Thursday, December 29, 2016

Journaling or Preserving Time

Here it is the last week of 2016. Certainly, most everyone remembers the big events of this now passing year: the wonderful get-togethers, parties, and personal achievements, the election campaign. Many have sent images and messages to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, or other social sites about those. Then there are the terrible and horrible moments. They will haunt the mind at odd moments in the future but somehow with a different impact. Daily-do-it-again moments will get lost in the sheer repetitiousness of daily living and will often be forgotten, along with the things of importance that take place in small moments of revelation, of chance occurrences, of small talk, and of familiar moments with family or friends.

The fact is few people have a perfect memory or recall. Plus, time seems to move faster the older you get meaning you remember even less. Something even the Washington Post reported on. While a second is a second, a minute a minute, and a year a certain number of days, they tend to bleed together and become a lost jumble of experiences. One way to preserve the memories of 2016 or any other future year is by keeping a record, or journaling, also known as keeping a diary but the former sounds more interesting. The practice even has advantages according to Psych Central.
Social media has given everyone with digital access the ability to not only preserve a memory but also to share it with others. People seem driven to post and re-post everything, and it is interesting, sometimes overwhelmingly so.  These outlets give everyone the opportunity to practice freedom of speech along with presenting personal ideas, events, and opinions, just as is being done here. 

Yet we’re learning some of the drawbacks. Hate is easier to export. A sense of privacy can be lost. Sometimes, a person's accidental or idiotic moments are caught in embarrassing detail by someone else and then publicly distributed for eternal entertainment. Social media can also become an addiction, and time and experience in the real world can diminish.  PsychCentral has numerous articles on these problems, just search social media problems. Some unscrupulous individuals also use social media to post fake news, to dupe audiences for fun and to garner clicks for increased revenues from advertisements on their page. The world is learning some of those sites might create major world consequences such as this week's Pakistan nuclear threat with Israel. News sites inundate the world with what is happening, but since news on TV has become more opinion-based rather than a presentation of investigation results, audiences are more open to being told what to think, making it easier to believe phony news.

So why should anyone do anything privately? Because when you take time to write about your personal world daily, or weekly, or even monthly in a private forum, you preserve memories of a more significant personal nature rather than provide information to entertain friends as with social media. Private reminiscences provide personal growth. Everyone’s day-to-day changes with time. Circumstances change, employment changes, and moves are made. Neighbors, friends, and even family change. These changes can be stressful with no time for anything else, or so subtle events pass largely unnoticed and unobserved. Writing about them can spur the mind to recall those hectic details and help relieve that stress, or on the other hand, describe the pleasure of those mundane, peaceful times.
Writing about your personal world and events does more than just preserve memories. It helps you sort through those events, both the enjoyable and the unpleasant, and reflect on what you learned, or they can help you solve a problem. Journaling helps you become more observant, and helps give you  insight into who you are. It also provides you a personal history you can go back and visit, events that otherwise will be lost by time with each passing year. Things like how you felt, how you or others reacted to certain events, the minute moments that fashion you. That is what makes journaling valuable.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Include a Prologue or Epilogue, Yes or No?

I think this is an interesting topic, but the answer depends on the story the author is telling. Recently I've read many epilogues in books, particularly romances both historical and contemporary, where the epilogue shows how happy the couple finally are together with all the misunderstandings presented in the story at an end. My personal feeling after reading these is that some work, some don't. The same goes for prologues. These are very popular in scifi and fantasy books, and in mysteries or thrillers. They help set up a background event for the story, and because they are labeled a prologue, don't create a jarring jump for the reader when the second chapter starts in another place and time from chapter one. Yet sometimes a time or location byline at the beginning of the chapter accomplishes the same transition. Again, I think some work and some don't, mostly based on whether they draw me into the story or don't. Everything depends on the author's purpose for including a prologue or epilogue.

Prologue, according to Merriam-Webster Online, is "the preface or introduction to a literary work." I've seen introductions called preludes and prefaces, too, which seems incorrect to me. A preface is "the introductory remarks of a speaker or author," which to me in most cases appears in nonfiction rather than fiction. For me, a prelude is a more music-related term, although the definition could meet the label for a prologue. 

I admit to having used a prologue in Devil's Due, but I had a purpose. The previous two books in the Black Angel series had mentioned an event out of some of the characters' pasts to explain their present behavior, but many questions remained about exactly what happened. In the prologue of Devil's Due, I gave the perspective of what occurred from the person most involved in the disaster's results. That way the reader knew the character, who also had an active part in this book's storyline. It gave a historical background for his decision, his mental state, and his family's influence.

I will also admit I have yet to find the need for an epilogue, or "a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work." My last chapter usually completes that function, and I haven't found the need to have an epilogue to finish the storyline. (And yes, I know, it can be either storyline or storyline--I love English and its many peculiarities of spelling.) I have read some that worked, particularly in an ongoing series where the last chapter concluded the story's action, but the epilogue showed the continuation of some aspect or action within the story ancillary to ending.

Personally, I think the author needs to seriously consider what the prologue or epilogue add to the story, and if it is better explained in the story itself before using either one.

So my answer depends.

Visit these blogs for more opinions on this topic:
Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich
Marci Baun 
A.J. Maguire 
Victoria Chatham
Anne Stenhouse 
Helena Fairfax
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosinski
Kay Sisk

Friday, December 2, 2016

Flock Together -- B. J. Hollars

A Love Affair with Extinct Birds
University of Nebraska Press
ISBN 10: 0-803-29642-8
ISBN 13: 978-0-803-29642-8)

FLOCK TOGETHER is a narrative journey of the author, B. J. Hollars, to become a birder, but also to present a warning to humanity. It starts with the presumed extinction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, last seen in 1972, but then claimed to have been seen in 2005. (I have to insert here that I believe I saw two at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1982? 83? – They were huge, had the red top knot and I distinctly remember the white on the wings since I was looking the strange looking woodpecker up in a bird book. Our local DNR said I was mistaken. Maybe, only remember what I thought I saw.) Hollars also went to a Passenger Pigeon Symposium, which led him to a monument for the bird with the following wording on its base: “The species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.” Who knew mankind could kill billions of pigeons in 40 years? The monument is right, what an ignoble exploit. He talks about many other birders who spend time recording bird sightings and their viewpoints, and spends much effort in searching out museums about birds and their legacies. He claims the dwindling numbers of North American birds are due to loss of habitat, cats (Oh, God, I’m guilty), and windows. I am glad to say I could list more names of birds than he claimed the average American could list, but then you have to consider my name, Robin. I do agree, also, with his statement that the in the Bible, God gave man dominion over animals for care giving rather than consumption. So true, after all, He gave no guarantee of a second world if we screw this one up. Bird watching is not quite what most people think it is. Yes it is searching for different birds and keeping a bragging list, but it is also about caring for the environment and all the creatures living on Earth. Throughout his narrative, Hollars gives us warning to be aware of the many warnings we’ve already had, and to become the concerned caregivers we should have been all along.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

100 Plants to Feed Bees -- Xerces Society

Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Published December 2016 by Storey Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1612-12701-0
ISBN-13: 978-1612-12701-9

While this book is a handbook of plants insects need, it is an important book for every gardener. The book begins with a very interesting short version of the multi-million-year history of how plants and insects evolved into essential partnerships. For those who have ignored environmental problems, bees have been disappearing, and bees and humans also have an essential partnership. The DNR claims bees pollinate approximately roughly 75% of the vegetables, fruits, and nuts we eat. Personally, I love those plant products and want to keep bees around to do what they do best. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a distinct decline in the number of honeybees visiting my plants.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES offers an extensive list of plants whose flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, and not only honey bees but native bees and other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each plant section contains a photo of the plant, the plant’s botanical name, and some basic information on the plant, plus a map of where it grows. Interesting information and sometimes warnings about the plant are also included. An example of a warning is mustard, which is considered a noxious weed in some locations, and illegal to grow.

Included in the 100 plants are native wildflowers and non-native or introduced wildflowers (weeds), garden plants, herbs, trees and shrubs, and even pasture plants. I was glad to see many of the plants I’ve recognized growing in my area, and my garden holds many other recommended selections. I was surprised to see Tilia Americana or the common basswood tree, until I remembered standing under my trees when in bloom and hearing myriad bees busy in the tree’s unseen upper stories. I appreciated the list of insects each plant attracts far beyond bees, too. I looked over an online version of the book, and then pre-order a volume. I recommend all gardeners purchase a copy of 100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES, and a big thanks to Xerces Society authors Eric Lee-M├Ąder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood for this work.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wording--Intent and Purpose

Any word creates communication. Most words hold multiple meanings and connotations, especially in the context of the words mixed with it. This makes word choice essential in presenting purpose. The understanding of every communication depends on this, and it works.
Visual communication includes more than words. Appearance, body language, topic, tone of voice, facial expressions, and specific words used all play a part. Tone, delivery speed, and loudness assist with audio communication. Real-time conversations are often off the cuff. Due to this, even with expressions and tones, spur of the moment wording frequently creates misunderstanding.
When only words are used, the choice of words must make up for all that is missing in other forms of communication. Depending on genre and intent, editing of recorded communications of any type can correct or distort words. All writers use this inherent quality of words to load them with intent. Factual writers most often work to avoid such ambiguity, but storytellers develop it to exploit character and meaning. In turn, the readers interpret meaning according to their understanding of the words. In fiction, this can change the reader’s perception of characters and their actions.
For instance, Dr. Bob (one of the writers listed below) gave this example for this blog topic: She had to be the sexiest-looking 42-year-old on the planet, the best that money could buy.
Is this loaded language? Yes. Is it good or bad? Actually, neither and both; it depends on the writer’s purpose, which depends on who makes this observation within the story, and the writer’s intent for the character so described. The ultimate interpretation depends on the reader, their empathy and perception of the words’ purpose.
Every story is just a compilation of words used to expose character and situation, yet every reader’s personal experiences and imagination respond to the framework of the words used. Based on both the author’s word choices and the reader’s interaction with those words, their acumen, biases, perceptions, and sympathies give either understanding or confusion. Furthermore, a writer might use a word’s meaning to clarify, or even to lead the reader astray, with the intent for an emotional effect that increases the readers' interest. Luckily, whether the author uses commonplace or unusual wording, or desires to clarify or introduce uncertainty, the language lets the author play within the reader’s mind. The words build a sense of place and reality, allowing each reader to understand a character or situation, which grows the story’s purpose.

Wording is important. Yet I have to admit, in my fiction writing, I sometimes use ambiguous wording to encourage reader involvement. As a reader, I have found this a very useful technique either to cement a character's qualities or to mislead the reader temporarily for a better understanding later; however, authors need awareness of their wording choices without overdoing it.

Check out these blogs for more insight on word choices:

Skye Taylor
Marci Baun 
Margaret Fieland
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
Dr. Bob Rich 
Rachael Kosinski
Judith Copek
Helena Fairfax
A.J. Maguire