Tag Archives: writing

The World of Job and Thanksgiving

This four-day weekend is, for me, a bit of a marathon. It is true that I have plans for more than sitting in front of my computer and typing away at my manuscript. I have made a great deal of progress. Adding close to 20,000 words this month and taking the time to review and refine what is already written.  This is critical since the more information I gather, well, the more accurate I can be. And I don’t want to miss incorporating some new bit or correcting previous assumptions.



At this point I have outlined the manuscript to the end. The last chapters are sketched and I was in the process of moving notes from various note pages collected over the past few years into the spot they will be the most help. I ran across this quote I had saved from Clive Barker.

“Thence, one of my mantras as an author, although it doesn’t really speak directly of character creation: “I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our story untold. That mystery is troubling to us. How could it be otherwise? Without the final part, we think, how are we to make sense of all that went before: which is to say, our lives?

So we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell, by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born.”

I may not hit my goal in word count or timing for completion of the draft; but I have found that my enthusiasm for the subject is still strong and bits and pieces of ideas I have had for years are falling into place. I have several people to thank for the inspiration to move forward with this project. As you all well know this has been a year of major changes for me.

So this is my Thanksgiving. For friends and family that have supported me and comforted me during one of the most difficult times of my life; and who have encouraged me to seek my path forward.

Wishing you holidays that bring you peace if not joy, comfort if not cheer.


Filed under My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

Guest Post ~ Faith in Fiction

I’ve been really, really busy trying to push through a major portion of my manuscript on Job. It is going quite well. That means, of course, less time to spend here. But I have a plan! This week I have a guest blogger, Cindy Keopp. She is an author of science fiction/fantasy. As it happens, I am one of her beta readers. Recently, one of her novels has become available for preorder, Like Herding the Wind, Urushalon I. It is a lovely tale and I highly recommend it.

Faith is something that winds its way throughout Cindy’s tales. It is a part of her and her journey, and so it finds its way into her novels. I asked her to tell us about that.

Like Herding

Cindy Koepp:

I was tempted to write an analysis of all the reasons why writers are told to avoid explicit mentions of Christianity in their writing followed by an explanation of why I ignore those suggestions. The prohibition of faith in writing would have made an interesting addition to my blog series on the Hugo and Nebula winners, but I’ll keep that topic for another time.

Instead, I’d rather have a look at the reasons why faith features so prominently in so many of my stories. The most overtly Christian of my books, Remnant in the Stars, even has a character convert to Christianity partway through the tale.

Leaving out the matters of faith would have made some things much easier. I’ve gotten into intense “discussions” with a publishing expert on the issue, been accused of trying to shove my religion up everyone’s nose, and had folks who offered to review the book later refuse because of the religion issue. Had I kept religion out of it, I would have avoided that mess altogether, but I can’t do that.

Some writers eschew the anti-religion advice because they “write for the audience of One.” In other words, they say that they don’t care what other people think because they’re writing only to please God. That’s not me. I’m not half arrogant enough to think a perfect God is interested in what I wrote. The best I can do is hope He’s not majorly offended.

Likewise, I don’t believe my writing is inspired by God. I’m not simply His scribe, and this isn’t a new Gospel I’m working on. If God were writing these tales, they’d be much more perfect than anything I come up with on my own. I wouldn’t need an editor because God doesn’t make mistakes. Trust me. I need an editor.

I write to communicate what I think and feel. Often these stories help me work through difficult things I’ve had to face. Sometimes the stories help me relate funny things that have happened. My tales contain goofy jokes and a weird sense of humor because I have a weird sense of humor and tell goofy jokes. The stories deal with complex characters and situations because life is rarely simple. All the characters are dealing with their own problems and their own joys. They have their own goals, so most of the characters in my stories have their own character arcs.

Most importantly, they have their own beliefs. People are predisposed to believe in something. In my own personal adventures, I’ve found that people put their faith and confidence in something or someone, even if that someone is found in the mirror every morning. To leave faith out of the story is to create a character that is woefully lacking in a critical element.

That’s not to say that all my stories have strong religious tendencies. One, Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo, has only one reference to God in passing toward the end. Are those characters missing something critical? No, but the details about their personal beliefs were not necessary, so rather than clutter up the work with unneeded detail, I kept the info about the characters’ religions in my notes along with other factoids. At critical points in the story, though, the religious background of the character influenced the choices the character made even if the reader never got to know the motivation for the choice.

More frequently, though, the characters’ religion plays a more active role in the story. For some characters, their faith becomes a source of strength for them in adversity, a cause for hope when practical answers are elusive, a solace in the maelstrom of family and international politics, and a comfort in times of grief.

In my personal life, faith is all these things, and I’ve only just begun to explore what faith in God can bring.

Like Herding the Wind — A Mystery. A wounded path. An alien society with centuries of work to coexistent with humans, but someone isn’t happy with the progress made. Will the human-alien team find those responsible before another human dies? In the 1600s, an Eshuvani generation ship crash-landed in a farmer’s field in Germany. Unable to find the resources on Earth to fix their ship, the Eshuvani built enclaves and tried to let the humans develop without interference. Three hundred fifty years later, Eshuvani criminals start a crime wave in the Texas coastal town of Las Palomas. With police officers being injured and killed in the efforts to stop them, Sergeant Ed Osborn attempts to use his ties to the Eshuvani community to get help for his men, but the local leadership wants nothing to do with humans. Ed contacts his urushalon, Amaya Ulonya, the Eshuvani mother he adopted when he was a boy, and seeks her help. After the death of her partner, Amaya, the captain of a police and rescue team, finds more grief than joy in her current assignment. Amidst controversy, she arranges to spearhead the new Buffer Zone station between Las Palomas and the nearby Eshuvani enclave of Woran Oldue. She hopes the opportunity to help Ed train his people will help her bury the past. The indifference of the local administration leaves her with Ill-functioning equipment and inexperienced staff. It only gets worse when the attacks of an Eshuvani criminal grow personal. Amaya must get control of her grief to help Las Palomas or risk losing someone even more dear to her than her last partner.

Cindy Koepp is originally from Michigan. She moved to Texas as a child and later received a degree in Wildlife Sciences and teaching certification in Elementary Education from rival universities. Her recently concluded adventures in education involved pursuing a master’s degree in Adult Learning with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. Cindy has three published science fiction and fantasy novels, a serial published online, short stories in five anthologies, and a few self-published teacher resource books. When she isn’t reading or writing, Cindy spends time whistling with a crazy African Grey. Cindy is currently an editor with PDMI Publishing and Barking Rain Press as well as an optician at monster-sized retail store.

Cindy can be found — and further enjoyed at:


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Second time around the block! What IS a writing process?

Image courtesy of Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net







On the Writing Process

Well. What are the chances that I might be dinged for similar reasons almost at the same time? Perhaps it’s the season – you know, sinuses, allergies, other stuff that gets in your head and won’t let you think? So you say, “Sure! I can do that.” If you’re lucky you note it on some electronic calendar and hope you actually remember. I did. Remember that is.

One of my most precious friends, Rhonda, asked to do her the honor of joining a blog hop on my writing process. I found her through a brief mention by another lady I respect and adore, Ms. Kristen Lamb. (Who, by the way, is an uber blogger with writers as the focus). One visit to Rodalena and I was hooked forever. Her observations on life, love, cooking and everything else that can make sense to anyone of us, are each treasures to cherish. This is her rendition of how words make it to the page. So, yes, I am honored to join this blog hop and describe, as she did, a metaphor of sorts that describes me at my keyboard.

The problem, of course, is that my writing is a bit sporadic. I am at a time in my life when my career (something to do with numbers), and all the little ventures I managed to dabble in take up a great deal of my time. I have to admit, though, that when I am permitted those few hours of peace and quiet; when I bar the doors and refuse to respond to flashing lights, urgent messages and multiple emails, I do find myself in a zone. If I were choose a metaphor, I would choose that of a potter with my work a work of clay. Weather spun on a wheel, or carved on the face of a poured mold, it is the creation of something from a lump of information, or the shape of an idea that I enjoy most.

As most folks know my primary focus is nonfiction. This comes from years of research and observation. All of that information piles up in my computer somewhere until I sit down and begin the process of sorting through all of that to see what I can learn and what might be worth sharing with others. Then that information, needs to be molded into a cohesive “story” that is interesting, informs, and maybe even helps in some way. Sometimes those notes are conversations with myself. What worked, what didn’t, who helped and who seemed to make things worse and why? This is the process I used in writing my first book about learning how to cope with my husband’s dementia.

There are times when some ancient piece of literature that I wrote lingers in my files because “someday” I’ll make something of it. This is a carving exercise. Taking away the things that I questioned and now see far more clearly. Perhaps mellowing a stance that seemed so unmovable “then” and so naive now. Those bits that survive the test of time make it into the general process that becomes my working in progress.

I actually love the work of writing. But then I love reading. I find things I simply must share and things that I feel must have come from some other dimension. In any case, I build, and mold, trim, and spin again until I begin to see the shape of my creation. I hope that as more of my writing becomes available you will find humor, joy, remembrance, peace, healing and maybe even knowledge.

Now you get to meet three wonderful authors I have come to know and treasure.

Elizabeth Mueller, an author and an artist, knew that books couldn’t bite, but even though she never admitted, she was scared of them. What she didn’t know, was that one day books would be her career as a writer and an illustrator.

She started writing poetry when she was 9. Then there were stories when she was 11 that, well, are quite funny from her current perspective. It was her creative writing teacher in 12th grade that made her realize there was more to writing than life itself. That’s when she fell in in love with books.

She hasn’t stopped since, feverishly working to perfect the craft late into the night. She lives with her husband, five kids, a hyper dog, two cats, a turtle and a fish. Darkspell, a young adult Paranormal Romance, was her first novel.

You can find Elizabeth at: elizabethmueller.blogspot.com

Andrea Zug is an avid reader who loves the English language; which is a good thing when you are an author. She has been writing, mostly poetry, since grade school. While her husband was in Vietnam she started her first novel. He was wounded and sent home just three months after their daughter Michelle was born. Raising a family took precedence over writing and it was 2006 when that long abandoned manuscript was pulled out of mothballs. Lancer, Inc. was born. Her husband’s wounds were emotional as well as physical and her work with Lancer, Inc. became a form of therapy, a way to unlock buried trauma. Many of his experiences live within the pages of the series. They found that it helped him and it became their mutual passion to continue the series. Her latest book, Vengeance, takes the Lancers down a new road. Step into the world of Mike and Angela Lancer, Private Investigators…you might just like it there. https://andizugatlancersinc.wordpress.com/

Cindy Koepp, a friend, my first editor, and a wonderful storyteller. After hatching years ago in a land very far away, Cindy tried to hide under a secret identity, but she finally gave that up and started openly telling people she was an alien capable of adopting many forms. To her surprise, with the exception of one class of elementary students, no one believed her. They assumed she was joking, thereby giving her the perfect cover story.

She spent 14 years mutating the minds of four-footers – that’s height, not leg count – but gave that up to study the methodology needed to mutate the minds of adult humans. In her off time, she writes about her adventures under the guise of telling science fiction and fantasy stories, records her blog articles, and reads wonderful books in exchange for editing help. http://cindykoepp.wordpress.com/


Filed under Stuff about Writing

2014 Writing Process Blog Hop

Copy (2) of IMG_0561So, I have this rather interesting case of sudden popularity. A few weeks ago one of my online friends contacted me and asked me to be part of a blog hop – then she disappeared on vacation and in the meantime another dear friend asked me a similar question, luckily for a different day. I am beginning to believe I am missing the gene that allows you to say “no” – even if I have no clue as to when or how I’ll make it happen. So, here I am writing about my writing, something I rarely do.

Today’s feature artist is Morgan Dragonwillow. She is the one that nabbed me for a post this week. I shall answer the questions as she presented them and do something a bit different next week. Morgan’s participation can be found here. You really should check it out. She is a sincere and sensitive lady and a truly inspired poet. I have found much of personal value in her work and she is a really nice lady to know.

What am I working on?

That is a touchy subject just now. Writing was on hold while I waded through another tax season as my “day job” is accounting. In any case, I have an open project updating my first book, Who I Am Yesterday, which is about coping with my husband’s dementia. Then I’m working on a piece he has wanted me to do for years (though he no longer remembers) about the Book of Job.

Then, recently, a friend of mine encouraged (dared?) me to join in a fiction writing challenge. I don’t do fiction. But, well, it was a friend. And I had fun! I kicked out about 20 flash fiction pieces in a month. They are all here under 30 Cubed or simply Fictional Adventures.

How does my work differ from others of the genre?

As writers we all like to believe that we have something unique to offer; and we do. No matter how homogenous modern technology makes us, we still have unique perspectives. My writing is supported by years (well, decades) of “people watching,” the trials and travails of mentoring in business and in life and the experience of being a caregiver. I deeply love science fiction-fantasy, but I also find history, philosophy and the sciences spellbinding. My hope is whatever cake I bake with this broad mixture is of interest to hungry readers looking for something a bit off the common path.

Why do I write what I do?

Published or not I have always written. I’m a pretty private person so sometimes working things out requires a conversation with my computer (or other more antiquated means) to sort things out, collect research, understand a new concept, or learn something new. I write because I am driven to organize thoughts. There came a time when other folks expressed an interest in what I was writing, and so an author was born.

How does my writing process work?

Well, that depends. If it is a nonfiction work that requires research I read. Lots. Take notes. Lots. Then store them in my Scrivener project folder. During a recent foray into fiction writing I basically sat down in front of a blank screen and, well, “went somewhere.” While I was describing “were” the story would take shape and eventually I would know who “I” was. When I write about being a caregiver I walk through the things that make things work, and the things that didn’t. Try to find the humor, and find the experiences that might help others. I guess writing for me is so much a part of who and where I am it takes all kinds of shapes.

Now, here are the lovely ladies that have been duly warned by be that they are next!

Megan Elizabeth Morales is a female who loves Star Trek, is a Netflix Junkie and loves Comic-Con. She’s a bit of a dreamer, isn’t she? One day when she was eight years old, she just started writing, and she’s never stopped since. She lives in Snohomish Washington with her parents, and is soon to be a 2014 high school graduate. She harnesses the powers of Epilepsy to expand her eccentric imagination in her novel she’s currently working on, and JK Rowling is her role model in the writing world. You can find her at a Red Robins, or at her home daydreaming about cheeseburgers, and scrolling on the computer looking at high heeled boots and regular heels.

Etta Jean was born in Sacramento, California and destined from birth to be a bard. She told tall tales while devouring the creative worlds of others until she finally had to create her own. She has seen both good and evil in her life, and her stories, like life, have no half measures. Her happy endings never come without cost, though, for she truly believes we can’t appreciate the good and the joy without the bad and the pain along the way. Her current haunt is a comfy house in her beloved hometown where she wrangles three feline fur-kids while constantly overbooking her calendar. If she’s not chained to her desk, she’s stomping through the scenery in search of equally fantastical photographs.

Lenora Rogers: The mother of three grown children, I live in Cullman, Alabama. My passion for history and the arts has driven me start all kinds of projects such as groups on Facebook and to create my own special place on a blog (lenorasculture.wordpress.com), And with the success of that blog. With encouragement from some great friends, I decided it was time to take the next step a start writing a book. It is never too late to set goals for yourself and follow them. I found that with determination, hard work, persistence and a great support system, anything is possible to achieve. I am currently working on my first novel, The Haunting of Simone, with co writer Stacey Brewer.


Filed under Stuff about Writing

Alternative History ~ More Than an Adventure, It’s a Mind Expanding Point of View

As my readers know by now, I am a history junkie.  My banner pretty much says it all because I believe there is much we have left behind that could teach us about what we have “yet to find.”  My writing tends to explore both the past and the future and is, consequently, driven by research.  For this reason I like to find fiction writers that do much the same thing because it helps me at least try to share the passion I have for my subjects with my readers.  Learning how people build fictional worlds that attract an audience helps me see the parts that interest readers so I can arrange my factual material in an engaging way.  My current interview target gave me some very interesting ideas.  We will visit my thoughts after we hear from Rob Cerio (www.robcerio.com).

Steampunk World Building and the importance of knowing your history…

One of the trends in science fiction and fantasy literature is toward the rapidly growing genre known as “Steampunk”. For those that are unfamiliar with the genre, it’s a world of steam engines, Victorian sensibilities and fashions, and good old human courage. For those that write Science fiction, it’s also a nice departure from our usual, dreary dystopias and a walk into a brighter world. I have heard it described by many to be the shared universes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, or by others as visions of the future as envisioned by the 19th century. What most of these definitions fail to realize is that Steampunk at its core is an exercise in alternative history, and the best Steampunk Authors do a lot of research into the Victorian era, and the technology and terminology of the time to give their worlds authenticity.

dgstorecovThe key point of divergence between our real world and the imagined universe that most Steampunk stories use is the inventions of Charles Babbage. In 1822, Babbage proposed a device for completing complicated mathematics that he called a “Difference Engine”. The device was intended to replace error prone humans in the calculation of complex polynomial tables for engineering and science reference material. He later refined this design by the mid 1800s broadening its usage to an “Analytical Engine:” a very basic computer. The tremendous cost of building these intricate machines proved too high for him to continue his research.  If he had it was entirely possible that the Computing Revolution of the mid 1970’s could have happened a hundred years earlier, in the “age of steam”, most notably before the development of the internal combustion engine.

Which leads to a neat question… “If modern computing had been applied to the refinement of the steam engine, would we have ever developed the internal combustion engine?” Somehow, I don’t think my uncle would appreciate his Corvette if he had to shovel coal into it every 300 miles.

Steampunk literature suggests that the great scientists and engineers of the Victorian era would have made tremendous advances with access to Babbage’s Difference engines. We are asked to imagine a world where the Montfoglier Brothers used computers to turn their Ballooning experiments into practical airships… A world where Nikola Tesla was able to figure out the Unified Field theory 60 years before Einstein even got a job as a patent clerk… A world where Captain Nemo’s Nautilus was a practical machine instead of a flight of fancy.

As a result, to write confidently in the steampunk genre, there is a lot of research you have to do, especially since readers of your fiction will absolutely call you on any errors in facts or style. (I had an editor return a story because a character used the term ‘patsy’ when the word wasn’t in popular usage until the 1920’s or so). On your reading list should be at least one of the works of Jules Verne, and of H.G. Wells, as well as some Mark Twain. The first two are to help you establish the conventions of the genre, the third to help you get the tone and jargon of an American of the period set into your mind. Depending on where you set your story, you may need to look into the real-world history of the country in question.

Many Steampunk stories are set in Great Britain and the United states, but the genre has been opening up to include the Far East, Africa, and the moon. This is great for authors that love writing in the genre, but I still cringe every time someone refers to it as “Space: 1899.”

In my case, the post-Civil War America that my short story “The Great Steamship Race” is set in is very much our current reality. Despite my embellishment of ironclad airships, the tensions in the post-war south and animosities that were held onto for generations are still in evidence. The race that takes place between my fictional airships Natchez and Robert E. Lee is based upon a real event and real historical figures that I discovered while researching other works. While some authors might look at the restrictions of using real history to frame an alternative history story as a chain binding them from telling interesting stories, I would say that they haven’t researched thoroughly enough. The Victorian era of both British and American history is rife with vibrant characters that truly shine when handed futuristic technology.

In addition to old fashioned library and internet research, there is quite a bit of real world research you can do to give your locations and Steampunk devices life. I am lucky enough to live in New Orleans, where one of the last steamships operates on the Mississippi River. By asking politely, I was able to get a behind the scenes tour of the engine and boiler rooms of the vessel, as well as a rare look at the wheelhouse. While not everyone has a steamboat in their backyard, there are steam locomotives that still run the rails in most states as tourism ventures. While much of what you learn by observing these machines in action may never make it onto the page, knowing the smell and feel of these amazing machines in action will help give your fictional versions life. I would also recommend trying on some Victorian era clothing… while I have never personally worn a corset, many of my female author friends insist that it was key to bringing a certain perspective to their heroine’s lives.

Me, I just settled for a top hat and a pair of aviator goggles.


So, the ideas that Rob has popped into my head?  If you have ever watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series you may remember a segment where he mentions that the Greek renaissance of science and math that started somewhere around 570-495 BCE was squelched by Pythagoras and his mystics.  If not for him then the first ship on the moon may have had a Greek name and it may have been centuries before the Americans made their landing.  Maybe, maybe not.  As a race we tend to fear those things that we do not understand.  We give them the aura of mystery and magic and sometimes call them evil.  Or, we do our best to control them.  Some of those “mystics” Mr. Sagan was so perturbed with became the fathers of a more lasting modern science: Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Kepler, and on and on.  There are several Jesuit priests in the mix as well.  Many men, and women, discovered much about our universe while seeking the mind of God: and shared their passion by showing the world what they found.  Sometimes it is a war between the mystics and the rational thinkers; sometimes it’s a matter of timing.

So, what I learned from a point of view such as Rob’s, is a way of inserting or taking away a concept that could change helicopterhistory in order to better understand the pivots of that history.  For instance, what if Leonardo had gotten his whirly bird off the ground?  It is interesting that Rob mentions Mark Twain as a source since he used this approach himself.  If you haven’t read A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court you should give it a try.  An excellent example of “what if they had this!”

Thinking through the “could have beens” help us better understand the “what is now” and may help us build a better “what will be.”  In the meantime, check out Rob’s website and see what he is up to.  You can also let me know what you would like to learn about as we explore our history, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams.

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Filed under Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Conveying Important Truths ~ By Telling a Story

As a writer of primarily nonfiction, I am often confronted with the need to explain a conclusion I arrived at without making the reader feel as though I am pushing some ideology or agenda.  I want to provide food for thought; not pronouncements.  Many guides on writing will tell you that the way to engage the reader is to present them with something of humanity, some changing moment, some conquest, or some goal.  So, even in nonfiction, we have what we call a character arc or something similar that moves your concept from idea to conclusion.  In order to accomplish this feat with historical people, the author needs to be able to pick and choose relevant individuals (and facts) from the time period in question, or from persons somehow connected to the events or their interpretation.  Then these personalities can be used to convey the different points of view and how such views might resolve into the conclusion the author wishes to explore.

I am in the midst of such a process in my current work, Why Me ~ Come Let Us Reason With Job.  In order to make sure that I keep my text on point and not overwhelm the reader with an unnecessary gaggle of participants, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the issue with a fiction writer that I respect.  Particularly someone who deals with moral growth in her characters.  How, exactly, does she plot a character arc and can I use some of the same tools in selecting the supporting cast to my central figure?  The author I chose is Dianne Lynn Gardner who is both an author and an artist.  She has two books available in her series:  Deception Peak and The Dragon Shield.  This is how she responded to my questions.


I believe that character arc is one of the most important elements of story telling.

Being an author of young adult and middle grade fantasy, my stories are coming of age tales about youths confronted with obstacles they need to overcome. When faced with events and hardships that they are unfamiliar with, their character is going to change. It’s inevitable. I see it in real life, and I use that paradigm in my stories.

I want to take a step back though before I discuss character arc because Victoria posed the question: “How do your characters develop deeper morals without being preachy.”

During my most recent period of studying the art of writing I was introduced to John Truby’s instructional The Anatomy of Story. I was deeply impressed with his system because it was the only book I’ve come across (note– I haven’t read them all) that actually talked about theme and moral development as a plumb line in a story.  I highly recommend it. After reading his book, I interpreted his ideas and formed my own blueprint for story writing.

This technique requires planning and is one reason I don’t thoroughly believe in writing by the ‘seat of my pants.’ (I think that’s the term many authors use). Since I really want to say something important in my stories, (writing for me is a form of inner expression) I must design the plot and conflict from the ground up.

1-2012-12-30 15.51.52For visual learners such as me, (I am an artist after all) the process begins by drawing a line in the center of our paper and giving it a name of some moral importance.  This might be Honor, honesty, integrity, or something along those lines. Then we take our characters, protagonists, antagonists and all their sidekicks and decide where each of those individuals stand in relation to that line. Are they indifferent? Do they care deeply?  Which side do they stand on and how close are they to the middle? Indifferent would be far away, close would be passionately for or against, near to the line. One side will be negative (such as being loyal to evil) and the other positive. Immediately you can see how conflict will develop between the characters and how the main character will be tested.

This plumb line isn’t the plot. It isn’t an event and it isn’t defined in any obvious way. It’s simply the moral fiber of the story. It weaves in and out of everything that happens. The author is the only one aware of it. He or she sifts it into the story. In fact, the more subtle that “plumb line” remains, the more effective it is in developing the plot.

09-SparklesNow we can talk about that character arc.  As I said earlier, all of the main characters should have some kind of growth. We all do. These people on paper won’t have a semblance of humanity if the trials and tribulations they go through don’t have some kind of persuasion over their ideas and inner being. They might grow backwards, but they will grow.

When I have a character that’s young and I want the story to be a coming of age story I’ll define what I want him to look like at the end of the story. Then I’ll create his personality so that he has to really work to get from point A to point B. I can do the same by first creating his character and giving him something to work toward, but I find it easier to work backwards, or to work toward the middle. I explained this process in another blog post during the tour for The Dragon Shield.

So in conclusion, if you develop your characters so that they are real, and give them goals, and obstacles along the way, always weaving around that plumb line of your story, you won’t come off preachy, and you’ll have meat your readers can chew on!

If you’d like to learn more about Ian and his dragons, check out Dianne’s blog.


Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Science Fiction/Fantasy Research ~ What Ingredients Make a Cake Part III

This is a continuation of a series I started about just how science fiction and fantasy writers stay up on the latest to give their tales substance.  This week we have Cindy Koepp, a teacher, an author, a craftsperson and the loving mother of an African Grey parrot.   For Cindy research is a part of the fabric of life as well as an “as needed” exercise in her writing.   From sword fights to aerial (or space) dogfights, seeking that perfect piece of information is what it’s all about.

From Cindy:

remnantResearch for Fiction Writing?

Most days of the year, I teach 3- and 4-footers in 4th grade.  In Texas, that means writing is a huge concern.  Recently, I gave my students an assignment of locating three facts and three opinions in a little reading book they were given.  One of my students lamented that he couldn’t find facts anywhere in his book.  It was, after all, fiction.  When I told the student that I do as much research for my fiction as I do for my nonfiction, he was flabbergasted, but it’s true.  Sometimes the research occurs long before the work on the story ever begins.  Sometimes I don’t go digging for details until I need them.

Real Life as Research

I find it hard to believe that most of twenty years have passed since the first time I put on some loaner armor, borrowed someone’s foil, and tried my hand at Renaissance fencing.  Even at sundown in central Texas I often felt cooked wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a four-layer jacket and hood, gloves, and a fencing mask. Even with all the bulk and temperatures in the nineties, being properly suited up was better than risking a foil or epee up the nose.

During the next few years, I learned two styles of Renaissance fencing: Spanish and Italian.  My studies were as much on the tennis court where the group practiced as in the library reading, and sometimes translating, books about Renaissance culture.  At the time, I had no idea that this information would prove handy in my writing. After all, I was working on science fiction, and the characters were not armed with blades of any sort.

A few years later, I had an idea for a fantasy novel involving a regent who’d rather be training her griffin.  I wrote the original rough – very rough – draft of Lines of Succession, a book currently under contract with Under the Moon Publishing.  Since the main character loves fencing almost as much as she loves her griffin, all that study and practice came in handy.  I ended up with three different styles of fencing in the story, one for each of the fictional countries known for their martial skills.  One group uses a mutation of the Spanish style I’d studied.  Another took on a close approximation of the Italian style.  The last?  I totally made that one up based on things I thought might be possible.

Last summer, I started a serial called The Condemned Courier with JukePop Serials, and that one, too, has had a lot of input from my fencing adventures.  The main character is a fencing instructor who was tasked with discovering a traitor.  For that tale to work, she has to be very competent with a sword.

I have another case of research long before any project was conceived.  I’ve had parrots since I was in high school.  Some have been little shavers like cockatiels.  Now I have a goofy African Grey.  Parrots are a real hoot, literally and figuratively.  They have each had different personalities and their own flair for bizarre antics.  I had a cockatiel who would wolf whistle, and if I either didn’t answer him or if I answered him “incorrectly,” he would repeat the wolf whistle very slowly until I “got it right.”  One of my other cockatiels would have qualified for the parrot version of the X-Games.  She would walk off the side of the cage and fall more than halfway before she started flapping her wings.  At first, I thought she’d just been klutzy, but when I put her back on top of the cage, she did it again and again and again.  She’d also fly to my purse and go exploring, taking everything out one thing at a time and inspecting it carefully.  I had a cockatiel who made spitballs out of whatever bits of paper she could get her beak on.  My dusky pionus beat up his toys.  My white-capped pionus strutted around his cage and gutted jalapeños for snacks.  My African Grey chatters and destroys oatmeal boxes.  She’s also learning all the bird calls from a new clock donated by an interested student at Christmas.

A couple years ago, I came up with a wild idea: tell a whole story from the point of view of a parrot and a dog.  I’ve recently finished the rough draft, and although I really do need to have the human characters tell parts of the tale, especially when the bird and dog are nowhere in the scene, the parrot in the story took on characteristics of each of the loony birds I’ve had over the last couple dozen years.

Research on Purpose

Not all of my research happens years in advance.  Sometimes I’m working on a project and need information on how something works so I can give my stories more realism.

I am not a pilot.  What I know about actually flying an aircraft wouldn’t fill up a sticky note, but when I wrote Remnant in the Stars, one of the main characters was a pilot, and a combat pilot no less.  I had to find out how flight physics works so I could extrapolate for how it would change in space.  While I was at it, I also studied up on dogfighting maneuvers.  I never actually use the term “Immelmann turn” in Remnant, but the pilot executes one a couple times.  She also experiences G-forces in a couple places and has to compensate for it.

Lines of Succession, for a fantasy story, had a lot of research.  In addition to fencing, I needed to know how black powder weapons work.  They were going to be loaded and fired on camera, so I really needed to know what was going on.  Fortunately, I found some sites with videos and descriptions, and my editor and some pals pointed me toward some other videos, and the mission was accomplished.

Another manuscript that took a lot of research was Like Herding Wind.  I needed to find out how old mines of the late 1890s and early 1900s in Michigan were built.  For a scene that has since been cut, I learned about the early cars, especially the Ford Fordor. Then there was medical phenomena.  Boy, did I have to do some digging for all kinds of information on medical phenomena.  The main character is an alien paramedic, and the trouble she doesn’t get into…

Research in Fiction? Oh, Yes, Please!

So, true enough.  I do indeed research very many things that I sometimes don’t use at all, but at some point in the tale, I thought I’d need it, so I paused to go scare it up.  If I do a good job, you shouldn’t be able to tell the research has been done.  In any case, I have almost as much fun learning the new stuff as I do writing the story that initiated the spark to learn.

Check out Cindy’s book, Remnant of the Stars at Amazon.  Kindle is currently available, paperback soon.   You can also visit her website: Cindy Koepp: Writing on the Edge  or her Facebook page .

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Filed under Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Science Fiction/Fantasy Research – What Ingredients Make a Cake Part II

So, in continuation of this miniseries I interviewed a slightly different sort of author, one who writes for children.  Sharon L Norris write children’s books in order to wrap a story around some fun fact from the sciences.  Here are her responses to my areas of interest.  I have left her delightful Australian spelling and usage as written.


Does your research drive your story; or does your story shape your research?

The concept for my children’s early reader book ‘The Blink-off’ was derived from reading a Little Golden Book on ‘cats’. It mentioned that cats did not blink. I then started researching this phenomenon and found that cats do blink, but not very often. They have a third eyelid, a clear one that covers the pupil and keeps out dust and dirt. This means they do not blink as often as humans do. I was fascinated by this concept and developed a story for early readers around it.

Research was paramount in driving my mid-grade novel ‘The Balloonatic’, published by Macmillan Education Australia. This story, about a young boy who loves hot air ballooning and has to land a balloon when the pilot collapses in mid-flight, required significant research on the subject of ballooning. In the research process, where I learned about the dynamics of flight, I found some wonderfully illustrated books that gave me ideas for the landing scenario in this novel.

How do you keep yourself informed of new developments in the scientific fields?

I am currently writing a YA novel set in the future so I am using the internet to find blogs, pages and discussion fora so I can remain up to date with particular things like weaponry, military behaviour and strategy – things I know little about personally. I am also considering a sequel to ‘The Balloonatic!’ and am expanding my knowledge of modern hot air ballooning.

Do you try to shape your stories around hard science; or do you ignore or reach beyond what is known into the possible, probable, or does it matter?

I specialise in writing for educational markets and the success of ‘The Blink-off’ has encouraged me to continue to explore scientific concepts in fiction for early readers. The language that needs to be used for early readers can sometimes limit what you write. Abstract thoughts and concepts are not encouraged in early literacy materials as they are often too difficult for young children to understand.

What sorts of things inspire your interest to seek more information?

As a children’s writer, I’m fascinated by the natural environment and how things work. The smallest thing can be of great interest to young children, but they need to clearly understand and make connections in order to make sense of what you’re trying to tell them. Researching topics young children find fascinating is part of my job as a children’s writer.

What sorts of things tend to spark the idea of a story?

I’m an avid people-watcher. When I’m on a bus or sitting on a park bench I discreetly take note of everything around me and what people are doing. How children interact with each other and with older people. How they speak and what they say. Riding the bus has given me so many ideas just from hearing people’s conversations. I don’t strain to eavesdrop – buses are noisy so passengers will naturally talk louder to be heard. They just don’t realize how far their voices carry!

The media is also another source of story ideas for me. Reports of real life events, people, places and things will spark story ideas that I then elaborate or embellish. My mid-grade novel ‘Finders Keepers’ was sparked by a media report about children who found a dinosaur egg in sand dunes and hid it when the Government tried to take it away from them. In my story, the two child protagonists find and then hide their dinosaur egg when a greedy uncle tries to sell it to the highest bidder. They end up donating the egg to a museum so it would belong to everyone.

Do you often have characters in mind and find yourself in search of a scientific background to suit their character and its development?

I once imagined what the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, was like as a boy. He was alive then and I could just imagine him as a little boy running amok on his parents’ wildlife reserve (which later became the iconic Australia Zoo). I developed a boy character I imagined was very like Steve Irwin as a child, and thus was born my short novel for early-fluent readers titled ‘The Croc Shock’. This novel chronicles the adventures of Jack Sherman, who lives on a wildlife reserve and takes a baby saltwater crocodile to school for Show and Tell Day (or Show and Crow Day as it’s called in the book). When fear and ignorance about the crocodile threaten to get Jack into a lot of trouble, he gives his Show and Tell talk to the entire school to educate them. In the process, the reader learns a lot of scientific facts about ‘salties’.

Do you like to teach science with your writing and if so, is it your only goal or do you just have a lot of fun playing with the ideas that scientific theory presents?

I challenge myself to take a concept that interests me and look for an ‘angle’ I can explore, just as journalists look for the angle they will take when they write their stories for newspapers and magazines. There is always a lot of fun in this process.

Do you see correlations between scientific theory as it develops and your own philosophy or world view?

I learn a lot from the research process and from critically evaluating the research. I feel this can only stimulate my development as a writer and mean a better story for the reader.

Does this perspective become part of your characters’ development, or just background?

It’s important that child characters in children’s books solve their problems or dilemmas with as little help from adults as possible. So for me, it is important to ensure that I can suspend disbelief so my child readers know their protagonists can achieve the impossible if that is needed to solve a problem or dilemma.

In ‘The Balloonatic!’, for example, my character Monty is a walking, talking encyclopaedia on hot air ballooning but he has never actually flown in a balloon until he receives a gift certificate on his birthday for a dawn flight. When the pilot collapses in mid-flight, Monty has to use every ounce of knowledge he has to bring the balloon down safely as three lives depend on it.

What is your most favorite, wonder, awe-inspiring thing that you have learned in the last few years?  Something that confirmed or changed your point of view of the world and all that is in it?

I am intrigued by the fact that despite the wide-reaching arm of technology and development across the globe, we continue to hear that there are newly discovered tribes living traditional lives in remote parts of the world. People living in complete harmony with their environment, and damaging it a lot less than many of us living in highly developed, technologically proficient societies in first-world countries. There is a fantastic eco-message in that for all of us.

What is your favorite writing project which involved research into the sciences?

I have completed another mid-grade novel (unpublished at this time), which involved researching magnetism. I found out many interesting things about magnets and magnetism and this helped inform the plot and the development of my character, Eric. It was a lot of fun finding ways to incorporate those things into the story.

Sharon L Norris lives in Brisbane, Australia, and is the author of four books for children published in educational markets in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and the United States. Her motto is ‘take the ordinary within you and make it extraordinary’, and feels this is the perfect inspiration for a children’s writer. You can find out more about Sharon’s work via her website at www.sharonlnorris.com.au, and can follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SharonLNorrisAuthor

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Filed under Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck, Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Book Review ~ The Art of Communication

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.  Available for under $10.00

writingSo, for a bit of a twist I thought I would share a book review today; a how-to book.  I know that not all my fans think of themselves as writers.  We are.  Every last one of us writes for one reason or another.  Tweets, text messages and dashed-off comments on social networks are becoming the norm and are probably doing serious damage to our ability to effectively communicate in our mother tongue.  Somewhere in life you, yes you, will be required to write.  Business communications, customer relations, organization news and inquires, marketing and magazine, internet and newspaper articles.  We still communicate through the written word.  “On Writing Well” is just the book to help you write better whatever the medium or the goal.   Whether it is emails, memos, official letters or brochures, or even books, this is a delightful reference to keep near.

Within the pages of this book, Professor Zinsser provides a well balanced mini-writing course.  He talks about simplicity, clutter, style, your voice and how to develop it, grammar and word usage.  He also presents ideas and examples of different types of nonfiction.  How do you conduct an interview?  What makes a good travel log?  How do you write a memoir?  How do you write about science and technology if you are a professional, or if you’re not?   How can business people and members of institutions write clearly to convey a message and sound like someone you might actually want to call if you have a question?

What is fun about this book is that Zinsser uses stories from his own career, both as a professor and as a writer, in order to illustrate his points.  He also uses his own writing style to show you what feels comfortable and conveys an intended thought; and what leaves you wandering all over the page trying to figure out how you got there. He shares some of his own proofs and indicates the changes he made.

Zinsser also speaks to humanity in writing.  He shows you how to choose the correct voice for the occasion.  A lover of clear, uncluttered language, he provides an example from the Roosevelt administration.  When asked to write a memo about the blackout orders of 1942, a staffer presented this:

Such preparation shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.

The President responded with: “Tell them that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows.”

Zinsser further illustrates “clutter” with this bit of humor:

It’s the language of the flight attendant demonstrating the oxygen mask that will drop down if the plane should run out of air.  “In the unlikely possibility that the aircraft should experience such an eventuality,” she begins – a phrase so oxygen-depriving in itself that we are prepared for any disaster.

So, with samples, humor, stories from his own career and a smattering of examples from published works; Zinsser takes you by the hand and leads you to the land of communication.  A land that the reader will want to visit because what you write is what you meant to say.

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Filed under My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

Science Fiction/Fantasy Research – What Ingredients Make a Cake – Part I

My blog often discusses recent scientific discoveries that may have roots in history or philosophy.  It also addresses the art of research, whether you are a writer or not, how does one go about finding things out?  How do you fill that sense of wonder that we have?  How do you feed a voracious appetite for knowledge?

These thoughts inspired me to ask some of my Facebook friends who are very much involved in writing, editing and reviewing books that fall into this genre.  I will be featuring my volunteers over the next few weeks and will introduce you to their writing philosophy and their work.  Some chose the interview format, some will most likely present an article.  Here we go with guest number one:  Angus Day.  He chose the interview format.

having nice thingsDoes your research drive your story; or does your story shape your research?

My story line drives my research.  Whether it be technological, historical or theoretical I will find what is currently thought and consider it.

How do you keep yourself informed of new developments in the scientific fields?

Depends upon the field.  Chemistry, materials and things in that vein I have sources as a professional.  Most anything else I skim BBC, NASA, space news sites.  When I use Wiki is at the beginning to determine if there are any credible sources referenced but I never use anything directly.

Do you try to shape your stories around hard science; or do you ignore or reach beyond what is known into the possible, probable, or does it matter?

I do not shape my stories based on what we think we know today.  How people can make determinations about what is possible when we haven’t effectively left the fish bowl yet is beyond me.  I don’t ignore the doubters, but I may try to spin the story so that they get discredited for having closed off their minds.  Addressing the ‘does it matter’, I dislike the hand wave.  Have some guts and build a world where things are possible.  Weave a story of hope.

What sorts of things inspire your interest to seek more information?

Extrasolar planets, out of the box propulsion schemes, myths of my ancestors proven to have merit within new interpretations and someone egotistical enough to claim something is not possible.

What sorts of things tend to spark the idea of a story?

A breeze, news item or an extraordinary event.

Do you often have characters in mind and find yourself in search of a scientific background to suit their character and its development?

Not all of my characters are scientists.  Sometimes they are military, business people…  The fifth novel will have a main character that is a moron finding his way through one accident at a time without any real redeeming qualities.

Do you like to teach science with your writing and if so, is it your only goal or do you just have a lot of fun playing with the ideas that scientific theory presents?

I try to blend the concept of scientific discovery into the lives of my characters.  There is a way to turn me off from reading a science fiction novel and that is the dreaded ‘info dump’.  I have fun with it.

Do you see correlations between scientific theory as it develops and your own philosophy or world view?

My world view is that there will always be the unknowable in everyone’s lives.  It may be out of our reach during our time which does not make it impossible.  Too often people are ready to declare something impossible because it conflicts with what they think they know scientifically and or theologically.  True scientific method seeks to disprove a statement because if you can not then it is possible.

Does this perspective become part of your characters’ development, or just background?

The perspective becomes integral with the character’s development.

What is your most favorite, wonder, awe-inspiring thing that you have learned in the last few years?  Something that confirmed or changed your point of view of the world and all that is in it?

I don’t believe that I learned it but became more comfortable with the view that one’s belief system is personal.  There is no need to strive for conflict with others that don’t believe the same unless they are trying to oppress you.  I try to write open and accepting protagonists.  Antagonists I try to construct believable character flaws that lead to selfish behavior and decisions.  My spinnings are my view of the current and future worlds we live in.

What is your favorite writing project which involved research into the sciences?

Fictional development of the Vascaran drive in Legacy of Daddy was my favorite because it is representative of the boundaries needing conquering in order to graduate to interstellar civilization.  I’m not done with it yet.

I live in Fort Collins Colorado with my wife and son. My daughter has embarked on her career as a graphics designer. I’ve been an Infantryman, Swine Farmer, smattering of other trades and jobs and now I’m a manufacturing pharmaceutical chemist. What aspect of my life that is devoted to fitness favors swimming in open water which means I spend most of the year working out in a pool then hit the lakes when it warms up a bit. My wife Cheryl safety kayaks for me when we manage to make it work.

Some other places to check Angus out: Facebook Group:  Next You Utopian Estates

And on the web: The Next You Universe


Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck, Stuff about Writing ~ Research Tools, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools