Friday, April 11, 2014

6 Paragraphs from Acceptance

I am joining author Ginger Simson's Friday Freebits, six paragraphs from one of my published books or one I'm in the process of writing.

Below is six paragraphs from Acceptance, a story about two sisters, one with magical 'Talent', the other a null without Talent. Acceptance is from the Magic Aegis series, a Renaissance type world.

~ * ~
The unexpected hospitality at that first stop forecast her trip. As she traveled further into Cygna, the less alarm she engendered. Like magic, she seemed expected. Hostlers waited and approached only after watching her loosen the saddle girth. They would then carefully remove Bother’s saddle, take the reins and lead both horses to the stable. Innkeepers welcomed Fudge. She knew her journey’s progress was reported by the damn Adepts communicating between themselves. Comments were made on her likeness to Captain Tyna. She smiled and made no comment such as: ‘Yeah, like salt and vinegar. Both sting in an open wound, but it all ends there.’

The covert side-glances at her unusual appearance never ended, but were at least, politely disguised. Word seemed to have spread about the tattoo, for she noticed people looking for it with appalled expectation as she removed her gloves.

Their fashion confounded her. She’d never seen a more conforming dress in a population. Men always wore a long coat, over a tunic, topping trews and long boots. Women wore the same style tunic top over a long skirt and slippers. Clothes varied in fabric and dark color, usually brown or gray, but always the same cut. Their only extravagance seemed jewelry, which inevitably consisted of rings, at least one on each finger, usually more. Sometimes a color patch appeared on a sleeve, mostly solid blue, but sometimes striped in blue and red. Other than that, she occasionally saw a necklace or broach decorating a citizen, but rarely. Decidedly no gold pierced any skin.

Used to anonymity and paying her own way, becoming the center of interest for so many made Kissre uneasy. A mercenary usually spawned fear and wariness; they seldom received any sort of privilege, especially on price. She did not imagine the eyes following her. They came to the roadside to watch her pass on the mountainous road to Sidih, the Cygnese capital.

Three days from Sidih, a small troop met her. From their manner Kissre identified them as military men, not Talents. It hadn’t taken long to realize the colored sleeve patches indicated Talent, or to learn ‘nulls’ were non-Talents, like her. These three were soldiers, also like her. While they initially seemed wary of a woman, it wasn’t long before introductory talk of the road, the weather, and her trip turned to anecdotes of other journeys, then of funny, stupid or dangerous situations their business precipitated. None of her company had ever fought outside Cygna, or even in anything other than border skirmishes. Her own tales of Pertelon, the Eastern Empire, the Doane Desert and Kaereya openly delighted them. She knew they thought her a magnificent liar.

The sergeant, Tomel, and his two men were cheerful company. Tomel, noticing her guith on the roan, proclaimed himself a good tenor with a fondness for camp-side entertainment. Kissre played that evening. The small string instrument, with its deep voice, complimented her alto. Tomel proved himself as capable as he claimed, and the other men provided enthusiastic volume. Once they settled for the night, Kissre worked on the puzzle for the need of an escort—to insure her arrival or to protect the citizenry? Tyna must be desperate for her visit.
~ * ~


Monday, April 7, 2014

Phone Answering Systems Drive Me Insane!

I had to call Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan because my account had been debited twice in February and I wanted to know why. I got out my insurance card and called the support number on the back.

You know what happened.

A cheerful, too precise woman's voice welcomes the caller in English followed in Spanish and then tells numbers to push for specific questions. I punched billing question and the electronic voice told me all operators were busy with previous callers and to please wait.

Okay, this is the norm now, right? I punched zero several times, but this system had no override to get you to an operator, only a 'that is a wrong connection please try again' message came on. They're obviously aware of these shortcuts and stopped them.

As a result I redialed and waited. During the wait some synthesized music played, about ten bars that repeated. It was awful with what tried to be an uplifting and cheerful beat but possessed a carillon crossed with a xylophone sound. If I wasn't crazy about waiting, the music surely sent me over the edge.

Finally, a man answered, but he couldn’t help me because he couldn’t access the information needed. WHAT? This was a billing question wasn’t it? On the punch number 8 selection? He apologized and sent me to another operator, and I was again put on suspended animation, twenty plus minutes worth of that psychotic rage inducing noise. Does this health company know what mental torture they're putting their clients through? Just as I was talking to the computer, swearing up a blue storm, and about to hang up, a woman answered.

It seems the operator who originally took my application put in the wrong premium amount, and so it was billed twice. Would I like the extra placed towards March’s bill? Yes, I would. She gave me an amount that would be applied to March’s bill. I thanked her and hung up. Afterward I figured it out and I’d paid exactly March’s bill amount, and guessed the computer that did billing would figure that out.

Nope. In March an automatic deduction for eleven dollars came through my account. Feeling rather pissed because I knew I was right, I decided it wasn’t worth waiting on the phone and possibly emerging a serial killer or worse for eleven dollars.

Blue Cross Blue Shield isn’t the only company with whom I’ve had this problem. I absolutely hate corporate phone answering systems. What is the problem? Can’t they afford more than two operators (I’m guessing that number from the phone wait)? I know their CEO took home 6 million dollars last year, but they can't afford customer service? What if their client has to pay for phone minutes or use a limited minute phone access? How much do clients have to spend in time and money to have a problem solved or a question answered?

Talking it over with someone, we decided it’s because they don’t want your call. These companies bet their callers will hang up before an operator ever has to deal with their petty concerns. Yes, this is a biased and undocumented statement. I'm mad.

I understand not all callers need to talk to an operator. I use phone systems to pay bills all they time without wanting or needing to talk to an operator; no problem. And I know those 'if you want... punch this number' directions help direct callers to the right area of the corporation. HOWEVER. When I need a human, I'd like to talk to one in a timely manner without all the time and computer BS.

Okay, rant over, thanks for listening.

Update: Currently on phone system of 5th 3rd Bank. Laughing hysterically. Wait only ten minutes. System just as maze like.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Villains

In fantasy and scifi stories, wizards and aliens who seemed all-powerful were de rigueur for a long time. While these type of characters are scary, there is a problem. No character, either villain or hero, can be all-powerful. If characters are truly all-powerful, it means nothing and no one can overcome them, and this power then preordains the ending; therefore, each character has to have a weakness or fatal flaw. Even in 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose time has come and gone, HAL, the seemingly omniscient computer, had fatal flaws including paranoia.

Lately villains have become genius ne’er-do-wells, serial killers whose evil it takes a whole team to overcome. This is another form of the all-powerful character: the one seemingly too smart to get caught. Some of these character’s perversions scare me silly, but is this type of character realistic or just a fad that comes and goes? Seriously, how many genius murders have been arrested? If we had actually developed the brain-implanted computer, it might be reasonable, but that hasn’t happened yet. Where they lose me is why would there be so many evil genius and so few good? It doesn’t make sense. Usually such intelligence makes the person more perceptive, not less human.

Still, what I learned from this is that in a powerful story, the heroic character must find the villain’s flaw and play on this weakness while overcoming his or her own defects. This also seems to prove true in all other genre of fiction.

Despite fiction trends, the villains I find most scary and horrifying are those who seem a direct threat to me personally from the horror stories I hear every night on the news. These are the unrelenting variety of normal and not-so-normal humans: rage enveloped individuals; those who carry out unreasonable vendettas, or have antithetical beliefs or misunderstandings with those around them; those who have psychological problems, and those who do something stupid or illegal and try to hide it without worrying about consequences. I read recently where sociopaths make up 1 to 3% of our population, not that all sociopaths are bent to evil endeavors, but the statistic gives the writer a believable base to develop their malevolent character, and the reader a reasonable excuse to suspend their disbelief and fall into the story. These include manipulating, mesmerizing cult, religious, or governmental leaders, enemies disguised as friends, scoundrels who only care about their own advancement, suicidal egos willing to take anyone and everyone in their personal Armageddon, and profiteers who gain from others’ suffering – the world is full of them. Since everyone has heard stories about such miscreants and knows this evil exists, characters based on this reality can easily instill terror, especially when dressed in the persona of neighbor, friend, or family.

For other views on villains, visit the round-robin topic starting with author Anne Stenhouse. Be sure to visit all those listed!
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Diane Bator
Fiona McGier
Ginger Simpson
Geeta Kakade
Connie Vines
Beverley Bateman

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Alphabet in Reading and Writing

Reposted from Writer's Vineyard blog.


5th Century Latin in Roman lettering
Folio 14r of the Vergilius Romanus.
Did you know Roman Latin didn’t include spaces between words or any punctuation? And of course the scribes wrote in all capitals, because that is where our capital letters come from. This style lasted well into the fifth century AD. Reading must have been difficult. 
In most formal writing, like the pictographs of Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Roman letters, the written languages were painted or carved into stone. The words were meant to expose the immortal deeds of pharaohs and Caesars in everlasting monuments.  Except for daily business and correspondence, both Egyptian and Roman scribes used a faster, far less formal script on paper-like surfaces. The Egyptian Hieratic script  may have developed side by side with the grander Hieroglyphics.
Egyptian Hieratic Script
Over the centuries, other scripts, like the that of the Merovingian's and other tribes and groups, developed, each different in letter style and still very limited in use of spaces or punctuation. Those mechanics did not come until Charlemagne asked Alcuin of York to come teach at his palace at Aachen. Although barely literate himself, Charlemagne felt learning important. Alcuin began the development of the Carolingian minuscule with clearly defined spaces between words and sentences ending with periods. An empire needed a standardized system of writing. 
Carolingian script -- still in Latin, but recognizable letters.
So in some respects, whenever you write, you use the letters of Julius Caesar and Charlemagne to express yourself.
All images from Wikipedia Commons.
Reprinted from my 2/23/2014 post on Writer's Vineyard. Images from Wikipedia Commons and public domain. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Kind of Hero

Another Round-Robin (#rndrbn214) topic.

Until I started writing this post, I thought I knew what I liked in heroes: strong, silent types, intelligent men who appreciate a woman and allow her the freedom to shine and be herself. Great lovers who kept their emotions tightly bound in public. Their faults usually consisted of being overly judgmental and frequently unforgiving because of disastrous prior love affairs. Circumstances the heroine must overcome and change or discover the inner-man through her own tribulations. Sometimes these heros cannot respond to the heroine because of some secret they must keep, or some business they must complete. That seems to be the style of most male counterparts I write for my heroines because, quite frankly, most of my stories center on the female lead. So, do I need to like all aspects of my heroes?

After some thought, I decided my preferences seem to be very limited and perhaps gender biased. Men don't have to be all valor and strength, enduring dire circumstances for the woman they believe they love self-sacrificing and honorable.

Most men do not fit that profile, not that they don't have the wherewithal to be so. They're human. They can be noisy, talkative, bragging jokers; irritating individuals who are sometimes thoughtless, rambunctious, attention seeking, or manipulative finaglers. While these adjectives sound pejorative to my now sensitive ears, new insight say these characteristics might not define the character. They could show a very different type of hero, but a hero nevertheless. Something for me to think about: maybe I need to put more human frailty into my heroes.

Please go on to Fiona McGeir's blog on this topic. Listed below are other participating authors. If you miss a link while making the round, come back and try it again.

Geeta Kakade
Diane Bator
Marci Baun
Lynn Crain
Beverley Bateman
Ginger Simpson
Connie Vines
A.J. Maguire

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Saving the Great Lakes

I joined a large audience to hear Jerry Dennis, author of The Living Great Lakes, today at West Shore Community College's Main Stage Theater. He spoke on many of the threats to the Great Lakes. It was a long list including invasive species (170 other species, although Asian Carp still remains only a threat not an actuality), pollution like molecular plastics, water shortages, Nestle and bottled water, general human apathy, and why change seems to take so long.

What I took away is that man is the greatest threat to the Great Lakes. Our uses of it, the economic realities, loopholes in regulations, slow acting governments and agencies, irresponsible uses both in the past and the present. Mr. Dennis has strong hope for the lakes, their great strength and resistance. Considering the ever increasing human population consuming finite resources, I'm not sure.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Year of Water at WSCC

West Shore Community College, where I teach, has a cross curriculum topic: The Year of Water. The website devoted to this topic features some outstanding photograph of Lake Michigan. Take a Look!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Man's Greatest Technology... The Beginning

Have you ever wondered when writing started, when man first began making marks on surfaces? If making marks was the beginning, then surely writing even in the guise of art is man's oldest, most valuable technology. More importantly, writing led to all of our other technologies.
About twenty thousand years ago, Paleolithic people began descending into an extensive complex of caverns in Southern France to carve and paint on the cave's walls depictions of animals, people, and symbols. What drove these men, and hopefully women, into what I image would be a very dark and scary place? How long had they practiced this ritual? As a former art teacher, I can tell you these are not ill thought out childish works, but wonderful and imaginative art.
A teenage boy found the caves in 1940. Opened after World War II, visitors flocked to see the caves, but France closed access only eighteen years later in 1963. For more information on the discovery of the caves and the attempt to preserve them click on  Finding Lascaux.

Have you ever visited a cave with Paleolithic paintings and symbols painted on the walls? In most instances, you cannot anymore. They caves are closed to the public, closed to most scientists and researchers too. You have to have special permission to visit. Otherwise, we would destroy these relics of our past, certainly by those trying to cart off a piece for their own, or by someone destroying a piece for the pleasure received, or by the fact visitors keep breathing. In the years the caves were open, the keepers found the carbon dioxide in our breath damaged the paintings, not to mention all the damage done by bacteria and fungus humans tracked in did.

Now however, you can take a virtual tour. Go to Lascaux Caves and click on the 'visite de la grotto' for a tour. It is utterly amazing. Does it make you wonder why? What drove these people? These are not small paintings  as some are over thirty feet in length. These mark makers ignited or expressed something inherent in humans: the desire to leave information for others, evidence they lived and thought. Those privileged the art of leaving marks have been doing so ever since.



Reprinted from my 1/21/2014 post on Writer's Vineyard. Images from Wikipedia Commons and public domain.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Kind of Heroine


This is another round-robin tour, so please take some time to enjoy several different views on what type heroine makes you grab a book and read.

I’ve been reading for a long time, and have found it is the characters that attract me to a story first, specifically, the heroine and the hero and their personal qualities. This said, the way the heroine or hero are depicted on the cover always catches me, too, so maybe my choice is also a visual thing. Lately many covers leave off the face, I suppose so readers can identify with the characters even if they look different from the reader. Cover art certainly has changed through time. Oops, digressing.

As a child and before horses took over my best character in a book, I loved Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I think because the girls had an important part in the story, the children helped each other survive. Before that, my reading had been about all the princess type girls in all fairytales I read. Princesses are often portrayed as spunky, but ultimately the prince saves them. East of the Sun, West of the Moon was different. The girl settled her own future even though initially abducted by her prince.

I started working in a drug store at fifteen back in the sixties, and because I was working, had money. The bookstand drew me. I bought a copy of Emilie Loring’s Trail of Conflict written in 1922 about the post WWI arranged marriage between the socialite daughter of a rich businessman and the man with upper crust ‘family ties’ fallen on hard times. Not her best, but interesting for a teenager, and like me the heroine was searching for love. Geraldine was a spunky but sometimes clueless heroine who was courageous, but as most women of the times, put up with a lot of expectations from their man. (Not that Stephen is an evil, obnoxious abuser, just used to giving orders.) Still, the heroine dye was set for me as a reader for a while: Men protected naive, powerless women. 

It got worse with Barbara Cartland’s romantic Regency novels. Georgette Heyer’s heroines were interesting, but still, the man ended up protecting his ‘princess’ no matter what her social standing. Most books of the time presented spunky, stubborn heroines who for the most part capitulated to their man. I also found I liked Betty Neel’s heroines who usually were average looking, quiet ladies whose qualities only one discerning handsome, rich Dutch doctor could appreciate. (Pretty strange, huh?) I wonder if this image is what women were really like or just sold to romance readers? I also wonder what I was thinking. Luckily, life taught me remaining naive and powerless had costs, too, and to be wary of preconceived, prepackaged ideas.

In my late teens, my taste in heroines began to change. In fantasy, Andre Norton’s women in her Witch World series attracted me, and then the Lisa in the Dragons of Pern. Sure, I liked the old ‘princess’ heroines, but a new image began to emerge. I began to like bold women who took charge when necessary, who often became the protector and worked with their mates in equal partnerships while fighting for their futures. This often happened in science fiction and fantasy, although the character of Philippa in Dorothy Dunnett’s Renaissance based historical The Lymond Chronicles, fell into this pattern even though she did not become a major character until the later volumes; yet she always made her presence known and was a true surprise. 

Today's message seems to be teaching women about being strong and powerful. This also has costs, yet this might just be another prepackaged formula. Having studied Vladimir Propp and Joseph Campbell, I have a new viewpoint. These heroines and my choices are part of my psyche that need exploring.


I read across a wide variety of genres: fantasy, scifi, romance, mysteries, suspense, chick-flick, contemporary, and I find many more heroines whose stories suite me. I like those working against horrible odds and disadvantages and living up to the challenge even if their happily ever after isn’t perfect or they fail their challenge in some fashion. I dislike heroines who start out with possibilities they never live up to, or fall back into the old “I need a man to take care of me” pattern. These are the books I close and do not reopen.

Other authors are talking about their type of heroine. Next on the list is Marci Baun. Take a look. At any time a link might be lost, they are all listed below.