Saturday, November 21, 2020

A Book Recommendation: The Eternal City


One book I've enjoyed this year is The Eternal City: Rome as Idea and Reality, by Jessica Maier. Published by University of Chicago Press. It was just released this month (11/4). While I mostly read fiction, I enjoy many non-fiction topics such as history, how-to, and art, and in many respects, The Eternal City covers all these categories.

The concept of learning from maps is unusual as most history books are straight forward chronological records. However, as author Maier shows through her map technique Rome's population through every age has had its own perception of their city and its purpose. It shows how the change in time, populations, and their ideas and beliefs also affect history. Rome's citizens essentially changed not only the physical appearance of Rome but also overlapped those changes with the past. The city and its structure have changed both physically and spiritually over time; indeed, different cities have emerged during Rome's long history, but each was built on the past.  


Maier gives an example of this in her introduction. She writes about the church of San Clemente (a disciple of St. Peter and the 4th Bishop of Rome). The church is built in the beautiful Roman basilica style still common in the 1100s. The builders constructed the church on the foundations of another basilica dedicated to Clemente, which was built in 385CE (Current Era, another change in history). This lower basilica was in turn built on the site of the Temple of Mithras (a Roman god) constructed around 200 CE. Visitors to San Clemente can descend a staircase (through the gift shop!) to travel 60' below San Clemente to see the remains of the two previous buildings. This example shows the "vertical, chronological layering" (Maier) of Rome.  

As Maier states, "Rome is more than brick and mortar. It also exists in the realm of ideas of history, myth, and symbolism." Another purpose of her book is to show how all large cities are similar in these types of changes.

Images and ideas take the reader from the beginnings of Rome to the time of the Ceasars, to the age of popes, through Rome's decline and recovery, and now its tourist period. The Eternal City shows how the city's population changed through time and how that changed Rome. Surprisingly, each era's maps show not only the physical changes but also society's perceptions about the city.

Rome, as one of the world's oldest continuing cities, has a long progression of maps. Some have a similarity to today's concept of maps, but not as directionally precise, and historical maps are often affected by the maker's era and purpose. Others are visual landscapes of the city, which in part, also serve as maps. The book's maps, visual images, and photographs are beautiful and insightful and tied to each age's beliefs, prejudices, and sense of humanity.

In the age of global warming, this book, in some sense, is also a warning. People are creative, adaptable, and constantly changing their landscape. This book brings awareness of those changes and of how we need to be aware of them and to be more careful in our choices going forward.

For more reviews please see the following authors' posts:

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

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Favorites in Reading

This month's topic is about what my favorite book is or books of all time are and my favorite genre. (You can include children’s books or non-fiction or even magazines). I have read a lot since first learning how to read and find it impossible to identify just one story as a supreme favorite. The titles of many books come to mind from ages ago like Boxcar Children, My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Black Beauty. Looking back, maybe my mother loved horses, too. She never talked about them, but why else did she buy My Friend Flicka and Thunderhead? They were her favorites, too, and I still have her copies. (Wish I could go back and ask her now!) Just mentioning them makes want to go and reread them.

The first book I read by myself remains on my favorite list as explained in an earlier post. I think I made a mistake though. I thought Miss Hillman was my teacher, but she was my third-grade teacher and I read On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Suess Geisel) in first-grade (Miss Wilkins? Time changes memory.) It was released in 1955. I think what first attracted me was the zebra on the cover. Zebras are like horses and I was a horse-crazed little girl. The story was also very imaginative in concept, wording, and illustration. 
I continued reading and eventually, probably about sixth or seventh grade, came across Will James' novel Smoky the Cowhorse (yep, another horse theme book) at the Fenton Public Library. At the time I was walking the mile or two there and back at least once a week. I was in love with that mouse-grey horse and cried through the horrible parts of his sad history. The story won the John Newberry Medal in 1927. The Newberry Award is still given for a distinguished contribution to children's literature. James, the author, was a French Canadian artist whose writing covered the American West's cowboy culture, and Smoky the novel, held many of his illustrations. This story has taken a current trend in how horses are treated, not only at rodeos but also at our racetracks. 

When I reached fifteen in the ninth grade I started working after school in a local drugstore. For the previous three years I had worked in my family's pet store selling tropical fish and hampsters, and cleaning tanks, but didn't get paid. At the drugstore, I mostly worked behind the soda counter serving coffee, ice cream treats, and some simple to fix sandwiches. I enjoyed the work, and I was earning some money and guess what? The drug store had a sales rack for paperback books. That bookrack introduced me to romance, both current and historical, and to the genre of fantasy. Soon I was reading another of my all-time favorite novels. Andre Norton's Witch World series mesmerized me. The first volume was written in 1963 but I became familiar with the following stories so I searched and found a copy of the first story.

The drugstore's book rack introduced me to many romance authors, but one of my favorites was Georgette Heyer. She could take a reader back to another time. It showed a judgemental public was not just a modern phenomenon. I remember reading many of the titles but the one that left a lasting impression was  Devil's Cub, which I probably read in tenth grade. The hero loved his horses, too. Devil's Cub was a Georgian era time-frame story written in 1932. Heyer wrote many historical romance stories mostly in the Georgian and Regency eras, but she also wrote mystery thrillers. I mentioned this title before in the charming villains' post, and it is a story I've reread many times. I think Heyer started the trend for Regency romances which still continues today. 

My next favorite was an eleventh-grade reading assignment--Pride and Prejudice, a book written in 1813. At learning the assignment I had severe apprehension about how I could read, or even like, so old a story. I was even assigned to give a presentation on one chapter. For once though, I loved an assigned story so much, it helped me overcome my reluctance to talk before a group. Each student was given a paperback copy, but I wanted a more permanent copy, so I drove to Flint and bought a leather-bound copy at a book store. My daughter has it now. It surprised me several years later that my (male) college instructor for the class masterpieces in English literature talked about this story. He claimed to have read it twenty-seven times. I'm not certain I've read it that many times, not even half of that. I have, however, seen all the TV and movie shows. Some are good renditions, but I get very upset when they change things.

My last listing is the Lymond Chronicles of six novels about the Scot Francis Crawford of Lymond. Another historical novel, but this one is about the era and not so much romance, although there is some. Scottish novelist Dorothy Dunnet also wrote mysteries. This is a wonderful series published between 1961 and 1975.  Again, I found it as a paperback in the drug store. From my drugstore bookrack experience, I had become enamored of all store bookracks, although I kept my habit of haunting libraries, too. 

According to RR Bowker, at least 275 thousand books (all genres, both fiction and non-fiction) are published each year. That is an overwhelming number. Who knows what great books I've missed?  

Visit these sites for more views on this topic.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Intuitive Themes in Novels


Most novels have an easily understood point to make to the reader. Do stories ever have a more subtle or intuitive theme?

Actually, this is a hard question to answer.

To intuit is "to know, sense, or understand by intuition" (Merriam Webster definition). Intuition is what we understand, often unconsciously, about any situation. A condition usually based on our previous experiences, our senses, and our primal instincts. In writing, if used intentionally, it is good because the author involves the reader on different levels of perception. But it might be unconsciously used with unexpected results and the reader can sometimes perceive themes in writing that the author never intended. Words and minds are tricky things.

Since every word can give slightly different meanings and connotations, it shows how the author's intent in using certain words can sometimes differ dramatically from how a reader understands them.

When might it be a conscious choice by the author? An aware author can use situations that leave the reader to decide what the character felt beyond the obvious action. When a reader encounters a situation they have experienced, either emotionally or physically, then they intuitively know the cause for the character's reaction. 

This often happens when the author uses a show rather than tell method. Showing usually involves the use of description especially in a character's actions and expressions, leaving it to the reader to share the character’s reaction from their personal understanding. The reader's perception might be very emotional, especially if they have experienced the same or similar situations. This often happens in emotional scenes, so most writing probably has intuitive emotional themes.

The opposite can happen, too, from both author’s and the reader’s perspectives. An author might unintentionally insert oblique messages, and since we all experience life differently, we all have a slightly different understanding of what is happening. The reader might also have had a very different reaction to an experience, meaning their understanding of the scene might differ from what the author intended.

We often use gut instinct for insight. Intuitive means a reader can understand without a lot of explanation from the author because the situation or emotions are so familiar. They don't have to think about the meaning. They know it. While these subtle reactions might be unacknowledged, they still have an impact on the reader.


My guess is I’ve used intuitive writing and that most authors have also used it, especially since one goal of fiction writing is to engage the reader’s emotions.

Please visit the following blogs for other takes on this topic.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Eden and Guy

Eden was pruning her roses when she spied a curled up snake. Grabbing the snake directly behind its head, Eden tugged it from the tangle of shrubbery.

“Gotcha. Damn snake. Don’t care if you are good for the garden. I don’t want you in mine.” Its length coiled around her arm. She put her garden pruners to the serpent’s head.

“Don’t kill me.”

Eden jumped, gasped, and a middle-aged bladder leaked. Death-grip fingers grasping the snake released as she tried to fling the thing away. The serpent’s coils clung to her arm. Her voice clogged in her tight throat. “You spoke!” She stretched her arm out as far as she could to get the serpent away from her.

“Yes. I’m an explorer from the galaxy Peareedeeessiss.”

Her mind flooded with movie images of alien invasions. “You'll destroy my world!” She clicked the pruner blades open.

“No! Wait! Just sightseeing. Don't hurt, please?” Pleading tones turned supplicant. “I can change into any shape that pleases you.”

She looked into the alien’s beady eyes and angular face. Was changing shapes any stranger than a talking snake?

“Change like a werewolf or a vampire?” Curiosity tickled her imagination. “Anything?”

“Even a human.” The alien’s coiled body slithered over her forearm in a sensual touch.

Eden hesitated as the sensation brought romantic reminiscence of her husband Guy trailing arousing fingers in such a way. Not that for one instant did she believe Guy’s love had faded, but mutual interests had long ago changed to singular pursuits.

An explorer… a stranger in an unknown place; perhaps he desired companionship as much as she did?

“Change into anything?”

“Yessss.”

She took him inside. What was she to do with him? Let him slither around the house? Get away? No. She popped him in the empty cookie jar. Always empty now as the kids were gone and she didn’t need the extra calories. The alien’s coiled up body just fit.

Guy came home from work. “Hi, sweetie.” He gave Eden a perfunctory kiss and then found the TV remote. “Big game tonight. Mind if I have dinner in here?” He sank into the couch.

“Sure, honey. You can watch the game over dinner. You mind if I go out?”

“Not at all. You have plans with your girlfriends?”

“No, but while you watch the game, I might as well visit the library, or maybe the museum.”

“Great.”

Guy’s supper served, Eden changed to dressier clothes. Guy didn’t notice when she walked through the living room with his suit draped over her arm. Already the announcer’s voice boomed game statistics and predictions over rousing music.

In the kitchen, she pulled the snake from the cookie jar. It wrapped around her arm. “Be Guy.”

The snake fell from her arm and morphed into Guy. She handed him the suit. “Let me take you out to dinner,” Eden said as he dressed. “Afterward, I can show you my world.” Exciting opportunities opened her mind and Eden smiled. She brushed some scales off the shoulders of the suit as the serpent pulled on the jacket.

As she opened the door to the garage, Eden heard Guy shout from the living room, “Bye. Have a good time.”

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Reality in Stories -- no matter how bizarre

The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense. – Tom Clancy, suspense novelist, 1947-2013.

This month's topic is about how to make a story feel more realistic to the reader and what elements achieve this.

In most novels establishing reality isn't hard. The author develops characters representing specific people in specific locations and times; then they add plot lines readers can relate to in some way.

So what is reality? Merriam Websters defines it as the state of being real, a real event, entity, or state of affairs, and the totality of real things and events.

We all know we live on the planet Earth, share the same sun and moon, and see the same galaxy at night. We share Earth with seven billion other humans, so we believe we are real and know the reality of where we dwell and what we do there. Humans have very similar requirements for living, particularly water, food, sleep, and personal relationships. We are social creatures who share similar emotions. We have interactions with other real people and experience many real, even if odd, situations, and we often enjoy telling others about them and hearing their strange events. However, each of us knows the reality of a different place, its weather, family, society norms, education, and living conditions, so our realities vary. We are also different from our past populations' reality as ever-shifting time changes the basic reality of life on this planet and will continue to do so until the species or planet dies. It might be that experiencing the realities of others, even fictional characters in stories make us appreciate our own reality, or change our mental knowledge and images of others and their reality. And don't even go into the bizarre concepts involved in quantum physics reality.

In most genres, authors are writing about real locations and standard human types. Only science fiction, fantasy, and horror introduce situations and characters with powers beyond the basic human scope, but even the strangest characters often share well-known human characteristics. However, my previous post on “How Far Can Fantasy Go?” mentions how people enjoy the unbelievable and have enjoyed fantasy stories far longer than our know stories. Witches, demons, mythological gods, and monsters of various ilk, have been stars in stories forever. Today it only takes the writer's imagination to create a world, and the reader's imagination to believe it. Besides that, everyone knows of situations where the ordinary world became extraordinary in special circumstances.

Reality in Characters:  A growing quantity of anthropological proof declares the basic human, i.e. physical, mental, emotional aspects, haven't changed that much from prehistorical times. That means whatever time frame you read or write in, human responses remain the same. Most authors' characters run the huge gamut of the understandable traits and responses of both sane and insane people. Yet sometimes characters can be written to be too good which raises readers' suspicions as they know we all have flaws and insecurities that can drive our reactions. Insanity can reach unfathomable unrealities but still be believable. For me, however, the author can reach such a level of improbability, reality falls away. I’m reading a story now with a killer who wants to protect his illegal industry, but enjoys watching the agony of death, the more anguish and physical pain, the better. I am having trouble reading it. Yet I’ve watched TV shows about serial killers whose practices also seem unreal; unfortunately, the murders they committed happened. So it is possible the previously mentioned characters will have some readers who believe in them. If characters have a full range of emotions, strengths and weaknesses, good traits and bad, the reader will most likely believe them.


The web and dimensions of reality
Reality in Settings: In most stories, settings are part of the world people know, so easily provide a basis for reality. Yet, I’ve run into problems writing reality into settings of historical novels. The further back in time a story is set (the same is true for fantasy stories), what the world looks like including the changes in social mores and beliefs of the time, the more the setting becomes unfamiliar to readers. On the other hand, so many stories are set in the 19th Century, many readers are very familiar with the society and some may believe the books show exactly what that world was like, which is not true. As I am familiar with some historical information about the time, I've noted authors have changed historical mores to make the characters more contemporary, so more believable. Some readers look for such stories, others have problems with it, and some (especially historians) turn critical. The same is true in future based stories.

Reality in Plot:
This storyline is more difficult as plots can differ in many ways. The key to plot reality is the action and reaction response of the characters due to the action presented in the story. A person’s reaction to a situation differs in real life depending on their personality type and their life issues. The same type of response should be designed into the story’s characters. If a character’s response isn’t what a reader thinks appropriate, then the author needs to build the character’s personality enough for the reader to realize why they acted in a different way from what the reader expected.

Story reality isn’t that difficult until readers encounter those unusual places, events, or characters in a story.  Then it is a case of building the story's reality in a step-by-step introduction for each new reality change.

For other viewpoints see the following authors' blogs:

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



Monday, July 27, 2020

Preface to Angels Tread


Angels Tread is the final volume in the Black Angel series which was published this month.  The preface was necessary for readers who have not read the previous volumes to help explain the series and understand this story.

~*~
Lieutenant Jezlynn Chambers was an engineering officer aboard the United Planets Alliance’s Space Service Corps Embassy Ship the Constant when it was destroyed. She woke in the mines of Ezredin as a slave, but she didn’t know who she was and had no memory of her previous life. Another slave, Khajarian T’Carta Kar, owned her, his guards having given him his royal due as a prince of Khajari.
Jezlynn had changed. She was no longer one person but became six different individual personalities. May emerged first. She is deaf, mute, and filled with fear. Any event could trigger a terrifying memory. The emotional personality Lynn emerged next. She relieved May’s fear and her own grief through song.
T'Carta escaped the mines, taking Jezlynn with him, but he released her once they reached safety. During their trip to freedom, Jesse, the social communicator and perfectionist persona emerged. She could control body time for the others.
Others emerged. Alyss is blind, but that does not hamper her logic, perception or insightful planning and predictions. She prefers no one know about her. Nael is a masculine persona who was an inventor and expert investigator. He also avoided recognition—being a man in a woman’s body was hard. Jet emerged last. She was a hyperactive, fun-loving and reckless military persona, a soldier and pilot who always protects Jezlynn as a whole.
Once free of the mines, May’s unexpected memory of Jezlynn’s military status made Jesse return to the Service Corps. She learned she had been deemed a deserter and was transferred to the Rangers to complete her service obligation, a demotion from her former Corps ‘elite’ status to a common soldier, or Ranger ‘meat.’ She served during the Alliance-Khajari war, earning distinguished service medals. Once released from the Rangers, she served on several trade ships before joining the crew of Sanker Tricome’s pirate ship. On a stopover at a non-allied space station, she found Commander Thomas Langston, another of the Constant’s supposed deserters.
When Tom’s father disowned him, his aunt gave him her last name of Thorson. Together Jesse and Tom decided to find the other Constant crewmembers deemed ‘deserters’ but were sold into slavery, a dangerous and expensive endeavor. They financed their searches by raids on Space Service Corps drone ships, finding Rafe Dakota and Henry Wakeman, among others. Eventually, Jesse’s ability with finances allowed her and Tom to proceed legally with the Pilgrim Shipping Lines.
The head of the Alliance’s intelligence department became aware Chambers was the supposedly mythical pirate, the Black Angel. He demanded she use her investigative and discovery talents for his purposes. This brought her to the attention of Undersecretary Corrao, who forced her back into the Space Service Corps with the mission to prevent another conflict with the Khajari. Onboard the Sentinel, she was under the command of Captain Lucien Krayne, the same captain with whom she had fallen in love two years previously while he investigated the Black Angel’s supposed misdeeds on the Xanthean inhabited planet Ҫiro. He is Lu to Jesse, but Krayne to Jet, and Lucien to Alyss.
Jezlynn successfully completed her Service Corps mission, but now finds herself assigned as an ambassador to negotiate a peace treaty with the Khajari.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Different Characters

How do you develop a character who is different in personality from all the other characters you have developed or from yourself? 

This is a difficult topic for separating one of my characters from me and from my author's viewpoint can be very difficult. All characters have something of me in them. They are part of my mind. Another aspect of a character is how they develop or change through a story, which is again based on my perceptions but which I think are often shared by the reader. I have also found in re-reading my stories there are repeated snippets of character behaviors, thoughts, and similar dialogue. Bothersome, but a fact.

We are all individuals and all have different personality types. What makes that happen? Certainly, genetics plays a part. How we are raised, where we live, our work, and our personal history, and our interactions, all differ. What interests us and how we behave despite social behavior dictums differs. I think readers also realize we all share human qualities, but we are all different.

However, to balance out my perceptions, I use the character's purpose in the story and try to determine their personality type. I do this through questions like what is their perception of the world? This means I have to know what type of personality a character has and what mix of traits go with each character. Are they adventurous or more leisurely? Does their anger translate into in-your-face threats or do they internalize their rage? To help me I long ago found a book that has proven invaluable, Personality Self-Portrait by John M. Holdham, M.D., and Lois B. Morris. It was meant to tell their reader what type of personality traits they had. However, for an author, it divides personalities into types such as adventurous, aggressive, conscientious, or vigilant, and more. It gives traits of each type of personality, their work styles, their emotions, along with how they handle relationships and self-control. This gives me the opportunity to develop very different characters, yet those characters are still distilled through my viewpoint.

Please visit the following blogs to see these authors' opinions on this topic.

Diane Bator 
Anne Stenhouse 
Skye Taylor 
Connie Vines  
Dr. Bob Rich 
Helena Fairfax 
Beverley Bateman 
Fiona McGier  

Saturday, July 11, 2020

5th Excerpt from Constantine's Legacy

The Franks received little welcome in Rome.
~*~
“Vicarius Christi Killer!”

With the bellow in the local Vulgar Latin, vigilance tightened Leonard’s frame, but something hit his forehead before he could react. He fell back against the stone structure behind him, partially stunned. Fear, self-preservation, and training gave him enough presence to pull his sax. With the handle of the short sword’s pointed blade in hand, his fear eased. He took deep breaths, trying to loosen the pain above his left eye.

More of the same shouting with variations continued. “Murderous barbarian! Are you here to steal from us like your kind have before? We will not let you.”

As the shouting continued, he realized someone had thrown a rock and it had hit his face. The fist-sized stone lay on the ground at his feet smeared with his blood. More rocks struck his body in painful pelts, falling to the ground in loud thunks on the stone paving surrounding him. He shook his head once to toss off the pain and clear his thoughts. He turned his head, feeling blood spill down his nose off his left temple, searching for his attackers. He blinked to clear his eye and quickly swiped his left hand across the soreness. Blood covered the back of his fist.

A woman behind him screamed, briefly drawing his attention. A stray rock had hit her. One hand grasped her other arm, and a loaf of bread lay shattered on the roadway. She and others near him backed away, some running and shouting to leave the area. Three young men, older than himself but not as tall, stood near the eastern support walls but outside Constantine the Great’s Arch. Two wore scabbards as he did.

With all his exploration walks, other than trips to the palazzo, this was the first time he had ventured so far southwest of his lodgings. Really, he had only wanted to fulfill his desire to walk the perimeter of the Coliseum. His discovery of the arch had delighted him. He also remembered having seen those three men on other jaunts and had seen them along his way today. They had targeted him.

Radulf had warned him to be careful. His father would be disappointed in his laxness.

He stood on the western side of the arch just inside the tunnel the structure created. The three assailants wore common Roman dress, but in their garments, he recognized quality far beyond most citizens’ garb. They stood on the edge of the rubble running along the crumbling via’s edges as it approached the arch. While the area around him cleared, a curious crowd also gathered. He guessed to watch whatever violence took place. Some in the crowd shouted to spur on his opponents.

The one he thought the leader of the three threw another sizable rock. Leonard easily ducked the missile. When the young man pulled his sword and took steps toward him, Leonard switched the sax to his left hand and pulled Gabrielus. Without a shield, the single blade sax, his forearm in length, was better for fending off other blades and for close up fighting. The young man laughed, but his friends did not. They spread apart. He knew they attempted to circle him, not an easy task in his location. The second man possessing a scabbard also pulled his sword, and Leonard snorted in disgust at seeing the old-fashion gladius-style sword. Each of his opponents held his weapon in one hand. Leonard knew his opponents’ swords lighter than his and the wielders less well trained.

The leader bellowed and charged him with his sword gripped with both hands as he swung his weapon above his head. With his opponent’s fast forward movement, Leonard swung the sax, breaking the other blade’s direction with a wicked screech of metal on metal, bringing them face to face. Using Gabrielus, he sliced the man’s leg. His opponent’s expression changed to shock and doubt, stopping the man’s action for an instant. He back stepped as he looked down at his bloody leg. He sneered at Leonard and raised his blade again. Leonard’s attack never faltered. As the man slammed his blade forward, he crashed Gabrielus down on it with the clang of steel. Leonard’s greater strength deflected the blade’s direction.

His opponent pulled back, preparing for another swing, but Leonard swiveled on one foot and kicked him in the knee of his unwounded leg. The man shouted in pain as he fell to the stones paving the road. Another rock hit Leonard on the shoulder, but he heard footsteps rushing toward his back. He swiveled again, swinging Gabrielus. His blade hit the other weapon coming behind him in a squealing sound all the way down to his opponent’s hilt guard. At the same time, he swung his left arm.

The sax entered the flesh of the man’s shoulder with the ease of a needle. Blood spurted in pulses from the wound. The man looked shocked and backed two steps, his fingers losing their hold on his weapon. It fell with a weak clang against the stones at his feet. He grabbed his shoulder screaming as blood seeped between his fingers. Leonard turned to the third man, the rock-thrower.

He watched the man swallow hard, drop the rocks in his hand, turn and run. Silence fell among those watching the fray, which made the groans of the two men on the ground seem louder. Then he heard running steps approaching. The crowd quickly scattered. He turned. Uniformed Roman guardsmen came to a halt in front of him. They demanded Gabrielus. Two grabbed his arms. He did not resist.

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