I have changed. Aging brings its own awareness and problems, but my attitudes have also changed. I worry about any product I use that contains wood. Much of our paper, furniture, home structures, even some of our medicines, use wood, and many are quickly disposed of; so are our forests. Yet the alternative is plastic, and many are careless in their disposal of this product. Awareness about how animals are raised today has drastically reduced how much meat I consume. There is a growing awareness of animals not being the thoughtless creatures believed but creatures with emotional responses and thought processes similar to our own. This has readjusted my opinion of them. Every time I get in a car I consider petroleum's effects on the atmosphere and on the ground. Will these themes occur in my stories? Yes.

These trends could play in developing plot lines in what might develop into some amazing stories in any genre. However, like all story particulars, this type of information needs to be researched and integrated into the setting with care for what the writer's purpose in writing a particular story is.

For more views on social trends in novels visit these authors' blogs.

Skye Taylor
Connie Vines
Dr. Bob Rich
Judith Copek
Fiona McGier

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Heart and Time

A short science fiction piece to celebrate the day. Take time to tell your loved ones they matter to you.
~*~
The young aide put the spoon to the age-shattered woman’s mouth.

Her cloudy eyes studied him. “You look like Justin.”

“Justin?”

“My only love. Took a rocket into space… and poof… he was gone.”

“That must have hurt.”

“It did.” The past briefly haunted her eyes. “But the hurt healed long ago.”

“Take another bite,” he commanded.

She did and sighed. “Time never waits, you know.” Soon her eyes closed as she fell asleep in her wheelchair. He lifted her into her bed.

“Space time and Earth time differ. He returned my love, just a lifetime too late.” Justin turned off the light and left her.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

How We Use Symbolism

Humans have used symbolism since they first began communicating and probably for longer than the carved and painted symbols images anthropologists have identified in ancient caves guessed at 90,000 years old. These prove some type of communication took place. Matter of fact, British researchers have found 23 words that have remained basically the same for 15,000 years, words still common in English and many other of today's languages. Image symbols go back even further, probably because they were preserved in caves. Sounds are symbols as much as images, so language itself is communicated through symbols. Gestures fall into symbolic messages, too. A simple hand movement can mean greeting or go away, join me, or stop, or be quiet. We all can read body language although it is easier to misinterpret.

Just as the same word can deliver different meanings, symbols also can represent different ideas in different cultures. Words can shift meaning, usually within the context of the sentence where they are used, but sometimes just over time. Images of certain plants and animals convey other ideas, as do colors, sounds, and certain objects. While symbols are an everyday form of communication, they can also give meaning to invisible beliefs, spirits, ideas, or moods. The history of storytelling has created many mythical but symbolic creatures such as fairies, dragons, griffins, leprechauns, mermaids, Pegasus, sphinxes, Thunderbirds, unicorns, and werewolves. I've used these in one of my fantasy stories and a book cover.

I would think it almost impossible not to use symbolism whether thinking about it or not. Every color has a symbolic meaning, black and white especially, but brown is often considered mundane, a neutral mixture of all colors, yet since earth (dirt) is usually brown, it also conveys a foundation for life. I used the color to define one character as a bland-looking man, but one with a deep moral ethic. I’ve used red to indicate evil, as shown in this paragraph:

Dressed in formal regalia, the king and court assembled in the Ruby Throne Room, named for the cerise and sanguine marble covering the floors and walls. Ancient granite columns held ornate gilded capitals supporting a mural-clad ceiling. Gold glinted everywhere in the sunlight flooding throughout the vast clerestory windows. It accentuated the floors, revealing the veining in the stone
that looked like roses twining through the blood. When Eldin first met the nit-wit Uilleam, the young man had a sing-song about the floor. ‘The court convenes in sanguine, makes peace in cerise, the king’s great floral without one moral.’

I’ve also used the flowers of crocus in a story to indicate spring’s arrival but also the hope of a brighter future, so while I cannot remember every usage of symbolism in my stories, I’m sure they are there as even certain scenes evoke symbolism. Even the cover for Magic Aegis used symbols.  This layering of meaning can be powerful, sometimes more than a simple description. The quick interpretation by the reader, whether recognized or not, also draws them further into a story.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

To Ski or Not

Bill Skiing
Bill taking a leap while skiing
I married a skier. He was instructing skiing at Mount Brighton in Michigan while we dated in college. Bill is an old-style skier carving his turns in his downhill runs.

Now when others skiers see him coming down a slope, they stop and admire the ballet-like beauty of his descent for his technique is pure splendor in motion. It’s the old style of using the skis to carve turns type of skiing. He goes down the diamond slopes in stylish ease and handles moguls or powder with equal grace. He also dances and does other acrobatic feats on his skis.

Bill still teaches skiing. I expect I am his single failure, but it wasn’t his fault. It was mine. He had our daughter and son on skis like he had been—at the age of eighteen months, and yes, he taught me when we met. I was nineteen, didn’t like the cold, and was afraid of heights. We skied Mount Brighton, Cannonsburg in Grand Rapids, Caberfae in Cadillac, Schuss Mounting in the Traverse Bay area, Boyne in Northern Michigan, and took a really great trip to the Georgian Peaks in Ontario, Canada.

I became an adequate mid-level skier, but not being an athletic person, I never fell in love with the sport. When I would stand at the top of a slope and could only see the curve of where it drops off to the ground, I would panic. What if it literally dropped off? I know—nonsense. But I couldn’t see the rest of the hill, so didn’t know what I might have to avoid. When we moved to Colorado Springs we skied at the surrounding ski sites. I always avoided the black diamond or advanced skier slopes.

Fast forward and my son is doing an internship for his college in the Salt Lake City area. We visit in winter and everyone decides to go skiing. The rest of the family wants to go to Alta. I go, but I don’t feel particularly excited, it is more the family excursion that I want to participate in. The good family skiers decide on the chairlift called ‘Wildcat.’ The sign by the lift claims the runs are diamond, actually at the time I swear I saw multiple diamonds, like four. They all reassured me that once we reach the top of the chairlift an easy slope trailed off to the left. Okay, got on the life and rode it up up.

The view on the way up this very long chairlift was inspiring, mountains, snow, and sky, with many small moving forms skiing down the slopes. The surprise came at the top: that easy slope to the left was closed. The kids take off and are gone floating down the run. I gingerly ski some distance and then fall, but I fall into a deep pocket of powder, and I cannot get out. (Never could ski powder.) Bill stops and tries to help me. It takes several minutes. I couldn’t find anything to brace against to right myself. I am now embarrassed, scared, and angry. God help me, I’m crying and out of breath, perhaps due to the altitude of 8500’ altitude, but maybe due to fury.

Bill talked encouragement to me, but I do not remember his words. I’m wondering just how do I reach the hill’s base? I’ll have to ski.

“You can take the chair down,” Bill suggests.

And let everyone coming up seeing me descend in defeat? No, I can’t, so I will ski down.

I don’t know how I got down. I don’t remember any of it. I did not fall again. I don’t know how fast or slow I went, but I finally saw the bottom of the hill. Once there I took off my skis and walk into the Wildcat Base building and waited for everyone else to finish their day.

I never strapped skis on again. I did not realize until much later that the slope, even though I got down it, defeated me anyway. It made me tell me I just couldn’t do it even though I did. Chicken shit.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

How Does Fiction Deal with Our Fast-Changing World?


Sum4u [Creative Commons]
Our world changes increasingly fast, and the last decade has shown dramatic changes in how people see their world. The effects of scientists' predictions on not only our climate but also on our way of living on Earth are coming home to roost. Our world is reacting. Our failure to predetermine the effects our great inventions would have on our world is worse than negligent. We can put a name on it: Pollution. Land. Air. Water.

Another huge change is how digital electronics are taking over communication, media, and life.

And now we are now learning amazing things about other living organisms in this world (Tomatoes can emit ultrasonic screams when wounded; are they communicating?), and how intelligent elephants and octopus are (9 brains!). At the same time, we still don't know how some of our recent changes will affect other world's lifeforms, such as our plethora of cell towers emitting unseen microwave radiation. We ignored the effects plastics might have, and now have too much of it everywhere.

While I want to be optimistic, I have a great sense of pessimism at willful human ignorance. Yet the inclusion of these changes in fiction writing can have broad and often positive effects. Depending on the genre, the absence or inclusion of this knowledge will affect story-telling. How could it not? The time when a story is written often inherently marks it, whether the author means their writing to do so or not. This is because everyone's mindset is trapped in their own time's reality of mores, manners, and living styles, and the characters they develop often inadvertently expose these.

This is how I think fiction changes our world:

1) Most fiction shows people have not changed in thousands of years but have coped through dangerous times.
I think all genres provide reading pleasure but also provide insight and can incite readers to action. While historical novels try to show life and happenings in a particular period, those written by contemporary authors let aspects of modern mores often trickle in. The same is true of novels cast in the far future. This provides interesting results in both genres and also allows the reader to empathize with the characters. Change has always been inevitable. Today's society faces many uncertainties, including overpopulation which affects the Earth's limited resources. That is one of my pessimist's thoughts. Here is my optimism: Human have faced near extinction before and survived. We are smarter (maybe a dangerous mix of some too smart and some too ignorant) so we might come to a universal accord on how to deal with today's changing world. We might survive. Fiction has already predicted this but usually after a long, dangerous interval in many apocalyptic stories.

2) Most fiction gives readers insight and hope about social trends.
While historicals often explain past events, they also give a reader some insight into what the world was like without all the advances of technology. I would certainly believe the violence and shooting during the past decades in schools and businesses might effect mystery novels. It could be an important topic in contemporary romance, too, as to how it affects those involved. While fiction could help inform readers on the ways to avoid detection in malfeasance, it could do the opposite and discover the criminal. This could be true as in the last two years, DNA has identified murderers involved in decades-old crimes. It's a strange world.

3) Fiction has predicted and inspired change.
The ideas created in science fiction have affected our world. Who would have guessed how Star Trek changed the world from sliding doors to personal computers (and more)? Yes I know, Star Trek was a TV show, but it was fiction and writers wrote the scripts. There are many articles on this, I tried to choose a source with some authority. And fans are still thinking about the series. One trek fan predicts how the world can proceed without money. His article even drew praise from economists, so it could have future effects.

4) Fiction can open minds to accepting different cultures, societal changes, and issues.
Open-mindedness about gender and sexuality has changed and it has been predicted in fiction, perhaps fiction even helped develop the change. Digital communications have changed romance. These changes will infiltrate contemporary fiction. And our contemporary fiction is always evolving into historical fiction.
~*~
Read these authors take on how contemporary fiction deals with our rapidly changing world:

Monday, January 20, 2020

Writing Goals for 2020

I'm a little late posting my 20's goals, but I was finishing off a stalled novel. Finally finished Angel's Tread, the fourth and last volume of the Black Angel series.  At 60K words I didn't know where to take the story, but in the first weeks of 2020 I wrote another 15K to finish the story. Now I'm deciding what I want to accomplish this year.

I have several projects, one is to write the second volume of the Carolingian's series. Another is to change genres to a contemporary romance and to a 40s romance.  Whether I will or won't, I find it helps to have goals written down.

Another goal is to get some regular posts in my Rhobin's Garden blog. It's been a while. It might take a more environmental angle, though.

Other than those projects, I have some painting and other art projects to complete and some to start besides painting rooms.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A third excerpt from Constantine's Legacy


Fifteen-year-old Leonard has been given the duty to keep watch of the new anointed king's son and nephew. Young boys, especially those now in a hereditary line of power, can get you in trouble.
~*~
Karl’s eyes squinted at Leonard. “You will not tell anyone, will you?” 

“I give you my oath, also, to always be your loyal man.” His words went far beyond the required, and Karl’s regard showed he knew it. Leonard looked directly into Karl’s clear blue eyes, perceptive enough to realize he might be swearing to his future king, but a flicker of doubt deepened his voice, which promptly cracked into a higher pitch. Both boys laughed. He glared at them through his embarrassment. Their humor at his expense ceased. 

Karl’s smile widened further. “Follow me.” He took fast steps toward the main building. Nithgard ran after Karl’s longer stride. Leonard sighed, wondering what trouble he had agreed to.

“You swore to be quiet!” Karl warned as he slid between two wooden portico slats. “No, I swore not to tell,” Nithgard replied, lowering his shrill child’s voice to a whisper. 

What was an adequate space for a large nine-year-old was a tight squeeze for Leonard. He pulled his body between the wooden slats hiding the understructure of the porch. He ducked low to avoid hitting his head on support beams, swore softly, and followed the boys as they squirmed their way through the debris beneath the porch flooring. The strong scent of earth and human waste assaulted his nose. Karl and Nithgard were quickly far ahead of him down the length of the building. Crawling, he swore again and saw the boys’ shadowed shapes disappear. He hurried forward, sometimes in a hunched-over walk and sometimes in a near crawl using his hands on supports to help pull himself forward. The light from between the slats diminished as he turned the corner where the boys had disappeared. He watched their shadowed movements through the foundation supports of the building. It took his eyes a moment to readjust to the near pitch darkness, but some light filtered in from the floor slats overhead. Losing sight of his charges, he followed the whispers ahead of him. A hand pulled him to the side, and he let out a low squeal at the assault.

“Quiet!” Karl hissed in his ear, “just a little further.”

They crawled down what seemed a crack in the earth and piled into a small space between support beams. Leonard flopped down, supporting his back against one of the beams, and saw the boys only as dark outlines except for the dim light’s reflection in their eyes. 

“Here,” Karl whispered. “We can listen to the council meet.” 

Leo’s heart tripped in fear. How had he let himself be dragged into eavesdropping on his leader’s private conference? If caught, he would be whipped. He could feel the lashes. Although he had never been whipped, he had seen it done. 

It was too late to retreat. Footsteps sounded on the floor planks above their secluded spot. From the sound, he judged several men stood overhead. Hearing the voices above him, he dare not speak. He swallowed in panic, recognizing his father’s voice. Leonard knew he was committing an act of treachery. He glared at Karl, who must have seen his look, for he shrank back against the opposite beam. 

“I cannot see anything, what...?” As Nithgard’s near-normal voice broke their stillness, Leonard quickly grabbed him and put a hand over the child’s mouth. Nithgard did not squirm for release but held deathly still. The enlarged gleam of the boy’s eyes showed his shock. Nithgard faced no punishment for his actions. Most likely Karl did not face discipline either, but Leonard knew as their guardian, he would suffer the consequence if anyone discovered his charges’ location. If not by Pepin’s order, by his father’s hand, maybe both. With what he hoped was a blood-curdling whisper, he demanded, “Quiet."

Saturday, January 4, 2020

A Reflection on Our Sky

Cloudy sky dotted with hot air balloons.

Reality

When I am outside, whether gardening, walking, driving, or just standing, I always look upward... many times. Doesn’t everybody? The majestic display often makes me feel minuscule and fills me with awe of the majesty and expanse of this world blanket of air. The sky's appearance is always changing, some days by the minute and some days over many hours. Only when the sky is cloud free does it ever look the same, and even then, depending on the day and time, not always. When clouds are present, it is always different. In many ways, the sky defines not only our ability to live on Earth but also our daily reality.

During daylight hours, the sky can be an empty, clear and a startling blue cover. Other times it is dotted with glorious puffs of snow-white puff-ball clumps of clouds slowly moving and shifting in shape or filled with stacks of billowing rotund froths of clouds. The sun's light highlights the upper edges in a glowing, angelic white while the lower parts have grey-lined edges lining darker undersides giving them three-dimensional shapes. Occasionally, high flying wisps, commonly called mares tails or Cirrus clouds, decorate the sky’s vastness. Sometimes clouds seem to stand still, other times they move at a fast, rolling, often threatening pace. Sporadically a dense blanket of grey predicting storms covers the sky and hides its upper reaches.

Along with the clouds’ visual grandeur, the wind created by the atmospheric movement affects our hearing. The sound can be soft whispers moving through the needle or leaf-lined branches of trees. or it can rage in a howling volume over the ground as well as the sky.

We judge the weather by its appearance, and to those gazing at the clouds, they provide predictive clues. They can be delightful, inspiring viewers' imaginations to visualize shapes like ships, or dragons, cats or whales in their vast undulating vastness. Clouds can change how the sun and its rays appear in the sky in fascinating ways. They can also show what will be an average, ordinary good day, or express impending storms of either rain or snow. Some cloud signs are so severe they indicate approaching danger. Thunderclaps startle us, and lightning bolts frighten but fascinate us. Tornadoes and hurricanes spell peril and disaster.

Olathe, Kansas, cloud photo taken by Karen Crnkovich
Watching the sky shows life’s adaptations. Birds and man-made conveyances often fly by. The birds glide and soar on unseen winds and drafts or can wing their way to anywhere. Sometimes they dart after smaller, flying insects. Airplanes and helicopters pass with loud engine noise.

On cloudless nights a phenomenal view of the universe appears showing its grandeur and the Earth’s movement. The moon’s reflected light often falls on clouds in a glow the sun seldom creates. Infrequently, northern lights play over and through the darkness. And occasionally, flying objects pass, showcased in reflected light, those closer to Earth often appear as dark shadows.

Inspiration

The sky in all its glory has enchanted man for millennia, probably since consciousness began, inspiring mythology, ideologies, and freeing human imaginations. Skies have imbued humans with stories for their own purpose on Earth. While we still watch clouds and let our minds float in cloud-based inspiration about creation,  finding imaginary images within those vast collections of water molecules, so did ancient peoples. The ancient ones often discovered hidden images and meanings. For eons, mankind's stories have been imbued with ancient sky gods and stories of the creation.

More than 2,000 years before Christ, the Sumerian god Anu reigned over the sky and held rein over the entire universe as the ultimate power of the world. Around the same time, or maybe long before, the Egyptian god Ra (sun), the goddess Nut (sky), and Horus personified as a falcon, ruled over the Eqyptian sky. Greek mythology had Zeus as the god of heaven and Earth, and Nephele was a cloud nymph. Zeus became Jupiter in Roman mythology.

On the other side of the world, the Navajo’s spirit Absonnutli created the sky. In New Zealand, Rangi, the sky father, and Papa, the Earth mother, were locked in a tight embrace with their children caught in the darkness between their bodies. Their children tore their parents apart, creating the world.

In the Hindu lexicon, Indra holds authority over the sky with his thunderbolt weapon as does the god Thor in Germanic mythology.

I find it interest how often males were sun gods and females Earth goddesses, maybe saying men represented energy and women matter, tying it to today's physics.

Science

The sky’s atmosphere exists miles above the Earth, holding molecules of gases and all the billions of water molecules that form clouds. Just because they float, doesn't mean they are any more weightless than the moon. Those clouds weight far more than their floating images imply--sometimes we have the weight of a hundred elephants or more floating overhead, delivering water and snow to the Earth's surface.

As sunlight diffuses through the sky's many molecules, Rayleigh scattering lets the shorter, blue waves of light color the daytime sky. Red waves often appear to color the sunset sky.

Photo of Traverse City's East Bay, Sunset by Chris Courtright

Moreover, we know the atmosphere’s gases allow life on Earth. The atmosphere of the sky provides oxygen for animals and carbon dioxide for plants. Plants and animals work in symbiosis to expel into the air what the other life form needs. The atmosphere also invades and filters into everything, even the Earth itself: its waters, its caves, and even its soil. It holds other gases, too, like Nitrogen, Argon, Hydrogen, and Helium. The higher the atmosphere rises, the less vapor it holds. Gravity gathers most of the molecules close to its surface in the Troposphere. Above this layer, the Stratosphere holds a cover called the Ozone layer, composed of O3, which helps protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It is also present nearer ground level where it mixes with human-created pollutants from industry and vehicles. This creates smog becoming a danger to human health.

Knowledge lies out there… Of course, our night vision shows the vast universe of stars. We know much about the various objects in the sky that ancient man marveled over but never understood, not that we have complete understanding today. We have the hope of someday exploring it, and perhaps finding other Earth-like places. We know devastation lies out there, too – asteroids could crash into Earth, cosmic rays present a danger to human space travel, and black holes suck the matter and energy out of everything in their reach; plus the debris humans have left in space spells danger.

Spoiled

Humanity has tended to take the Earth for granted, including its sky. Many people are unconcerned with how our actions and inventions have changed and polluted the very things we depend on for life: water, earth, and air. We have filled our air with Sulfur dioxide, Carbon monoxide, and Nitrogen dioxide. Poisonous dust particles also float in the air. In some parts of today's world, it is not unusual to see inhabitants wearing face masks to prevent inhaling dangerous particles from smog, smoke, and other exhaust gases of man’s making. It is a dangerous situation of our own making; hopefully, one we can repair.