Saturday, March 21, 2015

Research: Getting the Details Right

Every fiction reader must suspend their sense of disbelief to enter and buy into a story, even one built on an implausible premise. One aspect of this requires me, as the author, to create a believable world where the details of setting and character agree with the reader's knowledge. If this happens, then stretching their imaginations and the limits of their belief becomes easier. This means getting the details right, and this often requires research. The thing to remember is all fiction is fantasy, and every fantasy needs a solid footing based on the perceptions of human reality.

All fiction genres take research for establishing details in the setting, even in contemporary settings where the reader might think that since the author lives in today’s reality, the writing of the setting is self-evident. Well, yes, it is, but it is also very changeable. If an author doesn’t have actual experience in a chosen place, they may not know local history, customs, and idiosyncrasies of that particular setting. On the other hand, if a reader does have familiarity with this place, anything that screams ‘untrue,’ makes them leave the story. Things as simple as how police departments operate can differ subtly or dramatically by location, just as laws can vary by community.

Historical settings make take gobs of research. I’ve been working on a story set in the Carolingian age where it seems on every page I find something else needs research. Other periods, like the English Regency era, are so popular books have been written on the peculiarities of the time for author’s using that particular setting. This might be a pet peeve. Having studied and read history, I pick out inconsistencies in fiction right away and incorrect details of a particular historical setting will throw me right out of a story. I’ve noticed, however, characters presented as more modern in attitude and behavior don’t.

Which leads to this: suspension of disbelief involves more than just setting. Today’s Regencies often contain wild per-marital sex, which was a big taboo for upper-class women of the time, but seems to work in today’s stories. Perhaps making a character’s behavior more modern makes them more believable or maybe relatable. ??? Yet unbelievable behaviors and traits in characters can turn off the reader.  For instance, how characters act and speak often differs by age, and nothing drives me crazy like a three-year-old character using the vocabulary of an eleven-year-old child. I’ve noticed children are often miscast by dialogue in this manner no matter what their ‘age’ in the story.

Of course, I write science fiction. For me, science or scientific theory must create the foundation of science fiction; otherwise, it is future fantasy in the truest sense of the fantasy genre. For my novels, I’ve had to research everything from psychology to if bio-formation of a block of rock planet can work and turn it into a life-bearing planet. Another research aspect was how faster-than-light travel might be possible without falling back on Star Trek themes. My hope is that as long as I can get the reader to believe the possibility, they will suspend their disbelief to enjoy (and believe) the story.

AS ALWAYS with the Round Robin, more authors give their viewpoint on research. Please hop to the following sites and enjoy the posts.
Margaret Fieland
Beverley Bateman
Skye Taylor 
Rachael Kosnski  
Heidi M. Thomas 
Marci Baun 
Anne Stenhouse 
Helena Fairfax 
Connie Vines
Kay Sisk
Fiona McGier
A.J. Maguire
Judith Copek
Lynn Crain 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All Things Zero

ZERO, Oh, Nought, Naught, Nil, Null
Hindu-Arabic: 0
Ordinate: 0th, Zeroth
Neither positive or negative number
n + or - 0 = n; n x 0 = 0

Words of Zero
Nothing, nothingness, none
prefix un as in unseen, unobservable
empty set

Counting wouldn't get far without this empty placeholder, so here's to zero.

Sciences, math, and technology:
Nullus or nulla, meaning nothing
Only 0 and 1 are used in the binary system
Rules of Brahmagupta, earliest known use of zero in mathematics, 628 B.C.

The goose egg
the Lemniscate symbol represents infinity in mathematics and eternity in occult studies ( an eight on laying on its side)
image of urboros swallowing his tail shown. The classical Greek alchemist’s representation of Uroboros, the World Snake

Color: Color comes from the refection of white light. The absence of light is total blackness, representing nothingness.
Black indicates no light
White in paint is the absence of pigment or color although there are mineral pigments used to create the white; thus, white also represents nothingness.

Zero’s prophetic references:
Naught represents the void, or the emptiness before creation. Zero can mean invisibility or death as in unobservable or gone, so becomes those who are nonentities, anonymous, nobodies.
Zero is akin to a self-emptying process, particularly of the ego. Therefore, it represents those who are unaware, incognizant, or oblivious.
In relation to one’s coming into existence, it represents non-existence or oblivion.
Zero as shown by the circle of pre-conscious totality, the Ouroboros Serpent with its tail in its mouth forming a circle around the collection of existence and non-existence. Isn't it interesting that most clocks and compasses were circular in shape, showing they included all of known existence. The Ourobouros perpetually lives off itself, like the universe. Ouroboros also represents a closed system and more recently the human psyche.

Negative connotations:
Everyone who has ever been called a zero or a nothing, knows the bad side of zero. However, it can also be anyone who deceives himself (herself), remaining oblivious to his (her) own life or the lives of others.

Tarot Divination: The Fool's card upright represents a dreamer or a mystic who wants to accomplish great goals, someone who must be careful to make the right choices. It can also represent any start, but particularly of a journey. To be successful the Fool must plan, make good choices, and be prepared for the unexpected. It also means one chooses the path he takes, either good or evil. Perhaps thinking about a life's philosophy would be a good start. When the card is reverse in the divination layout it can mean a poor choice has been made, that the querier has been foolish or thoughtless.

Common usage, slang, metaphors, phrases:
absolute zero
goose egg
ground zero
na dah
nul op
sub zero
zero down
zero g's, zero gravity
zero hour
zero in – targeted
zero tolerance

* * *

Sources Some information is drawn from:

The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin

The Numerology Workbook by Julia Line

Zero to Lazy Eight, the Romance of Numbers by Humez, Humez and Maguire

Dartmouth, Number Symbolism in the Middle Ages site offers much info on Christianity and numbers.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Accomplish in the Future

This month's Round Robin is about things you want to accomplish. Do you have a bucket list? I don't, not exactly, although there are some places I'd still like to visit like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the Louvre in Paris; but I would hate the plane ride over and back, so the journeys are unlikely. I'd like to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Field Museum in Chicago again. They are both close enough to drive and perhaps share with grand kids. We'd visit in the spring or fall because I hate leaving my garden in summer. The growing season is much too short here in Northern Michigan. One of the main reasons I don’t like traveling is I am most comfortable in my own house and surroundings. I do, however, have things I want to accomplish. I like creating 'things.'

About thirty plots and character lists are sitting in a file on my computer. I was going great guns until writing helped me get a great part-time job and slowed down my production. I've been working on two books for the last six months, one of which every time I write a few paragraphs I have to recheck my research or do more research. I'd really like to finish those two stories and move on to the ones waiting in that file. There is a problem there, too, as new stories and different characters keep invading my mind, and while writing this and other blog posts is good promotion and allows me personal expression, it takes time away from fiction writing.

I also have a quilt and some other needlework pieces that if I don't finish soon, the fabric and threads will start disintegrating from age. That is just one of my hobbies, although after the break I have had from picking up a needle, I don’t know if it falls into the ‘hobby’ category any longer. I also like to draw, paint, do calligraphy, make pin dolls, and bake bread. (I finally found a Russian Black Bread recipe that tastes like I remember from the defunct Pretzel Bell Restaurant!) I do a lot of Zen doodling (Pinterest)  when I don’t have a book to read at night. Painted faux finishes in marble, leather, water, adobe, and other murals cover the walls of my house. The photo below shows one of my pastimes (see pin dolls for other designs). Reading falls in here, too, but I’ve covered that topic in a recent post. Yet, I often feel guilty devoting time to these activities, and I am not sure why. Maybe because I consider them just putzing around.
Angel Pin

My writing and my hobbies are my bucket list I guess. These things I want to finish and then continue with more new writing and craft projects. That said there are a few important events I want to witness: the graduation of my three grandchildren, and I'd like to share more time with my family, although they claim my visits too short. I suppose they are, but feel that no one wants to outwear their welcome, especially me.

So there it is, not quite a bucket list — just a continuation. What objectives are on your bucket or still to-do list?

Be sure to check the blogs of the following authors who are also blogging on bucket lists and future accomplishments:

Skye Taylor 
Fiona McGier
Marci Baun 
Diane Bator
Victoria Chatham
Anne Stenhouse 
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire 
Rachael Kosnski
Geeta Kakade
Kay Sisk
Connie Vines
Judith Copek

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

All Things Nine

Nine is the last of the digits exclusive of zero, which usually comes first as in before you have anything, you have nothing. One through nine plus zero are the basics, nine seemingly the penultimate.

Cardinal: NINE
Hindu-Arabic: 9
Ordinate: Ninth
Roman: IX
Greek: Theta
Pythagorean number: the ennead
1+8, 2+7, 3+6, 4+5, 3x3

The Roman words of nine are novem, and nonus, from which we get November or the Roman ninth month, and the word noveni meaning nine each. The Greeks used ennea or ennead for nine.

September is our ninth month now, but November was ninth month of Roman Calendar. The Roman Emperor Augustus had two months inserted, one in recognition of Julius Caesar and and one to immortalize himself. This turned November into the eleventh month. Nones was the Roman ninth day before the ides, which included the seventh day of March, May, July & October but the fifth of the other months. None is also the day's ninth hour, and a liturgical hour of prayer for Catholics.

In science Fluorine, F, is is ninth element on the periodic table. Nine is the cube of three. Humans have a nine month gestation period.

Bowling has nine pins to knock down with the bowling ball. Tic-tack-toe has nine squares, and craps has a 'niner from Carolina.' Every baseball team has nine players on a team and a game consists of nine

In the Christian religion nine choirs of angels: the Seraphim, Cherubim, Aeons, Hosts, Powers, Authorities, Principalities, Thrones, Archangels, Angels, and Dominions, although they are also known by different names. The Ninth Commandment is Thou shalt not bear false witness. None is the ninth hour after daylight set aside for prayer or around 3:00 PM, while a Novena is a period of prayer lasting nine days. Christ is believed to have expired in the ninth hour nailed to the cross.

A few associations with nine include the claim that nine is a holy number as it is the cube of the trinity.
Nine has been associated with descent of divine power to world. In the U.S. Great Seal, the eagle's tail consists of nine feathers.

The ninth house in astrology is the House of Sagittarius, symbolized by the archer. It is the house of intelligence, philosophy, and education including travel and interaction with others to achieve those goals.

In mythology and folklore, the Egyptians had nine deities in the Ennead, including the god Atum and his children, grandchildren and great-grand children: Shu and Tefnut, their children Geb and Nut, and their children Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. Greek and Roman religion had the nine muses, Calliope who encouraged epic poetry, Clio who encouraged history, Euterpe whose domain was song, Erato who fostered lyric poetry, Melpomene who covered tragedy, Polyhymnia of hymns, Terpsichore of dance, Thalia of comedy, and Urania of astronomy. The Greeks believed in a nine-headed water monster called the Hydra.

In prophesy, nine is the last and greatest of the series of digits 1 through 9, which comprise the root of all things. Numerology assigns nine to the letters i, r. Nine is considered the greatest of all primary numbers because it contains the qualities of all the others. It reduplicates the creative power of three and stands for completeness. When multiplied by any other number, the sum of the digits making up the final number is always nine, which signifies a tendency towards egotism. Nine represents the pinnacle of mental and spiritual attainment, so becomes the number of consciousness. It is the Trinity of Trinities, and the first square of an odd number. Because it fell short of the perfect number 10, nine can be associated with failure. Because of the nine-month gestation period, it is the number of man. Nine represents a limitless number because there is nothing beyond it but the infinite combinations of it, the previous digits, and zero; therefore, it was associated with the ocean and a boundless horizon. Nine is sometimes regarded as evil because it is an inverted six.

In Tarot divination, the Hermit card is the ninth card and indicates pure intellect. Nine is the number of initiation and includes silent counsel, prudence, and discretion. It represents receiving wisdom from above, instruction from an expert or a meeting with a guide who sets the seeker on a path to material and spiritual attainment. It indicates the means to attain goals, but a journey may be a necessary to gain knowledge.

Nine, because of human gestation, represents life, creation, and the fulfillment of humanity.

Mars, because it has always been connected with war, indicates the inability to accept and work with the prevailing circumstances.

Nine in mythology and lore:
The nine white winged horses of Helios
The Greek Sun God
Sign: the scepter and the orb.

Common usage includes sayings like: 'As nice as a ninepence'; 'nine days’ wonder'; 'dressed to the nines'; 'nine lives of a cat'; 'on cloud nine'; and 'the whole nine yards.'

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Ethical or Moral?

Words and meanings interest me, and as a writer, often become important. Some words have vague meanings, others several different meanings, like a minute of time and in minute detail, and the exact definition needs clarification of the meaning desired in the writing. Every term I talk to my students about plagiarism, ethics, and morals. Many have a very imprecise concept of any of these terms, so I decided to explore it on my own. Perhaps then, I can help clarify it for myself and for them.

Ethics come from the Greek word ethos, used by Aristotelian in his philosophy approach of ethos, logos, and pathos, which when used in arguments led to understanding and solutions of issues. Ethos is the behavioral guidelines set up by a society, logos the logic involved, and pathos the appeal to the audiences’ compassion. Ethics became the rules for right and wrong within a society, the group’s law or code of conduct. If the Greeks were using ethos, logos, and pathos to discover the nuances of right and wrong, then these three properties must have become involved in human development long before then.

The French word etiquette, or the standard for polite interaction, also comes from this principle. What is interesting with the French word is the standards were vastly different for genders and classes within the society. An aristocratic man acted one way within the restrictions of his class for public deportment, but almost the opposite with the other class. This discrepancy in behavior has proven true within codified laws and the accepted behavior norms for other societies, too. Not so long ago the United States codified who was a citizen by race and gender. So, ethics can be a somewhat nebulous thing, but if someone breaks societal ethics, harsh punishment is often meted out to the guilty by society such as shunning, loss of reputation, name calling, and worse. Ethical standards can also change. Science, medicine, differing interpretations of wording, and social change can affect ethics.

Have humans always used some ethical standard? I do not know, but I know every group that lives together must have some standard or endure constant chaos. No matter how unprincipled or brutal the society or what tyrannical rules the group’s leadership follows, it follows some kind of ethical standard. As mentioned above, understanding of right and wrong can change, and certain former ‘ethics’ can now be seen as evil. My guess is that even prehistoric societies had these rules, perhaps even the Neandertals, who recent research has shown were not so different from the Homo sapiens. After all, humans are known to act irresponsibly, spiteful, and hateful, and also known to steal, injure others, lie, and cheat. Sometimes this is an aberration in a person’s behavior due to stress or situational events; then again, some humans are just reprehensible individuals whether from the affects of nature or nurture. Societies need protection from such people, which ethical standards supposedly establish.

Today we have volumes of law codes and philosophical and religious principles guiding our ethical standards, which still change from country to country and society to society. While the general American population follows the law codes of the nation and state, some sub groups like gangs live by their own code. Individuals develop their own codes too, sometimes in opposition to society’s accepted norms. Media often subtly supports this undermining of known standards, which might have evolved from America’s myth for rugged individualism (big supposition). Yet, for instance, how often in a fictional crime or investigation procedural show has a main character broken the legal or ethical standards of his profession to deal out a supposedly more appropriate punishment? In NCIS, the main character Gibbs has his own ‘rules,’ even when those rules counter those of his job.

Morals, on the other hand, while often used interchangeably with ethics, have a different meaning. The word comes from the Latin moralis, or proper manners. Morals are more about personal choices, each individual deciding what ethics they believe and follow. I suspect family often influences morals, but so could personal psychological issues, or a person's social dynamics within their society, or someone's personal situation.

Can a sociopath be a moral person? Yes: They may have no empathy (pathos) for anyone, but they are capable of following an ethical standard, and choosing to follow those standards would make them moral. Can a moral person be unethical? Yes: When their morals in a situation oppose the ethical standards of their society. Can a person’s morals change? Yes: If a person moves into an ethically different society, or if their morals lead them to an emotional or intellectual conflict they must resolve, morals can transform. Morals can also be very situational, such as the white lie given to prevent a friend’s suffering.

That means that in the end, ethics are guidelines, morals are choices. So, in another example from NCIS, the character Ducky tells his assistant Jimmy, “The difference between morals and ethics is the ethical man knows he shouldn't cheat on his wife, whereas the moral man doesn't cheat on his wife.” Most of us, luckily, choose to follow our society’s ethical standards, our morals, however, are often challenged. As mentioned above, moral choices can also lead to societal punishment. In many instances, though, a more personal punishment of guilt affects the transgressor, which can be lifelong and every bit as prosecutorial as any other form of punishment. After all, aren't we often our own worst judge and jury?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Clouds and Sky Watching

I have to ask you, who does not like sky watching? During the daylight hours, it can take place anywhere, but at night, it is especially precious in rural areas faraway from ambient light, preferably on a cloudless night when the stars shine in all their glory. In between the light and dark of day and night, sunrises and sunsets can be extraordinarily gorgeous visual experiences, which is why so much artwork features them.

I do not know about you, but for me, seeing the night sky crowded with stars and the Milky Way is awe-inspiring, somehow putting my existence into perspective. Viewing the moon has been a human compulsion since prehistoric times not only to tell time but also to induce inspiration. It continues to hold its thrall for modern man, and now we have the added knowledge that man has visited there. (Off topic, I know, but left garbage there, too; so human.) Some hold dreams of inhabiting the moon’s harsh landscape, others of developing it as a weapons base. Even on cloudy night the moon can be breath taking. Its refracted light can illumine through layers of clouds. Atmospheric conditions sometimes creates halos of light around the moon, and a moon with wisps of clouds drifting by makes the perfect Halloween night. Yet, a full moon radiating the sun’s golden light in an otherwise empty sky makes me want to dance. With all the media announcements about impending meteorite shows, passing comets, eclipses, and northern lights, I know many of you share this sky-watching urge.

While all of these are wondrous sights and events, the beauty and variety of common clouds entrance me. Clouds are water molecules loosely attracted in the atmosphere by what humans have learned about chemistry and physics. Clouds indicate weather and can be friendly or threatening, but always awesome. Did you know some of those clouds, if you had the water molecules collected here on the Earth’s surface, would weigh a million or more pounds? Just because they float, does not mean they weigh nothing. They come is such a wide variety of forms, all with scientific names, but I prefer to recognize them as scattered puff balls, as long overlapping sheets of grey, white, and blue, or as wispy mare’s tails. In their astonishing shapes, I have seen dragons, sharks, warriors, eagles, and other imaginary phenomenon.

Sometimes I am saddened to think that after I die I will never see such sights again, which is silly because of the all too obvious realities. Anyhow, the thought does serve as a good warning to enjoy them while I can. The sky reminds us time passes, day and night, midday and midnight, and everyone only has a limited amount of time. So take a minute for one of the world’s common miracles and watch a few clouds. Do some sky watching and let the Earth, sun, and moon remind you of the miracle of our planet, and celebrate life. Plus, it's free.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reading and Writing Time

Ever since I learned to read, I’ve had a ritual for reading before sleep. I read at other times too, like when I’m ill, or just taking a rare day off to read some story that really has me hooked, or sometimes when traveling to pass time (finished two novels I’d started last Thursday on a road trip), but I have to read for thirty or more minutes before I can fall asleep. Sometimes that can thirty minutes turns into hours and a short sleep time. It might have started with my parents reading to me before bedtime because early habits like that are hard to break. I did it with my children too, but haven't asked them if they read at night.

What surprises me is the number of people who never pick up a book after leaving high school. Many of my students admit to disliking reading. Various statistics put that number of non-readers after high school at between thirty and forty percent. Isn’t that astounding?

On average, I read about sixty novels a year in a variety of genres from romance to mystery and suspense to scifi and fantasy before sleep. I do not keep track of my non-fiction reading in research for stories or blog posts, and the non-fiction I read for interest (new science discoveries and history are big draws). Some things I've had to read for work, in those instances I make time to read, often in segments so I can comprehend the information. So, I guess what I'm saying is I have many methods for dealing with reading.

I wish I had a set ritual for writing, but my method is very helter-skelter happening as my thoughts engage in moving the plot forward. One book I wrote in six weeks start to publisher. Another I have worked on for years, and it is still incomplete. Work, life, and other types of writing also distract from story writing, plus I’ve become interest writing short fiction and non-fiction blog posts on various topics.

From reading, I have learned that most authors have their own particular writing methods and schedules, some sticking to a strict regimen; others more like me, when driven. This seems to be all a matter of personal preference and time available. 

To learn more about other authors' methods, rituals for reading and writing visit:
A.J. Maguire 
Geeta Kakade
Margaret Fieland
Skye Taylor 
Marci Baun 
Fiona McGier
Connie Vines
Beverley Bateman
Rita Karnopp 
Rachael Kosnski
Helena Fairfax 
Heidi M. Thomas
Ginger Simpson

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

All Things Eight


Part of world building for any story is relating it to the readers. Most already have 'favorite numbers' and most have what they think is coincidental information about certain numbers, but these beliefs have developed over literally millenia of using numbers. They are considered powerful concepts, which I used as part of a belief system in the fantasy series of the Aegis stories. So I continue with more factual, magical, and mythical information about numbers, this time eight.

Cardinal: EIGHT
Hindu-Arabic: 8
Ordinate: Eighth
Roman: VIII 
Greek: Eta
Pythagorean number: the ogdoad
1+7, 2+6, 3+5, 4+4, 2x4, 2x2x2
The first cube number

The Roman word octo (octavus) indicated eight and gives us October (the Roman 8th month), octave, octopus, and octagon.

Roman had an eight day week. The geometric symbol for eight is an octagon. Oxygen (O) is the eighth periodic number. It is the first cube number (2x2x2). Cars used to routinely have eight cylinder engines, but now only select models, some SVUs and trucks have them.

In various religious associations, eight is the Christian number of regeneration or resurrection. The Eighth Commandment is ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ Jews practiced circumcision on the eighth day after birth. There were eight sects of Pharisees, and eight prophets descended from Rahab. Triple eight (888) is number of Christ the redeemer.

In games, we have the eight ball in pool, and eight pawns on each side in Chess.

Numerology assigns eight to the letters h, q, and z. The eighth house is the House of Scorpio in Astrology. It is the number of material success and worldly involvement because eight has four-fold balance because when halved its parts are equal and when halved again they are still equal. The Greeks considered it the number of justice because of its equal divisions. It represents all that is solid and the complete. Eight represents cycles of time, too, as the four seasons sub-divided once more into two solstices and equinoxes. In Christian symbolism, it stands for afterlife. It is the number of regeneration and of the Gods who accompanied Thoth. The figure eight represents the joining of the two spheres of heaven and earth. It is the number of the force, which exists between terrestrial order (the square) and external order (the circle). Eight is associated with the Serpents of the Caduceus, the balancing of forces, the equilibrium of different forms of power and with infinity. Eight is the balance of cause and effect.

Eight is a mysterious number also associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries and the Cabiri. Also called the little holy number. Eight is a mysterious number also associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the Cabiri. .

In Tarot divination, the eighth card represents strength, which represents rest and victory, self-discipline and stability. It indicates learning to balance between spiritual & carnal nature. It shows force of character, spiritual power overcoming material power, love triumphing over hate.

Saturn, which governs melancholy, reserve, limitations, seriousness, economy, authority and the ability to accept and work with the limitations of life symbolizes eight. It is the number of Demeter. The Caduceus, the figure of Justice with a sword pointing upwards and a balance in her left hand, also symbolizes eight. A double square and the infinity sign (eight on its side) symbolize eight.

You might use common the slang phrase behind the eight ball to show loss.

The date, 08/08/08 had impact in social media. From an article about weddings on August 08/08 by Jennifer Lee in New York Times, 8/3/08: AFTER becoming engaged last year in Paris, Grace F and her fiancĂ© returned to New York to discover that event spaces for their wedding on the second Friday of August were already booked. The logjam was unusual for a Friday, but the date in question is this Friday — 08/08/08. “As a homonym, the number 8 sounds like ‘good fortune’ in Mandarin and Cantonese,” said Ms. F, who, like her fiancĂ©, is of Chinese descent.