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

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins

By Ariane Thomas & Timothy Potts, editors
J. Paul Getty Museum
ISBN-10: 1606066498
ISBN-13: 978-1606066492
April 7, 2020
Non-fiction, art, history

This book is a lasting memorial and explanation of the exhibit scheduled at Getty Villa, Malibu, from March 18 to July 27, 2020.

MESOPOTAMIA: CIVILIZATION BEGINS is a collection of writings and images celebrating the exhibit. Many of the artifacts in this exhibit are from the Getty Museum but includes artifacts from art museums in France and New York. Editor Ariane Thomas wrote the foreword to the book with a brief history of Mesopotamia.

The name Mesopotamia came from the Greek word for ‘land between the rivers’ meaning the Tigris and the Euphrates in Iraq. Over five thousand years ago the Mesopotamians created one of the earliest urban environments, and even by today’s standards they formed the basis of an advanced culture. During Mesopotamia’s three thousand years of prominence, it had ethnic diversity which resulted in an evolving culture and belief system. Its inhabitants not only developed the first known form of writing (cuneiform) but also excelled in art, poetry, architecture, mathematics, and astronomy. They had schools, teachers, and libraries. They enhanced their agriculture with irrigation and began animal husbandry. Mesopotamia also has had a long-lasting effect on Middle Eastern and European literature, and the mythology given in its stories influenced many later civilizations’ beliefs.

Other authors explain more about Mesopotamia. Their essays cover aspects of the culture and include many illustrative historical drawings and documents. One essay is about the French and English who searched for the fabled sites in what must have been arduous excavations to discover these artifacts and send them to their homeland. Another writing covers the misconceptions developed through time about Mesopotamia.

The last half of the book catalogs the artifacts in the exhibit, each with information on its age, the museum that provided it for the exhibit, where it was found, and its original purpose or usage. The gorgeous patterns developed in the textures of clothes, hair, and beards in the sculptures of humans, deities, and mythic guardians only emphasizes the reality applied in the proportion, shape, and features used to create the sculpture. Astounding! Tablets and other objects covered with cuneiform writing include translations of the varying topics or literature.

This book is not only a marvelous tribute to the exhibit but also introduces and explains an important part of human history unfamiliar to many people.

Added information: Timothy Potts (editor) is director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Ariane Thomas (editor) is the curator of the Mesopotamian collections in the department of Ancient Near Eastern Antiquities at the Louvre. Artifacts are from: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Musée de Louvre, Paris; the Musée Auguste Grasset, Varzy; and the Bibliothèque National de France contributed artifacts to this exhibit.

I must admit I have a fascination with this civilization and time period and would like to see the exhibit but won’t be able to go, so I’m very glad to have a digital copy about what is know and what will be shown.

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.”


“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.