Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Our World on Plastics

Our Earth has a human-induced plastic problem. Plastic fills our dumps, our land, and oceans, and our air. Plastics not only make containers and equipment but are in cars, clothes, food packages, candy wrappers, papers, cigarettes, and our media devices. Just about everything has plastics in it, including our drinking water, food, and our bodies. The problem is we don’t know the ultimate effect of microplastics on our environment or within our bodies or how to remove them.

Earth's land, water, and air are not ours, but part of the Earth where we live. Yes, you intuitively know that, but we act like we own the Earth. Some say God gave us this world to do with as we please. If so, he never promised a second world.

Plastics are necessary, and many people remain ignorant or uncaring about the problems that come from the unplanned disposal of all the plastic products we use. Our ever-increasing need for plastics and the resulting pollution expands as our populations' demand for products surpass the limits of the Earth’s natural products to provide them.

We do not know all the dangers of the plastics to the Earth, but we can see what is happening in our waters. Many of us have seen the images of fish, seals, turtles, and other creatures caught up in plastics. We have islands of plastic floating in our oceans. Helen Briggs points out in a BBC article what might be happening to our water wildlife. She states "A study found bits of plastic outnumber baby fish by seven to one in the nursery waters off Hawaii," AND, “There is growing evidence that plastic is being ingested by marine life, but the health implications are unclear.”

"Not only does it contaminate our oceans, but 22 million pounds of plastic are dumped into the Great Lakes every year" (Tony Briscoe, Chicago Tribune). Now, how they measured this I'm unsure, but I think its safe to say, we throw huge amounts of plastic into our waterways.

Plus, in Michigan, where every square inch is watershed for the Great Lakes, the state has tons of plastics dumped into landfills that have grown into mountains. Plastic in landfills may take 1000 years to decompose, and scientists are not sure how microparticles, those very tiny plastic particles that remain plastic and are now found in Earth's air, water, and soil, will affect our ecosystems (UN Environment Program). Humans also freely dispose of any unwanted trash, much of it plastic, on roadsides, sidewalks, nature trails, and in our local, state, and national parks. I know because I help pick it up. We've all seen images of marine life caught in plastic, but it goes further, affecting microorganisms.

So, if you don't care about what effect plastics are having on the chain of life, do you care that you now have microplastics in your body? They are in your water, even your beer and other liquid products, and in the food you consume. Microplastics are in the air you breathe. So what? The Ecology Center explains more and gives problem information related to each type of plastic. Microplastics can toxify your body with lead, cadmium, or mercury. It can damage fatty acids, which are important in brain function. It can affect other important body chemistry which can cause indigestion or depression problems. Further, it can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or pancreas or thyroid damage as well as have effects on testosterone.

What makes plastics? Plastics are objects made from malleable synthetic or organic polymers, of repeating, often very long molecular threads of carbon and other elemental atoms. Biopolymers are natural and found in every living organism, but synthetic polymers differ. While biopolymers are the foundation of some of our natural products like cotton, linen, paper, and silk, synthetic polymers are man-made plastics. They play an important role in our way of life. Yes, they are made of natural elements but differ.

When was plastic invented? Alexander Parkes, a British scientist, invented the first plastic Parkesine in 1856 and through several variations became registered as celluloid in 1872. It is based on the natural compound cellulose. Celluloid became important in the photography and film industries. Movies were made from it.

Bakelite was patented by Leo Baekeland in 1907 and it was the first plastic made from synthetic materials. It soon formed the body components or containers of radios, telephones, and other household products. The invention of Bakelite led to the development of many other plastics.

This means that in 1000 years all known plastics used in the last 148 years will have degenerated into the elements that made them. If we control our disposal and find safe disposable systems now.

What makes up plastics today? Based on the materials used to create plastic, we have seven basics types of plastic which create products now vital to our way of life. They compose many of our appliances, containers, clothes, and even vehicles. The problem is too many people carelessly dispose of them both consciously and unconsciously.

Each type of plastic differs from others. Some are reusable, but others can become hazardous material after usage. Some plastics are easily recyclable, others are more difficult.

Take your nearest plastic product, maybe the lunch box you brought from home, your water bottle, your instant noodle cup. Study it closely, and you might find a number at its back or bottom. You probably already know what the number represents. It indicates the product's type of plastic.

Seven types of plastic exist, Types 1, 2 and 5 are considered the safest for food and 1 and 2 are the most recyclable.
Type 1: PET or PETE, or Polyester (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is primarily used for food and beverage packaging as it helps prevent oxygen from entering a package’s contents. It also produces a wrinkle-free fabric. It does contain antimony which is a carcinogen and can contaminate any food or liquid stored in it for long or if the plastic is heated. This type of plastic is recyclable.
Type 2: HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is a dense and strong plastic used in plastic bags and bottles for products from milk to shampoo to medicines, and is also recyclable.
Type 3: PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) plastics make toys, medical bags and tubing, and loose-leaf binders among many uses. It is considered a hazardous plastic and is usually not recyclable. The chemicals used to make it can be hazardous to health.
Type 4, LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) “has the simplest plastic polymer chemical structure, making it very easy and very cheap to process.” Plastic bags, plastic wraps, milk cartons, beverage cups, and covering for wire are common products using this plastic, but It is difficult to recycle.
Type 5, PP (Polypropylene) makes up hot food containers and diapers. It isn’t recyclable.
Type 6: PS (Polystyrene) or Styrofoam is used for certain food containers, helmet lines, and packing materials. Hot oily food can leach styrene, a component that could damage the brain and nervous system. Polystyrene is also hard to recycle.
Type 7: Is all other plastics, which can be layers of several types of plastics, but also PC or Polycarbonate which is used for many infant products and food containers. It can cause many health problems and should be avoided as harmful and toxic in certain amounts
More sources for explanations of plastic types: Quality Logo Product, or at Non-Toxic Revolution or at How Stuff Works.

The public's ignorance of plastic types has led to many of our problems. Disposable to most humans means throwing the product away-- anywhere, but that is not always the best answer.

The biggest question is what needs to be done and can it be done? What can you do?

Note: Published in both my gardening and writing blogs.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Charming Villains

This month's shared topic is do you have any charming, likable villains? This topic, like many of the upcoming topics, has left me thinking and wondering about my published characters.


Wikipedia, original cover
I had to think about this first, so I thought about the villains I have read about. Surprise! This is a theme in one of my favorite stories. In Georgette Heyer's 1932 Regency romance novel, The Devil's Cub, the hero starts as a villainous scoundrel but love gradually transforms him. This tends to be a theme in many historical romances. In that European era, the idea existed that noblemen ruled so could do whatever they wanted. While they were often good people, they felt entitled, and society looked the other way as power and wealth were more important than morals. The hero of The Devil's Cub's insouciance and good manners draws readers to him even though he is in the process of abducting the woman who thwarted his plans instead of her eager-to-agree younger sister. As a teen, I read Heyer's books obsessively, and I know the father of this hero had his own story and a few villainous ways, too. He earned redemption when he stepped away from the woman he wanted to let her join the man she loved.

But do I have any likable villains in my novels? Well, sort of but she is only a minor secondary character. Adessa, in Rogue's Rules, is looking for her brother who was sold into slavery. An extraordinarily evil character tells her he can help her find her brother if she will kill the story's heroine. She becomes a friend and supporter of the heroine until she finds a safe way to eliminate her. Is Adessa likable? I don't think her part in the story is extensive enough for the reader to come to like her or not. In another novel, Home World Reax, the reader knows that the one character who acts very charming to other characters is a hateful witch behind doors, so I don't think she counts in this category. 

Which reminds me that we all know psychology and personality type plays into who we are and how we act and react. We all do things that often unintentionally but sometimes intentionally affect others. Some do evil things depending on their mental health, their circumstances, or their history, which left them with a desire for vengeance while they can remain friendly, polite, and charming individuals. 

This happens with story characters, too. Even the main heroic character can want retribution on another character whose past actions have caused them trouble or disaster that haunts them. In the story's progress, this haunted character discovers their perception was incorrect for one reason or another such as the 'evil' incident was either accidental or they've been misinformed, and now they have created evil themselves. Most story villains are characters who think, do, or say mean things due to their personal beliefs. Some villains are guided by even greater villains. To others and in public they are polite, kind, and humorous. Some think that only what they want is important no matter who gets harmed by their desires or greed. However, like some people, psychologically twisted characters can do truly awful things.

I find the idea of a charming and likable villain interesting, which leaves me thinking about how I can develop one for a future story. It will, of course, depend on their purpose.

Please visit these author's blogs to learn their views on this topic:
Skye Taylor 
Fiona McGier 
Judith Copek 
Dr. Bob Rich 
Connie Vines  
Diane Bator 
Helena Fairfax 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Coronavirus and Individual Rights

Watching a TV news segment on Wednesday’s 'Operation Haircut' in front of the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing, one hairdresser said "no one can deny me my God-given rights." At first, I found it funny that someone would say such a thing, especially a woman. Men and women claimed their rights, many dying in the process, but they also made laws governing their usage. Has our education system not taught history? 

I know historical information is not always correct and can be misinterpreted, but some of the events such as the wars that took place and the laws written into code happened. I understand, too, that religion has been a part of the process of gaining human rights. It helped bring law and order to civilizations. Yet humans are fickle. We have had many religious wars trying to discover the right religion. It was one of the reasons early American colonists traveled to the newly discovered continent—the right to follow their religious beliefs. At that time, many European governments were in the hands of a king who held the divine right to rule. Also, at that time, women were the property of their husbands. Anything they earned or inherited became their husband's upon marriage. Before marriage, it belonged to the woman’s father.  



It wasn’t until the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, that rights and government changed. Even then, God was mentioned: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The Declaration does not mention anything about women, but it implies one person’s rights will not impinge on another person’s rights. In Michigan, over 5,000 people have died from Covid19. Do those protesting have the right to possibly further spread the infection to others? Are there better solutions than isolation? Better prevention techniques? Even the selected solutions are being ignored by some individuals.

As to women's God-given rights, it wasn’t until the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, that women began demanding rights. England’s Parliament in The Women’s Property Act of 1870 gave English women the right to own the money they earned and to keep what they inherited. In the United States, it wasn’t until the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 that women could vote. Only 100 years ago!

I have no problem with protests or the idea of protesting, or anyone's right to say what they think, and I believe hairdressers are talented, hardworking individuals practicing their art. Right now, this pandemic is affecting many individuals and their families, affecting their livelihood and their freedoms. I understand the frustration and associated panic. We all still need to be aware of all sides of an argument, any argument, and the effects of every solution suggested. We also need to be aware of anyone pushing certain agendas, especially political ones, or we might lose the rights we have come to expect.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Editing


This month's topic is: All books go through multiple edits. What have you learned are your problems, and what irks you about editing?

Editing is very important. No writer writes without making mistakes in wording, structure, or punctuation. Even though my books have been edited multiple times, I still find errors in read-throughs. I hate that when the story is already published!

My common mistakes include:

1. Using the wrong name or misspelling the name for a specific character.

2. Misspelled words. I'm a terrible speller, always have been. I am better than I used to be, but spellings change with time too. I really like online dictionaries with a thesaurus, because I can change out some of the words listed in #4.

3. Misplaced commas, periods, and apostrophes. Since I've started writing, I've become better but when I discover them in published books I am frustrated.

4. Repetition of my unconsciously used favorite words. I keep a list now and try to run through the list to see how many of my over-used words show up. Words like remained, just, like, that, there, before, suddenly, however, although, and through, and also 'and then.'

5. Another mistake I've made is misplaced modifiers, like: I found my dog driving my car.

I make other mistakes, those are just my common ones. If you have a critique partner who is very good with grammar, you are lucky, but if not, a good way to discover mistakes is to read the writing aloud.

The digital world is changing this. Many writing programs like MS Word now have grammar help. Word also allows you to keep a separate dictionary for certain writings, which helps. The Grammarly site is also a great new readily available help source. While this free program catches many mistakes in wording and punctuation, it is not always correct, so users have to be careful. It even works on online-writing like this blog.

Visit these blogs for more takes on this subject!

Diane Bator
Connie Vines
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse 
Margaret Fieland
Dr. Bob Rich 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

4th Excerpt from Constantine's Legacy

Travel in the Dark Ages, now called the Early Middle Ages, was difficult whether by land or water.
~*~

Radulf noticed his veltres’ (greyhounds) ears perked up, and their heads turned in the direction of the forest. One stopped, whined, and then caught up with his horse. He noticed Leonard observed the canines also.

“But everyone’s lands are so spread out, even the king’s. Will not such unity become too hard to protect?

“We protect wide-spread villae now. Do you think I would let my steward steal from me?” Ogivia would not. Radulf kept watch through the forest. Something was wrong. He sensed it. With a simple hand motion, he warned his men to remain alert and have their weapons ready.

“What is wrong?” Leonard asked.

“Look about you. Hear and sense as well as see.”

Puzzled, Leonard searched the trees.

“What is different?” Radulf asked.

“The normal forest noises...”

“Exactly.” Radulf lowered his voice and he made some signals with his right hand to the men behind him as he spoke to Leonard. “There are rōbon out there, every ready to kill and steal. Be prepared for an attack.”

Radulf drew his blade, heard Leonard and his men slide their weapons from their scabbards. They rode swords in hand surrounded by silence except for their own horses’ hooves

Screams erupted from among the trees, their numbers indicating a force much larger than his small group. Men in leather battle gear ran forward flinging axes in the ancient Frankish manner of battle. Several loud strikes of ax against wooden shields filled the air, alerting Radulf these were no common road bandits but trained soldiers. They threw with devastating accuracy.

His horse tensed beneath him, upset under the tight reign he held. He knew the animal sensed his tension. An ax hit his shield, the thrust throwing him backwards and off-balance. Even prepared, the added weight briefly caused him to lower his shield while he regained his position.

Many years of battle experience took over. “Ride at all speed! Forward! Forward! Run them down.” Radulf yelled, indicating the soldiers standing in the road ahead of his troop, even as he spurred his horse forward and raised his spatha toward the enemy. The men before them also pulled swords, some already holding their weapons. Others ran to the road’s sides. It took courage to stand before charging horses.

Screams followed and surrounded Radulf. His men’s war bellows followed him and clashed with those of their attackers. Cries of the stricken followed him, both those of his own men and those of their foes. The screams added another note to the dissonance of pounding horse hooves, the thuds and crashes of weapons, and the squeal of injured horses.

His horse’s stride quickened. His troop’s mounts barreled through the men in the road. Thrown axes missed him, but the marauders held no shields, no protection from his spatha and he used it dispassionately. Most ducked and rolled to the side before hooves trampled them. By then, his sword often found some part of the foe’s body. His horse, even if cut, galloped on. He swung a last time, killing a man before passing through the line. Blood sprayed in a long arc, trailing his blade.

Radulf spurred his horse. The animal raced from the ambush. Continuing to press his horse hard in its flight, he followed the old Roman road toward Paris. The blood angered and gratified him, brought memories he needed to quash. Riding at full out gallop helped empty his mind. Two markers down the road, he slowed Morlin to a trot. Sweat lathered the horse’s coat. Once he felt it safe, he slowed his thoughts and reined in his emotions.

Morin’s sides heaved between his legs. The scent of his mount’s sweat and his own ran free and filled his nose. He huffed nearly as hard as his horse.

A glance behind him showed fifteen riders followed, and Leonard, thank God, was one of them, riding close on his gray’s left flank. Leonard’s shield was missing, his spatha’s blade darkened with blood.

Leonard pulled up next to him, but from his son’s stricken look, he knew a first killing already haunted the boy. “It is part of saving your own and your men’s lives.”

“Thou shalt not kill.” The biblical Commandment was all Leonard said.

It struck Radulf, until he realized the comment not aimed at him, but something Leonard tried to work out in his own mind. He snorted and looked away. The world was a vile, murderous place, filled with treachery and evil. Leonard had yet to learn this lesson.

He heard Leonard mutter in Latin, “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.” More learning from Ogivia. He trusted his sister implicitly. He trusted her with his daughter, but more importantly, he had trusted her with Leonard, his heir. He loved his son, but the boy was more monkish than warrior like. His serving Pepin caused his frequent absence from Albrecht. Serving the new Francorum rex was now his duty. Ogivia had raised the boy, loved him, educated him, and kept him safe. Jocelin had seen to his basic training. Last year, Leonard became old enough for him to take over and begin his son’s tutelage as an heir. Since then Radulf had learned that for everything the boy had learned, his faith often outweighed his logic.

He turned his horse to see who still traveled with him and thought it too bad God had not preserved those lost on the road behind, too. Now, however, was not the time to talk with Leonard about the difference of thanking God through prayer and acting to save one’s self from harm. He glanced at the bloody spatha hanging from Leonard’s hand. Obvious Leonard already knew something of this. He urged his horse forward, and they rode a few more makers down the road before he pulled up and dismounted. As Leonard dismounted next to him he asked, “Are you all right?”

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Humor in Writing

Round-robin author and participant Skye Taylor suggested this month's topic on how easy or difficult you find including humor in writing, if have you ever incorporated a true life humorous event in your own life or the life of someone you know in a book you were writing?

I must admit this month's topic is a challenge for me as I hadn't thought about it before. I've always considered humor as the comedy genre, and I know I'd be dismal at it. I think comedy is a very challenging and difficult genre. While I enjoy humor, I know I'd be lousy at writing it as my mind just doesn't (or hasn't so far) been adept at creating it. It's not that I'm incapable of enjoying humor because I do. Creating humor, though, is another matter altogether. 

Usually, any humor I engender is the laughter created by my klutzy actions. For instance, anything I'm wearing or carrying will almost inevitably catch on something as I pass by, jerking me to the side or to an abrupt stop and usually causing me to drop whatever I'm carrying. This includes purse straps, necklaces, bracelets, belt loops, shoe strings, wide sleeves, jacket linings, and pockets (and many other unexpected causes) that catch on various door parts or carts, cars, and anything else that I might walk past. I've elicited many laughs from others watching me. I suppose I could write a character with that problem. Experience, you know, gives great insight. This repetition, though, might bore the reader.

In writing, my humor is mostly conversational. Usually, this is limited to snarky asides from one character to another about different situations as they arise. I’ve never even tried to write a comedic scene.

This all led me to explore humor. So I read Jan Hornung's article about humor in The Internet Writing Journal. She advises the writer, "Don't tell the reader that something is funny. Let the reader discover this for himself. Do this by painting a picture with words that the reader can relate to with all five of his senses. Describe the smells, textures, tastes, sights, and sounds."  

I am very familiar with the concept of showing not telling, but envisioning the humorous scene might be the most difficult part, even when using exaggeration or understatement, which are also recommended for writing humor. I've read where humor is just a reversal of a possible tragedy. Even so, foreshadowing the tragedy and switching it out to a funny disaster is no easy task.

Visit the following authors on how they handle humor:

Skye Taylor 
Diane Bator 
Beverley Bateman 
Dr. Bob Rich 
Connie Vines  
Anne Stenhouse  
Margaret Fieland 
A.J. Maguire  
Victoria Chatham 
Judith Copek 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

What draws me into a story?

I read a lot so know the first chapters are very important. While certain character types can draw me in, it is usually the beginning situation the character is in that makes me continue reading. So I must be a what-happens-next type reader. I am willing to read many genres when this format is present.

That was pretty short wasn't it?

The only novel I remember reading and enjoying without this was James Michener's Hawaii, as it starts with the ancient formation of the islands. Yet, I like science and archaeology and have used world-building in my writing. Also, from the title, one might suggest Hawaii was the story's main character. I've probably read other stories with this format but they didn't leave a long-lasting impression.

The page drawing me in
These are things I don't like, and their presence often stops me from reading any further.
  1. Stories told in first-person and present-tense often aggravate me. I have read first-person stories and enjoyed them, so it must be the combination of first-person with the present tense.
  2. A series of prologues and quotes leading up to the first chapter or dividing the story into parts loses my interest. This tends to happen in fantasy, a genre I usually enjoy.
  3. Another aggravation is a beginning with an overly poetic style in the opening chapter, especially when loaded with sentence fragments, metaphors, and similes often found in literary fiction. I wonder if the whole story will continue with this figure-this-out blah-blah-blah wording. It turns me off. Especially when these are from a character's perspective. As the reader, am I supposed to get better acquainted with that character's mentality through this process? It doesn't happen. I'm too busy trying to decipher the wording's intent.
I must admit, though, that in short, creative, non-fiction I don't mind any of these so much. Please visit the blogs listed below for other opinions on this topic.

Victoria Chatham 
Skye Taylor
Helena Fairfax 
Judith Copek
Diane Bator 
Dr. Bob Rich
Fiona McGier 
Connie Vines 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Current Trends in My Fiction

Me thinking
The last round-robin topics got me thinking, do I use social trends in my stories? I had to think about this topic because at first, I did not think I had, but I decided to explore exactly what social trends meant.

The online site Reference defines social trends as "Any type of activity that is participated in by society as a whole. Trends can be long-lasting or short-lived." Another site, WebRef defined it as, "A persistent change in social relations and social structure over time. Trends are the aggregate effect of many uncoordinated individual and group actions, such as bureaucratization, industrialization, urbanization, etc. Social trends also affect individuals even though individuals may be largely unaware that it affects others also in a similar manner."

So this means social trends are always happening, changing and evolving society. Humans are strange creatures. In some human interests, trends can emerge or change very quickly, such as fashion and media, even some aspects of transportation. While clothing keeps some basic constants like underwear, tops, pants, skirts, dress, coats, they can change dramatically in design, fabrics, cut, and preferred colors. New cars come out every year with new designs and innovations to increase interest and buyers. They gradually become old-fashioned. Changes in media may take a few years or decades to establish, but advertisements are constant although always changing in format and tone. So, social trends can define a historical era or become a hallmark of the present one.

Since most of my writing is in the genre of science fiction, and I tend to take historical trends to create my worlds with either approaching or past apocalypses, or how human beliefs, prejudices, and choices change worlds, I must be using trends.

Obviously, digital devices have made a mark on today's society, and I have used them in my scifi stories. Usually, I translate historical or current trends into these stories.

I'm trying to branch out into historical fiction and contemporary romance. I know I will incorporate many social trends in my contemporary, but I've already found out historical fiction is a little more tricky.

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 the 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. 
From Wikimedia

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 affect how we interact and influence 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, I got on the lift and rode it up and up.

The view on the ride up this very long chairlift was inspiring: mountain views, 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 Angels 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.