Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Gift of Angels

Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni in
17th Century from Wikipedia.
We all assume we know what angels are and where they come from, but in many respects, angels are as mysterious as many other classic symbols.

The word angel derives from the Late Latin word angelus based on an earlier Greek word angelos meaning messenger, which in later ages was used in translating the Hebrew word for Jehovah’s messenger. This means the concept of an angel is involved in communication as are all our other symbols.

Angels appear in the Jewish Tanakh, the Christian Bibles, and in the Muslim Quran, where they act as God's envoys and sometimes human mentors. According to these texts, thousands of angles exist even if never named or mentioned. Angles, being God’s messengers, can deliver messages and warning, plus provide insight and understanding. Meeting one can be either good or bad, perhaps because messages can be either.

The Tanakh, or Hebrew Scriptures, mentions hosts of angels but not by name, while the text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud,  names four archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. They surround the throne of God.

The Muslim Quran mentions the angels Azreaeel, Israafeel, Mikaa'eel, and Gabriel by name. 

While the Christian Bible mentions hosts of angels, only three are mentioned: Gabriel, archangel Michael, and Lucifer. Lucifer, the angel who brought God light for his creation and also known as the star of the morning (also known as Venus), was cast from heaven with other angels who had joined him. They created hell and a war began between heaven's angels and the fallen angels, now demons. Lucifer came to represent the embodiment of evil, but that doesn’t mean all heavenly angles have an entirely clean slate. Here is the good and evil conundrum: what is good for one society (or person) can be evil to another, and what is evil in one society or culture can be considered good in another. The boundaries between good and evil are not always finite.

As symbols, we have certain mental images of angels as winged human-like beings, but ancient texts describe them differently. Some look like babies. Some have two, four or even six wings, some have no wings. Some have halos or carry a staff or a sword. Other angles appear, depending on the viewer’s angle of vision, in different forms such as a lion, an ox, or an eagle. And as spiritual beings (or of the mind) they have no bodies except the viewer’s perspective. Why are there no documented female angels? Well angels, despite their names, were presumably non-gender; they lived forever so had no need for procreation.

In many respects, angels (and devils) exist within us just like the images of a person with an angel on one should and a devil on the other. They exist within our minds, providing each of us with private messages. This is their gift. These messages can provide guidance. Today I tend to think of angels as existing all around us, especially in the people who do inspiring or good acts. Demonic angels drive those who do cruel and evil acts. Some of these individuals are known through our media, but many remain unacknowledged. The deeds of those who show human kindness and generosity often lead others to do the same, but make no mistake, we all have both compulsions inside our minds.

These everyday angles, like the angles in the Bible, come in many categories from people to animals. They spread hope, caring, love, and the chance for a change which will lead to a better life and a better world.

With my imagination in high gear, I have to consider what good some animals provide, and since some have four wings, do bees, dragonflies, and butterflies fall into the category of angels? Despite mosquitoes having wings (two), are they devils?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Odd Characters

This month’s topic is about the oddest characters I have ever dreamed up and how did they fit into a story? I had to think about this, because what is odd? Everyone has certainly run into odd behavior in acquaintances. Matter of fact I think at one time or another I’ve exhibited odd behavior, but does that mean I’m only being eccentric, or am I weird, or bizarre? Odd might often be defined by each reader and their concept of odd. Could odd mean as in unmatched, which also implies a character might be singularly remarkable? I guess it is open to interpretation, but authors have to make characters relatable in some way. Sometimes it is only situations characters find themselves in that make them different. A character's oddity can add purpose to a storyline, or create a plot turn, or make them memorable to the reader. It all depends on their purpose in the story.

One of my first stories had some of my oddest characters: the heroine Jezlynn Chambers and the villain Morgan Dachs. It is a space opera odyssey, so just about anything goes. In The Black Angel series, Jezlynn is a person with six personalities, which she tries to hide. As one of the reputed mutineers on the Embassy Class spaceship Constant, she is publicly reviled for an event she does not remember. However, through several stories, the ship's first officer, Morgan Dachs, becomes an even odder character. The Constant was severely damaged during an attack but made it to safety with only a few survivors and those mostly from the embassy staff onboard. As the ship's first officer, and a member of a politically and militarily powerful family, Morgan became the hero of the situation. He reported eighteen crew members committed mutiny before the attack.

So Jezlynn's odd condition is partially a plot device in that she cannot understand who she was with no memory, so as she searches for her former crewmates, she is also searching for her own identity.

In truth, another ship threatened to finish the Constant’s destruction. Its chief officer demanded payment. A desperate and enraged Morgan beat Jezlynn insensible believing she knew there were ship repair components onboard, ignoring her claim none existed. Since no wealth existed on the crippled ship, Morgan traded crew members to be sold as slaves to save the ship. Jezlynn was one crew member traded since she probably wouldn’t survive. Just in case she did, and to prevent any possibility of her relating what happened onboard, before leaving the ship she received a huge dose of diamine, a dangerous drug known for slowing aging but destroying the mind. Two years later Jezlynn escaped from slavery, but by then her mind held six different personalities, and she had no memory of her past. Her reputation was ruined, and Morgan Dachs' protectors made sure her future was destroyed. By then Morgan was also using disamine in what he believed were safe dosages. Later he becomes the obsessed, deranged, stalker-villain of the series as shown in Devil's Due, the story where the truth becomes known.

I think readers realize from reality what the wide range of personalities exist and the length some individuals will go to achieve what they think they want, often influenced by their childhood and experiences, their genetics and overall mental health. Some do wondrous good, others unfathomable evil. As writers, we often exploit these characteristics in our characters to entertain our readers and to sometimes show how people can change and grow.

Please visit the following author's to see their take on odd characters:

Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
A.J. Maguire
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Diane Bator
Beverley Bateman
Fiona McGier
Judith Copek

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Snow: The Biography by Giles Whittel

Did you know dust is an essential element of a snowflake? Do you know how many snowflakes it takes to make a snowman? Or how many snowmen can be made from Earth’s daily snowfall in just ten minutes? Besides information about snowflakes and other types of snow, the book provides mind-boggling knowledge such as the Earth might once have been a snowball, or the largest snowfalls in a single day, or how much snowdrops on the Earth every day. It has even snowed in both northern Africa and South America. It will utterly surprise the reader because the amount of snow far exceeds expectations. Why does it snow? What causes snow to be so slippery? How does the Earth benefit from snow? These topics bring up the entertainment snow has provided humans and its dangers such as avalanches.

Coming from Michigan, I am very familiar with snow, but what author Giles Whittell, a correspondent for England’s The Times, who has traveled the world both for his work and for his obsession with snow, presents often unknown information. Besides explaining snowfall, he tells how snow, which once covered our mountain tops and far northern and southern climes, is now receding, and how its reflective qualities have helped stabilize the Earth’s temperatures. Some unfamiliar scientific terminology might slow reading, but SNOW provides fascinating realities about snow and gives warning that snow may end this century. This could lead not only to economic disaster for some countries but also will increase global warming.

Taken 11/1/19 in Luther, Michigan
-- an after Halloween surprise!
Whittell provides a history of human involvement with the cold, white (actually transparent as all light waves reflect off it making it seem white) substance. As a ski enthusiast, he gives great examples of skiing and mountain climbing extremes and achievements involving dangerous or at least risky snow conditions. 

Snow is an engrossing book whether you live in a snowy area or not.
It comes out on November 19.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Unique Situations

This month’s topic is about unique situations occurring in the writing process. For me, this might include unique things that happen within the actual writing of a story.

Thinking through my initial ideas is where I usually come up with situations for my stories. A few times during the writing process I have stalled out and had to rethink a  story's events to find a new avenue, but I'm a plotter, so most ideas come int the prewriting process. Most often my unique situations involve either the setting or the characters. This, I am sure, is part of the process of writing in the science fiction and fantasy genre, which led me to use it in other genres, too.

For instance, when I thought up Home World Aginfeld, it was the setting that formed a unique situation. I didn’t initially come up with the plot or idea behind it until I first wondered how foreign planets could be inhabited. The action in this story takes place on a distant planet where the people have lived in huge habitats for a thousand years because the first settlers need places to live as they began the process of bio-forming the planet. Yet after all that time indoors, the population became leery of leaving their secure habitats. Once started, another unique situation occurred. The story starts out on a misogynistic world where a woman commits a burglary. The main female character doesn't start the story but was misidentified as the culprit which led to her capture and a death sentence in the now feudal type society of Aginfeld. The real burglar turned out to be her sister.

Most of my research for bio-forming at that time showed only possibilities. With the current interest in inhabiting Mars, more scientific information is now available, but it is still only probabilities, no promises.

In Crewkin it was the characters. I imagined companies raising groups of genetically altered children isolated together to form crews for spaceships spending years in space. The for-profit companies no longer saw these crews as people, but merely tools. The story revolves around one ‘Crewkin’ member who didn’t want to follow the company dictates and sets out to find a new life.

The focus in the Black Angel Series was also focused on a character. The main character survives a massive overdose of a drug known to destroy minds. Her mind divided into six different personalities. Much later in the writing process, I discovered a symbiotic organism had invaded the character to evoke this change.

In the fantasy Aegis Series, it is also the characters who are unique. This is a world where the ‘magic’ certain characters perform is not hocus-pocus trickery but mental abilities.

Stories set in historical or contemporary realities can also have unique changes. These often happen during the writing process where readers expect difficulties. While creating these, unique ideas can form that change the planned plotline. This happened to my writing quite often in Constantine’s Legacy. I’ve discovered it is part of the enjoyment and diversion in writing.

A.J. Maguire
Connie Vines
Skye Taylor
Judith Copek
Beverley Bateman
Helena Fairfax
Dr. Bob Rich 
Diane Bator

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.